by Mindy Fried | Feb 1, 2015 | aging, health, Manny Fried, parenting, stress, support, value of caregiving work
My father’s hair had grown wild and unruly, and I told him, “You look like the mad Professor”, hoping for a smile from this working class guy from Buffalo turned local revolutionary hero. His strands of thin, white hair lingered in mid-air with nowhere to go, suspended in time and place, as his body recuperated from hip surgery that was probably a bad idea at age 94. Instead of feeling hopeful, he was despairing, wondering whether he had made the right decision, all the while trying to convince himself that he had. I couldn’t help but join him in this sentiment. I tried to be positive, reminding him that you can’t gauge improvement on a daily basis. It would take weeks, maybe months. But at his age, that’s playing with fire. Why the hell he insisted on having the surgery was beyond me. And why the hell his doctor didn’t say no just made me mad.
Over the years, I had become his make-shift hairdresser, a role that I relished. It was a way to connect with him in a contained window with a dollop of distance. For my atheist father, getting a haircut from me was a little like going to church, a solemn occasion filled with contemplation and calm. For me? I felt purposeful, able to help this man who had been such a stalwart support for so many years. The truth was that there was very little actual cutting of hair involved, but the ritual called for a slow pace and gentle hands. Using my scissors gingerly, I always started on the sides where the hairs were most prominent. The top hairs were next; they were sparse and the task of cutting was only a prelude to what would come later. I lingered at the back of his head because he knew it was almost over. And for the finale, I finished the job with an electronic razor to smooth it all out.
As I look back on this simple act of love, I relish in the peace I was able to bring to him. A firebrand in his day, he was losing steam, at times wondering if life was worth living. That was the hardest part for me. But this pure connection momentarily stripped away his cares and mine, and allowed us to be in the room together. When I stepped back to assess my work, I would always find wild hairs I missed. There is no perfection here. Only a work in progress. In the end, my father was quietly grateful. Not a man given to ‘thank you’s’, even in the best of times.
by Mindy Fried | May 2, 2014 | child care, early education and care, fathering, fathers, feminist, gender, Joe Ehrmann, making choices, mothers, New York Mets, parental leave policy, pro-feminist, Riverside High School, value of caregiving work
I was a high school cheerleader. Whew – I’ve gotten the confessional part of this post out of the way. In all honesty, I hated football, and didn’t know anything about the game. I had discovered ballet and modern dance at age seven, and very soon was taking lessons four times a week. Dance was my life. This was an era when girls were often discouraged or excluded from playing sports, before the passage of Title IX. When I reached Riverside High School (RHS) in Buffalo, New York, the only dance-like option available for athletic girls was cheerleading. So another dancer friend and I plunged into the world of rah-rah, feeling like outsiders even though we were viewed as football-loving cheerleaders. Perhaps more importantly, we were also considered “popular girls”, with status that was derived from our official role in supporting the football players, “our men”, who represented the epitome of masculinity.
Like most occupations that are female-dominated, our all-female cheerleading team was a vehicle through which we were able to bond. Our coach was the first lesbian I ever met, closeted of course in those days, who supported us in our prominent role, despite the fact that it was a gendered role. Our job was quite simple. We were to rev up the audience so that they could rev up the players. We cheerleaders – dressed in our short skirts and lettered sweaters – were happy to cheer and leap with chronically fixed smiles, as we performed to an appreciative crowd. Although unlike me, most of my “sisters” really meant it when they cheered for the players. Here was one of our popular chants, which I loved not because of the words, which glorified the heroes of the game, but because of the athletic moves that accompanied them:
“They always call him Mr. Touchdown
They always call him Mr. T.
He can run and and kick and throw
Give him the ball and just look at him go
Hip, hip, hooray for Mister Touch-down
He’s gonna beat ‘em today
So give a great big cheer (WOO! – cheers the crowd ) for the hero of the year,
Mister Touchdown, RHS (Riverside High School)”
The real hero of the RHS team was Joe Ehrmann, a star football player with a solid frame, wide, powerful neck, and muscles that popped out of his uniform. Unlike most other girls in school, I was not interested in football players, including Joe. I presumed – right or wrong – that if you were a football player, you probably had an inflated ego and you were short on smarts.
That said, it was clear that Joe was different than the other ball players. He was funny and clever, and a “mensch” – aka a really sweet guy. I remember his performance in an all-school “assembly” when Joe got up in front of the whole school and danced in a hula skirt. At the time, this was hysterical and unheard of – a popular football player cross-dressing for laughs. He wasn’t afraid to be outrageous, and perhaps understood that a hulk of a man displaying so-called femininity was discordant and therefore, funny.
No surprise that Joe and I didn’t see each other after high school, but we both attended Syracuse University. He went on to become a star player on SU’s football team, and I went on to become an anti-war activist and aspiring feminist. When Joe graduated from SU, he was immediately drafted to play defensive tackle in the NFL for the Baltimore Colts. Given my disconnect from the world of football – in my mind, a violent sport that typifies our “masculinist” culture – I knew nothing about Joe and his success over the next four decades. That is, until I began to teach courses on gender and workplace issues, and lo and behold, I discovered that Joe and I had a lot in common. Over the years, Joe had become a minister and popular motivational speaker who chose sports as his bully pulpit to preach all over the country about the damaging social construct of what it means “to be a man”.
In his blog, Joe writes about 10 lessons he’s learning about sports in America. Lesson # 7 says:
At the core of much of America’s social chaos – from boys with guns, to girls with babies, immorality in board rooms and the beat down women take– is the socialization of boys into men. Violence, a sense of superiority over women, and emotional disconnectedness are not inherent to masculinity – they are the results of societal messages that define and dictate American masculinity.
Speaking like a feminist sociologist, Joe says that “America is increasingly becoming a toxic environment for the development of boys into men”…which “disconnects a boy’s heart from his head (and) contributes to a culture of violence, emotional invulnerability, toughness and stoicism (that) perpetuates the challenge of helping boys become loving, contributing and productive citizens”.
I wouldn’t have found Joe, had I not become aware of a controversy around a couple of macho sportscasters who run a morning radio show on WFAN in New York City, called Boomer and Carton, followed by a social critique from my old classmate, Joe. The “Boomer and Carton” show began with Carton ranting about a New York Mets player, Daniel Murphy, who took two days of paternity leave, or as they called it a two-game paternity leave, to be with his wife as she was birthing their baby. He said that he could understand why a man would be with his wife while she’s HAVING the baby,
But to ME, and this is MY sensibility – Assuming the birth went well; assuming your wife is fine; assuming the baby is fine – (then he should take off) 24 hours! Baby’s good; you stay there; you have a good support system for the mom and the baby. (Then) you get your ass back to the team and you play baseball! That’s my take on it.
As Carton finishes these last words, he knocks his fist on the table, agitated, and then continues: “What do you need to do anyway? You’re not breastfeeding the kid!…I got four of these little rug rats! There’s nothing to do!”
Initially, Boomer counters by saying that Daniel Murphy has the legal right to be with the mom and his newborn, but when pressed by his co-host, Carton, about what HE would have done, Boomer backs off and says:
Quite frankly I would’ve said (to my wife), C-section before the season starts. I need to be at opening day. I’m sorry, this is what makes our money. This is how we’re going to live our life. This is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I’ll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to because I’m a baseball player.
So here we have two sportscasters telling us that a) “real” men have no responsibility, nor should they have an interest in being an involved father; and b) “real” men should tell their wives that this is how it’s going to be: You wrap your birthing around my work schedule, and then when you’re done popping out the baby, I’m outa’ here because I’m making money to send this kid to college, and that’s more important.
This is where former NFL player Joe Ehrmann chimed in.
I think these comments are pretty shortsighted and reflect old school thinking about masculinity and fatherhood. Paternity leave is critical in helping dads create life-long bonding and sharing in the responsibilities of raising emotionally healthy children. To miss the life altering experience of ‘co-laboring’ in a delivery room due to nonessential work-related responsibilities is to create false values.
Take that, Boomer and Carton!
In the background throughout all this hub-bub was Daniel Murphy who, without any fanfare, commented that he did hear about the controversy around his leave-taking, but he didn’t care. “That’s the awesome part about being blessed, about being a parent, is you get that choice. My wife and I discussed it, and we felt the best thing for our family was for me to try to stay for an extra day – that being Wednesday, due to the fact that she can’t travel for two weeks”.
Instead of cow-towing to the traditional view that men – in particular, high-priced athletes – should put work over family, Murphy exhibited compassion for his wife and a desire to be an involved dad. “It’s going to be tough for her to get up to New York for a month. I can only speak from my experience – a father seeing his wife – she was completely finished. I mean, she was done. She had surgery and she was wiped. Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off. … It felt, for us, like the right decision to make.”
Okay, Murphy defended his right to take a measly two days off from work. This isn’t so different from thousands of men around the nation, as the range of men’s use of parental leave goes somewhere from a couple days to a couple of weeks. And that time is generally taken as vacation time, which disassociates it from the act of involved fathering. But still, the public face of this story elevates the importance of father involvement in child caring and co-parenting, with Murphy as the protagonist, and my old classmate, Joe, the advocate who understands and has a lot of important things to say about it.
Joe continues to give inspirational talks around the country, where he questions how men begin to understand themselves and connect more deeply to others. “It’s a long term process but it starts with the idea that you can’t keep hiding and protecting yourself. You’ve got to be able to let people in. Then you have a chance to be truly loved and to love.”
Check out Joe Ehrmann’s TedX Baltimore talk called “Be a Man”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVI1Xutc_Ws
by Mindy Fried | Apr 8, 2013 | child care, health care, inequality, Marissa Bayer, parental leave policy, Sheryl Sandberg, social policy, value of caregiving work, women and work, women managers, work and family balance, work culture
What happens when some women break the glass ceiling? A few of them become authors of best-selling novels in which they deconstruct their workplace experiences and offer advice to others. This is a good thing, in the tradition of sisters helping one another out. But which sisters and what kind of advice do they offer? Perhaps the most popular and controversial of the genre right now is Lean In, authored by Facebook Executive, Sheryl Sandberg, who authored an endearingly honest and forthright book about what women need to do to overcome obstacles and move up the career ladder. What I love about Sandberg’s writing is that she has broken the code of silence about what it feels like to be a woman in corporate America. She does it with personal stories about her own insecurities and vulnerabilities as a woman manager, as well as with facts about the gendered workplace, acknowledging the uneven playing field in which a preponderance of men dominate top positions in business and government.
I’m sure that her message resonates with thousands of professional working women across America. But Sandberg’s narrative unfortunately does not speak to women in non-professional jobs, where being assertive in the workplace doesn’t get you more; in fact, it just might get you fired. In fact, most women workers aren’t aiming for the top; they’re simply trying to make ends meet.
One could argue that having women on top will make it better for all women, but that’s not necessarily the case. All the stereotypes that persist about women in the broader society – their inability to be assertive or think rationally in a crisis – become the yardsticks of assessment of women’s behavior when they are in management positions. Simply because they are women, they are judged more critically and closely. Not only is this personally uncomfortable for them; it may also affect their status in a company or government organization. Women on top must develop survival strategies to deal with pervasive sexism they experience on a daily basis.
They are subject to a dominant workplace culture in America that overvalues long hours as a measure of commitment and loyalty. This is the backdrop against which women in management – or high level positions – operate. When women upper-level managers make policies about their subordinates’ work policies, they are operating in a “gender-loaded zone”, in which their decisions may be scrutinized by their male colleagues.
We don’t need to look far to find a top female manager, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Bayer, who offers a great example of this phenomenon with her recent announcement that she is eliminating telecommuting for her employees. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2013/02/25/back-to-the-stone-age-new-yahoo-ceo-marissa-mayer-bans-working-from-home/ This decree is counter to reams of data that support telecommuting as a cost-saving measure that may even increase worker productivity http://mindysmuses.blogspot.com/2010/12/telecommuting-its-about-time-and-place.html. In fact, the data is so strong that the U.S. now has a national telecommuting policy that applies to all federal workers, enacted as a result of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010.
The reality is that professions that are dominated by men pay more, and those that are dominated by women pay less (e.g., programming vs. coding, doctoring vs. nursing, tenure track teaching job vs teaching kindergarten). One strategy is to encourage more women to pursue higher paid professions, and that’s fine. But this doesn’t address the devaluing of jobs that are more “gender-coded” like teaching, nursing, and anything related to caregiving work.
While I fully support the notion of women asserting themselves in the workplace (when it isn’t too risky!), many women – and men – would benefit from a range of public policies that protect their jobs and support their capacity to balance their work lives with their personal – including family – demands. In my own research on parental leave use in a large financial services corporation, I found that upper-level women didn’t use the policy AT ALL, largely because they either didn’t have kids (was this a business decision?) or because they waited until their children were older before going after upper management jobs. Women in middle-management used less leave time than they were legally allowed to take, and women in lower-level jobs took the least amount of leave time. What about men? They tended not to use the parental leave policy at all; rather, they took two weeks of vacation time after the birth or adoption of a new baby. What I found was two-fold: Given that we only have an unpaid leave policy in the U.S. (counter to most other industrial countries that provide paid leaves), family economics often called for the lower-paid worker to take time off to care for a newly arrived baby, and that was usually a woman. Moreover, the culture of the workplace rewards long hours, so that parental leave is considered time “taken” away from the job (e.g., profits) over time taken to parent, an unpaid job that is devalued by business norms. Hence the title of my book: Taking Time: Parental Leave Policy and Corporate Culture. http://www.amazon.com/Taking-Time-Women-Political-Economy/dp/1566396476
A more complete picture – one that addresses the needs of all workers – must include a set of universal policies, including pay equity to break down gendered wage differentials, paid parental leave to ensure that women AND men use leave time, flexible work policies that allow people to balance their work and personal demands, and universal child care to ensure that all young children have access to quality, affordable early care and education. In addition to offering advice about being more assertive in the workplace, we need these policies if we are to make any inroads towards changing the playing field for women and men. Moreover, for those in non-management positions, there must be formal policies as well as informal organizational support to ensure that being assertive in the workplace won’t cost them their jobs.
How can we enhance the recent messaging around women in the workplace to ensure that it addresses not only the micro level – how we as women and men operate in the context of our workplaces – but also the macro level, how workplace policies – including family policies – are needed to establish protections in the workplace?
by Mindy Fried | Mar 14, 2011 | family, loss, social justice, value of caregiving work
Joan and Warren lived next door. They were in the first-floor apartment of a modest, fading yellow, two-family house. Father and daughter, they had been living in that apartment for some 15 years. Before that, they lived in an apartment down the street, but the landlord raised the rent far beyond their means, and gave them no option but to move out. At the time, the neighbors were outraged. In their neighborhood, they said, people stayed forever, so the idea that a landlord could throw out one of their own was antithetical to “how things were done around here.” Shunning the landlord, the neighbors banded together and found them another apartment right down the street. When Joan and Warren moved into the faded yellow two-family, they pledged never to move again. People lived their whole lives in this neighborhood. Why shouldn’t they?
Despite an age gap of 30 years, many people mistook Joan and Warren for husband and wife. Maybe it was how they related to one another; maybe it was how they finished each other’s sentences, or made similar sarcastic jokes with a twinkle in their eyes. Joan and Warren even looked alike. Not just a little alike, but a lot alike, with but a few distinctions. Warren was large and tall to Joan’s short and stout. Joan hid her plump body in old wool, Catholic-plaid smocks, and comfortable old sweaters that united any division between breasts and belly. Warren wore flannel shirts and baggy pants, held up by a worn leather belt that had an extra six inches hanging off the buckle. Both of them had chins that receded into their necks, doubling and tripling in folds of skin. But Joan’s chin was framed by curly, blond waves and Warren always covered his head with a railroad hat he constantly readjusted.
On the weekdays, Joan left early for her teaching job at a local parochial school, but after work and on the weekends, she devoted herself to her father. Despite her easy-going personality, Joan didn’t seem to have many friends. In fact, Warren – her father – appeared to be her only friend. Since Warren’s knees “went” on him years ago, as he told me, he wasn’t able to walk very well, so he rarely left the house. Despite his maladies and the relative sameness of his days, Warren managed to maintain a chipper demeanor, sitting on the front porch in good weather and watching the world go by. He was limited by his health, and rarely had visitors, but he always seemed upbeat.
According to Harvard University-based psychiatrist George Vaillant, who studied the lives of 824 men and women over a 30-year period, “objective good physical health (is) less important to successful aging than subjective good health.” In other words, older people continue to function pretty well, as long as they don’t feel sick, and while we didn’t know much about Warren’s health, he certainly did not project the image of a sick man.
My daughter once interviewed Warren for an elementary school project, one of those-talk-to-someone-who-lived-through-the-war assignments. When we rang their doorbell, we could hear Warren shuffling slowly to open the door, accompanied by the thump-thump of his cane. Opening the door with a welcoming smile, we could see that he was tickled we were there. And as we entered their cluttered, old-fashioned apartment, we were struck by the sweet smell of Joan’s homemade brownies she had baked for this special occasion. As my daughter nervously prepared to ask her questions, Warren said self-deprecatingly, “What do I have to say?”, with the emphasis on the word, “I”. And then he launched into stories of his past.
After the interview, I didn’t see Joan and Warren for a few weeks. Joan’s schedule was hectic, she told me one day, when we ran into her. The end-of-the-year school party was coming up, and her kids were “goin’ nuts,” she said. And then she chuckled, letting us know that she actually liked the chaos of her kids going nuts. She also told me, almost in passing, that her landlady, who had been in a nursing homes for many years, had just died. This meant that the owner’s family would have to decide what to do with their house. It had never occurred to me that Joan and Warren might face another change…
But pretty soon the activity around the house picked up, as estranged family members began to lay claim on items they had inherited. Hungrily, they dragged out furniture, appliances, aged stereo equipment and pottery, hauling them into station wagons and SUVs. They also discovered that what used to be a working-class neighborhood many years ago had become a gentrified, sought-after neighborhood; and what had been an inexpensive house many years ago had soared in value. Rumors began to fly about what the family would do with the house. Would they sell it? Would one or some of them move in? And what would happen with Joan and Warren?
Finally, the house went on the market, and for two weeks, hoards of buyers came and went, gliding with ease through the upper two floors of this simple home, its rooms clean and ready for the next owner. They seemed to save their perusal of the first floor until last, more daintily tiptoeing through Joan and Warren’s apartment, which was cluttered with memorabilia, dusty with age and daily living.
When they reached the living room, there sat Warren, firmly planted in front of his television set, refusing to move to make it easier for real estate brokers to “show” the house. He was a part of the house, almost seemed like he came with it, one might say. So why should he move, just so some rich people could sashay through the house, looking at its “potential”. As the days progressed and no one had ostensibly made an offer on the house, there was rumor that maybe the market had slowed down. But after a couple of weeks, the house sold at a good profit.
Joan and Warren hoped that the new owners wouldn’t raise the rent, but they were getting nervous. When I saw Joan the next day, her eyes were red and her face bloated. “What will happen now?”, I asked. She shrugged, looking embarrassed. “I’m not sure, but the new people seem pretty nice,” she replied. Maybe they would stay, I thought, feeling more hopeful for them. I wished her “the best of luck,” then felt the emptiness of those words. Shortly after we spoke, Joan got into her car and drove off to work.
When she drove back into her driveway later that day, her car was filled with empty boxes, in anticipation of the inevitable move. She slowed her car down for a group of kids playing soccer in the street, and waved first at them and then at the parents who were monitoring them. Slipping into her house, she self-consciously avoided conversation, but the parents on the street were painfully aware of her presence and concerned about both her and her father. Another parent and I started talking about helping her find a new home, but our conversation was interrupted by a piercing scream, coming from inside their home.
Somehow at first, the kids didn’t hear it. In the midst of their game, maybe it seemed like just another loud sound. I ran to Joan and Warren’s front door, which was ajar, and let myself into the apartment. And there, on the floor, was Warren, lying motionless, with Joan lying on top of him, sobbing…
The next few hours, we all learned that Warren had died of a heart attack. The younger kids were initially oblivious, but the older ones, particularly my daughter and her best friend, began to cry. The cries became wails that were deep and loud and persisted for about an hour, capturing a raw grief that many of the adults shared but couldn’t express so freely. As the ambulance came and took Warren away, the younger ones were shuffled back to their homes, perhaps to protect them from that visual impression, and certainly to respect Joan in that painful moment.
Would it be too simple to say that gentrification killed Warren? It would be hard to make the causal connection, but perhaps there is a correlation, as Warren was forced to experience the stress of losing his home, again. Ironically, Warren was right when he claimed that this was going to be his last home. Ultimately, the power of the market won, as the highest bidder got the house, and with it, the legal right to determine whether or not to raise the rent, or for that matter, to take over the whole house. That evening, my daughter remembered that she had the tape from her interview with Warren, and asked if she could give it to Joan. “Sure,” I said, “but let’s wait a little while.”
by Mindy Fried | Jan 31, 2011 | family, loss, value of caregiving work
This past weekend, I visit my nearly 100-year-old dad who is now in home hospice in an assisted living facility. With several major organs failing, he remains the perennial survivor. As a literary guy, he always used to quote Dylan Thomas, saying: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” And he continues to hold on…
I leave his apartment after my visit, feeling both a sense of relief as well as a deep sadness, even though I know I will see him in two weeks (assuming…), and that meanwhile, he is being well-cared for. As anyone who has taken care of an older person knows, caregiving is stressful, and caregiving from afar has its special stresses.
The ride to the airport is straightforward in this small city. It’s always a bit nostalgic as I pass by my father’s old house, where he continued to live alone up until two years ago, when we moved him into assisted living. As I pass the old street, I call my husband to let him know my plane is delayed, ignoring the state’s anti-cell phone law. (Okay – I know it’s unsafe, but I was at a stoplight!). And then it happens – BOOM!
I feel my car being hit from behind. I say matter-of-factly, ‘Oh my G-d, I was hit. I’ve got to go.’ And then my car gets hit again! I manage to move into the next lane, and this car keeps charging forward, hitting the car that was in front of me.
I jump out of the car, realizing that I’m okay, but see that my rental car is not. The driver responsible for all this reckless bumper car action is an older man, probably in his 80s. I tell him to pull over and then follow him. Turns out that he had put his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake! He claims that his foot was stuck. He is on his way to visit his wife’s grave. She had died six years ago, and he has borrowed his son’s car to get there.
The front bumper on his car is mottled, but aside from being stunned, he isn’t injured. Of course, what happens with him and his son is their next chapter, not mine, and I can only imagine. (Will the man continue to drive? With the son lend him his car? I hope not…) With this crash, we are connected by our humanness – this elderly man who is grieving for the loss of his wife, and I, who am grieving for the gradual loss of my father.
But there isn’t time to meander. My flight is leaving soon. I get advice from the rental car company about information I need from this guy, and after well wishes, I move on, driving down the highway, with half of the bumper hanging off my rental car.
As I enter the airport roadway, I call the rental car company. Like relay racers, they are ready and waiting, as papers fly between us and I gather my luggage. Running to the ticket counter, I arrive out of breath, only to be told that boarding for my plane is closed, and it’s too late to get on the flight. I plead for the airline worker to do something, sputtering fragmented sentences about my dying father and my accident. Just an instinct to use a sad story to manipulate authority… And then out-of-the-blue, another kind airline worker intervenes and calls the gate and tells them to hold the flight for me. Just for ME!
They tell me to HURRY to the gate! I get through security as quickly as one can get through security, run up to the gate, heart beating wildly, and apologize to the airline worker for holding up the flight. She looks at me whimsically, and says with humor, “Oh yeah, the whole flight is waiting just for you!” It turns out that they have not even started to board the plane. In fact, I have about 20 more minutes to wait. With that relief, I blurt out my story again, and this time, start to cry. For a moment, she looks me straight in the eye, and then she wraps her arms around me, saying, “I’m such a softy. I feel like crying with you!” And we do. Me and an airline employee!
Today, the airline gave me a $50 credit for the “inconvenience you recently experienced with us.” So thank you, Jet Blue worker and thank you, Jet Blue.
But most of all, I am grateful that in the midst of the challenges of caregiving, I have encountered people – strangers – with whom I connect, who gracefully help to diffuse those challenges.
by Mindy Fried | Jan 5, 2011 | family, knitting, value of caregiving work, women and work
My grandmother survived the pogroms of Eastern Europe, a solo journey to America at age 13, and my grandfather, who is one of the grumpiest men I’ve ever met. But until the day she died, just shy of 100 years old, she was an avid knitter, spewing out afghans, sweaters and socks to keep her brood of nine children clothed and warm. Lucky me received one of her gems at age 20, a very tidy little blue cardigan that I have to this day.
I never really thought of my grandmother when I started to knit. It just seemed like a fun thing to do with my daughter, with whom I used to “co-knit” scarves that were more about process than product.
Several months ago, a friend, whom I will call my “knitting guru”, pulled together a group of women to knit caps for a special neighbor friend who was going through chemo. I was driven by the mission and inspired by the camaraderie of the group, and managed to make several hats for our friend. They were full of flaws, but beautiful, nonetheless (if I do say so myself!). We all read Kyoko Mori’s book, “Yarn: Remembering the Way Home”, a memoir that is framed by lessons she learned from her knitting experience. I was most touched by her recognition that mistakes are okay. I realize that this sounds pretty basic! But somehow knitting lends itself to metaphors that speak to the heart. For example,
* Individual pieces of yarn weave together and create something beautiful and new.
* Sometimes, when you make too many mistakes, you just need to undo what you’ve done and start over.
* When a ball of yarn gets really knotted, it takes a long time to undo the knots.
See what I mean? Once I got the knitting bug, I discovered a world of knitting addicts (we are everywhere!) who find pleasure – as do I – in color and texture, and creating usable objects that people want to wear! What a concept! I also discovered that the process of knitting is meditative, relaxing, invigorating, all-consuming, jitter-reducing, anxiety-protecting, and creative. Once you’ve gotten past stage one, you can actually talk and knit, which is also incredibly satisfying…
When I told my college-age daughter I had started to knit again, she expressed concern that I was – in short – getting old. Despite my arguments that knitting was the “new cool”, she had conjured up images of me as a doddering old grandmother, content with my yarn and needles. Alas, when she saw the hats I was making, she put in a request for a sweater, and lo and behold, she started to knit too!
My first three hats went to my friend who had lost her hair. The next three were sold to neighbors during an “open studio” event, in which people stroll through the ‘hood and view art on display in and around people’s homes. These folks actually paid money for my hats! The next batch went to my family. My father – nearly 100 years old – had moved to assisted living and I had started flying to visit him every other weekend.
I made four hats for the cousins who house me when I’m visiting him. They call them their “Mindy’s.” I’ve made five hats for my immediate family, including my husband and sister. And I finally made a hat for my father, who, after seeing all this knitting action, said he’d like “a Mindy” for himself. I also made several hats for my daughter’s friends and a neighbor. The next few hats will be for the amazing people who care for my father nearly 24/7, keeping him alive with their love and attention.
When I think I’m done making hats – after all, there are a lot of other interesting things to make – someone else puts in an order. And I’m grateful for it…