Thursday, December 19, 2013

Red Dress

I started knitting about five years ago. It didn't begin as a serious love affair. Just a quick fling to procrastinate on my Master's thesis. Supposedly this was going to reduce my stress, calm my anxiety by giving me something to do with my hands. On paper, this was a fabulous idea. I've always been fidgety, chewing first on my hair as a child, then moving onto clothes when my mother cut my hair. Eventually my frayed sleeves and necklines, the gnawed strings from sweat shirts were replaced with the tops of pens, and when I was even older with cigarettes. Knitting at the time was simply another list in those things that helped me keep a bit of stillness in a body and mind that was constantly moving. Spinning.

In the beginning, I was a horrible knitter. I made squares that were lopsided and sloppy with holes from missed stitches. The imperfection of these things bothered me. I'd throw them out only to find them covering a multitude of tiny stuffed animals and plastic dinosaurs. Sometimes when the squares weren't too crocked, I'd sew them together to make little animals for Piper. But mostly it was an exercise in frustration. I sucked at knitting and it was hard for me to suck at something. My drive for perfection, my vision of the lovely knitted things I saw, took out any relaxation that was supposed to come from the exercise, from the doing.

When Horacio gifted me two beautiful skeins of wool, I reached my end. They were so lovely, so soft, the colors a miracle, I couldn't do anything with them. I was too scared to knit them because nothing I could knit would match the loveliness of the yarn. I put the knitting away, and focused on the thesis.

The thesis was done when we decided to try for another baby. As soon as I saw the two lines, I dug out my needles and yarn. The lovely skeins were now only one. I can't even remember what happened to the lovely red one. I still wasn't ready for the remaining wool which held the colors of the ocean, the swirls of blue and green. But I wanted to knit something for my new baby. This after all was what knitting seemed suited for. The babies. I overshot and picked out a lacy baby blanket pattern. After weeks of work, I held it up to see that it was a lopsided mess. This time I was able to laugh a bit at how spectacularly bad it was. I decided on a simpler thing, a blueberry hat since we called the then unknown Rowena, the blueberry.  I knitted that hat through the end of my pregnancy filled with the dreams of this new baby. I knit it while the weeks of prodromal labor left me tired and frustrated. All my hopes, desires, and plans for this new life went into each stitch. And in the end it was a flawed hat but it was a hat that could be worn.

When I had Jude, I was a better knitter. The ocean yarn had long since become a cowl for my sister-in-law, and I had new yarns that I was no longer afraid to knit into pretty things. For Jude, I had grand plans. But because of the place my head was in during my pregnancy I had a hard time making those things flow from my hands onto the needles. As the end neared, I snapped into action. This baby was going to be the recipient of my skill, a skill that had not come "naturally" but one that involved work and practice. My needles flashed in the sun from the big living room window, as I stitched together blankets, and hats. As I blended pink and purple and gray into a circle of warm beauty, I dreamed of Jude. I put into each loop the love, the fear, the joy that filled me at the thought of her. Every piece I knit even those that ended up as gifts for other new babies was saturated with the intensity of my emotions for this new baby. The completion of our family. I knit frantically knowing with a quiet certainty that I would never again knit these tiny things for my own family. And I knit because I had to show Jude that no matter what I had felt at the beginning that now she was welcomed, loved, and desired not feared or unwanted. Each hat, each blanket, each piece that came from my hands, my arms, the repetitive movement of my body, was a statement of her value which was immeasurable really.

After Jude was prodded and examined, I made H pull out the blanket I had knit her, and I wrapped her in my love.

I decided at Jude's six month mark that I was going to knit her a dress for her first birthday. This decision was made with trepidation because I had never knit anything someone could wear. My one and only foray into a baby sweater resulted in something that looked cute but couldn't be worn. But I decided that I was going to make this for Jude. I was going to create something that looked spun by fairies. Something of beauty. A gift and a thanks for this baby who completed our family in ways we had not quite anticipated. For Jude, there was going to be something that spoke of all the feelings she arose in me. It would be something, I decided, that she could pull out and look at when she was older. She would be able to touch this thing and know how valuable and important she was to me, to her family. It was a lot to ask of a dress, I know.

The next two months were spent in finding a perfect dress. None of the free patterns came close to what I was envisioning. Finally I found one that was perfect. A heart on the front, and leaves at the hem. I bought the pattern terrified at the coming project. The value I had instilled in this article of clothing made it vital that I not mess it up. Now that I had a pattern, I had to pick the yarn. The dress was done in a fingerling weight which made me quiver even more. Fingerling weight yarn is so fragile, so light, and for me, so hard to work with. But it seemed right that this dress would be made from something so light and airy. I looked at several variated colors and wavere  between an orange and a red. The red won out as Jude is a fiery spirit, full of light and flame.

And then I knitted. I knitted while Jude played on the floor next to me. I knitted in the van listening to her coo and laugh at Umberto. I knitted while she played with Rowena and Piper in the bedroom. I knitted while Camille entertained her with silly faces. I knitted while her father held her close and tight to his chest. When she was a little sick, I knit while she nursed all day, her tiny, pudgy baby hands wrapping themselves in the red variations of the yarn. And it flowed from the needles. Quickly I could see the bones of the dress, the shape and the form. The lace pattern over the chest looked like a heart, and I felt heartened that maybe I could create this thing of love. And at first, I knit with the consciousness of putting so much love into this item. I imagined it as a thing of magic that I could infuse with the love I held for not just Jude but all my children. Of their love of her. Our love, this bond that held us together in a way that left me breathless and sometimes feeling so unworthy. But as the project went on, I forgot to do this in a way that was intentional. Instead, one day I realized I was out of yarn, and I was almost done. I had to put the dress away to wait for a new skein to arrive in the mail. I knitted while I waited of course. Gifts for friends, projects, pumpkin hats (oh so many pumpkin hats).

When the yarn came, I took out the dress, and realized it was nearly done. It was beautiful. Not perfect no but lovely. I finished as I sat in the center of the joyful storm that is the beastie Christmas season. I didn't need to knit with the intent of love. It was always there. In every purl, every knit over. Every leave was a leaf filled with life and joy and beauty.

Jude wore her dress on her first birthday. A year has gone by since I held that tiny life in my arms. A year since she was laid on my chest and she looked at me with a knowing. There have been 365 days of wonderfulness, of love, of life, of joy. Not every day has been easy but every day has been full. Jude completed us not because she has Down syndrome but because she was the closing of our circle. I didn't become a better person because of Jude. I became a better person because I had to examine myself because Jude needed someone who saw the simple humanness of her.


Down Wit Dat said...

Just lovely. xox

laidback learner said...

what a breathtakingly beautiful blogpost... and such a gorgeous girl in her gorgeous dress.

I was yours from this line of love:

"After Jude was prodded and examined, I made H pull out the blanket I had knit her, and I wrapped her in my love"