Domestic Bliss 

Hands on

My son and I are taking knitting class. Inspired by my daughter, his sister, who over the Christmas holiday knitted the women of the family delicate silk/mohair scarves, we decided we wanted to learn to make something. I have made gardens before. He has made music. But we have never settled in to craft something you can wrap yourself in -- something that warms your neck, that you can run your fingers over and through.

So on a recent Saturday, newly bought worsted yarn and #7 needles in hand, we joined a group of ladies at a cozy yarn shop for a four-week class. I struggled with left-handed spastic syndrome and he struggled not to obsessively tighten each stitch. He snapped at me when I tried to help him: "You're not the teacher!" I shushed him when he tried to show me his method of casting on: "Don't tell me what to do!"

For the most part, though, we have settled into harmonious evenings of knitting together. When I am at work, I dream about getting home to my knitting. When he arrives home in the early evening, he goes straight to his swatch. Our knitting has become our refuge.

Our homework for week one was to knit/purl a 4-inch square of stockinet stitch -- the uniform, ribbed weave of most sweaters. We were to find our tensions, set our gauge, discover how tightly or loosely we knitted. I ripped my square out at least 12 times, starting over again and again in search of the perfect knit. My son learned to knit lying down on his back. We watched the Iowa caucus returns on television and patiently endured hours of Fox TV pundits crowing, boring repetitive interviews with pollsters and "experts," and rare glances at the candidates themselves.

"You know," he said, "knitting makes television way more tolerable."

It's true. When we're knitting, the television is the secondary focus. It draws our attention only when something important happens. Otherwise, it just drones on while the stitches add up.

My mother always sat in our living room with a quilting hoop across her knees, her eyes cast downward at the tiny stitches she made over and over. I never understood what an escape it was for her until I began to knit. I called her just before the New Hampshire primary as I prepared to sit down for a long evening of knitting and background television.

"It really makes watching these political events much more relaxing," I said, explaining that doing something with my hands was calming and focusing.

"Yeah," she said, "I know. Sue gave us a big basket of pecans for Christmas, and I've been shelling them every night while I watch the primaries."

The day before and the night of the New Hampshire primaries, I ripped out my homework -- a 10-and-a-half inch swath -- twice and started over. My hands cramped and my shoulders ached, my neck developed a permanent cramp as I knitted and purled row after row, meditating on John Kerry and John Edwards and the snows of New Hampshire. My son calmly urged me to go to bed when he set his knitting aside. But I couldn't -- I knit until after midnight, ripping 6 inches out one more time.

Sleeping, I dreamed in knit and purl motion.

Then the other day I came to work and found an article ripped from Time magazine stuck in my mailbox. Knitting, it seems, is the "in" thing to do among 20-somethings, hipsters and college students. In Greenwich Village, pink-haired punk rockers have "stitch and bitch" clubs in coffeehouses and cafes. Making something with your hands is the new wave.

I didn't quite know how to feel about this. Was my experience of knitting authentic or merely a trend? Had I been sucked into a craze, not even knowing it? Would I grow bored and weary of knitting as easily as I cast aside disco dancing in the '80s?

I decided not to tell my son about the Time article for fear he would stop knitting. A dedicated individualist, he would be miffed to think he was part of something trendy. And we still have two weeks of classes to go.

Knitting, I realize, is the first mother-son activity I've ever engaged in and I've spent the last 19 years raising three sons. I have catered to their interests and they have ignored mine. But we have never met on such a comforting common ground, passively listening to the television, rooting our candidates on while our hands move in unison, our needles clicking.

I'll keep the Time article a secret, I vow. At least until the Democratic convention.



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