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Work it, work it, work it!

Your Humble Blogger spent a year as a classroom parent in a Waldorf-y School, and took to heart the rule that a grupp, when passively overseeing (that is, not in charge but there when necessary) his child playing in a group setting, must be engaged in handwork of some kind. For me, this is knitting; I am not terribly good at sewing, so if I took mending in to such a setting, I would have to focus on it to the point where I wouldn’t really be there for the kids. Also, not a whittler. There are those who might think that whittling would not be a good activity for a parent in a room of two-, three- and four-year-olds, but those people have not been indoctrinated into the particular mind-control scam that is a Waldorf School, and also may not have attempted to control such a group without making it clear that you have a sharp knife and know how to use it.

Digression: Every time I refer to the Waldorf School as a creepy mind-control scam, I feel obliged in fairness to point out that the Montessori School is a creepy mind-control scam, as are our public schools (both whole language and phonics), and home-schooling is perhaps the creepiest mind-control scam of all. Not to put too fine a point on it, education is a creepy mind-control scam, and could be a lot worse than getting kids to play with driftwood and rocks. End Digression.

So, now that the Youngest Member is three-and-a-half, he is attending group activities of one kind and another two or three times a week. And I bring my knitting. And I am the only one to bring hand work. No sewing, no mending, no crocheting or quilting or beadwork or cross-stitch or scrimshaw or naalbinding or passementerie. No, the other parents watch their kids and chat with idle hands, which of course are the devil’s proverbial.

Now, YHB isn’t writing this to condemn these parents, or to gripe about the decline of western whatsit—I mean, of course I am to some extent just venting. But I am wondering if it’s just that YHB fell under the control of the creepy mind-control scam when I was at a vulnerable point in my parenting career. Or if it’s that my own mother was always knitting, and never went anywhere without something to work on. But I have a sense that people do still knit and sew and so on. I mean, surely every household has a pile of mending. Is it considered terribly rude to bring a shirt to the library’s playtime and sew the buttons back on? I know nobody needs to hem handkerchiefs any more (thank goodness), and on the whole I think it’s a Good Thing that Young Ladies no longer are expected to be constantly embroidering tacky decorations on everything in sight. But still. People do handwork, right?

And, of course, being usually the only male parent in the room as well as the only parent doing handwork (even the historically and intrinsically masculine art of knitting), I feel particularly conspicuous. Which is all right, I am used to feeling conspicuous. I quite like it. And I can feel virtuously conspicuous when pre-schoolers peer at me industriously knitting away. If I am not actually a good role model, at least I am widening the experience base to the eventual betterment of these kids. And I should add: I have never heard a negative comment about my knitting in these kinds of situations. I’m not saying people don’t mock me, but they don’t do so in my hearing, and probably not in the hearing of the children, who are small pitchers with big ears. So that’s all right.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


It is rare that I don't have emergency knitting or spinning or crochet with me. Useful for watching T at homeschool group (hah, yes, mind control!) Useful for waiting to pick up my prescriptions at Costco. Useful for expected and unexpected moments of waiting.

People do comment on it. There are three general classes of remark: "Oh, I should start carrying my knitting, too!" "I don't think I'd have the patience for that." (Look, lady, it's what's giving me the patience to wait in line,) and "Look, Bernice, she's sewing!" (Or whatever incorrect handcraft they decide I must be doing. I've heard of people thinking that people using spinning wheels were weaving. What's worst is when they decide that they know better than the person who is actually making something, which happens more frequently than you might think. Ack.)

Many of the knitters and crocheters I know carry what they (mostly being female) call purse knitting, so you are not alone in principle, even if you are alone in a given location.

At least most people know what knitting is in theory. Using a drop spindle to make yarn in public really makes people's eyes bug out. Or fascinates small children, it's so mesmerizing. Or else immigrants say things like, "my grandma used to do that!" or "there were people where I grew up who did that all the time!" That's always fun.

My personal occasional craft is assembling latch-hook rugs, which is nice if you want fuzzy rugs, but has the distinction of being less portable than making chain mail, especially if you tend to visit places that don't need to be covered in a thin layer of multicolored fuzz after you've visited them.

But i was actually going to say that a lot of people who visit my apartment for gaming or hanging out or what-not bring knitting with them, and work on it.

My typical handwork activity is playing guitar, such that I am:

A) almost never without a guitar and:
B) fairly uncomfortable and nervous when I don't have a guitar.

Interestingly (to me), I took up this activity as Compulsive Handwork at the same time as I was quitting smoking. I've actually taken my guitar into doctors' waiting rooms before. Handwork, I fear, is addictive. However, it is a productive sort of addiction and therefore superior to any other addiction that there is.


My grandmother was already a knitter when she decided to quit smoking, but knit far more determinedly while she was in the process of quitting. (She started a complicated sweater. Each time she felt the urge to smoke, she picked up the knitting instead.)

I have always been fidgety and have had a tendency to shred paper into bits (or similar activities), so having hand crafts instead has made me much happier.

More's the pity, but I think the devil's idle hands are often now texting or using their smart phones in some way. I find that I wish I could sit with handwork--ah, faculty meetings--but don't think the world needs yet another scarf. However, now that we've found the secret yarn stash maybe I should make scarves and hang them on next year's mitten tree.

I would have trouble splitting my attention between what I was doing with my hands and what I was supposed to be doing with my eyes, which is watching the kids. I can't do handiwork without looking (I can't knit or sew while watching TV--it has to be radio only). So that may be the case for others there too...

I'm inclined to think that the split-attention problem is mostly about (a) finding the right hand-work and (2) putting in a lot of hours at it. But I could be wrong—lots of people can't split their hands' and eyes' attention, and while some of them later are able to in the right circumstances, some aren't, and there's no way to know if they just never found the right project...

I will also say that the Youngest Member is a second-baby, and that he is three-and-a-half, so I don't need or want to keep a close eye on him in playgroups. I need to know where he is, of course, but if I keep a check on him by glancing twice or thrice a minute, and then searching around for him when he has moved, that's plenty for me. If I have to interact with him more than a couple of times in a half-hour, I may as well stay home with him and be pummeled in comfort. And if I miss something cute, or the first time he does some new developmental trick, I don't mind. He'll do it again.

Just to be clear—the kinds of things I am talking about are in rooms where the kids can't get out by themselves, where there is a Grupp in charge who isn't me, and where things are generally kidproofed. When parents send their kids out to play in the street, they should probably keep their hands free.


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