The kids started making felt animals last spring, when their school was shut down and they were home with me all day. It was a pretty wonderful project during that time, since each creation required patience, focus, fine motor skills, reading and following graphical directions, personalization, and interpersonal interaction. The results weren’t immediately delivered, as they had to wait through two wash cycles and a dryer cycle to see the finished product, and sometimes what they ended up with didn’t resemble the vision they’d anticipated; frequently they were either disappointed or pleasantly surprised by the way their animals turned out, which is all good practice for life. Usually some stitchery was required to repair or reinforce portions of the wool that hadn’t felted together, so the kids learned how to thread a needle and sew. It was all very back-to-basics, old school homeschool stuff–de rigueur for that phase of pandemic living, and we spent many hours engaged this way. The smell of wet wool will probably always put me back on that hardwood floor surrounded by three kids bent over their individual cookie sheets, aiming spray bottles at foam felting forms.
The other night, Liam asked me to bring up the sewing supplies so he could work on a bear who needed a tummy tuck. I was tired and had zero interest in sitting on his carpet helping him knot thread at that moment while there were dishes to do and floors to sweep and places to exist where children were not within sight, but I hadn’t given him much attention that day, so I helped him with the knot and watched him sew while I drank a glass of wine (yes, the carpet is white and the wine was red, but don’t worry–the greatest atrocity that carpet has been subjected to is slime. Let me know if you need tips for removing slime from carpet, by the way).
After he’d made about three extra-long stitches, leaving at least an inch of thread visible with each one, I said, “That’s a great way to sew if you want to see the stitches. If you don’t want to see the thread, you might want to make your stitches smaller or use the other kind of stitch I showed you.” He said, “I do want to see the stitches. I want to remember this when I look at him.” I was stunned for a moment, appreciating the beautiful sentiment, wondering exactly why he wanted the visual reminder that this bear had been sewn. Was it a reminder of his own handiwork using a needle and thread? Was it a reminder that, when things come apart at the seams, like our lives had last spring, we have the power to put them back together as best we can while exercising agency over the process of reassembly? Was it a reminder that there is implicit imperfection in all things, or that those who wear their scars proudly are showcasing healing rather than wounds? Was it a reminder that there is value added to anything that has been repaired because it mattered enough to someone to do the repairing? Does my child understand the principles of wabi-sabi? Was he actually engaged in creating a kind of kintsugi? Does he know that’s one of my favorite art forms? Can I take any credit at all for his incredibly sophisticated perspective here?
I asked him what he wanted to remember when he looks at the stitches, and I should have known what he’d say. It’s just that he’s so very different from me, and I sometimes forget that the driving force within this child is his heart, which takes up so much space in his existence that it eclipses everything else sometimes. He said, “I want to remember being here with you while I’m doing this.”
Liam is a child of heart where I have always been a child of the mind, and I’m often struck by how we go through life guided by such discrete and disparate dominating forces. Sometimes it’s hard for a person stuck in her head to parent a child who inhabits his heart so completely. It’s a challenge to shift the paradigm from a habit of thought to the impulse of love. This is why, when I said to him a few days later, “I don’t think you’d ever do something unkind on purpose,” and his response was, “You don’t know how much I appreciate that,” I thought: maybe not. But I’m trying. We are all works in progress. May our cracks be filled with gold to highlight, not to hide, the ways we reassemble ourselves, over and over and over again, and to help us remember them.