Getting over the hump

knittingI am not a knitter. People have been trying to teach me to knit since I was seven years old, to no avail. I’m very crafty in other ways. I weave, sew, quilt and embroider; I was once quite good at macramé (when macramé was “in”); I’ve done quilling and scherenschnitt, basketry and rug braiding, beading and jewellery making. I’m proficient at all these crafts and more, but put knitting needles in my hands, and suddenly I’m all thumbs.

But I’m also stubborn. When my mother tried to teach me to knit, and failed, I tried again. When the neighbour tried to teach me to knit, and failed, I tried again. When a friend tried to teach me to knit, and failed, I tried again. I bought Debbie Bliss’ book How to Knit, and forced myself to knit and unravel, knit and unravel, until I could manage to knit a row without dropping or adding stitches. It wasn’t pretty, and it was a stressful process. I’d finish a knitting session with a sore neck and tense muscles. I made myself a pair of slippers. Then I made another pair, and another, and another, and another. Six pairs of slippers later, I was thoroughly sick of slippers, and still struggled with knitting. I took a break…a ten month break. When I came back to knitting, I had to learn all over again. I tried out some different stitch patterns, attempted knitting in the round, and ended up unravelling most of my work.

Another year passed. My slippers wore out, and winter came. My feet were cold, so I tried knitting again. I had to pull out the knitting book in order to remember even the basic stitches.

But something had changed. After the first clumsy rows, I began to relax. The stitches came naturally. My fingers didn’t cramp. I finished the first slipper in a day. I was over the hump.

As parents, my husband and I regularly have to push our children to get over that hump. Learning a new skill is hard work, and there are precious few rewards at the beginning. Playing the piano, there are many wrong notes, and the songs sound clunky, the rhythm erratic. Making pastry, there could easily be half a dozen dense, oily lumps before the first magical, flaky crust. Juggling, there are a lot of balls rolling away on the floor before they soar effortlessly from hand to hand.

For some skills, the hump is low, and easily surmounted. For others, that hump is like a steep mountain with no breathtaking views until the very top. As a parent, one of my jobs is to push the kids to get over those mountains and not quit before a new skill becomes fun. It doesn’t mean becoming a tiger mom, but it does mean enforcing some discipline in kids who may not want to practice their instrument, because it’s a struggle, and they know they sound awful. It means asking the kids to help prepare dinner, and patiently encouraging them as they slowly and unevenly slice the carrots or mix the dough. It means cheering on the child who comes last in the race, and running alongside her as she prepares for the next one.

Hopefully, if we do our job right, the kids will be able to push themselves over those humps on their own one day.

They might even learn to knit.

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