By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Remember when we were kids and, during the first week of school, the teacher would make us stand in front of the class and talk about what we did during summer break?
Even though I’m not going back to school, I have that same nervous feeling I used to get right before the annual report about summer break. Except this time, it’s a Pandemic Productivity Report. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to flunk.
With all the extra time I’ve spent at home since March, I should’ve done more by now. Should have organized and deep cleaned the whole house, including the garage. Should have learned to speak a foreign language. Should have figured out how to bake bread, like all those braggers on Instagram. Should have finished writing the next great American novel. Should, should, should.
What have I done instead of all that? Slept. Ate – mostly stuff I shouldn’t. Worked (but probably not enough). Kept the kids fed. Other random stuff. Rinse and repeat.
None of it is impressive or worthy of a Facebook post. But I am still knitting. With the help of several YouTube videos, I taught myself to knit about a year ago. After a few bad beginner scarves, I’ve gotten a little better. Now I’m making baby blankets, sometimes for babies born to friends and sometimes for a non-profit group that sends them to hospitals for babies in intensive care.
Unfortunately, I may be the slowest knitter in the world. Perhaps I’ll speed up with more practice, but I keep going because the rhythmic movement of the needles plus the feel of the yarn is relaxing. Stitch, stitch, stitch. Researchers say the human brain likes it when we use our hands to make something and therefore it calms down instead of spinning around in its own nervous energy.
That bit of research makes sense to me because I believe we’re all makers in one way or another. Some make blankets. Some make food. Some make business deals. Some make people feel better. We are all creators.
One thing I’ve noticed lately while knitting is that there’s always this chance to make the next row of stitches a little better than the last one. And just when I start to get bored, the yarn changes color and something new begins. Stitch, stitch, stitch.
These small, seemingly insignificant stitches by themselves don’t do much. But when enough of them are strung together, they make something of substance – maybe even something useful or beautiful. Sometimes it surprises the person moving the needle, too. Stitch, stitch, stitch.
Of course, I mess up along the way. Sometimes I catch my own mistakes and correct them, but some of them slip by me and wind up as tiny imperfections in the blanket. I’m trying to accept them and keep going instead of letting the “perfect be the enemy of the good.” Stitch, stitch, stitch.
Speaking of good, I read an article in The New York Times recently about something called “low-stakes productivity” in the age of Covid. The writer, Leah Fessler, interviewed Teresa Amabile, a professor and author of a book called “The Progress Principle.” The author said that, since the pandemic takes up brain space (not to mention time spent disinfecting and dodging crowded grocery store aisles), we should recognize and celebrate any wins, both large and small. She recommended that we start “briefly honoring the more mundane instances of progress.”
Small, mundane wins? Yep, we can do that. So, for my back-to-school Pandemic Productivity Report, I’m not going to beat myself up about all the things I should have or could have done these past few months. I’m just going to hold up a half-finished baby blanket and call it good.
Stitch, stitch, stitch.