parenting and perfection

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This isn’t really about knitting at all, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and I need a place to “think out loud”, so to speak. Perfectionism is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I think it sometimes gets framed in a positive way, like being a perfectionist means that you’re more attentive or careful and produce better things because of that – and maybe that’s so, but really, it’s toxic. It’s debilitating. I’m speaking from experience, here – it has literally been a debilitating force in my life. Perfectionism means living your life in constant fear of messing up, of being “found out” as imperfect, and that’s just not ever going to be a healthy way to live. Since nobody is perfect, you will *always* be a failure if perfection is your goal, and this will either lead you to stop trying (because why try, if you will only fail?) or to be miserable and self-loathing (because you’re trying, but aren’t perfect), the latter being where I’ve been most of my life. So…don’t make perfection the goal. This, I’d say, has been the big project of adulthood for me: letting go of the perfectionist mindset, and trying to adopt a new inner voice to talk to myself with, one that is not the cruel, judgmental perfectionist demon, but instead, is kind and patient with me (this is something I’ve worked on via DBT, as part of the therapy I’ve engaged in these past several years). And as a parent, one of my biggest goals is to raise M to be a lifelong learner, to have a “growth” mindset, which means she will need to be open to and unafraid of failure and mistakes – and this means I hope like crazy that I can help her not to develop the perfectionist demon, not to have that nasty inner voice, even though it’s something I struggle with myself.

Lately, I’ve been finding myself falling into the perfectionist traps my mind sets more frequently. M is 3.5 now. This means she is in a developmental stage where it is completely normal for her to be extremely fussy and particular about rules and routines, and to incessantly “correct” me for perceived violations of them. I can’t go a day without her telling me I “forgot” something (whether I actually did or not – she’ll often say I “forgot to get” her something that she only just then decided she wanted!), or that I said the wrong word, or did something the wrong way…it’s constant. And while I know it’s developmentally appropriate (it’s GOOD that she’s noticing rules and patterns!), and I shouldn’t take it personally, I’ve been struggling a lot with having what is essentially a personification of the nasty perfectionist voice inside my own head actually talking out loud to me. Because there’s a part of me that already IS kind of beating myself up when I say the wrong word, or mess up in any way, really – I haven’t vanquished the perfectionist demon, after all, I’ve just gotten better at ignoring it, pushing it way way down into the back of my mind. But when those “you’re wrong! you messed up! you failed!” thoughts are being voiced by an actual person…gosh, it’s a lot harder to ignore that. And then the perfectionist demon gets a toehold again. It’s wearing me down a bit. Especially since often, when I get something wrong, it isn’t just that M tells me about it – she often utterly loses it and unleashes an intense (and sometimes violent) tantrum. It makes me want to give up, sometimes – I end up being just constantly afraid that I will “screw up”, walking on eggshells constantly, just…afraid, and feeling like I am never good enough, those all too familiar feelings that the toxic perfectionist inner voice has pushed me towards my whole life. And that’s no way to enjoy life with your kid.

So that’s hard. But the other side of it is that as a parent, if you struggle, and you are open about struggling, you get a LOT of…well, we’ll call it feedback from other adults. Often it feels like (and let’s be honest, IS) judgement – the struggles you’re having are all your fault for not being a better parent, etc. But even the well-intentioned stuff can feel a bit triggering, if perfectionism is a problem area for you. Here’s what I mean. When I talk about M’s tantrums and how she struggles with things like transitions and change (these are perfectly normal characteristics for a child with M’s “high need” temperament, by the way), the advice I get is to “be consistent”. I want to be clear: this is NOT bad advice, at all. It’s very good advice. Consistency is very helpful for all kids, but especially for kids like M who have much higher needs in terms of structure and routine. But here’s where my inner perfectionist demon goes with that advice: if I ever fail to be perfectly consistent (e.g. those times when I mess up in the moment, because, well, nobody’s perfect, especially when as sleep deprived as I am due to M’s nighttime difficulties), then whatever problems ensue are entirely my fault, due to that failure to be consistent. And I mean, there’s a sense of truth to that, because nobody is perfectly consistent, and if consistency is what’s important, then the problems that arise will arise when inconsistency creeps in. But I’m guessing that even with perfect consistency in their parents’ actions/responses/etc, kids will still lose it sometimes – they’ve got a lot of big feelings to figure out! And the perfectionist twist on it, to view the struggles as purely a matter of personal failing, to make it about self-blame instead of treating it as a thing that happens because hey, nobody is perfect, is a toxic soup that I’m currently trying very hard to spit out. The nasty thing my mind does to me in that situation is it says that the badness that is happening right now is because *I* am bad. I’ve always had this feeling that if I screw up, then I deserve to be punished in some way, I deserve bad things to happen to me – and this ends up making it feel as though M’s tantrums are my punishment for not being a perfect parent. That if I could just anticipate her needs better, that if I just didn’t say the wrong thing, that if I didn’t screw up, that if I were more perfectly consistent, then I wouldn’t be “punished” with a tantrum. I “deserve” those tantrums for my failure to be perfect. And that’s just a really, really unhealthy (and wrong, and bad for my relationship with M) way to think about it. I know this, intellectually, but it doesn’t keep my mind from going there sometimes.

One thing worth noting is that I’ve seen plenty of toddler/preschooler tantrums in my time, and M’s are…on the extreme end, which I’m sure has something to do with why I find them so punishing. We’re looking into whether she should be getting some help for sensory processing and other issues – she does a lot of self-injurious things (finger-biting, hair-pulling) when she’s upset, and it seems to me more like she’s doing them because she’s struggling to manage her big emotions, and less like she’s doing them to manipulate me (though it does pretty effectively shred my heart). You hear a lot about ignoring tantrums, about not “giving in” to tantrums (it’s that consistency thing, again), but when your kid is hurting herself, you also can’t (or at least, shouldn’t!) just ignore it. (I also tend to think “just ignoring” is a bad thing to do to anyone who you love and want to build/maintain a relationship with, but that’s another topic). I try to comfort her, and I’m getting good at a sort of “straightjacket” hold that keeps her from biting her fingers, but it’s not an easy thing to do, physically (she’s 40 pounds!) or emotionally (again, especially when sleep-deprived). She needs better coping skills, and we’re trying to help her develop them – but of course, as is probably obvious from the way I talk, I’m not exactly a master of coping skills, myself (it’s work-in-progress, here…but I *am* working on it). It’s hard to be the parent of a “high need”/”spirited” kid, and harder still when you’ve got your own struggles in terms of sensitivity and sensory issues (M pushes me into sensory overload quite frequently – my world “goes purple” when she’s screaming full-volume, and I often want to crawl under heavy blankets or even a mattress, because being squished calms me – but of course, I’m the grown-up, so I can’t just go do that, usually). Add in a tendency towards perfectionism, and you’ve got a recipe for misery. Perfectionists crave positive feedback – it means you’re not screwing up! But you’re not going to get much positive feedback as the parent of a “difficult” child – people won’t see how hard you work, how much effort and energy you put into coaching your kid, anticipating their needs, helping them manage themselves in new situations, how much “better” your kid is being than if you *weren’t* doing those things – they’ll just see a kid who’s too intense, whose worn-down looking parent “can’t control” them (though I’d argue that any parent who truly could control their child must be an abusive one who has broken that child, because that is the only way you “control” other human beings). You just won’t get the gold stars, the “her parents do such a great job with her” comments that you’ll hear people make about other people’s kids. So you’ve got to let go and just accept things as they are, and believe that you are doing your best, and that it is enough, even if you never hear that from anyone else. That you are enough, and your kid is enough, whether you’re recognized by anyone else as “good” or not. But that’s hard. I don’t have good answers, here – I’m still working on finding my way – but I do think DBT has been helpful. And I thought it might also be helpful to think about this “out loud”, because I know that for me, one of the most helpful things when I am in self-loathing mode, thinking that I must be a horrible parent because I feel X or struggle with Y, is to see that no, I am not alone, this is a thing that others feel and I am not uniquely awful at parenting. So I hope this helps someone else who has similar struggles, and maybe also that it helps those who don’t struggle with perfectionism understand the ugly, painful side of it a little better.

works-in-progress

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Rainbow shawl in the sun.

As soon as I finished Thalia, I cast on for another shawl – this time Whipporwill, in a skein of Kauni Effektgarn that I’ve had in my stash for awhile. It’s the EQ colorway, that wonderful rainbow gradient! So far, I’ve knit through magenta, purple, blue, and green…

Kauni Whipporwill progress.

…and it’s so fun to watch the colors gradually shift. The Kauni yarn isn’t the softest stuff out there, but I don’t mind the way it feels! (I have sensitive skin, but oddly am not bothered by even fairly rough wool.)

Loving working with Kauni Effektgarn!

I’m not sure where I’ll have cause to wear a rainbow colored shawl (at the Pride parade? But that’s in July, so maybe not shawl weather!), but rainbows make me happy, so I’m sure I’ll figure something out. This shawl is going to be my project during our upcoming trip. We’re leaving tomorrow for Illinois to go to my cousin’s wedding (where I’ll wear Thalia), and then from there, driving with my parents up to MN to visit with them and with my grandparents, who are coming up to MN also. I’m really looking forward to seeing them, and excited for them to get to spend time with M!

But since we’ll be gone for quite awhile, I was mildly paranoid that I’d run out of knitting projects, so I cast on for another project yesterday:

I started a new sweater (of my own design, for M) yesterday.

It’s my own design, and it’s for M. We were reading a library book, and I noticed the sweater that one of the bears in the book was wearing – a white sweater with thin blue stripes, kind of nautical looking, and I thought…hey, I have Beaverslide Sport/Sock in my stash in those colors! So then I sketched out my idea, which isn’t exactly like the bear’s sweater (hers is a boat neck, I think), but instead, a split yoked pullover, with a slight A-line shape and pockets. I find that split yokes are very easy for M to put on herself (plus, I just love yokes, and splitting it makes it easy to have stripes without any jog), and I know she loves having pockets. M says she wants a zipper for the split section. We’ll see how it all works out – perhaps this will become yet another pattern on my list of patterns to write up for sale. (I swear, I’m going to work on at least the Garter Rib cardigan(s) and the Stripes! cardigan(s) this summer! I’d love to also knit up and write up a kids’ Vahtralehed pattern, too. And…so many other things. My brain is full and my to-do list is crazy.)

things i make for me: thalia!

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Leaving Thalia to dry outside after I pinned it out yesterday was a great idea – it was already dry by later in the afternoon! So now I need not worry about not having a shawl to wear with my dress at my cousin’s wedding – I’ve got it done with plenty of time to spare!

Very very happy with my new shawl!

Project Details:
Ravelry Project Page
Pattern: Thalia, by Kirsten Kapur
Yarn: sKnitches Kettle Drum in “Peapod” (which had been in my stash for AGES), plus some Dream in Color Baby in “Spring Tickle” (also old stash yarn!)
Needles: size 7 Clover circulars
Time to knit: about 2.5 weeks

I absolutely adore this pattern – it’s actually the first of Kirsten Kapur’s shawls that I’ve knit, despite lusting after them for quite some time! I bought her “Shawl Book One” after seeing the lovely photos that Gale Zucker posted from the photoshoot, knowing that there were at least a few patterns in it that I had definite intentions to knit. Thalia wasn’t the one I was planning to knit first, though – that came about after the mishaps with the Annis pattern, and I have to say, I’m SO much happier to have knit Thalia! The pattern was a lot of fun to knit. I was a little skeptical at first about the line-by-line instructions, thinking that it would be a pain to follow the pattern, but there’s a very simple logic to them once you get going, and as a result, I didn’t *actually* need to pay close attention to every single line. And the final lace chart was nice and easy to follow. The only mishap I had was running out of yarn just before the bind-off, but that actually worked in my favor…

Pretty pretty greens.

Look how well those greens work together! The contrast bind-off looks absolutely intentional, rather than a desperate attempt to not have to rip back and cut rows. I am just so happy with how it looks!

I can't believe how perfectly the contrast yarn ended up working out!

It’s hard to take photos of yourself wearing a shawl, and the bright sun outside didn’t really help matters, but here’s what it looks like pinned in the front, which is probably what I’ll do for the wedding:

Thalia, pinned in front.

I think it will look lovely with the dress I got to wear for the wedding (in Blue Multi Garden Floral print, which has more yellowy greens to it than it appears in the photo).

Thalia!

I’m hoping to get some nice pictures of my little family all dressed up next weekend, and if I do, I’ll share them here!

blocking Thalia

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Today is Thalia-blocking day! I got out my pins and my interlocking foam tiles, and set to work, pinning, pinning, pinning…

T-Pinning.

…so much pinning! I wanted to pin out each and every loop of the looped crochet bind off, which got rather tedious after awhile, but I think it will be worth it.

So many pins!

All told, I ended up using the entirety of my T-pin collection…150 pins!

Ended up using every T-pin I own (150!)

I carried the whole thing outside after I’d pinned it, because I knew there was no way I’d keep the shawl safe from curious Ren:

Ren was VERY curious about the shawl-blocking. (So curious I ended up having to lock him in the bathroom!)

Thankfully, we’re having a sunny and beautiful day outside, so hopefully it will dry fairly quickly. If there’s any sign of an impending thunderstorm (we had several, yesterday), I’ll have to carry it down to our basement or something. Cats + Knitting = not a very good combination, at least in our house!

I can’t wait to see what the shawl looks like once it’s all done blocking. The contrast green bind-off looks so good – what a happy accident that was!

all’s well that ends well

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My cousin’s wedding is quickly approaching, which means that Thalia needs to be finished soon if I want to wear it there! Luckily, last Thursday, I was able to spend nearly the entire day knitting, and knit all the way to the bind-off row…

This is all I have left for the loopy crochet bind-off for Thalia. I'm...not sure it's gonna be enough. What do we think, fellow knitters?

…to find that I only had that tiny little ball of yarn left to execute it. DISASTER!! The Thalia pattern uses a loopy crochet bind off, so I wasn’t at all sure that my little yarn ball would get me there.

So close, and yet so far?

I hemmed and hawed about what to do. I considered ripping back and leaving a plain row out of the edge lace, but didn’t think I could do that without creating a disaster (I hadn’t put a lifeline in or anything). I debated playing yarn-chicken and just going for it with my tiny ball, but couldn’t kick my doubts away. So then I went hunting for another yarn that I could use to bind-off. I love green, so I have a fair number of greens in my stash, but matching greens can be…tricky. These were the best two contenders I found:

Possible bind-off yarns? (Not sure either work...trying to work from stash here.)

The lighter one is Spud & Chloe Fine in “Glow Worm”, and the darker one is the leftover Dream in Color Baby in “Spring Tickle” from my Icarus Shawl and the Flutter Scarf I knit for my mom years ago. The “Glow Worm” was a similarly bright yellowy green, but it was so close-but-not-exact that it just wasn’t going to work, and I figured more contrast was the way to go. The “Spring Tickle” was actually pretty much the SAME green as my main yarn, just in a much darker shade, and ended up working beautifully in the bind-off! (And after knitting that bind-off, I’m even more sure that I made the right call in not trying to finish out with that tiny yarn ball.)

I’m all ready to block the shawl, so expect a post with a finished Thalia shawl soon!

other things i’ve been up to in May: commencement

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Even though I defended my dissertation last July, and have had my diploma since October, I figured that since I live in town, I may as well take part in commencement. I was actually asked to be one of the student marshals, which meant that I got to carry around a stick with ribbons tied onto it, and put people in alphabetical order. Nifty. M kept calling my regalia a “costume”, and she’s not wrong there – it’s a pretty silly get-up! But it was kind of fun to get to hear my name read, walk across the stage, and shake the university president’s hand (while being handed a tube with no diploma in it, since I already got mine in the mail!)…

Whitney getting a tube without a PhD (the real thing came in the mail in October)

…and get hooded:

Whitney being hooded.

Unfortunately, my rental regalia had a tam that was too small for my head, so it ended up being precariously perched on my head in a very uncomfortable manner during the entire ceremony. I was more than happy to plop it onto M’s head afterwards!

Post-commencement: M wears the silly hat.

Of course, we had to take photos of me all gussied up in my academic finest:

Closeup, with my dorky smile.

(I’m doing that dorky thing where I stick my tongue between my teeth while smiling…WHY do I do that??)

Taking a photo of mama in regalia (finally got commencement-day photos off the DSLR)

(M insists that her rhythm instrument is a camera, so my picture is actually being taken twice over!)

She's taking my closeup :)

(She’s taking my closeup!)

Me and my girl (finally got commencement-day photos off the DSLR)

I love that M got to be part of the photos we took – she and the dissertation “grew up” together, after all :)

Me and my girl, on commencement day.

That hood did NOT want to stay on my shoulders!

So, that was commencement. The graduate-student era of my life is officially no more, and I couldn’t be happier about that – life is so much better now. I’m proud of my accomplishment, but I do hope that M grows up knowing that a Ph.D is not something I expect of her…that she has worth and value regardless of the degrees she obtains, and that I’ll be proud of her for choosing a path that makes her happy and fulfilled, whatever it may be. I’m sure there is value in having high expectations, but I also know from my own experience that once a thing is expected of you, it robs a lot of the joy and pride from accomplishing it…you were supposed to accomplish it, after all, so nobody’s going to be surprised or impressed that you DID. Anyway, this is just something that I’m very conscious about, having been the child of a professor, and having never really seen paths outside of the academic one in my life, or rather, having never really felt that I had those other paths as options (I wasn’t actually so blind as to think those paths didn’t exist). I’m very happy with where I ended up, teaching writing to college freshmen – I can’t really think of a better job for me. But I definitely want M to know there are other things out there that are just as (or even more) worthwhile and she’s good enough no matter which of them she chooses. I’ll cheer and celebrate her accomplishments in any domain!

other things i’ve been up to in May: knitting a shawl

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Having fun with Thalia-in-progress.

The first thing I did upon finishing up grading my students’ portfolios was cast on for a shawl to wear at my cousin’s wedding on June 20th. I had a skein of bamboo-blend sock yarn in a light yellow green (which goes nicely with the dress I intend to wear), and I thought it would be perfect for Annis (spoiler alert: as you might guess from the photo that leads this post, Annis is not going to be the shawl I wear at my cousin’s wedding!).

Annis starts with a VERY long cast-on (363 stitches), which I did successfully the first time, and happily knit 7 (very long, time-consuming) rows of the lace pattern. Then, it was time for us to go to Ohio for Memorial Day weekend, so I stuffed it in my bag to bring with me. But then…when I took it out to start knitting, my circular needle broke. This has been happening more and more often with my Knitpicks Harmony interchangeables – the cord just pops out of the metal join. I really love the Harmony needle tips, and the interchangeable set has served me well for several years, but it seems like the glue is just going bad or something – it’s happening all the time now, and not just with the cords, but with the tips themselves popping out of the metal joins, also. (Advice on a replacement set is welcome!) In this case, it popped out while I was knitting, and I lost a bunch of stitches, and had to rip out…and then ended up with an enormous tangle of yarn that was making me cry. Luckily, my husband is an awesome person, and he methodically picked out the tangle for me so that I could cast on again:

This is love.
This is love.

So, I cast on 363 stitches again (this is not trivial, especially when you have a 3.5 year old around), and knit the first row, only to discover that I was 10 stitches short of completing a final repeat of the lace pattern (I don’t know whether this means I had too many or too few stitches, because I didn’t actually count the number of pattern repeats I’d knit). That was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. I mean, Annis looks pretty, but I just don’t think that a shawl knit from the bottom-up is a good fit for my mind and life as it currently stands. Counting and I just don’t seem to be good friends anymore (remember that this was part of the impetus behind switching the Stripes! cardigan to be top-down rather than bottom-up!).

So I starting going through my Queue and Favorites on Ravelry, trying to figure out what would make a nice summery shawl with a single skein of sock yarn. And then I remembered that I’d bought Kirsten Kapur’s Shawl Book One. I was going back-and-forth between Thalia and Nefertem, but a peek at the pattern revealed that Nefertem would require quite a few stitch markers, and I had exactly three with me on the trip (and no easy means of jury-rigging extras, either). This pushed me towards Thalia – and the lovely open “dots” in the body of the shawl helped, too, because it just looked more summery. So, Thalia it is!

Thalia-in-progress (I gave up on Annis)

I knit on it every chance I got while we were on our trip, like when we went to a playground with M and her cousin. It doesn’t look like much, all bunched up…

Thalia-in-progress, all scrunched up.

…but once you spread it out, so that the “dots” open up, it’s absolutely lovely!

Thalia-in-progress, stretched so that the dots pop (the texture is so great!)

I think it’s going to be an absolutely lovely shawl…I’ve just got to actually FINISH it in time to block it before we leave on June 17th. What do y’all think? Can I do it?