Monday, February 07, 2011

Age and Babies

So far, I feel I’ve spent my first 36 years being told that I’m too young. I remember a point in elementary school when a friend two years older than me used the phrase “shake it don’t break it.” When I asked, “What does that mean, anyway?” she replied, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” It’s amazing how much a ten year old has to lord over an eight year old. It became clear to me when I was older that her answer was really an indication that she didn’t know any more than I did. I still have no idea what that strange idiomatic phrase is supposed to mean.
When Cherie Brown, founder and executive director of the National Coalition Building Institute came to the university at which I work, she began talking about diversity by recognizing everyone in the audience for all the things about each of us that make us part of specific groups, whether they are groups that are classically thought of as oppressors or as oppressed. It was a great exercise. When each group was called, those who fit into it stood, and everyone else applauded. So for instance, I got to stand for categories like female, protestant, white, heterosexual, German (which may have been part of a group of northern European countries, I don’t remember) etc. When she got to age, Ms. Brown said, “It seems like we spend the first half of our lives wishing we were older, and the second half wishing we were younger.” How true it is!
I’ve mostly glided through life not worrying too much about my age. I think part of why I’m always being told I’m young is that I tend to hang out with people older than me, and I’ve always preferred to date a few years older. So several of my close friends are grandmothers, and my husband has half a decade on me. Of course I attribute my tendency to have older friends to my advanced intelligence and maturity; you may draw your own conclusions.
It’s at my university that I feel a bit persecuted for my allegedly young age. Not so much in my own department, but it is whenever I meet with faculty from other departments, or visit another department’s office, that I am asked “are you a student or a faculty member?” Or even worse, faculty members wheedle a number out of me and point out that their children are the same age, or a little older. I think someone in the fashion department actually said, “Well, I could be your mother.” I may be reading too much into it, but I really think this is a power play of some sort on their part. Maybe the ranking of grades and degrees in academia puts too much of an emphasis on the time put in, and not enough on the accomplishments.
I think it’s almost comical that at 36 these folks are trying to make me feel too young. In truth, I am too old to become a cop, too old to audition for American Idol, about twice as old as a retiring gymnast or figure skater, too old to have a first baby without very careful attention from doctors, and just recently, the proud owner of one pair of prescription bifocals, and one pair of pharmacy reading glasses. And yet, I got carded at a university event by someone at least 10 years younger than me. Yes, we have a lot of non-traditional students, so the average age probably trends a little high compared to the average, but still. My stepson is the same age as most of my sophomores. And yes, I am too young to have a kid his age, but see the earlier paragraph about the slightly older husband.
And so I am battling for some respect and recognition at work even thought I am “too young” and battling increasing age in the guise of weight gain and gravity and declining optical lens flexibility. The CDC says the average American life expectancy is 77.9 years. I’m nearly half way. Given that, plus the fact that I can’t wear a bikini anymore, I’d really like some recognition for everything I can do now that I couldn’t do back when I could still wear that two piece.
In an effort to garner some age-based respect, I’ve been practicing perching my new tiger striped reading glasses on the end of my nose. Now I look like Janine from Ghostbusters.
So I’m dipping my toes into middle age, and we’re all careening towards old age, but what I’m actually trying to come around to is the very youngest: babies. I don’t have much use for babies myself, they’re like needy potatoes with messy diapers, but people who have them seem very keen on them. My stepson and I met at the perfect time. He was 5, old enough to tell really good stories, especially since he was still too young to fully “get” the distinction between experienced events and imagined ones. He was cute and smart, could communicate, and could go to the bathroom on his own. Perfect. I was 22. Old enough to be legitimately interested in kids and young enough to dive into a relationship with him and his father without thinking ahead to how hard it is to have a teenager while still in one’s twenties. Perfect.
Now, I don’t mean to bad mouth the whole breeding thing. Yes, self-righteous stay-at-home moms who spend all their time lecturing everyone else on the internet (while their unsupervised children set the cat on fire) are annoying, but lots of people I know and respect really love babies. The day your child is born is momentous. The fact that they start out as a baby is immaterial compared to the importance of that day, the day they come fully into life and you come fully into parenthood. I didn’t get this back when I was younger, or was distracted or something, but for the last 5 or 10 years I’ve tried to really focus on being part of the community rituals that surround and celebrate the birth of a child. Births, weddings, graduations/confirmations/bar mitzvahs/coming of age, and deaths are the really major parts of life, epic and bigger than the work-a-day world. They are the framework, and the basis for much or our crucial spiritual moments. They are also the times when family and community mobilize, and are at their very best, fulfilling their most fundamental functions. I want to be part of that for my friends and family.
And so (you knew this was coming) I knit. I don’t seem to knit as many wedding presents, and I should get back to knitting prayer shawls for those in crisis, but at this point I do try to knit for everyone I know who is having a baby. It’s funny, now that I’m past childbearing age, and even thought I claim to have mostly older friends, I seem to know a ton of people having babies right now. It’s been that way for a few years.
Isabella's blanket
A few months ago I sent out this great, colorful blanket to a friend. She says the baby grabbed it right away and loved sticking her little fingers through the holes in the lace pattern. My friend Ann is great about knitting blankets for the babies in her life, and it was her great idea to make the little version, as something for the baby/toddler to hold onto while the big blankie is in the wash, or when the big blankie is too much to carry along on this particular trip to the grocery store, etc.
There are so many babies on the way right now, I had to make a list of who’s having the baby, boy or girl (if known) and what I plan to knit for them. Finished except for the buttons is this baby surprise for a baby of not-yet-known gender.
baby surprise
I love this pattern. This is at least the third time I’ve done one and it charms and amazes me every time. I love the way it looks with stripes, and I have no idea how Elizabeth Zimmerman ever thought her way around a garment in this direction. Just the fact that her line of shaping (decreases then increases) move from the back cuff, under the arm and onward to the bottom front hem is amazing to behold.
robot baby sweater

This is a great combination of things. I was on a friend’s Ravelry page, looking at these great robot mittens she had made, when Chris leaned over and said, “You should make a baby sweater like that for X’s baby, she’d love that kind of thing.” Thus I bought Kathryn Ivy’s Love Bytes mitten pattern and used her wonderful charts and a modification of a seventies baby sweater pattern to make this really delightful baby sweater full of robots and hearts. I totally love her pun, and the really blocky mid-twentieth century robots, and the idea of robots in love. This aesthetic is the same thing I love about the robots in Futurama—they’ve appropriate an older, dated, view of future technology, so it is both primitive/nostalgic and futuristic to our modern eye. Like the giant super computers in classic trek that take up a whole room and break down when Kirk tells them “everything I say is a lie, including that.” Actually, I think Kirk broke a sexy false eye-lashed female robot with that particular tautology, but you get the picture. I predict that ‘50s robots made out of cardboard boxes will be the next big thing after steam punk. And babies will be the recipients of my next 5 knitting projects.

3 comments:

Julie Sandler said...

That robot baby sweater is going to be the cutest thing ever. I'm going to copy your idea if you don't mind and make one for my son. I love it!

Emily said...

Oh boy, I'm not 30 yet; does this mean I have to call you Mrs. Fire now? ;)
I just wanted to say that after going to B. State for nearly my entire college career, I STILL did not learn as much from them as I learned from YOU.
Age is (mostly)just a number. Your experiences have rendered you a wise woman, a patient, AMAZING teacher, and a valued and trusted friend.
Well, that's my fear of intimacy calling, so just one more thing:
...if I ever get knocked up, I want the robot one!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

You're past child bearing age? Don't tell my sister that. She had her daughter when she was 39.