20 November 2011

Piles of Yarn

4 December 2009, 20 November 2011

It sat in two distinct piles behind my desk on the bookshelf’s ledge, linked only by a few strands, hovering for a couple of weeks. I did attempt to start the repairs on several occasions, only enough to get frustrated and repeatedly put it back on the bookshelf to loom over me daily. A visible conscience.

The goal was to return this mass of disorder back into a tidy wound ball of yarn. This tidy wound ball of yarn has been a visual representation of the combined efforts of fourteen seven to nine year old children, plus a couple adults here and there.

I sat down ready to mend what I’d let become a huge pile; this twisted, colorful mound of 460-foot knitted yarn. Thinking of the daunting task, a huge sigh released from my mouth. It was already 5:30 on a Friday afternoon and despite my limited options for an evening, motivation had not found me. If I didn’t mend it, why should the students endeavor? What would I communicate by not fixing this twisted, colorful mound of knitted yarn they had such pride in? I had to persevere. I had to follow through.

Fortunately, a friend saw my eyes glaze over as I stared at the mass on the classroom floor. She decided to help me. Thirty minutes in, Maria said, “If I could only find the end!” Many people spend their whole lives trying to do that, trying to find what they’ve been looking for or why they’ve been looking.

It was routine the last time we measured this continuum of finger knitting. One selected child rolled the ball around their classmates who acted as stakes so that the yarn would stay close to the black line for an estimated measurement. The black line makes the perimeter of the basketball court – easily measured at 60’ the long way and 20’ the short way, 160’ all the way around. In wanting to give them the opportunity to run given the time we had, it was recess after all, I neglected to demand our usual regiment of re-winding the ball of yarn together. The yarn was allowed to be scooped up, disheveled, and placed on the bleachers. Later moved to bookshelf, where it sat.

Maria and I shook the strands, trying to untangle them section-by-section. It made me think about the strands tangled within my life. The intermingled merriment with efforts to continually learn. The time spent trying to understand how to untangle the obstacles I came to, that I continue to come to. And seeing beauty in the colors.

At first, we dedicated specific time to learning the skill of finger knitting and slip knots. It wasn’t long before the students could multi-task, like listening to a story at the same time. They continued the privilege, as long as they were engaged during questioning – truly being able to multitask. It became something the students did when they are finished with their work. They took great efforts to perfect their work. Pleasure and high self-esteem came when they’d knitted their small ball of yarn into a long braid. The task took several days for the fastest and over a week or two for some. They could only knit for minutes at a time, ten at the most during story time. We did have some issues with “sneak knitting” too. Those students ambitious enough even took theirs to lunch to work on after they ate. Students had reverence for finger knitting and all it encompassed.

This made the efforts of my friend and myself meaningful. And I was certainly appreciative of the help!

Our class tradition was that at the end of the day if someone had finished their knitting they were knighted. I’d found a plastic sword outside in the snow and adopted it. A student with finished finger knitting knelt on the floor with their yarn encircling them. The class would surround them in deafening silence, something unheard of during the regular day. I would tap each shoulder in timing with a chant something along the lines of, “On this sixth day of September two-thousand nine, Jaden Olsen knitted super fine!” or “On this twentieth day of January two-thousand ten, Carla Waska, knitted like she could win!” All of the students clapped in rejoice as I tied the finished braid to the end of the growing class yarn ball. And the student was awarded with a new little ball of fresh yarn to knit.

Our determination paid off – the twisted, colorful mound of 460-foot knitted yarn became tidy again. Motivation came from wanting to be a model for the students. But, I discovered in the piles of yarn we could find ourselves, our frustrations, delights, our efforts and hard work, mischief, pride, a community, joy.

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