A hat that says what words can’t

by Kristin on February 16, 2011

in Love, family & community

Photo by K. Tennant

That’s my most recent knitting project. I took a break from the sweater I’m knitting for myself (which will probably be ready to wear in time for…summer) to knit that little hat for my daughters’ new baby brother.

Yes, my daughters have a new baby brother, and no, I didn’t fail to inform you that I was expecting. I didn’t have a baby (a fact I’m utterly grateful to be able to state, by the way), their dad and stepmom did. He’s cute as a button, but it’s not my place to put his photo on my blog so instead you get just the hat.

I’ll admit, the situation is unusual enough that it’s worth asking myself why I knit this hat, and what it represents.

First of all, when people I know have babies, I knit hats. It’s what I do. I have some super-soft kid-mohair yarn I love, and I think the “umbilical cord” hat pattern is adorable—it’s a pleasure to whip these little guys out. It feels meaningful, too. As I’m knitting, stitch by stitch, I think about the parents-to-be and the little one readying him or herself to join the world. There’s a meditative element to making the gift, much like knitting a prayer shawl  (my father-in-law received one when he was undergoing chemotherapy, and I was filled with emotion as I thought about the people praying for him as they knit each stitch).

Trying to grasp the bizarreness of life

That’s a lovely reason all on its own, but I have to acknowledge that this particular baby isn’t just any baby, and his parents and siblings aren’t just any family. Divorce has brought many realities into my life that I never thought I’d encounter. I call them my is-this-really-my-life-because-it’s-nothing-like-I-imagined moments. Of course, sometimes the life we imagine for ourselves is little more than overly romantic; other times it’s just plain old straightforward and unimaginative.

There’s nothing straightforward about this situation. My daughters—my flesh and blood, love-of-my-life babies—are going through a significant life transformation that has nothing (really) to do with me. How do I both be a part of it, as their mom, and step away from it, as not-the-baby’s mom? How do I gather up and embrace all of their excitement and apprehension, while distancing myself from a family moment that isn’t mine?

I’ve actually tried hard to not over-think it. Sometimes the more deliberate and thoughtful we are, the more awkward things feel. Leading up to the birth, I asked the girls from time to time about the preparations, and after the birth I took them to the hospital and looked at photos and cooed over how cute Baby is. Those seem like good, natural ways to communicate what needed to be said.

Communicating through yarn, not words

Then there’s the hat, and me knitting it in the evenings while the girls worked on homework and practiced cello and violin. The hat is a small thing, but it’s like strings of sentences not spoken or written, just worked out in yarn. What might those sentences, knit row by row, say?

Well, they say to my girls “This baby brother is a treasure—I’m excited for you.” They say “You were once little enough for this hat, and you will always be my babies.” They say “Our families might be complicated, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t full of love and forgiveness and a hopeful future.”

And the hat also says many many other things—thoughts and feelings that can’t really be put into words. Sometimes, after all, life is too mysterious and unexpected and beautiful for words.

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  • http://hollyhousestudio.blogspot.com Jennifer

    That hat speaks what words simply can’t. That is, your devotion to parenthood, your intentional mothering, your thought-filled heart. That hat tells your girls it’s okay to ask questions, to be infatuated with that sweet little baby. We moms have to push at the edges of those sticky situations with enough force to get a reply but gently enough that the edges hold. Well done, friend. Well done.

  • http://www.10minutewriter.com Katharine

    This is so beautiful, the words, the thoughts and the hat. I love that your life brings you to these moments and sheds light to me on your life. It nudges me to be graceful.

  • Em J

    “The hat is a small thing, but it’s like strings of sentences not spoken or written, just worked out in yarn.”……

    This is what I feel so much. Maybe its in a prayer. Or in a touch. Or in handing a prayer shawl to a grieving family or a scared patient about to have surgery.

    You are beautiful, and a great example to your girls. Praying for the new little man in all of your lives! :)

  • http://katieleigh.wordpress.com Katie

    Gorgeous. I knit hats for the people I love who have babies, too – my way of extending welcome to these little ones. But your welcome has so many thoughtful layers. Thanks for sharing with us.

  • http://seekingpastor.wordpress.com seekingpastor

    Beautiful words and hat and meaning and heart. Very touching and very true.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention a baby hat that says what words can't: (gotta say, writing this post made me tear up...) -- Topsy.com

  • http://themoderngal.com The Modern Gal

    What a great, thoughtful gift for an event that comes no doubt with complicated emotions. Is that pattern online anywhere? I’d love to knit a hat like that for my cousin’s new baby.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Holy cow! Great post! Great project! Great lesson!

    I see how you’re knitting grace, forgiveness, and healing into the lives of your girls. What an embodiment of hope for them. The fact that you can do a project like this in their company will be one of those transforming moments that they’ll look back on with amazement one day when they’re adults. This is a wonderful process for you and for us to enjoy, but I keep thinking that it’s more than that. It’s an investment of grace that will pay dividends in the future.

  • http://takingtheyoke.blogspot.com Ray Hollenbach

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
    Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
    Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

    I read these verses just now with you, your daughters, Baby, and the hat in mind. I think these verse cover everyone or everything involved. Peace to you!

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise

    First, I love that hat. Do you happen to have a pattern? I’m like you — I love to give handmade gifts to babies in my life. And yes, I generally pray for the child & parents as I make the item.

    Second, and more importantly (probably, because that’s a REALLY cute hat!), I think it’s beautiful that you involve yourself in in your daughter’s lives and give them space to deal with it on their own with their dad. I’m sure that’s a complicated dance, but it sounds like you are navigating it gracefully and I have no doubt that as they grow older, they will remember how you reacted during these “interesting” moments. Be blessed, my friend!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Jennifer, this is lovely and true: “We moms have to push at the edges of those sticky situations with enough force to get a reply but gently enough that the edges hold.” It sounds a lot like working with delicate dough–making a pizza or pie crust. I love the image. Thanks for supporting me in a way that demonstrates not just blind friendship, but also some sincere, believable objectivity.

    Katharine, I’m just glad that if my life has to bring me to these moments, at least I’m able to do something broadly useful with them! It’s a crazy life, but in the end I tend to be grateful of the very things that make it crazy. I have a feeling you feel the same way. :)

    Em J, we tend to focus on words a lot in our society, don’t we? As a writer, I don’t usually mind that, but I’m realizing that I could stand to cultivate and rely on my non- verbal communications more. I can tell that you are a blessing to others through your quiet ways, and an inspiration, too.

    Katie, I’m so glad you found your way to the blog and even left a comment! I’ve always known that handmade gifts are special, because of the time invested, but I didn’t take it that next step until I learned about prayer shawls. Suddenly, each stitch can hold meaning, so knit on, girl!

    seekingpastor, thank you! I often find that truths are most likely to sneak out, onto the page, when I’m least expecting them. Writing this post was a lot like that.

  • Nicola


    Your post made me teary as well. I’m so impressed with how you have integrated your first family and your second family and beyond! Your girls are lucky to be learning such wonderful lessons of forgiveness and compassion and caring through your example and hard work (let’s not ignore that!).

    When my parents divorced, as you know, it was terrible. But, as the years passed, I’ve always felt like it was all ok and that I am ok and that my parents lives have been happier and richer. I’ve never felt stigmatized or really even greatly traumatized, beyond the initial years and adjustment. I’d say the most lasting “problem” for me has been my tendency to be completely self-sufficient and independent, which has brought its own issues to bear on my marriage and process of becoming a mother!

    One of the strange things, though, is how separate my parents’ lives became early on because of my mom’s move to a different state. In some ways, this made things easier (for them), but in many ways they went from completely intertwined to completely separate, which I think was especially hard for all of the peripheral people in their lives – friends, extended family, and yes, my sister and I.

    I think it’s actually a gift that you and Conrad share so much – or are forced to continue to share so much. Yes, it’s difficult and leads to strange moments for you (and him and the girls), but you’re all dealing with each other and staying somewhat connected and allowing the “peripheral” relationships to stay somewhat intact. There isn’t a gaping hole left, if you know what I mean.

    I think that at the end of the day, this will help your kids understand the inherent messiness of human relationships, the work that goes into making a family (whatever that means to the people involved), and the need to face the one’s own strengths and weaknesses as we negotiate life and love. It should serve them well when they are adults!

    I’m rambling a bit due to an afternoon slump!

    Take care!

  • Elaine Tolsma-Harlow

    Kristin, there is not much more I can add than what has already been posted. You spoke the truth from your heart and wrote beautifully. You are on the outside of it all, but the ones you love most are so deeply involved it must be quite odd.
    On a much lighter note, while I was reading this I was humming Ingrid Michaelson’s, The Hat. If you are not familiar with it, check it out on I-tunes, it should put a smile on your face.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    The Modern Gal, it’s a small thing, but sometimes that’s exactly what’s called for. (btw, the pattern is in the original Stitch and Bitch book.)

    ed, knitting turns out to be a pretty good metaphor, doesn’t it? And I love the idea of “an investment of grace that will pay dividends in the future.” It seems like life regularly presents situations that come with a fork in the road–we can try to take the route of grace or go with the easier shortcut. Thinking about an “investment” puts those options in a different light.

    Ray, thank you for the gift of those verses in this context. It took a few readings before I was able to really hear such familiar words in a new way, but I did and was blessed by it.

    Alise, the hat is from the original Stitch and Bitch book. I used Rowan Kid Classic yarn (amazing kid-mohair) and added the stripes. It’s a super easy pattern. Regarding my daughters, we all know that our kids are so much more tuned in to what we do than what we say, yet sometimes it feels difficult to be deliberate in the “doing” lessons–it’s easier to hold a family meeting and just say it all. This experience has made me excited about finding more opportunities to *do.*

    Nicola, thanks for all that kindness and encouragement. I’ve never thought much about those peripheral relationships you mention, but I think you’re exactly right. There was a time, shortly after my divorce, when I really wanted to move back to Mich, even though I knew I would never try to move the girls away from their dad. It seemed appealing, though, because I imagined it would be easier–a blessed relief from the complexities of still having to share so much. While it might have been easier, I can now see, without a doubt, that it wouldn’t have been better, in the least. The messiness, the work, the negotiating, it’s all part of the richness of life.

    Elaine, it’s nice to know that others can imagine how and why this situation feels so odd. I’ve asked myself a few times what the big deal is–why I feel so impacted–as if I could somehow reason myself out of the various emotions. Writing about it helped a lot (and knitting about it helped too)! (I don’t know that song–will have to check it out.)

  • http://www.livinginabeautifulmess.blogspot.com Cheryl Ensom Dack

    Kristin, you my dear are beautiful, inside and out. Several of your blog posts have taken my breath away in their tender, raw honesty, but this one…I have both a grin and tears with that deep, deep “answer” feeling in my tummy. “THIS is love,” that “answer feeling” whispers. This is what it really means to be human. Your heart is stunning, Kristin, and I am so happy and glad to call you my friend.

  • Joi

    Kristin, there are no words to express how I feel just now after reading this. Tears of joy and thanksgiving for all God has done to bring you to this beautiful place in your life came over me so quickly, so unexpectedly. What an inspired, beautiful expression of the inexpressible! You have bridged the gap by this tender gesture, paving the way for your girls to feel free to share all their new love and excitement about their baby brother with you. You are an inspiration to many people in similar circumstances, I am sure.

  • http://lisadelay.com/blog Lisa Colón DeLay

    Not sure if you’ve heard of “yarn bombing” …but I think you got the goods for it. Could even be an avenue of ministry : )

    It’s great stuff, and oozes joy. My post on it here (with photo). http://wp.me/p1g2iA-HX

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Cheryl, now I’m really blushing! I’m touched that you see me this way, but I feel like I have to say that my heart is not always “stunning,” if ever. There might be flashes of good, but they’re flanked by worry and selfishness and envy and cynicism. In this particular case, I will say that showing kindness to this baby and his parents is easy and natural, because we are blessed with a healthy, respectful relationship. It’s not like I have to work extra hard to be gracious—I think anyone in my position would find themselves doing the same, with God’s grace to guide them.

    Joi, and now you’re going to me ME cry! I really didn’t expect this post to be so emotional, but it just sort of spilled out that way. I guess it was an act of finally processing this situation I’ve been holding at an arm’s length. Thank you for all of your prayers and support.

    Lisa, I have heard about knitting projects like that, but didn’t know it was called “yarn bombing.” Fun! It does “ooze joy,” as you put it, and the idea of it being an avenue of ministry is very intriguing…

  • http://www.emergingmummy.com Sarah@EmergingMummy

    I love this and I love your heart for your girls. I can’t begin to comment rationally but thank you.

  • http://www.creativeguidetolife.com Susan

    This is so touching. Your girls will grow up and marvel at this one day. That they grew up with two very unique, special families that could all support each other.

    I get a sense that you see the baby as an extension of your own family. Like how my Mom, who has only met my brother-in-law and ex-wife twice, sends them gifts for the boys now and again. Because they’re my nephews and therefor they are connected to her.

    And maybe you’ll have a special relationship with that baby as he grows up. Someone he sees as like a second Mom, the woman his sisters love, the person he can look to when he doesn’t know what to say to his own parents.

    It’s a special place to be. Congrats on the new member of your family.

  • http://www.chambanamoms.com Laura (@chambanalaura)

    That hat has so much meaning – but to me it signifies what a beautiful, GRACEFUL person you are.

  • http://www.sundayschoolrebel.typepad.com Sam

    What a loving gift – to your girls, to this sweet new baby, to your ex and his wife. This is just so well-adjusted and an offering of love and grace. Truly, making something is giving something of yourself – that’s what I love to do it, too. (And I love that hat! Thomas received one very much like it and I treasure it.)

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Sarah, thank you. It was an interesting moment when I realized my “heart for my girls” was the complete motivator in this project. There was no “this would be the ‘nice’ or ‘right’ thing to do.” Sometimes love finds its own way to shout.

    Susan, I’m realizing there are many ways to form connections and bonds. Sometimes we get really narrow vision about how that might work—that it’s all about time spent together, in person. I think it’s healthy for us to explore all the other options, too.

    Laura, thank you. As I mentioned in another response, I’m pretty sure all of you would do something very similar in my situation. There is no animosity or resentment, so being gracious is not the biggest challenge in the world. :)

    Sam, hand-making a gift can send you out on a limb a bit, can’t it? It’s nice to knit for babies, though, because everything turns out so cute, and they are too little to be picky about colors and styles. As long as the yarn is ultra-soft, you’re good to go!