Last winter, I became a mom. I counted 10 fingers and loved and lost all at once. Whenever I talk about my baby Joy's fingers, everyone becomes speechless. It's as if the thought is too taboo, too horrifying. It is a nightmare that horror movies leave untouched.
The sacred love between a mother and daughter is one that I never understood. My maternal grandmother was a product of the New York City foster care system in the 1930's to 1950's.
When you don't have a mother yourself, it's so hard to be one. You don't know what to do, who to turn to, what to see, how to act, or react. You must act on basic instinct. But unfortunately, we don't have complete agency over instinct; it is shaped entirely by our experience as a human and by the people who raised us. But when there is no one there to shape their child and love their child, than you could guess what Grandma's Shirley maternal instinct was like.
My maternal grandmother was a product of the New York City foster care system in the 1930's to 1950's. Us girls don't know what happened in that time, but we did know that Grandma Shirley never had a mom and never knew what mothering was.
And so, she gave her daughters the physical things that she missed out on as a child. She gave them a warm home, handmade clothing, and spent all of the family income on private schools. She swaddled them in things, many of which were handmade things because that is what they can afford. And so, she loved them in the only way she knew how.
My mom struggled with motherly instinct. She struggled with love and compassion and care. We did not want for anything growing up, because for the most part, we had it. That was until we needed guidance from our mom. When it came to that, we had to learn from our own mistakes and accomplishments. One thing I did learn, was that like my grandmother, I was fiercely stubborn, sharp tongued, and used my crafts to channel my soul. I did not know how to talk about my feelings, but I had yarn and crochet and knitting needles, all tools that helped me navigate grief and love and lost and hate.
When I became pregnant last winter with Joy, I saw it as my time to start over. I saw it as my chance to finally have that bond. The first thing I ever bought Joy was a box of yarn. I planned to knit throughout my pregnancy, planting well wishes and love and hope into my stitches, until I was left with a collection of baby clothes. Knitting for someone is my way of showing love. And it is my way of understanding love too. I want to keep them warm and protected with a physical object. But that physical object is also filled with love.
When I was pregnant, my heart was so full. And it all burst when Joy was burn too early. My love gushed and oozed and roughly swaddled my husband. It suffocated me and everyone who tried to touch me. For a while, I tried to use my love as a guide to find my purpose, but it lead me in shaky taunting circles around the things that I wanted, never leading me to them.
I never felt love like this. I never breathed so much tragic love in my life. But I was not surprised when I picked up my knitting needles and started to build that love, stitch by stitch, into a tangible object that I can see and understand. I counted stitches and measured and weighed and calculated. The Joy shawl gave me what I needed. All I had at the time was my basic maternal instinct. But knitting Joy allowed me to understand myself piece by piece. It turned the great force of my love towards a purpose.
Joy and I do not have the typical mother daughter relationship because there is no "living" bond. But she taught me something that all daughters teach their mothers. She taught me love.