"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Felted Wool and Potted Plants

I'm a crafty person, always have been. I seek out ways to scratch my crafty itch on the regular so it's nothing new for me to have art supplies in my Amazon cart, overstuffing the shelves of our art closet, and spread all over our kitchen table. I have to credit my friend Holly, though, for inspiring my latest bout of craftiness: Needle Felting.

What started as a night out at a local craft studio with some friends to celebrate Holly's birthday quickly blossomed into a full-blown obsession. As soon as I got home from the initial lesson, I ordered a cheap Needle Felting set on Amazon and started small:

Simple to learn (you literally just sculpt wool roving and then stab it with a barbed needle a billion times), this is a craft that's easy to pick up but impossible to put down. The gratification is pretty instant, too, which is a big selling point for me when it comes to crafting. I don't think I'd have the patience to quilt, for example, but a cute little kitty that I can start and finish in one afternoon? Yes, thank you.

My felting reached a fever pitch when another friend of mine gifted me with her collection of artisan quality wool roving. I couldn't stop stabbing wool into adorable little creatures.....


...and seasonal decor...

....and then I made a gnome and I think I might never stop making felted wool gnomes.


Which is just fine, actually, because needle felting is the perfect activity for Potted Plants.


In December of 2016, psychologist Lisa Damour wrote an article for the New York Times taking the results from an Australian study on the relationship between parental absence/presence in the home and adolescent development, and applying them to American families. She argued that parental presence is one of the most important predictors of adolescent health and social and academic outcomes.

I would argue that "parental presence" requires other privileges (such as parental/caregiving support, job flexibility, etc.) that could also contribute to these positive outcomes, nevertheless, I get her main point: Teens need parents who are There. Even if they think or say or act otherwise.

Damour suggests that the nature of the time spent together doesn't really matter...just knowing that a parent is physically there is beneficial for a teen. Teens don't necessarily want your constant input or to be physically or emotionally interacting with you...they don't even really want to notice you're around most of the time...

"The quality parenting of a teenager," Damour writes, "may sometimes take the form of blending into the background like a potted plant."

She, and others who have written about this Potted Plant Parenting, offer advice on how to blend into the background...fold laundry on the couch while the kids are watching a show, answer emails at the kitchen table while the kids work on their homework....maybe stab some wool a billion times until it looks like a gnome while your kid drones on endlessly about Pokémon?

I actually really love this parenting philosophy, maybe because it feels so natural to me. My mom was the ultimate Potted Plant. I grew up in a split level home that literally centered around the kitchen. Because we were a family of 10, someone was nearly always hungry, so my mom spent a LOT of time in that kitchen. As the family grew, so did the house, with renovations and an addition placing the kitchen even more squarely in the center of the house, which now had an open concept main level. From my mom's seat at one end of the long kitchen table, she was within sight or earshot of every corner of the house.

I remember frantic mornings before school, late nights stressing over a project, hectic afternoons filled with practices and play dates and kids of all ages coming and going....and when she wasn't shuttling us around in our 12-passenger Dodge Ram van, my mom was always right there, sitting at her seat at the end of the long kitchen table, the newspaper spread open in front of her, a mug of tea (heated for the second or third time) on her placemat.

She wasn't sitting there, reading the paper, for fun or enjoyment or even to take a moment for herself. It wasn't for lack of other things she could or should have been doing (to be sure, with eight kids there was always laundry, which was mostly done after we had all been tucked in)....no, there were a billion things my mom could have been doing, but she knew it was more important that she was simply THERE. She was there, in the center of the house, in case anyone needed her...to help with homework, to sign a permission slip, to mediate a sibling squabble.

Like a potted plant that you don't notice as you enter a room, my mom faded into the background of my adolescence. As I grew up, it was my friends and classmates, my crushes and my own psyche that played the dominant roles in my life. That's how it should be. I know how lucky we were, though, to have a mom that was a potted plant....just there. Reliably, unobtrusively there. I remember plopping down at the kitchen table lamenting over a poor grade or a frustrating friend experience. My mom would sometimes offer advice or her opinion, but mostly she would just listen as I spewed verbal excrement all over her newspaper until I had talked myself into a solution on my own. Content, I'd bound off to my bedroom to call a friend or start my homework...I'm sure I didn't thank her for listening...I thought of her presence as a given. I know now that it was a choice she made every single day. I wonder what she made of those interactions? Did she even read the paper or was it just there, to anchor her to her spot at the kitchen table, in the center of everything?

As teens, we probably didn't acknowledge or appreciate her dependable presence, but it must have meant something pretty important because it has stuck with me. When I think back to that house we grew up in, that's what I see: my mom, seated at the end of the long kitchen table, with an open newspaper and a steaming mug in front of her.

Lesson Learned:

The other night at dinner, Max reached across the table for my hand. "Mommy," he said, a mournful look in his eyes. "I've been feeling like we don't spend as much time together as we used to. Between school and spending time with my friends, I spend more of my day away from you than with you."

"Just because we don't spend as much time physically together, it doesn't mean we're not still connected," I assured him. "As kids get older, they start to spend less and less time with their parents and more time with friends. It's part of growing up! That's how it's supposed to be!"

Molly, without a hint of sentimentality, chimed in: "Yeah, Max. It'll make it easier for us when they die."

God, I love that kid.

In all seriousness, this is where we are: We are entering the stage of tweens and teens and big kids who are growing up and away and who just don't need us as much as they once did. Not physically, anyway. So I'll keep my needle felting bin filled with projects to create so that I can be my crafty potted plant self right here in the middle of everything...I'll fade into the background, unobtrusive and not-at-all-helicopterish, but Here in such a way that when they need me, they'll know right where to find me.

Man. I'm going to have like a trillion gnomes by the time they're grown....