Knitting Club

A few weeks ago, I was ambushed by a friend at work. She emailed me with a plea to teach something – anything, really – as an after-school activity.

I thought, This could be fun! Maybe a knitting class?

Yes, knitting.

So I signed up to teach a four-week knitting class to five sixth-grade girls.

I think I forgot what it was like to be a sixth-grade girl. 

It became pretty apparent during that first class that these girls had big personalities. One, the ring-leader, is obsessed with “winning,” with being “the best,” and is a self-proclaimed perfectionist. I sat and listened to her talk, and I felt an immediate sense of dislike and understanding. So much of my time was wasted on that same feeling. I wanted to fast-forward to when this little girl would not longer feel like she had to knit perfectly the first time, tell me all the things she was good at, or explain why her grandma had more talent than I did.

Another of the girls is quieter, but just as diligent. She came to class with her wrist in a cast, but she was still determined to learn how to knit. She is by far the least talkative, but her eyes are always lit, always watching, and she’s the one with the quiet witty comments.

One girl is also bent on knitting the perfect scarf. I told them that it would take a long time to get good, that it took me months to make something, and even then there were often spots that weren’t perfect. But this girl asks me every few rows, “Does this look okay?”, and she even emailed me over the weekend for suggestions on what to do if she had too many stitches.

These girls are going to make very detailed leaders someday.

Or, perhaps, type-A moms.

Two of the girls are a little slower at picking it up. They hold their yarn too tightly, straining the fibers until they become untwisted. Their stitches are uneven, they add and subtract stitches at random, until the edges of the scarf are completely misshapen. They look at me with sad eyes, “Miss H, something happened.” (Although sometimes they call me “Magistra” because I’m also their Latin teacher by day.) I tell them to take a deep breath, that it can all be fixed. But they still get upset, still want to be perfect.

I am surprised at how difficult I find this class. They are all good girls. They all want to do well, to please me, to make something beautiful. But it’s hard for me to hear them, constantly trying to tell a better story, to shock the other girls with their own experiences, to show me that they are grown up.

I remember one of my mom’s friends telling me when I was little, “I had to grow up really quickly, Catherine. Don’t rush it. Be a kid as long as you can.”

I look at these girls and I want to say the same thing.

Just enjoy knitting. Enjoy chatting with each other on comfy pillows on the floor. Enjoy the fact that the hardest thing you have to do today is unravel an inch of uneven scarf.

But instead, I just smile and say, “It’s okay, I’ll fix it.”

Pride and Prejudice May Be the Answer

I’ve been teaching an ESL class on Tuesday nights. (It’s just one student – is that a class?!) We meet at the library, where no food or drink is allowed, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever tried to learn without a cup of tea or coffee in my hand.

When I first met my Hungarian student, I was scared. I had been told (via email and in the slightly unclear email-way of a harried 60+ year-old), that the student was Low Intermediate.

I had expectations.

My TEFL course did inform us that the categories were not so good. That everyone has a different idea of what it means to be a “Low Intermediate.”

My student (I’ll call her Aniko) could barely tell me why she was taking the class.

She told me her name. She told me she had come from Hungary two months earlier (although she said ‘in two months’ and it took me a while to figure it out). She told me she was in America.

And I was horrified because I thought our lessons were one hour but they were two and this Hungarian woman was staring at me with big brown eyes.

~     ~     ~

Now, seven weeks later, we have only one class left.

We’ve worked on:

  • superlatives
  • past, present, and future time expressions (This one is TOUGH. How do you explain ‘awhile ago,’ or the fact that we use ‘this morning’ to describe something in the past?)
  • letter-writing (because I love it so much…no, because it’s necessary)
  • emailing
  • coffee-ordering
  • adjectives
  • movie-watching

This last one may seem silly, but let me tell you, it is hard.

I have her watch clips from movies and then fill in the blanks to see if she can hear what they say, if she can tell what should be there.

[If actors are any clue to how we Americans usually speak, we speak way too fast, way too jumbly, and way too idiomatically.]

Last night, I had her watch clips from ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ I think I was a little ambitious; the British accents and vocabulary were extremely difficult to follow. We had to watch each one at least three times, and in the end, even after she got every question right, she put her head on the table and said,

“English is hard for me.”

I almost patted her short hair in sympathy.

Yes, English is hard.

I’m sorry.

Let’s watch a little more ‘Pride and Prejudice.’

Perhaps that is my response to too many of life’s problems.

A First

All week, I think about the weekend. Even on days that go well, during lessons that rock, I think in the back of my mind, I can’t wait til the weekend. I can’t wait to hang out with friends. I can’t wait to do my thing. 

I think this every week, and then, on Friday night, all I can think about is sleep. And movies. And reading. and not seeing anyone.

What is wrong with me? It’s been over two months, now, and each weekend that comes up, I find myself at home again, doing quiet, contemplative things.

But every Monday morning, I think, shoot, I didn’t go out again. I stayed home AGAIN.

This weekend was different.

I went out with my sister and her friend, met them late after watching Argo with a boy I grew up with (it was so fun, chatting, nearly getting lost driving streets I’ve driven since I was sixteen, having him lean over and say, “We didn’t get nearly as much talking time as usual, watching this movie. We need to go out again soon.” Old friends are great.)

Later, when I met up with my sister, the place was crowded, the music was way too loud (as soon as I thought this, I cringed at my oldness), and the girls had already finished their drinks when I got there. I was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, since I hadn’t planned to go out at all. I was not looking my best, but I was feeling particularly happy.

The woman working at the bar came over, slid three cinnamon whiskeys towards us, and said, “These are from the three guys over there,” with a nod.

It was totally flattering, and after we drank the delicious cinnamony-delight, we let them sidle up to us and chat for about half an hour. It was fun, learning their names, talking about where we went to college (“Isn’t that super Christian?” they asked. “Yeah, it’s a Christian college.”). I was a little separate from the other girls, so most of the time I watched them interact, watched them laugh and flirt. It was almost more fun than doing it myself – no pressure, no assumptions.

Then my sister and her friend got up to go to the bathroom, leaving me alone. The boys were further away, but the dark haired one came up, smiling, saying, “Don’t want to leave you all alone.”

He told me he was going to college – for the first time at age twenty-four – to study Mechanical Engineering. He saw my VW key and made fun of me for having a “chick car.” I pointed out that I was, in fact, a chick.

The girls were only gone a moment, but it was long enough to feel good chatting with a stranger.

And then, as he was about to leave, he said something that normally would’ve shocked me.

“You’re really pretty,” he said. But then he went on: “I hope you get laid tonight.”

I couldn’t even react. It was like I didn’t really hear the words.

He wasn’t even being crass. He wasn’t trying to be insulting or embarrass me. His voice was low and kind, and his eyes were soft. He could’ve been my mother, saying “Honey, you look so beautiful!” Or my friend K telling me, “You deserve an amazing man, Cath.”

I couldn’t slap him or chastise him or say anything that would’ve told him I was a prude.

He was merely giving me a 21st-century compliment.

It’s not his fault, I guess. That’s what our culture tells us is the highest prize: laid-worthiness.

When I came home and told my mother, she looked at me, shocked. And then she laughed. She kept laughing all day, whispering the phrase under her breath.

He didn’t know who he was talking to. But still, I think there’s a soft spot in my heart for him. His dark hair, his Greekness, his easy way of talking. The compliment that flattered me and shocked me at the same time.

We are looking for such different things.

Silly? Maybe.

“Alexander wants to get to know you a little better.”

I am sitting in a small coffee shop (no, not Barnes and Noble this time). The Shins are playing, my coconut mocha is better than I imagined, and I am shocked at how exhausted I am from my first full week of teaching. Five days feel so much longer when they aren’t your own anymore.

And this email has popped up on my computer: “Alexander wants to get to know you a little better.”

Some of you probably don’t quite know what it is.

But, you should know, I have done something silly and irrational.

I joined eHarmony.

There is good, rational thought behind this.

1. I joined when it was free. There is absolutely NO WAY I am paying for this service. I joined when it was free, however, the free weekend is over, and absolutely no communication can happen now. It’s like a black hole of potential love.

What’s the point of “this service,” then, you ask?

2. To prove that there are good, Christian men out there. Oh wait, the clincher: good, interesting, Christian men.

Because it seems that I have a number of great, Christian guys I call friends. But none of them are interested in me. And, even more bizarrely, I am not interested in one of them.

I know, it’s a terrible ego-stroker. I check my email, and every ding – Chris, Matthew, Ramy, and Phillip – sends my little too-cheap-to-pay-for-eHarmony-heart a-pitter-pattering.

I don’t know who any of these men are. And I never want to.

All I want is a silly email when I get out of work, when I’m done teaching, done opening mail, done stamping the seemingly-endless stack of mailings, that says:

Someone, somewhere, thinks that perhaps, maybe, there might be a chance that you’re fun. And interesting. And cool.

That’s all I want. At least for now.

Mystery Group

“You’re a teenager.”

The five-year-old girl I babysit says this to me every few days. Now she has a twinkle in her eye because she knows what conversation will ensue:

“No, I’m not. I’m twenty-three. I told you that already!”

And she will respond with:

“Well, where are your kids?”

It seems our culture isn’t the only thing that isn’t quite sure what to do with young single women. I go on to explain that there is a group – between teenagers and moms – and that’s where I am. This mystery group that gets larger and larger and seems to be less and less easily defined. She cocks her little blonde head and smiles at me. She still doesn’t believe.