(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
My eyes flew open and I was instantly awake.
It wasn’t that long ago that when I woke suddenly in the middle of the night, I would lie still for a moment, listening for what had pulled me out of a sound sleep, straining to hear the plaintive wail of an infant’s crying or the footsteps of a preschooler who was out of bed and into mischief. Later, it was the sound of a teenager coming home, chased by curfew But this night there was only silence.
I sat up, rubbed my eyes and then walked out of the bedroom. The rest of the house was dark but a single light burned in the living room and I saw my jetlagged son, home from Japan, sitting on the sofa. He was concentrating on the yarn and needles in his hands and didn’t look up until I was beside him.
He had learned to knit while he was away and in the dim light of the lamp on the table, in the darkest part of the night, he worked on the pair of mittens he was making for his father.
I sat down beside him and watched his hands as he worked. He is young, only 24, but his hands already show the wear and tear of all his projects. He is always busy making something, a piece or a part for one of the massive, expensive, machines he designs and builds or one of the tiny works of art he creates when he is bored or thinking hard about something. When he needs to keep his hands busy so he can still his mind.
Looking at the scarred knuckles, the callouses, as he looped the rag wool yarn around the needle, making one stitch at a time and linking it with the chain, I thought about the things he’s made and brought me over the years.
When he was five he took a piece of paper and marked it with North, South, East and West. He folded the edges up into a cup and inserted a brad into the center, covering the top with cling wrap. He’d made me a compass, he told me as he presented it. You could, if you wiggled it, make the brad rotate and point in a new direction.
Later, in school, I was called to a conference with his teacher. “He’s not paying attention,” she told me. “He’s always working on something else.” And then she handed me a little paper tube. It was folded flat but if you allowed to rectangular tube to open, a miniature classroom popped up. Rows of paper-doll heads looking toward the miniature blackboard and teacher. I studied it as the teacher, a woman my family knew and adored, talked to me about his lack of attention in class. She, like me, was torn. What he could do with his hands was astounding, but you have to pay attention if you want to move on to third grade.
I have a treasure box filled with his handiwork. Clay pots, tiny shadowboxes, elaborate sketches and diagrams. This Christmas, his gift to me was a miniature loom. Perfect in every detail, he’d created it while on a ship in Japan, killing time while he waited to test the complex underwater drill he’d built, piece by piece. Bored, a lot on his mind that needed to be worked through, he grabbed a handful of coffee stir-sticks from the galley, some pieces of wire and the thread he usually carries with him as he travels. He built the working loom, complete with a tiny bit of cloth woven on it, and then, for a moment, considered throwing it away.
But, because he is my son and I have hoarded his creations all his life, he put it into a box and mailed it to me. And Christmas morning I opened it, speechless at the cleverness of it. The beauty of it.
When I found him knitting in the living room, he was doing what he does best, setting his hands free so his mind can follow. And, in the shadowy and quiet cocoon of the room, I listened as he talked about his work, his dreams, his concerns and his worries.
I slipped my bare toes under his knee and tucked myself into the opposite corner of the sofa as one stitch linked to another and the mittens took shape.
I thanked him again for the gift of the loom, working to keep the tears out of my voice and, taking advantage of the moment, I told him, just as I did when he was a boy, a sweet, busy, square peg trying to fit in a tight round world, that I am proud of him and always will be.
Wherever life takes him, it won’t be on the same path others follow. He’ll always come into each new adventure through a side door. Through an opening no one else noticed. He’ll find his own way and he’ll be OK. Because his future, just like his heart, is in his hands.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org