(Extra points if you can remember the sitcom song that starts with that line!)
First, a glimpse of progress on La Belle Cardigan - nearly done, LOTS of finishing going on! And then, I want to share with you a bit about my son, Nathan, who starts high school tomorrow(!)
Ma Belle Cardigan
After finishing the fronts, back and collar, I decided to do some of the finishing work before I knitted the sleeves of this cardigan. I like to get all the front and collar finishing done before the sleeves, because that way, I can get the sleeve length just right. I have longish arms, and a lifetime of wearing ready-made clothes with too-short sleeves means sleeve length is a high priority for me in my knitting.
Before you sew the shoulder seams and actually finish the collar and edging, there isn't any way to be sure EXACTLY where the bottom edge of the sleeves will fall. So, unless you actually finish the entire body first, in effect you're just making an educated guess. Even if you get the front and backs together, the edging (collar, ribbing, buttons, etc.) might change where the edges of the sweater to which you attach the sleeve lie on your body. So, I get my sweater almost finished before I knit the first sleeve; then, I pin the first knitted sleeve into the sweater and try it on, to ensure that the finished sleeve is going to be just right.
There is a LOT of finishing work on La Belle Cardigan, let me tell you! First, I knitted the loose stitches of the shoulder seams together using a 3-needle bindoff. Because I find it difficult to manage live stitches coming off of two separate needles while using a third needle to knit through a stitch from each at a time, I put all the live shoulder stitches onto a single needle beforeI knit them together. To do this, I just line up the two needles of live stitches with the right sides of the fabric facing, and then transfer them, one at a time, onto a third needle, by taking one stitch from the front piece, and then one stitch from the back piece, etc., alternating until all the stitches from both front and back are lined up on my third needle. Then, I just p2 tog, *p2 tog, slip the first st over the second st on the right hand needle,* and repeat, thus casting off as I go. Easy-peasy, and no need to juggle three stitches with live needles on them at the same time.
Next, I used matching sewing thread to gently tack down the facings on the front and back, as this eliminates the "ridge" that forms on the front:
Next, I gathered the edge of the ruffled collar on a strand of sewing thread and pinned it onto the top of the sweater, first pinning the exact halfway point to the center back of the sweater, and then pinning the outer edges to the top of the button bands. Then I gathered the collar piece along the line of sewing thread (kinda like a curtain being scrunched along a curtain rod), and pinned the resulting gathers as evenly as I could around the top edge of the cardigan.
To stitch the collar down, I just used a whip stitch in the Kidsilk Aura mohair/silk yarn. I thought it would be impossible to sew with it because of the fuzziness, but the strand of silk is solid and smooth and unbreakable, so I think it will hold well; and as it turns out, the fuzziness helps to obscure the stitches:
I went to Joann's to pick out some buttons, and also searched my stash to find some suitable contenders. I chose the button in the middle, below, as the top one was a bit too large and bland, and the bottom one was too fancy. I don't want the buttons to detract from the other myriad details on this particular sweater.
Then, I pinned in the first and tried it on, but I decided I had knitted the sleeve too long. On the picture on the model (below), the pouffy bits are quite long; elastic thread is run through the backs of the ribbed sections, to hold the poufs in place, which prevents the sleeve from stretching out to its full length and hanging around your knees.
I decided I don't want as much fabric in my sleeves; I don't want to make the elastic tight enough to "grab" the poufs in place on my arm; I'd rather have them a bit less pouffy. So instead, I decided to take some of the length out of the top part of each sleeve, as opposed to unravelling all that knitted mohair to re-knit the poufs shorte -- that was more than I could bear (knitting mohair, ergghhh - I am NOT a fan!). Instead, I knitted sleeve number two, starting the sleeve underarm decreases about 3" earlier, and pinned this second sleeve into the finished cardigan body to confirm that the length would work.
Then I sewed the correct-length sleeve in, first using kitchener stitch on the bottom of the armhole. To do this, first, you stitch at the base of the "v" of a stitch on one side:
And then, you stitch at the base of the "v" of a stitch on the other side:
Basically, this mimics a row of stockinette stitch falling between the two rows of stitches you are stitching into.
When I got past the decrease rows of sleeve and body, and to the part where the body has no decreasing, and the sleeves have gradual decreasing (first every other row, and then every 4th row), I switched to mattress stitch, picking up the "ladder" lying just to the side of a column of stitches first on the sleeve side, and then on the body, adjusting as I went (I needed to pick up two stitches on the body side occasionally to keep even with my pins, which I removed as I stitched along).
Here, you can see the sleeve seam coming together; the mattress stitch makes the seam "disappear", lining up the two columns of stitches, well, "seamlessly":
And here it the sleeve cap, all stitched in.
I know all this looks complicated, but no individual step is difficult; it just takes a lot of individual steps to make a fancy-looking final object.
Now, I have to unravel and re-knit the top of the other sleeve to match the length and attach it, sew the underarm and side seams, sew on the buttons, run the elastic thread through the back of all of the ribbings, and sew ribbons on the sleeve ribbings. Then, I need to decide whether to make the rose and lacy circle embellishment in cream, or teal. My hope is to have it finished for knitting night this Wednesday night - maybe someone can take a photo of me modelling it for a change, instead of my dressmaker's dummy!
The Story of Nathan
I wanted to tell you about my son, Nathan, and his childhood to date. He starts high school tomorrow, and for the first time in his school career, he will be 100% mainstreamed. I'm inordinately proud of how hard he's worked to get to this point, and can't wait to see what school is like for him, without the inevitable stigma and distancing effects of being classified as a special-needs kid.
Nathan was born on July 29, 1996 in Oakland, California, just 6 weeks before we relocated to Minnesota. He was a very quiet, earnest baby, with a very serious face. Nathan didn't like it when I looked directly into his eyes; in fact, as he gained more mobility, he would crawl into my lap backwards and sit with his back to me. I thought this was because he felt more secure that way, able to survey the world with his back cozy against the warmth of my chest. But I also noticed that he never stood on our laps and played with our faces like other babies would, and was not at all babbly or gurgly; he was just a quiet, serious little observer.
Nathan's pattern of development was also a bit different from other kids (although I didn't have a "comparison child," so I wasn't as attuned to this as I might have been.) He had very good fine motor skills, but his gross motor development was always a bit behind; he was slow to crawl, then to walk, and then to talk.
Also, his method of learning things was... unusual, to say the least. He would be way behind other kids, but would then catch up in a flash, all at once. For instance, he went from scooting around on his belly straight to walking; and from not being potty-trained at 2, to just accomplishing it overnight, with no accidents, ever. He had a bike with training wheels one weekend, and then confidently stepped up to a 2-wheeler, popping it up and down curbs with aplomb, just a few days later.
Nathan's learning of language was also strange. When he finally started talking, he would come up to me and say things like, "Excuse me, ma'am - can I ask you about something?," but he had no idea what those words meant -- he was sort of replaying them like a tape. Instead of learning his letters sound by sound, and then using them as phonic components to build words and then sentences, he seemed to parse language backwards; first he would learn a whole sentence as just a string of memorized sounds. Usually he would pick a sentence that he had observed would engender a certain reaction. Then, over time, he eventually learned the separate meaning of each component word. But for the most part, he learned language like a foreign person learning phrases from a phrase book, rather than from the ABC's on up.
At one point, I thought he might have taught himself to read; as he was flipping through a Dr. Zeuss book, I heard him reading the story aloud. But then I realized that he was just reciting it from memory, verbatim, while flipping the pages from time to time, without really spelling out the written words at all. He understood the meaning of the words, probably from the story being told in the pictures; but it took him far longer to get to the point where he associated the sounds of speech with the individual letters of each word.
When Nathan was about 2 1/2, his day care provider, Paula, told me that she had some concerns about Nathan's development. He parallel-played off by himself, and wouldn't interact with the other children; he would fascinate himself with a particular object for a long time and disengage from the world; and he was obsessive about trains, way beyond a level that was normal for kids his age. We had him tested by the early childhood education experts in our school district, and he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, or "Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified," one of the autism spectrum disorders.
As a result, a pair of early childhood specialists came to our home twice a week to work intensively with him for almost a year, and then then he attended early childhood education classes for a couple years before kindergarten. We were really blessed to have moved to Minnesota, and even more fortunate to have moved into Eagan-Apple Valley-Rosemount School District 196, which has one of the best programs for early childhood education and learning disorders in the state. Thanks to these amazing programs, Nathan was able to communicate and interact sufficiently to enter kindergarten just after he turned 6.
Nathan's first grade teacher just loved him; he was just naturally observant and funny, and connected much better with adults than he did with other kids. For instance, he once went up to her desk, tapped the stapler, held it to his ear and said, "Hello - hello? Is this thing on?" She was on the floor laughing, but you can imagine the blank stares this kind of behavior got from his 1st-grade peers.
However, Nathan found the transition to first grade difficult. He had trouble focusing in class; he didn't have a very good filtering mechanism, so the background noise of other classrooms, the buzzing of the fluorescent lights, the humming of a student sitting nearby, wasn't "background noise" for him, but weighted equally by his brain with all the other sensory inputs. The buzz, rustle and hum of everyday life can overwhelm a kid who literally can't "erase" these distractions so as to focus on what the teacher is saying, or the test questions on the page. In addition, for a young child, just learning to filter out these distractions can be exhausting.
Nathan had his first IEP (Independent Education Program) meeting in first grade, and the school assigned him an in-class assistant, who acted like a teacher's aide while also keeping Nathan focused, constantly directing his attention back to the work at hand, and figuring out ways to help him filter out distractions. His best friend at that time, Spencer, would sometimes run interference for him, explaining to the other kids that Nathan wasn't being rude when he shooshed them, he just needed to concentrate.
Raising Nathan was sometimes like raising Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was extremely literal, extremely logical. When he wanted to know the answer to something, he would do the logical thing to investigate it, but this sometimes got him into trouble. His second grade teacher found him especially exasperating. For instance, during the first spelling test, she put the words up on an easel for review and then turned it around for the test. When Nathan got stuck on a word, he just stood up and walked around the easel, because that was the most logical way to confirm that he was spelling the words right. He had no idea she would be shocked or angered by this. Another example: a little girl in his class liked to wear fancy dresses to school, and one day she wore a hoop skirt; Nathan was fascinated with the architecture of it, intent on figuring out what made the fabric of her skirt stick out, so, he simply crawled underneath her skirt to check. He was extremely abashed at his teacher's reaction; she even had the principal call me at work!
Sometimes people with autism describe it like being a Martian, landing on another planet, and having no idea of the rules for interaction, and no ability to pick them up via observation. As a result, they end up always in trouble, always doing the wrong thing, feeling like the only way they will ever learn the unspoken code of behavior governing humans is by breaking each and every rule, one at a time, and getting scolded for something they have no idea is wrong or might cause offense.
Nathan was also a very picky eater; he would only eat certain foods with which he was familiar (I went for a good 5 years without being able to look at a piece of pizza). I remember his father forcing him to eat a carrot at a restaurant, and the dramatic gagging scene that followed absolutely disgusted the family sitting in the booth across from us. He also has extremely sensitive skin; we cut the tags out of his clothing because otherwise, the scratch and tickle drives him crazy (that filter thing again). He likes his hair cut extremely short, probably because it literally doesn't move back and forth against his skin or blow in the wind, and thus never touches or tickles him.
The next time Nathan was tested for autism, his score was somewhere between normal and autistic, so he wasn't officially "in the spectrum," from a testing standpoint. However, his teachers thought that some of his tendencies and characteristics lined up very well with a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome, a kind of high-functioning autism, characterized by difficulties in social interactions due to the inability to read nonverbal cues or gestures; difficulty in making eye contact, and in interpreting facial expressions; a tendency to have obsess about a topic; hypersensitivity to sound, taste, texture; an inability to interpret language except in the very literal sense, etc.
The Aspergers diagnosis wasn't perfect, in some ways. For instance, the inability of Aspergers folks to read facial expressions or to put themselves in the shoes of another often leads to a lack of empathy. Aspies are said to lack a "theory of mind," which is what allows us to stand in another's shoes, imagining things from their viewpoint. If you were incapable of doing this, how would you feel any empathy at all? Therefore, the actions and decisions of some people with Aspergers seem to be motivated solely by he only thing they can perceive, which is how they themselves will be affected.
This does not describe Nathan, however. He is very emotional (in fact, he is a complete diva, just like his mom). Nathan is also very intuitive when it comes to the emotions of others. I think this is because, like so many other things, he can't filter emotions out very well, so when he is upset or he senses someone else in the room might be, he can't focus on anything else, whereas a classic Aspergers person wouldn't notice the emotions of others at all. The few times I've ever been really mad or disappointed in him, it has nearly killed him with shame. And he is also kind and thoughtful. I remember him as an extremely tall 9-year old, crawling way up into a McDonald's playplace structure in order to rescue a terrified little toddler girl who couldn't find her way out and reach her parents.
Nathan's brain is also... amazing. Once I asked him how many characters he could name on The Simpsons. I counted almost a hundred names as he reeled them off, without even having to think very hard. I can also remember driving home from seeing a movie, and listening to him in his car seat, reciting whole portions of the film from memory, complete with diferent voices for each character, and duplicating even the pauses! When Nathan was about 7 or 8, we read the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar, 3 books, 30 small chapters each, 3 chapters a night. When we finished the very last book, Nathan asked, "Mom, did you notice that the last word in each book rhymes?" I pulled out all three books, and sure enough, he was right! I often found myself wishing I could just peek into his ear and see how his brain was organized, to figure out how he was able to discern a detail like that...
When it was time for 4th grade, Nathan still needed academic support and social skills training, but his elementary school couldn't continue to provide a teacher's assistant; after all, you can't go through life with someone always at your side, poking you in the ribs to pay attention. However, his elementary school had no program for kids at his level in the spectrum. Their only class was for for profoundly affected autistic kids, who were mostly nonverbal and unable to spend any time at all in the mainstream classes.
So, Nathan had to switch elementary schools for 4th and 5th grade. He hated it; and he hated us, for taking him away from Spencer and the few friends he had made. Nathan spent about 60% of 4th grade in a special class for high-functioning autistic kids and kids with other learning disorders, and 40% in mainstream classes. He progressed well enough that in 5th grade, the percentages switched, and he was 60% mainstreamed. He really did well at subjects like history and science, but struggled mightily with math and reading comprehension (unless he was reading, say, the Lego catalog). That flair for memorization --- you would think that would come in handy when memorizing essential knowledge like the multiplication table. But in fact, it is not logical to memorize things that don't interest you. Aspies don't have that need to please imaginary (or real) authority figures, either. They get completely engrossed in things that fascinate them, but have to be forced to put effort into anything else.
Nathan (and I) really didn't get on well with his special class teacher in 4th and 5th grade. He felt alternately bored, or persecuted in the classroom, and she wasn't very helpful in protecting kids like Nathan from bullying. For instance, Nathan was tormented in the lunch room during 4th grade by kids putting stuff in his milk when he wasn't looking, or pouring his drink onto his pizza, etc. And then, in addition to the humiliation, the teachers' aides in charge would both punish him for ruining his lunch, and then refuse to allow him to get a new lunch or to give him time to eat something else.
I reached a new low in feeling powerless to fix this situation. I mean, ferchrissakes! I work as an attorney, I'm in my 40's, I ought to be able to get people to fix these problems. However, Nathan's teacher somehow managed to reduce me to tears that day, telling me that it was basically Nathan's fault that he couldn't manage in the lunchroom. Sigh. (In this teacher's defense, some of the kids in her class had such extreme behavioral disorders, often throwing violent, screeching, desk-throwing tantrums, etc., that it was amazing she got anything accomplished at all; no wonder she found Nathan's relatively mild problems insignificant, at times.)
Nathan couldn't wait to get back to middle school, as his prior elementary school friends would also attend that school; he envisioned a happy reunion and having friends again. Unfortunately, when 6th grade began, however, those old friends had turned into extremely self-conscious 6th graders, and it was no longer cool to befriend a kid who had any special needs. So, he was completely ostracized in the first year of middle school, and either bullied or ignored. Needless to say, this was a huge letdown for him; he felt more isolated and alone than ever before. He became depressed, and extremely pessimistic. He was very angry with us, and felt sure that if he had been able to continue in the same elementary school, that the kids would still be friendly to him. Nathan told me that he wished he had never been born at all, and confessed to thoughts of killing himself. He had started seeing a psychologist in 5th grade, and we worked intensively with him to rebuild his demolished self-esteem and to help him get through a really tough time.
I've always tried to get him to see Aspergers as a difference, and not a disability. His cognitive function is just different, and in some ways amazingly powerful. We once had this great discussion about whether his ability to remember such fine details, or to see connections that other people don't perceive, is like some secret super power. Maybe some day he'll discover exactly how to use it and accomplish something amazing, and finally understand why he was born with this unusual brain. Some people think Aspergers Syndrome is like Human 2.0, a brain with much higher discernment and processing power.
We have also discussed, often, that everyone has a range of abilities and challenges; gifts difer, and no one is perfect. Nathan feels awkward in social situations but is funny as hell when he wants to be; he can build anything you can imagine out of Legos, but he won't ever be a math genius.
Over the course of middle school, Nathan continued to grow both in social abilities as well as in height; he is now 6' 3" tall (which caused an abrupt halt in the bullying, I might add). In addition, one of Nathan's enduring obsessions, humor, has turned out to be a saving grace in many ways. Since Nathan was very young, he studied and studied what makes a joke funny, and what makes people laugh. We listened to Garrison Keillor's Pretty Good Joke Tapes from A Prairie Home Companion until he had them memorized (although as a kid, I didn't explicate the more racy jokes for him!) Nathan realized that making people laugh was a really good way to dispel their discomfort. Slowly but surely, his sense of humor has helped open the door to better relationships with his classmates. The grumpy, pessimistic, hope-less Nathan of 6th grade has been replaced by a more hopeful and disarmingly funny young man, with a new strategy for connecting with others. I give him a lot of credit for trying to let go of his past, and to forget how poorly he was treated. I think it takes tremendous courage to trust people, and to reveal any portion of yourself, after being excluded and marginalized for so long.
During the second half of 8th grade, a subset of the kids in his class started being a bit more accepting. After years of asking him how his day went, and hearing about how he was being kicked from one table to another at lunchtime, or how nobody was willing to be his partner when the teacher had the class pair up for an assignment, there were anecdotes about interactions that didn't sound so painful. He wasn't making close friends, exactly; for instance, he didn't get invited to hang out after school or on the weekend. However, he did seem to recount more positive experiences at the end of the school day; one girl even taught him how to text on his phone on the school bus, an essential teenage skill that had escaped him, as he had no-one with whom to text. He really enjoyed the field trip on the last day of school, and his yearbook has lots of signatures in it, including a fair number of hearts, and comments from girls telling him he is "Awesome!" (which I believe is a good thing). And this summer, he started a Facebook account and is exchanging notes and messages with an impressive number of kids, including quite a few girls.
Because he loves humor so much, and watches reruns of Whose Line Is It Anyway with such glee, I signed him up for a week-long improv camp at the Brave New Workshop this August, and he just loved it. Even better, he was invited to audition for the Brave New Workshop's Youth Performance Group last weekend... and HE MADE IT!!! (Here is is with a photo of President Obama, while we were waiting to see BNW's Obama Mia show.
So even if Nathan's first taste of high school is a bit rocky, he can look forward to his Youth Performance Group rehearsals every Sunday. The group gives performances at least once a month, which will help him gain confidence in speaking in front of a crowd, too. I think it will feel really good to have a routine activity which is completely outside of the school environment; I'm hoping it will give him a sense of independence, and of having a real life outside the insular high school realm.
I also can't think of a better laboratory for an Aspie than improv theater. After all, when you interact with others in an improv situation, you get a chance to observe in real time how your words, gestures and facial expressions are perceived by others, while learning to interpret the words, gestures and facial expressions of the other actors, as well as the reactions these interactions cause in an audience. It will be like a master class in social skills for him, but it will feel novel, fun and exciting, a far cry from just another boring classroom exercise in social skills, with the same old kids you've been staring at since 4th grade.
At the high school orientation last Wednesday, Nathan also signed up to join the high school's "Theater Tech" group; the kids from the group even took him on a tour of the school's (amazing) theater facility, including the backstage area where sets are built, and the lighting/sound booth, etc. Maybe Nathan has found his niche; it would be nice to hit the ground running with a group of kids with whom he shares a new interest.
So... a very long story, indeed. But I needed to commemorate this moment, and tell you the story of my son's progress and experiences, because I'm so proud of him. In 16 years, he's come such a long way, and his future has never looked brighter.
Someone wise told me recently, "A parent can never be happier than their happiest child." Well, today, Nathan and I are both very happy, indeed.
Here's hoping that you other parents out there are facing this upcoming school year with joyful anticipation as well!