Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The day I knew I was old

I remember the exact day I knew I was getting old. Well, not “old” exactly, but “older”.

I was riding my motorcycle. It was a soulless Japanese sport bike, with lots of red plastic covering its interesting bits. My more (or less) interesting bits were covered by my leathers.

It was summer in Seattle, and I was idling in traffic, waiting for a light to change so that I could turn into the ferry terminal lot. I was heading home.

My left hand began to cramp from holding in the clutch and so, ignoring for a moment the instructions of motorcycle safety class instructors everywhere, I popped the bike into neutral and took my hands off the bars. I sat up from my boy-racer crouch and looked around me. Suddenly, I saw her. She was in the car right next to me. A gorgeous creature with reddish blond hair, fair skin and an unbelievable smile. The kind of woman that makes you want to learn how to wheelie in order to catch her attention. The kind of woman that will make you learn to love quiche whether you want to or not.

[*Note: Charlize Theron was not the actual woman sitting next to me in traffic,
but she’ll do for purposes of the illustration.]

Luckily, I had the benefit of an ogler’s Ring of Gyges: a reflective shield on my motorcycle helmet. As long as I didn’t turn my head full-on in her direction, I could study her without seeming too creepy.

So I did.

And when my field of vision pulled back from its initial extreme close-up, I noticed something very interesting. She was driving a minivan.

Let me be clear. A minivan is a form of vehicular castration. We (Mrs. TSMK and I) own one. We call it The Mothership. It is immensely practical. But for some reason whenever I’m in the beast I find that my voice is just a bit higher pitched than normal, and I have a strange urge to listen to people who’ve performed at the Lilith Fair festival.

Anyway, there she was: Charlize Theron* in a minivan. And my voice was unaffected. I had an urge or two or ten, but they did not in any way involve Sarah McLachlan.

As I pondered Ms. Theron’s* ability to overwhelm the soul-sucking nature of the minivan, my field of vision pulled back even further.

There it was. A child’s car seat. . . in Ms. Theron’s* minivan. She was a mom. A mother. A woman who had given birth to another human being. She was, by the definition I would have used as an adolescent, old.

Oh sure, I’d thought about a mom or two in the past. But it was always in that kind of “what can you teach me Mrs. Robinson” kind of way. This was different. Ms. Theron wasn’t attractive because she was a mom. And she wasn’t attractive despite her motherhood. She was simply attractive.

And then it hit me. I was old. Or at least an adult. Able to simultaneously appreciate the physical beauty of a woman and the beauty that comes from motherhood. Not too many years before, the minivan and the car seat would have been a complete turnoff. But no longer. I’d come to realize an important fact: moms are hot. Perhaps it is no surprise that Mrs. TSMK and I welcomed our first son within the ensuing year.

Mrs. TSMK, for what it may be worth, thinks my fascination with motherhood is somewhat amusing.  So much so that several years ago she bought me a t-shirt:

It shouldn't be too surprising - this fascination I have with moms; you know they'll go all the way.

And with that out of the way, I’ll confess to getting a kick out of learning that anyone is going to become a mom. A co-worker recently delivered a little girl, and I’m making her an entrelac blanket. You’ll see that soon, or at least as soon as I can manage to finish the thing. A second co-worker recently became a grandmother (which, as it turns out, is also hot). I did a blanket for her as well. It is a simple garter-stitch blanket done on a bias out of Berroco Comfort. To dress it up, I knit separately a lace edging that I found in an old stitch dictionary, and then crocheted the two together. I think it came out nicely, and hope that it will see good use.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The magic number


That is about the number of stitches in your average small-gauge hand-knit sock. Give or take a few hundred. I made a pair (that’s approximately 32,990 stitches for the pair) for my Dad last Christmas. I didn’t stop to think about the number of stitches. I simply cast on to those tiny needles and went for it.


That is slightly less than the distance, in feet, of a 5k footrace. I’ve only run one. It was with my Mom a few years back. We ran the Freeze Your Fanny 5k that is held in Lewiston, Idaho every February. Honestly, it wasn’t that cold, though it was odd. A cowboy poetry festival was being held at our hotel. There were handlebar mustaches everywhere. I think I may have even seen one on a woman in the lobby. I didn’t stop to think about how many feet we would cover in the race. I just laced up the shoes and set off on the course.


If actuarial estimates are to be believed, this is roughly the number of days I have left in my life. Give or take a few hundred. It isn’t a small number, but I wouldn’t mind if it were bigger.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this number over the last few weeks. We had a death in our family three days ago. My Mother’s sister. She had been ill for some time, but I think we all expected that she would recover.

I made her a scarf for Christmas this past year. I expected to post photos of her wearing it, along with a brief account of how she once tried to teach a Siamese cat how to roll dice so that the two of them could play board games together. But with her illness we never got around to taking the photos. Now it is too late.

If, when she were my current age, she’d had 16,495 days left, she’d still be with us today. She wasn’t so fortunate, however. If I only live to her age, then I’ll lose out on about 6,200 of those days. You wouldn’t be satisfied running 3.3k of a 5k race, or knitting just two-thirds of a sock.

I have a friend and colleague who practices in estate planning. She says she helps people prepare for the inevitable. We’re all heading to that point, or so she says. She’s probably right.

The troubling thing to me isn’t that we are all heading down that path, however. The troubling thing is that none of us really know just how long it will take to make the journey. I recall reading once that Charlie Munger said the bit of knowledge he wanted most was to know where he was going to die. When asked why, he answered that it was so he could avoid going there.

Almost two weeks before her death, my aunt had extensive surgery. She knew it would be difficult, and that there were significant risks. She spent the day before the procedure sitting quietly in my living room, chatting with family and watching my sons play. I hope that she enjoyed that time; she never left the hospital after the procedure.
The cliché response of course, like some kind of ill-advised motivational poster hanging outside an office cubicle, is to want to be certain that you live each day like it might be your last.
This is a bad plan.

If I were to live each day like it were my last, I’d probably spend a fair amount of it gorging myself on donuts and pork rinds. The remainder would be spent engaging in various types of high risk activities. While this behavior might be momentarily satisfying, it seems likely that it would only increase the chances that you end up with two-thirds, or perhaps even one-half, of a completed sock.

I think it may be better if I spend some portion of each day focusing on those things around me that enhance daily life. Things that comfort, like the soft caress of Mrs. TSMK’s hand on my shoulder as we drift off to sleep. Unexpected moments of beauty, as when flowered perfume wafts from a beautiful stranger as she and I stand side by side and wait for the cross-walk symbol to change. Things that serve no purpose but to provide joy, such as the frenzied four-legged dancer that greets me every evening when I return home from work.
That is how I will spend my days. In the knowledge that they are numbered, but with the commitment to make each of them memorable in some small way.