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Kittens, Mittens, and Lessons

The three little kittens, they lost their mittens,
And they began to cry,
“Oh, mother dear, we sadly fear,
That we have lost our mittens.”
“What! Lost your mittens, you naughty kittens!
Then you shall have no pie."*

If you’re a parent, you understand Mother Cat’s exasperation: kids, like kittens, have a way of repeatedly losing mittens—and many other things. And if you’re a knitter—which undoubtedly Mother Cat was—you feel especially aggrieved because you painstakingly made three pairs of mittens, and those little miscreants lost them!

Few poems portray feelings of frustration in such truthful, charming terms. With some kids, no matter how firmly mittens are clipped to coat sleeves, no matter how many nametags affixed to hats and jackets, these items inevitably disappear into the Black Hole of Loss.

I recall searching for my son’s mittens in his grade school’s Lost and Found bin. It was shocking how much unclaimed clothing was there. Saddest were the hand-knitted mittens, scarves and hats, crushed at the bottom. Some loving person had made each one, and little Johnny couldn't have cared less. I felt like grabbing his shoulders, shaking him, and saying in my steeliest voice: “And YOU shall have…no…pie!”

Oh wait…that would be my kid, the son who could never retain a pair of mittens longer than a day. This situation was ultimately resolved, not by depriving him of pie, but by buying him the cheapest gloves I could find at the dollar store, reasoning that since I had nothing invested in them financially or emotionally, I didn't care about their fate. (Ironically, they rarely disappeared.)

l40112aWe like to think that knitted garments, products of our time and love, will be valued. It’s nice to imagine the lacy baby sweaters and blankets we knit becoming family heirlooms, handed down over generations. In reality, bestowing a knitted gift means relinquishing control of its fate, as the mitten paradigm illustrates. And probably it’s foolish to expect a child to treat a hand-knitted item with more care than anything machine made and store bought.

That’s the rational, not the emotional argument. Years ago, I was as exasperated as Mother Cat when my son repeatedly lost the colorful, adorable mittens I’d made him. Even now I can’t erase the vision of the hand-knitted bottom layer of that Lost and Found bin. I retrieved one of my son’s mittens from there, once; the rest were never again seen.

There are lessons here for all Mother Cats: to develop thicker skin, alter expectations and adjust priorities. There’s a lesson, too, for my son and for anyone who’s ever received a hand-knitted garment: these mittens were lovingly made just for you, not because someone had to, but because someone wanted to.

That counts for a lot, whether you realize it now, or decades later. And any mother who, in this high-tech age chooses to make something by hand for a child—whether mittens, or a toy, or a dinner of macaroni and cheese—well, she deserves some serious appreciation.

*Text is from the American Poetry Foundation website


Selma Moss-Ward writes and knits in Rhode Island. You can find her work on our blog, as well as Lion Brand's monthly newsletter, Pattern Journal, which you can subscribe to here.

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  • Sindy

    Oh I feel you ....

  • Jo

    Amazing that sometimes it takes more interaction from parents to assure their kids during times of distress like the loss of mittens! & i wud know all about not having help when I am in need of help. Now onto finding my mittens....

  • Amanda

    and this is why I crochet a cord attaching the mittens through the sleeves. It makes drying them easier too :)