Shannon’s Soapbox: Counting Stitches in Years


She kicks. A tiny nudge in my lower belly and the imprint of her foot appears outside of my skin. I press firmly, gently poking. Seven months pregnant—I can’t wait to meet her—my little Scarlett. Not much longer now. Passing time, I learn how to cross-stitch. My mom taught me, as her mom taught her. Passed down from generations by the women in my family, it makes me feel productive. The pattern I have chosen seems simple—a basket of Scarlett roses—for my own Scarlett. Hints of red sprinkled across canvas on her bedroom wall. I find the right colors of thread: shades of red in numbers. Each little x fills in a tiny square. The colors merge with each little kick in my belly. I picture her there, nestled within me, heart beating with the rhythm of my fingers working. Creating.


Scarlett is a teenager now and she thinks she knows everything. We fight all the time. I think back to that picture of roses I cross-stitched when I was pregnant. It hangs in her room, canvas fading yellow with years. I take it off the wall and out of the frame to clean it, and I turn it over. All those stitches and colors that came together so beautifully to create a basket of roses on the front, are a tangled mess of mistakes and knots on the back. This creation I made, so perfect looking head-on, each stitch in its own place. Each color forming just the right shape. Seemingly perfect. The mistakes there, well-hidden. You would never know it though, from looking at the front. 

Scarlett Merrell, 14 years old

I wrote the above piece in a fiction course I took at UTM. When you look at something one way, things can seem perfect. It’s when you look behind the scenes and underneath that things start to unravel, so to speak. Messy patterns become visible, but most people cover that side up. I’ve never understood why. Life, in general, is messy. Raising kids is messy. Teenage years are rough. But it’s when that mess meets perfection that you can start to see what’s real.

I’m constantly reminded of a quote from a favorite childhood book of mine which reads, “It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” ― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit.

That’s what I mean when I say ‘messy meets perfection’. Because a mess can be perfect when it comes to our lives. Teenagers aren’t easy. And raising children isn’t for the faint of heart, but underneath all of the messes, the imperfections, the fights, the arguing……it’s there where you find what’s real. It’s there that you will find love. It’s there that you understand that life isn’t perfect, but real. And who would ever want to cover that up? 


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