I first met Dr. W two years ago at an appointment for my son. She wasn’t our usual doctor, and she walked in apologizing for running slightly behind. She examined my son from top to bottom, and diagnosed him with a persistent sinus infection.
After the exam, we began to chat. Selfish of me, really. She had other patients to see, notes to chart, and apparently a cardigan to knit, but I wouldn’t have realized any of that. She was calm, affable, and genuine. So adultlike. I had to consciously remind myself to not twirl my hair or curse, not that she would judge me if I did. She spoke to my son about reading, and suggested he read “The Tale of Despereaux” by Kate DiCamillo. She wrote it neatly on a sheet of paper after I tried writing it on the back of my hand with a red lipstick I found in my purse. She spelled Despereaux right on the first try. I was very impressed.
I told her I used to read, but somewhere along the way I had fallen off the wagon. She wrote out a list of six books for me. Remembering the exact titles and authors, which I found remarkable because I can’t remember my children’s names let alone the middle initials of authors I had read in passing. (Well, to be fair, I hadn’t read any in passing at all so I had nothing to actually remember.) I tucked her note into my bag, left the office, and slowly but surely I read each of the books on her list. Over time I befriended this delightful and inspiring woman, because clearly, who wouldn’t?
I was happy to hear that she was one of the 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers picked to attend the Super Bowl this year in Tampa. What a wonderful way to honor and commemorate those who put themselves out there day in and day out, fully masked up, possibly exposing themselves and their families to make sure others received proper medical care. But, the morning after the momentous Bucs victory, I saw that dear sweet Dr. W had gone viral for, of all things, knitting during the Super Bowl. The two people sitting in front of her had, without her knowledge or consent, videotaped her knitting while watching the game and posted it to the internet. It had over two million views by first light.
I wasn’t surprised she had knitted. I had actually almost messaged her during the game to ask if she was knitting. But, to be publicly shamed for knitting a cardigan for her daughter was unexpected. She jested that I should write an article about her knitting. I asked if it should be about our culture of public shaming, but she said rather it should be about her ability to multitask. She wasn’t knitting out of boredom. She was knitting out of efficiency.
She very much enjoyed the football game. She was watching and only knitting during the commercial breaks. In fact, if she hadn’t been watching the game, she could have finished a whole sleeve. Instead, she said she only got through the cuff of what will forever be “the Super Bowl sweater.” She said she was a mother and a doctor, so what’s wrong with making the most of her time?
Indeed, what is wrong with multitasking? All mothers do it. Our brains and hands rarely both free at the same time. Even as I write this, I’m listening to an audiobook, a habit Dr. W introduced me to. The viral knitter, who always seemed so calm and collected when in our exams and in our conversations, was just like every other mother in America— juggling twenty things with two hands. Where I was an outward hot mess as a young mother, smeared red lipstick on my lips, hair unbrushed most days, nursing my daughter with one hand while walking my son late into preschool; she was an internal hot mess, her mind racing from task to task, building the most efficient path to maximize her time spread so thin. She had been doing this for years. And who couldn’t relate to that?
She started medical school when her youngest son was one year old. She had her daughter during her second year of medical school. She did her residency at Harvard (yes, the fancy one that’s for incredibly smart people) and studied for, took, and passed her boards while caring for two small children. As a lawyer who has passed two bars, I cannot even comprehend studying and passing your boards with small children. From then, she’s been driving, waiting in car lines, taking kids to practice, rehearsal, games, and classes, and charting, knitting, reading, hemming, and sewing while she waited. Charting is the abysmal hell that every doctor must face, where you have to document every second of your visit and make sure it’s coded properly. Who wouldn’t want to chart while watching their daughter at ballet? Why not maximize every second? And isn’t multitasking a universal language that so many women speak?
From stay-at-home mothers to working mothers, the days keep shrinking and the tasks list keeps expanding. I’ve been at homebound with my children for ten months now, functioning as mother, teacher, full-time cook and maid. How can one person wear so many hats effectively? I often find myself cleaning the shower while actually showering. There I am naked as a jaybird, with ten minutes to kill as the blue shampoo sets in my hair, so I spray a little bleach, pick up the sponge, and scrub the tiles. What else should I do? Let those ten precious minutes slip away into the void of wastefulness, only to find myself scrubbing the same shower later? Doesn’t everyone brush their teeth while cleaning their toilet? Who doesn’t keep a Swiffer duster by their toilet so they can clean the baseboards and blinds while on the potty? I have Magic Erasers hidden in every corner of my house for wiping the walls while going over math lessons with my daughter. How would everything get done otherwise?
Is it fair to any of us that our minds never rest? Are idle hands really the devil’s workshop? Most of us will never know. Dr. W also started knitting while doing tasks for her children to recapture some of her time for herself. Completely crazy idea, multitasking for your own benefit. In one year, she learned and cultivated a skill, making the most adorable items, and it helped her relax.
During the pandemic, I also tried to steal some me time. I started “delegating” tasks to my children. They are 6, 8, and 10. I had them start washing, folding, and putting away their own laundry, cleaning their own bathroom, unloading the dishwasher, sweeping the floors, and wiping the counters. They don’t do it at all how I would do it, but I decided I didn’t care. As long as it was done, and I wasn’t doing it. It didn’t mean I stopped making efficient use of my time; I just adjusted how I allocated that time, going from 100% for my family to 50% for my family and 50% for me. I needed to mentally dissociate from the 100 tasks going on in my mind that revolve around doing things for them to focus on achieving some goals that benefit me.
Selfish, I know, to use some of my own time for me. Appalling. But it worked. During the pandemic, I lost forty pounds, and wrote a book, which might never be actually published but at least is written. And my children seem perfectly content. They don’t even notice that my life isn’t 100% about them anymore. Of course, I wrote most of my book on my phone in notepad while supervising and playing with my kids, and I exercised while listening to audiobooks to help fine tune my craft. Yes, my mind is still always going, but at least now some of it is going for me.
So, I fully support Dr. W knitting during the Super Bowl. I bow to her ability to multitask, and to find time to work in something that is therapeutic and enjoyable for herself. Hopefully, this will make a yarn of a tale for years to come.