1. Be five years old. And be awkward: for instance, don’t know how to throw a ball. Because then, your mom will want to teach you how to crochet so that, as she tells you at the time and years later, you would be able to do something with your hands.
2. Start with the yarn your mom has stored away, extra yarn that she gives you, a dusty rose acrylic from K-Mart. She’ll also give you a shiny gold-toned G-hook, which will feel a little big for your tiny hands, but it’ll work.
3. Make a loop with the yarn by folding over the tip and drawing a loop through, and then tighten it around the hook. But don’t tighten it too tightly, because the whole thing about crocheting is looseness and flow; you want to be able to pull yarn through and make new loops upon new loops. Crocheting is all about loops, and about the ability to unravel any mistakes. Your mom will tell you this, and when she does, nod knowingly, though you might not entirely understand at the time.
4. After you make the first loop and put the hook through it, draw a loop through. Then another loop. Then another. You’re making a chain, which is the foundation of all crocheting.
5. Continue making this chain for days. Take it to your babysitter’s house, where you work on it. It will get very long, but don’t worry, since your mother said you have to be able to make a perfect chain before you can do anything else. When it gets too long to carry around, end that chain by cutting the yarn and drawing it through the loop. Start another chain. And when the kids at the babysitter’s house ask what you’re doing, tell them you’re making hair ties. Because that seems reasonable.
6. On a Saturday afternoon in the trailer, while your mom is taking a break from digging ditches outside for pipes on the property your family is just settling into the California mountains, sit down with her on the brown naugahyde couch. Show her your collection of chains and feel happy when she nods her approval, her soft light-brown hair wisping out of her rubberbanded ponytail onto her face. Then she’ll demonstrate how to do single crochet. You turn your chain back the other way, and take the hook, skip one loop, and put it into the next loop on the chain. This will seem confusing at first, since you’ve been so absorbed by the chain-making, but trust me. Put the hook into the loop, and pull through another loop, so that you’re then holding two loops on your hook. Then, hook the yarn around the hook and pull it through the two loops. You’ve made one single crochet. Try again, and then throw the whole thing down on the couch in frustration and tell your mom you can’t do it, that crocheting is impossible. Note the softness in her face when she says, “Well, it just takes practice. You’ll be able to do it.”
7. Run outside and down to the creek, where you can sit on a boulder and watch the water go by. Swear off crocheting.
8. That night, while you’re watching the Six Million Dollar Man and your mom is putting TV dinners in the oven, take the crocheting out of your bag and work on the single crochet. Find your way across to the end of the chain, realizing that with each stitch it makes more sense and becomes easier. Understand that maybe your mom was right about practice.
9. Take your project to school. When your friends ask why it’s shaped more like a triangle than a square, say you meant to do that. Tell them you’re making a Barbie skirt.
10. Double crochet is the same idea, except you loop the yarn around once before pulling it through. For triple crochet loop it twice. And so on.
11. Your mom will die at some point, too early, sick from emphysema brought on by years of smoking, and when she does, realize that crocheting is one of the most important things she ever taught you to do. Because it involves loops. Because it’s calming. Because it lets you unravel mistakes.
12. Years later, work on an afghan for your daughter, using dusty pink, off-white, and deep red acrylic yarn from Wal-Mart. One night, while you’re crocheting and watching Harry Potter with your agile, soccer-playing daughter who has always known how to throw a ball, she’ll ask you how you learned to crochet. Tell her that Grandma taught you. And when you ask if she wants to learn, don’t feel bad when she shrugs and says no, not really. Because you can teach her other things, and though you might not realize it, you already have.