window with light pouring out of it

My baby daughter Eden doesn’t know what she looks like.

“It’s your arch-nemesis, Eden number two!” Bear informs her ominously from the mirror, where they are hanging out, looking at their reflection. “Do you think she recognizes herself?” he asks me over his shoulder.

“Nah,” I say. “Not yet, I don’t think.”

She recognizes me—I’m the one with the milk boobs and the toothy grin all for her. I’m pretty sure she can smell me and thinks I smell right.

She recognizes Bear—he’s the one with the red beard and the fun nose for grabbing. The big, sturdy chest.

But right now she is a window with light pouring out of it and she’s the inside, opening up, and she’s a camera, taking millions of pictures of everything. Her body is for touching the world. It’s all tools for experiencing and learning. She makes expressions to try out different muscles in her face, to move her jaw around in order to practice chewing. She looks like a bewildered frog. She pops her stubby legs up and grabs her feet triumphantly and lets out a carefree fart. She looks like a cheerful, farting bug. Who cares how she looks? She’s all about how it feels.

dadakiss

It’s weird to think that I started out like this, too. That we all do. A brilliant jumble of sensors sensing excitedly all at once.

 

Sometimes I put a bow in her tufting, undecided baby hair. There. She’s a girl. People always guess boy when she’s in her brown bear suit.

But her girlness is irrelevant. It doesn’t mean anything yet.

She is exuberantly human.

It seems nice.

bumbo2

I’m not jealous. That’d be embarrassing. To be jealous of a baby.

I’m reminded, though, of something I’m not even sure I understood well enough to forget. Something to do with the center of things, instead of the surface. Surfaces are very important. They inform everything, I know. I’ve thought of myself for so long as a person who looks a certain way that it’s hard to imagine just looking at the world without looking at myself looking at the world. If that makes sense.

I am almost always at least a little conscious of what I might look like, as I go through life, doing things.

Looking at my daughter, I’m reminded that in a certain sense our appearances have nothing to do with us. I gave her these genes. And Bear did. In fact, these days she looks very little like me and very much like him.

squint

Through both of us gushed our joint histories, an ancient tangle of eye colors and hair textures and exact lengths of the space between the lowest point of the bottom lip and the tip of the chin. A cacophony of suggestions about height and carriage and fingernails and smiles. All of it filtered and funneled into one chubby little baby body. And here she is. Not knowing the first thing about the shape of her eyes, but fully existing anyway.

She’ll learn this information about herself, eventually, the way everyone does. And I hope she will like it. That’s the most important thing about appearances, after all—whether or not we can like ours enough to move on to other things.

But right now, before that knowledge walks into her brain, takes a seat, and never stands up again, I want to take note of her separateness, her automatic, universal perfection. Just for being. The wondrous nature of genetics, the infinite, winding paths of people that converged on this spot, in an apartment in Brooklyn, where a fat baby whacks her poor giraffe toy on the floor with intense concentration.

I want to take credit—I made this person. The way she looks is maybe more about me than it is about her right now. I accept a big portion of the credit, and I wish that one day, if there is blame, I could accept that, too.

I watch her—she is making a hideous grimace which must feel fun or serve some developmental purpose neither of us can even guess at—I want to save this moment. I want to protect her forever, right here. I don’t want her to know what she looks like. I don’t want her to care.

bumbo1

No, of course I want her to grow and transform and become more complexly realized all the time. But also, I want to remember: this is how it always begins. We are all, in some way, always this. The exuberant human looking out from inside, light pouring into the world, pure, brilliant, ancient, fantastically individual, full of eagerness.

Oh, and we can all probably still make the occasional frog face, if we feel like it.

I’ve tried it, it’s pretty great.

*  *  *

Do you remember when you first noticed how you looked? I’m not sure I do. What about a time when you totally forgot how you looked?

Unroast: Today I love how my eyes feel when I finally put on my dorky reading glasses.

P.S. Just in case you’re interested, I did this Room for Debate about snow days in the New York Times. I’m the resident goofy homeschooler.

bumbosmile

41 Comments »

Kate on February 5th 2014 in beauty, body, motherhood, perfection

41 Responses to “window with light pouring out of it”

  1. Mandy responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 11:26 am #

    I think the first time I remember forgetting to care what I looked like was in martial arts class. It was all about balance and timing and distance and footwork and whether or not the technique worked. My appearance was irrelevent.
    It’s one of the great gifts I got from taijitsu. The other was that I rediscovered how fierce I can be. That it is okay to be strong, and that I, myself, am worth fighting for.

  2. Kate responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 11:33 am #

    That was beautifully said! I’m going to add onto my question in response to this.

  3. Emily responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 11:36 am #

    Beautiful post, Kate. Thanks!

  4. Kate responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 11:37 am #

    Thank you, Emily!

  5. teegan responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 11:54 am #

    Oh, babies.
    In a novel recently, there was a bit about how women can never love anything as openly and unabashedly as their kids – kissing and snuggling and just general touching. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and how lucky I am to have that (not to mention a husband who’s not terribly against it either).
    He also does make me way less conscious of how I LOOK and more conscious of how much fun I’m having and what’s going on around me. Because, really, isn’t it more important to sing along to the cheesy music at the grocery store than to care about what the guy down the aisle thinks I look like doing it? Not to mention the fact that people seem to love seeing me have fun with my kid. I always expect eye-rolls and weird looks when we’re dancing in public or just being goofy, but instead everyone seems to think it’s unbelievably adorable.
    Your post also made me think of, well, Dr Who. Do you watch it at all? Mark and I watched an episode last night, and it made some good points about all people being “bigger on the inside.” Babies/kids spend all of their time making their insides bigger, which is crazy exciting to watch.

  6. olivia responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    such a beautiful post … and Eden is too cute for words. I agree that we lose ourselves to some extent once we start experiencing ourselves more from the outside than from within, but at least it’s something we have some control over. And for the record I envy babies too .. they always have that constant sense of wonder.

  7. San D responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    I was quite “old” before I knew what I really looked like. I was in 6th grade. Up to that point all I knew was that I didn’t really look like anyone else, they of thin bodies, straight hair and straight teeth. I had naturally curly unruly hair, bucked teeth, and hips. I dutifully set my hair on orange juice cans, rarely smiled, and wore dresses all the time. My 6th grade art teacher, whom I am ashamed to say I don’t remember her name, took us on a weekly after school outing. We piled on our bikes, she brought the supplies and her camera, and we went on field trips to draw. She would snap pictures of us. One day in her classroom she had my picture up, black and white, 8 x 10. In fact she took a series of pictures of this serious 6th grader drawing. I had a chiffon scarf on my head, tied as if James Dean would be stopping by on his motorcycle to pick me up. I looked like a movie star. I had that picture for as long as I was allowed to, and then it disappeared into my past somewhere. To this day, I well up when I think of her kindness.

  8. R responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    I don’t think I cared what I looked like until I was 14 and started liking boys and started wondering if they’d like me. Is that old? Even then I didn’t care much because I knew that I was at least average looking and most of my self-image was based on other things.

    I care more these days, but I’m also too lazy to be pretty all the time. Also, as an introvert I spend a lot of time alone. When I’m alone I couldn’t care less what I look like.

  9. Rosanne responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 4:43 pm #

    Beautiful post, Kate. It made me feel light and more aware of my inside and I can’t begin to tell you how much I needed that right now. Thank you!

  10. Rae responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 6:22 pm #

    I also love that my 2 year old doesn’t notice what I look like yet either. To him I am just his Mom & I look exactly as I should. No need to suck in or wear a bra around him. Another great post, thanks!

  11. Barbara responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    Lovely post! Especially this paragraph: “But right now, before that knowledge walks…..” <3

  12. hunter4086 responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 11:06 pm #

    Kate, I’m just a random voice from the depths of the Internet, but I think you have a really classic and endurable way of writing. You flex a lot of literary muscle while being succinct and so evocative. I enjoy every new post.

  13. Becca responded on 06 Feb 2014 at 2:07 am #

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I have a 4.5 month old and was just thinking I need to write a blog post about how purely he is experiencing things right now…just for HIM…before it is all mucked up by that trickster, the ego, narrating those experiences!

  14. Larissa responded on 06 Feb 2014 at 4:24 am #

    You’re an excellent writer! (And human being, by the sounds of things; very insightful).

  15. Lynn responded on 06 Feb 2014 at 7:59 am #

    What a lovely post :)

    I’m not sure about forgetting what I looked like, but I remember the first time I saw myself in the mirror and realized that the person in the mirror was me :) It is one of my earliest memories. I was about 2-ish or so, young enough to still sleep in a crib. There was a mirror in my room across from my crib. I remember standing up in the crib and gripping the bars and looking into the mirror and I realized that the thing in the mirror was me!!! I was that thing, that person. I was a thing, I was a person. I think that was when my identity was born, my sense of self :)

  16. Gappy responded on 06 Feb 2014 at 9:06 am #

    This post makes me want to practice grimmacing hideously. Who wouldn’t want to recapture that level of freedom?

    Also, she may not give a damn what she looks like, but we can see, and she is just beautiful.

  17. Abby responded on 06 Feb 2014 at 10:29 am #

    @Mandy –

    Exactly the same experience for me. Different martial art (capoeira) but same feeling.

    Another feeling, that I think is important too, is one of body neutrality: where you can look at your body the way someone would observe a piece of art at a museum. For me, martial arts, singing, and theatrical makeup all gave me those moments (few and far between, admittedly) by making me look at the mirror not with derision but with a direct, practical purpose. Are your hands in the correct position? Are you lifting your head when you sing? Are you applying the foundation evenly? With these things, being critical takes away from your learning. For me, all of the times I’ve looked in the mirror from those activities has made it easier for me to look in the mirror at home.

  18. Kate responded on 06 Feb 2014 at 10:32 am #

    @Abby
    Absolutely. Fantastically well-put. I tried to respond to this comment and wasn’t articulate enough to live up to it, so I’m just stopping and appreciating it instead.

  19. Kate responded on 06 Feb 2014 at 11:55 am #

    @Hunter and Larissa
    Compliments on my writing make me feel amazing. Thank you!!

  20. Mandy responded on 06 Feb 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    @Kate
    Thank you! What a great compliment!
    All I can say is that there are times when your eloquence inspires mine, and the resultant response is effortless.

  21. Liz in France responded on 07 Feb 2014 at 4:51 am #

    Wonderful post!!!! I know exactly what you mean… I’ve got my own little Farty McFarterson over here (He’s almost 6 months now) and the joy and just pure FUN of being around him overwhelms me sometimes. I just love his body, the way it feels in my arms, holding him, seeing him just *be* in this world.

    The only time I recall totally disconnecting with how I looked was in the first 10 days my (now) husband and I were together as a couple. We visited NYC and Boston together; those days are just this haze of incredible passionate in-love-ness that the only thing I remember is that intense FEELING and being in the moment. I was in the fabulous and couldn’t believe that life could be like that.
    Alternately, I was awfully conscious of my looks when we got married. Felt like I was on display :/

  22. Jiminy responded on 07 Feb 2014 at 8:58 am #

    Yesyesyes! I have been wondering about that beginning of consciousness with every step my daughters take in „socialized” life and it still feels amazing to see them dance with no consciousness about „how it looks”, but with their whole might. All this being with zero meta-. I often wish I could recover that state.
    Eden is soooo sweet (even if she doesn’t know it :) )) )!

    By the way, the Bumbo chair is an excellent invention, isn’t it :) ?

  23. Amy responded on 07 Feb 2014 at 11:33 am #

    I don’t think I *really* was concious of what I looked like until I was about 10 or 11. I remember seeing my stunning cousins outside sunbathing. They were 15-18 at the time, rocking their toned but curvy in all the right ways bodies. I remember being very aware that I did not look like that and wondering if I would when I got older. Thankfully it was not in a feeling bad about how I looked sort of way. Just an awareness and a curiousness It was the first time I was aware that all bodies are different, I suppose.

  24. Cheryl responded on 08 Feb 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    I recall looking in the mirror and being too short to see myself properly. And so I didn’t look again until I was tall enough. Then I wasted the time I should have spent examining my face just being filled with wonder how I had grown tall enough to look in the mirror.

    Sometimes now, when I wonder who I truly am underneath the desires and insecurities and outside noise, I try to remember how I felt as a child in my earliest memories. Those memories are all feeling and rarely compromise outward appearances. I remember what is was like to spend most of the day in my imagination, not analyzing the hell out of everything, including my own mind.

    The me that travels from life to life, birth to birth, is the me that simply experienced the world before I knew to care so much about me.

    I can access that pure soul, still. It’s the perfect resting place when disillusionment threatens and I get too carried away in the balloon of my own ego. In that soul- buried under a mountain of meaningless garbage, including my flesh, I feel a part of the universe. I remember the very few simple things that are important. Is there anything more powerful?

    I really enjoy your blog. Thank you.

  25. Cinthia responded on 08 Feb 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Love this post, Kate!
    This might sound silly but I feel that way, beyond looks, when I run mountain trails. I’m totally in the moment, beyond ego and status. It’s just my mind and my body flowing together, and I’m strong and fierce and my nose runs and my shirt is bunched with sweat, my legs bloodied from falls, and I’m totally happy and totally beautiful and totally and completely myself. It never, ever occurs to me to worry how I look. Looks no longer matter. Looks don’t exist.
    Such a gift, feeling this way. As soon as I walk in work the following day it all falls down but still, for three or four hours when I run, I’m invincible.

  26. Kande responded on 09 Feb 2014 at 10:27 pm #

    (Paraphrased from an internet meme, a blind man’s response on being told it must be terrible to be blind) “Actually it’s cool. I can’t judge people based on race, I can’t judge based on (outer) beauty. I am only able to judge people based on what comes out of people’s mouths, and what is in their heart. And that’s pretty cool”

    Funny, how missing a sense is like seeing the world through the eyes of a child – our maturity regresses us, maintaining all five senses actually limits us …. we assume their world is much more limited and narrow than our own, when really it is bigger and better than anything we could ever hope to comprehend …

  27. Kate responded on 10 Feb 2014 at 9:26 am #

    @Cinthia
    Every time I see a description like this one of running, I want to immediately become a runner.

  28. Laura responded on 10 Feb 2014 at 10:14 am #

    So awesome. Thank you.

  29. shelley responded on 12 Feb 2014 at 2:01 am #

    kate this is the start of why your mother said she didn’t want to spend the day without you. only you can protect that precociousness and allow it grow un-tethered. from the minute my son was born (note I was a fast track nyc career girl) I would not put him down, it felt wrong, when they asked me if I wanted him to sleep in the bassinet I was confused. here lies the turning, she can be all that all her life like you were, that is all I hope to give to my children, be they serial killers or geniuses, they can know it was always their choice

  30. shelley responded on 12 Feb 2014 at 2:03 am #

    oh crap.. and forget the last line.. and they were loved regardless

  31. Kelli responded on 12 Feb 2014 at 10:59 am #

    I think it is really interesting that almost everyone who has commented on when they get beyond their looks or forget about them is when they exercise.
    That is what I was going to say- when I’m at the gym or out running or hiking or biking or gardening- moving my body & feeling good physically- I never care how I look, I’m too wrapped up in the endorphins & the great feelings of having a body that is able to move & work hard & get things done! That is by far my biggest motivator in exercising regularly. It is so much easier for me to appreciate my body as a machine (so…as a neutral thing instead of pick it apart) when it is working hard on a regular basis. And that makes me really like it because it feels great to move & use it as I want!
    I don’t remember the first time I noticed my body, but I remember crying in kindergarten b/c I thought I had the fattest & ugliest legs in my class. My parents are both very vocal about things they don’t like in their own bodies as well as quite critical of people who are overweight, so I’m hoping to not pass on the self loathing by not talking about those things to my kids!

  32. Kelli responded on 12 Feb 2014 at 10:59 am #

    …..or in front of my kids…..or at all!

  33. claire responded on 13 Feb 2014 at 5:25 pm #

    you never disappoint your loyal readers,because you are so very talented. How fortunate is my wonderful Eden, and her handsome dad.

  34. Ingrid responded on 17 Feb 2014 at 5:35 am #

    I love your posts Kate, but why do you write so infrequently? It seems like only once or twice a month. Since you don’t work full time I wonder what you do all day.

  35. Kate responded on 17 Feb 2014 at 9:53 am #

    @Ingrid
    I’m glad you like them!
    I try to write here once a week, sometimes it doesn’t happen, but I think it mostly does?
    Why not more? A couple reasons: I write better when I have more time, and I’ve decided that I want all of the pieces I publish to be thought-out and looked-over. So I feel better about what I write here when I write less often. For a while, I was blogging every day, and it felt rushed and stressful.
    I write this blog because I enjoy it, and because I’ve met so many interesting people through it, and because I think it’s good writing practice. It’s not a paying job (I don’t feel comfortable advertising on it, and every day I turn down offers to make money through it because they would undermine my authenticity and, I think, insult my readers’ intelligence).
    I feel a little awkward answering your second question. It makes me want to ask, “What do YOU do all day?” Interesting that you assume I don’t work full time, since I’ve actually only recently stopped working full time. But you’re right– I work part time and take care of my baby the rest of the time. The other writing I do is for two columns and the book I’m working on. And if you want the whole story, which you might have guessed anyway, I also work as a part time cantor at a synagogue, where I perform bar and bat mitzvah services and high holiday services. I think that pretty much answers the question :-)

  36. Cheryl responded on 18 Feb 2014 at 9:24 pm #

    That question makes me shudder.
    What do you DO all day???????

  37. Kate responded on 19 Feb 2014 at 8:15 am #

    @Cheryl
    It’s funny, I’m STILL thinking about that comment. And now I think I should’ve answered with a description of all the things someone does in a day– it’s a lot, and it changes from day to day, and sometimes it’s totally boring and sometimes it seems productive, and that’s how life goes.

  38. Becca responded on 20 Feb 2014 at 12:47 am #

    I cannot imagine that question coming from someone who has had a baby, haha. Yikes.

  39. Ingrid responded on 20 Feb 2014 at 5:37 pm #

    Honestly I was just curious about what Kate’s day to day life is like. Since you have the privilege of living off your husband’s income/ being upper middle class, it seems like even with a baby someone with so much time and passion for writing would write more on their blog, or would have published the book they frequently mention by now, but publishing a personal journal/diary is a great accomplishment.

  40. Kate responded on 20 Feb 2014 at 6:11 pm #

    @Ingrid
    I think you didn’t really hear my last response, which makes me feel like I probably shouldn’t try to reiterate or defend myself. Have you tried to publish a book? I’m going to guess you haven’t! It can be a very long process.

    Actually, I’ve been thinking about writing a piece about why I decided NOT to publish the book I was working on for a while. It was a really hard decision, because people sometimes ask questions the way you just did, and they ask them with an implied judgment. It’s scary to think that people might ask, “Why haven’t you done more? What are you even doing?” The way you just did. But it’s less scary now than it used to be. Now that I know and like myself a little more than I used to.

    I think maybe I am particularly vulnerable to this sort of question, because it sounds to people like this is my journal, like you said. And so you might imagine you either already know everything about me or should know everything. I’ll take it as a compliment– my writing makes me available to you. I think that’s good. Although, I swear, this is a long shot from my journal, which involves a lot less capitalization and a lot more juicy details :-)

    And the whole “living off your husband” thing– that just sounds bad, and also feels private. It feels like asking someone, “How much money do you make, anyway?” That is really not your concern. Neither is how much time I do or don’t have to write. If you enjoy my writing, then please continue to do so! I appreciate you reading my words. It really shouldn’t matter what I did for the rest of the day.

  41. other people’s gorgeous stories: links responded on 14 Mar 2014 at 9:31 pm #

    [...] from Kate at Eat the Damn Cake, “Window with Light Pouring out of It” [...]