Archive for the 'family' Category

i am twenty-eight

Katy Perry was singing “You’re hot then you’re cold! You’re yes then you’re no!” on the radio and Bear and I were driving towards the mountains on our fourth date. “I like your sunglasses,” he said, and when I glanced at his profile, it was adorably boyish. He was blushing faintly and his little smile was the helpless kind, where you can’t not smile. Everything is too good to not smile. I didn’t know anything about him except that he felt completely right and I felt completely right with him. I started singing along with Katy Perry, even though it was the first time I’d heard the song. He joined in.

We were yes! We were not even a little bit no.

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I was twenty-three.

I had never made a reservation at a restaurant because I’d never, as an adult, gone to one nice enough to need a reservation.

Bear was twenty-five. That seemed well into the totally grown-up range. He’d made a reservation for our first date, even though the restaurant was not in fact very nice, and I was impressed with the casual way he gave his last name, like he was used to eating out. Eating out impressed me (I either made all of my own meals or got a slice of pizza somewhere). Taking a cab impressed me (they did that on TV but everyone I knew exclusively rode the subway). Wearing ragged New Balance sneakers paired with Cargo pants did not impress me, but I thought it was cute that he didn’t own any jeans because he thought they were too fashion-y.

“I’ll buy you jeans,” I said, indulgently. I felt lavish, magnanimous. “You’ll like them.”

I was pretty sure I could blow this guy’s mind—worldly table reserving and all.

*

A few days ago, we were driving on the highway in Florida, headed back to the airport from Bear’s aunt and uncle’s home, where his ninety-five year old grandmother lives, too. We finally made it down there, for the weekend, so that Eden could meet her.

Eden hates the car so much. “Babies love the car!” people say, speaking of the accomplished babies of legend whose parents are always fresh-faced and proud.

Eden started to cry the second her butt hit the car seat. And now she cries “Mama! Mama! MAMAMA!!” lifting her chubby little arms in an anguished plea for help. It’s a little bit heartbreaking.

We were running late, naturally, and there was no time to pull over and comfort her. Nothing short of freedom works.

“ABCDEFG! HIJK, LMNOP!” we sang at the top of our lungs. “THE ITSY BITSY SPIDER!! WENT UP THE WATER SPOUT!”

“MAMAMAMAMAMA!!!” she wailed.

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“I can’t do this,” said Bear, his face crumpling.

“Stay focused!” I said. “Keep driving!”

She cried for forty minutes. I was hunched forward. Bear’s face had gone tight.

“So,” I said, looking at his profile. “We made a baby!”

He didn’t respond.

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Kate on March 26th 2014 in family, life, motherhood, uplifting

man beaten in the street on a beautiful day

A woman was attacked by four boys a few blocks away from where I walk every day with my baby. She was hit on the back of the head, for fun, I guess, and she is OK. Except that I wonder if she is really OK, because how could she ever feel safe again? It was the middle of the day. She was walking her dog. What did the dog do, when it happened, I kept wondering. Did they try to hurt the dog, too?

I read a report from Mother Jones about how sippy cups are giving kids cancer. How BPA free plastic is maybe even worse than whatever BPA itself is. Which is like, shit, do I have to start learning how to carve wood or throw pottery or something in order to raise a healthy child? There’s already the whole thing about hormones in meat and chemicals in everything else we eat and toxic flame retardants in all of the foam that’s in everything we ever sit on and parabens and just the plain old fumes coming off the highway right outside our building. You don’t want to get paranoid, you want to be practical. But you want to be wary and aware, I think. You want to be alert.

And then a few days ago I saw a man stomp on another man’s face in the street. It sometimes feels like such a dangerous world, I wonder how I keep blithely going outside, and here I am flinging a child into it.

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(Bear carrying Eden earlier that day)

It was a beautiful day. Flirtatiously warm, thrillingly close to the border of spring. We decided to walk all the way down the east side of Manhattan, from Madison Square Park, across the Brooklyn Bridge. Why not? We switched off with Eden in the carrier, and she was on me when it happened. We hadn’t gotten very far. At the corner of 15th St and 1st Ave, a man shoved another man down, and the second man rolled into the dirt of one of those half-hearted planters near the curb.

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Kate on March 12th 2014 in family, fear, life, new york

what happens when you aren’t a piano prodigy

You have to understand, my dad is a brilliant pianist. He could always play, from the time he was a little kid. For no reason that anyone could explain or understand, he could sit down and make music. He never learned to read music, but if he heard something, he could play it right back, so when he finally took lessons from a local teacher, he fooled her for months. “Can you just play it for me so I can hear how it should sound?” he’d ask when she gave him a new assignment. She’d play the piece through, and he’d instantly memorize it. Later, he’d pretend to be studying the notes on the page. She was furious when she discovered his trick, or so the story goes.

When he grew up, my dad bought a grand piano and then was too poor to fix his car for a whole winter. My parents were barely in their twenties, proud of their tiny square house, running their own tiny business out of the basement, and there was this sleek, giant Yamaha grand filling the whole living room. Almost a decade before I was born, that piano was my dad’s baby.

When I was a baby, he sat me on his lap while he played, my hands on his hands.

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(I don’t have a photo of that, but here I am as a baby, with my hair looking much like a wig, playing)

And of course, when I was old enough, he taught me some pieces, and eventually signed me up for lessons. He still couldn’t read music very well, but he wanted me to learn, so I was sent to a piano school that specialized in early classical training. The word “pedagogy” floated around in the halls.

I don’t know where my ferocious competitiveness came from. It’s been there for as long as I can remember, an engine too big for my body, eternally revving. It wasn’t enough to just play—I wanted to be the best.

I dreaded the finger exercises. I was bored by the endless arpeggios. The flick of the thumb under the third finger going up the scale—the movement had to be perfectly smooth, subtle, the arrangement of the hand needed to stay even. I wanted to play Rachmaninoff, with the crashing depths of the low register. Lush, chocolate-y Brahms. I wanted to play cascading Debussy, with the blur of rich sound, and Chopin, of course, with the delicate right hand trilling up at the very top while the left hand ran darkly around the bass. I wanted pounding drama and thunder and thrill. I wanted to close out the annual recital with a show-stopper. I was jealous of the kid who got to do it, while I was still playing in the middle of the pack. I was also terrified of performing.

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the Jews in Williamsburg

Rode the backway through Williamsburg to meet R for lunch, and it was bleak and raining and there were no non-Jews for about 15 blocks. No trees, either, except for a few helpless scraggles. It felt like entering a different time, an older world.

The boys, preparing for Shabbat, were all carrying the same tallis bag. They can’t carry umbrellas, though, on the Sabbath, so their hats were wrapped in plastic bags. The girls went with their heads bare. A pregnant woman in the long, traditional black stood at the door of yet another rusty, tired apartment building, staring out into the grim street scene. It must be so safe, though, because I saw a girl who must’ve been only nine or something, pushing a baby in a carriage, alone. Probably not going far. No one seems to be going far—it is a universe in ten blocks, a cosmos in fifteen.

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A building had a plaque by a door that read “ladies’ entrance.” Some signs were in Hebrew. It struck me that I am living right next door to this community. I am within walking distance, though I never walk that way. I am Jewish. I am a married mother, too. My life looks nothing like this.

I sat in the car and stared and wondered what it is like to be a girl here, so close to my home. What is it like to be a woman? To be anyone?

“There are a lot of cities in this city,” Bear said, later, when I mentioned this. He said that NYC is a compilation of all of these little, insular communities. Ours is one, too. It’s strange to think about.

The parents in my neighborhood are always talking about preschools—which are prestigious, which are better, have I signed Eden up yet, for the wait list for the more exclusive wait list for this one down the street? It’s important because of the matriculation rate to Harvard. It’s important to have put her on the path to Harvard, now, at six months. It sounds like a joke, but it actually isn’t. I think I am supposed to have planned for her whole life, already. Or at least through twenty-two or so.

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woman gets hit by truck, dies

My friend Yvonne swore that she had an orgasm when she smelled caviar for the first time. I didn’t believe her, but I loved her stories. She had fly-away hair and big necklaces and her vivid lipstick had always gotten on her teeth because her mouth was always in motion. She was glamorous.

I don’t know what made me look at the local paper on my parents’ table when I was over there the other day, but I saw the headline  “woman hit by truck, dies.”

“It’s terrible,” my parents had been saying, “A woman died crossing the street—just down the road, you know, by the light.”

“That’s terrible,” I said.

I kept reading the article, and I kind of had a feeling. But maybe I’m just imagining the feeling retroactively.

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When I was fifteen, I joined a writing group at the local arts’ center. Everyone else was over fifty. When you’re homeschooled you do lots of stuff with people over fifty, because they’re also around during the day. Yvonne was immediately one of my favorites. We used to “get tea.” That meant we sat around talking forever in a coffee shop. She’d worked at one of those homes for disabled kids, back when they just locked them all up together and left them screaming in their own excrement. It broke her heart. It hardened her. She said it taught her what the world was secretly like, but she was also a poet. She was divorced, but she’d been married to a man who loved music more than anyone else loved music. All he wanted to do was go to the symphony. She liked to watch him loving music. He was the best listener.

I didn’t understand her poetry. It was fluid and random and dexterous. I was writing a fantasy novel about a young queen who is not allowed to fall in love but she does anyway. I had lots of descriptions of the gowns she wore. Yvonne was in her sixties. She threw her head back and laughed. She said, “Don’t knit your brows like that, you’ll get a crease.” She was tall and graceful. I never put my shoulders back because I was embarrassed about my big nose so I was trying to hide in my hair, even though I was also cocky in plenty of ways.

I can’t believe she got hit by a truck when she was crossing the road and she died. Minutes from the house where I grew up. Meeting a friend. For tea?

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Kate on December 3rd 2013 in being sad, family, fear

the family beauty

Bear’s grandmother looked like a movie star when she was young. You should see the pictures! There’s one of her perched on a rock in her bathing suit, and it looks like she was posed there by a famous photographer. Everyone always comments on it. “Wow!” we say, “You were such a beauty!” And she sort of chuckles and looks away.

The story goes—she got selected as the prettiest girl at the local fair. I always imagine a dour panel of older male judges, shuffling through the cotton-candy eating crowd, hands behind their backs, in gray linen suits, sizing up the young women, looking for the prettiest one. They must have known immediately, when they saw her. Maybe she was laughing with her head thrown back, her hair lustrous in the sun.

“She was so beautiful!” we exclaim, looking over the old photos. Now she’s 95—a pert, tiny, stooped woman with a ready grin who thought Obama was cool long before the rest of us knew his name. She laughs a lot, reads a lot, and grows a wild garden in her backyard.

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I sometimes wish that I were beautiful just so that it could be my legacy. How cool, for my great-granddaughters to be able to find the photos of me tucked into some ancient hard-drive and ooh and ahh over how stunning I was? They would be proud to come from me. I sometimes wish that I were beautiful so that it could be a part of my family’s story. Beautiful women always seem to get a mention. There is a certain familial boasting that happens. We have good blood. Good genes. We make strong men, pretty women. 

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Kate on July 11th 2013 in beauty, family, feminism

I don’t want to analyze my parents anymore

I was thinking about therapy the other day. My therapist and I have drifted apart over the past six months or so. We had been doing phone sessions, which was great because it allowed me to eat while talking to her, and also load the dishwasher. But eventually, even those became complicated, with her new job schedule and my relentless morning sickness. And, without any formal farewell, we became unhooked and slipped apart.

The dishes have suffered. I’ve been trying to decide if I should make an effort. If I should reach out to her, or find a new therapist.

It’s often hard to explain to myself exactly why I maybe should, because therapy is often vague like that. I used to get annoyed at listening to my own problems. And then I’d have to talk about that. Which is awkward. The whole thing is awkward. Once my therapist said to me, laughing, “Kate, you overthink everything!” I liked her for that.

But when I think about therapy now, the part that frustrates me is really more about storytelling than anything else. Actually, a friend of mine who is a successful storyteller, like, as a thing, not just as an expression, said something about how in therapy she feels aware of the things she has to leave out to tell a certain story about her life. There are all of these contradictory, complicating details. There are all these details that are really the beginning of a totally different story or interpretation.

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The truth is, we all need to tell ourselves stories about our lives all the time. It keeps things manageable. We get this sense that we have some idea of who we are. We sort out characteristics and assemble something that comfortingly resembles a personality. People, like dogs and chimps and probably caterpillars, too, like the reassurance of identifiable patterns. We pat ourselves on the back for being a person who consistently hates the taste of licorice—it’s a clue! Have you ever notice how proud people sometimes seem of their little weirdnesses? Oh, I NEVER wear periwinkle! It makes me nervous about buying people gifts, because what if I am forgetting one of their major quirks? What if I get them something in periwinkle by accident?

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