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

what do women do all day?

“What do you do all day?” asked someone who reads this blog. Shouldn’t I post more often, since I must have so much time? And then later, in a follow-up comment, this reader wondered why I hadn’t published that book I’ve mentioned working on. What have I been doing instead?

There it was: the question. The moment I’d been dreading.

When I had Eden, I chose to work part time and spend the rest of my time with her. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have this option. It feels a little like a dirty secret.

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(yes, this is part of what I do all day)

I am embarrassed, sometimes, that I haven’t gone further in my career by now. I would prefer to have succeeded in ways so obvious and succinct that they would fit on a nametag. I would like to have fulfilled the potential that feminism and social change and modernity have given me. That my mother gave me. That my father believed I had just the same as my brothers.

I know the SAHM rhetoric—this is important work, too. Women’s work doesn’t always pay. You are doing something essential. You are doing the work of shaping an entire person! But it doesn’t stick to me, it slides right off. I feel like I’m cheating on my ambitious self with this new role. And yet I’m actively choosing it. I am unable, somehow, to not spend this time with my daughter, knowing I have the chance. I am unable to believe that work is everything, even as I’m unable to believe that motherhood is everything. I flounder somewhere in the middle, in a gray area where balance and confusion circle each other with territorial defensiveness.

I stared at the question on my phone while nursing the baby. I could practically feel my milk turning sour. I thought about how to answer as I tried for forty minutes to convince Eden that, no, really, she should have a nap. Finally, she was asleep, and I hadn’t eaten yet that day because there hadn’t been time, but under the microscope of the question, I felt abruptly like I was doing nothing.

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Kate on March 19th 2014 in feminism, life, motherhood, new york, work, writing

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

the only spiritual thing that’s ever happened to me

I am not spiritual. I don’t really know what it means to be spiritual, but I’ve guessed “no” when I’ve been occasionally asked. I am uncomfortable with the unknown. Maybe that’s why I write fantasy books, because the mystical, magical space my brain craves is self-contained, manageable—delicious but reassuringly confined to my own rules. I don’t know.

My mom thinks I’m spiritual. She also thinks I probably secretly believe in God. We’ve argued about this before.

“I would know it if I did,” I say.

“You just don’t like the way it’s described,” she says, “that doesn’t mean you don’t feel something.”

I shake my head and think she just wants her daughter to have religion. She doesn’t want me to miss out.

I don’t want to miss out, either, but my mind stays strictly on its path. I listen when friends talk astrology, but only out of politeness and sometimes, if I’m feeling wild, fun. I don’t want to miss out, but much more than that, I’m proud of my straightforward rationalism.

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(source)

This story I’m about to tell is one of the only spiritual things that’s ever happened to me. The others were tiny. (I’m defining “spiritual” like this: it felt spiritual.)

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Kate on March 5th 2014 in being different, life, pregnancy, uplifting

the wound

A reader alerted me to the fact that it’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week right now (thank you, Addison!). Please click the link and learn more.

I was about to publish a different post, and mention NEDAweek in a note at the bottom. And then that didn’t feel right, so I wrote this. I didn’t have a lot of time. My mom is watching Eden in the other room. I hope you’ll forgive any mistakes or general hurrying. But I wanted to say:

This is a serious, serious issue. It erupts on the infected site of the wound girls and women have sustained from a world that enforces the flat, cold idea that our worth is based primarily on the way our bodies look. It festers. It takes different, complicated forms. The definitions can seem unhelpful and nebulous. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that bad. Sometimes you don’t even know about it. Sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with being skinny. Sometimes it results in death.

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Kate on February 26th 2014 in beauty, body, food, weight

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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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.

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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.

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