My daughter Katie was reading the Roots: Part III post, when she said, “Isn’t this Ocho: Part VIII? How many posts are you going to write about him? And how come I’m not in your blog?”
I hesitate to write about my kids here because it feels like an invasion of their pre-teen/teen privacy. But Katie not only has given me permission to write about her, she is bullying me into it. Actually standing here as I write…
Here’s what I’d like to write about Katie: I named Kate after Katharine Hepburn. I had a gut feeling her personality would match, and that gut feeling was accurate.
If you look Katharine Hepburn up on Wikipedia, the entry uses adjectives like outspoken, independent, adventurous to describe her. The word that comes to mind, for me, is audacious, defined on dictionary.com as:
1. extremely bold or daring; recklessly brave; fearless: an audacious explorer.
2. extremely original; without restriction to prior ideas; highly inventive: an audacious vision of the city's bright future.
3. recklessly bold in defiance of convention, propriety, law, or the like; insolent; brazen.
4. lively; unrestrained; uninhibited: an audacious interpretation of her role.
Audacious describes Katie to a tee. Kate—aka Katie Bug, Katie Bird, Bird, Birdy, Kato, Kato Tornado—looks nothing like me. Some people say our eyes look similar, even though hers are green and mine are brown. And we have the same delicate, pointy chin. But that’s where the similarities end. I look Italian and Jewish; Kate looks Teutonic and waspish. I picked her up from a slumber party yesterday morning, and one of the girls lounging on the couch said, “That’s your mom?” I’m fairly certain she wasn’t referring to my super-youthful appearance, making it improbable that I was Katie’s mom and not her sister. She was referring to the fact that we look absolutely nothing alike.
I would not describe myself as audacious. I’m more like my son: slow to warm. But I am unafraid of discussing mature topics with my children, which matches Kate’s relentless curiosity. Katie was five when she asked me how babies are made. I gave her information in increments, seeing if she would be satisfied with part of the picture. I quickly found the answer was no; she wanted the whole story. So I told her. I also told her that the information was something that she would have to keep private because parents want to be the ones to tell their children how babies are made; they don’t want other children doing their job. Kate never discussed the topic with her friends. A remarkable feat for an outspoken girl with a propensity for letting the cat out of the bag.
One such cat was my forgetting to renew my driver’s license, car registration and insurance. Kate and I were driving home from school, she was in the 1st grade, when I was pulled over by the police. I got a big, fat ticket and had to leave my car where it was, meaning Kate and I had to walk home. In my defense, I was a little distracted. Kate’s dad and I had decided to separate and he’d just moved out of the house.
The next morning, I got my ducks in row (meaning I renewed all my car stuff) and later in the day picked up Katie from school. I think I was PTA Co-President that year and went into the school office to check the PTA mailbox. Kate, who loved the school secretary Judie, hung out by the front desk. “I love your yellow dress,” she said to Judie. “Thanks, Kate,” I heard Judie say. “My mom got arrested,” Katie added. “That happens,” Judie said. Fortunately, Judie believed my story.
A more serious cat—and I hesitate to even call it a cat—was a profoundly disturbing situation at Katie’s school. One of the students had told her and her friends that she was being abused at home. Katie came home from school and said we had to call the principal and tell her. She was adamant. I told her I wanted one day to think about it and to talk to some people who knew the child and her parents. I explained that it was a big deal to accuse a parent of child abuse. The next day, Kate went back to school. The child told Katie and her friends worse stories. Kate immediately went to the director of the after-school program and told her what the child had been saying. A few hours later, Child Protective Services picked up the child and notified the parents. Katie called me at work and told me what she’d done. “Don’t be mad,” she said. “I know you wanted to check it out.” I reassured her that she’d done exactly the right thing.
In elementary school, Kate’s best friend was Ben—a sweet, funny boy who after 4th grade moved to a town near Yosemite. “You look just like my cousin,” he once told her, then put his hand over his mouth and added, “only my cousin has a prettier face.” I gasped when she told me that. “Didn’t that hurt your feelings?” I asked. “No, that’s just Ben,” she said. “I thought it was really funny.”
Kate’s now in middle school, and the social scene is intense: lots of gMail, phone calls, texting. And loads of pre-teen, girl drama. But Kate holds her own, something I couldn’t imagine doing at age 11. One of the most popular phrases among this age group is “sorry no offense,” pronounced as if it were one word and used as a wild card for safely uttering negative comments. “Those jeans make your butt look big, sorrynoffense.” “Why don’t we just listen to the song instead of you singing to it, sorrynoffense.” “This marinara sauce is terrible, sorrynoffense.”
Kate doesn’t so much want to hang with me anymore since, by sheer fact that I’m a parent, I’m kind of embarrasing to be with. So, I was delighted when yesterday she said she’d go to a movie with me in the pouring down rain instead of spending the afternoon on the computer emailing friends. We saw “Juno,” a delightful PG-13 story about a 16-year-old girl who gets pregnant. The story was not so much about her pregnancy as it was about love. The dad tells her at one point in the story, “When you find someone who loves you for exactly who you are right now, that’s real love. You can do something wrong, and they’ll still think the sun shines out your ass. That’s someone to hold onto.”
I tell myself to let Katie go for awhile. You know the butterfly story; if you love something set it free... But Kate’s always been free. I can only hope that she knows that I love her, simply adore her, for exactly who she is at any given moment in time. Even when, sorrynoffense, she’s not my bff.