The World According to Kate

Posted: September 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: California, City Livin', Earthquakes, Eating Out, Friends and Strangers, Kindergarten, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate | 6 Comments »

Last weekend I had a peak experience at a street fair.

We were in San Fran, in a Chinese ‘hood, crowded around an open-air stage watching dragon dancers. You know, those performances where a few kids (or limber grown-ups) crouch inside long brightly-colored dragon costumes and leap around and undulate, usually to some kinda drumbeat or traditional music.

“My God,” I said to Mark, moments after the dragons spewed foil-wrapped candies out at the crowd, “THIS is why we live here. Right? This right now. Don’t you just love it?”

To which he replied mildly, “Yeah, sure.”

Later, walking towards the flea-bitten pony rides I was beaming, enthusing in a manic machine-gun cadence over everything my eyes landed on. “Wow, this is perfect. Not too big. Not too many people. Lots of black market DVDs of Chinese movies for sale. I luh-OVE it!”

And when he didn’t immediately chime in I said, “I mean, they had dragon dancing performances in Franklin when you were a kid, right?” (Mark grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Not so many Amish dragon dancers, I’m guessin’.)

“Yeah,” he shot back. “Just like the ones you went to in Bristol.”

Touché, my street-fair-averse hubbie!

It was hot that day, even close to the ocean where we were. This is never a good sign. Us hardened Bay Area long-timers think of this as earthquake weather. (People who were here for The Big One in ’89 often remark on the unseasonable heat that day.) So never accept sunshine in the city of fog without being leery.

But where was I?

Oh yes, we ducked into a restaurant to get out of the sun and have some lunch. Kate and Paige began feverishly drawing on their paper placemats, then Kate announced at top voice, “These flowers are CHINE-EEZ-IZ.  And these princesses are CHINE-EEZ-IZ too!” I guess in her mind one flower or princess is Chinese, but two are Chine-eez-iz. I suppose that stands to grammatical reason.

And just in case anyone in the restaurant might not hear her, she projected the word extra loud-and-clear.

I mean, it wasn’t like it was such a terrible thing to say, but I certainly had a couple of those moments where I’d look out from our table—and sure it was probably just my neurotic mind playing tricks on me—but it seemed like all the other restaurant patrons were Asian, and there was an endless sea of them, and they were all looking right at us. Staring at us as if to say, “Your children are culturally insensitive. Your children draw on placemats. And you are most certainly NOT Chine-eez-iz.”

As I said, it might-a just been in my head.

Whatever the case it was nothing like the time around the presidential elections when we were shopping at Safeway. Kate, who was around three at the time, called out to an elderly black man at the end of the aisle, “BARACK OBAMA! Hey, Barack Obama!” And then, because at that point I’d crawled into the Frito-Lay display to hide, she turned to me to ensure I didn’t miss her star-sighting and yelled, “Look, Mama! It’s HIM! Barack Obaaaamaaaa!”

My God. We live in Oakland. This was not the first black man my child has seen in public. Or knows, for God’s sake.

But there was something about how totally UNLIKE Barack Obama this dude looked that especially mortified me. He was heavyset. He was stooped and graying. He was hopefully deaf.

Anyway, I’m assuming Barack shops at Whole Foods. Really now, what are the odds he’d be at Safeway? Come on, Kate.

Now, years and years ago, long before the birth of my first pregnancy-related stretch mark, I saw a woman in a locker room who became my hero. I was in Lake Tahoe at some big spa-type place that had hot tubs. And a little girl pointed to a large large overweight woman right at the moment she was stripping off her wet bathing suit.

“Look Mommy!” she screamed. “That lady is soooooo HUGE!”

For a half-second, every woman in that locker room threw up in their mouths a little.

But then, without missing a beat, the twerp’s mom said, “Well honey, people come in all different shapes and sizes.” She said it so calmly. So smooth and relaxed, like it was no big thing. And do you know the tension in the room just—plink!—dissipated, and everyone went back to putting on deoderant and lacing their sneakers.

Of course! How simple and true! We are all different, and it is o-kay.

Isn’t that what it all comes down to? Now I’m not condoning going marauding around locker rooms pointing at others and calling out, “Gnarly leg veins!” or “Left breast significantly larger than right!” No doubt that woman’s feelings got hurt. But I’m guessing she eventually breathed a sigh of relief along with the rest of us.

That Mama’s reaction was a most excellent kindergarten-level life lesson. One that me and all the other horrified women in that locker room clearly needed a refresher course on.

Would I ever live to be as cool a mom as her? Unlikely. But then and there I stashed away that line, figuring it’d help me get out of a similar scrape with a future child—or heck, drunk friend—some day.

A couple summers ago I got a call from one of my BFFs, Mike. Fate threw us together junior year abroad in London, and refused to let our paths diverge. After falling out of touch, we bumped into each other on a sidewalk in New York. That was (gulp) twenty years ago. We’ve linked pinkies in a bond of everlasting friendship ever since.

So a couple years ago he calls me. And he’s all downplaying it, but he says he’s getting married. A last-minute plan, with a very long-time love. It’d be in LA at his mother’s house, super casual. We were in no way meant to feel obligated, but they’d love to have us there if we could make it.

Not GO? That’d be like having a gold ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and staying home to wash your hair. Of COURSE we would be there.

From the second I hung up the phone I was clapping my hands together in glee. Not only was I thrilled for my dear friend to marry his partner (whom I also adored), I was thrilled that my dear friend COULD marry his partner in the great state of California.

Since he stressed it was a bring-the-kids event (they have three of their own), I immediately foisted the thrilling news onto Kate, wanting someone to join me in my spastic delight.

“Guess WHAT, Katie?” I bellowed in her face. “You are invited to a wedding! Your first ever wedding! Mike and Lorin are getting married!” And as I took both her hands and danced her around the living room I cried out, “They are getting MARRIED! Isn’t that just the happiest most exciting news EVER?”

Then, flopped down on the rug together, I caught my breath and shifted from giddiness to my more earnest teacher-Mama mode.  I looked her square in the eye. “You know, Kate, I want you to know that a man can marry a man. And a woman can marry a woman. Just like a man and a woman can get married.” I was getting choked up. Overflowing with excitement and emotion, and my first adrenaline-charged twinges of what’ll-I-wear anxiety.

Mike and Lorin met even before Daddy and I did,” I continued—because when I want to make a point, I like to really hammer it home. “And now, in the state of California, they CAN get married.” Me wiping tears from eyes and making quiet snorfly sounds.

Kate looked up at me from our tangled-on-the-floor hug. She thought for a second then said, “Mama?”

Me: “Yes, honey?”

Kate: “Do you think they’ll have juice boxes?”

Oh, Katie. Sometimes when I’m trying to teach you something you come out of nowhere and show me all the things I can learn from you. Thank you for that, my sweet.

May the time come very soon where the only concern people have with gay weddings is whether or not juice boxes will be served.


6 Comments on “The World According to Kate”

  1. 1 Layton Judd said at 6:58 am on September 16th, 2010:

    Great post!

  2. 2 Jeff said at 8:59 am on September 16th, 2010:

    most excellent post Kristen!! I learned a thing or two and it made me laugh (several times). Thanks as always!

  3. 3 kristen said at 9:17 am on September 16th, 2010:

    thanks, layton!

    and good to hear from you again, jeff. i was starting to wonder if you were still representin’ in my core reader circle!

  4. 4 Jeff said at 9:47 am on September 16th, 2010:

    oh, I’m definitely part of your core reader posse. I’ve read them all. I guess sometimes I just get quiet.

  5. 5 Kristy LaFollette said at 7:51 am on September 17th, 2010:

    This post reminds me of all the things I take for granted, and the things I clearly get more uptight about than you, Kristen. Sure, I listen to the fairly wise words of Emma a lot, especially in the morning when I’m trying to feign patience in getting her out to door, but man, I always leave her daycare telling myself, “OK, tomorrow? You have GOT to lighten up.” Kids keep it basic and sensible, which makes our lives a little more digestable. Not to say you have to have a kid to enjoy life, you just gotta remember to think like one. Which is hard.

    Oh, and I love that you used the word “undulate”. : )

  6. 6 kristen said at 8:40 am on September 17th, 2010:

    i’ve found drinking wine helps me maintain my child-like perspective, kristy.

Leave a Reply