The Day I Found Out I Was Secretly Racist

By Kate McKinney

I have a dream

Martin Luther King, Jr. was my childhood hero. I remember getting a biography about him as a book club selection in my Scholastic order, along with a biography of Mary Lou Retton and a novelization of Karate Kid, Part II. I devoured the book, touched deeply by the plight of black people so long ago and so grateful that this battle had been won. I was deeply shocked and offended when I found out there were still racists in the world, and decided they just hadn’t gotten the memo. Racism was over! Martin Luther King, Jr might have died, but he still won.

As I got older, I found out things were not as cut and dried as they seemed. People I loved deeply exposed themselves as having archaic attitudes that made me feel a little sick, even as they proclaimed “I’m not racist…BUT.” It seemed you could admire black entertainers while holding judgement over those not succeeding at singing and dancing on television. But I still felt I was above these people. I was many things, but at least I wasn’t a RACIST, for goodness sakes.

Perhaps I was naive in thinking that racism was relegated to the realm of the overt, like the step-father of my ex-boyfriend, a KKK Grand Dragon (one of the reasons we broke up.) Or like people making jokes about “jigaboos” or complaining about “Those People.” I held myself to a higher standard. I loved Dr. King. I had a black friend (who wasn’t “ghetto” of course.) I did think black people were a little scary. A little angry. They didn’t know I wasn’t like that! But maybe they were a little overly sensitive. After all, a lot of water had passed under the bridge. Can’t we all just get along?

I was working for a website geared towards local moms, and we were at an event trying to get people to sign up for our email newsletter.  All I had to do was say “Ok, great! What’s your email address?” A simple question, completely void of judgement of any kind. That was how I had been wording it, even after I had gotten a few women who didn’t have email addresses.

Until a woman walked up. A black women. She looked completely, for lack of a better word, “normal.” Her clothes looked like the clothes of any other professional woman on a weekend. Her manner was friendly, she was enthusiastic and intelligent. All I had to say was “Great, can I have your email address?”

But that’s not what came out of my mouth at all.

I said “Do you have an email address?”

I had no reason to ask that.

98% of the women I had talked to that day had provided an email address.

Of course she had an email address and she was happy to provide it for me.

But I couldn’t shake my sick feeling the rest of the day.

I had treated her differently.

Why had I done that?

I had assumed every single white women who had come through my line, regardless of clothing, manner, or socioeconomic status, had an email address.

But I condescended to the very first black woman in my line.

I had to acknowledge it was the color of her skin.

There was no other option.

I had to look at myself, this justice warrior, this loud voice for equality, and realize that racism goes FAR beyond lynchings, off-color jokes, and being against inter-racial dating. I had assumed it meant hate. I didn’t hate anyone. I certainly didn’t hate the woman whose email address I had asked for! I probably would have wanted to be her friend. But clearly I had some work to do. And acknowledging this was the first step.

And by no means the last.

After I realized I was secretly racist I started seeing it everywhere. I saw it in the manners of the librarians who would stop little black boys in the children’s section and ask them if they needed any help in a tone that clearly said “You do not belong here.” I saw it in lives of the white couple who made caring for truant black boys their life’s work, and yet referred to them “affectionately” with racial slurs. I saw it in the white family who adopted a little black girl, one of the smartest, most beautiful children I had ever seen, and watched them attempt to snuff out all that set her apart while complaining she was “sneaky” and “hard to control.” I saw it in every person who sneered and sighed over “their culture.”

I was by no means done.

It took me a long time to realize I couldn’t ask one black person to explain all of black history to me. To approach the times I did not understand with my ears and heart ahead of my mouth. To stop my knee jerk reactions, born of privilege, and attempt to truly consider what 400 years of slavery and 150 years of oppression would do to me, my family, my friends. What it would be like to always be considered dangerous, uneducated, and ungrateful unless I carefully adopted the posture, clothing, manner, and even names of the same people who had hung my ancestors from trees?

I can’t ever know. Not really. But instead of absolving me, it increases my resolve. The less I can understand, the harder I must try. The more I must listen. The more voices I must amplify above my own, voices that need to be heard. The more I need to understand that my pre-conceived notions MUST not trump the lived experience of those who are still under oppression.

And if you think this oppression doesn’t exist, I refer you to my story above, amplified by millions.

The Adventures of Veggie Girl!

By Kate McKinney

veggie girl

 

It started with a showing of FOOD INC. I wanted my kids to understand where their food came from. Why mommy and daddy were trying to make a conscience choice to consume less fast food, and so we might have to deny their requests for Happy Meals. The kids were fascinated, and disturbed. From the crowded hen houses to the cows hoisted up by their legs and knocked into machinery for the slaughter, what we saw made us all profoundly uncomfortable.

Then I decided to up the ante a little. A former classmate of mine, Marissa Miller Wolfson, had directed a documentary about veganism called Vegucated. I took the kids to a showing of the film and Q&A with the director at the local library to give them more food for thought. It was not my intention to convert my children to vegetarianism! I myself am not a vegetarian. I just wanted them to have plenty of information about factory farming so they could make an informed choice . They had already been exposed to some of the concepts due to my work with Steckler Grassfed , a local pasture based farm I work part-time for. I just wanted to help clarify the message for them. Even if we choose to continue to eat meat, we are going to do our level best to make sure it’s sustainable, that the animals are treated well, and that the food was as nutritious as it could be.

When the movie was over, Alice turned to me and said “On June 1st I am becoming a vegetarian.” Her motivation was simple. “I don’t want to eat poor creatures.”

It sounds like the kind of cute thing kids say, like when they grow up they are going to be a movie star. But she wasn’t kidding. On June 1st she became a vegetarian. Since then she has had exactly one relapse where she ate meat on purpose, just a few days after June 1st. I had made a roasted chicken and she ate a few bites. After that, no more meat (except for the times I accidentally fed it to her, but we’ll get to that.)

Did I mention this is a 7 year old child?

A lot of people have asked me about my decision to “let” my daughter become a vegetarian. Many adult vegetarians have let me know that they would have made this choice sooner but their families weren’t supportive.

1. I respect my daughter’s autonomy. As long as she is making a positive choice for her life that doesn’t adversely disrupt the rest of us, I am fine with helping her on this path. I cook our rice in organic veggie broth from Aldi instead of chicken broth. I always make sure there are beans on the table. It hasn’t been a big deal, really. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to cook something separate, but I can’t fault her reasoning. She has a kind heart. As long as she continues to be an adventurous, wholesome eater then I will continue to work with her on this.

2. Forcing kids to do things simply doesn’t work. Have you ever tried to force your kids to eat something they don’t want to eat? I well recall the Beet Incident of 1982. It did not endear me to beets. I see no more point in attempting to “force” my daughter to eat meat than I do trying to “force” my oldest to eat weird shapes of pasta or cooked vegetables. As long as there are good, wholesome staples I can put in front of them and know they are eating a good balance of nutrients I’m good. My picky son will eat cold garbanzos and raw spinach if he doesn’t like what I made for dinner. My daughter will do the same. Why complain?

3. I’m proud of her. Her tenacity really inspires me, and I want to encourage her to keep making choices she can stick to. We have tried really hard not to go halfway (except for the times I accidentally let her eat chicken broth, etc. It has not been easy for me to learn my way around, but I am trying!) She has had to give up gelatin, one of her favorite foods! And she did it. She’s had to eschew S’mores at all campfires this fall (because I keep forgetting to buy vegan marshmallows.) And she does it without complaining. For 5 months. At the age of 7. And she shows absolutely no sign of changing her mind.

Healthy Girl
As you can see, Alice has always thought about nutrition, even if she didn’t always understand what it was all about. I’m taking this opportunity to make sure she experiments with food a lot and tries new things. No macaroni and cheese based diet for her! Sometimes my experiments work, like when we order her a pizza smothered in veggies and not just plain cheese. Other ones, like the Portobello mushroom burger, didn’t go over as well. But we are learning together.

She’s healthy, she’s growing, she’s mindful, she’s kind. She’s a new super hero now, Veggie Girl! And I couldn’t be more proud.

 

The Silent Year

By Kate McKinney

image

I was driving up to a pumpkin patch with my beautiful three year old son when I got the call. The one I had been waiting for. After many years of choosing to stay at home with the kids, I was returning to full time work. As I strode up to the farm with my curly haired boy tears rolled down my cheeks. This life I can tried so hard to orchestrate a certain way was coming to an end. This might be the last pumpkin patch.

And so began one of the longest, strangest, hardest years of my life. Not a bad year. Bad is the wrong word. Hard is the right word. Hard because my identity was, I thought, reversing. In truth I was just adding a piece to it, like an accessory on a carefully selected outfit. But at the time it felt like a whole new face. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

All I ever wanted to be was a mother. I had no room in my life for any other ambitions. I had dreams, and they all involved a houseful of children, pots of soup, aprons, and visits to the pumpkin patch. What I wasn’t counting on was that my 1950s mentality didn’t mesh with the 2000s economy. And that I wasn’t as good at the whole housekeeping gig as I might have originally believed. That ultimately, I felt trapped.

Everything folded together like a deck of cards being expertly shuffled. The choice was right. The time was right.

And then, the year started.

And it was HARD.

And it wasn’t just the job.

There were two other issues in my personal life that cropped up at the same time. And I felt completely silenced.

Obviously, I wasn’t totally silenced. Those near and dear to me got an earful. But social media was too public for the type of situations I found myself in.

This might sound funny to people, but for a social media lover like myself, it was very difficult to go from documenting most of my thoughts via twitter to feeling like I couldn’t say anything about the things that I was ruminating over in my heart.

I wish I could say more now, but I am honestly still frightened of summoning some of the negativity I was faced with.

So I am just hoping to start this new year with a new voice.

A restricted voice, but we all know that boundaries are what give birth to creativity.

In the meantime, let me leave you with this Clickhole article that pretty much sums up how I feel about my blog the last year.

“I Let Everyone Down.” 

 

 

 

 

The Face Of Depression

By Kate McKinney

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Sometimes I think I have perfected the art of wiping my eyes so I don’t smudge my eye makeup.

You see, this is a photo of me earlier today, after crying off and on for an hour or two.

Depression doesn’t always look the way we think it does.

I learned a long time ago that my personal appearance was something I could control.

I couldn’t control my environment, or the chaos that rages inside of me daily, but I could put on a nice outfit and command respect.

And people don’t tend to mess with a woman in red lipstick.

******

The death of Robin Williams hit me hard. I didn’t love Robin Williams the way I loved Johnny Cash or Roger Ebert. Sometimes I’ll hear a song and wonder what it would sound like if Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin teamed up on a cover and I’ll watch a movie and wish I could read a Great Movies essay. I grieve for the art we lost in this world.

I liked Robin Williams, I have enjoyed his work as an actor and as a comedian. But my visceral reaction to his death was not about my relationship to him as an artist. It was one dark soul, staring into another. Glimpsing a hopeless future.

If you listen to people who struggle with mental illness a pattern emerges. They try different medications, different therapists. There are bad reactions, interactions with other medications.

I took a medication that harmed my breastfed baby while robbing me of the emotions that made me feel human. I worked with a therapist that didn’t ask me a single question about my childhood, my family history, nothing. She just tried to tell me how to organize my bathroom and meditate. I think about treatment and all I see is thousands of dollars poured into medications and supplements and therapists, and none of it might even work.

Robin Williams was a successful man, presumably with the financial means and autonomy to pursue help. He was in treatment. And it wasn’t enough to keep him from hanging himself.

That is where my terror lies. The utter futility of trying to fix my mental health…it seems trading one abyss for another. But I know I have to do it.

*****

My friend asked me today if I was having suicidal thoughts. I have truthfully never wanted to kill myself. But I have wanted to die. I have been consumed by knowing that I am what I think of as a “garbage person.” No accomplishment, not the love of my husband and children, no friends, can convince me that I am a worthwhile human. It’s not a self-esteem issue. Oddly enough, I have a healthy body image, I am generally a confident person. It’s not a part of me at all, it’s a black dog that follows me around, that digs in my garbage and strews it about, that chews up all the goodness in my life when I am not looking.

I think of the fact that, for the rest of my life I’ll be feigning normal…for the rest of my life I will use my good days to try and catch up with the mess I made during the bad. That I might never accomplish what I want to accomplish, live the way I want to live…if I can’t muzzle and leash this immortal dog.

*****

I’ve contemplated writing this for a while. And I haven’t wanted to. But today, it felt right. Today I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am having trouble ending this…almost as much trouble as I had beginning it. I wrote this piece a thousand times in my head this morning, but I waited until the clouds had somewhat cleared before putting down my words.

I feel clumsy and silly. There IS no dog. There’s nothing but my silly, lazy mind and body, choosing ice cream and my bed instead of spinach and dishwashing. So once again, I can dismiss the crushing pain of the morning and tell myself its just my mind playing tricks on me. I just need to eat better, exercise. I just need to make better choices.

Except that I have had this conversation with myself 1,000 times, and it’s not getting better. How many friendships will be strained and broken under the weight of this formless, indistinct pain? How many times will my children be hurt by my need to lay alone in the darkness, unable to cook their dinners, too tired to play a game, too distracted to listen? How many times will my husband be forced to carry my weight as well as his own?

*****

The evidence is all around me. And it’s not going away. It’s not getting better on it’s own. Better choices would help, but it’s impossible to make those choices when your mind and body rage against your better judgement. I need a remedy. And I won’t stop till I find it.

CSA PSA

By Kate McKinney

 

vegetables

 

Have you considered joining a CSA? CSA stands for community supported agriculture! You sign up for shares of healthy vegetables, meats or dairy. Sometimes you pay monthly, sometimes you pay up front! Then you go pick it up every week! It’s a great way to fill your fridge with local, organic foods that will probably go bad because you are too lazy to look up a recipe for Swiss Chard.

 

But that’s ok! The important thing is that for every summer squash that turns into moldy puddle in your crisper because you are the only squash eater in your family and you didn’t know you could put them in muffins, you are supporting a local farmer who is probably much more conscientious than you about freezing squash.

 

moldy squash

 

Your okra got slimey because you were too busy playing Candy Crush to freeze it before you went on your trip? Who cares? Okra is slimy anyway! No one will notice in a gumbo! Just remember that a good gumbo roux takes several hours to make. You can use that fatback your friend gave you from that pastured pig that’s been sitting in your freezer for 6 months. Yep. That’s totally going to happen.

 

Carrot tops are great in soup and letting them dry out and turn brown just adds some character to the flavor. Same goes for those shriveled purple carrots that you originally wanted to shred and put in a salad. Use that chicken carcass that you shoved in the back of the fridge last week. It probably has one day left before it becomes a food poisoning conduit. Maybe scrape some of that sweet corn you left in the husks till the sugar all turned into starch. For roughage.

 

Your raw milk soured before you could drink it all because half your family prefers milk from confined cows? Easy peasy! Mix with whole wheat organic flour and local eggs to make some pancakes your kid will complain about because they prefer Bisquick! Or mix with organic leaf lard for truly old fashioned biscuits that your daughter can’t eat because she recently decided to become a vegetarian.

 

You don’t like beets? Remember your friend Christine makes an incredible citrus beet salad. You just have to go back in your Facebook feed and find it because you were too distracted by a Buzzfeed quiz to COPY AND PASTE.

 

Just remember, you might be a total failure at remembering to blanche and freeze your green beans before they develop brown spots, you might let those luscious yellow teardrop tomatoes molder in the ziploc bag on the counter, and your leaf lettuce might develop brown edges because you opened the fridge, closed it, opened the freezer and ate an ice cream drumstick instead. But the important thing is that for every vegetable you throw on the compost pile is a vegetable you bought from a LOCAL FARMER. You are putting money in their pockets instead of in the pocket of a big business. And that matters. Even if you have a compost pile for no discernable reason.

 

I’m Enough: Lessons from Blogher 14

By Kate McKinney

 

 

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Blogher 14 was an experience I sorely needed. Not just for the beautiful chance to get away from it all, to visit California, to network with like-minded women. I needed it because I needed to hear what my gut was telling me already. I needed validation from those who had gone on before that I was on the right path, with the right thoughts and motivations. I didn’t get to spend much time in the Expo room getting free samples, but what I brought back was much more valuable.

 

1. It’s OK to Be Afraid

 

Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress was very clear when she said “You don’t have to be fearless.” Just hearing those words helped me embrace my terror and anxiety as tools, not afflictions to be healed from. As long as I march through them with words, they are not a hinderance. They are only a problem if I let them STOP ME.

 

2. Use Your Words

 

I almost cried during the Future of Personal Blogging session where all bloggers agreed that you don’t have to worry about monetization unless you want to. The best SEO is great content and lots of words, because Google loves words. Just focus on telling your story.  This has been one of my hugest setbacks…the pressure of performance over storytelling. I’m not a tech person, I’m a WRITER. I just want to write. But I felt like I needed to get good at all kinds of other things in order for my blog to matter. Now I can breathe easy. When it’s time, these things can come. Just focus on the work. I have a story to tell.

 

3. There Are No Small Blogs, Only Small Bloggers

 

Multiple times when I introduced myself to others at Blogher I would apologize for my presence. “My blog is tiny, I never work on it.” But when we first got there we were told “90% of you don’t feel like you belong here. And it’s not true. You all belong here.” GOD BLESS the woman who during the newbie breakfast asked “How do you blog? I have all these thoughts I want to get out and I don’t know how to get them online!” If she belongs there, anyone does! So what if I have been inconsistent for six years? I blog. I write. I belong.

 

4. Know Your Worth

 

Last year I did something that I don’t exactly regret, but I also don’t feel great about. I wrote a piece for Huffington Post that went viral, gaining 30K FB likes in a single week. And it didn’t make a dime even though Huffington Post is a multi-billion dollar company. They don’t pay their bloggers. I created new content for them, and I was not paid. And because I was in my “I’m not blogging much” phase I wasn’t really able to take my appearance on Huffpo Live to the next level. Writing for free on my blog is one thing, giving away content to a journalism giant is another. And if I do decided to monetize, I will need to be careful to not compromise my integrity and make sure what I am being paid is worth the parts of my soul I have to give away to do it. Writing is sacred, but so is eating.

 

5. Use Your Time Wisely

 

I’ve made up a thousand reasons not to write and one of the biggest is no time. But somehow I have time for Facebook (idly clicking on my newsfeed over and over when there is nothing new) Candy Crush (Level 425 and I have NEVER PAID A DIME!). I watch tv and movies and hang out with my friends and family but mostly? I waste time. I need to spend more time consuming other’s art and working on my own. I remembering hearing a productivity expert talk about finding the “little minutes” in the day to get things done. It goes for loading the dishwasher, scrubbing the toilet, and it goes for writing too.

 

 

6. Play Well With Others

 

I never set out to be a blogger, I was a just a mom who wrote down funny stories about her kids and felt bad about not getting her journalism degree. I started a blog because people told me it would be a good idea. I unlocked my twitter updates for the same reason. But while I was writing and seeking exposure I wasn’t doing my part to support other writers the way I should. I should have been reading their blogs and commenting on them, not just to increase my own visibility but to build relationships and community. There are thousands of people out there making a difference, and we all need to hang together, support each other and listen to one another. I feel regret that I haven’t built more of these relationships over the years.

 

7. I’m Enough.

At first I thought the band The MRS were kind of cheesy but their song “I’m Enough” has not stopped echoing in my head. I am enough for my family and friends. I’m enough for my dreams and my future. Whatever I am meant to do, I have enough inside me  to make that happen.

 

What Are You, Chicken?

By Kate McKinney
The face of a fearless woman in an unfamiliar place!

The face of a fearless woman in an unfamiliar place!

Friday morning I found myself wandering around San Jose, California, lost, with a rubber chicken sticking out of my purse.

I passed a bus stop just as one was stopping. A beautiful black woman stepped out in her brightly colored outfit and smiled widely at me. I was wearing a bold yellow dress and a vintage turquoise and yellow infinity scarf. “Girl, you look good!” she said, the immediately “What’s with the chicken?”

What indeed.

I’ve been a writer as long as I’ve been able to write. But I’ve also suffered from writer’s block, general fear of failure (and success) and outright laziness. When I took a full time I job I assumed would involve writing I thought I finally had something to throw myself into that would use my talents to earn a living, and that would be it. I’d squeeze in my own stuff from time to time of course, but maybe the fire in my gut would slowly die out and I could just be normal.

When I realized that wasn’t the case I knew I had to push forward. I’ve developed a keen interest in comedy and personal memoir over the years, and I want to give myself over to that but found my personal point of view felt cowed by changes in responsibility and politics. I wanted to cleanse my palate and start fresh.

Enter the Blogher ‘14 Conference. I heard two of the keynote speakers would be Jenny Lawson of “The Bloggess”  whose star rose with a story about a fight with her husband and a giant metal chicken, and Tig Notaro, a comedian who found a new level of fame when she spoke with utter transparency and wry humor about her cancer diagnosis. Two of my favorite funny women, who are changing the world the way I want to change it.

My husband sent me in an elaborate gesture of love and goodwill that I do not deserve. Plane tickets and hotels…and it was all too much. I was so overwhelmed I could barely muster up excitement or gratefulness. We couldn’t afford it. Why should I go to a blogging conference when I barely ever blog?

Like most people I suffer from imposter syndrome. No matter how many people I have on my side (and it’s a lot. More than I deserve. THERE I GO AGAIN!) The day before I was to fly out to San Jose I was so terrified I laid awake all night, woke up and vomited blood. From sheer fear. Not fear of leaving my kids. Not fear of flying. Fear that somehow, I’d mess this up. Fear that the money spent would be wasted a sack of garbage like me.

But I made it, and I took a cab to my hotel and I didn’t mess anything up.

Until the next day.

When I got lost in San Jose with a rubber chicken sticking out of my purse.

Being a huge fan of comedy, and wanting to peruse it myself, I felt the need to have some concrete expression of this passion. When I had the opportunity to meet Jim Gaffigan after doing a phone interview for Evansville Living I went to our local costume and joke shop and bought the quintessential representation of comedy in our American Culture. Hildy the rubber chicken became my talisman, and I hoped with every signature scrawled on her yellow flesh would also absorb some comedic energy. “You have to take Hildy” my husband told me, and I was slightly worried I’d be the first person the TSA detained for suspicious poultry in luggage.

On Friday morning I left my hotel and attempted to navigate my way to the convention center based on my memory from the night before even though it was dark, I was walking with friends and I have ZERO SENSE OF DIRECTION. Hildy was sticking out of my purse because I didn’t think to bring a bag she could fit in, and I was wearing a VIVID yellow dress. Between the dress and the chicken I could not hide.

When it became apparent I was no where near the conference center I pulled out my WAZE app and attempted to navigate from it. Another bad idea, because WAZE is designed for cars, not pedestrians. It never gives you the chance to turn around either but will take you in a gigantic loop. Also, it did NOT EVEN TAKE ME TO THE CONFERENCE CENTER. It took me to the Ramada Inn.

I would up calling my husband in Evansville and asking him to please help. Using Google Maps he was able to direct me to my hotel and I thought, number 1: This is what I was afraid of. I’m a terrible adult who confuses everything and flies by the seat of my pants and hits cars in parking lots and number 2: That’s why I am a writer. To give meaning to my inept foolishness because it’s just going to keep happening, it’s how I’m built.

I made it to the conference. Jenny Lawson LOVED Hildy.

 

Knock Knock, Mofo!

Knock Knock, Mofo!

The dear lady in charge of Blogher behind the scenes (whose name escapes me) took Hildy back to Tig Notaro, who scrawled “Tig’s Autograph.”

Tig's Autograph! Literally.

Tig’s Autograph! Literally.

 

 Mission accomplished. In more ways than one.

Private Parts

By Kate McKinney

 

My sweet, blonde, curly haired boy with the Disney Princess eyes came up to me and said mournfully “Mommy, I wish I was still little.”

 

Heart. Stop.

 

I picked him up and cuddled him in my lap because truly he is IS still quite little. “Why do you want to be little?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Do you wish you still nursed?” I ask this question perhaps partly out of my own mournfulness. I lactated for almost 10 years, and I still struggle to believe this time has passed forever.

 

“Yeah…”
“Sorry, buddy, mommy doesn’t have any more milk!”

 

At this point my 9 year old interrupts this sweet moment I am having with my still fairly recently weaned child. “Why don’t you get some milk from the fridge and put it in your udders?”

 

MY WHAT? I was too shocked by his verbiage to even bother explaining the mechanics of why THAT wouldn’t work.

 

“Breasts, son. They are called breasts.”

 

“I know, but I didn’t want to teach Felix a bad word.”

 

“Since when are the scientific names of a person’s body parts bad words, son?”

 

“Then why do you get mad at me when I say the parts of MY body?”

 

This is a classic bait and switch. I am not fooled.

 

“Because when you talk about your body you aren’t doing it for any purpose except to be crass. You aren’t being scientific. Just impolite.”

 

*silence*

 

then…

 

“Hey mom…what do you think of my scientific penis?”

I have a long way to go with this kid.

 

Five Little Words

By Kate McKinney

Greetings, friends! I have taken a long hiatus while I adjusted to my full-time job. It was a huge transition for me to go from being a free-lancer to being away from home 40+ hours a week. Thank you for your patience. I now feel comfortable enough in this new skin to spend time writing and returning to transparency. Much love to everyone!

Alice at the ballet

I was snuggling my daughter in my bed, breathing in her brown curls, stroking her cheeks, and reveling in the pleasure of a weekend morning with no set schedule. “You are so beautiful,” I tell her, because I mean it. She is beautiful to look at, a healthy, sturdy girl with pink cheeks, huge hazel eyes and sweet, partially toothless smile.

I remind myself that it’s important to tell girls good things about themselves that aren’t about their looks. I try to do that. I try to tell my daughter the truth. She is smart, funny, kind and nurturing. I decide to see how well my compliments have sunk in. “Hey,” I said, squeezing her tight. “Tell me five things about yourself.”

“Pretty,” She says instantly. “Yes, you are pretty but I just told you that. Can you think of five other things?” She ponders for a moment. “Do you think I am cute?” “Well, yes, but that’s not so different from being pretty. Let’s talk about something besides your looks.”

Then it comes. The gut punch.

“Shy.”

“Forgetting.” (She means forgetful.)

“Scared.”

This is what my daughter thinks of herself. An pretty shell, empty except for where fear fills in the spaces.

My daughter, who has been independent since the day she learned how to walk.

Who cares for everyone she meets like a mother.

Whose sense of humor is darkly sardonic at the age of 7.

Whose vocabulary and sensibilities are at once sophisticated and old fashioned.

Who loves opera and eating with chopsticks (did I mention she is 7?)

Who watched Food, Inc and Vegucated and said “In June, I will become a vegetarian.” It’s now June 3 and she hasn’t had a piece of meat in three days. “I don’t want to eat poor creatures.”

Who aspires to be a midwife, and to learn to dance ballet and play violin…at the same time!

I feel crushed and sad. I ask her if there is anything GOOD she can say about herself (not that being shy is inherently bad, but I worry that she is afraid to be BOLD.)

“I’m kind to animals…?” Yes. That’s good. What else?

“Smart?” She says it like a question. Yes. Yes. YOU ARE SMART. Why is this  a question?

I worry sometimes that her bubbly personality, her inherent sweetness, and her speech impediment can make people forgetting they are talking to a girl who is fiercely smart, imaginative, and a real thinker. Her report cards were all about how she was eager to please and SO sweet, but said very little about her intellect. It’s true, she has trouble paying attention because she is so often lost in her thoughts, but that is because she is THINKING. She isn’t a terrific speller and her handwriting isn’t so great, but that’s true for a lot of creative people.

Just to experiment I decide to ask my sons the same question.

First I talked to Linus, who is 9 years old. He immediately said “Smart.” Right off the bat. Then “Friendly, Tall, Shy…I guess.” He couldn’t think of a fifth one. Now this kid has been called handsome his entire life and it wasn’t even on his RADAR. He didn’t mentioned physical attributes until the third one, and he thinks maybe he’s shy but it’s not too important.

Then I talked to Jarvis, age 11. He balked, because I asked him to talk to me, but he finally said “Geek. Awesome. Smart. Funny.” It’s important to note that for him, the word Geek is a high compliment and not at all pejorative. Jarvis is also very handsome, but his looks never came up. Not once.

It appears I have some work to do. I don’t know if it’s me, or or society at large, or what that is contributing to her narrow view of herself but it’s not ok with me. I’ve had enough similar experiences where my brain was dismissed, and where I dismissed my own brain, to know that this must be combated now.

So I held her close. And I told her I thought she was smart, and brave, and funny, and kind, and independent, and strong. “Really?” She asked.

Yes. Really.

What Would Loretta Do?

By Kate McKinney

They say to have her hair done Liz flies all the way to France

And Jackie’s seen in a discotheque doin’ a brand new dance

And the White House social season should be glittering and gay

But here in Topeka the rain is a fallin’

The faucet is a drippin’ and the kids are a bawlin’

One of them a toddlin’ and one is a crawlin’ and one’s on the way”

Read more: Loretta Lynn – One’s On The Way Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Song by Shel Silverstein, Sung by Loretta Lynn

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Sometimes, like when I’m wrapping cloth diapers around a spurting faucet so I can wash my cast iron skillet without water cascading down the cabinets and making the drawers swell I think to myself…I’m having a Loretta Lynn moment.

I feel like that a lot. When I’m picking up apple cores from every conceivable surface of my house including the back of the toilet…when I’m spraying the long-past soiled carpet with vinegar to scrub up after the three year old’s accident, when I find the table cloth in my kid’s room and my daughter’s dress in the dining room…those are my Loretta Moments.

There are differences. I got married at 23, not 13, and I had four kids in 7 years, not four. My husband has never cheated on me with anyone but the Pizza Hut Lunch Buffet and his Xbox. And my daddy worked in a toy store, not a coal mine.

But when I’m sweeping the floor, and washing the dishes, and things are falling apart, those are my Loretta Lynn days.

So I try to think about it. What would Loretta do when she finds a sippy cup full of curdled milk? Start a toddler run artisan cheese operation? And those apple cores…apple cider vinegar? Would she leave her dishes out in the rain while her sink is broken or wash them in the bathtub?

And then of course, I realize what she’d do.

She’d write a hit song about it.

I don’t have a guitar, but I do have this here laptop.

So I’m just gonna press “Publish” right here and see what happens.