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Mind Bank

When my mom left the beach yesterday, she said, “I wanted more.”

It rained from Saturday to Wednesday, which was okay,  since we are pretty good at hanging around and just being with one another, but it was okay in a “choose to be happy because the alternative sucks worse” kind of way.  And we both knew it.

We took this picture, in our own words, to prove we were there.

When my mom and brother pulled out of the driveway, it was like the clouds hitched a ride in their back seat.  They drove west, and immediately, gloriously, from the east came the sun – right on their heels.  In just a few hours the island warmed up by 20 degrees.  Sorry, guys.

And today.  Today was everything we could have dreamed.  It was the More.

Today there were sand castles; both bucket and dribble style.  We dug giant holes, so deep that I looked down the beach once and panicked – where’s Madeline?!?  Then she popped up like a prairie dog and we laughed.   We saw bottlenose seal blah blah blah’s playing in the surf – diving slowly, lolling over the breakers – only waist-deep in the water.  We made sand cakes, decorated with shells and reed-candles, OBVIOUSLY.  We drew in the sand.  We inspected dead crabs.

At one point, Henry was sleeping in a mass of patterned blankets, the kids were playing afar off in the giant hole, and I was able to lay so still that the little conch snail we found eased his way out of his shell right in front of me.  Straight-up magical.

We snacked on granola bars and healthy amounts of sand.  Sam terrorized sea gulls.

And I have not one single picture of this perfect day.

My phone did a weird thing, as ancient-artifact phones tend to do, and right before we stepped outside it was like, “Oh wait, did you need me to work today?  MY BAD.”

And listen.  Before you think that this is going to be a holier-than-thou “I was liberated from technology and lived in the moment!” post – it’s not.

I did not feel even a little bit enlightened.  I wish I’d had my phone.  If I could change that part, I would.  My heart does an achy thing when I think about all the sandy, happy freeze-frames I don’t have.

I had to add this day to my mind bank.

I have a treasure box in my mind full of perfect moments uncaptured by film.  They’ll only last as long as my mind does; when I’m gone, I’ll take them with me.

-In my mind bank is a day in the Tuileries Garden in Paris with my little cousins, pushing sailboats around that iconic fountain with a stick.  I’d used up all 13 rolls of 35mm film, and since digital cameras only existed in a think tank somewhere and not in the possession of 13-year-old girls, I was out of luck.

-There is also an endangered red hawk, perched feet from me on a fence post, as we were driving home from horseback riding.

-There is the night I felt mother-love for the first time.  It wasn’t in the hospital, for me.  It was at home a week later, at 2:30 am.  I didn’t want to put Madeline down, and I didn’t understand why.  I should have wanted to sleep, but I didn’t; I wanted to be awake with her.  I can still see everything about that moment.

And now there is a perfect beach day with my three children.  It was everything a beach day should be, and it’s our secret.  It is safe in my treasure box with the other moments I’ve preserved on mind-film.

 

Do you have a mind bank?  What is a moment that’s inside?  Do you wish you’d had a camera, or are you glad it will only ever be your secret? 

 

Lupita Nyong’o on Beauty

This may be the most wonderful, significant thing I’ve heard about beauty this year.  I cannot add a word to it, just my tears this morning.

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“My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy.”

“I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful.”

“And my mother again would say to me, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.” And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.”

“And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you.”

“And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

Thank God for Lupita, and her beauty, and her talent, and her bravery, and her compassion, and her strength, and her struggle, and her words.

Relax Your Butt

Sam fell asleep in the car this afternoon, and I opted to try to transfer him to his bed instead of following my traditional course of action, which is to listen to music and text and generally avoid responsibilities in my car until he wakes up.

Bringing a sleeping child inside is a risk – the parental version of Russian Roulette.  There are so many factors working against you:

-Seat belt maneuvering
-Car door noises
-Cold
-Wind
-The darn birds

Each obstacle that doesn’t yield a screaming baby is a Russian-Roulette-caliber sigh of relief; it is hope and life and an hour of nap time to accomplish things.

I lifted Sam onto my shoulder without incident; he was exhausted, and all 30 lbs of his two year old self pressed heavy into my chest.  I laid his blanket over his back to shield him from the elements – one of my hands tenderly, protectively on the back of his head, and the other bearing his weight under his thighs.

Halfway between the car and the house, I felt Sam stir.  I felt him flexing and releasing his legs, his butt, over and over, fighting for sleep.

Now here is the delicate balance, the dangerous dance:  You must get to the bed ASAP, but without increasing your heart rate enough for the child to sense it.  You have to move quickly, fluidly, and silently with a little bit of a waddle, so that your bent knees absorb all the bumps and jostles.

When Sam started to squirm, I picked up the pace and whispered, “Shh, shh, shh, don’t wiggle.”

He kept on flexing and squirming, trying to carve out a warm, safe space in the crook of my arm.  ”Shh, shh, shh.  Relax your little butt.  I’ve got you.”

Then I said, ” Trust my arms.  Trust my strength.  Trust my love.”

And I felt a familiar surge in my chest.  The God-speaking-surge.

How many times has He whispered those words to me TODAY?

“Kate, stop wiggling.  Relax your little butt.  (How glorious that in relation to all the cosmos in the hollow of His hand my butt is very, very small.)  Trust my arms.  Trust my strength.  Trust my love.”

I am a strategist and an energy-preserver and I work really well within structure and flounder outside of it – and that makes me a wiggler.  That makes me want to know what’s going on and why – not so that I can control it (I tell myself), but so that I can prepare for it.  I’m very flexible as long as I know exactly what is going on.  (So, about as flexible as an anvil.)  I say, “Jesus, your will be done.  But give me a heads up as to exactly what your will is, so that I can adjust my attitude and my expectations and generally get on board.”  I get agitated when God does not consult me about His plans, or at least update me.  A little common courtesy is all I ask.

But that’s not how faith works.  For who has known the mind of the Lord?  And who has been his counselor?  Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.  How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out.  (Romans 11:34 & 33)  Faith is not for the faint of heart.  And God tells me, every day, some days more patiently than others, every time I stop for long enough to listen:

 Stop wiggling.  Relax your butt.  Trust my arms.  Trust my strength.  Trust my love.  I can carry you.

 

The Night I Bathed in the Toilet By Candlelight

Here’s a dirty little secret of mine: I  bleach the hair on my arms.

I have great hair,  but the downside to having thick, dark hair is that I have thick, dark hair.  On my arms.  On my legs.  On my eyebrows.

Yesterday I decided to try Nair for the first time ever.  Because, what’s the worst that could happen?

HA HA HA HA HA.  WELL.  Let me tell you about the worst that can happen.

I applied a thick layer of the cream to my arms and waited the prescribed one minute.

It is important to note that the instructions for Nair state, in capital letters, “DO NOT LEAVE ON FOR MORE THAN 10 MINUTES.”  It is also important to note that my oven was self-cleaning while this ill-fated attempt at hair removal was going on.

At the end of my one-minute, at which point the acid had nearly disintegrated all of my arm-hair and I was climbing into the shower, the greedy, power-hungry, menace of an oven sucked up all the power in the entire house and every single breaker blew.  Including the one for the water pump.

I flipped on the shower, the pipes hissed at me, then – silence.

Silence except for the voices in my head going, “No, no, no, no, no, NO, NO.”

I rushed to the sink.  Nothing.

I ran to the kitchen and yanked open the fridge.  Why is there no bottled water in my house?!

Then the lights went out.

Then I said a lot of cuss words in my head.

So, to recap:  I am standing in my kitchen, in a towel, in the dark, with acid slowly burning the hair off of my arms, and in 8 minutes, my skin – and the water is out.

Things I considered:
1. Rinsing it off with juice.
2. Running to the neighbors house in my towel.
3. Using the water in the toilets.
4. Wiping it off with a towel, letting the hospital treat the boils with skin grafts, and wearing long sleeves every day for the rest of my life.

I hope you’ll agree with me that using the water in the toilets is the lesser of the evils represented here, effectually proving that I’M NOT CRAZY.

And that is how it came to pass that I stood over a toilet, a lantern between my teeth, and frantically sponge-bathed Nair off of my arms with toilet water, in a surreal, embarrassing race against the clock.

Which brings me to the morals of this story – there are three.

1.  Any over-the-counter product whose main selling point is that it chemically burns things off of your body in 2 minutes, do not use that thing.

2. Amend your toilet cleanliness standards from “A Party Guest Should Be Able to Throw Up In It” to “Would Personally Be Willing To Rinse Nair Off Of Arms In It.”

And finally, most practically,

3. Cleaning your oven is overrated.

 

Update:  There are no boils on my arms, and the rash should disappear any day now.  Aaaaaannny day.

 

 

 

Storms and Kisses

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This morning “pre-storm” was in the air.

The hours and minutes before a storm are like negative space.  Like all the molecules in the air arrange themselves into little concave vessels, ready to be filled with with water and wind and electricity.

This morning the sky was dark and green.  The birds were conspicuously absent.  The wind came out to play.

I stood out in it – feeling the wind, the electricity, and the eager, open-armed molecules on my skin and it occurred to me:

The moments before a storm are both empty and full; they are tentative, and charged with invisible energy, like the moments before a kiss.

Happy Friday, friends.
Kate

 

The Good Stuff Sticks

In case you missed it, I wrote a post over at the walk in love. blog earlier this week.   It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and something for which I’m desperately grateful:  the good stuff sticks.

“The chancellor of the university I attended used to say, “You have more bad days than good ones.”

I love that.

Because, if not bad days, then at least blah days, right?   Or side-tracked days, or I Yelled At My Kids Again days.

But remarkably, even with all the blah, frustrating, and downright awful days, people keep on doing extraordinary things.  Dreams stay alive.  Hard work – creative work – keeps happening.  Marriages hold fast.

People keep climbing Everest and keep having babies EVEN AFTER THEY KNOW HOW HARD IT IS.  Like, they know about running out of oxygen, and excruciating cramps, and pushing bodies past their physical limits,  and wondering why they thought this was such a good idea in the first place – and I’ve heard Everest is tough too.

Last month I took my daughter to Snow Mountain for her birthday.  It was 58° outside.  Y’all, don’t hate, that fake snow was magical.  There was tubing and sledding and snowman-building.  There were Christmas tree s, lights, snowballs, train rides, and hot chocolate.  It was straight out of a freaking postcard …until…”

You can read the rest of the story here!

 

 

Letter to 22-Year-Old Me

It has been almost six years since a doctor told me that Madeline was blind.

I remember everything.  What I was wearing.  What he said, exactly.  The 6,704,870 thoughts I had on the drive home.  Some traumas turn into blurs; this one is emblazoned on my memory.

In my wildest hopes I would not have dared to image Madeline as she is today.

This is what I would tell six-years-ago-me, if I could.

Kate,

Everything is going to be okay.

Right now, in the future, Madeline is watching The Magic School Bus episode about outer space.  That’s right – she can watch TV.  She sits really close on her little red footstool, and she has two younger brothers, with perfect vision, who also sit close because that’s how their big sister taught them to do it.  (They also took their first steps with a white cane, which was adorable.)

Here is what I want you to know, young, scared Kate.

Madeline is going to have friends.  She is going to run - fast and hard and fearless.  She knows braille.  You know braille.  It is hard, and you’re going to cry and quit for a little while, but when Madeline is in kindergarten, you help her with her homework and you both read it pretty effortlessly and everything is okay.  (Incidentally, Madeline is going to surprise you all the time with the things she can see.  Even when she is six, she will still be surprising you – and every doctor and teacher she has.)

You’ve never cried in an IEP meeting, or after one.  Only before – because fear of a thing is almost always worse than reality.  Try not to worry.

Madeline is incredibly bright.  Her vocabulary is enormous – annoyingly so.  But she’s not just smart-bright; she’s a sparkle.  Everything in her whole life is over-the-top big.  She says things like:

“I know I have a lot of days left to live, but I know that no day could possibly be better than this day.”

“I will listen to you, I will listen to daddy, I will listen to anyone, even after I DIE I WILL LISTEN.”

“The only thing better than your painting is GOD.”

And “Pluto is the most important planet in my life.” 

She is some kind of special; people are drawn to her.

There are so many bright, happy things about your life, and I won’t spoil the surprises.  Here is the most important thing:

Darling, do not fear what you don’t really know.  Do not grieve for things you haven’t lost yet; you may not end up losing them at all.

Madeline’s middle name is Hope – you had no way of knowing how perfect a christening that was for her, but I am here to tell you she has lived up to it in every way.  She has been spreading hope, warm in the hearts everyone who has the privilege to watch her, for six years now.  For six years, just sparkling and hope-spreading: hope to families touched by ONH, hope to teachers, hope to doctors, hope to friends – hope to everyone.

Don’t worry.  Don’t be afraid.  It gets better.  You get better.  You are carried on rhythms of grace, on the backs of friends, and on prayers of the faithful the whole way – every step.  Every hard-fought step, every uncertain step, every hail-mary, God-save-us step, you are carried.

Life is brutal and it is beautiful; Glennon Melton calls it brutiful.  And, God, is it ever.

But you can do this.  You are doing it, and you are doing a good job.
Darling, do not fear what you don’t really know.
Breathe.
Hope.

love,
present Kate

P.S.  She does eventually learn to buckle her seat belt and put on her own socks, so don’t sell her; she pulls through.

 (All photos by Brooke Courtney Photography)

Wherein I Wanted a Dog for Three Seconds

This morning, in a moment of brief insanity, I wanted a dog.

I was driving Madeline to school and this guy was jogging along the road with his dog and they both looked really happy and comfortable and no one was sweating or yelling.  Meanwhile in my van, three children were yelling and I was sweating.  In that moment I wanted to trade places with that man, and my brain short-circuited.  Instead of thinking, “I want solitude and exercise,” it thought, “I want a dog.”

So, like this:

1. Kate sees man running with dog.

2. Kate envies man running with dog.

3. COMPLETE BREAKDOWN OF LOGIC AND REASON.

4. Kate wants a dog.

By the time I got home I was still kind of wanting a dog, so I had to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with my brain.

Brain, this is an intervention.

You are sleep-deprived, and it is beginning to take it’s toll on your ability to function rationally in the real world.  I think the best way to call attention to your compromised state is to demonstrate the gaping, cavernous difference between what you think is real, and what is ACTUALLY REAL.

What you think owning a dog will be like:

What owning a dog will actually be like:

(Images by Allie Brosh, originally published at Hyperbole and a Half, “Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving”)

I want you to think on this the next time you start thinking about dog-ownership like a psycho.

So, to recap:

What you think owning a dog will be like: Jogging jauntily down the road early in the morning – nary a care in the world – with man’s best friend.

What owning a dog will actually be like: Kids screaming in the van on the way to school; dog eating entire loaf of bread off the counter at home.

P.S. You are already responsible for the crap of way too many other human beings to throw a DOG in the mix.
P.P.S.  You already have enough human beings waking you up in the middle of the night to throw a DOG in the mix.
P.P.P.S.  You already have enough human beings making weird smells in your house to throw a DOG in the mix.

et all.

Yours truly,
Kate

Ode to My Office, AKA Starbucks

Today I’m using #TBT to share a stream-of-consciousness post I wrote last fall, but never published.  It’s about my office, or as I like to call it, Starbucks.

This is my happy place.  Starbucks, at the little round table for two in the corner.  It is raining, which means I am extra happy because I love rain in all its forms.  I’m wearing my favorite walk in love. shirt, my first pick from the load of laundry I washed and folded in the wee hours of this morning – after Madeline got on the bus, but before the boys woke.  It is bright pink, which normally isn’t my jam, but maybe that’s why I like it so much.  I’m feeling very fresh – showered and scoured hard with a louffe and mint soap, to wash off the days of sweat, and Sam’s peanut buttery fingers, and the little bumps on my upper arm.  What are those, and why? My hair is still damp, swept up into a slick, minty bun on the top of my head, and I’m pretty sure my mascara is looking the bomb.  But I always think that.

I’ve missed this place so much.  I feel like it’s been ages since I sat in my spot – it’s actually been 2.5 days – and I went through the drive-thru during that time.

I keep wanting to bring Henry in to show him off to all the baristas, and to Mr. Carl, a regular who comes every afternoon at 2:30, gets a black coffee, and sits in his chair.  Everyone vacates his chair when he walks in.

I felt silly for a while, loving this place and these people so much, until I realized:  these are the people I work with.  I also work with my agent and my editors, but during this phase, this writing phase, these are the people I see every day at my office.  And we are relational people – humans, I mean.  I like my work and I like my work-people: David, who was raised an orthodox Jew, whose mother is a Holocaust survivor, and is an artist that creates these incredible pictures by stippling dots with ink pens.  And Jamie, who is a movie buff; we laugh every day when Dan comes in because Jamie once noted that he looks (to her) like an actor who played a pedophile in a movie she saw.  He’s taken the whole thing very personally, but we think its funny.

I am drinking blonde roast coffee with cream in a big for-here mug, because I’ve officially made myself at home.

I can’t think about the task at hand; I’m too busy being happy.  I want to sit Indian-style on my bench, with my table pulled super close, like a desk, and drink it all in.  Coffee and music and rain and my pink shirt and great mascara.  David in front of me drawing before his shift starts, an old man in a UNC cap and a knee brace reading on his kindle.  The students moved into the dorms yesterday, so there are all manner of college girls here.  Some in work out clothes, some in PJs, and one in the most adorable black dress with little white birds flying all over it that I suddenly feel like I need.

I think I’ll go write my book now, seeing as the manuscript is due in 15 days.  That would make me insane with anxiety if it weren’t so completely wonderful in here.

//

Do you have a conventional or an unconventional office?  What do you love about it?

 

Puppy Box

You know how puppies in a box sleep? In a big snuggly heap, all piled on top of each other and nuzzled in?

Shauna Niequist wrote my favorite ever thing about moving and change – she said it felt like someone had taken her out of her puppy box.  That she felt cold and lonely and just wanted someone to put her back in her box, with all of her puppy friends, safe and warm.

We moved this month, and I feel like someone has taken me out of my puppy box.  Hear me, I don’t want to be back in a particular place; Raleigh is my favorite city I’ve ever lived in.  Ever.  It is the first city we chose just because we wanted to live here; we didn’t follow a job, we followed our dreams.  This misplaced feeling isn’t about location – it’s about growing pains, it’s about change, and no matter how beautiful the pine trees are, no matter how nostalgic the streets, I still feel cold.

(It doesn’t hurt that 3 days ago Madeline added an icicle to her collection of nature treasures on the porch and it’s STILL THERE, CHILLIN’. Pun intended.)

Maybe you need to be put back in your puppy box, too.   Maybe you feel lost and drifty, or maybe you’ve moved, or maybe you are lonely, or carrying secrets, or you just need a safe space.  

I’ve found that the fastest way to make myself feel at home is a routine, a beautiful space, and one safe friend.

1. Routine.  When every single big thing in life is in flux, the more things that can stay the same, the better.  They’re your constants; tiny anchors.  It’s easy to see it in babies, because babies wear their great, big hearts on their tiny, little sleeves.  When babies move it’s World War III; they can feel it in the air.  This is why vacations with babies aren’t vacations.  They are crisis-management operations on beaches.  Babies need tiny anchors – their bedding from home, their favorite towel, their lunchtime plate.  They need a nap at the same time every day.  They need a meal with a plate and a napkin and a cup and a vegetable.

You do too.  You need to make your bed every day.  You need to eat lunch on a real plate with a real napkin and a real fork.  You need an evening routine, your bedding from home.   Routines keep you from having to think too hard.  They let you spend your mental energy on something other than just getting through the day.  Take care of your heart like you’d take care of a precious baby.  Lots of constants, lots of tiny anchors.

2. A beautiful space. I wrote about this a few years ago, and the longer I live, and the more change I experience, the more deeply I know it to be true: when there is beauty in the details, when routines become experiences, when you touch something sacred once or twice every hour, you are happier.  Walk through your day, replacing your pillow case with one you notice, your coffee mug with one that means something; replace your pen with one that writes perfectly and your ordinary handsoap with soap that makes you inhale deeply – suddenly your whole day is full of delight, no matter how much chaos abounds.  Tiny anchors.

3. A safe friend.  It’s dumb and self-defeating to tell everyone who asks exactly how hard life is.  Complaining is ugly.  But if you don’t have one safe friend, one person that knows, you’ll start thinking crazy things like, “I’m alone.”  ”Nobody really knows me.”  ”I’m the only one dealing with this.”  ”Every one else has normal lives.”

You need to hear about somebody else’s bumps and bruises to remember that we’re all people; there is no “Get out of humanity free” card; no one’s exempt.   And you need someone to see you, because…well, because you need to be seen.

These things don’t make a puppy box by themselves, I’m sorry to say.  But if you start nestling into a great routine, in a beautiful place, with a safe friend at your side, you’re well on your way to warmth – even if life is very, very different from what you imagined it would be.