Thursday, June 28, 2012

Charging Forth

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I am up at 1:30 in the morning, not hungry, just restless. My bedsheets were restless too, at the point of strangling me. Where was the plain white flat sheet that usually rested motionlessly on my top skin? Where were my two favorite pillows that propped my head just so?

I surmised at 1:25 a.m. that my not taking a shower for three full days might have contributed to the itchiness of my skin. There was no question that not putting my regular medication into my ears probably led to the cauliflower growing out of them, because my body hates me and always has. If I didn’t keep on constant top of my body’s tricks, I could be Elephant Woman.

Probably already am.

Got up with stupid zit in my lip area today; yup, checking that out in the mirror at 1:27 a.m. Hola, I said to it, though I felt no returned hospitality. My, you are a red one. Are you doing this to me because I shaved this area three nights ago and you just want to pop out like that to tell the world that I’m not in charge of my face either? Is this going to continue for ten more years?

That’s fine, zit. I've seen bigger. If there could be two directions, I request one of two: 1) Please be a little zit that goes away fast, even though I caused you by rubbing my face into my dirty sheets because I was depressed.

2) If you’re destined to be one of those cystic acne ones, the kind that never come to a head so I’m just left with a festering scab for a month, please excuse me from work duties that might involve a superior who might take me aside and ask me, concerned, “What is WRONG with your EYE?”

There has never been anything wrong with my eye.

I have simply and occasionally had to wear gunshot holes in my face. Daintily.

Sometimes it’s hard to get up and face the day no matter if you are married or not, happy or not, beautiful children running around or not. These seem like luxuries to me. So often, I would be happier cleaning up your kitchen and doing your laundry, if just for the fact that I wouldn’t be doing it just for myself. You might love me in the end.

Many years ago, when I was still buck-toothed and thin and awkward like an eleven-year-old can be, my parents took the five of us kids searching for a Christmas tree. I’m sure it was in the woods outside of Bemidji, Minnesota, in the year 1979 because while I concentrated on the task at hand, I had a boy on my brain too. I might as well have been on a space ship.

My mother kept reminding me, as I followed her in the woods, “Watch out for the sticks, Katie! Don’t fall onto the sticks!” Evidently this year’s Christmas tree
outing started out in a clear-cut, with lots of pointy sticks sticking straight up. I do remember hearing my mother call out to me, “Be careful!” many times.

But somehow in my tiredness and trustfulness and concentration on the one boy I loved, I tripped head-first into a stake that missed my eye by inches. My mom took me back to the station wagon, where I sat in the back seat and wondered how this egg on my forehead was going to fit into the Catholic Christmas Pageant at St. Philip’s, where I was scheduled to play the wife…or the queen…or the slave to the boy I’d had a crush on for five years.

It was a big noggin egg, right on my forehead, and I didn’t have bangs at the time. For my costume, I wore my junior bridesmaid’s dress from my sister’s wedding the year before. Outside of the large bruised egg on my forehead, I still felt confident. I knew my lines, and I had loved this boy for so long.

The lights were low, as they should have been.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sad and Dusky

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Now that Sandusky has been arrested, charged and convicted for the crimes he committed—and since it took so long to play out in the media, with Paterno now gone as well—I wonder how many of us still sit back and say, “Great, another evil man ended," put away like another bad memory, as if everything will now get better.

I never looked at Sandusky like he was an evil man: never met him, never met his wife, never met his victims. While I sautéed mushrooms and onions in the background, I listened on the evening news as Sandusky’s life closed down around him, his choices regarding boys and the cracking of their backs and then “their turns” all pattering like black rain against the windows of my house.

There was no joy, for me, to see Sandusky caught and sent to prison. Gladness to see him removed from harming boys again, but no joy.

I hear the name “Sandusky” and see his picture on TV, and it’s like looking into any man’s face.

I was not molested as a child, if you discount the neighbor boy who trapped me in the wood shed for ten minutes when I was five and he was twelve. He was just curious. I had a responsible feeling about it at the time: I knew it would be bad to make trouble because my grandparents were visiting, and we wanted everything nice at the house.

A little fondling in the dog shed shouldn’t matter so much. And it didn’t, to me.

I was eight or nine years old when I found out that one of my older sisters had been trapped in our Catholic school gym by a gang of boys, her shirt hiked up, her pants pushed down. I immediately realized the cruelty of that act. Teachers should have been more attentive.

My sister didn’t stay at Our Catholic, quickly transferring over to Our Public. The boys would stay at Catholic and would graduate from there, most of them anyway. My previously sunny sister would get one year’s respite, until they got her again at the public school the next year.

Ideas grew as I too grew, from eight to twelve to a teenager whose older siblings knew more than I did, just because they were older than I was. Stories came out about other girls in my family who had been compromised.

My first reaction was to track down the compromisers and shoot them, but they were all ghosts by then. My second reaction was to comfort anybody who needed it, and nobody seemed to want it anymore.

Years went by and I was called to jury duty in Phoenix, Arizona. I got to the courthouse on time, watched the Barbara Walters special on overhead monitors, ate my orange, then followed the crowd when our number was called until we reached an upstairs courtroom.

I gathered my knitting.

I had gone in against my will, and would have left happily at any time. I was 28, and there was an accused child molester on trial, a Mexican who didn't speak English. I didn’t know exactly what he’d done, but I knew he should be able to get some kind of a fair trial here, not that I wanted to be part of it. I’d been learning some dodge and escape rules from my formal training in rhetoric in graduate school, so I stood up—alone, one out of maybe fifty people sitting in my section—when the prosecutor asked if there was anyone who might not be able to serve for any reason.

I stood up and said in the gallery, more like a tiered movie theater: “I can’t be on the jury because I think attraction to children is a mental glitch, not a crime. I think he needs help, not prison time.”

I was quickly dismissed from any civic service in Maricopa County after that, and have never been called since. I went back to living my normal life, with a speeding ticket or two.


When I was 20 or 21, if 19 matters anymore, I finally reached the legal drinking age in Minnesota. I was in college at the time—in the same small town I’d grown up in—and another kid took me aside to say, “Hey, the bartender was abused by a priest when he was a kid, and he’s in a lawsuit, so like, don't say anything.”

Many years later, when I owned my own DVD player and had a mail-order subscription to DVD’s, I got the one called Deliver Us From Evil…the one where the candid priest talks about abusing all the kids he did. I watched, fixated.

I wondered how all of that could happen without parents noticing.

I sent it back to Netflix with one raised eyebrow.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Dying Breed

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As human beings go, I feel that I’m part of a dying breed that is easily trainable. Of course this started with my Catholic upbringing in the upper Midwest: rules and restrictions were easy to follow. There were no, as they say now, “options”. I did not opt to play outside when it was twenty below to get fresh air; I was told to do it. I did not opt to play with my older sister who dragged me across the carpet by my ankles, making my shirt ride up and giving me a rug burn down my back that bled and scabbed.

I liked it.

When I grew older and entered high school—a high school hand-selected for me by my parents in Pennsylvania—there were no “options” about going to keg parties after the football games, letting my girlfriend/neighbor drive my parents’ car home, and vomiting into the cap of my hoodie so I didn’t mess up the car's interior. I remember one such incident when my girlfriend/neighbor remarked, “It smells like bread in here.”

It was the French-fries in my cap.

That behavior was expected and I did it very well, over and over in fact until I spent half of my senior year grounded, which I didn’t complain about because I was always good at being quiet and secluded. Being grounded gave me time to play my guitar and write songs in the cool air of our basement, then sleep the sweet sleep of an untroubled teen. I liked to fish and hunt, which won me back some points with my dad, and I could clean a house after school like nobody’s business, which renewed my mother’s sense of pride in me.

Even though I strayed, I always came back…a good dog for a family to have.

My family likes to say about me, “When you went to college, you became a person again.” But I thought of myself more as a scrappy border collie mix, again doing everything that I was told: Write your English papers, write for the school newspaper, work your three jobs, save your sister from that guy who was choking her once back home on vacation, move to Alaska with a fifty pound Apple computer on your back.

A couple of those suggestions came without prompting, of course.

Get treed by a bear on a hike.

Hide from the bull moose on your trail to school.

Call in a request to your father to make stilts for your nieces and nephews, a gift from both of you when you finally got back home to Minnesota.

These are the acts of a loyal family member. A scrappy mutt.

Flash-forward to last week: I’m 44, having lunch at the Olive Garden in Mesa, Arizona, with my best friend, a blonde full-breed who is close to my heart but always prettier, who I can never understand because she constantly breaks the rules. Our waitress is wearing a loose French braid.

“I wish I could do that with my hair,” I lament over a breadstick.

“I never learned how to do that with mine, and I don’t regret it,” my friend says.

I don’t think either of us had good teachers in the category of prettiness, and so we go on, her blond fur getting longer and grayer but stained every other month, blond again, my black fur getting stained with a Sharpie when the grays pop up.

Now, as family dogs go, I would have been a good one, if it just meant hanging around when times were slow, and running hard as if somebody else’s life depended on it, if it did. The sister I saved from the strangling told me once, “You do have a maternal instinct, but you don’t have a killer instinct. That’s what sets you apart.”

This is exactly why I’m a dog, a good and loyal dog who grew up to be a flawed and worried homeowner, a scrappy border collie who on instinct alone reacts to home-oriented challenges. It’s just that now, instead of a family of seven human beings and their children and all of the children who followed, I live alone in Arizona protecting my own land, running my own borders, shooing off the pigeons, filling the birdfeeders for the pretty ones, gossiping with the neighbors: will the Willie Nelson impersonator ever perform again?

I still do exactly as I should. When the roofers hammered a new roof onto my house for three days starting at five a.m. and ending at seven p.m.—with a siesta break, of course—I didn’t leave my cats here to suffer the noise alone. I dangled string toys from my muzzle and nosed their necks when they woke, with treats in my pockets.

When my car had a slow time starting, then a slower time, then when it didn’t start at all, I pranced around with a bone in my mouth because I have Triple A and the battery was under warranty. A free battery in weather like this is like a ten pound northern swallowing your lure in the darkness of your shack. Score.

And when my Internet went out—my Internet, my connection to most things human outside of my favorite check-out girl at the corner drugstore, and my neighbor Nabe, and Manfriend who helped me stain my patio cement last weekend, and my best friend who calls me on everything bad I do because she loves me and wants me to do better, and Willy Nelson’s wife who keeps leaving sticky notes on my door telling me she wants to get together, and my jillion summer students who need me to steer them in the right direction, and my mom, who just wants to know I’m alive and well every day—when my Internet went out, I called my service provider and growled.

They will be here in the morning.

In the meantime, I take my four year olds and my ten week old outside in the back yard every morning at 5 a.m., because that’s when we wake up now, thanks to the roofers. They started the day at 5 a.m.; we will forevermore start our day at 5 a.m., because we’re all easily trained.

Personally, I am waiting for a big German Shepherd to arrive on our doorstep. He might tear apart the package that our refrigerated medication comes in, then put the meds in the fridge and the packaging in the recycle bin. He’ll know my hands are not as agile as they used to be. He will corral the girls when I’m intent on picking the dead leaves off my Kalanchoe, because if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well, and it’s hard to do five jobs at once.

This nameless German Shepherd I think we would call Jesus, because the name would fit, and his namesake was always a generous soul.

$75 Gift Card for free, free, free!!!

Okay everybody, you have one more day to enter this contest for $75 free merchandise from Shabby Apple. Here are the rules...good luck to everyone!

If you like clothes and accessories that nobody else has, you should enter this drawing for a $75 Shabby Apple gift card. That’s seventy-five free dollars to spend on yourself or your girlfriend.

To enter, you need to “like” the Shabby Apple Facebook page ( In order to comply with Facebook contest regulations, you also need to make some comments on any Hotdishing post—feel free to unleash yourself. Eligibility for entry is contingent on the Shabby Apple Facebook "like”, and you must specify on Hotdishing which Shabby Apple dress or item is your favorite. Contestants also must have a USA shipping address to be eligible for entry.

This contest runs for one more day, ending Thursday, June 21st.

I’ll select the winner using a random-number-selector software program, then—when I have the winner's name, address, phone number, and email—I’ll proceed to hook you up with $75 worth of free stuff from Shabby Apple. Everybody else gets a one-month 10% discount code for Shabby Apple apparel…just ask me for it by writing to

This is a chance to discover a new online boutique and get an entire new outfit and maybe a necklace too, for free!

Help me out here, my friends.

Let’s get shabby.

Shabby Apple

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Not Too Shabby

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I have never been very lucky, not in love, not in war. I’m smart about finances though—I stayed in the money line when God was handing out good sense, probably because my mom told me not to move.

There was one time though when I did enter a contest, and I won. One time in my life. I was twelve and living in Bemidji, Minnesota. My mom had taken me downtown to shop—instead of going to the mall on the outskirts of town, we were boutiquing. We must have either finished shopping at the second-hand clothing store (Twice But Nice!) or we were going there later. I didn’t like shopping at Twice But Nice because while everything really was very nice, all the clothes for girls had already been worn by girls who I would soon be seeing in junior high, after I graduated from the Catholic school. I didn’t want to be the Catholic girl who showed up on the first day of public school wearing an old sweater tossed off by a new and popular and probably blond classmate. I didn’t want somebody to recognize their faded corduroys on me. My throat tightened at the idea of it.

While my mom shopped at the one upscale store downtown, O’Meara’s, I dinked around comparing the carpet in O’Meara’s to our carpet at home, comparing the size of their dressing rooms to the size of our closets, where I still liked to hide sometimes, having my picnics and reading my books with a flashlight. This was probably the last year for quiet cubbyhole getaways, naps on family sleeping bags.

Ever studious, ever focused, I spied a box on O’Meara’s check-out counter marked “Enter Our Drawing!” Always one to follow directions, I filled out an entry card with my name and most recent telephone number. Since we moved a lot as a family, my mom was also good at drilling names, phone numbers, and addresses into her five children’s brains. For a time, I knew my first name was Tatie, my middle name Momo, and my last name was Jane: Tatie Momo Jane. It was all a two-year-old could say, but I could rattle off our phone number (786-1086) like a new recruit in the military.

I filled out the entry card at O’Meara’s while my mom decided that everything was too expensive and she wasn’t buying anything; that’s how it always went when we shopped at O’Meara’s: “We’ll look for something more affordable at Penney’s,” she said, and when we got outside she took my hand and we skipped down the block towards our station wagon. My mom liked to skip and I did too; that was probably one of the last times we skipped together.

We went home then and my dad came home, and I probably sucked down ten rootbeer barrel candies and a full episode of Little House On the Prairie before my mom called me to the table, and we probably had hotdish for dinner because it was always quick to make, and we’d been out shopping.

Weeks later, maybe months, maybe years, our telephone rang and my dad answered. As the news trickled down from him to my mom to me, I learned that I had won something: the drawing at O’Meara’s! Ecstatic at the idea of winning anything, I was bowled over when I found out exactly what I’d be getting: my choice of a new record album! Kapow! I don’t know why O’Meara’s clothing shop was raffling off record albums, but they were, and I’d won. Isis Isis Isis!

When I was allowed, I walked the six blocks down to O’Meara’s to pick out my album. There were records from bands I didn’t recognize, but I knew two of the names: Diana Ross, and Elvis. I had no idea which would be better. I’m sure my anxiety disorder has its roots in this very episode: trying to pick the right record, aiming to please. I didn’t even have my own record player. There were no older kids left at home, so it would just be my parents—my mom, really—whose reaction I could expect. Nobody to help pick, and nobody to help if the choice was incorrect: a youngest child’s nightmare.

It was a long walk home with Diana.

I showed up around dinner time again. My mom was in the kitchen when I walked up to her with the record hidden behind my leg.

“What did you get?” my mom asked, all excited. Free good things were always appreciated in my house.

I showed her the record, brand new, still wrapped in plastic: Diana Ross.

My mom nodded her approval, spatula in hand. “That’s good,” she said, going back to cooking. “What other choices did you have?”

“There was an Elvis one,” I said, climbing onto a stool at our breakfast island, looking for a snack.

My mom turned on me as if I had won the lottery and lost the winning ticket. “What!?” she said, waving her spatula. “You didn’t pick Elvis? You didn’t pick Elvis!?”

I didn’t know my mom felt this strongly about Elvis, but in retrospect it was the best scolding I ever got, if just for realizing that my mom had her own tastes. She felt passionate about Elvis, even in 1980.

I didn’t know she was interested in anything other than me.

I would grow up to feel like her, liking this musician and not that one, but my interests would run to Mark Knopfler and Eddie Van Halen, Michael Jackson and everybody from Duran Duran.

Not so much Elvis.


Now that the Internet is here and shopping is more like an outer-space adventure, it was only a matter of time before I got tempted by another drawing, this one by The Shabby Apple. That they trust me to run the drawing makes me feel grown-up and a little adventurous. Kind of sexy too, even though I get nothing out of it except the adventure of trying something new.

For you, that means trying this:

If you like clothes and accessories that nobody else has, you should enter this drawing for a $75 Shabby Apple gift card. That’s seventy-five free dollars to spend on yourself or your girlfriend.

To enter, you need to “like” the Shabby Apple Facebook page ( In order to comply with Facebook contest regulations, you also need to make some comments on any Hotdishing post—feel free to unleash yourself. Eligibility for entry is contingent on the Shabby Apple Facebook "like”, and you must specify on Hotdishing which Shabby Apple dress or item is your favorite. Contestants also must have a USA shipping address to be eligible for entry.

This contest runs for one week.

I’ll select the winner using a random-number-selector software program, then—when I have the winner's name, address, phone number, and email—I’ll proceed to hook you up with $75 worth of free stuff from Shabby Apple. Everybody else gets a one-month 10% discount code for Shabby Apple apparel…just ask me for it by writing to

This is better than a drawing for a record album. This is a chance to discover a new online boutique and get an entire new outfit and maybe a necklace too, for free! C’mon girls and boys: Mel, Ann, Kris, Yvonne, Laurie…Randy, Chris, John, Jess, Justin.

Help me out here, my friends.

Let’s get shabby.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sometimes a Greeting Card

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A woman named Ms. Sparrow left a comment for me the other day, on the blog of course—where else would I get a personal note but on the Internet? She wrote, “I had a beautiful black cat named Leonard that I had to put down because of spraying the drapes and furniture. The final straw came when I was reading the newspaper and he jumped into my lap to be petted. I ‘pleasured’ him for a few minutes and then moved the paper between us to start reading again. A moment later, warm urine was running down the paper into my lap!”

This comment made me tilt my head: Hm, she pleasured her cat. After a couple seconds of furrowed brows and glancing eyes, I decided that Ms. Sparrow meant she just kept petting Leonard as any pet owner might, then he got all relaxed and peed. Maybe he was old. Maybe he was very young. Truth be told, I’ve been in that exact same position, and thankfully no one has put me down for it yet.

I have a very young cat—Leo, nine weeks today—whose instruction sheet I threw out a few days ago since obviously he works and I’m not sending him back. But I followed those instructions word for word, right down to the word “stimulate”, as in “stimulate his bottom so he pees and poops.” Stimulate his bottom? This idea was foreign to me until I found that if I didn’t do my part, Leo blew up like an inflated whale bladder. Something had to be done, and lacking the rough tongue of his biological mother, I used what was most accessible: my fingers, my rough fingers with dirt under the nails, manicure virgins, fingers that are as much used to planting flowers in pots as they are to putting grades on student papers. They could certainly be used to stimulate the nether region of my kitten, if it meant life or death.

So I did, to great reception. Oh, the pee and the poo. For at least three weeks I worked both as a teacher and as a litter box. It took the nice ladies at the Animal Hospital telling me that I could use a towel between me and Leo before I realized that I didn’t have to let him actually pee and poo on me. I wish I had realized that before compromising my Bruce Springsteen t-shirt and many other favorites, but what can you do. They all came clean in the end.


My mother often says, “You kids put up with more from your pets than I ever did with my children!” She says this with near-hysteria in her voice when my siblings and I talk about fur-ball slime, vomited piles of undigested food, missed litter boxes, bloody allergic reactions, and seizures. She was never one to clean up the biological messes of her children; that task was left to my dad after the one time my mom tried and ended up contributing in the sink.

God bless her for making it that far.

The world is changing. Click and Clack are gone, teachers in Arizona got a raise, my 50-year-old sister is becoming a nurse. I look over my shoulder at my four-year-old feline compatriots and can’t imagine life without them. I look ahead and can’t see my new kitten, who is hiding somewhere, fast asleep.

As far as pleasuring goes, who knows. It’s a dark-at-night secret, what moves some of us.

Today, on my new kitten’s nine-week birthday, I think of all the messy days when he was nursing from the bottle on my stomach, pooping on my bedsheets, and peeing on me and Bruce and—I’ll admit it—Mark too. (I ran out of t-shirts, baby—you’re still the best.) They were innocent days when people wondered what I had found, maybe a rodent. But then they loved him.

I get all glittery in my heart knowing that Leo is here somewhere. If anyone has greeted a child upon waking from a nap—Well hello there, it’s nice to see you, are you ready for a snack?—then your heart has been similarly stolen.

You know what it is to have favorites, and then different ones.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


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My neighbor Juan’s house burned down on Thanksgiving, 2010. The remains of that house are long gone, and now—finally—there’s a brand-new one in its place. Juan’s house no longer resembles mine or anyone else’s on the block. We all have homes built in the 80’s; they are not grand, but most are tidy and well-kept.

Juan’s house looks more like something out of Architectural Digest. I used to live in a house like Juan’s when I was married, but Juan’s is even better than that. It is homey and spacious, inviting and grand. All the colors and arches and rooms come together to say: Enjoy this home, and live well here. That’s the house’s vibe, even without furniture yet.

Because Juan is a generous man who keeps his promises, he came knocking on our doors last weekend, inviting all of us neighbors to come over later for a housewarming. We could wander through the empty house and see its spaciousness, the sparkling toilets, the laundry room (as opposed to what we all have: a laundry cubbyhole.) We could bring our own drinks and a dish to pass, if we wanted.

“Can I bring my kitten Leo?” I asked Juan as we stood on the patio outside my front door. “He’s very well-behaved and the kids would love him.”

Juan considered this idea, then said, “Sure! Bring him over. That will be good.” Then he was off to my other next-door neighbors’, and then across the street.

I showered up and dressed for a hot summer evening: my wet hair twisted into a bun, a presentable t-shirt, cargo shorts, and flip-flops. I ordered a large pepperoni pizza and a two-liter of Pepsi, and when it arrived, I went to find Leo. He had chased his sisters off their bed again and was sprawled out on their comforter, a blue and white Cowboys blanket that’s fuzzy and warm…an artifact, actually, from my ex-husband's life. I think the blanket is mine now, or more precisely, it belongs to my cats.

I gathered together the bottle of Pepsi, the pizza, Leo, and my keys. I let myself out of the house and picked my way carefully over to Juan’s next door: over my plants, over the pavers that separate our property, through the small crowd that had gathered in Juan’s front yard. “Hello!” I said to everyone. “I’m Kate, the neighbor next door.” In the old days, they would have already known that, but these are new days.

I rang Juan’s glorious bell and he answered with gusto, excited and proud to have this house to share. I walked into the fancy kitchen, put my pizza and Pepsi down on the counter, then walked straight to where I saw the children sitting: at a table in a room across the house, away from the grown-up hubbub and tías and tíos, abuelos—it was the kids’ table, like the one I used to sit at. “Who wants to hold the kitty?” I asked. “His name is Leo.”

Everybody, especially the girls, wanted to hold Leo. I left him in good hands. I was enjoying a flavored water in the front yard, getting to know the Willie Nelson impersonator who lives across the street from me and who I'd seen, but never met, when the crowd parted and Juan appeared at my side.

“Kathy…,” he began.

“It’s ‘Kate’, Juan,” I said.

“Yes yes, sorry, Kate, I have to ask you a favor. Can you take your kitten home?” Blood drained from my face and my heart beat faster as I imagined what awful deed Leo had done. “He didn’t pee, did he? Oh my God, Juan—did he do something in your house?”

Juan shifted on his feet, looking back at his beautiful home from the dirt-covered front yard where a bunch of us were standing: me, Nabe, Willie Nelson, Willie’s wife, a cute single dad from a couple doors down who I’d never met before.

“No no, Kathy, it is not that. The older people have allergies. Having a cat around makes them….”

“Uncomfortable?” I offered.

“Yes!” Juan said. “They are uncomfortable. Could you take the kitten home?”

“Of course!” I said. “Right away, no worries.” I went in, scooped up Leo—still playing with the sweet girls—and carried him to my house. “In you go,” I said, gently shoving him through a sliver of open door, turning on my own tail and returning to the gathering of people: the neighbors mostly outside, finally getting to know one another, the family inside, getting to know their new house.

Days later I talked to my niece Shanna on the phone, a catch-up call. My niece is a high school chemistry teacher in southern Arizona: she knows science as well as she knows mixed crowds.

“I took Leo over to Juan’s housewarming party,” I said. “I don’t think he was well-received. Juan asked me to take him home.”

My niece sighed her sigh. Her gears started turning. “He asked you to take Leo home because people had allergies?” she said, not convinced. “How many allergens can a ten ounce kitten produce? I don’t think it was that.” She sighed again and thought some more. “Down here, they say cats are bad luck. It’s a superstition, but still, that’s real for some people.”

We sat in silence on the phone for awhile, letting this idea sink in.

“So at Juan’s housewarming,” I finally said, “I brought over a bad luck cat and flaunted it?”

“That’s the way it seems,” my niece said. “I mean, it definitely could be interpreted as that.” I think of all the right things I want to do in the world—teach students well, travel, continually challenge myself, be a good neighbor—and all I see is my placing a bundle of bad luck in the middle of somebody else’s new start.

You need to learn Spanish, I scold myself later at bedtime, a twenty-year-old scold that gets repeated in my prayers most nights with many other needs. Learn a little Spanish, the sleepy clouds of my brain say. Poquito rhymes with mosquito; they are both very small.

I know huevo, bano, dentista, and agua. I know no, si, gracias, cerveza, and dinero. I know hola and adios. I know that the best way to admit you’ve dropped something is not to say, “I dropped it.” You should say, “It fell from me,” putting the blame somewhere else, not on you.

I love Spanish. It is the language for me.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Baby Something

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“You have got to let that kitten sleep with you,” one of my sisters said while I was visiting in Minnesota. She was talking about Leo, who was back in Arizona with his kitten-sitter.

“Why?” I asked. The only cat who had ever slept on my bed was Joey, now deceased. Joey had been my first cat, the one I got from the neighbors when I turned 31 because if I could take care of a cat, I might be ready for a baby someday. I didn’t know at the time that I would end up preferring camels, timber wolves, and Alaskan brown bears to human children. I give myself credit for at least entertaining the thought.

My sister, who has four children and five grandchildren, gave me a crazy-look. “Because you raised him. You rescued him on the day he was born! He’ll never leave your side.” She finished triumphantly, as if going through the rest of my life with a cat stuck to me was a good thing. She reminded me of the doctor I had read about in an article the night before, William Sears—he would have all mothers nursing their children from birth to graduation, giving them piggy-back rides until they could drive.

“I don’t really want to sleep with him,” I said, risking another crazy-look from my sister, who sleeps with her 80 pound black lab and has breast-fed entire litters of puppies and kittens whose mamas went missing. She gave a hamster CPR once. “I’m allergic to cats,” I reminded her. “I have to take medication to keep the ones who already live with me.”

“I know,” she said. “But it’s just so nice to have a warm little body all cuddled up next to you under the covers.” My sister hugged herself and made kissing sounds, rocking back and forth as if she was embracing a baby something.

My cat Joey never let me embrace him. He would stalk me and jump up to bite the back of my arm as punishment when I came home from vacation. The only time he wanted to be held was when I stepped out of the shower naked, and then it was only for a minute. He actually did bite the hand that was trying to feed him once; unfortunately, that hand belonged to a neighbor who was cat-sitting him. She had to go to the Emergency Room, and I had to pay for it. Towards the end, when I'd recovered from a serious illness and become the Alpha cat again, Joey started pissing all over my house. I would come home from work to find my vertical blinds dripping in urine. I’d cry and wipe them clean while Joey sprayed the legs of my kitchen chairs. I would go to bed at night with Joey attacking my heels, then he’d sit on the floor with his ears back, growling. I would be afraid to get back up. Looking back on the nine years I spent with Joey in my life, I don't think he ever got over being feral. I finally had to put him down. His cause of death: insanity.

I looked at my sister, still rocking her invisible baby. “If I let Leo sleep with me,” I said, “then I’d have to let the other two. They’re four years old and used to having a room of their own.” I think of Sara and Lucy and the goodnight walk we’ve been taking down the hallway now for four years. I used to carry them and sing “It’s time for bed,” but when they got too big for that—ten months, not ten years—I would just sing “It’s ti-ime” over and over, and they would follow me. They still do.

It works for us.


I’m home now, back in Arizona, and today I celebrate the first night that Leo has spent in his big sisters’ room. I moved him in slowly all day yesterday, first his sleeping box, then his food and water bowls, then his litter box. Granted, I got some skeptical looks from Sara and Lucy, and yes, Sara knocked on the closed door at sunrise this morning instead of waiting until the preferred 6:15, but no matter. I hurried to get dressed and crossed the hall to open their bedroom door. Sara and Lucy sat just inside, looking up at me with tired eyes, while Leo frolicked on the floor behind them with a squeaky toy.

So no, I will not be sleeping with my new baby. Nor will I be breast-feeding him or wearing him, or anything else associated with “attachment-parenting”, a popular child-rearing philosophy that many people believe Dr. Sears invented. But they’re wrong.

My sister did.