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What We Say (Five Questions That Are Hard To Answer)

June 11, 2015

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A few weeks ago I was standing in line at the post office when a woman with four young children trailed in behind me. She was carrying a large box, an overstuffed purse, and a very tired baby. I said a quick hi, how are you. She replied good! And then we both pretended I didn’t just ask a mother of four how’s she feeling with a bunch of hangry kids at the post office during lunchtime.

It’s part of the social constructs of life. Someone comes up and asks a polite question and we give a polite answer back. It’s not that they aren’t sincere or that we’re not honest, it’s just that not everyone needs to know that “I’m fine” means “I’m tired and possibly have a sinus infection.”

The concept of TMI is insulting to those of us who like to just tell it like it is, but I will admit to small talk for the sake of saving everyone the long version. I’m also the kind of introvert that is an open book with friends, but quiet as a church mouse with the other moms at the library.

Five questions no one really wants to answer, the last being my personal favorite as it usually involves panic and mild hives.

Here’s to finding middle ground.

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1) You have a newborn! How are you feeling?

What I say: I’m doing okay. A little tired and sore, but hanging in there.

What I mean: The other day I sneezed and I think part of my vagina fell out. I’m not sure. When I called the doctor, they put me on with a nurse who said to apply ice and maybe take a few deep breaths. I hung up and ate fourteen individually packaged brownies to cope. Breastfeeding is going okay, minus the blinding pain and cracked nipples. My cousin told me to put cold cabbage leaves down my shirt, but so far I just smell like coleslaw. I’m doing the best I can. My plans include survival and lifelong abstinence. I don’t know, I haven’t slept since last Tuesday.

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2) What do you do in your spare time?

What I say: Read, write. I haven’t had time to watch much TV, but I heard Broad City is good!

What I mean: Let’s see, watch as much good TV as humanly possible while also keeping up with library books, writing projects, and herding the kids from room to room. Also have you ever seen the hit TV series Friends? Because I’m still watching that, too. Lately I’ve been dragging myself to aerobics at the gym so I don’t die of a frozen pizza induced heart attack at 30, but most of my very limited spare time is spent doing things that don’t require thinking, talking, or making eye contact with strangers.

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3) How are the kids doing?

What I say: Good. Very busy!!!

What I mean: Yesterday my one-year-old took one of my sneakers, dipped it into an unflushed toilet and drank it shot style. She would have gone for seconds, but I intervened which was pretty devastating. Have you ever heard the mating call of a howler monkey? That’s the sound my daughter makes when I take away her feces water. If one more person asks me to make them a sandwich, I’m going to lock myself in the bathroom for the remainder of the week.

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4) Are you thinking of having any more children?

What I say: I’d like another one, but Austin isn’t sure. We’ll see!

What I mean: I AM SO TIRED BUT ISN’T THE MIRACLE OF BIRTH AMAZING. I love birth. I could give birth all over this place. I love screaming for an epidural and pushing out a new slippery human into the world. The recovery is semi-horrifying, but have you ever smelled fresh baby scalp? It’s a heroine shot of love. How could that phase of my life be over? YOLO. Let’s do this one more time. It should be the easiest one yet. They can sleep on the floor like Tarzan and eat table scraps from the other two. My husband disagrees, but I think that’s because he enjoys sleep, hobbies, and easy vacationing.

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5) What are you up to lately? Anything exciting?

What I say: Oh, I don’t know. {Insert advanced stuttering}

What I meanI found a five dollar bill in an old pair of pants the other day, that was pretty thrilling. I wish big things were on the horizon; that the book I’m writing is finished or that I’m planning a cross country road trip to California. But the truth is the list of writing projects is long and money is tight. I hired a once-a-week babysitter and am starting a babysitting swap, but like most people– every day is about balance. Finding joy in the mundane while moving forward with the big picture. I am happy but it’s also a lot about eating a burrito in the dark after the kids have gone to bed. That’s about as good as it gets.

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Here Is Where We Stay: Finding A Village

May 27, 2015

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A funny thing happens in your twenties and thirties, and this is especially true for millennial women with smartphones and Netflix, all of a sudden it becomes increasingly difficult to actually see each other. We’re busy, we’re tired, we already have our sweatpants on. Nobody wants to meet for coffee after pushing papers or listening to a two-year-old all day. We have our books. We have our phones. We are tired.

Your ability to afford your loan is the single most important factor that both you and your lender should consider before you decide to borrow money. While bad credit lenders not brokers wants to trap you with a short-term, high-interest debt that you won’t be able to repay (leading to a toxic cycle of re-borrowing or extending the life of your loan at the cost of additional fees and interest), a socially responsible lender will verify your income, look at your bank statements, and decide to approve or deny your loan not based on your ability to repay what you borrow.

The problem with this is obvious, we are not designed to be alone. Work, children, marriage, our aging parents and arm skin–all of those things require support. Collaboration. Emergency meetings and carpooling. Eventually we need to find a village.

It can start in grade school or high school or in those tender years at college when you’re acting dumb but they hold your hair back anyways. But sometimes it’s harder than that. Sometimes it’s at the gym or on a walking path after months of awkward book club meetings when the gaps between small talk make everyone a bit nauseated. Sometimes you have to try, and that’s the tricky part. The vulnerable part. The part where things get weird before they get good.

When Austin started med school four years ago, I thought I would raise my babies alone. Instead I found a group of women who became family. It wasn’t easy at first. There were many brunches and group texts and picnics in the park when I couldn’t tell if it was going to work. But then slowly we opened up to each other. We shared our dark parts and weird habits and cried about our jobs. We did what you do when you keep showing up, we fell in love.

A few months ago my friend Mo sent me an excerpt from Kelly Corrigan’s book, The Middle Place. An ode to women and friendship found in the epilogue. It got me good and I wanted to share it with you, too.

This is for The Birds and The Circle. For B, L, and S. C & E. For my sister and family.

This is for the women who take the time to invest in other women. Our villages as they ebb and flow.

We are in this together.

I turned 40 a few weeks ago. I tried (twice) to make a toast about friendship but both times, I blew it. I wanted to say something about my mom and her friends, who call themselves “The Pigeons.”

There were once at least a dozen “Pigeons” (I believe the name was a self-effacing twist on Hens) but in the past few years, they lost two of the greats, Robin Burch and Mary Maroney, to cancer. On the pigeons go, though, like women do, limping one minute, carrying someone the next. They started in the 60s, in suburban Philadelphia, with bridge and tennis and chardonnay (ok, vodka) and, over time, became something like a dedicated fleet, armed ships sailing together, weather be damned.

For me and women of my generation, it started with playdates, cutting carbs and meeting on Monday mornings in workout clothes to do awkward moves with large colorful balls. And I can see exactly where it’s heading.

We’ll water each other’s plants, pick up each other’s mail, take each other’s Christmas card photos. We’ll confer about jog bras and contractors and pediatricians. We’ll gossip about babysitters, teachers, neighbors, in laws. We’ll speculate about who had a shot of Botox, who cheats on their taxes, who cleans until midnight. We’ll implore each other to read this book or see this movie or listen to this song. We’ll persuade each other to bake, sell, recruit, fold, stuff, paint, clean and write checks for our favorite non-profits.

We’ll celebrate each other’s achievements –opening an exercise studio, a corner store, a jewelry business. We’ll celebrate our kids’ achievements – making the traveling team, singing in the choir, learning to use the potty or speak French or play the flute. We’ll borrow eggs, earrings, extra chairs, galvanized tubs for a barbeque. We’ll throw birthday parties for each other and stain the rugs and shatter the wine glasses and mark up new counters with the odd slice of lemon. We’ll worry about who seems down, who looks tired, whose drinking more and more. We’ll say things we wished we hadn’t and have to find a way to regain each other’s trust. Things will break, they always do. Many will be fixed.

We’ll fret over our children—too shy, too loud, too angry, too needy. We’ll brainstorm ways to help them become more resilient, patient, forgiving, light-hearted. We’ll protect them—fiercely—pulling little bodies from the deep end, double-latching windows, withholding car keys.

We’ll bury our mothers and our fathers—shuttling our children off for sleepovers, jumping on red eyes, telling each other stories that hurt to hear about gasping, agonal breaths, hospice nurses, scars and bruises and scabs and how skin papers shortly after a person passes. We will nod in agreement that it is as much an honor to witness a person come into the world as it is to watch a person leave it.

People will drift in and out. Book clubs will swell and thin. We’ll write someone off and they’ll reemerge later and we’ll remember both why we loved them and why we let them slip away but we’ll be softer and we’ll want them back, for nostalgia will get stronger.

We’ll admire each other for a fine crème brule, a promotion, a degree, a finished marathon. We’ll commiserate about commutes, layoffs, mortgage rates, bosses, unappreciated toys. We’ll confide in each other about feeling anxious or angry or uninteresting or uninspired or how many pieces of Halloween candy we accidentally ate from our kids’ bags. We’ll confess that our husbands don’t really listen to us or that we should be having more sex or that we yell at our kids every day. We’ll admit that we believe in God, Jesus Christ, Heaven and Hell, or that we don’t.

We’ll give up things together—caffeine, catalogs, Costco, social smoking. We’ll take up things too—morning walks, green tea, organic dairy, saying grace.

We’ll throw potlucks and take each other to lunch and give each other frames and soaps and bracelets. We’ll check each other’s heads for lice and examine new bumps and moles and listen to lists of symptoms. We’ll diagnose each other’s brown lawns, torn muscles, basement odors. We’ll teach other how to set a ring tone, make a slide show, download a movie.

We will call and say “I heard the news” and whatever the news is, we will come running, probably with food. We’ll insist on taking the kids, finding second opinions, lots of rest and the best surgeon. We will face diseases, many kinds, and will—temporarily—lose our hair, our figures and our minds.

Eventually, someone whose not supposed to die will, maybe one of us, maybe a husband, God forbid a child, and all this celebrating and sharing and confessing will make certain essential comforts possible. We’ll rally around and hold each other up and it won’t be nearly enough but it will help the time pass just a hair faster than it would have otherwise. We will wait patiently and lovingly for that first laugh after the loss. When it comes, and it will come, we will cry as we howl as we clutch as we circle. We will transcend, ladies. Because we did all this, in that worst moment, we will transcend.

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|First Image Source|

Insert Welcoming Remarks

May 7, 2015

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Updated 4/27/17

Hello friends.

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked to you like this. As I’ve mentioned before, blogging has changed a lot over these four years. Personal narrative blogs have been replaced with niche blogs, affiliate links, Instagram, Buzzfeed, and what I call “worldview pieces.” Readers, including myself, skirt to and from blogs so quickly that it’s hard to continue any sort of story, making it necessary to write essays that can stand alone.

Sometimes I’ll read a random blog, click around, and still wonder what’s going on. Where do they live? What do they do? Why are they always at the beach?

I thought this might be a good time to clear things up.

HELLO. My name is Kate and I like Friends reruns and sandwiches featuring complicated mayonnaise. Technically my name is actually Kathrine, inconveniently spelled without an “e” in the middle, which means a bunch of KathErines with gmail accounts get a lot of my “urgent” Old Navy emails. Enjoy the maxi dress! Now an entire 25 cents off.

I live in a small town in Eastern Pennsylvania, a day’s trip away from New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.  My kids are Waylon, Eva, and Novi. My husband’s name is James but he goes by Austin. I guess both our parents liked things complicated. A few summers ago he graduated from medical school and started a six year residency in Radiology. We take things one day at a time.

This May we’ll be married eight years.

In case you are wondering about the mild home renovations referenced on Instagram, we live in a very modest three bedroom home Austin’s parents bought at the beginning of medical school. Because we rent (pay the mortgage) from them–we can make renovations as we are able, and you probably know that Compromising your San Diego heating repair systems is very important as well. When we matched to Penn State Hershey last Spring, we decided not to move (thank you Jesus) and just upgrade a few things. So far we’ve painted everything white and bought 100 items off Craigslist. We hope to own our own home someday, but for now paying a low mortgage on a house that’s not ours is actually pretty great. If the garbage disposal breaks, I just call my father-in-law. Please don’t tell him how to block phone numbers. Chances are we’ll stay in this house through residency, which means we’ll be here a total of 10 years.

If you’re wondering what I actually look like (not just what I look like with 17 filters), here is an all natural photo I plugged into the age predictor site everyone’s been using this week.

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It identified me as 12-year-old girl. Bonus: I still dress like one too.

It is worth noting this blog is no longer my first priority as I’m in the middle of writing a book, but it is still a great place to post life events, the occasional essay, or fun things from the Internet. Those Friday links used to really bog me down, but now those kinds of light posts are a happy place where I don’t have to think about where the next sentence will come from. Who would have thought curating silly tweets or finding noteworthy links to read would become a relaxing pastime. Instagram and Snapchat (for the most part) are fun too. You can find me on both at @katejbaer.

As always, thanks for reading, listening, responding, and double tapping. All the heart eye and dancing girl emojis right back at you.

xo

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Essays For Your 30s

April 9, 2015

BlendJenn

Blend

Chapter One

Spousal Chewing: A Survivor’s Guide

Chapter Two

How To Live Tweet Your Nexplanon Removal Without Passing Out

Chapter Three

“I Accidentally Liked A Picture Of My Ex On Facebook From Seven Years Ago And Want To Die”: Troubleshooting Your Social Media Disasters (A Manual)

Chapter Four

Your Friend’s Baby: Perfecting The Art Of The Smile And Nod

Chapter Five

Pasta For Four! or How To Make Enough Pasta Without Making All The Pasta

Chapter Six

Childbirth, Postpartum Poo, And Sex After Vaginal Massacre: A Love Story

Chapter Seven

Morning Face: Why It’s Growing Worse And How To Disable Your Forward Facing Camera

Chapter Eight

“I think I Have A Hemorrhoid” (And Other Literal Dirty Talk In Marriage)

Chapter Nine

Pinning Things I Can’t Afford: A Delusional Therapy We Are Okay With

Chapter Ten

Excessive Vacuuming And Other Ways To Drown Out Children

Chapter Eleven

“My Instagram Feed Look’s Like A White Supremacist’s Tea Party” (And Other Millennial Problems)

Chapter Twelve

Ten DIY Excuses For Avoiding Whole 30, Essential Oils, Spin Class, And Capsule Wardrobes.

Chapter Thirteen

Young Adult Fiction: What To Read And What To Use For Kindling During An Actual Apocalypse

Chapter Fourteen

“I Substituted All The Ingredients And It Tasted Like Garbage. Zero Stars” : A Simple Guide To Navigating The Comments Section Under Casserole Recipes

Chapter Fifteen

The Hot Dog Combo vs The Slice Of Pizza At Costco: A Justification And Exhaustive Analysis

Chapter Sixteen

The Children Are Sleeping: How To Choose A Movie On Netflix In Less Than Twelve Hours

Chapter Seventeen

Cleaning Before Unexpected Guests Without Murdering Your Spouse (A Handbook)

Chapter Eighteen

Baby You’re A Firework! or How To Sing Katy Perry Songs Without Ruining Everyone Else’s Day

Chapter Nineteen

Leggings As Pants: A Cultural Divide

Chapter Twenty

Assuming Everything Is A Thinly Veiled Act Of Aggression or “Enjoying The Holidays With Your Family” (A Self Help Directory)

Epilogue

“You’re Overthinking It” by Everyone’s Grandma

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Honey, you’re fine.

August 29, 2014

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Every time I try to write something about anything, I always end up saying the same thing: having young kids is hard. I could try to write “The Very Best Enchilada Recipe Ever” and would still end up writing, “Enchiladas would be great if I was able to sit down and eat because having young kids is hard.”

Of course having older kids is probably hard too, but right now I’m choosing to believe having a child over ten years of age is a lot like having an older dog; lots of sleep and occasionally letting them out to play.

Please don’t ruin this for me.

It is so boring after a while, this constant complaining about parenting. I hear myself night after night, slumped over a pile of pillows, driveling on about how little I’ve accomplished. How I haven’t gotten my hair cut in two years. How there is never, ever any point in really cleaning the kitchen floor.

Sometimes I think: Could I be more cliche? Could I be more “dreary housewife?” The only thing separating me from Debra Barone is a floral bedspread and bad lipstick.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about being tightly wound in motherhood. A lot of people read it and had suggestions for me. Everything from therapy and prayer to essential oils and diet pills. I do appreciate the suggestions, although I think most of us just want to be validated. Most of us just want someone else to agree that yes, this is hard and yes, it’s okay to lock yourself in the bathroom for three minutes to play flappy bird.

Yesterday I took my two young kids to be with friends, splash in a pond, and generally breathe in air that doesn’t smell like regurgitated peas. I try to do this pretty often, meet up with friends who also have young children. We all pack up our things and get in and out of our cars with bags of diapers, snacks, and water bottles and try to visit. Of course we never actually do. Or at least we never visit like we intend to do. Instead, we spend three hours chasing each other’s children, handing each other wipes, and repeating these three words: “Can you share?”

The kids ignore us until we try to have intelligent conversation or speak more than seven syllables.

A “conversation:”

Friend A: How is it going working part time?
Friend B: It is going pre–
Friend A: Guys, please stop pushing.
Friend C: I think Eva is eating a rock.
Friend B: Is this poop on my arm? This is definitely poop.

I leave exhausted, wondering why I ever leave the house with my kids at all. Then I sit on the couch and remember my friend Laura breastfeeding her sweet newborn and my friend Bethany play-chasing her daughter. I think about my friend Mo pressing her face up against her baby girl and then I start to weep. I cry real, happy tears because even though it is hard, at least it is hard right next to each other. Even though when I take my three-year-old to Target and he accidentally knocks over a table of notebooks and then runs like Batman into the next aisle, a retired grandmother of four will say, “It’s okay, I got it.”

Over and over I am reminded that despite the angry stares in restaurants when your baby is crying, there will always be another mom nodding and saying, “Honey, you’re fine.”

I’m not saying anything new. I don’t intend to. For the next ten, twenty, thirty-five years I will say it again and again so I never forget that while it is hard, it is okay because we are not alone. When you are standing in the middle of your bedroom with one sock, two pacifiers, four bedsheets but no idea why you came into the room in the first place: you are not alone. When you wipe up all the bananas off the kitchen floor only for your toddler to spill an entire cup of lemonade on the living room rug: you are not alone. When you try to make that baby latch but she just will not latch: you are definitely not alone.

When we say, “I can’t,” there is always someone else saying, “You can, because I am too.” You might not know them right away, but you will find them. You will see them on the playground, at the grocery store, hunched over in the back of their minivan trying to change two sets of poopy diapers. And even if you never speak, you can know there is at least one other person trying to make it to bedtime.

One other person trying to raise a human while staying a human. Another tired mama trying desperately not to be Debra Barone.

Strangely, it is always a comfort.

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