Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I named our daughter Kate Carleton because it sounds presidential. Seriously. Doesn't Kate Carleton sound like someone who gets things done?

We named her Katherine, actually. After my sister Kathryn. After our great-grandmother Catherine.

Will wanted to call her Kat, which now that I know her suits her, but I got my way and we started calling her Kate from day one.

By the time Kate could advocate for herself, and around the same time she began writing her own name, she announced that she no longer wanted to be called Kate. From then on, she'd be Katie.

Katie? Ugh. Katie doesn't sound presidential at all.

Katie sounds like a spoiled girl who always gets her way.

Kate got her way, and we began to call her Katie when she was four.

"Are you sure you want to be called Katie?" I asked. "It's one extra letter you have to spell when you write your name."

"That's OK. I like Katie better."

So we called her Katie. It's her name, I guess.

But. I'm the one who cooked her in my belly til she was well done. Five days overdue, to be precise. I feel like I should have some say in what name we call her. I tried to call her Katie, but I'd slip up from time to time.

"It's Katie, Mommy."

"Oh, yeah. Sorry. Katie. It's hard to remember to call you Katie when we called you Kate for four years."

Eventually I got used to calling our daughter Katie. She's nine now. Five years have passed. She's Katie, even though it doesn't sound presidential.

"I don't want to be president," Katie says.

"Why not?" I ask.

"I just don't want that kind of responsibility."

"Yeah. Me neither. I guess I should let you be who you want to be."

"Yeah, Mom."

Mom? When did I become Mom? What happened to Mommy? How come if I have to call her Katie and not Kate, she can't call me Mommy and not Mom?

"Fine. You can call me Kate if I can call you Mom."

"OK!" I agreed. But it backfired on me because I was already used to calling her Katie by then, so I forgot to go back to Kate. Katie, on the other hand, readily calls me Mom and not Mommy. No problem.

"Mom, none of the other kids at school call their moms Mommy."

Fine. Be like everybody else, if that's your thing.

Katie and I went to a new church the other day, and on her name tag she wrote, "KaCy".

"KaCy? Isn't that your avatar's name on the WiiU?" I can't believe I've learned how to speak Gamer in nine short years.

"Yeah. And that's what I want to be called now."

"What? I thought you wanted to be called Katie?"

"I did for a while, but now I want to go by KaCy."

"Duuuude. You can't just keep changing your name like that. People get used to calling you what they know you by. Remember how hard it was for me to remember to call you Katie instead of Kate when you re-nicknamed yourself when you were four?

"You call me Katie now."

"Yeah, man. I don't think I can do it again. KaCy? And why do you spell it that way? Why not just KC? You know. Your initials. Katie Carleton."

"Because I want it to be different. I want my name to be unique."

I remember when I was looking at baby names while pregnant with our daughter. I kept gravitating toward classic names. Except for Stella. I wanted to name Katie Stella, but Will said no, he didn't want his kid growing up with people yelling, "Steeeeeeeeeeeeeeeela!" at her all the time. And, Stella's the name of a blowup doll we once met down at the Winfield bluegrass festival, but that's another story. I can see why a dad wouldn't want to name his kid after a blowup doll.

I remember reading about how most kids born nowadays have unique names, so much so that names like Katherine had become rather rare.

Apparently it's not rare enough for our Katie bird. She wants to be known as KaCy now.

"Fine. You can have other people call you whatever you want, but I wanna call you Kate. Or Katie. Or Katie Bug. Or Punkin. Or Punk. OK?"

"Yeah, Mom. That's fine."

That same day I got an email from one of the members of the church we went to letting us know she'd be happy to answer any questions we had. I found myself replying that we had a great time, and that KaCy and I'd try to make it next week, too. KaCy. This kid of mine. If she wants people at church to call her KaCy, fine. I didn't want to confuse them by my calling her Kate or Katie or Punk or whatever, so I referred to her as her prefered name, KaCy.

When I was in second grade I stood up in front of my class and announced that I wanted everyone to start calling me Becca instead of Rebecca. At home I went by Becky or Beck. But when Mom enrolled me at my new school a month after first grade started, she wrote my legal name on the form and the teacher never bothered to ask if I had a nickname. My teacher was mean, so I never corrected her when she called me Rebecca. By second grade most of my friends called me Becky, and my teacher was nice that year, so she called me Becky, too, but somewhere I heard the nickname Becca and I thought it sounded beautiful. Becca is beautiful and cool and confident. She remembers to pack her toothbrush when she spends the night at someone's house and she's not afraid of the dark. Becky is some dorky girl's name. My name.

I wanted to be Becca.

But no one could do it. Everyone knew me as Becky by then, so nobody could remember to call me Becca. I got tired of correcting everyone and eventually I dropped it. I've gone by Becky ever since.

Once, before Katie was born, my husband Will and I went camping with some friends. One of his friends brought along a woman named Becca. I fell in love with her almost instantly. Not in the I want to marry her way, but in the I want to be her way. Becca was beautiful and cool and confident. She remembered to bring her own food--homemade granola-- and she set up her own tent. I, on the other hand, managed to break our tent that night. Zippers and I aren't very chummy. What can I say? I'm a dork. Call me Becky.

So I get it, wanting to go by a different name because you think you could act differently with a different name. But does it really work that way? Would I be cooler if I started going by Becca? Will Katie or Kate or KaCy feel more confident and in control if she goes by a different name?

My husband, Will, would say so. Try being a chubby 12-year-old boy named Willie when the movie, "Free Willy" comes out. He's been going by Will ever since.

Friday, April 8, 2016

My Best Effort: Existential Depression, My Kid, and Me

I had a really good talk with Katie's therapist this afternoon. Our nine-year-old, Katie, has been struggling at school with her peers. She has temper tantrums when her peers don't act respectfully toward her, and lately even when they don't act respectfully toward others around her. She vacillates between feeling intolerance and disgust for her "immature" classmates and feeling like no one likes her or cares about her and that she's worthless and alone. Things are getting worse instead of better. Today, my husband Will had to go pick her up from school because she was biting herself and talking about how she wants to run away. She told the school social worker that she didn't "want to be part of this world."

Shit. My poor baby.

Shit. That was me when I was a kid. But I'd always attributed my depression and anxiety to my shitty childhood in general and to specific traumatic events such as being sexually abused as a preschooler and being sent to Weight Watchers in third grade. I thought my depression was a product of my upbringing, not my genes.

But it makes sense. My mother had episodes of depression so severe that she received shock therapy a couple of times before I was even born. Her mother was agoraphobic for decades, and she abused my siblings when they were under her care while Mom worked after she divorced their dad. My family tree is fertilized by a cocktail of booze, pot, and sertraline, with a side garnish of God and binge eating junk food. Even if I'm not fucked up because of my fucked up childhood, but because of my genetic quirks, it's those genetic quirks that probably led to my mom's and my grandmother's less than stellar parenting decisions, and, now that I'm a mom, I can join that club, too.

Nature or Nurture? Both.

Despite my husband's and my best efforts to raise Katie to be confident and happy and kind, to protect her from abuse and to teach her to love her body and herself, our kid is hurting.

Shit. I thought all I had to do was be a "great mom" and we'd all live happily ever after. Turns out, I'm not a "great mom," just a mom putting forth my best effort.

Maybe my grandmother put forth her best effort. Maybe my mom did, too. Maybe I should quit blaming bad parents for producing fucked up kids and accept that no one understands completely why life is full of suffering and the best thing we can do is love each other and hang on.

More and more, we suspect that Katie has inherited my depression and anxiety. Not my proudest parenting moment. I'm proud that she inherited my funny face and my smile. I'm proud that she inherited my philosophical nature and my goofy sense of humor. I am not at all proud that I probably gave her the genetic propensity toward depression and anxiety.

Parenting is so hard. And, simultaneously, the most important work I've ever done. Maybe my job is to prepare Katie for this ambiguous life.

Anyhoo, her therapist and I suspect that Katie is gifted, and that she's experiencing what's called "existential depression." Here's a good overview of what that means:

"Because gifted children are able to consider the possibilities of how things might be, they tend to be idealists. However, they are simultaneously able to see that the world is falling short of how it might be. Because they are intense, gifted children feel keenly the disappointment and frustration which occurs when ideals are not reached. Similarly, these youngsters quickly spot the inconsistencies, arbitrariness and absurdities in society and in the behaviors of those around them. Traditions are questioned or challenged. For example, why do we put such tight sex-role or age-role restrictions on people? Why do people engage in hypocritical behaviors in which they say one thing and then do another? Why do people say things they really do not mean at all? Why are so many people so unthinking and uncaring in their dealings with others? How much difference in the world can one person’s life make?

"When gifted children try to share these concerns with others, they are usually met with reactions ranging from puzzlement to hostility. They discover that others, particularly of their age, clearly do not share these concerns, but instead are focused on more concrete issues and on fitting in with others’ expectations. Often by even first grade, these youngsters, particularly the more highly gifted ones, feel isolated from their peers and perhaps from their families as they find that others are not prepared to discuss such weighty concerns...

"...The reaction of gifted youngsters (again with intensity) to these frustrations is often one of anger. But they quickly discover that their anger is futile, for it is really directed at 'fate' or at other matters which they are not able to control. Anger that is powerless evolves quickly into depression."

Read the full article here.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Change Generation

Hillary Clinton says she understands why Donald J. Trump supporters are so angry
Posted by NowThis Election on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Politics fascinates our nine-year-old, Katie. Her fourth-grade class is studying the current United States Presidential election.

Katie, overhearing me watching this video: "Is that Hillary Clinton?"

Me: "Yep."

Katie: "She sounds good."

Me: "Yeah, I like what she's saying here."

Katie: "I thought you liked Bernie Sanders."

Me: "I do."

Katie "But you like Hillary Clinton, too? I thought they were running against each other."

Me: "Yeah. They are. But they're both way better than the candidates on the Republican side. I like both of them, I just like Bernie more. But if for some reason Bernie doesn't win the Democratic nomination, I'll vote for Hillary Clinton."

Katie: "So Bernie's your favorite and Hillary's your second-favorite?"

Me "Yep."

Katie: "Who's your least favor--"

Me: "--Donald Trump. Hands down."

Katie: "Yeah, I thought so. So who's your third favorite, Cruz?"

Me: "No, John Kasich."

Katie: "Who's that?"

Me: "He's the governor of Ohio, and he's running for president."

Katie: "Oh. So Cruz is your fourth favorite and then Donald Trump is your least favorite?"

Me: "Yeah, of the major parties. There are other people running for president, too, but those are the five from the Democrats and the Republicans."

Katie: "And you want Bernie to win but if he doesn't you want Hillary to win?"

Me: "Yep."

Katie: "It'd be kinda cool to have a girl president."

Me: "A woman president? Yeah, that would be cool."

Katie: "This should be called the Change Generation."

Last night, we were discussing what the names of the various generations are, such as The Greatest Generation, The Silent Generation, The Baby Boomers, Gen-X, and The Millennials. Katie asked what the name of her generation is, and I said I didn't know, that sometimes it takes a while for a generation to develop its name.

Me: "Oh yeah? Why should it be called The Change Generation?"

Katie: "Because our presidents are about change. Like, if Hillary Clinton wins, she'd be the first girl president."

Me: "The first woman president. She's a woman, not a girl. We don't call Bernie a boy. He's a man. And anyway,  he'd be the first Jewish president if he wins."

Katie: "Bernie's Jewish? Like, Jesus?"

Me: "Yep. And Barack Obama is the first black president."

Katie: "Yep. See, we should be called The Change Generation."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Sing Louder

Twenty-three years ago, on March 15, 1993, I starting working at the library in the periodicals department. The longest amount of time I'd stuck with a job prior to the library was two months, when I was a nanny to three kids one summer. The shortest amount of time I've stuck with a job is one day, at Europlay at Oak Park Mall when I got fired for not sorting the Koosh balls into their bins correctly. And for being too shy to approach customers and sell them more than what they came in for.

With age comes wisdom, yes, but with age also comes confidence. You get to a part of your life where you realize, "I really just want to get paid to sing and dance with kids and read them a silly book or two". When your inner critic whispers, "you are too shy to do that," sing louder.

Friday, February 26, 2016


My husband, Will, likes to tease me that I'm overly optimistic about the good intentions of people. Once, at the beginning of a thunderstorm, I saw a group of young guys walking around the apartment's parking lot banging on windows to check to make sure everyone's car windows were rolled up. At least that's what I thought they were doing until I saw one of them bust open a window and the others jump in and try to jack the car. Will had to rush out in his undies to scare those hooligans off.

This time my naivete was directed toward Secretary Clinton. When I first saw a clip of her video demonizing black youths as "Super-Predators" and she said that we needed to "bring them to heel" I thought she meant "heal". Like, she wanted to bring them in to prison to heal. And I thought, we'll that's ridiculous, they're never going to get healed in prison..." Then I saw this clip of the #BlackLivesMatter activist's sign that says "bring them to heel" and I googled that term and found it means to bring someone into submission. Like a dog.

I support Bernie Sanders for President because he respects the dignity in all humans. He doesn't just say things to gain political power. He wants to make American great. Here and now. Not again. Not sometime in the future. Now.

Are you ready? Do you feel the Bern?!


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bernie Who?

I love this headline: Bernie Sanders just easily won the New Hampshire primary. It's a remarkable achievement.

It is remarkable. Almost unbelievable. I'm flabbergasted.

I'm not used to politicians I whole-heartedly support actually winning! It's amazing how progressive our country has become in just a few short years. I remember back in 2008, when Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Dennis Kucinich were competing for the Democratic nomination, I actually intended to vote for Kucinich, but I changed my mind once I got to the caucus and saw only one other supporter in the room full of hundreds of people. The vote was close between Clinton and Obama, so I felt like it was more pragmatic to vote for Obama. I admire Hillary Clinton, but she's too much of a war hawk for me. So's Obama, but, you know, so are most people, and at least he was an out-spoken critic of the Iraq War while Hillary Clinton voted in support of the Iraq War while she was Senator of New York.

I recall telling some friends about my decision to vote pragmatically instead of idealistically and they asked me who I'd have voted for if I had the luxury of voting idealistically. I said, "Bernie Sanders!"

"Bernie Who?"

"Never mind. He'll never run. And if he did, he'd never win," I said. "He's a Democratic Socialist! He'd never get Americans to vote for him!"

I've never been happier to have been so wrong. Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary today! And it is remarkable.

Back in 2008, when I'd fantasize about Bernie running for President, it seemed like such a long shot. Bernie wasn't even a United States Senator yet, but a Representative from Vermont. He'd been the mayor of Birmingham or Burlington or something like that. Living in Kansas myself, the only reason I'd heard of him was because I'd see him on Bill Maher and I respected everything that came out of his mouth. You can't say that about too many of Bill Maher's guests, or Bill Maher himself for that matter. He's one of those brilliant but arrogant people I don't really like but I like how they think. He's so irritating.

But not Bernie. Bernie's the best. He speaks and I nod my head. Yes. Yes! This guy gets it. And evidently lots of other people across this country are starting to get Bernie. It's so awesome to see Bernie get the recognition he deserves. It's so awesome to get the opportunity to vote for a person I truly believe in after so many years of settling for second best.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Gloria Steinem, feminist icon, thinks young women are too boy crazy to think for themselves

I hate it when my heroes fuck up. I know, I know. They're human. They're human and prone to making mistakes, like all of us. It sucks that, because they're in the spotlight, their fuckups are more magnified, and so they seem worse than the fuckups you and I get involved in. As a role model, they should know better, we complain. It really would be awful to be famous and have to watch what you say all the time since you basically live with a microphone in your face. But when you're paid to say intelligent things into a microphone, and you blow it, you deserve to be called out on it.

Like Gloria Steinem. Yes she's one of my heroes. But, come on. She blew it. You'd think someone who's spent her career fighting for feminist causes would be a bit more open minded about young women's abilities to think for themselves. Instead, she acts like young women are too boy crazy to think for themselves. As if young women only think with their vaginas. Look at what Steinem said to Bill Maher on his show the other night when he brought up the fact that younger women tend to prefer Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton:
“Men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age, women get more radical because they lose power as they age...And, when you’re young, you’re thinking, where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie...” 
Huh? What? Did Gloria Steinem really just say young women are too boy crazy to care about politics and to think for themselves? So disappointing.

I'm a woman, and I'm a feminist, and I support Bernie Sanders. Not because he's a man, but in spite of the fact that he's a man. I support Bernie Sanders, regardless of his gender, because I think his policies would benefit all humans. Yes, as a feminist, I'm thrilled to see a woman running for president, and I'll vote for her in November if she beats Bernie in the primaries. I'm certainly not going to waste my vote by staying home when I can at least use it as a vote against Trump or Cruz or whoever else wins the Republican nomination. But, as a woman and a feminist who thinks for herself, I'd much prefer to vote for Bernie. Why? Because Bernie gets it. I've been following him for years now, and he's one of the few politicians who seems to understand the root cause of many of our nations' problems: greed. Hillary Clinton has many fine policies, but one thing she doesn't seem to get is that the greedy Wall Street bankers and their legislative cronies are making it harder and harder for everyday people like you and me to get by. I'd prefer to vote for Bernie because I recognize that voting for a woman whose gender matches mine but whose policies do not align with mine is voting against my best interests.

Ironically, Hillary Clinton, a woman, represents the status quo in this race. Bernie Sanders, an elderly man, represents change, which is what our federal government needs if we don't want to end up like Rome.

Being a civic minded adult is hard, whether you're young or old. Politics and elections are complex. Everything is not black and white, male and female, good vs evil. Let's give young women the respect they deserve. Let's acknowledge that young women are quite capable of thinking for themselves. Honestly, if you're a woman, and you're voting for Hillary Clinton simply because of her gender and not her policies, that's not using your brain, Sister.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Y'all Qaeda's LaVoy Finicum shot and killed by authorities, disqualified from Foster Parent of the Year award

Having trouble making a profit off your cows? Follow the path of Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum and become a foster parent. The government will pay you, and in return you get free teenage ranch hands!

"According to a 2010 tax filing, Catholic Charities paid the family $115,343 to foster children in 2009...'That was my main source of income,' Finicum said. 'My ranch, well, the cows just cover the costs of the ranch.'"

Finicum is, or was, a leader in the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, part of a militant anti-government group mocked by many as "Y'all Qaeda." He was shot and killed by law enforcement officers Tuesday night, while other militants in his group were arrested.

While I mean no disrespect toward the recently departed--ideally his standoff with police should have ended in his arrest and not his death--I feel pretty confident in saying that LaVoy Finicum is a scumbag. Was a scumbag. Children, human beings, are not supposed to be a "source of income". Yes, it costs money to take care of foster kids, but the money is supposed to go toward their needs. Not a way to earn a buck or two. Not a way to get free help on an otherwise unprofitable ranch.

As a pacifist I feel compelled to wish peace upon all people. Even scumbags who abuse their power to turn a profit. Rest in peace, LaVoy Finicum. May your former foster kids find peace here on earth, something you were unable to do.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Katie Quotes 1-21-16

Katie: "I really like your robe, Mom."

Me: "Oh yeah?"

Katie: "Yeah. It's nice and soft and fuzzy up here, and it's got this big hole and it's kinda worn over here. It's kind of like, your life."

Me: "Yeah?"

Katie: "Yeah. Like the soft and fuzzy part up here is like when you and Daddy got married and when I was born, and this kinda worn out hole over here is like, how you had some horrible times in your childhood. But you got over those and you stitched them together."

Me: "Wow, you are such an insightful child."

Katie: "You wanna hear my theory about Minecraft?"

Me: "Yeah."

Katie: "Minecraft is not just a cool game. It's a therapist game. Like, if your best friend doesn't want to be friends anymore, you can go blow stuff up in Minecraft, or like if you feel like 'oh, I'll never do anything' you can create all these buildings and stuff in Minecraft."

The wisdom of a nine-year-old.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Free download!

Free download!

I self-published a book of essays about my experiences with PTSD. Feel free to share it with anyone you think would benefit from it. Download and read it here: http://bit.ly/ThisAmbiguousLife