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.