The Path Back to Katherine

The winery’s tasting room was almost empty. It was early, and we had time to kill before our dinner reservations. We decided to hit up a different spot before this one, so I was already one Pino in and happy as a clam. We sat across from a mother, daughter, and the daughter’s toddler-aged child. The little girl caught sight of us. She waved with what seemed like her entire body and shouted, “Hi!” We waved back. We heard the women call her Katherine. Katherine’s mom was enjoying a glass of wine. I will confess. Whenever I see adults at a winery with kids in tow, I feel a bit “Karenish” and judgmental. I never say anything…because I have manners, but I can’t help but have some thoughts. First, I feel sorry for the kids. Like, what a boring place for them. And then I can’t help but think about who’s gonna be driving the clan around in the Lexus LX after Mom pounds a couple of Chardies and Dad downs a pint or two of hard cider. I didn’t have those thoughts about Katherine’s mom and grandmother, though. Nana had her soda, and Katherine was having the time of her three-year-old life. All three were noshing on tapenade served in a bowl on a colorful platter with an array of crackers and flatbread fanned out around it. After observing Katherine for a while, I came to feel that perhaps Mom’s glass of wine might be pretty well-deserved. This child was spunky.

A tiny discarded pair of tan suede Ugg boots lay under the table. Katherine’s naked toes dangled above them. Mom persuaded her to try some of the tapenade on a torn-off corner of flatbread. Her expression was priceless. You could tell she thought it was tasty. She grabbed the serving spoon and, with great gusto, plunged it deeply into the bowl. Pulling out a heaping spoonful, she stuffed the whole thing into her mouth. My husband and I laughed out loud as we nibbled our warm pretzel bites and cheese sauce. Mom and Nana looked embarrassed. “Katherine!” mom exclaimed. “She’s adorable,” I reassuringly called out. She thanked me and explained she was heading to a night out. Her mother was taking Katherine from there. I was happy for her. Mom looked like she deserved a child-free night.

When Katherine had had her fill of tapenade, she hopped down from the table and began to bear crawl on all fours across the polished concrete floor. She would stand briefly, from time to time, to hoist the waistband of her striped leggings up over her adorably squishy-looking belly. I watched, mesmerized. Her unspoiled authenticity struck me. She was free and joyously unencumbered by others’ judgment. From her sweet little bare feet and saggy leggings to her tapenade smeared face and cockeyed ponytails, she was unapologetically herself. It made me wonder.

We finished our drinks and appetizer and left our new friends eating, drinking, laughing …and bear crawling. I found myself lost in thought as I gazed out of the passenger side window on our drive to the restaurant. Katherine reminded me of a version of myself I’ve long since lost. Events and circumstances caused it. I’ve written about it before. Abuse. Bullying. Physical and emotional abandonment. Death. I guess…life. All of these things were part-and-parcel to the beat-down of a Katherine-like version of me. I think many women…maybe most women…experience the same thing. From an early age, we’re made to feel like our authentic self is not the best version. We invest time, money, tears, and heartache into striving for a “better” one. We set unrealistic, unattainable goals. We starve ourselves. We neglect ourselves. We mistreat ourselves, and we let others mistreat us. We secretly…or sometimes not so secretly, hate ourselves. We stare into the mirror and look straight past our value. Some of us spend a lifetime pursuing the illusion of what we think we should be.

Watching Katherine made me wonder when exactly this perverse phenomenon might begin and how. Is it plucked from us by others, perhaps those closest to us and whom we most trust? Is it extracted from us by the pressures of life events? Does society somehow grind down our “sharp edges” to make us smooth and submissive and easier to deal with? Or do we relinquish it willingly, persuaded by the world that we must. As usual, song lyrics are clamoring inside my head.

"You're not the type to give yourself enough love. She lives her life hand in a tight glove. I wish that I could fix it, I could fix it for you..."

from Follow You by Imagine Dragons

I have to choke back tears every time I hear this song. It’s written from the perspective of someone who cares about a person that struggles with self-love and self-acceptance. Watching her struggle is painful and confusing to the storyteller. He wishes she could find the path to loving herself and vows to stand by her side on that journey.  “I will follow you way down, wherever you may go. I’ll follow you way down to your deepest low. I’ll always be around wherever life takes you.” Truth be told, that road leads within, and while those we love can “be there” for us, it’s a path we must walk alone. It’s the path that leads to our “Katherine” or, perhaps more accurately, back to her.

We drove toward town and along the bay. Our reservations were at a favorite restaurant that was once the haunt of another famously authentic individual – Ernest Hemingway. They only display a couple of pieces of Hemingway paraphernalia, and fittingly, there’s a drink on the menu that bears his name. It’s a tasteful and subtle nod. Once seated, I looked around the room and thought of him. I imagined him smoking and drinking while holding court amidst the dark wood and dim lighting. He was honest, raw, and unapologetic bordering on offensive, but like Katherine, he was entirely himself. Of course, he was a man, so that’s not saying a lot. I’m not sure many women of my generation, by and large, will ever get to feel the glory of that kind of self-empowerment. Some will. Some have. Still, we have daughters. We have sons who will grow up to be men that have women in their lives. God, grant us the will and the wisdom to raise daughters who are Hemingways. Let us bring up women that are Titans true to themselves and beholden to no one. Let us show them that they never have to twist and contort and conform to become what they are not. Let us help them set their feet on a path from the start to being Katherine.

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