Editor’s note: I admit to being a touch too clever with the headline — I was obviously referencing one of my favorite ever stories Katie the Prefect, but in truth the two titles are so close that I’ve heard many people looked at this and thought it WAS Katie the Prefect. It’s a whole different story. But if you want to click on the link, you can certainly find the first story.
* * *
Katie sent me a text today. I have tried for years now to try and explain Katie to people, but I don’t think that I’ve explained very well. There are a couple of problems. One is that any effort to explain Katie inevitably sounds like absurd parent boasting, which is both not the point AND something I would never want to do for about 500 reasons.
Two is I’m not sure I really understand Katie myself.
Let’s try it this way: Katie is 12 years old, and she wants to be an ideal person more than anyone I have ever met in my entire life. That’s the thing. Yes, she’s a super achiever, and yes she’s on the student council and in the choir and on the basketball team and in the play and yes she’s … well, there you go, this sounds like parent bragging. But it’s not. Bragging would suggest that I believe Margo or I have anything to do with it.
We don’t. She was born like this. And anyway, it’s none of that stuff about grades or accomplishments that makes her Katie. It’s this: She spends more or less every waking moment trying to make everyone around her a bit happier. This is her obsession. She wants everyone to be happy. She was like this when she was 1. I’m fairly certain her first words as a child were, “Oh, I just love your earrings!”
She is just relentlessly, unceasingly, intensely good. She spends 57% of her day trying to make other people feel good, 34% of her day making sure that she has finished every possible assignment to perfection (even those not due for several years), 27% of her time studying, 19% of her time complimenting strangers (this is in addition to the time she spends trying to make other people feel good), 12% of her time pondering the mysteries of the world (like why evil exists or why La La Land ended that way), 39% being a good friend to basically everyone at her school, 12% of her time singing, 9% eating junk food, 6% of her time laying our her clothes and making sure she’s ready for tomorrow, 4% of her time playing sports, 2% of her time watching Supergirl and 27% of her time making sure that she has not offended anyone either on purpose or accidentally.
She has asked, “Are you mad at me?” so many times that we now have a house rule where the correct answer is: “Yes Katie, I am mad at you.”
I don’t know what those percentages add up to but it has to be way over 100%. I used to live by the line from Simpsons when the hypnotist tells them to give 110%.
“That’s impossible. No one can give more than 100 percent. By definition, that is the most anyone can give.”
And then Katie came along.
How can I describe this — I’m sure there are parents out there who have their own Katies and know what I’m talking about here. A few weeks ago, I was at Spring Training when my cell phone rang. It was one of Katie’s teachers. We have never once, not once, had a Katie teacher call, though we HAVE had a parent -teacher conference where the teacher actually broke down in tears because she adored Katie so much.
So this call was strange. I was weirdly excited that maybe there was something I would have to do as a parent.
Nope. She was calling to say that Katie was one of the greatest people she has ever had the privilege to teach and so on. I am embarrassed to say that I was almost disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong — I am so ridiculously, awesomely, staggeringly proud of Katie. I’m ridiculously, awesomely, staggeringly proud of both our daughters; I’ve written plenty about older daughter Elizabeth, she’s the greatest young woman. But she’s sort of what I expected as a parent. I expected someone a bit like myself, someone with potential, someone who would sometimes need motivation, sometimes need inspiration, sometimes needs one of those parent-child talks.
But Katie … when she was little we had to take erasers away from her or she would have done and redone her homework endlessly to make it perfect. Well, wait, here’s another one. The other day I was driving the girls to school, and we passed a jogger. And Katie, out of nowhere, just says: “Daddy, when I grow up I’m going to wake up at 5:30 every morning to go for a jog. And then I’m going to go home and have a healthy breakfast and be ready for the day.”
She was 100% serious.
Or there’s this one: Elizabeth in her life has wanted to be about 12 million different things. Artist. Director. CSI person. Lawyer. Vet. Doctor. I relate to this; I think most of us do. You get older and your dreams change.
Katie has wanted to be a teacher from the very start of her life And she has never stopped wanting to be a teacher. She wants to teach underprivileged children. Sometimes, because she does love other things, she will talk about becoming a professional basketball player or an Olympic runner or even President of the United States. But, and this is key, these are IN ADDITION to being a teacher.
She will say something like: “And then I will be a professional tennis player and make a lot of money and get a nice house which will be helpful when I am teaching.”
That dream of helping children never, ever goes away.
This girl looks up to me as her hero. Are you kidding me? She’s my hero.
Oh, no, she’s not really perfect. She has her flaws. She has a little temper. She holds grudges (she still has not quite forgiven her mother for something Margo said like five years ago). She worries about silly things. She could eat better. But realistically, what do you do when you’re a parent of a child like Katie. People come up to us all the time, I mean all the time, just to tell us how awesome she is, how kind she is, how smart she is, how giving she is … and we just kind of nod like, “Yep. No idea how that happened.”
And I think: What can I teach her? I mean, sure, I can teach her about the infield fly rule. But that will only get her so far. I can teach her how to juggle, I suppose. I can teach her that the proper way to eat a Kit Kat is to gnaw off the sides of chocolate, leaving only the exposed wafter, and then to eat the wafers separately. I would guess that there are only a handful of times that will help her in life.
But, maybe, every now and again …
I got an email from Katie today.
“Daddy,” she said, “guess what I got on my math test.”
This is a trick question. I know she got 100. She always gets 100. Again, not bragging, I never got 100 on a math test or any other test in my entire life.
“Did you get a 73?” I texted back.
There’s was pause.
“Wrong!” She texted. “I got a …”
“… 100!” in the next text.
And then there was a pause, and even from hundreds of miles away I could sense that the gears of her mind were whirring.
“Also,” she texted after mulling it over, “why would you think I would get a 73?”
We exchanged a few Steph Curry iPhone stickers.
“I thought you got 100,” I texted her after that. “But it would have been rude for me to guess that.”
Another pause. More brain gears grinding.
“Why?” she finally asked.
“Because if you got a 97,” I wrote, “then I would have guessed too high and you would have felt bad.”
And now, I could almost see her face. I could almost see those eyes looking off to the distance as she thought about this, could almost feel as the idea gradually sharpened into focus — wait, what is this magic? It’s another way to make people feel better about themselves! You guess too low on purpose so that they will have an even greater sense of accomplishment!
“OK!” she wrote after it became clear to her. “I get you!!!!”
And then I saw the little “…” that shows up when someone is typing on the other end. She had one more thing to say. I don’t know how we got so lucky to have two daughters who are so different and yet so wonderful in their own ways. Elizabeth is all heart. And Katie is all soul.
“You make sense!” Katie texted. And I could sense her filing this new trick away, moving her one step closer to making everyone in the world happy.