By In Stuff

Katie the Perfect

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.

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50 Responses to Katie the Perfect

  1. Ross H. says:

    Thanks Joe, good stuff.
    It’s funny, I guess I’m a lazy reader and years ago when you first wrote “Katie the Prefect” I first thought it said “Katie the Perfect” and was expecting an article like this. But then I got to the bottom and saw what I misread. Then today I initially saw the post and thought it was a repost of the classic. Both are awesome.

  2. We get it, Joe. Your daughter’s a goody-goody. Congratulations.

    • Knuckles says:

      He hasnt quite reached the Peter King hey here is my daughters softball game update nobody gives a crap about and I like coffee and liberals stage. But we will be monitoring.

      • Hamster Huey says:

        You guys (just a hunch that you’re guys… educated hunch re: “Brian”) seem nice. How old are your kids?

        • Knuckles says:

          17 and 15 and nobody gives a shit about their field trips except me and their friends.

          • Hamster Huey says:

            Ah, but a man you don’t know writes a blog post you don’t like, and we all hear about it

    • Rob Smith says:

      Hmmmmm…. look, I have a kid who’s gotten arrested twice (for usual college block headed stuff, nothing big), (he’s doing really well now, btw), but I don’t mind if someone else has a really interesting and great kid. There’s an 8 year old girl at church like this. I started talking to her and realized that I should not talk to her like an 8 year old. I needed to talk to her like an adult that is smarter than me. I think that’s awesome. I love having average kids who do average stuff, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate other kids who have extraordinary kids. Jealous snarky comments do not reflect well. And btw, everyone dislikes parents who constantly brag about their kids. I don’t think Joe does that.

  3. Ross Hansen says:

    Thanks Joe-I taught a 12 year old just like this in Confirmation class.

    Gabriella.

    Shaved her glorious hair off to make wigs for Chemotherapy patients, smiled a smile that would light Chicago…Not a Goody-Two-Shoes (I threw her out of class once for pretending to be someone else) but a glorious and delightful young woman that surely one day will change the world.

    You’re both blessed and challenged to have such a child.

  4. M says:

    Katie sounds like a sweet, diligent girl. You also have described me and many “Katies” I have met in treatment over the years for anorexia. No one wants the internet to doomsday or diagnose their daughter, so take this as you will …

    The people who lead research in these areas have a saying:”Genes (she was born this way/you’ve always experienced her this way) load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.” As adolescence and life unfold, we all face many things that could, in a vulnerable person, prompt a usual Katie-like response to a comment, situation, challenge, change, loss, etc., but this time, it can go to an extreme for the not-good.

    Obviously, every driven perfectionist with a heart for others isn’t going to develop anxiety, depression or an eating disorder, but it’s worth a little observant (quiet) vigilance from the parent section. Especially because the “Katies” of the world are so over-competent, compliant and people-pleasing at the same time.

    “Katies” don’t want to worry others; don’t want to be a problem, because they have never been a problem and that would feel terrible and shameful, almost; “Katies” are used to handling it themselves and handling it beyond well (and everyone else in their lives is also accustomed to never having to worry about the “Katies” of the world).

    This is not to be a downer, it’s just a few decades down the road for this “Katie” and many I have known; it’s a heartbreaking and difficult path to walk; and early vigilance and intervention is key. Here’s hoping your beautiful little soul carries on with a beautiful life with few hiccups!

  5. Nick S. says:

    I’m a 44-year old man with a cold dead heart and I said “Awwww!” aloud multiple times while I was reading this.

  6. Gloria says:

    I love your work and look forward to everything you write! I have to admit, however, that reading about your daughter tied a big knot in my stomach. It was as if I was reading about my own daughter… pretty much word for word. She’s an adult now, with children of her own, but when she became an adolescent, this girl – who every single teacher wanted to clone – walked into the world of anorexia. She didn’t mean to. It was simply part of her wiring, I now believe. I concur with M’s comments. Please be careful, please be vigilant. I don’t want to be Debbie Downer. Katie sounds miraculous and magical and incredible and loving and lovely and is your daily dose of goodness. Lord knows the world could use many more young people like her, especially these days. Enjoy every minute of every one of her gifts! But do pay attention. She’s wired differently than most and may get tripped up along the way. You and your wife can step into her corner in this regard now so you won’t be blindsided down the road. Thanks for considering. Katie and the rest of us will be eternally grateful.

    • invitro says:

      I would not have expected this article to prompt two warnings about anorexia… interesting.

      • Pat says:

        I’m guessing somewhere else on the Internet there’s a topical webpage with a link headed here.

      • Hamster Huey says:

        Agreed, invitro – I was surprised by this too and found the first post somewhat intrusive and presumptuous at first… until I saw the second, which made me think. It says something that Joe’s description of his daughter touched the same nerve in two people who clearly remember their own children / loved ones who later went on to suffer from anorexia in similar terms. It also struck me that at least twice, Joe describes her eating habits in the post in less than glowing terms (“eating junk food”; “she could eat better”)… in a place that she could one day see it… after stating how sensitive to criticism she can be… I want to be very careful here: clearly, nothing at all was meant by this. But if these two posters (M and Gloria) are correct…
        *
        [@Pat, I don’t buy an external link prompting this. And even that would presuppose that someone feels strongly enough about his description to set up such a link. It’s not like there are anorexia bots that post to lots of random unrelated blogs.]

        • JJ says:

          I assure you that M and Gloria are real as I thought about my own child who at age 12 who was “perfect” and who later developed anorexia. She ranked #1 in her high school class out of 400, was a cheerleader, student council, played sports, and from all outside appearances was the student that teachers loved to have in their class. She put so much pressure on herself to be perfect that she developed an eating disorder that we almost lost her.

          I am pleased to report that she has overcome the disorder and is doing well, but this story hit close to home. I hope that no one ever has to go what we did and wish Katie and Joe the best.

    • Dan says:

      Idiot #2

      • Ham Bergulahr says:

        These anorexia posts are making me hungry.

      • Pat says:

        I think it’s pretty clear these are written by people who want the best for Joe’s kid, who have some idea of things that can happen during parenting, and who haven’t said anything totally nuts like “DiMaggio was better than Williams.”
        You could maybe let these slide.

        • Pete says:

          I’ve been a junior high teacher for over 25 years. The first thing I thought when I started reading today was anorexia. It doesn’t mean Katie will develop an eating disorder, but she fits the profile of those that do.

    • Rob Smith says:

      In my line of work, the biggest obstacle that I have to overcome is perfectionists. Perfectionists get to the point where they cannot fail or it is the most painful thing that could happen to them. So they become risk averse and starting avoiding anything that might create failure. I don’t get deep enough with these people to know if they have or ever had eating disorders, but the biggest challenge is to get them to be OK with failing. If you’re not OK with failure, trying something new is very hard to do. Failure is the biggest opportunity for learning and growth that we can ever experience…. even though it can be deeply disappointing and painful. So, if I was to offer any advice to Joe, it would be to teach her to be not only OK with failure, but to embrace it & view it as a gift that enables you to learn and grow. Maybe if she learns this early on, it won’t lead to any of the risk averse behavior that I see so often.

      BTW: I’m a perfectionist too, so it’s a daily struggle. I accept what I’ve said above, and even embrace it. But I still hate failing and do not like the pain it creates at all. I view myself as a recovering perfectionist trying to help others like myself. 🙂

  7. I love this article! And I love Katie’s spirit! I think of the last line of Dr. Zhivago: ‘Ah…then it’s a gift.’

  8. Deb says:

    I predict Katie will become a wonderful teacher in the footsteps of her grandmother. Both my sons refused to leave first grade because there would never, ever be another teacher as wonderful as Mrs. Keller, who had the gift to make education fun, while making sure children understood the importance of working to be their best. And I predict both of your daughters will become smart, accomplished nearly perfect women like their mother and aunt and grandmother, and great-grandmother. Really great genes … and throw in a few kolaches for good measure
    every now and then.

  9. Knuckles says:

    Oh no the worst Joe post ever gets a follow up.

    • invitro says:

      What’s wrong with “Katie the Prefect”?

      • kehnn13 says:

        There was absolutely nothing wrong with Katie the Prefect. It seems that there are some people out there who think that sportswriters should not write stories about anything other than sports.

      • Knuckles says:

        It was the worst thing Ive ever read that other people pretended was well written.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Hey, Knuckles, I didn’t realize that Joe was coming to your home forcing you to read the article. Apparently, you were forced to and then were forced to write a nasty comment about it.

      • Knuckles says:

        Hey its the if you dont like it dont read it guy! Ruining internet comments sections everywhere. Is you read so you must be interested guy posting next? Maybe by clicking on it you are making money for them person will commment next.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          Nah, I just don’t like pricks like you who seem to think that the entire world needs to know how bad they think an article is-yet, they have read it anyway.

          And, here’s the thing. You don’t just say, I didn’t like the article; you say that other people really must not have liked the article.

          People like you add nothing to the world.

  10. Lowell says:

    Great read. Thanks for sharing bits and pieces of your world. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy your blog.

    I’m a teacher. Have been for 23 years. Every day I am inspired by my students – and hope that I can inspire them in some small way as well. So I wish Katie nothing but the best on her journey to becoming a teacher. It’s incredibly difficult work – as my family will attest when I work into the night – but so very rewarding.

    All the best.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      It’s interesting about teaching. I’m an attorney and several years ago my office hired a new attorney who was a former teacher. From talking to her, I got the impression that being a teacher was much harder than being a lawyer (which I already thought)-yet, of course, lawyers make a lot more money. The bizarre thing is that elementary and high school teachers are, I think, often much better teachers than college professors, many of whom teach only so they can publish papers. But, again, it’s the profs who get more money and prestige.

      • invitro says:

        I’ve put my foot in it before about teaching so I guess I’ll do it again. I know one reason why college profs may be poor teachers: the usual freshman- and soph-level material is so massively below most (all?) profs’ levels that teaching it can be quite painful. It was fairly typical for a lot of profs I knew to do a great job teaching senior and grad classes, but be irked by teaching business arithmetic for the seventh time; it’s a real waste of their minds and they can’t help but know it. I think the best teaching situation may be when the teacher is a little more intelligent than the students, but not too much… and I think that describes middle- and high-school teaching. (Personally, the thing I found hardest about teaching was grading. Well, getting a permanent job as a teacher is the real hard part.)

        • Chris K says:

          How is that “putting your foot in it”? That seems like reasonable speculation to me.

        • Patrick says:

          I’ve been an adjunct professor for several years teaching an intro course mainly to freshmen and sophomores. It was a course called “Media Writing” and I was hired because I’d been a journalist for a few years (and, as an alum, had taken the course)

          But as an adjunct, no one was looking at my syllabus and thinking about my course structure. No one stopped in to observe my teaching and offer feedback, and of course, I’d received no training on effective ways to teach. I certainly could have asked for more help, but one professor teaching two sections of one class is not going to be a high priority for anyone (nor should it be necessarily) My first year was not great. I structured the course poorly, and my evals, while they weren’t awful, reflected that.

          Over the years I’ve learned more and with the feedback from students, it’s gotten much better. But if you’re going to rely on adjuncts whose expertise is in the field itself and not in teaching, well, of course the teaching aspect is going to be an issue

          • invitro says:

            Half the four (I know) grad programs I’ve been in had extensive teaching training for the grad students; the other two didn’t. For me, the training was not important; having *support* was: being able to look at other syllabi for the same class, having a prof to check my syllabus and have a designated job of answering all my questions (and I asked a whole lot of questions).

            I think the more appropriate analogy might be not a baseball star being an MLB manager, but rather an MLB star then being a middle-school coach, perhaps at the same time as being an MLB manager. Certainly some bright lights love teaching anything and everything and are just fine with teaching Remedial Spelling, and some intellects can’t teach anything from that up through whatever their current research topic was. But the most common case seemed to be someone like one of my thesis advisors, who considered it a major accomplishment to get to the point where the only courses she was required to teach were senior/grad classes in advanced graph theory (which she taught quite splendidly).

        • Marc Schneider says:

          Schools don’t really care who or how well these lower-level courses are taught. I was a TA when in grad school teaching a required Intro Government course because the school needed another TA to teach the course; all the sections were taught by TAs. The thing is, if you like teaching, I don’t think the level of the material matters. But if you are there to be a scholar whose primary interest is publishing, then you probably aren’t interested in teaching anyway. You have to make an effort to be a good teacher. I don’t doubt that some people are too smart to be good teachers in that they are unable to communicate what they know in the same way that people say great baseball players are often bad managers or coaches.

          • Brian Schwartz says:

            A well-run department assigns its best teachers to the introductory courses. Students never make it to the “important” upper-level courses if they hate their 100-level classes and change their majors.

          • invitro says:

            “A well-run department assigns its best teachers to the introductory courses.” — Is this how it usually works, though? I’ve been in several dept’s, but I only know about them. I’ve spent most of my time in a math dep’t, and of course only a tiny percentage of students taking 100-level math courses are math majors; the math dep’t teaches more students than any other dep’t (at least that was true where I’ve been, there aren’t many math majors, and I’d guess most math majors just place out of or skip the 100-level classes anyway, or at least are in the “honors” courses, which are staffed with the best teachers. Certainly the dep’ts I’ve been in generally assign its best teachers to the classes with the students who’re majoring in that dep’t. I’ve mainly been thinking of classes for out-of-major students. And I think these classes are a low priority for any dep’t, and reasonably so; it seems just that the grad students and undergrad majors should come first, then students majoring in related but different dep’ts, and lastly students from a completely different dep’t (English students in math and vice-versa).

          • Marc Schneider says:

            It’s been many years since I was in college but my experience was more like Invitro’s. And my daughter, who is graduating from college next week, I think would say the same, i.e, that the better teachers are in the upper division courses. Now, my experience as a TA was that a lot of the TAs who were working toward their Ph.Ds (not me, I was getting a masters)were really good teachers, who liked teaching and, of course, were closer in age to the students. You might prefer having a TA who is passionate about teaching to a faculty member who is bored by teaching lower-level course or by teaching in general.

          • invitro says:

            Yes, I guess I haven’t said anything about my own preferences in teachers, perhaps mainly because they didn’t seem to agree with other people’s preferences very often. But I didn’t have any preference for either full professor, assistant professor, grad student, or adjunct. I had some I liked and disliked in each category. If I had a preference, it was probably for intelligence… and high intelligence can come at any age, of course.

  11. bartap74 says:

    I’ve been sharing “Katie the Prefect” with friends for years now. I got excited when I started reading because I thought THAT Katie had come upon the article Joe wrote about her and reached out to him. That’s not what it turned out to be, but it’s still a lovely read. Thanks for sharing, Joe.

  12. shagster says:

    Parenting two different kids. “I get you.”

    “… Stay gold, Katie.”

  13. paul says:

    Love, love, love when you talk about daddy things. I have a son and it’s my favorite conversation topic – how to be a dad, struggles, etc…

    My first thought on what to teach her would be how to handle her expectations for other people. I feel like we have a ‘view’ on how things will turn out when we interact with people.

    For eg. when she’s nice to someone, but someone takes it the wrong way, or is just having a bad day, or….

    Sorry, I know you didn’t ask 😉 I understand your overall point – and know that you know you have a million things to teach her besides the infield fly rule.

    Either way, she sounds like an amazing kid, and she has just the perfect set of parents that she could ;-).

  14. Fan Diego says:

    I can’t believe no one is griping about Joe’s way to eat a Kit Kat.

    The proper way is sneak into the room where you child’s Halloween stash is. Get as many of the fun size Kit Kats that are left (assuming your spouse hasn’t beaten you to the punch). Open all of them, put as many as you can fit in your mouth, and chew. Burn the wrappers in the fire place, bbq grill, or hide in the litter box.

  15. Jeeves says:

    A teacher? What a waste.

  16. Bellhorn says:

    For the hits trivia question I guessed Adrian Beltre:

    200 for LAD in 2004
    199 for Tex in 2013

    I gave myself partial credit…better than a 71, worse than 100.

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