GOOD-BYE KITTY

 

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At Christmas time I move through stores on autopilot always hoping something will jump out and say, “Buy me!” I want the object to make me feel like I have to purchase it. For a long time there were a lot of products telling me to buy them for Quinn.

Going into my downstairs bathroom I am reminded of one of these earlier purchases. There in the corner of the soap rack, a rubber, pink bath-robed Hello Kitty toy hangs on. It’s covered in years of soap film and I periodically wash her down and prop her back up into position. When we had the bathroom renovated about eight years ago she was the first thing we bought for the new bathroom. She originally fit snugly over the top of some pink shampoo. The plumber polishing the grout off the tiles asked me about her.

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“Who’s that?”

“Hello Kitty.”

“What kitty?”

“No, Hello Kitty,” I said more slowly. “It’s a brand. Well, she’s a cat and they make a lot of products with her picture on it. Quinn loves Hello Kitty.”

He scratched his head and continued polishing. “Well I never heard of her. I’ll have to ask my daughter if she has.”

“I bet she has,” I added, knowing his daughter and mine were only a year apart.

Before he left for the day he checked in with what was left on the job and said he would return the next day to finish up. Then he said, “Hello Kitty right?”

“Right, Hello Kitty.”

“And you say I can find her on lots of things.”

“Absolutely.”

The truth is once you start looking for Hello Kitty items you can’t stop finding them. Which was good because Quinn loved Hello Kitty. She had acquired several t-shirts emblazoned with the squat little cat, lunch boxes, lamps, jewelry, socks, backpacks, pencil cases, tissue boxes, hair clips, and dozens of toys.

When Quinn was less than three we happened upon a Sanrio exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.  Quinn came face to face with a live Hello Kitty and fearlessly plunged into her arms. This cemented the beginning of a long and loving relationship.IMG_1399 Initially Hello Kitty products were harder to find. We used to travel to Chinatown and visit the Sanrio store on Mott Street. One of us would distract a young Quinn while the other purchased a special item for Christmas like a Hello Kitty suitcase. When we found anything to do with Hello Kitty we bought it because we believed it was special.

Just as Quinn’s fondness mushroomed, Hello Kitty’s popularity soared nationwide and she was available for the taking. Oddly, Quinn was largely alone in her fascination for the white cat among her immediate friends. Which might explain why the plumber with a young daughter had never heard of the character. When Quinn had a birthday party you could be sure that the majority of the gifts from her friends had something to do with Hello Kitty. To know Quinn was to know her love of this character.

When we first moved to the lake house, McDonalds was having a Hello Kitty Happy Meal promotion. For eight weeks they handed out a different Hello Kitty keychain. It was the only time in memory we ate there. We ordered a Happy Meal and ate the fries but threw the burger away so we could have the key chain. A friend explained to us on the third week, “you don’t have to buy the meal, just buy the toy.”

She had DVD’s which told of animated exploits of the little animal and featured her twin sister, Mimmy. The only distinguishable feature between the two was Hello Kitty had a red bow and Mimmy had a yellow bow. Kitty was an extrovert and Mimmy was an introvert. In one story Kitty convinces herself that her mother doesn’t love her and runs away only to discover nothing could be further from the truth. The episode was title “Mommy really loves me after all.” However, whenever Quinn was mad at me it was often referred to as, “Mommy doesn’t love me after all.”kitty-and-mimmy

According to Sanrio, Hello Kitty yields over six hundred million dollars in revenue from over 80,000 different Hello Kitty branded products in more than 60 countries. That’s a lot of Hello Kitty. Maybe if we had known this, we might have stopped buying Hello Kitty products and accepted that our quest was futile. Sometime around 2003 when Quinn was ten she really owned enough but nobody took much notice, including her.

The products continued to pour into her small bedroom. When she was in the eighth grade Rob took Jackson to Miami to sing in an honors choir. Rob had a lot of hours to fill while Jackson was rehearsing, and besides photographing he shopped and returned home with a large plastic Hello Kitty alarm clock.kitty

As he was setting up the clock, Rob said, “I knew when I saw it, Quinn had to have it.” Hello Kitty was coming out of an enormous teacup and a slice of lemon lit up when the alarm went off. It took up most of the available space on her on her nightstand.

She was thirteen and still liked toys, but I think I detected a bit of the flame for Hello Kitty starting to dim with the arrival of the clock. On the following birthday her best friend gave her a large Hello Kitty lamp which we immediately set up, but she made no future mention of it. It went on this way for a while. Each time someone in our circle saw a new Hello Kitty product they thought of Quinn and bought it for her. The next year we bought her a fancy Hello Kitty watch. I think she wore it half a dozen times. I languished in a drawer before I took it over and started wearing to work. Some of my middle school students fawned over it and wished they owned one. I soon stopped wearing it as well.

The following Christmas we went to a Kay Jewelry store to buy a Hello Kitty pendant necklace. It was cute and small and we believed represented a more grown-up version of the character. We discovered the cost was over a hundred and fifty dollars and left without buying it. I decided to feel Quinn out.

“Oh look at this pretty necklace,” I said, pointing out the object in a sales flyer.

“Please don’t buy that for me,” she said.

“Really?”

“Really.”

On her next birthday her cousin dropped off a large stuffed Build-A-Bear Hello Kitty that talked. “Is she kidding?” Quinn complained rolling her eyes. She never took it out of the box.21948Alt1LR

I had to admit it was an odd gift for a sixteen-year-old but in all fairness Quinn had never announced the infatuation was over. It had been over for a few years but maybe she didn’t have the heart to tell anyone. She had long stopped asking for these items, but people assumed once in love always in love. And they were so damn easy to find now.

When she cleaned out her room all of the Hello Kitty items were piled into a box and sold at a tag sale or given away. The small items were brought into my classroom and placed inside my prize box.

“You have an awful lot of Hello Kitty things in here,” a sixth grade girl remarked as she picked over her choices.

“Yes, that’s true,” I said. “Do you like Hello Kitty?”

“Not really,” she said.

Lots of people have childhood attachments to characters and retain a few of those things into adulthood. Rob’s niece loved the character Snoopy as a little girl and still appreciates receiving birthday cards with his image on them. Not Quinn. The shampoo cap is the only thing that remains because I can’t bring myself to toss it. I still have to stop Rob from buying anything Hello Kitty. He see’s one and say’s “Oh look,” and then stops himself. We remind ourselves that Hello Kitty is no longer part of our lives and we move on. They still talk to us but we’re trying really hard not to listen.

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MY CHILDREN MY SELF

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Before junior high I always felt like a girl inside but to many strangers I looked like a boy. Unless I was in school or church clothes, both of which required a dress, I wore dungarees, sneakers, t- shirts and sweat shirts and I had very short hair. It was the 1960’s and when many girls my age had long hair my mother insisted on keeping mine very short. I was the only one of my sisters who befell this fate on a consistent basis year after year until I entered eighth grade and she backed off and let me decide how to wear my own hair. My high school freshman yearbook photo shows an adolescent working hard to grow out short hair. This class photo from my kindergarten class gives you a pretty good idea how different I looked from other girls. I am second from the right in the back row next to the teacher. It also shows you who the photographer felt should not be in the front row.

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When I had children of my own I remember looking at photos of me and my young son at various ages and it was remarkable how similar we appeared. Jackson and I have small close set eyes and big ears that stick out a little at the top. So I usually kept his hair a bit longer. It was a reaction to my own insecurity that developed spending a decade with my ears exposed.

“See how much he resembles me?” I would ask people when I placed our pictures side by side from similar ages. When Jackson was in the fourth grade he started wearing glasses and then puberty started and any obvious similarity ended.

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Conversely I have perpetuated the belief that my daughter looks nothing like me. I have always resembled my own mother to a certain extent and I was surprised when she did not. Instead she resembles my husband’s sister except in coloring. She has large, wide eyes and a small nose and ears. She recently measured her face according to the golden section in a math class and discovered that the proportions of her face were “perfect.”Image

I added this item to the long list of things my daughter and I will never have in common. For example I always hated school and she seemed wired to succeed at it from birth. She was a pretty natural swimmer and I struggled throughout my childhood to learn the skill. She read early and often and I didn’t pick up the habit until I was almost seventeen. These are the things that sit at the forefront of my brain when I think about my daughter being connected to me. It’s as if she could do so much better than be like me.

Quinnie’s enduring hairstyle throughout childhood has been to part it on the side without bangs and cut it blunt across her shoulders. This isn’t terribly interesting except I recently uncovered a colored snapshot of me taken in 1967 when I was in the third grade.(Note the date on border. Film took a long time to get developed in our house.) The photo stopped me in my tracks. It reveals the one small window in my entire childhood when I had somehow managed to grow my hair to my shoulders before my mother shuffled me back to the hairdresser for my routine pixie.

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When I look at both of these eight year old girls I see the things the viewer cannot. Our difference in age is exactly the same as my mother’s and mine. We are both the youngest and have a deep fondness for little things like fairies, trolls and gnomes. I see our imaginative selves that wrote poems and drew expressive people dressed up in fancy clothes or the beginnings of countless comic strips where girlfriends said banal things to one another. I see our love of Little House on the Prairie books and the caretaking of numerous dolls that needed more attention than we each had time to offer. I see  both our childhoods played out against an exurban backdrop.Image

I remember longing for the late afternoon to arrive so school could end or the Saturday chores were finally over and my mother would relax and serve a late day snack, free from the pressures of housework. I recently learned Quinn’s least favorite time of day is between 1 and 3 PM. She has always had a longing for a little four o’clock tea and biscuit which helps transition her into the evening. I suppose I encouraged and nurtured this habit.

I can’t say anymore that we are more different than the same or we never resembled one another. The pictures reveal that what we believe and what we remember aren’t always reliable indicators of the truth.