by: Kate Stewart
Fifth-grade Alan told third-grade me, at the ripe age of 7, that I’d make a good grandma. He said it with his nose in the air, his hands on his hips, wearing just the right kind of sneakers—the kind that meant he was going to be popular, play football, and date the pretty girls. He had seen me crocheting on the bus, and he wanted me to know that only smelly old people did that.
Third-grade Kate was confused, and socially inept, the sort of person who didn’t know that sneakers could be cool, and wore Velcro water moccasins in neon shades with Little House on the Prairie dresses. She smiled cheerfully, and took it as a compliment. She had no idea that most girls weren’t making hope chests and planning to take up quilting.
My parents raised me kinda Amish.
I say this a lot. I said it in an interview today. I say it every time I have to explain that I don’t know what Seinfeld is, that I quilted that blanket, sewed this skirt.
To be clear, my parents aren’t Amish. I’ve never worn a bonnet, I can drive, and I’ve owned a cell phone since high school. My parents aren’t especially religious, and would probably resent the comparison with a people they find overprotective, closeted, and backwards.
But, Amish is the right adjective for everyone else. It means I get a pass on being unable to work a T.V. remote, on sprinting across the bakery where I work to pull a fork out of the microwave, again. It means that when I say ‘context?’ someone who knows me will explain who Mick Jagger is, or Wolf Blitzer.
People rarely ask for an explanation after I say Amish. It gives them enough of a picture, an explanation that blankets any manifestations of my social confusion. But when they do, I have to offer a lot of qualifications. Growing up, I didn’t have a television. No microwave. My allowance came in the form of coins until I was in high school. Beyond a pair of sandals and a pair of tennis shoes, three pairs of pants and eight to ten shirts, I bought my own clothes. Camisoles could not have lace. No high-heels, no tight jeans, no bikinis. We cooked our food from scratch. Homeopathy, herbal supplements, and a form of applied kinesiology called BodyTalk were how we treated sickness.
Let me say it again. My parents are not religious. As far as I can tell, they just live about 50 years in the past.
Since I moved out of the house, I’ve taught myself how to pass for normal. I can walk in high heels, pick out reasonably stylish clothing, and recognize most major celebrities and politicians. I bought something online for the first time last year. I’ve made a microwave meal. I don’t hide my antiperspirant (verboten while growing up), and I go to a gym. My camisoles have lace, and I think I look okay in a bikini. I go by a different name than I do when I go home. In short, I’ve created a completely different identity.
My parents didn’t do anything awful. In fact, I think they raised me well. I’m incredibly self-sufficient. I can make a meal out of nearly any ingredients, I rarely buy anything unless I badly need it, and I can always tailor my clothes to fit better.
But I simply cannot understand the people around me. I mix up Adderall and Advil. I keep long lists of people and things to look up. (Googling Jenna Jameson is a terrible idea). Eating what most people would call “normal” food can make me extremely ill, and fast food is out of the question.
Explaining this makes for a good conversation. People get engaged. It’s always fascinating to hear about someone weird. But what about the second conversation? The one where my childhood isn’t interesting, where I can’t relate or discuss music or sports or pop culture in any form?
Kate Donovan is an outspoken atheist, feminist, demisexual, stigma-smashing student in Chicago studying psychology and human development. She juggles occasionally, would knit you something warm if she knew you, and reads anything she can get her hands on. She was raised believing alternative medicine worked, and now spends her time making skeptical faces at it. She contributes at Teen Skepchicks (http://teenskepchick.org/) and the Friendly Atheist blog (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/), and you can find her on Twitter at @donovanable