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the last word

Welcome To Cathattan As Her Daughter Builds A Mini Metropolis, One Local Mom Discovers An Unexpected Life Lesson

“How many more blocks is it?” My 6-year-old daughter’s words teeter precariously close to The Whining Zone. It’s Friday, the end of a week that seemed longer than others. We’re walking home from a playdate. I almost turn the question into a teachable moment (such a wince-inducing phrase) to reinforce those math skills. But I don’t. I stop. I block myself. “Five,” I say. Up ahead, large blocks of concrete (or other sufficiently hard material) make up the structure we call home. “Can you see our building?” “Ooh! I can!” she says. Home’s proximity knocks on her mind’s door, enters and energizes her. She starts to skip. I keep her tethered, my grip on her hand tighter than needed. Others march past us, carrying tonight’s dinner, burdens, cares. “Mailboxes,” she says, motioning with her chin. I see the blue letter portal ahead, another missing element she must add to It. The It in question is a permanent fixture that she’s built atop her bookcase at home. It takes up the length of her room. It has, among other things, five apartment buildings, a water filtration system, and a sushi restaurant. Rumor has it a Trader Joe’s is coming soon. It is Kitty City, also known as Cathattan. Current population: 41 cat Squinkies, 17 Hello Kitty figurines. She built Kitty City with, among other things, 12 empty Kleenex boxes, 30 old paper towel tubes, nine Starbucks cups, one Rubik’s Cube, and 23 rolls of tape. “Of course, mailboxes,” I respond. “What will you use to make ‘em?” She shrugs. She doesn’t know…yet. At home, dinner is scarfed, PJs are donned, snuggles begin on the couch. “Only one show,” I say, dictating another block—this one of time. “Three.” “One, babe. It’s late.” “Two?” This time she remembers to add, “Please?” “One and a half.” She thinks. “Deal.” One show ends. A half of one show ends. We cuddle in her bed. The sound machine flicked on to block noise. The curtains closed to block light.

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New York Family | October 2013

The comforter pulled up to block chill. I say I love you, twice, then once more, to block any doubt she may have that I do. In the kitchen, it happens again. The race that is repeated many times, daily. Anxious thoughts speeding to that familiar part of my mind, finding the infinitely tall tower, built with blocks of fear and tiles of guilt. At its center, constantly flashing: a neon-bright beacon of worry. I pour myself a glass of wine. Over the years, there have been a few short visits of depression. Thankfully, it is not a usual guest. “Maaaa-maaaa!” She beckons from her bed. I’m at her doorway. “You know Daddy’s floss?” Her voice lassos my wrist and gently tugs me into the room. “Yeah?” “The green flip container thingy it comes in. I could use that for mailboxes.” “Great idea, babe.” I kiss her. “It’s time for sleep though.” I carefully navigate another structure on the floor: the Island of Meow-Meow, where Kitty City citizens vacation. As I pass, a few wooden blocks wobble. Through tired eyes, she sees this. “You know, it’s good to knock the blocks down, Mama.” “Oh?” “I can rebuild anything,” she says. “And make it even better. Like you always tell me.” I laugh a little. “Glad you were listening, babe.” I pull on the door until she gives me a thumb’s up; the proper open-shut ratio has been reached. It’s good to knock the blocks down, Mama. I replay her words, to remember when I encounter my own blocks—those invisible ones that seem too big, too permanent to topple. Not how I thought it would happen, or who I thought it would happen to, yet there was a teachable moment tonight. I don’t wince. Heather Chaet lives on the UWS with her filmmaker husband and cat-obsessed daughter. Read more of her work at newyorkfamily.com and heatherchaet.com. www.newyorkfamily.com

Illustration by Justin Winslow

By Heather Chaet


New York Family October 2013