The Shape of Her Life

Kage Baker was strongly shaped by the habits of her childhood.

She wasn’t a proponent of all the hoary axioms of parenting. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. Give me a child until he is 7 years old, and I will give you the man. Spare the rod and spoil the child. It takes a village … as the second-oldest survivor of 7 children (plus assorted bonus strays like me) Kage saw just about every system of child-rearing tried out in her mother’s house. She felt they all worked – or didn’t – with about equal success.

Treat your children well struck Kage as the best idea. She was well into her own adulthood when she realized the lyrics to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song are actually TEACH your children well, but she said that confusion over what rock and roll lyrics said did not diminish what you thought you’d learned from them.

And anyway, the sum of her own child-raising philosophy was probably best described by Mehitabel the Cat’s impassioned cry of Where did all these damned kittens come from?  If you were the eldest of half a dozen children, you’d probably have felt the same way …

Regardless of whether or not there was any plan being followed in raising Kage and her siblings, she kept the shape those early years gave her all her life. The way it was then was, pretty much, the way she thought the world ought to go. This ranged from the responsibility of taking care of anyone younger and small than yourself, to the cosmic necessity of Kage always having dibs on the red Popsicle. (We used to buy packs of exclusively cherry ices, to avoid unbalancing the Universe with the chance she’d have to eat an orange one.)

For example, Kage never changed her personal time scale to accommodate the loss of summer vacation. You spend the first 18 years of your life running around feral from June to September, and it’s very hard to suddenly change it completely. Yeah, I know millions of people do it, but … in their heart of hearts, I bet they hate it. Kage would certainly have bet that. She didn’t see why anyone would do that meekly and without complaint – she never, ever did.

Consequently, our summers were dedicated – not to sloth, of which Kage was but an infrequent fan – but to adventure. Summer was when we most frequently traveled. For over 30 years, it was when we did Renaissance Faires, and that was a process that turned weekends into time-altered spans of (by relativistic standards) 4 or 5 days; when days lasted 1000 hours, and the light came down from other worlds through 400-year old oak trees.

Even when she was working her 40-hours-a-week prison shifts in the Pink Collar Ghetto, summer was for tropical clothes and no shoes outside the office. Ice cream for dinner, lounging in silk pajamas, fans with blades carved like palm fronds. Fans of real palm fronds.  Lots of drinks with ice. We always had heavy-duty food processors, so Kage could always have properly crushed ice. Also, paper parasols, plastic swords and dolphins, and maraschino cherries. I think it hardly mattered what she drank, as long as there was a swizzle thing in it, and a couple of maraschino cherries.

Mind you, Christmas break was strictly observed as well. But not as much, not as devotedly. For one thing, most companies do shut down, for anywhere from a day to a fortnight. And when you’re engaged in Extreme Christmas every weekend, the season is an unending delirium anyway.

The one that mattered was Summer break. The year ran for 9 months, like a pregnancy: then you were born into the Summer Lands, and spent a season in paradise. That was the proper way to do it.

It may have been one of the reasons Kage became a writer in the first place. She wanted to be the mistress of her own time, to work at home and follow that rhythm that had shaped her days from the age of barely 5. And she succeeded, too.

Tomorrow, here in Los Angeles, the teachers of the LAUSD go back to school; in fact, all over most of California. The unhappy children follow in a day or two. I have friends who are teachers and friends who are school children from one end the state to the other – I grieve for all of them tonight. It’s only half past August! The crepe myrtles aren’t even in bloom yet! There are still idiots shooting off leftover 4th of July fireworks every night!

Kage would not approve. She’d have fixed herself a gin and tonic in her glass that had tropical fish embedded in it, and raised an admonitory toast to the State of California, that is risking so much by tempting the order of the Universe like this.  Because it’s not even September, and there is plenty of time left for the state to cook up more fires, and earthquakes, and dust storms, and locust swarms.

It doesn’t pay to mess with the ancient cycles, you know.


About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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