Friday, November 20, 2015

Paris, Syria, and courage: a brain dump

I wrote most of this on the Tuesday after the Paris attacks. I spent the last few days deciding if I should edit to make it... well, better-written... but I decided not to. So here it is:

I spent at least some of Monday holding back tears. And yes, at least once it was because of the new Adele song, but mostly it was because of everything that is happening far away - Paris, Beirut, Syria. And as if that's not hard enough to stomach, I live in a privileged country full of people who don't realize their privilege, and if they do, they certainly don't want to share it. And we have the news, where people with money are given a voice, and social media, where EVERYONE is given a voice, and I'm not hearing or reading much that is making anything better.

I bet there is a word for what I'm feeling, but I don't know what it is. Despair seems insensitive, in light of the source of the feeling. Frustrated isn't adequate. Heartbroken? Maybe. Hopeless... Hopeless is close. Heartsick. Sad.

I remember the Sunday after the shooting at Sandy Hook, which Anne Lamott called "the end of the world," I went to church. To me, a belief in God doesn't mean anything unless it makes you a better person than you might otherwise be, unless it teaches you how to BE with others. The idea the pastor expressed that Sunday was that so many people were asking, "How could God let this happen?" and the answer was that God was asking the same thing: "How could YOU let this happen?"

It's on us. All of this, everything that happens on this planet, the only habitable planet as far as time can tell... it's on us. And we are fucking it up, royally.

Religion - a belief in something bigger than you - has the power to do so much good, and yet in our hands, it does exactly the opposite. THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS. After spending a lifetime believing in God and going to church, at times more frequently than others, I am presently in a tenuous relationship with religion and I guess with God. I still think a strong faith can be good, as long as the believer does good with it. (Of course, different believers think different things are good and different things are evil... so it's really just a mess.) Pray for Paris? No. We don't need more religion. We don't need more prayers. It's on YOU. It's up to YOU to make a difference.

And who can we look to? Fred Rogers' mom told him to look for the helpers. Okay. We have all of these governors in America, the land of the free and the BRAVE, saying they won't accept any Syrian refugees. Let's forget about the fact that Mary and Joseph were a Middle Eastern couple looking for shelter. Let's just not even mention that. Instead, let's look at this quote, from FDR: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear." I tell my kids this all the time. "Being brave isn't about not being afraid. It's about being afraid but doing it anyway." This is where we need to step up. This is what my pastor was talking about. This is the stuff we have to do. It's okay to be afraid, but we have to go on anyway and do what is right.

We are so far removed from what is happening anywhere else but here. We are so LUCKY, and we forget it all the time. I almost bitched to a co-worker this morning about somebody taking up two spots in the parking lot and thereby forcing me to park 3 blocks away, and I stopped myself, because REALLY, KATIE?

So maybe this is the difference to be made, for me. Maybe I just work harder to practice a little gratitude. A little compassion. At the end of the day, we are all made of the same space dust. You and me and the guys who blew themselves up in Paris. The people escaping terror and civil war in Syria. We're all the same, just a collection of cells and codes and patterns, more alike than we are different. So maybe I just embrace my own humanity a little better. I'll work on teaching my kids to be good people. And yes, I donated and will continue to donate, but I will also try to remember: remember how lucky I am, remember how brief my time is here.

What will you do?

Donate to UNHCR here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Invisible String

The Invisible String is a children's book that I know we have read to Maddie but I'm not sure when. We certainly haven't read it in awhile - we don't own the book, so it's probably been over 6 months. They may have read it at school, but I think it was at the beginning of the year.  

Here's a little bit about the story from Amazon: 

"That's impossible", said twins Liza after their Mom told them they're all connected by this thing called an Invisible String. "What kind of string"? They asked with a puzzled look to which Mom replied, "An Invisible String made of love." That's where the story begins. A story that teaches of the tie that really binds. The Invisible String reaches from heart to heart. Does everybody have an Invisible String? How far does it reach, anyway? Does it ever go away?"
Maddie has been touch-and-go with drop off lately. Some days are hard. Some days are fine. Some days, she skips into the building, waving. Other days, she holds back tears. Still other days, she can't hold them back and they pour out of her.

This kindergarten thing is no joke.

Her teacher has told us that her biggest issue at school is that she's not taking her time, that she is always saying, "I miss my moms," and her day is all about just getting through it to come home. So since then, every day, I tell her to take her time and do her best, and I tell her how proud I am of her, and I remind her of how brave she is. I try to remind her of something exciting coming up, like soccer or girl scouts or pumpkin carving.

Yesterday, I was able to see her in class, helping another student who was having trouble writing his numbers. So last night, I told her how proud I was of her for being a good friend to him, for being helpful, and that it's important that we treat other people how we want to be treated. She is actually a pretty shy kid, and she is the youngest in her class, so I was impressed to see her on the way to school this morning saying hi to at least 5 kids who were also walking to school. "Hi Tyler!" "Hi Sophia!" "Hi Finn!"

She seemed to be in a good mood, so I had a good feeling about drop off. Sure enough, as I was leaving, I was about 15 paces away from her, she turned and looked at me and made a motion with her hands like she was pulling something near her heart, and she said, "Do you feel my string?"

That. Kid.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

So THIS is what it feels like.

There was a time I thought I could be a stay at home mom. I fantasized about the idea of getting to spend all day with the kids I was dreaming about, teaching them everything, playing with them, taking them to farmers markets and watching them feast on fresh fruit that they craved, doing art projects with them, and taking lots of pictures of all of this and putting those photos in organized albums and showing the kids those albums on rainy days.

And then I had kids. Or... in my case, GOT kids. 

And also? It doesn't rain here.

So I haven't had even the tiniest urge to stay at home with my children since they became my children. This isn't a lack of love. In fact, it's love that makes me know I need to be away from them during the day so that I can tolerate them at night. They are beautiful, perfect girls, and I love them so much it makes my heart ache, but they are difficult and stubborn. And, it turns out, so am I. And life is incredibly difficult and isn't what you see on Pinterest or even Facebook. 

Something else I've learned about myself is I like working. And I think it's important for my kids to see me happy and fulfilled, and for me, having a career is part of that. This is also why I don't feel guilty for taking a sketch-writing class, or taking a full Saturday away from them to direct a play for an instant theatre night. I know I need to be creative in order to be happy, and I want my kids to have a happy mom. 

I was not a happy mom this morning.

This has been a big transition week for us. Isabella started at a new pre-school and Maddie started summer camp at one of the elementary schools in our new neighborhood. Isabella has taken to her pre-school like a duck to water, but the transition has been a little more difficult for Maddie. Maddie is a creature of habit and structure. Those are the things she needs for her life to make sense to her. I have started her at a daycare and then a pre-school, and I have never had any real qualms about leaving her at those places. I knew both places well, I knew how their days were structured, and I knew she would thrive there and I was right. And I love being right.

She starts kindergarten in August and I've been EXCITED for this. People have asked me if I'm "ready" for it, and I'm always like, YES, I'm ready. Are you kidding? She's going to learn how to READ and we get to shop for school supplies! This is going to be amazing! I've gotten her excited about it. Any time anyone asks her about it, she grins widely and starts jumping up and down: "I'M GOING TO KINDERGARTEN!" I didn't understand why everyone was asking me if I was ready for it, or if I was okay with it.

And then we dropped her off at her first day of summer camp. Gone were the gentle pre-school teachers who bent down to say hello to her and held her hand into the classroom. Gone were all the kids littler than her, younger than her. She was the youngest there on the first day we dropped her off and the classroom was FULL of kids of all ages, up to maybe 10. The teachers were really just monitoring their activity. We had to sort of encourage one of the teachers to take Maddie under her wing so she was okay with us leaving. They assured us that she would break off into her own class with kids her own age at 10am, and that this zoo of a classroom was only a morning and late afternoon thing.

It occurred to me that day that this would be her life now. She's a kid. She's not a baby. This is the deal. And we picked her up that day and she'd had SO MUCH FUN and she was exhausted because GUESS WHAT? THEY DON'T MAKE THEM NAP! (HASHTAG AMAZING) She couldn't tell us about any friends she'd made, but she did say she had fun, so yay! No more worrying on my part!

And then this morning happened. She had a rough morning. Which made Gina and I have a rough morning. (Oh and also, Gina and I didn't sleep well last night, and not for any fun reason, just because sleep can sometimes be an elusive bitch.) She told me she didn't want to go to summer camp because it's "too long." (That's where the lack of a nap is biting us in the ass - she's at summer camp the same amount of time she was at pre-school, but now she's not sleeping through any of it.) So when I dropped her off this morning, I hugged her and she held on tighter than usual and told me she didn't want me to leave. I finally got her to walk away from me, and Isabella and I made it all the way up the hill and almost to the car when I heard Maddie SCREAMING for me. I turned around and saw her running toward me with her arms out, screaming "MOMMY! MOMMY!" The teacher explained, "She said she didn't get to say goodbye to you." So I picked her up and held her and she cried and said she doesn't want to go to summer camp anymore, she wanted to go home, she didn't want me to leave, and on and on and on. This lasted for maybe 10 minutes. She's never been this reluctant to leave me, ever. And when I finally got her to let me leave, she walked back to the classroom with her teacher, crying for me still, and I had to walk away from her, and I was crying, and some dad said hi to me and my broken voice managed a "hi" back but I'm SURE he knew I was crying... 

And what I felt in that moment was guilt. Full mommy guilt, unlike anything I've felt before. Sure, I've felt like I'm doing the mom thing all wrong. That's not what this was. This was me feeling like she needed ME and I couldn't be there for her. This was me, for the first time, wishing I could stay home with her during the summer, wishing I could let her have a lazy summer before kindergarten, watching cartoons and playing outside and going swimming. Wishing I could let her have ME all to herself. That is all she wants. And I'll probably never be able to give that to her. I know it'll get easier. I know she just needs to get used to this new place and new friends. And I know this is what the rest of her life will be like. She'll be in new places plenty of times, and will need to use what she's been taught by US to manage those situations. 

Still - this is not an easy day.

First day of summer camp - 6/16/15

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mother's Day: Year 2

It doesn't seem like a year ago that I posted this about my first Mother's Day as a real mom. At the same time, it somehow seems like a lifetime ago, because my life has changed so dramatically since then, and nowhere moreso than in the Motherhood Department. I remember then being overwhelmed and frustrated, but joyful and thankful and most importantly: in control.

That has changed, of course. If you think parenting an 18-month-old is hard, imagine adding a 2.5 year old suddenly to the mix. It's sort of like that science experiment you did in middle school (or in my case, you saw someone do on TV) where you pour the vinegar into the volcano and it "explodes." It's that - with human beings. I think everyone's journey to motherhood is different, and everyone's experience as a mom is different, but I find that MY experience seems especially different in that there are very few - if any - people I know that became mothers in a similar way to me. And I know every mom's life is full of "shoulds" - I should feel this way, I should do this, I should think that, this should happen this way - but sometimes I feel like I'm drowning in shoulds, shoulds that I can't even say out loud, shoulds I think no one else (except Gina, of course) could possibly ever understand.

But here's what I've learned over the last year - it doesn't matter what the shoulds are, because life keeps moving forward. The girls keep growing - they keep entering and exiting developmental phases, and then sometimes entering them again. But this is how it is. This is what we have, and WE are what THEY have. I am what they have. I'm tired. I feel never-enough. I feel a million things at once and sometimes nothing at all. And the whole time, they are just here, growing and changing - emotionally, physically, mentally. They say things like, "Mommy, your nails are so beautiful," and "Come to me, mommy," and "Fuck."

Yep. I'm sure I'm doing a million things wrong, but somewhere in there, something is right.


Monday, March 17, 2014


Conversation with Gina yesterday in Target:

Katie (passing the baby section): I know it's only been 2 days since we've declared Isabella potty trained, but baby fever struck me the MOMENT I realized she's pretty much out of diapers. Like... it's suddenly as bad as it was when we didn't have any kids at all.

Gina: (laughing) Yeah, I get it. 


Gina: (dead serious) But we do. Have kids. A lot. All the time.

Friday, March 14, 2014

What is this feeling?

I’m having that feeling again. A feeling which is not unfamiliar but not nearly familiar enough. It creeps up when I’m reading a particularly great book, or feeling inspired by a great article or interview, or listening to a new song I’ve just discovered that is lyrically perfect, often in its deceptive simplicity. All of those things have happened just recently, all at once: the great book is Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt – the metaphors! The word choice! The ridiculously rich main character, so complex and layered and flawed! I’m about halfway through the book and am obsessed!; the interview is the GIRLS panel last night at the Academy – envy at their youth and envy that they’re CREATING, and something that I think is pretty great at that; and the song is I Don’t Wanna Break by Christina Perri -  “I just wanna love you, don’t wanna lose me, don’t wanna lose you, if it gets harder then I don’t wanna break all alone…” sometimes a song just takes you to a time in your life and you combine the lyrics with a catchy tune and it throws you, quick and rough-like.

The overture to this was waking up one morning a few days ago before everyone in my house was awake, and the windows were open and it smelled like summer at dawn. The birds were chirping and the blue-gray light bled all over my living room, and I felt a surge of possibility.

So what is this feeling? Well. It’s this: I want to read all of the books – fiction, non-fiction, short fiction, flash-fiction, novellas. I want to read your journal. Yep, yours. I want to watch all of the movies and television shows. I want to consume all of the comic books and graphic novels. I want to see all of the paintings in all of the museums. I want to go to all of the panels, I want to be obsessed with everything that’s ever been created. I want to hear all of the music and read all of the lyrics. I want to read all of the poetry, maybe even memorize it. I want to discover all of the new bands and I want to go to the open-mic nights and I want to see all of the comics. I want to re-read all of my favorite books all at once.  I want to have lunch with you, all of you, one at at time and I want you to tell me about everything interesting that’s ever happened to you.

I want to write. I want to find stories to tell, and tell them. I want to create things people are obsessed with. I want to create things I’M obsessed with. I want to take pictures and learn photoshop and print pictures and frame them and hang them up. I want to figure out how to put into words how beautiful my girlfriend is, I want to find the right word to describe the color of her eyes. I want to write down every single word that I love, and I want to figure out how to use them in something I write. I want to learn how to construct metaphors – can that be taught? I want to blog and tumble and tweet. I want to take classes, go back to school to be all of the things I ever wanted to be – doctor, lawyer, writer, teacher, astronomer, marine biologist, actor. Filmmaker. Screenwriter. I want someone to shackle my ankles to a chair in front of a desk in a quiet room with a computer and force me to sit there for 4 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours, however long it takes until I’ve written something worth working on a second time, a “shitty first draft.”

I want to make sense of everything.

Of course, there is never time for this. Not for all of this, anyway. But there has to be time for SOME of it, right? If I could bottle this feeling, it would change my life. For now, I just let myself feel it, and let it move me to tears just a bit, and hope that if I keep reading and listening and working and writing – even just a little bit – the feeling won’t be so much of a stranger.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Brown-eyed Girl

"I want blue eyes like Isabella."

I couldn't understand what she was saying at first. Maddie always wants what Isabella has, and usually gets it because she's difficult to reason with (because THREE YEARS OLD and AUNT OF THE YEAR). We were out to dinner, and I thought she was saying blue ice, a la Walter White, but it didn't make any sense because no one had any blue ice.  No one had any blue anything - we were at a Mexican hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The Corona label was blue, but nothing else.

She pointed to Isabella's face. "No, I want blue eyes like Isabella." She asked for it as though she wanted the same kind of plate Isabella had, or the same stuffed animal, as though it was something I could easily give her, and why wouldn't I, because she had asked so politely?

I hugged her. "Oh honey, you have brown eyes. You have beautiful, perfect brown eyes."

Her lip quivered and she looked into MY eyes. "No, I want BLUE eyes like Aunt Katie and Isabella." I pointed out that Aunt Gina has brown eyes too, but that wasn't good enough for her in that moment. She cried real tears at the inability to pick her eye color. Gina suggested we ask Dr. Jordan the next time we see her if she and Isabella can switch eyes, and I said I'd pretend to switch with her right now. She (magically) calmed down.

I'm not ready for this. I'm not anywhere near ready to hear this perfect little girl complain about her body in any way. And about her eyes of all things! Arguably one of her best features. Shaped like her mother's and the color of her father's, they are large and deep and expressive.  They are the strongest indicator of her mixed ethnicity. She's all big-and-round-headed just like her mom and her aunts were when they were babies, and she's got the chubby cheeks and the ridiculous grin we all had too, but her eyes - they are what set her apart, in the best way. They are the brown eyes people write about and sings songs about. When she's an adult (like 30 or so, because she's not allowed to date before then), her partners will fall in love with those eyes.  I fell in love with those eyes the minute I met her. And no matter how big she gets, no matter how far away from me she is, whenever I see her, I'll be able to look into those eyes and remember the little girl that changed my life and made me whole.

I'd try to reach up and grab a star for her if she asked, but I'd never change her eyes to blue even if I could, no matter how much she begged. They're just too perfect as is, and I know I won't be the last to tell her.