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.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Merry Christmas from the depths of my anger

Christmas Eve 2012, our first with Isabella, found me at the CVS Minute Clinic getting tested for strep throat. I remember still having the thought that I'd make it to the 11:00 church service that night. Of course I did not make it, instead downing tea and whiskey trying not to make that the Christmas of the Needley Throat. In the exhaustion of the next day's events (and feeling the stress of the past month finally lifting from me), I cried to my mom about how grateful I was that she and my dad, despite never having a ton of cash, ALWAYS found ways to give us wonderful, memorable Christmases. My first Christmas as a mom was my most exhausting one, no doubt, but the joy I felt Christmas morning was so unlike anything I'd ever known, it left me a sobbing mess.

This year, with two kids living with us, I knew Christmas would be a little more stressful, but I knew Christmas morning would come and I'd have double the high. In 2013, we officially joined All Saints Church in Pasadena, and we actually started making church part of our weekly routine in September, so for the first time since I left Ohio 13.5 yrs ago, I had a church in my new hometown to not only go to on Christmas Eve, but one where I felt HOME. Some of my favorite Christmas memories include church on Christmas Eve, and I was excited to take the girls this year.

I know all of you other moms have impeccably organized calendars, white boards full of reminders about who is to be where and when, and you rarely if ever mess up a time somewhere. I'm not that mom, despite my best efforts. So I thought the family service on Christmas Eve was at 5:30. That was the plan, to take the girls to the 5:30 service. 

All Saints is a huge church, so you have to arrive early on holidays to even get a seat. They do eventually close the doors if they reach capacity, which the do for almost every holiday service. So we got there around 4:45, armed with coloring books and snacks for the kids.

Christmas angels

Gina held our seats while I ran around with Maddie, because the best way to get her to behave is to force her into exhaustion. She eventually gets too tired to put up a fight. There weren't a lot of other kids there - turns out, the family service had been at 3pm. I didn't want to put them in the church-provided childcare that day, and neither did Gina. They go to childcare every Sunday - I wanted them with us on Christmas Eve. Most of the parishioners commented how beautiful they looked, how sweet they were, yada yada yada. They held it together really well during the service - they were super fidgety and asked a few questions out loud, and Maddie sang Happy Birthday to Jesus at a few inopportune times. I excused myself and Maddie after the sermon at some point when I felt she was too restless. We ran around a bit and came back. Overall, they were great for being 2 and 3.

As we were leaving, we got more compliments on how cute they were. We went across the street to Pasadena City Hall to check out the Christmas tree. As the kids were running around and I was trying to snap some pictures, I heard a voice behind me, loud enough for me to hear, but quiet enough that I wasn't sure it was directed at me.

"You know that place you just were, All Saints? They offer childcare." 

I turned around to see a woman who was approximately 175 years old. Her son or grandson was with her and he had a look on his face like "Just go ahead and shoot me now." 

"I know," I said to her. "We wanted them in church with us."

"Well, they were very noisy." 

I'll be screwed during the zombie apocalypse because my real fight instinct takes way too long to kick in. The phrase "What I SHOULDA said was..." is all-too common in my phrase ammo. 

"Yeah, well, they're kids."

"Well, it was very distracting." 

"Well, they are parishioners too." The grandson/home health aide nodded, clearly on my side, begging me to have mercy on him. At this point she was walking away, and this is when my fight instinct finally kicked in. I yelled after her, "IT'S CHRISTMAS EVE!" She mumbled something else and it was then that I lost it. I yelled at my family to get in the f*cking car, we were going home. 

I got in the car and slammed the door and started sobbing. Gina took over with the kids and got them into their car seats while I sat helpless in the front seat with my head in my hands. "Aunt Katie, are you so sad?  What happened to Aunt Katie?" was what I heard from Maddie.  "What happened to mommy?" from Isabella.  "Some old bag was mean to mommy at church," Gina said, which made me laugh for a moment, but it did nothing to curtail the 90 minutes of utter despair I felt on the ride home and once we got home.  Christmas, my absolute favorite time of the year to be a mom, re-experiencing the magic with my children, and I was a ball of rage. All of the small stresses of the past six weeks flooded over me, and I was hit with a familiar feeling I try to ignore, that NO ONE knows what it's like to be where I am, where we are, mothers by law but not biology, trying to be just as much to those girls as their biological mothers would be if they could be, and always feeling like I'm falling short, that their tiny minds are already racking up resentment toward me because I yell at them too much, I lose my patience, I cry, I get frustrated and annoyed, I expect more from them then they are able to give, and on and on and on and on.  I was sunk, for ninety full minutes, during dinner and bath time and bed time.  

Footy jammies! Come ON!

Wine helped. Going through the motions helped - we gave them their Christmas jammies, we read "Twas the Night Before Christmas," Gina rocked Isabella as I cuddled with Maddie until I felt her fidgety little body relax and drift off.  I emerged from the depths slowly, like a hibernating animal sniffing for the first signs of spring.  I began to regret my anger, to regret allowing some million year old lady ruin my Christmas, ruin my kids' Christmas.  But the great thing about kids this young is they forget stuff like this quickly, and as we slept, Santa brought a bunch of presents, and when they woke up, Christmas happened just like it was supposed to for them, a morning full of cinnamon buns and presents and magic and "Looky! Look what I got!" As long as their Christmas is good, mine is good.  And it was lovely. 

What is still the most annoying to me is THEY WERE ACTUALLY REALLY WELL BEHAVED IN CHURCH!

No really, I'm over it.  Promise.

"Whoever you are, where ever you find yourself on the journey of faith, you are welcome here." -All Saints Church

"And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." -Matthew 18:3

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yes, and...

Can we just take a moment to acknowledge how perfectly gorgeous Tina Fey looked at the Emmys on Sunday?

Good gracious.

I've been spending a few minutes here and there over the last few days trying to figure out how I could justify putting this picture up here.  While I'd love to just be able to put up pretty girls on here for your viewing pleasure (and mine), I feel like I need a reason.

Not having Tina Fey on my TV every week has not made me forget about her, but I don't think about her as much as I used to, but seeing her in this form-fitting blue dress has left me with little else to think about. There is one part of Bossypants that always sticks with me and it's when she's talking about doing improv, and how one of the main rules is that no matter how the scene starts, your job as a fellow improv player is to say, "Yes, and..."  So no matter what world your partner is creating, you have to agree to it and add something to it.  I remember her talking about how this has helped her on every level of her life, from her professional to her personal life.  I re-downloaded the book on my iPad this morning so I could search for this section and find out exactly what she had to say.  It is more fitting to me now than I even remembered:

"To me, YES, AND means don't be afraid to contribute.  It's your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you're adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile."

This comes as I'm a little bit more than knee-deep (maybe thigh-deep) into a journey of trying to find my way back to writing, trying to figure out why it is that I write... or more appropriately, why it is that I don't write, and why it is that I want to write.  A lot of little things I've been coming across lately speak of "responsibility" - to yourself, to the world, to your artist. I'll now add this to the list.

I am certainly not one to argue with Tina Fey.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Do the right thing

Once Maddie came to stay with us full time, parenting went from a Very Manageable, Enjoyable Job to High Stress, High Stakes Career.  Isabella had been such an easy kid - very mellow and adaptable, somewhat ornery at times, but overall, a breeze.  She had a set bedtime and she rarely woke up before 6:45 in the morning.  Gina and I thought we were getting away with murder, basically - we had this cute kid who admittedly arrived with a bit of trauma but who seemed unaffected by said trauma.

Maddie alone is a tough kid - beautiful and sweet but with a temper running in her bloodline she sometimes can't control. Alone, both kids present their own challenges...toddlers are difficult, as a rule. Together, they are maniacs. They are lunatics in adorable little-girl bodies. 

Parenting two children this young is not something I would have ever avoided on purpose; however, it is also not something I was prepared for.  Would it be different if the new child that had arrived had been a newborn?  I'll never know.  And I don't have time to think about it - my life is now full to the brim with transitioning the girls to the next part of the day: asleep to awake, morning at home to morning at daycare, daycare to car, car to home, home to dinner, dinner to bath, bath to bed, mommy to Jack Daniels, and so on.  These transitions are never consistently seamless, despite our best efforts.  Our daycare provider suggested bringing something to entice them into the car so that we could avoid the screaming fits from one or both if she couldn't open the door, or shut the door, or climb over the other's car seat to get to her own, or buckle herself in (ISABELLA HELP YOU!  ISABELLA DO IT! - News flash, you'd help me a whole lot by SITTING THE EFF DOWN and letting me BUCKLE YOU IN LOVE YOU MEAN IT OKAY?).  So one day when I had a little extra time, I ran home before going to get them and I secured some pretzel sticks for them.  They are ravenous little beasts right after school and I thought maybe a small snack would help.  It turned into Isabella having some pretzel left that Maddie wanted, and Isabella wouldn't give it to her (even though she wasn't eating it), and Maddie didn't regain control of her wits until about an hour and a half later. And then there is bedtime, which admittedly is getting better (Maddie is starting to fall asleep to songs and rocking instead of Rizzoli & Isles), but it is such a process, and there are no rules, and Gina and I end the night barely awake at 10pm, wondering what we are doing wrong, if we are doing ANYTHING right, and if we are ever again going to have a life that doesn't include trying to console a 3 year old because her 2 year old cousin flushed her poop without her written permission.

It's hard.  There is yelling.  Lots of yelling.  By me, by Gina, and by them.  I don't want to yell at them, I know yelling is my temper tantrum, but it usually WORKS and it makes me feel better.  I say stuff to them, try to reason with them, in a way that makes absolutely no sense.  I ask them insane questions - "Why would you do that?" Answer: I am 3 or I am almost 2 (depending on the kid), I make no sense whatsoever, haven't you figured that out yet, you fool?  And then my favorite is when they have a case of the "MINE!s", we are both known to say something like, "You know what?  NONE OF THIS IS YOURS!  It's all MINE and I let YOU play with it, so calm down!"

We both have college degrees, you guys.

They say you should be the person you want your child to be.  I'm not there yet, and I can see it when Maddie plays with her babies and gets right in their face and says, "Stop it! Nap! Quiet!" in the sternest voice a three-year-old can muster.  I can see it when Isabella looks at her milk (HER MILK) and says, "Stop it, milk!" in her quiet, authoritative voice.  And I can see it in how they talk to each other, when Isabella tries to shut the door (there is a no-shutting-the-door rule in our house (lest fingers get caught) that is broken every six seconds), and Maddie goes up and grabs her by the arms and says, "NO, Isabella, no shutting the door!"  It's in moments like this that I know I'm just screwing them up, and they will grow up talking about their mean mommy/auntie, and by then, therapy will be like $2000 an hour.

Inevitably, the tears come.  You get to a point where you are too angry and too tired to even yell, and the tears start falling if for no other reason than your body forcing you to just CLOSE YOUR EYES for a minute.  About 30 minutes after we got them home from daycare on my 35th birthday a few weeks ago (a birthday I was NOT looking forward to), I hit my wall.  They were fighting and screaming at each other over I can't even remember what, and there was still dinner to give and a kitchen to clean and baths to administer, and I had nothing. left. and I just put my head in my hands and let the lump in my throat evolve to tears, because just like yelling, tears make me feel better.  They stopped fighting and just looked at me.  Maddie came over to me and put her hand on my arm.  "Aunt Katie, so sad?"  I said, "Yes, I'm sad."  And then, as though it were scripted in a movie, she rubbed my arm, and then leaned her head on my shoulder and said, "It's okay, Katie.  I got you.  No sad.  I got you.  Ssssh.  I got you."

I guess we're doing something right.  Maybe they can get away with bi-weekly instead of weekly therapy sessions?