Monday, November 10, 2014

The Cookie is Crumbling

I have a three year old piece of starlight. See?

Russell Orchards, 2014

She is the absolute center of my everything and Chad's everything. But since she has turned three, life has changed. She has changed; she has become independent and opinionated and completely illogical in a way that the previous three years did not foreshadow. She can literally be unbelievably charming and laughing one minute, and the next minute have thrown herself on the floor in a heap of despair because I told her I don't want to eat the red pepper she dipped in ketchup "just for me."

Apparently this is normal....? I'm not even sure what normal means anymore BUT I see that she is struggling through wanting to be a grown up kid and making her parents let go and choosing her battles in her own way. I get that. But it still blows.

It really does. Especially with a giant belly. And especially while my house is torn apart in preparation for a new bedroom, a new baby, and new bathroom for mommy and daddy (there will be a lock on the door). There is dust and filth everywhere. Oh, and that job and that extended family and those friends...all of them, too.

Oxymoron? These are all amazing, exciting, ridiculously stressful things.

There was one morning last week when getting out the door was particularly awful. It was primarily because Grace's cereal was wet from milk and not dry, like she wanted. I was swallowing comments about kids who don't have food AT ALL. And I was stifling the urge to simultaneously gather Grace up like the frustrated kid she was, rock her in my lap, promise her anything she wanted for the rest of her life and just walk out, shut the door, and go to the movies. Like 3 of them in a row.

Instead, I managed to get her in the car and drive about 6 blocks listening to the same "I want dry special cereal mommy" sentence about 46857 times in that 6 blocks. And then I pulled over and cried. It was 7:36am.

I wish I could say that my crying made Grace stop crying. It didn't.
But it helped me feel normal again--get back to center, somewhat.

Later that day I saw this blog, and I cried again. Hours before, I felt like a sham of a parent, like there was absolutely no way I could handle one of these sensitive, growing, amazing, passionate creatures, much less two of them. But after reading Lisa Sadikman's take on the situation I knew it would, eventually, be okay.

At least, until the next time it's not okay.
And that's okay, too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


I've been thinking a lot this year about regrets.

"I wish..."
"I never should have..."
"Why did I..."
Those are the words that my conscious whispers in my ear. Many different ways of saying: You were wrong. And you're regretting it.

Then I start to fall down that hole that looks like crazy Spongebob eyes, wondering if I really was wrong, and what if, and could I just...?

An example.

I took a new job about 10 months ago. It was a huge decision. I had eczema over it. I wore glasses of eczema for weeks, had heart palpitations, cried almost every day. This was not an easy decision. This was an excruciating decision. This was the first life change I made that was more for my family than it was for me.

And that's a big deal. Because that, in my head, then became another multi-layered study about motherhood and womanhood and how, when you don't have babies when you're 18 or 21 and you give yourself time to create a life for yourself before you have kids, you are then, once you do have kids, walking into your soul's pantry and putting smooth and glittery things back on the shelf for later while you try newer, probably stickier, things that come in smaller jars. And how that is a privilege that our grandmothers and mothers and aunts and fathers worked to give us, but that doesn't mean that it's easy. It just means that it presents a whole lot more choices and decisions to make. Which we should feel lucky to have. Right? (Madeira girls, we took this class senior year but it meant such different things to me, back then.)


So. I made a decision that was the right decision for my family and for myself. Before I made that decision the pro and con list made sense. And when I made that decision, I felt like a different person. The stress poured away.  I shed what I realized was literally stress weight. I had time to be with my daughter, to comprehend life without literally running from daycare to train to subway to car to building to meeting and back again. I can turn work off on the weekends, because it's just work. We could consider having another child. And we are. It was and it is everything that I needed.

But I wish I could tell you the number of times that I have since second-guessed this decision. In many, many ways I am working harder than I was before. I am so exhausted from the chaos of newness. I miss my friends, most of all--the faces I saw every day. I still wish I could see them every day. I miss caring about what I do. I miss the motivation that comes from truly loving your work and knowing that making a client call can actually lead to creating a product that makes a difference. There are so, so many people who don't need to love their job--they appreciate the benefits of simply having a job. I am not one of those people.

This is what I think about.
I sit and in about 3.5 minutes I go over all of this in my head.
And here's the thing. What I always come to is that I do NOT regret. I know I made the right decision. I know that the last 10 months have brought incredible graces and knowledge and perspective and gifts. At the very least it has brought appreciation for what I used to have in a job, what I currently have in a job, and the fact that I can have a family (grow my family!) and also have a job at all.

Sometimes the right decision isn't the happiest decision. Sometimes it means prioritizing what is important at that exact time and leaving the doors open for new decisions down the road.

My job isn't the only time I've had to do this--years ago I said goodbye to a deep friendship, hoping it was temporary. I still hope that it is temporary, and I still shed tears over it. But I don't regret it because at the time I needed, once again, to put my family and myself first.

I hope by not closing these doors, even by keeping them cracked open a bit, someday the breeze will come in and bring something new through something old. And I certainly won't regret that, either.

Rooms by the Sea. Edward Hopper.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A New Baby Cookie!

Oh, the difference a day makes.

Yesterday was a really good day.

Yesterday, Chad and I saw our new little one on a little screen--the sweet tiny fingers, glowing pearl spine, tiny nose, almost recognizable lips. Now, it's real. Now, those bumps and jabs and flips in the belly belong to someone--we saw that little someone!

We learned, yesterday, that our new little one is arriving on or near December 18th, which earlier than what we thought the day before yesterday--twenty one days earlier than what we thought.

So now, suddenly, all those things that need to be done really really need to be done! But first, meet Baby "Lentil" Cotter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Strong Cookies

I love my city. I really do. I'm proud of its history, its people, its character. And today, especially, I'm proud of how Boston came together to help and to heal.

For almost a week now the stories have come back out in the media--the Globe, 60 Minutes, and especially the internet. This morning I watched the local news broadcast from Copley Square, then watched the Today Show broadcast from Copley Square, watched the bombs go off over and over. Seeing the pictures of the bloodied adolescent who caused the deaths and destruction, seeing pictures of a little, little girl whose father, now dead, made the decision to leave her. And I've been just weeping all morning. I don't want to see those bombs going off again and again. I don't think anyone else does, either.

I love how my city is healing. I can't wait to see the runners next Monday. I can't wait to hear the cheers. But I am still scared. I can't go to the race next Monday. I can't bring my daughter there. My uncle is running and I have friends running and I absolutely adore the outpouring of love. But I can't go, yet. I hope someday we can once again cheer on those admirable, impressive people.

Today, at 2:49pm, I will send my heart to everyone in pain from the events of last year. And I hope they are not scared. I hope that they have all found hope and love and strength and are looking towards the future, so big.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Working Cookie

Most of the time on this blog I'm writing about family or Grace or relationships--you know, life.
But I have another life too, which is ironically where I spend most of my time: work.

I have worked in digital media for 10 years or so and I really do love it. Especially when there is meaning and education behind what you're building and you know it will really help someone. I think my fate was cast when my dad brought home this "laptop" in the late '80s and taught me how to play Space Invaders.

It's amazing to think about Space Invaders, then, compared to where digital media was even just 10 years ago and where it is, now--we've gone from CD-ROMs and zip drives to QR code enhanced ads and clouds.  It's hard to stay on top of everything in the industry because the industry changes so quickly. But, frankly, my dear, that's fun! And there are principals to design and content that apply no matter what. I wrote a while back about one of those principals, simplicity, on the Digital Bungalow blog and thought I would share it, here. Of course, Grace stars in it, too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One Wise Cookie

It has been a little over a year since my Grandpa Don passed away, and his birthday would have been this past week. I've never posted what I read at his memorial service, so this feels like a perfect time. 

I wrote this over a matter of a few hours--it's certainly an amalgam of everything I've ever written about Grandpa Don--some of my favorite bits of older pieces. I hope it would ring true to him, too. And I hope he heard me. I think he did. 

Donald Whitney Munson

If I were to write a biography of my grandfather, it would have a one-word opening. Helllllloooooooooooo!!

If I were to write a biography of my grandfather, I would use thick paper with weathered edges. I would tell the stories only a granddaughter could tell; how grandpa always wore a clip-on bow tie at Christmas: two holly leaves with berries in the center. How he told me I had his mother’s hands. How he taught me to parallel park in the Littlefield Lake parking lot, telling me to make sure not to hit the imaginary pink Cadillac with purple polka dots. Grandpa, as we all know, turned every possible moment into a teaching moment, and did so with a firm grace.

I would open the book with a North Chester morning, the quiet rolling over the meadow like fog, the smell of ferns and damp firewood. This is where my Grandfather’s heart has always lived. Even when he’s not there you will find hints of him everywhere.  His black comb, the kind that James Dean and Fonzie used, sits on the dresser in the bedroom, a carved ivory shoehorn hanging on the mirror. His hand-written notes are pinned up in the kitchen as reminders on how best to take care of the house. His gray-brown firewood gloves sit next to the wood stove, shaped like hands are still in them, like Grandpa just took them off and is settling down to a game of cards with the family. 

If I were to write a biography of my grandfather, I would write about family dinners that always ended with blueberry pie and grandpa declaring: “Good Dinner, Ruthie!” I would write about Don’s children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren, all of whom are his heart of hearts, because nothing is as important as family. I would write about how Grandpa could make even the youngest member of the family feel important and valued.

I would write about how grandpa would give hugs and then put his hands on your shoulders and squeeze, and when you told him about your trip, your grades in school, your sports, he would nod and say: good, good. And he would smile his proud smile, the one that makes you glow warm inside, makes you want to do even better.

If I were to write a biography of my grandfather, I would never be able to say everything I’d want to say. I would finish and realize that I forgot to include how, despite decades of Grandpa trying to teach me what poison ivy looks like I still can’t identify it. I would realize I forgot to mention Grandpa’s yellow plaid pants, and how he told me after my daughter was born that “we specialize in girls.” And I wouldn’t be able to capture all the moments that he was able to step in and set everything right, be the pillar of strength that I needed. There were so, so many of those.

If I were to write a biography of my grandfather, I would stop. Because I don’t need to write a biography of my grandfather. Look around. His biography is every single one of us. Each one of us is a product of Don’s work: his teaching, his values, his love, his legacy. And I know, if he were here, he would tell us how proud he is. He would put his hands tight on our shoulders, his lips pressed firmly in a proud smile.

As we celebrated the start of 2014, I received a small package from my Grandma Ruth. The note said: a very special gift for Katie. And it was. 

I opened a small plastic box and moved away the tissue to find Grandpa's Christmas holly clip-on bow tie. Holding it in my hands was hard. There's no other way to say that--it was just hard. But it is a very, very special gift and I feel honored to have it, just as I am honored to be Don's granddaughter. Happy Birthday, Grandpa. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Happy Nerversary, Cookie.

The other night I was lying on the living room couch with Chad, in the dark, in the silence. And in all of the beauty of that moment, all I could think about were the nights and early, early mornings I would come downstairs because I was unable to sleep through all the pain of Trigeminal Neuralgia. I would lie on the couch, trying to find a place of comfort deep, deep inside since there was no comfort to be found in any layer near the surface of my brain or body. The darkness was never good, or helpful. In the dark I would get scared and sad about the future and living in such pain. But then the dawn would eventually come, when the thought of the sun would wake the birds, and they would stumble down their tree stairs for breakfast. There's a bush outside our living room window that was often the first breakfast choice for lots of sparrows and chickadees, apparently. Those birds, chirping, tweeting, hopping, would inexplicably give me the strength to get through the day. And I will always love our couch, and that window to my mornings in our living room, for that reason.

Tomorrow, January 30, is the 5th anniversary of my successful Microvascular Decompression surgery. It's a strange thing to be on the other side of such an awful disorder. I wasn't faced with my mortality, but I was faced with living a very difficult, painful life that was not what I had imagined. It was excruciating to consider living that life, literally. And I think that's why the birds at dawn really did help--they reminded me that I just needed to fix it. I just needed to refuse to accept that fate. So I refused. And besides my daughter Grace, that is the biggest accomplishment of my life.

On the other side of it, now, what I remember are mostly the amazing things, not the awful things. The small, seemingly insignificant gestures from people that made such a huge difference in my life are the things that I find myself thinking about. A lot.

What I really want to do is turn this into a long, long, detailed thank-you note that could never ever do justice to my true feelings of gratitude. But then it wouldn't get posted tonight. So here are some highlights:

During my worst years with TN, I was lucky enough to work at an amazing place with amazing friends. I couldn't have asked for a more understanding community. My boss quietly listened, asked the right questions, and created a hammock of support and understanding. My desk-mate spent countless hours listening, handing me my heating pad named Larry, and the night before my MVD she braided my hair. My other desk-mate, without any conversation, understood how much pain walking across a windy bridge to the train station would bring. On countless evenings he would ask me when I was leaving, to simply walk in front of me as my human windshield.

My family spent years struggling with me, through diagnosis and research and so, so much fear. My sister talked me through some of the scariest, most painful moments I can remember. My father was my guide and navigator through not only the medical system but also gently pushed me to realize that I had to get over the "why me" aspect of my reality.  My parents were my champions the night my surgery was almost cancelled--both of them truly fought the system for me, and probably did more for me that night than I am even aware of. My mother then came home with me and did all the things she had done 30 years before--fed me, watched as I slept, made me drink, even bathed me. Then, I saw those actions as a daughter. Now, I see them as a mother, myself, and I understand. I understand that for her those motherly duties were as non-negotiable as my surgery was to me.

There were countless others who made huge efforts to help and show how much they cared. One friend in particular not only stocked my freezer with homemade soup, but, while Chad and I were in the hospital, she met a plumber at my house to fix a leaky radiator, with her newborn in tow. That is a friend.

I remember Chad buying me Twinkies because they would fatten me up and were soft enough to eat, and I remember how they didn't taste nearly as good as they did when I was 12. He made me laugh, constantly, even about the TN. But those are trivial things. The true difference he made was in always reassuring me that he still loved me when I felt broken and felt like I let him down because I couldn't be the wife and partner I wanted to be and had dreamed of being. I thought, so many times, that I had become a true ball and chain with none of the good and all of the bad. But he always proved that was never the case. In the first years of our marriage, Chad went through enough sickness, health, better, worse, good times and bad for many, many marriages. And I cherish him for every second of it. Chad was the one who woke me up from surgery, who whispered in my ear, "Baby, you were right--they fixed it--they found the veins. You were right!" I love that it is his voice that I hear when I remember that moment, because he suffered right along with me and he knew, he knew so deeply what those words meant.

6 weeks after my MVD, I went for a final visit to my surgeon. The last words he said to me that day were, "I hope I never see you again."

Me, either.

Happy, happy, happy 5th Nerversary.

October, 2012. (c) Tracy Emanuel 

(For those who want more info about TN, the more detailed story can be found here. And for a story about a friendship forged through TN, go here. )