An Unlikely Family

What comes to mind when you think of the word “family”? It’s an ordinary word that carries such complex and diverse meaning. When I think of family, I Imagine a host of different images. My parents, little brother and I, sipping egg nog, blasting Nat King Cole, and showering our hand-picked Frasier Fur with Christmas ornaments. My grandma and I, chattering on the phone for hours, making up the distance with conversations full of laughter, politics, and Oscar predictions. My tight knit group of lady friends, all piled in the basement watching crappy TV, eating our fill of empty carbs, and planning our futures together. I’m sure many of you have similar images running through your head right now. We have family we choose, family we’re (thankfully and beautifully) stuck with, and sometimes, we are given the precious gift of family where you least expect it. This summer, by happy chance, I was given an unlikely family.

Towards the end of last spring semester, my dad called my with a suggested job opportunity. I am a personal care worker, and the mother of a girl I knew from my summer job at a day services for individuals with disabilities was looking for another worker. Something told me this would be the perfect fit, and I called her up right away. We enthusiastically agreed that I would start working in June, and I was already looking forward to the summer. I knew it would be fun, and I would enjoy the work and extra cash, but nothing could have prepared me for the impact that the next three months would have on my life.

Over the course of the summer, I got to know my girl Cal and her family extremely well. They are immensely supportive, accepting, and loving, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with them. I remember coming home from my first night working at her mother’s house, looking at my mom, and saying “I was supposed to have this job. I am supposed to touch their lives, and they are definitely touching mine”. I felt myself looking forward to going to their house each night, playing games together at the dinner table, watching her adaptive softball games, going to concerts in the park, and racing through the streets of downtown, laughing our heads off the whole way. I could feel myself changing. The unwavering love that they extended to me, a love that I wholeheartedly returned, was one that I was unprepared for, yet I know I was intended to experience. The last days of the sweet summer were tough. I was dreading leaving my jobs and starting school, but I knew that it would make every weekend home that much more special. After all, this girl, a strong, happy example of what it means to embrace all that life has, gave me more than just the best summer of my life; she gave me an unlikely family.

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Spring Break + Current Grapplings

First of all, it has been FAR too long since I’ve spent time with me, myself, and I and composed something like this. I need to slow down sometimes, take a step back, and realize that simply taking an hour to post on this is far more therapeutic and a better use of my time than indulging in that extra episode of Grey’s…Anyways, I just had my spring “break” last week, and while it wasn’t much of a break, it was a wonderful experience with a few bumps in the road.

I went to Milwaukee, which is one of my favorite Midwestern cities, for a classroom immersion experience with my favorite class. It is a pretty small class of 18 girls, all future educators with the exception of one Liberal Arts major, and a sweet dad-like professor. The most impactful experience for me in Milwaukee was simply being with a group that felt like a family. I am a very passionate person about many of the issues that we addressed and were faced with on this trip, and to find people just as on fire about those things as me was unexpected and memorable. Growing in our friendships and getting to know each other was just as important and impactful as the critical discussions we had about our experiences in the classroom. My classroom experience, on the other hand, was a little off. I am a special education major with an emphasis in learning and cognitive disabilities (LD and CD), and the person in charge of assigning us to our cooperating teacher read CD as communication disorders, which is a different field altogether. Due to this miscommunication, I ended up spending more than half of my time with a speech pathologist rather than a teacher.To be quite transparent, I was pissed about this. To me at the time, it was disappointing enough that I was in an elementary school (I am going into high school education and small children are not forte) without adding in the fact that I would be spending time learning about a career that did not effect me. The type A control freak in me admittedly went in with a slightly negative attitude, which I shouldn’t have done, and to my great surprise, it was a much more positive experience than I anticipated.  While she didn’t have very many students, my speech path taught me a ton about the process of her job, and opened my eyes to the broadness of what she does. I will have to work with speech paths as a special educator, so it was interesting to learn about what goes on behind the scenes. Plus, we had a ton in common and had some wonderful conversations. Through this experience, I learned that nothing is ever what you expect it to be. I have been faced with this idea before, but it’s always important to be reminded of that and to have it driven home. In addition to the classroom experience and stimulating reflection that followed, we also got the explore the city, which made the trip feel more “break-like”. We went a few museums, which I loved. We had a few hours to spend in one of them, and I got some much needed alone time to really soak in all that the establishment had to offer. I also really got to form some strong personal connections with my classmates, which was amazing because I really don’t have very many people that I spend time with in EC. The four hour ride down was honestly one of the most fun road trips that I’ve ever been on, and that’s saying something! All in all, it was a great time to spend the bulk of my break.

Thankfully, we were there from a Sunday to a Friday, so I got the opportunity to spend a little bit of time at home, which was MUCH needed. I barely ever get to go home because of work,and I’m so glad that I had even a few days to spend there. I got to spend time with my parents, and my best friends, who were all home for break, too. It was incredibly therapeutic to get to see my favorite people. I have an extremely close group of friends who do practically everything together, and we spent all of Saturday morning planning our summer trip through some major Midwest cities (yay road trips!). I can’t even begin to describe how lucky I feel to have them in mu life. Not many people my age can confidently say that they have found their lifelong friends, but I have, and I don’t take that lightly. I got to spend the rest of the weekend with my family. I was sick most of Saturday, but I got to just relax with my parents and then we went to church and brunch with my grandma and aunt and uncle on Sunday, which was nice. The best part of the weekend was probably shopping with my mom, though. It was simple, but it just feels so good to do normal, everyday things with somebody that you love. Plus, we are number one bargain shoppers and we scored big, so that’s always a good feeling. I don’t know if it’s the stress of this semester, or if i’m still slightly in the honeymoon stage of being back from New Orleans, but this semester more than any, I’ve really craved going home and appreciated it even more. I love the comfort and normalcy of simply hanging out with the people who mean the most to me, so while i’m enjoying this semester a ton, summer can’t come fast enough!

Other than that great week, my life is pretty boring. It’s a routine of work, school, work, school, netflix binge, more work and school. Basically typical college kid stuff, but the chaos has turned to a steady heartbeat. Hopefully many more blog posts to come on more riveting topics, so stay tuned!

52 Weeks of Gratitude: Week 4

4. A Family Member

When I saw this topic, I almost immediately knew who I would write about. I believe that in this life, we don’t just have one “soulmate”. I think that we can have a romantic soulmate, or a soulmate in the form of a friendship or family member. Whatever type of soulmate you encounter, they are placed on this Earth to mean something to you, to affect your life in a way that is singular and unforgettable. The soulmate in my life that I’ll be writing about is my great- aunt Mary.

Mary was my mother’s aunt, but she was only six years older than her. They grew up together, and were more like sisters and best friends. They lived together, went to concerts together, and Mary was even my mom’s maid of honor at her wedding. Mary was my godmother, and while we spent time together when I was younger, I never really got to truly appreciate her and the astounding woman that she was before she passed away when I was a freshman in high school. People would always mention that we were very similar, but I never saw it until later on. At that stage in my life, I hadn’t really grown into myself yet, and it wasn’t until that happened that I realized just how alike we are.

She was hippy artist type who was intellectual, yet disorganized and messy as hell. She was fiercely independent, yet found great purpose in helping everybody around her in any way she could. A caretaker at heart, she was the person all of her friends went to when they needed advice, a shoulder to cry on, or simply somebody to listen. She was a great leader who made an impact on everybody who she encountered. She believed in change, and worked her ass off to see her dreams through to the end. She was impulsive, and put her own needs below others, sometimes to a fault. I see myself exhibit all of these traits, and even more of her quirks, and I couldn’t be more proud to sort of carry on her legacy. She was so incredibly special to my grandmother, who practically raised her, and my mom, to whom she was the sister she never had. When they constantly tell me how much I remind them of her, or that it’s scary how alike we are, it makes me feel great because I know that I possess a little bit of her heart in mine. I carry her spirit alive within me, and I can only hope to be half of the woman that she was. I know that if she were here today, we would be travel partners, concert companions, and best friends. I can’t wait to pick up where we left off someday. Until then, I’ll do my best to live up to her name.

52 Weeks of Gratitude: Week 3

3. Family

Or should I just call it “52 Posts of Gratitude: Whenever Katy sits on her ass for more than 3 seconds and decides to make time to write”. Yeah, that sounds more accurate. What can I say,  breathing and sleeping barely has a priority anymore, but the busy life chose me so what can I do? At least I get to take the time this morning to have a slow(ish) solo brunch and take the time to write, which is all that I’ve really wanted to do lately. Ooh, and the post is about family, which I could go on about forever really, and it’s fitting because it’s my momma’s birthday today and they’re all coming to see me for dinner.

So my family is actually the greatest thing in the world. I’m not kidding when I say that I have been the luckiest person on the planet by having them. If you would’ve asked me like 3 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have said that, which my dad loves to point out, but whatever. I was almost as busy as I am now, and spent about no time at all at home, which was dumb, but, let’s be real, it was high school. Nary do you find a high schooler who would choose to spend a friday night watching TV with their parents instead of taking on the town with their friends. And by “taking on the town”, I obviously mean pigging out on simple carbs and playing charades in my friend’s basement. Nowadays, I love hanging out with my parents, and half the time, I would rather go to Dick’s bar with them on a Friday than hit those carbs hard in the Bauer basement. Or, at the very least, join in on some late night Settlers with friends after some beers and a plate of nachos with the rents. They are my biggest and greatest supporters. Without them, I don’t even know. I’ve had so many crazy amazing opportunities and experiences because they believed in me and gave me the means and confidence to go after exactly what I want in life. Sidenote, I am currently eating a blueberry buckwheat pancake because obviously i’m 80, and I’m going to get syrup all over this damn keyboard. Please send help. Anyways, I guess I’ll go into the intricacies of some of the key members of my family and why I’m grateful for them, partly because I love talking about them, and partly because I love avoiding my other responsibilities.

First, there’s my brother. He’s only 13 months younger than me, but really he’s 18 going on 13 most of the time. That’s cute sometimes because his innocence is refreshing, but a lot of the time I get majorly irritated. That’s what brothers are for, though! As far as siblings go, i’m super lucky! Over the years, him and I became super tight. He’s the sweetest guy in the world, and I love him to death. We hang out in the same crowd a lot of the time, and he’s even dating one of my close friends. That was weirdish at first, but hey, who wouldn’t kind of enjoy the prospect of having a friend as a sibling in law? I don’t know what I would do without him. We get at each others’ throats because we are about as opposite as you can get, but we’re partners in crime when we wanna be, and that’s all that really matters. He is so caring, and was one of my rocks during my super hard transition during last semester. He’s the best shoulder to cry on, and he’s grown up a ton in the last year. I was even with him the first time he got drunk (proud sister over here), and it was the greatest. It’s super awesome having a live in best friend, so let’s have a round of applause for my mom going through two pregnancies right in a row!

My dad and I are such a weird yet bad ass combo, and I think it’s because we have a lot of similar strong personality traits. Sometimes, when you’re super similar to someone, it’s awesome, but it’s truly Hell when you’re at odds. My dad passed on his stubbornness and hardheadedness to me, so when we fight, it’s like a waiting game to see who will admit defeat first. That got me into some shit when I was younger ( I was/am the dictionary definition of a smartass), but we’ve mostly outgrown it. My dad also passed on his fierce compassion and desire to help people on to me, and I’d say that’s one of the biggest parts of my identity, so thanks Pops! We work at the same place ( a day program for youth and a adults with disabilities), and if he had not gotten me to start volunteering there at such a young age, my life would be drastically different. No one else understands my passion for it like he does, and he is my role model for how I work.  I love seeing how he talks about work because you can see how much he loves it, which is how I hope I am later in life. He showed me my passion and calling to be a Special Education teacher, and if that’s not a legacy that should make him proud, I don’t know what is.

My mom is my absolute best friend. She is my favorite person in this world, my biggest supporter, my inspiration, my driving force. She picks me up when I’m down, helps me believe in myself, and is my most important confidant. I seriously call her all the damn time, and it’s great. I’m pretty sure anyone who hears our conversations is either amused or confused because I seriously call her for the dumbest things, like getting a major deal at Target. I take my bargaining way too seriously, and am always so proud that I have to tell her about them. That should be pathetic, but have you saved $20 simply using your cartwheel app? I think not. Anyways, I can’t even say enough or even find the right words to explain what she means to me. Having a mother as a best friend is the dream, and she shows me that that’s my greatest wish for me and my future child. We are scary similar, too. I love that I can look at myself and witness the strength that she’s instilled and passed on to me. She is an incredible leader and a super strong woman, which I like to think that I have become too over the years. She has shown me what it means to go after what you want, and I am eternally grateful for that.

I could go so far into the other people in my family, like my uncle who is the sweetest man in the world, or my grandma who is one of my best friends, too, but for the sake of length and time, i’ll go into that another time. Basically, family is the best thing we have, and the more we take the time to acknowledge and revel in that, the better. My life is so much more rich and full since I’ve come to fully appreciate how incredibly lucky I am to have these people in my life, and it felt great to do a little bragging about that one here. To leave off, here’s a lil cheesy ass quote about family because sentimentality.

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life”-Richard Bach

52 Weeks of Gratitude-Week Two

2. Spouse/Significant Other

Yeah, whoops, I dropped the ball on this one. Technically, it’s week three of the challenge (how classic is it that I already fell behind), but you gotta understand why I did. This week is about being grateful for your significant other or spouse, and unless my cats count, I’m pretty sure I’m single. I’m independent as hell, so this fact doesn’t bother me too much. That being said, it would be nice to be able to gush a little bit about my jazz musician boyfriend with a well-kept beard whose idea of the perfect Saturday is taking a morning hike with a clear and present threat of brunch followed by reading together in bed for the rest of the day. Sadly (or not), I have yet to find that dream of a man. I’m pretty grateful for the fact that I still have this time to figure myself out before sharing my life with somebody else. It’s an exciting and terrifying concept, and I’m sure when I’m ready for it, it’ll happen.

Now, this past weekend was Valentine’s Day, and I’m sure most of you fell into one of these three categories. The first category is for the all the lovebirds out there who get to celebrate sharing their lives with someone. How lucky are they to have a day like this to celebrate that they found each other, even though, in my humble opinion, you should celebrate your love for each other every day. An extra special excuse once a year to go all out is pretty nice, though. I can honestly say I’m happy for ya’ll, and it warms my heart to see your smiling faces, but I do have to admit that it’s hard not to give in to my own bitterness over my ordinary day. Then there’s those of you who might spit in the general direction of the holiday fueled by gushy Hallmark cards, obscene amounts of chocolates, and cheesy Instagram posts of an expensive dinner complete with a bottle of wine and a bouquet of roses. Now, I see where you can get off on that. It can be a teeny bit obnoxious to see all the happy couples floating around in their clouds of lovers’ bliss while you’re sitting in your PJ’s seeing how fast you can shove a pint of Ben and Jerry’s down your throat. With that in mind, though, think about how great it is to not have to put on pants for a whole day! On the other hand, you have those well-meaning yet irritating individuals who do everything they can to make sure people know how glad they are that they’re single this year. After reading the billionth Facebook post about “not needing no man” or proclaiming “Happy Single’s Awareness Day”, you gotta admit that gets a little old as well. I’m pretty content in my so-called “singledom” as well, but does the world need to know that for it to be true? I’m not saying that any of these groups of people are better or worse than the other, but I just wish that we could all sort of be happy for one another and whatever way we decide to celebrate this day that, let’s face it, is just like any other day of the year. We too often place such high stakes in it. Do whatever makes YOU happy on Valentine’s Day. After all, it’s a day about love. That can be love for a significant other, love for your tight knit group of friends, or, most importantly, love for yourself. Just be grateful for wherever you’re at in life (see how I brought that gratitude thing in?) because it’s exactly where you’re meant to be.

Chaos is Inevitable

So, if there’s on thing I know about myself, it’s that I thrive when i’m busy. I’m the goddamn queen of joining things, seeking new experiences, and finding interesting ways to spend my time. If i’m sitting with nothing to do, I get restless in about five minutes time. I’m constantly on the hunt for ways to occupy myself, from volunteer opportunities to a menagerie of extracurriculars. While this works for me, it is also incredibly overwhelming sometimes. I have the hardest time saying “no” to things. I love the chaos, but I often spread myself way too thin, overbooking myself and committing myself to about a thousand different things. That’s how I end up where I am now, with a solidly booked schedule full of coursework for 18 credits, 3 jobs, and outside activities almost every day of the week, all on top of trying to maintain relationships and, I don’t know, sleep? It’s almost funny, but it causes me to get so insanely stressed that I sometimes feel like i’m going to collapse from all the pressure.

What I need to remember, though, is that I choose to make my life this way. If I wasn’t spending my time doing things that I love like singing in choir, working my care jobs, or dedicating myself to my faith, I would lead a life void of meaning. Without this sometimes scary whirlwind of busyness, I would be end up feeling empty, or, at the very least, a vastly different person. Reflecting on that, and then doing things that relieve the stress, like going to my favorite local coffee shop for some therapeutic rambling mixed with a bit of productivity, helps me to realize that i’m on the right path. I’ll make it through, I always do. If I ever start to doubt that, as I often do, I know my mother, aka my best friend and biggest supporter, is just a phone call away. As my constant cheerleader and role model, she gives me the strength to believe in my powerful self. Recently, she gave me a relevant yet hilarious little gift of post-its that say “Stop me before I volunteer for something again”.  Ironically enough, I now use those to write down things that I (surprise) volunteer for, but they’re a sweet little reminder that, with me, chaos is inevitable, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, next time you have to opportunity to experience something new or get out of your comfort zone, don’t hesitate to give it a try! Trust me, I know that your comfy bed laden with your new series on Netflix and some Twizzlers looks damn inviting, but it’ll be there waiting for you after you volunteer to serve a meal at a shelter or take that pottery class you’ve always been interested in. Those are the experiences that you’ll remember later on in life, not just the latest crazy antics between Olivia and Fitz. If you’re reading this, hopefully these ramblings can inspire you to go make some memories (and then of course end the night with some good ol’ Shonda drama).