This girl can dance. She was always on friendly terms with her body, and it just... moves... in the best way possible to music. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's amazing, but I am always envious. I've always wanted to be able to dance. In my head I can dance. When I'm alone I can dance. But it's a rare occasion when I can forget that people are watching, and I can feel the self conscious stiffness set in. And let's face it - joint-ritis has made good dancing a lot more difficult. But Katie can dance, and her girls love to dance. They have raucous dance parties in their living room and basement all the time.
She grew up, as I said, sandwiched between two brothers. One she followed around trying to keep up. The other she mothered, pretended with, and nurtured. Even as a tiny baby she comforted her brothers. I remember getting mad at 3 year old Rex for something 3 year old-ish, and his response was to go lay his head on Katie, who was sitting in her carrier on the floor. He sat there for a few minutes until he felt better. She's always been there for him. She and Scott would play with their stuffed animals for hours. They would make scrapbooks with pictures taken with the Polaroid camera. As they both got older, that closeness continued. Not to say that life has always been perfect between them, but for the most part it's been a joy to this mother to watch how they enjoy being together. It's a laugh fest. You can't NOT laugh when these three are together, and I owe a lot of that to Katie, and her love for her brothers.
One of my favorite memories was when Katie was about 14. We took a train up to San Luis Obispo to visit my friend Marion. Just the two of us. Well, actually we TRIED to take a train to San Luis Obispo. What really happened was that our train broke somewhere in Simi Valley. A trainful of stranded people. One thing led to another, and the passengers all started talking. I didn't have any money to rent a car (I was a single mom then) but another girl was willing to rent a car but didn't want to drive. A match made in heaven. There ended up being about 7-8 of us crammed into this rental car - Katie and me, the car renter, a guy, a mom and her daughter and maybe 1 or 2 others. I mostly drove about 90 miles an hour to make up the time. This was pre-cell phone, folks. I had a friend waiting for me at the San Luis Obispo train station and I had no way to let her know what had happened. So we drove like bats out of hell. All I remember is the little girl in the back who kept saying "I feel a little sick... I'm feeling a little more si-i-ick..." Luckily she never did get sick, and we got there in one piece. Marion and her mother were standing at the tracks looking for the train, and hadn't been waiting too long. And it was the most fun weekend. I remember shopping with Katie and Marion, eating raspberry cheesecake that Marion had made, watching squirrels scamper to get peanuts that Marion's mother had put out on her deck, and most of all, laying in bed at night with Katie and just laughing and laughing. So much fun, and we both still remember that trip as such a bright spot. The people we met on the way - on the train, in the car, and on the bus back to Santa Barbara - I would never have spoken to if it hadn't been for Katie. That girl has never met a stranger, and can strike up a conversation with anyone.
In high school she had a bad diving accident at a water polo party and broke her neck. Genius mother that I am, I scolded her all the way back home because I never imagined it was anything more than a "tweak." It wasn't until the next day that she went to the doctor, because it was still hurting her. I'd had to work, and so her dad picked her up and took her. She was still gone when I got home (pre cell phone era) and I assumed she was spending the afternoon with her dad. Rex and I had a mother/son dinner/dance thing at his school that night, and so it wasn't until late that night when we got home that there was a message that Katie was in the hospital with a broken neck. Yep, mother of the year - that's me. I rushed over to where she was, and there she was - all alone - laying in a hospital bed with a big C-collar on. Crying. Broke my heart. I'd never imagined anything like that. To me, if you broke your neck you either died or were paralyzed. And actually, we were damn lucky that she wasn't paralyzed. She broke - crushed actually - the same vertebrae that had paralyzed Christopher Reeves. We've since realized she was very blessed and watched over. So not only did she not suffer any paralysis, but she never had to have a halo. Only the C-collar. AND - she healed and was back to practicing water polo in about 8 weeks. Amazing. So blessed.
In her next two years of high school she had 3 knee surgeries because her cartilage and supporting tissue had mysteriously deteriorated. She was considered a textbook case, and the doctors were all very excited to implant the cadaver bone, hoping it would take. First one knee, heal up, and then the other. I never heard her complain. She had to leave school at one point because she couldn't keep up the rigors of walking all over the campus and lasting a full day. Again, she was "blessed" with going to "the bad boy school" for her lessons, but we found it was run by a wonderful friend of ours. And he took Katie on as a special case. And he made sure she passed everything. She crutched around, did her physical therapy (and it was painful) and she never whined. She was absolutely my hero.
The next year was the 3rd surgery because one of the knees didn't take. This time, they took bone from her hip - an extra added treat to endure. But at the end of the recuperation period (she hoped) she would be able to shed the wheelchair and crutches and go to a weeklong retreat with our church and all of her friends. As luck would have it, her doctor couldn't give her clearance to be without the wheelchair, and that was the first time I saw her really devastated. It had been such a long haul. But I had a feeling that she would have experiences she never would have had if she'd been more mobile. And I was so happy to be right. One of the counselors was also in a wheelchair, and he taught her to "wheelchair dance." I can't describe the experience in the right way, but just know that she came home with memories that have been precious to her, and that she would never have had otherwise. She developed an empathy and true understanding for people who are handicapped in one way or another. She has "walked" in their shoes, if only for a short time.
The dream she had for after high school was to go away to BYU Hawaii. She had missed so much school, however, that she had really bad ACT/SAT scores. Devastating. BYU Hawaii gently suggested that she stay home for two years and put the time to good use at a local college. Heartbreaking to watch her deal with that. My mother's heart hurt badly. But once again, she picked herself up, signed up at Fullerton Junior College, and got herself on the women's water polo team.
Made friends with all of the guys on the men's team. Went to lots of their parties, where she conducted herself with dignity (well, as much as possible while surrounded with these rough, but entirely loveable guys) and to their amazement, she never drank but had a wonderful time wherever she was. The women's team absolutely rocked, and Katie was a key player. I remember one genius play where Katie swam under water almost the length of the pool - the other team lost track of her - and when she surfaced, the ball was fed to her and she slammed it into the goal. She had a powerful arm. It was awesome. At the end of her two years there she was named an All American in Women's Water Polo. Quite a feat for a lion-hearted girl who was virtually crippled a year and a half before.
We spent a summer together both working at Ralph Lauren in South Coast Plaza before she flew off to BYU Hawaii. It was fun for me to have her close, and to ride to work with her on most days. Too soon, it was time for her to achieve her dream of living in her island paradise. Leaving her sobbing mother behind.
She studied while floating on an inner tube in the bay. She lived with a great bunch of girls in the Dolphin House. (A house with dolphins painted on the side of it.) Together they met and went in and out of relationships with boys, battled huge cockroaches, and fell in love with island ways. When Scott graduated from high school he flew over and spent a week with her. I don't think he found island life as enticing as she did, but I was happy they have that memory. The Dolphin House girls were friends with the boys from the Goat House, because the Goat House boys had a TV. Life was simple in Laie. No TV, no movie theatres close by. You had to go to Honolulu for that, and almost no one had a car. The one car I heard about had floor boards so rusted through that you could see the road through the floor, and cockroaches could crawl inside. If you lived in Laie, you learned to be happy with a very simple lifestyle or you didn't last long.
Her last year in Hawaii there was a cosmic event - there were comets streaking through the sky over the course of several nights. On the best night, I woke up at 2:30 in the morning and went out on my patio to watch them. It was spectacular. I called Katie in Laie (yes, by this time we all had cell phones) and she was on the beach with friends watching the same comets in the same sky. We talked for several minutes and enjoyed the heavenly show. For me, remembering the night we watched comets streak across the same sky 3000 miles apart is a very special memory.
We all went to her graduation. "We" being L, me, my parents, my aunt, and my grandma. (Grandma was about 92 at the time, but wasn't about to miss out on a good time.) Scott was on his mission and Rex was married. We went to every single graduation activity. We didn't miss anything. L bought her piles of leis for her to wear, as well as a lei for all of the other womenfolk. It was a proud, proud day. Also bittersweet, as she was leaving a boyfriend she really cared about. She was sad, a bit broken hearted, but she faced her future bravely, as she always has.
About a year later she met Zach, and the rest is history. They got married in San Diego, (her shoes were white flip flops - so Katie) had the most fun and joyous wedding reception, and started their life together in Huntington Beach in the tiniest little apartment ever. They had Mia, and I began life as a scared grandma. I remember being so scared that I'd forgotten everything about babies. But as it turns out, I didn't have much time to be scared. By the time Mia was a year old, Zach had graduated from UC Irvine, and had been accepted into medical school in Puerto Rico. They had to sell EVERYTHING they could and go to Puerto Rico with a year old baby, and start all over while Zach began medical school. In Spanish. I was lucky enough to go visit her twice in the 4 years she was there. The first time L and I went together, and the next time she had just had Hayden and I went to help.
I loved those visits with our late night talks, giggling like silly girls. I loved listening to the coqui frogs and the rain pounding down. It was a crazy four years there, but she learned that nothing is impossible, and that she was one tough cookie. She and Zach have survived some pretty nutty things, and it's made them strong.
In four years, they had to sell everything again to come home to the mainland. Zach had rotations while the family was based in Arizona. And just when we got used to having them semi-close, he got a residency. In Massachusetts. And that's where they've been for the past 3 years. One more year to go. Zach just got named Department Chief (way to go ZACH!) and life is pretty good. It'll be even better when they get a permanent position somewhere where they can put down roots. We're all rooting for somewhere in the West - Arizona, maybe. California would be too much to hope for, and I'm not sure I'd want to bring up little ones here anymore anyway. Crazy state. Love the beaches and the weather, though. But I'd be happy if they were in a state that was close enough to drive to. So we are playing the waiting game now.
Thank goodness for iPhones and FaceTime. I can talk to her every day, see the girls, and stay caught up on every little thing that's going on. Katie has a little business making the cutest necklaces for girls and moms. It's grown in the 6 or 7 years she's been doing it from just a way to stay busy while Zach was gone so much to being a real money maker. I'm so proud of her - her tenacity and creativity know no bounds. I wish I had half the stuff she's made of.
And so happy birthday to my precious girl. It's been a wild ride at times. She has a strong warrior spirit, but a very breakable body. There's not a day where she doesn't ache and hurt. But she never complains, and never EVER lets it stop her. She is my role model and hero. Yes, it should be the other way around, but I've been fortunate to have been blessed with the children I needed, instead of the ones I probably very much deserved.
Here's to you, Katie. I wish for you everything that you're wishing for in your heart. I'm still hoping for that girl's weekend we keep talking about, where we can stay up late, and giggle uncontrollably over everything like we used to. It's been way too long.