In the classic Broadway musical, “Funny Girl, “ Fanny Brice sings, “I’m Sadie, Sadie, married lady/ bow when I go by/ I’m a corporation now, not me, myself and I…” As a rotund 12 year old, I used to perform “Funny Girl” nightly (two shows on weekends) in my bedroom belting out that song even though I didn’t have any kind of a prepubescent clue what the lyrics meant. Nearly 33 years later I find myself substituting my name for Sadie’s and humming “I’m Katie, Katie , married lady,” under my breath and smiling.
Recently, (in my post “Exit Two”) I talked about how taking those hesitant, nervous steps out of the closet led me to a Thai restaurant, a baseball-hatted blonde with a penchant for old movies, and ultimately to a new life as a legally married couple. Our wedding was a gift. A brilliantly sunny day placed right in the midst of five days of rain prior and the five days of rain that followed. It was everything we wanted it to be, great food (so I hear, the only thing I ate that day was a piece of garlic bread Liza decided she didn’t want, and my piece of wedding cake, which necessitated a massive pizza delivery that evening), lots of wine (so much so that our hostess had to make a mid-reception run to the store for more – apparently we have thirsty friends), a tremendous amount of laughter, song, dance, and the overwhelming feeling of a yard-full of people surrounding us with what my friend Tara would call “love and light.” (I said that’s what SHE would call it, I think all that love and light came from everyone being pleasantly pickled by the time the ceremony rolled around).
So. Married. Shiny new ring – shiny new last name – joint wireless cell phone plan – MARRIED. “Do you feel different?” I’m often asked. Well, the short answer is. . . “sometimes.” I mean, not a whole lot changed in our day-to-day lives. We still bicker over my tendency to (as Kelly says) “leave all those hair products willy-nilly all over the bathroom counter” rather than putting them back neatly in the attractive bins she purchased. Her ever-loving need to put taco seasoning on popcorn or pretzels and then leave the can of seasoning on the living room side table makes me absolutely bananas. We both claim superior dishwasher-organizing skills and we still love to curl up with a marathon of our favorite Bravo shows (any Real Housewives incarnation, Millionaire Matchmaker, Top Chef, you name it). So in those aspects nothing has changed. But in other ways everything has changed. I thought I’d feel a little silly referring to Kelly as my wife…I didn’t. Instead I felt giddy and excited. Kelly’s role in Liza’s life seems to have solidified as she routinely handles after-school pickup, rehearsal drop-offs, lunch packing and homework help on nights my schedule doesn’t allow me to do so. Liza loves to call her “StepKelly” and make cracks to either of us that usually involve some variation of “did you hear what your wife said?”. We’ve always been a family but I didn’t expect to feel this deeply how good it would be to have our family recognized legally, publicly, and joyously by the people in our lives.
When I started writing “My Imperfect Truth” my tag-line referenced my insecurity, my uh…fat-ness, and my single mom status. Well, with this new life and this New Year upon us that tag line will be changing. I’m no longer a single mom, and while I’m still grossly overweight, I’m hoping 2011 will be the year I finally face that particular demon and wrestle it to the ground. Kelly and I have embarked up on a weight-loss escapade together. (Side note: I refuse to call it a ‘journey.” Can we all please agree to retire ‘journey’ as one of the most overused words of 2010, everyone from contestants on “The Bachelor” to yoga instructors seems to be using it. Enough already.) With a minimum of 60 pounds to lose, it’s not going to be easy but with Kelly along for the ride it’s already been fun. Check in with us next year to see how we’ve done. (That is, if we haven’t gone crazy from hunger and eaten the couch cushions). And, of course, my name has changed. So with all those changes, and at the urging and under the capable hands of the aforementioned, incredibly patient, unbearably creative Tara, this blog has a new home at www.thekatiecollins.com. Kind of has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? We’ve made some slight changes to the tag line but the rest remains the same. It’s just me talking about my family, bragging about Liza, giggling at Kelly’s wisecracks and snarking on her fashion choices (oh just wait til I talk about her Pilgrim shirt), wondering what to do for a living, reflecting on the people I’ve lost and miss so much, and worrying about an election that has already placed my brand new married status in peril.
Thanks for checking in with me from time to time, for reading, for commenting, and most of all for laughing with me. Although please be forewarned that any cheery “you can DO IT!” comments about my weight loss will be mercilessly mocked. As Kelly and Liza and I celebrate our “Married Christmas and a Happy New Life,” I send you all my best for a joyous holiday. May there be food and friends, wine and wit, and good tidings for you all.
May 15, 1999 fell on a Saturday, just like today. The weather was spring-warm, the way I like it – not yet too hot. Outside our neighbors on our quiet cul-de-sac were already appearing in their yards to mulch their gardens, plant flowers and mow the lawn. This meant that virtually the entire neighborhood was there to see me lower my enormous 9 months and 3 days pregnant body into our tiny Dodge Colt and head off to the hospital. Finally. It was time, time to meet the restless daughter who had grown inside me for 9 months, sticking her feet under my ribs, kicking in indignation anytime I rested anything on my giant belly (my ex husband used to delight in putting the TV remote there only to watch it fly off after a well placed kick from the baby), and plaguing me with the kind of heartburn that made me feel like an ad for Tums. Our journey to the hospital just a mile or two away felt like something that had been scripted for an old 1970s sitcom. The road we took was under construction, unpaved and bumpy – just the way women in labor like it! A boy on a bicycle darted out into the street causing my ex- husband to slam on the breaks and me to actually utter the line “do that again and this baby is going to be born in the car.” Once at the hospital we watched an elderly couple board the elevator and as David said politely – “we’ll get the next one,” I countered with ‘HOLD THAT ELEVATOR!” There are times when the ability to project to the back row of a theater comes in handy. This was one of those times. Finally safely ensconced in the labor and delivery room as I clung to the cool calm hand of my L&D nurse (A woman I will never forget by the way, I may not remember what I had for breakfast an hour after I eat it but I will always remember her cool hand and her calm, caring demeanor.) Continuing our streak of zingers and wacky set-ups I remember telling her that as hard as I was trying to be strong it really, really REALLLY hurt and I thought I needed something for the pain. Assuring me she would do so as soon as she checked my progress she suddenly got a funny look on her face and said “oh honey, I can’t give you anything.” “WHAT? WHY?”, I wailed. “Because I have your baby’s head in my hands that’s why. She’s almost here!”
I should have known then. I should have known that one miss Elizabeth Rose (named for St. Elizabeth Seton and my favorite aunt Rose) was going to make her entrance a dramatic one. Forty-five minutes later there she was, red-faced, screaming at the indignity of the bright lights, and submitting to her bath where a flock of cooing nurses exclaimed over having a baby with so much thick hair they needed to shampoo and comb it out with the world’s tiniest little baby comb. (Thinking about this moment eleven years later I realize it was her first stop in hair and makeup).
Eleven years. Eleven years since that warm Saturday in May. I realize in the grand scheme of motherhood this is nothing. I know that women with older teens or grown children, smile indulgently at this statement (or roll their eyes) the same way I do when I talk to the mom of an infant or a toddler. We’re all thinking the same thing “Oh honey, that’s nothing. You have no idea what you still have to get through.” But eleven years of being Liza’s mom has taught me a great deal. I’ve been surprised at the things (good and bad) I am capable of and comforted by the confirmation of things I have always known – surprised at my capacity to love and my capacity for anger and frustration, surprised at my ability to care for another human being so completely, and comforted by how complete I feel at the touch of a small hand in mine or the sensation of my body curved around a smaller version of myself during a midsummer thunderstorm.
Never a big believer in giving things for the sake of giving, I’ve always tried to do special things for Liza’s birthdays – tickets to a concert or a special day trip for example. This year, at her request we gave her a complete room makeover – new paint, new comforter and curtains, new ‘wall art,” — the works. Gone are the ballerina lamp and comforter we picked out when we moved into my condo when she was five – replaced by bright polka dots, pink baskets for her scarves and accessories, a new mirror for the endless analyzing of the right shade of lip gloss, and bulletin boards full of photos of her and her friends from school, dance and theater. As I surveyed Kelly’s painting handiwork and the new and improved ‘ready for tweendom’ accessories, I felt a tug on my heart at the little girl trappings that had been boxed up and put away – replaced by “body mist” from Bath and Body works, a stage makeup kit, a journal, and a stack of novels. My baby girl was really gone, embarked on a journey toward adolescence and all the heartbreak, laughter, and angst that accompanies it. This morning as we paused at Liza’s door with her ready for “the big reveal,” as they call it on reality television I said a silent goodbye to her infancy, her toddlerhood, and her young childhood and readied myself for the years to come. Yet after the squeals of excitement and the “O M G”s , Liza asked if it was ok to put back up a fabric she made in daycare 10 years ago – a print of her tiny 1 year old hand with the sentiment ‘put your hand in mine, and I’ll be there any time.” It had been my first Mother’s Day gift from her and we had placed it on her bedroom wall after my divorce as a pledge that we would always be there for each other. When we redecorated I took it down, thinking it might be too childish for her now. When she asked for it back I got my Mother’s Day present all over again. Her hand in mine, now twice the size of the tiny hand on the fabric print. And while that hand doesn’t reach for mine as often as it used to, and while those newly 11-year old eyes roll at me a dozen times a day or more, and while cute tiny overalls and onesies have been replaced by tiny denim shorts and tank tops, underneath it all is that same baby who screamed head-long into my life this day eleven years ago. Happy birthday Liza Rose and thanks for the best Mothers’ Day ever.
The other day someone asked me how long Kelly had been living with us and as I stopped to add up the weeks I realized it was just shy of three months. Three months? That’s it? So seamlessly has our family life shifted and expanded to include Kelly and the cats that it feels as though we’ve always been a family of three (well ok seven if you count the cats). Oh sure there have been the “why do you leave the dishes on the counter instead of putting them in the dishwasher?”, the “Is there a reason you like to leave cupboards open after you get something out of them?” and the “I JUST swept that floor and now there’s shredded cheese all over it” er…discussions. (And no, I’m not going to tell you who the culprits were in any of those examples). And of course there have been the delightful “you folded and put away the laundry and started dinner?”, “YOU scooped the litter box?” and the “why don’t I pick up the girl today to give you a little extra time at work?” surprises. The other night when Kelly worked an additional 3-11 shift I found I couldn’t go to sleep without her there, so accustomed I’d become to our pillow talk at the end of the day.
So all in all it’s your basic family life with all those “ little things” (with apologies to Mr. Sondheim) that make it all worthwhile and maddening at the same time. And for me, someone who’s felt rudderless with little family for so long, it provides that mooring, that safe harbor to return to each night. So of course I was looking forward to a ‘real’ family Christmas this year and making our home warm and full of holiday cheer.
After five years as my partner, Kelly is indulgent of my penchant for decorating at Christmas, and humors my endless “No! the Santa on the bike goes on the phone table not the coffee table!” decrees. However, this year we had to navigate new furniture and the absence of old, resulting in Kelly gallantly clearing her sideboard to give the Santa mugs a new home, and my agreeing to cull down some of the duplicates so they would all fit. The crèche and the nutcracker collection found new spots as well and it all seemed to work out ok. Much to my relief the cats left things alone for the most part, although Spatz does show a marked preference for alternating between tipping over and sleeping on top of the basket of lights and pinecones I have in the living room. But then there was the issue of the tree. “In 43 years I’ve never had a fake tree!” I declared. But Kelly would hear none of it as she worried about cats eating the needles, drinking sap infused water out of the tree stand and dying horrible pine scented deaths. When she finally uttered the magic phrase “oh for heaven’s sake I’ll even BUY the tree” she finally had a deal. We managed to find one that wouldn’t break our bank and looked somewhat realistic so one night we set out to set it up while Liza was off at a friend’s house. The minute we took endless bunches of color-coded branches out of the box and read the instructions I started to cry. This was so wrong! Christmas trees came from our annual trip to the lot near the Dunkin Donuts and arrived at our home precariously balanced on the jeep and leaving a trail of needles as we wrestled it through the door – not FROM A BOX.” Kelly, bless her heart gently offered to take the tree back and throw the fates to the wind with a real tree so I dried my tears and persevered. By golly it started to look like a tree. By the time we got the lights on I felt much better and announced Liza and her friend and I would decorate it the next day while Kelly worked.
The next day while Liza and her friend played up in her room I decided to fold a quick load of laundry before bringing up the decorations. As I knelt on the floor near the washer/dryer closet folding and sorting I heard a rustling above my head followed by a meow as our cat Spatz suddenly poked his nose through the foam ceiling tile of my drop ceiling. He had jumped from washer to storage box and into the ceiling tiles quicker than I can polish off a bag of Ruffles. Did I mention the celing tiles are foam? As in non-cat-body-weight supporting foam? Much to his dismay I wrestled him to the ground closed the closet door, replaced the tile and sent him on his way. Less than 30 minutes later as the girls headed down to the basement we heard a thud followed by “mommmma…you better come down here.” Sure enough Spatz had repeated his new trick and surfed the foam tile down to the carpet below, sauntering away with a look that read “something happened to your ceiling.”
Fortunately I had the tree to distract him.
For the entire first week following our tree trimming we’d return home to find branches knocked off, ornaments rolled across the room and one particularly lovely Clara Nutcracker ornament repeatedly taken down. While the other cats regarded the tree with mild confusion Spatz saw it as a challenge. He chewed on lights, batted at ornaments and climbed the fake trunk of the tree in a quest to find those antique breakable family ornaments I’d placed on the topmost branches in an effort to keep them safe. After days of me pulling him out of the tree and threatening to banish him to the snow we finally came to a truce the day I returned home to find his favorite toy (a stuffed dog he stole from Liza’s room) lovingly tucked under the tree as a peace offering. He hasn’t so much as bothered a branch sincet. I can’t say the same for the basement ceiling but in exchange for his leaving the tree alone I daily replace the ceiling tiles and go about my day.
The holiday season can be brutal when you work both in a theater and bookstore and have a daughter who performs in dance, music, and theater. Between the multiple nutcrackers and Christmas Carols (last tally 4 of the former, 2 of the latter) and the shelving and scanning and the “my wife wants some book that has blue in the title, or maybe the cover is blue. I forget. Anyway do you have that one?”s, it’s easy to just want to wish the holidays away so that life can return to its peaceful ordered existence free of misshapen gingerbread houses and mad dashes to Target and “which costume do you need for today?” conversations. But the other night when I returned from the theater around 9pm, we ended up all gathering round the dining room table as Kelly researched honeymoon destinations and Liza created virtual rooms on Barbie.com and I relaxed with my nutritionist-sanctioned one glass of Shiraz. I looked at the room bathed in the glow of the tree lights, at the Santa mugs in their new spot, and at the cats curled up near the heating vent and was suddenly gripped with the kind of Christmas excitement I haven’t felt in years. “You guys!” I said, “look! It’s our first real family Christmas!” Kelly smiled and murmured ‘mmmm’ without taking her eyes from her search for special Napa Valley Inns, but Liza looked up at me, rolled her eyes and gave me the best Christmas gift she possibly could have. “ Mommmmma! We’ve been a family for years! The only difference this year is that we all live together..duhhhh!” Of course Liza, of course. It may not be “God bless us everyone,” but for my family it’s pretty darn close. Merry Christmas.