“Hi, my name is Katie, and I am a crier. I’ve been a crier for a long time.”
I cry about everything. Hallmark commercials (most commercials). Children’s books. While at the grocery store and on the sidelines of a parade. And while the majority of the world somehow has their act together enough to keep their tears in, mine spill out every time. Luckily, I am not alone.
I attribute my eternally post-partum emotional state to my dear sweet amazing Nunny, who is the crier supreme. Her tears often accompany homemade gifts, all prayers added to the church bulletin, and many other random events.
My mother is my Nunny’s oldest daughter, and she is NOT a crier.
My mother is a strong-willed Italian woman, daughter and granddaughter to funeral directors who may or may not … or may… have had serious ties to the Mafia. She is a talented pianist and a no-nonsense nurse who has seen so many serious medical emergencies that any ailments of her children were treated with a rough “ice and ibuprofen.”
When my brother fell down the stairs and literally bit his tongue in two, my mother waited until we finished dinner before she took him to the hospital. She is one tough cookie.
And for the majority of my life, I viewed my mother as a carefully crafted, stern and rather rigid woman, all 5 feet 0 inches of her.
Throughout my childhood, women would often approach me and tell me how amazing my mother is and, “Do you know you have the best mother in the world?” I would stare at them, wide-eyed and think,
“My mom? She must be happy around you, because she’s certainly not happy around me. In fact, I’m not sure she even likes me.”
Hearing this, of course, would make my Nunny cry.
You see, I was a little girl with big feelings and was too often hurt by off-hand comments from my mother. I internalized her tense replies, which widened the chasm between us.
One time, when I was making myself breakfast, the milk spectacularly fountained over the spoon. Thrilled at what I had done, I excitedly called for my mom to see, and in repeating what I had hoped to be a milk-spoon trick, I instead created a milk-floor mess.
My mom didn’t yell. She may not have said anything more than a frustrated form of my name, but her exasperated sigh and the tense clench of her muscles spoke to me words of continual disappointment.
Of course, maybe that was just one more thing not going right for her that day, and maybe there were other things occurring in her life that were so hard, it was taking all her strength just to be present. I couldn’t have known. I only saw her as my mother.
Sometimes we would catch her dancing in the kitchen, hips swaying side to side, arms moving in the style of “Walk-Like-an-Egyptian.”
With our father beside her, making up jokes, we felt connected, hopeful. Playfully laughing at the song on the radio and the ridiculous dance moves Mom was making up.
And I had a glimpse of what things could be and curiously wondered why they were not.
As a teenager, I had a very tumultuous relationship with my mother.
I still internalized her short remarks and still felt like maybe she wasn’t too thrilled with me.
I remember one particularly horrible evening. I was crying. I felt confused, lonely. And there was my mother, crying as well. I had never seen her so emotional, so vulnerable before. She said words that I didn’t understand, but I could not forget.
“Katie,” she said, “I have sacrificed so much for you.”
What I didn’t know then, was that soon after I was born, my mother discovered that my father had been unfaithful, many times over. Yet she decided to stay with that man to give her newborn daughter a family. And she did.
Over the next 15 years, my resolute mother became a mother of seven, and she woke most mornings with the suffocating burden of her husband’s frequent and secret infidelity.
It was many years later that my siblings and I finally found out the truth about our father, and the whole of our world came crashing down around us. It seemed that we could not go on. Yet, someone was already there picking up the pieces and gently tending to the wounds: our mother.
The same woman who seemed so cold and distant when I was young, was now the one stroking our hair and reminding us that we are, and have always been, deeply loved and wonderfully created.
And as she stepped out of the shadows of the secrets she had kept for years and into the light of truth and freedom, I was finally able to SEE my mother for the incredibly strong and compassionate woman that she is, and I was flooded with understanding and grace for all our turbulent years together.
The night I brought my first child home from the hospital, beautiful in all his soft perfect skin and warm baby breath, I was overcome with emotion.
I called my mother late into the night–crying, of course.
“Kate, what’s wrong?” she asked.
I could barely say the words.
“Now I know how much you love me.“
There I was, standing over my tiny child’s bed, melting from the overwhelming warmth of my love for him. And I knew, even then, that though I love him, I will fail him. I will make mistakes, and I will be unable to keep him from sadness, pain, hardship.
Thankfully, I carry with me the wisdom and the strength from my own mother. Her story (though a difficult one and one I wish I could re-write in a million different ways) has shown me that forgiveness and grace-filled love can set you back on your feet, wipe away your sweet and valid tears, and encourage you forward with confidence to know and be known… and to love and be loved.
I’m still an unnaturally tearful person, but now, when I’m crying over musical numbers or Christmas Eve services, I look over at my mother, now lovingly referred to as Grammy Pie, and smile. She’s crying right along with me.
Katie Long is a proud mama to four wild and wonderful children and works outside the home as a pediatric triage nurse and breastfeeding counselor. She is married to a very calm and dedicated husband who is an English teacher and together, this power couple ensures their children have been well-fed, are fully immunized, and use adverbs appropriately. They live in an incredible community in the Northside of Pittsburgh and have one very fat cat.