the family we choose

IMG_2949“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.”
~ Chinese proverb

I always wanted a daughter. Last year, I finally got one.

She arrived not as a newborn into my arms, but into my heart instead, and fully grown. And yet the mysterious, compelling process of attachment has changed us both. Perhaps that’s because as long as we’re fully engaged in forging deeper relationships with others, we’re also continuously being formed ourselves, sculpted and honed by the invisible hand of love.

The first email from my daughter-to-be came a couple of years ago, through my website:

Hello…. Today I watched the Ordinary Day video and found myself crying in my cube at work. I am not a mother (yet). I am a Connecticut native who became a transplant in Atlanta – working and dating with no long-lasting luck.

Your video moved me because even though I am 32 years old, I have always longed for my parents, or perhaps more so my Mom, to share with me her feelings like you did. . . .Funny enough, I am much like you: Nostalgic, and with a plethora of stories of the five kids I grew up babysitting, and I long for those “ordinary days” even for myself!”

Lauren wanted to order a book for herself and one to give to her cousin for Mother’s Day. And, Lauren being Lauren, she wanted to make her gift special by having me inscribe it.

That was the beginning – an innocuous exchange similar to hundreds of others I’ve had over the years. But, Lauren being Lauren, she followed up her request for books with a thank you note. What’s more, she told me she’d now read The Gift of an Ordinary Day and sensed in me a kindred spirit, the kind of mother she herself aspired to be one day.

Fast forward a few months, to early autumn 2013. My son Jack was moving to Atlanta to begin school in October and I was flying down with him, to rent a car and help him set up housekeeping in a new apartment. Lauren, now a regular reader of my blog, sent an email.

The gist: I live about ten minutes from where Jack will be. I’m sure you’ll be busy, but if you have time for a cup of coffee, I’d love to dash over to the campus and meet you two. And then, if Jack ever needs a ride to the airport, or tickets to a Hawks game, or a friend in Smyrna, he’ll have someone to call.

The three of us had that cup of coffee. We hit it off. In fact, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to part on that bright October morning with hugs and promises to stay in touch. And we did. Jack and Lauren met for breakfast a few times and he took her up on her offer to drive him to the airport. We exchanged more letters. When she came home to Connecticut for Christmas, I invited her to New Hampshire for a visit.

IMG_2950This is so not the usual me. Introverted by nature, protective of my space, I don’t enter into new relationships lightly or often. But from the beginning there was something different here — what Lauren called “a wink” — as if some larger forces were at work.

And so it was that within minutes of arriving at our house for the first time, Lauren was up to her elbows in dough, making sausage balls with Henry for Christmas breakfast. When I flew to Georgia to visit Jack last February, she invited me to stay in her guest room. And  once again, the universe winked: what was meant to be a quick three-night stay turned into a whole week, as one snowstorm after another, all up and down the east coast, resulted in a series of canceled flights.

Lauren loaned me a cozy bathrobe and a winter hat, brought me coffee in bed each morning and, on long walks through her neighborhood, shared with me the story of her life, from her parents’ divorce when she was eleven through the ups and downs of her online dating career. I taught her how to make my salad dressing, introduced her to the short stories of Laurie Colwin, and to the grace our family says when we’re all gathered at the table. We took Jack out for dinner one night and on another invited him over for a candlelit meal at her table.

We spent our time just the way I’d have spent a lovely, uneventful week with my own flesh-and-blood daughter, if I had one. And moment by moment, as we walked and talked and listened, we got to know each other better. Stirring soup and making banana bread, watching Downton Abbey, browsing the neighborhood shops, reading side by side in silence or working quietly on our laptops, our easy, companionable togetherness slowly, imperceptibly turned into something more, something I can only describe as kinship.

By the time I finally did get on a northbound plane, Lauren and I were a done deal: bound for life. And when I landed in New Hampshire, there was an email waiting for me: “I’m completely charmed by your nurturing presence and big heart. I also think you would have been an ideal mother to a daughter, so I’ll gladly and graciously be your girl, if you’ll have me!”

These days, I often refer – only half-jokingly — to “my three kids.” In fact, those three young adults have grown close, forging their own sibling relationships with each other, just as Lauren and Steve have created an affectionate father-daughter bond. Without any urging from me, our family simply got bigger. And better.

What I’ve learned over the last year, as these unexpected, precious relationships have deepened, is that motherhood isn’t just a matter of biology and blood. To mother another human being is to love that person wholeheartedly, both for who they are and also for who they could yet be. It’s a willingness to be present, to bear witness to another’s journey. It’s an act of recognition.

IMG_7443Here’s what I think: Just as in the exhilarating moments after birth, when two souls meet, so too can a mother and her spiritual child find each other at any time when hearts are open, and at any twist or turn in the path. And when it happens, there’s a flash of affinity, a kind of deep acknowledgement, a sense of ancient, inexplicable knowing.

I can’t say whether it was grace or God or serendipity that offered me and a sensitive young woman from Atlanta the opportunity to forge a connection that satisfies a longing in us both, but ours is surely a sacred alliance. To me, being a mom these days – whether to my own two sons or to my cherished surrogate daughter – is about seeing and nurturing the essential beauty in each of these young people, believing in their growth, inspiring them to realize their deepest potential even as they inspire me, in return, to realize mine.

“I think I willed you to me,” Lauren wrote me the other day, in a letter that prompted me to ponder our special bond – and to write these reflections down. She continued:

I don’t know any other way to express this thought other than to say my soul had been searching for you. . . .Perhaps the biggest misconception is that we assume that you can only mother little kids, and that adults don’t need to be mothered. But look at us – I’m 35 and you’re 57. There’s no right or wrong time to connect, or to mother someone you didn’t bring into the world. Your kids flew the nest, and doesn’t that just mean they need you now in a different way? And now you’ve got me, too, updating you on potential matches, sharing books, advice, love, stories. I think about how I met you after years of working on some really difficult things, and while I don’t view myself as a wounded bird, there is a part of me that you saved. This entire last year would have been a completely different experience for me if you weren’t in my life. I believe that deeply. And no one would have been able to predict this connection on that morning you first treated me to coffee at Life University.

I’m glad the love flows in both directions, and I’m glad I have you as a mother in my life. I may no longer be held safely within the village of my youth, but I’m pretty sure your presence in my village today is just as special and important, simply because I choose you every day.”

It’s often said we can choose our friends but not our families. Not so. I’ve chosen a daughter and she’s chosen me. There are years we missed (no adolescent angst to recall, no funny anecdotes from childhood to laugh about), but no matter. Ours is a potent alchemy, one in which we are both being asked to stretch, to trust, to reveal our own vulnerabilities and shadows and yet to remain in sight, present for one another through life’s sweet joys and its inevitable sorrows. An invisible thread has connected us — and the blessing flows both ways.

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for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Could you share what grace your family says when together, please? What a sweet post. Blessed.

  2. Lindsay Corris says:

    It is so nice that you have each other, Katrina! What a beautiful relationship that has unfolded and blessed you both! I am glad that you are in Lauren’s life!! Xoxo

  3. Oh, how I love this, Katrina! I cannot think of a dearer mother and daughter than you and Lauren. I’ve said it often, and I’ll say it again: You are blessed to have found one another. Wishing you every happiness in this sweet story you’re writing together, chapter by chapter. All my love to you both. xoxo

  4. What an enlightening post Katrina. I gained a refined spirit of what I need to do to refresh and rejuvenate my own relationship with my daughter who is 28 . We are still trying to heal and rejuvenate our relationship after several years of college era turmoil……her choosing a boyfriend who was seemingly destructive, and her isolating from our family.
    Your writing about your growing relationship with Lauren has reminded me to realize that mothering must always be whole hearted unconditional love and as you say a willingness
    To bear witness to another’s journey…..even if it does not match the journey we would presently wish for our daughter……..it requires such faith and abiding love! Thank you for sharing! Hope you are continuing to feel more whole since your surgery, and Jacks recovery continues its foundation building. I too am experiencing both those issues of New THR, and a son gradually turning toward Recovery…….what a full plate of life we have!

  5. How wonderful this is. Thank you for sharing it. Family happens in all kinds of ways and this way is particularly lovely.

  6. This is so lovely and just last year I reconnected with a childhood friend after forty years and soon realized I wanted to be a chosen sister and so that’s what we’ve become. It’s a great thing to know we can choose family after all.

  7. Simply beautiful, Katrina. I am so very happy for both of you, for in your relationship you have found something special indeed. And Lauren is right — the need to have a mom doesn’t stop when you “grow up” and move out of the house. Sometimes that’s when you need one most. I haven’t had one since I’ve been 25 and I know exactly what she means.

    I’ve often heard — and said — that friends are the family we make for ourselves. I have no siblings but I have sisters, two or three amazing women friends who have seen me at my best and worst, for whom I would do all the sister things, the most important of which is being there. In fact, we are closer than many of my friends are to their siblings, including their own sisters. Perhaps there isn’t that “growing up” baggage of hurts rendered intentionally or unintentionally at tender ages or in the case of parents all those growing up struggles. Doesn’t matter really — they are family. I am so very grateful that you and Lauren have found one another for family truly matters, as well you know.

  8. martha chabinsky says:

    My youngest son’s ex-fiance is a big part of our lives still, auntie to my grandchildren, and like a daughter to me. She is a gift for which I will always be grateful, as I have no biological daughters either.

  9. Lauren is very lucky to have found you — your words and the way you share your soul here always nurtures me — I feel a kinship in you many times when I read this blog, and when I read your books. You are lucky to have found Lauren, who is so willing and wanting your love and nurturing. Many blessings to you both and please please keep sharing you with all of us

  10. Love this, Katrina! And I just printed it out to share with the foster mom with whom I work. This amazing woman has taken in SIX foster kids in addition to her biological daughter. This woman’s love knows no bounds and I know your story will touch her heart. You and Lauren are lucky to have found each other, but isn’t that the way it works in the Universe, after all?

  11. This is so lovely Katrina, how wonderful for you and Lauren to have found each other. Yesterday would have been my mom’s 81st birthday, we lost her in 2010, and I don’t think that void will ever be filled no matter how old I grow; but perhaps, just maybe, there could be another mother for me out in the universe somewhere. Thanks for planting the seed of hope.

  12. This is so beautiful. Made me happy in a time when I feel very disconnected from family.
    Thank you for always being light and love and truth.

  13. That quote is amazing. So true. xox

  14. Lily Jacobi says:

    I too would be interested in knowing the prayer!

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Our grace is the one the boys’ beloved kindergarten teacher taught them at snack time. We tried many times over the years to instill another more “grown-up” grace tradition at our table, but nothing else ever really took. And so we finally just accepted that this would forever be our family grace, and now that our dear Lisa is gone, saying these words while we hold hands is also a way of remembering her presence in all our lives and honoring her memory. The words are simplicity itself: “Earth who gives to us this food, sun who makes it ripe and good, dearest earth and dearest sun we’ll not forget what you have done. Blessings on our meal and each other.”

  15. What a beautiful post Katrina & another blessing in your life. This resonates strongly with me because although I have four wonderful children of my own, I too have had a similar experience over the last couple of years. I’m grateful to have met my ‘extra daughter’ xx

  16. Sandee Dean says:

    Loved reading this beautiful story! I am so happy that you both have found each other. Lauren is one of my favorite people and she deserves so much love! What a beautiful friendship and family you have formed!

  17. Katrina, thanks for your wonderful story. I have three grown boys and have always longed for a daughter. Your story awakened me to the fact that I don’t have to have a biological daughter. I have several young women in my life who are like daughters to me. That is all I need. Thank You, thank you.

    Carol

  18. Great article. We have one of those daughters, Masha, who we found when she was in college here from Russia and we lived in Milwaukee.

  19. This is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. I have had a few surrogate children over the years, and they are very dear to me, and my life is so much richer for their presence in my life. I can relate completely with your story.

  20. Michele Feller says:

    A while back, I was invited by Lauren to hear you speak at a luncheon in Connecticut. (I am Lindsay’s aunt.). Thoroughly enjoying your presentation, I purchased your book, Ordinary Day. Soon, I was enjoying your website. Much to my surprise tonight, there was Lauren looking back at me! I shared with my husband, then proceeded to read your words to him…both of us enjoying what you and Lauren had to say. What a wonderful journey for you both! Looking forward to future blogs, with which I find I connection each time. Blessings to you!

  21. Once again Katrina you are such an inspiration. I am 58 and never had my own children but I feel I have helped mother some 30-something women in my life too. Sometimes I think that is my calling. I must say I get so excited when I see your stories pop up in my email. You express so well what I think, but could never put in words. Be well!
    Deb

  22. I’m sitting here crying my eyes out reading this. I am so deeply moved by this beautiful story. I feel so alive when I read your words Katrina, and I am so happy for the amazing connection you and Lauren have made. It gives me hope that maybe I too, at 39, might be able to fill that void of a mother figure and friend that I never got and continue to yearn so deeply for. This article really highlighted some of my deepest sorrows in life but in doing so, it has also helped me feel incredibly alive. I’m not sure why but the pain gives me a certain clarity. Thank you and my warmest blessings to you xx

  23. I remember the first time I came upon your book, “The Gift of an Ordinary Day”in my local Barnes & Noble. I took it home and could not put it down. I told all my friends and female relatives about you. I, too, felt some magical pull. Whatever was going on in your life at the time mirrored events in mine. You felt like a best friend that I could relate to, and share. I had never so eagerly awaited anyone’s posts nor shared openly these feelings. I applaud your kinship with Lauren. Sometimes there are stronger forces at work in the universe. And sometimes friendships are more meaningful than tjose you are related to. The saying, you can choose your friends but not your family is my favorite. God bless you and thank you for being who you are. I love sharing with you and your community of fellow readers.

  24. What a lovely story, Katrina. I’m glad I saved it for this morning after an evening surrounded by young teens and adults- my own three and many of my daughters friends at a high school performance. I was reflecting on how my heart has expanded to include my children’s friends. We have so many blessings and the friends they share with me gives me a chance to grow my heart. Thank you for sharing your story.

  25. Shelly Gilliland says:

    I read this on Facebook but was reluctant to comment there, publicly, because of family members who might misconstrue my feelings. 😉 I soooooo get the possibility of acquiring a new “family” member and have experienced it myself – on both ends of the equation. I think it happens when you aren’t looking for it and aren’t guarding against it. Serendipity and osmosis are definitely involved! So happy for you and your new daughter!

  26. Brett Peterman says:

    I really enjoyed getting to read the story of how you two met and, more importantly, how you two have bonded. Lauren is a wonderful woman and she speaks of you fondly.

  27. You asked us to hare your stories. Eight years ago a lovely 18 year old girl from France came to stay with us for 3 weeks as part of an exchange student program. From the first day she just fell right in with our family. We spent the days making food, telling stories and laughing. We all cried when she left. The next year, she came back to visit on her own and the bond between us had not changed. That year she joined us at my sister’s wedding, becoming part of our larger family. A couple years ago she came to the West Coast for a year of her Masters program. We shared Thanksgiving together and showed her 4th of July celebrations. For Christmas her mother and nephew joined us. I cannot explain the comfort we all felt being together – in spite of the language barriers. Next step, a trip to France to spend more time with her family. I call her my third child. I could not imagine my life without this young woman.

  28. Your writing is beautiful and your deep sentiment and authentic sharing is delightful, inspiring.
    I aspire to mother a biological child. If that’s not to happen on my journey, I sincerely wish for a genuine connection like this.
    Thank you for sharing from your heart Xx

  29. Christa Little-Siebold says:

    I am crying as I read this. I am a motherless daughter (since 14) and the deep empty spot in my life (turning 50 this year) is there to stay – when someone put your book in my hands two years ago, you touched that space, and you have no idea. Thank you for sharing this story with me. I feel am not alone in this feeling as a mother without mother, and my heart is full of joy to see this great relationship you both have built with each other.

  30. Jess Hogan says:

    What a beautifully written article! What a tremendous bond you have formed, thankful to have met you both through the Jimmy Fund Walk. Thank you both for all that you do!

  31. Wow. I am also a mother of two sons both now in college and I have always longed for a daughter. This gives me great hope. I hope someone “wills” me to them someday because it would heal my own longing. This story also comes at a particularly poignant time for me as this week would have been my own mothers birthday. She’s been gone 14 years now and I still miss her everyday. Thank you for sharing your stories here. They can help in healing.

  32. Stephanie Lawniczek says:

    Such a wonderful and uplifting story! Lauren is one of the sweetest, kindest, and all-around warm-hearted people I know. I’m so glad your paths crossed and this wonderful connection and story has come out of it. I love the stories she shares about you and how excited it makes her. I’m very happy for both of you that you were able to discover this incredible bond!

  33. Patricia Pascale says:

    God “winked” and with open hearts you two accepted that offering. How wonderful for you both. Enjoy the relationship you have forged with one another. Looking forward to reading more stories of your journey. Namaste.

  34. Almost no words for this story, just love, love love. Thank you.

  35. Blessings of an ordinary day! XO

  36. This was beautiful. However I did wonder about Lauren’s biological mother, does she still have her own mother, are they estranged?

  37. William Carson says:

    My wife, Marie, and I are friends of Lauren. We live in Commerce, Georgia, the home of “Cold Sassy Tree” and “Leaving Cold Sassy”. I had the pleasure of showing Lauren the location of Olive Ann and Andy’s gravesite in the Grey Hill Cemetery in Commerce. Lauren provided me with copies of the letters that traveled back and forth between you and Olive Ann before “Cold Sassy” publication. We are lifelong members of Hebron Presbyterian Church which is mentioned often in the book. Now through your blog I feel that I have a closer knowledge of the great Mother-Daughter friendship nurtured between you and Lauren. Thank you Katrina, keep in touch.

  38. Pam Hunter says:

    So very, very sweet and a love that is meant to be! Thank you so much for sharing your words of love so that we can can feel it, too! xo

  39. Lauren Seabourne says:

    One year later and I’m still grateful for this connection and your motherly presence in my life. Thank you for everything. xoxo

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