MOM CRUSH: KARA M
PORTLAND, OR + KALAMAZOO, MI
a story of transition, LOSS, inner strength and putting family first. kara shares what happens when your husband loses his job of 16 years and you decide to pack up and move your family of six halfway across the states.
INTERVIEW BY KARIN HESSELVIK
PHOTOS BY NIKKI FENIX & KARA MARKOVICH
What’s the first thing you remember creating?
As a child, I was constantly creating and imagining but performing and singing have always been my natural creative medium. I see my oldest daughter and think “Oh, so THIS is what I was like.”
What’s the most recent thing you created?
Roasted vegetables with a beef and rice skillet.
We only had a few groceries in our new house (we had just moved in). I had planned a meal for that evening but as I cut into the parsnips, I quickly realized that the texture looked much more like a radish. I had accidentally picked up Daikon Radishes (which I have NEVER had before) instead of parsnips. Meal planned scrapped and suddenly I had to think fast and be resourceful.
And so goes life right now. We are in such a transitional stage. For so long, we were just getting by on fumes. I knew moving would be all-consuming and exhausting; making the decision to move, getting the house, packing up the old house, painting the new house, managing the kids, actually saying goodbye and moving across the country. I foolishly thought I would immediately begin hosting sisters’ circles and writing more, maybe creating all the spaces I envisioned in this new house.
But instead, I am allowing myself to just be. Be with the house. Be with the kids. Be with the understanding that I just don’t have time right now to meet new people. It will all come. So will all that creativity. So instead, I am being resourceful in the kitchen and trying to decide what drawer the kids’ underwear is going to go in.
Are you a kid or a grown up?
Do you know how BADLY I want to say I am a kid? I want to admit that I am all fun and a whole lotta games. But I’m not. I have to create calendars and lists and sometimes all I feel is the weight of adulthood and parenting. The organizing. The running around, the running up and down stairs, the running kids to and from the bathroom, the running of this family’s show. The grown up part comes when I remember that I am responsible for these four human beings and I hope to God I don’t fuck it all up. Because some days, it feels like that is all I am capable of doing. But then, when I can’t get them to brush their teeth, so I start singing some ridiculous, made-up song or we dance, dramatically, to Let It Go for the 542nd time in a row. THEN I am a kid. Then I feel myself again.
What are you most proud of?
In the past, I would have said it was something concrete, like running the Rome Marathon (which was YEARS ago).
But now, I find I am most proud of how I have navigated the trickiest, bumpiest pot holes in the road. The infertility, the miscarriages, the loss of my father, Ulla’s Congenital Heart Defect and her open heart surgery. The days when I can’t help but wonder if I should have had four kids, let alone any kids, because there are moments when I am not convinced I am the right person for the job. And in all of that, I am proud. Proud when I think of these heartaches and losses that see the magic in all of them. I can’t help but embrace the lessons that each one of these spirits has taught me.
What does freedom mean to you?
Two full days a week, in my home, by myself, writing and creating. Then, at the end of the day, maybe Greg and I meet up, have a drink, go out for walk in the woods behind our house and. When we return, the kids are already in bed sleeping.
What’s something that energizes you?
Having a thought that I can actually write down and expand on. That and a long walk with a a good friend when the conversation is not once broken by silence.
What’s something that brings you peace?
The moment I stop trying to get everything done, I drop to the floor and just let my kids climb all over me.
Who is your mom crush?
Constance Hall. I discovered her on social media way back when all my time was spent sitting in a chair and every few hours, nursing one newborn baby and then the other. I remember scrolling through mindlessly and seeing a piece she wrote and I cried. She has four kids (the last being twins) and I related to her in that moment like no other. She is a believer in women supporting women, not women shaming women. She is real in her words and she swears. I like her.
Why do you think being part of a female community is important?
I feel grounded when I am with my sisters. I am seen and I am heard and I listen. We have so much to give one another and I found this incredibly powerful about 5 years ago when I had flown back to Michigan to be with my mom. My father was in the hospital after receiving a heart pump and the recovery was slow. My mom was staying at the hospital’s housing for families of patients. At night, volunteers would make dinners for the guests and every night, my mom would sit with the same women. Women who were all there because their husbands were receiving care for heart conditions or cancer. None of these women knew one another before but it was clear that none of that mattered.
One night during dinner, I shared a funny meme I had seen on the internet. It was one of those vintage looking drawings of a woman in an apron and it read, “Sometimes I look at my husband and think ‘He is one lucky son-of-a-bitch.” The laughter, it exploded from these women. Women who found themselves in an incredibly trying time in their lives with stress and what-ifs and lots of unknowns. And here they were, in a circle around the table, laughing, loudly, together.
Can you talk more about your sister circles?
In the fall of 2016, I won a scholarship to attend the Nine Retreat in Oregon. It was so inspiring and rejuvenating. Here I was, a mom of four, the twins were only 10 months old, and I knew I needed support more than ever and being with these women who started off as strangers, gave me just that. When I left, I was on such a high. A few months later, though changed by my experience, that high had faded a bit and I realized I needed to continue that connection. So I planned to host my own mini retreat so I could have an excuse to get away and have all my friends there. Of course, that was easier said than done as finding a time to get everyone together was just too challenging. Besides, a retreat doesn’t happen often enough. Then my cousin Amber introduced me to a sisters’ circle. Being a part of this and witnessing the overwhelming power of women (many who did not know one another) in a circle, sharing their worries, their hangups and concerns, their greatest joys, THIS was what I needed and it became very clear to me that I was not the only one. And so it happens, once a month, during the the full moon.
Why is female intuition so important?
When I don’t listen to my heart and instead to logic only, things don’t go so well.
Three words that describe your take on motherhood
Sense of Humor
What have you learned about yourself since becoming a mother?
That I am capable of patience. Great amounts of it. But despite all that acquired patience, if my 10 year old pushes my buttons at my lowest, most exhausted point in the day, that I still have my temper.
I have learned that noise doesn’t bother me as much as I would have imagined and that I don’t really need nice things right now because my children would likely destroy them. And I’m okay with all of that.
I have learned that I greatly underestimated how challenging having twins can be and that I dread the day I have to potty train two kids at the same time. I hate prepping four kids to go outside in the cold (I make Greg do it) and when I am overwhelmed I have learned to ask for help. I realize now more than ever that marriage is work, especially with kids, and that I am not the nicest partner sometimes. I have learned that our kids really are our greatest teachers and there is a ton of improvement to be made on my part. For that I am grateful. I also know that not a single part of me regrets any of this because as crazy as my family makes me, I am madly crazy about them.
What role does creativity play in how you parent?
When I was in college, my friend told me a story about how her mom use to let her go to school wearing whatever outfit she had put together that morning. So whether the outfit was completely mismatched or her pigtails were uneven or if even if she had more than two pigtails, her mom let her just be her. So when my son wants to wear a dress, he wears a dress. When my daughter wants to wear swim goggles to school, she wears swim goggles.
Where does your inner strength come from?
For me, it comes from knowing that in this life, I am presented with lesson after lesson and the choice to learn and to accept and to know this is the journey I am taking. Shitty days and all.
Can you talk about loss and how it relates to your family's story?
When Oscar was five, I became pregnant. Finally. We had undergone fertility treatments, a failed IVF and then a successful one. I was on top of the world. And as if you could not be any more on top of the world, I was pregnant with twins. All was looking well and promising. Sometime around the 13th and 14th week, we had a ultrasound (it's common to have many more ultrasounds with IVF). During that time, we found out we were going to have a boy and a girl. It was perfect... Until it wasn't.
Around 18 weeks, when movement was beginning to feel more obvious, I noticed I was not feeling movement all around and was also concerned as I thought I should have looked bigger for carrying twins. I expressed this to family but let it go as they all reassured me that I looked great and that everything was fine. I visited my doctor who checked for heartbeats and assured me she heard two.
But then there was the 20 week ultrasound. Our sonographer, Chrissy (I will never forget her name), checked out Baby A, the girl. All looked good. Then she moved to Baby B. We waited as she moved the wand over my round belly, then she put the wand down, said she was sorry, stood up and walked out the door. What? Gone. I sat there, reaching, for the phone, for my mom, for my sisters, my friend. Reaching for my baby, my ideas of our family, reaching for all those plans we had. Reaching. And Reaching. And Reaching. Gone.
I don’t go to this place very often but when I do, I let it sit with me for while, a reminder that our baby Luca has been one of my greatest lessons in this life. I am so grateful for his spirit and what he has taught not only Greg and I but Oscar, who we spoke openly with right after it happened and have ever since. I am grateful for that which Ophelia and Ulla and Hugo will someday learn. The day after losing Luca, I found a half of a walnut shell on the sidewalk, in the perfect shape of a heart. It was my sign of healing. Ever since, I have been prone to find heart shapes in nature and it comforts me.
A year later, my father would die. My mother, my sisters and I would all be with him. We would sing him songs and hold his hand and caress his hair. We laughed and cried and I witnessed my mom push aside lines and wires so that she could lay next to him one more time. It was painful and beautiful and when he was gone, we kissed him goodbye. But he has never left me. I feel him everyday and I am open to the signs, just as I am with Luca. Death has taught me to listen more. Maybe because now I really have a stake in the game. My people are there and I want to feel that connection.
And this is what we teach our children. That death doesn’t mean you are gone. It means that you are anywhere and everywhere. That you remember them in rituals and talk about them and you talk to them. That they are listening and so you must be listening too.
Your life journey recently took a sharp turn and you now find yourself back in Michigan. How did you process this change?
I told myself that the Universe cleared a wide open path and if we didn’t take it, we would be idiots. The truth is, the stars aligned and then just kept aligning and we accepted the change. Greg and I have always entertained the idea that we might want to move back to be near family, but ironically, this past summer, we agreed we would put that idea to rest and accept that we were going to raise our family in Portland. No more questioning. We loved our city, we loved our home (though it was slowly closing in on us) and we adored our community.
Then Greg lost his job. Even then, we embraced the change and agreed we would stay in Portland. But then my sister texted me a photo of a midcentury modern home that had just gone up for sale by owner the day prior. The house was in the neighborhood I always swore I would live in, that would convince us to move back. So she set up an appointment to go through it, unbeknownst to me. By Friday afternoon, she had sent me photos that I first ignored. Then I looked at them, Then I asked the price of the house. For the price, we could sell our Portland home and pay for this outright. No mortgage payment. It was in a school district that, if your children attend elementary school through high school they pay for your in-state college tuition. We have four kids. That’s a lot of money. The house was bigger. The property was next to a nature preserve. We could be near family. We could have help with our kids. Greg and I could have more time together. TIME.
Greg told me we should take his severance and run. By Saturday, we put in an offer. I miss Portland. I miss our community, our friends, everything we built there for 17 years. I miss the knowing and now I am in the not knowing. That is hard and yet so exciting at the same time. Our family needed an adventure, it was long overdue.
Most people would freak out when their partner and family primary breadwinner lost his long time job. How come you didn’t?
On Monday, word was going around that Nike was finally going to do what they said they would do all summer, start laying off employees. Rumor had it that Greg’s department was next. Tuesday morning, as he prepared for work he received a meeting notice. By 9:30 that morning, he texted me that he was on his way home. My initial reaction was to let out a slow, deliberate “Fuuuuuuck” as I sat in the car. I called a friend. I cried. I was terrified about health insurance. When you have a daughter with a congenital heart defect, you can’t help but lead your thoughts with this. I saved the bill for her open heart surgery. The bill was $230,000, we paid $200 out of pocket.
But then I paused and I remembered the one trick that got me through the discovery that Ulla would be born with a heart defect. I learned it at our 20 week ultrasound. I let the news sink in. I sat with it. I let the fear flood in. The “what ifs” attempt to get the best of me. I grieved. I went to bed. The next morning, I agreed to take everything one step at a time. One foot in front of the other. To celebrate that she was still in there, that both those babies were. Gratefulness.
And so I sat with it all and then I paused, got a babysitter for the twins and made plans to have a celebratory pizza dinner with Greg, Oscar and Ophelia to toast our new adventure. That night, I wrote a little something on Instagram to announce the news to friends. How little did I know then what adventure was waiting for us 10 days later.
As a mom of 4, how do you make time for self care ?
Self care has not been easy lately. There has been so much craziness in this move, much of that affecting our two year old twins who now no longer nap and have felt a bit more needy. Every time I close the door to my bedroom, no matter where they are in the house, it is like they drop what they are doing and find me. So now I patiently wait for the dust to settle and our lives to arrive at some sort of normalcy. When I lived in Portland, I found time for a run almost daily, or a walk with my best friend, 6 miles every Sunday up Mount Tabor. Time with my friends has always been how I best nurtured myself.
How do you define success?
Getting over fear and self doubt and just doing it. Something I am constantly working on.
What’s your biggest struggle right now?
Finding time for ourselves and managing this new life. Greg has yet to find a job and we haven’t fallen into a routine yet. This affects the kids and when it messes with them, then it makes Greg and my job harder. Which then makes the self care piece necessary but impossible. Or at least it feels impossible. Not to mention, there is plenty left to be unpacked or walls to be painted and those often take priority.
What’s one thing you would still like to do?
I want to share my stories more often and help prove that there is magic in this life. We just need to watch and listen.
What’s a question you wish more people asked?
Can I take your kids for 2 hours so you can get a run in and maybe meditate a little?
One lesson from 2017?
Listen to the Universe and be willing to take her advice.
One dream for 2018?
That our family will have complete financial freedom and that we can actually start traveling more with our kids.
One thing you’d like to tell another pom pom mom trying to figure it all out.
Don’t. Stop trying.
Just listen sometimes. Whether it be your kids. Your needs. Your wants. Be patient. Everything will happen in its own time. For so long I have tried to find myself. It has been exhausting. I have tried to define myself as something other than just a mom. Shouldn’t I be something else too? Something cool and exciting and FAR more interesting? Don’t I need another title? But I was trying too hard.
Instead, I realized I needed to simplify. I chose to stay home with these kids. They are going to be my teachers and from this experience, I will find my thing. It will all work out. And if is is one thing I have learned from having twins, it is that you just need to be present. They both want you and need you, so don’t bother trying to clean the kitchen too. It only makes things worse.