This week, we have been featuring stories and wisdom that other women in our lives have taught us as mothers, women, sisters, friends, aunts...the list goes on. We've realized more than ever that "wise women," a.k.a women who pass down traditions, advice, and love, are priceless, a necessity, and an essential part of this sacred journey into motherhood.
When the Going Gets Tough, You Get Going: A Story of Sisters, Adoption, and Life After Loss Featuring Katrina Surdi
Today, we are featuring a story from Katrina, a Seattle native and resident who works full-time as a preschool teacher in her local school district. Katrina holds a passion for health and fitness, is an influential voice on Instagram (go say hi and show her some love at @katrina_tiu), and she instructs fitness classes on the side and during the summer. She is happily married to her soulmate and best friend, Chad.
She is sharing her story of entering into mamahood, and how it involves losing her sister and adopting her two children...grab a tissue and read on...
"We have a unique story, and the way we acquired our family is a lot different than most. We are parents to my sister’s kids: my teen niece and nephew."
My big sister, Lina, unexpectedly passed away 13 years ago. She was 25 years old and had left behind her two littles. They were 4 and 6 years old at the time. Their biological father was in jail when she passed away and had been in and out of jail for various of reasons, which led him to be unfit to have custody.
I was finishing up high school while one of my eldest step-sisters offered to take in my niece and nephew from my mom. As the years went by, the quality of the situation deteriorated, and I quickly realized how important it was to change the situation for my sister’s children.
I was a newlywed and figuring out how to live my new “adult” life, in my early twenties. My husband and I took matters into our own hands and did everything we could to gain legal custody of those kids. It took a long year of paperwork, tears, court dates, broken relationships, setbacks, signatures and frustration. It was so worth it in the end: to do the right thing.
My niece and nephew are my kids. My sister was my best friend, and I know how she wanted them to be raised. Since the day each of them was born, I became an auntie and a guardian.
I spent a lot of time with my sister and the kids and that was how I learned how to mom. From changing diapers, to grocery shopping, to bathing and entertaining… we did it all!
If you’re an auntie, you understand how much love grows in your heart when you first hold that little babe in your arms. I was only twelve when my nephew was born, but I still remember my mom and sister explaining to me how to hold his head and cradle him in my arms. Even at my young age, I understood how special he was and how important he will always be to me.
I had just turned fourteen when I watched my niece’s entire birth. It was the most amazing and terrifying experience I have ever witnessed. The initiation of becoming a mother seems so horrific, but then you end up with this little human who needs you. Having the opportunity to be a part of that as a young teen has helped shape the type of parent I am today.
My sister was quirky, silly, fun and creative. Her mothering style was no different. She allowed the kids to be themselves and showered them with all her love.
When my sister passed away I had that mama bear protectiveness over her children. I felt the responsibility to care for them and keep them safe and I literally did everything I needed to do my job.
I had to cut ties from my step-siblings after we received custody. It was hard to have thought they were my family but didn’t share the same best interests of the children… it wasn’t a safe environment anymore and none of them supported that fact, or me.
During all of this I learned how to be a badass, acquired the patience of a champion, and became a parent to two teens by age 26, which was just within two years of being married.
The first year I celebrated Mother’s Day as a “mom,” I felt excited, nervous, guilty and proud. I was so excited that I accomplished the greatest goal I’ve ever dreamed of; having my sister’s kids safely under our roof.
I was nervous because I knew the unknown was out there and raising two teenagers wouldn’t be easy. I felt guilty, because deep down I know it should be Lina raising her kids, not anyone else.
But the pride I felt superseded everything else...
Proud to be the parent of two amazing kids.
My sister taught me what it is to be a strong woman. She was a single mom, doing her best to raise her two children, as she was going to school, having the role of big sister to me and my little brother, being a good friend and loving daughter. She showed me superhero strength when things got tough, also a trait we learned from our mom.
The most valuable advice I ever received from Lina was not spoken to me. It was demonstrated for me. My sister showed me an outstanding mom follows her gut. She left the kids’ dad when she had enough of his abuse and didn’t want to raise them in an unsafe home. Her instincts led her to be closer to home, so my brother and I could come over after school to help her with mom duties.
When I’m struggling as a parent, I think about what she would do. What would she tell me right now?
She had such tough exterior, but the softest heart. She had what it takes to be a mom. As difficult as it is to be a parent without her, I have two of the best reminders of her and her strength: her children.
And because of her I get the greatest gift in the world by being a mom.
Oh, and P.S. -
Katrina's husband is also a quadriplegic, so if you didn't think she was one freaking incredible human being after reading the above story, now you know she really is basically real-life Wonder Woman...