She burst into this world on March 22, 1996. My husband and I struggled with names for her. Here was this angelic little girl whose spirit pounded at you from first glance. We knew she was a gift from God – and had to be named for her gentle, yet strong character. Her name needed to be as unique as her character was destined to be. Yes – strong. It needed to respect my Russian heritage as well since Ben, her brother, was representing the other sides of the family and my Moms heritage was left un-represented.
A student of mine had just previously written a speech about the sudden death of the Russian figure skater Sergei Grinkov – died of a heart attack on the ice. His partner both on the ice and in life, was named eKatarina Gordeeva. (Check out this fantastic website: http://www.gordeeva.com/english.shtml). Her strengthand courage became iconic. She was beautiful, intelligent, a true athlete, and humanitarian. What name, then, could be more a propos! We named our daughter Katarina (Katya) Alexandra. It was a name befitting of greatness.
There was a snowstorm when I went into labour and I was worried that I wouldn’t make it to the hospital on time. It was, admittedly my own fault. Katya wanted to be born – I went into labour – while I was finishing up my last batch of report cards. Can you imagine having a baby and THEN writing reports? I couldn’t. And so – it went like this: type, type, type – grooooooan. Type, type, type – grooooooan. Until the contractions were 1 minute apart. Katya could not WAIT to enter the world. And she entered the world with vigour.
And it has been that way ever since. From skating – to piano – to gymnastics – to singing – to cross-country running – to karate – to wresting – to rugby… you name it – she is in it. I joke that I registered Katya for ballet (and she was so very cute leading her group in the final performance of – Oh, Bear ) and ended up in wresting. (I guess there are some transferrable skills?) She does not enter any sport gently – it is always with vigour.
A couple summers ago, my husband and I sent Katya with her Grandma to visit her aunt in Belgium. They travelled all over Europe. As they travelled, Grandmas health declined. Katya made sure she came home safe and sound – my little girl… She travelled with vigour and cared with vigour.
She is now enrolled in a program at school which takes students to a completely different academic, social, and personal level. Global Perspectives is a challenging program seeing students study together on global issues and travel together to Cuba and Germany. She tackles the challenges this program presents – eats them up and spits them out for breakfast – you might say. She works with everyone in the class – no matter who. In her eyes, everyone deserves a chance to be her friend.
I remember a time when our family was visiting a friend in Washington. We stayed at a hotel. Washington was much more multi-cultural than Barrie – and so – there, for the first time, Katya met a person whose skin was darker than hers. My little white-haired blonde girl was opposite to the doorman in every way in terms of appearance. He was tall and very dark – she, little and very white. It made no difference to her. He had been very good to our family during our stay at the hotel. When we left – Katya was disappointed that he was not there. She asked where he was to the ladies at the front desk and informed them that she would like to say good-bye. They grinned, called him off his break, and he appeared at the front desk rather confused. Katya rushed over to him and hugged him. He was so touched by her that he cried. To this day – Katya reaches out to those who others may overlook – with vigour.
From Graca Machel – Nelson Mandela’s wife for whom Katya had the opportunity to draw and give a picture, to Silken Laumann, to the random child on the street – Katya meets them all. And they are all equal in her eyes. Katya brought a girl home once, that she did not even know. But the girl was sad and was alone. It turned out that she was having troubles at home. She brought this girl home to our home so that she would be safe… After tears, much loving-listening, and a few phone calls to her Dad – the girl was returned to her family. There was never a doubt in Katya’s mind that she would help this girl. It didn’t matter that this girl was a complete stranger – she was in need.
Katya’s birthday slipped by this year without pomp and ceremony. She went to a wrestling tournament in Haggersville and so was not home. I bought a dozen roses to mark the occasion. We celebrated with a small gathering and had cake and pizza when she came home. It was a humble celebration for a young lady whose life is lived out loud.
My daughter is far from quiet. She is far from the ballet dancer I had anticipated as a young mother. She is far from the shy and timid child that I was when I was young. She is far from being a follower – - Thank God.
I count my blessings when it comes to having Katya as a daughter. She is everything a mother would hope for: caring, thoughtful, strong, independent. She is a force with which this world will need to recon.
And so – although late – I wish my little girl a very happy birthday. May you continue to live life to the fullest with both grace and passion – as only you know how. I love you, Katarina.
( Now, if you would only do something about cleaning up your room… grin )