“Nothing’s Ever Been the Same” by Christina Knowles

BabyValerie“Nothing’s Ever Been the Same”

The sun shone brighter

When you were born

The world got lighter

The cold grew warm

 

Flowers bloomed larger

Joy was realized

You became a harbor

For hope idealized

 

You’re uniquely independent

Curious and strong-willed

Resolutely ascendant

With dreams to fulfill

 

Somewhat of a loner

No one could tell you what to do

I’ve always known there

Was no stopping you

 

The world grew fuller

With you in it

Filled with color

And promise within it

 

Creative and artistic

And lovingly attentive

Empathetic, altruistic

Imaginatively inventive

 

Love unimagined

Began the day you came

Beauty happened

And nothing’s ever been the same

–Christina Knowles 

All Grown Up by Christina Knowles

IMG_2659We buried our mother today, my family and I. She was a wonderful mother—loving, strong, kind, principled, and dedicated. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her.

Losing a mother is a unique kind of pain. It’s different than losing a father, a spouse, a sibling, or a child. I’m thankful that I haven’t experienced all these different types of devastating loss, but I just know that it has to be different. I’m not saying it’s worse, just different. In fact, I’m pretty sure losing a child would be the worst.

But losing a mother is the ultimate severing of the umbilical cord. When you lose a mother, you feel lost, insecure. I haven’t depended on my mother for many years, but I guess I knew she was always there if I needed her. Knowing she is gone makes me feel all alone in the world even though I know I am not. I feel a primal need for her. I wake up in the middle of the night calling for my mommy, and I don’t care that I am a grown woman, a grandmother even. I want my mommy.

Losing a mother makes a person grow up instantly. You are no longer the child, and having already lost my father, I am no longer anybody’s child. That’s a strange feeling. I am the mother now. I feel this more now than ever, even though I have been a mother for 26 years. Not being someone’s child is a lonely feeling. It makes me want to pour myself into being a mother to my children. Unfortunately, they’ve grown and left home, and I don’t see them as often as I’d like.

Being without a mother makes me feel different. I am different. My husband warned me that losing parents changes a person, but I didn’t really understand before. Losing a mother leaves a void that nothing else can fill. Really losing anyone you love does, but to whom will I go for advice? Who will be proud of me for absolutely no reason? Who is capable of unconditional love besides a mother?

That’s what’s really missing. It’s knowing I will never be loved unconditionally by anyone again. My husband loves me almost that much, but I know I could make him lose his love for me if I tried. Of course, I won’t. My brothers, my sisters—that’s close. They have loved me through everything so far. My kids—I’d love to think that they love me unconditionally, but even though some part of them may need me or love me no matter what, it’s just not that same I’d-die-for-you kind of love. I know this is true because the only people in the world that I would love under any circumstances are my children, the only ones I could forgive anything.

My pain sounds so selfish. It’s all about what I will no longer have. But isn’t that what grief usually is? We miss the people we lose; we will no longer enjoy their love, their presence. My mother was a wonderful person. She left the world a much better place than she found it. But even if she didn’t, today I would still be an orphan. I suppose her goodness just intensifies it.

So today I said goodbye to my mother and to a love I will never experience again. At 49 years old, I just grew up.—Christina Knowles

The Dog That Taught Me How to Live Again by Christina Knowles

Mulder flowersEveryone knows I’m a dog lover, but not many know that I owe a big part of who I am to one special dog. I’ve tried putting these feelings into words so many times and have given up every time, but it is long overdue, so here goes. Mulder Pitman-Knowles passed away in May of 2008 at the age of fifteen, and broke my heart in a way I didn’t know was possible. I put off writing this memoir to honor her because I was afraid, afraid to feel the emotions again, the grief, the gut-wrenching loss. You may, but I hope you don’t, think that that is an over-dramatic reaction to the death of a pet, but Mulder was not a pet. She was my friend, and I loved her as much as any other friend I’ve ever had. I know some people won’t understand what she was to me, but those of you who have had the privilege of loving and being loved by at least one extraordinary animal, will know what I mean.

You see, Mulder unexpectedly changed my life. She saved me, really.Mulder window

I adopted Mulder in 1994 from the Humane Society, or rather, she adopted me. The week before, I took my kids there to look at the animals, and we saw an adorable little male beagle. He was sweet and friendly, but he was a stray, not owner-surrendered, so I had to put my name on a list and wait five days to see if the owner came for him. When I called to check five days later, they said I could come and pick him up. I was so excited and had already picked out his name, Mulder, after the main character on my favorite TV show, The X-Files. In nervous anticipation, I followed as a staff member led me in to the dog holding area, but she couldn’t find the male beagle. She told me that the one I wanted must have mistakenly been given to someone else. I was terribly disappointed, but just then I saw the most beautiful beagle I had ever seen. The staff member told me she was a female who had been owner-surrendered because she was “un-trainable” and hated cats. The cat part turned out to be true. I didn’t care what her previous family said; I knew this was supposed to be my Mulder. She immediately came to me and laid her head on my bent knee and gazed at me with her huge soulful eyes. It was like we connected instantly. There was an intelligence and wisdom in those eyes, and I knew she was meant for me.

Scan 36I was a little anxious when I took her home because my ex-husband (current at the time) did not want a dog in the house. We had a golden retriever, Clancy, that he wanted basically for hunting, but he insisted that the dog be kept in a small dog run because Clancy had a thing for digging holes. It broke my heart, and every day I would let him out all day until my ex came home from work, but then one day, a man I hired to paint the house fell in love with Clancy. Every time this painter took a break, he would chase Clancy, then roll in the grass, wrestling him. This went on for a week, and on the last day, I asked the man if he wanted to take Clancy for his own. He had ten acres in the forest, and he was thrilled at the offer. He promised to never lock him up. I cried my eyes out as I said goodbye to my golden retriever that day, but I knew I did the right thing. I couldn’t live long without a dog, and I never wanted to put another dog through what Clancy experienced, so I talked my ex into letting me get a small dog that we could keep in the house. My ex agreed to let Mulder live in the house as long she didn’t do anything wrong-ever; however, he insisted on locking her in a kennel at night or whenever we left the house.

I don’t know why her previous family thought she was un-trainable because Mulder was house-trained within a week; she learned to sit, lie down, and stay in the first week as well. Right away she was “my” dog. She followed me everywhere. We ran three miles every morning, rain or shine; she did whatever I said, but listened to others only when she wanted to. She curled up on my lap every evening, and she knew exactly what she could do when my ex wasn’t around. When he wasn’t home, which was most of the time, she could sleep on the furniture or the bed, and she had free run of the house. As soon as she heard the door open in the evening, and he walked in, she would jump off the couch and take her place on her pillow. He never knew because she was so good. She never chewed up anything that wasn’t hers. She wouldn’t even touch a toy until I told her it was hers to play with.Scan 34

During those years, Mulder was my solace. My ex-husband was manipulative, controlling, angry, and intolerant. Nothing I did was correct, but Mulder thought everything I did was right. She accepted me with no make-up on, wearing old sweatpants, and she was okay with whatever I wanted to do—going for a run, snuggling on the couch while I read, sitting on my lap watching TV. She was good with my kids too. I remember one year my daughter wanted to make a calendar of Mulder pictures. She dressed Mulder up in a different costume for every season and took pictures of her. Mulder was not happy, but she didn’t complain once.

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In 2004 I left my ex-husband and filed for divorce. By this time, I was pretty beat down from seventeen years of being screamed at, seventeen years of being told to change who I was, seventeen years of being controlled like a child, used, humiliated, and devalued. I was tired of walking on eggshells just to make sure he didn’t get upset. He was okay with the kids. I was always the target of his anger.  I told him I wanted fifty-fifty custody of the children because I knew he would never give me full custody without a fight, and I couldn’t afford a lawyer. I told him he could have virtually everything we owned if I could just have Mulder. I was so afraid that he would try to keep full custody of the kids or take Mulder away from me just to get back at me. He didn’t want the divorce, but he agreed.Scan 35

I bought a townhouse with a little yard for Mulder, and we moved in before I even bought any furniture. The custody agreement ended up being one week on, one week off, so every other week, it was just Mulder and I. Mulder was never locked in a kennel again, but had free rein throughout the house and was allowed on all the furniture. It was then, these times alone with Mulder, that she made me realize what kind of life I wanted, the person I wanted to be, and how to live and love the way we are meant to. She loved me unconditionally, she never expected me to be anything other than what I was, she listened to me quietly, she comforted me when I cried, she never judged me, she never screamed at me, or told me to change. She showed me how peaceful and calm a home could be, how to look forward to coming home, how to love without selfish expectations, how to accept people exactly as they are. She healed me and made me strong. She looked up to me and found me worthy. She made me realize I never had to settle for less than unreserved love and acceptance ever again.

When I met my soul-mate, Randy, Mulder’s approval was paramount. Mulder loved Randy instantly, and Randy loved her. Mulder accepted Randy into our home with surprising ease. Because of this, I knew he must be a good person. Randy and I lived there with Mulder for two years, blissfully happy. I remember when Randy first moved in after we married, he asked if he should put up his slippers, so Mulder wouldn’t chew them up. I was so insulted that he would assume she would do that! I told him Mulder never chewed up anything that wasn’t her own personal property.Scan 40

She did get into mischief once in a while though. She was an avid rabbit hunter, and she was fast. More than once, I found her eating her kill, much to my dismay. She also learned how to open the cupboard where we kept her treats. One time she pulled them out and dumped them on the kitchen floor and ate her fill. I came home to the remnants of broken treats on the floor. And Mulder loved Christmas, particularly the stockings. She got excited when we hung them and even knew which one was hers. I’m not making this up. Ask my husband. She would be so excited on Christmas morning when her stocking was full. She’d go straight to it and jump at it. But one year, a week before Christmas, while we were gone, Mulder found her bag of treats and toys in the closet, the ones that were to go in her stocking. She obviously knew they were meant for her because they were dog treats and toys. Anyway, she dragged the whole bag out of the closet and halfway down the stairs when, apparently, guilt overwhelmed her, and she abandoned the entire bag on the stairs and hid in the bedroom. We came home, found the bag on the stairs, contents spilling out, but no Mulder to be seen. I called and called her, and finally she slowly emerged, head hung low, and tail down, completely ashamed of herself. Of course, I just thought it was adorable and wasn’t upset at all, but she so wanted to please me and couldn’t stand disappointing me. She just couldn’t contain her Christmas anticipation. I’m the same way. That is one of my fondest memories of her.Scan 39Scan 41

It was because of Mulder that I was ready for someone like Randy in my life, someone kind, easygoing, loving, and honest. So many times I’ve seen people enter into the same type of relationships over and over because they haven’t worked out their issues or figured out what they want, what they need. Mulder taught me I was enough. If I was to let someone into my life, it would be only because they added something, but that I was just fine by myself, and I knew when I fell in love with Randy that, just like with Mulder, I never had to be anyone but me ever again. I would be loved and accepted just the way I was, and I could be that way for someone else in return. There never had to be any yelling, name-calling, any manipulation. No lies and attempts to control, only complete honesty and respect. Mulder showed me I deserved that and how wonderful and peaceful life could be. She taught me how to live again.

That sounds like a lot to learn from a dog, but then Mulder wasn’t just any dog. She was my friend, she loved me, and I loved her. I had loved her before, a lot, but after I left my ex and moved out on my own, we bonded so extensively, probably because of the trauma I had been through, and because she was the only one there for me. I’m glad she was the one there for me. I miss her all the time. I will be forever grateful to her, and I will cherish her memory in my heart always. I love you, Mulder, and thank you.—Christina Knowles Mulderold

What My Daughter Taught Me by Christina Knowles

4842_1117003739426_7812007_nTwenty-three years ago today (March 7, 1991) I gave birth to the most precious and beautiful little girl in the world. Her name is Valerie Elise Knoche. Little did I know then the power she would possess over me for my entire life. Children have a way of doing that. You bring them into the world, you care for them, you love them, you teach them, and try to raise them to be good people, but somewhere along the way, they become completely their own individuals, separate from you with their own ideas, ways of doing things, their own hopes, dreams, maybe even beliefs that differ from your own. Children are the only people in the world that you love utterly unconditionally. It doesn’t matter what they do, you will still love them. They could grow up to be serial killers, and most parents would be right there in the prison visiting them and bringing them cookies.  Well, luckily, my children both grew up to be everything I could have ever hoped for or dreamed they would be.BabyValerie

IMG_0298 Having a daughter is a unique experience. When Valerie was little, she was already independent, a little bit of a loner. Unlike her brother, Daniel, she needed her time alone for her imagination to flourish, and it did. She was always creative and still is to this day. She used to cut up her clothes (much to my dismay) and sew them into doll clothes when she was only four years old. They came out pretty well too. She made 3-D cities out of paper and tape and wrote poems as soon as she could write. Valerie loved to shut herself in her room and play by herself when she had too much of everyone else. She would stand up to anyone and didn’t often give into peer pressure. It was sometimes a struggle to get her to compromise with other children.

IMG_0223 Valerie always had a mind of her own, and I always respected her for this. I could see that she would grow into a strong and independent woman, a woman who could and would do anything she wanted. As she grew up, she became a bit of a tomboy. Her favorite clothes were her brother’s cast-offs, jeans and over-sized t-shirts. Even when she became a teenager and began dressing like a girl, I never had to tell her she couldn’t wear something out in public because she was always modest. She was athletic and crazy strong, especially for someone who was always tiny. She would carry her brother or me around the house just to show us how strong she was.

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Surprisingly, Valerie liked to do a lot of the same things I did. We both love to draw and paint, make crafty things, love dogs and nature, we like many of the same TV shows and movies. We are both loners. I say it is surprising because, unlike most kids with their parents, it seems like she liked being compared to me, which is the greatest compliment I could have. I like being compared to her too. She is friendly, polite, talented, funny, and kind–she has a sweet heart, loves fiercely, and gives generously. Valerie is intelligent and determined. She’s a hard worker, has dreams, and works relentlessly toward their realization. I am proud to be her mother, and love the fact that we are friends as well.

I love to spend time with her, and she loves to spend time with me. She often comes over and spends the entire day with me on weekends. Sometimes we just talk and watch movies. Other times we hike, take a bike ride, go out for tea at Montague’s, shopping in Old Colorado City, or make crafts or scrapbook together. I visit her at the fire station and we hang out watching movies. Did I mention she is a firefighter?206050_2110461455248_4633097_n

1003003_10201202319854203_1877843792_n She is a certified firefighter and an EMT with a local station, and she also works in customer service with a phone company. Valerie has always had two or three jobs at a time, constantly, since she got out of high school. She plans on going back to school to continue in the medical field in some way–paramedic, nurse, maybe even a doctor someday. She has always been interested in medicine and healing. She likes to help people, stays calm under pressure, and once she saved a newborn baby’s life on a call. I told you I was proud.

OldColoradoCityValerie and I also have a love of holidays in common. We have traditions that we try not to miss each year. Every Halloween she comes over, and we watch scary movies and pass out candy to kids who come to the door. We elaborately decorate the house for all the different holidays. At Christmas time, she comes over and we bake Christmas cookies and watch the holiday classics: The Year Without a Santa Claus, Frosty, the Snowman, and Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer. Every year we brave the cold to go to Old Colorado City to Christmas shop in all the little indie stores and tourist shops. Even though she doesn’t live with me, she comes over first thing Christmas morning to open her stocking, which I fill every year. In the summer we roast marshmallows in the fire pit in the backyard and make s’mores.  We’ve done it in the fireplace as well when it was too cold outside.S'mores

It isn’t always perfect between us. We’ve had a few times when we argued and hurt each other. One time she was mad at me for six months and didn’t talk to me the whole time. That just about killed me. I think I cried myself to sleep more times during that six-month period than I have in my entire life. That’s what I mean about the power that children possess. When you have a child, they own a piece of your heart that you will never have control of again. They can cause you more sorrow than anyone on earth. When they hurt, you hurt. When they’re crushed, you’re crushed. When they’re joyful, you’re joyful. And when they say they hate you, it feels like you will die. When they’re teenagers, you feel like strangling them, but you would die in their place without a second thought.IMG_0512

Having a daughter like Valerie has taught me a great deal about myself, about unconditional love, about pain, about determination, and about dreams. Having children taught me that my capacity for love, joy, and heartbreak is limitless. Having a daughter has increased my love for my own mother as well. Maybe we don’t ever really understand our parents until we have children of our own. Maybe we don’t really understand what unconditional love is until we love a child. I love you, Valerie, my Petrushka. Happy birthday. –Momma

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