The Mistake

I am the youngest of six kids. When I was born in July of 1981, my Dad was 48 and my Mom was 43. My siblings were 20, 19, 18, 17, and 14 years old.

It is shocking to me the amount of people who, my WHOLE LIFE, have said, immediately upon hearing this information, “Oh, so you were a mistake.” Sometimes instead of “mistake” the word “oops” has been substituted, but still, the sentiment was the same.

Of course, I get it. Fourteen years is a long time. I welcome exclamations. Appropriate responses could include “Wow!” or “What a big family!” or “That’s a big age gap!” But maybe, and I’m just riffing here, but maybe you shouldn’t call someone a “mistake,” like ever, maybe. Even if you’re thinking it, don’t SAY IT! Keep it in your thought bubble, as they say at my son’s school.

Like, how exactly should I respond to that? “Yup! Totally not meant to be. It’s a wonder I can even do anything around here being all mistakey and stuff. Just going to head over here to the Island of Misfit Toys…”

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Ah, the depression and therapy is making ALLLLLLLLLL sorts of sense and it’s only her fourth post. Katie, you can start saving all those co-pays, I understand the root of all your issues!”

But surprisingly, from the very beginning, these words—though having very destructive potential—miraculously never impacted me. For all of my shortcomings and immaturity in a variety of arenas, not to mention being overly-sensitive at times (lots of times, Rick might say!), I have always had an amazingly mature perspective on this one. For some reason, I always knew that this kind of statement said nothing about me, and everything about the speaker. After all, who says that!??! (It turns out, a lot of people.)

My sense of security in this area stems from the two greatest parents, Tom and Alice Morris. My parents made it very clear that, technically, none of their children were planned. As Catholics and the OG Rule Followers, Rulio Iglesias and Rulia Louis-Dreyfus, they put it all in God’s hands.

Now, I’ll take a step back and give you this: When three of your siblings are in college and two are in high school at the time you are born, you are a bit of a… surprise. And that’s the word I use. Surprise. See the difference?

Mistake. SURPRISE!

Mistake. SURPRISE!

I hear “mistake” and I think of grubby elementary school worksheets with smudgy pencil marks that have to be erased.  But “surprise”? That’s like, colorful balloons and confetti! A surprise party! And trust me, I’ve been a party.

Over the course of my life, I’ve learned more about the details of the story. My Mom, being positively GERIATRIC at age 43 was at a higher risk of having a baby with a genetic abnormality because of her age. And on top of that, she also suffered from ulcerative colitis (similar/related to Crohn’s disease) so there were some major health risks that would come along with this pregnancy. She was heavily advised by her doctor to have an abortion.

Now, Alice wasn’t having that for even a split second and she made that very clear to her doctor. For that, I am grateful. But I can appreciate that, at that moment, life took a rapid hairpin turn right back to the starting line of parenthood. For over two decades, she and my dad had worked very hard together to raise their wonderful kids. They were almost there!

While my Mom (a nurse by training) was at home running the show, my Dad was making the benjamins as a middle school math teacher. Together in their “off hours” (if parents even really have those) they also worked on their side hustle, a group tour travel business, which was really taking off. They were finally getting to be in a financially secure place, starting to travel themselves, and beginning to put their retirement plans into place. As we ALL can imagine, traditionally retirement plans do not include a smart-assy, shrimp cocktail-eating, demander of cotton stirrup pants because jeans feel uncomfortable. Traditionally.

Now the logical trajectory of this argument is for me to now say, “And WHERE WOULD THE WORLD BE without Katie Morris Feeney in it!??!” But I also have enough perspective to say, I’m just a person. I’m insignificant to most. I haven’t found a cure for cancer. I don’t have the solution for world peace. I’m sitting here right now (on January 17) looking at my Christmas tree because I haven’t even taken that down yet. (Don’t judge.) But I can make my small mark, have my small ripple effect on the world.

Speaking of Christmas (excuse the out-of-season reference, but this Christmas tree is right in front of me) isn’t that the reason, for decades upon decades, people love the movie It’s a Wonderful Life? Through George Bailey, we’re reminded that we matter. We make an impact. Our reach might not be the whole town of Bedford Falls, but we affect our close circles nonetheless. After all, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Having depression and going through those ups and downs, I work very hard to keep that thought top of mind. Though somehow the “mistake” language never got to me, depression did. I have felt the low lows, the negative self-talk, and the feeling that I don’t matter. You’ve probably seen the quote, “To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.”  When you’re feeling down, especially with depression, it’s really easy to focus on the just being one person part. It’s much harder to remember or believe that to one person, you may be the world. You may not even notice who you are impacting.

I’ve been on the receiving end of one of those random acts of kindness—you know, when the person ahead of you in the drive-thru line pays for your coffee? (I know, I know… I have a coffee problem…) I have to tell you, that really put a spring in my step for the rest of the day. It made me appreciate the importance of the little things.

It got me thinking, Isn’t that enough? Aren’t we enough if we can just make a moment in a day better for someone else? I sure hope so, otherwise I have some serious brainstorming on world peace to do… But it’s definitely an approach that has helped me crawl, inch by inch, out of the darkness. And sometimes, when you focus on helping other people, you start to feel better yourself.

As Mother Teresa said, “Do small things with great love.” We’re not all going to do big and important things that change the world, but we can absolutely do little things that positively impact those around us.

And on that note, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Christmas tree to deal with!

21 Comments

    1. Right back at you, Mooch! So proud of you and all that you do – not just professionally, but also what you do during your off time, too, and the sense of humor you bring to everything. Also – thanks for all of your editing help! I love you so much, too!

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  1. As #5, (and replaced “baby” of the family), my standard answer to that comment, then and now is, “Best thing that ever happened to our family” Well, that and being taken to Disney World often.

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  2. I LOVE this! We also refer to Robert as “our best surprise”. Nothing is truly a mistake or an accident! Love reading your work!

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  3. As #2, (your “twin”), I can say that the Morris family’s world got a whole lot better with Kathleen (Katie) Marie Morris in it! From the second we learned that you were on the way, we could not wait to meet you — and you did not disappoint! You changed our lives — and have made everything so much more fun. You are a BLESSING! No mistaking that 🙂

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    1. Yes, we’re cool on the red crayon incident…but, I’m still not sure about the time you drooled chocolate on my white dress when I was leaving on a date. 🙄❤️

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  4. Love hearing the honesty in your posts, because I think everyone can relate on a personal level.

    At bedtime, we each share our favorite part of the day, least favorite part, and one thing we did to help someone else. It can be grounding as a parent to hear a child’s response each night, as well as think of our own. Also, often hilarious most nights.

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    1. Thank you so much, Kat. And I LOVE that tradition, what a great idea, especially the thing you did to help someone else. Such a fun but subtle way to teach the importance of doing things for other people. I would love to be a fly on the wall! : )

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  5. Anyone who knew your parents – or any of the McGlews/Morris’ would know abortion was never an option for them. I remember Dad’s reaction when your dad announced Aunt Alice was pregnant with Colleen – it was at the range and we had just opened. He (my dad) was excited. I don’t remember your announcement as I, too, would have been in college but any of the later babies were always blessings. (Dad was one time told “Grandpa had a helper.” when he was in the grocery store with Donald. He made sure the person knew it was “Dad.”

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    1. Thanks Ruth Anne! Yes – we got a lot of “Grandma” and “Grandpa” too! While it was a little annoying we usually just smiled at each other and laughed. (I also used the opportunity to embarrass my sister Colleen by calling her “Mom” in public. She didn’t particularly appreciate that at the time (17 years old!) hahaha

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  6. Katie, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog of today. I think so many of us can identify with siblings and other family members experiencing that “surprise.” My mom was 43, and I was in my second year of Nursing at St. Vincent’s when she made her announcement. I was 19 and had two brothers but Mary was so welcome. She kept my parents young at heart and in spirit all through her high school and college years. After my dad died, she took mom in after a hospitalization and made it so wonderful that she never moved out and Mary, “Mime” as I call her, was there for her before she passed.
    As you well know, we too had “two gifts from God,” namely Meghan and one of your BC roommates, Caitlin. I had my first two children at 22 and 24 and then at 36 and 38 we were again blessed. Though I hadn’t hit the 40 year mark, I am guessing that many days felt like that and beyond. People used to question me and ask if it was the same husband! My reply was YES, and was a smart answer like, I just wanted to see if things still worked and found out that they did. I have always contended that they were the Best Things that ever could have happened to us. (not to exclude Patrick and Suzanne)

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    1. Mrs. McGrail – thank you so much! Your sister, Mary, Meg and Caitlin are all shining examples of how wonderful “surprises” can be! Meg and Caitlin were the perfect addition to Patrick and Suzanne, and I love seeing how close your family is, and how much the aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews get along and do things all together. Big families are so wonderful. I also loved your response back to any one who dared make a rude comment to you! I, too, have heard “Same marriage?” when I share the ages of my siblings, and over the years we got a lot of “Grandma” and “Grandpa” when I was with my parents, but we would just smile and laugh! Thank you again for reading!

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  7. Katie, your writing is so refreshing, you have such a talent! You always had a witty edge, I’m thinking about your prom poem from high school with fond memories. We are blessed to have you. Your blog brought a smile to my face because I too, have often been told that I HAD to have been a mistake. All the best ❤

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    1. I can’t believe you remember that poem! : ) I wish I had known that it would get a few laughs so I would’ve relaxed a bit more and enjoyed reading it out loud. Instead, I recall my legs were trembling and the trembles had trembles! Thank you so much for your kind words. I know for sure, you too, were definitely not a mistake! I never enjoyed math, it did not come easily to me, but I loved being in your class because your beautiful voice and accent was so wonderful to listen to (especially amidst all our thick NJ “tawk”!), and you really made class fun. Your students are so lucky to have you!

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  8. You, my friend, are walking proof that God never misses an opportunity to send a miracle down to earth. And we are all the better for it.

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  9. Thank you for writing, Katie! You have such a unique and awesome perspective.
    The awfulness in the “mistake” comment – especially since people said it aloud right to your face and I’m sorry you had to hear that growing up — is that it implies that your worth as a human being was contingent upon whether or not your parents wanted you. Whereas, we all the know you had worth as a baby regardless of whether you were or weren’t wanted because all little babies are the biggest miracles. It sounds like you brought so much joy to your family as an unexpected gift and your mother earned herself a higher place in heaven with her love for you! (which is what my mom would playfully tell us when we were growing up on the days when mommy-ing was hard And demanding … and sanctifying! When you give to your children even when you don’t know if you have any patience/energy left, it earns you a higher place in heaven ☺️ )
    Please keep up the FB reminder “shares”… I’m afraid emails get lost in my inbox and I don’t want to miss your next entries!

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  10. Katie: great writings! A guy my age is not inclined to social media, but I joined Facebook so that I can read your reflections. I’m sure they help many people.

    None of us thought of you as a mistake. You definitely kept Mom and Dad young, and we all loved having you. I came into marriage well-trained in diapers and can attest to the fact that Colleen has never changed one on an airplane. From your perspective, I’m sure having 7 parents was hell.

    Finally I must note that I laughed out loud (I think you kids have an abbreviation for that) over your self-description as an “indoor cat”. Keep up the god work!

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