The Weight by Aretha Franklin, Written by Levon Helm An alternate version of this classic song, with Duane Allman on slide guitar!
I knew Christmas was going to be hard, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (do we even have those anymore? Now that NASA got rid of all our shuttles?) to figure it out. What I figured was that it was going to pull on my heart and drain me emotionally. Don’t get me wrong, it does, but I never expected the physical difficulties that go along with it.
I have four kids, not like you didn’t know that, but I emphasize to make a point. 3 of the 4 are in the same school and Grade/Middle school age, so the whole Christmas season is there for me to tackle. It actually starts with my middle child (I call her the middle, she came 2nd, the boys 3rd, kind of count them as a package deal) and her start for Confirmation. It’s a Catholic thing, you really don’t need the details. What you do need to know is that, unlike when I went to Catholic school, where the lessons, preparation, all of it came during the religion classes and in extra school day work. Now it’s on the weekends and they prep you over the course of a couple years. Hannah started that in November, moving onto December. Being the child with the worst procrastination tendencies in the world, she forgot to fill out her forms, have her sponsor inform her the information she needed, and neglected to find the Catholic Youth Bible she needed until . . . of course . . . 2 days before the meeting.
Then there’s Christmas. I love Christmas . . . the whole Christmas season. (Please don’t ask why, no one quite knows the reason . . . you get the point) But with children it’s not without its stresses. I have two boys who have to have secret Santa gifts . . . My middle daughter, she needs one too, though being Hannah, she didn’t inform me what we need to get. That all starts in the next few days. There’s the Christmas play . . . which of course the kids have to have clothes for. Since the boys and Hannah have both grown exponentially in the last year, there’s no wearing what we have in the closet. This has been on top the fact that they come home every day with their white shirts brown or black from playing soccer on the playground. There are holes in their uniform pants. The brand new jeans have holes in the knees.
I have to buy Christmas presents.
I’m not complaining about the cost, don’t get that impression, I get it. It’s part of the cost of having kids and I have four of them. (Before they come, I know there are ways to either prevent pregnancy or “choices” that we could have made. That ship has sailed . . . on both counts . . . I’m not making a political statement, get over it!) What you don’t realize is just how much you share that burden when you have the other person there. If you have two parents, and they’re both involved in raising the kids – I don’t care if they’re divorced or still married – it’s amazing you accomplish everything as it is. I just wasn’t prepared for the holidays like I thought I was.
After the Confirmation chaos, I had to start with presents. Andrea spent a lot of weekdays with the kids, so much so that she knew exactly what they wanted, or what would be best for them. I have to ask what they want and get the inevitable child’s “I don’t know” (in that mumbled, half-talk, Harrison Ford in the current era marbles in the cheeks voice) Four kids, no ideas. I mean, I got ideas, I figured it out, but the days of sitting on the couch with Andrea and talking out what the kids each want and what they get are gone. My closest person is Abbi, and I don’t want to talk too much about this with her. She’s still 16. Even if you do or don’t believe in Santa any more, there’s just something magical about NOT knowing everything. You shouldn’t be part of the Christmas preps if you’re not the parent.
It’s all about time and my lack of it. I have to steal time to go to Target or surf Amazon after I make lunches at night. Even now I have presents hidden and few wrapped. I finally got the Christmas play uniforms, but we ate dinner at almost 8pm as a result.
Jolly isn’t the adjective for me right now. Stressed out and gaining more white than black hairs is. I look at the tree and see a pathetic few presents wrapped and stay up past 1 wrapping a few each night so the kids can see I haven’t forgotten. I can see the anticipation on their faces and there’s part of me that sees them look at me and wonder if we’re going to make it through the holiday. I have to put on that face that acts like I know what I’m doing and say “we’re not done yet, there will be a few more under there soon.”
I know somehow there will, but every time I get one thing done, three more things land on my plate. I look around at things I have to take care of and realize that they’re the things Andrea took care of and I was blissfully unaware what she did. I had my own part of the bargain to deal with. What do you get a teenage girl? Andrea would find great makeup or jewelry or perfume or something. I am a Dad. Worse than that, I’m a Midwestern corn-fed, football watching musician of a man. All I know about those things is if the person’s wearing too much of it. She’s past the age when Barbies and Legos are wonderful. So how do I make it magical for her? Andrea left and took those secrets with her.
I look at Christmas as the first big Litmus Test. I mean, what happens when Hannah hits puberty hard and heavy? When I have to talk to this kind, naive, beautiful girl and let her know that the guys she looks at as best friends will eventually have only 1 thing on their minds. If they don’t already.
“Tis the season, sure, but the season is a test. If I fail, it sets the tone for the rest of the story. I’m straining under the pressure. I never realized how much Andrea and I relied on each other. Now I truly feel the absence. It’s so true, she let me put some of the weight on her shoulders, so we could both stand up straight.
Now, I hope that all I do is bend. None of us can afford for me to break.