Yeah, yeah, quoting Steve Winwood, I know, but hey, it fits.
So last night, it happened, one of those moments I was dreading after Andrea’s passing: Hannah hitting puberty. She was already getting there, things going steadily, slowly hormonal. She was getting forgetful, not turning in homework, her attention waning worse than usual.
I, of course, hadn’t put 2 and 2 together. I came home tonight, frustrated because I had left my house keys in . . . the house. I got inside and the chores were never completed, laundry was spread out everywhere, mounds of it, the kitchen table covered with books, papers and old homework, and I just got curmudgeonly grumpy. I was snippy, biting off the kids sentences as they talked to me.I was cold, my back hurt, I was angry, and . . . as if you couldn’t tell from the last couple nights’ posts . . . I really have been missing my wife this last week. I don’t know why it has been so hard, but it really has. I’ve felt very lonely.
So I did what I always do. After grabbing a trash bag, pulling up all the crap and putting away everything that the kids had strewn across the floor I got out my guitar and started playing, trying to drown out the screaming in my head. I had my eyes closed, the amp turned up, playing “Ain’t Superstitious” by Howlin’ Wolf on my own on the Eprit (with new Lindy Fralin Pure PAF pickups – sponsorship opportunity Lindy?? Maybe?? Just new pickups??) and I felt a tug on my shirt.
“Dad, I need to take Hannah to the store.”
It was Abbi, and she was sheepish but had a shy, small, almost embarrassed smile on her face.
“What’s wrong? Is everything OK, does she need something for school?”
“No, Dad, Hannah just got her first period.”
Now, no, I’m not squeamish. I’ve been to the store, I’ve bought tampons and panty liners and picked up Andrea’s birth control pills when she needed them to control her acne. After having two girls as a parent, your level of humiliation decreases significantly. I was never the outsider Dad, I was always there. I changed their diapers. I fed them bottles, I traded feedings with Andrea. I would have gone and done whatever she needed.
“Actually she got it earlier today, she just didn’t want to tell you.”
“Why? Did she think I’d get embarrassed, or mad, I’d never get mad at her about something like that. It’s OK!”
“No, Dad, nothing like that. You’re Daddy. You’re a guy, she didn’t want to talk to a guy about it.”
I couldn’t be mad at her about that. I understand. I’m not Andrea, nor could I hope to truly understand what she’s going through. I’ve been around it, a bunch, through Andrea, Abbi too. Andrea had a lot of hormonal adjustments after Abbi was born, thus the birth control pills, but she also had the massive cramps, the pain, the aches and I learned how to massage her back and relax her shoulders – all things you just don’t really do much to your daughter. It’s a little . . . odd that way.
But this speaks to a bigger issue, not just my being a guy. Hannah was joined to Andrea at the hip. It’s not that I didn’t take care of Hannah. We have the exact same birthday – she was my present on my 29th birthday. The doctors messed up on the delivery and nicked an artery during the c-section and Andrea nearly died on the table then. She got a post-op infection and for the first 2 months I took care of Hannah and Andrea. Hannah had contracted RSV and had to have albuterol treatments every 3 hours, so I got up, gave her the treatments, fed her, put her to bed only to have Andrea need to get up, so I lifted her off the bed, brought the portable IV (with antibiotics in it for the infection), got her to the bathroom, put her back to bed only to have Hannah cry again. She and I spend 2 months of intense and painful life together only she – even then – wanted little to do with me.
Now, she cuddles me, hugs me, wants to spend as much time as she can with me, but I have 3 others to spread that time around with. She’s such a beautiful girl but it’s still clear that, even without her presence here, she misses and wants her Mom. There are just some things that, even as knowledgeable as you think you are, you can never understand because you’re not just her Dad, you’re a guy. You don’t have those parts, you don’t feel the way she feels. All you can do is to listen, if she’s willing to talk. I can’t force her to do it.
So now I know that the “talk” I’ve been putting off is no longer something you can put off for awhile. Where I used to have that amazing woman, the Mom who would be blunt, giving advice and being the capable, delicate, understanding person that wanted to get it right (because she felt her own Mom had done it wrong) I have myself. Where I’m lucky is that I have my oldest, Abbi, who can help cushion that.
By night’s end, after I’d cleaned up the dinner dishes, tucked in the boys, read “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and come back downstairs I saw Hannah standing there, waiting for me to say goodnight. She had her hair, wet and stringy still from her shower, her shoulders hunched down and bags under her eyes. She looked tired, emotionally drained, and worn out.
“Good night, Baby Bear”
“Good night, Daddy Bear”
I couldn’t help it. I had to show I knew a little bit, that I could help if she needed it.
“If you’re sore, or you get a little cramped up, there’s Naproxen in the cupboard. That will help the best. Come wake me up if you need anything.”
She smiled, her shoulders raised a little, I could tell she wasn’t as down as she’d thought she was. She kissed me on the cheek, hugged me, and headed up the stairs.
Understand, I didn’t make a big deal of this, didn’t make it some massive rite of passage for her. It was a signal to a change in her life that was bound to happen, hell I’m surprised it hadn’t happened before now. But I could tell that no matter what happened, she wished her Mom had been here to help her get through it and understand: no books or videos or talks can describe it unless you’re going through it.
But in the end, I guess she just needed that reassurance that I’d do whatever she needed, even if she does feel more like talking with her sister about it. That’s OK. But as she went up the stairs tonight, I could tell she knew that even if Abbi hadn’t been there, she knew it would be alright.
That’s worth more than anything in the world.