This week has been more than the juggle I normally have. I stress about the boys’ birthdays. Everyone around them has had parties, rented out the Laser Tag place, bought fancy decorated cupcakes, whole nine yards. It’s not the other parents’ faults, they want to give great parties and presents to their kids. I understand that, I’d love to as well. But the reality is that I can’t. I just don’t have the stamina and – most importantly – the money.
The difficulty here is that I don’t just juggle work and home, let’s clarify that. I juggle our finances on a regular basis. I make a decent living, particularly in the industry in which I work. The problem is we were always a 2-income family. That never changed. So I rely heavily now on the social security that the kids get from their Mom’s years of working in the U.S. My oldest, already stressed and freaking out about college has asked how much of her SS money has been put into savings. The result is my incredulous look at her wondering how she thinks I’ve been able to save it.
Which brings yet another ball into the ring. I have to worry about feeding them, clothing them, paying tuition for the 3 little ones, shoes, and food. That on top of the rent, the phone bill, the internet, power, gas . . . all things in which they partake. None of that is chump change. As a result, we are tight, burning through all the checks right up until that last moment and starting it all over again. Christmas was easy because I cashed in all my stock options and retirement from my previous job. I had to, we needed a car and the leftovers went to paying for presents. This last week I had to help the Easter Bunny, which cost for candy and other things. No giant presents or anything, but it’s still money. I was so proud of myself for getting to Easter I had totally misjudged the end of the week being the boys’ birthday. The juggle for that was supposed to be my tax return, which the IRS said was coming three days ago. Then they changed their minds. Now it’s 10 days from the boys’ birthday. Surprise!
I don’t want to sound like I’m whining about finances all the time, I’m not. I love the fact that we’re even now, not constantly in the hole and in the red. Sure, I’ve got a bunch of red ink, but more black than red. The kids were used to a far nicer lifestyle with two incomes, but they’ve adjusted well to what we have now. The boys simply wanted some leggo kits and new books to read. They gave up asking for the new Nintendo 3DS, which made me want to give it to them all the more. Not to ease their “grief” like some critics might claim, but because they don’t ask for it and I know full well they want it. For a 8/9-year-old to have that kind of control and love their father enough to hold back and sit there asking for things they still want but not desire is pretty amazing. That’s what makes me want to help them get it.
But added to that mess is the commuting an hour North to go another 45 minutes South, every day, in order to get the kids watched for Spring Break. More gasoline. More miles on the new-ish car. Less time to shop for presents.
Last year I cannot tell you much about. The boys’ birthday was just a few short weeks after they lost their Mom. I got what I could and they seemed happy and I was just thrilled we’d gotten through the day without falling apart. Much love to my parents who helped it happen. I think I may have gotten a cake from Costco or some other place. I can’t do that this year, so I have to make their cake tonight. I like baking, don’t get me wrong, and I want to do it, but time isn’t something I have in abundance. Nor is cash.
Added to that? The daily crises that seem to help crumble the earth beneath me. The fact that my middle child, a 12-year-old girl, is just hitting her pubescent run and I have to be the one to deal with it. Her older sister is there, sure, but these aren’t things Andrea was happy to deal with in the first place, so Abbi was getting the advice from her Mom when she asked for it but it wasn’t given without interrogative. Now I have a daughter who asks if I’m going to the store because she’s out of Maxi pads and needs one . . . like now. I’m not a skittish Dad. I bought them and tampons and other various and sundry female items for my wife and oldest daughter’s menstrual needs. Now I’m doing it for my next daughter. The problem is she needs to understand how to be hygenic. I love her to death, but I’m also – and I’m sorry for the visual here – sick and tired of constantly cleaning drops of blood off the toilet seat, the underside of the seat and the inside of the rim. I’m tired of having to wash out my bathroom garbage can because she didn’t put a liner in and then stuffed it full of used aforementioned pads.
I’m a Dad. I course with testosterone. I don’t ooze delicate sensibility, I’m the male authority figure. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be. Now I’m telling my daughter how to handle the maxi pads, how to clean up, how to handle herself as a girl. I barely can be a normal guy most the time and now I’m supposed to handle the monthly cycles along with what looks good, what haircuts she should have and how to deal with sex with boys and how to handle it when her guy best friends will start looking at her as more a girl than a buddy. I wasn’t any good at this when I was a teenage boy, now I worry I’m setting them both up to fail. Fail, because they don’t have their Mom here to help them through it.
That’s the thing, too. It’s not that they don’t have a Mom, it’s that they don’t have their Mom. That’s a big difference. Their aunt, their Grandma, their Mom’s best friend . . . none of that is comfortable, I don’t pretend it would be. The most comfortable person they have to deal with these things is their Dad – me. I can see and hear it from them that they aren’t sure if it’s going to help either, but I can see when they get to the point they need someone they come to me. I should be happy that they are willing to talk to me about them. It’s a blessing that they are. But each new teenage problem, the wasteland of hormones and peer pressure in which they live, is one I have to figure out on my own because I wasn’t very good at it the first time through.
I stare at them all now and hope I get it right. I pray I have enough to get the presents the boys deserve for their birthday. The ground is shaky, to the point some days it nearly brings us to our knees. I just hope the tools I’m giving them are the right tools for what they need.