I’ve had to think a lot, lately, about how we ended up here. By here I mean it all . . . emotionally, spiritually, physically, geographically even. It’s been sparked a lot by the conversations I’ve had with my kids, partially about life in general, where Abbi goes to college, where I went, how I ended up where I am, financially insolvent, all of that.
Look, I’m 41. Not old, not young, that strange middle-age that hits most people if they’re lucky enough to get there. I’m not hitting a crisis, I don’t have the money or the desire to buy a Ferrari. I don’t have the urge to move on to another place and town just for a change – the kids need the stability of being in a home.
And I don’t have the urge to just go chasing women looking for random acts of love. It’s not how I’m wired, I guess, and it’s certainly not feasible even if I was. It’s funny, because I find myself doing a lot of things I would never have done had Andrea still been here. My daughter loves a lot of those ridiculous and snide reality shows: Toddlers in Tiaras or America’s Next Top Model and I watch them with her when I can. I would never have done this before. But I do now. The whole point of watching these things on the DVR for her is to have someone to be snarky and nasty and make fun of them. Our family is bred on that. We don’t ridicule others around us, but to make snide and sarcastic comments – especially about each other – is our bread and butter. “If you can’t get a thicker skin, there’s no way you’ll survive in this family,” was the line.
It came from above me. My parents were both that way. I never told my Dad I had a date for the prom, not until the week of the prom, because I knew the sarcasm both I – and if he ran into her my date as well – would endure. He found out anyway, it’s a small town, and he surprised me by not saying a word. It was almost worse.
But here’s the thing: I secretly enjoy it. It’s time with my daughter, time I won’t have for much longer. It’s stupid and ridiculously worthless, and I like every minute of it. This last run had a British crew versus an American one and I loved this Scottish girl. My daughter said it was because I thought she was cute and had an accent. She was right, but it made for more sarcasm and push-back with each other and I loved it.
We watch shows I would never have watched before. ABC has a show called Suburgatory That I wanted to watch, not because of the teenager stuck in suburbia but because Alan Tudyk is on it. He’s insanely funny, hysterically good, and a great actor. (If you’ve never seen Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, go and rent it . . . NOW!) Last night we watched one that had the motherless daughter with her Dad . . . and his live-in-surrogate-pregnancy-girlfriend (won’t go into plot, watch the show) and it was a perfect example of a hormonal, raging, lunacy that every pregnant woman goes through. As an aside I tossed at my kids “you won’t have to worry about that, at least,” and my daughter said “what . . . because you won’t bring a pregnant girlfriend to live with you and drive us nuts?”
“Um . . . no, I wasn’t thinking I’d be dating anyone . . . but OK, that too.”
It really hadn’t crossed my mind. One little exchange and my oldest daughter, the one who I’d thought would be the hardest on me if I talked about “moving on” or “dating” was less than worried about that. She just shrugged her shoulders. The girl on the TV was a lunatic, vegan, holier-than-thou get the toxins out of your system character and I just said “well no worries about someone like her, I’d have killed her by now.”
“Nah, I’d have beat you to it,” was Abbi’s answer. All five of us howled in laughter.
My kids never cease to amaze me. I don’t think they’ve ever been concerned about what I do or where I go. Hopefully, as crazy and unsure of what I’m doing that I am, they don’t see me that way. I’m trying my best to shape things and keep them moving. I’m doing my best to show them that even when we’re stretched to our thinnest – like we have been this week – it’s still possible to get by and stand on our feet, not fall to our knees.
I have control. That’s what’s changed. As glorious and beautiful and brilliant as my wife was, she was also chaos epitomized. It was passed down from on high to her by her Mother. Where I got what one friend calls a “monumental intolerance for stupidity” and my father’s dry wit and sarcasm, my wife was influenced by a Mom who thrived on chaos. My kids would lose control and the more out of control they got the more flustered and chaotic Andrea’s Mom became. When she came to help when Hannah was born, she couldn’t handle caring for Abbi alone . . . while I stayed at the hospital and took care of Andrea who’d nearly died on the table during her c-section. They released Hannah before Andrea, which was strange, and my mother-in-law lost all semblance of control. She needed me to come home and take care of the kids, which I did whether I liked it or not, and left Andrea alone in the hospital – something she feared more than anything.
Chaos gripped us in the last few years. When we moved to be closer to Andrea’s family the chaos ensued. It was like a storm swirling around us. The more we were here the stronger the storm became.
Now I have control. It’s not easy. It’s like trying to lasso a tornado some days, but I do it. Why? Because Andrea always wanted to be more in control – to the point where losing any sort of control, letting go of that hold over the situation, was something she was loathe to do.
Today, I have to let go. One of our very dear friends said she had some hand-me-downs to give us from her kids who couldn’t wear them any more, they were too small . . . it wasn’t “some”, it was a giant bag filled with clothes. The summer wardrobe for my kids is so much easier now I don’t have to buy new things. Andrea couldn’t have handled or allowed that, it was admitting defeat and letting go of control. When I can’t get to the kids to pick them up I have to ask others to help. Again, it’s letting go and leaving the chaos behind.
A lot has changed. We’ve changed. I work at a station that runs “Dr. Oz” and he makes the claim that men stay the same and women change all the time – and we have to be good with the women changing or marriage is too hard. It’s like being married to 3 different people. But he’s wrong on some of that. I’ve changed – drastically. Not just after Andrea died, either. She changed me – I was a better man because of her. I obtained and drew confidence from her and was able to stand taller than before. Then marriage changed me . . . and her. Pharmacy school showed her just how smart she was and proved to her that her parents had been wrong – she was as brilliant as I’d always told her.
Moving here changed her . . . for the worse, and she became the scared little girl she didn’t want to be again. I wish I’d changed to the man I am now all those years ago. I’d have told her we weren’t moving. I’d have shown her that it would just weigh on her and she’d get unhealthy – physically and emotionally – and that depression would loom on her horizon.
I’ve changed. Sure, for the worse. I have lines on my face. More grey than I should at this age. I have bags on the bags under my eyes from exhaustion. I disappoint people sometimes because I can’t keep it all wrangled and told too many people at the beginning of our new story that I’d help them with projects I had no business starting. But I’m back on my own two feet.
I’ve changed. I’m a little softer, a little harder, and lot more the man I need to be. Could I change again? I hope so. Maybe I’ll see my kids leave and throw caution to the wind and hit the road as a musician – because I can. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll be here, or maybe I’ll move around, getting the come and go blues.
But for now, the change has done me good. No, Dr. Oz, women aren’t the only ones who change. The best marriages . . . the best parents have the best lives because as those around you change . . . you change with them.
Now I have to go. There’s a fashion designer takedown I need to watch with my little girl.