I’ve had to learn to be a lot more observant.
You wouldn’t think that’s hard, considering the fact that I am a journalist and work in a visual medium. After all, you can argue that’s part of my job. It should be inherent, learned through osmosis, even.
I never had to apply those observations to home before. I mean, sure, I noticed things my wife and kids liked and made mental notes to delightfully surprise them with gifts. I knew when my wife was upset, I wasn’t totally oblivious. But today, nearly two years after my wife has passed away, I have to be more than a little cautious.
This may sound strange, but as my oldest daughter’s bathroom is the shared downstairs bathroom, I can tell when “that time of the month” has hit. It’s not just the scarlet traces on the underside of the toilet lid or the applicators in the garbage can. When I hear her at the medicine cupboard in the kitchen (I keep it all there . . . safer and I control who gets what. Remember that, bathrooms are a little too private sometimes for parental medicines) I can tell she needs Naproxen for cramps. My middle . . . who has a totally different week and inherited her mother’s unfortunate PMS swings shares a bathroom with her brothers. Same thing. I see the maxi pad wrapper on the floor. Two feet from the waste basket. Next to the empty box, which she then claims she didn’t use all of and steals her sister’s feminine products.
Yeah. I have to be observant.
I turn the boys around and send them right back upstairs in the mornings when I can tell they didn’t brush their teeth. I can see when they’ve had some bought, sugary cereal or treat because I have to peel them off the ceiling. Even if they claim they’re fine and had no such treats. Sure. You’re just normally acting this way.
But it’s the emotional signs and triggers that I have to watch. It’s not social media. Only my oldest is allowed an account there right now. It’s the signs and signals that I can see. It’s how the light in the room dims just a few candlewatts as one of them walks into our sphere. It’s how my oldest switches from the bubbly, smiley, snuggly little girl to being quiet and terse. My son, Noah, gets nervous and twitchy when things go differently.
Noah has been that way the last few days.
I know why, mainly because I’ve been noticeably absent on occasion. I was out of town last weekend and they were all in their oldest sister’s care. She’s 18, every bit the adult, and worth her weight in gold. This weekend, they’re staying with their aunt, who cares for their grandma who is terminally ill. They love going there, but the boys are strangely nervous. Abbi and I have a college visit and we’re gone . . . just one day . . . but gong nonetheless.
Absence, however little, is hard on them. They all weigh that their sister is leaving for college in the Fall. They worry about the changes in our household. What if Dad changes? What if our family dynamic changes?
My reaction is to be . . . the same. Normal. Well . . . normal is a relative term for us, I get that. But still, normal for us. Traveling on a whim, running crazy, messy house, silly cartoon voiced moments that swirl around us like notes in an old Disney movie. That’s what I do.
I could easily ignore those observations, come home, and just be home acting the part of exhausted and over-worked Dad. That benefits nobody. If I wait until they have lost it and go crazy, it’s been too long.
It’s the tiniest of observations that keep us moving forward.