Category Archives: Daily Diatribe

A good idea of what my day entailed. Usually written right before bed and published overnight or in the morning it gives you an idea of my trials and tribulations with 4 kids and Dad.

Tonight I Feel Broken in Two

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Noah in a fond, happy moment. Far different from our evening's tribulations.

Years ago, when our oldest, Abbi, was just a kid, I had to do one of the most intense and terrible punishments I have ever devised.

Abbi, you see, was terrible at picking up after herself and keeping her room or the living room clean. This was particularly difficult for Andrea and I considering the fact that this was just a tiny, 2-bedroom house in Omaha. The worst thing in the whole world: Barbie hairbrushes. Those things are like a tiny plastic bed of nails placed strategically so that when you walked through the hallway or the living room in the dark of night so you can step on them and embed the hot pink day-glo plastic into the arch of your foot. I cannot tell you the number of muffled screams escaping my throat during the years we lived in our little 2-bedroom near the Country Club area of town.

The particular punishment centered around those very dolls. We were moving from Omaha, NE to Dallas, Texas where I had already begun work as a producer and photographer for the CBS network owned television station there. We were packing up the bright yellow Ryder truck parked on 50th street, awaiting the house full of items. Abbi had left all the said Barbies lying on the floor. She had been told on more than one occasion that she had to pick them up . . . long before we were to move. Now we were being held up by the fact that she wouldn’t pick up the dolls.

I had already threatened throwing them out, putting them away, grounding her, and last resort that we’d give the dolls away. She didn’t believe that was an option. She was wrong.

The day we were moving, I’d had it. She’d been told more than once that she had to pick them up and put them in a bag so that they could be packed in the truck for the move to Tejas. She didn’t do it, fueling my anger through the day. By the time we had to start mopping up the move I looked at Abbi and told her to tell me which Barbie was her favorite. She grabbed one and I told her to get in my truck. We drove from our house a couple miles down the road to the Salvation Army Hospital, a place that housed kids who for whatever reason did not have insurance and were getting help for long-term diseases. Abbi cried, horribly, the entire way to the place. I nearly caved in twice. It wasn’t even a long drive to the hospital but it was the longest trip I’d ever taken.

I made Abbi walk up to the receptionist in the hospital lobby, handing the doll to her.

“My Daddy says I am not able to take care of my toys so I’m giving this to you so you can give it to a little girl who doesn’t have a doll. Hopefully she can take better care of it than I can.”

She stopped crying on the way home. As difficult a punishment as this was to dish out, it was brilliant in its simplicity. She’d been through a Jesuit preschool and a Catholic kindergarten. They had learned about charity and giving. How do you get angry with your dad’s punishment if you know damn well that a little kid who has never had a doll will love getting this – your favorite. Abbi hated the punishment, but she never forgot it. From that point on, every time I said I was going to punish any of the other kids Abbi immediately told them to listen to me because I would make good on my promise. It was the gift that kept on giving.

Tonight, though, I hate myself for the punishment I had to dish out.

Noah, one of the twins, has been having problems at the school’s Extended Day Program, EDP. He, for God knows what reason, has an issue with another set of twins – kindergarten students. They both followed him around the room quite often, my theory because they both wanted to be with an older kid and because Noah was somebody who reacted when bothered. Noah is reactionary, but he’s never good at holding back his temper. He shouldn’t have picked on little kids.

Worse yet, he made the claim that he wouldn’t get in trouble. His mom died. People felt sorry for him. He was playing everyone, and it really bothered me. Worse yet, I’d had a talk with him the night before about having to be better at the EDP room. It isn’t semantics. He HAS to be good there, I don’t have another choice. I even told him that if we lost EDP, with no other options, it would have a ripple effect (not those particular words, give me some credit for being able to talk at an 8-year-old’s level) on all of us. What happens if I have to ask to leave at 2:30pm each day? Will I be able to keep my job? All these things were truly racing through my head.

Then he acts even worse. He gets in a fight with one of these kids today, pinning him to the ground after yelling at him.

I did what a lot of parents would do. Noah wrote a letter to each of the twins that he’d mistreated. Then I told him he had to write a letter to both the EDP teachers and the kindergartners’ dad. It was in the middle of the last letter – to the teachers – that I got the burst of inspiration. It was horrible, and I had no idea that it would break me in two.

He finished the last letter, finishing it up, drawing a little picture of a jack-0-lantern and a ghost on the bottom, I guess because he thought it would be nice for the teachers, and wrote their names on the envelope. He was about to get up and leave and I stopped him.

One more.

Write a letter to your Mommy.

The look on his face wasn’t angry or sad. It was scared. His eyes went red and the tears started to fall down his little cheeks. You have no idea just how hard it was for me, watching him write to his mother and apologize for using her death as a way to get out of trouble. The bottom of the letter, the blue line of the notebook paper smearing under the salty drops, one by one, hitting the bottom of the page. I looked away not wanting him to see me as torn up as he was.

“I’m sorry, Mommy. I said I would be good at school because you had died, but I lied.”

I hadn’t asked him to write that. He did it on his own. All I said was to write what he would have told Andrea if she was sitting there. I know what was going through his mind. The one thing Andrea wouldn’t abide, not ever, was lying. Not from the kids. Not from me. You could get away with bloody murder, but lie to her and you would have a hard time getting back into her graces. Her anger over lies is equaled only by my ability to hold a grudge.

Then he wrote more, and I lost it.

“I miss you Mommy.”

The bottom of the page had been hit by so many tears it was sticking to the table by now.

You have to understand, I know what he went through, I was going through it there with him. When he couldn’t think, I told him just to think about Mommy, sitting there, right in her normal spot at the table and looking at us.

“What would she say to you, Noah?”

He shook his head not knowing.

“Would she say I love you, little moo? You have to do better, you know that right?”

He nodded his agreement.

Then he added that he loved her so much.

I put my hand on his shoulder, standing behind him, telling him he didn’t have to write any more if he didn’t want to. He didn’t. I had him put the letter in an envelope and put “Mommy”, which he misspelled (in the letter too) Momy.

Then I did something that just ripped what little semblance of control away from my emotions and was the last piece that pushed him over the edge, too. I told him that we’d get up early tomorrow, go to the cemetery, and give Mommy his letter.

After he’d calmed down, I told him to go upstairs and change into pajamas and I’d come up and read. Then I went to a part of the house where the kids wouldn’t see me and just broke down.

I had to do it. I know that. I knew life wouldn’t be perfect, not any better than when Andrea was here, it couldn’t be. I guess I had hoped it just wouldn’t be this hard. It hasn’t. Not for a long time. I don’t know why this affected me so deeply, maybe because we both could just see her there but couldn’t talk to her, touch her, even just say we’re sorry . . . for everything that has been pulling at us since she left. It’s horrible to have a one-way conversation and only guess from old memories that are slowly slipping away what her reaction will be.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Punishing the kids when they are clearly wrong isn’t the issue here. The issue is that they have to face this. I write every day because after the chaos of the day diminishes – after the kids go to bed – I have nobody to face the stresses of the day with. Hell, I’m not sure I’ll ever want to have that again, but regardless I feel like I need to tell somebody above the age of 16 what is going on. More important, though, I realize the kids have to face this without their Mom. You’re supposed to make life for your kids better. Right now, I can only see myself propping them up so they don’t fall, no more, no less. It may get better, but it’s so unfair, so painful to watch them face that “Momy” is gone and they have to face knowing they don’t have her to enjoy their little moments of life with. I wrote a lyric for a new song not long ago – it just wasn’t supposed to be this way. It’s even more evident in this episode.

I had such high hopes for the day. Never realized that instead I’d see the stars fall from the sky. Tonight I feel broken in two.

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When Do We Stop Touching the Street?

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Abbi at 6, realizing she may be small but is a giant inside!

I took this photo probably ten years ago, maybe more.
I had just bought a medium format camera, a Yashica, from a colleague for a decent price and I was experimenting with the camera.

As I was staring down the top of the little box, watching the reflex prism and getting used to the strange counter intuitive movement I heard “Daddy! Look at me! I can touch the street!”

As I turned around Abbi was standing next to the concrete steps that led up to our little home on 50th street in Omaha. Her arms were up, and she was giddy that she could look at her shadow projected in perfect position so it looked like she was touching the street. With the hand rail, steps and her shadow, the lines were just perfect to snap a photo.

The thing is, she was a tiny little girl, the kind of kid Andrea and I both needed for our first.  When Andrea got pregnant with Abbi, she wasn’t happy.  She wasn’t indifferent.  She wasn’t even pensive, much like I was for both Hannah and the boys.

She freaked out!  I mean, catatonic, hair on fire, a hare’s breath from falling off the ledge freaking out.  You know what, I got it, even then.  We were only 22/23 at the time.  We were young, stupid, and married only a year.  We had amazing plans, travel we wanted to do, and a whole life that wasn’t planned out, but we weren’t ready to be parents.  Still, she was freaking out, and even though I wanted to freak out too, one of us had to be calm.

But something happened after Abbi was born.  She was this adorable little thing, hungry, helpless, and the strangely perfect combination of the two of us.  Sure, she had problems.  As a baby her GI tract was so messed up she had vomiting episodes that make the exorcist look like and episode of Sesame Street.  She needed handmade formula because she was allergic to EVERYTHING!

But she was also the best kid, which was what we needed.  Sure, we had our battle of wills.  We had our crazy arguments.  But she always was this smiling, bright little star that made both of us beam.  While Andrea swore that Abbi was distant from her because she was so anxiety ridden through the whole pregnancy, she would be heartbroken to see how much her daughter misses her.  Abbi doesn’t have breakdowns, doesn’t burst into tears.  But I can see the missing pieces when I talk to her.  When she has a problem with her math homework, when she’s having boy problems, when she can’t get a date for Homecoming.  Still, there are times when she does something silly, not the adult Abbi she sees herself becoming, but the goofy, funny little kid – the same silly things that her Mom would do that made all of us love her so much more than we already did.

And I’ve noticed something, being the only adult in a house full of children.  They have this amazing ability to look at the world with amazement.  They can see their shadow and say “hey, I can touch the street”.  When I walk with the boys they see a rock in front of them and they kick it.  They don’t run, in fact they keep the pace, moving slowly right or left to meet up with the path of the rock . . . and kick it again.  I get that it’s a rock, but it’s still a great indication of how they keep imagining the way things should go.

It’s made me think of something.  The best times in our lives, the ones that we remember, laughing, falling over giggling, and loving every minute of it are the ones where we suspend our reality to look at the world through their eyes.  It’s why we love going to theme parks.  Take the analogy further – it’s why we ended up on the freaking moon!

Now Abbi is 16.  I see some of that imagination wane.  The small twinkling of that brightness comes back sometimes, and I see it: when she’s singing in the choir; when she’s dancing with the iPod in her room (and thinks I didn’t see her); when she gets an invitation to a party some popular kid is throwing and other people didn’t.  I realize that those horrible ’80s movies we all watched as teens aren’t popular because they were amazing films.  I mean, look at Ferris Bueller. Like he could jump on a parade float, get the crowd singing and get away without one bit of police brutality?  But what made them golden – what makes us keep loving them – is that suspension of disbelief.  We never thought Molly Ringwald would end up with Andrew McCarthy, but then, Ducky never lives happily ever after either.  But we have just enough of that little kid left in us to still think those are the greatest moments ever.

I’ve realized it’s OK to think that, too.  Why kill the one thing that keeps us from falling off the cliff ourselves?

I wish I knew when we stopped trying to touch the street.  I’d stop it, and challenge us all to reach for the moon instead!

You’re Gonna Carry That Weight

I'm not carrying the weight of the world, but it's enough...

I carry a lot of weight on my shoulders every day.

That’s no mere metaphor, it is literal as well as figurative.

When I met my lovely wife I weighed a mere 180 pounds.  I fluctuated, sure, going up and down, 190, 180, 197, 195 . . . no massive surges in either direction that would cause me to even track my weight every day, though.  That is, until about a year ago . . . maybe 18 months.

I gained a substantial amount of weight.  In fact, by the time of the funeral, pictures of which now horrify me for vain reasons as well as emotional ones, I had ballooned to a whopping 250 or 270.  Not sure, by that point I was too embarrassed to look.  It’s painful to carry that much.  Walking was slow, I had a hard time catching my breath, and I could tell my metabolism had changed to the point that I can’t eat whatever I want and assume my body will just burn off whatever I need.

That’s changed.  Not because I’ve taken control, focused my mind and body and begun a stringent training routine that involves drinking some sort of green, grass-flavored liquid and running before the sun rises in the East.  It’s changed because I just don’t have the time to sit on my ass and munch on crap while watching television.  I also have a job that gets me out of the building and isn’t stuck dealing with turning a million stories with too few resources and too much pressure.  Yeah, the pressure’s there, but last week I was riding in a boat while interviewing a guy on a story out in the Bay.  What other job lets you do that?

I’ve lost almost 20 pounds since then.  The other weight isn’t coming off, not anytime soon.

I’ve done my best to make decisions that I thought would create the least amount of chaos; inflict the least amount of damage.  Hasn’t always worked out that way, and the road is paved with my good intentions, as they say, but it’s the best I could do.

When Andrea first went into the ICU, we didn’t have the kids come in.  Andrea was very weak and she just needed to get stronger to handle the pull and need of the kids, both emotionally and physically.  I’m not sure if we ever had a discussion that said “keep them home for now,” but I did anyway.

When she went into respiratory arrest everything changed.  I’ve described the panic, I won’t relive that with you.  But in that first day, nervous, hurried and hyper to the point of talking for every single second, I made a lot of decisions I regret, but don’t know that I’d change.  Whether it is true or not, I believe that those in a coma, or in Andrea’s case, sedation, can hear us.  I hear the kids in the twilight of my dreams when they come into my room just before they wake me up.  Why couldn’t Andrea?  So as a result I didn’t stop talking.  Not from the minute I arrived through my way out the door each night.

It’s also why I kept everyone away.  With the kids it was for two reasons: first, I didn’t want them to see her that way.  If you’ve ever seen someone intubated, on a respirator and fighting for every breath, you know it’s horrible.  The medical dramas make it look so romantic, a frenzied operation that pits the nurse or doctor above the patient’s head, the scramble of activity and the rush to get the tube inside and get the person breathing just in time . . . believe me, that might be the first few seconds.  The rest aren’t.

The tube is all the way down the throat.  So when the nurse comes in, sedated as Andrea is, they touch, move or adjust that tube, Andrea feels it.  She jumps.  She cringes.  She grimaces.  Nothing about it is comfortable for her or for me.  I saw it when my Dad was recovering from heart surgery, and it’s one of the few times I’ve seen my mother cry.  I watched it, every time they came into the room with Andrea, and I faced it because I felt like she needed me there.

That awareness is also why I kept most everyone out.  Andrea’s sister Amy came, and that was fine.  She was always a comfort to Andrea, who loved her deeply.  Andrea also had a connection with her sister, loved her children almost as deeply as her own, and was comfortable around her.  She told Amy things she didn’t tell anyone else.  Her visit was welcome.

But I kept Andrea’s parents away as long as I could.  Andrea always tensed up, with every visit when they were there.  Andrea’s mom, you see, had come down with a degenerative brain disorder, something akin to Parkinson’s but faster acting and harder hitting.  Andrea would visit their house and I would take her call on the way home, in tears, often distressed either by the further deterioration of her mother or because of some argument with her parents.  Neither made things easy on her.  It was this stress, this tensing that I thought she didn’t need that I tried to keep away.  They did visit once, and Andrea’s body was more rigid, the seemingly reflexive movements growing faster.  Andrea didn’t need to be subjected to this every day, and neither did her parents.  I was there, I didn’t like what I saw, but you don’t abandon someone you love because you’re uncomfortable.

You have to understand, I sincerely thought, even by then, she would get better.  It was just pneumonia.  I know it’s horrible and that people can still die from it, but I thought we’d come through it and be stronger for it.  I had no idea that it would just be . . . over.

Now, I wonder where the kids’ heads are.  Are they mad at me because they didn’t see their Mom those days?  Do they wonder if she was thinking about them?  None of them act out to me or seem like they are upset about it.  But the signs creep out that they wonder.  I was determined, though, that their memory of their mother be the best memories, the ones that revolved around her dancing in the middle of the living room with them to some goofy little song.  The woman who sat at the table with her huge mug of coffee and infectious laugh.  I didn’t want them to see or remember her with the plastic tubing snaking around her like tentacles; the black marker on her leg to indicate which one had an infection; the tube full of greyish crap that they pulled out of her lungs through it all.

After the funeral, the hospital let me know there was a bunch of stuff of Andrea’s that I had left behind.  It took a lot for me to go to the hospital then, but I did it.  I wasn’t going to leave any of her behind.  I was pretty proud, too, I’d done fairly well and held it together.  That is until they handed me the items.  They’d taken a bunch of her stuff, her clothes, shoes, even the copy of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and tossed it into a clear plastic garbage bag.  That wouldn’t have been so bad, except in the bottom were the get well cards the kids had made for Andrea – cards that she’d been able to read, just hours before she took her bad turn.

They all seemed, at least at that moment, to plead for her to come home.  They told how much they missed her, nearly begged her to come home, that they needed her.  It was like a visible representation of their hearts ripping in two.  The weight got a little heavier, as did my heart.

Now, when I’m home and Sam’s playing upstairs or reading, he’ll shout down every 15 or 20 minutes:

“Hey dad?”

“Yeah Sam?”

“I love you!”

Hannah will stop me in the middle of walking from the flour to the sugar while making cookies to hug me, in the most inopportune moments.

Noah wants to be around and have some sort of activity every second of every day.

Abbi, well she has a lot of responsibility she shoulders now, whether I pull it off of her or not.  All of this is a result of my decisions.

Were they the right ones?  I don’t know.  I will never know, I don’t think.  It’s a very solitary thing, to carry this weight.  My parents helped carry some of it, holding me up after they arrived.  Still, the decisions I made, alone, when nobody else was around, I have to live with whether they’re right or not.  It’s one of those horrible points in life, where every decision will have bad consequences, you just have to measure which decision has the fewest.

I am fortunate to have 4 amazing children, who tell me things, who let me know if they’re down or miss their mom, or just need help.  I can live with Sam freaking out in a store if we’re not all together or Noah constantly under foot.  Why?  Because we’re far stronger together than individually.

I make no decision about our family without their input now.  I don’t care how minute.  They’re involved, and they’re part of it all, which is as it should be.  It’s not because I want them to shoulder the burden, it’s because they should never have to feel left out again.  They should not be alone in the dark.

But mostly, I just want to make sure they don’t have to carry that weight.  Pick your musical metaphor, use whatever philosophical platitude suits you best.

No matter, I’m going to carry that weight . . . a long time.

Isn’t It a Pity

I started writing this blog for a couple reasons.  The first, of course, was selfish.  It’s helping me, giving me an outlet to sort through everything that’s going on in my household and my head.  I talked with Andrea about everything, so when you go from having that adult who shares all of your thoughts, feelings and helps you decompress from the day.  You have no idea how important that is and how much you miss it when the most intelligent conversation you have is with four children and not with another adult of similar ilk.

Another reason is to try and touch, if just a little, the memories and history of the first half of my family’s journey.  I have to do this now because I can see the small pieces of her falling away, disintegrating an atom at a time, the memories flying away like pieces of pollen in the wind.  I hope only to retain some of those particles so that they don’t disappear altogether.

The last reason, and the one that pushes me to connect with others via this blog, is to remove the lid from this box that some people (emphasis on SOME people) want to throw you into.

There’s a tendency to ask someone like me how you’re doing, which is fine.  But the next step is always to say “it will get better,” or “you’ll heal, you will meet someone, you will find another person . . ” insert your own cliche’d moment here.  The reality is, it won’t get better, nor should it, and I don’t want it to.  This is what people just don’t seem to understand.  We have such a need in society to want everyone to be OK, but not actually face the things they are going through.  I don’t want to think you will be sad, depressed, stressed out, or even hurting.  I don’t want to face that you might be alone, so damn the consequences, I’m telling you that it will pass and you will get better and you will fall in love again and the world will be bright, full of rainbows, sunshine and unicorns.

Isn’t it a pity.

If I touch even one person to face reality . . . I feel like this has been worthwhile.  Here’s what I want everyone to face, and this isn’t easy for me to write, but if I can face this, I think you can, too.

After Andrea took a turn in the ICU I went into a frenzy of panicked activity.

I spent the next two days talking until I was hoarse.  I took so many phone calls I couldn’t handle it.  I eventually forced people to look at my Twitter feed because my phone kept dying.  I started reading “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” out loud hoping that I was just so annoying that she’d wake up and tell me to shut the hell up.  I hid in the corner of the room, behind the curtain, hoping they’d miss me and I would stay for longer, maybe the entire night, in the hospital.  I asked her what she thought we should do for our anniversary, what I should bring to her here in the hospital.  I needed her to stay around for our anniversary, it was 18 years after all.

We got married young, and we were stupid.  We were still kids at the time, and I was just so insanely paralyzed by shyness, brought on by a paralyzing lack of self-confidence, and it translated to most people that I was awkward, even uncomfortably silent.  But she never saw that, she saw the person I was at home, the guy that could be normal and boisterous and emotional when he was behind a microphone with a guitar.  She saw that, even when I wasn’t hiding behind the Stratocaster and tweed amplifier.

She made it to 18 years.  Barely.

This is a long setup, I get that, but it tells you what I was going through when the world started trying to shove me into a box.

Saturday morning, March 26th, 18 years to the day that I wiped the emotional tears from Andrea’s eyes as we told each other “’til death do us part”, the hospital called me and said Andrea was “in some distress”.  No big deal, right?  That sounds pretty basic.  I was already on the way and they didn’t sound like it was a big deal.

Until I got to the hospital.  When I buzzed the doors, they got strangely quiet and I heard the nurses scrambling, saying “it’s her husband” in the background, unsure what to do.  The doors opened and I walked into the most chaotic, insane situation I’ve ever experienced.  3 nurses were taking turns pumping up and down on Andrea’s chest, injecting medications to the Y-shaped connector where the IV tubing that snaked its way to Andrea’s arm.  They were doing that CPR count as they pushed, her chest caving in with each compression.

Everything around me started to swirl.  You know how people say they actually see everything turn red when they’re really angry?  Mine went white.  Don’t ask me why, it just got covered in a milky white haze.  The doctor was calmly shouting commands to the nurses.

If all you have seen of this type of scene is what’s on TV, it’s just so inaccurate.  The room had a flurry of activity, but it was oddly quiet, which was even worse.  As they worked on Andrea I could hear one of her ribs break.  I was a mess, begging her to stay with me.  I was in a mad-dash panic and all I could think was “stay with me, please!”  As each piece of medical equipment ticked away, I was thinking how I can’t do this.  I can’t break my kids’ hearts.

Then the doctor came over and told me they’d been doing this for more than half an hour, maybe longer, and that even if they kept going they didn’t know how much oxygen her brain had been deprived of.  He’d keep going, but it was really up to me.  I reached up, held her foot, and saw every horrible thing that was happening to her.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Here’s where the lid of the box opened.

The hospital chaplain too me into another room, as I nearly hyperventilated in emotion.  I haven’t cried in years, but I was a mess.  Here I thought they were going to help me, try to give me tools to move forward.  Instead, they literally overwhelmed me with crap.  I had to start looking at decisions.  I had to pick out a mortuary.  I had to look at a string of things that needed to be taken care of.  It wasn’t an hour since she was gone and the hospital told me I had to start making arrangements.  The kids didn’t even know their mother was gone yet.

Then came the string of phone calls.  Lots of them were really sincere, helpful, and seriously emotional as I was.  Others gave me awful platitudes and talked to me only so I could make them feel better.  This is what I’ve dealt with, a metaphorical version of the hospital.  Get the person out of this room, make the room look empty, make this go away.

Where I’m comforting my kids and trying so hard to keep daily life just daily life, many people just don’t know how to handle that.  Why doesn’t he just stay in the box?  It makes them feel better to think that I will get over things, that the wound will heal, I will move on, the world will get better, and everything is perfect.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.  God help me, sometimes I wish it did.  The kids just don’t have a Mom.  No other woman will be their Mom.  No other person understands me the way Andrea did.  This isn’t life the way it had been, it’s a new life and a new story.  People cannot seem to accept that for right now we have to do this without her and have a hole in our lives.  It’s easier to try and tell us that “all wounds heal” and “everything will get better”.  I’m sorry folks, it won’t.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do it.  We don’t lose the pain, folks.  We learn to live with it.  I don’t crave the day that I don’t think about Andrea all the time, I dread it.  This woman was one of the greatest part of our lives, so why would we want to make it disappear?  Yes, right now it hurts like hell.  But we also have amazing memories and wonderful fondness for her.  It bothers people that we can have both.  People want you to fit the mold.  A mom and a dad.  Parenting the kids.  This isn’t a diatribe about single parenting.  Divorce still leaves two parents.  If you have a problem you can still call that other parent, whether you are friendly or not, because the greater good of your children is there.

But people just can’t seem to handle that life is so complicated.  We just don’t fit in the box.

I know this is the second post in as many days to use music, but to use a former Beatle’s line: “Isn’t it a pity.  Isn’t it a shame.  How we break each other’s hearts.  We cause each other pain.”

Bad Moon Rising

There she is, that damn lady in the moon!

Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival”

It all started with the covers on the bed.  Well, maybe it ended there, because it started with the moon coming over the foothills on my way home.  That’s probably most accurate.

Normally I get in around 8:30am to work and leave around 5:30.  Technically I am 9-6, but my boss said he doesn’t care what hours I work as long as I get the job done.  Between a discussion of several stories and the inevitable hour-long negotiation to try and get a photographer to shoot a sweeps piece I had reached a level of stress I hadn’t felt in awhile, and I still had the entire evening to deal with.

You have to think of my day as a kind of sandwich.  It starts, usually really early (for me) around 5:30 or 6am getting myself dressed, fighting with Hannah and the boys to try and get some semblance of their rooms picked up (usually with my miserable failure) and then heading down after showering to make them breakfast and readying them for school.  Then I drop them at school, talking with Abbi to make sure she’s got a handle on her day, then head straight to work so I can make it by 8:30-ish so I can get home and put dinner on the table at a reasonable hour.

But today went long.  Getting a photographer isn’t an easy prospect. Nine guys off, God help us if someone calls in sick, and if I have to travel very far (I do) then I’m taking a shooter for a full day.  This on top of trying to work a bunch of stories so we have some semblance of a sweeps calendar.  I don’t manage this anymore, but I still have to produce.  I’m it, for now.  So leaving around 6:15 or so puts me square in the nasty time of traffic and idiocy that is Highway 50 East.

And then I saw it.  The Bad Moon Rising . . . a full moon.  I’ve read all those studies, even listened to the unwanted lectures and unsolicited parenting articles that claim sugar doesn’t cause kids to get hyper (They haven’t met MY kids, then) and that the moon has no impact on people or children.

Bullshit.

Sorry for the profane language, but it’s the best descriptor, believe me.  I drove toward home, watching the full moon, that bad moon rising, beautiful, an amber color, with the craters forming an image like the left profile of a woman, staring at me with her one eye, smiling hideously, knowing full well that there’s loads of fun waiting for me at home, I just had to get there.  The traffic was nasty.  The drivers on the road was angry.  The syrupy color of the moon draining as it rose higher and higher, almost directly above my house.  It turned from its ruddy color to a brightness I can only describe as God’s flashlight.

I walked in the door and it was quiet.  Too quiet.

Abbi, God bless her, was crumbling cake into a bowl.  She’d found a recipe for “cake pops” and was determined to make them.  Her cake of choice a red velvet, the food dye everywhere, on the counter, staining her hands, in the sink.  I had grabbed a couple frozen pizzas, so I didn’t need the counter space, but it was an interesting project to start the night before she had to take her PSAT’s.  Oh, yeah, did I mention she had to take that tomorrow morning?  Guess she’s not too worried.

But the moon has a way of acting on the kids.  I know I sound like my mother again, but they went screwball, Mad Mad World, bat – s#*t crazy.  Hannah beating on the boys.  Noah trying to shove Sam’s face into a cereal bowl.  Sam screaming at Hannah because she skipped 3 frames past the commercial of some awful anime cartoon they were watching.

And then Noah told me what a girl in his class told him.  Now, bear in mind, I know Noah’s a handful.  He can have his issues, but he’s a good kid.  He’s very loving.  He’s hurt easy, but acts out when he is.  But this was over the top.  The girl looks him in the eye, sideways glancing at Sam (I added this for effect, probably didn’t happen, but Sam heard it so it makes me feel better to vilify the kid) she states “my life is better than yours because I have both my parents and your Mom’s dead!”

Now, Noah is usually reactionary.  He doesn’t instigate much, but he reacts rather angrily.  This just hurt him.  His eyes were teared up and he was hurt.  I told him, if her life was that much better, she wouldn’t have had to tell him it was.  She obviously is jealous of him for some reason.  I don’t know why, maybe her Dad doesn’t hug her as much as I hug my kids, I don’t care.  It was hurtful.

It also set the tone for the evening.  It’s why he went off the deep end, hit his brother, poked at his sister, and then that horribly cackling woman in the moon sent them over the edge.

So I got them going for bed.

But here’s where the bed covers come in.

Noah wasn’t happy his bed was messed up.  Bear in mind, of course, that they’re supposed to make their own beds every morning.  I’m not like a drill sergeant, by the way, I don’t flip a quarter to make sure it bounces off the covers or measure the corners to make sure they’re neatly hospital style.  But I make my bed every morning, they can too!

I read every night to them, so this night we were reading a book by my friend (read acquaintance) James Rollins: Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx.  Noah was upset his bed was messed up.  I told him he should have made it this morning and to put the covers back on himself.  His response was to rip off the bedspread and throw it on the floor.  I kept reading.  He ripped off the sheet, threw it on the other side of the floor.  I told him it would get chilly tonight, so if he’s cold, he’ll have to get up and pick up the covers.  I wasn’t going to fix them unless he apologized and asked nicely.

I looked and the moon, that woman’s crazy eye staring at me from the mid-point above the horizon.  The damn woman was pulling on their strings!

So, here’s where it really gets crazy.  I finished the chapter, said prayers, hugged Sam and told him good night.  Noah buried his head in the pillow.  He hugged me but wouldn’t talk.  I just looked at him and said “I love you.  Are you seriously going to go to bed and not say anything?”

I won’t put any of the kids to bed without saying I love them.  I told Andrea every night before they kicked me out of the hospital, and I said it every night when she was alive.  I’ll be damned if it’s not the last thing each kid hears before they fall asleep.  I ask the same of them.  They don’t have to like me very much, and on Bad Moon nights they don’t, but I hope they love me.

Sam was beside himself.  He wanted Noah to have covers.  He’s the protective son, the guardian of their safety and the carrier of the banner for our solidarity.  He wanted me to fix Noah’s covers.  I wouldn’t.  I told them both if he came and asked me nicely I’d do it.  Otherwise, he knows how to make his bed.  If he’s cold, he’ll get the covers himself.

I tucked in Hannah, scolded her for how bad her room was – so bad I can’t walk in without tripping over some little thing – and gave her a hug, told her good night and I loved her.

Then I went downstairs.  I watch so little television I’m still watching season premiers of shows from September and turned on an episode of some crime procedural while I got the materials for tomorrow’s lunches.

I heard the shuffling feet before I saw the little blonde head peek around the corner.  His eyes were wet, not tearing, but near there.

“Daddy, will you please come fix my bed for me.  I can’t do it right.”

It’s really all I wanted.  Yes, it was a battle of wills, but I won’t abide being rude or impolite.  He thought he was showing me, but he really was the one who got the lesson.

On the way up the stairs, as I turned at the landing to go up the second set of steps I heard it, quiet as it was:

“I love you, Daddy.”

Take that, you ruddy colored bitch.

A Storm’s a-Comin’!

I’ve turned into my parents.  I know this is the cheesy, horribly cliche’d line in every 1980’s sitcom, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s true.  The worst part, though, is the fact that I have turned into BOTH my parents.  Nobody warned me about this when I became a single dad.

I should explain.  My Dad, as he’s gotten older, has been delightfully curmudgeonly with each passing year.  He’s telling it like it is and I truly wish I had the ability and the calm nerve it takes to do the same.  The thing is, it took decades of really hard work as a pharmacist, listening to grumpy, irritating old guys and ladies who claimed WalMart was cheaper then dumped out their pill bottles to make sure dad didn’t short them a single dose, to transform his business-like calm demeanor.  And he’s insanely funny when he does it.  It’s only taken me 6 months to get there, and I’m not nearly as funny.

Then there’s my Mom.  I found myself yesterday, as the rain the meteorologists said wouldn’t come to Sacramento was pouring down and soaking me on the way to and from work, repeating a phrase my mother said constantly.  “I know it’s going to storm, you guys are acting like a group of maniacs!”

I only bring it up because I’ve noticed a continuation of my own behavior that I hated in the months prior to losing Andrea.  For all the amazing, wonderful things my wife brought to me, dealing with rowdy and obnoxious moments with our children wasn’t one of them.  Andrea inherited her mother’s knack for wanting the problems and the noise to just “go away”.  Hearing a child cry; that whiny, piercing, eardrum banging cry, was something she wouldn’t listen to.  There were so many days I either got a phone call asking me to yell at Noah, or tell Sam to stop . . . or I simply walked in the door and had to dole out punishment like Solomon sitting on the throne waiting to split a baby in twain.

I hated that.  I made that known, it led to arguments, and I couldn’t change it.  Andrea would reach a point where the stimulation would be too much to bear and she’d just give in.  It’s why we owned (notice the past-tense, we sold them on eBay) EVERY, and I do mean EVERY Thomas the Tank Engine.  We had EVERY Dora the Explorer and Diego video.  They would go to the store and the kids would get DVD’s, candy, whatever.  Yet when we were strapped enough we didn’t have the cash for all that and groceries we went without milk.  So I had to come home and, while the kids ran around with their new toys, watching new Sponge Bob DVD’s, I had to be the bad guy, yelling at them, angry that we had to find ways to stretch the hamburger in the fridge.  I was – and am – in a constant state of grumpiness.  She got to buy them toys, tell them “yes” all the time and I had to come home, first thing through the door after they look happy and shout “Daddy!” and start doling out punishments, taking away the new toys and yelling.  It was uncomfortable, mean, and I felt like I was the bad guy all the time.

The problem is, I’m still there.  It hurts to know that I still have to dole that out.  The rain was on its way and the four of them – yes, ALL 4, (try dealing with a depressed, acne-ridden 16-year-old girl and then come judge me) were f$#*ing nuts! Worse yet?  My Mom was right.  The storm comes, maybe it’s the barometric pressure, maybe it’s cabin fever, but even after the weather people inevitably guessed the storm’s path incorrectly, I knew it was going to rain.  A storm’s a-comin’, it’s just a matter of time.  I know it, because I wanted to kill all four of my children.  They were climbing the walls and I hadn’t given them any sugar or caffeine!

I’ve gotten some criticisms for this.  I know I’m not a typical single-father.  I gladly cook.  I get up every morning and make breakfast for the kids.  I figured out how to do the laundry without ruining things. (Well, most of the time.  I pay for it so I don’t much care the results)  But where the typical response to our situation, the atypical gut and knee-jerk reaction would be to do the opposite of what I’m doing I continue the routine we’ve started.  It’s like sometimes people think “they lost their mom, you should do whatever you can to help them!”  I’m sorry, buying a freaking toy isn’t helping them.

Here’s where I turn into my Dad, twenty years earlier than he did.  Spoiling them made things worse already.  When the kids get in trouble at school, I don’t think the best thing is to always assume the teacher’s wrong or that they should get a break just because their Mom died.  It’s a mitigating factor, but it’s not a get out of jail free card.

The best thing I can do, I think, is to help them adjust.  Help them carry on.  We have a routine and following it has helped all of us to move forward.  I don’t always like it, I’m always tired, I don’t get to sit down until after 10 each night, but it’s there, and there’s comfort in that.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m trying, and I don’t think siding with the kids on everything is the best approach.  I try to be fair, listen to what happened, and filter out the exaggerations from the reality.  They’re still kids, after all.

Look…I’m not saying I don’t have a heart.  Sure, a big chunk of it is gone now.  I was horribly insensitive in how I reacted to Andrea being pregnant with the boys.  I’m not sure she ever forgave me for not being “excited” about the pregnancy.  I wasn’t mean, never considered abortion or giving them up.  They were our kids, I accepted that, but we already had two, now we were to be four?!  I couldn’t wrap my head around that.  Hannah was hard, a handful, and attached to Andrea at the hip, almost.  Now I doubled our children in one swoop.  We didn’t have the money, she was only working part-time, and now we had SO much more to contend with.  I wasn’t angry, I was panicked, but she never saw it that way and I see her disappointment in me even today.

It’s part of what made things so hard to come home the day she died.  Panic is a good way to describe it.  Andrea was always there.  When we had a problem, she helped me work it out.  While I hated being the grumpy guy, I could TELL her that and ask her to help me so I wasn’t always that horrible person that just punished the kids.  I won’t go into the details of what went on in the hospital in this post, but suffice it to say I was a mess.  A complete and utter mess.

But as bad as that morning was, as terrible as I felt, the worst hadn’t happened yet.  For the critics of how I don’t coddle my kids, you should know how much of my heart shattered that day walking in the door.  You see, Andrea had started to improve, gaining a little bit of consciousness, even looking at and responding to me just a few hours before.  She was supposed to get better, not leave us!  The absolute worst thing was telling those four kids.  They all acted differently – Abbi, in a reaction I saw coming and headed off, wanted to start taking over, act like Mom.  I refused to let her feel like she had to take over for Andrea.  She’s 16.  She needs to be 16.  I’m Dad, I can do this.  I’ll need help, but I can do it, and I make sure she knows it.  There is no reason for her to grow up faster than she should just because she thinks she has to take over for Mom.  Noah, he was hurt, but got philosophical, nearly propping all of us up with his platitudes about how her heart was so big she had to spread it around, and pieces of it were with all of us, so she’s always there.  Sam turned inward.  I worried, because he just went upstairs, sat in the play room, and did . . . nothing.  Now, he worries about all of us, making sure we stay in a group at the store and yelling if anybody wanders off.  It’s annoying, but I don’t stop him.  He’s working it out.

Hannah was the hardest.  She and Andrea were SO close.  The most heartbreaking thing was telling the kids and seeing the panic in her eyes.  The near-hyperventilation in her breath as she cried and begged me to go back to the hospital.  “They got it wrong, Dad, she was getting better.  They couldn’t have checked, you have to go back Dad.  Please…go back . . . sometimes they’re wrong, they have to be wrong!”  How do you tell your daughter that the mother she adored isn’t there anymore.  Worse yet, how do you look her in the eye knowing you had to be the one to tell the doctors to stop trying to keep her mother alive, keep her here?  It’s a horrible burden to know you have crushed your child’s life, and I did it.  I didn’t have a choice, but that doesn’t make it better.  I did it just the same.

From there I made a solemn vow: we are better together.  No matter what happens, even if we have to move, we are ALL going to move.  We are stronger together, and no matter how hard the situation has been, I love and adore those children.  I survive and continue to get up every morning, put my pants on and walk one foot in front of the other because those four kids look at me to be the example of what they should do.  I spend my day, hopefully, leading by example.  At night, they don’t see me stare at the empty bed and talk to her out loud, asking for help and not getting it.

What people don’t understand is my job isn’t to be their friend, not all the time.  It is my job to be their Dad, 24/7.  Coddling them isn’t helping.  But preparing them is.   I didn’t go out and immediately buy a ’68 Les Paul Deluxe.  (OK, I got a Fender Espirit, but it was reeeaaaalllly cheap!)  They didn’t get brand new Nintendo 3DS’s.  (But I buy them books and take them to the occasional movie!)  I’ll never replace their Mom, it just cannot be done.  But I can do the best I can to prepare them.  That’s what raising them SHOULD be.  They may want the DVD’s and toys, but if that’s all they got and I turned away and sulked all day, they’d be worse off than when I started.

The storm is an apt analogy to our lives.  As Stevie Ray said: “I guess we just couldn’t stand the weather!”  It all got torn up, sucked away with her when she left.  We are moving ahead, barely a step at a time, fighting the wind that is against us, but we’re moving.  And that’s the biggest thing, forward trajectory.

A storm’s a comin’ . . . and we’re heading right into it.  No place we’d rather be.

We're not in Kansas...err...TX and NE anymore!

Hippy Golf is a Powerfully Dangerous Thing

It actually started a few weeks back when my oldest daughter caught a bug of some sort.  She was sincerely sick, and being 16 I let her stay home to rest on her own.  It’s not my preference, but what am I to do?

It’s all a case of household economics.  I mentioned before that I left my job.  The reality is, the job I left, on paper, showed me working for the company for more than a decade.  It wasn’t just that I loved the people I worked with, particularly early on when I worked in Texas for them.  But I was embedded, long-term, with a deep relationship with the legal department, who had helped bolster my knowledge of writing a script without getting sued.  I had finally reached the point where I would get 3 weeks vacation, although every vacation request I put in was returned with a fair amount of guilt for being out of the office for more than 24 hours.  Never mind that the boss left town for a week to interview for another job once.  The biggest thing was that sick time.  I can get over everything else.  I certainly feel it was morally reprehensible to force me our just a couple weeks after I placed my wife’s body in the ground.  But the time off, the personal days, holidays, all of it were things I needed as a single Dad.

So with a new job, no sick time, no vacation time (I’m in the hole, actually) Abbi stayed home.  I excused her absences, calling the school.  Didn’t matter.  Miss 2 days, a whopping 80 points from PE, and you have to make up 8 days.  Why?  How the f*%k should I know?!  It makes little sense.  Do parents out there actually excuse their kids because they just don’t WANT to go to PE class?  What the hell kind of parenting is that?  Even when Andrea was around I wouldn’t have done that!

So make up the hours, she did.  But then, so did I.  First was that lovely 5k my body is still thanking me for.  Now, Frolf.  That’s right, in a move that could only be in California, the makeup hours for PE couldn’t be at the driving range a mere 5 minutes from our house.  Oh, no, we have to play frisbee golf.  Not just frisbee golf, either, but frolf in a place populated by the strangest group of shirtless thugs in tribal tattoos and facial hair “teeing off” behind groups of hippy’s that look like a gaggle of clones from the Mystery Machine, if they all dressed like Shaggy and smelled like Scooby and Scrappy.  This “sport” (and I use THAT term very loosely) was played in a park (again, loose definition) whose fairway was so uneven and neglected that you could see the water channels in the hardened mud that was more populated with burrs than anything green.  Into this wonderful world walked myself and the 4 kids.

All through the process, I kept thinking how Andrea would never have gone for this.  Beyond the anger with having to make up 8 classes for the 2 Abbi missed, to subject us to the most insane of activities in a group of questionable characters would have pushed her catatonic.  Never mind that toward the end her knees were in such horrible shape that walking up and down dusty hills with no cushioning in her knees would have tortured her.

This is not painting a poor picture of Andrea.  The men in front of us used the f-word about twice per phrase.  Not that I am easily offended, but I have a pair of 8-year-olds here with me.  Hannah is one of the kindest and most innocent 12-year-olds I have ever known.  To expose them to this was beyond silly.  But we needed the extra 10 points from this to go with the 20 (that’s right, only 20 points for running a freaking 5k to help prevent SEX TRAFFICKING!) from the race she was going to hopefully make up the points she missed.

We had a lot of fun, though.  Once we’d left the thugs and hippy’s ahead and behind us, it was the 5 of us.  Alone in the woods.  It’s an apt metaphor, I suppose.  We are very much alone in the woods right now.

I realize it’s been half a year.  Sometimes, I think people are obsessed with making sure that you know you’re going to be OK.  They want to make sure that you know you’re going to heal and then move on, start dating, even fall in love again.  Why?  Because our society and Hollywood have told us we have to.  That’s my conclusion.  Tom Hanks loses his wife in “Sleepless in Seattle” (Andrea’s favorite Rom-Com, by the way) and they all tell him that.  I like his angry rant, by the way.  “Love yourself, love another, hug yourself, hug your therapist, or work…work will help.  Work will get you through!” (copyright Nora Ephron and her distributors. This is quoted but not a direct quotation, by the way)  When they tell him he’ll date again he says “yeah, it’ll be simple, I’ll just grow another heart.”  No offense, everyone, but I’m still at that point.  Love again?  Move on?  Please. The funny thing is, even after all that, even after all the arguing and fighting, Tom Hanks meets someone else and falls in love.  That easily.  What you never hear about is how “Annie” reacted to having to help parent a kid that she didn’t start raising.  Happily ever after?  Perhaps, but we will never know.  What, did she move in with him?  Did she drop her best friend Rosie O’Donnell?  What about work?  Magic didn’t get Annie a job at the Seattle Post Intelligencer instead of the New York Times, I don’t believe!  Yeah, it’s THAT easy.

Then there’s the reality of our own, singular, now set in our ways single-parent personalities.  I got lucky, folks.  Let’s talk for a minute about how I met Andrea.  We worked together.  I was this lanky (Yeah, I’m a fat-ass now, get over it) geeky kid with a bad pre-Bieber haircut and zero self-confidence.  She was drop-dead gorgeous.  She’d just gotten back from visiting family in Arizona, tanned, sun-bleached blonde hair, with a white blouse, blue jeans with holes in the knees that revealed just a little of the tanned skin beneath.  She wore her sunglasses on the top of her head, and being from the West Coast, the staff jokingly called her “Hollywood” when she wore them up there, forgetting Northern and Southern CA are as different as France and England.

But she found me.  Not the lanky kid who thought he was the next Stevie Ray Vaughan.  She found ME.  Do you know why I’m where I am today?  Because of her.  I didn’t have the confidence to handle things the way they are.  Sure, we fought, we butted heads, she was frustrated that I loved being a musician so much and I was frustrated that she was so worried about our financial status all the time.  But I loved her.  From the moment we started talking to each other.  So after 18 years married and 20 together, how do you shove that aside and make room for someone else?  Plus, to be practical, talk about logistics.  I have 4 kids.  4.  How do you broach that subject with someone?  “Hi, you’re cute, want to meet my four kids?”

No, not now.  Maybe not ever.  I can’t say.  Love is schizophrenic, my friends.  It’s powerful and it’s dangerous.  It can create monuments and it can tear apart societies.  It can force a man to write an entire album about his best friend’s wife!  It hurts so much to know she’s gone, and I want to keep the pain right now.  Every synapse that heals feels like it’s taking a small bit of her memory away from me.  I want to feel better but I want to revel in it.  How do you meet someone or move on when you enjoy the depression and pain?  I’m not an LSD tablet in my Bryllcream away from being Syd Barrett, but there are days that the look in my eyes is like two black holes in the sky, and sadly I like it that way.

So when people tell me I’m doing awesome and that Andrea would be proud, I still can’t bring myself to believe it, even if it might be true.  I can see how this really was a partnership and the hole ripped open when she took a piece of me with her is still pretty raw.  Andrea might have found a way around the running and frolfing, but I never got a chance to ask her about these things while she was here.  Now, she’s gone.

Every day I get an email, a tweet, a text, something from a friend or relative that says Andrea’s helping them.  She’s everywhere.  Everywhere but with the people who need her the most.  I’m glad she’s so tirelessly helping everyone else with their problems, but I’d love to, just once, get a clear indication of what the hell I’m supposed to do from her divine intervention.

Where everyone sees signs of Andrea helping them I see laundry and desserts needing to be made…and Mr. T playing frolf with Shaggy, Scooby and Scrappy.

Yoinks!

Rock em Sock em Shin Splints

I try very hard to keep a balance of activities for all the kids. I learned this from my parents, though the time frame between children is different and they didn’t have 4 of them, 2 of them twins.
As a result, I volunteered to do a 5K for my oldest on Saturday. It sounds so innocuous, that number. 5K. It is only when you get to the starting line, surrounded by people, having avoided a lick of training or otherwise powerful exercise, at it sinks in you are going to have to traverse 3.1 miles. Now, I have lost a little bit of weight in the last few months, 15 pounds or so, but it isn’t through exercise and focus. It is because my day begins around 6am, sometimes earlier, and doesn’t end until sometime after 11. Often, I don’t sit down in a chair until after 10pm. I move around, walk, cook, even walk a mile or more most days frowork in order to get into better shape.
But 3 miles, when your daughter is running and you have only walked, is mammoth. Abbi surpassed me early, texting me through the course and telling me when she passes mile 1, mile 2 and then the finish.
I made it, of course, but not quickly. What really surprised me was the odd conglomeration of people. Many women showed up with neatly groomed hair, their makeup done up, dressed in designer pink and purple jogging suits at were better suited for clubbing than for running. It was a great cause, the end of sex trafficking of young girls, but I could hardly believe the people surrounding me.
Still, by 9am we had run the entire race, showered and moved on to events of the day. I cleaned, went the store, and headed to get my other 3 kids from their aunt’s house.
Abbi was spending the night at a friend’s. The reason being it was homecoming at school, and she had no date. It is here I miss Andrea so terribly. I had no idea how to deal with the issues of a young girl who feels so dejected. At best, I was terrible at dealing with the dating world. The few dates I had as a kid were likely disastrous at best. The later girlfriends were short relationships. I had very poor self confidence and was not particularly sure things would ever go well.
So for Andrea to even show interest in me was confounding. Here was this beautiful blonde woman, with eyes the color of the sky after a storm, asking me after an evening with friends seeing the band Rush when we were going out together again? We did, sitting up all night talking, falling asleep on the couch in each other’s arms. That was all, nothing salacious or nefarious. It was her, sparking my confidence, helping me realize I could ask her out and knowing we could have a lot of fun and still fall in love.
She was the force of nature that could help Abbi understand what it was like. For now, the best type of advice is that I just cannot make all the kids happy all the time. I would have to let her figure it out, working through the life of a high school kid on her own.
So she did it. No angry, pouting bouts of depression. She spent the night with friends.
So back to the even handed activities. Where Abbi took me to a run, the other three were obsessed with the movie Real Steel. Here we were, at the end of the day, my shins screaming at me because I ran farther than I have for several years, walking up to a two hour equivalent of a celluloid Rock-em Sock-em Robots. It made their night. It also drove home the fact that sometimes it isn’t a big, major event or massive philosophical metaphor by dad. Sometimes the best thing you can do is exercise and watch a couple robots beat the snot out of each other.
There is a metaphor for life there. I just can’t figure out what it is until the ibuprofen kicks in so I can walk across the room.

Autumn Leaves, UFO’s and Pancakes

Aliens on Vacation

Fall is school, and therefore school projects.  The kids had already read their books and picked out the projects for the “visual book report” they were to do.  Most kids pick a hangar and draw some pictures.  Mine . . . well, they had to get creative.  One son picked a book called “Noah Barleywater Runs Away”, (http://www.johnboyne.com/ is the author’s website) focused on apple trees and a mystery in the woods.  So obviously we had to make a tree and post the note cards on apple branches attached to the turning leaves.

The other: “Aliens on Vacation”. (http://www.cletebarrettsmith.com/ for that author) Naturally, we had to make a UFO.

I both adore and despise the store Michaels.  I adore the fact that I can get most the art materials I need.  I loathe the fact that I HAVE to go there and pay through the nose for something that I could make on my own if I’d thought of it a week before the due date instead of the day before, like we inevitably were.

So we used a tree branch, fake leaves and fake apples for one; Silver Krylon, upside down Lazy Susan platters and glow bracelets for another.

This well before I had to put together the next day’s stuff.  Weekends were always made for us to put the breakfasts and dinners together for the week.

Why?  I HATE mornings.  Can’t wake up, never could.  But my mom always made us breakfast.  Even if it was Cream of Wheat she was up and made it, so I do it too.  6am, or earlier, I’m up.  My method to ease the pain is advanced cooking.  This week’s breakfasts?  Pancakes.  I was up until Midnight, cooking, cooling and sealing in Ziplocks, but we had buttermilk pancakes warmed in the toaster for days!

The apple tree project reminded me of Andrea.  She always had amazing ideas.  I had to implement them a lot of the time, but that’s what a good partnership is.

Fall is our time of year.  A good friend told me not long ago that this was our season, we really pulled out the stops in the Fall.  Our house was always decorated, the smell of pumpkin spices and ruddy colored candles and decorations filling the houses where we lived.

That wasn’t what I loved.  I always loved it for selfish reasons.  The season always brought about a crisp bite to the air that cleaned out the pollen and haze of summer and made the colors bright.  That, and we got to bundle up and be close.

Andrea was gorgeous.  There’s no disputing that, and I should have been thanking my stars that she put up with someone like me.  In the fall she always was just so wonderful.  Early on she’d have some sort of t-shirt with a pair of soft overalls, or a big brown sweater that you swore looked like corduroy but was really soft as silk.

And it was the time of year to just be close.  There was something irresistible about reaching out and just holding her: the contact; the feel of her cheek or the tickle of her hair on my nose.  This was the time of year I wanted nothing more than to grab her and just never let go.

Now, overalls are coming back, but not like I remember Andrea wearing.  There’s something very alone about being in the cool morning air in the house and knowing you’re waking up to that same chill to see the vacancy on the pillow next to you.

That, and her birthday was the day before Halloween.

I always messed up her birthday.  I can’t think of more than a handful that went well.  My job, you see, is in television news, and the biggest, most important ratings period every year is November.  The start of that ratings calendar was almost always the Thursday before her birthday.  We’d done this for years, but she never could forgive the industry’s pull that kept me at work until the evening hours.  We got in so many arguments, and I saw so much horrible disappointment in her face every year.

I’d kill to try and fix those.  It seemed such a big deal then.  Now, I live with disappointing her knowing I couldn’t get it right.  You can tell me all you want how much she knew I loved her, I live with this pattern of dysfunction forever now, with no way to make it up.

She brightened up the house.  I loved having her there to whisk through, pushing the boundaries of what we had to decorate any hovel in which we lived.  Now we’ve reached our first Fall in our new life.  We will celebrate the seasons, but without her it won’t burn quite so brightly.

Noah Barleywater Project