Tag Archives: bedtime

And The Award Goes To . . .

Oscar

Our Story begins:
And The Award Goes To . . .

It was bedtime.  None of them disputed that, as a matter of fact.  The showers had been taken, teeth brushed, pajamas worn, all of that.  The entire bedtime routine was going.

“Hey Dad, wasn’t the Oscars tonight, though?”
“I guess they were,” I told the boys as I tried to usher them up the stairs.  I wasn’t aware they even knew the Academy Awards were this evening.  I don’t normally watch them . . . I get my share of egomaniacs when I attend the local news Emmys if I get a nomination.

“Could we see if they’re still on,” they say?  I roll my eyes, assuming this is yet another pathetic attempt at staying up another half hour or hour.

“Abbi’s probably watching them at college,” they tell me, trying to create some sort of long-distance shared experience.  So I looked up the winners online.  The biggest categories still hadn’t been named so I cave.  They stay up and sit in front of the television.

It wasn’t that big a deal.  We’d been watching some show on Netflix while I made cookies for their lunches.  I still had to make the lunches for the boys so I was working on that while the awards were on.

Gravity won Best Director.
“I loved that movie!  It deserves it,” says my middle daughter.  I agreed wholeheartedly with her.

Cate Blanchett comes up . . . gives a pretty amazing speech (says the guy who hates award show speeches).  My sons begin pelting me with speeches.  “What’s Blue Jasmine,” they ask me.
“It’s an adult comedy.  Woody Allen directed it.”  I pray they don’t talk during the speech about the controversy with his kids I am not prepared, right before bed, to go down that road.

Best Actor.  Matthew McCaoughnehy wins.
“Did you think he would win,” they ask me?
“I thought he might.  I heard he was pretty amazing.”  Yet another amazing speech, the boys actually comment on how they liked what he says.  They look funny at me when I laugh uproariously as he says “alright, alright, alright . . . “

I get texts from their older sister in college about 12 Years a Slave winning.  I inform her they kids wanted to watch.  they are thrilled when their sister texts that Frozen won best animated film and best song.  My middle daughter bemoans the fact Disney saw a need to replace the actor who sang said song with Demi Lovato in the credits.  “That version sucked,” she says.  I don’t disagree.

I’m beginning to see the companionship and togetherness in the whole thing, even though I’m pelted, incessantly, with questions about adult themes and terrible things the movies might have portrayed.  I navigate the minefield of adult topics well and am feeling proud of myself.  Who knew the Oscars could be such a great thing in keeping us together and having talks.

Just when I think I’ve had an amazing experience my sons look at the television when the show ends, almost an hour beyond its scheduled time, and simply say:

“huh.”
“What do you mean “huh?””

They look at me, trudge up the stairs, and shake their heads.
“What’s the problem,” I ask them.
“Well that wasn’t what we’d hope,” they tell me.
“Why, what did you hope,” I say, “that Abbi talked more?  That we did Facetime with her while she watched?”

They look at me a little annoyed.

“No!  We hoped the Lego movie would win,” they tell me and get under the covers.
“Huh,” is all I could say.  No fancy, major discussions.  They surprise me again.  My turn to catch them off guard:
“Well, Lego came out this year.  It couldn’t have won.  Maybe next year.”
“Yay!” they tell me.

At the end of the day, it’s not about speeches, discussion or other major things.  In the end . . . sometimes it’s just about Legos.

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Papers, Pencils, Calendars and Calming

We sat at the dinner table tonight and all my son could talk about was how each school year started at his previous school.  What he liked.  What he hated.  How his therapist told him to handle things.

That last bit is what told me what I needed to know.

Noah
Noah

Noah, one of my twin sons, has always had a problem “fitting in” and I put that in quotation marks for a reason.  It’s not that I think he needs to conform, God knows I didn’t at his age.  No, he just has a hard time keeping his thoughts, feelings and anger to himself.  It’s like he got the creativity and quirkyness of his Dad and the short fuse of his Mom.  That’s a really bad combination.

The part that’s difficult is knowing that we had to change schools and that it’s bothering him.  I’ve known for awhile, but he’s not wanted to talk with me about it.  He’s talked with his older sister.  That, or they’ve both just tried to insulate me from it and that’s not going to work since she’s leaving in 20 days for college.

Changing schools is a necessity, by the way.  I’ve moved the boys from their private school to the public one.  It’s not just financial, though that plays a role, but also because I simply have no one to pick them up from school each day.  Even if the public school has a “4th R” or extended day program I couldn’t get there in time to pick them up by 6pm every day.  Between traffic and the uncertainty of my job there’s no realistic solution there.  However, the school’s buses and the fact my middle daughter is old enough to watch them granted me the solution.  Hannah is going to the public middle school, the boys in the grade school just down the street.  I’ll take them to school each morning and the bus takes them near our house each day – less than a couple blocks – and they can get home.  It’s a pretty simple solution.

But for a kid whose school career to this point has been littered with incidents and some accidents involving behavior, lack of control and grief this isn’t an easy transition.  He’s really worried.  Every other night he’s been in my bedroom with worry or bad dreams.  I never turn him or any of the kids away if that happens.  I can see the concern on his face, though.  Abbi tries to head it off and says they’ve talked about it, but it’s obvious he needs to talk more.  It’s the conflict in how the kids handle their grief in different ways.

Abbi
Abbi

In a lot of ways Noah and his sister are the same.  Talking about grief or their mother or what they miss isn’t easy for them, they’d rather push it down and keep it away.  Unfortunately, it only can stay packed down for so long before it comes up and explodes out, under pressure.  For Abbi, that will ease as she starts her life as a college student.  For Noah, it’s another woman in his life who’s leaving.  At least he knows this one’s coming back, but sometimes it’s like he hopes or thinks his Mom will return and help him and that’s heartbreaking.

Still, I’m here and in between the pencils and the paper and the calendars and erasers . . . there’s me helping to calm him.  Somebody has to stand up for him, even when he’s struggling.  Somebody has to stand with him, even when he’s wrong, and help him stay on his feet.  That’s always going to be me.

I’m okay with that.

A Day, a Week, a Month, Then?

Just a couple years ago we were taking things a minute at a time.  Not an hour, day, a week…a minute.  Each singular moment had a different challenge on our lives.

It seems funny now that my kids are looking at me and talking about what I’ll do when they’re gone.  Well, some of the kids.  The girls, in particular.

The BBC's old logo
The BBC’s old logo

I posted in the social mediasphere, jokingly, that the BBC was looking for an investigative journalist to do a 6-month attachment for a documentary program in Cardiff, Wales.  Now, my kids didn’t seriously think I was going to go apply for the job.  But still, they talked about how cool it would be.
“I could come visit at Christmas to the UK!” said my oldest.  “But of course, if you took that kind of job you’d have to take everyone with you.”

Ummm…yeah.  That’s the idea.  If the last two years have taught me anything it’s that decisions have an effect like the waves made in still waters if you drop a stone.  Walk away from your house?  You can’t get student loans.  Move to Cardiff?  You’re taking 3 kids with you and you’re no longer just 8 hours drive from your oldest kid, you’re actually closer to a dozen hours on a plane.

This, by the way, is not at all to say I’d considered taking a job out of the country.  Well, I considered it, sure, it’s the freaking BBC!  But it’s not like they called me up or I’m in consideration.  It’s a fun fantasy.  That’s about it.  The idea of an American working for British television working in a town where some of the stuff might require me to know Welsh politics and speak Galic?  Yeah…not really going to put me in the running for that kind of job.  That, and the lack of money, monetary conversion, cost, moving, work visas . . . you get the drift, right?  It’s not representing reality here.

But the reality it brought up was that we’ve all moved past minute-by-minute.  Not week by week, but we’ve moved to months.  The girls are even looking years ahead.

“What will you do then, Dad?”

They’re looking 8 years in the future.

“Will you stay here?”
“I don’t know, kiddo.  There’s nothing really keeping me in California.  I don’t know what I’d do.”
“You could work for the BBC in England!”
“Yes, that’s true.”
“You could go on the road in a band, you’ve always wanted to do that!”
“Yep.  Though fifty…not the age to hit the road as a rock-and-roller, unless you’re Keith and Mick.”
“But you could.”

My family
My family

This didn’t go on long, I admit.  But then my son asked something and I couldn’t answer him with anything but the truth.
“Will you be buried next to Mom when you pass away, Dad?”
I stopped for a second, not sure how to answer Noah, one of the twins.  “I don’t think so, kiddo.  We only had enough for one burial plot, so you’re Mom’s there and the plots around her are taken.  If I wanted that, we’d have to move her and that’s reaaallllly expensive.  That, and I won’t be the one paying for it.  You probably would have to do it.  I don’t want to put that on you.”

I thought that might have an effect on him, but he just thought for a moment and it must have seemed logical.

I added: “I don’t know if I’ll be here in California, either.  After you guys leave I don’t know where I’m going to be.  But wherever it is, you’ll be home there.”

That seemed to satisfy him.  Since he’s gotten back, about every other night the little guy ends up coming to my bedroom about 3am and asking if he can come in.  I let him, of course, and he falls asleep.  I can see the worry: worry his sister’s leaving for college; worry that he’s changing schools.  All these are things we have no choice but to accept, but for a 10-year-old acceptance isn’t easy.  For a 10-year-old without a Mom it might just be even harder.  It’s only been two years and already another woman in his life is leaving.  That can’t be easy.

But still…I feel like we turned a corner this summer.  They’re older.  I’m a bit wiser.  We’re a bit more on-track.

It went from a minute to a day, a week, a month . . . and then what?  We’re already looking ahead.  At least that’s forward progress.  That, and after talking about the uncertainty of where I’ll be after they grow up, I simply said what I’ve always said:

“like always, guys.  We’re stronger together than when we’re apart.”

The Closer to Fall

From the day my sons were born I knew our lives would be completely changed.  I didn’t have a crystal ball, I couldn’t see where things were headed.  If I’d known how their lives were going to change so drastically I would have done a lot of things differently.

I've posted before, but my favorite pic of Andrea when we started dating
I’ve posted before, but my favorite pic of Andrea when we started dating

I would have taken a ton more pictures, for one, including forbidding my wife, Andrea from bowing out of the photos.  She always thought, even when she was young and spry, that she was overweight, too curvy . . . I really don’t know what all else. She grew up being told she needed to lose weight even when she was young, working the Flag Corps, five foot 10 and almost all muscle.  She had curves, yes, but that made her gorgeous, I have to admit.

But Andrea gained weight after having kids.  She lost function on part of her face right after the boys were born as a virus invaded her nerve endings and gave her Bells Palsy in 2003.  The thing she was most proud of – and it is more than a little vain – was that her smile was now crooked.  The thing I told her every day was the fact that she smiled with her whole body.  In that picture there you can see she’s got a twinkle in her eyes.  Her hands in her pockets and her body just slightly forward like she’s ready to burst out of her own body . . . that was Andrea at her happiest and smiling.  When she was happy she was brilliant.  When she was sad, the world around her wept.

So . . . fast-forward to 2011.  The woman whose influence on our lives was very strong, almost too strong a lot of the time, and things go more than a little haywire.

Toward the end, when the boys were little and at their most formative, Andrea had gotten sick.  Not something that caused her death, though the after-effects of it, weight gain (I don’t mean 5-10 pounds, a significant amount of weight) and depression were really hard on her.  The result was it was hard on all of us.  She was unable to work.  She was unable to move around because her knees had worn out all the cartilage and even standing up was painful.  She had to take pain killers to function.

But there’s something those detriments to Andrea did that were brilliant for the boys . . . and is hard on them now.  She was home.  She was home a lot, every day, picking them up from school.  Hell, Andrea spent a lot of time at the school, doing wellness checks (Andrea was a Pharmacist and helped with that) flu shots, you name it, she was there.  Mother’s Day tea?  Andrea was there.  She decorated the house, set up their birthday parties, did everything you can think of a little boy from ages 5 to 8 would love to have.  When they came home from school Mom was home.

Then she wasn’t.

My boys and me . . . taken by Hannah before the movies one night.
My boys and me . . . taken by Hannah before the movies one night.

That change, abrupt, corrosive, violent in its sudden impact was hard.  Sam, the youngest of the twins (by, like, 30 seconds) shut down, for weeks.  He sat, quiet, staring.  He had the TV on and stared out the window.  He’s finally come to being far less self-contained than he was.

Noah, the older boy, was really affected.  In the first days he was sweet and philosophical and just heartbreaking in his embracing all of us.  He changed and as much as he’s a strong personality – much like his Mom – he became far less aggressive and far more sweet in the last two years.  He’s also had the hardest time adjusting.  He’s not really dealt with the loss of his mother and it’s heartbreaking to know that he misses her so much but doesn’t want to talk about it.

So when the kids came home early from visiting their grandparents, I can see there’s even been a change in the last few months.  The boys wake up and check on me in my bedroom as I get ready in the morning for work.  I get their breakfast and they keep an eye on me as I make my lunch.  If I put my laptop in the car before heading out the door they’re looking out the window to make sure I haven’t left before they gave me a hug and kiss and say “see you tonight, Dad!”

The boys aren’t clinging, I think subconsciously checking to make sure I am still here.  They want to make sure I know they love me and they are waiting for me.  There’s part of them, maybe one more than another, who wants to make sure I’m coming home tonight.

The closer we get to Fall, the closer to major changes on the horizon, and I think that makes a difference, too.  Their oldest sister is leaving for college.  They’re attending a new school.  In two years of major changes they’re moving to more changes all over again.  I’m not sure if they’ll do great or if things will be harder on them.  All I can do is assure them that when I drop them at school in the morning I’ll do everything I can to make sure they know I’ll be home that night.  If I can’t get there early, dinner will be waiting for them and I’ll be home to tuck them in.

It’s heartbreaking to me to see them that worried.  It’s hard for me to know that there are just some things I can’t give them and that in their hearts there’s a part of them still hopes if they’re strong enough or ask hard enough Mom might come back.  Part of me wishes I could help that . . . part of me knows that might make things a lot worse.

The closer to Fall the closer to change, but life will keep going.  We will keep writing and developing our story and hopefully it will continue to be happier as the days roll on.

Nine Out of Ten

Here’s the thing: I haven’t posted every day here, not like I used to post.  In the beginning I had a rule and that was that I would make sure that there were posts here Monday through Friday, something written each night before.  So Sunday night through Thursday night I’d write and set up through my software that the site would automatically post the next morning.

I started writing every day, too, because the silence bothered me.  I’d write because something would happen: a child would have a meltdown or the school would call or what have you, and I would not have that other person to voice my concern to that evening.  The thing is, though, nine times out of ten my thoughts were correct and my wife, Andrea, would simply confirm my choices.  It was when that 10th time hit that I was always concerned and worried.  That 10th time she caught the mistake or failure and stopped it before it happened.  I wanted to avoid that.  I felt like, in the beginning, I couldn’t afford to fail.  When Andrea passed away there were four kids looking at me for guidance…and a number of people looking at me like I was doomed to failure.  Sure, the odds seemed stacked, by cultural propensity, against me.  What those people didn’t know was that so much of our daily lives was handled by my hand already.

I say that not out of pride, it was necessity.  Andrea was sick, tired, sore, all of that.  Her knees were shot and she couldn’t move.  She was just starting to come back to me when she passed away.

Silence, you see, was the dirge I listened to at night and it overtook my senses.  So in a sense, I used writing as a surrogate to remove the worry about hitting that 10th time out of 10.

I was scared.

I was lonely.

I will be honest, I didn’t think I’d know what to do.

Lots of people looked at my oldest daughter, Abbi, and told her how much she’d have to do.  They informed her she’d be taking on more responsibility; in essence, they told her she’d become the surrogate Mom to the other three kids.  I was determined to make sure that did not happen.  She was sixteen.  I wanted her to remain sixteen.  Sure, there were a lot of things she had to do  and take on and I wish she hadn’t but they happened.

But let’s put reality on the table: Abbi doesn’t cook dinner.  She doesn’t do the laundry – except her own, many times.  She does help clean, but that’s part of the chores for all the kids.  She didn’t sew up the sock monkey or stuffed dog when their legs threw stitches.  I did that.  She says how much responsibility she took on, and I did rely on her more . . . but she wasn’t taking on that awful much.  At the end of the day, gladly, I shouldered that.

So what does all that have to do with my not posting here every day?

I posted each day as a necessity.  It kept me going.  It kept me sane.  It told the world that I was trying my hardest and though I hit that 10th time out of 10 more often than I wanted it didn’t kill us.  We didn’t fail, it just made us go off the road a little bit.  The thing about that is if you can go off and keep the car upright…you can get back on the road.

I got to about the 1 1/2 year mark after Andrea passed away and I came to realize my fear of the unknown and the worry that I might fail had melted away.

You can tell in the posts . . . things move from grief and panic to quite content.  They talk less of stumbling along the path and more of adventuring off the path.  I know my kids are having a hard time here and there, and I handle that.  But there’s also a point where their own privacy comes in as much as my own.  The snapshot of the bad parts of my day has been overshadowed by the overwhelming kindness and goodness around me.  I’m not acting like a Utopian vision, it’s that I’ve slowly wandered past the worst.  Other things will hit, but will they be all that bad after what we’ve seen?

My money’s on us being okay.

My point here is that I don’t write as much about those topics because those topics just don’t come up.  When they do hit, I handle them and I don’t need affirmation, I embraced that I have to make the decision myself and don’t have to write it down to face the uncertainty.

It’s not about inspiration, it’s that I look and those topics aren’t even a consideration any more.

At least, they’re not a consideration nine times out of ten.  Thing is . . . now I can handle the tenth time.

It Works For Us…

I’m almost at the time of year where things go upside-down in my house.

By upside-down, I mean not just for me or that there’s a ton of work, it’s that my kids go to their version of summer camp.  Difference is, it lasts all summer long and I get more benefit out of it than the kids, I think.

Our new house, after we moved in.
Our new house, after we moved in.

Beginning in 2011, out of necessity, my folks picked up all four of my kids and drove them to Nebraska – where I grew up – for the summer.  Now, before you criticize, if you had planned on it, bear in mind that this was not a punishment.  It wasn’t something that was a foregone conclusion, either.  Just over two years ago I was in a frenzy of trying to figure out what I was going to do for the summer.  My oldest daughter, Abbi, was only 16.  My twin sons, Noah and Sam, had just turned 8.  My middle child, Hannah, was 11.

The bigger issue was the fact that those four kids had just lost their mother.  The entire structure, the basic molecular bond of our family was broken.  While she wasn’t the only glue holding together our atoms it didn’t change the fact that somehow they’d been split anyway.  it would have been very easy for our whole family to blow in a burst of energy equivalent to a blast on some Bikini Island atoll.

Instead, thanks to the structure, help, and encouragement of my parents, we got through the first few months.  Eventually summer came, my folks needed to get home to their own lives, and we all came to the realization that I still needed to work.  I was forced to change jobs, lost my house, moved into a rental home and was working out getting my oldest daughter into a different school.  I had no vacation time and my home life was nothing like it had been.

Change.  Lots and lots of radical, unintended change and consequences.  That’s what we faced.

In Nebraska last year. By Hunny Bee Photography's Amy Renz-Manoucheri
In Nebraska last year. By Hunny Bee Photography’s Amy Renz-Manoucheri

But the change was a good change.  Well…not all of it.  I wouldn’t, two years ago, have considered losing my wife a good change.  But the major difficulties we had to face after losing her . . . those ended up being far more positive than we expected.

The kids, in need of structure, routine, and a calm environment got it that first year.  My Mom is the epitome of structure and routine.  That first year the kids and I needed routine.  So for the summer, and last summer as well, my kids got to spend the summer months in a small town.  As a little kid that’s amazing.  They spent tons of time outside.  My Mom had a blow-up pool and bicycles and 3 acres of land to run around in.  They did projects, went to the county museum, and played cowboys and indians outside in the acres of land free of cars, people or rattlesnakes.

It’s brilliant and part of me is a bit jealous they get to do it.  Still, I get to continue working without the minute-by-minute worry the kids are home alone.  It also kept my oldest, Abbi, from having to grow up too soon and act like she is their mother-figure at the age of 16.  That was priceless.

So this year only 3 of the 4 go to Nebraska.  Abbi is working to make some more money for college.  I am working because I took most my time off.  I get to have a couple months with my oldest, like when she was the only child in the house.

Some may criticize and ask how I can let my children go for so long without seeing them.  The difference is, this works for us.  Without doing this, what damage could I be doing to them?  Would they feel alone?  Abandoned? Left to fend for themselves?  I don’t know.  The reality is technology is amazing.  Apple’s FaceTime app lets me see them and tuck them in every night.  Text messages, emails, Facebook, IM . . . all that helps to stay connected.  Is it the physical presence?  No.  Is it worth it to make sure they’re well adjusted?

Yes.

And it works for us.

A Chorus of Feelings

Most days in my household are a juggle as it is.

Today was like juggling and eating the apples you’re juggling and painting a mural on the wall at the same time.

It’s ratings in TV Land, which means work is usually a juggle of things.  I’m not swamped, I have to admit, like I was years ago and managing an entire unit.  Unfortunately for my bosses that falls on their shoulders now and I’m happy to say I’m glad to let them handle it.

But my juggle involved the morning routine, getting everything ready and reminding my oldest that Sam, my youngest, needed to be at St. Francis High School by 5:30pm for a choir festival his choir was singing at.  That, in turn, required her to juggle her schedule, as she’d forgotten his festival.  That also required Hannah, my middle, to watch Sam’s twin brother, Noah, at home since he’s not in the choir and the festival was sold out except for two seats.

Sam's Choir
Sam’s Choir

Neither my oldest, Abbi, nor I must have thought much about what going to St. Francis High School would do.  For me, it was about Sam.  Noah tends to dominate the attention a lot of the time and this – singing – was something Sam desperately wanted to do again.  After Andrea, my wife, passed away in 2011, none of the kids wanted to do much of anything and we were so swamped with emotions and trying to get into a routine that it wasn’t really possible anyway.  But this school year he wanted back in the choir, so I let him.

When I got to the school, Sam had already joined the congregation of kids backstage.  Abbi had been waiting awhile, and the show wouldn’t start for an hour and a half.  We decided to go get a cup of coffee while we waited.  Along the way, I got a description of how everyone at the school recognized or did double-takes upon seeing her.  She talked about how sad she was to leave St. Francis and how difficult it was to be back there.

I told her she could go home, but she wanted to see Sam sing.

I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel awful for putting her through all this.  Understand, though, that after Andrea passed away, our income drained.  Andrea was a pharmacist, made a really good living.  That enabled us to put Abbi in that private school.  We barely got her through the year and it was only through the help of others and some unclaimed scholarship money at St. Francis that we got her tuition paid up to finish her sophomore year.  By junior year it was abundantly clear there was no way to keep her there.  I just couldn’t pull it off.

Abbi wasn’t trying to make me feel bad and I like that she talks with me about it.  Reality is I couldn’t change how things went anyway and she knows that, just has to say it.

But then came Sam’s time.

The kids got up, after the St. Francis orchestra played, and sang a song that nearly brought both Abbi and I to tears.  The kids were rehearsed, well-behaved, and they sang beautifully, on-key, and literally touching.

Just before Phantom
Just before Phantom

The high school also did a medley of Phantom of the Opera songs, which Sam’s choir helped sing on two numbers, and the kids got a standing ovation.  It was at that moment that the past dissolved and both Abbi and I had no bad feelings about what was going on there.  Sam, in his perfect-pitch little voice I heard ringing in the chorus, had pulled us into the present.

It’s amazing what a chorus of kids, touching your soul with music, will do to you.

Sam was smiling, happy, and got a little gift from the school’s Art Director at intermission.  On the way out he chose to go home with Abbi, which I noticed made her smile . . . the little boy more perceptive than either of us, realizing he’d made his sister’s night.

Andrea would have loved it, and part of my sadness was knowing that she’d have grabbed my arm and gushed about how cute the whole thing was.  But I didn’t need it.  I knew it already, and it was amazing.

Amazing, because as much as you worry about dropping something when you juggle…Sure, Sam’s shirt was wrinkled, his shoes scuffed and his hair a bit messy, but nobody noticed that.  He was a voice in a chorus.  We juggled, and sometimes . . . .sometimes you pull it off, and the results are amazing.

Shall We Repair to the Kitchen Table?

There are a lot of things that happen on any given weekend in my house.  Many of them are fun, certainly, but many are certainly not.

But it’s the things that aren’t the typical, fun, wonderful occasions that I try to get the most out of since they might very well be the things that my kids remember.

Space Mountain, in line
Space Mountain, in line

Certainly, I took my kids to Disneyland last week.  That’s a memory they’ll always have and hopefully they’ll think fondly of the day they spent there and the fact their old man stood in line for an hour at a time with a bad back waiting for roller coasters that scared the crap out of one of them.  But those are easy memories, if you’ll pardon the flippant nature of the comment.  If you have the money and the time Disney is easy.  It really is.  You throw money to them, walk into the park and you’re really in other people’s hands.

It’s the seemingly little things that are really important to your kids and those are the things you have to remember are there whether you want to do them or not.

My best example comes from this weekend.  Two examples, really.

The first is a simple trip to the grocery store.  That’s it.  But it was important to 3 of the 4 kids.  Understand, they got cards from their grandparents for Easter, and each of them got five bucks.  They had thought, planned, I think even taken out a calculator to figure out just what they could buy with that five dollars.  It’s not what you’d think, either.

I don’t do a lot of bought treats.  It’s not because I’m totally organic or on a massive, non-corn-syrup avoid the preservatives kick.  It’s A) cheaper and B) easier on my nerves if I make the treats myself.  Bought treats literally drive my kids so bat-s**t crazy I end up peeling them off the ceiling and I’m exhausted before I even get to 9pm each night.  I can’t do that, I have too much work to do after they go to bed.  So when my kids asked me each day this last week why I stopped at the store on the way home without getting them first I suddenly realized they would remember I didn’t do the simple task of letting them spend their money on a simple treat.

So we went to the store.  It’s not what you’d think, either.  They looked at the treats, each got a small candy bar and a tiny little carton of ice-cream.  Not a pint, not a quart, but a single-serving ice-cream.  Hannah got a cane-sugar bottle of pop out of the micro-brew aisle.  None of it was Little Debbie cakes or the like.  I was proud of them, and when they were over-budget they put something back.  It was a little trip, but one they’ll appreciate.

Last . . . was just for my son, Sam.  He had a little stuffed dog he’d called “Spot.”  It goes with a grey stuffed dog I’d gotten him years ago.  It’s interesting, I never thought Sam liked the dog I’d bought him, but he clings to it, even today.  Doesn’t carry it around with him, or really even nestle with it at night, but he always wants to know it’s there.

Noah's Sock Monkey...a previous repair.
Noah’s Sock Monkey…a previous repair.

So when “Spot’s” ear started coming off he was sullen.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, not knowing what was going on.
“Spot’s ear is coming off.  I was tossing him around and I shouldn’t have.  Now he’s losing his ear.  Wish I hadn’t done it.”

I told him that if he put it on the shelf I’d look and see this weekend if I could fix it.  To him that meant Friday night.  Then Saturday morning.  Then Saturday mid-morning . . . until I realized he wasn’t being annoying or trying to bug me.  He was worried and wanted to know, for sure, if the dog could be fixed.

“Put him on the kitchen table and I’ll see if I can fix it,” I told him.  When he went upstairs to play a game with his brother, Noah, I sat at the table, sewing kit in hand, and sewed (yes, everyone, I know enough of how to sew to be dangerous.  I can even thread a sewing machine!  So there!) Spot’s ear back on.  I shouted up the stairs at Sam that it was finished and he leaped down, four at a time, hugging the dog.

I spent five minutes at the kitchen table . . . but he will remember that forever, I think.

Haunting Images

The subject of today’s writing I’m not going to post, nor should I, I don’t believe.

I’ve been working on a video project that will post Sunday on my good friend Rene Syler’s Good Enough Mother .  In the process of editing tonight I was foraging through a hard drive for video and pictures I can use to supplement what’s been shot already.  In the process I stumbled on a lot of things.

Abbi as a baby
Abbi as a baby

Some just made me smile.  Where even a year ago I might have teared up and opined the loss of my wife and the kids’ Mom, the picture you see here of our first, my oldest, Abbi, in a hat and holding her Mom’s Organic Chemistry book just made me smile.  It’s a happy, pleasant memory.  I’ve moved to the place, I guess you could say, where the little things that used to make me despair are no longer fodder for my emotional instability.  I don’t lose it with a picture or a song like I did a year ago . . . which seems like an age ago now.

These little reminders show me what I had, and while the closer I edge toward the 26th of March the more affected I am, I didn’t break down like I used to.

But the haunting images that really hit me came in a folder I didn’t remember making nor do I remember having transferred them to my hard drive at all.  In fact, it’s pretty amazing to me that in the days and weeks after Andrea died I didn’t erase the files altogether they are so hard to watch.

Andrea went into the hospital on a Tuesday morning.  That night the kids made Get Well cards that the hospital unceremoniously dumped into a trash bag with Andrea’s dirty clothes and shoes and all after she died.  When I picked up the stuff to remove the old clothes those cards were in the bottom and they were so hard to see, so pleading in their tone that I couldn’t look at them.  I had to have my Mom deal with them.

Last night, though, I found videos.  I only vaguely remember making them.  The second night . . . Wednesday night . . . things were the same as Tuesday, we thought.  I told the kids I’d spend the day in the hospital again.  They asked if they could give her a message since they weren’t allowed in.  (She had pneumonia, her leg had been infected, which turned into cellulitis and because of that they were only  allowing a few people in because they didn’t know what was infecting her leg.)

That night, you have to understand, is when it all went to hell.  At 2am they called and told me she’d gone into respiratory arrest.  I barreled down to the hospital and spent the entire next day talking myself hoarse because she was in an induced sleep.  In an effort to ease the sore throat I played the videos to my wife.

Last night it was like a train screaming down the track at me.  Like I was hypnotized by the cyclops light of the diesel engine as it trundled toward me with hulking speed.  I looked as Hannah asked her riddles and told her how much she loved her.  Sam was awkward and said he loved her.  I urged him to give her a kiss and he blew her a kiss.

Then came Noah’s.

Noah, you see, still has the hardest time dealing with the grief.  He acts out without knowing why.  It’s a trauma he’s faced but doesn’t know why it’s affecting him.  Put in that context, seeing his face on the computer screen was the worst thing I’ve faced in the last year.  His eyes were already watery.
“I love you mommy . . . . sooo very much.”
He wipes his eyes with the interior of his elbow.
“I miss you more and more every minute of every day, Mommy.  Please get better.”
Then he finally can’t hold it in and starts to cry.

You can hear me try to encourage him.  I tell him to give Mommy a kiss and he rushes up and gives the camera a real kiss.  then he ducks away, sad, tearful, and I turn off the camera.

It’s not the video.  It’s not even the content or context, I don’t suppose.  It’s that in that particular moment, right there, I can see the fear and the panic and the sadness before the worst had even happened.  I can watch that and know to myself that less than three days later I came home and confirmed the worry and panic I saw in his eyes.  It’s not what he says, when kids are sad or pleading, sometimes it’s cute. This isn’t cute.  This is horribly painful to watch and I couldn’t stop.

I shut it off.  I could have erased it, I suppose, but I didn’t.  I shuffled the files back into the little hard drive attic from which it came and shut down the computer.  I knew I wouldn’t get any more editing done tonight.

I kissed him and Sam good night again on my way to bed, before sitting here to write.  As a Dad, I want more than anything to make that go away for him.  That’s what hurts.  It’s not my loss, or that Andrea’s gone, it’s that I could see the foretelling of the next two years in the 30 seconds on the screen.

But tonight he’s okay.  He’s safe.  He’s hugging his sock monkey and the owl Abbi made for him.  He’s got a dream catcher on the bed to stop his nightmares and our copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that we’re reading and I silently tell him “good-night, you hoopy frood” and touch his head.

The difference is now I can go to bed and be okay.  We’ve been through that already.  I just need to remind myself…remind all of us…that regardless of the images and memories that might occasionally haunt us . . .

The best is still coming.

The Tiniest of Observations

The kids, at the movies
The kids, at the movies

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.