Tag Archives: bedtime

The things I used to do…

Things That I Used to Do by Muddy Waters

The way I’m raising my kids is slightly different than the way my parents raised me.  Well, let’s face it, the way I’m raising my kids is a lot different than how I was raised.

That’s not a criticism of my parents, in fact I’d kill to be able to give my kids the upbringing that I had.  I just can’t do it.  Life got in the way of the best laid plans, I suppose you could say.

Here’s what’s different: I was raised by my father and mother, both, and they did a really good job.  Sure, I do things a bit differently, I’m a different person with similar genetic makeup.  Some things are the same.  I say things once in awhile and my oldest daughter says things like: “god, you sound like Grandpa” and I kind of like that.  I admire my father, he’s the greatest man I know.  I also admire my mother, who had to be one of the strongest women I’ve ever met to raise three strong-willed and sarcastic sons.

My Mom is a nurse.  She never got her certification, she got married and stayed home to take care of us.  I never looked at her as less of a person or less capable as anyone else because she was whip-smart, stern, and could be the most loving person I’d ever met.  I know, because I tended to, as a little kid, need more care and attention because I was very sick.  There was no way she could have worked, if she wanted to, because I was in and out of the hospital.  Every person who tries to tell me or my kids that a woman – who is like my Mom, anyway – who stays home either isn’t working or is contributing less to our society angers me more when they make those crass statements.

I would kill to be able to stay home.  Not because I’m lazy but because there are too many things with too little time to do them all.  When my wife was around we had basketball games, school plays, Boy Scouts, all of that.  Extracurricular activities were like any other family.  I volunteered at school – a lot – and so did my wife.

When I was a kid I did all that, too.  My Mom had dinner ready, there was no scramble, at least that we were aware of, and we always got to things on-time.  My older brother didn’t always come to our events, but I didn’t expect him to, either.  My Mom was home and we ate early on nights we had a play or what have you and we got home and the routine seemed to hold.  My Dad, in his busiest years, still managed to meet us at the school plays and games.  Basketball games . . . he drove us to those himself.  My Mom drove us to state music contests on the other side of the state.  All that was available.

I don’t have that routine the way she did.  There’s no other person there to help and everything’s a mad scramble.  Tonight was a perfect example of that.  I was texting Abbi, my oldest, on what temperature to put a small ham in the oven.  I had leftover rice for the side.  I raced home, but traffic was a nightmare.  There’s no other person to wrangle the kids, so Abbi had already left for her drama department’s “Improv Night.”  I got home at 6:30pm and cut the ham, laid out the plates on the table, and raced out the door.  I got to the school right about 6:59pm.  Two hours later, my ribs appropriately tickled and I gave my daughter a hug and told her she made me laugh.  It made her smile.

So, yeah, if I’d been smart I’d have cornered the market on lottery tickets (I didn’t, it was raining and I had no time) and prayed that I get a portion of that Powerball tomorrow.  Instead, though, I powered through.  My three kids ate.  I would eat later.  It’s not a punishment and it’s not that I’m complaining.  I’ve missed meals.  I’ve skipped several in a day, in fact, only to realize at midnight I was starving.  I thought to myself on the way to that theater that I might have messed things up a bit.  I’m only one person, after all.

But when I opened the door and walked in the theater, there, peeking around other actors, was Abbi.  She was content, but when she saw me walk in her face lit up, and her eyes sparkled.  That snuggly little bear of mine – now a woman I suppose – was happy.  I remembered that look, that feeling, when I’d peek through the curtain and see my Mom and Dad sitting in the audience.  They never missed a show.

I don’t raise my kids the same way.  Still, I got a few things right.

Abbi doing improv

Election? What election?

Workers at my shop during elections

This may be short and a bit disjointed, as it’s about 1:30am and I have to be up in 5 hours at the least to get breakfast and lunches ready.

As you can see above, I worked the elections at my day job.  That’s not asking for sympathy or attention, it’s part and parcel to the job I have.  I’ll be honest, too, in that I wasn’t as involved as you might think.  I was a pinch hitter, so to speak, a troubleshooter.  If the results had issues I was to help track down the election commissioner for whichever county.  Only really had to do that a couple times.

But this isn’t so much an election story.  Not really.  Sure, it was the day for it.  You might see the divisive nature of the country in those maps  with the red and blue states screaming at you from the television, but whichever side you were on you have to admit one thing: we were active.  My daughter voted for the first time.  There were some counties with record numbers of voter registration . . . and even better, voter turnout.

My day, though, wasn’t consumed with elections.  Sure, I was working stories that weren’t election-related:

Doing Interviews

But my day started as a Dad.  I had lunches made the night before, thankfully.  I scrambled after dropping the kids at their school and got dinner made.  I made a meat sauce – from scratch – and got all the ingredients in a crock pot to cook for the ten hours that the kids would wait before dinner.  I made a batch of cornbread muffins and put them in the oven.  I called it pathetic – a friend called it smart – that I took off my dress shirt so it wouldn’t get tomato sauce on it.  Then I grabbed my lunch, headed out the door, and readied myself for a long, long day of elections.

Still, there’s the issue of being Dad during a stressful day.  I should have seen it coming, I really should.  Whenever there’s a situation where I’m unavailable . . . completely, thoroughly unavailable . . . things happen.  It’s like Hannah and Noah – and Sam at times – realize that they can’t get access to me easily.  That, or they think there’s nothing I can do so they’ll get away with it.

So in the middle of the election coverage and my trolling through records I’d obtained for a story my son lost it at school again.  This time – no surprise – in the chaotic time during the Extended Day Program.  I know this because when I got home the house was dark but the little white behavior note was waiting there for me.  The boy hadn’t gotten his way, got angry, and spouted a bunch of, shall we say, colorful language in the room at other kids.

Don’t email me, I take responsibility for this.  I’m not walking around the house all day like the Honey-Boo-Boo parents and talking in curse words every other breath.  (I don’t watch the show, they may not do this, but I choose to believe they might)  But in some instances, where I don’t catch myself, I start to do it.  I’ve noticed Abbi starting as well.  I’m already working on stopping this.

That doesn’t address the main issues, though.  It’s every . . . single . . . time I’m unavailable.  Particularly when I only half-jokingly tell the kids “unless you’re bleeding, you’ve lost a limb, or guys with guns are banging on the door I’m not coming home on time.  Call the cops or ambulance first . . . then call me!”  It’s once every four years this happens, not every month.  But when it happens . . . I’m more exhausted than the weekend I spent in DFW with no sleep.

So it’s easy to see why, to me, the election didn’t even amount to a hill of beans to me.  It was important while I worked it and then I got home . . . and it was a microcosm compared to the universe I inhabited.  So I sat to write so I didn’t go wake up the kid and ask him “WHY?!  FOR GOD’S SAKE WHY?!!!!”

We’re trying our hardest.  Noah’s going to see his new therapist in a couple weeks . . . apparently not soon enough.

So while the country says it’s divided and the two sides – pro and con on each side of the aisle – tear at their clothes and moan, the reality is the checks and balances for the country are still in place.  The president can’t write laws.  The Congress is still divided.  Both sides are entrenched in a silly battle of radical philosophies and blame people like me for carrying a torch on one side or the other.

But in reality, they don’t get the real struggles we face.  My struggle isn’t about whether two men or two women should marry.  My struggle isn’t whether they should give universal health care.  Mine’s more basic.  What does my son need that I’m not giving him?

Election?  No election can answer that question for me.

Don’t call it work . . .

I get that “look” a lot.

The “Oh my God, you have four kids!” look.

Yes.  I have four children.  Yes.  I know how that happened and I know that the average is, what, 2.5 kids in a household?

Let me describe, first, how my parenting life started.  First, I was married.  (No longer, lost my wife, go to the archive to get that story.)  About a year in, still trying to come to terms with living with my now wife Andrea was pregnant.  She freaked out, I stayed calm.  We had Abbi – at age 24.

A young Abbi

Five years later . . . Hannah.  Andrea was ecstatic.  I wasn’t, I was stressed.  She was in school, I wasn’t making a lot of money and life was hard.  But Hannah came and I loved her – differently, but just as much as her sister.

Hannah’s birth was difficult – and that adjective falls far short of the mark.  Andrea started to hyper-contract.  She had to have a c-section and then started hemorrhaging on the operating table.  As a result of the poor job they did in the hospital we were told there was little or no chance Andrea would have other kids.  It was hard to hear, but we had 2.  That was enough.

Hannah’s Birthday

Move forward 4 years . . . in Texas . . . and Andrea’s sick.  Cramping.  Things not going well and through the scars, fibrous material and such inside her body they couldn’t make out what was causing her so much trouble.  At one point they determined, they thought, that she had a kind of cancer that, though curable, was a long process and she’d have to go through ultrasounds and tests for years.  About a month into this process they said “good news, you’re not sick . . .” which had me elated . . . “you’re pregnant.”  That hit me like a Mack truck.  “And it’s twins!”  That was like getting crushed by a Mack Truck hitting a wall.  Andrea was angry – for years – with me for not being up and down ecstatic over that.

My boys

So here’s the thing.  I have four kids now.  I don’t have a wife, that ship has sailed to join the choir invisible.  I never, ever, thought about having those four kids as a burden.  Not when each of them was born . . . not now.

Yes, I had a hard adjustment trying to come to terms with each of them entering our lives.  Once in our lives they were just that – life.

Nothing drives me crazier than the people who come up and say “how do you do it?  Just one is so much work!”  Work?!  Why is it work?  Yes, all four kids frustrate me sometimes.  Yes, all four confound me when they want to talk about video games while I’m trying to talk on the phone.  Yes, they’re dirty, goofy, crazy, noisy and insane.  It’s a swirl of chaos that pulls you in.  So why would you fight it?  I don’t.  I have never, ever looked at caring for these kids as work.  Changing diapers was a thing you did.  The soft little head up against your neck or the tiny hands touching your face after you lift them up . . . that’s so worth it.

When I got married I never even considered or thought about what it would take to be a Dad.  I really didn’t.  But once they came . . . I was never thinking anything else.  Sure, I make it up as I go.  No, I don’t go to parenting classes or anything else.  But tonight, when my daughter was filling out college essays about a piece of literature that touches you she picked my favorite Dickens novel – Great Expectations.  She wrote that the character’s uncle, Joe, represented family and the ties that keep you grounded and know you’re loved . . . so you know where you came from.  She wrote that these are the very things that her Dad told her every day of her life and it gave her great comfort.

So to all those men, women, parents and single people out there who look at me with wonder . . . stop calling it work.  My kids are not work.  I labor, sure.  I toil, absolutely.  I stress, pace, scream, holler, and worry.  I also love, play, jump in leaf piles and hug and kiss them all . . . a lot.

Understand, everyone, that the moment you call it work . . . that’s what it becomes.  We all hate work . . . and I certainly don’t hate being their Dad.

All of us

A weekend by the fire

Making S’Mores

So I spend a lot of time talking about all the things I should do here.  I should take the kids around the country.  I should find a cool thing to do each weekend.  I should have adventures.  I should – and this one was pretty important – do things that I know I would never have done nearly two years ago . . . things that Andrea, my late wife, would never have considered.  I’ve sort of taken that line on as a credo.  We’ve done it, too.

One of the major parts?  No secret if you’ve read here before: music.  I used to have continual arguments with Andrea about music.  Not what we should or should not have on the radio. (those were there, but more in jest)  Not why when we were in college I put pictures of Garth Brooks on a dart board in the control room of the TV station where we worked.  Not even why we had a stack of Garth’s photos ready to replace them once she ripped the now pock-marked Garth from the dart board.  I’ll be honest, I bought the dart board and hung it up in the control room specifically so we could throw darts at it.  It’s not that I had that tremendous a hatred for Garth Brooks.  I did it because it garnered attention from a certain blonde in the newsroom.  (If I have to spell it out more than that you should stop reading now)

But we had considerable arguments about my being a musician.  We started dating, you see, when I was in a lull in my musical “career.”  My original band had broken up, gotten back together and taken multiple hiatuses in the time I’d been with them.  This was a prolonged hiatus and I certainly wasn’t in a position where I knew how to start my own band up yet.

Still, we got married, these people were part of my life and the creation of my musical life were getting continually placed on the back burner.  When we hit financial straits she would see the guitars I’d worked so hard to attain – so hard to maintain and play – as dollar signs, not as what I saw them.  These were symbols of my life so far.  I wasn’t one of those guys who picked up a guitar to meet girls, do drugs, or party all night.  Quite frankly, if you saw what most local bands go through to hit the stage and then leave it you’d wonder why anyone would ever do it if you didn’t love it.

I won those arguments, and there were many.  But it didn’t mean I loved her less.  She had amazing things that I treasured.  She had intense things that drove me crazy as well.  That’s everything about marriage, I suppose.  You love the insanity and treasure the beauty.

So when she passed I was determined to do things that she wouldn’t have considered.  I looked at when the kids leave and am determined to go to Egypt to see the pyramids – something she wouldn’t even consider.  I want to go through Britain and France.  I want to go off the beaten path, see Hadrian’s Wall, go to the Marshall amplifier factory, maybe go on Land Rover’s obstacle course.  She wanted none of it.

With the kids I wanted to do things they could tell stories about.  I wanted to drive to the Grand Canyon and on the way go waaay out of the way and get a picture of myself standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona.  Just because.  I wanted to record a video of us playing a song for my friend.  I wanted to be silly and funny and crazy.  It was part of what made Andrea so amazing in the beginning and part of what she lost in the years after.

But this weekend the craziness, it seems, wasn’t necessary.  I got one of those little fire pits for the back yard last year, just because we were walking through the hardware store and Abbi, my oldest, saw it and said she thought it would be fun.  Andrea didn’t like it, didn’t go outside much in the last year because she had a hard time walking around.  When we put it up we used it a lot.  This last weekend, we didn’t go anywhere, but I took the kids to the movies and thought it was a necessity to entertain them for the last week, which had been really hard.

But as much as they loved Hotel Transylvania (which I thought was just OK, by the way) they didn’t walk around all day talking about it.  When I came home with firewood for the fire, along with graham crackers and fun-sized chocolate bars, though, they were ecstatic.

It’s then I realized the biggest thing is something I’d been teaching them but not listening to myself.  It’s about being together.  It’s about being with people you love.  It’s about calling your family or texting a friend and looking up at the stars and knowing they’re looking up there at them, too.  I spent more than an hour out there with Noah, looking at the stars, trying to find planets and constellations.

By night’s end, they had forgotten the movie.  But they couldn’t stop talking about the fire and even though it was warm outside, they loved it.

Again, hate to beat the slogan to death, but it’s true: we’re better together than when we’re apart.

Pre-planning for behavioral analysis

Sam and Noah

I should probably admit, I suppose, that I dreaded today.  I knew I had to meet with the school about Noah’s behavior and the school year beckons.  It’s not that the school or the principal or anyone was being mean or obstinate about it, they wanted to talk about what the school year was bringing and what my observations over the summer might be.  The reality is, I base much of my observations on those of my kids themselves and of my parents who filled me in quite often to how they were doing.

But the day was about as I expected.  After finding out the appointment was at 1pm and I work 40 odd miles away . . . and the fact that the school dismisses at noon on the first day with no Extended Day Program (EDP) I was ready to carry a fire extinguisher because I knew my hair would be on fire.  Add to this having to deal with the fact that my son has his behavioral challenges and the school’s want of trying to help him through those and I could literally hear the Tums fizzing as they hit the excess acid in my stomach.

I don’t want you to get the impression that the school itself has relegated Noah to some sort of emotional brig, either.  He’s been through the ringer himself and they’re very cognizant of everything that’s happened in our lives.  Still, the one saving grace I was able to tell them all is that we’re stable.  I have a job, and a contract, and a new boss who I’ve worked with before.  I have a 2-year lease on the home now and so we’re stable there for that amount of time at least.  The inspection the owner wanted seemed to pass with little issue so I’m happy there.  Where I spent so much time trying to get a routine together, the necessities – home, job, food, life – they’re all in place now.

That was a piece of comfort for the principal as we’re finally able to breathe a little.  No worries the house is being sold or leased to another.  No worry that I’m losing my job, unless I totally screw up. (don’t say anything, it’s still possible)  I have a year before Abbi goes to college, and they’ll worry about that, but it’s on the horizon, not facing us.

The interesting thing is that the people around me at the school marvel at how I prepped for the day.  I had made a triple batch of pancakes over the weekend, so I had those in the toaster and ready for breakfast.  Last night I’d browned meat and put the fixings all in a crock for the slow cooker to have stew when we got home.  Knowing full well I’d not be home to make dinner I told the kids they could eat when they were hungry.

I also try, when I’m home, to make sure we eat together, at the table.  I’ve said this before, I know, but it’s  a necessity.  Time isn’t a luxury I have all the time.  I utilize what I have.  I know what the kids’ school day was like.  I learn about Abbi’s tryout for the play.  I hear what the teacher told the kids they still need for school supplies.  This is an hour or so that would be spent wiling away the hours independently otherwise.  It’s my sneaky way of getting them to tell me things.

The meeting, I have to say, went very well.  Sure, I’m trying to get Noah into counselling, but it’s not because of his Mom. It’s because, just like his Mom – my late wife, Andrea – he has the ability to go from super sweet to insane in the beat of a heart.  He will act on his impulses without thinking.  Andrea had figured out how, much of the time, the stop that.  The problem is, she never told me how she did it.  Now poor Noah has to suffer through the both of us trying to understand how to fix his issues alone.

That’s where the loss hits us most.  It’s not missing her or not having her around.  It’s in the things we needed help because she understood them.  Noah suffers because she left, and it’s not necessarily her fault, but the genetics that are hers swimming around in the nuclei of his cells are affecting him and the only person who could tell us how to deal with it is gone now.

But I’m around.  I’ve managed, through a bout of depression and funk over the summer and a year of struggle, to give us a bedrock to build upon.  I still can’t see past the next few days as I work, but I can at least show them I’m looking forward, not back.

Noah has a parent volunteer who I’ve known since we moved here that is taking him under her wing.  He has me to stand for him when he needs it.  It’s not his fault all the time, the kid’s just 9.  His brother, Sam, has his own issues that get relegated to the back because of Noah’s behavior.

It’s that pre-planning again.  When Noah needs attention, you give it to Sam, too, whether he asks or not.  It makes me laugh occasionally when others marvel at the pre-planning.  No, I’ve never been good at it.

But it’s necessary for us to survive.

The day after…

So I know I posted yesterday about my goal to lose weight.  It is still my goal and today I managed, even after sleeping about 4 hours (thanks a lot, insomnia) to get up and walk for about 45 minutes.  Then I managed to wander through Target on my feet getting staples and a garbage disposal cleaning solution throughout the entire conversation with my kids while they’re in Nebraska.

This may sound like a small, leisurely walk through a department store but in reality it was about 1 1/2 hours of me walking in circles.  If I haven’t burned another hour’s worth of calories I don’t know what is.  My kids are amazing and they were competing with each other over who would get to talk on the phone.

The conversation started, as it often does, I admit, with my oldest, Abbi.  I’m meeting her in New York for a college visit and we’re hoping to get the last of the plays she needs for her drama requirement while we’re there.  It’s not an easy trip, I have to work until 8 or so this Friday and then get on a plane to leave for New York at 11pm.  Abbi arrives there at 10 Friday night.  I get in at 7 Saturday morning.  Yes. . . I’m taking the red-eye for a trip where we return the next day.  The things you do for your kids, right?

But I’m not complaining.  I haven’t seen Abbi or any of the kids for the last two months or more.  It’s the longest time I’ve spent away from them.  I don’t like it.  The plan had been I would come out to Nebraska in the beginning of July for a week or so and then fly them home.  I ran out of vacation time, July sweeps and the Olympics became priorities for work, and it just didn’t work out.  I wanted to do it as much for my parents, so they’re not there every day, every hour, taking care of them, but I admit, wholeheartedly, that I miss the kids and really. . . that’s why I wanted to go.  I also miss my folks and want to see them.

As a result my phone conversations when I call each night tend to last more than a couple hours.  I talk to each of the kids.  I hear about every scene in the latest Scooby Doo Mystery, Inc. episode.  I hear what Lemony Snickett is doing to the Beaudelaire kids.  I find out what the latest tour Hannah gave at the O’Neill historical society’s museum thought of her presentation.  I hear about Abbi’s day at work . . . and I hear just how excited she is to go to New York.  I would stay up for three days straight to hear that tone in her voice, no hesitation.

Now, I understand, it’s not cheap, but I got insanely cheap tickets and we have to get these visits out of the way because once school starts it’s not going to be this easy.

I miss my kids, sure, but I also get the opportunity to show them that I can try to make life healthier and more active, too, and we can continue what they’ve started this summer.

Midnight Confessions . . .

Midnight Confessions by Manoucheri from the LP The Blind Leading the Blind

I know I’m writing this on a Sunday night, and while the kids are gone and I should be able to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, the reality is that I’m not able to.  I don’t know what’s hit me, but I’ve got no desire to sleep and less ability to close my eyes this night than I even had last night.

And last night was a doozy.

Saturday was awful for the mere fact I had to close the final door.  I went to the monument company to give the final payment, finalize everything and arrange all the details.  Your natural tendency is to get the best thing you can find for the person you lost until you realize that even just a flat, flush with the ground, basic rock with just their name and dates on it costs more than $800.  That’s one of the cheaper monument companies, by the way.  I went with a reputable one just so I know I’m not having to fight with them just to finish it.

I get that, in the middle of all this, I feel like I’m skimping.  It’s awful to put a price on what you place for the love of your life.  It’s even worse to do it and not be able to tell anyone.  My relationship with Andrea’s folks isn’t at its peak, to put it mildly.  Her sister has so many stresses I felt awful just asking her to say whether the picture I chose was OK.  My kids didn’t want to deal with it and it’s just not something I want to talk with my folks about.  The person I’d face these issues with, the one who understood all that I’d be going through, is there in the ground.  I asked her, but got no peace or inspiration.

I have to be honest, the title up there is simply due to the thoughts that were racing through my mind through this whole weekend.  I never, ever, cheated on Andrea.  I wrote the song up there years ago, just after Abbi was born, because Andrea would have bouts of insane jealousy.  When she did, there was no reasoning with her.  Right after Abbi was born I decided I needed to do what I was good at and that was news.  I went back to the station where Andrea and I had met and began working in the very same job all over again.  But in that job I worked in a control room with a bunch of really young, very attractive, very outgoing young women.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a newsroom but they’re neither politically correct nor are they clean-mouthed pillars of culture.  The reality is it’s closer to “The Newsroom” by Aaron Sorkin than they are to “Broadcast News.”  The stress is so great that the part of your brain that shuts off those little synapses that stop cursing, innuendo and silly suggestive talk is gone.

So when I worked there and had to do election nights or late stories or what have you Andrea would fly off the handle.  She’d hear names of people I worked with and just lose it.  I knew it wasn’t the women I worked with it was that I was back where we’d met doing the job, the romantic notion of what we’d done together, and she wasn’t.  The reality is the newsroom was dirty, decrepit and small.  The production quality was just so-so and the stress was immense.

I wrote the song not realizing how many people would think I was telling a true story.  I actually wrote it to show Andrea I knew that A) I was far from anyone else’s ideal as a person to have an affair with and B) the consequences of even thinking about that were too great and C) I loved her . . . more than anything.

But this song has come back to haunt me so many times.  A producer I worked with in Dallas heard it and thought there was no way I’d been faithful.  He even thought he could check my past and find who I’d had an affair with.  He never found her because it never happened.

Try as I might, thinking about all the amazing things we did, the four children we had, the amazing times we shared, this weekend I couldn’t shake the memories of those arguments and that song.  It swirled through my head.  It wasn’t that I was angry at her, nor that I was guilty or feeling guilty of anything.  What I started to realize – not for the first time, mind you – is that I handled it all so poorly.  I always had such poor self-confidence that started to bleed over to me all over again.  I’ve shown you pictures of Andrea, she was gorgeous.  To think I’d leave her to find someone else, that just seemed silly to me.  Worse yet, I used to make flippant comments and give the implication that those same women could do far better.  I never took into account that belittled Andrea’s decision and love for me.

It didn’t end our marriage.  What I came to realize years later was she was just as insecure, though I said the same things she likely tried to tell me – what on earth are you worried about?  To me, she had a smile that would outshine the sun.  Her personality was intoxicating.  Where I wanted to be a stick in the mud she just grabbed my hand and made me come along.

More than anything else I sat this weekend wishing I’d been far less aggravated; far more flexible; far more loving; much more adventurous; much more attentive.  It’s easy to have 20/20 hindsight, I know that, but if I’d seen what my future held I would have embraced that frivolity with both arms and never let go.  I would have taken those phone calls where she was lonely and simply dropped everything and gone home.  I’d have kissed her goodbye every day just like I kissed her in those first, halcyon days we shared as young lovers.

Andrea just after we were engaged

The sad fact is that my frustration led to one of the easiest written, best songs I’d written by that point.  My brother, Adam, actually continues to play it live himself, he enjoys the song that much.

When I got home Saturday I didn’t want to be me.  I didn’t want to face the fact that my life is what it is.  In one day, one fell swoop, I paid a bucketload of money (for me) and was dragged back to March of last year like someone had wrapped a rope around my waist and jerked me backwards.

On the way home I stopped at a record store to look for something to take my mind off it.  I found an old Brubeck album  – on red vinyl.  So Saturday night I poured a glass(es) of 18-year-old Scotch, put the complicated, fugue-style jazz on the turntable, and tried to pretend that I was Don Draper . . . just for a night . . . and didn’t care about the consequences.  It didn’t work.

After all, as the song I wrote said, the Midnight Confessions . . . brought my tears.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

My kids and I right after Abbi’s first HS play at Oak Ridge

The Letter by Joe Cocker

So it’s been a couple days worth of late posts, but there’s a reason for that.  My kids – all four of them – headed out to Nebraska for the Summer.  I get a number of differing reactions to my actions in sending the kids off to see their grandparents for a couple months.  First, of course, is the aghast, jaw-dropped, confused look from so many people.  Many of them seem incredulous that I would even consider letting my children away for that amount of time.  After all, my wife hated them being gone even for a couple weeks at a time.  I, however, have to tell these  very people the truth, and that is I have no choice.

Would you, a good parent I hope, leave your children at home and force your seventeen-year-old daughter to be their babysitter?  Seriously?  I mean, that’s my option.  There’s really no camp that takes up the summer, and I cannot see that going well anyway.  There’s no option to get a “nanny” for them because that’s far too much money.

The second camp, of course, is the folks that tell me “that’s great,” though they may not necessarily mean it, and tell me how it will give me a much-needed break.  Well so it will . . . for the first day.  Yesterday was that first day.  I took a nap – uninterrupted, by the way, one of the greatest pleasures in the world so far.  Then there was the ability to play my guitar at full-volume for as long and loud as I wanted (without bothering the neighbors.)  I watched a movie without having to answer 100 questions every 15 seconds.

Then it was 3pm.

You see, I don’t dislike being home with the kids.  Sure, the average, everyday sitcom tells the world that the kids are crazy, insane, drive parents nuts.  The Disney Channel method tells kids that parents are stupid and the world is going insane and kids are the only people with the werewithall to save everyone from stupidity and a lack of common sense.  They’re both wrong, by the way.  I love my kids, not just because they’re mine, but because each of those four little minds is amazing to me.  They all have small little glimmers of me and bigger glimmers of their Mom . . . but they’re none of them just that.  They are, quite frankly, their own individual people and I love that.

So I got home and realized that it’s not going to be a quiet, relaxing Summer.  It’s going to be a long, dull, very quiet one.

So how did I do this last year?

On my LA Pilgrimage

I have to be brutally honest with you, I don’t remember last Summer.  There were obviously some interesting little events that I took into account.  I drove to L.A. driving the Pacific Coast Highway all the way down, and I loved the scenery and curvy roads and interesting people along the way.  I remember cleaning up and setting up the house, but that’s all.  It was so close to the losing Andrea, my home, my job, that I really didn’t have time to adjust.  I was happy that my kids weren’t around due to the fact that I had the time to grieve a little.  What I didn’t have was the time to break down and just disappear for awhile.  I was working at a new job and they had expectations that were far to understanding and flexible.  I wasn’t going to disappoint on that front.  It was part of the reason for disappearing for a crazy weekend to Los Angeles and leaving town.  If I’d had the time and money I’d have gotten in the car, started driving and kept going until I had reached an evening where I didn’t feel my wife next to me in the bed and didn’t want to cry every morning when I woke up seeing that I was all alone again.

But this year is different.  We’re not healed, this kind of thing never heals.  What I am is . . . different.  That may sound a little strange or just plain, um, vague, but it’s true.  I’m not the man I was.  I’m not the man who married Andrea, but I wasn’t that when she passed away.

We all, change, I guess is the thing.  The one, single, unwavering thing that has never been different, though, is my love for those kids.  While I had a really hard time adjusting, thinking, or even believing we were having another child each time Andrea was pregnant, I never changed in my backing, love, and protection of all four of those kids.

So having an empty house, without them, without their noise, hungry mouths, shouts, arguments, and craziness driving me absolutely insane I’m going completely certifiable.  That’s just a day and a half into the summer.  Can you imagine what it’s going to be like by the time I hit July or August?

But I take solace in knowing I can think about projects for them and visit them at the place I really do feel most comfortable – home with my Dad and Mom.

They got a ticket for an airplane, but I’m not going to be alone.

That, and the use of Apple’s Facetime in order to make sure I can at least see the kids every night and tuck them into bed.

Nights in White Satin

Nights in White Satin (Single Edit) by the Moody Blues from the LP Days of Future Past

OK, it’s a stretch for a tie-in, I’ve just been dying to use that song for a headline.

But nights are seriously becoming less tedious for me.  I started writing due to the slow and maddeningly quiet time.  It’s a hard thing to watch your children go to bed and realize that you’ve been unable to process your own life because you’ve been  keeping yourself busy and moving forward knowing that you have them counting on you.  It’s not that I’ve suppressed a lot of feelings or grief, you’ve seen and read a lot of it.  But when your day starts really early and ends really late you don’t really think very much about your life.  It’s something triggered by smells, touch, thoughts, all of that.  It’s not something that you prepare for until you’ve realized you’re in the house and the only one awake.  You can’t relax because you are left to think about what you have and, more importantly, what you don’t have.

But this last few weeks my oldest daughter has been staying up.  I should be the dutiful Dad and force her to go to bed, even at 17.  She needs the rest, teenagers don’t think they do, they’re immortal after all, but they’d be dead wrong, too.  I had the ability to sleep until noon at that age, though I stayed up really late.  You’d think, being a man, I’d dislike the constant romantic comedies or the horribly sickening trash reality shows.  But I actually like them now.  Not for the reasons you might think, though, it’s not that they completely got under my skin.  Sure, I liked the Scottish girl on Abbi’s show America’s Next Top Model.  Like her Mom, she enjoys the romance and British romantic comedies.  I actually like the hopeful tone and the smiles my daughter gets . . . the tension she feels when the romantic leads don’t meet up.  It’s fun to watch her so hopeful.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  We don’t watch just those things.  We were enamored and tried to analyze the last episode of Steven Moffat’s Sherlock.  (How in the hell did he stage his own death and Watson didn’t figure it out?!  No possible way CBS will even get this close to right.)  We’ve seen action pictures.  We have Alien on reserve so that we can watch that before seeing Prometheus in the theaters.  It’s more the opportunity to spend some time with her, really.  That’s the big thing.

Now, you might be thinking I’m just putting off my own feelings and being selfish by spending the time with her and should be making her go to bed or doing whatever she needs to do.  School’s out for her, bear in mind, and she has those opportunities.  She asks me to go out with friends and I let her.  She asks me to go to movies, all of that.  I let her do that, too, within reason.  The odd time she forgets to tell me something or springs a last-minute redezvous with friends on me I tend to be pernicious with her and push her to remember that she’s not just taking on responsibility, she has a responsibility to tell me what she’s doing and where she’s going.

But no, I’m not using these evenings just for the company, though that’s really nice.  Not many Dads can say their kids like to spend time with them and I’m lucky enough, at least right now, to have that.  I only have another year left so I’m going to take my breaks where I can get them.  No . . . the big thing is, at least for me, that I also have the opportunity to talk with her about the very things that we’re watching.  She wants to go into drama.  A crappy, horribly written and badly acted rom-com is something we can talk about how it went wrong.  We can watch her Mom’s favorite one – Sleepless in Seattle – and even though Abbi loves Norah Ephron, talk about the fact that the leads live on opposing coasts – something that even Tom Hanks brings up in the movie.  We can talk about whether the ending is truly that happy.  Sure, it’s very hopeful, but is Meg Ryan really going to leave her job at the Baltimore Sun . . . without another gig at, say the Post Intelligencer?  Where are Meg’s friends?

Then there’s the ones that actually have a touch of reality in them.  I, personally, think that the Hollywood machine – lately in particular – have gotten out of control.  We both particularly disliked  the Justin Timberlake/Mila Kunis movie . . . with the exception of how they analyze the manipulation of the audience during one romantic comedy they watch on the television.  It’s actually quite clever.  “There it is . . . a jaunty little pop song at the end to make you feel good without ever really tying in to the movie’s theme.  Why the hell is that even in there?”  (No complaints about letting my 17-year-old watch a movie about friends having sex.  At least we have a healthy enough relationship to talk about this.)

But the real movies are the ones that tend to give me more opportunity to have decent discussions.  It’s not like a book club, folks.  I don’t sit with her after the credits have started to roll and then talk about the movie in deep analysis.  It’s not Inside the Actors Studio here.  I don’t ask her favorite sounds or those three random questions from that annoying French philosopher they always end their show with.  But the chance to have a conversation here and there with her so that I can get in my thoughts and let her formulate her own are priceless.  The last few have really hit home.  We watched a cute little independent called Take Me Home that had neither lead kissing each other through the entire film.  They slowly got closer and then didn’t end up together.  In fact it wasn’t until the final scene she ended up meeting up with the man she’d fallen in love with and even then they showed the two people walking toward each other and faded to black.  That, my friends, is more reality than the spinning steady-cam roll 720 degrees in a sickeningly naseous ride while the guy tries to map his love interest’s tonsils with his tongue.

“That movie was nice.  It’s like real life,” was my intuitive daughter’s line.  Sure, it’s insanely hopeful still, but I got to at least poke at the reality bubble a little.

Then there’s When Harry Met Sally. ( I know, I know, there’s the fake orgasm scene.  Again – seventeen folks.  Do you honestly think I had never seen that when it came out?  How many Playboys do you think I hadn’t read by the time I’d reached her age?  Give it a rest.  At least it’s reality this way.)  This Rob Reiner movie written by Norah Ephron is probably closer to the dichotomy of men and women than anything I’ve ever watched with her before.  It’s enough for me to forgive the sweetness and false hope of Seattle.  During the movie my daughter says “I hate it when people say that!” when Billy Crystal says men and women can’t be “friends”, the sex gets in the way.

You’re probably going to think I’m crazy, but I agree with her.  I have a number of female friends.  I have male friends, too.  I don’t want to have sex with any of them, either.  To me the bigger, more important message of the movie – the one many people miss in the mess of emotions and “sex gets in the way” message is the fact that Harry and Sally are friends.  You see all the older couples talking about love at first sight – and I had that.  They also talk about being together and being happy.  I had that, too.  But most importantly, like the two of them in the movie, I was great friends with Andrea long before we dated.  She was part of a circle of people that I worked with, a clique of reporters and crew members that had to put the newscast together every night.  We hung out.  We joked.  She was maddening and frustrating and would fight me on every turn.  So when Billy Crystal tells Meg Ryan that “I love the fact that when you leave my clothes still have the smell of your perfume on them.”  He loves that he wants to tell her everything.  She’s the one person he wishes he could talk to when things aren’t right and while they had sex and it messed everything up, it really just opened the doorway to let them walk down that new path.

Most important, though, is the fact that she looks at him after all that and says she hates him.  You may think that’s a silly takeaway, but it’s true.  Real life isn’t “oh, that’s how you feel?  OK.  No problem.  Let’s kiss intimately in front of 100 strangers and act like the world isn’t here and not think we’re making a spectacle of ourselves.”  He was mean, awful, grumpy, and stupid.  That’s not an easy thing to forgive or to overcome.  They don’t say it can’t be done . . . but they do say it’s there.  It’s whether or not you truly love that other person – whether your truly like that person that gives you the indication if it can work.

So when John Cusak brings the boom box over his head, my daughter can sigh and get misty.  But when that same Cusack realized years later in High Fidelity that he’s being stupid by flirting with the rock mag’s cute writer and his life was far more worthwhile being with the woman he’d fought to keep . . . when his love interest, after losing her father, wants to have sex because she wants to feel something – just anything – but the pain she’s feeling . . . that’s more real.  My daughter gets small glimpses into reality.

To continue the movie metaphors . . . Reality Bites, sure.  But it’s the small details . . . the mechanisms of emotions that miraculously click into place, the fates letting the book with her phone number show up at the precise moment; the rhythm guitarist spilling a whiskey sour on your blue jeans so you have to go out with your future girlfriend and friends rather than staying and breaking down gear; the moment of cognition when you realize that you’re friends but you never want this to end, like so many friendships really do.  That’s real.

That’s what makes these nights in white satin.  (OK, not the best closing line, I had to come full circle somehow.  They can’t all be winners!)

Blister in the Sun

My little boy, Sam, when he was a baby.

Blister In the Sun by the Violent Femmes

Friday was a hard day for me.  When the kids’ school decided, with only about a week’s notice, that they would take Friday off . . . I was left in the lurch again.  I didn’t want to call in sick due to the fact I am taking a couple days to get them to the airport and packed and all that for Nebraska coming in a week or so.  I asked my wife’s sister, but forgot she was running a race on that very day.  My wife’s father offered to watch the kids, and I had no choice so I dropped them off at the house so I could work.  After all, they live in the same house as my wife’s sister, so . . .

It was lucky for me I dropped them at the house because I was playing reporter for the day (actually on the air this time, too, which is rare for me!) and they needed me to work that day.  Too many other people had already called in sick.  So I thought, with no worries, that they could spend the day, their aunt has a pool, and they’d be fine.  I arrived early enough that they seemed just fine.  My wife’s father was doing yard work.  I took Hannah, the senior child, and asked her to keep an eye on them.  My last words for the kids as I walked from the door to the car was “Make sure you use sun screen, it’s going to be hot today!”

You can see the writer’s foreboding there, right?  I looked back and they were already readying their swimsuits to head to the pool.

I had no indication there was any problem through the day, though I was pretty swamped.  At one point Abbi, my oldest daughter, texted me and asked when I told her grandparents the kids would get picked up.  She’d taken it into her own hands, though, and went to pick them up.

When I got home, somewhere around 7:30 in the evening, pizzas and root beer in hand, I walked in the door and saw two of the reddest faces I had ever seen.  I immediately knew what had happened.  My final advice, on the way out, had been completely ignored.  Hannah, still a few weeks from being an official teenager, had her period and didn’t want to get in the pool, so she had minor burns on her arms.  Noah, one of the twins, is extremely modest and wears a swim shirt all the time, so he had burns to his face and arms.

Sam, though, he’s the victim here.  He had burns on his face, front, back, legs, all of it.  I think he had a touch of heat stroke, and was barely able to move.  Abbi had already put aloe-vera gel with some pain killer (solarcaine) on him.  I told him to leave off his shirt.  By mid-evening he came up and said he didn’t feel very good – sign of a severe burn.  I’m fortunate, I suppose, in that I was married to someone who would burn like this.  I have Mediterranean genes, so it has to be hours and hours of intense heat for me to burn.  It’s days on end for me to burn like that.

By the time Sam had come to me feeling sick he hadn’t noticed the blisters forming on his shoulders and back.  Hundreds of them.  Some very large.  He was so freaked out by the awful looking pustules that he started to cry.  It was at this point I realized that we’d always kept the boys, the girls, so well protected that they’d never had any kind of severe burn.  Maybe it was good . . . maybe it was a bit too sheltered.  Sunburn is awful, I know.  It’s even worse if you’re fair skinned, and Sam & Noah are fair like their Mom.  Thanks to her, I knew how to care for them.  I knew that if he laid back and burst the blisters it was worse.  When they got too big or hot I drained them like Andrea and my father – two medically trained people – had shown me.  I kept putting aloe on.  I gave him Tylenol.

And he spent Friday and Saturday nights unable to sleep much.

“I don’t want to swim again,” was his lament.
“You’ll swim again.  You just need to get over the burn.”
“I hate this, Dad.”
I didn’t have the heart to remind him that I’d told him first thing in the morning to use sunscreen.

We had so much to do this weekend and I couldn’t bring myself to force him to do it.  We did wander out – him wearing an old t-shirt of mine while bandaged loosely so the shirt didn’t touch his back – and shopped for shoes.

As I sit here tonight, after watching a movie with my oldest daughter, 12:00 in the morning, I realize that these are the things that I have to face from here on.  The trials of parenting that seem so difficult when you’re a young parent are coming back just as difficult now.  You can’t protect them from everything, and though his skin will be tender for awhile now, it will be a little tougher as a result.

Sam’s such a well-built, hard kid it’s difficult for people to see that inside he’s such a marshmallow.  He is outgoing, flirtatious (yes, even at 9) and strong as an ox.  He’s cute, and happy and seemingly the kid you’d see as the friendly high school jock that fools you when he quotes Dickens followed by the “Dead Parrot Sketch.”  But when things are too hard he folds.  He’s almost closed himself down into a corner with some blisters and a sunburn.

I see that sometimes we protect them too much.  But sometimes, he just has to be out in the sun and take his beating, feel the heat, and live with the blisters.  It’s a hard balance.  I want some of that soft center to remain, but how do you harden him without losing that loving, soft part of his being?  I watch him today and without berating him, try to remind him the lesson of the week . . . that you cannot go out in that much heat (98 Friday) and not use sunscreen.

But the blisters will fade, and as I put him to bed tonight he smiled and said he loved me.  Maybe the gooey center’s still there, underneath the blisters.

With Sam Today