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30 Reasons

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30 Reasons

Today my wife, Andrea, would have been 45 years old.  For me and my kids it also marks 4 1/2 years, 5 birthdays since she passed.  I wouldn’t say every year has gotten easier, that doesn’t feel quite right.  Perhaps it just means . . . each has been different.

October 30th is always a bittersweet day, particularly for me.  For most people this is the day before Halloween, nothing more.  Unfortunately, for me, it has a couple more realities.

October 30th reminds me of my late wife, who you see up there.  She passed away in 2011, on March 26th.  But now it’s a day I celebrate with those closest to me, immediate family, so to speak. They could be related by blood or they could be family because we love them.

The day also reminds me, annually, that I screwed up, a lot, on more birthdays for my wife than I succeeded.  There were some, like the weekend overnight in a B&B in Napa.  There was the earlier part of our relationship and marriage where you are so happy you give them a card and it’s amazing. However, I didn’t make the time I should have. That hurts.

But we don’t dwell on the bad. We dwell on the good.  We call it, as I posted last year, Celebration Day, which is, of course, a Led Zeppelin reference.  (Ever the musician)  But we have tons of reasons, most are amazing, some are shallow, all are wonderful.  They are the reasons we celebrate.

  1. My wife was a force of nature.  My brother used to have a reference “a bottle of fire.” That was Andrea, a woman who grabbed you by the hand and barreled off the cliffs of insanity, damn the consequences, enjoy the ride!  For the most part, I really did enjoy the ride.
  2. That Smile – Some people smile and they have great teeth or great personality. My wife smiled and her whole face smiled with her. It lit up a room and my heart.  Friends tell me I’m a sucker to this day for a great smile – a whole of your heart smile – and they’re right.
  3. We didn’t celebrate enough before – this is one of those selfish ones. I didn’t celebrate enough when she was around.  I want her family and friends to know how amazing we still think she was.
  4. We aren’t sad – This is hard for some people to grasp. OF COURSE we miss Andrea.  She was a wife and mom and friend and amazing.  But we can remember her, honor her, love her, and still find life, happiness, adventure . . . and even love again. We still love her.  Yet she is the one who is gone, she had it easier in some ways.  She doesn’t have to miss us.
  5. We Miss Her – Again, selfish, but of course we miss her!
  6. The kids should find this a happy day – How do you hit this day without the kids feeling like it’s yet another reminder she’s gone? You embrace the day. Talk about her. Love her, embrace the goofy things she did and talk about what made her wonderful.
  7. It’s a fun day – You carve pumpkins, have cake and ice cream, and laugh. What’s wrong with that?
  8. It’s a reminder – Not just a reminder of who she was but who we should be. We should make time, and though I am often late from work, even if I’m late on this day we will celebrate.
  9. The Goofiness – While the kids remember parents as parents, they get to hear the silly things.  They hear about dancing around in the living room and singing off-key and Halloween nights drinking beer and driving around in a golf cart with Andrea’s uncle.
  10. Warmth – We grieve at different times already. We grieve when the day she died comes, which is so hard for me because it’s also the day I married her. We smell something or see something or hear a song and we get emotional thinking why is this happening now?  Rather than do that why not embrace this as a day to be happy?
  11. We celebrate that we had her – We could be sad she’s gone, but how amazing is it that we had her at all?  Most people don’t lose a parent or a spouse like this, I get that.  But how often do you celebrate without the stress?  How often do you look at your wife’s birthday as a celebration you get to have her?  Instead you’re probably stressing about getting everything right.  Which one sounds better to you?
  12. Why Not? I mean . . . I won’t be able to do those birthdays over and I don’t ever think of it that way.  Still . . . why not do it to show your kids what’s supposed to happen?  Why not make it an enjoyable day?
  13. Memories – We all have different memories of people and events.  This way I get to hear different perspectives from my kids of what their memories are of their mother. Same with family and friends.
  14. Cake and Ice Cream. I mean . . . who doesn’t want a night that ends in cake and ice cream?
  15. It makes you feel good – let’s be honest . . . the cliche’s and tropes are right.  It’s so much fun to give to someone and have them have fond memories of Andrea and of the day because you gave them something?  That’s pretty damn amazing.
  16. You connect with family and friends – I love my kids to the ends of the earth.  Yet this day I get to FaceTime my daughter in college and the kids stay home and we do things. That’s important.  My family, Andrea’s family…we all have this day to remember her by.
  17. You Confuse People – This sounds weird, I know, but it’s fantastic to confuse the hell out of people who think you’ll hit this day and just . . . fall apart.  I don’t.  Okay, maybe a little sometimes.  Mostly, I hit this day and smile because I know we’re doing it right.  I remember her.  It confounds people that you aren’t in a puddle in the corner.  I mean, in the beginning you laughed to keep from crying.  Now you cry because you’re laughing about some ridiculous story.  It’s pretty great.
  18. You Prioritize –  Even today I have a colleague who yells at me if I’m late getting out the door for a kid’s event or a holiday or anything.  But this day, even if I have to work late, reinforces that I’ve put the kids and family and close friends as a priority.  That’s just a good message to send.
  19. You enjoy the day, not the stuff – In the beginning I made cake from scratch and got fancy and . . . it stressed the hell out of me.  Then I realized that if I have time, it’s fun to make the cake.  If I don’t, a decent cake is good, too.  The kids started to ask for things like it’s Christmas…which I quickly put a stop to.  It’s not about that, it’s about all of us together.  So cake from Freeport Bakery . . . that’s just fine with everyone.  It’s fine with me, too.
  20. You make the day about us, not just her – It’s important to remember this . . . it’s certainly about her.  It’s not about presents or cake or treats or any of that, though.  When the kids start saying “I want (insert toy here) for Celebration Day” you remind them it’s a day about us, not about presents.  Then it’s amazing. My son asked if we could call his sister in college and was happy that this year it’s Friday, and he thinks she’ll be around.
  21. You Put Aside the Guilt – Yeah, my guilt for sure.  But the kids have it, too.  My son, who worried his temper tantrums wore his mother down.  How he thought it was his fault she was gone.  How my daughter fought her tooth and nail on everything.  None of that matters.  This isn’t a day to dwell on what went wrong.  It’s a day to remember what was right.
  22. It’s not about living in the past – We live different lives now.  Far different than the lives we were looking to live a few years back.  A daughter who isn’t in a medical field.  A son who loves movies.  A musician daughter.  None of those were expected in the scheme of things from a few years back.  Yet we will celebrate those, too.  This is as much our day now as hers.  That’s a good thing.
  23. It IS about the future  – We’ll talk about what’s next.  It’s certainly where we’re going now.  I have learned through the last few years to be very, very supportive.  I am trying my hardest to do that and this helps me more and more to do so.
  24. It IS about those close people – We use the connections we made this day to stay close to those around us.  I have a friend who is my friend now . . . who years before would have been “Andrea’s friend.”  That is pretty amazing and in a tangiential way Andrea’s the one who made it happen.  I am better for it.  Others who I might have talked with occasionally I talk with all the time.  That’s important.
  25. With my wife, AndreaThat smile – Yeah, I know, on here twice.  I’m not simply a person about looks or image, but . . . for good or ill, when she flashed that I was hopeless.  You have to admit, it’s pretty spectacular.
  26. It’s not loss, it’s leaving them behind – We continue to age.  My sons are literally feet taller than when they lost their mom.  My daughters, too.  My oldest is in college, about to be 21.  She will remain that pretty, smart, silly, intelligent woman at the age of 40.  She will never get older.  It’s like we continued on another path and she’s behind us somewhere.  Never meeting up again.  That’s hard, for sure.  Then again, we remember where we came from and that makes us happy.
  27. Remember it’s about the journey – Part of leaving the path we were on with Andrea is remembering that it’s not about the path or where we are going.  At the end of the day, we need to enjoy how we got there.  Sure, we got lost in the woods here and there but how amazing was the view when you had to climb a tree to find the path?  How close did we get trying to find our way?  That is what it’s about.
  28. It’s not about what she’d want . . . it’s building off what she started – No, we aren’t doing what we thought we would five years ago.  That’s not a problem, not for us.  Yet we know the great things she gave us before now.  My girls know they can do anything and don’t get discouraged by others because of her.  My sons know that their mother loved them and wanted them to be happy.  No matter what the plans were . . . they’re far more now.
  29. It’s okay to be sad – Sure, the kids and I will have moments where we’re sad.  How could we not be, it’s her birthday, we loved her, love her still, and we do wish she was here to celebrate.  But we don’t live in the sadness.  We live and that is part of the sadness.  It’s hard to know we’re going to keep experiencing these amazing things – a movie studio tour; homecoming; prom; 21st birthdays; all of the things life brings and know that she’s not experiencing them with us.  But this day lets us realize we know what she’d be thinking and doing and loving us all.
  30. Love.  In the end it’s love.  That’s cheesy, sad, Lennon-esque for sure . . . but it’s about love.  I . . . loved . . . her.  I still love her, it’s not that I ever will stop.  Think about the first man or woman you loved and then it ended.  Did you stop loving them, even if you had a terrible, horrible break up?  No.  You didn’t, stop kidding yourself.  But life is about continuing the journey.  You keep moving because the world carries you along on it’s crust, spinning around the sun and taking you with it.  When they are gone you can try and stop with them . . . which will do more damage to you . . . or you can live.  We can honor her and love her . . . but we all change in life.  The hard part is that she is now unchanging, where she was in 2011 forever.  We are not and we have to move forward.  That’s what’s difficult.  So we honor Andrea on the 30th to remember what we were and remind us that we can continue to keep living.

This is our day now.  It’s also hers.  Happy birthday, Andrea.  Happy Celebration Day to my kids and my close circle of family/friends.  Don’t be sad.

Celebrate.

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Celebrating Today

2013-10-30 07.26.16

Celebrating Today

How do you treat a birthday?  Particularly a birthday for someone who’s not here any more?  Do you keep celebrating?  Do you lock yourself in a room and hide?  Do you cry?  Do you mope?

My wife, Andrea Andrews Manoucheri, passed away on March 26th 2011.  Seven months later her birthday arrived and I had thought long and hard about how I wanted to handle it.

Some background for you: I never got Andrea’s birthday right.  I tried, though I failed.  I faced two really major problems: incredibly high expectations on her part and working in an industry that kept me late on her birthday just about every single year.  November ratings are insanely important in television and ultimately October 30th fell in that first week every year.  That made my arrival for her birthday dinner, cake, presents, all of that, hard to gauge.  For my part, I always promised I’d try to get home and I’d always be late.

So when October 30th, 2011, came around I was already prepared.

We’d honor Andrea, my wife and the kids’ Mom, by celebrating the day.  It wasn’t just about her…this was a day to honor those who we loved and whom she had touched.

I know what you’re thinking.  You think this is my trying to make up for being a heel for so many years.

Well . . . you might actually be right.  That was not, though, the main thrust of my idea.

My children faced a lot after losing their mother.  There was no illness, no preparation for losing their Mom forever.  One day she was here, the next gone.  Every event – birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas – was like a sandstorm on the horizon.  You knew it was coming.  You can either prepare for it, hunkering down and ride the storm out . . . or you can let it hit you and take you down, those were my supposed choices.

I decided those weren’t good enough.

I decided to ride the wave…sand in the underwear and all.

Kids

People have asked how we can look happy, flourishing even?  It’s simple . . . losing Andrea was a defining moment, but it did’t define us.

So when October 30th, 2011, approached I heard a song on the radio – Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day.  There’s no sentiment in the song, that is simply the title.

Ride the wave.

We would celebrate this day . . . we would love those who helped us and reach out to those we care about just because we can.  We will celebrate what we’ve done so far this year and dream about what we’re going to do next year.

This was the legacy Andrea gave us.  This woman, a bottle of fire, lightning in a cage, was a spark of life and enjoyment and adventure.  We had grown tired and down.  We aren’t any more.

So when the day comes, we’re a bit sad.  Hell, I’ll be honest, it’s been a really hard week and I’m more than a little down as I write this.  I always see that beautiful smile and the sparkling blue eyes from that picture up there when this day comes around.  I also see the storm grey eyes of my oldest daughter, the Paul Newman blue of my son Noah, the gunsteel blue of his brother Sam…and the chocolate brown of my middle daughter.  I see the blue of Andrea’s sister, the green/blue of Andrea’s best friend . . . and the caring, loving eyes of my family as they held us up for months after we lost one of the  most important people in our lives.

Today isn’t a day to make up past transgressions.  It’s not apologizing, it’s embracing.

Happy birthday, my love!  It was your day . . . now it is everyone’s!

Today we love, we live, and we have a life of adventure.

Today . . . is Celebration Day!

 

A Day Just for Them . . .

Birthday-4A Day Just for Them

One of my biggest struggles when I first became a parent was to try and figure out how I was going to spread out the attention, affection, love and understanding to my children.  I was young when we had our first child, in my mid-20’s.  That doesn’t mean we were bad parents but it certainly means you still have some maturity to gain.  That being the case, when my first child was born we seemed like we were ready.  I had to come to terms with the fact that my wife was no longer the only center of affection it had to be shared.  That wasn’t hard and it was immediately clear we both felt the same way about this and we were happy to be parents.

Each successive pregnancy, though, I was more and more worried about it.  My concern was that with another child . . . then twins . . . I wouldn’t be able to be fair in everything we did.  You come to terms, very quickly, with the fact that you give attention as it’s needed and when the kids ask for it.  If you try to keep track and give equal amounts all the time you drive yourself insane because you never keep track.

The best case in point is with the kids’ birthdays.

An amazing fall picture of Andrea
An amazing fall picture of Andrea and Abbi

My oldest had gigantic birthday parties.  My wife, Andrea, made birthday parties a priority.  Her first birthday we rented out the community building at our apartment complex.  One year we had a “mystery” party at our house that also included a fancy cake, presents, a bounce house . . . and cost us a ton of money.  The birthday before Andrea passed away we took my daughter to one of those dinner mystery/theater places with a bunch of her high school friends.

My middle daughter varied.  Some of that was her choice . . . one year it was just a couple friends.  Others it was her entire class at the Laser Tag facility or going to the amusement park.

For my sons, though, those parties have been hit and miss.  One year we went to the city’s “Fairytale Town” and they had cake inside King Arthur’s Castle and their friends came.  It was our first year in California.  Another year, as a shared day for all the kids we went to Six Flags in Vallejo.  But for the most part, the majority of birthdays in their now eleven years were just family events.

My sons had the worst time three years ago, their 8th birthday.  Their Mom, my wife, passed away at the end of March.  Their birthday is two weeks into April.  So in the depths of realizing their mother wasn’t here they had to sit through their birthday, then Easter, then Mother’s Day just weeks after losing her.  It wasn’t pretty.  I had family over, both sets of grandparents, and it all went off.  I made a cake, though I don’t remember what kind.

This year I wanted to let them have something different.  I don’t know why, but it just seemed like they should.  This year they were doing the movies.

BirthdayI called the theater chain and they were able to invite a few friends, though only two came due to the proximity to Easter.  We showed up and the theater took their candy orders, they each got a hot dog, and then gave us all a tour of the projection rooms.  The kids saw what it takes to change a projector bulb, even.

Then they took us to reserved seats in the theater.

Birthday-1We watched Captain America.  I had gotten the boys each shirts – one with Cap’n’s shield, the other with the Avengers . . . and they wore them proudly.  We watched the movie, went out, thanked their friends, then went home and had cake and ice-cream.  They opened their presents . . . and my parents were in town for them, too.  When they heard that morning that their grandparents were coming they said, in unison: “that’s the best present we get today!”

I don’t normally worry about sharing the wealth and the attention.  It happens as it needs to happen.  But this day, just for one day, I felt like I’d finally evened things out.  They finally got they day they deserved to have a few years ago.  No, it wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t expensive, even.  (It was cheaper than it would have been to do it at home and there was no cleanup!)

It wasn’t about the stuff.  It’s never been about the stuff.  It’s not about love or affection, either.  It was about me wanting to make sure I did something for the boys because, to be honest, they deserved it.

And when the day was over they thanked me, sincerely and lovingly . . . and that was all I needed, really.

A Day to See What We’ve Gained

As it’s midnight and I see the day change to October 30th, it would be easy to sit and wallow and fall into the fog of melancholy and grief.  That’s an easy path, the one that presents itself, pretty, enticing, and menacing at the same time.

But I’ve never been one to take the easy path.

Andrea, in High School
Andrea, in High School

Today, October 30th, my wife, Andrea, would have been 43.  That’s her up there, something like 17 or 18, in her flag corps uniform.  I found the picture last night.

The better remembrance, though, is this:

2013-10-30 07.26.16Always that smile and the sparkling blue eyes.

You can see how it would be easy to despair when that person, who you spent half your life with, has left you behind.  She passed away at the age of 40, far too young for someone who up there looks so vibrant.

But I’m not despairing because today, her birthday, is a celebration.  I do so because, for so many years, I got it wrong.  I work in television and I had to work late most years on her birthday because of ratings periods that began, invariably, on her birthday.  This year, unfortunately, I do the same.  Not because of ratings but because of a basketball game.  It’s not a complaint, though my children weren’t overly enthused, but I have other benefits the rest of the year.  I see today as payment for the opportunity to pick up my son when he’s sick or visit the doctor and come in late with no repercussions.

Still . . . this is no longer Andrea’s birthday.  Well, it is, but it’s not.  We’ve changed it, turned the day on its head.  This is celebration day and we talk about everything we’ve gained, not what we’ve lost.  We want those around us to do that, too.  We honor the past, the people who love and loved us, and look at what we have as a result.  I tell those around me to do the same.

I’ve gained a sister.  It’s true.  Andrea’s sister and I were always close, but she was Andrea’s sister.  That was the bond.  Today, we visit like visiting my brothers or my parents and it’s comfortable and natural and I see her and her children and I have no despair, I am blessed to know that they’re a greater part of my life.  They always were, but through Andrea.  Now I’m the point of contact and I see the amazing woman that shares DNA with the woman I loved and I have nothing but happiness in knowing I’m closer now than I would have been.

I have friends around me that I would not have had three years ago.  It’s hard to admit you need help, but you get it.

I have friends that are now my friends when 3 years ago they were “Andrea’s friend” and now I say, without hesitation or thought, “this is my friend.”  A friend who has been through hell I cannot even imagine but I see as dear and strong and impressive and I’m so very happy to have them in my life in a far greater role than they were before.

I have people that were always there who I see in far more tender light than ever before.

All these people, all these things, the adventures we’ve taken, the trips we’ve made, the life we’re leading, the home we have, the job I work, the things we do . . . all of them are direct results of the fact that this amazing woman isn’t here anymore, not physically.  Her influence is mighty.  None of these people would be in our lives without her.  But we live now, as she’s moved on, and we live differently, love differently, and we celebrate.  We celebrate what having and losing her has brought to us . . . and what we have yet to see, hear, love and experience.

Today . . . is Celebration Day!

Sharing a Day

I’ve written every year about a birthday trip, something I do to not be in the house and to more or less force myself to see things that I normally would have ignored.  Put bluntly, it’s a way to stop myself from lazing around the house all day.

So today I did some random things that were very non-birthday like.

I had to go get gasoline for the lawn mower and then mowed the lawn and edged it and hoped to get finished before the 105 degree heat wave hit.  (Farenheit.  Though Celsius might make it look less painful)  My oldest daughter came home and informed me I “need to calm down.  It’s your birthday!”  This came, of course, after the lawn and doing a couple loads of laundry.

But, as I told her, it doesn’t wash itself.  She then informed me she’d bought me doughnuts instead of a cake . . . and that I needed to eat them, diet or no diet.

But as much as I did a few little things for myself, like finding a used copy of What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits and downloading a new song from a new artist I’d never heard of, randomly, that fit my musical tastes (which, yes, I know, are all over the spectrum) I called my middle daughter, Hannah.

Hannah, you see, was one of my greatest birthday presents.  She was born on my birthday, July 1st.

Hannah's Birthday
Hannah’s Birthday

Hannah Andrews Manoucheri was born on July 1st, 1999.  A year before the calendar marked a century’s changing.  (Yeah, I know, the strict fact-checkers will say the millenium ended when we hit 2001.  Sue me, it’s symbolism)  Hannah was supposed to be born the day prior.  In fact, we’d even gone to the hospital, Andrea, my now late-wife, had gone to the hospital to be induced.  Unfortunately, what they considered a “great new drug for labor induction” caused Andrea to hyper-contract and she ended up in horrible pain for roughly 14 hours and then had to be rushed into an operating room.  The surgeon thought the epidural was strong enough, but Andrea began to feel the cut of the scalpel.  They increased it . . . and she still felt it.  Eventually they put her under with Nitrous and she was asleep.

The birth was like and episode of M*A*S*H.  Andrea’s organs were arranged on her belly somehow.  After they got Hannah out they took the baby away, but I couldn’t leave.  Andrea’s hand was clamped to mine…tight, and I watched my baby daughter hauled away to the incubator.  It was then I heard the doctor curse and saw blood . . . everywhere.  Andrea began to hemorrhage on the table and bleed out.  She nearly didn’t make it.

Hannah was the baby I spent the most intimate time with after birth . . . and the baby who spent most of that time trying to squirm away from me to get to her mother.  Hannah was released from the hospital before Andrea who, because of her organs being exposed to every and anything, ended up with a horrific post-operative infection.  She was in the hospital for a couple weeks.  Then she came home unable to bend, use her stomach muscles, none of it.  In those first few weeks, my wife was on Intravenous Antibiotics while Hannah contracted RSV.  The virus was so hard on an infant’s respiratory system that I had to give her albuterol treatments every 3 hours.  Her breathing would get better, she’d eat, I’d change her, and then do it all over again.

Through the years, Hannah and I shared a birthday.  It was her present to me, as well, as I didn’t really care about getting older.  Still, she had the childlike enthusiasm for the day that was

Hannah, as a little one
Hannah, as a little one

infectious . . . and I celebrate the day more for her than for myself most the time.

The last 3 birthdays Hannah has spent in Nebraska with my folks.  That’s out of necessity, mainly so I can work every day, but I’ve always managed to get her a present and have it sent there.  This year, every phone call, every day, had her ask “hey, Daddy Bear . . . guess what’s in 10, 8, 5, 3, 2 days?”  I love how much she loves waiting for it.

Hannah at Christmas
Hannah at Christmas

The days when we gave Hannah ten million things and had money that we could but shouldn’t have thrown away are gone.  The gifts are smaller, sure, but they mean a lot more.  Hannah got a gift that’s part fun but mostly necessity . . . but loves it nonetheless.

While I spent my birthday weekend with my oldest daughter, walking through San Francisco, we called the other three kids anyway, looking out across the Bay at Alcatraz, and loved hearing of their rural adventures.

I had Hannah open her gift while on the phone . . . then Abbi and I had dinner and went to a movie.  But Hannah . . . she’s got so many more birthdays, so much special time ahead of her.

At the end of the day, every year, she’s my favorite birthday present.

Make a Wish

Today marks the forty-third year I’ve spent on this earth.  It’s not a monumental occasion, nor is it without merit.

The legendary Kenny Burrell
The legendary Kenny Burrell

The last two years I’ve gone out on the road, claiming adventure and finding things out of the way and off the beaten path.  That path and those trips had been conducted alone, sharing them with friends and family after, but it matched my desire to travel and just go away . . . leaving behind grief, losss, stress, all of that.

This year, though, was the third birthday since our story began and the first one I’ve not had alone.

The last two years I went to Los Angeles, the first one fairly mundane.  I went off the path, wandered side streets and avoided the normal touristy things.

Last year I went to a little jazz club and saw a jazz great on the stage . . . staying at a landmark hotel.

Today, though, I’m home after a weekend trip closer to home . . . to San Francisco.

From our Dinner Table
From our Dinner Table

It was not a trip to see the city in the wake of the Prop 8 Gay Marriage decision.  That was a coincidence, though I do have gay friends and I’ll be honest . . . I don’t have a horse in that race.  I really don’t.  But still, the weekend made for great people watching. We saw those with a cause . . . and we also saw some with no cause but looking for opportunities to dress scantily and act like they, too, should be center of attention.  All were interesting fodder for writing and photography in my eyes, so I stayed in the background.

Abbi and I wandered streets avoiding the commonplace.  Sure, we were on Market, eating lunch at a fantastic little diner that looks far less impressive than the food it serves.  We walked down the street and got chocolates from an amazing shop.

Then we walked, from Market, back to Mason Street, close to the water.  We went through Chinatown.  We sauntered through the Italian sector . . . and I found the journey fantastic.  Not the tourists that wandered the front end of Chinatown but the end of it and the dozens of Italian restaurants that were off Columbus.

The Wax Museum
The Wax Museum

Abbi and I had amazing dinner at an Italian restaurant.  We wandered into a hole in the wall printing company and saw art-deco like prints made by an artist who happened to be in the press shop that night.  The one tourist thing we did was wander into the Wax Museum and poked fun, in the most blasphemous terms, sometimes, of the figures we saw in the alcoves deep in the bowels of the old wharf warehouse.

The next day we headed to the Presidio and . . . like a little kid all over again, we saw the exhibit of art from Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are and Chicken Soup with Rice.  The artwork was both real and whimsical and truthful.  I could hear my Mom’s voice behind me saying “In January it’s so nice, while slipping on the sliding ice, to eat hot chicken soup with rice…”  Abbi marveled at the beautiful work done by such an amazing artist.

We saw the Walt Disney Family Museum.  We wandered to the back of the museum and saw the Golden Gate, shrouded in fog, and slowly mad our way back toward Sacramento.

The Sendak Exhibit
The Sendak Exhibit

It may seem a little thing to you . . . small points of a minor trip that any of you might have made on a weekend trip to the City.  But would you?  Have you been to the same spots over and over again and not changed your routine?  We randomly picked a restaurant and had the most amazing Italian dinner we’ve had in years.  I saw the signs for the Sendak exhibit two weeks prior and could have thought “Presidio is too far away” but instead sought out the exhibit because I knew it would be amazing.

I’m forty-three today.  I don’t feel it.  It’s not the whole “you’re only as old as you feel” mentality.  If that was the case, the two bulging discs and 20 pounds I still cannot lose and the constant exhaustion would point to the fact that I am, well, 43.  But until I look in the mirror and see the belly diminishing slower than I’d like and the grey moving from specks to a more than light dusting in the black of my hair, I don’t think I’m that age.

I still marvel at kids’ books.  I loved the Sendak exhibit and was intensely moved by his philosophy of life.  “I cry,” says Sendak on a video monitor, “not because I simply miss the people who I have lost.  I cry because I remember them, honor them, and because I miss their presence, their impact, every day.”

That, you see, is the purpose of the birthday trip.  It’s not to be alone or to travel, it’s to make new memories.  It’s to have the amazing journey and make new adventures . . . and to share them.  To have that impact and make it on others.

I may have little to offer the world . . . but to me . . . the world has so much to offer.  We just have to look and be willing to accept it.  Sometimes, it’s on a birthday.  Sometimes it’s when you least expect it.

Seeing those amazing things, and never ignoring them . . . that’s the birthday wish for myself.

Ten Years Gone

Noah, Sam, cousins and friends
Noah, Sam, cousins and friends

This is a story ten years in the making.

It’s not that it’s a tragic tale, it’s far from that, but it’s one of those cheesy, cliche’d lines that parents always use that comes to the fore.

“I can’t believe it’s been ten years!”

Particularly since the last two years . . . and it’s only been two since their mother, my wife, Andrea, died . . . have felt like ten themselves.

The boys were never supposed to have happened.  That’s not to say we were planning on terminating a pregnancy . . . it’s that Andrea had been so badly injured, both from infection and from poor surgical technique, that we had been told there was a slim to no chance Andrea could ever get pregnant again.

Then she got sick . . . like morning sickness, but it couldn’t have been that.  We looked for answers, went to Andrea’s doctor, all of that.  Then they did tests and told her that she had a kind of pregnancy that was dangerous, that the result could lead to cancerous cells, possible chemotherapy, monitoring for the next 2-3 years, all of that.

Then a week after we’re trying to figure out how to deal with the possibility of cancer setting in the doctors told us “oops!  We are sorry, you’re just pregnant!”

Just.

“Oh . . . and it’s twins!”

I don’t know about you guys, but when we went from “you can’t ever get pregnant again” to “cancer” to “you’re having another child” to “it’s twins,” I just about collapsed from exhaustion.  For years – and I do mean years – Andrea was angry and offended by my actions.  I never considered not having the boys, but we literally were about to double the number of children in our home in one fell swoop.  I also figured it would be two girls so that I’d have five women in the house, all with PMS at any given day of the week so I’d never get a break.  “God has a sense of humor,” I tried to tell my wife, hoping the joke would break the tension.

It didn’t.  She was so angry, in fact, it almost ended our marriage.  She didn’t understand how I couldn’t be beside myself, jumping for joy. I couldn’t figure out how she couldn’t be totally stressed by the fact that we weren’t making a ton of money and barely made our house payment with two kids.  Now we were about to be four kids.

When Andrea carried them, she carried them for 36 weeks, roughly.  When the doc told her that it was now to the point her blood pressure was too high, they had to get the boys out, I swear she skipped like a schoolgirl down the hallway.  After the major problems of Hannah’s birth she was scared.  When I walked into the OR in my scrubs, I asked how she was . . . and she said she was waiting for the surgery to begin.  I informed her they were taking the first boy out already and she was floored.  Hannah’s c-section, you see, saw Andrea feeling the scalpel on her skin and the cut of her belly.  They had to eventually, after 3 times of this, knock her cold.

Noah came out, blonde, and Andrea said immediately, “that’s Noah.”  Sam was the same way, it was obvious who they were.  They had separate personalities and they were distinct, from day one.

So once they were born, the stress turned into care.  I had two boys, had two little characters who wanted to look to me for help and support.

We made up, eventually.  If you love each other you work on a relationship, you don’t ignore it or keep the other person at a distance.  The first 3 months of the boys’ lives were a whirlwind that I cannot remember for the life of me.  So much work and so little sleep.

We moved to California for more help (which was less than helpful) and to be closer to family, which now we take full advantage of when we need it.  Their sister, Abbi, looks out for them.  Hannah fights constantly with them.

But they were the last holdouts to go double-digit in age.  When they lost their Mom, these two boys were so amazing.  Noah, who was hard to contend with, had constant temper tantrums, always wanted his way, always wanting the toys he desired yesterday, not when we had the money . . . changed.  I can say, with certainty, that this child has not had a tantrum the likes he showed with his mother since she passed away.  From that first day, March 26th, 2011.  That’s amazing to me.  Sam, who was reckless and crazy and jumping off playground equipment . . . well, he still does that.  He broke his arm, but took it in stride, where he’d have fallen apart before.

Some of that is age, some is just growing up faster than they should.

Ten years have gone . . . sometimes it feels like ten days.  In the last ten years, they may have felt like it’s more than twenty years.  Still, they’re amazing little gentlemen . . . we had a party, at their aunt’s house, love surrounding them, hugging and kissing their terminally ill grandma (Andrea’s mom) and they swam all day.  Noah, as a project, made his own pinata with a balloon, paper and glue for the other kids at the party.  They’ve grown more than I could ever have hoped.

Ten years have gone . . . I can only hope I am as amazed and delightfully surprised in the next ten as I have been the last two.

Silence speaks volumes

I left Friday night in the hands of my now 18-year-old daughter.  It’s amazing the things that happen when that date hits.  The Social Security Administration tells me her checks have to come directly to her bank account.  That’s not something that bothers me at all, the money’s always been used for her anyway.  Not fancy gadgets or trips or anything…we eat, pay the allowable part of rent, all that with the kids’ checks.  We have to reach a point where we’re able to survive without out it next year anyway.

At 18 I don’t have to sign notes for the school . . . at 18 she can decide to be on-camera or join groups or what have you.

The advantage is that I trust my daughter.  I know much of the details of her life without her even realizing it, I suppose.  If she did I’m not certain it would surprise her that awful much.

I’ve tried very hard to raise independent, smart, and outspoken daughters.  Not the kind who would give in to anyone – let alone a guy – just because it’s easy.  Ones who wouldn’t end up feeling awkward if they’re not comfortable doing what the crowd does.  Ones who don’t like the idea of being so plastered or stoned because it’s not “enhancing” their lives, it’s really numbing them and killing those amazing synapses in their heads.  Ones that won’t give in to some guy who says he needs to have sex with them for their relationship to be worthwhile.

At the same time, though, my daughter has told me in no uncertain terms that “you’re just not the typical guy, Dad.”  I don’t know that the statement was made as a compliment at the time.  Basically, my disdain for using other people doesn’t translate to the real world well.  It’s one of the reasons I have a close cadre of real friends and the rest . . . well, they’re more colleagues or acquaintances.  I’d help them if asked, and I’m friends with them.  But those closest . . . if they called and needed help, even at a moment’s notice, I’d jump on a plane or boat or bungee cord to get to them if they needed help.

But this weekend Abbi wanted her birthday to carry over to a party with her friends.  We couldn’t pull off the party.  Abbi made no decisions on what to do.  My finances were limited.  Nothing was working the way she wanted.  Ultimately, in my search through events we found an event in Cupertino, CA – three hours away.  The men from the show “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” were performing the show live . . . and DeAnza College in the Bay Area.  Sure, I thought it sounded fun.  These four 18-year-old girls, though, they are drama kids.  They were enamored with the idea of seeing an improv show.

So I left this in Abbi’s hands.  She had to split the cost since I’d already bought her a dress and still have to fix her phone which she dropped in the sink while apparently doing her hair and texting at the same time.  (She’s been without a phone for more than a month, by the way.  While I hate having to fix it, having her without it is killing me in terms of how to keep everyone in line and in contact)  She had to figure out how to get her siblings, drive them to her aunt’s house an hour away; get home and pick up her friends; drive to my shop in Sacramento; then hit the road.

She managed it.  Her aunt watched the other three for the night.  I got to drive . . . with four teenage girls for three hours each way to Cupertino and back.

I got about 10 words in, I think.

I don’t mind, though.

You’d be amazed the things you leave by being the fly on the wall in that kind of environment.  Sure, I know they weren’t ever going to say more than they wanted.  I’m the adult in there, after all.  But still . . . I know which guys are “players” and which ones are nice.  I know who they each think are cute and who they have crushes on.  No, none of them said it explicitly, but I’m a journalist.  Tone of voice speaks volumes.

So does silence.

I learned a lot on that car ride.  More than anything, it was to fight the urge to be a guy.  When I heard conversations, or thought my daughter was going over-the-top in her comments or they had a heated discussion about how their classes were going (or not going) I wanted so badly to say something.  Guys, you see, want to fix everything.

But I had to put myself in the position of understanding this wasn’t my conversation, not really.  What good would it do, anyway?  Did I honestly think the same conversation hadn’t been held a dozen times or more before?

So yes . . . I kept silent.  It wasn’t hard, I don’t know there were any pauses in the conversation.

But still . . . I’m a Dad.  I made sure there were a few embarrassing stories of Abbi’s childhood thrown in for good measure.

Like the time she climbed on the roof on Thanksgiving day. . . Oh . . .but that’s a story for another time.

The tale of a celebration

The blonde girl
Forty-two years ago, on this very day, a little blonde girl was born.  It may seem unremarkable to some, though to her family it was quite remarkable.  You see, forty-three years ago, fertility treatments and hormone replacement and other types of fertilization methods were rare.  Her mother had tried, unsuccessfully to have a baby before to very poor results.

But this day, this amazing celebration day, the little girl with blonde hair was welcomed to the world.

By most accounts, her childhood might have been somewhat unremarkable.  Still, her toddler years were marred by a clumsiness, a tendency to bump into things or not notice who was speaking to her in the distance.  It hadn’t crossed her mother or father’s mind to have her checked until she was a bit older, walking, talking, all of that.  The specialist who saw her had a thick accent . . . German maybe?  And he informed the little girl she had “strange, egg-shaped eyeze” in a thick drawl that belied his country of origin.

The doctor had to work closely with the lab to make sure that the eyeglasses they made for the little girl were the right prescription.  The glasses could as easily hurt as help if they got it wrong.  One day, several years after this miracle of her family was born, she arrived in the optometrist’s office and he put on the black-rimmed, thick – almost coke bottle – glasses. The little girl looked up at her parents and exclaimed “Mommy!  I can see!”  It broke her mother’s heart, not that she was so helpless, but that she hadn’t realized sooner that a pair of glasses could have helped her daughter.

As the girl grew older, she became the typical Northern California girl.  She would grow tall . . . very tall.  Five feet, ten inches, by the time she’d graduated high school.  Her father wanted her to play clarinet, though she’d always wanted to do something more exciting like drums or saxophone.  By the time she was a junior or senior in high school she had made the decision to join the flag corps of her school in a suburb of Sacramento.

Her father always rode her about her weight.  Yet, in high school, twirling a flag had propelled her to a muscular and lithe form.  Her parents never thought she’d have the discipline to do this, getting up at 5am every day and get ready, teasing her hair so big in the style of the 1980’s, but she did.  Every day.  She laid out, swam, grew tan.  She had her first escapade of teenage drinking using vodka and orange juice with friends . . . something that to this day would cure her of the taste of said Russian libation.

By college she’d grown wild and adventurous.  She’d moved to her mother’s home state and attended a Jesuit University. She roomed with a girl from a small town in the Northern part of the state.  She joined a sorority and entered Greek life with a vengeance.  Where people talk of the work hard/party hard times of her college days, she lived those, and she wasn’t yet 21.

She wanted to be a journalist.  She met Leslie Stahl at an event at her school and was determined to be a television news anchor.  She got a job as an intern at a small station, across the river from Omaha in a town called Council Bluffs, Iowa.  By all accounts it wasn’t a remarkable station, but it was filled with energy and energetic people.  She already had the wardrobe, working part-time at the clothing store Express to get a discount.  She walked in, likely in some sort of silk pants and wraparound shirt that accentuated both her assets and her curves.

She caught the eye of a black-haired boy from a small Nebraska town.  He was shy, reserved, and quiet.  He secretly liked her but kept her at arm’s length, thinking there was no way she’d ever go for a goofy guy like him.  On her first day she shook his hand and talked with him, asking him to show her around.  It turned out he had grown up with her roommate, a fact that brought them closer.

It took him almost a year to get up the courage to finally ask her out.  By then she’d made a decision to leave the Midwest to intern at CNN on the East Coast and go to a private university there.  They’d become friends, this blonde and this black haired boy.  When he finally did ask her out it was like they’d been waiting for the dam to burst, a passion washing over them like the wave from the sea.  They hid it from their friends until right before Christmas.  She found out her parents couldn’t pay for the East Coast venture and she called her black-haired friend, whom she thought was going to be a winter fling at first, and cried.  When he asked her to come back to the Midwest instead she stopped crying and agreed.  They were engaged just a couple months later.

While her parents didn’t approve, engaged, they moved to Colorado for a year in a failed attempt at a job for her fiance.  He tried to get her to stay at her job but she wouldn’t do it.  Just a few months into their Colorado year she revealed that some creep had date raped her during an alcohol-filled party at a fraternity – long before she’d met her love.  It was a problem she’d hide and it pained her forever.  Alone, jobless in Colorado, it ate at her and caused her mental anguish.  He told her he wouldn’t let that happen . . . and they moved back to the Midwest.

When they moved back, neither worked in their industry.  They were married on March 26th, 1993 in the church of the University where she’d graduated.  He was a musician, wrote her a song, even sang it at the wedding.

A year later, they had their first child . . . a little . . . blonde . . . girl.  The blonde woman was totally unprepared for motherhood and was in a panic.  Her husband, the man with the black hair, wasn’t.  He took care of them both and found life far more pleasant than he’d anticipated, being a Dad so young.

An amazing fall picture of the two blondes

They had problems, the blonde and the black-haired boy.  She grew jealous.  He grew frustrated.  Yet they had another child, one who was born on the black-haired boy’s birthday.  The blonde woman almost died giving birth to her and he, again, cared for the woman he loved and the two girls . . . one blonde, one with dark hair.

They moved, to Texas, and while they thought they couldn’t get pregnant again, they did.  This time the black haired man freaked out, because it was twins, they were broke, he was in TV again and worked a lot . . . and they were about to have four kids.  It would hit the blonde girl hard and it would take years for her to forgive him.

They moved back to her hometown, to be closer to family, but the move didn’t work as well as she’d hoped.  Still . . . the damage to their relationship had healed.  They’d grown closer.  She’d forgiven him, he’d helped her to finally deal with that horrible night in college that damaged her so badly.  It had taken years, but they were as close as when they’d met again.  She asked him if he’d still have fallen for her if he’d known she’d been date raped.  He told her that it never factored in.  The moment he met her . . . he was hers.

Four years later, she got sick.  Constant pain in her knees.  Her liver had problems.  The sickness made her gain a terrible amount of weight.  Again, she asked the black haired man why he stayed . . . and he told her leaving had never crossed his mind.

One day, a week before their anniversary, she got a cough.  A simple, little cough, something that shouldn’t have been a big deal.  A day later she was in the hospital.  By the week’s end . . . on the day of their eighteenth anniversary . . . she was gone.  A resistant strain of pneumonia had taken her.  The black-haired man collapsed in the hospital room, in tears, and wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to get up again.

But then something amazing happened.  His parents, who always loved and supported him, walked in the door of their home – having driven for two straight days – and helped him up.  Her sister and her family, hurt as they were, helped.  They still help.  Her college roommate, one of her best friends . . . and always his . . . they were there.  They still are.

By the first October 30th after she left the black-haired boy . . . he made a decision.  He could remember those last few paragraphs . . . or he could write new ones.  He bought presents for all his kids, little things really, and wrapped them.  He made a cake – from scratch – and had a comfort-food dinner.  He celebrated.  Not just the life of the little blonde-haired girl but everything they’d done the seven months prior.  Nobody cried.  They laughed, ate too much, and smiled on the way to bed that night.  Nobody said it would be easy . . . but somehow, it wasn’t as hard as they’d expected.

Last Year’s Celebration Day cake

Now, one year later . . . the black-haired boy has turned the tables.  The cake is made.  The presents are bought.  The blonde girl’s sister is part of the day.  So is the woman who was the blonde girl’s roommate – one of his best friends.  The day is no longer just the blonde-haired girl’s birthday.  They call it “Celebration Day.”  It’s not simply her day any more.  They choose to remember her as the best version of herself . . . the blonde girl who could see.  The curvy, gorgeous, tall girl who walked into the black-haired boy’s life.  The Mom who chased them around the room.  The sister and friend whose smile lit up the room.

This is a celebration of the last year.  It’s a tribute to living on top of the foundation the little blonde girl paved.  It’s a remembrance not just of her but of everything to this point.  She gets to remain beautiful and perfect while we wear more years and move a little slower . . . but that’s okay.  It’s a day to talk about how we watched the blonde girl’s little blonde girl excel as an actress and her dark-haired girl learn to play guitar.  How her two boys, both blondes, grew up, one broke an arm, the other got straight A’s.  How her black-haired man wrote beautiful music from thin air.

How they live . . .

Today is not a day of sadness.  Today . . .

Is Celebration Day.

Happy birthday, my love.

Celebration Day

Last Year’s Celebration Day cake

03 Celebration Day

I’ve created a new holiday.

No, it’s not like Seinfeld, this is no “Festivus for the Rest of Us.”  I just . . . had to do it.

There’s a reason behind all this, I think you should know it, embarrassing as it is to say.

My wife, Andrea’s, birthday confounded me.  Annually.  From the beginning I never knew what would work best for her.  She’d have her mind set on one thing as a present.  If I got her something else, something better, even, the day was ruined.  Totaled like a Ford Explorer careening down a highway onramp.  One year I asked what she wanted and she said “diamonds, big old rocks.”  I got her a bracelet with diamonds in it . . . and it was “too modern.”

Eventually I asked her to tell me what she wanted.  She hated surprises, but when the day came and there were none . . . it was a mess.  In the end, too late, I realized after she was gone all she wanted was this to be “her” day.  Ignore work, stay away from other things, focus the day on her.  This was hard for me to come to terms with as I share my birthday.  When we were first married I had to celebrate it at her parents’ house because “it’s my parents’ anniversary” she would say.  Then came Hannah, and I adore that she’s got the same birthday as I do.  I was fine with being in the background and celebrating the fact my daughter’s getting older while I avoided the topic.  But Andrea, well, she never came to terms with that.

The one thing I could never do . . . was get it right, it seems.  Every year she wanted me to take the day off for her birthday.  Every year, it was in the first week of the November ratings period.  It never mattered that I could take her to the doctor, pick up the kids when her mother wasn’t up to it or just plain come home early 8 other months out of the year.  This day was paramount.

Now, I work at a job where I could have gotten home on time every day and she’s gone.

Last year I made a decision that the failures and the depression and the stress had to end.  We built up to the 30th of October with trepidation and worry.  Instead, I decided that we’d celebrate the day anyway.  I got each of the kids a little gift.  I made a birthday cake.  We had a nice dinner, did all of it.  If we needed to talk about Andrea, we did, but it was a celebration of all of us, not a bearing of our souls because we lost something.

The kids – even this week – still call it “Mom’s birthday.”  I call it “Celebration Day.”  (Thank you Zeppelin)  Sure, it’s the day before Halloween.  Sure, I don’t get a present, I’m the one giving them.  Still . . . it doesn’t bother me.  I’m getting something for each of the kids.  I’ve added a couple others to the mix, but it’s about those close to me.  Those I love.

It’s a celebration day.  Not just of the woman we all loved, she certainly has to know that by now.  It’s of the family we are…and of the creed we live by:

We’re stronger together than when we’re apart.