Tag Archives: chaos

Missing the Chaos

Our Easter Family Photo this year.

Easter in our house was never an easy holiday.  Never.  I’m not one to push my faith on anyone, and I’m not going to do it here, but being Catholic I do get frustrated when I go to church as often as I can only to break – or feel like breaking – several commandments in the parking lot of the church on two days out of the year: Christmas and Easter.  Those two days are when the holiday Catholics come out.  If you’re not that into the religion or the mass or the routine, why in God’s name do you come on those two days?  I mean, if you go and then it gives you something and brings you back more than twice a year, good on you.  Have at it.  If it doesn’t, I don’t get angry.  Faith, to me, is a very personal thing.  I struggle with it, almost daily now after losing my wife.  Particularly when my wife’s was so strong at the end of her life and then having her lost to us I have very personal and agonizing struggles with it I won’t go into here.

But back to Easter.  This year it went smoothly.  Way too smoothly.  Hannah, the middle girl, was forced to cut her hair, making it shorter and easier to deal with.  She fought every step of the way and now loves her haircut, loathe to admit that her Dad, the male testosterone generator might actually have been right about it.  Last night the girls went upstairs and Abbi, the oldest, started working on her hairdo and got most of it ready.  By morning, she simply had to finish curling it and let Hannah – the tomboy – *gasp* wear her dress!  It was cute, amazing and absolutely beautiful.

Where the hiccups started, I suppose, were that having four children of diverse ages make for masses and changes in scheduling you’re not aware of when you have two parents and shared burdens.  Four kids, two choirs, two masses: that was my schedule today on Easter Sunday.  The young kids in the Church at 9am, the oldest in the band in the 11:15am in the Social Center. Abbi tried telling me that I could stay home but there was no way, when she had a solo, I was going to stay home.  So four hours of church in one day with the same priest, same readings, same homily.  I’m quite holy, all you heathens, so I may as well find some water to walk on.  I left the 9am to come home and see Abbi still readying herself, much like her mother, who procrastinated every holiday, and saying she’s “almost ready.”

We made it, though late for her rehearsal, not late for the mass.  This was different for me and for the kids.  Being late isn’t something I liked, but we had a reputation for it.  Andrea was never on time.  When you’re young and dating it’s “fashionably late” but when you’re a parent and trying to get to Easter Sunday services it’s just plain late.  Andrea was always the perfectionist trying to make all four kids perfect.  When Abbi could do her hair she forced us to endure her and Abbi arguing over the hair.  Then Hannah, who hates anything to do with being a girl, had to scream, cry and force me to come up and supervise because she fought her mom tooth and nail.  By this point, Andrea would be a sweaty mess, unable to get ready and just getting in the shower.  As a result, I’d take the kids to the church for the hour rehearsal before mass and have to come back home, wait for my wife who refused to drive to the church, and then end up so late we were unable to get a seat – which my wife, who could have avoided it by being a bit more flexible – would complain about until the mass was over and her knees and my back were screaming in pain.

Today wasn’t close to that.  I had a seat with friends in the church for the 9am and heard the 3 kids sing and it made me smile.  My oldest sang two solos and it made my eyes misty.  At both masses I was asked by friends how many seats I was saving and it dawned on me, easy as it was to not have to save seats, that I was quite alone.  My kids were up there and I was the sole person out in the crowd.  It had gone smoothly.  No, none of us looked perfect, but even with their perfectionist mother, we never did.  I was just amazed we’d gotten dressed up and gotten there on time.,

But I missed her today, my wife.  I missed the chaos.  I missed being the white knight coming in to save her from the screaming child.  I missed secretly liking driving and getting a stolen 10 minutes in the car listening to my wife angrily tell me not to cuss at the insanely inept drivers who feel the need to back their SUV’s into the parking spaces rather than just pull in because it saves them 10 seconds on the way out of the church.  (and taking 2-3 spots at a pop!)  I realized that I felt that wound dripping and bleeding just a bit more.

A year ago I had two amazing parents with me to help me to get everyone ready and to be with me.  We were just a couple short weeks after losing Andrea and I cannot really say whether I remember much other than getting into the church for mass.  I remember the ache that I felt when I had to sit in the church again just a few weeks after being in there on one of the worst days I had ever experienced.  Today wasn’t the same.  I wasn’t aching as much, but I felt the emptiness.  I had been to the church, we went to one of Andrea’s aunt’s houses to have Easter festivities and lunch.  We played games, got wet with water balloons, and it was fun.  It just was fun in a different way.

As we were readying to get everyone ready for bed my oldest asked if I was OK.  I am sure she meant the pulled hamstring I got when playing football in the park with them, but I told her “I missed your Mom a lot today” and I realized after I’d said it that it wasn’t fair to her.  She certainly misses her Mom, maybe worse.  She’ll experience amazing things and need myriads of advice and no matter how or who tries to help her with those things it’s never coming.  I feel the hole and it’s not fair to let her know that, she needs me to be the man who feels it but endures.  She needs to know that no matter what happens I’ll be there, solid and sturdy.  It’s been more than a year and I still don’t have it right.  The house is a mess.  The laundry’s piled up.  The meals are random.  All the plans and ideas I’d instigated those first weeks have started to waver and I wish they hadn’t.

We’re feeling the chaos, but it’s not the chaos that ends in a sweeping pleasantry.  It’s plain chaotic.  With Andrea it was metered and measured.  We flew around in a flurry of activity and craziness but always ended up figuring it out in the end.  We always ended up together and able to face anything and I stood there holding her hand through the stressful points of the day.

Today I saw my kids and realized I could look to either side of me and the only person I could tell these things to was myself.  I knew it was the case, it’s not a surprise, but I found myself confused and surprised with the way I missed her today.  I just hand’t realized it was possible until this moment that I was missing the chaos.  Worse yet, I am sorry that I don’t know if I want to get it back.

Pining for the ensuing chaos . . .

Noah wishes you a Merry-Xmas - my daughter took and had to share it!

Simple Things by the Tedeschi Trucks Band

I’m writing at the end of what could, possibly should, have been the worst day ever.  Christmas is an amazing time, and we love it in our house, always have.  It’s just such an amazing time and all the kids really do love getting presents, but they are actually just as excited by what they had to give as well.  It’s always been that way.

But this had all the makings of being the worse day.  I entered the Christmas weekend with every intention of tackling the day and addressing if we keep our routine of opening presents Christmas Day or keeping with the tradition that started with Andrea and waiting until morning.  It’s really tempting, it is, to change everything, make a new start in every way, not just some.  I had not thought about it and kept it off hoping to remove the decision.

The kids sang in the church choir, so it was left to Abbi, my oldest, and I to hold vigil in the pew with the thousands of people who don’t normally go to church and act aggravated with everyone who does in the parking lot because they’re in a hurry to leave right after communion and not hear the choir and didn’t realize that everything with the mass had changed and why does the priest take so long to give his homily when he knows Santa’s coming . . . etc. . . you get the picture.  It’s enough to make you avoid going at all.

But I sat there, smiling, proud and puffed up like always when the kids sing, and you can’t help but remember.  The year before, Andrea and I had gotten there later . . . because she wasn’t ready.  So I dropped the kids off and went back to the house to pick her up.  By the time we’d arrived, of course, it was only about 25 minutes before mass.  Anyone who has gone to Christmas mass knows you may as well get out your wallflower shoes because you’re not getting a seat that late.  Andrea’s knees were shot, the bones of her joints literally grinding together with every walk.  So we had to beg the parking attendant to let us up so I could drop her at the curb to avoid the uphill walk.  By the time I’d gotten to the church I was aggravated and she was angry, and there was no place to sit.  In the lobby I’d found a chair that matched the pews so I stole it and placed it next to a row and stood next to her.  I may have been angry, but I wasn’t heartless, and I was still chivalrous.

So sitting there yesterday I remembered looking at Andrea.  I remembered the kids singing, some of the same carols, and had to look at my shoes for a bit to think about the fact that we’d changed things.  We got there an hour early.  We had seats.  I’d gotten the outfits and the socks, shoes, did the boys’ hair . . . and Abbi helped her sister.  We were stressed, rumpled, and wrinkled, but we were there.  We’d avoided the screaming, shouting, sweating and running around; we’d missed the ensuing chaos that normally swept us into the abyss of stress and high blood pressure.  I sat there remembering Andrea’s tirade about how she always got everyone else ready and not herself, how she hated my frustration with having to drop her at the curb; how we weren’t sure if there was enough stuff for every kid.

I missed it.

I know, it’s horrible, scary, frustrating and painful, but it’s real life.  It’s how the holidays normally are.  I don’t have my family near me.  A handful of states separate us.  Distance, finances and weather isolate us here and I have to speak to my family, my firm foundation, on the ph0ne.  They always had a house full of people.  Me and my brothers, the kids when they were born, the snow, the ice, wind chill, and the mass of annoying but necessary relatives at my grandmother’s house with plate, container and bowl filled with every pie, cookie and holiday treat imaginable.  They were simple things, but things we need more than ever and will never have again.  My mother, Dad, their home, their goodies: pecan sandies, oatmeal cookies, sugar cookies, sour cream kolaches and their company, my brothers, their wives . . . they’re all impossibly far away.

With that missing, Andrea missing, the chaos calmed, it seemed so unlike Christmas.  Good friends asked us to come over Christmas Eve to have drinks, company and . . . chaos.  It was marvelous.  We brought pies, they had tacos, margaritas, cookies, cake, cheesecake . . . and kids.  Lots of kids, Dance Revolution on the Wii, and conversation.  They adopted us for the night – just a couple hours – and it made all the difference.  I heard giggling screams from the other room.  Insane laughter as kids and adults tried to dance like the impossibly ’80s looking avatars on the game system and the incredulous shouts as several kids couldn’t believe their friend had never seen “The Princess Bride”.

I tried to keep the holiday busy.  The more downtime the more time we had to reflect, which put us in the place I sat during church.  Reflecting on how our perfect chaos had disappeared and we were left to figure it out.

There are things that, as a Dad, I won’t ever get right.  Santa got suggestions for a dress from me this year.  When it was under the stocking this morning Abbi was floored.  When she tried it on, it didn’t fit.  As Dad, giving measurements to Santa, I hadn’t taken . . . well, taken the upper part of her body into consideration.  My wife is gone, and as a Dad, you don’t go into your daughter’s room and say “I’m going to run this tape measure across your chest now.”  it doesn’t work that way, it’s creepy that way.  But I should have done it, and I will have to from now on.  The roles aren’t reversed, they’re increased.

So now I keep an eye on the schedule for the bowl games so I can see our Huskers play.  But I also have to come to terms with knowing now that I have to measure a girl’s chest, waist, inseem, and everything, not just guess on size.  I can watch my thrillers knowing that my daughters need someone to watch “Top Model” with so they have a parent to make fun of the judges and Tyra Banks.  A year ago I’d have hidden in the office and played my guitar.  Now, I know what my daughter likes about certain designers and why she hates the leader and am just as confused that the foregone winner is tossed out without explanation.

Why?  The chaos was good.  The confusion, the anger, the vented frustration were all things that showed we cared.  The Grinch’s “noise, noise, noise NOISE!” is also what makes us aware that we’re surrounded by people and that we are lucky to have them.  So where some thought I did too much, bought too many presents and spent too much time swirling around I say we succeeded.  It could have been so easy to sink into the morass of depression today.  After 3 hours sleep and a son coming down the stairs just as Santa was leaving the presents only to be interrupted and disappear at the last minute leaving me holding the . . . er . . . stocking.  But we saw friends, I gave them great presents, we played with toys and games all day, visited my sister-in-law and had a great dinner with people, and were able to have Christmas.

So we didn’t have Christmas without her.  We had Christmas.  We loved that we got through it and hated that we did, knowing it meant another momentous occasion we pulled off without her here to make it what it was.

We were pining for the ensuing chaos, but in the end, we had a very Merry Christmas, we really did, in spite of ourselves.

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you had family and chaos all around you.  It’s not a curse, it’s a blessing.

Our family, prepping for Xmas, and capturing the calm before the chaos (photo by Photographer in the Family - link on home page)