Tag Archives: colors

Of the Blue Colour of the Sky

That title’s a nod to my oldest daughter . . . and her favorite record. (see, I do know music from this century!)

This week I grew more than a little jealous of my kids.  Not because of their youth, or their exuberance, or their innocence or even the fact that, even today, after losing their mother two years ago, they think they’re immortal…invincible.  Those are all good, but I’ve been there.

And there’s still part of me that’s like a little kid.  I pick up a guitar and the world changes around me.  I see the notes, I hear the music and feel it all around me.  I’m a little kid who thinks someday when he grows up he’s going to be a musician, even though I’ve grown up and have a day job.

But my jealousy stems from their location.  Today all four kids are in Nebraska, my home state.

I know people on the left and ride sides of the continent are scoffing now, laughing, derision in their eyes.  Liberals see only red states.  Conservatives see honor.

I see home.

It’s not just that my family is all in that state, though.  There is just something about where I grew up that is nothing like anywhere else.

Joel Sartore pic of Holmes Lake Park.
Joel Sartore pic of Holmes Lake Park.

The skies in that state are gorgeous.  The blue is electric, and after a thunderstorm . . . the sky is alight with colors that you thought would never hit your retinas in nature.  I’ve lived in Denver, Dallas, Sacramento, and others.  I’ve visited places around the world.  I’ve seen amazing sights and felt wondrous emotions.

But sunset where I grew up is like nothing else.  Violet and blue, melding into each other.  After a thunderstorm, the violence of nature crashing into itself, with flashes of brilliant forks dancing across the clouds, the sky gives itself to the release of the storm.  A shelf of grey and black will ride away as the sun dips below the clouds.  The orange of the sunlight reflecting off the bottom of the shelf, creating a dance of red, pink, electric and royal blues . . . and hues that bounce off the green of the grass below them.  The fence posts stick up in shadow as the wire between them lines a road and you lead to the sun, crawling down like it cannot leave behind the beauty it’s seeing in itself . . . until tomorrow when it crawls up for a similar, but different show.

I had a window that looked out the the North just the other side of my bed.  I used to stay up at night, looking out at the electric storms and marvel at the crash of thunder after each flash.  It bothered me the, and does to this day, how movies would show lightning and the thunder would boom with the light.  The delay helped you time how far the storm was from where you stood.

The last month the kids have seen a myriad of storms and they all marvel at them.  My wife, who grew up on the West coast never liked them.  She was scared of the sounds.  She hated the lightning and it all frightened her.  But my kids get to see and hear them and they don’t fear mother nature, they respect her.

Under a Big Red Sky by Joel Sartore
Under a Big Red Sky by Joel Sartore

They also get to see that bright blue color of the sky, even in the summer.  There’s no temperature inversion, like Denver gets.  There’s no “brown cloud” like both Denver and Sacramento have.  There’s no dusky grey haze on the grass like Texas of “golden” brown like California.

My friend Joel Sartore, a Geographic fellow and creator of the photo ark project still lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.  He won’t leave, says he never would move.  He says the same thing . . . the skies are just different there.  The land and the people and the colour of the sky are worth every minute.  He calls it “Under a Big Red Sky.”

I just call it home…and I’m glad my kids can see it that way, too.

(If you can, please check out Joel Sartore’s work, he’s brilliant, his pictures capture Nebraska and the world in intimate and important ways and he’s one of the nicest, funniest, most interesting people it’s my privilege to know!)

I never thought it was a bad little tree

Christmas Is Coming by Vince Guaraldi

Over the weekend I ran a piece on Rene Syler’s site – Good Enough Mother that informed the world that yes, I had managed to toss out one of the hundreds of “traditions” that my wife had brought to our family.

You see, my wife loooooved to celebrate St. Nicholas Day, which basically involved putting confections into smelly kids’ shoes.  My wife, you see, loved her traditions she just didn’t want to be the one who actually did the work for them.  That’s not me being mean, it’s just reality.

But this weekend we did another one . . . one that seems more like our own than one that involved Andrea.

Indian Rock Tree Farm
Indian Rock Tree Farm

Some years ago, when stumbling through the Sierra foothills looking for a tree farm to buy a fresh-cut Christmas tree, we happened upon this small, family-run tree farm.  We’d bought a really nice tree, they treated us very well, and the kids had a lot of fun.  We hadn’t gone back, though.  Of all the traditions that my wife loved to keep she never really kept up the idea that we go to the same places or frequent the same spots.  We had to have the family traditions from her upbringing – even if they made me absolutely freaking crazy.

So last year, when we needed a tree and I didn’t want to use the artificial one that we’d been using for so long since the Indian Rock Tree Farm in the Sierras trip, I decided to go back to one of my family traditions.  I remember, years ago when I was a kid, going out to my grandparents’ old farm, where a massive couple shelterbelts stood sentry on either side of the road into the lot.  I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6, but we went in, had hot chocolate in a thermos, trudged in the snow, and took turns sawing down a tree for the house.  We sang O Christmas Tree and danced around and had just a great, memorable time.

So last year I took to the internet and found the place we’d cut the tree those years ago.  It was time to start our own traditions again.  I did again today.

The Indian Rock Tree Farm isn’t a huge place, it’s really a small little family run place.  There’s a fire in an old barrel, candy canes for the kids, and it’s just beautiful.  As you get out of the car you can smell the pine . . . it’s nestled between two peaks and you see nothing but trees and smell the air.  It’s the closest to the Black Hills of South Dakota anyplace has come for me.

The kids...at the tree farm
The kids…at the tree farm

This year we found a tree in record time.  It was a little crisp, our breath snaking out in wisps as we walked.  Abbi looked at me and – as she has every time it gets cold, in a routine we’d developed when she was a tiny girl – goes “I’m a dragon!” and blew the steam upward.  Last year there were arguments, and the stress of being in the holidays made it hard to find a tree.  The loss still weighed a little heavy on us.  But this year . . . the tree just appeared and we all agreed.  It was maybe 10 minutes and we had it!

Waiting by the fire
Waiting by the fire

We waited by the fire as they bundled up the tree and smiled.  We Cleaned up the area for the tree at home.  Then, as the day turned to night, I made some cookies and hot chocolate and we started decorating.  I put on Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas record, another tradition of mine, and Sam decided to wear the lights as we tested them making us all giggle.  We all marveled at pictures of the kids as they were tiny in the ornaments.  We reminisced about the ornaments that we’d all gotten as gifts: a crystal angel that my Grandma gave Abbi.  Another one – a snowflake – given to me and Andrea during our first year together by my Grandma as well.  It felt, by leaps and bounds, like it was Christmas.

Sam being silly
Sam being silly

A lot of people come to me and say “it must be so hard this time of year for you!”  Yes, there are those moments – where Hannah finds an old ornament of Andrea’s; when an ornament with “wish” on it sparks Noah to say “maybe I should wish for Mom to come back!”

But I handle those things with aplomb now.  “Let’s think about wishing for things we can make come true.  How about that?” I ask him.
“Yeah…that’s true,” he says, and there’s no breakdown moment.  There’s no darkening of the mood.  Christmas comes every year, and though Andrea did it up brilliantly every year, I refuse to let the amazing feeling I get every winter be spoiled by loss.  I want all four of them to remember this like it’s the best time every year, too.  Sure, Andrea’s gone, physically, but we honor her and my Grandpa and everyone in our family by celebrating.  It’s not a small thing, it’s a beautiful thing.

Traditions are just that – things that bring you comfort.  There’s a reason I have 1 tub of stuff to decorate in the fall and something like 8 of them for Christmas.  Traditions like putting food in shoes – those were little things that brought treats and appeased kids for my wife and her family.  But Christmas in my house . . . Christmas is the tradition.  Getting the tree, decorating, eating cookies and cocoa, those all make me smile.

I put the angel on top the tree, looking like a cross between Andrea and Abbi, and nobody gets sad. “I picked out that tree topper, I thought it was beautiful,” Abbi says  with a smile.

I come down from the stool and quote Linus Van Pelt from Charlie Brown’s Christmas special – “I never thought it was such a bad little tree.  It’s not bad at all, really.”
Then the kids chimed in . . . “it just needed a little love!”  A truer statement couldn’t be said.

Our Tree
Our Tree

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.

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.

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

Positive Outlook

I had someone tell me recently that I seem far more positive lately.  More thoughtful, more upbeat.  What I don’t think these folks realize is that I am not normally dour or down or depressed.

I occasionally go back to the original point of my writing in here every day – well, most days.  I needed an outlet.  Music is a big one, but with the kids and no drummer or bass player, gigging every weekend didn’t seem like a good option at the time. So I started writing.  It was an exercise at first.  Then it was a history . . . of the story up to the current day and the love story that took me there.  Now it’s changed again.  Now I talk about being Dad.

That’s the change, I suppose.  It’s not the Dad that’s lost someone and is all behind the 8-ball and misses the love of his wife every single day and cannot function.  It’s fun to see that in the movies.  Dad is depressed, son lives with him, they hate everything about where they are now and pick up stakes and just . . . move.  Sure.  That’s financially feasible.  I couldn’t do this.  I have 4 kids.  I already moved houses.  I made my oldest change schools.  I’m doing that to the other 3 next year.  All of these were hard, logical, financial choices with the hopes of creating the least amount of damaging impact on the kids.

You have to understand, I didn’t want them to face any of those hard choices.  I didn’t.  The reality is, though, that reality kicks in and you’re stuck with picking up what pieces are left behind after they have that first impact of reality.  The change in Abbi’s school took about a semester.  Maybe a bit longer, in fact.  She’d gone two years to a private high school with Andrea’s income financing it, though we were more than a little strapped.  I lost her income and we lost that school, it was that simple.  The amount of money it cost to send her there was about the same as tuition for many universities.  I couldn’t swing it.

The first semester all I did was pick up pieces.  Abbi was upset, sure, and so were her friends.  What made that harder, though, was the fact that we now live in a connected world.  The distances are infinitesimal now due to email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Oovoo.  In years past, you moved and you tried to make friends and you maybe wrote a letter or called your old friends if you had time.  Today, Abbi was bombarded with messages about how much her friends missed having her there at school every day.  There was no severing tie.  Every day I had to pick up a piece left from the crash of reality hitting her.  Fortunately, I saw the pieces get smaller and smaller as each impact grew smaller.  Now she’s in the drama classes and has a circle of friends who brought her lunch because she was sick at home.

Hannah didn’t have that massive of a shift, but she had the impacts.  Grades hit her hard.  She nearly failed last year – the first year of middle school.  Her pieces were like boulders of her life trying to lift and carry them around.  I knew she missed her Mom and she needed more from me than I had to spare.  Then she hit puberty – in a big way – and the pieces were more jagged.  Today, she’s got a few bad grades and I pick up pieces still but they’re far smaller.  She kept her best friends and hangs out with them and plays guitar.  They all help pick up pieces.

Sam and Noah – though not one singular package – had their own things.  Noah couldn’t control his temper.  He retreated into his imagination, which isn’t like most kids’ imaginations.  Nothing dangerous or twisted, more adventurous and different.  He analyzes and writes and draws with little athleticism.  Sam, on the other hand, is active.  He broke his arm.  He runs and jumps and plays.  When a school grief counselor handled them incorrectly they both grew moody and depressed.  Sam retreated and wouldn’t talk.  Noah got angry and got in trouble.  Both of them had pieces far bigger than their bodies could manage break off in the emotional turbulence.  But they are also more resilient.

So now I see pebbles and stones and no more rocks or boulders on our road.  I bring up the rear, picking up the pieces still, but I’ve caught up a bit.  I see beyond today, which is hard for me because I had to take things a day at a time.

So yes, I’m happier.  Yes, I’m more positive, but that’s not a change.  It’s a return.  It’s the influences of my surroundings and people around me and the care of others.  Mostly, though, it’s seeing that I don’t have to carry so much any more.  Like the aging of a solar system, the number of impacts diminishes.

Sure, we get them still, but they are smaller.  We see them coming.


Bouncin’ Back

Bouncin’ Back by Robert Cray from the LP Midnight Stroll

About a year ago . . . maybe a little less . . . I posted the above song and said that I couldn’t see the events in the song happening at that time.  If memory serves (and it’s been decreasingly subservient lately) I didn’t think I could ever see things improving to that point.  It was a fairly bleak outlook on things, I have to admit.  But the thing about grief and loss is that you never really know how you’re going to handle it.  I wasn’t putting on a brave face, if I had been I’d have jumped into the waters again and started seeing people and acting like life was normal.  I was smart enough then to say I wasn’t going to put myself through that kind of psychological labyrinth.

But now, after hearing the song again . . . first time in a long while . . . I realized things are truly getting there.  No, I’m not perfect, but then I never was so it’s not like I had far to go.  I’ve managed to stop the last bastions of mail from coming.  The solicitations for Creighton University’s Pharmacy School have stopped when I inadvertently made the young student trying to raise money cry.  “She’s no longer with us,” was my line.  Not sure why people who can be so smart can be so thick.  “Can you tell me where she’s moved to, just for our records?”
“No, miss, you don’t understand.  She’s no longer with us.  She passed away.  Andrea died nearly two years ago now.”

In my head – and this is how warped I am . . . and how far I’ve come . . . I wasn’t crying or sad.  I just had a massive urge to quote Monty Python: “this is a late parrot.  Ceases to be.  Not pining but passed on.  Bereft of life moves on to join the choir invisible. ”  But after having – for god knows how many times – to explain what happened and the girl not getting the hint that I was not only disinterested in going through this yet again I had started to lose patience.  Yes, Andrea went there.  No, I didn’t want to give money.  No, it’s best if you take our name off the list.

After we moved into the house and I set up the pictures, shelves, all our life together in this new space, the kids and I had found a box full of stuff from when Andrea was a kid.  Paintings, which I knew she’d made but hadn’t realized we’d obtained, were in a box full of High School memorobilia.  At the kids’ behest I had put them up on the dresser in my bedroom.  That, by the way, was a hard phrase to utter in those first months – my bedroom, not our bedroom.  Now it rolls off the tongue without pause or consternation.

In the last six to eight months I’ve changed things around.  New pictures have entered the wall space.  I took down the paintings because . . . well, to be honest . . . they held no special place for me.  I didn’t know her when they were made.  She never gave me an indication she’d ever had an artistic bent, other than writing.  I had pictures of my own I wanted to put up – not family portraits or other things, but my own photography and memories.

Fall Picture . . . my favorite time of year

I came to the realization this last few months that while I spent half my life with this woman I have only seen half of that life.  So if I want to go out of town and see a friend or what have you . . . I should do it.  My kids are amazing and I care for them and love them more than anyone.  But . . . I have about 9 years left and then the house is empty.  So as the song says, I took the picture off my dresser.  Took the name off the mailbox.

The influence is there.  I have confidence and maturity from this amazing woman that I would never have had without meeting her.  I am not trying to forget her or push her aside.  It’s more like the analogy of this blog . . . she’s stopped, her book in the series is over.  Like a major character in a Joss Whedon film her story line has ended but is referred to and influencing the rest of the characters throughout their actions and movements from here.

As Cray aptly put it – I have the urge to sing again.  I saw a friend a week ago and confounded myself with the desire to actually dance.  (I didn’t.  I may have rhythm but I have two left feet.  It wouldn’t have been a pretty sight)

Fall – through most my life – was my favorite time.  The colors on the trees and the bite in the air are things that give me both a nostalgia for my childhood and the start of the seasons that bring my whole family and friends together.  Last year all I could think about was the fact that Andrea – in those big, fuzzy brown sweaters – wouldn’t be there to sidle up next to me and seek warmth and as me to hold her.  When we dated I used to take walks with her and feel the leaves crunching under our feet.

But this weekend, with a major number of leaves and the first cold day . . . I didn’t think about Andrea.  Not that way.  We piled up the leaves so the kids could jump in the piles with their cousin.  We opened the windows and let the cool air in.

The kids in the leaves

We just felt like it was Fall and Halloween and . . . wonderful.  I hadn’t realized how much I was enjoying myself until the end of the night – and it didn’t make me sad.  It made me very happy.  One of those things that I’d lost . . . one of the things Andrea had taken, the Fall season and the love of the time was back.  I’d finally taken it back.

Like the Strong Persuader says . . . I’m finally bouncin’ back.

The bite in the air

Weekend walk with my son
I made an observation tonight that simultaneously made me nostalgic and happy.

My son, Noah, who you see up there, asked me if we could go for a walk.  Not to go to the park or to play football or what have you . . . the myriad of things that a little boy would normally want to do on a Sunday night after doing chores all weekend, but to go for a walk.

I told him we would, and even though by the time dinner was over and I still had two more loads of laundry and lunches to make and cookies to get in the oven, I had told him we would.  So walk we did.

I hadn’t taken any of my kids on the trail I used over the summer.  It’s a simple dirt trail that weaves its way about two blocks away from the subdivision where I live.  I like it because there’s no traffic and it’s out of the way and nicely filled with gravel and there’s no worry of snakes, not too many bugs, no overgrowth, none of that.  It’s fairly well maintained except for the owners who let their dogs do their business all over the trail.  (never mind the signs and free bags supplied at the beginning and end of the trail.  Don’t get me started)

Noah was really happy.  Sam, Hannah, Abbi, none of them wanted to go but Noah was happy to have the opportunity to get out of the house and have some time with me.  I was glad I’d done it because Noah had a horribly stressful year last year – not that we all didn’t.  I love the little guy but I looked down and his fingers were beat up, the skin more than a little torn on the tops of his thumbs.  When I asked what happened he told me:
“I get nervous and bite my fingernails.”

I was a bit concerned.  Partially because my fingers are in almost the same shape.  I looked at him and told him he didn’t need to be that stressed out or concerned.  I want him to be able to look to me or his teachers when he’s stressed out.  At nine years old you shouldn’t be that nervous that you’re chewing on your fingers.  He looked a bit embarrassed so I showed him my fingers and said “I’m not mad at you, kiddo.  I have the same problem.”

I told him we would do this together . . . I’d stop and he should too.  “It’s hard, Dad, it’s a bad habit.”
“I know,” I told him, “but if I can do it you can too.”

I did this as I was walking down the trail and realized that the sun was going down, which you can see behind us in the photo.

I noticed as we walked that the days were getting notoriously shorter.  Last year we kind of breezed through.  We made it into the Fall without really looking at what got us there, we just were happy to get day by day.  It’s not that we’ve moved to looking that far ahead, but the bite is coming in the air.  As soon as I saw that sunset it brought me to happier times that also made me feel the loss in a pang that hit a bit more succinctly.

I’ve written in the past, but the Fall was our time – mine and Andrea’s.  I loved the bite in the air, and the fact she’d put on those big, warm sweaters and sidle up next to me.  The days would get colder and the weight of the colder air would surround us in a way that would push us together even more.

I felt the melancholy, the days of my tiny daughter and my young wife when Noah looked up and said how excited he was.
“It’s getting colder, Dad, almost time to decorate for Halloween.  I saw the decorations at Target already!”
“I know, buddy.”
“I really like it now.  The trees get so pretty and the leaves are all kinds of colors.  Don’t you like it when the trees change like that, Dad?”

I realized that Noah had never really had those memories.  I smiled and looked at him and said “You guys jumped in the leaves last year.”
“Yeah, we got all muddy, but we took a shower afterwards!”

It was then I realized that we’d made our own memories.  Fall was still our time, but instead it is our time.  Sure, I have all those amazing memories from years past, but without realizing it, day-by-day, we’d made our own way.  The Fall is still our time, but it’s all of ours now.  I love the fact that the kids, feeling the bite in the air, see excitement, not sadness.  They look at their Mom’s birthday coming and look forward to having a cake and celebrating her, not missing her.

The bite in the air may be a bit cold, but it’s not a time for sadness it’s a time for introspection and for forethought.  I can see that the very things that made this time of year so great for me are still there.

I just have to change the way I look at things.

Never Cast Adrift . . .

Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix, performed by Robben Ford

Anger he smiles tow’ring in shiny metallic purple armour.
Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him.
Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground.

The lyrics up there are from one of my favorite songs of all time.  The funny thing is, I had never thought about why I liked it, I really thought it was just another example of some of the most amazing songwriting and playing by Jimi Hendrix.  But realization dawns and lets me see that it’s not one of his songs ever played on the radio and it’s not close to being popular, not like “Purple Haze” or “Wind Cries Mary”.

This weekend I had a conversation that made me suddenly realize why I actually liked this song so much.  In fact, it dawned on me that I had started to listen to it more and more and love it more and more from the moment I first met and started dating my late wife, Andrea.  You’d think it’s a strange thing, to be enjoying this song after speaking or thinking about my wife, but there’s a serious reason why.  You see, this song is a brilliant interpretation of the emotions and feelings that we all go through, sometimes on a daily basis.  Anger, envy, happiness, euphoria – they’re all there and they were perfect examples of the amazing woman that was Andrea.

Andrea, you see, had a condition called “synesthesia” (hopefully I spelled that right) where sounds, movement, emotion, they all come to the brain in association of color.  Happiness had one color.  My voice had another.  Everything that she heard or saw had a color associated with it.  My wife, Andrea, never realized exactly what made her see and think of the world so differently.  I’d heard of and thought about synesthesia before.  It’s an interesting prospect, that of having such a different view of the world.  I always thought it must be why we ended up together.  I didn’t see the world in views of color.  I saw it in terms of rhythm and melody.  Music is everywhere and I live it.  I cannot work in pure silence.  I cannot survive without a song running through my head, something usually I’ve heard or mostly invented in my head inspired by what’s around me.  I usually write with headphones on to prevent myself from being distracted by it.

Andrea suffered a horrific bout of clinical depression.  At one point, in a throwaway comment, she mentioned how the color had left her world.  I hadn’t really thought about it until I realized that the chemical change in her head that was part of the depression also removed the colors of her world.  It affected the synesthesia somehow and as a result, she was unable to cope.

But I’ve talked about that before.  It’s what drew me, I’m sure, to that song.  But I thought more about it this weekend as I had a conversation about my son, Noah.  Noah has had lots of problems controlling his impulses.  Anger, in particular, builds up in him and he cannot control it once it takes control of him.  He’s very specific, controlling, and thoughtful in every move and decision he makes.  But still, anger is the one color of the world he doesn’t understand fully.  Andrea was exactly the same.  It’s for that reason I seem to understand Noah more than so many other people.

I’ve made no secret that my relationship with Andrea’s father was strained at its best throughout the years.  After Andrea passed away it’s been far worse.  I don’t hate the man, though it would be very easy to.  However, I cannot bring myself to forgive transgressions of the past that lead me there.  I’m not going to troll that emotional well for you, unfortunately.  This is about the conversation and not my inability to let go of a grudge.

You see, today, Mother’s Day, was hard enough.  The world and the greeting card companies reinforce the whole thing and try to turn what should be a day to honor these amazing women into a massive scheme to make tons of money and let people like me fail even more miserably than normal.  We’ve been struggling to keep food in the pantry this week because the IRS seems dead set on keeping my refund, though I’m not certain they would ever make much interest off of it.  But in spite of the cost of gas we went over to see Andrea’s Mom, whose neural disease is taking a horribly bad turn.  I’m not sure how many, if any, Mother’s Days she has left.  So I brought the kids to see them and we got onto the topic of school, Noah, his struggles with his temper, and the sometimes over-reaction of other kids, teachers, and particularly parents.  When Noah, Sam, Abbi or Hannah get hit or argue I tell them to buck up and fix it themselves.  Find a way around the situation.  The world would be so much easier if more parents understood and dealt with their children rather than going off the deep end when things happen yet ignoring their kids when they get home.  Noah is a kid who is so smart and sees the world so differently – much like Andrea and I did – that he doesn’t fit in.  Rather than leaving him alone others pick on him.

I made the comment about how Noah will hold onto the control as long as his little body can do it and then he loses that control and therefore control of his reactions as well.  Noah is much like his mother in that once he gets into that situation and loses the control it’s like he gives into it all and loses himself.  I know how to calm him down because it’s exactly the same as his mother, my beautiful wife Andrea’s issues.

Andrea’s father made the comment about how Andrea was the same way.
“You’re the only one who could stop her,” was his response.  “What did you do?”

When I am lost and out of control, there have always been three people who could fix it for me.  Andrea first, because when anything went right or wrong, she helped me talk it out.  When I couldn’t get her, my Dad and then my Mom were the next in line.  My parents knew exactly what I needed.  All I could think today was how tragic it was for Andrea that she couldn’t count on the two people who she should count on above all others, all her life until she met me, to get her out of that situation when it hit.

Andrea and I had our arguments, that’s no secret.  In fact, there were some doozies.  But we always came through on the other side and my kids always knew that no matter how much we might have gotten on each others’ nerves, we always were able to fix it.  We were home waking up together the next morning.  Andrea, and Noah now, would get to the point where she wanted to get her point across.  She’d get angry.  She’d get upset.  Then she’d give in to the anger, the man in the shiny metallic purple armor.  There was no reasoning or control at that point.  There’s only one thing you can do at that point.  There was no magic trick, that’s what her parents never got and it makes me so sad.  When she was that upset, the tears coming down her face – coming down  Noah’s face – and all I had to do was go up and grab her.

There is a big difference between a hug and an embrace.  A hug is a pleasant, quick, loving thing.  An embrace is more.  It’s an unspoken sentence; it’s a silent understanding.  When Andrea was lost, an embrace, tight, loving, and beautiful was like a rope tethering her back to the shore.  It was the lifeline that brought her back to me.  It’s so easy when someone is angry to give into their anger and let it build.  I did that early on and learned to notice the point where she was drifting away.  Arguments are hard when you both want to entrench yourselves in your position and never let go of what you think is right.  The true test of whether you love someone is knowing when the argument has gained control and realizing when you need to just . . . stop.  Stop and assess what is wrong and whether you’re getting anywhere.  For me, it was stopping the poking and prodding and realizing that I’d gotten us to the point where she was beyond knowing what the fight was about, she was simply lost.  Not mad, not angry or evil, she was lost.  Not out of control but not unable to maintain control.  The best spouse recognizes this and stops everything knowing that she needs you.

I wish more couples would understand and notice that point.  I think it’s probably a good reason so many people divorce or children end up distant from their parents.  You just have to notice.  If, in the throngs of passionate and angry discourse you cannot see what’s in front of you you’re not arguing, you’re yelling.  I grew to realize there was more to our arguments than just the key thing and that pinnacle, the horrific point – one I didn’t see a ton, but did see – I could come to her, the anger making her get angry and push away until I put my arms around her shoulders and pulled my forearm and elbow around her chin, so my hand could hold the top of her head, play and caress with her hair, and simply say “it’s OK.  We’ll figure it out.”

That’s all she wanted.  It’s all she ever wanted.  Someone to tell her she was OK and cared for.  She wanted someone to bring her back.  Noah is the same way.  You have to be able to let go of the control yourself.  You have to give in to the emotion yourself and realize that you’re not going to get anywhere.  That temper and anger are showing you they need to be reassured that you love them unconditionally.  I think about that and it makes me so sad that for 20 years of her life she felt like she couldn’t get through to the people she needed to give her that the most.  We moved back here and that same little girl, the one who couldn’t control her impulses came back and I am angered and saddened myself because I think it’s also what made me lose her.  The color of the world disappeared and I was her sole tie to the shore.  By the end I was the only line and it was fraying as other lines broke.  Eventually I couldn’t hold on any more and she left me, stranded by myself on the shore.

I see what happens with my son and as hard as it is to deal with I see his mother in him and realize that this is the most important thing.  All 4 kids have a bit of that control issue.  When their Mom left, they had one lifeline break.  Two of their grandparents want more from them than they get themselves.  I’m having to weave a larger and stronger rope to hold them here to the shore.  I throw other lines from my Mom and Dad.  But I’m the key line holding them here on the shore.

Now, my kids all come to me when they need something.  I never tell them I don’t have time.  I’ve seen what not spending the time does to someone and I lost my love as a result.  I won’t let them do it.  I know what Noah, Sam, Abbi and Hannah need when things are bad.  If I don’t know, I plead for help to get it.  It’s what you do as a parent.

I want them to feel the embrace, even when physically my arms aren’t there.  I want more than anything for them to create more lines to the shore as they meet and love more people.  No matter how difficult the situation I want them to know they’re not adrift.

Not My Cross to Bear . . .

My girls the way I still see them - tiny with their Mom

It’s Not My Cross to Bear by the Allman Brothers Band

As much as I put into writing and kept discussing and chanting the mantra I still stressed and worried about my oldest daughter and her trials and tribulations.  It’s not that one event – in this case the prom – was so worrisome that I had to lose sleep and worry about her.  It’s the prom.  Nobody enjoys it, not really, except maybe the jocks who find a girl that will sleep with them on prom night.  Quite frankly, I’m thrilled that my daughter is old enough and clever enough to know what’s right and wrong.  It’s both sad and scary that I so wanted her to get a date to the prom but worse yet secretly hoped she wouldn’t because of all the pressure that guys bring to the fore in formal events.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t one who pressured anyone.  Partially it was because I’m not that kind of person but mostly it’s because I just wasn’t as confident or mature to even think about it.  Had I obtained that confidence or shown it I might very well have had a much better date – as would my prom date.  But that’s the rub, isn’t it, that I had a date.  My daughter, in her emotional distress and confusion, was convinced that there was no way in hell she would go to the prom since she didn’t have a date and that she’d much prefer to go to see “The Black Keys” rather than the prom.

Then there’s her sister, Hannah, who had a mandate that she have no missed assignments or zeros on her report or she doesn’t get to go to the same said concert.  On top of that, if she fails, all three of them have to move to the public school, going down the street where their sister Abbi goes.  When I saw blank spots on her math chapter check I asked and got a panicked tirade about how things changed and she didn’t know it when we were in Nebraska for the anniversary of my wife’s passing.  She said the teacher changed the assignments and didn’t tell her and that it was all a mistake.  A mistake that’s now more than a month past.
“Why haven’t you asked her about them like I said?”
“Because she scares me!”
“No she doesn’t.”
“Yes she does,” says Hannah, but her eyes betray her.  She’s not scared at all.  She knows she should have taken care of this but didn’t.  I made the deal and I told her I’m sticking by it.
“Today was the day you were supposed to fix this.  You didn’t and by all rights you should stay home and miss the concert.  You get tomorrow.  That’s it.  You’re not scared of your teacher, you’re embarrassed to talk with her.  That’s different, but if you let that embarrassment overtake you you’re not going to get anywhere and all your siblings suffer.  She wants to help you and you disappointed her if you don’t fix it.  That’s why you haven’t talked with her.”

All this swirling around a singular concert with a band that may or may not be around in their distant future.

I like the band.  They’re good, solid musicians with a penchant for actually playing their own instruments and avoiding auto-tune like the plague.  For those two things alone I respect them.  But my line to my daughter even a month or more ago was the fact that even had a date to the prom.  Times were different, yes.  The location was different, yes.  I was an awful date, yes, all of that.  But I still went.  My line to my daughter was that in 10 or 15 years, when she looks back, will she remember the Black Keys because they were Hendrix or Clapton-like in their staying power, or will she remember that she had a chance to go to her first public school formal event and skipped it?

Now, let’s review what got me here, though.  I have tried over and over again to tell myself that I just have to let my kids solve the major issues on their own.  I can’t get her a prom date, homecoming date, or any date.  Can you imagine what would happen if I tried?!  Good God, it’s hard enough to be  a kid without your parent(s) messing with things.

To be honest, this isn’t really about a dance, anyway.  It’s both of us adjusting to what life is going to be like, and for Abbi it’s nothing but change, month after month and year after year.  I was so inept at the age when Prom was the most important thing in your life.  But had I had that confidence would I really have ended up with Andrea as my wife?  Not that I would have found better, there was no better, but would she have responded.  I found her at the exact moment she needed someone who would treat her the way she deserved to be treated – at least that’s what she said.  She found me at the time I needed to be able to shed the weight of the cross I was bearing and come into my own.  She found out she could have fun with someone who wasn’t just wanting to party all day and enjoyed what she had to say.  We worked together so we knew we could not only stand each other’s company we enjoyed it.  We talked about more than college or drinking or who slept with whom in our circles of friends.

When I met Andrea I still had all that weight I was carrying around.  I’ve posted this before, but she was planning on moving away from Omaha.  She didn’t see anything to keep her there and she wasn’t sure there was a life for her there.  I started dating her at that moment because, let’s face it, the risk was low.  I might get hurt, but the repercussions were minimal since she’d be moving if it didn’t work out.  But the oppressive weight that held me back from everything went away.  I was so worried I’d lose what I had with her if I didn’t take that risk, worry about being embarrassed, that I asked her out – damn the consequences, no reward without risk.

But I shouldered weight my daughter didn’t want or expect me to because her life has had to change and will change so much.  We couldn’t keep her in her private school because I’d lost Andrea and the income she would have brought.  I moved her to a public school after a life filled with private, Catholic education.  She moved into dating and boyfriends with no Mom to hold her and tell her she knows and understands the pressures of being a girl in a world filled with guys with only one thing on their mind.  So when she’s upset she can’t get a date and the guy she hoped would ask, even thought they’re just good friends is with a girl he’s had a crush on, I’m crushed myself, shouldering weight she doesn’t seem too crushed by herself.  I worry about the fact that she has her senior year, will get through it, and then has to decide on college and it all changes, blowing into a whole new world for her all over again.  This girl who had to deal with changing her life, her home, her school and her social circles now has to do it all over again in less than another year.  She’s strong, smart, quirky, and fun and my biggest worry is that she thinks that has to change with the changes in her life.

But then she told me how she’s joining a big group of people and going on her own.  She’ll get to dance with a bunch of guys and she’ll look beautiful in this amazing dress that we’re getting tailored.  Even though I quietly kept my ignorance of the advice to myself, worrying about the fact I couldn’t fix her problems, they got fixed.  She did it on her own, just like my dear friend told me.  I can’t fix it all, and I shouldn’t even if I can.  Sometimes my kids have to fix their own problems. I understand the fear of going to a dance alone, though some of my favorites were when I did.  I danced with people I wouldn’t have been able to with a date.  I faced embarrassment even though my daughter doesn’t want to.  It’s important and she needs to do it or it will overtake her later in life.  But they’re all things they have to face, not me.  I want so much to go in there and just meddle and do it for them.

But I can’t.  They must, and through that, I live on, and I’ll be strong, because It’s just not my cross to bear.