Tag Archives: fall

A Muffin from the Past

2014-10-07 08.54.14

A Muffin from the Past

It looks like a cupcake . . . and in reality it is.

But it reminds me of a muffin.

The “Maple Brown Sugar” cake mix I bought at the store that sounded kind of delicious wasn’t supposed to remind me of something from years ago.  It’s just a cake mix, after all.

The mix, however, bears a striking, if not exact similarity to a muffin mix that existed back when I was young, first met my then-girlfriend-soon-to-be-wife.  At that time, the Robin Hood Flour company made more than flour.  The company (which does still exist, though I only seem to see their website in Canada now) made all manner of cookies, muffins and other products.  It may be what had them falter and disappear from American store shelves, I don’t know.

Back then, though, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, they had a mix for caramel muffins.  They weren’t caramel so much as loaded with brown sugar and flavor.  I must suspect Andrea, my late wife, and I were the only ones who ate them because they disappeared from shelves.

I spotted a cake mix over the weekend, and since they’re relatively safe, easy, and tasty I grabbed this “maple brown sugar” one because it sounded pretty good.

When I made them, the smell of the maple cake wafting through the house, the kids were all aflutter with anticipation.  I made frosting for them from scratch, adding some maple syrup to add to it just a little, and let them cool off to the side.  It was after dinner and a trip to the park we finally bit into them.

With my wife, Andrea
With my wife, Andrea

I was transported back to what seems a million years ago to a tiny Craftsman home in Omaha.  There was a blonde woman putting her chin on my shoulder and quietly asking “how much longer until they’re done?”  The “cupcakes” had the same consistency, flavor and even smell as the muffins I used to make from that mix.  It was uncanny.

“Wow, these taste like the caramel muffins I used to make for your Mom,” I told the kids.
My daughter started to agree until I told her they’d stopped selling the mix long before she was born.
“Well, I imagine it must have tasted this way,” she sputtered a bit meekly.

The kids loved them, smiling and grinning like their mother after the hot muffins would come out of the pan.

I know.  It’s a lot to apply to a muffin.  It’s not the muffin so much for me, though.  It’s about the memory the flavor brings.

In the last few years the stark, constant, unwavering memories were bombarding us at nearly every second.  You couldn’t turn a corner without seeing my wife, who passed away in 2011.  Restaurants had memories and so did foods, events, movies, TV shows, songs . . . they all were like land mines, grief waiting to explode and tear us apart on a regular basis.

The constant bombardment has waned, though.  I took a bite of this frosted confection and I didn’t feel sad.  I could feel her chin on my shoulder, hear her voice asking if it was a good batch . . . and it just made me smile.  In a time when the weeks have been difficult and cooking dinner has been and exceptionally difficult motivation the ability to have something new was nice for the kids, even if it was a cake mix.

For me, though, it was a wash of memories and they were good ones.  I don’t get them as often, but when I do get them now it’s a lot different than it was three years ago.

When I get them now, I smile.

Creeping Into the Present

Embed from Getty Images

I hate upgrading my phone.

There is always, of course, the hassle of sifting through all the lies we tell ourselves – mainly the “I agree I have read and understand all the above terms and conditions.”  There seem to be a multitude of those with the upgrades.

The worst for the iOS 8 upgrade is the fact that I have to delete nearly every app, photo, text message, email and whatever else on the phone so I can download the upgrade…then re-load all same said photos, apps, emails and the like after upgrading my phone.  Thank you so much, Apple Corporation, with whom I have a love/hate relationship, for giving me an upgrade I’m not particularly certain was worth the hassle.

I was in the middle of this bi-annual cleanout when I hit the email section of my phone.

For some reason it brought up a search full of emails from my wife, many of whom I hadn’t remembered even exchanging with her.

2014-09-18 08.34.00

Andrea passed away 3 1/2 years ago as of this writing.

It never ceases to amaze me how, when I think I’m doing very well and her memory is not tugging at me as much as it did that grief will roll into the room like a grenade thrown by an enemy combatant.

When something like this happens, of course, the smart thing to do would be ignore it, hit the big blue cancel button, and just move forward.

But then nobody ever accused me of being smart.

I read through those messages . . . every single one of them, as a matter of fact.  I have to be honest, though, what bothered me more than reading Andrea’s words from four, five, even nine years ago wasn’t the fact that she was creeping into my present again.  What bothered me most was the banality of it all.  There were no real romantic notes.  There weren’t any “just wanted to tell you I love you” notes or anything like that.  Nothing I sent read like a love letter or loving exchange, it was very business-like.

What bothered me even more . . . was there weren’t any from her, either.

With my wife, Andrea
With my wife, Andrea

That picture is how I like to remember us.  Fall is when the temperature would change, she’d put on that brown wooley sweater, and we’d find excuses to sit next to each other or hug or what have you.  So for the temperature to finally cool down tonight and the emails to show up was just like being hit by both barrels.

The glass-half-full people around me would say this was a sign, a way to show she’s still with us and loves us and what have you.  I am taking the half-empty approach tonight and saying it’s really the last thing I needed to see today.  There have been days this week I struggled and wanted that person next to me to bounce ideas off of and help with the parenting issues I never expected to face.  Instead I was quite alone, which I have been for 3 1/2 years.  It didn’t change with some old emails.  They gave me no insight.  The subject lines didn’t spell some code with a secret answer or anything.  They were just random, old emails saying to pick up eggs, or asking if Abbi, our daughter, was staying at school for some sort of sports practice?  They asked me to remember printer paper.

At the end of most of them, from both of us, said “love you.”  That’s something at least.

2014-08-31 18.04.50

I don’t pretend this derailed the progress I or the kids have made over the last few years.  It’s just that we’ve managed to move forward pretty well this last few years.  I wasn’t avoiding the memories or the grief or the loss.  We had just learned to live with them, and live with them pretty well.

But thanks to a maddeningly tedious phone upgrade I had to deal with the explosion of memory hitting the room like an IED.

By the evening’s end I’d come to what I think is an amiable conclusion, though.  Most if not all the old emails were from an era where we didn’t use text messaging or own an iPhone or even knew what to do with social media.  Most of our interactions were in-person and far more intimate.

What I remember isn’t these old emails, which did – I can be honest – depress me a little.  But I smile just a bit when I think about the fact that we did have more personal interactions…and most of those ended with physical contact and the words “I love you.”

For that memory, dear technological terror…I thank you.

Though I still don’t understand why I now have to download all the stuff I deleted from my phone again…

Then Came Year Two

Abbi, after last year's play.

Our Story Begins: Then Came Year Two

The first year after losing my wife, Andrea, things changed, immensely.  So many things go through our home.  Christmas saw us trying to figure out if we put Andrea’s stocking on the mantle.  My daughter came to terms with the fact that she didn’t want to go into a medical field – an insistence of her mother’s – and took the path of the theater.

I spent so much time on my feet cooking, cleaning, working, and moving around the home that just from sheer daily required activity I lost more than 50 pounds.  I was severely overweight before then and needed to be healthier for my kids and myself.  We’d finally reached a routine where just being “okay” turned into hitting a stride.

The second year is when we started our adventures.  I went on a trip for my birthday.  I pulled close friends who made our lives better even closer and I stayed the course and steered around those who simply wanted us to make them feel better because they were sad.

It was year two where we realized that our lives were our lives.  We were defined by what we wrote in the storybook of our lives ourselves, not by what we had done for the years prior.  We railed against the pitying looks because even though it’s true – we’re motherless children and a widower, that is not who we are.  I am a musician, a storyteller, a journalist and a loving and caring father.  My kids are writers, actors, creators, musicians and an abundance of other things.

So we recorded an old blues song: Motherless Children, and did my own arrangement of it.  We improved the editing and production and showed just what we were doing in year two.  It was a stark contrast to the first year.

Our Story Begins: Motherless children

A Dynamic Duo

2014-02-11 07.47.06

Our Story Begins: A Dynamic Duo

My daughter came down at the end of the evening with her guitar.

“Do you think you could help me,” she asked looking a bit sheepish as she came down.
“With what,” I asked a bit puzzled.
“With a song I’ve been writing.  I need some help.  The song needs something.”

Hannah sits down, puts her capo – a sort of clamp that gives you the opportunity to play like it’s the normal, open strings, but higher.  She’d put the clamp on the 5th fret of the guitar and started to play and sing.  The song was poignant, started sad, and seemed to have some hope to it at the end.  It was short, just a bit too short.  She looked up, I think expecting I’d criticize or tear her song apart.  But that wasn’t the case at all.  It was a beautiful piece of songwriting, she just needed something.

Hannah on Guitar
Hannah on Guitar

It took me a few minutes to get into the swing of her playing.  Hannah has a tendency toward either punk or singer-songwriter angst-filled material.  This was a bit more melodic than her usual fare.  She started to play along and I started to accentuate the chords with some finger picking of my own.

“I like that,” she says, adding she wants me to play a solo.

“I think you need a bridge,” I tell her, and then start to work the chords that would go from the 2nd verse and create a bridge before her 3rd verse.
“That works!” she shouts as I finish.  “That’s what it needed!”
“Glad I could help,” I tell her.

She informs me she’d had an idea after a discussion with one of her friends and wanted to write a song after talking with them.  I look at her notebook paper and inform her: “it’s pretty obvious it’s about your Mom, at least at the beginning.”
“Yeah, I guess everything starts with Mom lately.”  But she adds that the song quickly diverts from that.  It’s like it’s her starting point, life beginning anew again after the fast, destructive burnout three years ago.  Like a phoenix burning up and being reborn, if you’ll pardon the cliche’d reference.  It’s not hard to see why she’d do this, her mother passed away in 2011 and it’s been a lot of adjustment for her.

But we finish the bridge and the rhythm and I inform her she just needs to write some lyrics for the bridge.
“Can we record it once it’s finished,” she asks me?
“Of course, I’ll set it up and you can record it.”
“I want you to do it with me,” she says.  Reluctantly, I agree.  Sure, I’ll help you I tell her and she smiles bigger than she has all night.

“It’s like Lennon and McCartney,” she tells me.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” I tell her.  “I don’t think I’ve ever written the next “Let It Be,” but it’s a beautiful song, Hannah.   You should be proud.”
“I am,” she says, happy to have nearly completed her tune.  “I think it’s pretty good.”
“It’s far better than good,” I tell her, “I wish I’d written it myself.”

She smiles and walks up the stairs . . . and I think to myself . . . her mother would be proud, too.

Talking About Their Futures

It’d be easy with a title like the one above to think I’m talking about college or jobs or what have you.

But I wasn’t.

This was a discussion with my two girls, on separate occasions, about relationships.  The latest discussion came with my middle daughter, who’s now fourteen, filled with hormones and had her first trip to the movies with just a boy.  He’s apparently “just a friend” but the Dad who has lots of power tools and an unfinished guitar neck in his closet still comes out once in awhile.

It was a chance to talk about what the ups and downs of my own relationships were and how they can and should learn from my lessons.  Some of those lessons aren’t too easy to listen to, particularly when the lessons are about their mother and me.

Andrea, when we were dating
Andrea, when we were dating

When I met my wife, some twenty-odd years before she passed away, I was in the same profession as she was, working at a tiny television station that doesn’t exist any more.  I had split from my first band, a cover-band that had quite a bit of internal strife, some legal problems I won’t recount with our light guy and the fact that I thought, at times, our set lists were schizophrenic.  So at this point in time, after Andrea and I were together nearly every day, I wasn’t playing live music any more.  In my mind that was going to change and I still had intense and passionate dreams of going on tour and making it as a musician.

My wife had other plans.

Me with "Dot", my green Clapton Strat
Me with “Dot”, my green Clapton Strat

I have had to have the discussion with my kids about how difficult it was for us in those early years.  As compatible as we were on other levels, there were a couple major hurdles we just couldn’t seem to jump.  Music was one of them.  When I’d play a gig, with a band she convinced me would be a healthier atmosphere for me – one I built from the ground up myself – in her mind when she walked into the club my entire focus should be on her.  My focus when playing, however, was always on the playing.  I could never explain to her how when I strapped on the guitar and played my entire mind went somewhere else.  It would lead, inevitably to major arguments at home.

Early on those first arguments would lead to Andrea throwing out, just to be mean, that she’s just divorce me and move on.  Not occasionally, but during every knock-down, drag-out argument.  It could be money, could be music, could be her wanting to change professions on a dime and go back to college.  She’d shout it at me.

“Don’t ever say that to your future husband unless things are really that dire that you’re thinking it,” was my line to my girls.  I will tell it to my boys, too.  Andrea, you see, didn’t mean it.  We did love each other and there were days, sure, we weren’t sure that was enough.  But I grew up in a household that had two people who truly loved each other and had so much in common they were the litmus test, for me, of a good marriage.  One day, after she threw out the “d” word, I turned a bit cold and stern and looked her, at very close proximity, in the eye.
“That hurts, you know.  Do you mean that, you’re going to divorce me?”
“No,” she said.  “Why would you think that?”
“Because you keep saying it.  That hurts because I’m trying, really hard.  One day you’re going to say that and I’ll take you up on it so be careful of the words you choose.”

That one day, those couple sentences, stick in my mind because she turned very pale.  I remember it.  It dawned on her this wasn’t a throwaway sentence.  She’d heard her mother use that threat all the time and yell it at her father.  Difference was her father never believed it and her mother never had any intention of it.  I, however, didn’t grow up in that household.  Divorce – and I told my children this – is a court of last resort.  It shouldn’t be a decision you take lightly.  Nor should marriage.  When you marry someone it should be because you truly see your life better with them.  I grew up, raised in an area of the country where divorce wasn’t a dirty word, but you didn’t do it unless things were truly irreconcilable, not the Hollywood version of “irreconcilable.”  So to throw the word around hurt.

Today I wouldn’t have the same views as the woman to whom I was married.  When you say “people don’t change” I actually vehemently disagree.  I’ve become far more responsible in some ways, far more innovative and free-spirited in others.  Andrea, at least the Andrea I knew when I dated her and even the softer, more understanding to whom I was married still a few years ago, would be the same.  She’ll be that forever young woman in my mind now, but I’m not that person any more.  It’s not a bad thing, I’ve made some great improvements.

Noah, Sam and HannahSo my advice to my girls was always this: you’re worth the effort.  Changing yourself just to convince a guy (or a girl) you’re worth it just isn’t going to work.  Necessary change – change like I’ve had to make lately – those are things you cannot avoid.  Trying to be someone you’re not so that you can be with someone will inevitably lead to failure.  Find someone you can spend your time with, was my response.  Sitting by a fire tonight and staring at the flames I told my daughter “I’m not sure who could put up with me.  Your Mom couldn’t even handle it sometimes,” I said admitting my own failures.  I have, you see, a mind that goes a thousand directions at once.  I still, unrealistic as it sounds, think I’ll hit the road as a musician one day.  I love reading quirky scientific articles and watching Doctor Who with the kids on Saturday and cooking and making cookies.  I want to see the world still and don’t really see myself still in California after the kids leave home.

Hannah looked at me and said there was enough that I loved about her Mom that it was okay, though, right?  And of course there was.  But my point to her, to all the kids, is that the blueprint I’ve followed, the one I strive for, was in my house every day.  What they should want is that person who they didn’t think existed . . . that sees the world just like they do and loves the ideas they have and supports them because they’re sure my daughters and sons can take on the world and win.

That may seem impossible, but I’ve seen the impossible happen.

Handling the Words of Others

It’s been a crazy couple days in the house.  I can’t deny it.

I’ve been knee-deep in a major work project.  I have had two different parent meetings.  I’ve had Sam with migraines that have caused him nothing but trauma.  It’s just been crazy.

Then I heard from my middle daughter, Hannah, that Noah had a little bit of an emotional day at school.

It’s worth telling you here that Hannah watches the boys for a couple hours when they get home until I get to the house after work.  She makes sure they do their homework, she does hers (usually with the headphones in her ears.  Like they’re permanently attached to her head…need to talk with her about that) and they get their normal afternoon routine out of the way until I get home.

Now, the home routine is pretty exhausting as it is.  Usually, it starts with all three of the kids inundating me with information about their day.  Tons and tons of aural overload with the weight of their world transferring from their shoulders to mine.  I don’t mind getting the baggage. . . just break it up a little if you could, okay?  Right as I walk in the door, following me as I put down my briefcase, take off my suit coat and take my shirt tails out of my pants . . . following me up the stairs . . . it doesn’t stop, sometimes for a full hour.


So imagine my surprise when I have to hear from Hannah that Noah had a bad moment at school.

I asked him about it tonight before bed.  Apparently at his table group at school one of the girls at the table “like totally enjoys the Disney Channel shows…”  Apparently she’s in love with the girly-like shows that Disney has and she asked Noah his opinion of one of them.
“I don’t watch it,” he says he told her.  That got her ire up, apparently and she said he should.  When she asked why, Noah did what both I and his mother always told him to say – the truth.  It’s here I wonder if a little white lie shouldn’t be in line once in awhile.  He said he doesn’t like those kinds of shows.  “I hate those shows,” is likely more what he said.

That got the girl to inform him she was going to “call your Mom and Dad and tell them you said you hate my shows!”  She was poking fun at him, but he apparently looked at her and said. . . “you can call my Dad, but you can’t call my Mom.  My mom died.”

This set her, according to my son, to laughing.  Something even a different girl – one who’d been less than pleasant before – said was mean.  I guess it kept going for awhile and just set the mood for the rest of the day for Noah.  He didn’t react, didn’t hit, didn’t yell, just closed down some more.

I looked at him after he regaled me with his tale and told him “you know that there’s nothing bad about not having Mommy here . . . except the fact she’s not here, of course, right kiddo?”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, rather morosely.
“I mean, lots of people don’t have Moms or don’t have Dads…but we seem to be doing okay, right?”
“Sure!  I mean, it’s fine, Dad.”
“Just because this girl doesn’t understand doesn’t mean you don’t have a Dad who loves you and she just doesn’t know anything about us.  Did she think you were joking?”
“Maybe.  I didn’t say I was.”
“We can’t fix what other say about us, but you have to know that there’s nothing wrong with us, or you, and it’s nobody’s fault that she’s not here.  Sometimes bad and stupid things just happen.  I love you, and that won’t ever change.”

I wished at that moment people could see that he’s imaginative and smart and extremely thoughtful and loving.  But instead a lot of people just see that he’s awkward at first, because he’s shy and apprehensive how people will react to him.  I know how that feels.

But after our small discussion he smiled and hugged me, which seemed to lighten his load.

More baggage to carry, but thing about baggage…it’s easier when there’s someone there to help carry it.

A Trip to Remember

I took a few days to drive about nine hours away.  It wasn’t a trip that was supposed to be for fun.  it just wasn’t.  It was meant to be stressful, emotional, sad, hopeful, encouraging and depressing all at the same time.

I was determined it wouldn’t be so, though.

This was the trip to take my oldest daughter, Abbi, to college.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t missing her or that I didn’t think things would be hard without her – not physically but emotionally.

People make the mistake sometimes of saying that I’d have to deal with so much more with Abbi not in the house.  I’ll be the first to admit that she drove the kids around a lot.  She took Noah to therapy every Friday.  She picked the kids up from the Extended Day Program at school every day.  But a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that Abbi became their surrogate Mom.  She didn’t.  The first thing I wanted after Andrea, my wife of 18 years, passed away was for Abbi to be a teenager.  Sure, she had to grow up insanely fast, but I was determined she’d have more of a childhood than others I’d known who had to take over the household duties when their mother passed away.

At the Sundial Bridge
At the Sundial Bridge

So we drove.  About a quarter of the way we stopped in Redding, California.  There they have a giant walking bridge that is, literally, a sundial.  Designed by Santiago Calatrava, architect and designer of some of the most beautiful bridges in the world, the bridge has become a tourist attraction for the city.

We spent about an hour there, getting a burger so that Abbi could have InNOut burger before leaving the state of California.

We arrived at our destination about 1 in the morning on move-in day.  It was exhausting, but we’d spent the time wandering around and having fun and it was far more of an adventure than it was a sad and depressing trip.

I pulled up and the college had the traffic managed.  They had students that moved all the stuff out of our car into Abbi’s dorm room.  They truly made it easy on us.  I was a bit dismayed as I looked around me and noticed that there were parents who had shown up with minivans filled to the brim along with a U-Haul attached completely full as well.  I looked to our Honda and noticed that we’d filled up the back of the Pilot with Abbi’s stuff . . . an inordinate number of shoes . . . (he typed just to get the ire of his daughter who says there really aren’t that many shoes) and the necessities.  Still, there was car after car and trailer after trailer and all I could think was . . . you know you have to move all that stuff back to your home when it’s all said and done, right?

We moved Abbi into the dorms, helped her to unload a bunch of the stuff and then went off to let her do some of the school work and get acclimated.

2013-08-22 09.38.49Hannah, Noah and Sam had all told me how much they’re going to miss their sister.  Sure, they told Abbi, too, but not to the degree they’d let on to me.  Sam wanted to move to Salem so we could be closer to her.  Noah just got quiet . . . which has been his normal stance in the last couple years after losing his Mom.  It wasn’t until Friday that Abbi let on that she’s really nervous, too.  Nervous because she’s not just living on her own for the first time . . . which she is . . . but nervous because she’s living on her own, in a room with strangers each night, in a new town, in a new setting, surrounded by people not too much like her in some instances, and having to audition for a play and do a term paper . . . all in the same weekend.  It’s a lot to overcome any one of those things.  She has all of them at once.  I went to college in driving distance of home for a weekend.  I had the advantage of going there if I got homesick.  As the time approached for us to leave her it was finally setting in: Dad’s going.

“You’re not as emotional as the other parents, I’ve noticed” Abbi informed me.  “Don’t get me wrong, I totally appreciate that!”
I wasn’t, either.  There were parents literally sobbing at the fact they were relinquishing their kid to the big, wide world.  I wasn’t.  I was sad, a little maudlin, perhaps biting at the kids a little more here and there.  Still, I noticed the emotional turmoil the kids whose parents were breaking down felt.  I also noticed that Hannah, Noah and Sam had already gotten sad and quiet over her leaving.  The last thing she needed was me adding to that.  Plus…I’m honestly excited for her.  She’s about to embark an amazing journey and go do something she’s totally thrilled to do.  That’s worth a ton.

On the Ferris Wheel
On the Ferris Wheel

We did more . . . I took the kids to the state fair in Oregon.  We rode the Ferris Wheel.  Hannah and Sam went on a giant swing that took you in circles.  We had funnel cakes.  The kids won prizes.  It was totally fun, totally different, and just a big adventure.  I didn’t want them or Abbi to look at this weekend as a sad occasion.  I wanted them to look at it as a great memory.  I think, after all this they do.

The prize winners!
The prize winners!

I am sad, sure, and tonight, as I write, the house is too quiet and the downstairs too empty…but the routine hasn’t changed.  I do the same amount of work I did before she left.  I watch Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” and realize as I’m about to comment on how stupid it is they act like Network News has reporters who shoot their own stories and realize that Abbi isn’t there to tell any more.  I also realize…I can text her and have her watch it online so we can have the same conversation.

I preach and pound into the ground the statement that life is an adventure.  I have to practice what I preached.  You know what?  I think I have.


Powerful Nights

The power went out last night, something that seems to be happening a lot lately in our neck of the woods.  It certainly wasn’t the heat, that was not a factor.  Nobody seemed to have hit a power pole and knocked out a transformer.  PG&E, our power company, never bothered to call us to tell us what was happening.  Though I saw about a half-dozen trucks and bunch of guys in PG&E uniforms down the road with a water main gushing water down the road and tinkering with the power lines.  They never bothered to tell us it might go out.

Hannah, my middle, had homework to do.  She was shouting from upstairs that she couldn’t do it without light.  I don’t disagree, but it was obvious she wasn’t too upset by the lack of light due to her brain shutting off all problem-solving skills as well.  My oldest daughter, now just a week from leaving home for college, had found literally every candle in the house and lit them up for light.  My twin boys liked it . . . for awhile.  Then they got bored and took showers by candlelight as well.

I walked up the stairs, took a couple candles I had sitting in my bathroom and bedroom – not sure why I had them in there, no romance going on in my household – and took them to Hannah’s room.  After lighting them up she declared “hey!  There we go!” and she was back to her old studious self.  I’m not certain much homework was actually done up to that point, I think her secret communiques to her friends from middle school were actually dominating her time.  With no power she was forced to do homework, which was a good thing.

Andrea, years ago
Andrea, years ago

Earlier in the day I had told my kids to call their grandma – their Mom’s Mom – and tell her “happy birthday.”  They gladly did it . . . and I’d have taken them all to visit her a suburb over from us, except I had an appointment at my sons’ school.  It was a strange day, this one.  I left work, got home, changed clothes, and went to “back-to-school night.”  It’s a hard thing to be slapped in the face with what your struggles are and know the slap isn’t an intentional one.  I showed up at the school and had to simply attend the classroom that was closest to me.  That was Noah, one of the twins’ classroom.  I found his teacher’s door first.  As I sat there, we had a card from my son, which was sweet and I’m not going to duplicate for his privacy.  He’s done exceptionally well considering how much change he’s had to face and the fact it all changes again next year for middle school.  Still…it’s a good thing.  He gets an almost-fresh start.


Someone from his old school initially started a rumor that Noah had punched a kid in the face and gotten expelled and that’s why he was at this school.  After a couple days with Noah keeping to himself, being shy, and generally not being a powder keg – which he’s not – and the rumor died off because, let’s face it, that’s kinda boring when he doesn’t haul off and attack someone, right?

But I understand both his and and his brother, Sam’s, shyness.  I sat in a room where every parent knew every other.  I grew frustrated with the obsession over the change from “STAR Testing” because some parents are more concerned with the testing results than the concepts.  I love that “no child left behind” is left behind.  I like the new federalized core curriculum and had read up on it.  I never took those tests well and neither did my kids, yet the STAR tests are a favorite subject of so many parents who think it’s an indication of intelligence.  It’s not.  It’s an indication of test-taking.  (yes, my opinion, leave me alone in my convictions, please, and don’t email or comment.  You won’t change my mind)  Sam’s teacher is telling me about options for both his migraines and for his slight stutter that comes out when he’s too excited to think about his words and he stumbles over them.  She’s not concerned just giving me options.  I like that.

But I noticed all through the process that I was alone.  There were so many couples there.  “I’m ___________’s Mom…and I’m his Dad” and I found myself noticing how much easier it would have been if I had my wife here to attend the other classroom.  Part of me felt bad it was all about the convenience and not the affection, but reality transgresses the heart sometimes.

In the night, with the power out, Andrea’s sister forwarded a picture to us brought by their Aunt.  It was of my girls – Abbi, Hannah, and Andrea – my wife – with her sister’s step-daughter and Andrea’s aunt Carol.  Carol died not long after Andrea, cancer overtaking her.  It wasn’t the most amazing picture of her, no, but it’s the normality of it that I miss, I suppose.  It’s not that I want others to feel guilty, nor do I think I’m bad off.  I’m okay with the juggle, it’s just that some days it affects me more than others, I suppose.

My Sam . . .
My Sam . . .

Maybe it was the candles.  Maybe it was the darkness, or maybe it was the whole day, a stressful juggle at work, the race home to get to school, the nightly routine still in play, and then going over everything the kids need for school.  I missed her.  It’s not that I don’t miss my wife every day . . . but it wasn’t as sad or poignant most days of late.  Tonight it is…sometimes you miss the smile or the scent or the fact you look at the mirror and think in terms of whether she’d tell you that the outfit you’re wearing looks okay.  Sometimes you just need another body to help with things.

Sometimes you just wish you had someone next to you when the power goes out.

A Day, a Week, a Month, Then?

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

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

The BBC's old logo
The BBC’s old logo

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

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

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

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

“What will you do then, Dad?”

They’re looking 8 years in the future.

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

My family
My family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Closer to Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then she wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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