Tag Archives: Holidays

Bouncin’ Back

I posted a piece on Rene syler’s Good Enough Mother today.  Have a peek!

While I know holidays are hard for people with loss . . . you can still bounce back.  That’s the point of this week’s post on her site, and you can visit.

Amazing you can get inspiration from so many places, and mine came this week from Robert Cray.

Bouncin’ Back: Good Enough Mother

 

Our Tree
Our Tree

Through my Son’s Eyes

I got home tonight with barely enough time to put hamburgers on the stove and throw together dinner.  It’s the price I pay for not having planned the week better, but between Christmas trees, decorations, and already being behind on Christmas, I wasn’t able to really get things going.  I still had laundry in the hamper that was more than a few days old.  It’s still up there.

We didn’t eat at the table, though it was clean.  The exhaustion of the day and the stress of trying to budget for Christmas presents – which I still haven’t finished getting – has been getting to me.  So we ate hamburgers and tater-tots on the living room floor and watched the original version of Miracle on 34th Street.  My sons were already moaning about the fact some “old movie” was going to be on and that they had to watch it.

As we watched, I put up the stockings, the five of our names embroidered on the tops.  They’re one of the holdouts from my wife’s decorating scheme, something that cost a pretty penny.  My oldest, Abbi, looked and said “we have enough we put them up and we can put Mom’s here.”

Our stockings - 5 of them
Our stockings – 5 of them

It took me back a year ago where I had this debate with myself – what do I do with Andrea’s stocking?  It was last year I made the determination that we just shouldn’t put hers up.  It’s not being mean and it’s not trying to hide that she was part of our lives, something that people had speculated we were doing.  No, I didn’t put it up because I didn’t want to confuse the kids.  If you put the stocking up and it’s filled by Santa . . . what is that telling them?  Is Mom still here?  Can the 9-year-old’s mind handle that Santa still fills her stocking?  And what if it’s not filled?  Is that just another message, again, that Mom isn’t here any more?

I looked at Abbi and said “I didn’t put it out last year, kiddo.”
“You didn’t?”
“No.  I thought it’s the wrong message.  What do you tell Noah, Sam and Hannah if it’s not filled?  Or worse yet, if it is?!”
Abbi stood there and thought for a really long time.  I could see in her eyes she wanted to put the stocking up but the logic of the debate was raging in her head.
“I see what you mean.  We don’t have to, I mean . . . ” and the conversation tapered off.

But the movie was on and the key scene was coming . . . men in the post office saying how the “dead letter office” was filled with letters from Santa and they should get rid of them this way.

“Hey!”
My son Sam had suddenly registered what the postmen were doing.
“They can’t just throw out kids’ letters to Santa, that’s just mean!”
I looked and Abbi burst out giggling.
“Awww.  I love you, Sammy!  They’re not throwing them out!”
I chimed in here.  “They’re saying that Kris is Santa, so they’re giving him the letters. ”
“Oh.  Okay, that’s fine, I guess, but why didn’t they just send him the letters in the first place?!”

It’s amazing how a little boy’s innocence will steer you on the right path.  We put the five stockings in their places and left the last holder blank.  It’s not like we ignore Andrea, she’s always here.  She’s hard to ignore, even when she’s no longer with us.  But it’s also part of moving forward with our lives.  We can’t expect that she’s going to prod us to Christmas or help.  The ideas she’d have given for Christmas presents are gone.  The life we were supposed to lead is gone as well.  We had to write a different story, basing it on what we already had of  our life together.

But it’s always great to see that no matter how rough things get, there’s a certainty that hangs in the air, and all I have to do is look every once in awhile through my son’s eyes.

Strange Meadow Lark . . .

Strange Meadow Lark
OK, yes, I did use the title just so I could get a Brubeck song into the post for his birthday, too, but it’s my prerogative, I’m doing the writing after all.

The holidays are a scramble, even on the best of years, particularly financially.  I have four kids, which makes for a lot less money to dole out between children.  Now that I’ve lost my wife, and by virtue of that, a second income, I’ve lost a lot of ability to get presents and pay the bills.  (If you think that’s all I miss, by the way, go back and read previous blog posts here and then try to criticize me!)  Before you say it’s what I get for having four kids – I knew what I was doing, I went ahead and slept with my wife, I could have found ways to have only 2 kids.

Sure.

I never thought I’d be doing this alone, though.

Most of what we have left from Andrea is great.  We have a lot of amazing traditions, things we came up with together, and things that she brought to the table that added to the way my family handled the holidays and decorating and the kids.  I am eternally grateful to Andrea for giving me so many things that I never thought I would experience.  I have an ability now to go through the house, know what goes where, how to decorate little pieces, make the house look nice, and somehow still feel like I’ve got some semblance of manhood when I’ve finished.

But there are some traditions that I honestly, sincerely, wish she had left the hell alone.  I grew up in the Midwest, and while so many people around the country criticize the middle section of our nation, there’s just so much to appreciate that they don’t understand.  People there are strong.  Their mettle is tested every winter with below-zero wind chills and they get battered by thunderstorms and tornadoes every Spring.  But for every hail storm there’s an appreciation of the beauty of the lightning that accompanies them.  For every tornado there’s the knowledge that comes, where you recognize the temperature drop, the hail, then the eerie calm and greenish-grey clouds just before the funnel forms.  You are strong, you are smart and you are instinctive.  When I was getting ready to head to college, going through the last year of high school, my mother made me help make dinner every night.  She taught me how to make homemade bread; how to bake cookies; how to clean up as you go so you don’t have to clean it ALL up after; how to persevere when things go wrong.  When I got married I already knew how to clean.  With my little brother I’d changed diapers – cloth ones and you have to WASH those, folks.  I learned how to be a good man, holding onto tradition and faith and strength.  Those traits have helped me get through this year.

The holidays are amazing there.  We have Christmas done up, snow on the ground, the trees decorated, presents under the tree, lights everywhere, it’s an event.  We used to visit my Grandma’s house, just a couple miles into town, and you could just feel Christmas.  My youth was filled with cooking . . . turkey and ham in the oven; there was bread dressing; my family: my Mom and Grandma made sugar cookies, Lincoln Logs (peanut butter, coconut, dipped in chocolate); pecan sandies; cinnamon rolls; kolaches; pumpkin and pecan pie; lace cookies, all of it.  They cooked for weeks, the temperature cold enough they put the containers on the back porch and it kept everything fresh.  I don’t have the time to do this.  Neither does my wife’s family.  I can cook, and Thanksgiving I did it all, but the all-encompassing feeling wasn’t there.  We just didn’t feel like we were embracing the holiday.

But there are also odd traditions that they brought to us that I never celebrated, nor did my family, nor my Mom’s Irish relatives.  To me they are excuses to have yet another holiday, something for people with too much time on their hands and too little imagination to take yet another tradition that some people did have and try to force everyone to do it.

My kids came home tonight . . . again . . . and asked if they could put their shoes out.

“It’s Saint Nicholas Day, Dad!”

Now, if you haven’t heard of it, I certainly hadn’t before my wife’s family got involved, the kids put out their shoes and they get candy, coins, oranges, and presents.  Sound familiar?  Oh, wait, it’s a miniature stocking stuffer moment.  It’s another thing I have to remember and yet another strange meadowlark that just started popping up.  I get that some people honor the saint this day.  I get it’s a tradition in some cultures.  Not in ALL cultures.  I can’t keep up.  It’s 9pm, everyone’s going to bed and I have to put shoes out.  Nick has to come put crap in their freaking shoes and I’m still behind on the nightly routine.  It happens every year and it frustrates the hell out of me.

Can we stop with the over-extension of holidays?  Do we have to decorate for Halloween as big and bright as we do for Christmas?  Do we have to take other people’s traditions – cultures that are NOT our own – and dumb them down, castrate them, and apply them to a vanilla-flavored version of their true purpose?  Nick’s coming at Christmas.  He doesn’t need a teaser trailer.  The school does it.  Now we have to do it at home.  Every year, some new tradition starts getting made up because Martha Stewart apparently hasn’t made enough money and people want to make more work for those of us that are just scraping by.  I want my kids to have a good year and amazing traditions.  I don’t feel like I should have them thrust upon me.  What’s next, Festivus for the rest of us?

Now before you all start criticizing me and telling me about the tradition, how your family did it, how it’s a real occasion, I don’t doubt you or any of that.  But it’s not MY tradition, it’s not a tradition everywhere.  So why are you forcing me to follow it by your intense conversation about it with my kids?  Here’s what this succeeds in doing: raising expectations that are already hard for me to meet .  Even when Andrea was here, she made us do this because someone they knew started it.  But I don’t want these traditions, these holidays that others used but not us.  I hate that the amazing week of Christmas that I had with family: food and the smell of baking and feelings of love are being replaced by stuffing candy and junk in shoes without really discussing why the hell you’re doing that in the first place.

St. Nicholas had a day, December the 6th, because that’s when certain cultures celebrated him.  He had his own tradition.  Part of Nick carried over into everything from “Sinter Klaus” to what we know as Santa.

Yet we now have both the shoes . . . AND . . . the stockings, presents, tree, and all of that later on – on December 25th.

Enough already!  And before you give me the “just don’t do it” speech, you tell your kids why they’re the only ones at school who St. Nick skipped last night.  Maybe you haven’t been very good.  Maybe you’re not on the good list and that’s why he skipped your house!  It’s like the old peer pressure from high school except this time I don’t get the happy, dizzy buzz that comes with what they’re forcing down my throat.

I’m trying so hard to survive this year without screwing my kids up completely.  That’s hard enough just in trying to keep them turning in their homework, preventing fights or bad behavior and learning who is trying to help you and who’s just trying to make themselves feel better.  This whole year’s been awful.  Now I add the strange traditions that have nothing to do with my family or how I grew up and suddenly I feel like the train’s derailing again.  I can hear the strange meadow lark singing off key from the rest of the flock.

Yes, I know, this just sounds angry and complaining, but I’m trying to give my kids what I had.  I want them to feel the holidays as I felt them, though I know it’s impossible.  Their Mom’s not here, the woman’s touch isn’t in our house, it’s all gone wrong.

So the worst part of it all is that we did it anyway.  All this complaining, the entire diatribe, and I put out the shoes.  Why?  Because it’s true, I can’t let the kids fall.  Even the smallest little, annoying thing that wouldn’t have been such a big deal last year is expanded now.  Nothing is little.  The tiniest crack can become the biggest chasm because we’re still fumbling around blindly in the darkness.  Each holiday or event is like a light post along the way.  I hate this freaking tradition, partially because I never remember to do it – it’s not in my litany of traditions from my family – partially because it’s yet another thing I have to get right . . . alone.  The kids don’t really care, I know.  They get their sugar high – thanks again for that – and they’re happy.

So here I sit, the only grumpy person in a sea of Rachel Ray’s and Martha’s, bitching that it’s not a “good thing”, only to come to the harsh realization.

It’s me who’s the strange meadow lark.

Memories in a Red and Green Box . . .

So we finally decorated the tree.  Well, trees.  Over the weekend we went to a tree farm and picked out a tree, something we all agreed on and got it into the house, put it up, got the lights on it and . . . ran out of time and couldn’t decorate it.  It was as if I’d shot all four of them in the chest with a spear gun.

“Daaaaaad!!!!!”

I’m not Ebeneezer here, I love Christmas, but we have a LOT of stuff.  While the outside of our house may not show it, step inside and there’s garland, Santa figures, snow globes, stockings, manger scenes, all of it.  When we were in Texas Andrea worked for Target so she’d waited until a week after Christmas and bought an artificial tree, lights already on it, for 70% off.  It was important because we just didn’t have the money to buy a tree every year.  Sure, there are those places that have the discount trees and low prices, but we did that one year.  Apart from the tree falling – 3 times – on my head as we tried to get it stabilized in the rickety stand we had, the tree had been cut so many weeks before getting to us that it was already dry and the needles falling just a week or so after we bought it.

So artificial was the way to go.  It was our second, actually.  Years ago, when we were first married, my Dad got us an artificial tree.  We didn’t even have Abbi, but we were both barely scraping by, living in an apartment, and my Dad felt pretty sorry for us, I think.  At that time he owned his own Pharmacy and store in a small town in Nebraska.  He had one tree left, one he was reserving for the store itself, to decorate, put up on the floor, but instead he showed up in Omaha and gave it to us, lights, tinsel, all of it.  It wasn’t an amazing tree, but we loved it.

Last year we had a little money so we’d gone to get a real tree.  This year, we don’t have a little money, but I got a tree anyway.  We had to keep things as normal as possible, and as much as it hurts, we have to do the holiday.  We picked it out, put it up, and after getting the lights on the outside of the house, the kids went to bed.  I then went about the task of trying to decorate with the materials their Mom left behind.  Leopard spotted bows, red velvet ribbons, garland with lights on it, all being put up wherever I could find a spot for it.  It’s all been squished and wrinkled in the move so I spent an inordinate amount of time smoothing out the creases.  Every time I’d try to say it was good enough I remembered the arguments and grumpy comments I’d made in past years, re-doing those same decorations because Andrea said it didn’t look right.  I was so persnickety, offhand comments coming out of my mouth.

Last night I realized how right she’d always been.  Every time I tried to leave one that wasn’t quite right I could see how awful it was.  How right she was.  By the time I’d finished some of the first night’s decorations it was already past Midnight and I still had to do the night’s routine.

So last night we moved onto the trees.  That Target special we put at the top of the stairs, the tree visible when you walk in because you can see the upstairs landing.  We put the real tree by the door.  I’d made that awful, aching decision about their Mom’s stocking yesterday.  I thought that would be the worst of it, now we’d just decorate the tree and it would be the first semblance of Christmas spirit and fun in our house.  We put “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” soundtrack on the computer, which is near the tree, and listened to it while we decorated.  (If you don’t have this, by the way, you’re a damn fool.  It’s the greatest Christmas album ever)

What I hadn’t realized was how many memories were waiting for me in the tissue-wrapped treasures inside those red-and-green tote boxes.  I’d forgotten just how we’d celebrated every year, it was so natural and we never really had to think about it.  But as we started taking the ornaments out of the wrappings, the glass and delicate wiring exposing with each fold, I started to see them: the dates.  The names.  The dedications on all the old ornaments, one for every year.  The hand-made star with Abbi’s picture in it, the back saying: “1997: To Dave, I love you, Andrea” . . . in her handwriting.  The little kids sleeping in their chairs, a little black-haired boy on one side, a blonde little girl on the other, sparking memories of her telling me “I’d wait up with you every year.”

The kids don’t have these memories, they are part of them.  Little picture frames with their photos in them.  Andrea’ remembered the year we got married that I loved the classic “Winnie the Pooh” book because my Mom read it to me – not the Disneyfied version, the original, classic drawings.  There were little ornaments, things she’d taken time to hunt down that had a frame with that classic character just because she remembered an offhand remark I’d made.

She was everywhere.

I did my best to give the kids the regular, nondescript ornaments so they didn’t have to go through deciphering the past, but I’m not sure if they would have had the same connection to the ornaments I did.  I knew doing this would be awkward, but I just hadn’t thought about everything.  There were Mikasa crystal ornaments – really expensive ones – that my Grandma had given us for our first Christmas.  Another one from her that was for Abbi when she thought it would mean something to her.  Snowmen with the year and her name on the back.

Christmas cards drawn at school that say: “I love you Mommy.”

I’ve said before it’s not the days themselves that worry me so much, it’s the stuff out in left field that just hit us between the eyes.  I didn’t see this coming, though I should have.  The cards pushed me over the edge.  I’m not upset that they didn’t make “I love you Daddy” cards, it’s not that at all.  I’m torn up because I know what she meant to them, the fact that all this stuff is here is proof.  Each of them is like a little ghost, floating on the green needles of the tree, pulling a little bit of me away at a time.  They loved her so much and now I’m all they have left.

There’s a tremendous amount of pressure right now.  Pressure to make sure they have a good Christmas.  Pressure to keep their spirits up when you know they’ll be down.  Pressure to get everything decorated and put together right.  Burning the Midnight Lamp.

Pressure to get it right, because like everything else when she was around, Christmas was always perfect.  So how do you celebrate this amazing season when she’s not around . . . when you know it can’t be perfect by the mere fact of her absence?

I don’t.  I let the kids put up the ornaments, wherever we could without bunching them all together.  I hung up the stockings my Grandma made even when Andrea wouldn’t because they didn’t “match” her concepts.

I did the only thing I could.  I took what I loved about her and her ideas and changed them.  This is going to sound a little harsh, but I took what I loved of her from the season and did what I wanted.  She probably wouldn’t be particularly happy with how I’ve decorated the house or where the ornaments are placed, but there’s part of me that cannot care about that.

The reality is, she is gone, she left us.  We’re left to do this alone, without her.  I hate it, as much as I hate going on without her.  We’d have perfection if she’d been here, but she’s not.  Instead, we’ll have everything I can muster.  We’ll have a mishmash of ideas, a house splashed with memories.

It will be perfect . . . for us.