Tag Archives: leaves

The Day Approaches…

My family
My family

Our Story Begins:
The Day Approaches

It’s an odd day, the one approaching us.  It’s not a holiday, not a day you’d celebrate . . . well, it’s not a day I celebrate any more.  The day used to be filled with all kinds of love and devotion and craziness.  That changed almost three years ago.  In fact, 9 days from the writing of this post will be the exact day.

That day, you see, will be March 26th.  It’s a dual anniversary for me.  The 26th of March was the day, in 1993, at the age of 22, I got married.  It’s also the day, at the age of 40, my wife passed away.  I like to think she wanted to make it to our anniversary before she finally let go.  If that wasn’t the case, I certainly don’t want anyone to tell me.

It’s a funny thing . . . the date hadn’t really crossed my mind that morning.  I woke up and raced to the hospital and it wasn’t even dawning on me what day it was.  I had certainly made plans, dinner, romance, all that.  It was 18 years to the day we were married and I thought that was quite a milestone.  We’d been through a lot – jealousy, the 7-year-itch, three pregnancies (with 4 kids), Andrea diagnosed with clinical depression, all of that.

I would always be able to tell the 26th of March is approaching even if it wasn’t burned into the recesses of my brain. You see, I can see the kids getting more and more persnickety as the day gets closer.  The boys will start picking on their older sister who gets upset and then the angst-ridden teenager acts out and they end up in a ball on the floor like an old Looney Toons cartoon.  Some of it’s the full moon, I know, but most of it is the fact that they just don’t know they’re still adjusting even three years later.

2013-10-30 07.26.16

Over the last three years I have yet to know how to handle, emotionally, the 26th of March.  I know others who have lost a spouse or a loved one . . . and that anniversary date is theirs.  It’s a day they take to themselves, think about the fact that they were together with this person and how they loved each other.  They think about the adjustments and the changes and it’s a day that’s theirs.  I, however, share this day.  It’s not just my wedding anniversary it’s the day that my wife passed.  It’s also the day a mother passed away . . . and a sister and a niece and a daughter and a best friend . . . so many others have this very same day as an anniversary.  It’s selfish, I know, but sometimes I want to just wallow and commiserate with myself on the day I got married.

But it’s also a day that someone shares the loss and the love.  It will have celebrations – my oldest will be home from college on Spring Break.  My son has a speech competition – on that day.  I took a few days off to decompress so that I’m not moping around at work.

It’s been three years and we’ve all had some pretty major adjustments.  I’ve had some unsuccessful dates with women.  I’ve had some enjoyable times with others.  I’ve had a roller coaster of a year with losing a dear friend, my wife’s father losing a battle with cancer and her mother losing a battle with a debilitating brain disease.  Where we lost one major person three years ago in the last year we’ve lost many, many more.

But as the day approaches, I see more light than dark.  The haze doesn’t descend on me the way it did over the last couple.  I find myself flirting with a woman during setup for an interview for work…and it doesn’t feel wrong or awkward any more.  (Well, it’s still awkward, I was never very smooth…)

Time has passed, the world keeps turning as we keep leaving our footprints on its surface.  It becomes clear with each passing anniversary that she’s remained who and where she was.  We had to keep moving forward.  For lack of a better phrase, we kept living…

Even as the day approaches.

—- We’re working on this year’s (2014) anniversary video.  It will feature, for the first time, my daughter Hannah playing on the song and I am quite proud of our accomplishments.  It will post on the anniversary, March 26th.

Too see what we’ve done before . . . check out our previous videos here . . . and here.

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When They’re Watching…but Not the Television

Sam and his Dad
Sam and his Dad

My son, Sam, sat with me on the couch for a really long time today.  We were watching television and it wasn’t a talking sponge or a kid with fairy god parents.  No, I had on a documentary about the 101st Airborne’s Easy Company during World War II.

But it turns out Sam wasn’t watching the television.

Sam was watching me, which is something I hadn’t noticed until roughly an hour into the documentary.  I thought maybe the explosions and black & white film and stories of Nazi aggression had piqued his interest.  It should come as no surprise that I wasn’t feeling well today when you see that it took me an hour to realize that my son wasn’t really watching the documentary.

No, at a certain point, when I wasn’t feeling well and laid down on the couch after Sam had gotten up and moved to another room that I realized he was sitting next to me to make sure I was okay.  He didn’t want to ask and he didn’t want to say anything.  He just wanted to make sure.  After I laid down and started to fitfully take a nap I heard him go outside with his siblings.  Sam had gone out with the other two kids to go out and take the leaf piles I’d raked this morning and put them in the cans.  Noah was already putting the leaves in the can, he was helping.  When they started to argue he forcefully said “Guys!  Dad doesn’t feel very good.  Be quiet!”

Normally I’d have smiled and nodded off but something about his force of vocal tone made me sit up.  I simply had a sore throat, likely from allergies and likely just because I’d been sleeping in fits and starts.  So I got up and looked out to see Sam standing in the yard waste container tamping down leaves while the other two dumped leaves on his head.

I went into the kitchen, took out my baking cookbook, and made an oatmeal brownie I’d never made before, just so they’d have a treat for today.

I often pride myself on being observant and doing what I can to help the kids along.  Sometimes . . . they need to remind me . . . they’re just as observant as I am, and I need to realize the things I do affect them as well.

So we all had brownies and milk after a day of jumping in the leaves.  After all that . . . things couldn’t have been better.

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.

 

Old Stories

At the Trees
At the Trees

Over the weekend, as I stated in my last post, I took the kids to the Calaveras County Big Trees park.  It was during the trip to that very state park, though, that my kids asked me if I’d ever been to the park before.  I had, but it had been a very, very long time.  In fact, the only time I’d actually visited I wasn’t even a resident of the state of California.  I wasn’t married yet…may not even have been engaged.

When I started dating Andrea, things were pretty hot and heavy at first.  We spent nearly every free moment together.  When she went off on any kind of break, particularly over the summer, I visited.  This was one particular break, most likely Spring Break, as I distinctly remembered the trip.  It wasn’t memorable because of the trees or the drive or the altitude…it was memorable because I had to have a tooth pulled and I waited until after the trip to visit Andrea to have it done.  This was problematic because I ended up having it pulled on the day of my computer final.  (still managed to get an “A” in it, though)

I told my kids the story, of how I had come out and visited their Mom.  How we drove all the way to Big Trees because, frankly, her father wanted to take us there.  I was all for it, but I distinctly remember Andrea being less than thrilled.  Still…she caved in and did it anyway.  If it gave us a chance to have some wine and a picnic – a fact I left out of the story for the kids – their mother was all in.  I went along and, frankly, hopped up on narcotics for the pain in my infected gums and aching tooth, I could have visited the Calaveras County landfill and not cared.

Why I bring this up, though, is because there was a dichotomy to the story.  I had fondness for their Mom, and my brain still remembers great details of everything that happened in those first years with her.  They were intense and fiery and sexy and I would go back to those very memories whenever things got bad or difficult to remind myself…this is why you married this woman.

But during the trip, when I’d bring up the trip with their mother, each of the kids would have their own qualifications for what likely happened:

2013-08-10 14.42.35“I doubt Mom would have walked up this trail, Dad.”  That was true.  It was near vertical in places and filled with tree roots and their Mom was likely dressed to the nines, even to go to a state park.
“She didn’t like hiking.  Mom wasn’t an outdoorsy type.”  True again.
“Did you stay a long time Dad?”
“No, kiddo. ”
“Because of Mom?”
“Well…no…your Mom probably wanted to stay.”
“Grandpa, right?”  That was right.  Andrea’s Dad liked to say he visited places, but he didn’t spend a lot of time there once he’d arrived.  He’d go, see the sights and get out.  Lingering wasn’t something her family did.  Camping they did, but I wasn’t up for that and we weren’t in a position to do it at that time.

It was interesting, to me and I had come to realize that we had swung the pendulum both ways: we started out two years ago adoring everything about Andrea.  She was perfection, the beautiful photos from her youth and the smile and the love she showed us.  A year later we were talking about the bad things, the stuff that put us through so much stress.  That seemed all we could dwell on.  Now, though, we’ve reached the happy medium, which is what marriage really is/was, right?  We had hard times, we had amazing times.  I’m sure my own kids will have their vision of how their Dad raised them and there will be things about me that drive them completely bonkers.  I hope by the end they realize I tried my best.

But as we stood there next to a tree that was thousands of years old, I knew they’d at least remember visiting the place.  Where they weren’t real sure they wanted to go after we got home it was all they could talk about.

As I tucked in the boys for the night they informed me “we had the best day, Dad!”

That’s all I could hope for.

“Don’t Wait Up”

There’s comfort in a few standard parenting things.

When I was in high school and later college, when I’d come home for the summer, if I went out with friends, knowing full well I wouldn’t get home until around midnight (this would be after the age of 18) my father would be there, waiting, in his chair.

I never really thought about it until tonight, but I do the same thing.

My oldest daughter is 18, old enough to know what she should and should not do.  She’s an adult, at least by the letter of the law, and in a few weeks she’s going to be in college.  By the time her birthday rolls around this year she’ll be the age I was when I met her mother.  That actually scares me a little bit, I have to be honest.

But tonight she wanted to go out with friends and I didn’t really have a problem with that.

“You don’t have to wait up,” she said as she walked out the door at about a quarter to ten.  Her friends had worked late, and she knew they’d be talking for awhile.
“I never have to wait up,” I told her.
“Yeah, I know, just putting it out there.”

But I sit here now, writing, and I hope that she takes comfort in the fact that I would be here waiting for her when she gets home.  Sure, I worry to a degree, she’s a young girl out late.  Still, I don’t think about it that way.  It’s a comfort to me just as much that she’s coming in the door and I know she’s safe.  I may not get to do this in a few weeks’ time, but I can do it today.

So I wait up.  It’s not painful (though tomorrow at work might be).  It is comforting, hopefully for both of us, but I’m not thinking of it from her perspective as much as my own.  If I can do this a few more times, I’ll certainly do it.

And when she’s older, or coming with a boyfriend (he shuddered at the thought) or making her way for the holidays . . . I’ll be there, in a chair, like my father, just waiting for her so she knows I’m there.  It’s not to put a fear into her, it’s to comfort her to know that she’s that important.  That it’s not worry, it’s welcoming and it’s consistent.

It’s loving.

So I sit . . . and I will wait up.

The Next Mile Marker

I sit here tonight, unable to sleep, watching a computer screen, and my mind keeps drifting to something I’ve said a lot: there are a lot of milestones ahead and we have to face them in a different way.

I’m approaching that next mile marker.

I made a lot of choices in my life and I have had to face the consequences of those choices.  Getting married early was a choice, and that had consequences.  90% of them were great consequences.  10% of them were not.  Would I do it over?  I think so, though if I had today’s head and heart I might have done some of it differently, but that’s the benefit of the looking glass into the past, isn’t it?

Abbi
Abbi

But I always knew there would be things that came up that made life a little harder on me, the kids, all of us.  Graduation was one.  Abbi was happy as a clam when she found out her grandparents were coming for her graduation.  I could also see the disappointment when she realized we couldn’t get them seats for the ceremony.  I stayed, as did Hannah and her brother, Sam.  But the rest of the seats were full.  We planned a shindig that we couldn’t in good conscience, in the end, force people to attend.  It was Africa-hot and it was insanely late.  Abbi didn’t get home until sometime after 10pm.  That’s a college-party time, not a high school graduation reception.

All that day, that night, the whole thing had a spector hanging over it.  Andrea’s presence was missing.  She’d have despised the minor party, spent too much money and it would have been beautiful.  She’d have thought – as my Mom did – that we should have had the reception the next day.  I didn’t want to intrude on everyone’s weekend.  Abbi was relieved that she’d gotten through the day and was finally about to strike out on her own.

But I saw what was missing, and it’s part of why she’s so excited to go out on her own.  Every conversation with a person who doesn’t know about our last two years – how her Mom died in the hospital; how she didn’t get to say goodbye; how everyone told her she’d take up so much of a burden (which I’m pleased to say she admits wasn’t true, after all) because, you know, she’s “only got a Dad.”  You know how us guys are, after all, what do we know?

Every new person she meets is fine until the moment when they ask if she’s helping Mom with dinner or going to Anna Karenina with her Mom?  She abhors the look, the awkward nature, the questions, and dealing with the grief all over again when someone asks her what happened.  She hates that they look at her differently.  She hates that every conversation after that conversation is now tempered with the seal of loss.  She’s the same person, always was, they just look at her now through mist-covered lenses.  She doesn’t like that.

The kids, all four, with that smile.
The kids, all four, with that smile.

But as I deal with paying for college, looking at the denials for school loans due to my choices in the days and months after losing Andrea – after losing our home due to becoming a single-income family; after changing jobs by necessity . . . all of those choices had consequences.  Could I change the bank’s decision on the house?  Well, no, and I don’t blame them.  I’m not angry.  They were right, I couldn’t have made the payments and it was their right.  I can’t be angry for that and I don’t begrudge them doing what they had to in order to recoup losses.  I totally understand that.  The consequence, though, is the ding on my credit that then affects my daughter.  Where my wife had creative solutions for everything, I do believe her solutions had consequences that rippled through to the future.  I’m facing some of those choices today but my daughter has seen the realities of her Mom’s choices to get what she wanted regardless of consequences and she’s taking stock in reality, not in what she wants at any cost.

But I look ahead to next month and see that I’m watching her go.  I don’t hang on, clawing at her to stay or stay close, that’s not the way it is.  But I can hear her mother crying in my mind’s memories and see how she’d be reacting.  I see the positive side, where Abbi chooses her own dorm bedding and clothing and materials.  I see the negative, where the Mom who squeezed her a little too tight and cried in the car on the way home and dropping her off and helping her decorate her dorm room.  I can build shelves or put together Ikea furniture.

The next mile marker is approaching and I know we’ll pass it, celebrating, seeing it as it approaches and understanding it’s a major shift in Abbi’s life, in our lives, and moving into the next phase of our lives.  Six became five members of the family. Now our daily lives will be four.

But as we approach the marker, Abbi moving a different, parallel path that still will meet with ours through the trail, we all still sail straight into the rising sun.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

I wrote something about a year ago about how people all around me told me that they were seeing signs and getting signals from my late wife.  She was seemingly everywhere when somebody needed them.

Just not with the five people in my house.

I know that sounds harsh, and I’ve had people even say “she’s there, you just haven’t noticed or looked hard enough.”

That could easily be.  It could, I don’t know.  I’m not the best person at seeing signs, signals, and allusions around me.  I’m a guy.  Like most guys, we need a 2×4 to the head to actually know when someone – particularly women – needs something.

But this isn’t about me.  It’s not.

The kids, all four, with that smile.
The kids, all four, with that smile.

It’s about my kids.  Two kids in particular.

I don’t know why . . . and you’ll likely have noticed I’ve been seeing the difficult parts of my wife coming out in my daughters lately.  Now . . . my sons.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that my kids do that remind me of the most beautiful and wonderful parts of Andrea.  When Hannah walks up and hugs me; when Abbi giggles and dances around the house; when Sam sidles up and uncomfortably, nervously asks me something with a nervous laugh; when Noah smiles; they all have those bits and pieces that were the whole of their mother.  When they laugh, particularly together, I can hear her laughing.

But then today . . . and yesterday . . . it all came sort of crashing in with the other parts.

The obsessive, compulsive, obstinate, have to get their way part.

This last couple days was the final work on what the school calls “biography in a bag.”  It’s pretty simple, get some artifacts together that represent your person, dress up like them, put notes together . . . all that goes in a bag and you present it to your class.  The problem is, both Noah and Sam had grandiose ideas but wouldn’t do anything about it until the last minute.  Their reports were well done, well thought out, even completely researched.

But then came the costumes.

Sam and Noah both . . . “I don’t want to look like Sam/Noah does!”

I basically looked at the two of them and replied: “your guys both have suits on!  It’s a suit!  Not a Matlock searsucker suit, not a khaki sport jacket . . . these are guys from 1849 all in the exact same freaking black jacket, white shirt and tie!”

I got the Andrea Andrews cold stare.  Logic be damned, they want their own way.

“What do you guys want to do?!”
Nothing.
“Any ideas?!  I’m open . . . but it’s now 8:30 at night and your only options left are what’s in the house.”
“Daaad….” God, I hate that, by the way.  It’s like they’ve started puberty, too, and they haven’t.  “my guy has a beard!”
“Okay . . . do you think your teachers will let you have a fake beard on since you’re supposed to go to mass before class?  Because all I can do now is split up cotton balls and glue them to your cheeks with spirit gum.  Then you’ll need cold cream to take it off.”
I didn’t think it was possible, but their looks got colder.

2013-04-24 07.00.53“You don’t understand . . . ” was how they started.  They looked at me pissed off, cold, angry, and sure they were right, even though they had no position they could take.

“Let me make this just perfectly clear to you…at this point you have to wear the suits.  Period!  It was 18-freaking-forty-nine.  They only way they’d look anything different was if they wore a zoot suit and those didn’t come out until the 20th century.  So, for the love of God, (and here I heard Bill Cosby coming out of my mouth before I could stop it) you’ll wear suits, with different jackets, and Noah in a hat . . . because I Said So!

The boys rolled their eyes, threw up their arms and stomped upstairs to put on their pajamas.

Abbi looked up at me and simply stated . . . “and there’s Mom coming out of them for you.”

She was right.  Andrea would pitch those same fits.  Logic be damned, if she wanted something, she found a way to get it.

“Yeah,” I told her, “but the problem for them is . . . your Mom and I were partners.  This is a dictatorship.  Beside that, am I wrong?”
“No,” Abbi commented, smiling.  “But were you ever wrong with Mom.”
“Yes,” I said, “though when I was right she would push, and poke, and push and poke . . .just – like – that.”
“Oh, yeah, I know,” said my daughter, getting a bit more down, “and I remember you guys having some real blowouts!”

She was right, too.  Most of those arguments stemmed from both of us digging a trench and refusing to move, right or wrong.

“Yeah . . . difference is I’m right today.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Abbi added, then smiled and said “doesn’t make it easier to deal with.”
“Yep,” I told her, smiling, “should never surprise us that when your Mom decided to show up for us . . . this is how she appeared.”

Abbi looked at me, grinned, and put the period on the night.

“She always did know how to make an entrance.”

Her Mother’s Daughter

My daughter Hannah is one of the sweetest, happiest, most kind individuals I’ve ever known.

Most of the time.

Noah, Sam and HannahIn the last few months, though, I’ve noticed a change in her.  It’s not for the worse, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like somehow the influx of hormones hit overdrive and I’m having to deal with a teenager who’s still struggling with their own identity.  Now, before you tell me that’s every teenager, I get that.  But it’s never been Hannah.

Hannah was always the little girl joined to her Mom’s hip.  She loved her Grandma – my Mom – sometimes to the ire of Andrea, my wife, who thought she had Hannah as a complete and utter kindred spirit.  Hannah once, as a 3 or 4-year-old, after getting a new nightgown and a pair of fuzzy slippers from my mother wasn’t understanding that my parents were leaving to go home.  Hannah had grabbed a paper bag and inserted her teddy bear, the same said slippers, a second pair of pajamas and was waiting by the door to get into my folks’ car.  When my Mom informed her that she had to stay at her own house Hannah was crushed.  Tears welled up in the corners of her giant brown eyes and she said, huffing in tears the whole while, “but I wanted to go with you Grandma!”

That was Hannah.  The little, loving, sweet kid.

Now it’s Hannah the teenager.

Yeah, sure, there’s the acne that’s started.  More than that is my having to constantly ask her if she’s used the face wash and cleaned up and washed her hair.  I’m constantly telling her to take her hair out of her eyes, not because it bothers me but because she can’t see what’s in front of her and is constantly saying so.

“I’m going to take you to the salon and get you a pixie cut,” I told her recently.
“What?!”
“A pixie cut . . . you know, short hair like that girl on Once Upon a Time.  She looks good in it, and she’s a brunette.”

I’m still pulling the daggers out of my chest she shot from her eyes.

Now, while I deserved that irksome response, others I don’t.  Tonight was the best example.

I got home, unable yet again to cook due to the lack of counter space.  It’s not that my kitchen is too small, it’s because the dishes I’d ordered her to do seemed to have duplicated like rabbits.  I had no pans to cook.

A year ago I made a deal with my kids: I’ll cook.  If you have a meal you prefer, I’ll make it.  I’ll make desserts for your lunches.  Heck, I make their lunches.  I’ll do that, the laundry, vacuum . . . all they have to do is the dishes so I can cook.

Needless to say I’m the only one making good on the deal.

So when I got home to the mess and Hannah walked in, annoyed, yelling – nay, screaming – at her brother and then ordered me to fill out a field trip form it was my turn to give a look that would kill.

But it didn’t take.

“Daaaaaad!  It’s due tomorrow!”
“I know, I got emails from your teacher, the room mother, coordinator . . . everybody.  I’ll fill it out.”
“No . . . you need to fill it out now!

That’s when I lost it.  Truly, completely, lost it.
“Oh . . . really?!  You want to eat tonight?  I have no room, no pans, no forks, no dishes from a kitchen that I was told would be clean when I got home and your most important issue is a form I already knew I had to fill out?!”

She got angry and started raising her voice.  She was, you see, right in her mind.

I bring this up because of several things:
1) she’s hormonal, 13, and just being a teen.  I get that.
2) Before you get mad at me, it’s still true…Hannah gets horrible PMS, just like her mother did.  Now it’s added to the hormones
3) This is the hardest…she’s showing signs and signals of acting like her mother.  Just like her mother.

Andrea, when I first met her, with that smile...
Andrea, when I first met her, with that smile…

I loved Andrea, let me be firm on that.  There were 10 million things about her I adored.  Her anger over random things was not one of them.  It’s hard thing to look into the face of my 13-year-old brunette daughter with the brown eyes and see the angry, fiery rhetoric of the blonde haired blue eyed woman I met twenty-odd years ago.  I also worry because that behavior didn’t help her mother, not one bit.  It didn’t scare me away because I could help her control it.  I don’t want Hannah to have to look at working on that for too many years.

But it dawned on me that there are a number of differences.  I have genes and DNA of my own floating around in her body there, too.  I also am not married to this girl, I’m her father.  Andrea was an equal and usually there was something that stressed her out and I could find the root cause of her anger.  For Hannah, it’s the random stresses of the day she thinks are most important.  Where with Andrea I had to come to compromises and was often far too deferential, with Hannah it’s different.  I love her to death, but this isn’t a democracy, it’s a dictatorship.

“I have every intention of filling out yours, Noah’s and Sam’s forms.  I will fill out your registration packet for high school.  I have it all on a big list in my freaking head.  The thing you should worry about more, though, is the fact that I’m going to take away your guitar . . . again . . . if this kitchen isn’t cleaned up!”

It’s hard for me to see the darker side of Andrea coming out in my child.  Hannah and I have conflicts often because there was such a closeness between the two of them and a distance between the two of us.  We’re not like oil and water.  She hugs me every day, talks to me constantly and the horror I thought she’d face in losing her Mom isn’t as horrific as either of us thought.

Still . . . I’ve come to realize there are things I have to face that genetically bleed through in her hormones, PMS, and mentality.  It’s hard to see and face because it does . . . once in awhile . . . remind me of the best and the worst of her mother.  I miss all of her, not just the good parts, and she unwittingly lets them all bleed through at once.

Hannah and a friend
Hannah and a friend

But by tonight’s end, I saw the best as well.  When the four of them finally stopped fighting and the calm hit the room, they smiled as I read a chapter of a book to Noah and Sam and Hannah peeked in the doorway.

Of course . . . I had managed to fill out all five field trip forms, too.

It was then I saw the sparkle in her eyes and the happiness again.  It was then I saw the smile, the combination of all four of them smiling, and I saw the best of her mother too.

That’s when I knew she really was her mother’s daughter.

 

Everybody Ought to Make a Change

It’s not often I upset my oldest daughter in a superior fashion, but I did it not long ago.

The catalyst for the anger really isn’t important . . . and it’s personal so I’m not going to go into major details of what happened.

But it upset her, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the first weeks after losing my wife, her mother.  That, in turn, upset me.  It’s not that her crying or anger or upset behavior was what did it.  What made me feel the worst was the fact that I had been selfish and ignored any kinds of signs that built up to this display of emotion.  That was silly of me since I’d been keenly aware of her brother, who had not dealt, completely, with his mother’s passing, either.

But in talking with therapists, colleagues, relatives, friends, hell I talked with all but the plumber who lives down the street . . . it’s abundantly clear that my actions alone didn’t cause what was the teenage equivalent of steam blowing out of her ears.

My oldest, Abbi
My oldest, Abbi

This is a year . . . for that matter, it’s a season . . . full of change for her.  What she didn’t realize is that it’s a major time filled with change for all of us.  In the middle of the chaos of her emotions, still swimming – even if she wouldn’t admit it – from hormones and grief, she is facing a massive change in her life.

This wouldn’t even be the biggest issue.  Every kid – hell every family, and make no mistake, we’re all having to face these changes – goes through the stress and uncertainty of choosing and eventually moving to a college.  This signals a change in your life because your daily life is now under your control and yours alone, for the most part.  Sure, just like me, when she needs help, she’ll call her Dad and I’ll do whatever I can whenever I can.  She’s chosen a school on the left side of the country so she’s not so far away I can’t help.

But this breakdown came in the middle of wondering if she’d actually be able to choose or get into one of the colleges she wanted.  Her dream school was NYU, but beyond the fact that there is a major amount of work and craziness to get into their drama department, she also realized that their tuition – with no financial aid given at all – was equivalent to 2/3 my salary a year.  Not something you should take in school loans for an industry she’ll likely make little or nothing at in the first few years.

But add to that the fact that this change comes after two years of horrific, major changes for her.  She lost her mother.  Her father changed jobs (out of necessity).  We lost our home.  Then . . . for the same reason she couldn’t go to NYU . . . I had to move her out of the private school she was attending due to the fact I just couldn’t afford it.  We went from a dual-income family to a sole provider in a week’s time.

Moving schools scarred her.  It really did.  She lost a lot of daily friendship . . . daily friendship that just reminded her, day after day, after day, that she wasn’t there by sending her emails, Facebook posts, Tweets, and whatever other social media reminders of “miss you!” and “wish you were here!” and “why did you have to go?!”  That wore on her.  Then trying to make friends at a school where everyone by junior year had found their social circles . . . even worse.  Add to that the stress of boys asking cute underclass girls to prom and homecoming and you’re a senior with no date . . . for the same above reasons . . . and her life was crazy.

Then I came along with one little selfish event . . . and it wasn’t even the final straw, it was the half a broken piece of hay that flitted onto the final straw on the camel’s back and we watched the humps slam together and jiggle in their collapse as the camel himself broke in twain.

She’s doing so much better now, but the distance . . . the tiniest distance . . . it’s still there.  The tight-knit, insane closeness we always had isn’t quite as tight.

Part of it is my fault.  Part isn’t.  But one thing I realized, and now she has too, is that everybody ought to make a change.  Sometimes for the best…others because it’s just part of life.  None of us wanted the crazy two years we’ve had, but then it came like a storm through the streets of our lives.  We nailed down everything we could, but sometimes . . . things just float away.  That’s what happened with us.

My gorgeous girl . . . junior prom
My gorgeous girl . . . junior prom

But with a college chosen, school nearing its end, the new life, without people asking about what happened to her Mom, or how much work she has to do, or her father’s personal life or how he cares for 4 kids alone . . . that all goes away.

It was a good thing that for once, she sees this, finally, as a change for the better.

When It All Comes Down

When It All Comes Down: BB King, Live at the BBC

How can I criticize the life I chose to lead or a woman who is no longer here to defend to talk about the life once lived?

That’s a question I get asked in a whole myriad of different ways; different permutations.  They all ask the same thing, though: “how can you possibly be moving on?”

I’m not moving on.  I’m living.

I stated this before: I honor my past . . . all our shared past . . . but I still have to live.  That’s the biggest thing.  When it all comes down, I’ll still be around.  I don’t just survive the loss of my wife, I came to the determination that I need to live as well.  So where in the past I’d watch life go sliding by and be comfortable watching the parade go by it’s not something I can do now.  It’s not a reaction to the loss it’s a realization that I have to live my own way.

Noah Hamming it Up
Noah Hamming it Up

Sometimes I think others fail to realize that the things they’re seeing me do and try and live are new to them.  I’ve had two full years to come to terms with this.  That’s the hard part they don’t realize.  In the days, weeks, and months after you lose your spouse people come up and give you the sympathy and – God help me – the pity.  What they often don’t realize is the fact that the small things that spark their memories: seeing me and the kids; smelling a perfumed lotion; hearing a song; all those things may make them think of Andrea.  They may get sad and it may affect their day in some way.  What they don’t realize is that they get to go back to their day.  Our day, mine and the kids, particularly in the days and weeks after losing Andrea, was totally up in the air.  Our lives – our daily lives – were intertwined with this person.  There wasn’t a singular thing, not one, that didn’t involve her.  Hearing music; doing the laundry; reading a book; watching television; hell, even making toast was something that on every given day involved having that person in the room and part of your life.

Then two years ago that part of my life was over.

The musician in his home studio
The musician in his home studio

Where most people get to go back to their lives and the affectation that touched them is gone, like a singular bullet that may have grazed them in the ear, for my kids and myself we were in the bottom of a crater, hit by emotional bombshells even the minutiae of the day dropped on us.

So early on I did things that didn’t touch the trigger.  I played the guitar and made music.  Those things Andrea only barely tolerated, and while they were cause for many a fight, I still did them.

For the last four to five years we were content, sure, but more than that we were complacent.  I cooked more than the same 3 or 4 meals, I got adventurous.  I cooked desserts and made dinners and got wild with cakes and cookies and whatever I could find.

So by now, two years later, I’m not just surviving, I’m seeing the parade approach and I’m joining it.

That’s not to say all my kids are in the same place.  Everyone grieves, you see, at a different pace, in a different way and we all see the world and the emotions affecting us in different ways.  Some have dealt with the loss and are seeing the wound turn to a scar.  Others are still bleeding.  But I recognize that and can only do what I can to comfort and help.  The best thing I heard this week was my oldest, Abbi, tell me that she and the kids had so much fun on our vacation that they totally forgot, until the end of the day on the 26th, that it was the day their Mom had died.  It wasn’t I was trying to get them to forget, I was trying to get them to live.  They did it, and the day came and went, with honor, love, and dignity.  That was the goal.

But my kids and the world need to know, as the King of the Blues so aptly states up there, “when it all comes down, look for me, and I’ll still be around.”

My amazing kids, taken by "Hunny Bee Photograpy": Amy Renz
My amazing kids, taken by “Hunny Bee Photograpy”: Amy Renz