Tag Archives: leaves

Walking in Her Shoes

Today I spent a good deal of time with my middle daughter Hannah.

Hannah at the Who
Hannah at the Who

It’s not that I avoid contact with my middle child, that would be silly.  I’m a middle kid…so was my Dad.  It’s not that I avoid time with any of my children.  The horribly accurate fact of the matter is that I have a finite amount of time and I have four children.  Period.  Now, you may chastise me for having so many kids to which I’d reply that it’s really not your place to judge.  We had our children and the idea was that we’d care for them together.

But that wasn’t to be.  I wish that I had all the time in the world, even the time to do every tiny detail with them.  Instead I balance what time I do have between the four of them and most days I don’t do that very well.

The thing that touched me incredibly this weekend, though, was the fact that she shared with me something I knew was bothering her.

Hannah is built just like her mother but looks like her father.  Those aren’t bad things, she’s gotten a lot of the best parts of the two of us.  She has my hair, which is thick and dark.  I always struggled with it, but I’m a guy.  Every girl and woman I know is jealous of Hannah’s hair even though she, herself, takes little or no care of it.

But Middle School is an awkward time for even the most popular and beautiful of people.  For a girl who is already 5 foot 8 and carrying her mother’s bone structure I think it’s more of a struggle than Hannah lets on, most of the time.

Please, before I go farther, don’t take this to mean I harp on this poor girl for her weight, her appearance or her demeanor.  She was closest of all the kids to her Mom.  She was a kindred spirit to her, which means she is a lot like me and therefore harder for me to keep my calm and not get frustrated.  I’ve made her mistakes and don’t want her to make them, too.  The hardest thing in the world for me is to be quiet and let her make them.  Which I do, most of the time.

But this weekend saw her want two things: to start exercising with me; to lose weight.  Neither is a bad thing, but her reasons were veiled, even though I could see through the fabric.

“I don’t want to look like this for my Middle School Graduation,” she told me.  She wanted to get on my weight loss regimen, which is less regimen and more trying to eat less and exercise a little.  I’ve also started using protein shakes for weight loss replacing a lunch meal.  Hannah wanted to do the shakes.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Hannah,” was my response.
But Hannah wasn’t deterred yet.  She told me her weight, which I won’t pass along, that’s not for you to know.  But she said it was too much for someone her age, and she’s not wrong.
“That kind of weight loss program for a thirteen-year-old, though, Hannah just isn’t right.”
“But Dad, I shouldn’t weigh that much!”
I had to tell her the truth at this point.
“Hannah, your Mom, your uncle, even your sister gained weight in middle school.  Unfortunately, you have the genetics.  But look at your uncle, look at your sister . . . none of them are suffering from it now.”
“But Mom was overweight.”
“Yes, Hannah, she was and I have to be honest you’ll struggle with that your whole life.  But bear in mind, Hannah, I was 60 pounds heavier two years ago.  I’m still 15 overweight, but here’s what you need . . . you just need to move.  Don’t come home and plop in your room and sit and listen to music.  Go outside, go for a walk, do things.  You can listen and move.  Movement alone makes your heart pump.  And you need to watch your portions.  When you ask if you can have more dinner portions, think about whether you’re full or just want to eat more.  I give you a decent portion size.  Maybe stick with that.”
She still wanted to do the shakes.
“Hannah, your lunches are healthy.  I give you a sandwich, a homemade treat, and most the time an apple or banana.  You aren’t getting too many calories.”
She looked at the floor.

“Hannah you’re not in trouble and you’re really beautiful.  You just need to wear more flattering clothes and take care of yourself.  Trim your hair, wash up, learn to hold yourself . . . nobody will know otherwise then.”

So today her sister took her out for new clothes . . . clothes that aren’t shorts and a t-shirt . . . and she looks beautiful.  She smiled from ear-to-ear and wouldn’t take off the new sweater and pants I’d paid for.

Hannah and her friend Jake
Hannah and her friend Jake with new clothes

I was happy.  More importantly, so was she.

She’s walking in her Mom’s shoes now, but I walked in hers for a bit. . . and took her for a walk.  She realized she needed to be in better shape, but is going to walk each day – just a little.

My daughter suffers from what every kid her age does – being a pubescent middle-schooler.  None of us, except maybe Brad Pitt, looked good at 13.  But she does.  She just doesn’t think so . . . and that’s okay.  Because I know, whatever differences we have, I see the beauty of her Mom and her relatives in her.

I’ve walked in her shoes.

The Consternation of Hormones

I have two hormonal kids in my house.

Well, it’s going to be four in the not-so-distant future.

My girls...by Amy Renz Manoucheri's Hunny Bee Photography
My girls…by Amy Renz Manoucheri’s Hunny Bee Photography

The two girls, ages 18 and 13, are the first to walk down the road of acne, hormones, the opposite sex, and . . . well for them, menstruation.  None of these things breeds a calm and easygoing environment in my household.

I should preface this with the fact that it’s not like I am not used to the hormonal changes in my house.  My wife, God rest her soul, was one of the most insane PMS-ing women in the world.  I mean . . . those cartoons where the woman during her cycle turns into the head of Godzilla with the body of a velociraptor . . . that was Andrea.  I learned very early in our relationship that the one week a month was one where I was never going to make her happy and that everything was my fault.

Abbi, my oldest, is fairly even-keeled.  Now, she still has her moments, but they’re more or less minor and she understands if she’s being unreasonable.  Her 13-year-old sister Hannah, however, doesn’t fall into that category.  Hannah inherited her mother’s hormonal . . . well, imbalance for lack of a better phrase.  It’s funny, she’s built like her mother, looks like my side of the family, and has traits from both sides.  She’s truly a unique mixture from the DNA commingling of our gene pools.

But I have tolerance to a degree.  I was not the most pleasant of teenagers and my mother dealt with the fact that there were three boys, all with different hormones and all with different ideas of what things should be like.  I don’t blame my kids for the outburst or eye roll or other things that some parents punish for without reason.  However, tolerance needs to be earned, to a degree, as well.  Hannah is about to take on a load more responsibility.  In less than a year she’ll be watching her brothers and she has to act like she’s responsible.  This after getting yet another email this evening from a teacher saying she has assignments missing.

Here’s where the hormones come in.  I ask why I get the email and I get “Geez . . . I don’t know, why didn’s she say anything?!”
“Why would she, Hannah?”
“Because she complimented me on getting my grades back up.”
“Yes, but . . . it’s not her homework, Hannah, it’s yours!”
“But Daaaaadddd!  Why wouldn’t she just tell me?!”
“Ummm . . . she is.  By sending me an email.  Not her job to look after your homework, Hannah.”
Here’s where the eye roll came in.  It’s also where I informed her that if she didn’t fix it . . . the guitar goes away again.  That stopped the eyerolling.  It became sort of eye popping, but she realized I follow through on my punishments and smartly let it drop.

The Boys, during our March trip to NE
The Boys, during our March trip to NE

But I worry.  Sam has started getting acne and he’s only almost ten.  He’s the flirty, sociable, funny kid.  Noah is just starting to see that changes in skin tone from soft kid-like, to growing more.  So in the midst of that I see more hormones invading the home.

So I wait . . . and worry for the hormonal wasteland of pubescent angst to start hitting in full force.  I used to joke that – before we found out we were having twin boys – we’d end up with four girls and they’d all have their period on a separate week of the month.
“Why do you think that?” my wife used to ask.
“Because God has a sense of humor,” I used to joke.

But the joke’s still on me.  Don’t need menstrual cycles or girls with hormones . . . boys have their own issues.  Now I have to think how I’m going to contend with that.

Turns out . . . I was right.  Four kids, all in the house with hormones giving me constant consternation.
God does, it turns out, have a sense of humor.

The Drama of Grief

One of the most difficult things of trying to be both parents is pushing and fighting against the nature of being a guy and a Dad.  That means when things go wrong, my natural instinct is to try and fix what’s wrong.

But that doesn’t work when it’s a teenage girl who has the problem.

I’m not belittling her problems, I’m saying, frankly, that I have to put on a totally different hat and change my mindset.  Completely.   Even then I don’t really get it right.

Abbi, you see, has taken on the job of assistant director for the school’s spring play.  Not a musical, but a play.  This would normally be plenty of stress, but add to that the fact they did auditions and every kid under the sun wanted Abbi to tell them what their chances were and she’s like Atlas carrying the earth on her shoulders.  Add to this the fact that they wouldn’t leave her alone even when she was at her Grandfather’s funeral . . . and she was a bit of a mess.

Add to this the fact that she was studying grief and death in her psychology class today and she’s even worse off.  She needed to talk to somebody . . . somebody her own age, not her Dad.  But those somebodys were wrapped up in their own world and anger and God knows what else.  It’s times like this I’m glad to be a guy.  Something goes wrong?  You hit them.  Maybe it’s a harder tackle during a pickup football game.  Maybe you just walk up and shove them against a locker.  Regardless, it’s there . . . and then it’s done.

Girls don’t do that.  Girls work emotions and turn their backs and . . . let’s face it, where guys are told they’re “emotionally unavailable” and “hold it in” they don’t use emotions to get back at others.

This is the world my oldest, who has more of my and my father’s mindset then the mindset of others, has entered.  Sure, her skin needs to thicken up, but then . . . so does everyone’s.

But the hardest thing for me to contend with is hearing “Mom would know what to do.”  This is hard not because it’s true – and it is.  But because it’s also not true.  How do you tell your daughter, or son, or whomever, that their mother, who very well would have had all the answers for this situation, may not have had it either?  I know Andrea would have had advice for Abbi . . . but I also know that more than a few times Andrea made situations far worse than better.  Situations that called for more tact and less attack would get the complete opposite reaction from her.  Where I loved her being forward and up front, others . . . well they didn’t love it.

All I can do is say what I think . . . and not say other things I think.  Sometimes time is all there is to heal the wounds, one at a time.  They all heal at a different pace.  Some are deeper and have a visible scar that may fade, but never disappear.  Others are there and gone in a day or two.  That’s what she’s dealing with.  She’s been pummeled over the last couple weeks, by illness, cancer of her grandfather, illness of her grandmother, and seeing the loss of her mother all over again.  Add eighteen-year-old girls in the drama club adding, well, drama to the grief and she just couldn’t take any more of the beating.  Rather than the sympathy of her peers she got “rule one is don’t talk about fight club!”

I never said it would be easy.  Hell, it hasn’t been easy.  But it was supposed to be a little easier on them . . . and that’s what makes it hardest on me.  So you’ll excuse me if I go beat a few chords out of my guitar for awhile to lessen the blows on myself.

Fear and Loathing

By all accounts what was supposed to be a great year – I have to admit – has gotten off to just a s***ty start.  Andrea’s father is terminal and we don’t know how much time he has left.  Then very early this morning my Grandma passed away.  Don’t get me wrong, she had a very long life, she’s been ill and is (sorry, was) in her nineties.  Others would say “she had a full life.”  Wouldn’t make it easier for me to deal with, though.

All this has really impacted our home.  I wish I could say it hasn’t but I’d be lying and our family isn’t big on that.  I found out first thing in the morning about my Grandma but didn’t tell the kids.  Still, my oldest, Abbi, came up to me and said “you okay Dad?  You look like you need a hug,” and proceeded to squeeze me until I smiled before leaving the house.


But the day couldn’t stay that way.  I had a shoot in the San Francisco Bay area.  I should know better than to ever set anything up there because every time I’ve gone there for work – and I do mean every time – something goes wrong.  Once Noah got sick.  The second time . . . Sam had a migraine so bad he was throwing up in the school office.  Each time I was either in Menlo Park or the Presidio or . . . yesterday in San Jose.

Noah, one of the twins hasn’t handled the grief well.  Not grief over his Mom passing, nor dealing with waiting for his Grandfather to pass.  It’s created a situation that nobody can fix.  He’s awful in school.  He’s talked back to his teachers, something that would have had me beaten senseless (an exaggeration, but I’d have been in major trouble) and forced to contend with being good from then on.  Unfortunately, Noah not only misbehaved, after misbehaving and talking about it and dealing with it . . . turns around the next school day and does it again.  I received a call in the middle of a shoot in San Jose and was asked to come get him.  Noah was refusing to do anything at school and the teachers didn’t have the time to deal with him.  Nor should they, it’s not really their problem, not that extreme a problem anyway.  They’ve been amazing, his teachers, and far more tolerant than he deserves, in my opinion.



In my own grief I just couldn’t deal substantially with it last night, which actually might have been the best thing.  Noah was waiting for me to lecture, get angry, get upset, hell even just say something.  I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  Hell, I didn’t even cook tonight.  I bought a couple frozen pizzas and threw them in the oven.  I had cookie dough left from the night before and used those for the lunches tomorrow.  I just couldn’t deal with his grief, I wasn’t sure how to deal with myself right now.

But I am writing now at about 3am.  Noah came into the room crying uncontrollably.  He was scared, though he wouldn’t tell me why.
“Bad dream?” I asked him.
“(sobbing) bad dream!  I’m really scared!”

I patted on the pillow next to me.  He climbed in and immediately fell asleep.  I, however, cannot, for a couple reasons.
First: he’s shaking.  Even though he fell asleep, the poor little guy was horrified by something and though with me he feels safe enough to sleep, the adrenaline and the fear have him shuddering even now, a half hour later.
Second: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but there’s an old Yogi Bear cartoon where a little bird can’t fly south for the winter so he sleeps with Yogi.  Yogi snores, then the bird does and ends up right against Yogi’s side.  The bear moves, the bird moves.  The bear moves, the bird moves . . . until finally Yogi falls out of bed.  He sits up, watches the bird, and as the bird snores he meets the end of the bed and moves back to the middle, never falling.  That was me last night.  I’d move Noah, he’d end up right against my back.  I’d turn over and his head would be on my chest.  I feel for him, but now I can’t sleep, so I write.

But nothing knocks you back to reality like your kids being threatened.  Even if it’s an imagined or dreamed threat, I went into “Dad” mode and immediately held him until he calmed and fell asleep.  I look at him and wonder how a kid who can have so much love and be so sweet can also have such issues.  We know he hasn’t – almost two years later – dealt with the loss of his Mom the way he should.  But I can’t force him to deal with it, I can only tell him how much I love him and get him help the best I can.

So as I finish here I’ll lie back down, pray he’s rested and able to deal with school like everyone else tomorrow, and realize that sometimes grief, fear, and loathing all meld together, whether you like it or not.

It’s Christmas . . . Don’t Be Sad for Me

There’s a recurring phrase that is uttered throughout this time of year.  Not to each other, it’s not a common phrase like “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or “Happy New Year” . . . nothing like that.  It’s a phrase that I hear a lot . . .and it’s not just me.  I know others who lost their spouse and they get it too:

“It must just be so hard this time of year.”

Well . . . sure, it’s kind of hard.  But the thing is it’s not as hard as you think.

I know, I know, I’ve written about this before, here and on Good Enough Mother.

Still, I think it’s worth exploring just one more time.

A photo of one of our early, chaotic Christmases . . .
A photo of one of our early, chaotic Christmases . . .

Fall and Christmas are my favorite times of the year, they always have been.  I absolutely marvel at the change in the scenery, the firey red leaves and the muted earth tones that nature herself foists upon us as the weather turns colder.  The hardest part of the year . . . and it’s no coincidence that the blog started right then . . . was the fall that first year.  I love the crisp change in the season and the ability to put on a warm sweater and then find the person you love and just hold them.  It’s not sexual, it’s not lascivious, it’s sensual.  It’s loving and close and just . . . warm, inside and out.  I loved walking and hearing the leaves crunch under our feet.  I loved making drinks after and warming up and relaxing and starting a fire and just enjoying the season.

Christmas was the same.  It was stressful, painful, difficult, expensive, and just plain ridiculous.  I loved every m

Getting the Tree
Getting the Tree

inute of it.

That first Fall and Christmas were really hard for me and I don’t remember much about them.  Sure, I remember the presents and how the kids reacted, but the season?  Nothing.

But we made it through the cold.  It was a hard fought year, not one without its own stresses, but we made it.  We’re okay.  That’s hard for people to understand or believe, that we could possibly be okay.  I get that, it’s hard to imagine what you would do if the circumstances happened to you.  I didn’t have to imagine.

Still, last Christmas was great.  This one . . . though we don’t have as much money and I couldn’t get us out to visit my folks . . . it’s still great.  Why?  The kids and I are together and that’s all that matters.  We’re stronger together than when we’re apart.

As much as I love this time of year, last year I still woke up every morning having to adjust to the emptiness next to me in the bed.  This year I get up and do my routine.  That’s not losing her, that’s living with living without her.

It was important to me . . . the kids . . . all the family that we not lose the holidays to our loss.  It would be so easy to despair and make it a horrible time of year.  Instead, we embraced the holiday.  We bought the tree, we listened to Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas record, and we didn’t let little things get to us.

Tonight I made two pies, tarts and cookies.  We have the stuff for Christmas meal.  We have the stuff we need for the holiday.  I’m not sad, I’m excited.  The routines that could have killed us I embrace and enjoy.

So tomorrow night . . . well, tonight, since it’s now after Midnight as I write this, I’ll prepare for the big guy in the red suit to get credit for being the Christmas hero.  I’ll do what I’ve done every Christmas Eve since we lived in Texas . . . I’ll turn on one of my favorite movies – The Apartment with Jack Lemmon, and ready the house for Santa’s presents.  I’ll take a moment to realize my own Miss Kubelik isn’t here but still love every minute of the exhaustion that the season brings with it.  Sure, I’ll have twinges and memories.  That wound inside will always have moments that hurt.  Sights, smells, songs, even routines and traditions will bring that.  But it’s about remembering and honoring as much as it is moving forward.  The kids and I deserve to have great, happy, Merry Christmases.

It’s not about loss, you see.  It’s about life.


If You’ll be My Dixie Chicken

Dixie Chicken by Little Feat

This morning something spontaneous and amazing happened.

We burst into song.

2012-12-16 10.51.51

Yes, I know, I’m a musician and that shouldn’t surprise me.  I am, after all, the person who wrote in his own bio that “I see rhythm and harmony in the world.”

But that’s not always applicable to the four miniature human beings that reside with me every day.  They like music, too, they really don’t have a choice.  We pick out LP’s or CD’s and listen to music every night we have a chance to eat at the table.

One of our nightly musical excursions.
One of our nightly musical excursions.

I also play a little game when the radio’s on or I pick music that has any kind of history or background.  I cover up the radio, I hide the song and LP titles, and I quiz the kids on who it is.  There’s a misnomer from some out there that I only like music recorded between 1967 and 1975.  That’s not true.  I have a love of jazz, particularly Brubeck, Coltrane, early Miles Davis, all that.  Aretha, Ray Charles, even some Sinatra here and there.  Classic rock hangs in my head a lot, sure.  I have a deep and abiding respect for Eric Clapton.  I think Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs might possibly be the greatest rock album ever recorded.

But I also listen with the kids to the Black Keys.  I have Amanda Palmer’s new album.  (Okay, she was in the New York Dolls, but still, it’s new music)  The kids pick Adele and Bruno Mars along with Brian Setzer and Bonnie Raitt.  I take pride in exposing them to good music while we listen to some of the auto-tuned pop that dominates the recording industry today.

But this morning we were on the way to school and I had a CD in the car, something the kids hadn’t realized, and it started playing.

Ba dump.  Bump.  Ba dump, bump . . . went the bass.

“Who is it, Hannah,” I asked.
She screwed her face up tight, looking like she might know but couldn’t figure it out.
Then the vocals started:
I seen the bright lights of Memphis . . . “

“Oh!  It’s Little Feat!”

Then Hannah, Noah, Sam and I broke into song.
And the Commodore Hotel . . . and underneath a streetlamp, I met a Southern Belle”

More than breaking into song, I realized that the kids actually knew all the words.  Now, I get it . . . probably shouldn’t have my 9-year-olds singing “boy do I remember the strain of her refrain, and the nights we spent together, and the way she called my name…”

Still, I was singing The Joker and other songs at their age.  Still – “probably shouldn’t be singing this song at school,” was my line to them.
“Oh, we know,” Hannah says.
“Why?” asks Noah, who can’t let the question go.
“Just don’t, okay?  Most people wouldn’t understand.”

But then Hannah recounted my tale . . . how Lowell George changed the back pickup in his Stratocaster to a Telecaster one.  How he used a Craftsman socket as a slide.  How – and this is going way back – my cousin, Tom, was the only other person I’d ever heard sound exactly like Lowell George . . . with or without the slide.  I was proud.

We sang the entire way to school.  Everything from the low-down Southern whiskey to the white picket fence and boardwalk of the house at the edge of town.

My kids love the music in the car, at dinner, and the way it permeates the house.  If you wonder why I recount this tale, remember that music was still big when my wife was alive . . . but not part of our lives.  Guitars were relegated to the back room.  Music wasn’t played at dinner.  The stereo was put away.

Today, in the middle of a simple drive to school, my kids broke free, finally, of their past as well.  Belting out Dixie Chicken – an odd choice, I’ll grant you – they showed we’ve become our own strange, little family now.

Thankfully, no notes came home saying they were singing the song at school.  And it could have been worse . . . we could have been singing Fat Man in the Bathtub.

Fat Man In the Bathtub by Little Feat

Another Picture, Another Story

Years ago, when I was still a married man, we were getting our home ready for sale and starting the process of moving out to California.  Before selling our home to Andrea’s company we thought about selling it outright, even though Dallas’ economy had tanked in the wake of 9/11 and we were living in an area heavily dominated by the airline industry.  Still, we thought we’d give it a shot.

One of the things that our real estate agent told us was to remove all our family photos.
“Why,” was my question?
“Because people don’t want to see family photos, they want to see themselves in a home.”

Don’t get me wrong, she was likely correct in her assumption, but I wouldn’t do it.  This was still our home, we were comfortable, and I liked how we had our pictures placed.

But the pictures, artwork, all of that told a story.  You could see a visual history of our family on the wall.  Sure, by that point we didn’t know that part of our history was more than half over.  Still, we had the pictures of the kids as they grew, the family photos taken by our friend who started her own studio.

The place our story begins . . . our new home.
The place our story begins . . . our new home.

When we moved to California we had the same.  It’s the first thing I put up in our rental home when we moved after the funeral.  It’s the inspiration for this blog: a saying Abbi – my 18-year-old oldest child – found at work one day.  “Home: The Place Your Story Begins” was the phrase in vinyl lettering and I put it on the wall for the way up the stairs.  It’s surrounded by pictures of all of us – Andrea included.  Still, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a shrine.  This isn’t some melancholy worship of the past.  This was the reference of our story.  It’s like we’ve started writing our own series and the first one ended on a cliffhanger.  Joss Whedon would have been proud – a central character, turning her life around, getting healthier . . . then passes away from an unexpected cause.  It left the five of us to figure out where we were going.

So I put up the photos . . . but then I added more.  There’s the new family picture, none of us dressed up, taken by my sister-in-law when we visited Nebraska on the year anniversary of Andrea’s death.  The folk art that had followed us through four homes came off the wall and I replaced it with the kids’ amazing pictures.  I don’t say that lightly, either, I honestly believe they’ve gotten very talented.

Two of the kids' artwork
Two of the kids’ artwork

Then tonight I came home and was flooded with four faces all talking at once.  They all wanted to recount their day in graphic detail.  It’s like an aural pummeling to have that flood you when you’re still carrying your laptop and wearing your coat.  They hear the garage door and corner you in the alcove between the dining room and the garage.

I held up my hands, informing them that they all know they’re supposed to go one at a time, otherwise it’s white noise.  I heard about how bad AP science was.  I heard about how Sam wants to join the choir again.  Then I heard about “dark matter” from Hannah, who is doing a report on the expanding nature of the universe.

Then, as I began to get dinner ready, I felt a little tap on my back and there was Noah.
“Can I show you what my art homework looks like,” he said rather meekly.
I looked down and there was a pencil drawing of the profile of a woman.  It wasn’t meant to be realist, it was meant to be interpretive . . . and it was beautiful.  It truly was.
“That’s amazing, little moo, did you do that all by yourself?!”
“Yes.  I’ve been working on it since we got home.”
Then Sam showed me his . . . another woman, different in aspect, but just as amazing.

I immediately informed them that they’d get honorable places on the wall.  In fact, we’re going to take new pictures, too, and those will go up on the wall.  They might even replace some older photos.

You see, last week I took Andrea’s name off our home email address, nearly two years later.  I also took her last picture – the one she’d given me for Christmas – off the dresser in my bedroom.  It was no longer “our” bedroom.  I kept trying, when I moved in, to act like it was but it simply wasn’t.  It was time to make this my room, to make it our home.

It’s time to get another picture and let the walls of our home – wherever we might reside – start telling our story now.

My family, today, taken by Amy Renz's Hunny Bee Photography
My family, today, taken by Amy Renz’s Hunny Bee Photography

Ceramic snowmen and selfless gifts

My smiley son Sam
My smiley son Sam

I wasn’t really looking forward to the evening’s events tonight.  Not really.

My day had been long, covering a murder trial’s sentencing that ultimately ended in the death penalty for the man convicted, I was already a bit stressed out.

Understand, I’ve described my day before as a sort of “Dad Sandwich.”  I wake up in the morning, make sure that the kids get a good breakfast – this morning it was waffles I’d made and frozen over the weekend.  Then it’s getting them situated, making sure their socks match, belts are on, pants aren’t too small (Sam, one of the twins, had put on a pair that was a size too small and looked like a scientist at Google . . . just needed the horned rims and tape between the lenses)  and that they have their shoes.  Both shoes.  I swear, one day I’ll write my autobiography and it will be called “One Shoe – the things that drove this singular parent to the cliffs of insanity!”

In the middle of this I was medicating my oldest daughter who has a cold so nasty I’m just counting down the minutes until I catch it myself.

This comes to the point where I work, as an investigative journalist, and spend my eight hours trying to pry information out of people who don’t want to give me information.  It’s rewarding, sometimes entertaining, and more often very stressful.  My day usually ends, then, with my getting home, making dinner, getting the kids in order, arguing with them to clean up the dishes, then doing the bedtime routine.  That’s followed by planning breakfast for tomorrow and making lunches as well so that I’m not up at 4am trying to do it all then.


On my way out the door today I shouted at my middle daughter, Hannah, that the dishes and kitchen needed to be cleaned.  She did it two days ago and apparently believes that she can do them once a week and that’s enough.  I’ve since stopped cleaning up the kitchen and informed the other 3 children that if Hannah doesn’t do her chores and I can’t get to the stove we’re not eating.

Tonight, though, they were saved . . . saved by, of all things, that murder trial.  I had taken the light rail into work, which is fairly typical, but I had to work to the last train out, which usually gets me home just after 7pm.  I had to take out some pre-made stuff from the freezer, throw it in the oven, and that in turn alleviated the stove from the equation.  That’s good, you see, because Hannah, without a doubt, had not put a single dish into the dishwasher, even.   I was exhausted, grimy from the light rail car, and just in a cruddy mood.

I shouldn’t ever come in the door in a crummy mood, by the way.  That’s not fair to the kids – who have been waiting all day to tell me about their afternoon.  I walk in and see the table a mess, the stove dirty, and no dishes cleaned up.  Hannah is nowhere to be found – and it’s her chore today – and sitting in among the dishes is a strange looking cup.

It’s a snowman.

A ceramic coffee cup, carrot for a nose, scarf rolling around its head . . . it’s the hollowed out head of a snowman turned coffee cup.  It’s the cutest thing in the room at the moment, I have to say.

“Where’d this come from?” I asked knowing the flood of expository remarks were coming.
“That’s Sam’s.”
Sam then entered . . . “We get to buy things with points and I used them to get this . . . and a pocket frisbee.”

He immediately removed a tiny circular bag which he unzipped and removed a circular cloth frisbee that went “pop” every time.
“I got one of those too,” Noah expounded, and then ran to his backpack and regaled me with the tale of every…single…detail of how he paid for them, what his search entailed, and how he got that, a couple koosh balls, and a memory card game.

“Yeah, I just got the frisbee, some Christmas stickers, and the cup,” Sam tells me, but he’s got this pleasant little Stan Laurel smile on his face.

We ate, so late by this point that the bedtime routine was shoved back and we only read a few pages of their book – A Wrinkle in Time tonight.  I was grumpy, had cut them all off of their descriptions more than once as they tried to recount their days.  Hannah walked in with a piece of artwork and I grumpily told her I’d look at it if she ever managed to get the kitchen cleaned up.

As I finished reading and was tucking in my kids, Sam looks at me and says “do you like the snowman cup, Dad?”
“Yeah, kiddo, it’s really cute.  Totally you, I can see that.”
“Good . . . because it’s yours, Daddy!”
“I got it for you.  I’d been waiting to get enough points and I wanted to get it for you so you could use it before Christmas!”
By this point I was deeply touched . . . I truly was.
“You used your good behavior and classroom stuff, Sam, you can keep it.”
“Oh . . . I didn’t want the cup, Daddy, I thought you would like.  I always wanted to give it to you!”

I tucked them both in, and gave Sam a huge hug.
“Thank you kiddo.”
“Merry Christmas, Daddy!”

I went downstairs, having seen that all four kids were in bed . . . and decided that tonight I could do the dishes myself.

Except for the snowman cup.  That I used to drink some hot chocolate . . . and smiled my own Stan Laurel smile as I drank out of it.

Full Moon Fever

Lunar Eclipse, courtesy Nasa Image Exchange

I have talked about the full moon before . . . the bad moon rising.  But it never ceases to amaze me how that amber-colored rock can seem to throw my kids off the deep end.

Today was worse.  Today she was blood red from the eclipse.  No, I didn’t see it, she was obscured by clouds, but that just delayed the inevitable.  It really did.

Think I’m wrong?  Well then . . . the day’s events:

Abbi, my oldest, had another improv night, one I didn’t think she was going to be on stage during, so I skipped it.  She came home telling me I’d missed her – she performed more tonight.  This, after she had a massive headache and drank all my coffee.  So . . . no morning java for Dad.  Love that, now I predict my headache until I either get to the grocery store or Starbucks.  Then she proceeded to tell me that her homework wasn’t finished and she’d be up all night trying to finish it all.  Don’t get me wrong, I empathize, but I also know that it’s the verbal “feeling out” of Dad to see if there’s any way that, again, she might be called out sick.  I could very well be wrong, and probably am, but regardless . . . she’s been out so many times this semester I’m waiting for the truant officer to knock on the door.

Then there’s Hannah and the boys.  I got home, pizzas in hand because I was lazy tonight, and there wasn’t a single inch of space to put two large pizza boxes down.  The kitchen is filled with crap.  I mentioned (read shouted) I was more than a little upset that playing the Wii seemed more important to them than cleaning up the kitchen.  It fell on deaf ears.

Then came notification that I should have bought paper lunch sacks because the boys were having their field trip and needed a bag lunch.  This, since it was not precariously late and past closing hours for the grocery store, followed by the inevitable screaming fit because I broke out two Target shopping bags and told them to put their names on them.  That didn’t go over well – not with them, and certainly not with me.  Next, in the middle of the lunch bag tirade Hannah comes down and informs me the one bit of good news in the night – that she’s managed to change her Social Studies grade from an F to a C.  Now, that should make me really happy, except, in the middle of the arguments and screaming she wants to get her guitar back.  Losing her guitar, you see, was punishment for failing the easiest freaking class that you take in middle school.  (I mean, if you can’t find the answer to a social studies question in your textbook there’s probably some Wikipedia page that has it!  It’s not like this is Newtonian Physics, for God’s sake!)

Now comes the time when arguments over the uniforms began.  The boys have to wear jeans, but they have to have a “hoodie” to wear.  But wait, the kids are told they have to have a hoodie, but it can’t be a “home hoodie” it has to be a uniform one.  But there are no uniform “hoodies” because that’s called “spirit wear” since it’s not the regular uniform.  I ask, stupidly, how they expect you to have a hoodie but then tell you that you can’t wear same said hoodie because it’s not the uniform.
“Daaaad, you can’t wear it in class!”
“Oh…well you’re going to Sutter’s Fort, not the classroom wear you school hoodie”
“Daaaaad! We start in the classroom!  You can’t wear it there!”

This follows Noah telling me he’s wearing his regular uniform sweatshirt – the one he grabbed was 2 sizes too small, by the way – and then pulled out a hoodie.

“NO!  You’re not wearing a sweatshirt over a damned sweatshirt!” I was losing my cool by now.
“But Daaaaad!”
It’s here I blew.
“If you two give me one more attitude-fueled tirade about your uniform crap I’m going to . . . ”
Then Hannah came down the stairs.
“Hey Dad, I don’t know what this song is but it sounds familiar!”
This entered the fray of:
“musical interlude of bad version of Stairway to Heaven”
“You know what this song is?”
“Dad I’m wearing my plaid sweatshirt”
“more stairway . . . ”
“Daaaad!  Sam can’t wear plaid it’s a home hoodie!”
“Why don’t I know this song, Dad?”
“Why can’t I wear this and the hoodie?”
“It’s Stairway to Heaven, Hannah, how can you not know that?!”
“Dad!  Hannah hit me with the headstock from her guitar!”
“Dad!  Noah threw my guitar out of tune!  And it is not Stairway to Heaven!”
“Dad!  Why can’t I wear plaid?!”

I shouted here.
Knock it off!

I grabbed Noah by the cheeks: “put the sweatshirt away!  You’re wearing the hoodie because the teacher told you to and you can just carry it until it’s time to go on the field trip!”
I looked at Sam and said: “Same damn thing goes for you!  Take the sweatshirt and put it in your backpack!”
I looked at all three: “If you’d told me you needed paper bags I’d have bought them.  It’s a little late now!”

I then yanked the guitar off Hannah’s shoulder and played the entire intro to Stairway to Heaven and began singing the song.
“Oooooohhhh!  Yeah.  I guess it is Stairway to Heaven!”

I chased them all upstairs, Noah getting angry and giving me that depressed, indifferent, ticked off look and I told him if he didn’t knock it off I’d slap it off his face.  (I wouldn’t, but it sounds good)

I got them into their pajamas, teeth brushed . . . only to realize they’d stolen my toothpaste from the bathroom . . . and then read them a chapter of Harry Potter.  Hannah was forced to put her guitar away.

I looked outside and the clouds covered the stars and moon . . . but I knew they were there.  I finally took a deep breath, considered drinking a glass of 18-year-old Glenfiddich . . . and stared out the window.

I know you’re there, you witch . . . I just want you to know . . . you haven’t beaten me yet!

Minor Monkey Surgery . . .

Noah’s Sock Monkey…

I held off a really, really long time and had never used the six words I used tonight:

“Your mother’s not here any more.”

I went almost two years without ever having said that – either in sadness or anger – to any of my kids.  But tonight, whether it was a good idea or not, I said them.

Obviously, you need some context for this whole thing.  November is one of the biggest ratings periods for people who work in television.  I know, they talk about those “people meters” – things that count what a select group of people are watching minute by minute.  The reality is, though, that the stations all across the country still use ratings in four months out of the year – February, May, July and November – to count how many people are watching and to set the ad rates for the year.

So as an investigative journalist, obviously November is a biggie.  As a result, I work occasional long hours, and this week has been no exception to that.  I worked late tonight, telling Abbi – my now 18-year-old daughter – what to make the kids for dinner (leftovers) and working to ensure our story aired properly.  All day I’d had what is called a “cluster headache.”  It’s like a migraine, most common in men, and excruciating.  For me, it starts on one side of the forehead or the other and then trickles down behind the eye.  It’s not a horrific, throbbing pain, it’s like an icepick is stabbed into your forehead and twisted around.

So I had this pain all day.  I worked late.  I talked with his siblings.  Then I came home, head splitting open, buzzing, exhausted . . . and Noah walks up in the first 30 seconds I’m home and tells me “I got a yellow card again today.”

That yellow card . . . it’s a discipline card, telling me he’s done something particularly bad today.  This comes a day after a note in his lunchbox telling me he got mad at the teacher and broke his pencil.  This after his pitching a fit in the classroom and tipping over his desk.  I’ve had this discussion with other parents and other adults as to what is going on and how to handle it.  The teachers ask what sets him off?  I can honestly say some days it’s one thing . . . other days it’s something else.  I have no one constant other than the fact that he likes being the center of attention.  He likes getting his way.

The other day, when I got the note in Noah’s lunchbox, my oldest daughter was there and saw my shoulders drop.  Like her mother – in a different way – she wouldn’t let up so I told her what was bothering me.

“Your brother is just like your Mom . . . Andrea had no control over her impulses.  At least at home.  She was able to handle what she did but damn her, she never told me how she did it!”
Abbi looked at me, rather sheepishly, and said “well, no, Dad.  She didn’t.  She got so angry at you and me a lot.  I don’t think she did.”

I realized after that I had to explain to Abbi.  Andrea, you see, wasn’t the angry, shouting person like Noah . . . in public.  She was, though, at home.  When people at work or school or wherever drove her crazy, she came home and took it out on me or the kids.  When she didn’t get her way – like if her birthday went haywire – there was no reasoning with her.

“I loved your Mom for a million different reasons,” I told Abbi, “but I have to be honest . . . when she did that (and she did it a lot) she drove me bat-sh*t crazy!”
That made Abbi laugh.
“But to be honest, Abbi, I’d be fine if I could get Noah to do that.  I’m not married to him, I can tell him to shout all he wants but to do it in his room and not shout at me.  I don’t get that, I get notes because he can’t control his impulses!”

When he told me tonight about his yellow card, I broke into angry, hurt, headache-fueled lecturing.

“You just don’t get what you’ve done here, do you?”
Noah looked, and his eyes were watering.
“You realize that if they kick you out of this school I have to take all of you out…I can’t have four kids in three different schools.  When you get in trouble . . . when you got suspended for a day I had to leave work for a day during ratings.  That’s something that affects my work, which pays for the house, your game boy, your food, your school!”
That’s when the tears started to come.
“It’s not all about you, Noah.  I know you like to get your way.  I know you may not like all the people around you…hell I don’t like everyone around me but you have to deal with them.  Sometimes your boss is someone you don’t like and you still . . . have . . . to behave!  I have had to work a lot of hours and I know I haven’t been home, but really?!  Again?!”
That’s when I said it.
“I know I haven’t been home, and I know you might miss your Mommy, Noah but your Mom’s not here any more!”

I hated saying it as it came out of my mouth, but I didn’t stop.

“She’s not here to help you deal with this, Noah, she’s not here to help any more.  You’ve got a Daddy who loves you, a brother and two sisters who love you and a life that’s, on the whole, not to awful.  God knows I wish your Mommy wasn’t gone, but she is.  She stopped walking our road, Noah.  We have to keep moving forward, hard as it is.  You have to walk with us or we all fall behind.”

It’s a hard thing to know you’re failing your son and you don’t know what to do to fix it.  I regretted having that conversation, but we’d never had it before and it needed to be said.  People tend to be too sympathetic because she’s gone.  They tend to give him too much of a pass because she’s gone.  It’s been almost two years, and while I don’t blame him for missing her it’s just not an excuse any of us can use all the time.

We are living.  It’s actually living well, which I know is hard since at times it’s better than it was when she was around.  But I also have come to embrace the fact that there are a lot of really good things that we wouldn’t be doing had she stuck around.  I wouldn’t be writing new music.  I wouldn’t be in this house.  Relationships I have wouldn’t be so strong – ones that I wouldn’t have seen two years ago.  I wouldn’t be in such a great job.  I wouldn’t be writing.

I told Noah he lost privileges . . . no game boy, no computer use, no games . . . all gone until I say he gets them back.  He complied.

I ended telling Noah I loved him, and he said he knew.  He loved me too, and gave me a hug.  We have a therapist ready for him, but the first appointment for this doctor can’t happen until after Thanksgiving.  It’s not because he’s a problem . . . it’s because I know my limitations and I know I’m just not getting him what he needs.  That’s the hardest part.  He followed me into the kitchen . . . I still hadn’t even taken off my jacket yet . . . and he meekly said “Daddy, my sock monkey has a hole in him…” and he couldn’t finish his interrogative.

I looked at him, as he wiped the tears coming off his face, and told him “I’ll fix him, Noah.  Just because you got in trouble doesn’t mean I wouldn’t fix this . . .you know that.”

He walked up and gave me a hug.  Santa gave him this because I call him my little monkey.  It fits him.  Fixing his sock monkey seemed apt, since we need to help fix my monkey as well.  I take solace knowing we’ll both get some help soon, I hope.

Then I sat down to do some minor monkey surgery.