Tag Archives: life

Lessons Learned

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Lessons Learned

Meet the old dog.  He’s the guy up there on the right, with the four kids in a booth at an IHOP over the holidays.  Old dog isn’t supposed to have any new tricks nor is he supposed to learn anything about what’s happening.  It’s the constant issue, the reverse philosophy that so many Moms go through, I suppose.  TV sitcoms talk about Dad and he’s the befuddled, confused, lazy guy who’s always just about two or three steps behind the rest of the household.

That, usually, if you watch the sitcoms, includes the kids.

Old dog isn’t supposed to learn nor is he supposed to be authority figure.  After all, if you watch commercials there’s always the Dad/husband/boyfriend/significant other standing in the doorway with a surprised look asking how he’s supposed to do those dishes, make that food, clean those clothes, or just get on with daily life.  Sometimes it seems as if Old Dog would forget to breathe if there wasn’t that other person – be it his parents, kids or wife/girlfriend – to remind him it was necessary.

I get it.  I have known a lot of those Old Dog men.  I’ve seen the kids whose dads were at the soccer games shouting and screaming more because they saw the victory of a 9-year-old soccer star as vindication of their own misspent youth.

But I’m not here to rail against Madison Avenue or Hollywood.  My own wife, friends, and sphere of influence have never looked at me that way.

Society in general or casual acquaintances…well, we’ll just say that’s a whole other story.  I get the “you must be super Dad” or “I don’t know how you do it” a lot.  Here’s a secret for you, I don’t know how I do it…but I do it.  Not always well.  Not always comfortably.  I lose my temper with a teenager and fall prey to persistent pestering by twins.  I’m nowhere near perfect.

But I’m not that Old Dog.

So here’s the thing: I have learned some lessons along the way the last 3-odd years.

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It’s okay to have a mess here and there.
I used to try and clean up everything in those first days.  It was a pain in the behind and I never felt like I could keep up.  Once in awhile…the papers and dishes can wait until morning.  My sanity (and at least a few hours of sleep) were more important.

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Don’t throw out the shoe boxes
They take up space, are a pain the neck, and they’re just eating up valuable spots on the shelf.  However…the moment I recycle those cardboard boxes a note will come from the school that one or all the kids have to do a diorama or other project.  Then I’m scrambling to find something to take the place of a shoe box.  It’s worth it for the future peace of mind.

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It’s okay to go out to eat once in awhile
Sometimes even just a burger at Johnny Rockets or In ‘N Out is worth its weight in gold.  But…on that note…

Where are My Cookies?!

Homemade treats aren’t near as hard to make as you think
I initially thought that I should make stuff homemade because it was what my Mom did for me.  I then realized that if I made homemade cookies or treats my kids were far less hyper than if they ate a bag of M&M’s.  (Nothing against M&M’s, they’re great)  Somewhere along the way, though, I came to realize that the time it takes to drive to the store, pick up the treats, put them in baggies, whole nine yards…not much less time than making them myself and they taste better.

On a walk with my boys
On a walk with my boys

Losing weight, eating healthy, unfortunately, is a whole change in things
God, I wanted this not to be true.  I fought it for at least a couple years.  I used to weigh about 50 pounds or more than I do now.  That whole “eat less, exercise, change your lifestyle” thing is true.  I wish it wasn’t.  I hate…hate…hate getting up at 5:30am and running.  It’s a pain in my ass to lose weight in it.  I do it because I just have to do it.  I want to be healthy and I still have a ways to go.  That wasn’t enough.  Those treats I make up there?  Those are for moderation, too, not inhaling a whole pan of cookies at once.  I switched from hamburger to ground turkey.  We eat red meat once or twice a week, that’s it.  We eat smaller portions and we go on walks and to the park.  It’s just a change in how we live now and we’re getting used to that.

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

Music is important
You may not agree, but how many of those stupid Buzzfeed lists stating “Ten Things You Didn’t Know about ’80s hitmakers” or “Ten things you never saw in a Katie Perry Video” or what have you do you have to click on before you realize…your life has a soundtrack.  It might get nostalgic and you’re singing Duran Duran songs or it might be rocking and you’re screaming “Whipping Post” with Gregg Allman.  Or you might write and record songs.  Either way…it’s a way to accentuate your lives.  You should love that.

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We can’t do all the things we used to do

I used to take the kids to basketball games, we did swimming, cub scouts, guitar lessons . . . we were exhausted, too.  When I lost my wife it was more than just a companion or friend or confidant.  She was a co-cab-driver and another person who helped to get the activities of the day going.  My kids weren’t insanely excited to be part of them, either.  I couldn’t take them to practices or lessons when their sister – with a driver’s license – left for college.  I found there are other things to make up for all that, though.

You play in the leaves when you’re raking them, even though you have to get out and go rake them again.

Dano

You make music and have the kids participate with you.  You even make a video now and then.

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Do something you all love…together
My kids love the movies.  Not all movies, but going to them for stuff they want to see.  It’s my splurge for them.  That picture was their birthday…and they got to go into the projection booth of the theater for it.  (We saw Captain America)  Movies we do together, we eat candy (on a rare occasion it’s okay, believe me!) and spend two hours laughing or crying with strangers it’s fine and it’s fun.  This one leads to my last point:

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We’re Stronger Together than When We’re Apart
This is a simple one we learned early.  We may not all be in the same place.  I may be at work.  My oldest may be at school.  But there’s a trick this old dog learned as soon as he became a single parent . . . old . . . dog . . . (maybe that didn’t work as well as I hoped).  Together we are mighty.  Together we can do amazing, beautiful, wonderful things.  That’s not together in a room that’s together, united, a family of people.  Our family was broken but it was still working.  It’s still good.  I may not be able to say what my wife did to cheer up my daughter when she’s feeling down and needs words from her Mom.  I can, however, share stories about her Mom and tell her how proud I am and she would be.  I can see the woman she’s becoming.  We’re stronger together and together we’ve taken on the world and survived.

These are lessons we’ve learned.  You might very well learn from them yourself.  They’re not easy ones and not particularly comfortable.

Then again, nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Say It Loud, Say It Clear

The musician and his daughter
The musician and his daughter

Say It Loud, Say It Clear

Over the weekend I watched a documentary on a free preview of the Showtime network.  I’m not afraid nor am I ashamed to admit that it was on the band Genesis.  I know there’s some backlash, particularly since the shift from music in the 1970’s to the 1980’s and today when people have some chip on their shoulder about the band.  I’m not sure why, perhaps it was the second lead singer, Phil Collins, having been everywhere from on television to a cop on the film Hook to doing the soundtrack to Disney cartoons.

That said, I’ve always liked them, no shame or afterthought to that statement.

But this isn’t about them, at least not particularly.  No throwback to the 1980’s or melancholy or wishing things were like when I was a kid.  Genesis is just the impetus of one of the sweeter surprises I’ve had in some time.

The picture up there is from the 1990’s, not long after my oldest daughter was born.  She’s the infant in my arms, on a stage, Clapton Stratocaster around my neck, while I have long hair and look something like a character from the movie Death at a Funeral.  My wife took that photo, though I can say I never thought she was particularly pleased to be there.  This was my band, with my brother a member, playing at a summer festival in Omaha.

My wife had little or no use for my being a musician.  It didn’t make a ton of money – which isn’t at all what I was performing for in the first place.  It didn’t focus on our relationship or on her, except the couple songs I’d written about her or us.  Neither of those was easy enough to pull off live so there was no focus for her.  She wasn’t at all convinced this was a good idea.  In my defense, I just cannot stop being a musician.  It’s in my DNA.  It’s like that Stratocaster is part of my left arm and if you removed it I may as well bleed out.  I will also argue that there were months, in the bleakest of times when she was in Pharmacy school and I was working two jobs to keep the heat on in our home that we ate due to the gigs I played.  It wasn’t a ton of money, but it was money and every dime counted.

Living Years

Watching the Genesis documentary they brought up each of their solo careers.  Sure, Phil Collins had one; a stellar one, in fact.  But the guitarist, Mike Rutherford, had a band and still plays much of the time with his own band, Mike and the Mechanics.  After a start with one singer they switched to another singer, from the band Squeeze, named Paul Carrack.  The album came out in 1988, some years prior to that photo of my daughter and I but it continued to get some airplay.

As Rutherford recounted the fact he couldn’t sing and that may have affected his ability to sell the millions of records like Collins, my daughter looked over at me with a smile.

“Mom always thought you sounded just like him, did she ever tell you that?”
I looked at my daughter and at the television and was more than a little bewildered.  “Like Paul Carrack?!”
“Yeah.  She never told you that?”
“No!  I would have remembered that.  That’s a helluva compliment.”
“She was right.”  She looked at my son sitting next to me and asked him . . .  “don’t you think Dad sounds like that guy?”
My son just looked up, matter-of-fact, “yeah.”
“I can’t believe Mom never told you that,” she said, confused.

In less than two months it will have been four years since my wife passed away.  We had an interesting relationship.  Always loving, always friends, and often contentious.  Music was part of our lives but not always a part she wanted.  I always had a dream, even with 1, 2, then 4 kids of making a living doing it.  She never thought that was practical or realistic.

But then she’d surprise me.  She always did.  I never made the connection nor have I ever claimed to be of the caliber that Paul Carrack is.  I’ll take the complement, nonetheless.

Now, almost four years after she’s gone, I hear that she heard my voice and heard possibilities.  I knew her well enough to know that’s what was going through her head.  When she’d dismiss recordings I’d make she’d tell her daughter or friends that her boyfriend/husband sounded like Paul Carrack.  Should I be mad that she never told me?  No.  Not a whip.

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Today I’m sitting home, recording, getting ready to find funds to hit the studio and hire a drummer and bassist to put a full record together.  Where I’ve been frustrated trying to get that chord progression right or my computer gives me CPU errors during a take or I just can’t get the lyrics the way I want I’ve been frustrated and silent of late.

And then this comes, out of nowhere, blasting through, and I feel a pride I hadn’t known for awhile.  Pride in the fact she heard something in my voice, even if she never voiced it to me herself, not in that way.

This weekend she said it loud, said it clear.

It’s just up to me to listen.

The Clearout

2014-11-29 19.15.40The Clearout

There are a million things happen after the change from year to year.  It’s not as though you wake up on January 1st and suddenly there’s a 2015 fairy floating around your head granting wishes and steering you in the direction you need to go.  In reality, it was a Thursday.  It was like any other Thursday, too, except we were all a bit tired from staying up too late and the stores were all closed so we had to do without several of the snacks that I forgot to buy the day prior.

There are, though, things that happen that make you see and feel the changes as they come.

The biggest is the clearout.  The annual weekend after the new year take down of all the Christmas decorations.  We, you see, have a vast array of decorations that I put up every year.  When we first moved, just nine months after my wife passed away, the decorations were filled with Andrea’s touches.  There were leopard spotted bows and velvet stockings and monogrammed pieces that were scattered throughout the house.

This year, though, more than most, this was our Christmas.  In fact, it was mine as much as ours.  I bought new ornaments.  I moved a tree to the living room so that we had Christmas decorations right where we spent most of our time.  Presents were under the live tree and I had an old artificial we’d had for years decorated just so it looked bigger, more festive, and just fun.

I put more lights up than ever.  This was a sticking point in my marriage because I wanted to lean more toward Clark Griswold and my wife wanted to lean more toward Pottery Barn.  This year I struck a balance and had lights and added to the trees up front.  It looked nice.

But the clearout is an annual thing . . . the lights come down, and my son – who’s deathly afraid of heights – asked to come up on the roof and help me remove them.  I obliged.  Within a few my oldest daughter, home from college, came out to help as well.

The next step, though, was shopping for a white dress for a sorority event my daughter needed.  You might think this is no big deal, go out, spend a day being driven mad by the hordes of shoppers at the mall and leave.

Reality, though, is that a white dress – just white, devoid of other colors, bright, pure, simple . . . that’s an impossible task.  Everything had spots, dots, stripes, prints and other types of things that made it a violation for said sorority.  We found, after two days and walking near 3 miles, one dress.  We found lots of other clothes said oldest child loved, but didn’t work for the project. “You’re a better man than I am,” said her uncle.

We also had to remove the tree so the Boy Scouts could pick it up and recycle it for us.

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The Sunday routine finished I looked at same daughter and asked “any thoughts on dinner tonight,” realizing as soon as the words left my mouth it was a mistake.
“Umm…not really.  I don’t know.”

That, you see, is the normal response from two girls and twin boys.  “I don’t know.”

“Who left this on the floor?”
“I don’t know.”
“Whose turn is it to unload the dishwasher?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why is there a bowl on the floor?”
“I don’t know!”

In the end I made spaghetti.  I decided.  I’m the decider “he said in his best George W. Bush voice”

But the reality is I have been for a long time.  Still…help exists.  And it helped immensely during the cleanout.

 

So Tired of Bein’ Alone

2014-04-11 19.31.48-2So Tired of Bein’ Alone

It would be easy, I know, to say that the title of this post is about myself but it’s not.  (See what I did there?  Mislead you and draw you in . . . slight of hand . . . smoke and mirrors . . . (okay, I’ll stop now))

The song up there by the now Reverend Al Green has been stuck in our heads in my home for the last week.  Not because we’re lonely, not because we seek out anything.  It’s just a great song.

Still . . . something popped up in the last few days involving my son.

Some background: my late wife had an incredible fear of being alone.  Not that she needed a boyfriend all the time or that she was a woman who defined herself by the people she was with.  That wasn’t it.  Still, there were some irrational fears that she had a hard time dealing with.  Being left alone was one of them.  I use that turn of phrase because it wasn’t loneliness, I don’t believe, it was being left alone.  Those are two very different things.

Early in our relationship and then in our marriage this was a difficult sensation to navigate.  I had to work, so did she.  When she was working it was fine when she wasn’t it was easy for her mind to wander into that place and worry.  We used to joke all the time that she wasn’t happy unless she was worrying about something and if she had nothing to worry about . . . being home by herself was a worry that crept into her mind.

This isn’t painting a rosy picture of her, I realize, and this wasn’t a constant, daily, minute-by-minute thing.   We all have our irrational fears, I suppose, and this was hers.  Some people are hypochondriacs (okay, she had a bit of that, too) and some are paranoid and some people can’t stand to sit still more than 5 minutes at a time.  It isn’t too dissimilar from that, I don’t suppose.  It’s a fear you face and one you conquer and sometimes you have to conquer it more than once.

I bring this all up not to shed a poor light on her, she was lovely and warm and caring and we all miss her, to this day.  The little things, the small or the big problems, they won’t change that.  You love people as much for their faults as for their stellar qualities.  Love sees the big picture, not the pieces. I bring it up, you see, because my son seems to have inherited some of that fear.

His, though, isn’t because there’s some genetic sequence that makes him pre-disposed to this.  He didn’t come out of the womb with this irrational fear or even rational fear.

Over the last few months my son has had nightmares, to the point that at their peak he would come into my room every night, roughly 2-4am and be in a near panic.  He’d never tell me the full dream but the few details I could get from him painted the picture.

He’d be alone.  He’d see us leaving and he’d be left by himself in a scary, dark, lonely and desolated place.

It’s easy to see the metaphor there.  I knew being left behind or alone was the fear when, during Thanksgiving break, his older sister came home.  The nightmares stopped.  When she went back to college, albeit only for a couple weeks before winter break, the nightmares returned.

He hasn’t had a single one since she came back for Christmas.

We are a tight-knit group.  That’s just how our family is, always has been.  It was that way when his mother was here and it’s easy to see his fear manifested at its worst when Andrea passed away.  She left us all, it seems.  Then change hit . . . change in home, change in schools, change in schools again and then . . . his sister leaving for college.  It’s a lot for a little boy to take.

The best thing, though, is knowing that we’re tight knit.  I can tell him stories about his Mom, how he used to squeeze his little body between hers and mine to sit next to her on the couch.  How I hug him and tell him what his sister is doing when she’s at college.  I don’t humor him, I inform him.

He’s just not alone.

So when the nightmare comes he’s aware that I’m downstairs…or I’m in my bed…and there’s room.  There will always be room.

Even when he’s at school or away from home . . . he’s never really left alone.  There’s comfort in that.

“A Scotch Sounds Good…”

IMG_4172“A Scotch Sounds Good…”

As little as three years ago my emotions were far more understandable.  I wasn’t cold, no, but I wasn’t moved in quite the same ways.  My wife would watch a sad movie and I could fathom and dissect the motivation in its scripting, acting and direction.  Now, I get wrapped up in the same emotions my oldest daughter has when, say, Bilbo Baggins loses it after his friend dies in The Hobbit.  (There’s no spoilers here . . . the book’s been out since last century!)

I’d say my brain went a little haywire, which could be the case, I suppose, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I wasn’t the grinch, my small heart didn’t “grow three sizes that day.”  I just didn’t indulge in those kinds of emotions.  Men were men, we didn’t emote that much and we didn’t lose it at random things.

This brings me to the reminiscence of the bottle you see up there.  I use the title for a couple reasons.

It might sound very cliche’d for me, a journalist, a man whose heroes are Murrow and Brinkley along with Schieffer and others, to like Scotch.  That very phrase, by the way, in quotes, is the last line of the film Good Night and Good Luck.  Even Will Ferrell lampooned it in Anchorman as the drink of choice for all real newsmen.

That would be an easy assumption, but you’d be wrong.  In fact it’s quite an acquired taste.  I didn’t normally drink it as I had not acquired the taste for the hard liquor.

No . . . Murrow and Bradley did not bring me a taste for the drink.

My wife did.  She seemed to think that the fact her mother, in an effort to stop her from crying when she was a teething infant, put a splash of Scotch on my wife’s gums.  That, she theorized, gave her a taste for the whiskey itself.

This isn’t a celebration of alcohol or its effects.  I am careful not to be driving if I have more than a glass and even then . . . I wait some time before I even contemplate going for my keys.

I can remember the very day that the drink seemed to magically sink in with me.  I had gotten two tickets to the Omaha Auto Show – a preview compliments of the sales department.  Also complimentary?  Drinks.  Andrea and I were married and she was working, her sister, I believe, watching our daughter.  I wandered the place and, feeling entitled, asked for Scotch.  It was the most expensive drink on the menu.  I had one glass . . . then another . . . and came to realize it was expensive, single-malt Scotch, making it far smoother.  It also gave my stomach no problems which, unfortunately, beer and wine did.

This particular bottle, though, is the end of a few things.

About two years before Andrea passed away her parents wanted to give me a very nice gift.  It was an 18-year-old bottle of Glenfiddich single-malt.  It’s an expensive bottle of aged Whiskey and it…was…smooth.

I kept the bottle for a very long time.  My wife and I would indulge when things were particularly stressful, and the last couple years of her life things were really very stressful.  So when Andrea passed away I had more than a few glasses, you can be assured.

That bottle wasn’t touched much after that.  In fact, there was enough for two glasses sitting in the bottle for the last year.  That would push the age to somewhere near 25, I think.  Not that it got better the longer it was open.

Last night, the kids – all four of them – asked me to play Wii with them.  Bear in mind, as they were little, I used to kick their little behinds on games.  I knew Super Mario Brothers better and blew through them with ease.

Last night I found myself pining for my old Atari 2600 or a Nintendo NES as they pounded me in Mario Smash Brothers or Mario World.  The screams and shouts from them exacerbated a headache I’d seen coming for some time.

At the end I pulled out the Scotch, not thinking, and drank the last glass.

This brings my post here full circle.  In years past I’d have drank the amber liquid and given it not a thought.  However . . . this is the last big gift I got from Andrea’s parents.  Her father passed away shortly after last Christmas.  Her mother passed away earlier this year.  It was a rough 365 this round and it’s been filled with a lot of losses.

So I stared at the bottle, the empty glass, and realized that I was more than a little harsh to Andrea’s father in the last few years of his life.  We had disagreements, I had my grudges, and like times in my own past I held onto it for a long time.  It wasn’t right, I know that, but grief has a way of holding onto things that maybe it shouldn’t.  As I took the last swallow I felt some guilt but a twinge of happiness that I had at least shed the last of that anger shortly before he passed away.

So at the end of the night, I took the last of my glass, raised it to my father-in-law and thought very fondly of the woman who gave me a taste of the whiskey.

It may just be a bottle of Scotch…but it held a lot of memories.

A Parenting Singularity

A Parenting Singularity

This last Sunday I posted a piece on Rene Syler’s Good Enough Mother (he said with shameless self-promotion) on what it’s like to be a single father, particularly over the holidays.  It did spark some healthy discussion – which if you’d like to read is linked here.

Some of the social media discussion centered around what it’s like to be a single parent.  Being honest, I didn’t make a distinction between those who choose to be single parents -either through choice, divorce, or other situation – and those who have it thrust upon them.  I’m the latter example there.  I’d like to think, though, that for many of us out there doing it alone the distinction doesn’t really have to be made.

Sure, there are parents out there that obviously don’t have the equipment, mental capacity or even the patience to do this, I suppose.  I’ve had friends who lost a parent only to see the sole parental unit in their home shut down nearly permanently.  That doesn’t help, either.  Some rely on an older child to take over a lot of the chores or cooking or what have you.

Kids

These kids, though (with the exception of the baby, she’s my niece), haven’t had that requirement.  My oldest didn’t cook.  She didn’t do the laundry.  She did watch the other three when they got home from school but they all went to an after-school program until 5 or 6pm.  That being the case they didn’t require a whole lot of excess attention in the home.  I was home within a couple hours.

Still . . . there’s a theme that comes to the fore that one person put to me fairly succinctly.

It’s relentless.

This was from a woman who had one child.  As she put it “I can’t imagine what it’s like with four.”

Relentless is a great word.  It’s a descriptive word.  It is the best descriptive word in this case.

I have gone over the details in past posts, but I’ll give you a brief rundown of what makes it such an unrelenting process:

I needed to lose weight and get better health for my heart.  It was partially due to need and mostly due to the fact that my kids needed to see that I was serious about staying around, even though their Mom had passed away.  The ONLY time I have to work out is 5:30 or 6am.  So that’s where my day begins.  That is followed by making breakfast, showering, getting ready for work, ensuring they have their morning ready and getting them out the door.  I drop the twins at school then my middle daughter.  I occasionally check in with my oldest kid at her college.

Next . . . it’s work.  8 hours, 9 hours, however many hours work takes each day.

I come home, change into jeans and a comfortable shirt and make dinner.  During this I get a dissertation of exactly how awful the school day was . . . from each kid in turn.

We eat at the table, I crack the whip, oversee that they all did their homework.  Many weeks I have some kids’ project that has to be done.

I get them to bed, do the tucking-in, remind them every 15 minutes they’re supposed to be asleep.

Then I make lunches for them and me so I don’t have to do it in the morning.  I have the TV on as this is the only time I have to catch up on the 28 hours of DVR-stored television programs.

So . . . why?  That’s the next question I get.

The answer I always give?  I never asked myself that question.  They are my kids.  They didn’t ask for this.  This isn’t the life they chose but I was one of two people who chose to let them have life.  Should they suffer because I don’t know what I’m doing?

No, by the way, should be the answer.

I already knew how to cook . . . I forced myself to cook more.  We cannot do anywhere near the outside activities – no basketball or boy scouts or other things.  So we hit the theater a lot.  We go out of town, to San Francisco or the Big Trees.  I take them all over with me.  It’s a blast and we have this time . . . together.

I cook and I clean and I try to give them close to what I had growing up – a family that was tight and friendly and loving.  It’s not the same, it couldn’t be, but it’s using the example.

That . . . using what skills I have and taking the relentless pummeling from the daily grind . . . is certainly worth the effort.

Balancing Maturity and Security

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Balancing Maturity and Security

I’ve had to treat my life in the last three years like an old Franklin planner.  If you don’t know what that is (he said to the twenty-somethings who live online . . . or the thirty and forty-somethings who forgot) it’s a calendar, split out by day.  A day-planner, if you will.  Siri before you could hit a button and say “remind me to go to the dentist at 7am tomorrow.”

But I digress . . .

My life, my day, my week are planned, somewhat.  I always have an idea of the meals I want to make.  They don’t always pan out, of course.  I may want to make fajitas and end up working late.  That was certainly the case on Tuesday night.

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I was tasked with field producing the tree-lighting at the state Capitol.  Not heavy lifting, but I’d be there at least until 6pm or later.  The meal of choice was replaced with my texting the children that “there’s tortellini in the freezer and sauce in the fridge.  Make yourselves some pasta and I’ll be home later.”

That was simply met with “gotcha” and no big deal.  As the kids get older this gets easier.

However . . . it’s almost easier to have the unexpected, late-night breaking news or news event that requires my work than to pre-plan something.  Tomorrow I’m going to be late getting home again.  The result is my having prepared the makings for homemade chicken and noodles.  That’s in a crock pot and cooking already.  The noodles are pre-made and just have to go into the pot and cook.  Food, you see is the easiest thing to plan for when I’m going to be late.

Mental security . . . well, that’s a big difference.

While my kids are getting far more self-sufficient I’m seeing the blessings of their increasing maturity.  Meals can be created and they won’t starve.  If they’re really not interested in pasta they’ll make a sandwich and have something to drink.  This isn’t like when I started this task alone, three years ago, after their Mom passed away.  Then I had to make sure everything was placed and ready.  If I was going to be late I had to find someone to help.  (When my oldest daughter was home In ‘N Out was a staple of their meals when I worked late.)

There are still lingering issues that follow us like a specter in the home, though.  My children worry, more and more it seems.  While one boy has nightmares the middle daughter wants to simultaneously be brooding and hormonal yet maternal and caring.  It’s not always a combination that works well.  My sons worry that my not being home when they go to bed has them wondering if they’ll wake up and I won’t be home.  They never say it but the thought is threading through the fabric of their minds, I can tell.

Still . . . part of that increasing maturity is increasing understanding.  They know, as I’ve told them over and over again, that I’ll not put myself in harm’s way.  I exercise (and hate it) to be healthier so they can see I’m trying to stick around for them.  I don’t do anything dangerous in my job or travel much because I want them to see I’m here for them if they need me.

This is a lesson in tradeoffs.  The fact I get to tuck them in most nights is balanced by the fact that I’ll do the occasional tree-lighting production.  I may meet an occasional person for drinks or go out after work with colleagues.  That’s a necessity for my mental health and security.

Still . . . when I tuck them in they act put-out and say “well I’ll see you in the morning at least.”

I ruffle their hair and sigh.

“No . . . I’ll see you tomorrow night, too.  I always come in and tuck you in . . . even if you don’t see it.”

They close their eyes . . . and go to sleep . . . feeling the security of knowing I’ll do just that.

Crooked Teeth and Christmas Lights

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Crooked Teeth and Christmas Lights

The boy you see up there was the center of the beginning of the week.

Not that I didn’t pay any attention to the other two still living in the house.  They got their fair share.  Theirs just had to wait until after they got home from school.

No . . . the little boy up there had to go to the dentist because, for the second time, he’s had a tooth coming in on top of another tooth.  If you’re a little boy, I suppose it’s kinda cool, like a shark’s tooth.  “I get two rows of teeth that way!” But . . . no.  Unlike a shark, this isn’t cartilage and it doesn’t grow back if something goes wrong.

This day, as a result, I decided it was time to get my son to the dentist, which caused him great consternation.  It wasn’t that he was visiting the dentist it was the amount of homework and extra work he’d receive since he wasn’t in school.  My response was that most kids would kill to have a day to play hookie.

We managed the dentist with no problems and got what I expected – a referral to an orthodontist.  I informed my son that we’d likely be eating lots of mac and cheese or breakfast for dinner in January in order to pay for the Christmas presents and the braces I know are coming for my son.

After the dentist my son wanted, desperately, to get the lights on the house.  As stressed and exhausted as I was, it seemed a decent idea so we did it.  For the first time the boy climbed the ladder and went on the roof of the house to help.  Bear in mind, the shark-toothed boy is scared of anything dangerous or exciting.  Roller coasters completely terrify him.  So does parachuting, bungee jumping, heights and any other number of normal thrill-seeking things.  He can’t even stand it when I take a curve too fast in the car.

Yet here he was, after being told his teeth will have to be moved by braces so they can all come in properly, standing on the roof of our house.  He stretched out lights and handed me gutter clips to hold the lights up and watched as I leaned over the roof to put nails in the eaves in order to hang the lights.  He felt pride in having been able to climb the ladder and stand on the roof and do all this.

This has been a year of change for all of us.  He’s learned how to install a car radio and fix a bed and do some basic woodworking.  He’s made his own desserts and cooked lunch and done a myriad of things.  Essentially, he’s gaining skills for life without my having to press them upon him.

After hanging all the lights, cooking dinner, helping with homework, cleaning up and finishing the inside decorations it was past the kids’ bed times.  I sat down on the couch, having stayed home to take care of him and realized something . . .

I did more work staying home than if I’d actually gone to work.

To Be Thankful

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To Be Thankful

My wife used to carry on a tradition that I think many (most?) households do on Thanksgiving day.  She’d look around the table and she’d look deep into their eyes and say “what are you thankful for?”

It drove me nuts.  Drove all of us nuts, quite frankly.  The kids hated it.  I certainly was no fan.  I may pour out the occasional emotional tome here but it’s not something I do on a regular basis in daily life.

“I am thankful for . . . ” you can guess what usually came at the end of the ellipses.
“Family.”
“My Mom and Dad.”
“My game boy.”
“Abbi, Hannah, Noah, Dad, Mom . . . ”

I am not Ebeneezer Scrooge here, if you’ll pardon the early reference.  I just didn’t see the point when sincerity wasn’t the theme of the day.  Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie were.

More than that, to be honest, I always felt like you didn’t need to show the thanks, it was there.  The beauty in the table and the decorations and the wonder our house became under my wife’s stern vision was certainly something amazing.  She showed love and thanks for family that way.  I cooked huge meals, served desserts and made dishes I’d never wanted to do because my wife would prod me until I did.  I loved every minute of it.

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When Andrea died it certainly didn’t seem like a year that we’d have anything to be thankful for.

This is the fourth Thanksgiving since she left us, though, and to use a phrase a friend of mine used earlier this year – it just seems like we’re thriving.  Life isn’t the same as it was four years ago and that’s because, to be brutally honest, we’re not the same people we were four years ago.

My one son, though he’s having a bout with nightmares lately, is doing very well.  Loves school, found a school club that he enjoys and he’s one of the sweetest people I know.  His brother had a very rough time in that first year.  He’s now doing well.  In fact, when we were trick-or-treating there were several kids went out their way to come over and say ‘hi’ to him.  That was progress, too.

My middle daughter – she’s a talented songwriter and musician and we just did our first demo of one of her songs.  Sure, it’s rough and needs work, but that’s why you do demos in the first place.

My oldest struggled for a long time with whether to chase financial stability or her passion.  I pushed and prodded and she thought and struggled…and chose to follow what she loves.  She’s the happiest I’ve seen her in four years.

And in among all that is their Dad, who cooks, cleans, and still has time for the occasional night to have some adult conversation.  I’m also in the process of finishing up songs for a new record I hope to record next year.  That’s a big shift, too.

The point to all this is . . . to be thankful.  In four years’ time we’ve gone from near the breaking point to a position of strength and stability.  Sure, we have weeks where I’m counting pennies, but there are amazing times to be had along with all of that.  We’re far less unstable than we were before.

We have a lot to be thankful for.

Still . . . I’m not going to go around the table and ask everyone to say it.  Those answers, they’ll never change.

Strange Days, Indeed

My family
My family

Strange Days Indeed

Be thankful, I almost titled this “most peculiar, Mama,” but I didn’t.

There are days . . . and there are days.  This was one of those days.

Distance is a problem, I know that, for the singular parent.  I had to, in the early days of adjusting to being the only parent in the home, balance the distance and the security of being in familiar surroundings for my kids.  The problem with distance, though, is that I have – on a good day – about an hour each way for commute with the crazy traffic and bad drivers in our area.  On a good day there’s some minor crisis affecting one child.  On a bad day it’s more than one.

This was a bad day.  This was one of those days.

Bad days are like thunderstorms.  You see the lightning and then you count, waiting to see how close the storm is.  I saw the bolts . . . I had really hoped the storm wasn’t so close.  I got an email from a colleague from another station.  That was the first flash, and I should have seen it.

The subject of the call doesn’t matter, it took me off my guard and threw me off.  It wasn’t bad news, just not a call I’d expected.

Then another flash, but I wasn’t counting to hear the distance from the thunder clap.  I was in the middle of working, after all.

The call came from another state, my oldest. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed, but a problem that affected my daughter’s ability to register for Spring classes in college.  I thought I had another few weeks to buffer that and I was wrong.   So I spent a good deal of time fixing a problem of my own creation and financial angst hanging over my head to allow her to register in just a couple days.

Then came the call from the Middle School.

Flash.

It’s never a good thing to hear “this is the vice-principal of __________ middle school.  I need to talk to you about what happened with your son today.”  That’s how the voicemail on my cell phone started.

And . . . bang.  I didn’t even get a “one” count off in my head.

My son, Noah, is a habitual rule follower.  So when I heard “detention” at the end of the voicemail I immediately called home.  The flurry of high-speed chipmunk-pitched explanation from my son about kids using webcams to take pictures in the classroom and that he’s in one and that he didn’t do it and that he wanted to tattle but he knew that wasn’t good and that he didn’t do anything . . .

I began to realize why Edward R. Murrow probably kept a bottle of Scotch in his desk.

With prodding, interrogating, and calming of mind I found out that on a scale of 1 to 10, his trouble was less than a 1.  He informed me he had to do detention at 2:15, 15 minutes after the bus leaves.

Flash . . . bang.

To my son’s amazing credit he was more worried about the fact that I’d have to leave work early to pick him up from school.

I spoke with his vice-principal who assured me how highly they thought of both my sons . . . and that if my son disputes anything he should take it up with his teacher.

This, by the way, was my solution.  He already knew that if he’s responsible and I stood up for him his Dad’s not going to be happy.  Not at all.  But the onus is on him, now.  If he’s even tangentially guilty . . . there will be no discussion with his teacher that alleviates this.  If he isn’t . . . he’ll be able to avoid the whole thing.  The school was great in that they moved his detention to a time during school hours so he can still take the bus home.

I got home . . . fixed dinner . . . and opened a bottle of wine.  One glass would calm me down, I hoped.  I tucked them in, cleaned up the kitchen, made lunches, slowly sipping a glass of pinot noir.

As I sighed, my son finished his half-hour of reading and stepped behind me.  I turned around . . . and he just gave me a hug, saying “love you, Dad.”

And the calm rushed over me.

Most peculiar, Mama.