Tag Archives: life

Wax on . . . wax off . . .

This morning I was taking three of the kids to school and had to break the tension.  They’d been at each others’ throats all morning, fighting, hitting, yelling, just making everyone crazy.  I looked at Hannah, the middle daughter, and told her something was wrong with her nose.

“What do you mean?”

In my best Mr. Miyagi face, I reached over, slowly hovering my hand in front of her nose and squeezed it, saying: “honk”.

“See, you really need to get that fixed.”

“What the heck?!”

“You need to get that fixed, it could really lead to problems.”

I squeezed it again, giving her an ahooga noise like an old car and told her it’s getting worse.

Hannah busted out laughing, as did the boys in the back.  Hannah shouting “what is wrong with you?!”

I asked her if it was so strange why was she laughing?  “I don’t know!!!”

This was the only thing I could think of to do to calm them down.  I’ve been here before.  I’ve been in this very situation, threatening them, yelling at them, only to get the note or phone call later in the day that states I have to keep my kid’s behavior in check.  Usually it’s Noah.  Sometimes it’s Hannah.  Sam . . . well, he just needs to toughen up a little.  His is usually an injury report because he got hit with a dodgeball or basketball and cried.  The kid’s built like a 1930’s professional wrestler but has the constitution of a marshmallow!

These are the things I have to do.  I need to see the kids laughing again.  I need them to feel comfortable and not go to school with worried feelings and feeling tense, on-edge.  They may have argued before, but their mom always forced them to come over, give her a hug, patted their bottoms and the problems melted away.  They stopped fighting (well, sometimes).  I don’t have that.  I don’t have the aforementioned twinkle in my eyes that hypnotizes you (particularly boys) and gets them to do whatever you want.

I have to go Miyagi on their asses.

I know that they feel this way, they told me so.  Every night we have the same routine: after dinner they get to play, usually not with the TV on, and around 8pm they start the showers.  After that, we have a “midnight snack”, a habit my mother began with them of getting a small bowl of cereal, usually rice crispies with bananas.  They brush their teeth, head to bed and I head up there, if things go on-schedule (not usually the case) and read a chapter out of whichever book we’re reading this week.

This week Noah’s been telling me he’s having problems with a couple kids at school.  In my paranoia I always think they’re getting in fights or arguments, but the way he tells it, they blame him for things, he gets called up to the teacher, it’s found not true but another kid vouches for what the accuser says and it all just sits at a stalemate.  All I can do at this point is tell Noah that his behavior to this point has made others wary of him and teachers ready to believe he’s doing something wrong even if he didn’t.  I told him a couple days ago that, unfortunately, he has to be better than his best.  If anything goes wrong, he’ll get the blame, that’s just the nature of things so far.

Then he just knocked the breath out of me.

“I prayed to Mommy this morning.”
“What, little man?”
“I prayed to Mommy.  I asked her to help me be good.  I wanted her to help me so I could ignore the other kids and just do my school work.”

I don’t think he noticed my eyes getting a little glassy.

“What did you say, Monkey?”
“I just asked her to help me so that I can be good.  For her. ”
“Did it work?”
“I don’t know.  They still were mean to me.”

But he didn’t get into trouble.  He kept it together.  I didn’t get any behavior reports, he didn’t get in any fights, it just played out and he let things be.

But I could tell he was hoping for more.  He wanted what he was missing.  He wanted that presence, the warmth that we all felt when she would put her arms around you and say the absolutely perfect thing.  He asked for it, but he didn’t get it, at least he doesn’t think he did.  I don’t think she came down and visited some sort of patience on him, though I ache knowing that it would mean so much to him if she did.  I do think that the shards of her that are left, the little pieces left behind when she was ripped from all of our souls, the fragments that drift around in the wound are there and I hope that’s what he is thinking about.  I hope that he’s remembering what she said and felt.

Andrea had a way of coming up with the perfect solutions.  When we first moved to town, Abbi wanted to do something for the school talent show, but the group she’d joined with to perform couldn’t agree on what they wanted to do and she had her name in and nothing to perform.

“Do something with your Dad,” was Andrea’s answer.
“What?!  Nobody does stuff with their parents at these!”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t.”

I looked at her, and we both figured, why not?  My big thing was I wanted this to be Abbi’s moment, but for years she’d sung along with my music on the radio.  Sang to the point that Andrea, her dad, everyone told her she was too noisy and to knock it off.  But one of her favorites was a fun old Buddy Guy tune, performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan – “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.  It didn’t even take much rehearsal.  I took my Dobro, an acoustic guitar that has an aluminum cone – like a speaker cone – instead of a sound hole, and headed to the show.

Abbi was nervous, very much so, and I took a chair back behind her so she was able to be out front.  We followed a lot of really talented people and she was just a little freaked out by the fact that her friends had played classical pieces on the piano and complicated magic or juggling and she felt like she was singing a nursery rhyme.  But her Mom told her it would be OK and that she had a bluesy voice and they wouldn’t know what hit them.  When I finished the intro, she belted it out, growling out the song, sassing a little when she called: “tisket . . . tasket, baby.  A green and yellow basket.”  The crowd went crazy, and she had a huge grin painted on her face – again, that twinkle in her eyes.  We did it again the following year, allowing her little sister to sing, too.  That year, Andrea pushing us both – wanting Hannah to sing “Bein’ Green” the Kermit the Frog song.  It may seem a simply, jaunty little tune, but it’s actually filled with more chords than I’ve played before, contorting my fingers to play Kenny Burrell style jazz while she talked about being the color of the leaves.

But we did it, pushed ourselves, strove to be better with the help of their Mom.  With the support and smile of that amazing person.

Noah had the most disappointed look on his face when he finished his sentence that night.  He was crestfallen knowing that he’d reached out to his Mom and had it reinforced that she’s just not there any more.  Not in the physical sense, and I’ve been there where he is.  He wanted to have his Mom reach out from up there somewhere, to feel her presence and get that calm.

The best he gets for now is Mr. Miyagi.

Wax on, wax off.

On through the days uncounted . . .

The Blind Leading The Blind

There’s a song my brother wrote, which I have attached here, that I know has a different meaning for him but I listened to the track the other day and realized that whatever inspiration it gave him, I’m living the thought behind the song.

Tell me why, I want a reason
Just what am I supposed to find?
All through the days uncounted
Like the Blind Leading the Blind

I remember the day he came to our house with the demo – he had put it on a cassette (you know, a cartridge with two tiny reels inside that hold magnetic mylar tape that . . . oh, nevermind. If you don’t know by now you never will) and I was blown away. I mean, he wasn’t even old enough to go into a bar but had written this amazing song that even then I saw as insightful.

But now I truly do feel like I’ve gotten pulled into the inspiration of his song. Successful holiday or two aside, most days I’m making this up as I go. I wait for the day that I shrink some important piece of clothing of my daughter’s. My middle child is failing numerous classes and I can’t seem to get anything to sink into that head of hers.

I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s pretty clear to me I am making this up as I go, and I wander through the forest of inevitable problems that we’re lost in and realize that I’m leading the kids along like a blind man in the dark. It scares me that they are looking to me to be the solid foundation for them and I’m feeling the ground moving underneath me, destabilizing the foundation I’ve tried to pour.

Now Christmas season is coming. Andrea always had specific ideas for how things should go. In the last few years, she’d relented, letting the kids decorate the tree the way they wanted or sitting back and allowing the holiday to come to pass. I have major issues with what’s on the horizon. I LOVE Christmas, always have. Not the presents, not getting things, I was never that way. Sure, as a kid, I loved to get presents and look under the tree on Christmas morning but I just liked the whole season. I loved the snow, the trees, the smell of pine in the house, the lights and tinsel and presents and all of it. When my Dad decorated the house and put up lights the running gag was that planes would land on our lawn instead of the airport because he had so many. I inherited that from him and loved every minute of it.

Andrea hated that. She loved Christmas, but she was a control freak when it came to decorating. What I hated more was that she was always right and it looked so great. She never liked all the lights or the clashing colors. She was a decorator at heart and she wanted simplicity in action, mixed with a touch of color and light. She kept me in check and prevented me from making the landing strip on our lawn. Where she didn’t pull back was with presents. She always paid too much, put us in debt and bought too much stuff, out-doing it for major gifts every year. She wanted to give her kids what she had or more. I’ve said it before, but I just couldn’t tell Andrea “no” and we always ended up paying for Christmas for months later until we had to find a way to pay for it all over again.

Now, my kids are looking at Christmas as a way to get all the stuff they wanted. Sure, they know the reason behind the season, they understand that they should be just as excited – or more so – to give as to receive. But last night we were at the dinner table and I made the mistake of asking what they wanted for Christmas. My oldest, always the conservative kid and not wanting to ask, said little. The other three:

“I want a Nintendo 3DS”
“Me too”
“I want a guitar, and a bike, and a Spyro video game with a different character and a Mario brothers game and a new controller and a laptop and an ipod and . . . ”

I told them all how much it would cost to buy all that stuff.

“But I’ll just ask Santa for it.”

That was the problem. They have these memories of asking for their one big gift and Santa brought it.

“You realize, guys, that Santa brings you what he thinks you need and deserve, not always everything you want.”

They get that, but they don’t “get” that. Last year we didn’t have a lot of money at all, (not that I do now) and they had to come to terms with a lot fewer gifts under the tree and a lot more stress from Dad and Mom. But they thought it was the greatest Christmas ever and for the most part didn’t get everything they wanted.

This year is the same way.

It’s not that I’m complaining, I’m not. I don’t want more money, the kids don’t need more gifts. What I need is self confidence and peace of mind. I stare at the houses in the neighborhood, the lights popping up, the trees erecting in the windows and I realize I’m so far behind. I get to work around 8:30 each day, leaving at 5:30, if I can. Some days it’s later. I get home and dinner has to get on the table. We clean off the kitchen table, put away the leftovers, only to see it’s time to get the kids into the shower and the bedtime routine started. I help them find their PJ’s, their new underwear, and go downstairs while the hour or more process goes and get their “midnight snacks” together – usually Rice Crispies with banana and a little sugar. Once they’re finished, we go upstairs and read a chapter of the latest book we’re reading – this one is “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”. We say prayers, get out the clothes for the next day and put them on the foot of their bed, then I head out, put a load (or two) of laundry in the washer and go downstairs. I make lunches for the next day, make sure I have something ready and on-hand for breakfast, and usually end up having to make something for a sweet snack for the lunches – cookies, brownies, something like that. Switch out the laundry, separate the clothes . . .

You get the picture of my day. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything more than get the kids from today to tomorrow and then the next. I’m not saying my only reason for mourning Andrea is that she helped with the daily grind of chores, but she did. She also helped me figure out how to decorate for the holidays and knew what they kids wanted for Christmas, what to ask Santa for so they got their one big gift but didn’t get an overload of stuff so that I can’t follow up next year. I’m so lost in the trees I can’t see the forest any more.

My children are amazing. I have to admit that. They laugh, they smile, they tell stories, all of it without Andrea here to help them. People look at me and say that I must be doing something right or they wouldn’t be doing this well. I look at them and realize that they’re not doing well in school or are getting into fights or are obsessed with video games or just get quiet and spend most of the night in their room.

At the end of the day I feel like I have to stick to the routine – sticking to the same time, the same things every night will make them happy and feel stable. But walking through the day in that routine when their guide, the Dad who’s taking them through the woods, has no map and isn’t sure where he’s going feels so wrong. I feel some days like I’m lying to them, acting like I know what I’m doing but really I’m just as lost as they are. My son, Sam, looked at me last night after prayers as I was tucking him into his bed and – with the twinkle I remember in Andrea’s eyes, he says: “I love you daaaaady!”

I love you too, buddy.

“You’re the best Daddy ever, you know.”
“Well, there are a lot of Daddies in the world, kiddo.”
“I know that. You’re still the best.”
“I appreciate that, Samwise. I love you, little man.”
“I don’t care how many other dads there are. You read to us, take care of us, even chase us around and tickle us and laugh with us. You’re the best.”

You see, like my brother’s song, “it’s a waste of time to keep on looking back but it’s a pain I can’t resist.” I keep thinking and wondering how they’re able to cope so well when I’m still glancing over my shoulder.

But I keep blindly stumbling along hoping I’m getting it right but never really knowing. Why?

I couldn’t bear it if I looked at my kids . . . at Sam . . . and saw that he didn’t feel that way any more.

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My son, in his normal state, smiling and happy

You Never Know What You’re Going to Get.

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Andrea allowing a rare moment of public affection

No, this isn’t an attempt to get at the Forrest Gump in my life. I will not say “run, Forrest, run!” nor will I mention a box of chocolates unless there really was a box of chocolates involved. The quote, however, is appropriate to the end and beginning of my week.

My weekend was a whirlwind. I’ve had to be father, friend and disciplinarian all at once. I know that’s the life of a parent, but it’s still the craziest set of circumstances when your favorite part of the weekend is that you get to sleep in until 8:00am!

My oldest daughter’s birthday carried over into this weekend. It’s her first one without her Mom, and it’s a little crazy because I’m the one who implemented all the birthday parties, but I wasn’t actually the one to plan them. Still, I’ve added another proof to the theorem I postulated so many years ago that the home-bound birthday party is so much more expensive than going someplace to hold it. It’s particularly true if you decide to do it at home in order to save money! Abbi wanted to do flag football at the park for her friends in order to have the opportunity to hang out with them, have some fun, whole nine yards (pun intended).

But where the bank account started to whittle away was the fact that nearly 50 people RSVP’d her Facebook page for the party. This is where social media is a bane, not a boon. It’s so easy to simply click “yes” or “maybe I’ll attend” without giving too much thought to the situation. You don’t have to pick up the phone and call the person to say you’re coming or to bow out and say why you’re not. It gives some responsibility. But a button on a website for a party is the equivalent to saying “yes, I’ve read the above and wholeheartedly agree to the terms of service!” You’re agreeing, certifying you’ve read it, but let’s face it, it’s the biggest lie on the planet.

So fifty people, whittled down to 40 that would actually attend, equates to 50-60 hamburgers. Buns to go with them. A box of chips for the kids because I’m not cooking french fries on an open fire. Charcoal. Starter Fluid. Grill cleaner (you’ve seen the grills at the park. I defy you to say you’d cook without cleaning it!) Cookies. Pop. Ice. Plates, buns, napkins. Then two of the kids are vegetarians, we HAVE to have veggie burgers! (Welcome to California) Oh, yeah, the piece de resistance . . . bandannas for the flags. Just when you thought it would be safe to leave the house, you’ve got to go yet again to the dreaded bane of your existence: Michaels. About $75 for bandannas later and twenty-five kids show up. Many of them late. I made about 20 hamburgers and only about 1/4 of the chips were eaten.

By the time the game started, the sun had already sunk behind the homes on the topmost portion of the hills in our neighborhood. The kids managed to start playing before light had faded, but when they finally had enough to make teams they’d really only played for a little while. They barely had time to really sort out playing the whole game.

You know where this is going, right?

The kids all ended up at the house. Before you come down on me as being the cynical, horrible, evil father who is no fun, I didn’t complain, nor did I tell them they couldn’t come. By this point the money’s spent, the food in the house, what the hell else am I going to do? The poor girl’s in a new school and she’d gotten more people to show than I would ever have managed at her age. I stayed down with the kids, managing to stay within earshot but not view so they’d feel like they had their own non-alcoholic party but could still let their folks know that a parent was there in case they needed one.

But the routine had to continue as well. The other three had to stay upstairs. I hooked the Wii back up, something they’d lost weeks ago due to arguing. The boys and their sister were doing so well considering how tempting it was to see all these near-adults standing around downstairs. I also had to throw in a load of laundry due to the fact I smelled like a chimney from the open fire I cooked burgers over at the park. (remember this, it’s important)

The kids stayed until after 10pm. It was exhausting, stressful and amazing. I hadn’t seen Abbi so happy since before March, when her mother died. For that it was worth every penny, it really was.

Then came Sunday.

Abbi informed me how much homework she still had and how little of it was completed. We had Sunday plans, which I was willing to cancel, but it seemed no big deal to her, so we went forward with them.

Sunday night, though, it was hours and hours of homework with no relief in sight and not enough time to finish unless she stayed up all night, which she couldn’t do. This is where it’s not easy or fun being Dad. It was surely going through her head, it was through mine. Had I known just how far behind things were, and I told her this, the party would have ended at the park. Pure and simple. I know she needed to vent, I know she wanted to complain, I know that she was looking for an out . . . but I can’t be the friend all the time. Sometimes, you have to say “coffee maker’s over there, coke in the fridge, caffeinate yourself and get started.” Nothing makes you more college preparatory than dealing with the aftermath of partying all weekend.

Where the night took a turn, and why I sit here at midnight writing, is after I went to swap out the laundry in the washing machine. As I put the denim, sweatshirts and uniforms into the dryer, a “clunk” hit the bottom of the washer tub. As I looked down, the bright red phone – Abbi’s old phone that Hannah inherited so we could call/txt her to make sure that choir, basketball practice/EDP are finished and she’s in the right spot had gone through the wash. This shouldn’t have been such a big deal, Abbi had dropped it in the toilet once and got it out before the water soaked through. However, it wasn’t about the accident, it was about responsibility. It was about respect for the expensive equipment she had been given. It was about taking responsibility for your own mistakes!

And it was about the fact that I just didn’t want to go through her Mom’s phone so she could use it for the day.

A couple months after Andrea passed away, I accidentally stumbled onto a voicemail. I actually hit “play” by accident on it and it shook my world for the rest of the day.

“Hi, Dave, it’s Andrea. Can you give me a call?”

Ten words. Ten short words in her voice that were so simple, so routine, yet it’s the routine that made it so hard to hear. It is the perfect example of what you take so for granted. The voice. The sound of her smile. Maybe you can’t hear it, or maybe you don’t have a spouse that has this, or maybe it’s just that synesthesia-like ability of mine to hear the world, not just see it, but I could hear my wife’s smile in her voice. I could hear the tears in her sadness. I kept the voicemail, only to realize after a phone software update that it’s gone. Disappeared for good and in the ether somewhere that I can never hear it again.

That first day I must have listened to those ten words a million times.

“Hi, Dave, it’s Andrea. Can you give me a call?”

Now, the little one has lost her phone to the wash and you’ve got to go through your wife’s phone. The personal stuff, the text messages, all of it has to be gone through in case something’s important. I’m having to peek into my wife’s head at a point where I’m still trying to imagine life without her – unsuccessfully. I’m not mad at my daughter for letting the phone go through the wash. I’m mad I have to face this task when I didn’t want to face it.

You have to understand, I faced a lot already. I got rid of the old clothes, threw out the old paperwork and shoes. I gave away decorator items we didn’t have room for. I took the preserved wedding dress and stored it in a safe spot. I emptied out the dresser and took it for myself and polished the jewelry, giving myself a plan for every piece for when each kid gets bigger. I even took the St. Anthony medallion and wear it around my neck – refusing even to take it off in the airport. It’s all I have left. I don’t see her when I sleep, like some people do. I don’t get signs from her in the stranger on the corner or in the giggle attacks we have at home. Most people say they can feel their loved ones watching over them, almost daily. I can’t. I see it here and there, but the permanent, ghostly oversight just isn’t there. I’m glad it’s not, to a degree, she deserves to finally be happy – to finally be able to rest without stress or anxiety. The one thing I was hoping to avoid, one of the few hard things I didn’t want to face was now forced upon me.

It’s part and parcel to the way things go as a parent, I know. You face things you never wanted to face and deal with emotions you never thought you’d feel. But sometimes you don’t get to do the nice things. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy, stating the obvious because they won’t accept it. Sometimes you have to comb through the snapshot of your wife’s telephonic life when you haven’t come to terms with the fact that she’s gone yet.

It’s that twist of the story I was expecting but was hoping to write in later pages. I’m not at the point where Robert Cray says “I’ve been away too long, way off track, but I’m finally bouncin’ back.” I’m still running off the rails, still off track.

But that’s the problem with life as we’re living it now. You just never know what you’re going to get.

\”Bouncin\’ Back\” by Robert Cray from the LP \”Midnight Stroll\”