Tag Archives: pictures

Explaining the Past

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Our Story Begins:
Explaining the Past

It started today with a picture.

I was cleaning off my desk, everything packed neatly into a nice set of brown and orange Home Depot boxes.  I had placed most of the stuff in there: my old 3/4 inch videotapes; files from my stories; even the stapler and scissors and office supplies were packed away.

I also packed up all my pictures.  Well . . . most of them.

Last year I was nominated for a local news Emmy award.  The entire thing was based in San Francisco, red carpet, black tie affair.  (Bear with me . . . this gets you to the picture) Still pegged to the wall was a bulletin board where I keep my shooting schedule and calendar and I also tacked up a bunch of pictures and nick-knacks.  Usually, in front of me, just above eye level at my desk are pictures of my kids, from their school pics to fun shots of each of them at varying ages.  I also keep my favorite picture of Andrea, taken when we were still dating.

My Favorite Picture of Andrea
My Favorite Picture of Andrea

But still pegged to the bulletin board was a picture from that Emmy night . . . It’s not something I’d thought too long or hard about, I just had not gotten to the wall behind me in my work area yet.  But as I spoke with a colleague at work his eye wandered to the photo behind me, without my realizing it, and made what would normally be a logical assumption:
“So is that you and your wife there?  What a great picture!  You both look like you’re having a blast!”

Except she wasn’t my wife.  Andrea – as I stated earlier – had passed away in 2011.  The picture was of me with a different woman, one of my dearest of friends.  (In the interest of privacy I’m not giving her name and for a whole lot of hilarious reasons I have vowed not to show any pictures other than the one at the top of this post so you won’t see any other photos)  Conversations of this type are generally like a grenade tossed into the room with no warning.  You are totally content and completely unaware until someone shouts “Grenade!  Holy s**t grenade!”

“No . . . that’s a friend of mine who was my date for the evening,” was my line.  Most times that elicits just a puzzled look.  Others I’ve had people look at me funny, like it’s out of the question for me to have a social life now that I’m widowed.  (I know , sounds weird, but widowered sounds stranger still)  “My wife passed away about three years ago.”

And therein lies the abrupt hairpin turn every time this conversation comes.  Now I’m explaining what happened…how I am the only remaining parent to four children.  Yes, I can cook.  Yes, I do the laundry.  No, it’s not easy.

My daughter and I had a discussion about this before she went off to college.  While at work or school people would ask her the typical questions.  Over Thanksgiving: “Did you help your Mom make Thanksgiving dinner?”  Her answer?  “Yes.”  She just didn’t want to face the conversation.  Moving to a new town with new people who didn’t know anything about her past gave her a new start and fewer conversations about home life.  She’s just living life.  Her solution: avoid the grief grenade by avoiding the places where grenades go.  Sure, it only works about 60% of the time . . . but that’s 40% fewer conversations.

The whole reason this gets upsetting isn’t because of the facts: Andrea died.  Fact.  I’m parenting alone.  Fact.  I loved my wife.  Fact.  She caught a resistant strain of pneumonia and was gone after less than a week.  Fact.

But once you’ve expressed the facts and heard the sympathetic lines and said “it’s okay, we’re fine…” you’re left to assess the damage left after the grenade went off.  That means you relive those moments again . . . I remember the hospital, the last moments , and having to go home and tell my children.  Those are the factors you don’t want to relive but they creep in anyway.

I get it . . . the easy answer would be “just take the damn photo down!”  Yes.  That would be the easy answer.  But I won’t.

That photo isn’t particularly spectacular, I suppose.  But it does represent something: life.  I don’t have a shrine to Andrea, not in the house, not at my desk.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t love her, not at all.  That means I can’t live back there, three years in the past, with her forever.  I have to keep doing things, moving forward.

Living.

This was me living.  Sure, it was an awards banquet with rubber chicken and egomaniacal San Francisco anchors telling everyone else how great they are.  But for an entire weekend, no kids, no reminders, I just had an enjoyable time.  I didn’t think about my late wife, my household or what anyone else thought.  It was just a night for me to enjoy and share it with someone.

That’s what the picture represents.

The grenade went off and I came out mostly unscathed.  And the picture remained . . . and yes . . . we did have a blast!

 

Pictures in a Book

Our Story Begins:
Pictures in a Book

Like a lot of Sundays in our home the day was filled with chores.  The vacuuming and the dishes; the laundry and the beds; sinks and toilets; the dusting was the biggest chore.  I handed a lot of that off to one of my twin sons, Sam, while Noah, his brother, folded and put away the laundry that had piled up in the wash room.

Like so many other things, I’d held off cleaning my room for a very long time.  Dust bunnies gathered under my bed.  The armoire in the corner of the room was filled with dust, too.  No wonder I had so many allergies.

I found the leather-bound book in a back part of the cabinet.  I’d actually forgotten I’d even put it there.  My son walked into the room as I was wiping the dust off the leather and the brass binding on the back.

“What’s that,” my son asked.  It was the last of the chores, at least for me, and I looked at him and said “come on downstairs, I’ll show you.”

The three kids had gathered on either side of me and I opened the book.
“Wait,” says Noah, “why does it say “Our Wedding?””
“Because that’s what it is,” I tell him. “There’s your Mom before the wedding,” I tell them, showing them a photo just of her in the church

2014-02-17 06.58.20“Wow!”

I had to agree.  My late wife, Andrea, was a lot of things.  Beautiful was certainly one of them.  Sure, by 2014 standards the dress may seem a little dated, but it didn’t matter.  Gorgeous is gorgeous, I have to say, and Andrea certainly fit into that category.

They spot me in a tuxedo, white tie, whole nine yards, and my son says “you look just like Grandpa there!”
“You mean him,” I say, pointing out my Mom and Dad on the page.  “Yeah!  See?!  I mean, you’re a little lighter skinned but you look a lot like him.  Especially there.”

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We come to pictures of the reception and they ask why it looks like I’m shoving cake down their Mom’s throat.
“That’s just a bad photo,” I tell them.  “Your Mom was the one who did that.  She spent weeks informing how much trouble I would be in if I smeared the cake on her face.”  We’d made a deal not to do it.

Hannah looked at me quizzically, asking “so did you listen to her?”
I look over my glasses at her and inform her that nobody ignores the wishes of the bride on her wedding day, not if they want to survive to be married.

What I don’t have the heart to tell them is how I reacted to that moment.  I always joked “if you can survive planning a wedding the marriage can’t be nearly as hard.”  I was right in a way.  This was terribly stressful.  Andrea and her bridesmaids were late to the church.  For about two hours we’d lost the wedding rings.  The photographer was just not that great.

So when Andrea had done exactly what we’d said we wouldn’t do I got fairly resentful.  Not enough to hate the rest of my wedding, but certainly enough to feel that twinge when I saw the photos.

But I don’t tell my kids that part.  In reality, I wish I’d just stood back and enjoyed that day for the entire thing.  Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but sitting with my kids I realized what a great day this was.

Before now looking at this book of photos probably wouldn’t have even been an option.  Noah still hasn’t faced all his grief.  The other two don’t want to talk too much about their Mom.

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But today we sit and look through these photos and I tell them every story, from my brother and I singing Andrea a song I wrote for her right down to explaining why the one picture removed was taken out because it contained a picture of Andrea’s sister with an ex-boyfriend.  We laughed at how their Mom wanted such a huge wedding party they ran out of purple bridesmaid cloth for the dresses and we had to buy another color for one of them.

My brothers look so young, one of the kids notes, but then so did I.

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Still, it was a wonderful thing to look at this book of photos and walk my kids through that day.  It made me smile not only to show them that we had a wedding day but that we had a really fun wedding day.  It also was great to see them look at their mom and hear them say out loud “she was gorgeous.”

Because after all, she really was.

Time to Let Them Back In

A couple weeks ago I wrote a piece for Rene Syler’s website Good Enough Mother.  In it, I detailed what happened over the last couple years with my relationship to my late-wife’s memory.  I compared it to a pedestal, the memory there on top, built by the love affair and good intentions and beautiful memories.

I likened it to falling out of love, or perhaps more appropriately, shielding myself from the love I felt.  Seeing her, hearing her, seeing our children, all of those things reminded me of Andrea.  Sometimes, without realizing it, we belittle the things that hurt or the events that preceded today in an effort to minimize the pain.

So let me tell you what you don’t know.

I loved my late wife.

Madly.

The madness wasn’t hers, it was mine.  I was enamored with her and she had a strong, vibrant personality.  Good or ill, I couldn’t tell her no.  I couldn’t bring myself to disappoint her.  Had I looked at the reality of our marriage I would have seen there really was no disappointment there.  She loved me, too.

A perfect example of her smiling with her eyes.
A perfect example of her smiling with her eyes.

I could never have become the man I am today without having known her.  Could I have gotten here, done this?  Maybe.  Probably.  But the push to get the career I have and the writing I do all stems from her belief in me.  When we met we both worked in a small station that didn’t even broadcast over the air, we were a local cable news operation.  I never thought I’d get to a bigger market without going to some tiny affiliate in the middle of nowhere.  So when an overnight editing position opened up in the local market – Omaha – and they were willing to let me come on board my wife didn’t flinch.  She told me that once I was inside they’d hire me for the next full-time photographer job.  She was convinced of it.  She believed in me.  Bear in mind . . . we had a baby girl and she was back in school.  I was working two part-time jobs and playing gigs in bars as a musician on weekends to make ends meet.  I traded one part-time gig for this overnight editing position and she didn’t care.  She believed I’d succeed.

Andrea, my Beautiful Love, with Abbi as a little one
Andrea, my Beautiful Love, with Abbi as a little one

I keep getting blog postings and emails and twitter feeds that have blog posts stating how children changed everything.  That women worried husbands didn’t see them as sexy or men thought women wanted only an extra hand in the house and didn’t think their wives were happy to see them.  Sure, there were those days in my past.  Every marriage has those days.  We had amazing, starstruck, intense early days before kids.  I do think sometimes that our marriage suffered a little, but not because of my children but because we didn’t spend enough time as a couple first.  It’s not like we decided after a year to have a child, it just happened.  We couldn’t change that.

But we also had amazing times as parents.  After our first child was born I never saw Andrea as less than she was before.  I still couldn’t wait to have her in the bed next to me and loved the feeling of the curves of her body fitting into the perfect positions next to mine.  When she smiled her eyes twinkled.  I know that sounds star-struck and a bit too much like I’m enamored with the romance.  It’s not, though.  It’s true.  When Andrea suffered a bout of depression the sparkle disappeared.  I mean completely disappeared and I saw how much that pained her.  When she came out of it that sparkle was back.

Andrea was innovative, happy, intense and fun.  That’s the thing . . . she was fun.  At a time in my life when I was just a little bitter, coming off the teenage angry mode many boys have she showed me it was okay to loosen up a little and be happy and act the fool because it’s fun to run around with abandon.  She told me I taught her that it wasn’t good to run around with abandon 24/7.  I feel like at the time we were what the other needed.

The kids at the Sequoias
The kids at the Sequoias

Today I’m a different man.  Had she stayed I think she’d be proud of the things we’ve done and the adventures we’ve had.  One thing I realized is that life is too short to sit at home and wonder what it would be like to do something…when I took the kids to the Big Tree Park and saw giant sequoias they were skeptical . . . and then climbed the trees.

On a family event - feeding parrots
On a family event – feeding parrots

We fed parrots at a bird sanctuary on the way back from my oldest daughter’s move to college.

2013-12-29 12.48.49-1My children have all the greatest parts of their mother.  Sure, they have some of the bad parts, too, but they have a lot of my bad pieces as well.  I’ve always said that we love people because of everything they are.  We love them for the bad things and adore them for the good.  My kids are all their own people but they all have that sparkle in their eyes.

For so long I avoided facing Andrea in my house.  We had pictures up, we had decorator items…but then I started making it our home, not the home Andrea designed with me.  So when I embraced the final piece of control in our home . . . it was like letting her back in for all to see.

My kids smile.  My music soars.  My home comforts . . . and suddenly . . . she’s there again and it makes us all pretty happy.

Can I Go With You?

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Our Story Begins
Can I Go With You?

For years I’ve done what I assume most parents do . . . I hear the words “can I go with you dad?” and a small part of me cringes.

Why, you might ask?  The proper, idealized, Parenting obsessed talk shows think that every single point of contact with your children is like living in the lobby of Willy Wonka’s factory.  Fairy tales and wishes that come true.  They’re completely off the mark, of course, but that’s the message we get pummeled with constantly.
“I am my kids’ mom/dad.  I live for my kids.  The happiest point in my life is when my kids succeed.”
That is the message from talk radio, television, all that.  So when people ask why I write for Rene Syler’s Good Enough Mother it’s because . . . sometimes, and with me it’s a lot of the time, good enough is just that.  You aren’t perfect and it’s a bad message to send to your kids telling them that you or they are perfect.  I prefer Rene’s message to the others.

So like many parents, today, when I had to head to the grocery store for the third time for the one item I forgot for the oatmeal cookies I’d already started to make, I heard “can I go with you Dad?”
I looked, sighed to myself, and said:
“sure Sam.  Come on.”

I thought the cringe-worthy moment in my head, I didn’t say it.  I don’t belittle my children.  Words like “idiot” and “stupid” aren’t allowed when describing each other in my house.

I cringed because, for so long . . . 7 of their 10 years, in fact . . . they fulfilled the prophecy in my head.  That event ringing over and over again where the child screams, cries, yells, and whines to try and get something.  At Target it’s a new toy train or a video game cartridge.  At the grocery store it’s candy or what have you.

But I don’t often refuse the trips with me in order to minimize the amount of babysitting one daughter has to do or just because it’s nice to have company to the store.

It’s today I realized, long after our trip to the store, that it’s not about the treats or wanting something.  In fact, for about three years now, it’s been the exact opposite.

I have a theory, you see, particularly with one of the twins.  He made such a fuss, got in so much trouble and whined and screamed (yes, literally, in the middle of the store, feet dragging, blood-curdling screaming) at his mother that he wanted new stuff that she would cave in.  I wouldn’t, but be it the pitch, the timbre, the volume, whatever, Andrea (my late wife) and her mother couldn’t handle the tantrums.

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

To the day, since Andrea died, we have not had a single tantrum.  Not one.  Nothing.  My theory, you see, is that it’s also part of the trauma of grief these kids face.  They feel like they treated their mother badly.  They feel bad for screaming and stressing her out.  You might think that’s too much thinking for a 7-year-old but you’d be wrong.  It’s the right amount.  Kids are bright and born smart.  We just think they’re not and if you treat them like they’re not that’s what you get – a kid who feels inadequate.  (You’ll note I said treat them as intelligent, not spoil them or cater to them)

So today at the store I went in with an open mind.  As grumpy as I was about the third grocery run, Sam walked along.  He skipped through the aisles.  He looked at sale items and pointed out cheaper prices.  Not once did he ask for anything.

You see, kids ask for stuff.  They ask over and over again, too.  Why?  That’s their job, so to speak.  They’re kids.  They have to ask.  You did it, too, so did I.  But in the end they aren’t there for the treat.  Sam just wanted to spend some time, whatever time, with his Dad.  If that’s walking through the store, which I tend to have happen a lot . . .then that’s where he’ll go.

So the next time I hear “can I go with you,” I’ll remind myself of that.  I’ll also remind myself . . . something as mundane as a trip to the store, if one or all of them is with me, just isn’t that mundane at all.

Those Quiet Moments

You’d think it would be stressful.

For me, I mean, not my kids.  I’m sure they have their stresses, too, but no stressful for me.

In the span of about a week and a half my oldest daughter returned to college and then my twin sons went on their first field trip – their first trip with no family around, for that matter.  It should stress me out.  It should stress us all out.

But instead it seemed to be the exact opposite.

The boys, leading up to the trip were a bit stressed.  Well, I should qualify that . . . Sam, the youngest twin (by about 30 seconds, his brother likes saying that), said he wasn’t sure.  When I said he’d have homework and would stay in a 4th grade classroom he said “oh, I really want to go, then.”

Noah, though, his brother, was very concerned.  It took a long time for him to broach the subject of going at all.  Once we did he kept talking about not wanting to go.  He’s very shy, hasn’t dealt with his grief as much as he portrays, and was really, really nervous.  So we took a trip to the area where the trip will be . . . and he was ecstatic.  The Marin Headlands in the San Francisco Bay area are filled with history, science, nature, and have a up-close view of the Golden Gate Bridge.  It’s pretty amazing, and I only spent a day there previewing the trip for him.

IMG_3378The boys left at o’dark thirty on a Tuesday.  Noah jumped right on the bus, was organized and all excited.  Sam, on the other hand, the one who desperately wanted to go was nervous.  I hugged them, took a photo and stood watching, wondering why all the parents around me showed their kids how stressed and worried they were?  I have the same worries, the same concerns.  I don’t want them to know I have them . . . not because I’m hiding it but because if they see I’m confident they’ll have a great time, I know they’ll believe it, too.  Kids worry about us as much as we worry about them.  If they thought I was stressed about this . . . they will be . . . the entire trip.

When I walked back to the car a wave of emotion hit me.  I haven’t had that in a long time.  A friend asked why.  I could only say that for an instant I thought about what their mother would have done.
“She would have let them go, though, right?” my friend asked.
“Yes,” was my reply, “and then she’d have bawled the entire way home.”

Well maybe not the whole way.  But she certainly would have called me all . . . day . . . long.  All week, too, stressed out about their being gone.

And there it was . . . the reason I was hit with the emotion.  I was feeling everything, love, pride, concern, excitement…but not stress.  I knew they had the tools to do this . . . and they were better off knowing I was the only one there to help them deal with this.  I think that was what sparked my emotions.

With Hannah
With Hannah

Then came the days without them.  Beyond the fact I’ve worked a lot of hours, simply by coincidence, I’ve had several days with my middle daughter.  Just her and I.  We played tons of guitar.  I learned Alex Clare and Paramore from her.  She learned Paul Simon and Robert Johnson from me.  We played some Black Keys songs and laughed when we both sang “when I think back on all the crap I learned in high school.”

Every change, every movement, every event can be positive motion.  My boys will learn, have fun, make friends and have stories.  My daughter and I went to dinner someplace her sister wouldn’t go.

No, I’m not stressed.  I thought the house would be too quiet.  Those quiet moments, though, are filled with wonder.

Adjustment Week

2013-12-26 18.07.03The entire day Friday . . . hell, the whole weekend . . . was filled with adjustment.

This started with the arrival of my oldest for winter break from college, of course.  It’s funny, you think everything will fall back into the same routine that it always was but that doesn’t really happen.  Home isn’t the daily “home” for your daughter.  I’ve had to adjust and the kids have too with having her home.  We chugged along alright the first half of her school year.  It will be interesting to see how the rest of it goes.

But the adjustments didn’t end there.  It was an adjustment for me, her Dad, to see how much more of an adult, just after a few short months, my daughter had become.  The way she carried herself, acted, reacted to the people she left from high school who didn’t face the change and embrace it.  I simultaneously saw how brilliant a person she was that she could adjust so amazingly . . . and wondered how that tiny littler person I loved so much disappeared and became someone who I might be walking down the aisle in the not so distant future.

My sons were a bit freaked out all weekend because they’d gotten used to having their sister home.  They were hyper, jumping around, fighting with each other and it was obvious that she was one of the reasons.  I think she thought she was the only reason but I know she wasn’t.

This week, for the first time since losing their mother, the boys are going on a field trip that takes them away from home and away from family.  They’re in separate groups, going to another city, away from me and without communications to their Dad.  It’s scary.  It’s a lot of weight to carry particularly if you’re still carrying a little bit of the grief from a couple years ago.  I can see the excitement, but I see the fear and uncertainty mixed in with it.

2013-12-29 12.48.49-1Life is change, of course, and this means we all either fight or embrace it.  The kids have had no choice but to embrace it but in the last three years I’ve tried to teach them that fighting it just gets you pummeled by the waves of change and you end up tired, hurt, and riding the wave in the end anyway.  We didn’t pick some of the paths we’d been forced on but we walked them nonetheless.  Since then we’ve managed to do more and see more and enjoy more than we did before.  None of that would have happened if things hadn’t changed so drastically after losing my wife.

I ended up buying a ton of stuff I didn’t need or want for the field trip which added to my anxiety and stress for the week.  My anxiety isn’t being alone, I’ve done it for a few summers while the kids visit my parents.  My anxiety is for my boys who are facing this with no communication with me.  I don’t show it to them hoping they see I’m confident they’ll be fine . . . and I am . . . but there’s always that small part of you that worries.

Then there’s the trip to the airport . . . where I watch, after adjusting to having my daughter back in the home, her move up the escalator to board her flight back to college.  My adjustment is the fact that, as much as I love having my kids home and around me . . . this year marked the moments where I realized there’s no returning to that.  It’s not a loss, there’s no grief.  This is the fact that she’s now grown up.

I didn’t want them to grow up, but there it is again, change.

And like all others . . . we adjust.

Where’s the Adventure?

I had a conversation recently about how different people handle different scenarios.  Some people are very regimented, their itinerary listed and if they deviate from the itinerary the entire day, for them, is ruined.  If the most amazing things come up, sure, they’re amazing, but it stresses them out if that’s thrown off their day.

My late father-in-law was one of these people.  If you went to see something – the case in point for me in this one being our one trip to Yosemite with my late wife’s folks – he had an itinerary.  Now, bear in mind, none of us were usually consulted on this itinerary.  None of us even knew there was an itinerary.  Yet, there it was.

I don’t say this as an insult to the man.  On the contrary, I assume that, being married to my now late-mother-in-law, this was a necessity or the day would have gone madly out of control.  He was yin, she yang (or was it the other way around in reverse?).  They balanced, even if they constantly sniped at each other through the entire thing.

DSCF0070Then you throw in my wife, Andrea, and the entire thing goes in a thousand different volatile directions.  I have to be honest, I don’t know which category to fit Andrea into as she sort of fit both.  She never wanted to go anywhere without knowing what to visit or where . . . but the itinerary was never right if it wasn’t her itinerary.  Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing unless you have four children with you.  And her father.  Then it goes mad.  This, I’m afraid, was our sole full-family trip to Yosemite.  It lasted a day.

DSCF0060I know what you’re thinking, no, there’s no possible way you can see everything in Yosemite in a day.  You’d be right, by the way.  Still, that’s what happened. Between my children wanting to spend the time looking for one of the waterfalls (that had too little water to fall, but they didn’t know that) and my father-in-law having his own agenda and my wife having her own . . . it was mayhem.  The 2-3 day trip ended after one day.

IMG00155Thus the discussion I had.  My daughter had a similar experience not long ago with a non-relative and it’s not hard to see why it drives her crazy.

I don’t act either way, really.

“Where’s the adventure in that?!” was the line that came from the person in my discussion.  They’re right, too.

Since Andrea passed away I’ve talked a lot about making life far more adventurous for us.  That doesn’t mean, though, that I go jump out of airplanes.  (Not that I wouldn’t, but . . . well . . . maybe . . . )  What it means is that I don’t let even the little things skirt by.

I detailed a number of things we did in the last year here.  2013 wasn’t a stellar year emotionally but in terms of adventure, we grabbed it.  No, we didn’t climb Kilimanjaro or hike the Appalachian trail but we did go to Folsom lake and see the ruins of the old Mormon Island, usually submerged (not now due to drought).  We fed birds at a sanctuary, just did amazing things.  Not all of them meet the criteria of “bucket list” things, but that’s fine.

Life is full of adventurous moments, you just need to grab them when they come.  Even three years ago I sat on a couch and binge-watched TV shows with my wife.  Now I feel restless if I sit for more than an hour or two watching TV.  There’s always a chore to do or someplace to go.

I don’t discount the value of television and games and things, we have them.  This isn’t a lecture.  But it is a realization: I rode the wave of itineraries for so long I realized it’s time to throw it out.  When I see something that looks like we’d enjoy it, I do it.

Therein lies the adventure.

What Did You Do This Year?

I’m sitting up on New Year’s Eve . . . writing this post as I look back at the last year.

I certainly admit that I’ve decried 2013 as a year filled with grief and loss, but I’ve made mention before that there were a lot of peaks to the valleys and they were quite high peaks.  Some of them were tremendous achievements and some were melancholy along with the pride that goes with them.

I’m not going to give you every single event that happened, but there were a lot of really great things so lest 2013 end with a sour taste in your mouth from me, let’s take a look at everything that happened here:

As a family we did a lot, and I do mean a lot.  There was a video we shot for March 26th, the anniversary of their mother’s passing.  We didn’t do it as a remembrance of her as much as a celebration of what we’ve done in two years.  This was the video:

2013-03-24 12.38.28But that same month we made a trip to Disneyland.  It was amazing . . . and terrifying.  My poor son, Noah, is scared to death of roller coasters, something we didn’t realize until we were 1/4 of the way into the ride on Space Mountain.  I can’t honestly tell you much about the ride . . . but I do have the scars from his fingernails dug into my arm.

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We went to the beach . . . Long Beach, to be precise.  The kids, though the water was cold, had a blast.  Buried in the sand, running in the surf . . . it was fun, more fun than they expected.  They weren’t particularly excited to go but once there they didn’t want to leave.

Abbi before graduation
Abbi before graduation
Hannah at her graduation
Hannah at her graduation

Two girls . . . two graduations.  Same day.  Even the greatest of parental pairs would have gotten more grey hairs over this and I had to do it alone.  It’s not bragging, by the way, it’s just reality.  Hannah, the middle, graduated 8th grade in the late morning.  The ceremony and the after-party would rival a Stanford graduation, it seems.  I don’t know when 8th grade became the end-all-be-all of graduations but God help the kids that graduated here because their parents now have to make high-school a bigger party than this.  Regardless, I was immensely proud of the achievement.  My oldest made the decision . . . and it was very, very hard for her . . . to go into drama, which her mother did not think was worthwhile.  She loved how good Abbi was at it but hated the fact that she wanted to do it.  Until this year she was really thinking of going into Pharmacy, even though she didn’t like it, because Andrea wanted her to do that.  I am proud of her ability to move past that.  Hannah had so many problems adjusting to life without her Mom and was on the verge of flunking out.  She passed with a B average.

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We made a trip to see the giant redwoods at Big Tree National Park in Calaveras County.  If you’ve never been, you should go.  There’s something pretty amazing about it all and the fact that in the high altitude we were all in good enough shape to march up into the high trail and see it all made me proud.

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We made multiple trips into San Francisco.  We were there the weekend the Prop 8/DOMA Supreme Court decision came down and had an amazing time people-watching.  For the record, 90% of the people half-to-all-naked were not gay, as a matter of fact.  Just really stoned or really drunk, which added to the hilarity.  If I’d known the people I’d have taken pictures for when they try to tell their kids how stable and conservative they’ve been.

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I got gussied up and went to a couple awards ceremonies.  They were for work, went with an amazing friend, and totally worth it even though we were robbed, in my opinion, of a statuette.

2013-08-03 20.28.25  2013-08-04 17.36.08We did a lot of things and treated them like adventures.  Some were, like the drive-in movie that ended up breaking and never seeing the movie.  Going to the baseball games and having a blast eating too much food and staying until the nail-biting end.  (Okay, wasn’t a nail-biter, but it makes for a better story).

This was par for the course for our year. We didn’t sit idle.  I was a bit lethargic at times.  I found times when it was really hard to face some of the things alone, knowing how much my wife, their mother, would have loved so much of it.

At the Sundial Bridge
At the Sundial Bridge
On a family event - feeding parrots
On a family event – feeding parrots

We took my daughter to college and on the way saw a bridge designed by Calatrava and fed birds at a sanctuary.

The prize winners!
The prize winners!

We went to a state fair in another state as well.

Christmas came and went.

Me, Recording in the House
Me, Recording in the House

And we made music.  Lots and lots of music.  Our house is filled with it.

And that’s just a few of the things we did, I’m dangerously close to boring you with the length of this post.

So as 2014 comes, while I hope it’s a damn sight better than 2013, it’s going to be hard to see it live up to the amazing things we saw and did this last year.  That, my friends, makes me very, very happy.

Have a happy new year, and hope your 2014 is amazing.  And it will be, as long as you make it so.

What You Need to Know?! Really?!

MemeThe internet is awash with “memes.”  You know what I mean.

We, as a society of Americans (I can’t speak for the UK, Russian territories, Asia, Middle East or other places), cannot seem to digest things unless they’re in tiny, little, bite-sized pieces.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ll consume a bag full of those bite-sized pieces, but don’t you dare give me information in more than a few hundred words and you sure as hell better have a bunch of funny, seemingly unrelated to the topic, .gif files to reinforce your opinion.

In the last three or so months the “memes” have flooded my Twitter and Facebook pages.  Some are clever.  Some are funny.  Some are sweet.

But the memes are overflowing.

The most common and latest ones describe “what you need to know before you’re a parent” or better yet “what it’s like to be a parent” and “things I wish they’d told me before I had kids” and “what it’s really like to be a parent!”

They’re clever, yes.  They’re accurate, sure.  They also fall so short of actually providing information or helping anyone that needs them.  They’re the internet’s way of taking David Letterman’s “Top Ten List” and making it even less funny.  These are marketing for page views and nothing more.  They are the attempts to get you to click, then hopefully click some more, then hopefully land on a page, give your email address, and rope you into buying something.  Yes.  I’m the cynical journalist who has had about enough of the internet meme.

Here’s why: those parenting memes do nothing to help parenting.  Not a thing.  The people who are clicking on those and spreading them are people who have either been through parenting a child or are in the throngs of it.  It’s wallowing in self-importance and pity, not really helping the people who might need the information.  The other thing people don’t think about?  If you gave this information to a bunch of 20-somethings or 30-somethings before they had made the full-fledged decision to have kids . . . they’d never have sex again.

There are those living in the fantasy world who paint parenting like a beautiful Asgaardian field with valor, wonder and fantastical realms that – if you haven’t been there yourself – you just cannot experience.  Others paint a horror so terrible that Stephen King himself couldn’t possibly come up with a scarier scenario.

Let me be the first to tell you – if you’ve managed to keep reading . . . I’m at 400 words now, so you’ve likely clicked over to Buzzfeed or Upworthy already – they’ve just not given you a picture.  Sure, the shots of New Girl animated and moving for 1.5 seconds are clever, but they’re just not how most average parents approach things.  Let’s face it, I’m not amazing or terrible (I hope) I’m average.

Parenting came as a surprise for me (and my late wife).  My wife freaked out when she was pregnant with our oldest.  She wasn’t ready to be a parent, hyperventilated, cried, fell on her knees . . . none of what was coming was she prepared to handle.

Little Abbi
Little Abbi

My oldest was plagued with problems.  She had problems with digestion, couldn’t eat formula, breast milk, pre-digested formula . . . proteins seemingly couldn’t break down in her little gut.  So she was affectionately dubbed “the Exorcist baby” due to the projectile vomiting she would produce.  I had to spend a good half my paycheck every week on ingredients to make our own formula – the only thing she could keep down.  She cried a lot.  She wriggled around and wouldn’t cuddle with her Mom which made Andrea angry and sad and in turn made her take that out on the only person who would understand – me.  When our second was born my wife nearly died in delivery.  Hannah contracted RSV and had to wake up every two hours to eat and then get albuterol treatments, which made her hyper, which kept her awake, which made her cry.  Add to that having to care for my wife who had a post-op infection due to a mistake in the c-section and it was a mess.  We got pregnant again . . . it was twins . . . and I wasn’t prepared for it.

The kids and their Mom . . . not long before she passed away
The kids and their Mom . . . not long before she passed away

Parenting is messy.  That simple.

But after reading all that you’d have to wonder why in God’s name we, as adults, would put up with it.  The whole “Ten things people should tell you about having kids” doesn’t tell you anything.  It paints either a rosy or a terrible picture.  Neither is accurate.

Along with the terrible things up there?  My oldest would nestle into the fold in my elbow and lay her head there, snuggling.  That got her a nickname from me and me only.  We spent every Monday – my day off – of her toddler years together and called them our “Abbi/Daddy Days.”  They were mundane, slow, filled with parks, walks downtown, naps, making dinner and they were brilliant.  My middle is a musician and writes better music than I do.  My twins are a singer and an animator.  They love it all.  They cry, they get bullied, they get angry, and they miss their Mom.

If 19 years ago you’d come to me and shown me all the bad I’d have thought there’s no point in having them.

All of us
All of us

But while kids may be work . . . I’ve just never treated them that way.  Sure, I had diaper changes but when you have to deal with it things like baby poop are more like you’re a medic helping someone on the field.  It’s just part of the gig.  When you’re feeding them they’re content.  When they’re hurt you worry and pace and want nothing more than to help them.  They cost a ton of money and work you to the bone and from the moment they’re born you will never have a good night’s sleep again.

And you’re so very proud of them.

You can’t look at it as work and you can’t treat it like a dream.  Being a parent is acceptance of the fact that to them you’re Dad and you have that responsibility.  You also have the responsibility to show them that you have your own lives that you live and they are not your identity.  They are your responsibility, from now until you leave this realm for whatever is next.

Like Republicans who post pictures, articles and memes that reinforce how bad President Obama is; like Democrats who post .gifs and videos of how inept Tea Party Republicans are in Congress . . . the parenting memes simply reinforce one position or the other to the people who fall into belief in that position.

Then there’s the average, everyday people.

Kids are work.  Kids are rewarding.  Kids are rebellious.  Kids are loving.  Kids are ridiculous.  Kids are picky.  Kids are beautiful.  Kids are messy.  Kids are amazing.  THIS is their job.

You won’t have nice things for about 18 years but you will be able to live a life when they’re not around, too.

But what you need to know is that parenting is not a job or work.  It’s a responsibility that has intense rewards for the intense stress.  Not everybody’s up to it . . . but if it was so simple everyone would have kids.  If it was so complicated our species would have died off a millenia ago.  I started parenting with a partner.  I’ll finish it on my own, a little harder, but the problems and answers haven’t changed.  Parenting is.  There are no pat answers to everything.  There’s no “10 things” that will fulfill all those expectations.  You get up in the morning, do what you have to do without realizing it, and go to bed knowing you’ve led them through to the setting of the sun a little better than when they woke up this morning.

That is what you need to know.

Yes, We Gave Thanks

My family
My family

It seems almost strange to not post something the evening of Thanksgiving, so here I sit, my head swirling and more than a bit tired, writing.

I know there are a lot of families do the whole thing where they go around the table, inflicting on their small children (and the rest of the family) the requirement that they extol what they’re thankful for.  In reality, you usually hear “for good, and pie and my brother and sisters and . . . ” you get the point.  I know this because my mother-in-law used to do this to us every year and Abbi, Hannah, and even my wife, her daughter, used to sit with that giggling nervous laugh unsure what to say.  It was the same every year.

Don’t get me wrong, for most people this is perfectly normal, it’s a great thing, some even have amazing, philosophical, wondrous things to describe.  I’ve spoken with some people who talk about their lives and what they’ve lost and how they’re so happy and it’s like Shakespeare and Mark Twain got together and wrote an American oratory.

I’m not that guy.

So instead of inflicting that on my kids we just decided to have dinner.

This was the first year where, after losing my wife/their mother and going from a 6-person household (two girls, twin boys) to a 5-person household…my oldest was in college all Fall.  We were suddenly 4 people.  To have Abbi, my oldest daughter, back in the home was just plain happy.
“I thought it would be strange coming home after all these months like it would be uncomfortable,” she said this morning.  “It’s not, it’s just . . . ”
“Home,” I finished.  That’s right, I made the cheesy cliche’d comment.  I won’t apologize.

You have to understand . . . that’s become so much more true for all of us.  It sounds like a Hallmark card or the not-so-subtle lesson from a Lifetime movie, but the reality is wherever we are it’s home.  I woke up really early after a full night last night.  I had already cooked 3 pies . . . I made a family recipe that’s like Chex mix, too.  In the morning I made my mother’s bread dressing and seasoned and put the turkey in the roaster.  By the time Abbi and Hannah, my two girls, had awakened the house smelled like Thanksgiving.

That, you see, was my goal.

When I grew up, whether we ate at my home or my Grandma Lanone’s, the house smelled like Thanksgiving.  There was a mixture of garlic, rosemary, turkey, cinnamon, cloves, pecans, potatoes, sweet potatoes . . . just cooking.  It wasn’t the labor it was the fact that it didn’t feel like labor.  I’m sitting here, tonight, exhausted from cooking literally all day . . . and I don’t care.  Really don’t.

You see, we’re home.  Yes, we’re still, 3 Thanksgivings later, a member short of our 6, but that didn’t factor in.  Sure, Andrea, their Mom, came up during the day.  But the reality was this isn’t a day where the cooking was what is missing.  Andrea was the decorator, the staging person, the social butterfly.  Family wasn’t near – not extended family – so that wasn’t going to be necessary.

No, seeing Abbi so happy to be home, her brother Sam attached to her side all night while we watched the awful movie “The Wolverine” and her other brother, Noah, walking up and hugging her all night made me smile.  Hannah so excited she was talking so fast she was near unintelligible was enough to know how happy she was.  I was just happy to have them all under the same roof again.  Doesn’t matter where it is.

2013-11-29 07.30.19To give you an idea of my family – my own, me, four kids – when you walk into our home the thing that greets you first is our wall of crazy animation.  There’s a Charles Schulz etching that has Schroeder playing the piano while Snoopy listens – animation and music, obviously; there’s a print by an artist recommended by one of my dearest of friends by “The Black Eyed Guy” of a book called the Owl Whooo Knew; then there’s an original animation cell – one of the actual ones used to make 1/24th of a second of a cartoon on the wall.

That mishmash of stuff is our family.  Multiple interests, multiple thoughts, craziness running around in an organized chaos.

But at the end of the day, all of them are under one roof, together.  That makes it home.  That’s really what we should be Thankful for.

And I truly am.