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That’s Powerful Stuff . . .

Powerful Stuff by the Fabulous Thunderbirds

Sometimes there is powerful stuff (to quote the Fabulous Thunderbirds) out there that you can’t avoid.  I can avoid what I can’t see coming.  It’s the stuff I didn’t know was out there that get to me.

There are a few things that I must admit, even though we enjoyed them as a family, I was able to retain possession.  I lost several of my favorite Clapton songs.  “Wonderful Tonight” I simply cannot hear on the radio, television or even Muzak.  Our first dance, first kiss, wedding dance, all were to that song.  Cannot hear it without losing it.  “Layla” kills me, though I’m at a point where I can finally listen to it.  I don’t watch any of the vampire shows she loved so much.  I can’t see many of the dramas.  I don’t order from one particular pizza chain . . . they’re things I simply have to avoid because they’re parts of my life she stole away when she left.

But I retained one particular television show, a Sci-Fi program decades old and my favorite as a kid.  She hated the ’60s-’70s version for its bad special effects and liked the new one but didn’t make it a point to watch it every week.

Yes.  I’m a geek, a troubled, self-conscious, certified hard and fast Whovian.  I love the TV show Doctor Who.  (For the hardcore fans, you’ll notice I didn’t use Dr. I spelled it out)  I mean, as a kid, I was obsessed.  I had the giant scarf, the rumpled brown hat, just needed the curls and the teeth.  When they re-booted the show I was aghast and enamored at the same time.  The special effects had reached modern day and the writing was brilliant.  I had to convince my wife to watch with the kids because she actually had full disdain for the program.

This isn’t a commercial for the show, bear with me, there’s a point.

The writer and executive producer of the current incarnation is brilliant.  But I didn’t know how brilliant.  Some people just get it, if you know what I mean.  My situation is certainly one where people don’t really understand and it seems easy to just say you’re sorry and that things will be OK.  By the way, telling someone like me that I shouldn’t worry, it’s all for the best, there’s a plan, a foretelling or a future that I just don’t know about . . . worst possible thing to tell me.  Why?  Because I hate the idea there’s a “plan” that involved me marrying an amazing woman only to lose her when I needed her most.  Screw the plan!  What happened to my free will in all this?!

But back to Who.  I love the show and my kids love it, too, which makes me happy.  My oldest . . . well, she doesn’t.  Or perhaps she does but doesn’t want the cool people to know that she does because, in England it’s the highest rated program and here it’s a cult hit.  I can watch it, possibly because it changes so much from year to year or episode to episode.

Every Christmas they put on a spectacle that’s over an hour long and involves some sort of catastrophe.  We wanted so desperately to watch it on Christmas day but time, relatives and reality just got in our way.  We ended up waiting until last night.

It’s the only time I’ve walked out in the middle of an episode.

Understand, it wasn’t that the episode was terrible, it was great.  But it’s called “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.”  A woman loses her husband to WWII at the beginning of the picture.  Midway through they’re visiting an old manor house to get away from the bombing and she hasn’t told her children that their father isn’t coming home.  She yells at them at a particular moment in the episode and says she doesn’t know why.  She doesn’t want Christmas to be forever known as the day their father was taken away.

“They’re just so happy and . . . ”
“. . . and you know once you tell them they’ll never be happy like this again.”

Or words to that effect.

The writer producer, Steven Moffat, in one phrase didn’t just twist, he wrenched the knife in my heart.  Without speaking or writing those words myself, the program had hit the point perfectly.  Not only was I the bearer of bad news, I was the harbinger of disappointment.  On March 26th I walked in and even though there was no choice in the matter, I was ripping a large part of their innocence away.  I knew that every bit of happiness from this point on would be touched with a shadow.  A spot of regret and misery that would filter into everything.  It would dim, for sure, and maybe disappear occasionally, but don’t you believe it goes away for good.  The shadow stays forever and I knew that the moment I walked in and said I had to tell them all something that the shadow would start to grow.

It’s back to something I’ve said many times before.  The big things like Christmas Day, birthdays, holidays, songs, all those things we know will hit us.  It’s the stuff from out in left field, the line in our favorite show or the picture or the worst thing – smells – that throw me into a tizzy.  You just never know what’s going to hit you.

I walked out into the hallway until I could pull myself together.  The kids didn’t know anything, how could they?  They weren’t the ones who had to tell someone their Mom wasn’t coming home.  If the writers and producer of that program haven’t suffered this kind of loss I don’t know how to explain their getting it so beautifully right!  It’s a sci-fi show, an effects laden extravaganza with an impossible plot and improbable ideas.  It’s why I love it so much.

I don’t pretend to be able to cope.  I can’t go back and un-watch a show any more than I can go back and stop Andrea from dying.  I can see these things for what they are, and that’s getting something the way it really is, getting it right.  For every post I put here, shows like this who tell people what that sadness really is, not a simplistic tragedy that can be whitewashed with platitudes but a powerful thing that can have an impact on our whole future.

I don’t hide those emotions, I hide those tears.  It’s OK for my kids to know they can feel these things and deal with them.  But they also need to know their father is strong enough to shoulder their burdens, even if it’s just so much smoke and mirrors as the sci-fi show they’re watching.  At least they know, they have someone who can help them.

There’s someone who can help them deal with the powerful stuff.

The Best Daddy He Knows.

Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers

The Samwise we all knew . . . laughing with his Mom off-camera

I have talked a lot about my oldest daughter, my middle daughter, and even my son who has had some behavioral problems.  I haven’t talked much about my son Sam.  He’s the quiet one, the John Entwistle of our version of the Who.  The Clapton to our Cream.  The . . . well, you get it.

Hannah was attached to Andrea at the hip.  She loved her Mom, but more adored her.  Where I would try to give Hannah a hug she’d push away and give me nasty looks.  In fact, she’d push me away from her and immediately go over to her mother and sit on her lap and hug her, sometimes even looking at me with a silly, mischievous look on her face.  This may sound like it bothered me, but it really didn’t.  It was OK, because I honestly felt the same way.  I’m not really cuddly or “cute” and I don’t have the soft gentle way my wife did.

But where Hannah was attached to Andrea, Sam was her buddy.  They were pals.  They would talk.  He didn’t sit on her lap, but he sat next to her, always in her vicinity and always knowing where she was.  He had a deep and abiding affection for his Mom, not in the way he loved her, that was like any son would for his Mom.  This was a friendship that was deep and he just seemed to understand her without having to say it.   It’s just like the song says, there ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.  We had some really dark days in those first weeks.

I worried about Sam after she died.  The day I told the kids their Mom had passed away they all had different reactions, like you’d expect.  Abbi cried and didn’t want people to know how badly it was affecting her, but was allowing herself to do it because it was just so awful.  Hannah was heartbreaking, and I won’t repeat her aching statements here again.  Noah was crying, terribly, but ended up very philosophical and firmly believed, and still does, that she’s in his heart somewhere and comes to his aid when he needs it.  “Moms are important,” Noah says, “because without them there would be no people in the world.  So we love them more than anyone else, and they get the biggest part of our hearts.”  I had to break down and hug him until he nearly broke when he said that the day she died.

Then there was Sam.  I haven’t gone through Sam’s adjustment because in a way it’s almost more heartbreaking than everyone else’s.  Sam cried, sure, but not much.  We were all very sad, but Sam had a look like he was just . . . broken.  Like he’d lost the most important thing in the world and he’d just come to the realization that it was gone forever and there was no getting it back.  I told everyone we’d sit together and I’d do whatever I could or answer any questions.

“Can I go upstairs, Dad?” was Sam’s response.
“Sure, kiddo.  You need anything?”
“no.”

I thought maybe he’d want to cry by himself, let it sort of hit him in its own way.  He didn’t.  He turned on the Wii gaming system, but just sat there with the remote in his hand.  He didn’t even play it.  He didn’t cry, he didn’t yell or get angry, he just sat there.  Staring forward.  For hours.  I kept checking on him because it really worried me.  I wasn’t going to intrude on his world, he was adjusting in his own way, but it was awful.  He was pale.  He wouldn’t eat.  He didn’t cry, in fact he didn’t do anything.  He was my smiley, happy kid, loving to be silly and play games and go back and forth on the monkey bars for hours.  But for the first few days he was just stoic.  He only cried once at the funeral, in the pew, when Ave Maria (Andrea’s favorite hymn) was sung and he heard his aunt break down in the seat behind him.  A tear came down his cheek when he put the rose on his Mom’s casket, but then he left, his head bowed down and leaving before I finally lost it at the cemetery.

He slowly came back.  I wasn’t going to force him to act like something he wasn’t.  He didn’t cry, or scream, but he had to work through it and would occasionally ask me questions here and there.  When they spent the summer in Nebraska with my folks, a necessity since I was a sole working parent now, he would come inside from playing, leaving his siblings outside, and have conversations with my Dad . . . sometimes an hour or more.  The brightness of his face, the little smile started to come back.  He found humor in my Mom and Dad’s old Laurel and Hardy movies.  He laughed at Groucho Marx when he said “He may look like an idiot, he may talk like an idiot, but don’t let him fool you . . . he really is an idiot!”

When I came out to visit, then later to pick them up and take them home, he started sitting next to me on the couch.  He’d reach over and pull my arm onto his chest and hold it there.  He would randomly run into the kitchen and say:

“Hey Dad?”
“Yeah Sam?”
“…love you!”

And then he’d run back to what he was doing.

He began a new routine, seeing what he had in the people around him.  We had hit a stride in the routine, too.  We got our dinner, cleaned up while they watched a little something on the TV, then hit showers, pajamas, and came downstairs for a “midnight snack” around 8:20 or 8:30pm.  Then we go upstairs to brush teeth and read a chapter of their book and say our prayers.

One night, after we read and had done some little thing on the weekend, Sam gave me his hug and said “you’re the best Daddy ever.”

I wasn’t sure that I agreed, or should agree, I’m stumbling along, but I’m trying.
“That’s a big thing to say, Sam.  There are a lot of other Daddies in the world.  I don’t know that I’m the best.”
“You’re the best Daddy I know, so you’re the best.”

I smiled and gave him a big hug and turned out the light.

From that point on, he’s made it a point, every night, to say “Good night, you’re the best Daddy I know.”  He sits next to me on the couch.  He tells me what’s going on at school and asks questions about what he sees and where he’s going.  He has changed his routine.  He looks at his sister and says “I love you Abbi . . . ” and so on.  (Doesn’t do that to his brother, even at 8 that’s just weird, you know!)  But he’s coming back.

There’s still a little scar there where you can see his Mom used to be.  He is Sam, the little man in a kid’s body, who is so protective of his family that he watches all of us to make sure we’re OK, that we’re where he needs us to be.  I wish I could make that scar fade, help that pain to go away, but only he can do that.

It goes back to the hardest and best advice I ever got.  Sometimes, you just can’t fix everything.  There are times that you just have to let the kids face things on their own, being there when they want or need you, but they have to do some of this on their own.

So where the smiley, carefree little boy has left, a loving, cautious and curious boy has remained.  While I wish the shadow would leave his face completely, he’s doing OK and I realized myself that I needed to let him grieve, survive and do what he needed because he’d ask for help if he needed it.

I didn’t need to be the best Dad in the world.  I just have to be the best Dad he knows.

Pining for the ensuing chaos . . .

Noah wishes you a Merry-Xmas - my daughter took and had to share it!

Simple Things by the Tedeschi Trucks Band

I’m writing at the end of what could, possibly should, have been the worst day ever.  Christmas is an amazing time, and we love it in our house, always have.  It’s just such an amazing time and all the kids really do love getting presents, but they are actually just as excited by what they had to give as well.  It’s always been that way.

But this had all the makings of being the worse day.  I entered the Christmas weekend with every intention of tackling the day and addressing if we keep our routine of opening presents Christmas Day or keeping with the tradition that started with Andrea and waiting until morning.  It’s really tempting, it is, to change everything, make a new start in every way, not just some.  I had not thought about it and kept it off hoping to remove the decision.

The kids sang in the church choir, so it was left to Abbi, my oldest, and I to hold vigil in the pew with the thousands of people who don’t normally go to church and act aggravated with everyone who does in the parking lot because they’re in a hurry to leave right after communion and not hear the choir and didn’t realize that everything with the mass had changed and why does the priest take so long to give his homily when he knows Santa’s coming . . . etc. . . you get the picture.  It’s enough to make you avoid going at all.

But I sat there, smiling, proud and puffed up like always when the kids sing, and you can’t help but remember.  The year before, Andrea and I had gotten there later . . . because she wasn’t ready.  So I dropped the kids off and went back to the house to pick her up.  By the time we’d arrived, of course, it was only about 25 minutes before mass.  Anyone who has gone to Christmas mass knows you may as well get out your wallflower shoes because you’re not getting a seat that late.  Andrea’s knees were shot, the bones of her joints literally grinding together with every walk.  So we had to beg the parking attendant to let us up so I could drop her at the curb to avoid the uphill walk.  By the time I’d gotten to the church I was aggravated and she was angry, and there was no place to sit.  In the lobby I’d found a chair that matched the pews so I stole it and placed it next to a row and stood next to her.  I may have been angry, but I wasn’t heartless, and I was still chivalrous.

So sitting there yesterday I remembered looking at Andrea.  I remembered the kids singing, some of the same carols, and had to look at my shoes for a bit to think about the fact that we’d changed things.  We got there an hour early.  We had seats.  I’d gotten the outfits and the socks, shoes, did the boys’ hair . . . and Abbi helped her sister.  We were stressed, rumpled, and wrinkled, but we were there.  We’d avoided the screaming, shouting, sweating and running around; we’d missed the ensuing chaos that normally swept us into the abyss of stress and high blood pressure.  I sat there remembering Andrea’s tirade about how she always got everyone else ready and not herself, how she hated my frustration with having to drop her at the curb; how we weren’t sure if there was enough stuff for every kid.

I missed it.

I know, it’s horrible, scary, frustrating and painful, but it’s real life.  It’s how the holidays normally are.  I don’t have my family near me.  A handful of states separate us.  Distance, finances and weather isolate us here and I have to speak to my family, my firm foundation, on the ph0ne.  They always had a house full of people.  Me and my brothers, the kids when they were born, the snow, the ice, wind chill, and the mass of annoying but necessary relatives at my grandmother’s house with plate, container and bowl filled with every pie, cookie and holiday treat imaginable.  They were simple things, but things we need more than ever and will never have again.  My mother, Dad, their home, their goodies: pecan sandies, oatmeal cookies, sugar cookies, sour cream kolaches and their company, my brothers, their wives . . . they’re all impossibly far away.

With that missing, Andrea missing, the chaos calmed, it seemed so unlike Christmas.  Good friends asked us to come over Christmas Eve to have drinks, company and . . . chaos.  It was marvelous.  We brought pies, they had tacos, margaritas, cookies, cake, cheesecake . . . and kids.  Lots of kids, Dance Revolution on the Wii, and conversation.  They adopted us for the night – just a couple hours – and it made all the difference.  I heard giggling screams from the other room.  Insane laughter as kids and adults tried to dance like the impossibly ’80s looking avatars on the game system and the incredulous shouts as several kids couldn’t believe their friend had never seen “The Princess Bride”.

I tried to keep the holiday busy.  The more downtime the more time we had to reflect, which put us in the place I sat during church.  Reflecting on how our perfect chaos had disappeared and we were left to figure it out.

There are things that, as a Dad, I won’t ever get right.  Santa got suggestions for a dress from me this year.  When it was under the stocking this morning Abbi was floored.  When she tried it on, it didn’t fit.  As Dad, giving measurements to Santa, I hadn’t taken . . . well, taken the upper part of her body into consideration.  My wife is gone, and as a Dad, you don’t go into your daughter’s room and say “I’m going to run this tape measure across your chest now.”  it doesn’t work that way, it’s creepy that way.  But I should have done it, and I will have to from now on.  The roles aren’t reversed, they’re increased.

So now I keep an eye on the schedule for the bowl games so I can see our Huskers play.  But I also have to come to terms with knowing now that I have to measure a girl’s chest, waist, inseem, and everything, not just guess on size.  I can watch my thrillers knowing that my daughters need someone to watch “Top Model” with so they have a parent to make fun of the judges and Tyra Banks.  A year ago I’d have hidden in the office and played my guitar.  Now, I know what my daughter likes about certain designers and why she hates the leader and am just as confused that the foregone winner is tossed out without explanation.

Why?  The chaos was good.  The confusion, the anger, the vented frustration were all things that showed we cared.  The Grinch’s “noise, noise, noise NOISE!” is also what makes us aware that we’re surrounded by people and that we are lucky to have them.  So where some thought I did too much, bought too many presents and spent too much time swirling around I say we succeeded.  It could have been so easy to sink into the morass of depression today.  After 3 hours sleep and a son coming down the stairs just as Santa was leaving the presents only to be interrupted and disappear at the last minute leaving me holding the . . . er . . . stocking.  But we saw friends, I gave them great presents, we played with toys and games all day, visited my sister-in-law and had a great dinner with people, and were able to have Christmas.

So we didn’t have Christmas without her.  We had Christmas.  We loved that we got through it and hated that we did, knowing it meant another momentous occasion we pulled off without her here to make it what it was.

We were pining for the ensuing chaos, but in the end, we had a very Merry Christmas, we really did, in spite of ourselves.

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you had family and chaos all around you.  It’s not a curse, it’s a blessing.

Our family, prepping for Xmas, and capturing the calm before the chaos (photo by Photographer in the Family - link on home page)

Take a Breath, a Deep Breath Now . . .

Take a Breath (Live) by David Gilmour from “Live at Gdansk”

20111223-100953.jpg
One of the new holiday events . . . part of our new story

People have a mistaken expectation of what the holidays will be like in my household this year. I am getting the typical, and honestly sincere thoughts and support from a great deal of friends and family. But I can’t tell them whether or not the holidays will be amazing or brutal because I just have no idea. There are days – well, let’s be honest, it’s more like moments – when things are brilliant. We bought our tree, we cut it down, made s’mores, put up the decorations, talked about what we wanted from Christmas, all the typical stuff you’d think about as a family during Christmas.

But then there are the moments that just make your heart feel like it’s being ripped out of your chest while it’s still beating. I found her stocking with the rest of them and didn’t know what to do about it. Half of our ornaments were pieces my in-laws wanted to rid themselves of and dropped off to us a number of years back, all of them Andrea’s.

There’s one that hurt more than anything, that I hadn’t anticipated or expected. I was just pulling out a simple, homemade ornament, one that was shaped like a star, and inside was Abbi’s picture. The picture itself was an event. Abbi was in this robin’s egg blue outfit with black velvet on the cuffs and collar. There was some sort of white furry material on her hat and she had the biggest, most amazing smile on her face for a child in that time between baby and toddler. She was sitting on a little red chair, and she couldn’t have been happier. The picture had been taped through the back of the star, the center of the ornament open so that the face of the picture showed through. The star itself was a little wooden thing, a red star with the shape accentuated by a white line that traced the shape of it’s pieces as well.

Pictures are hard. By their very nature they capture entire moments in a singular frame. In this particular case I remembered the fighting Abbi did with Andrea to get the outfit on, the complaints about doing her hair, the pouting face and her lip sticking out when her mother asked her to sit still while she put her bow in her hair. Then the girly-girl was so proud of all the compliments and gushing parents talking about her as we stood in line waiting to get the picture taken. It was another example of what was so right in our house when Andrea helped us put the holidays together.

But flipping it over was worse. On the back, Andrea had written “I love you, Dave, with all my heart. Andrea, 1996.”

You wouldn’t think that little line would have such impact, but it does. It swirls around your head. You know how ridiculous you feel seeing the small line and the emotions that well up in your chest. You wonder how you’re going to do this without letting the kids see you starting to fall apart and stopping the whole process. It’s like little pieces of her ghost float there on the tree.

I had to debate the stockings . . . do I leave hers up? If I do, will the kids then wonder why Santa didn’t put anything in it, or do they get confused if he does? The decorations from last year that are so beautiful you put them up but so many memories of her that you are surrounded, again, by her?

But the presents go under the tree, and you smile about the stuff you’ve managed to get hoping your present is perfect. Your kids worry you don’t have anything and feel for you. There are just as many moments sitting there that make you smile as ones that make you sad.

I can’t tell people what this holiday will be like because I really don’t have any idea. Nor do they. I mean, sure, lots of people have lost a loved one, or been widowed (widowed? widowered? Whatever . . . ) but I can’t take their experience and make it my expectation. It won’t be the same because I’m not them. This could be the hardest, worst day of the year. It could also be one of the most amazing. I just don’t and won’t know until midnight strikes on Dec. 25th. That’s when the indicators will hit.

So when it’s time to put together pieces that say “some assembly required” knowing full well that only a Chinese engineer with tiny hands and a tenuous grasp of the English language could construct I’ll continue my own, singular tradition that I started years ago, in another state, when I had a perfect life and I had my best friend, my love, and my four kids near me, but all sleeping.

That night, while the kids lay all asnooze in their beds, Andrea gave in to exhaustion and fell asleep on the couch. I was busy bandaging a cut from the screwdriver that had stripped a cruddy Chinese-made screw on a present and I did what most parents would never do.

I took a breath. A deep breath.

Andrea was so beautiful. Even then, I looked at her and was amazed at the woman who moments ago had annoyed me with her obsessive control of how I placed the presents because it had to be placed just-so. I stood back, while she laid there in flannel pajamas with coffee cups all over them and it all melted away. I looked at Abbi, Hannah, Noah and Sam, too, and realized that I was fortunate. One of my favorite movies, “The Apartment” with Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine (before she went crazy and started realizing she was Joan of Arc in another lifetime), was on the TV. I should have finished right there and went to bed. Instead, I moved over, put Andrea’s head on my lap, and watched the rest of the movie. I knew it probably only be 3 hours before the kids snuck out of bed and looked at their presents, but what the hell. It’s Christmas.

So this year, I’ll take a breath. For the first time since Abbi was my only child, I’ve got the shopping done, the presents wrapped and the thoughts to Santa for his Midnight gift run. It won’t be the same, not this year, but how could it be? This is the new story, the next chapter in the Manoucheri household. None of us wanted it, but fighting it won’t do any good. It won’t be easy, but I also know there’s a lot to reflect on that’s good. We have a roof over our heads. I have an amazing job, one that I shouldn’t have been able to get. I have four amazing little children who make life wonderful. I was fortunate to come into a little money and make Chirstmas a little better. Like everything in our lives, it’d be perfect if she was just here. But she’s not, and we have to come to terms with the fact that we’ve done OK without her, which none of us wants to do. But we do it, or the lines on the page become stilted.

So Saturday night I’ll have some hot chocolate, turn on my AppleTV and watch “The Apartment” and wish I had my own version of Miss Kubelik next to me . . . and I’ll take a breath.

A deep breath now.

A Dad by Definition . . .

"Dave" in an early definition: pre-war photographer

Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked by Cage the Elephant (This is for all you who think I only have songs made before 1980 on my playlist!  Plus it’s appropriate for the subject matter . . . )

I am going to make a lot of people very angry, just to let you know, when I criticize the following statement:

“I am my kids’ Mom/Dad”.

I don’t dispute its accuracy, I am my kids’ Dad.  It’s a fact, a statement, a truth.  But what bothers me is the use of that phrase as if it’s the end-all be-all of a person’s life.

Now, don’t hang me up on the cross yet.  I don’t say this to offend nor do I say it in order to belittle parenting, single-parenting, parenting alone by necessity (that would be me) or life as a stay-at-home Mom or Dad.  What bothers me is the fact that some people make this statement as the only definition of themselves.  I think it does a disservice to any child when they believe that they are the center of the universe, that they are the definition of their parents.  I wasn’t.  In fact, if I had been, I’d have been spoiled rotten.  (OK, maybe I was a little spoiled, but I wasn’t mean, I don’t think)  I had chores.  My two brothers and I did the dishes every night.  EVERY night.  Not just loading them into the dishwasher and leaving, but cleaning up the table, wiping everything down, cleaning the pans, running the dishwasher and then unloading it when it was finished.  If it was on the fritz, which happened, we had to wash it all by hand.  I mowed the lawn, trimmed the trees, watered the garden, watered the lawn and trees, used a weed eater on the areas around the hedges, pulled weeds, all of it.  In winter I shoveled the sidewalk and driveway.  I salted the drive.  It was my responsibility to make sure that the block heaters in the car (if you don’t live in a cold climate, nevermind, will take too long to explain).  We cleaned our own bathrooms, folded laundry, vacuumed the carpets, all of that.

This, my friends, is not unusual nor is it an inordinate amount of work.  I lived, I survived, and I never tell my kids I walked to school in the snow uphill both ways.  I just drove in the ice and shoveled the walk.

My Mom stayed at home.  It was her and my Dad’s choice, but at no point did I think that she was defined solely by the fact that she was our Mom.  We were never ignored, it was like it was her job, but they lived in a beautiful harmony that I only hoped I’d get a piece of.

My kids don’t do near as much as I did.  It’s not a complaint . . . well, yes it is, but not my point . . . it’s just to say that we have to survive through working together.  As much adjustment as I’ve had to make, some of the kids still have to accept their own adjustment, and I know it’s not easy.  They don’t have my Mom, staying home, making sure they’re on track.  But it’s not the quantity of the time, it’s the quality.  (I can’t believe I wrote that, I know, it’s cheesy, but it’s so damn correct I can’t find a better phrase!)

Here’s the thing, I came home yesterday, and after being at work for a mere 8 hours, they home after a half-day of school, the house looked like a bomb had gone off.  The main room, the place with the dining room table, the Christmas tree, my office and gear . . . was a mess.  The kitchen is full of dishes.  (yeah, yeah, smart ass, it’s supposed to be full, of dishes, these are DIRTY dishes)  The boys and Hannah’s rooms look like demilitarized zones.  All in less than a few days’ time.

Now, I have a hard time changing those roles.  During the morning hours, I’m Dad.  I’m cook, breakfast maker, barrista, juicer, clothier and sock darner.  I am parental and sign the homework folders.  In-between I find my laptop and gear for work, check the emails in case I need to go somewhere before heading to the office or have a source I need to meet to get a story.  Then I turn into chauffeur or taxi driver (the real kind, not DeNiro).  I spend the day as reporter, producer, legal expert, kind ear, shoulder to cry on, philosopher, writer, desk associate, and investigative journalist.  I come home and have to take those hats off again, turning into massage therapist (for the daughter who’s started exercising again) drill sergeant – because NONE of the chores are done – laundress, mathematician, uncle, brother-in-law, Santa’s helper, cook, chef, baker, lunch lady, bartender (for the lunch drinks), boy scout, fire pit fire starter, listener, and both Mom and Dad.  I take on both those roles, and it’s not easy changing from one to the other.  I don’t know how my parents did it individually.  If I’m lucky, at insanely low volume, in the depth of night, I become musician for a few, playing and writing a bit more of my songs I’ve started, and then go back to writer for this blog . . . and then coma patient.  I wouldn’t call what I get sleep.

I’m not alone in this, by the way.  My Dad wasn’t just my Dad.  He was a Pharmacist.  He was a boss.  He was funny, Persian, tall, bearded, classy, smart, a collector of old cars, a restorer of the Austin Healey he owns, a carpenter, a lover of music and my Dad.  None of those was higher on the totem pole than Dad, for sure, but he was Dad.  Mom was a genealogist, researcher, census searcher, cemetery surveyor, historical society president, historian, baker, chef, cook, tailor, and also Mom.

To use that silly, singular, “cute” phrase: “I am my kids’ Dad” is so limiting.  My definition of myself is ever-changing.  When I left O’Neill, Nebraska for college, I was not a confident person.  I was gangly, scared, lacked confidence, geeky, lanky, and probably a little mean without wanting to be.  Then I met Andrea, and my definition changed.  I was none of those things any more (well, geeky, I still had to love my Doctor Who and Clapton records).  I was so out of my depth, a geek who deserved far less and ended up with the pretty, California sun-drenched blonde.  I was her boyfriend.  I was her fiance.  I was . . . her husband, and all that came with it: love, shoulder to cry on, pillar of strength, weak in the knees, infatuated schoolboy, enamored lover, best friend . . . and heartbroken widower.

You see, our definitions change.  If I’m defined only by being Dad, what does that say to my kids?  Parenting is the greatest, most noble and wonderful thing I do.  I do it alone because it’s worth it! But it’s not all I do, and I want my kids to know they are the sum-total of what they become, not the singular things they do.  If I was only Andrea’s husband, my life would be over, the kids would suffer, and I’d either have died from the wound in my heart that is still bleeding or I’d wish for the end to come.  There are days I’m there, but most days I see those four amazing kids and I strive to be better in everything else.

So sure, I’m “my kids’ Dad.”  I’m also musician, journalist, baker, chef, researcher, genealogist, Jeff and Kathy’s son, Mike and Adam’s brother, Amy and Amy’s brother-in-law, angry son-in-law, tenacious muckraker, scared home renter, kid project co-artist, pie maker, butcher, baker, sometime candlestick maker . . .

I am who I’m meant to be today.  I am the writer of my story.

I’m not perfect nor am I meant to be.  I’m Dave.  I don’t fail if I try to be more than I am now.  I only fail if I try to be someone else.

 

Baby, you can drive my car . . .

Chevrolet by Robben Ford and the Blue Line

You wouldn’t think buying a car would be that big of a deal. Well . . . yes, I get that it’s a big deal, a lengthy, awful, negotiative process that involves selling a portion of your soul in order to simply get a vehicle that you feel isn’t betraying your masculinity for gas mileage and killing your financially. But I’m not talking about the typical nightmare that is automotive purchasing.

It’s another one of those things that I have to do, but don’t want to do. Not because of the hassle, cost or confusion, though there is that. But it’s another big choice, another massive decision that further adds proof that my life is drastically and forever changed.

I know, I know, get over it, it’s only a car. …except it’s not.

If you are a family of any size larger than a threesome, you’re nodding your head as you read this. You can’t survive in a Honda Civic. Not even a Chevy Blazer. We live in the car. It’s where we pick up the kids; where the Christmas music plays as we look at Christmas lights; where we lay down my son when he fell out of a bounce house and has to go to the ER, both of us looking like we’ve walked out of tear gas in Beirut, with our shirts full of blood; where we saw movies at the drive-in theater as a treat so they can see how we saw movies as kids in the . . . well a few years ago.

It’s the vehicle I drove at 90mph to the hospital when Andrea started to take a turn for the worse.

Every car we’ve owned since I married her in 1993 has been a joint decision – and by that I mean she had an idea of what she wanted and I had to act like I argued and had an idea but in the end really agreed with her anyway. When our first was born we bought a Nissan Altima, a mid-sized car, the first year it was made, because we needed something more reliable. We’d had Hannah, so we needed something bigger, moving onto a Blazer. When we moved to Texas in that car, we realized that we needed room for soccer games, carpools, birthday parties . . . so we got the car we affectionately call the “sexy Sheboigan”.

Andrea picked her out. I’d actually never thought about something that big, that gas guzzling, that . . . perfect. Like so many other decisions we made together, she’d done all the research, talked about the ups and downs, tried out other versions of the car, even looked through pictures and comparison shopped. She went to the library and read old copies of Consumer Reports, just to check it all out.

Now, after more than a decade of having her, she has 205,000 miles. We lived in her. It sounds crazy, I know, but even the kids see it. Right there, driving down the road, it was the usual situation – Me driving, Andrea sitting there, in the passenger seat, smiling, riding along. The kids remember it the other way – them riding in the back, Andrea driving. Even now, I put my hand on that middle console and if I’m not paying attention I wait for her hand to set on top of mine. It’s a small, but definite pang that hits when I realize that it’s not coming, there’s no touch.

So December comes, after repairing the A/C, the transmission, the differential, the radiator, the bumper, the water pump and the catalytic converter. It’s so tempting to hold onto this miracle of modern-day machinery, but it’s not practical or realistic anymore.

And there it is, reality creeping into the damn picture again.

It’s not as big a change, not like moving into the new house or changing jobs or switching schools – all of which we’ve had to do this year. But I still have to make a choice and it’s obvious I’m doing it alone. Where Andrea just . . . knew, I knew we needed to buy something, just didn’t know what. Sure, I looked around, comparison shopped, hit Edmunds, Kelley, all the consumer sites. I checked reliability, value, depreciation, all of that, but I really did feel like I was blindly waving my arms around in the dark.

Sure, Abbi helped. She’s an amazing kid, and when I went back to the same mfg. I already had, not a Chevy like before, she was fine with it.

But I went in, hoping just to look at the car, and walked out last night with the keys in-hand. On the drive home it dawned on me that I’d made the decision and wasn’t positive I’d made the right one. The choice was good, the car is nice, the mileage low and the cost great. But I had to decide. There was no give and take, no negotiation with Andrea about whether we should get this or the other model. She didn’t get angry when I didn’t come home with the car because they wouldn’t come down on the price only to have the dealership call and cave in and give us the car. It was just a straight purchase.

The kids love the car, it’s new, it’s shiny, it’s like a dog hearing a squirrel.

But I realize what this really is. It’s another sign of moving on. I am happy for us on one hand, we’ve managed to find a way to get what we needed, nothing too much more, and move on. But it also means just that – we’ve moved on. It’s not like the dishes or cleaning or laundry, the daily necessities, it’s a pretty major decision and choice, and I made it. Without her there to help me. It’s not like I’m paralyzed and need the second opinion, I obviously can make the choices and had a lot of input in what we did.

But I didn’t want to. It’s another decision, another sign that she’s slipping away. It’s another day where I’ve ended up sitting here writing and seeing the pieces start to fade.

I am happy we have what we need, and sad that we lose what we want. I drove it around the neighborhood with the kids and put my arm in the middle console and when I got home I realized I didn’t wait for her hand to touch mine.

We gained a little peace of mind, but lost another memory.

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The replacement for "sexy"

At Close Range

If you read the previous post, you saw Joel Sartore mentioned.  While I could not find the episode of National Geographic Explorer that featured Joel in Alaska and lambasting the REI store for some of their bear protection merchandise (if you find it, watch it, it’s some of the funniest television I’ve ever seen), this clip from Geographic features Joel and you get an indication of his humor and his passion.

You can get prints of his photos at: http://www.joelsartore.com

Give him some business.  He’s a contributing photog to NatGeo, but freelances as well and he’s just a good guy.

How to win friends and influence people . . .

Joel Sartore at Work . . . pardon the photo theft, Joel!

http://www.joelsartore.com

Whether you know it or not, every day you have an effect on people. It’s really up to you how you’re remembered. I know that sounds cheesy, very “Remember the Golden Rule” kind of a thing, but I’m hoping that what I have to recount will give you pause and make you realize, if you ever have that George Bailey moment you take into consideration just what one little interaction can mean to someone else.

If you’ve read this blog at all, you realize already I’m mentioning Andrea in this post. It’s always strange to realize that you have no idea what an impact you have until you’re gone. There’s a reason that Samuel Clemens used Tom Sawyer’s funeral as a literary device. The downside for me is that the reports of Andrea’s demise are not exaggerated.

I could mention the funeral here, it would fit. There was a myriad of people there. Sure, there was the contingent of people that were at the church simply to show support to me and the kids, that’s a given. That wasn’t the full measure of the response, though. The church, which holds a good many people (just go to any Easter or Christmas mass, you heathens) was filled. Not a scattering of people throughout the church but standing room only. It was a testament to the fact that when she was healthy and able, Andrea spent a ton of time up at the school and the church and wanted to be involved with the people there. She loved it.

But that’s an obvious simile. My story goes back farther, and as always, was an example of how she went above and beyond just because she was doing something nice for me.

A good many years ago I had been a member of the National Press Photographers Association, or NPPA. It helped me learn, gave me opportunities to steal ideas from other shooters, just was a good organization for storytelling. In their monthly magazine they’d run a profile of a National Geographic photographer by the name of Joel Sartore. I was already familiar with Joel’s work, and if you’re not, you should be. I had always wanted to be a Geographic shooter, but I didn’t take that path, I went into television. With kids, a family, travelling most the year and waiting in a tree canopy for a week for a single shot of a pig isn’t in the cards any more, but it would have to be an amazing career. (If you roll your eyes and wonder why I’d be excited, if you can watch Joel’s segment on shooting Grizzlies on Geographic Explorer, talking about the “bear bells” he finds at REI and NOT laugh, well, you’re made of stone) He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska . . . because he wants to. He loves the state, the people, and thinks the Midwest is an amazing place, so I obviously had a soft spot for his work. Just a couple days later our consumer help line – the unit I was now producing and shooting for – got a call from, of all people, Joel. He was having trouble with directory assistance. He had lost dozens of clients because when freelance hires would call to get his number they’d be given a twelve-year-old number. He’d run into people who told him “I had a job that had you written all over it, but . . . just couldn’t find you. Have you moved?”

His wife forced him to call. He thought she was nuts. I, however, jumped at the chance to talk with him and already had contacts with one of the phone companies. I was new to the consumer thing, had a little cockiness, probably came across a bit too confident, and talked with Joel and his son on-camera, talking with his wife off-camera. I won’t bore you with details, but we got the Lincoln phone company’s competition to fix the national database and his phone was his phone number again.

So where my wife comes in is some months later. Joel had done a profile of Nebraska for Nat Geo. The magazine let him use all his unused photos and create an amazing book called “Under a Big Red Sky” for publication by the University Press. It was all I could talk about because a lot of the Northern Nebraska cities I frequented were featured in the book. I kept trying to buy it and Andrea kept blocking me asking me to wait.

What I didn’t know was that Andrea had wandered into the Barnes and Noble in the Crossroads Mall in Omaha specifically to buy the book. They had a few left – it sold well – and noticed that she had missed, by about an hour, a signing by the author. She looked, though, and in a corner of the store, packing books and paperwork up, was Joel, cleaning up after a very long afternoon. She walked over, apologetically asking him if he’d sign her book. She told Joel it was for her husband, someone he’d met awhile back. She wasn’t sure he’d remember me, but Joel’s book was all I would talk about and she was hoping she might convince him to sign it. When she told Joel who her husband was, he lit up. He signed the book, put “my phone is still ringing!” in the inscription and talked with Andrea for a long time inside the store. When I opened it she told me about meeting him in the store, talking with him for a long time, listening to his regaling tales of the pictures in the book. She thought he was funny, intelligent and talented. That was the only contact Joel had with her.

Every year or so, when something changes, I send Joel a note letting him know where I am and asking how he’s doing. As I was getting ready to send out Christmas cards I realized I hadn’t spoken with Joel in over a year. It’s always odd sending a note and starting off with the fact that your life has taken an odd sort of tragic turn. But I told him where our lives had gone, that my wife had passed (remember this, and notice I didn’t use her name) and that we’d moved. I did mention that he’d met her once and that she’d talked about how much she’d liked him.

Joel is busy, mind you. He’s either on assignment or off with his family, both of which are insanely important. But he got right back to me, and indicated that he “remembered Andrea”. The woman who’d found him in the store and asked him to sign, and I know from her description that she wouldn’t have left until he did, he remembered meeting her. She’d had an impact. I may seem a little thing to you, but it’s a big deal to me. It verifies what I keep saying: she was just an amazing, memorable, brilliant woman. A man who I know, but my wife had met only once and gave him pause.

You can meet someone once, simply once, so what impression do you want to give? Andrea met this person, a man who travels the world and sees those amazing people, places and creatures you can only read about, and she made an impact. This man, with his own story, 3 kids, a wife who is battling cancer, and he took the time to talk with this woman who made it a point to show how much she loved me. Did I push as much for her? What impact did I have on someone hoping to get her a present? There is part of me that hopes in the end my thoughts of her go far beyond this simple writing. She met and impacted people everywhere, from a church full of people, to a world-renowned photographer, and the influences pop up in the most amazing places.

What impact to you want to be remembered for? I see and hear stories about this amazing woman, this beautiful person, and I am saddened by the fact that I am no longer part of our story. But when I hear people who met her only briefly speak of her with fondness and I can’t help but be uplifted. I can only hope I have half the impression she did.

Joel Sartore, Photographing your Family

The little things make all the difference

Just a Little Bit by T-Bone Walker

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The Christmas play with all 3 little ones in the crowd

I got an email yesterday from someone who made me think a little bit about how much we miss Andrea. The question was whether I knew what I had until it was gone. I, being the middle-of-the-road-neutral journalist basically waffled and said what really is the truth: yes and no.

I think if you read the entries up to this point, I make very clear that I wouldn’t be where I am without Andrea. I know, without question, that I was so very fortunate to have had this amazing, wonderful woman in my life. When I met her she was this brilliant, blazing woman who was so attractive and so amazing and she ended up with me. Without a doubt in my mind, I got the better end of that deal. In a sea of men who were more attractive, more confident, stronger and nicer she still waded through them all and picked me. She plucked me out of my own mediocrity and helped me to see that there was so much more out there and I could be part of it.

But the little things . . . the pieces of her that permeate the cells of our daily lives . . . those are the things I miss. Did I realize at the time that her choices of decorations and design of our home and the clothes that she helped me pick out were things that made my life better? Absolutely. Did I thank her for them? Probably not near enough, but there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t let her know that I was a better man for having met her. I may regret a lot of things, but I know that I wasn’t going to let her think I wasn’t grateful for where I am now.

But I also know there are things that she just took care of. There are things that are simply beyond the comprehension of a guy to know.

Last night was the kids’ Christmas play. On a good day I’m behind the 8-ball, during Christmas it’s like I have scratched on every shot. I don’t have all the presents wrapped. I don’t have the house cleaned up. The laundry is piling up. The boys and Hannah went through huge growth spurts and their clothes simply don’t fit. I had to run to Target and buy clothes for all of them. For the boys that’s not a problem. A white dress shirt, pair of pants, maybe some socks and shoes, but I’ve never been good with the girls. Not really.

I got the wrong sized pants for Hannah. I bought two shirts because I wasn’t sure which would look good on her. The boys I had shower, got them dressed, did their hair, they looked great.

But I have no idea how I would have managed last night without my oldest daughter. My wife always had the kids looking brilliant. Hannah would have looked like a doll out of a Christmas pageant. She would have had a beautiful dress that matched the colors the play needed and she would have had curly, amazing hair and accomplished it even while the girl screamed that she didn’t want to look so girly.

Last night I was totally at a loss. I had the boys to get ready and only Hannah’s shirt worked. Abbi drove her to Target, got pants and had her try them on, got home, helped her get dressed (and wear the clothes right as in girls’ waists are much higher than a boy’s so stop low-riding your pants!) and then braided her hair and flat ironed it so that she looked beautiful. Much like her mother, we had less than 30 minutes to get to the program so she wore what she had in her room and headed out the door. She even managed to convince Hannah to wear a little mascara so her eyelashes would stand out.

These are the things – the everyday little things that I have no idea how to do and likely never will – that I never thought about and probably never would have. She found the right clothes. She found the right presents. She just helped make sure we succeeded. Last night, but for the effort of the whole group, we would have failed, miserably. As I’ve been fond of saying before: we’re stronger together than we ever were apart. I look at Abbi doing her sister’s hair, the smile on both their faces, talking about how Mom used to pull the tangles out of their hair, or how last year she helped do this thing or that thing and I was both proud and sad.

The program was a Christmas program. It was short, the Nativity story acted out by junior-high kids who were alternately thrilled and mortified to be up there, and sung by every grade from Kindergarten up.

It was brilliant.

You’d think seeing my kids singing on the altar of the church would have been what made me emotional, thinking about how there’s one large piece of the puzzle missing. But it was actually the kindergartners and the 1st graders that did it. Understand, when we moved here, Abbi was little and Hannah was in kindergarten. In that very church, in those very pews, we watched those kids every year, hearing those same Christmas carols. When the little ones would come out Andrea would get all a-flutter and slap my leg, screaming “they’re so damn cute!” and squeeze my hand. Every year. Without fail I would roll my eyes but secretly love it. This year they came out and it wasn’t there. The crowd went “ahhhh”, and Abbi said how cute they were. A mom next to me held her husband’s hand, and I knew that these kids were here being positively brilliant and I didn’t have her here to share it with.

That’s what I miss. It’s not that “I want someone to share it with,” it’s that I want HER to share it. It was a little thing, but it’s gone. I got through Hannah, then Noah & Sam’s classes, and was melancholy. But the little ones came out, their tiny voices filling the air, and I remembered all those amazing nights, when my kids were those little voices and it made me truly happy to be a Dad. Truly happy to be married. Tonight, I only get one of those things.

So all I asked was for her to give a little bit. She gave far more. She gave me big, amazing things, life, confidence, spirit and a voice.

So back to the question. Did I realize what she gave to me, or is it “you don’t miss the water until the well runs dry”? It’s both. I was so aware, particularly in the beginning, that Andrea was brilliant and that she made everything amazing. But I miss the little things I just never gave a thought to as well – the hair, the clothes, the decorations. We did all of these things together. Did I thank her for all those tiny little things? No, not nearly enough. But we were a team. A brilliant team. She came up with ideas and I helped to implement them. We talked about everything. When she bought those clothes she told me about them. When Abbi wanted a dress for homecoming and Andrea wouldn’t budge because it was too expensive . . . I caved in and bought it anyway. We had give and take. We worked off each others’ strengths.

Better still, she gave me love. She gave me so many little things that I miss more and more every day. I didn’t want much, I just wanted a little bit. And she gave me so much more.

 

Haunted by the memory . . .

I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt from the LP Luck of the Draw

Abbi in one of our great Fall Moments

Lately it seems we’re seeing her more and more . . . not a physical presence. I don’t feel a cold chill on my neck or a shiver down my spine.  I don’t hear a strange ethereal voice that won’t stop in my ears.  I just mean the memory creeps in at the strangest and most inopportune moments.

I knew it would happen, though.  I mean, it’s Christmas.  I could make some cheesy reference about family or the “reason for the season” but that all falls short.  I just always had such an affinity for this time of year.  Not just Christmas, but starting in the Fall, with the crisp bite in the air and the changing color of the leaves.  Even though I have the attention span of a gnat some days and I love my music and playing guitar, etc. . . the Fall is the time of year I slow down and appreciate what I have around me.  I miss the Midwest (yes, I do, don’t mock me!) because of the Fall.  We were surrounded by trees.  There were old WPA shelterbelts planted that had a myriad of trees . . . oaks, cottonwoods, ash, elm, maple . . . all of them full-sized and decades old by the time I was a kid.  Come October and November there were flaming colors up in the sky.  Add that clean, clear sky with the sunset and it’s really a beautiful sight.  There are things like that here, but it’s not the same.  That’s home for me, and it was home with Andrea for a long time.

When I met her, after we got married, and even as we moved to other states, we always took advantage of the Fall and Winter.  I would drag her into the car and we’d go walk down tree-lined streets and kick the leaves.  When Abbi and then Hannah, Noah, Sam were born we did the same, extending it to pumpkin patches and tree farms and the Fontenelle Forest.

So now it’s Christmas, the year we lost her, and she’s creeping back in, just when I thought I was doing better.  I’ve said this before, but it’s not the major events – the Christmas, the Thanksgiving, all those momentous days – that hurt the worst.  I know they’ll be bad, I know they’ll change, but I can see them coming.  It’s the times when something sparks a memory that I’m not prepared for that just take me down.  Tomorrow night is the Christmas play for the kids.  Andrea always had things perfect.  I’m now the guy wandering through Target looking for the pieces of clothing for my 12-year-old girl who doesn’t like wearing girl clothes and I don’t know what will look good on her.  I walk through and see a sweater and all I can see is how it would look on Andrea, not Hannah, and I don’t know why.

I’m wrapping presents and in the way I fold the paper I can see her hands moving the stuff around.  I remember the year we were so strapped we used brown paper bags and she wrapped them this way . . . and decorated them.  With crayons, paint, ink, and made the most beautiful tree I had ever seen.  It was like nothing I’d seen before, and then I look down and I have bought paper and sticky name tags because I just don’t have the time to be that creative.

I am making cupcakes (store-bought cake mix.  Don’t give me that much credit) for lunches and CSI is on the TV.  (DVR, it was more like 10:30 when I did this) It’s a random episode.  It’s about a coroner’s wife accused of murder and having an affair . . . and it ends with the two of them drinking wine, on a back patio, and listening to Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”.  It’s a song we listened to so much I thought the cassette would wear out.  Andrea loved it but disliked the lyrics, she just felt something when it was on the stereo and it made her look at me in a way I can’t describe here.  I saw it in the actors on the TV and I almost threw my spatula across the kitchen.

She’s everywhere.

I mean, it’s not like the last few months, where there’s a memory here or a peek there.  Not like the daily routine where I wake up and remind myself that I’m alone in the bed – again – and start the routine to get the day started.  It’s the stuff we thought we’d left behind when we left the house.  Abbi was hit hardest there.  At one point she told me everywhere she turned she saw her Mom.  I wasn’t sad to leave the house, I was happy.  It wasn’t our favorite place; it wasn’t Andrea’s favorite; we saw her everywhere and we just couldn’t handle it.  Leaving there was a blessing.

But we’re surrounded by her.  The garland has her bows that have a hint of leopard spots in them – that’s all her.  The ornaments on the tree are surrounded by her childhood ornaments that her Mom foisted upon us years ago because she didn’t want to store them.  She picked out the stockings.  She sewed the tree skirt.  Everywhere I turn she’s there.

Now I can’t even go to Target without seeing her.  The kids see her, too.  They’re talking more and more about last Christmas.  They ask about Santa and then talk about Mom threatening to have me call the “head elf” on them.  They see books and clothes from her and talk about it.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s healthy.  They need to talk and I guess I do, too.  But I don’t think I was ready for it to be just so overwhelming.

Then one of the boys asked what we were going to do this Christmas.

“Are we doing things different, Dad?”
“I don’t know yet, son.”
“Holly has a tradition where they open one present before Christmas, can we do that?”
“Not sure yet.”
“Are we opening presents on Christmas Eve, like Grandma and Grandpa?” chimes in Hannah.
“I just don’t KNOW!” is my horribly curt response.

That’s what’s killing me.  I don’t know.  I bought some new decorations.  I changed the way we did things.  But do I change it all?  Do I go back to how I did things as a kid so we make a clean, instant break from the way we did things with their Mom?  Or do we continue.  Is it good to start over or do you hurt their memories and traditions if you do?  Each present I wrap makes me think a little harder and I don’t honestly know what I’ll do until I have to decide.

Tomorrow night, before their Christmas play, I plan on taking a picture of us.  Earlier in the year we’d talked about mimicking an old family photo, but putting a picture of Andrea where she should be.  Now I wonder if it’s better to show everyone that we’re together, that we have had to move one . . . that we have moved on.

I had so many decisions that seemed simple and prudent at the time.  It’s hard to stick to your guns when you’re haunted by a memory everywhere you turn.

Like everything else, I’ll put it off until I have to.  Then I’ll decide, and it probably won’t be as big a deal as I’ve made it in my head, but anything that pushes her a little farther away is a hard decision.