Tag Archives: presents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting the Tree
Getting the Tree

inute of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Take a Breath, a Deep Breath Now . . .

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

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.

Seasonal Effective Disorder

The boys before the presents overflowed.

It would be so easy to screw this all up. It really would. I’m not saying I haven’t, by the way, I think like most parents, I wouldn’t know if I did until I was so far into the morass of troubles that it would be too hard to find the way out.

I thought I was on the wrong track about the holidays until this weekend. I am constantly worried that all I do is harp on what isn’t completed in the house and pushing to eat all their dinner. I tell them they have to have fruit instead of plain processed bought candies. I make desserts because there’s some ingredient in all the bought stuff that literally has my kids climbing the walls when they eat the tiniest bit. I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t plain sugar, I cook with that all the time and the kids are fine.

Every year we sacrificed in order to get my kids the presents and Christmas that we thought we’d had. There were two things wrong with this scenario. First, of course, is that fact that when we got the Christmases we both thought were “typical” in our households we were teenagers, our parents were doing very well, and they owned their own businesses. When our kids are babies or little, they really don’t care. As long as there’s paper to rip and a box to play in, they’re happy, something I’m not sure we ever completely grasped. The other problem was that I could never tell Andrea “no”. Never. I mean, there were things I put my foot down about, sure. I would never stop playing guitar. I wasn’t going to let my wife feed her jealousy and somewhat crazy thoughts that my mother liked my brothers’ wives better than her. (Totally wrong, by the way, and the way they dropped everything they were doing to help us should prove that) But financially, I was a moron when she would ask for things. I wanted to give her the world and I did it quite often at costs I could never have afforded. It was a dangerous thing and I’d never met a woman before or since that had that effect on me.

When Christmas came, we got everything we could afford and then some . . . and then the fat guy in a red suit got all the credit when he brought something bigger. The kids loved Mac and Cheese so they never noticed if that’s what we ate for a month or two regularly.

So you can see my dilemma, at least I hope you can. What message did we send those kids? Now that she’s not here, what happens? I admit, I over-compensated this Christmas. I bought a lot. I sold some old stock from my last job, the last bastions of a bygone era of my life that I figured needed to go because it wasn’t going to earn me much more money anyway. Once everything was wrapped and the “letters to Santa” sent for what he should bring, I was concerned. There were a lot of presents under there. Sure, some were for grandparents, or uncle/aunt. But I was really worried that in a year fraught with tragedy, stress and impossible problems I was making things worse.

I have a son who got into inordinate amounts of trouble at school, and a lot of that is the fact that he sees the world from a different angle. He likes to be the center of attention, and I’m working on that, but he also has a very funny, very skewed view of the world. I didn’t want him to see this as reason to continue acting out or as the way it will be from now on. This is a “good” Christmas, financially, but they won’t all be. They’re going to get sparser and sparser.

I have a daughter who has two days of a month’s grounding because she didn’t do her homework, lied to me about the assignments due and why the grades were so bad and then was in danger of being held back. I can’t get her to do the one chore of unloading/loading the dishwasher. I am constantly on her back to do things because the more I say the less she does. She’s the one child that, when we’re late getting out the door, moves slower as a result. My father once told her if she moved any slower she’d be moving backwards. Even she had to laugh at that.

I look and wonder if the kids are more concerned about the presents. One morning I overheard Noah telling his sister Hannah: “Hannah, you only have 2 presents under there. I have more.” I was worried about it. They always have this insane competitive nature – something they got from their mother. (not pushing that off, it’s true, she was insane about competing for things) I catch them counting every time I peek into the room.

Then this weekend when I thought I was going to have to trim down the gift giving, that same son, the one I thought was competing with presents, came up and asked me something.

“Can I come with you to Target today, Daddy?”
“Why son?”
“I want to get Abbi, Hannah and Sam presents. I want to make sure they have some.”
“I put presents under there for them, it’s OK, Noah, they’ll have stuff to open.”
“I know, but I want to get them something. I already have something for you. I put it under the tree already.”

You see, Noah wasn’t competing the presents, he was worried that his brother and sisters wouldn’t have as much. He was trying to ensure the balance was there and was more concerned about giving something. He had even checked prices and asked if we could pay for what he wanted to get them. He was also very worried because there was nothing under the tree for me.

I almost cried.

I guess I had never really thought about that fact, that there was nothing under there for Dad. What do you tell the kids when you’re the only one in charge of Christmas? How do you handle the fact that they’re dealing with a season that is meant to be shared and you have no partner to share it with? I realized right there that I was compensating not for their loss but for mine. I wanted their Christmas to be great, but I wanted to make sure that I couldn’t tell that there was one name that was obviously missing under the tree, too.

I didn’t need the reminder that my kids are amazing, but I got it anyway. It looked like, at least in this instance, I’d done something right to make him worry more about everyone else than himself.

I wish I could just figure out what it was. That way I could make them think this way about their chores. The dishwasher still needs to be unloaded.

Noah and Sam, before the presents overflowed