Tag Archives: single parent

Adjusting Your Parenting

Kids

Adjusting Your Parenting

Parenting itself is a strange occupation.  It certainly is the most important and amazing thing any person will ever undertake.

It’s also the most ridiculous.

Seriously.

Even Ikea gives you bookshelves to build with an instruction manual that any language can at least minimally understand.  Sure, there are some parts left over but as long as they stand up you’re good, right?  Kids?!  They have no instructions.  You’re given this little thing that changes not just on a daily but almost hourly basis and you’re supposed to understand what it needs by the tone of its screaming.

It must be internal wiring, then, that allows us to hear those variations in tone and pitch that get us to understand “nope…not hungry. Must be the diaper needs changing.”  That…and the fact that we feed them, then change them, then rock them anyway and get them to sleep.

But those early days, the days where only the most basic needs are the things that babies require, are universal.  Everyone from our ancestors to our grandparents to our parents went through these days and apart from the types of diapers and “Diaper Genies” and pre-measured baby formula, there’s not much difference there.

It’s when they start to talk that things changed.

I even saw things change from one child to the next.

I remember when my oldest child, now 21, sat on my lap in front of a massive PC and played CD-ROM games with me that had The Cat in the Hat along with Green Eggs and Ham and Little Critter.  It was like Sesame Street on a computer.

Now I’m at teenager phase with the other three kids.

My example of good parenting is no farther than a generation up from me, my own parents.  So when I became a single dad after losing my wife in 2011, I stuck to that example.

The problem became twofold, though. First: I was alone, there weren’t two of us parenting anymore.  So I had to adjust my time spent acting like the at-home parent to when I was at home.

Second: times have changed.

I rode my bike everywhere and grew up in a really small town.  We rode a three-wheeler in the snow and played baseball or football or basketball all day long.  We had an Atari 2600, but even that got old after awhile and you went outside and played all day.

Today we all have cell phones.  That little thing in our hands has more power than even the most powerful videogame system I ever owned as a kid.  The graphics look more real on my phone than the Sci-Fi movies I saw as a kid.

So what do you do?

You adjust.  My kids have their video games but they also have time. They go to the park.  You adjust to technology.  There are 700 channels but rarely anything on television.  You mix the old with the new.  Where they want to listen to Kendrick Lamar you mix in some Sam and Dave in the middle of it so they hear the greats.  You play Clapton after they hear Black Keys and Hendrix after 21 Pilots.

And while you adjust you also tell them how life isn’t all that different. You are here, stable, holding them and shaping their day just like your parents did.

Technology and society may have changed and you have had to adjust to them.  Still, your basics remained the same: you’re there. So no matter where they are you will be there.

That’s not much of an adjustment.

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What Comes This Year?

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What Comes This Year?

I got an email yesterday out-of-the-blue from a company asking me what adventure . . . what bucket-list things . . . what was going to happen this year?

That’s actually a fortuitous question as I have a lot that may happen this year.  Some of it involves my kids.  Much of it actually does not.

As children get older they tend to have their own lives and their own things they want to do.  So as a result many of their ideas for what the year brings are different than mine, but we will still go out, do things, be adventurous on our own.

Together?  The kids all want to see the volcanic area of far northern California, so we’ll make a trip at some point to Mount Lassen.  When it’s warmer and the snow isn’t an issue, of course.

One child wants to try out for basketball.  Another is running for Fall student council.

Bucket list?  Well…I’m not ready to kick said bucket, but regardless, a couple of those items will tick off this year.

David Gilmour, of Pink Floyd, is playing the Hollywood Bowl in the Spring.  I’m going.  No question.  Tickets in-hand, trip ready, all set.

Sometime in the spring as well?  I plan on hitting the recording studio to begin work on a solo record.  I’ve been working the material for a long time.  It’s really time to get it set to tape and release it.  Will it sell?  Who knows?  But I have to get it out.  Kind of killing me not to do that.

There are a million other things I’d love to do but we will see.

I want to see the site of the first nuclear explosion.  I know, that’s weird and a bit off-the-path, but still a totally strange thing I’d be able to tell people I did.

I want to go back to the Midwest and see family.  Not a bucket list thing, but we’ll do it anyway.

Yosemite.  We did it once, and it’s close by so why not?  Our first trip was a bit odd . . . for personal reasons.  We’ll do it right this time.

To be fair, this whole post was actually inspired by that company’s marketing person emailing me.  Maybe it was a robot email.  Maybe it wasn’t.  They say they have a contest and are pushing readers of sites like mine to enter . . . as part of their outdoor gear company.  If you’re interested, you can go here and explore the company’s website.

I will be up-front and tell you that I do not actually own anything from the company nor am I able to give an endorsement as I haven’t used anything from Cotopaxi.  Not saying they’re bad, either, just that they contacted me.  Regardless, an interesting email and it did inspire me to write so for that reason I thank them.

But it does beg the question . . . what does your 2016 look like?

Human Decency

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Human Decency

I saw what might be one of the worst things I’ve seen someone in the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad suburbs do this morning.

In the middle of a large amount of wind mixed with pelting rain parents like me were in line trying to drop their kids off at school.  That’s not such a big deal, many of us do this every single morning of every single weekday when the schools are in session.

But this morning I had dropped my boys at the school, turned at the light, and was making my way back through the neighborhood.  That direction takes me back past the high-school on my right and it’s adjoined to an elementary school.  My boys’ middle school went back into session after the holidays.  The elementary school was not.

Yet there are still kids, living in the neighborhood behind the elementary school, who have to get to the Middle School.  There’s a crosswalk there and a four-way stop.

So this morning a little girl, maybe 6th grade, was waiting to cross.  I’m not a friendly driver, I admit that, and I tend to get frustrated with others on the road.  No road rage, just stress and high blood pressure.

But a little girl with a pink umbrella and little pink rain boots?  What kind of cold-hearted person doesn’t stop for that?

Someone on the other side . . . the northbound lanes.  Once I had stopped, facing south, the woman in the car just to my left stopped as well.  The little girl, bright pink, was trying desperately to keep dry and cross the street.

That’s when some idiot got angry and decided to try and go northbound anyway.  When the little girl looked up and saw the car, the minivan honked…and honked…and got angry and the little girl just trying to legally cross the street.  In the rain.  In the crosswalk.  As she jumped the wind grabbed her umbrella, pulled her into the intersection and the minivan honked several more times, mouthed something with an angry look at the girl, and slammed on their brakes, honking all while the girl crossed in front of the people.

This is part and parcel with a lot of crazy things.

When you go on a date with a woman, something I tell my sons, you should pay.  If you ask that person on a date or to lunch or even just coffee, you…should…pay.  It’s human decency.

You should hold the door open.  Not just for women, girls, grandmas, etc…but everyone.  Don’t race and hold “door close” on the elevator.

I don’t want to get on a Dennis Miller style rant here, but we all have hurried, crazy, silly lives.  I have a job during the day and a job at night taking care of the kids.  I get up extra early to get lunches made and exercise a little and get ready for school.  But when things I was taught by my mother and father to do arise . . . I do them.  There’s 30 seconds to stop for that little girl in the crosswalk so she doesn’t look like a character in a Buster Keaton movie.

The upside was someone in the other lane pulled up beside the mean person who almost hit that little girl . . . and abruptly told them off through the window in the rain . . . and honked at them.

At least some people recognized…it’s not always all about themselves.

Another Year

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Another Year

I noticed just today, as I got an alert that there was a bunch of traffic on this site . . . that I haven’t written here in awhile.

Let me explain, for those who might subscribe, or want to read, or the less likely few who might wonder “why?”

There’s a pretty simple explanation.

I haven’t really needed to write.

This isn’t some epiphany, I haven’t had a resurgence of religious fervor or fallen down a well or freaked out or anything.  I’ve simply not needed to do it.

I started writing here, I’ve said before, because it was honestly helpful.  Think of it as an online journal, a way to express the really good, really bad, and in-between when I needed to get all that feeling and reality out of my head so I could move forward with my day.

Most of the things I’ve written, some of it more than four years ago, came from the darkest part of my life up to this point.  I was grieving.  I would run at 1,000 mph with the kids, cooking, cleaning, laundering . . . and then they would go to bed.

…and all was silence.

The only thing left were the voices inside my head, the worries, the memories, the grief, and the panic.  They all swirled around.  When the kids wouldn’t listen; when there were bad grades; when I had to face punishments and there was no one left to back me, just me.

8:30pm through midnight were the worst hours of my life and the times I wrote, every weekday, about what went on in my household.

But as I said, a strange thing has happened.  Maybe not strange, wonderful perhaps.  Joyous? Loving?

This coming year, 2016, will mark a year where there has been more happiness than disappointment.  Not as many screw-ups and nowhere near the panic or disappointment that were there.  Tears that are shed come mostly from laughing so hard.  When letters, cards, pictures or other things of my late wife appear they’re happy memories, not bad ones.

So 2016 comes and we have made plans, have been moving, thinking, and creating.  College beckons for one kid, graduating college is on the horizon for the following year too.  My boys are reaching out and doing more than they ever had before and doing it separately.  Student Council, Academic Clubs, guitar, reading, writing, basketball . . . all my kids are doing amazing things, things that I didn’t anticipate.

Things we hadn’t done before.

The year is a new one, and it’s a blank canvas.  It’s an empty page awaiting the first grey and silver smudge from the pencil as it hits the paper.  It’s waiting for us to tell the story . . . and it will get told.

But it doesn’t always get told for all to see.

As much as I wrote it was never everything that happened in our home, that would be impossible, impractical, and self-aggrandizing.

No . . . this last year has seen something extraordinary.  It saw us all becoming the people and family we are today.  It saw us being influenced by the past but not living within the past.

A new year holds so much promise . . . we just have to live up to that.

After the last year?  We might just be able to do it, too.

Going on an Adventure!

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Going on an Adventure!

Once in awhile you have a day that’s just filled with crap.

Seriously.

I mean . . . people tell me they’re jealous because I took a day off the other day.  “A bad day off is still better than a good day at work, right?”

That’s probably the case, I suppose, but I wasn’t looking forward to this day.

The boy up there had two dental appointments for his braces…which then turned into three.  I started dropping off his two siblings at school, picking him back up, hitting the road, and going to the orthodontist.  They took off his retainer, said they saw a spot on a molar . . . so we set an appointment for the afternoon at the dentist.

So we had time to kill.  We were too far from home to go there . . . we’d just have to turn around and go back.  So we decided to make the most of our day, just me and my son.  We got hot chocolate (okay, mine was coffee) and looked at books at a Barnes and Noble nearby.

We had lunch and ate waaaay too much.

Then we found this mall adjacent to the too-busy and crazy shopping mall.

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We found a fountain, synced up to the music, and my son got up and acted like the conductor.  (There’s video, but couldn’t get it to upload, sorry!)

IMG_5884We sat on benches, he on a butterfly, arms apart, acting like he was flying.  It was adorable.  I laid on a bench of leaves and said “I’m a leaf on the wind…” and told him my nerdy friends would be the only ones to get the reference.

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We took a photo of this strange, almost inappropriate dummy, with the apron’s bow strategically placed to cover the most delicate of areas, I suppose.  I posted a picture of it, said it “cracked me up” and took ownership of the pun.  It wasn’t until a day later that a Facebook friend told me they worked for the store – Sur La Table.  We jokingly called it “tushiegate” and they had the dummy tactfully re-dressed, so to speak.

My point to all this is . . . we could have, say, drank coffee, been bored, but instead we had fun.  Not often do you get a chance to be just with one of the kids an when you do don’t squander it.  We had a blast.  We ate too much, had cookies from a tiny little kiosk in the middle of the plaza, and then wandered around, bought Christmas presents, and wrapping paper.

So when it came time to go back to the orthodontist things weren’t all that bad.  In fact, we were a little sorry the day was over.

But it’s part and parcel to how we do things now.  It’s not boredom that you have to overcome it’s actually your own mind and procrastination.

Once you get up and start moving . . . the opportunities just kind of present themselves . . . like a dummy wearing nothing but an apron.

New Traditions

House

New Traditions

I used to wait until the 1st or 2nd week of December, at the least, to do the decorations on my home.  This was something that started years before, when I figured we needed to recover from the event that was, every year, the Thanksgiving holiday.

It’s not that I fought the commercialization of Christmas – though I hated that the stores were playing Christmas carols right after Halloween.  It wasn’t even laziness.  I inevitably had a house filled with people – my family, my wife’s family whatever.  If they weren’t in my house I was at theirs.  If my family, travel was involved.  If my wife’s family, there’s always the stress of being with family and such.

Yet things changed.

2011, after my wife passed away, Christmas was just . . . weird.  That’s right, I said weird.  I didn’t know how to get everything alone, decorate the house, none of it.  Christmas was always a huge holiday for me growing up, I loved it, and it seemed like some of that magic had been stolen away.  It had drifted somehow.  There was a part of me, though, a part of my kids too, that wouldn’t let it go without a fight.

So when I got my feet things changed.

We have an artificial tree.  I didn’t want to keep that up.  If that was the way things were then we would have it different.  The way things are, then, is that we go get a real tree.  Since my daughter had headed off to college, I went the weekend of Thanksgiving and we got that tree.

My wife had been a superb decorator.  It was far more than what I could or would have done.  Sometimes I bristled under the constraints, like limits on lights or what lights or how to put up the lights.  She also made gorgeous tree decorations and we were only allowed to use those.

But when we were without her I realized we had boxes filled with decorations that she had made, my kids had made . . . even I had made.  We’d softened that “annual style” idea to one that included many of those before my wife passed away.  Now that it was my house only . . . the themes kind of drifted.  It wasn’t a nostalgic theme, it was putting the ornaments on we wanted to put on the tree.  As a result the house and the tree are a hodgepodge.  So is my house.  That way it matches perfectly our personalities, the broken, bent, re-shaped style that we all have.  That’s our decoration, too.

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I got new lights and that same weekend every year we put them on the house.  My son, who is afraid of heights, started coming up on the roof and helping me install them.  We put reindeer on the lawn.  I put garland on the porch.

It’s an all-day event, with the tree, the house, all of it.

Certainly, you could call them new traditions.  It wasn’t intentionally shutting out the old ones.  It was merging the new with the old.  I had lost a lot . . . I wasn’t going to lose Christmas.

This year we did it again.  A huge tree – bigger than I wanted, but then I am a sucker for Christmas.  I put the lights up, added some to another tree, and worried not one lick about if it was too much.  It wasn’t.  I already have some presents, too.

We took what was an old set of traditions, ones that could have hurt terribly, and made them our own.  Re-shaping the ideas into ones that match our current lives, states of mind, and feelings.  That’s not a bad thing, it was a good thing.

They are new traditions, and we never lost the magic that Christmas brings as a result.  That’s what was – if you’ll excuse the cheesy line – so magical about it all.

Thankfulness

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Thankfulness

We used to do this thing over Thanksgiving that made all the kids groan and me roll my eyes and it was totally something that we did to make their mother happy.  We went around the table and told everyone what we’re thankful for.  It sounds callous, but one of the things we were probably thankful for that first Thanksgiving alone was the fact that we didn’t have to do this any more.

The funny thing about that is we actually have things to say and reasons to be thankful . . . more than the atypical “I’m thankful for my toys and my family and my house and . . . ” that used to come out of our mouths before.

So why didn’t I re-instigate the tradition? Well…part of me realized I just didn’t need to.  My kids, in particular, tell me all the time the things they are thankful to have.

When I make a particularly difficult dinner . . . or a simple dinner . . . the kids all say “thank you, Dad!” and it’s not just the automatic, kid in a classroom “good morning mister Manoucheri” kind of thing.  They say it with actual feeling.  (They could just be good actors, too, but tell me if that’s the case.)  When they get a gift it is really a gift, they know that either we have saved up for that or that there was some money we had and I chose to use it on them.  They don’t see that as a privilege they see it as a plus.

So what are we so thankful about?  The world moves around its axis at roughly 1040 miles per hour.  That is about the speed of life, too, I think.  We could easily forget how we got where we are moving so fast, with technology, cars, work, school, everything around us.  With all that swirling around we should be caught up in the maelstrom that is life, right?

Yet we enjoy things and manage to ride out the rotation.

IMG_5837Maybe you go pick up a Christmas tree with no reason behind it whatsover.  Maybe it’s at a lot and maybe it’s a tradition . . . and we have a tradition going to the same place every year.  But there are great things to see in that.  The owner of IMG_5838the place walked up to us after I stopped and snapped these photos of them cutting down the tree all by themselves.  “You have been here the last few years,” he told me.  “When you get all your business in 60 days you remember the loyal customers!” They take care of us so we do the same.  It costs a little more . . . but we got to play in the snow, have hot chocolate, cut the tree, they tie it all down, and it is an experience for all of us.

We had dinner with family, something we’ve done too little of this year, so we appreciated it all the more on Thanksgiving.  My oldest was home from college and we got to have the evening with her, a now 21-year-old adult enjoying a beer with her old man.  A little surreal, but the enormity of it not lost.

I am thankful for serendipity and meeting people and working and living and enjoying everything from movies at the theater to dinner to a night outside by a fire.

There are a million things to be thankful about.  Sometimes you just have to realize they are there . . . and ignore the speed at which the world is zooming by.

Togetherness

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Togetherness

My daughter and I had always had a hot and cold relationship.  Love was the constant.  Even though she was tied to her mother’s hip, it seems, she never lacked in confidence in her Daddy.

When the teenager up there (at a ZZ Top concert, by the way, she was thoroughly surprised just how much she enjoyed herself) was a little girl she and her mother were thick as thieves.  That is…until she got hurt, had a cut, or was sick.  When that happened, she came crying (literally) to her Daddy.

This might have been from when she was an infant.  Her birth was rough, with an emergency c-section and her mother out cold for more than a day.  I actually took the baby home with me and her mother was still in the hospital.  The baby contracted RSV, while her mother recovered from a post-op infection.  So I would wake up, give her an albuterol treatment, feed her, change her, go to bed, and repeat every few hours.

So when she was hurt as a little toddler or little kid she came to her daddy.

Then immediately went back to her Mom when she felt better, hugged her, and told her mom thank-you.  Sometimes she’d even stick her tongue out when I jokingly said “hey!”

Still . . . I worried a lot about this little girl when her mother passed.  So the fact she talks with me nearly every night, kisses me good-night, and is closer to her dad then ever . . . that’s a kind of paradigm shift, one that would have been hard fought before.

But only recently have I seen her worry about me.  A lot.  When I started working out harder she wanted to make sure I did it right, not because I’m obsessed with my weight but because I need to get healthier, lose some of that bad weight in the stomach that can cause heart problems.

So every other night she’s met me in the front of the house and worked out with me.  She’s taken exercises from PE classes, asked her teachers, and put a nice little regimen of core exercises together.  She does them too, for sure, but she makes sure her old man does it and isn’t injured.

It would be easy, I suppose, to be embarrassed or indignant that your daughter is telling you what to do.  I don’t look at it that way.  My daughter is looking at me and thinking that if I am wanting to be healthy she can, too.  We do it to the degree we need…and move on.  We aren’t starving ourselves and we’re not trying to be body builders.

The small eye-rolling moments still happen.  When I goof off during warm up.  When I say “No…not 21 Pilots…we work out to Led Zeppelin” but she tolerates those because she likes doing it with me.  Or she’s worried.  Or both.  Either way, I take the win.

So when I look at this teenager in the room with me now I realize that things are a lot different than they used to be, but that’s not a bad thing.

Different is good when it gets you even closer to kids who just a few years before . . . would never have admitted they wanted to be that close to their dad.

It Makes Everything Better

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It Makes Everything Better

A few days back I was walking through a park near where I work on my way to the local courthouse for a story.  In the middle of the park is a series of benches, all worn, the paint coming off, initials carved in the paint.  They are sleeping places where homeless often take over, or the local kids getting completely stoned from their weed of choice.  It’s not an intolerable place, I don’t want to paint it like that.  It’s just a park in the middle of the city . . . a place where all the people you’d meet in the middle of a city might gather, I suppose.

On the edge of the park is an apartment complex and a number of kids live there.  So I imagine what I saw on my walk was from one  of them.

On one of the benches, in-between the rubbed-off paint and behind the scrawl of words carved in the seat was a teddy-bear with a heart between its hands reading, simply, “hugs.”

I bring this up because in a moment when I was rushing to get somewhere, after a stressful panic of working on what I needed to know for a court hearing and juggling several stories I stopped and snapped that picture.  I captioned it “hugs make everything better”.

I bring this long story to a point because I didn’t know how true that was.

Friday the 13th was just a bad day.  Not because of some triskaidekaphobia.  This was just a bad day.

Bad, sure, because of a series of attacks in Paris.  I have friends who are or were there.  I found out they were safe and then faced watching it unfold on national news like everyone else.  Bad because, that day, after a massive investigation the response was not quite what I’d hoped from our story.  We got a response, but you always hope for more.

Then I found out sometime in the middle of the news from Paris unfolding, that someone I knew in my youth had passed away.  It’s amazing the memories that flood when that happens, no matter who you are.

So when I got home, late from all the events of the day, I faced three kids and a barrage of stories of how bad their days were.  Terrible, it seems.
“I had to run the mile today.”
“Some kid pushed me into the bushes.”
“We went over all these issues about gender studies and you need to know this about this and about this . . . ”

And I blew.

I’d had a rough day.  I was in dress clothes still, cutting vegetables, putting dinner together, and I was the conduit for yet more bad news.  I just could not take any more nor face any more issues.  The week was almost over, the day was over and I’d had it.  My brain could not digest any more emotional turmoil.

“I know you have all had a bad day.  I’m home late…that should show you that my day wasn’t really great, right?  Could I just make dinner and change into some jeans before you pummel me?”

I did change.  As I came out of my room my daughter walked up with a smile and kissed my cheek.

At the bottom of the stairs waiting for me was one of my sons.  I was waiting to be stressed out.  He hugged me.  His brother met me and joined in.
“Hugs make everything better,” he told me.  I put my arms around both necks and smiled.

They do indeed.

Forgotten Memories

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Forgotten Memories

Ever found something you didn’t even remember you’d lost? That was what happened to me the other day.  It wasn’t a watch or piece of jewelry or a favorite shirt or lucky penny or anything like that.

It was a camera card.

You know, those SD cards that you put in your camera?  In the old days you had film, negatives, prints, those all took up space and you might forget them but they were hard to ignore.  These . . . well, these were easy to lose and ignore they are the size of a postage stamp.

I found this card strictly by accident, I was looking for something completely different in my office.  I didn’t even know it was there, but having seen it on the top of a shelf I put it into my computer and there it was.

A series of photos, apparently taken by myself and my children, a combination of both for sure, that had tiny little twin boys and a pre-teen middle girl and my oldest…graduating 8th grade.

It’s interesting to see the differences in the kids.

The boys, certainly, have the happy ignorance of youth.  The girls have that giddy smile of transition that you get when you’re not old enough to care about the homecoming dance or who’s dating whom or whether you look good enough in that outfit.  (Okay, the oldest did, but the drama didn’t come until much later)

The hollowness of grief isn’t visible here, either.  That’s not to say that they bear some major burden or massive weight on their shoulders, that’s not true.  They don’t look that way today.  No…what they show here is the lack of instant and quick maturity and age that they developed in a matter of weeks or months after they lost their mother.  The smiles are carefree and sincere and without hesitation.

A couple things are evident to me from this.  The carefree smiles are back.  It took . . . whew . . . more than a few years to get here.  It took stability and knowing things are okay and that I’ve not completely screwed up to do it.  My daughter still asks when I get paid and if we’re okay financially, though, which is a throwback to when we were struggling.  That’s when their mother was alive, not after she passed away.

The other noticeable thing that saddened me a bit was what was missing from the photos.  Even if the kids had taken them two people are nonexistent: me and their mother.  I kind of understand why I’m not there, I was probably taking some of the pictures.  Their mother, though, hated her photo being taken.  I like to believe that if she’d known finding this card with her on it would have given me and her kids some pleasurable smiles she’d have allowed the pictures, though.

This has been the case with so many of the memories we find buried in boxes or on shelves…the real moments, the ones where kids are covered in frosting or taking a bath in the sink or running in the cold air . . . those are missing her.  It’s a sad reality that we don’t have her in there . . . the ones we do have are the sort of portraiture and staged photos.  Yet the ones we love – even from those sessions – are the outtakes where we all are smiling, laughing or being silly.

Still . . . it’s nice to see those smiles and realize just how far we’ve come.  Maybe that’s why fate put that card just where I could find it in the first place.