Tag Archives: summer vacation

It Works For Us…

I’m almost at the time of year where things go upside-down in my house.

By upside-down, I mean not just for me or that there’s a ton of work, it’s that my kids go to their version of summer camp.  Difference is, it lasts all summer long and I get more benefit out of it than the kids, I think.

Our new house, after we moved in.
Our new house, after we moved in.

Beginning in 2011, out of necessity, my folks picked up all four of my kids and drove them to Nebraska – where I grew up – for the summer.  Now, before you criticize, if you had planned on it, bear in mind that this was not a punishment.  It wasn’t something that was a foregone conclusion, either.  Just over two years ago I was in a frenzy of trying to figure out what I was going to do for the summer.  My oldest daughter, Abbi, was only 16.  My twin sons, Noah and Sam, had just turned 8.  My middle child, Hannah, was 11.

The bigger issue was the fact that those four kids had just lost their mother.  The entire structure, the basic molecular bond of our family was broken.  While she wasn’t the only glue holding together our atoms it didn’t change the fact that somehow they’d been split anyway.  it would have been very easy for our whole family to blow in a burst of energy equivalent to a blast on some Bikini Island atoll.

Instead, thanks to the structure, help, and encouragement of my parents, we got through the first few months.  Eventually summer came, my folks needed to get home to their own lives, and we all came to the realization that I still needed to work.  I was forced to change jobs, lost my house, moved into a rental home and was working out getting my oldest daughter into a different school.  I had no vacation time and my home life was nothing like it had been.

Change.  Lots and lots of radical, unintended change and consequences.  That’s what we faced.

In Nebraska last year. By Hunny Bee Photography's Amy Renz-Manoucheri
In Nebraska last year. By Hunny Bee Photography’s Amy Renz-Manoucheri

But the change was a good change.  Well…not all of it.  I wouldn’t, two years ago, have considered losing my wife a good change.  But the major difficulties we had to face after losing her . . . those ended up being far more positive than we expected.

The kids, in need of structure, routine, and a calm environment got it that first year.  My Mom is the epitome of structure and routine.  That first year the kids and I needed routine.  So for the summer, and last summer as well, my kids got to spend the summer months in a small town.  As a little kid that’s amazing.  They spent tons of time outside.  My Mom had a blow-up pool and bicycles and 3 acres of land to run around in.  They did projects, went to the county museum, and played cowboys and indians outside in the acres of land free of cars, people or rattlesnakes.

It’s brilliant and part of me is a bit jealous they get to do it.  Still, I get to continue working without the minute-by-minute worry the kids are home alone.  It also kept my oldest, Abbi, from having to grow up too soon and act like she is their mother-figure at the age of 16.  That was priceless.

So this year only 3 of the 4 go to Nebraska.  Abbi is working to make some more money for college.  I am working because I took most my time off.  I get to have a couple months with my oldest, like when she was the only child in the house.

Some may criticize and ask how I can let my children go for so long without seeing them.  The difference is, this works for us.  Without doing this, what damage could I be doing to them?  Would they feel alone?  Abandoned? Left to fend for themselves?  I don’t know.  The reality is technology is amazing.  Apple’s FaceTime app lets me see them and tuck them in every night.  Text messages, emails, Facebook, IM . . . all that helps to stay connected.  Is it the physical presence?  No.  Is it worth it to make sure they’re well adjusted?

Yes.

And it works for us.

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Leaving on a Jet Plane

My kids and I right after Abbi’s first HS play at Oak Ridge

The Letter by Joe Cocker

So it’s been a couple days worth of late posts, but there’s a reason for that.  My kids – all four of them – headed out to Nebraska for the Summer.  I get a number of differing reactions to my actions in sending the kids off to see their grandparents for a couple months.  First, of course, is the aghast, jaw-dropped, confused look from so many people.  Many of them seem incredulous that I would even consider letting my children away for that amount of time.  After all, my wife hated them being gone even for a couple weeks at a time.  I, however, have to tell these  very people the truth, and that is I have no choice.

Would you, a good parent I hope, leave your children at home and force your seventeen-year-old daughter to be their babysitter?  Seriously?  I mean, that’s my option.  There’s really no camp that takes up the summer, and I cannot see that going well anyway.  There’s no option to get a “nanny” for them because that’s far too much money.

The second camp, of course, is the folks that tell me “that’s great,” though they may not necessarily mean it, and tell me how it will give me a much-needed break.  Well so it will . . . for the first day.  Yesterday was that first day.  I took a nap – uninterrupted, by the way, one of the greatest pleasures in the world so far.  Then there was the ability to play my guitar at full-volume for as long and loud as I wanted (without bothering the neighbors.)  I watched a movie without having to answer 100 questions every 15 seconds.

Then it was 3pm.

You see, I don’t dislike being home with the kids.  Sure, the average, everyday sitcom tells the world that the kids are crazy, insane, drive parents nuts.  The Disney Channel method tells kids that parents are stupid and the world is going insane and kids are the only people with the werewithall to save everyone from stupidity and a lack of common sense.  They’re both wrong, by the way.  I love my kids, not just because they’re mine, but because each of those four little minds is amazing to me.  They all have small little glimmers of me and bigger glimmers of their Mom . . . but they’re none of them just that.  They are, quite frankly, their own individual people and I love that.

So I got home and realized that it’s not going to be a quiet, relaxing Summer.  It’s going to be a long, dull, very quiet one.

So how did I do this last year?

On my LA Pilgrimage

I have to be brutally honest with you, I don’t remember last Summer.  There were obviously some interesting little events that I took into account.  I drove to L.A. driving the Pacific Coast Highway all the way down, and I loved the scenery and curvy roads and interesting people along the way.  I remember cleaning up and setting up the house, but that’s all.  It was so close to the losing Andrea, my home, my job, that I really didn’t have time to adjust.  I was happy that my kids weren’t around due to the fact that I had the time to grieve a little.  What I didn’t have was the time to break down and just disappear for awhile.  I was working at a new job and they had expectations that were far to understanding and flexible.  I wasn’t going to disappoint on that front.  It was part of the reason for disappearing for a crazy weekend to Los Angeles and leaving town.  If I’d had the time and money I’d have gotten in the car, started driving and kept going until I had reached an evening where I didn’t feel my wife next to me in the bed and didn’t want to cry every morning when I woke up seeing that I was all alone again.

But this year is different.  We’re not healed, this kind of thing never heals.  What I am is . . . different.  That may sound a little strange or just plain, um, vague, but it’s true.  I’m not the man I was.  I’m not the man who married Andrea, but I wasn’t that when she passed away.

We all, change, I guess is the thing.  The one, single, unwavering thing that has never been different, though, is my love for those kids.  While I had a really hard time adjusting, thinking, or even believing we were having another child each time Andrea was pregnant, I never changed in my backing, love, and protection of all four of those kids.

So having an empty house, without them, without their noise, hungry mouths, shouts, arguments, and craziness driving me absolutely insane I’m going completely certifiable.  That’s just a day and a half into the summer.  Can you imagine what it’s going to be like by the time I hit July or August?

But I take solace in knowing I can think about projects for them and visit them at the place I really do feel most comfortable – home with my Dad and Mom.

They got a ticket for an airplane, but I’m not going to be alone.

That, and the use of Apple’s Facetime in order to make sure I can at least see the kids every night and tuck them into bed.

When Summer Comes

My extended family…in our last NE trip

Summertime Blues (Live) by the Who from the LP Live at Leeds

In my poor planning and idiotic reliance on a tax refund, I hadn’t realized that I’m only weeks away from the end of the school year.  Less than a week and Abbi’s out, moving onto Senior year . . . just like that.  Hannah will head to her final year of middle school.  I let it slip by, ignored the dates, and my father hit me with the question he’d asked over and over again: “when do the kids get out of school?”

The girls were the first to visit their grandparents.  It started the year we moved to Sacramento.  My folks missed the kids horribly and wanted to spend time with them.  When my folks wanted the time to get longer and longer it weighed heavier and heavier on my wife.  She didn’t like being away from the kids.  I think part of her really didn’t like my parents having any influence over her kids, which I believed then – and firmly believe now – was a foolish thing.  My Mom is definitely a take-charge kind of woman and my Dad has his opinions.  They might very well take over and run things if you let them . . . but that’s the key: if you let them.

The longest the kids ever stayed with my folks when Andrea was alive was a month.  Andrea hated it.  Even 2 weeks was too much for her.  You have to understand as well that when we got to California she had a very unrealistic view that her Mom would take care of the kids while she worked . . . and I think she believed her Mom would take care of her when she got home.  The hardest thing in the world is to grow up and see the weaknesses and flaws in your parents.  To you, particularly in those most formative years, they are indestructible.  Andrea always fought them but secretly wanted her Mom to take care of her.  The worst thing in the world was when she realized, as an adult, that her Mom was neither willing nor able to do that work – not when she was a kid, and really not now when we had our kids.

Look, I know this sounds harsh and I’m not trying to be mean.  Four kids . . . it’s a hard number to wrap your head around.  I even told Andrea she had no expectation – nor no right – to try and make her Mom take care of bother her and the kids.  I had raised a red flag saying that the agreement her Mom would watch our kids would never come to a good end.  I had seen the reality by how many times Andrea had been disappointed in our marriage with too high expectations and I expressed my worries to both her and her parents.  I was assured they were unfounded.  In the end, they weren’t.  It led to major bouts of depression and anxiety on my wife’s part.  It also led to my having to try and calm down both Andrea AND her Mom on some days, something I was not equipped to handle.

Now, I’m faced with doing the very thing my wife hated: sending my kids away for the summer.  My dilemma isn’t whether or not they can handle it, though I have that worry.  It’s whether or not they’re bored or hurt by having to be there.  That . . . and I’m not sure can handle it.

I was in a fog when I got back to work last year.  When I changed jobs (by necessity, not choice) I probably should have taken even more time off.  When July came last year, I took a pilgrimage over 1 weekend . . . on my birthday . . . to avoid being here.  Now I hit my 2nd summer and I’m not sure what I’ll do alone in the house.

I know I could go to Nebraska and visit the kids, and I will, but it’s not the whole summer.  I could surely work my behind off, hang out downtown, do a bunch of things, but it’s not changing the fact that I’m faced with the fact that I have 2 and a half months where I’m left to face the fact that my house is empty.  It’s like looking at my future and realizing that it’s where I’m heading in the next 9 years.  I don’t know what I’m going to do from here.  I love my job, but do I love it here in California enough to stay after the kids leave?  Will I continue to be an investigative journalist?

I know it’s not easy to face these questions, and I shouldn’t.  But I’ve come to realize that I’m only just now, in this last few weeks, looking more than a day ahead.  I got through last year, last summer, all of it by looking only at each day . . . trudging through the morning, the afternoon, getting through to the night, and then starting it all over again.  It became routine.  But the routine isn’t effective when it’s having to change constantly.  I will have 5 more years with Hannah and then it’s me and the boys.  After that, what?

It’s hardest because, the weeks that the kids would spend in Nebraska I always wanted to take advantage of.  I wanted to grab Andrea and head to LA or to London or anywhere . . . I wanted to find some of that spark again, the thing that had us so amazed with each other, unable to stop holding hands or kissing in public, damn the stares.  But she wouldn’t do it.  She was obsessed with the fact the kids weren’t here, wouldn’t travel, and counted the days until they were back.

I now face those summer days alone.  I don’t have a choice.  I can’t work if they’re home alone and it’s not fair to my oldest to keep them home and make her watch them . . . that, and I’m not sure she’d do it right.  It’s easy to be coddling and attentive when you’re babysitting.  It’s easier to ignore the arguments and head to your room when it’s your siblings. To survive and pay for everything these kids need I have to work and keep them watched and cared for.  My parents volunteer to do it.  I also love the influence they have and the feeling that my childhood home, to these kids . . . is home.

It’s the one thing that gets me through the summer.  Where they are far away, they are so happy and cared for.  I’m happy they have such an amazing summer ahead of them.

And perhaps I’m a little jealous.