Tag Archives: therapy

You Hope and I’ll Hurry . . .

night before

You Hope and I’ll Hurry

The day after Thanksgiving brings about more than just the anticipation of the forthcoming season.  In my home, with my family, Christmas was always huge.  That hasn’t changed in my home, nor should it.

What has begun to sink in for me is just how much of my own childhood has snuck in and taken root with my own children.  I make no allusions about the fact that I watched entirely too much television as a kid.  Even in an era when we had 3 channels.  (Four if you included PBS, and I watched that every weekend for Monty Python and then Doctor Who)  I don’t pretend that I didn’t nor do I think that it is responsible for my brain filled with miscellaneous information.  My brain was going to fill with useless tidbits no matter what.  So yes . . . I can rattle off just about every line of the mental exchange from the movie The Princess Bride but never could commit the Periodic Table of the Elements to memory.  Thankfully the invention of Google and the proliferation of the iPhone and the internet have helped me to simply look up the atomic weight of Cesium.  (It’s #55 on the chart, by the way, with a weight of 132.9054519.  Told you!)

Every Christmas, for the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, my brothers and I would wait in anticipation of the “Big 3” networks to run their competing Christmas programs.  I don’t pretend this was some “golden era” of cartooning.  We certainly have a lot of great animation today – my sons adored The Box Trolls in theaters and Pixar certainly raised the bar for motion picture storytelling.

Still . . . that’s film.  Television has a thousand channels, generally nothing on them worth watching.  The fact that cartoons are on all…the…time makes it hard to cherish any one of them that awful much.

So when Christmas comes around, the lack of repeating the classic Christmas cartoons I think gives them the same luster and anticipation they had when I was a kid.

The picture up there is from the Joel Grey centered cartoon ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.  To this day, at any time, in any season, for any reason, a member of my family might burst into that phrase . . . and end with “even a miracle needs a hand!”

There was Rudolph with our favorite guy – Yukon Cornelius: “I’m just loading up on supplies.  Hamhocks, gunpowder and guitar strings!”  (How can you not love a guy carrying THAT combination on his sled!)

There was The Year Without a Santa Clause which inspired my son’s Halloween costume this year: Heat Miser!

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But the granddaddy of them all was always A Charlie Brown Christmas.

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We play the soundtrack every year.  I even found it on vinyl and we use the turntable and listen to it.  The vinyl’s green!

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree” is the go-to phrase for any pathetic looking thing, be it a tree, a cookie, a pie or a toy in our home.  “It’s not bad at all, really, it just needs a little love!”

It’s not religion; it’s not sentiment; it’s not nostalgia . . . it’s just great fun.  We love the season.  I put too many lights on the house.  I let the kids go nuts . . . even though there are clumps of decorations in spots on the tree rather than neatly arranged here and there.  I give presents to my close friends because I thoroughly enjoy seeing the look of wonder when people open that present.

No, the animation wasn’t always great.  No, the mouth didn’t always sync up with Fred Astaire’s words in Santa Claus.  But . . . my kids, like kids and their parents the world over stay up late or beg to sit and eat dinner in the living room . . . because Charlie Brown will cry “learn the true meaning of Chrismas?!  Win money, money money?!”

So watch we will, live, in real time, commercials and all.  Because…

Christmastime is here.  Happiness and cheer.

 

Getting Into the Routine

Embed from Getty Images

Getting Into the Routine

It all started sometime last fall.

My back is now a shadow of its former rigid, upright self.  There’s nobody to blame, it’s all my own doing.  Years and years of being a news photographer, carrying anywhere from 70-100 pounds of gear around every day, that is what did it.  There are ways, for sure, that will lessen that burden and make sure you don’t get injured.

I didn’t do any of those.  I was young, stupid, and I thought I was invincible.  Yeah…I wasn’t.  My 40-something self is paying the price for the mistakes of my 20-something self.

So last year, in the throngs of another bout of my back going bad they asked for another MRI.  The doctor looked at the images and asked “did you have a job where you carried around a bunch of stuff?”  How right they were.

See…your back is supposed to have evenly-spaced distances between each of the vertebrae.  Mine however, seems to telescope.  The farther down you go the narrower the distance.  The last two discs are bulging out from the pressure from those crushing bones.  At their worst the right side of my right leg goes numb.  In fact, that’s its general state nowadays.

There’s no fixing it.  Kind of like a spoon when you bend it . . . your back never really goes back to the way it was before.  “Degenerative disc disorder” was the exact name.  The doctor gave me the harsh reality: it won’t get better…but you can stop it from getting worse.  And it will get worse if you’re not careful.

The biggest issue was weight.  I had to lose it.  Pure and simple.  In spite of all the friends and colleagues who scoffed and said “please, you’re so skinny!” they hadn’t seen me before.  For most my life I’d been much, much lighter and carried far less in my stomach.

So it began.

My routine started at 5 of 5:30 in the morning.  First it was walking, then turned to partially, gently jogging/running.  My routine became to get my heart pumping, using energy, then slow it down and burn what fat I could.

It’s not a quick process, but I wasn’t doing this for speed.

The result, though, was a twofold success.  First, I’m healthier.  I started eating little or no red meat, not because I don’t like it.  I’m a Midwesterner, we love our steak, brisket, hamburgers, etc.  No, it was because I just wanted to lower the cholesterol and reduce the amount of fat I was eating.

The secondary part, which I hadn’t realized, was that my kids saw me working at it.  Every morning, without fail.  I cooked better meals, they ate different things, and they started to think . . . maybe they should get up and move, too.  My oldest daughter gets up and runs at the high school track when I head to work.  My middle is running when she’s visiting her grandparents.

I ended up having to buy new clothes, closer to the size I was when I met my wife so many years ago.

It’s a routine, and make no mistake, I really don’t enjoy exercising.  I dislike it.  I know so many people who love to run, be one with the wind and the ground and feel the impact of shoe leather to pavement.

I don’t.  I can’t say it’s my enjoyment.  But that’s okay.  I do it because I should, there’s a task, a goal, and a reason.  With that, I see my kids are getting the idea as well.

That . . . I have to admit . . . is enjoyable.

That makes the whole routine worth it.

Give the Dads a Break . . .

My and Kids

Give the Dads a Break

The title here is less a precursor to Fathers Day (which it is) and more a criticism of sorts.

I’ve gone on, being a Dad now for almost twenty years, and I’ve heard and seen all the criticisms.  Yes, I’ll admit, we had our oldest child, Abbi, young.  We’d been married a year, we probably weren’t ready, we even were more than a little freaked out.  But still . . . we had her and there wasn’t anything going to change that.  Fight parenthood or embrace it.  Those really are your choices.

So I’ve quietly grumbled and raised my hackles privately for twenty years.  Now, being my third year as a single father . . . I just felt I had to write something about this.

It’s time to give Dads a break!

I say this with the utmost and unequivocal respect and love for mothers of the world.  No . . . I did not try to squeeze a small human being out of any orifice in my body.  No . . . I did not become a human incubator, carry pounds and pounds in my stomach for nine months and did not have that joined heartbeat inside my body.  When my wife carried my twin boys for 37 weeks (37 WEEKS!) and they were 7 pounds 6 ounces and 7 pounds 2 ounces, respectively, I told everyone I met that my wife was a saint.  She was the bravest, most amazing woman to have accomplished that with very few problems.  I loved her and she was amazing.

But this is about Dads . . . so here goes.

From almost the moment I became a Dad I noticed it.  First it was acquaintances (not close friends) who would see me with a stroller, alone, on my day off and think there must be something wrong.
“Oh…is your wife sick?”  Ummm…no.  She was at school, for eight hours, learning to be a pharmacist.
“So…you have the baby all by yourself?!”  Ummm…yes.  I think I can manage without killing her.

The average Dad on a television sitcom is stupefied by dirty diapers.  He’s got the stereotypical Bill Cosby confused stare of a Dad who had no clue what was going on.  (If you’ve seen Bill Cosby: Himself, you know what I’m talking about)  Television commercials show Dad making a complete disaster of the house: the kitchen covered in crap and pancake batter on the walls if they try to make breakfast.  The plumbing messed up.  The garbage bag falling apart or the wash all pink.  All of it because, let’s face it, Dads just don’t know what they’re doing, right?

Wrong.

From the moment my first child was born I was a Dad.  That’s fact and emotional connection.  Abbi had horrible gastrointestinal problems as an infant.  She was allergic to everything: formula; soy formula; Alimentum even made her throw up like a character from The Exorcist.  When, as a 2-month-old baby, she had to have a GI scope, her mother couldn’t handle seeing the distress and hearing Abbi cry.  So guess who had to be there for her?  Her Mom suffered for her . . . I had to go up to her, so tiny she couldn’t go on the table, they laid her over a chair, and hold back tears as my newborn daughter screamed because they had to put a scope inside her.  It tore me apart, but I had my hand on her back and knelt in front of her telling her I knew it was awful…but I loved her and it would be over soon.

I had to make her formula – a pre-digested dirty lemonade with iron drops, vegetable oil, powder and distilled water that smelled, looked and tasted god-awful.  I made it, not my wife, because I wanted to do it.

I changed diapers.  I woke up every two to three hours for feedings.  When Hannah, my middle, was born she had RSV.  My wife still could barely stand from the C-section healing and a post-op infection.  Every hour I had to get up and give Hannah an albuterol treatment, change her, feed her, then try to catch an hour’s sleep.  I did it, complained a lot, and did it some more.  That’s what you do, you’re a Dad, you buck up and face the fact that you’re the only thing helping this tiny helpless person stay here on earth.

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I made…nearly…every…meal for us.  Even when my wife wasn’t working, I came home from work and made dinners.

When my wife passed away, when I was in trouble, guess who was there for me?  My Dad.  (My Mom, too, let’s face it, but it’s a fathers day post) He’s always been there when I needed him, and I never asked.  He just was.

For the last three years I’ve done laundry and ruined only a couple items of clothing here and there.  Let’s face it, your Mom ruined your favorite jeans or concert shirt once in awhile, too.  NOBODY is perfect.  I have cooked nearly every meal.  I have made homemade treats nearly every day for the kids’ lunches.  When they suffer I feel it.  I – am – connected.  I am involved.

Look, I understand.  For so long we had such a dichotomy and an expectation that set a glass ceiling that still crushes women and Moms too far down.  But in the process we set the expectation that Dad comes home, plops on the couch and watches Sport Center all night and barely registers the chaos around him.

Sure . . . that happens.  But Dads, for the most part, love their kids.  I guarantee it.  Sure, there are those that are just stupid bastards and you know what?  There will always be those.  But it’s time we stopped thinking that the Dad walking with a stroller and a baby has no clue what he’s doing.  Don’t think the kid’s tied in there correctly because Mom put her in before they left.

Dads can be loving, involved, and caring.  They always have been.  You just had to know where and how to look.

The Left Field Question

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Our Story Begins: The Question from Left Field

The conversation came out of left field.

“Hey, Dad,” my middle child asked me, “can I ask you a question?”
“You don’t have to ask me if you can ask a question…just ask.”
“If you ever found the right person do you think you’d fall in love and get married again?”

I have to be honest, I wasn’t really prepared for that question.  Not from her.  Her older sister has been abundantly clear on her position: until this last year she wasn’t comfortable with the idea.  In fact, my oldest daughter has had more than a couple meltdowns when she realized I’d had drinks with a woman – at that woman’s house (there were others there) and coffee with a colleague.  Both relatively innocent, but from her perspective they were “dates.”  In the end it wasn’t about whether I was ready for meeting other people it was about how she had not dealt with losing her Mom entirely.  

I told my middle child as much.  I figured she deserved to know, she’s maturing at an incredible rate.

“I don’t know how the boys would handle it, either,” I told her.  “Why did this suddenly come up,” I asked her?

“Well . . . you know, some people say you shouldn’t.”

I could never pull out of her who the “some people” were.  At one point she talked about movies sending the message but reading between the lines I’m going to say someone had this conversation with her.

There are two types of people in the world, and I told my daughter this: those who think you should be out there dating and moving on with your life, even if you’re not ready for it; and those who think you should sit and grieve and live your life forever “basking in the love you lost.”

Let me just add a simple fact here, one that I told my child: I miss my wife.  I miss her terribly.  I don’t live my life constantly looking through a veil of grief.  That certainly was the case for awhile but certainly not now.  I told my daughter this as well.  I will always love Andrea, she was beautiful, vibrant, dedicated, infuriating, and brilliant.

“I miss your Mom, you know that,” I told my daughter.  “But yeah…it’s lonely sometimes.  I don’t have a lot of time, and what I have I spend with you kids . . . but I miss the connection you have with someone you love, sure.”
My daughter looked at me, tenuously walking the path here . . . 
“Just some people think you shouldn’t.  Like, you were in love, you miss them, you care for the kids and they say that’s the way it should be.”
“What do you think?”
My daughter looked a bit thoughtful.  “If you’re in love and they’re the right person should it matter?”
“I don’t think it should,” I told her.  “But you have to bear in mind I’m not exactly the easiest person to handle.  I jump from project to project: I work crazy hours as a journalist; I write incessantly both freelance and online; and I’m a musician, kiddo, that’s part of me.”
“I know,” she says talking to me, “I see you play and it’s like the guitar is your left hand.  You couldn’t just stop.”

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

I inform her that it’s no small fancy that I want to record another record and maybe go on the road if I could make a living.  Would I do that if they were still at home?  Maybe.  If I could make enough and arrange the tour.  
“Our house is filled with music, animation cells, guitars, vinyl records…it’s a bit eclectic, I’ll admit that,” I say.  “But you kids all seem to like it and that’s something anyone would have to be okay with.  That’s a lot to take in,” I tell her.
“Do you think there’s someone like that out there,” she asks me?
“Would you be okay with that if I was?”

She looks at me and smiles . . . “yeah.  Yeah, I think I would.”

I muss up her hair a little, call her “cousin It” from the Addams family and smile.
“Well…no worries for now.  That person’s not around . . . not yet, anyway!”

Where’s the Adventure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t act either way, really.

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

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

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

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

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

Therein lies the adventure.

A Time Together

It’s not very often I let my children break too much from their routine.  As a matter of fact, we’ve gotten into a decent groove lately.  I appreciate this given the last couple weeks of upheaval, missed days at school, a funeral, emotions running high, all of that.

Abbi, just before college
Abbi, just before college

This comes on top of the fact that their older sister, my oldest daughter Abbi, went off to college in another state just over a month ago.  This is also after two years of adjusting to life without their mother, my wife Andrea, who passed away in 2011.

So when the twin boys and their middle sister Hannah come to me on a Tuesday night and look at me asking if they can stay up, just a half hour later than normal, because they want to watch a TV show, it’s actually a good thing.

I know, I know, the boob tube, deathnell of society, purveyor of drivel and lacking in distinction.

But it’s not that at all, not really.

I work in television, so it’s on a lot in our house.  I have to admit that.  The thing is it’s not on for me to really watch it, I have a DVR that is 97% full with shows I can’t find the time to watch.  The TV is good background noise as I don’t do well with total silence.  It used to drive my wife nuts.  I could have the TV on and play guitar while it was there and she’d wonder how I could do both.  Reality was I could, mainly because I wasn’t fully paying attention to the television anyway.

Doing Interviews
Doing Interviews

But the kids had one show they wanted to watch.  Just one.  Marvel’s Agents of Shield.  I know, it’s not gotten the greatest reviews and it’s not necessarily Joss Whedon’s finest hour according to some.  But for three kids who want to spend just one hour, sitting, relaxing, watching a television show about normal people dealing with extraordinary problems . . . it’s really a great thing.

The show . . . I won’t recount that for you.  But I will say that the three kids did not fight, did not hit each other, did not argue, talk or anything.  Noah, one of the twins, gave his sister a hug.  Sam, his brother, came next to me and leaned a hug into my side.  They asked questions like how the main guy could die in the movie The Avengers and still be back to life here on the television.  I sincerely had no answer, and they alluded to it here and there was all.  It drove them nuts in the best way.

So when 9pm rolled around and they were a half hour behind on all this it became clear that they benefited more this night from watching a silly superhero-esque show than from strict routine.

And that, my friends, is life.  You can’t constantly, rigorously live in the routine and the routine only.  It’s important and it rules our home, but sometimes the greatest adventures are the ones you hadn’t anticipated.

And sometimes time together is better than anything else.

We’ve Done This Before

The kids in Oregon
The kids in Oregon

It’s not an easy thing to have your kids look at you after bad news and tell you “well…it’s okay, we’ve been through this before.”

It’s true, we have, and I can’t change that.  The worst for them was the fact that their mother passed away in 2011, not even 3 years ago as of this writing.  But my son looked at me and recounted how many things have happened in the last 2 1/2 to 3 years and even though he says it’s okay, I have to wonder.  The fact that he can recount so easily the number of people we have lost in our family tells me that we’ve not just done this before but that the weight of grief just keeps getting harder to carry for them, not easier.

Over the course of about 3 years, my family has seen my grandfather die; then my wife, Andrea; At the beginning of this year my grandmother died, and I took that one rather hard; then Andrea’s father, unexpectedly, passed just within weeks of my grandmother.  The last of them was just a couple days ago, Andrea’s Mom, the kids’ grandmother.  That’s more than a person a year on average.  I didn’t take the kids to every funeral, and the fact remains that they didn’t really know my grandparents all that well.  However, Abbi, my oldest, knew my grandpa and grandma very well.  I saw my grandparents every day growing up, I ate lunch at their house.  While my boys and middle daughter didn’t know them that well, they certainly knew how affected I was by the loss which in turn affects them.

Andrea and her Father, Hal
Andrea and her Father, Hal

For my kids, however, their grandparents – Andrea’s parents – were almost as big an influence.  We lived in their house when we moved to California, at least for about six or eight months.  Being honest, we couldn’t handle it much longer than that because Andrea’s father couldn’t handle the kids much more than that.  Regardless, Andrea took the boys a lot with her to visit her parents and they went every day.  Their grandma wasn’t just a flamboyant and strong personality, she did love them a lot and always spoiled them rotten.

Andrea's Mother, Laura
Andrea’s Mother, Laura

But to my point . . . Noah, my son, knows every person who’s passed away and seems to make the comment that dealing with the loss is almost old hat for us now.  It shouldn’t be, and it’s really not.  It’s a good mask for him to wear, the stable, philosophical child who doesn’t worry so much.  He makes a good point: Grandma Laurie was sad and hurting and now she’s with Mom and Grandpa.  I hope she’s happier.  Maybe so, I don’t know what happens after we leave here.  I wish we did sometimes.  But I can also see that grief, while we don’t realize it sometimes, is a lot like a virus.  It creeps in when you least expect it and hits hardest when you most want it to go away.  It’s not something you easily remove from your life, in fact it’s there and you then live with it forever.  Sometimes it turns to melancholy or others it turns to fondness and nostalgia.  Other times you remember only the nicest of things and others you are reminded of only what’s missing.

No kids should face that much loss in that short of time . . . not my kids, not my nieces and nephew . . . none of them.  Still . . . we face it anyway.  That’s just how life hands you things.  Grief gets heavier, and sometimes you realize that you strengthen your shoulders and back by carrying them.  One thing is certain: I will certainly try my best to help them shoulder the burden.

Her Mother’s Daughter, but Not Her Mother

Hannah on Guitar
Hannah on Guitar

I had a discussion tonight with my middle daughter, Hannah, about responsibilities and how things really worked in our household.  Not a bad conversation, but an effort to get the record straight for her.  It all started with what I think she believed was a throwaway statement.

“Well…I just figured things at school, like Homecoming and dances and stuff would have to not happen because I have to watch the boys.”

I kind of stared at her, a little dumbfounded.

“Why would you have to skip sporting events or homecoming or any of that?”
“Well, I don’t know anybody anyway so it’s not really a big deal, Dad.”
I stared at her again, this time a bit sternly.
“It’s only September, Hannah, and you already know some people.  I know I am meeting some guys to play some guitar tonight, but you’re babysitting the boys, not mothering them.”

Hannah looked at me a little sheepishly.

“Hannah, I’m going to tell you the exact same things I told your older sister right after your Mom passed away.  You are Noah and Sam’s sister, you’re not their Mom.  I don’t expect you to be their Mom and I don’t ask you to be their Mom.  Do you understand that?”
Hannah nodded.  It was important to me that she understand.

Ever since Andrea passed away there’s been a small (not large, very small in fact) contingent that assumed, quite unreasonably, that I’d rely very heavily on my daughters to take on a sort of “motherly” role and basically – for lack of a better phrase – become the Mom of the house.  Now, they don’t expect the girls to become “Mom” they aren’t in charge, but to take on the assumed female role in the household.

I, however, was bound and determined for that not to happen in my house.

Abbi was 16 when her Mom passed.  Hannah was about to turn 12.  It was important to me that they still be teenagers.  I had seen people who were forced to take on the role when their fathers couldn’t muster the necessary faculties to take on the roles of Dad and Mom.  I wasn’t going to be that person.  In fact, I hadn’t been for awhile.  While Andrea, my wife, was sick the years prior, I had literally done everything but the laundry in the home.  Andrea wasn’t incapacitated, but emotionally and physically she was unable to care for everything.  I took on a much greater role.

The funny thing is, as much as I saw it a burden when I was married – not that I took it out on her or anyone, it was one you had to shoulder as a Dad and husband – it became a responsibility I gladly shouldered when Andrea was gone.  So the idea that Abbi or Hannah was cooking dinners, doing laundry, the Cinderella of the house, was about as far from the truth as you could get.

Don’t take that to mean I didn’t or don’t rely on them.  We all have our chores.  Abbi was tremendously helpful in getting Hannah used to doing makeup and dressing like a girl, not a tomboy, and how to deal with her period because…let’s face it, Dad isn’t the person you necessarily want to talk with about your period.  But she’s comfortable enough to have the discussion now if she needs medicine, tampons, pads, or what have you.  I’m both parents now, I go to the store and buy those as readily as razor blades and shaving cream.

“Hannah, your Mom passed away and I’ve done everything I can to make sure you can be you.  I cook, I clean – even the bathrooms, which you are just as responsible for making disgusting as your brothers.”  She looked at her feet.  “But to say you can’t do things because you have to watch your brothers is simply wrong.  If you want to go to Homecoming, you can go.  I have the job I have so that I can come home and let you go, drive you, pick you up, all of that.  If you need a dress we’ll get one.  I will find ways to make all of that happen.”
“But Dad, I don’t really know anybody.  And what if I want to start a band.  I don’t have time.”
“I’m home by early evening.  We have a garage.  The boys would listen as you rehearsed.  Is that really the issue?”
I looked at her knowingly and she blushed a little.
“Or are you coming up with excuses to not do things so you don’t have to put in the effort…because it’s hard?”
She blushed a little more.
“I know it’s hard, Hannah, but if I’d never joined my first band…if I’d never started my own band I’d have never recorded.  If I’d never asked your Mom out I’d never have been married.  I wouldn’t have you.  Everything takes effort.  It’s all in how much effort you want to put into it.”

Hannah looked at me and smiled.  “I don’t think I have to be Mom, Dad.”
“I’m not totally screwing you up yet, am I?”  I asked hoping for the answer I eventually got.
“No…not at all!  I love you Daddy.”

She kissed me on the cheek and went upstairs to play her guitar.

Wish You Were Here…

I would have posted the above Pink Floyd song title 2 1/2 years ago and had a totally different frame of reference.  Today, however, the frame is built by my middle daughter, Hannah, in reference not to her mother but her sister.  My oldest daughter Abbi, you see, has moved to another state and started college.

Hannah on Guitar
Hannah on Guitar

The reference is actually quite literal.  Hannah came into the living room on Friday night, after an entire evening’s activities, and said “look what I learned how to play, Dad!”  She started the opening salvo of the title track of Floyd’s 1975 ode to longing, loss, memory and their friend, Syd Barrett.

“Could we do another video and send it to Abbi?”

With someone that excited by their musical inspiration, I could hardly say ‘no’.  Rather than set up a webcam, though, and simply grab our guitars and play, I took her into my office and set up ProTools and put the headphones on her ears.
“We’re going to record it and then make a video.”

Hannah was really apprehensive, so I plugged in, click track running, and had my amp very quiet, the mic closer to her, and helped her play.  She decided at that point this should be a project for both of us, asking me to sing the opening verse, she the second, together on the 3rd.

It’s a beautiful song, particularly in its simplicity, and I was quite caught up in her enthusiasm.  I won’t post it here both for her nerves and for the fact that I don’t want to infringe on Gilmour and Waters’ copyrights.

Wish You Were Here is always gives me a little bit of a twinge.  Andrea loved the song, not just due to the message, it made her think of her sister and some random teenage adventure she’d had.  It’s almost hard at times to hear the line “we’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl year after year” without thinking of her belting out that line, off-key, sometimes on-purpose, and grinning from ear to ear.

Today, however, it brings nothing but fond memories of how my daughter had a burst of inspiration, leading to my own inspiration and then making a video.  It took all day, but then we put it all together.  The melancholy feeling was there, but more about missing Abbi than about sadness for their mother.

It’s interesting that a song about loss and mental illness and sadness can bring happiness to others, but in the end the message is universal.  How I wish you were here.

Powerful Nights

The power went out last night, something that seems to be happening a lot lately in our neck of the woods.  It certainly wasn’t the heat, that was not a factor.  Nobody seemed to have hit a power pole and knocked out a transformer.  PG&E, our power company, never bothered to call us to tell us what was happening.  Though I saw about a half-dozen trucks and bunch of guys in PG&E uniforms down the road with a water main gushing water down the road and tinkering with the power lines.  They never bothered to tell us it might go out.

Hannah, my middle, had homework to do.  She was shouting from upstairs that she couldn’t do it without light.  I don’t disagree, but it was obvious she wasn’t too upset by the lack of light due to her brain shutting off all problem-solving skills as well.  My oldest daughter, now just a week from leaving home for college, had found literally every candle in the house and lit them up for light.  My twin boys liked it . . . for awhile.  Then they got bored and took showers by candlelight as well.

I walked up the stairs, took a couple candles I had sitting in my bathroom and bedroom – not sure why I had them in there, no romance going on in my household – and took them to Hannah’s room.  After lighting them up she declared “hey!  There we go!” and she was back to her old studious self.  I’m not certain much homework was actually done up to that point, I think her secret communiques to her friends from middle school were actually dominating her time.  With no power she was forced to do homework, which was a good thing.

Andrea, years ago
Andrea, years ago

Earlier in the day I had told my kids to call their grandma – their Mom’s Mom – and tell her “happy birthday.”  They gladly did it . . . and I’d have taken them all to visit her a suburb over from us, except I had an appointment at my sons’ school.  It was a strange day, this one.  I left work, got home, changed clothes, and went to “back-to-school night.”  It’s a hard thing to be slapped in the face with what your struggles are and know the slap isn’t an intentional one.  I showed up at the school and had to simply attend the classroom that was closest to me.  That was Noah, one of the twins’ classroom.  I found his teacher’s door first.  As I sat there, we had a card from my son, which was sweet and I’m not going to duplicate for his privacy.  He’s done exceptionally well considering how much change he’s had to face and the fact it all changes again next year for middle school.  Still…it’s a good thing.  He gets an almost-fresh start.

Noah
Noah

Someone from his old school initially started a rumor that Noah had punched a kid in the face and gotten expelled and that’s why he was at this school.  After a couple days with Noah keeping to himself, being shy, and generally not being a powder keg – which he’s not – and the rumor died off because, let’s face it, that’s kinda boring when he doesn’t haul off and attack someone, right?

But I understand both his and and his brother, Sam’s, shyness.  I sat in a room where every parent knew every other.  I grew frustrated with the obsession over the change from “STAR Testing” because some parents are more concerned with the testing results than the concepts.  I love that “no child left behind” is left behind.  I like the new federalized core curriculum and had read up on it.  I never took those tests well and neither did my kids, yet the STAR tests are a favorite subject of so many parents who think it’s an indication of intelligence.  It’s not.  It’s an indication of test-taking.  (yes, my opinion, leave me alone in my convictions, please, and don’t email or comment.  You won’t change my mind)  Sam’s teacher is telling me about options for both his migraines and for his slight stutter that comes out when he’s too excited to think about his words and he stumbles over them.  She’s not concerned just giving me options.  I like that.

But I noticed all through the process that I was alone.  There were so many couples there.  “I’m ___________’s Mom…and I’m his Dad” and I found myself noticing how much easier it would have been if I had my wife here to attend the other classroom.  Part of me felt bad it was all about the convenience and not the affection, but reality transgresses the heart sometimes.

In the night, with the power out, Andrea’s sister forwarded a picture to us brought by their Aunt.  It was of my girls – Abbi, Hannah, and Andrea – my wife – with her sister’s step-daughter and Andrea’s aunt Carol.  Carol died not long after Andrea, cancer overtaking her.  It wasn’t the most amazing picture of her, no, but it’s the normality of it that I miss, I suppose.  It’s not that I want others to feel guilty, nor do I think I’m bad off.  I’m okay with the juggle, it’s just that some days it affects me more than others, I suppose.

My Sam . . .
My Sam . . .

Maybe it was the candles.  Maybe it was the darkness, or maybe it was the whole day, a stressful juggle at work, the race home to get to school, the nightly routine still in play, and then going over everything the kids need for school.  I missed her.  It’s not that I don’t miss my wife every day . . . but it wasn’t as sad or poignant most days of late.  Tonight it is…sometimes you miss the smile or the scent or the fact you look at the mirror and think in terms of whether she’d tell you that the outfit you’re wearing looks okay.  Sometimes you just need another body to help with things.

Sometimes you just wish you had someone next to you when the power goes out.