The title doesn’t really apply to anything in particular. It does relate to the fact that I used to look like the guy up there . . . and that’s a rare photo of me that I actually think I look pretty decent. It’s not an ego kind of thing, I don’t think I looked particularly great most of the time, but much of my appearance changes – where I looked like a decent human being – was due to a makeover by my wife. Now, I try to put much of that into practice. The main thing being that I posted this photo so I have a goal to work toward:
Getting almost that skinny again.
I admit it . . . I was a couch potato for quite awhile. I’d like to say I wasn’t but that’s not the truth. My wife had her knees go out and that led to her not moving much which led to none of us moving much. Where she gained a significant amount of weight I hadn’t looked to myself to realize that I had done it, too. To get back to that guy you see up there I need to lose at least 38 pounds. I’d be happy to lose 28. That would get me close.
I know I said this already, but it’s not vanity that pressures me, either. It’s reality. I don’t know that the kids or I really realized just how much we missed being outdoors or engaging in some sort of activity until we started doing it again. I lost a lot of weight simply by attrition. That 28 I need to lose was probably more like 48 or more a year ago. Just by having to clean, take care of the kids, do laundry, go up and down the stairs, chase after the boys, all of that led to the loss.
But I’ve hit a plateau now. I cannot continue to eat the portion sizes I do now and not have exercised and lose weight. As much as Kim Kardashian may want you to think you can take a pill and simply lose weight the reality is nobody really knows what she does for a living, she’s got a trainer and if you believe the gossip columns tends to hang out with lots of athletes. I don’t think it’s particularly hard to lose your weight when you do that. It’s all about image for people like that. It’s not image or vanity for me. It’s life.
My kids have spent the summer doing what kids do . . . what they should do. Without ten tons of technology keeping them in the house they are riding their bikes. They’re going to the library. They’re playing games. They find things to do and they’re probably in vastly better shape than they’ve been in the last year. They’re going to get home to get ready for school and I’ll barely be able to keep up with them. I can’t let them down to that degree and end up making them become what I’m trying to leave behind.
So I get up at 6am…even if it’s like today and I didn’t sleep well. I get up, walk for as long as I can, get back by 6:45, cool off, get in the shower, then get ready for work. The next big step is stopping the giant portions and most importantly not eating from the moment I get home. It’s my biggest poor habit. I don’t eat much during the day but from the moment I get in the door at night it’s like I can’t stop myself. I understand the complaint from those trying to lose weight that it’s not as simple as “just don’t eat.” That’s a line from skinny people who don’t really eat much anyway.
Now . . . don’t worry, I won’t be posting my weight each morning or subjecting you to what I eat. I will post recipes, maybe even a few cooking segments here and there.
The reason? I think the idea of homemade has crept out of our households. I’m raising four kids alone and can still manage to cook, even breakfast, the best I can. Maybe it’s not amazing food, but it’s mine. You should too.
So look for that . . . because as our story begins so does how we live that story.
As much as I put into writing and kept discussing and chanting the mantra I still stressed and worried about my oldest daughter and her trials and tribulations. It’s not that one event – in this case the prom – was so worrisome that I had to lose sleep and worry about her. It’s the prom. Nobody enjoys it, not really, except maybe the jocks who find a girl that will sleep with them on prom night. Quite frankly, I’m thrilled that my daughter is old enough and clever enough to know what’s right and wrong. It’s both sad and scary that I so wanted her to get a date to the prom but worse yet secretly hoped she wouldn’t because of all the pressure that guys bring to the fore in formal events.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t one who pressured anyone. Partially it was because I’m not that kind of person but mostly it’s because I just wasn’t as confident or mature to even think about it. Had I obtained that confidence or shown it I might very well have had a much better date – as would my prom date. But that’s the rub, isn’t it, that I had a date. My daughter, in her emotional distress and confusion, was convinced that there was no way in hell she would go to the prom since she didn’t have a date and that she’d much prefer to go to see “The Black Keys” rather than the prom.
Then there’s her sister, Hannah, who had a mandate that she have no missed assignments or zeros on her report or she doesn’t get to go to the same said concert. On top of that, if she fails, all three of them have to move to the public school, going down the street where their sister Abbi goes. When I saw blank spots on her math chapter check I asked and got a panicked tirade about how things changed and she didn’t know it when we were in Nebraska for the anniversary of my wife’s passing. She said the teacher changed the assignments and didn’t tell her and that it was all a mistake. A mistake that’s now more than a month past.
“Why haven’t you asked her about them like I said?”
“Because she scares me!”
“No she doesn’t.”
“Yes she does,” says Hannah, but her eyes betray her. She’s not scared at all. She knows she should have taken care of this but didn’t. I made the deal and I told her I’m sticking by it.
“Today was the day you were supposed to fix this. You didn’t and by all rights you should stay home and miss the concert. You get tomorrow. That’s it. You’re not scared of your teacher, you’re embarrassed to talk with her. That’s different, but if you let that embarrassment overtake you you’re not going to get anywhere and all your siblings suffer. She wants to help you and you disappointed her if you don’t fix it. That’s why you haven’t talked with her.”
All this swirling around a singular concert with a band that may or may not be around in their distant future.
I like the band. They’re good, solid musicians with a penchant for actually playing their own instruments and avoiding auto-tune like the plague. For those two things alone I respect them. But my line to my daughter even a month or more ago was the fact that even I had a date to the prom. Times were different, yes. The location was different, yes. I was an awful date, yes, all of that. But I still went. My line to my daughter was that in 10 or 15 years, when she looks back, will she remember the Black Keys because they were Hendrix or Clapton-like in their staying power, or will she remember that she had a chance to go to her first public school formal event and skipped it?
Now, let’s review what got me here, though. I have tried over and over again to tell myself that I just have to let my kids solve the major issues on their own. I can’t get her a prom date, homecoming date, or any date. Can you imagine what would happen if I tried?! Good God, it’s hard enough to be a kid without your parent(s) messing with things.
To be honest, this isn’t really about a dance, anyway. It’s both of us adjusting to what life is going to be like, and for Abbi it’s nothing but change, month after month and year after year. I was so inept at the age when Prom was the most important thing in your life. But had I had that confidence would I really have ended up with Andrea as my wife? Not that I would have found better, there was no better, but would she have responded. I found her at the exact moment she needed someone who would treat her the way she deserved to be treated – at least that’s what she said. She found me at the time I needed to be able to shed the weight of the cross I was bearing and come into my own. She found out she could have fun with someone who wasn’t just wanting to party all day and enjoyed what she had to say. We worked together so we knew we could not only stand each other’s company we enjoyed it. We talked about more than college or drinking or who slept with whom in our circles of friends.
When I met Andrea I still had all that weight I was carrying around. I’ve posted this before, but she was planning on moving away from Omaha. She didn’t see anything to keep her there and she wasn’t sure there was a life for her there. I started dating her at that moment because, let’s face it, the risk was low. I might get hurt, but the repercussions were minimal since she’d be moving if it didn’t work out. But the oppressive weight that held me back from everything went away. I was so worried I’d lose what I had with her if I didn’t take that risk, worry about being embarrassed, that I asked her out – damn the consequences, no reward without risk.
But I shouldered weight my daughter didn’t want or expect me to because her life has had to change and will change so much. We couldn’t keep her in her private school because I’d lost Andrea and the income she would have brought. I moved her to a public school after a life filled with private, Catholic education. She moved into dating and boyfriends with no Mom to hold her and tell her she knows and understands the pressures of being a girl in a world filled with guys with only one thing on their mind. So when she’s upset she can’t get a date and the guy she hoped would ask, even thought they’re just good friends is with a girl he’s had a crush on, I’m crushed myself, shouldering weight she doesn’t seem too crushed by herself. I worry about the fact that she has her senior year, will get through it, and then has to decide on college and it all changes, blowing into a whole new world for her all over again. This girl who had to deal with changing her life, her home, her school and her social circles now has to do it all over again in less than another year. She’s strong, smart, quirky, and fun and my biggest worry is that she thinks that has to change with the changes in her life.
But then she told me how she’s joining a big group of people and going on her own. She’ll get to dance with a bunch of guys and she’ll look beautiful in this amazing dress that we’re getting tailored. Even though I quietly kept my ignorance of the advice to myself, worrying about the fact I couldn’t fix her problems, they got fixed. She did it on her own, just like my dear friend told me. I can’t fix it all, and I shouldn’t even if I can. Sometimes my kids have to fix their own problems. I understand the fear of going to a dance alone, though some of my favorites were when I did. I danced with people I wouldn’t have been able to with a date. I faced embarrassment even though my daughter doesn’t want to. It’s important and she needs to do it or it will overtake her later in life. But they’re all things they have to face, not me. I want so much to go in there and just meddle and do it for them.
But I can’t. They must, and through that, I live on, and I’ll be strong, because It’s just not my cross to bear.
I carry a lot of weight on my shoulders every day.
That’s no mere metaphor, it is literal as well as figurative.
When I met my lovely wife I weighed a mere 180 pounds. I fluctuated, sure, going up and down, 190, 180, 197, 195 . . . no massive surges in either direction that would cause me to even track my weight every day, though. That is, until about a year ago . . . maybe 18 months.
I gained a substantial amount of weight. In fact, by the time of the funeral, pictures of which now horrify me for vain reasons as well as emotional ones, I had ballooned to a whopping 250 or 270. Not sure, by that point I was too embarrassed to look. It’s painful to carry that much. Walking was slow, I had a hard time catching my breath, and I could tell my metabolism had changed to the point that I can’t eat whatever I want and assume my body will just burn off whatever I need.
That’s changed. Not because I’ve taken control, focused my mind and body and begun a stringent training routine that involves drinking some sort of green, grass-flavored liquid and running before the sun rises in the East. It’s changed because I just don’t have the time to sit on my ass and munch on crap while watching television. I also have a job that gets me out of the building and isn’t stuck dealing with turning a million stories with too few resources and too much pressure. Yeah, the pressure’s there, but last week I was riding in a boat while interviewing a guy on a story out in the Bay. What other job lets you do that?
I’ve lost almost 20 pounds since then. The other weight isn’t coming off, not anytime soon.
I’ve done my best to make decisions that I thought would create the least amount of chaos; inflict the least amount of damage. Hasn’t always worked out that way, and the road is paved with my good intentions, as they say, but it’s the best I could do.
When Andrea first went into the ICU, we didn’t have the kids come in. Andrea was very weak and she just needed to get stronger to handle the pull and need of the kids, both emotionally and physically. I’m not sure if we ever had a discussion that said “keep them home for now,” but I did anyway.
When she went into respiratory arrest everything changed. I’ve described the panic, I won’t relive that with you. But in that first day, nervous, hurried and hyper to the point of talking for every single second, I made a lot of decisions I regret, but don’t know that I’d change. Whether it is true or not, I believe that those in a coma, or in Andrea’s case, sedation, can hear us. I hear the kids in the twilight of my dreams when they come into my room just before they wake me up. Why couldn’t Andrea? So as a result I didn’t stop talking. Not from the minute I arrived through my way out the door each night.
It’s also why I kept everyone away. With the kids it was for two reasons: first, I didn’t want them to see her that way. If you’ve ever seen someone intubated, on a respirator and fighting for every breath, you know it’s horrible. The medical dramas make it look so romantic, a frenzied operation that pits the nurse or doctor above the patient’s head, the scramble of activity and the rush to get the tube inside and get the person breathing just in time . . . believe me, that might be the first few seconds. The rest aren’t.
The tube is all the way down the throat. So when the nurse comes in, sedated as Andrea is, they touch, move or adjust that tube, Andrea feels it. She jumps. She cringes. She grimaces. Nothing about it is comfortable for her or for me. I saw it when my Dad was recovering from heart surgery, and it’s one of the few times I’ve seen my mother cry. I watched it, every time they came into the room with Andrea, and I faced it because I felt like she needed me there.
That awareness is also why I kept most everyone out. Andrea’s sister Amy came, and that was fine. She was always a comfort to Andrea, who loved her deeply. Andrea also had a connection with her sister, loved her children almost as deeply as her own, and was comfortable around her. She told Amy things she didn’t tell anyone else. Her visit was welcome.
But I kept Andrea’s parents away as long as I could. Andrea always tensed up, with every visit when they were there. Andrea’s mom, you see, had come down with a degenerative brain disorder, something akin to Parkinson’s but faster acting and harder hitting. Andrea would visit their house and I would take her call on the way home, in tears, often distressed either by the further deterioration of her mother or because of some argument with her parents. Neither made things easy on her. It was this stress, this tensing that I thought she didn’t need that I tried to keep away. They did visit once, and Andrea’s body was more rigid, the seemingly reflexive movements growing faster. Andrea didn’t need to be subjected to this every day, and neither did her parents. I was there, I didn’t like what I saw, but you don’t abandon someone you love because you’re uncomfortable.
You have to understand, I sincerely thought, even by then, she would get better. It was just pneumonia. I know it’s horrible and that people can still die from it, but I thought we’d come through it and be stronger for it. I had no idea that it would just be . . . over.
Now, I wonder where the kids’ heads are. Are they mad at me because they didn’t see their Mom those days? Do they wonder if she was thinking about them? None of them act out to me or seem like they are upset about it. But the signs creep out that they wonder. I was determined, though, that their memory of their mother be the best memories, the ones that revolved around her dancing in the middle of the living room with them to some goofy little song. The woman who sat at the table with her huge mug of coffee and infectious laugh. I didn’t want them to see or remember her with the plastic tubing snaking around her like tentacles; the black marker on her leg to indicate which one had an infection; the tube full of greyish crap that they pulled out of her lungs through it all.
After the funeral, the hospital let me know there was a bunch of stuff of Andrea’s that I had left behind. It took a lot for me to go to the hospital then, but I did it. I wasn’t going to leave any of her behind. I was pretty proud, too, I’d done fairly well and held it together. That is until they handed me the items. They’d taken a bunch of her stuff, her clothes, shoes, even the copy of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and tossed it into a clear plastic garbage bag. That wouldn’t have been so bad, except in the bottom were the get well cards the kids had made for Andrea – cards that she’d been able to read, just hours before she took her bad turn.
They all seemed, at least at that moment, to plead for her to come home. They told how much they missed her, nearly begged her to come home, that they needed her. It was like a visible representation of their hearts ripping in two. The weight got a little heavier, as did my heart.
Now, when I’m home and Sam’s playing upstairs or reading, he’ll shout down every 15 or 20 minutes:
“I love you!”
Hannah will stop me in the middle of walking from the flour to the sugar while making cookies to hug me, in the most inopportune moments.
Noah wants to be around and have some sort of activity every second of every day.
Abbi, well she has a lot of responsibility she shoulders now, whether I pull it off of her or not. All of this is a result of my decisions.
Were they the right ones? I don’t know. I will never know, I don’t think. It’s a very solitary thing, to carry this weight. My parents helped carry some of it, holding me up after they arrived. Still, the decisions I made, alone, when nobody else was around, I have to live with whether they’re right or not. It’s one of those horrible points in life, where every decision will have bad consequences, you just have to measure which decision has the fewest.
I am fortunate to have 4 amazing children, who tell me things, who let me know if they’re down or miss their mom, or just need help. I can live with Sam freaking out in a store if we’re not all together or Noah constantly under foot. Why? Because we’re far stronger together than individually.
I make no decision about our family without their input now. I don’t care how minute. They’re involved, and they’re part of it all, which is as it should be. It’s not because I want them to shoulder the burden, it’s because they should never have to feel left out again. They should not be alone in the dark.
But mostly, I just want to make sure they don’t have to carry that weight. Pick your musical metaphor, use whatever philosophical platitude suits you best.
No matter, I’m going to carry that weight . . . a long time.