Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Henry and Arthur learned how to tie a tie last night. (Well, Henry actually learned and Arthur was instructed)
Another milestone. Another milestone without Bob.
I saw Bob wear a tie about two times in his life, so it's not as if this was a milestone that I had visions of him doing with our boys. Yet watching our neighbor stand in a line in between the two boys while Henry and Arthur carefully mimicked his hand motions, I felt a little melancholy.
Yes, this is the same neighbor who helped Henry fix up Bob's bike earlier this fall. We have awesome neighbors, and I know it takes a village and all, but it would be nice if Bob was part of the village in body and not just spirit.
Now I will take Bob's spirit with me and walk across the street and watch Henry in his carefully tied tie play the cello for the holiday concert.
This one's for you Bob.
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Thursday, December 9, 2010
Last night it was just me and my two boys for dinner.
In the middle of slurping up one long piece of spaghetti Henry began obsessing about making a mistake on the cello during the Christmas concert next week. Stating how horrible a mistake would be and how it would mess up EVERYONE in the whole orchestra.
Henry has a tendency to catastrophize his concerns. (word stolen from the mom on Modern Family. Meaning making a catastrophe out of small worries)
In an effort to calm his fears I asked him if a mistake would be the worst thing that could happen.
"Yes," he answered, very seriously. "It would be the worst thing that could happen."
"The worst thing that could happen, really? THE worst thing? You can't think of anything worse that might happen?" I continued valiantly.
Hmmmmm....I was hoping for some perspective. You know, he could break his leg or our house could burn down, or Mike could lose his job. There are so many worse things that could happen than making a mistake at your 4th grade Christmas concert.
When he brought up the concern of everyone watching him I even tried to burst his bubble and explain that no one would be watching him other than me and his Aunt Kathy because everyone else will be looking at their own child. So, no worries.
Didn't help, he was still freaking out.
Then Arthur chimed in; "You know, Henry, we have already had the worst thing happen to us." His eyes got all shiny when he said this and his brows crinkled up, he looked so sad.
Yes, here we go, some perspective coming from the 7 year old. Don't worry about messing up at your Christmas concert because the worst thing has already happened to us, Daddy died.
To Henry's blank stare Arthur responded; "Aunt Peg died......remember........"
Aunt Peggy (great Aunt Peggy to them) died a few weeks ago. While it was sad, I did not consider it the worst thing that could happen, she was in her 80s and all.
Not exactly the perspective I was hoping for.
Then I realized that Arthur knew Aunt Peggy better than he knew his dad.For Arthur Bob is more of a mythical person, as real to him as Santa Claus.
Now that is perspective I could have done without.
Makes me want to believe in Santa Claus.
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Monday, November 29, 2010
I love to dust the dining room. One would never know by the inch thick layer of dust found on the window sills and book shelves in this room, but I do. The shelves above the built in dresser behind the dining room table are my favorite to work on. These shelves are home to dozens of family pictures, my grandma's depression glass, a few framed poems, silver candle stick holders, and various other knick knacks collected from special people or special travels over time. I enjoy taking each item off the shelf and dusting it, thinking about the memory each one holds, before placing it back in its appointed place.
I am not very creative with the placement of these items. Everything goes back to approximately the same spot each time. I rarely change things up other than updating the 8x10 McHoganStein family photo annually.
These are the shelves that hold Bob's urn.
For the better part of six years the urn has held court in the center of the bottom shelf surrounded by a picture of Bob's family on one of their many camping trips, and a framed card that Bob gave me with the quote "The fabric of you is so familiar, it's as if we are woven of the same thread"....or something like that.
Yesterday I dusted the dining room after a visit from out of town friends made the dust too glaringly obvious to ignore another minute. Tonight the seven of us were eating dinner, consisting of a yummy Mexican spaghetti casserole and Pillsbury rolls. The usual dinner chaos was ensuing involving debates about cell phone usage and theories on relativity. Arthur (7) added his own lovely show that consisted of rolling on the living room rug and screaming for water because the spaghetti was too spicy.
As for myself, I was attempting to remain calm amidst the chaos with varying amounts of success. I sat breathing in and out and admired the nice clean shelves behind the bobbing blond head of a wound up Henry. Then I noticed that Bob's urn was no longer in the center of the shelf, it was in the back left corner surrounded by different photos than the usual.
Interesting. I have no conscious awareness of making that decision.
For someone who over thinks most things and actually kept a can of Irish oatmeal that Bob had bought in the kitchen cabinet for about five years before I would even let Mike look at the can let alone think about cooking the oatmeal I am rather amazed at the casualness of finding the urn in a less prominent spot on the shelf.
I don't know what it means exactly, but I'm thinking its gotta be good.
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010
"When I finished the book I felt envious of the experience you had gone through."
One of my readers said this to me.
I get it.
It sounds a bit odd, maybe, but I totally get it.
That live in the moment, don't sweat the small stuff, seize the day mentality that comes with great loss.
Amidst the disorientation of grief I also found great purpose. I knew what my priorities were. I knew what was important.
I was peeled to the core.
Now, six years later, I find myself sweating the small stuff sometimes, my priorities seem less clear, I fret about issues that are not all that important in the grand scheme of things.
At times I am grateful that I have the luxury to worry about issues like the refrigerator sounding funny or if I signed up to bring napkins or cupcakes for the school party.
Other times I miss that intense buzzing feeling of LIVING I had following Bob's death, as if the world went from black and white to color. When I am around people who are closer to a loss I can feel the energy around them, I see the clarity in their eyes and hear it in their voice, and I am envious.
So I get it when my reader tells me she is envious of me and my experience with Bob's illness and death. Stripped of my layers back then I felt lighter and lean, but I also felt brittle and bit airy.
Now I have built up layers of living around my core. These layers make me feel a bit heavier, maybe thicker, slower, but also a bit more solid.
Layers of living. The key word being living.
Thanks for checking in-
PS...for those who might not have seen the newspaper article I have enclosed the link below.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
I had a vision.
Not a premonition, a vision.
I was making our bed earlier this afternoon. It was a gorgeous fall afternoon with bright sun filtering through the yellow and red leaves of the maple tree in our front yard. I glanced out the freshly washed windows (I kid you not, that was not just for dramatic affect, I had just washed the windows) and saw a most beautiful scene on my neighbors front yard. One of those moments that you wish you had a camera but you know that all you can do is take a snapshot of this vision in your mind and try to hold it there, just the way you are seeing it that moment.
I know it is corny but a Billy Joel song often roles in my head during these moments .....this is the time to remember because it will not last forever, these are the days to hold onto because we won't although we'll want to.......
There was Henry, in a work apron, literally awash in reflected light from the droplets of water that were spraying out of the hose he held and, oh so carefully, aimed at the silver bike that was suspended in the air from our neighbor, Matt's, red bike stand. Matt stood behind Henry giving him guidance. Both of them seemed to have an air of reverence about them regarding the work they were doing on the bike.
The bike belonged to Bob when he was about Henry's age. The aunts (not to be read ants, as in red or black ones, but read awe, as in the aunts are awesome)grew tired of lugging the thing from one side to another in their garage (bikes were much heavier in the 70s!) and I saw it leaning against their garbage can the other day.
Henry and I were not ready for the bike to meet its demise.
So we saved the bike.
Henry pumped up the big fat tires and then Matt helped him tighten gears and handlebars and the rock hard seat and shine up the rusty chrome. Matt pointed out where the tire rim was dented.
"Your dad must of liked a little rough and tumble riding," he told Henry.
It was all so perfect.
A beautiful day, a shiny bike, a good neighbor, a proud son, fresh sheets.
It doesn't get any better than that.
I just had to share the vision, it was too good to keep to myself.
And who would appreciate this vision before me more than the aunts?
People tell me the greatest gift Bob left me was the boys.
And the boys are great.
But the greater gift Bob left me with might be his family. To have people to share the boys with who love them as much as I do, people who have known them since before they were born and love them unconditionally, that is a gift.
And what about neighbors who take your child and nurture an interest in them selflessly and with passion and care? That is a gift.
As I stood staring out the window and telling Aunt Kathy about this beautiful vision I was reminded of the renewed faith in community that I had during Bob's illness and following his death. I am pleasantly surprised to find out that six plus years later I still feel that way.
After Bob died I could not envision a ten year old Henry fixing up his dad's old bike on the neighbors front yard. I certainly could not envision watching a scene like that with a light heart, full of joy and appreciation for the moment.
My community has expanded in ways I could never have imagined six years ago. I have new neighbors, new friends, a new husband.
My community, old and new, my life, is so much more than I could have envisioned six years ago.
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Sunday, October 24, 2010
Henry selling the books!
Mike's daughter Aubrey (in the middle) and two of her friends working the bar and pouring the chai!
The launch party was amazing! Thanks to the help and creativity and organization and assistance of my family and friends the evening was a huge success.
I will never have a night like that again.
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Well, tomorrow is the big launch party for my book, yea!
An event I have been anticipating for three years. Yes, three years.
My parents arrived yesterday and two of my sisters arrived today and we spent the day creating yellow and black center pieces for the tables. They look awesome! Thanks Kathy!
I am very excited and nervous and hope I can simply enjoy the moment.
Wish me luck.
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Friday, October 1, 2010
Thanksgiving has come a bit early for me this year.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, even as kid.
I love the tradition of gathering over a good meal and being thankful. No presents required.
As a child I had little concept of the work that went into the meal. The preparation and planning and cooking and organizing and timing. The effort it takes getting beautiful fresh food on a nicely set table with colorful gourds, sweet treats, rich wine, and lively conversation, all at the same time, with the hot dishes hot and the cold dishes cold, is an art, truly.
And then people sit down at the table and consume the meal in ten minutes.
I am experiencing a similar sensation now that my book is finally live. My family called all last weekend excited to tell me they had finished the book. Some had stayed up until the wee hours in the morning and some had read it in an afternoon, but all were done.
It took me three years to write and publish that book and folks were done in an afternoon?
I guess I am glad people are finding it a "page turner". It's not as if I thought it would take anyone three years to read..........
Thanksgiving is not all about the meal. It is about being grateful for your life, the good and the bad. Thanksgiving is about living mindfully, being appreciative of what is around you. Even if the meal ends in ten minutes, a person can hold on to the good intentions of thanksgiving all year long.
I hope the same for the book. People might read it in an afternoon, but my hope is that we all can take some of the messages in the story and carry them with us as we proceed.
Embrace life, in all its ambiguity.
Thanks for checking in-
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Well...The Big Chair has been replaced.
Many people are familiar with The Big Chair.
For those of you who are not and would like to familiarize yourself with it you can read my book :-).
The Big Chair is an over sized fluffy chair with an ottoman on wheels that Bob came home with about 10 years ago. I can still see him carrying it up the stairs to the guest room in our old house and I can still see my sister, Anne, and I carrying it down the stairs to the living room so Bob could sit in it after he could no longer manage the stairs.
The chair has had many purposes over the years and is well loved by all who sit in it. Currently The Big Chair has been inhabiting the honored corner spot of our sun room and not a day passes without someone curled up or sprawled out in it reading.
The Big Chair is not aging well.
It won't come clean and it's fluffiness has become less fluffy. The dog chewed the ottoman and the cats ruined the arms and, frankly, I am growing weary of yelling at the boys about using the ottoman as an indoor scooter. (shouldn't they have grown out of that by now?) Plus, with the ever increasing animal population around here I am forever working at keeping the house smelling fresh and inviting and not like two cats, one dog and two gerbils live here.
It was time for a new chair.
But it's The Big Chair.
I thought it might just be me. This would not be the first time I have held on to something for sentimental reasons and then I can't remember what the sentimental reason was. Or I save something for the boys and then the boys don't recognize the significance of the item. But when I told Henry the plan to replace The Big Chair his eyes started to water immediately and his face took on a strained look.
"But The Big Chair brings back so many memories," he told me. His bottom lip was literally quivering.
Then my eyes started to water and I felt a tug to my heart.
Shit, we can't get rid of The Big Chair.
But we really needed to get something new for the sun room, really, I knew that intellectually.
All three boys came with us shopping and we chose an awesome leather love seat that reclines! The boys loved it at the store. But last night when we started moving The Big Chair to make room for the new love seat that was being delivered today Henry panicked. And then I did too. I started frantically taking measurements under Henry's loft in the boys room.
We could do it, it would be tight, but we could do it.
The Big Chair could fit under the loft if we removed the desk and moved the book shelf. Who needs a desk anyway? It isn't as if the boys ever studied at it. In fact the desk is only used to store all their junk. But getting The Big Chair into the room was going to be another story.(please keep in mind we have three boys in a 10x11room)
It is a Big Chair after all.
I went to talk to Mike about the move. He looked at me with some trepidation and went to the room and began to take his own measurements.
"I know it doesn't make practical or physical sense to remove a desk and make room for this enormous chair in this tiny room, " I told him as he quietly surveyed the room.
He sat down next to me on the bed, a little sigh escaping as he breathed out. I knew he was having a rough week at work.
"...but if we can make this work," I continued, "it would be the best thing emotionally for Henry and me right now." Unexpected tears sprung to my eyes and I choked on the last words a bit.
Mike looked at me, stood up, and started packing up the junk on top of the desk to make the move happen.
It was an event.
The boys were up past their bedtime helping move pillows and remove doors and get gerbil cages out of the way.
We did it! It made it. The Big Chair lives on for now. Perhaps in a few years Henry and I won't remember why we needed to keep that big chair.
I doubt it.
Today is Mike and my 4th anniversary and Mike could not have given me a better present than to go through the effort of moving that big chair into the boys room last night. The move was impractical and a pain in the butt and a lot of work we didn't need last night but Mike understood what it meant to me to keep that big chair for now and he was willing to honor that no questions asked.
As I watched him strategize and execute getting that big chair into that tight space I don't think I have ever loved him more.
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I can't believe it.
The book is actually available for sale!!
It only took three years.
Three years if we don't count the years of ruminating on the idea and, of course, the years it took to live it.
Ready or not here it is................ Two Chai Day
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Just when you thought you have heard everything, along comes a ten year old to prove you wrong.
Mike and I were on the committee to help plan Horizon Home Care and Hospice's annual Life Lights benefit for this year. The event raises funds for their Grief Resource Center which is a fabulous facility offering support groups, counseling and resources for the bereaved.
Friday night was a perfect cool clear fall evening at the beautiful Milwaukee Zoo where the event is held. Mike and I were in charge of one of the bars so the Aunts brought the boys to the event. It is truly a fabulous fundraiser with good food, good music, a sunset stroll through the zoo and plenty of opportunities to honor loved ones who have died.
One of the opportunities offered was to write a letter to your loved one and place it in a treasure chest kept safely at the center. Thinking Henry might like to write a note to Bob I went to find him among all the folks enjoying their fish fry.
"Do you want to write a letter to daddy?" I asked, once I had located them. "They have paper and pencils out there so you can write him a note."
"Do you mean my dead real one or my fake live one?" Henry asked in the sincere way he has. He needs to be certain about the expectations.
WOW! This is an interesting turn of events. Henry has always been so clear on who his dad is and who Mike is.
Initially, I was conflicted with his question, in defense of Bob I suppose. Plus, considering the event we were at I thought who the letter was for was rather obvious.
Not obvious to Henry.
Now, before all of you Mike supporters get all up in arms about the use of the word "fake" in Henry's description I would like to point out what a genuine monumental moment this was for Henry, Mike and myself. When Henry was asked to write a note for his daddy he was not sure if I meant Bob or Mike.......WOW!, again.
Fake, real, dead, alive, Henry's got it all.
Lucky boy. Lucky us.
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Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I took the dog for a walk this morning. We walked past the playground where Arthur and Henry go to school. As luck would have it Arthur's class was being called in from recess so I had the opportunity to glimpse him in his world.
I love that.
Arthur came around the corner from the "colorful playground" and began to saunter across the black top towards the teacher. He was walking with a friend and talking very animatedly about something very important. I could tell it was important by the deliberate swinging back and forth of his hands and the tilt of his head to the side.
He is never at a loss for words that boy. On our trip to Yellowstone we went horseback riding and Arthur's horse was just behind our guide. He never stopped talking the entire ride. The gal periodically turned towards the rest of the group to fill us in on the topic of conversation. At one point he told her he would "never forget this ride in his whole life".
Where does he get his drama and love of conversation? Hmmmmmmmm, possibly the McGoldrick side?
In contrast, Henry said about two words the entire ride. The guide actually asked me afterwards if he had enjoyed himself. That is just Henry I told her. The next day, after he had a chance to process the event and evaluate the ride against all the other activities we did that day, he let me know what he thought about the excursion.
Where does he get his thoughtful introspection? Hmmmmmm, possibly the Wellenstein side?
Even though people will swear the boys look like twins I don't see it. When I see Henry I see all Wellenstein, and when I see Arthur I see a McGoldrick.
This morning as I watched Arthur confidently stride across the playground I thought how comfortable he looked in his world at that moment. And as I watched him talking to his friend I imagined the teacher telling him to stop talking during class just the way I had been told so many times in class. I shook my head and laughed a bit and thought about the little McGoldrick I had before me.
Just then Arthur stuck both of his hands in his pocket, hunched his shoulders a bit, put his head down and began walking with determination towards the already forming line in front of the teacher.
Oh my, that move was exactly like Bob.
The hair on my arms raised.
Don't forget, Bob reminded me, I had a part in that boy too.
Don't worry, Bob, I will never forget.
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Saturday, August 28, 2010
It happens every year.
Why does it still bother me? Why am I not prepared for it? Why does it always catch me off guard and cause my breath to quicken just a little bit? Why do I still sit and stare at the page in front of me as if I have never seen the word before? I stare at the word as if it is blinking in neon lights.
That is all it is.
It is just a word.
And yet it gets me every time. Still. Every freakin' August. Every year.
How do I fill in that blank? Writing "Mike" feels wrong somehow, as if I am saying that Bob never existed, that he had no part in bringing the boys to life. Especially as the years go by and fewer people know our story.
There is only a short blank line after the word. Enough room for a name but not nearly enough space to fill in the epic story that word brings up for me.
Every year I gleefully sit down with my lap desk and my pen and the TV on and I begin to fill out the paperwork the school feels is necessary to properly care for my child for seven hours five days a week. ( I really am gleeful, I am one of those scary people who like paperwork. There is something very satisfying for me to see all those blank spots filled in)
But then, it happens, rather quickly, every year.
And then I go from gleeful to confused. My hand hesitates above the blank space and my mind wanders off to all sorts of places. Places like the beige apartment where Bob and I were living when that stick turned to a bright blue positive sign and I told Bob we were going to be parents, or the chilly doctors office when we first heard the heartbeat of the child that turned the stick positive, or our big old house when I was crawling around on the carpet in pain and insisting that I didn't think I was in labor while Bob calmly sat on the bed watching me and asking; "If this isn't labor, just what do you think this is?", or the oak tree lined street outside of our house where I first watched Bob strap Henry into the yellow and red bike trailer and head off for an adventure at the park, or the guest room of our house where Bob would bounce and bounce on a big red exercise ball with a fussing Arthur.
Who knew the word could conjure up so many random thoughts while Mike quietly sits beside me and watches the latest episode of "Mad Men"?
In the beginning when I got to the word
I eventually (after staring at the word for quite a while) wrote Bob's name in the blank and then wrote the word "deceased". Ugh! Then I progressed, after much hemming and hawing (oh, and a wedding), to writing "Mike" but only after I had written the word "step" in front of the word
and then in the space available for "Any additional information we might need to know about your child" I would write just a brief summary of my epic. Now, after my usual daydreaming I put "Mike" in the blank and I leave the word
as it is on the paper. But I still state that their dad died and how old they were when it happened in the additional info spot.
Jeez, do you think I am over thinking this paperwork thing just a bit?! I bet most people don't take as long as I do to fill out the annual school paperwork. You would think I would dread it. But I don't. I still look forward to it and sit down gleefully. But then, every year, it happens, as if out of the blue.
I guess I'm a little slow.
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010
So many people don't understand.
They don't understand why Mike wants to put up with all of this "widow crap". Why would he want to speak on this topic? Why would either of us? Don't we want to leave it behind? Move on? When will we be done with this already?!?! Why would we even attend Camp Widow, can't we think of better ways to spend time in San Diego with no children?
The summation is that people just don't understand, people who have not lived through the untimely death of a spouse that is.
Following are a few excerpts from comments we received from widowed folks who attended our workshop entitled "Plan B; Remarriage after Widowhood"
"You send an incredible message of hope and that's what this is all about."
"I especially appreciate the openness and candor you and Mike have! Sometimes I felt like I was laughing a little too loudly!"
"The relationship that you and Mike have gives me hope that my Plan B is out there too. :) You are both such an inspiration to me!"
And that is why we do this. If we can give just one person hope that there is happiness and contentment and humor out there after such an incredible loss it is worth it.
After Bob died I remember people saying to me; "You are living my worst nightmare". Well, I was living mine too, thank you very much. But Mike and I "put up with all of this widow crap" because we want folks to know that after you wake from the nightmare, dreams still can come true.
And besides, widows rock! Just ask Mike!
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Thursday, July 29, 2010
I have been a bit of an emotional wreck the last few weeks. Mike will certainly back me up on this statement.
Not sure what it is about.
Could be the final steps of the book publishing have not been going smoothly and I am being constantly reminded of my ineptness when it comes to all things technological.
Could be Henry's birthday on the 23rd and Bob and my wedding anniversary coming up on the 10th (would have been #14). These milestones can still throw me into a bit of a grieving relapse, momentarily throwing me back to square one. Thank goodness that after six years square one doesn't last too long.
Could be the presentation that Mike and I are doing next week in San Diego. Putting together a power point on the unique struggles of remarriage post widowhood has my mind going in all different directions. Plus, as noted before, technology and I are not exactly friends. (do you think the group would be OK with a facilitated discussion? Maybe there will be lots of questions....)
Could be the summer and all the kids being home and the level of chaos in the house not being very conducive to any focused work getting done. Not to mention they keep needing to eat and have clean clothes and get to track meets......
Could be the angst that has been involved in planning our "family" trip this summer to Yellowstone and the Tetons. The teenage girls don't seem to find it the trip of their dreams as we and the boys do and are opting out this year.
Could be the recent email and Facebook postings from two close friends of Bob and mine from our Portland days. One family shared pictures of their trip to the Galapagos Islands and the other family is on practically the exact same vacation we are taking next month only all their children are with them and seemingly having a grand time.
Considering my emotional response to the last "could be" I am thinking this might be the straw that is breaking this camel's back. When I received the picture album from the Galapagos and saw the front picture of the three of them with their arms around each other smiling I was unable to open the rest of the album, seriously. And don't get me started on the Facebook postings from our friends in Wyoming. Throwing the computer across the room came to mind.
Regret has come running out of nowhere and kicked me in the stomach. Ouch!
That was supposed to be us, Bob and me and our little family, happily travelling the world smiling out at cameras from exotic ports. Or headed off on camping excursions to wild and wooded places with our children wide eyed and communicative in the back seat. I never imagined having a child who didn't like to hike or camp or worse yet, not travel at all.
I never imagined so much of what has come to pass.
Now, would any of these imagined joyous trips happened if Bob were still alive? Some most likely, but not all. I am sure behind the smiles toward the camera we would of had our share of grumbling and slouching and arguments about electronic device use. Bob and I would have had budget troubles and gotten annoyed at each other because we were lost and didn't have enough food with us, the kids might have whined to be carried along the trail or worse, just wanted to go back to the hotel and watch TV.
Bob and I never had the chance to be disappointed by a family vacation or the fact that Arthur complains if we walk the dog for more than a block. We never had to decide on rules regarding electronics or whether or not the child has to go on the vacation because it is a family vacation gosh darn it! We never had much of a chance to find out what our family vacations would have looked like. I just know I never imagined them to be involving a six year old with ear buds connected to an iPod hanging out of their ears, or children who didn't like to camp (which I can at least wrap my head around)or travel at all (which I can't understand in the least)or me learning how to play Monopoly on an iTouch and thinking this could be a brilliant way to make it across South Dakota and still have some sanity left. (hey, it beats having one of the kids repeating "I'm Babba Wawa and I'm weally weird" all the way across the state--I really did that by the way, when I was about 10. My poor parents and brother. I am sure if an ITouch would have been available back then they would have happily had me stare at that thing for a while)
All this emotion I am feeling, this regret, it's OK. Regret is sorrow over something you can't change, it's part of life. Sometimes your kids don't turn out how you imagined or your job or your vacation or your life. It doesn't mean it is bad, just different than you imagined. It means you're still living!
As my Italian teacher once said; "You just must accept".
Easier said than done I'm afraid.
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Monday, July 5, 2010
"You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine."Wallace Stegner
Crossing to Safety
I recently reread this book. I first read Crossing to Safety about 13 years ago when Bob and I were living in Portland, OR. We were young, newly married, child and house free, and enjoying a carefree life in the green and lush Pacific Northwest. Back then I was enamored with the friendship described between the two couples. The friendship begins in the late 1930's when they are all in their 20's and beginning their careers and families. The reader is taken through 40 years of the foursome's joys and struggles as they live their lives amid the backdrop of a great depression, a world war, an economic boom, and social/societal upheaval.
I saw ourselves and our friends in these couples.I would imagine Bob and I 40 years in the future hanging out with our friends that we were close to at the time. Our kids would be grown and we could reminisce, with plenty of side splitting laughter, about child rearing. We would look back on fruitful careers, our travels, and other shared experiences.
Ah, it would be so lovely.
And even though the couples in the story have many obstacles they overcome it never occurred to me during that first read how it might feel to be living those obstacles. I just romanticised the ending, the looking back on all the accomplishments and relishing that we are still together after all these years.
I assumed we would all still be together and happy. That was the plan.
But as Stegner so aptly tells us: you can plan all you want to.
Reading the book this time around I see it through different eyes. Instead of eyes filled with beginnings and optimism, I see the story through eyes filled with new beginnings and reality. It might sound dreadful but it's not. Reality does not negate optimism, it just humbles it a bit.
On the last page Stegner writes: "If we could have foreseen the future during those good days in Madison where all this began, we might not have had the nerve to venture into it."
In my 20s if someone had told me that when I was 35 and pregnant my husband would get cancer and I would be widowed a year later with two small boys to raise I think I would have kindly said no thank you. Who would sign up for that? That sounds like an awful plan. I doubt these hardships are never part of any ones plan.
Thank goodness we don't know the future in advance. Would knowing change our choices? I could have missed out on 10 fabulous years with Bob. (OK, 9 fabulous ones and one kind of sucky one) Or I might have chosen not to have Henry and Arthur. (and what would the aunts be doing then?!)
So, would anyone like to guess what might happen in the next 13 years? I'm sure I don't know. But I am still making plans, even though I have been that slug dissolving into foam, I am still optimistic enough to plan, to venture into the unknown.
What else is there?
Thanks for checking in-
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Who out there loves Safety Town? We did!
In case you don't know, Safety Town is a program for four-year-olds that teaches them about safety. i.e. crossing the street, bike safety, what to do for a fire or if you are lost, etc. They get to meet Policemen and sit in their cars and all sorts of cool stuff. I think it is a national program but I am not sure.
Arthur absolutely loved it. He still talks about it when we drive by the playground where it was held. Every summer when he sees the familiar orange cones set up on the blacktop he, rather wistfully, asks me if he gets to go back to Safety Town.
"Nope," I tell him, "you are all safe now." (how I wish that were true, right? If Safety Town was truly all you needed to get your kids through to 18)
This year as we drove by and saw the little ones trooping around on their bikes with their helmets and the tiny stop and yield signs Henry wondered aloud why he didn't remember Safety Town.
"Because you never went," I told him.
"Why not," he asked. "Didn't you want me to be safe?"
"Well, you were four the summer after your daddy died, we didn't do much of anything that summer, sorry sweetie," I responded simply.
Flashing back to that summer I suddenly felt heavy and sluggish remembering the effort it had taken me to get food on the table or take the boys out the door for the simplest trip down the street to the park. I thought that was the only answer that was necessary, it explained everything.
"I remember we went to the zoo that summer and there was a HUGE thunderstorm and when we got home there was a branch from our tree in our yard and you didn't know what you were going to do but by the next morning our neighbor had cut it up and taken it away and it was all cleaned up," Henry told me.
"Oh yea, I remember that storm, that was crazy. That was so nice of Franz to clean that up for us."
"And I remember we drove a long way to a farm, I think it is my Aunts farm or something, and there were lamps that looked like elephants and lots of other boys and your brother took me to a place with rides and we kayaked on a pond and there was a shower outside."
"Yup, that was a fun trip."
"And I remember Grandma and Grandpa being at the house sometimes and Grandpa read me "The Kings Stilts" and he did that sack of potato thing you do with Arthur sometimes when I got out of the tub."
"Yea, Grandma and Grandpa visited a lot that summer to help. We have that picture on the wall of Grandpa reading you "The King's Stilts" that summer."
"We did a lot that summer," Henry continued from the backseat. "We probably didn't have time for Safety Town."
Does Henry need to know that I cried the night the tree fell in our yard because that one branch felt like an insurmountable obstacle as I stood in the kitchen opening instant oatmeal packets for dinner with tears streaming down my face? Does he need to know that my brother flew in to town early to drive with us up to the farm because without him with us I don't know if I would have had the courage to drive the seven hours to the farm on our own? Does Henry need to know that Grandma and Grandpa were visiting so often helping me survive and get the house in order to sell because I couldn't handle the house without his dad? Does he need to know that I wasn't even aware that Safety Town existed because I was too busy trying to remain upright and simply make it through the day?
I don't think so. All Henry needs to know is that we went places that summer, we had fun experiences, our neighbors were thoughtful and our family nurtured us.
Henry might not have been able to attend Safety Town when he was four, but he learned a lot about safety that summer. He knows that in the worst of circumstances he was kept safe and loved by his own little safety town made up of neighbors, friends and family. That has to be better than little stop signs and cop cars......no one tell Arthur.
Thanks for checking in-
Friday, June 18, 2010
Mike took my boys camping for a night last weekend. It is too long and boring of a story to explain how that came to pass, but it did. You would think there would have been great rejoicing on my end for a night to myself, to be alone in the house for 24hours, something that has not happened since Mike and I met.
The first couple hours I spent feeling guilty. (darn Catholic upbringing) And then I moved on to feeling like I was missing out on some great experience or memory that might be forming out in the wilderness that night.
The second concern doesn't bother me so much. I miss out on many experiences they have at school and when they are with their aunts, so I got over that one rather quickly. It is the guilt that pisses me off.
When Henry was a baby and I would talk about going to book group, a night out with the girls, or a movie I had seen there was always a coworker who would say; "Wow, so Bob babysat the baby?"
"No, Bob did not 'babysit' the baby, he parented his son," was my usual reply.
I don't have that same feeling with Mike and the boys. I always feel he is doing me some huge favor if he stays home with the boys while I go to book group or go out for wine with a girlfriend. I don't feel he is parenting as much as he is staying home with my boys.
If it were Bob that took the boys camping would I have felt the same guilt? I don't think so. I think I still might have had a twinge of sadness that I was missing out on something, because I do like to camp, but I would have felt like it was some daddy/son time, a little male bonding in the woods. Instead I felt gratitude that Mike was willing to take them.
This feeling of gratitude is something I struggle with, the nagging feeling that I should be so thankful that Mike is willing to spend time with my kids, like I owe him a big favor in return. There is a sense of imbalance to it. With Bob I never felt the imbalance. I was grateful to have Bob and thankful he was such an awesome dad but there was no feeling like he was doing me a favor that I needed to repay, he was simply being a dad, being a co-parent.
With Bob I felt the responsibility of parenting as a 50/50 endeavor. With Mike I feel I have 100% of the responsibility and I should feel grateful when he can help me out. This is no fault of Mikes, I take much of the blame for this set up really. Frankly, I don't always want to ask Mike's opinion on parenting issues, I want the bottom line with my boys.
Certainly, if Bob had lived we would not see eye to eye on every decision and I would not have had the bottom line or gotten everything I wanted. When he was dying I spent most of my grieving efforts freaking out about parenting alone, feeling all that burden. But after he died I realized the privilege of making all the decisions on my own. It is a blessing and a curse. One of the benefits of being widowed versus being divorced.
Is this fair? Is it the best thing for everyone? We lost so much, is it wrong to try and hold on to a little bit of control, even though we all know control is an illusion? Does having the bottom line come at a cost to me, to the boys, to Mike? It is exhausting I know that.
Will I ever feel like I am co-parenting with Mike?
I don't know, I hope so, but I also don't hope so. Yikes, does the grieving work ever end?
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Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Bob agreed to be the "water parent". You know, the one who goes in the water with the child when you are camping or at the beach and the one who takes the child to their first swimming lessons before they can go by themselves.
In exchange I agreed to be the "zoo" parent. Neither of us were/are zoo fans but I thought it was a good trade since the zoo did not require me to get wet and cold.
As it turned out the Aunts liked taking Henry to the zoo, and later both boys, so I never really kept up my end of the bargain.
Pay back's a bitch!
The memories of Henry at his first swim lessons still haunt me. They were held the months before Bob died. Bob had a PIC line in for his latest treatment so he couldn't be immersed in water or I swear I would have still made him hold up our agreement, weakened condition and all. I even signed little three year old Henry up for classes that didn't require a parent in the water with the child figuring he was bold in the water and an independent sort, he would be fine.
The sounds of his screaming ricocheted off the concrete walls of the pool and slammed Bob and I in the face as the two of us stoically stood behind the glass in the waiting area. You might have thought the instructor was setting his feet in hot lava as opposed to the lukewarm chlorine laden pool. It was almost horrific. I knew the entire pool area was staring at the three of us and the poor instructor but that didn't really register at the time. I could only hear Henry's cries and feel my pounding heart.
I was steadfast and we tried again the next week. By the third week I began to come to terms with the situation. Not my fate, but at least the fact that the other parents were wasting their money. Their children would never learn to swim with all the drama going on. So I moved Henry to the class WITH the parents and I got in that lukewarm pool, chlorine and urine and all, and I sang that silly "Wheels on the Bus" song, but I wasn't happy about it.
Nor was I happy when I had to get in the frigid water of the pool at my parent's apartment the second summer after Bob died, having successfully avoided any need to submerge myself in water the summer before by forcing the boys to be happy with the "hang out by the shoreline and dig in the sand" parent. We were lucky to even get out of the house and make it to an area of nature that had water that first summer.
Well, now the boys can both swim on their own, I have passed that hurtle, and I can resume my "sit on the beach and read" parent status but, alas, these energetic boys of mine have different ideas, they still want a "water parent". Truth be told I was hardly ever a "water parent", I was more of a "walk around on my tip toes and try not to get my shoulders and hair wet" parent.
I see dads throwing their kids high in the air and I watch these children laugh gleefully as they hurtle through the air and splash into the water. I see other parents out in the water tossing Frisbee's and footballs and frolicking. I have twinges of guilt and think to myself that I should really just suck it up, get out there and be a gosh darn "water parent".
Recently, while camping, Henry raced up to Mike and I, dripping lake water and smelling like sunscreen, his eyes bright with hope, his voice high with excitement.
"Will you come in the water and throw us up in the air?"
We both quickly looked pleadingly to Mike, the dad person, who never agreed to be the "water parent" and has no interest in it either. He will usually go out there for a bit because he is a good guy but I truly wish I could say; "Absolutely, I would love to come out and play in the water with you guys." I actually wish I was already out there and they wouldn't have to ask. But there is this voice in my head that won't leave, it is quieter than it used to be but it is still there. It says..."I didn't agree to this, I never wanted to be the "water parent", your dad agreed to be the "water parent".....NO!"
Come on, I have figured out how to make Bob's pizza, his pancakes, put the bike rack on the car and go camping without him, isn't that enough? Do I have to be a "water parent" too?
I have no memories of my parents ever being "water parents" and I seem to be fine. In fact, the one memory I do have of my father ever being in the water involves a father/daughter race on the Fourth of July that he lost a half link lead I gave him. (I know you did your best dad, I harbor no grudge)
I am the "bike riding" parent, the "tennis playing" parent, the "knowing when the books are due at the library" parent, the "making lunches" parent, the "library volunteer" parent, the "take them to the dentist" parent, the "card playing" parent, the "popcorn popping" parent, the "baking" parent, the "good smelling bath" parent,the "remember when you have a math test" parent, the "book reading" parent, the "travel" parent, the "dinner's on the table" parent, the "board game playing" parent, the "make the beds" parent.
I am so many things, I am THE parent. Do I HAVE to be the "water parent" too? Really?
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Friday, June 4, 2010
I was talking to my mom recently and she asked me the ever present question these days.......what is happening with the book? Actually, many people have stopped asking me due to boredom or fear that I have abandoned the project and they don't want me to feel like I have to explain.
Fear not! The book is "in production". Whatever that means. The publisher is currently working on the "cover copy polish". Whatever that means. And I hope to have a book by the end of the summer.
Of course, I thought I would have a book by the end of spring. Not to mention the fact that I originally "took a year off" to write a book and we are careening up to the three year mark as I write.
I am learning patience my dad says. I don't think I am learning it as well as my husband is learning it that is for sure!
I could compare this entire book writing process to having a baby. Sometimes it takes longer than you think, it can be painful, it can be amazing, there is a lot of sacrifice, it is a miracle, it is scary, lots of it is out of your control, you don't know how it will all turn out in the end, and it helps to have a good partner.
When I was pregnant with Henry and I would wonder how on earth this being in my belly was supposed to emerge from my body I used to look at all the people around me, whether I was in a coffee shop or sitting at a traffic light, and I would think to myself; "Well, every single person on this earth was birthed somehow, so it must be possible."
I now find myself doing the same thing with books. I look at all the books on our bookshelves at home or at the book store and I think; "Well, somehow these were written and published so it must be possible."
At least I can drink wine this time around!
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Henry arrived back in Omaha with his Aunt Kathy, his blue eyes wide, giving us the Henry Stare when I opened the door and found them standing stiffly in the hallway. My nine month pregnant belly blocked the doorway and I was still wearing the latex gloves and yellow mask needed for the dressing change I had just performed on Bob’s central line. Bob cautiously stood up from the chair, careful not to get lightheaded from the effort, pulled his shoulders back, and raised his bony face toward his son.
Henry, standing in that dimly lit hallway, looked older than his three years. His eyes were weighted by all the thoughts swirling in his head, his body guarded, ready for the next blow. Henry looked at us as if we were apparitions. It had only been three weeks but a lifetime had passed since we last saw each other. We were surely different people now.
How could we come back together from these different lives we had been living and resume our life as a family? Were we still speaking the same language?
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I find washing another person's hair one of the most physically nurturing things you can do for a person. A foot or hand massage comes in a close second.
Every Monday I "watch" my mother-in-law. She is 86 and has memory loss, bad eyesight, pain in her knees, and poor hearing. She lives by herself next door to two of her daughters. I like to think of it as the Milwaukee Wellenstein compound.
One of the activities we do together is a bath. (well, we don't do it TOGETHER....)I fill the tub for her and make sure she gets in safely and put in some good smelling essential oils or bath salts her daughter mixes up. Once situated she lays back, closes her eyes, and groans in utter relaxation.
"That smells great," I heard her say yesterday as I walked down the hallway. I smiled because I think aroma is so important and it was very satisfying to hear her appreciate the bath salts.
After she lingers in the tub a while I get to wash her hair. It can be a tricky task because I seem to have difficulty regulating the temperature of the water that comes out of the hand held shower;
"That's too hot.....now that's too cold!" she yells (because her hearing aide is out) at me as I try to rinse the soap out without scalding her scalp.
Even with the water temperature challenge I love to wash her hair. I give her a nice scalp massage and she moans in gratitude. But that is not why I love it. Something about washing her hair makes me feel so close to Bob. I can't explain why the action of washing Bobs mom's hair makes me think of Bob every time, but it does.
I miss washing the boys hair for them now that they shower and do it on their own. I hear some parents complain about bath time but it is one thing I really miss with the boys growing up.(It just might be the only thing I miss!) As long as we weren't rushed I enjoyed the frolicking and splashing and the smell of lavender and orange wafting up from the water. I loved rubbing their little heads, soaping up their hair and watching the bubbles run down their back as I rinsed them off.
Occasionally these days Arthur will ask me to come in and wash his feet. I sing a silly song and tickle him when I lather up the toes and he loves it. But neither of them ever ask me to wash their hair anymore.
But I get to do their grandma's hair, and I find it even more satisfying. I think it has to do with the fact that I can no longer nurture her son. While I did massage Bob's feet with peppermint oil right up until the end, I never washed his hair, and I will never have the chance to now since we aren't growing old together as planned.
My sisters-in-law act like I am doing them a big favor even though I am not spending time with my mother-in-law simply out of the kindness of my heart, they do pay me for my time. No one tell them but I think it is they who are doing me the favor,and I don't mean financially. I am the one who is receiving the biggest rewards from the situation. I get to do a little pampering for the person who was literally connected to Bob for nine months. Maybe that is why I feel such a connection to Bob when I wash her hair.
Every week I get to nurture the woman who nurtured the father of my children, I think that is pretty special.
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Friday, May 14, 2010
Mike and I wrote a proposal to do a presentation at Camp Widow hosted by the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation. (www.sslf.org)
It was accepted!
The camp is August 6-8, 2010 in San Diego and our topic is remarriage after widowhood. We are calling it "Plan B", the same as my new blog for milwaukeemoms.com
We are excited about the opportunity to share our story and inspire others in similar situations.
There are lots of other very cool topics that will be addressed during the weekend and good old fashioned camaraderie. If anyone knows of anyone who might benefit please send them to the website and have them check it out. www.sslf.org
Thanks for checking in-
Friday, May 7, 2010
I am working on perspective with Henry.
He has none.
If he forgets his lunchbox at school (which he has done exactly one time) he storms around the house throwing things and yelling about how stupid he is and that he does not deserve to be in the third grade. If he forgets his library books (which he has done exactly one time)he, once again, beats himself up, crying about how embarrassing it was and it was “all his fault” that his class didn’t get any cookies because he was the ONLY one to forget his library books. One time he forgot to do his math homework (one time) and the whole house had to hear about how much he hates to forget his homework and how stupid he is and now his teacher was going to SAY something to him.
Come on. You would think I punish him with a branding iron if ever forgets anything. When in actuality I go the other way, trying to explain to him that these events are not that big a deal in the grand scheme of life. It is only third grade and it was only one time. Much worse things could happen; we could be living in Haiti and have no place to live or running water, we could be living in America and have no house and no running water, our house could burn down, your dad could be dead.
Wait, that one really happened. Oh dear.
Therein lies the problem for me. I believe Henry should have some built in perspective meter due to the fact that he has survived much worse. Forgotten library books and lunchboxes seem rather trivial compared to your dad dying. Am I right? Really, if Bob’s death has taught us anything let it be not to sweat the small stuff.
Enjoy the small stuff, but don’t sweat it.
But apparently that is not the way it works, at least not for Henry. Maybe the opposite has happened. He knows that bad stuff does happen, and for no apparent reason. So why not freak out about small stuff like forgotten homework or library books? Next thing you know your dad might be dead. Life is a precarious event.
But that is not the lesson I want to be taken away from Bob dying. I want the lesson to be that we should be grateful for what we have and enjoy people while they are here and that your lunchbox is not that big of a deal. There is always a paper bag.
I know I have lost some of the clarity that comes with being so close to tragedy. I have blogged about it before, that feeling of being stripped of everything but the most basic necessities, and the clear knowledge that nothing matters but love, affection, nourishment, and safety.
Over the last six years the layers have built up again and I find myself getting agitated about being late to swim lessons or to a dinner date with friends, pretty small stuff in the grand scheme of things. If I want Henry to gain some perspective I need to gain it back myself. I don’t want to be living another tragedy, but I long for that stripped down feeling that made it so easy to know what was important and what wasn’t. Where can I find that and how can I teach that to my children, without someone having to die that is?
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Friday, April 30, 2010
I was on a local morning talk show April 29, 2010 regarding another blog I do for MilwaukeeMoms.com. The theme of the blog is parenting without the intended partner. "Plan B" I named it.
Below is a link if you are interested in viewing the six minute clip. The clip will be available for 60 days. I hope to offer understanding and insight into relationships post widowhood.
I apologize to those of you who have already seen this clip but I wanted to make sure I had hit all cyberspace avenues.
(copy and paste into your browser window)
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Yes, you are seeing correctly. Henry is walking our new puppy!!!
Meet Zeus, the newest addition to the McHoganStein clan. He is a lab/shar pei mix, they think, and is about 10 weeks old. He was found on the side of the road so it’s all just guess work.
I know, I know, I never wanted a dog. I never wanted kids either and now look at me, I ‘m responsible for five! Yikes! I know, I know, like I need any more responsibility, right?
I blame it all on Bob.
Bob always wanted a dog growing up but his parents both grew up on farms and believed that dogs were outside animals, not inside pets.
“Henry is going to have a dog,” Bob would say after Henry was born.
I thought that would be fine. I could keep my “I don’t do dogs” attitude and Bob could get his dog (for Henry) and any time the dog needed anything I could say; “You wanted it, it’s YOUR dog.”
Well, then Bob had to go and die on me and ruin my plans. You see, secretly I had begun to agree with him, I thought Henry should have a dog; he just seems like a kid who should have a dog. I started to believe that a child should have a dog growing up. What is childhood without a dog?
Now, I never had a dog growing up and I turned out OK. (Stop the snickering) I never felt deprived either. I did have a ferret but that is a story for another blog. But I just couldn’t shake my growing desire to have a dog in the house.
When I met Mike I assumed he would want a dog since he had one before. I was so happy I could continue with my master plan. But alas, Mike did not really want another dog and my plan was thwarted. If we were going to get a dog it was going to have to be my idea and my responsibility.
Well, I have been warming myself up to this dog thing for a long time. I even went so far as to check out some websites and talk to people about the idea. Then on Sat. we were going to the pet store to price a gerbil for the boys and on the way out the door Mike asked if we should ‘swing by the Humane Society and check out this puppy he saw on their site that morning’.
I won’t bore you with the details but we came home with a puppy, not a gerbil.
I think both Mike and I can take credit for this additional chaos in our lives, and we will both take responsibility, which is probably a better idea than my master plan. And it has been very fun watching the kids with the dog. Mike’s oldest, Aubrey, 16, even came home right after school yesterday. Now that is big!
Maybe we should thank Bob for all this dog craziness.
Check back with me in about a month when all the excitement has worn off and “dog patrol” becomes just another chore that I have to nag the kids about doing. For now I will enjoy the picture I have before me; a boy and his dog.
Thanks Bob, I couldn't have done it without you.
Thanks for checking in-
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I just returned from the doctor with Arthur. It happened again.
"Dad's name?" The young assistant asked me innocently after taking Arthur's temperature and listening to his heart.
I just looked at her for a good 3o seconds. I am sure she thought I had some kind of hearing problem or was just dim witted. It isn't that hard of a question I realize. They just want a name. It's not rocket science. Just give the nice lady a name.
"Um, he's dead.......," I finally answered. "....but he has a name," I continued as if she were now the one who was dim witted.
I explained to this patient gal that I never was sure how to answer this question since I was remarried and my live husband carried the health insurance. So, did they want his name and did any of this information I was rattling on about even matter to her anyway? Too much information, stop talking I told myself, just stop talking.
"Well, we need it for a medical history.....," she told me hesitantly.
"OK, Bob, his name was Bob."
" 4/2/62.....no wait, that's Mike's year....'64, yea 4/2/64"
She waited a minute to make sure I was sure before putting it in the computer.
"Any health issues?"
"Um, he died, I would say that is a health problem," I laughed.
She chuckled, hesitantly. I don't think she thought I was dim witted anymore, she thought I was a nut job.
"Cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma." I tried to get serious.
She typed the information in, closed her laptop, thanked me, told us the doctor would be right in and walked out the door.
Arthur looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, gave one of his half smiles, and went back to his book.
I know we aren't the only one's with a dead dad. There are so many family configurations, I am sure there have to be many with an unknown dad or an absentee dad. Or what about the adopted dad, does his medical information matter? It seems like such a loaded question these days they should send a social worker in to ask the question and not a 22 year old medical technician.
But I am not going to worry about all that today. I am not worried about what information the doctors office needs for their records or how they obtain it. What I am going to concentrate on is how good I was feeling this morning as Arthur and I waited for the doctor to appear in the room. I found the exchange between the med tech and myself to be humorous, another funny story. When I told her non-Hodgkin's lymphoma I didn't tear up and the words didn't stick in my throat, it was just information, a fact of life. And when I mixed up Bob's birth date with Mike's? That was funny too, I think it is a good sign, a sign that the two men seem equal somehow.
It may be a lot to take away from a short interaction and a few simple questions. But what it all says to me is that I might just be in that spot that I have been working so hard and so long for, acceptance.
It is what it is, no apologies, no excuses, no regrets.
At least for today.
Thanks for checking in-
Monday, April 12, 2010
Sometimes things work out better than you hoped.
I love that!
We celebrate Bob's birthday every year with pizza (a dish he was famous for making, with yeast and everything), a favorite dessert of his (varies from year to year), Sprecher soda (a local favorite) and balloons that we let off into the universe.
I am a person who believes in ritual and I feel it is important to continue to celebrate the day Bob was born. Even though Bob is no longer here to celebrate his birthday with us it is certainly still a day worth celebrating.
The first pizza and balloon party Henry and Arthur were just one and four and I had to drag the KitchenAid from the way back of the shelf, dust it off, and weed through all of Bob's cook books to find the correct crust recipe. Each year the boys have enjoyed the balloon tradition but it has grown in meaning. The first year Arthur just wanted to suck on the balloon and this year he picked out his own rainbow design. Last year I succumbed to store bought crust after three years of struggling to perfect Bob's crust. This year we had dough from a specialty shop that we still got to roll out and toss up in the air.
So things are evolving, but the heart of the event remains the same.
This year I was awoken on the day of the party to the tears of Arthur and a piece of paper being thrust in my face. He and Henry were writing notes to their daddy to attach to the balloons and Henry had told him his was "dumb". Arthur's note, written all by himself, said;
I lov you. Do you lov me. Lov, Arthur
Henry thought it was dumb because "obviously Daddy loves him", and there is an "e" on the end of love.
I thought it was the most precious thing I had ever read in my life.
Henry's note was much more Henry like; Are you happy in Heaven? I am doing good here. It has been hard and sad without you. Could you send me a note please? I hope you have the best birthday ever. Signed, Henry
Once I recovered from the emotions the letters brought up (it was way too early and I hadn't had my chai yet) we all went downstairs to make the cherry bars we were bringing for dessert. Once those were out of the oven we were off to pick out the balloons and then head to the aunts where we started making the pizzas. We all laughed when Henry threw that crust in the air as if he were in some kind of disc throwing competition, flour flying all over the kitchen and coming to rest on his eyelashes.
After the pizza was devoured we sent the balloons off with a "happy birthday, Bob" toast. Arthur's balloon with his note tied to it went sailing over the trees and into the universe. Henry's got stuck in the tree in the front yard and we all watched while the balloon valiantly attempted to free itself and sail off. Mike eventually got some long stick thing from the basement and hung over the porch railing trying to free that darn thing.
He was only successful in scaring us all, especially Henry who decided he didn't want to be sending balloons off for Mike on his next birthday. Stuck balloon or not it was a wonderful party all the same.
Last night I was thinking about what a great afternoon we had. I was so proud of the boys for writing those notes all on their own (although Henry could have been a bit nicer and they could have waited a little longer to show them to me)and remembering Henry tossing the crust in the air made me smile. The birthday ritual has turned out better than I had hoped when I started it five years ago.
Each year the boys understand a little more about the significance of the event and the note writing gives me a little window into how they are feeling about their dads absence. What do they believe? How are they feeling? Does Henry really think his dad can write him a note? Does Arthur truly doubt his dad loved him?
The answer to that last question is so obvious to me. It was so obvious when I saw Bob holding Arthur and bouncing with him on the big exercise ball to try to get him to sleep when he was first born. I saw how hard Bob tried to stay alive so he could be there for both the boys as they grew up. I remember Bob smiling at Arthur and holding his little thumbs and saying softly to him; "I love you little guy."
But Arthur doesn't remember those things. Henry has some memories of things he did with his daddy; going down the "roller slide" at the park, going on bike rides to the lake, talking about what his dreams might be as he went to sleep, making pizza with him. Henry has concrete proof his dad loved him, but Arthur doesn't.
So the birthday ritual is turning out even better than I hoped. It gives me and the boys and Bob's family an opportunity to celebrate the fact that Bob was born. And we get to celebrate with many of Bob's favorite things that he enjoyed here on earth.
Two of those things, the most important things, being his boys. I will be sure to remind Arthur of that more often this year.
Thanks for checking in-
Monday, March 29, 2010
Well, another two chai day has arrived.
For those that might not understand that statement.......
The day that Bob died was established a "two chai day" by my friend, Mark, who was one of my support people with me those last days. I am oddly structure about weird things at times and I only allow myself one chai latte per day. But at seven in the morning when you are sitting around your dining room table with all your support people in the grey morning light and awkward silence and you have already been up for hours and you are waiting for the undertakers to arrive and your three year old is asking you way too many questions about his daddy who is still lying in the living room and your five month old starts making noise to be nursed and you are holding your coffee mug so tightly that your knuckles are turning white while you stare at the last remaining foam at the bottom of the mug thinking that you will probably never have another chai again since your now dead husband always made it for you and maybe if you stare at the foam long enough some of it might somehow burst into just one more sip of the delicious, spicy, warm, drink that makes you think of Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie and being cared for and nurtured.
And then a friend reaches out his hand and gently takes that mug from your clutches and as you look at him dubiously he says;
"Irene, I think it's a two chai day."
And why not? Why can't you have a second chai that day? No reason in the world.
I have declared every March 29th to be a two chai day. There have been other two chai days on occasion as well, days when I just needed a little bit of extra comfort, a little Thanksgiving.
I realized I was out of chai last night too late to get to the store. But have no fear, my sainted live husband picked some up early this morning and made me a perfectly frothed deliciously spiced chai. It was pure love and comfort that I could never have imagined would be mine six years ago.
Life is unpredictable, and it can be rough at times, and sometimes you just have to allow yourself to have a two chai day.
Thanks for checking in-
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I don't like March.
It has never been my favorite month. March has always seemed so long to me, longer than any other month somehow. The weeks stretch out with no holiday weekends. And by March I am soooo ready for winter to be over, but spring is nowhere close to arriving here in the Midwest.
The only time I have found March palatable was when Bob and I were living in Portland. In Portland March had the white petals of the dogwood trees, the pink blooms of the azalea bushes, the rich reds of the tulips, some yellow from late blooming daffodils, delicate purples of the early iris', plus the varied greens from all the ferns unfolding from the damp earth. In Portland March was an array of colors. Then we moved back to Milwaukee and March became brown and grey once again.
To make matters worse Bob was diagnosed in March, and then he died the next March, making March even more bleak.
Now it is March again. Another mourning march. I can recall so vividly the events happening exactly six years ago on this date. Last night was the night that I called my sister, Anne, the one who was going to come "when things got bad". I had my last lucid conversation with Bob that same night, just before I made the phone call. I was apologizing to him for following him around the house like a toddler. I tried to explain how worried I was that something would happen to him and I wasn't going to be able to handle it.
"Don't worry, Renie, you will," he told me.
Bob spoke so clearly, with that calm, thoughtful tone of his. He looked me straight in the eyes when he said it and I knew he was talking about more than just the next few days.
Well, it's six years later, and here we are, another March, alive and well. I severly doubted his wisdom at times, but Bob was right, as he usually was, I handled everything, just barely sometimes, but I handled it.
No worries. (HA! Well, I am glad he had none anyway)
It takes a whole lot of patience and confidence that there will, indeed, be new life coming out of that kind of darkness. I am thankful for the confidence Bob had in me, and I am thankful Bob died in March, when all the new life forcing it's way out of the cold dark earth is a reminder of the resilience and the undaunted possibility of the human spirit.
Thanks for checking in-
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Bob obviously did not find the story so funny. His blue eyes darkened with worry. I sat down on the couch primly, hands carefully placed on my knees, waiting for him to reveal himself.
“You know Renie, I might not even be able to go to Nebraska. If my blood counts aren’t good or if the radiation doesn’t work,” he trailed off, reaching for his latte. It had to be cold by now.
I appreciated his concern. It was not easy to be at the mercy of tumors, blood counts, and doctors opinions. Now tickets were being purchased, calendars were being changed, apartments were being rented, all this planning because of Bob. What if it didn’t happen? What if we couldn’t go? What if the tumor didn’t go away?
“Well,” I spoke curtly, “The McGoldrick’s are mobilizing, Bob. You can’t stop them. This is their chance to help, to get involved. So we are going to Nebraska, whether or not you are getting a stem cell transplant, we are going to Nebraska.”
I stood up and walked out of the room, without even a glance behind me.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
My friends have two boys of their own and all four boys were busy watching some Olympic ski jump competition on the TV. Visions of rigging up a jump of their own in the backyard were racing through their little boy minds no doubt.
While enjoying the relative peace and quiet and good conversation with completed sentences and everything the all too common topic came up of "How does Mike do it?"
How does he live in the shadow of the sainted dead husband?
"I couldn't do it," said my friend. "It's gotta be tough."
I am not picking on this particular friend, I have heard this sentiment many a time from all different people. Mike's friends (some of whom suggested he not even date a widow to begin with), my friends, my family (some of whom suggested I not mention Bob's name in front of Mike), neighbors, coworkers......the list goes on. Everyone seems to believe that Mike deserves some kind of medal for putting up with the likes of me. A widow who remembers her late husband fondly, misses him and believes that he should still be a presence in his sons lives even though (especially because) he is not here live and in person. I never seem to get an equal amount of recognition for putting up with my particular situation, maybe because the phrase sainted ex-wife is not sweeping the nation.
But I am not bitter.
Let me state for the record that I think Mike is am amazing man. He is my greatest fan and supporter, has a great sense of self, is very concerned about my happiness,is great with my boys, and has a wonderful sense of humor about the whole sainted dead spouse thing. One of my favorite examples to share is a time we were spending the night at a friend's house. This was a couple that Bob and I were very close to and Mike was meeting for the first time. The topic of where people would sleep came up and the husband said to the wife; "Irene and Bob could sleep in our bed". While I was cringing on the other side of the table Mike leaned over to me and asked; "Where am I going to sleep?"
See, now that is funny! What are you going to do, be upset? It was an honest mistake.
Anyway,the boys and I were driving to the library yesterday when I heard a familiar CSN tune come on the radio.
I can't be with Bob. But I can be with Mike. And I can love him. Not the same way I loved Bob, but not any less, just different. Mike is here....right next to me. (as the song goes)
Maybe it is all just too weird for people not in the situation to understand. It is a conundrum for sure. People try and put themselves in our place and imagine, and maybe you just can't imagine. And both Mike and I seem unable to explain it to people so that they seem to truly understand. We seem to get a lot of odd looks and shaking heads.
Well, I will keep working on the right words. But until then I will continue to love the one I am with as best I can. And, hopefully, the rest will work itself out.
Thanks for checking in-
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Just a quick update regarding my last post. I thank everyone for their advice and support. This parenting stuff is hard work!
Henry will stay where he is for now. His first choice would be for me to home school him but I believe everyone should stick with their strengths and that is NOT mine. Left to our own devices Henry and I would rarely leave the house and would spend the day either reading, baking,sprouting apple trees from seeds, or Googling the latest Greek God Henry was obsessed with. We might take a break for a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood but I am not sure those activities alone would make for a well rounded child.
Anyway, when it came down to it Henry said he would rather be the oldest.
"I am kind of small, you know, Mom," he told me.
I believe Henry will learn because he wants to learn. Bob's greatest concern would have been that Henry live up to his potential as Bob felt he did not. But that concern seems to be universal amongst parents. Luckily, Henry is rather driven at this point so that is not a concern of mine as of right now.
I will keep you posted and until then....in the words of Nancy McGoldrick, and my current mantra;
I am just doing the best I can.
Thanks for checking in-
Saturday, February 13, 2010
I am having an F-you Bob kind of a week.
That's right, pardon my language, but F-you Bob for leaving me here to raise these boys and make all these decisions without you.
Oh, I can ask family and friends and my husband for advice, but in the end the decisions feel 100% mine. All mine. Which is a blessing and a curse really. My intention was never to be making these decisions without Bob.
The road to where is paved with good intentions?!
Anyway......my latest quandary is regarding Henry and his education.Long story short: late summer birthday, decision was made (by me) that he be older rather then younger for his grade, very bright, not very social, in a "bad" class, teacher suggests he test to skip a grade.
What!?!?!? I immediately begin to over analyze, because that is what I do best. I recall a recent conversation about super heroes while I was putting the boys to bed. I asked what they would do with their super power. Henry answered immediately that he would make a classroom just for himself.
"Why? " I asked, preparing myself for some awful story of teasing or bullying.
"So then I could hear the teacher and actually learn something."
Oh dear, that is not what I wanted to hear. I mean, I am glad he wants to learn something........
What should I do? I need help.
What would Bob do?
First of all, he would not over analyze everything, he never over analyzed anything. His favorite words to me were; "Relax, don't worry, it will all work out." Maybe it was the scientist in him but he believed in waiting, collecting more information, not jumping to conclusions. That man had patience!
I, on the other hand, love to jump to conclusions, I hate waiting. Patience is not my strongest quality, it might even be my weakest link, right next to organization. I want a decision made and I want to act on it.
So, what will I do with my latest quandary? I will try to channel Bob and "hear" what he has to tell me, I will feel his patience and understanding of who Henry is and what he needs and I will try to honor that.
I will collect more information, I will wait and see.
I will work on patience.
(and Bob, if you are out there, somewhere in the cosmos, sorry for the swearing. But seriously, if you could send me some of your patience it would be greatly appreciated. It is not as if you need it right now, right?)
Thanks for checking in-
Sunday, January 31, 2010
Our church had their annual "Lessons on Loss" this morning during religious education for the children.
Today the teacher asked Henry's class to write a poem about someone, or something, that they had lost. Henry chose the Haiku. With his permission I am sharing some of these below. I think he was excited at the idea of the poems being "published", although when he heard there was no money involved his enthusiasm did wane a bit.
In the past I have approached this series with some trepidation. Mainly because my kids are the only ones in their class to have lost a parent. Most children talk about a pet, maybe a grandparent, and one child mentioned his dead iPod. I kid you not.
Henry proudly marched up to me in the sanctuary to show me his poems. I happened to be talking to the mom of the dead iPod at the time. As I teared up reading Henry's poems I heard her gently remind her child that some people had experienced much more significant losses. Henry seemed unfazed by the difference between the two boys losses and, in fact, told me the story of how the iPod had died on the way home. (it involved a soda and Mentos)
I can learn so much from the children. While I worry and fret about my poor son having to talk about his dad's death while others talk about lost electronics, my son seems to find sympathy for every one's loss, no matter how small.
My lesson for the day was all loss is significant.
But come on.....an iPod?
Thanks for checking in-
PS- I can't seem to make the computer do a space in between each haiku? So you will just have to pretend it is there. Sorry.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Yesterday at dinner Mike and I were discussing an event that involved our friend, Bob.
"Who?" Henry asked. "Bob? Our dad is back? He's alive again?"
Of course, he knows the truth, he was just being silly.
"Wouldn't that be wonderful?" I asked. "He could move back in here with all of us."
Mike chuckled from the other side of the table.
"Your mom could be the first woman polygamist, Henry," he said.
This brought on a very interesting conversation about polygamy that I won't go into now, but it got me thinking.........
What if Bob were to arrive at my doorstep, and I was to discover that his absence the last six years had just been some terrible mistake?
I would be thrilled of course, I can almost feel his arms around me as I type this, and the sound of his voice greeting me; "Hey Sug"
After the shock of seeing me in a house with 5 children wore off I would call for the boys.
"Daddy's home!" I would say, just like I did many times before.
Henry would be shy at first, stare at him with reserved awe, and then want to show Bob his bicycle and how well he can play Othello. Arthur would probably bound into Bob's arms, even though he wouldn't really know who this man was, it might be similar to Santa coming alive in our house for Arthur.
Then Mike would appear at the door to see what all the commotion was about.
hmmmmmm, that is when it gets sticky.
Would I run back to Bob and leave everything that Mike and I have built together?
I couldn't do that.
Would I stay with Mike and arrange a visiting schedule for the boys with Bob?
Nope, that doesn't sound good either.
I don't see any of us going for a plural marriage, I can't see Mike and Bob as "brother husbands". And me deciding which door to knock on at night?! ICK! (maybe I have been watching too much Big Love)
How could I decide? Bob is the boys dad, obviously, but they are rather attached to Mike by this point. Mike can even make a better smoothie than me according to Arthur (trader!). Mike never complains about his job but he also doesn't have the summers off like Bob did as a teacher. They both like camping and cooking, although Bob did a lot more of it. Bob never brought me chai in bed, but he made one for me every morning. They both like to travel. Bob was more frugal (which I like) but he never brought me home gifts for no reason. Bob and my wine budget was much less but I do enjoy a good glass of red wine before dinner. Mike is always up for going out with people but, Mike is always up for going out with people.They both put up with me and love me in totally different ways.
Wow, I am glad I won't ever have to decide ......(maybe?).
How lucky am I to have had the chance to love and be loved by two such wonderful men? How lucky am I that, after everything, I still feel lucky?
Thanks for checking in-