She’s Growing Up

Dear Papa Bill,

I was at work today, just sitting there writing a little program to collect statistics on CPU usage.  Nothing exciting at all, really, but I was content.  A small portion of my mind that wasn’t needed for focusing on the task at hand, that part dedicated to singing earworm songs and worrying about upcoming activities, was pondering how much Jane has grown up.

She made the school volleyball team and she’s really fired up about it.  She’s still playing the viola but I guess you were gone before she had even started that.  It’s hard to believe how much time has passed.  Now she’s in the band too, playing the flute.  It’s her favorite class.  She’s in all Pre-AP courses and working hard at them.  But it’s volleyball that I was thinking about as I toiled away at my keyboard.

When her Daddy took her to order her school-color workout clothes, she saw the letter jackets and was so very excited.  She can’t wait for the opportunity to letter in volleyball.  Then a couple of days ago, they poked their heads in the gym to watch the high school team play.  Each girl has a large poster with her picture on the wall of the gym.  Jane’s face lit up.  She’s already dreaming about being on one of those posters.

She works hard.  She’s not the best girl on the team but she’s big and strong and plays well.  We are anticipating traveling for games for many years to come.  And so it was that I was imagining mom and her boyfriend standing at the edge of the court, waiting to congratulate her on a game well-played.  Suddenly, it wasn’t Hugh standing next to mom; it was you.

I was immediately in tears.  My throat tightened up and hurt.  I turned my back to my cubicle door and grabbed a tissue.  I can’t even remember the last time I missed you so deeply; I thought I was well and truly past all that.

You would have been so proud of her.  You never showed a lot of emotion but in that little mental image, I saw the small smile that would have been on your face.  It felt so real.  So incredibly, achingly real.  You were special to her and I know she was to you as well, the first grandchild.  I never imagined that you wouldn’t be around to watch her grow up.  And then once you were gone, after awhile, I never thought about what you were missing.  Until today.  When I sat sobbing over what will never be while running CPU statistics on my screen and hoping no one would notice.

Some people believe they know for sure that our departed loved ones are watching from above.  I don’t know that.  I hope, but I don’t know.  In that brief moment, though, you were there and you were smiling.  Thank you for making it to one of her games, even if only in my imagination.

I love you,

Your daughter

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A Tale of Two Tuesdays

My husband was out of town last week. Being a single mom of three kids is no easy task, even if you do have friends and family to help you out. Let me tell you how last Tuesday went.

I got up before 6:00, feeling the pressure to get all four of us out the door on time so that no one would be late to school. I dropped Jane off about 7:20 and Daryl shortly there after. As Hal and I climbed out of the truck at his school, I realized that in the chaos of leaving the house, I had not verified that he had his backpack. He did not.

I didn’t have time to drive home so I warned him to be careful and not have an accident or spill food or fall in mud because he didn’t have a change of clothes. Then I drove to work, parked, and thought about the day ahead of me. That’s when I remembered I had a presentation to make at 10:15. I glanced down at my usual attire of jeans and tennis shoes and knew it wouldn’t do.

As I pulled out of the parking lot to make the 15 minute drive home, I thought, “Well, at least I can get Hal’s backpack.” Which I did. Although I left my cell phone sitting on the shelf where I had set it while changing my pants. And then I drove right past the preschool with the backpack.

Work greeted me with a voicemail from a coworker informing me that the presentations had moved up. They were starting at 8:30. We could be on as early as 8:50 and they wanted the slides delivered by 8:00. It was 8:28 when I got the message. With a sigh, I put my yogurt back in the fridge, grabbed my presentation, and rushed off. The morning had not gone well.

My sister-in-law picked up the older two from school. I got Hal and met them at home. We had about 10 minutes before we had to head to the elementary school for Open House. At one point, I found myself standing outside the library with a third grader who desperately wanted to buy a book from the book fair, a preschooler who was trying to run off, and a tween telling me that her volleyball coach said she had to have her knee pads at practice, which she had left at home.

I was texting the coach, explaining that she would be very late if we had to go back for the knee pads, when the phone rang. I answered it and found myself talking to the lovely woman that watches Hal while we practice bells. She was trying to coordinate an alternate plan for the next night when another call came in. It was my sister-in-law, who had arrived at the school and wanted to know where I was. I rushed directions without saying hello, told the church lady I’d call her later, sent Daryl into the book fair, told Jane to grab Hal, finished the text, and then tried to take a deep breath as I grew a few more grey hairs.

I would later leave the school to drop Jane off at volleyball practice without saying goodbye to my sister-in-law who was still looking for me. So then we met at my house, where I brought home Sonic hamburgers for dinner. When we finished eating, I had to load the boys up so we could pick Jane up from practice. By the time we got back home, it was past bedtime, no one had practiced their violas or taken showers, and I was exhausted.

Let’s just say that Tuesday was representative of the week as a whole.

This Tuesday, I woke up sometime after 6:00 and rolled over to cuddle with my husband through a couple rounds of snooze on the alarm clock. I padded around in my pajamas and played with the kids as they got ready for school. Sometime after they left with dad, I got in the shower. A lazy and relaxed start to the day.

After work, I met Jane and my husband at the school for TAG Open House. I stayed to look around with Jane while Daddy picked up Hal from the preschool and then Daryl from an after-school activity. Then I dropped Jane off at volleyball and, again, picked up Sonic for dinner. (Their hamburgers are half-priced on Tuesdays. We cook veggies at home for the sides.)

We ate and took care of a few things before my husband headed into town to get Jane. I tried to get the boys to take care of their chores. When my husband got home, I gave Hal a bath while he conducted Daryl’s viola practice. Everyone was tucked into bed sometime fairly close to their bedtime. I don’t feel exhausted.

The difference between the two days is remarkable. The evenings were about the same in complexity yet I grew no new grey hairs tonight. There is nothing, in my mind, dishonorable about being a single parent. But this right here was a vivid illustration on the value of a two-parent household. Being able to share the load again has me skipping with joy. Welcome home, honey! I am so glad you are here.

A Terrible Dichotomy

Today possessed a terrible dichotomy for me. It started off well. Last night, Jane’s small 7-person string ensemble performed at the sixth grade Christmas concert. They were dwarfed by the choir and the large band, but they performed admirably.

When it was over, she announced that she really wanted to play in the band next year. This is enough to warm the heart of any parent who was herself a band nerd. But then she told me that while they were waiting for the concert to start, the cellist had asked her to hold her cello. While holding it, she played Witches Dance, a fun fast song that she plays well on her viola.

A man standing nearby told her that she was very good. “That’s not her instrument,” her instructor said. “She’s never played that before.” That anecdote sent my spirits soaring. I love tales of her musical accomplishments. I went to work this morning feeling as though my daughter was the most wonderful, most talented child on the planet.

Later in the day, I talked to her PE coach about some trouble she was having at intramural practice. I wanted an adult’s perspective on the situation. In the course of the conversation, she told me that she thought Jane was one of the better volleyball players. She was convinced that Jane could make the A team at the middle school next year. I was beginning to feel the effects of oxygen deprivation, I was flying so high.

And then, it all came crashing down. I work in a cave. This is figurative, of course, but sometimes it takes a bit for news from outside to make it to me. But finally it did this afternoon and I learned about the horrible shootings in Newtown, CT.

Like all people, I was stunned and left numb. I was angry and sad and desperate to deny it. And then, like all parents, I couldn’t help but put myself in those parents’ shoes and imagine the horror of it happening here. This process, which I have engaged in many times, was made even worse because I was so full of love and pride for one of my children at the moment I learned the news. I imagined all that potential and promise ripped away.

The world does not deserve to be denied what my daughter has to offer. The world did not deserve to be denied what those children had to offer. I spent the afternoon in a hollow and empty shell.

That shell filled with family life when I got home. We went to a Christmas party. Hal met Santa for the first time. Eventually, however, we found ourselves at a restaurant and the day’s events smacked us back in the face. We don’t have TV at home, but this restaurant did. And Jane’s side of the booth was facing it. My precious, innocent, promising, wonderful daughter came face to face with the reality of a deranged man. When she finally lost control, she sobbed, “How can someone kill their own mother?!” She cried about how the children would never learn to play the flute. When we got home, she cried because they probably had Christmas presents under the tree that they would never open. They’d never learn to drive a car. They’d never have kids.

I did my best to put the pieces back together. I reminded her that everyone has different experiences. Everyone has a different life span. Those children are at rest now and aren’t regretting the things they never got to do. Their families need her prayers though. I took Mr. Roger’s advice and reminded her of all the “helpers” she saw on TV. The police, ambulance workers, doctors, and nurses. The social workers and counselors and teachers. Friends and family and neighbors and strangers all pitching in to help. “It was one bad person, honey, but hundreds of good people there to help the people that need it. Hold onto that baby, and pray for them all.”

Now let me tuck you in so I can take my turn curled up in a ball crying on my bed. About the senselessness of it all. About the anguish of watching your idyllic childhood view of the world crumble a little bit more into every adult’s reality. I love you my sweet angel and I am so thankful you are still here.

I am my Brother’s Keeper

“What your brother does has no bearing on what you do. You are your own person.”

This was the catchphrase of the weekend. It was first coined by my wise husband but was directed to each of the three children at various points by both of us, in this form or with slight modification. As in this exchange:

“Daryl, will you please put your laundry away?”

“What about Hal?! Why doesn’t he have to put HIS laundry away?”

“What I ask your brother to do is irrelevant to what I have asked you to do. Please put away your laundry.”

“But Hal doesn’t have to put his away!”

The most ironic part of this exchange is that I had every intention of telling Hal to put his laundry away. I just wanted Daryl to go first so there would be enough room on the couch to sort Hal’s clothes into piles. This is a necessary aid if I expect the three-year old to put the laundry where it belongs.

Another time, Jane had been told to unload the dishwasher, which is her regular chore, but she was not in the kitchen.

“Jane, why aren’t you unloading the dishwasher?”

“Because I told Daryl about one of his chores that he hasn’t done and he’s still not in there doing it.”

“What your brother does or does not do is not your concern. Go unload the dishwasher.”

“No! It’s not fair. I don’t have to do my chore until he does his.”

And here’s an ever popular one. It happens the same no matter who you speak to first.

“Please go practice your viola.”

“But Daryl hasn’t practiced his violin yet!”

Children have such an incredible sense of fairness, at least when the perceived inequity harms them. If you give one a piece of candy, you must give all one or it’s not fair. If you tell one to do a chore, the other must do one too. If one gets to spend the night with a friend, you better have something planned for the other.

With the focused attention on “You are your own person”, I hope this weekend has made a difference. I hope they have begun to learn that you do the right thing, you do what your parents tell you, you do what needs to be done, regardless of what anyone else is doing.

It’s not an easy lesson for anyone to learn, children or adults, so I am sure the lesson will be repeated many times. We each have only control over our own actions. We can’t control what other people do, so there’s no point in living our lives in comparison. Furthermore, a person will not get very far in life if they wait to act until someone else has done something.