When my dad passed away a few years ago, I found that the grieving process was far more complicated than I ever imagined it would be. There were times I literally thought I was losing my mind as my emotions jumped from one extreme to another.
A few weeks ago a childhood friend lost her mom unexpectedly. I thought back to the first few months after my dad passed away and tried to capture all of the things that I wish someone had told me. Her View from Home published the article yesterday. It can be found here: Grief – Normal and Okay
Please share with someone else who is beginning or continuing on their own complicated journey.
Sappy girl movies were never my thing, but there were a handful that I watch repeatedly – Love Actually, Bridget Jones, Notting Hill, Sabrina (the Harrison Ford one), and The American President. Bit of a British obsession as the first three indicate…
One of the most memorable exchanges in The American President is between President Andrew Shepherd and Leon Kodak:
Leon: “Yes, sir. But it can be, sir. What you did tonight was very presidential.”
President Andrew Shepherd: “Leon, somewhere in Libya right now, a janitor’s working the night shift at Libyan Intelligence headquarters. He’s going about doing his job… because he has no idea that in about an hour he’s going to die in a massive explosion. He’s just going about his job, because he has no idea that about an hour ago I gave an order to have him killed. You’ve just seen me do the least presidential thing I do.”
Being presidential. If only our current candidates could grasp the definition of what it is and what it is not to be presidential like movie writers can. Oh, it’s naïve and not so logical to expect that to happen, but shouldn’t we as Americans aspire for our President and future predecessors to behave presidential – inspire for us as Americans to seek to encourage good and hope in one another.
This presidential season something is amiss. Maybe the general state of discontent in the country. Maybe the candidates (likely). Maybe I have changed – since the last election, my life has changed.
Last election cycle, Goose was a toddler. Chicken had just made her debut. In 2012, I was just starting to see the world through the eyes of my children. At their ages now, I am keenly aware of their environment. They are sponges absorbing the words and emotions of those around them – the country around them.
I was probably Goose’s age when I really became aware of President Reagan. Whether you agreed with their political views or not, I do not know that there would have ever been a time when my parents would have worried about me listening to President Reagan or President Bush speak to the American people. For that matter (though I was older), I do not think there would have been concerned about President Clinton (well other than a couple of occasions).
Unfortunately, the current political landscape brings me great worry. Depending on how the election shakes out, I could well find myself censoring future presidential speeches before Goose or Chicken can watch.
Since it seems challenging for our perspective leaders to determine some basics of decorum, I thought I might suggest some rules that we have set for our (small) children
(1) We don’t say stupid.
I am not quite sure how this rule came about. While I am not so good at following this one in day to day life, at home, we do not say stupid. It is so frustrating for me to hear kids call each other stupid. What sort of encouragement does that offer early in life? By not saying stupid at home, I hope that the kids learn that it is not a word to use flippantly – and definitely not something to call their classmates at school.
If only presidential candidates (or one in particular) could think of some other ways to describe those with whom they have disagreements. I can only imagine the scolding some of the candidates might receive from my children upon hearing “stupid” being dropped every other sentence
(2) Sharing is caring.
Yes, sharing is caring. Sharing is a simple act of kindness that we can apply in our day to day life. Beyond the obvious sharing of toys, sharing means making space for others – in our circle of friends, on a bench, in a line, or wherever. Make space, let others have a turn speaking, don’t interrupt.
That does not mean everybody gets the exact same amount or that life is equitable or fair. That model has been tried around the world – it does not work. Eventually, you end up in an oligarch state with economic disparity far worse than what we have today.
Hard work is a critical part of life. However, we should show kindness to others and share.
(3) We respect others.
At this age, Goose and Chicken may not be able to articulate what respect is. However, they have learned that if they interrupt nightly book reading, their book selection will not be read. They know that trash belongs in the garbage and not to throw things on the ground. They are 6 and (almost) 4 years old, so they slip up, but they know what respect is. And Chicken frequently identifies “rude” behavior.
I wonder if some of the presidential candidates know what respect is or how to apply it in daily life – or on a public stage. It certainly does not seem like respect when the religion of others is questioned or judged. Or when a candidate does not appear at a debate simply over a disagreement with its moderator. Respect.
(4) We don’t lie.
Honesty. I have a tendency to be too honest at times – or maybe better stated, I don’t soften the truth. Honesty – without it, how do we know who each other really is? We encourage Goose and Chicken to be honest. Often we have to remind them to do it respectfully (see rule #3). I do not particularly care to hear that they “hate” something – file the word “hate” along with the word “stupid.”
Often it seems the instinct is to lie when they make a mistake. We are encouraging them to be honest about their mistakes. We learn from mistakes, and we forgive them.
At times, this political season (or most political seasons), it seems like it is really some epic game of who can get away with the most lies. If an entire candidacy is full of lies, how do we know who the candidate is? Or how do we know if he or she has learned from past mistakes?
What are we teaching our kids?
I don’t know if there is a good outcome this election. I do know that if a presidential candidate cannot put on their best behavior during an election cycle, then there is little hope of it being exhibited once elected.
I hope that something will change in the next six months – maybe someone will channel their inner President Andrew Shepherd (or some other movie president) and identify what it means to be presidential. I hope that kindness, respect, and honesty prevail. Otherwise, Low Key and I will spend the next four years as censors, while our nation continues to become more divided and isolated from the rest of the world.
Sunday was a showdown for the ages. Political pundits made wild statements on the morning news. Super Bowl rivals battled for it out on the field before millions. But a couple of rookies in our household were setting the stage for the biggest showdown. My three-year-old Chicken and my six-year old Goose awoke ready to battle… me.
It was one of those moments that the mother of every little girl looks forward to – the moment when their daughter has a daughter that gives her incredible grief over an outfit. For my mom, that moment was Sunday.
Back in the fall, I had purchased a cute knit blue dress from Gap Kids. I thought Chicken would like the dress – it has a slight twirl to it (one qualification for clothes). However, sadly, she informed me that it is not purple, nor does it possess sparkles… or glitter – so it is not for her.
When we visited Chicago, we fought about this dress, and I won. However, since that time, the warm Florida weather has essentially kept it out of the rotation. The nice cool weather Sunday morning was perfect for the blue dress. There was much protest. There were tears. There were screams. It is amazing how limp a child can become when they do not want to do something.
After fifteen minutes of protest, I won – or so I thought. Chicken resigned herself to putting on the offensive blue dress. Just before leaving for church, we bundled her in a warm, purple down coat.
When we dropped her off with her Sunday School teacher, she was still bundled in her coat. I whispered to the teacher that there had been (atti)”tude” about the dress and suggested that she let Chicken know just “how cute” the dress was. She smiled and nodded. I wondered how frequently this comes up with three-year-old girls.
I then went to drop off Goose with his class. And suddenly, and for no apparent reason, he would not let go of me. Now, normally, he begs to go to Sunday School. Maybe inspired by his younger sister, he saw an opportunity for his own showdown.
Low Key and I waited for a few more kids to arrive – thinking that maybe he would find some inspiration to sit down and color or play with blocks. More kids arrived and still he would not release me. I sent Low Key on to the service so that I could continue negotiations.
More kids arrived. The protest continued. He did not want to stay. He wanted to go home. His demands were clear.
It is always amazing that in moments like these child psychologists appear out of the woodwork. The theories abounded – “oh, it is the age” – “kindergarten is a tough transition” – and they continued. Seriously, it is the middle of the school year. And he has been in daycare since he was one.
This was a case of being off schedule. We had missed the prior week and now his schedule was off. And add to that, he was expecting a delivery of a new Lego set from Amazon. He had another agenda – much like Chicken – and was not going to go down without a fight.
After ten minutes of the stand off (literally a standoff, he would not let go of me and I was stuck standing there), I pried him off of me and his teacher gave him a big hug. I ran, literally ran, to worship service.
About an hour later, we returned to pick up Goose. There he was happy as could be playing with his friends. Seriously. So much protest over nothing.
Next, off to pick up Chicken. There she was playing – still wearing the purple coat. Her teacher explained that she refused to take off her coat, because she “did not want anyone to see her dress.” Well that is stubbornness… and dedication.
Upon witnessing the showdown, I saw the joy on my mother’s face. Finally, her daughter got to experience a bit of what I put her through when I was a kid – and maybe still today.
Stubbornness, opinions… I guess in the grand scheme of life – as infuriating and frustrating as a protesting three-year-old and clinging, adamant six-year-old might be – there are worse things in life. There are worse traits that they could have inherited from me. In the long run, both will serve them well. But in the meantime, I sense there will be more showdowns in our future.
“My daddy gone.” That was my first sentence as a child.
My dad traveled a lot for work when I was a kid. I was always so sad when he would leave. I wanted my family to be together – guess that is true of most every child. As I grew older, I understood the pattern. Daddy left on Sunday afternoon (or early Monday morning) and would return on Friday. It was a routine, a pattern. I liked patterns, predictability. I like(d) a plan.
Plans, organization. I think I was born wanting a plan and structure. I have a couple of early memories that are engrained in my mind – core memories you might call them.
Morning schedules: I would wake up early (say bye to my dad if it was a Monday). My mom would still be asleep, so I would then get my (nutritious) oatmeal pie and raspberry Kool-Aid (waiting on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator), turn the TV on and watch Sesame Street. I was probably three or younger at the time.
Organizing my grandmother’s thread: Around the same age, I would walk next door to my grandmother’s house every month or so to reorganize her thread. I would take the thread out of the drawers, wipe down the drawers, and then systematically regroup the thread by color so that it would be easy for her to find. Now I realize she must have intentionally rearranged them so I could organize them.
I am a planner. I like to have a plan. I like to have back-up plans. And sometimes I like to have back-up back-up plans. When we travel as a family, I pre-pre-pack two months out, pre-pack one month out, and then actually start packing two weeks prior to the trip. It is what I do. It is what I love to do.
One of my favorite quotes is from Benjamin Franklin: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” – so I plan, knowing that outcomes may not always be exactly as I expected.
2015 was not what I had planned.
Early in the year, I made a decision to change careers a bit – try something else. I loved my job, loved the routine of it. While I love predictability, I also love challenges. Everything seemed too stable at the time, too predictable. All signs were pointing toward a new challenge for me, a new adventure. In late May, I found a great new role at the same great company and planned for the transition.
Just before I started my new career adventure, our family was given its own challenge and had to say good-bye to our feisty dog Maggie. She had been with us since she was 8 weeks old and was just shy of her 11th birthday. She had seemed completely healthy up until April, but by late June she let us know in her own way that it was time.
Explaining death to a five- and three-year old is hard. Our kids get the concept of heaven. We talked a lot about heaven and how one day we would see Maggie again. I cried every time they asked about her – Was she in heaven? Was she still sick? What was she doing? – The thing about kids at this age is that as a parent you tend to answer the same questions over and over again. And though they did not mean anything by the repeated questions, every question hurt. It meant I had to admit she was gone and not coming back. Maggie was our first child and now she was gone.
That was the summer. By the time school started in August, I thought maybe we were back on track. Goose (our five-year old son) loved his new school. He was having a great time in kindergarten aside from the periodic complaints of not having as much play time as he did at his old school. Chicken (our three-year old daughter) loved her new teachers at pre-school… we were going to be okay. Time to get back on plan. School routines were in place and going well. Our kids function so much better on a routine – maybe because mom functions better.
Confident that everything was going so well, we took a quick weekend beach trip over Labor Day weekend. I was also intently focused on planning our fall break excursion to Chicago and thinking ahead to a spring trip to Ireland.
Then mid-September crept up on me and caught me without a plan.
My husband Low-Key was sent to my office to tell me in person. My dad was gone – passed away suddenly. The moment, the place, it is etched in my mind. It felt as though I was not there but watching as life unraveled.
Everyone handles traumatic news differently. My default reaction (beyond tears) was to start planning. What else could I do? I plan. Planning is what I do. Planning is how I cope.
We had to tell the kids that their Granddaddy was in heaven with Maggie. It had been less than three months since Maggie passed away. They had fewer questions this time. I had more questions. Questions that will never be answered.
Earlier in the year, as I settled into my mid-thirties, it occurred to me that I was within a year of the age my mom was when she lost her dad. It was a thought that had worn on me throughout the year. Each time I dismissed it. Now, I find that I have to remind myself daily that “my daddy gone.”
2015 was not what I had planned.
2016 will likely not be what I plan either. That’s the thing about plans – outcomes are never exactly what you expect.
How about you? What did 2015 bring that you did not expect? What plans do you have for the new year?
As I approach the new year, I am already planning. With all that has happened in the last year, I have decided to start a blog to help catalog my journey as a Left-Brain Mom seeking to maintain something that looks like order in the midst of a rather chaotic life.
While planning our family’s upcoming spring trip to Ireland, I ran across an Irish blessing: