When I became the only parent in our household I thought I had to be all things to all people. It’s the natural tendency, I suppose. When you see that your children have lost one of the most important people in their lives you want to make sure that they’re happy, healthy and that they want for nothing. You want to make sure that every little thing is taken care of.
So, yes, I went overboard at Christmas. But Santa brought the presents they needed, not necessarily that they wanted. The result is that we’re safe, secure, and the kids had a Christmas that made them think about Christmas, not that it was Christmas without their Mom.
Still, there are mistakes, things that I wish had gone differently. Here we sit, nine months past losing my wife, and I tried to be all things to all people. In my youth my Mom got up every morning, made breakfast for me, helped me remember what I needed for the day and got me out the door. Now I do it, gladly, but in a modified fashion. I hate mornings, absolutely cannot wake up no matter how many cups of coffee I drink. So I modified it. I stay up late, make breakfast the night before, making French toast, or pancakes, even waffles. If I double the batch I cook on Sundays or double the breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday, I have extra food that I can Ziploc and freeze. That way I don’t have to get up ungodly early, just really early. I have to plan meals for the week or I spend too much time and money in the grocery store, and having lost the second income in our family, I can’t afford that. I clip coupons now. I figured out how to wash clothes, what works, what Borax does . . . all of it.
But this week, it all finally hit home. I got sick, and I mean massively, chills under the blankets, sick. The routine was broken and the house looked like it. The laundry piled up. The dishes piled up. The floor was a mess, the bathroom stunk. You get the picture. When I felt more like myself, and I’m still not there yet, I realized that we needed to work together. We needed to work as a team, one unit, or I would get sick again or worse yet, sick for a long time and then things would really get bad.
I told the kids something very important the day their mother died, and it came to me right as we were all a mess, crying about losing my wife, Andrea. “We’re stronger together than we are apart.” It’s a simple statement, one that seems silly to have to say out loud, but it’s so very true. When I fall, they help me get back up. When they fall, there are four of us help the other to stand.
So last night, while I started to cut and put chicken on a plate, I turned around to see my son cleaning off the kitchen table. He’d already put his sister’s new toys from Christmas away, delicately, and was using a rag to wipe down the table. “Grandma showed me how to do this, Dad, it’s OK,” were his words. Abbi, my oldest, was stirring the rice on the stove. Sam, my son, was taking clothes and putting them in the upstairs hamper. Hannah was getting the dishes washed for the table. We flip a coin and each night someone chooses an old LP (for those younger readers, it’s a big black disc, like a CD, with grooves in it played with a needle like a music box. It’s old, low-tech, analog, and simply cool. Yeah I know, if you say you’re cool, you’re not, but hey…) and we listen to that music over dinner.
You see, in this new year, a mere nine months after I first started on my own, we’ve all come to the realization that we have to work together. The more we do as a family, the more time we have together to play games, read, watch TV . . . or sit at the dinner table and talk. If you don’t sit at the table every night, how do you know your son’s favorite part of their field trip or which guys are cute in the Junior class or what little girl thinks it’s fun to torment your son or who will join your daughter’s band when they start playing Green Day covers?
My routine, even with the help, keeps me running from 6am until 1am. But meeting at the table is just that – meeting. We talk, commiserate, laugh, listen to music, and reinforce the fact that we’re far better together than we ever are apart.
It’s not a routine that only a widower like me should follow, it’s one all families can realize. Do you eat every night at the table? Are you together, or do your kids leave to be with friends or run to their room to surf the net? Chores are small little indicators of real life, that there are consequences for not following through with your responsibilities.
Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan and check out on his Facebook page too.