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Posts Tagged ‘father’

M’s operation was a worry, a relief, and a financial nightmare all in one.  There was the worry, of course, about whether he’d be alright, whether the operation would go well.  And relief that the operation was finally being done.  And a financial nightmare because, although there was money meant to be coming to get us through his time off work, there was hiccup after hiccup that meant we didn’t actually get the cheque until he was actually back at work again.  We stocked up like squirrels, kept our heads down, and got through it — uncomfortably close but ok in the end.

But what surprised me was how M’s operation turned out to be a real godsend for us — him and me — and us as a family.  When couples go through tough times — and I think it’s fair to say that the last two years have been pretty stressful, to say the least — it’s cliche for one of them to say, “Let’s get away, just the two of us.”  I’ve always been suspect about what “getting away” accomplishes, whether any gains made whilst on holiday can translate well into the mundane of life back at home.  But, cliche or not, M’s four weeks at home consitituted something of a “getting away” for us.  We got away from the grind.  We got away from him working until he had nothing more to give, coming home and wishing he were alone, and resenting the burden of we three.  And we got away from me being home alone all day, deep in the chaos of two little girls — screaming, destroying, dancing, flailing, flinging, falling, breaking, crying, whinging, charming, mess-making, and wantingwantingwanting  — and with no real friends to break the cycle, except the oft-troubled company of mum.

He was home for four weeks in the end — a longer time than any getaway could have afforded — and, though the first ten days were exhausting for me (as the only capable person in the house and so doing everything for everyone), once he got enough strength back to start doing things for himself, we settled into a lovely rhythm.  He got into the habit of getting the girls up in the morning and making their porridge.  The girls were thrilled to start the day with him like that, and adored having him home.  They adored it so much that he quickly became the preferred parent, and I sat back and watched in satisfaction as they asked for his help with every task, sought his attention for every achievement, and wanted to crawl into his arms at every bump or scrape.  I should have kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t: “You see? You see?”  But he kept his humour, bless him, and only nodded.  He was, despite his best intentions, enjoying being with us — really enjoying our company .  And we were enjoying his — all three of us.  For four weeks, real life seemed to be on hold, and we were all in a wonderful kind of limbo.  We’d got away.

And now he is back to work, and everyone is back to the grind.  He comes home exhausted, I am alone with the all-day chaos.  And suddenly, there seems to be so much to do!  I have to make up for lost time and all the stuff that didn’t get done while he was home.  I have a list as long as my arm — which should be frightening me, overwhelming me, but instead I feel energised by it.  I want to get to it, I want to get through it and, what’s more, I believe I can.  Things feel different.

E2 woke me up this morning, singing to Pink Lamb.  “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and…”  I listened for a while, sleepy under the duvet, warmed by the happy voice floating down the hallway.  Suddenly it changed, rising in mock panic, “Daddy!  Daddy, HELP!  I’m a banana! A banana! HELP, DADDY!”  I was confused for a moment, and then remembered: we’d put her to bed in a yellow sleepsuit.   I began chuckling so hard my shoulders shook the duvet.

Loud, urgent, and utter nonsense — this is the stuff of my days and, oh yes, we are very much back to normal on that front.  But… she was calling for her daddy — hopeful that he might be home, he might be the one to open her door and start her day — even though he’s been back to work for over a week now.   Those four weeks made an impact on us.  Those four weeks are still with us.

Long may they remain.

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Just of late, my elder daughter has been a bit… concerned about death.  She knows that people die, but she doesn’t really understand what that means.  So she’s trying to wrap her four-year-old brain around it.  She plays games about dying.  She sings songs about dying.  She discusses dying.  And she asks a lot of questions…

“Daddy, where is your granddad?”

M paused for a moment, and then replied honestly.  “He’s dead.  I had two granddads and two grandmothers when I was little, but they died.  I had a daddy too, but he is dead now too.”

We have discussed how to handle these questions about death.  We could skirt the issue, or offer euphemisms, or sweet stories to soften the reality.  Maybe we should, really — she’s only four, after all.  But somehow, we’re both a bit rubbish at that sort of thing and so we tend to just answer her questions plainly, without elaborating much.  I keep hoping to come up with a better way of handling it but, so far… nothing.  I really do feel like I’ve failed her in that way.

“Daddy…  ”  Oh no, more questions!

“Daddy, when you die…” she spoke quietly, evenly, “I want to hold your hand.”

And with that, she had grasped all that we have failed to explain to her.  Not a question at all, but the answer — the reason that parents have children.  And the calmest, most honest concept of death that I could have hoped her to have.

M stood, with tears in his eyes.

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My husband is a pretty straightforward guy.  He gets up before the birds start singing, he is on time for everything and, if you ask him a question, he’ll answer you honestly.  And, as such, he has a habit of telling the truth when people ask how he likes living in the US.  Every time, he replies that it’s ok, it’s good, but that he’s left his two older kids in the UK and that’s been hard.  Just like that.  And it’s always more than the questioner was expecting — more detail than they wanted to know, more personal than they were expecting to hear.  And more than I wanted him to tell them.  They’re uncomfortable, I’m uncomfortable, he is… he’s just him, answering the question the only way he knows how.

“Oh!” they always say, a little shocked, a little concerned, but trying to hide it.  “How old are they?”  They’re expecting to hear that his other two children are in their early 20s and so it’s all ok, really.  When the reply comes that they’re in their early-mid teens, they are shocked all over again.  “OH!”, like clockwork.  And I feel all the accusations that I believe are suddenly running through their minds: He left his children!… How could anyone do that?!?… He left them for her!… Did she make him do it?!?…
The truth is that he didn’t leave them for me, and we tried everything we could think of to stayNeither one of us wanted to leave Britain, but we were between a financial rock and a hard place and we honestly couldn’t figure out how to make it work, no matter how we reworked the numbers.  Leaving Britain — leaving them — is something we both regretted at the time, and more and more with every day we’ve been here.  And we will put it right, just as soon as we possibly can.

But the people asking a casual question of two foreigners they’ve just met… they don’t know that.  They have too much information, but not enough information…  enough to condemn, but not enough to understand.  And in that moment — the moment after they say, “Oh!” and then nothing more — everything becomes very uncomfortable, everything slows down, and we all stand — hesitant, expectant — in the silence.  And then someone, us or them, breaks it with some lighthearted comment about how it will all surely turn out alright in the end and, gosh!, such a hard economy in which to make a move like that!  We all smile, tightly instead of genuinely, and carry on…

It happened again today, at a bagel shop we go to, with a Greek lady we’d just met.  We all followed the script perfectly.  But this time, when we smiled and carried on, I broke from the usual dialogue and mentioned that we’d been thinking of having M’s son maybe come and live with us for six months (or is it three months? however long a visa will allow…).  It’s not something we’ve shared with anyone before, let alone a complete stranger, but we’ve been talking about it for a while.  It’d give the two of them the kind of day-after-day time together that they haven’t had since his son was starting primary school, and it’d give his son a wonderful opportunity to experience America in a way most Brits never do.  I was surprised to hear myself speaking the words and giving life to the idea like that but, as soon as I did, it felt good.  And the Greek lady’s face lit up.

“Yes! YES!” — she grasped at the positive spin — “It would be so good for him!  And you could get him involved with something to do with kids his own age…  He could make friends!”  We were all smiling now.

I had already mentioned my parents — it’s my standard answer to why we’ve moved here: the grandparents, the grandchildren…! And they always emailed with so many opportunities…! I don’t mention the rock or the hard place — no one really wants to know that in casual conversation.  But the Greek lady began waxing on about the good of our situation — such a rare response given M’s unnerving honesty — and now she brought up my parents.  She said, “It is good for you to be able to be near your parents for a while,” and then looked right at me.  I could see that she meant it — this wasn’t some sugar-coated babble to smooth over the uncomfortableness.  She had lived abroad for twenty years, away from her family…  she got it, how tough it is for everyone, the balance needed on both sides.

It is good to be near my parents.  For as much as I complain that they drive me nuts, it is good.  And they won’t be around forever — they’re not young anymore — and even though I know they won’t be around forever, I don’t think I’d really thought about it that way until today, in that bagel shop.  My parents are here now, lively and young  enough to enjoy having us so nearby, to know and enjoy their grandchildren.

There is no relationship with as much responsibility as that of a parent to a child: M’s relationship with his kids trumps my need to see my parents or their need to see the girls — absolutely, hands down.  We need to go back to Britain for their sake, and we never should have left in the first place.  But I have family that I’ve been away from for 15 years, and I have missed them, and now I am getting the chance to have some little time to be near them, while I still can — and there’s a certain validity to that.   Talking to this Greek lady, I think she was the first person to hear the news of M’s children, to be shocked by it, and then to still go on and take the whole situation into consideration, to acknowledge that there are two people in this partnership and that we both have been away from the people we love.  No one can ever doubt that his kids have the higher priority but… well, it felt good to be part of the equation.

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I was standing at the sink doing the dishes and M was scraping the last of tonight’s dinner into a bowl for tomorrow’s lunch.  E2 came around the corner and stood in the doorway.

M looked at her for a moment, and then said, “If she were a zombie…”  I thought I’d misheard him, turned the water off for a moment and turned to look at him.  He continued,  “If she were a zombie, and her face were that kind of zombie grey and her eyes were all dead and stuff… could you kill her?”

I was startled, dumbstruck, slightly amused.  I looked at my daughter, standing in the doorway, gazing up at us with that angelic face, those big eyes, a huge grin.   Then, found my voice, indignant, disbelieving: “No! No, I couldn’t!”

“You’d have to.”  He said it as if it were obvious, as if it were… important.

“No! No, I couldn’t.  I couldn’t kill her!”

“She’d be dead already,” his voice was earnest, insistent.  “Well, she’d be undead.  You’d have to kill her.  No choice really.”  The matter thus settled, he turned back to the bowl.

I looked down at my daughter, now standing by my leg and only coming to mid-thigh, her head upturned with that huge grin and her wispy strawberry blond hair falling straggly over one eye.  I picked her up, held her into me, tucked my nose into her hair and breathed her in.  I was supposed to go along with him, I knew, but…  If she were a zombie?!? A zombie! Honestly!  Whatever was in that man’s mind?!?  I’m her mother, she’s my daughter.

He’s… he’s such a boy.

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What I didn’t tell you, in that last post, was that, as M was looking up at the ceiling and crying in the dark after leaving his kids again, he suddenly muttered, “Oh, this is ridiculous!”

I was careful. “What…  err… what is ridiculous?”

“I tear up every day.  Like this.  Every day.”

I paused, calculating what he might mean exactly.  Then asked, “Every day since…  you’ve been back?”

“No.”  He sighed, a slow heavy breath that wavered a bit under the weight of it.  “No… every day.”

I was shocked.  Quickly rolling up onto my elbow to look at his face in the moonlight, I blurted out,  “But… but I never see this!”

“It’s usually on my way to work,”  resignation heavy in his voice.

I paused on my elbow for a moment while I tried to think what to say, and then gave up and rolled back onto my back and stared up at the ceiling too, and we laid side by side in silence for a few minutes while I let this bombshell sink in.  He has welled up with tears every single day for the past 20 months. And I have had no idea.  He’s never told me.

Days later, I am still feeling the shock.  And it is so clear that this changes everything.  What I was thinking of as our decision to go back to the UK is nothing of the sort.  There is no decision, because there is no choice.  There is only what must be done.

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We had both known this trip would be difficult.  We knew it the whole time, and we thought we’d prepared for it.  But, really, there is no preparation — like so many things in life, there is only the getting through it.  And now that he is home, we are going through it.

The night before he flew back to the US — and the first night of the trip that his son didn’t stay in the same house — he couldn’t sleep for panic.  His panics come to him when something in his life is terribly wrong, his mind’s inadequate way of coping with the overwhelming.  And leaving his kids again — all over again — is overwhelming.

The night after he arrived back, he didn’t sleep either.  I woke to find him staring up at the ceiling in the dark, and saw glistening lines running from the corners of his eyes down to his ears.

“Are you alright?”

“No.”  His voice wavered.

“I know.”

“It’s just…” He stopped to steady his breath and then let it all out in a rush.  “It’s so hard to leave them.”  I shut my eyes hard, instinctively trying to block out his words, because I knew… I knew, but I just didn’t want it to be so hard for him.  And  I had nothing useful to offer, so I gave him the only words that came to me…

“I know.”

We carried on talking in the dark, awkwardly and to no purpose, and eventually I faded back to sleep.  When I woke again at 5am, he was still staring at the ceiling.  I tried again to say something useful, but I suspect I managed nothing more than to mumble half-slurred, half-slumbered nonsense before succumbing to unconsciousness and leaving him alone, again, with the overwhelming.

The next day, I sat down with a cup of tea to peruse leisurely the local newspapers he’d brought back for me.  I wanted to read news of the recent agricultural show, check out the pictures of kids going back to school, and sympathise with the locals’ frustration at incoming Londoners.  But instead, I found myself skipping past all that and going straight to the back of the paper, to scan the estate agents’ ads and then the jobs pages with a sense urgency that made my stomach suddenly flip-flop.  I was hoping to find something miraculous, some wild change from the situation we’d left 18 months ago, but I found exactly what I’d known would be there: houses that were half the size at twice the price, and jobs with salaries so low that my heart just sank at the sight of them.  No miracles.  And no idea how to make those conflicting numbers add up.

Suddenly, the panic rose up inside me too — up from my guts and into my chest —  and I had to push the paper away hastily.  How am I going to make this work?  How am I going to fix this? I stared at the table, at the spot where the paper had been.  My heart raced and I ran one hand up through my hair.  He needs me and I have no idea what to do.  What am I going to do?  How am I going to fix this?!? How am I going to fix this?!? How? How…? HowamIhowamIhowamIgoingtofixthis?

We thought we had prepared for M’s trip home.  We’d talked about it, talked through it.   We’d remembered the battles he’d fought when he got back last year, and tried to learn from them.  But the truth is that all the preparation in the world is inadequate to the reality.   And… time had passed and those battlefields had fallen quiet… the casualties buried in their shallow graves, and the ground above them going to seed and turning into peaceful meadows.

We had been fooled by the wildflowers.

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Two

“This house!” M muttered under his breath as he kicked a tangled pile of laundry out of his way. “This bloody house!”  And then he turned and stormed back upstairs without even looking at me.

I sighed.  But I understand why he’s frustrated — this house, indeed.  It’s always on the edge of mess, always verging into chaos.  I feel as though I fight all day just to maintain it, just to ensure that the mess is no worse at the end of the day than it was at the beginning.  But it never gets any better than it was.

The worst of it is the laundry.  We are perpetually buried in the piles of clean laundry — washed and dried quickly enough, but rarely folded and almost never put away.  Folding laundry with the girls is an exercise in pure crazy-making.  I have not made sorting piles — I have made fall-breakers!  I have built obstacle courses!  I have amassed fascinating collections of dressing-up clothes!  When I do manage to fold a couple of baskets’ full, I am so exhausted at the end that I can’t be bothered to haul those baskets upstairs and put them away.  Not right now… maybe later… maybe tomorrow.   But instead, we raid those same baskets daily, still sitting in the corner of the family room, for knickers and socks and today’s outfit, until the whole thing is such a mess that it couldn’t possibly be put away without being dumped out and refolded.  And that does not happen.

And there are always dishes clogging the kitchen — from breakfast, or the snack, or lunch, or the snack, or dinner…  And a pile of papers that needs filing over there, and stacks of magazines half-read.  There are still boxes to be unpacked from the move.  And certainly, oh certainly, this place does not yet feel like a home — it still feels like we just moved in… or are just about to move out.

“What was that?!?” I prodded angrily at M, as he disappeared up the stairs.  I couldn’t help myself — I just can’t let a muttering go.

He paused and turned, casting an eye across the chaos, and said hotly, “Well, I just think this place should be… tidier.  It should be getting tidier!”

I was defensive now.  “You could help, you know.  I only have two hands!  You could pick things up when you see them instead of stepping over them!”  It’s true — he’s as likely to step over a mess the girls have made as clean it up.  He’ll clear dishes but leave the mess all over the table.  And he opens his mail, and then drops it back on the table for me discover,  and deal with, later.

“You’re home all day!” He countered.  “You should be dealing with this place!  It should be…”  he glanced around the room, his eyes lighting on any number sins, “It should be getting better.”  Ah, of course, I’m home all day.  I should be spending all that time getting the place sorted.

Plus two

As every weekend approaches, we have conflicting expectations that cause… well… regular conflicts.  I see the weekends as a chance for me to get a break from the intensity of full-time care for a four-year-old and a two-year-old.  I’d like to wake peacefully, rather than be yelled from my bed at whatever hour the girls awaken, to take a shower alone without interruption, and then to slow everything down a bit and spend time as a family.  M sees the weekends as his chance to catch up on the myriad projects that need doing about the house and to quietly recover from a tough week at work.  In both cases, the three of us just get in the way of his plans — hinder rather than help — and, understandably, he spends most of his weekends trying to escape us.

I was on my own in the kitchen, drinking a cup of tea and contemplating the pile of dishes in the sink, when I heard it all begin to fall apart in the other room.  The girls’ voices rose and quickly became shrill, both of them screeching over some great injustice.  M’s voice started quiet and weary, but soon followed their lead and, within moments, he was bellowing at them.  And then for me.  When I walked in the room, I found him standing by the front door, holding a cordless drill in one hand and with two little girls practically hanging off his other arm.  A mess of his tools and their toys were strewn in equal measure at his feet.

“I can’t get anything done with them here!” he roared. “You have to take them.”  And then with a little less volume, “If I’m supposed to make any progress with this,” — he waved the drill in the general direction of the door he’d been working on — “then you can’t expect me to be looking after them as well!”  I ushered the girls and their screeching away into the kitchen, and smiled to myself.

He’s quite right — it’s impossible for him to get his projects done with them underfoot.  I know that.  They are wonderful little girls, but it is the nature of their ages to create mischief and mayhem where-ever they go.  And keeping that under control brings everything else to a complete halt.

Unless, of course, that everything is folding laundry, and filing the paperwork, and unpacking boxes.  And you are home all day.

Equals three

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