Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Seven Years Later, My Boy Stands Strong

Dear Jackson:

Seven years ago tonight, I feared for your future. I didn't know if I was up to raising a child without his mother's help, and I didn't know if you were up to the emotional challenges of growing up without her. It was a really scary moment, knowing that I’d be solely responsible for guiding you from the age of 8 all the way until manhood. It’s a huge job—too much for one person, it seemed to me at the time. Who would be my system of checks-and-balances? Who would rein me in when I was flying off the handle? Who would stop me from spoiling you? Who would make sure you occasionally ate something besides red meat?

And ya know what? In many ways, it was too much. We got too much of each other, and we argued like a husband and wife, often driving everyone around us nuts. Some of your childhood characteristics became like fingernails on a blackboard to me—probably because they reminded me of myself at a similar age. And I know that my tendency for over-reaction pushed you away more often than I’d like to remember. I can’t tell you how many times I sat on the couch feeling like such a jerk, and wanting so badly to take it all back. But just like I couldn’t bring your mom back, I knew I couldn’t undo my reactions. I hope you can forgive me.

Still, despite the MANY mistakes I've made along the way, I must have done something right, because you’ve grown into the vivacious, stubborn, life-embracing soul I'd always hoped you’d be. You've been strong since day one, and now you've gotten through the hardest stretch of your loss. They say life progresses in seven-year increments, so perhaps you can look upon this date as a rite of passage of sorts, a doorway to the land of emotional freedom—the first day of the next stage of your life without Mom. There shouldn’t have even had to be such a stage, but we play with the cards life deals us.

And you, my son, have played your cards pretty well so far. You remained upbeat more often than you had any right to be, and you stayed engaged—with school, friends, activities, family, and anything else that brought you joy. While many other teens—with far less emotional justification—spend their time sulking and staring at computer screens, you spend them skating, producing amazing videos for your own YouTube channel, golfing for your high school team, and (occasionally) playing with your little brothers. (Okay, sometimes you sulk and/or stare at your computer, too—no one’s perfect.)

What’s more, you never stood in the way of my journey. You embraced Taylor when I dated her, and you seemed to be genuinely happy for me when I subsequently met and fell in love with Sarah, despite all the indications that she would frequently take me away from you (probably a good thing!).

And speaking of Sarah, you never once made her feel uncomfortable, no small miracle given that she was following in the footsteps of a ghost. Your willingness to accept her as your stepmother is a big reason why she’s so willing to be tough on you; believe me, Sarah’s toughest when she cares deeply. Try to remember that when she’s riding you to do your chores.

I have no way of knowing what the next seven years will bring (although a college diploma would be nice), but if they bring us as many good things as the last seven have—hello, Sarah and Max and William, and cousins Emma and Lennox and Sage and Riley and Charlotte and Clara, and Albany and Cornell Avenue, and all the good times you've spent with Alex and Owen, and the countless other treasured aspects of our lives!—we will be two of the luckiest people in the universe.

All of this is why, as I sit here tonight, seven years after ushering you through your terrible loss, I have complete confidence that you're going to go out into the world and take care of business, and have a good time doing it. A dad can't ask anything more.

I know that almost nothing I’ve written here is something you haven’t heard before. But I wanted to get it all on “paper”, in one stream of consciousness exercise, so you would always know how I felt about our most tumultuous years.

I love you, Jackson. Your mom would be proud of you. I know I am.

Love, Dad

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

It's Official: I'm Now the Frontrunner for "Dad of the Year"

If I didn’t write about today, I couldn’t call myself a parenting blogger, because it's been a watershed moment in my long, illustrious 20-plus year parenting journey. Today marked the first time I was alone with two small children for an entire day. That's right, after more than nine months of maternity and medical leave, Sarah has returned to work, and it’s been just my boys and me for the last 15 hours. (Ah, there’s the sound of Sarah’s car returning now. At long last, William can nurse.)
Make no mistake—there was a lot of build-up to this day, on many levels. There was my own anticipation (or perhaps I should say terror?) of it, knowing that I’d suddenly be operating without a net (Sarah), and that I’d be at the mercy of two little sets of needs. There was Sarah’s mental and emotional preparation for being separated from her precious little William for the first time. And there was the coaching of Jackson and Max to get them ready for what will be expected of them.
But mostly, there was Sarah’s fear of leaving them alone with me. You see, I have a reputation for being slightly distracted. If you’ve ever gone to get a snack, decided on the way to finally replace the battery in that smoke detector, realized as you were looking for a battery that the drawer handle was loose, and then, while struggling to find a screwdriver in the garage, started reorganizing your tools because the screwdriver was in a stupid place, then you know what I’m talking about.
For some reason, Sarah had developed this crazy notion that I might not be able to focus on both of my little boys at the same time. That I might start playing with Max and forget that William was underneath that pillow. Or that I might get caught up taking pictures of William and forget that Max got out of preschool 45 minutes ago. Or that I might start talking with a neighbor out front and not notice Max pushing the stroller across the street with William in it.
Okay, so maybe she had something to worry about based on my track record. But to be fair, my track record—at least the track record she could refer to—was all established with her at home. In other words, it’s no track record. Because anyone who’s spent any time parenting alone will agree, it’s absolutely nothing like parenting knowing that your partner is in the next room. You can’t take the same liberties. You can’t resort to the old “I thought you were watching him.” And you certainly can’t leave the preschooler and 6-month-old alone in the kitchen and go tend to your weeding.
I tried to explain this to Sarah, telling her that when I know I’m the only show in town, I’ll step up the plate. She would just look at me, with her head cocked and one eyebrow raised, and give me one of those sardonic “uh-huh”s we’ve all heard.
But guess what? I was right! I know it’s only been one day, but I’d have to say, with all objectivity, that today I may have put on the all-time greatest example of stellar parenting. I texted about playdates, drove to and from said playdates, anwered work emails, made bottles, fed the baby, changed diapers, ran errands (including picking up Diaper Genie refills for the parents of Max’s playdate!), made more bottles, fed the baby again, got kids to nap, changed more diapers, answered more work emails, supervised backyard play, made more bottles AND changed more diapers, cooked dinner, bathed the preschooler, made one last bottle, read stories, got two tired boys to sleep, and then collapsed in a heap.
Now I know what you all are thinking now: Where can I get that job!? No, seriously, you’re probably wondering how long I can last before having a nervous breakdown. But just as I would say to Sarah, I’m here to tell you I have no such concerns. Truth be known, I actually had a really good time surviving the gauntlet, and I feel confident that I can usher these kids through literally hundreds of similar days alone over the next few years, with very few hospitalizations, while Sarah works hard to support this family.
Yessirree, I’m one progressive man. Now what the hell did I do with that screwdriver?