What’s it like for a recently widowed single dad?

Here’s your chance, your front row seat, your very own opportunity to have a ride with a recent widower and father of two as he does his damndest to hump along on a day to day basis. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, don’t miss out!

Wake up!

The first thing I notice every day when Seanie rouses me from my slumber at around 5am or so is how little good the sleep I had did for me. I might as well have stayed awake and been productive, but grief has a funny way of yanking the wheels right off of your ability to do anything. To stick with the car metaphor, you can’t always get any traction when in grief, you can’t grip onto something and propel yourself forward into the next task, commitment, chore or whatever. You lose track of time and before you know it, you’ve been sitting in the same chair staring at the same spot on the wall for an hour. So waking or sleeping, getting anything done is a monumental task.

And sleep just doesn’t do the trick. This is because the subconscious is working double and triple shifts to process what has happened. I dream all kinds of weird stuff, most of which I do not remember. However, I normally wake up feeling as though I’ve been working all night. I am so exhausted.

Nevertheless, whether or not I am weary even after eight hours of sleep is neither here nor there, because Seanie needs to wee-wee. Sophie sometimes sleeps later than Sean. Other times she wakes up with him. If she is sleeping, I can normally convince Seanie to lie down for a while longer and wait until the sun starts coming up. If she’s awake, then there’s no way around it: I’ll need to make them tea in their bottles and put the TV on with either In the Night Garden, Thomas the Tank Engine, Mister Maker or some other inane children’s program to keep them occupied while I start doing things like making an industrial strength cup of coffee that will, hopefully, expel the sleep from my bones with Exorcist-type violence.

Once properly caffeinated, I may or may not begin work. That’s right kids: it’s 5:30am, and the work day has started. I work for a US Government organization, and every day I have a 9am deadline. Come rain or shine or toddlers, the good people at the world’s grandest democracy need to know what is going in Lusophone Africa, and I’m their guy to find the news articles. Ask me sometime for greater details when you bump into me when I’m out and about, I’ll tell you more. Suffice to say that it pays the bills and I’d love to do something different.

Anyway, if I start work, this means I go to my room while the kids stand transfixed by the rambunctionations of Iggle Piggle. If I don’t, it means I’ve gone back to bed. After all, IT’S STILL DARK OUTSIDE!!!! And if the last eight hours of sleep did me no good at all, then maybe a 25 minute kip will solve all my problems. This is called the logic of the bereaved. Don’t let anyone close to you die, folks.

Come around 6:30ish, it’s definitely time to feed the babies. I know this intuitively because Sophie has jumped on my head a half dozen times screeching ‘Cheerio! Cheerio!’ My keen sense of intuition and nascent maternal instinct draw me to the ironclad FACT that she must be hungry. Therefore I selflessly abandon my warm bed and decant two bowls of the aforementioned dry good (small pink bowl for Sophie, big boy bowl for Sean), add a liberal dose of moo juice and place them lovingly in front of my ever-so-grateful rug rats.

At this point I will finish off the lunch preparations I began the night before. One can definitely pack half a lunch the night before and put it in the fridge. All the stuff that doesn’t go too gooey (like sandwich, yogurt, dried fruit, etc.) is already in the lunchbox(es), so now all I have to do is either slice up an apple/banana/small rodent and throw in some crackers, and I’m done. This process may or may not be interrupted by a massive crappy nappy (translation: a dirty diaper; my mom Spence hilarious dubs them ‘poonamis’). If the unmistakable pong of a Sophie turd floats past my nose, I spring into action with wipes and a new nappy, and then normal service resumes.

By now we are at around 7am, and I need my second cup of Chernobyl-strength joe. I make sure there are enough nappies and wet wipes in Sophie’s bag, plus an extra set of clothes just in case she feels the urge to chase a butterfly (she calls them flutterbys, which is oh so much cuter) into a mud hole to then discover the exfoliating and rejuvenating powers to be harnessed therein. I make sure Seanie has a spare set of clothes too (because you can’t do the one and not the other), pack their lunches in their bags, top up juice bottles, and set these armaments by the door.

Again, this procedure may or may not be interrupted by one of Sophies’ poonamis.

Now we are getting towards the golden hour, that time when the blessed combined powers of caffeine and the fact that I will soon be able to enjoy FOUR HOURS of childless bliss propel me to say those magic words: “let’s go in the car!” Both babies explode from their piles of toys and crayons and bits of shredded paper and dried up cheerio and run out the door yelping “gointhecar! GOINTHECAR!” It is the best part of the morning, equally hilarious and sweet to watch.

This is normally when I smell Sophie’s bum pong.

And so I spring into action with wet wipes and nappies and imprecations uttered under the breath so as to not scar her two-year-old soul forever and ever, amen. I have, of course, wisely buried said nappies and wet wipes under the lunchbox and juice bottle and spare clothes, so as to give rise to the necessity of unpacking the whole bloody thing JUST to take care of one special, special nappy, special just for me, JUST FOR ME! Hooray…

But you see, Sophie’s now all juiced to go in the car to Faye Faye’s house! (Faye Weston is the singularly brilliant owner and operator of Fairy Tales playschool. She is a sage of all things kiddy and babyish, a child whisperer, really, as opposed to an early child development specialist, which would be her moniker if she were aloof enough to pick one. As it is, she is too decent to get caught up in such things, and is really just zen-like in her ability with the little ones. She ought to be beatified.)

But I digress…


So, yeah, Sophie’s all ready to go to Faye Faye’s, and having her bum decrappified is not high on her list of priorities at this juncture. I swear, that kid could probably endure a whole day with poop shellacked to her rear end. So long as she’s wrestling a wildebeest or surfing with great whites. She is just not interested in allowing such mundane things as personal hygiene getting in between her and a good time.

So now it’s “wrestle-poo-mania” time with young miss Sophie. Kid yourselves not, this two year old is built like a small ox, and stronger than a full grown one. By the time I am able to pin her to the floor and somehow pull down her pants while she twists and either howls with laughter or some mixture of pain and/or hatred (depends on her mood, you see) and I get my mitts on those funny little velcro-like nappy latch things, I’ve already been kicked in and around the face, had a teddy bear/plastic train/hard, blunt object hurled at any part of my body she’s able to aim at, and I am, frankly, exhausted. The caffeine gods have abandoned me to a hopeless tussle with an exceptionally determined toddler.

Let’s move this along… so we change the crappy nappy. I remove the foul object to the outside bin after I’ve put a clean, fresh nappy on the delicate Miss Sophie, and then stumble to the car, strap the kids in and get on my way.

It is now between 7:30 and 7:45am.

I drop off the kids at Faye Faye’s. I make my way back home.

It’s now 8:10 or so. Back to scanning the Portuguese-speaking websites for juicy bits of news that the masters of the world find useful. Third cup of COFFEEZILLA. Squeak that work in by around 8:58:33am. Then, deep breath, I write a blog for the Gorilla’s, which I can pull off pretty quickly because it’s both fun and easy. And fun. I love it. And they’re cool, brilliant people. Just sayin’.

So now we are up to 10am and it’s already been a full day. Now it’s time to head into the eye of the storm (meaning: the OMG of a mess the kids left in their wake this morning). Pick up the dollies/trains/crayons/small forest animal carcasses/whatever and either put them back/throw them away/wonder where they came from.

Now it is time to move into the kitchen to clean my mess, as in the one I made the night before to feed those babies. Then it’s time to do the clothes, make the beds, pick up more odds and ends and try to make the house look more or less presentable, just in case someone drops by, which happens on and off these days.

If there’s time, I’ll go to the shops and buy essentials like milk and bread and the like. It’s now around 11:30ish or so, and that means I need to go get Seanie and Sophie soon.

I’ve already made up the bottles and stowed them in the fridge, so when I get home with the babies I can just tuck them in bed and give them said bottles and allow them to nap. Sophie will nap 9 times out of 10. Seanie is another story… he may or may not decide he needs one. At three and some change, he’s already growing out of naptime. I’m okay with that, because I know plenty of parents reading this saying “nap time?! PAH!” I’m lucky I have kids who nap at all. Either way, Seanie’s a laid back kid and doesn’t always need me to entertain him.

It is during this time that I either write or start one of these blogs, during those moments when the kids are at home, but not in my hair. This particular post is being written at night, but we’ll get to that later.

No matter what, I wake the kids at 2:30pm. Sophie normally wakes up right away, ready to go. Seanie, if he’s slept, could take up to ten or fifteen minutes to rouse from his slumber. The kid naps like it were his job. He takes it seriously. This more often than not means that once I wake him, he will cry like I stole his favorite toy and gave it to Julius Malema (to my American friends, this guy is a joke). This normally leads to what I affectionately call “the chorus of mutual sorrow,” whereupon Sophie will echo Sean’s wailing and I will have two rather unhappy little people on my lap for however long, until I am able to convince them that life really is worth living after naptime, and after all, at least you’re not living on a trash heap in Manilla.

So we’re up to 2:45pmish. Snack time! Eggs, bacon, toast, yum! Sometimes it’s just toast, it depends what my energy levels are. The kids happily eat. That is something I am so grateful for. They LOVE snack time, on their little snack table lovingly purchased by their adoring Vovó (grandma Jones). 3pm. Weather permitting, the babies will ride their bikes for the next hour. If it’s raining (there’s been more than enough of that lately), then we’ll draw or watch the box for a bit. I normally start preparing supper around this time. At 4ish it’s bathtime, and the kids like wallowing in the bath tub for upwards of half an hour. I say “wallow” because all the dirt and crud they pick up during the day turns that pristine, mountain stream water in the tub into something like the Tietê River in São Paulo.

But I exaggerate. I can do that. It’s my blog.

But seriously, it’s gross.

Anyway, we now arrive at 5ish. The end is in sight. Supper is served, we eat with gusto. Seanie feeds himself for the most part. He’s a big boy, after all. Sophie takes a little more convincing, but she normally cleans her plate. It’s just that playing with food is such FUN!

Then it’s play for a while, hang out. Then it’s 6pm. Storytime! Bedtime! HOORAY!

As I said in the last post, the books nowadays are ALWAYS “Tickle Monster,” “The Very Busy Spider,” and something else. Some other story. So long as the other two are covered, it doesn’t really matter. The choice is enormous: “My First Colours,” “Peekaboo Elmo,” “Don’t Eat The Teacher,” the Makapaka book whose title escapes me as I write this… I could go on.

The point is to read the stories, say a prayer, give them their bottles, kiss them goodnight, shut the door…

And collapse.

Or at least feel like I will.

Right around now is when the first wave of crushing fatigue sets in. The pressure valve has been released. They are in bed. Now I can… do… nothing. After doing and doing and doing, not doing is rather a nice change.

However… if it’s a Monday night, then it would include all the above except for maybe the stories and bedtime, because I’ll go attend my grief group. Out the door at 5:45pm, and the babysitter reads the stories and does bedtime. If it’s a Tuesday, I’ll take Seanie to see his child grief specialist at 3pm, and mom Spence will look after Sophie in the afternoon at her house. If it’s a Thursday, the kids might spend the night at mom and dad Spence’s house, and I can go do something other than be a parent.

Otherwise, this is the routine until bedtime for them. After 6ish, it’s my time.

What do I do?

If it’s tonight, I’m writing this. Other nights I journal or surf the web or do laundry. I always make the kids’ lunches, because there’s never enough time in the morning. I’ll watch a movie. I’ll look at pictures of what life was. I’ll weep.

And I’ll of course have to take Seanie to the bathroom a few times a night.

Unless it’s tonight, when he had a night terror and was screaming for his mother, twisting and flailing in my arms until he suddenly relaxed every muscle in his body, including his bladder, which he emptied onto my newly washed sweater.

He’s sleeping in my bed now. I found a dry pair of pants for him and a clean t-shirt and sweater for me.

This situation has been hard on all of us. He’s lost his mother. Sophie’s lost her mommy and the person who would have guided her into the nuances of womanhood. I’ve lost my co-parent and so much more.

To bed at 10pm or so, exhausted, fatigued. Sleep won’t help much.

And tomorrow we do it again.

When do I grieve? In waves.

It pops up unannounced. It invades the spaces in between. It catches me at times off guard, like when I hear a song that reminds me of her, when I catch a glimpse of a picture, when someone laughs and it sounds like her…

And every time I look at our babies.

It’s never far off, this grief. It’s never far enough away. And when it hits, sai de baixo (translation from Portuguese: get out of the way). A constant companion on this new and unwelcome road. A companion that I do not want yet cannot do without.

Because she mattered.

Because she was worth it.

Because even with the same outcome, I’d do it, with her, again.

So it sucks, yeah, but what’s the alternative? A life without her? A life that would not have Seanie and Sophie in it?

Do I regret the pain? Not really, not in the end. The pain is there because she was in my life. Every moment was worth it. I hate it that she’s gone, but what possible alternative would I choose? A painless life? A risk less life?

No thanks.

And so tomorrow we do it again, yeah. And I’ll not feel rested, again. And I’ll battle to get the minutia of everyday life organized and set in motion, again. And I’ll get frustrated and angry at my children, again. I’ll feel like a jerk, a worthless parent, a creep, a moron, a failure, again.

Until I don’t.

Because THIS is the transition. I was one out of two parents. Now I’m the only one left. For better or worse, that’s just the way it is. It’s up to me to make it for the better. There’s still the worse, now, during this transition, as my psyche and soul wrangle with this utterly unfair and wrong reality of having Janie, the good mother, the loving spouse, my soul mate ripped from me. Ripped from us.

Seanie screamed for his mother tonight. He woke his sister. What must be going through his head? What must be going through hers? What is his soul feeling? What about her?

Grief puts blinders on you. These kids remind me we all lost so very, very much.

It’s 9pm and Seanie sleeps in my bed, Sophie sleeps in hers, and I write this. This is perhaps a bit more confessional than I had first intended. I guess the need to be understood drives me tonight.

A dear friend told me today on Facebook that she’s shared this blog with folks struggling with PTSD. It’s encouraging to know that even in the darkest night of the soul, you can still affect something, someone, somewhere. I wrote in my last post about networks. Tie a knot, people. Make a commitment. Isn’t life too short, already?

Not every night is like this, but many are. This is not the first time I had to wash the same sweater twice in one day. It won’t be the last, either.

Think of Seanie. Think of Sophie. Pray, if you do. Do it anyway if you don’t.

Why shouldn’t this event happen to our family? Grief is narcissistic, after all. Why not us? What makes us so special? Point taken. Yes, death happens to a whole lot of people. All of us, really, when you get down to it. But we don’t think that way. As long as we are alive, we don’t think mortal, deathly thoughts. We carry on, day by day, as if we’re going to live forever.

Allow our story to change your thinking.

Allow our pain to re-route some of your priorities.

Call your estranged family member. Make up with an old girl or boyfriend whom you dumped for selfish reasons.  Apologize to the friend whose trust you broke. Stop talking trash about your boss. He or she has a history, too. We don’t live in a vacuum. Judge not lest ye be judged by the same token.

Forgive. Live without baggage. Travel light.

And be grateful for every day you’ve been given. Live it like it were your last.

I wonder if I’ll remember any of this at 5am… likely not, but there’s always the day after tomorrow.

New graces every day, people.

Originally published August 17, 2011


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