A boy’s burden


Originally Posted on September 9, 2011

I’ve been taking Seanie to see the grief counselor for two months now. With very few exceptions, every Wednesday we are at her house, and she plays with Seanie and talks to him about his mother. She emailed the results of her latest conversation during play time with Seanie to me last night. I found the content to be very illuminating.

For one, he thinks about his mother every day and misses her. He feels as though he can’t draw a family picture because mommy isn’t here anymore. When asked to bring a photo of his mommy, Seanie said no.

While the above makes me incredibly sad, I am not upset about it. I am glad he thinks about his mommy every day and that he misses her. I should say, I am not glad he misses her but it is encouraging that he is in touch with his feelings and can say something like that. It is so very natural to miss his mommy. I also do not have a problem with him not being able to draw the family. He understands that our family was mommy, daddy, Seanie and Sophie. Mommy is gone, so it does not feel like a family any longer. I can completely understand this. With time I know he will come to grips that, while our family has been decreased by one, we are still a family. I think his refusal to bring a photo along is part of this feeling, also. It hurts to think of his mommy now that she is no longer in the family.

He prefers to say “gone” to “dead,” which is normal since he can’t conceptualize death at three. That won’t come until much later. He gets that I’m still here and that I’m not going anywhere, whereas his mother is not coming back. The fact that this reality has sunk in to his awareness even at such a young age as three is good in one sense, but so incredibly sad in another. That he’s taking the first steps to internalizing this new reality is a credit to his budding intelligence. But, oh, the heartache I feel for him.

I won’t go into the whole bit about how this shouldn’t happen and so on. It does happen, to thousands and thousands to young kids and families the world over, every single day. This is not an unusual thing, as awful as it is. It certainly doesn’t help me to think of it in that way, but the fact remains that what happened is, unfortunately, not uncommon in the slightest. You’d think that for something so common to take place we’d get used to it by now. But the thing that draws those in the community of the bereaved together is that universality of the pain of loss.

And Seanie is a part of that community, as is Sophie. There is no question that this loss will define them to a large degree as they grow up.

One thing the grief counselor told me is that Seanie needs to know that he is not a boy without a mommy. He has a mommy, even though she is not here any longer. I found this interesting and life-giving. Seanie’s mere presence here is evidence that Seanie had a mommy, and nothing, not even her death, can change that. She may be dead but it does not change the fact that he was carried in the womb of an adoring mother who brought him to term and nurtured him for three years of his life. It is sad that she is not here, but it does not change the fact that she is and always will be his mother. If his friends ask him who his mommy is, he can pull out a picture and show them. That’s my mommy. She’s dead, but she is still my mommy.

If I ever remarry, that will be something my future spouse will have to understand. She is not likely to hear the words “mommy” coming from either Seanie or Sophie’s lips, and I would not encourage them or pressure them to feel like they must say. Janie is their mother. End of discussion.

What a funny dichotomy: the death can remove her from us physically but not in all the ways that matter, such as affection, heart ties, what she means to us. “Moving on” does not mean proceeding down the road of life without her. Coming out of my grief will not entail having a life without her. It simply means that she now has a place in my story and that of our children, and has no further physical role in our daily lives. But she will continue to exert her influence upon us forever. I love that. I wrote in a post recently that Janie is doing her best work on me in absentia. That is what love does. We love her and her love for us continues and will always continue to help shape our outlook and frame our understanding of family.

See, death, you don’t get the last word. Screw you.

There’s a point to this digression: despair at the loss of a loved one does not have to be an option. It is right to allow the profound influence the loved one had upon us to continue to “live” in our life. After all, that love they gave us was a life-giving thing. Why not allow them to continue to give us life, even though they are gone? Wouldn’t they wish that for us?

It does not mean we live our life as if they were here. I make different decisions on all things from shopping to how I’m going to decorate our home to when I go to sleep now that Janie is gone. I am free to live my life in the way I choose without having to consider her in those decisions. But I can call upon the memory of her in such moments as “what would Janie do now that Sophie has scribbled all over the walls?” or “how would Janie feel about what I’m writing in this blog?”

Honestly, I think Janie would be pretty proud of who I am becoming. I wish I were this person I am turning into while she was here. That’s not how my road is laid out before me, but I know she would be full of pride and joy at how I’m doing. She invested such life into me, and now the first buds of the future harvest are showing. She would feel the same way about her children.

So Seanie is not a motherless child. He might feel like one at points during his development, and his mother’s absence will be painful for him at various points throughout his life. Nevertheless, he is not a motherless child. Janie is and always will be his mommy. It is a tribute to the kind of person she was that even just three short years of her physical presence in his life is enough to exert a lifetime of influence upon his character.

That is why I pray almost every night “thank you God for the years we had with mommy.”

Too short for us, but not too short to make all the difference in the world.


The prettiest pickle

Pretty Pickle

The Prettiest Pickle

Originally Posted on September 8, 2011

This post is written on Labour Day (US public holiday). Since I work for a US Government agency, my workload was lighter. I tidied the house, cleaned all the dishes, made beds, and put away the kids’ toys. I find that I talk to myself all the time when I’m on my own, which is far more often than it used to be. I keep up major discussions on serious topics, such as Gadhafi’s fall from power in Libya and its affect on the global cost of crude oil per barrel, the recently closed football transfer window and whether Julius Malema will be kicked out of the ANC.

I also talk to myself about how I’m doing with the kids. I discuss the latest parenting moments, where I did well and where I must improve. I analyze my relationship with them carefully, going through how I reprimand them when they’re naughty (which isn’t terribly often, thankfully) and handle their unique temperaments and personalities.

And yes, I fight off sadness, since I would have talked about all these topics with Janie, were she here.

The babies truly love each other, but they are very, very different. Seanie is a pretty easy kid. He is very happy to be on his own, playing with his toys or humming to himself. Sophie needs more attention. That is not simply as a result of losing her mother. She has always been the more social of the two. Furthermore, she has quite the fiery disposition. If I’m not paying her the kind of attention she wants, she’ll get rather cross.

This morning, I became quite cross with Sophie. She ate her cereal until she was full, and then decided it would be awesome to throw the rest of it around the lounge and play with the remaining milk in her bowl. Perhaps this is a nascent creative impulse of hers. I have no clue. But I was quite irritated at her and was perhaps rougher than I should have been in the expedient application of wet wipes and imprecations at the almighty mess she had conjured.

Sophie is different than Sean in that she has several different types of cries. Sean has really only one volume when he cries: LOUD. If he hurts himself or has a toy taken away or is upset that I was cross at him, it’s always the same timbre, decibel level, ear piercing yowl of DESPAIR! It’s kind of funny, because everything can’t possibly require the same degree of sorrow, really, so I just kind of blow it off unless he’s really properly upset. Deciphering Seanie’s cries is a bit of an exercise in translation.

Sophie is somewhat easier to understand. She has her “I’m bored so I’m gonna cry” cry. Then there’s the “I’m not getting my way” cry. Then there’s the “ouch, that really hurt!” cry.

Then there’s the “you hurt my feelings” cry.

This morning, in my zeal to transmit the message that throwing Cheerios around the lounge and look at the mess you made lecture with accompanied vigorous wiping, I hurt my pretty pickle’s feelings. I didn’t mean to. But I did. So I had to try and reprimand and then console retroactively.

This is a really tight rope to walk. It would be easier if there were an infant template that I could superimpose on my kids to make them easier to predict and contend with, but that’s not how it works. People are individuals because of their inherent uniqueness, and everyone needs something different. Sophie has a thicker skin than Seanie does, so when she cries that one cry of “you hurt my feelings,” I really listen.

The funny thing is, Seanie is now starting to really come into his own as the eldest sibling. He’s rising to the role of Deputy Parent in Absentia, and he sprung to my aide by offering his own assessment of the situation:”Sophie, you made a mess.” I had to tell it’s cool, daddy’s got this one, buddy. Thanks for the help.

Poor pickle. She’s being parented by not one but two hapless males. She’s at the bottom of the slide. I relate to that. I too was a youngest.

I often wonder that, had Janie survived and been with us, if we’d have had another child. I know that I wanted one, had she made it.

That’s not Sophie’s lot, sadly. She’s in a house full of men now. Well, boys, really. She shot out of the womb yelling and has stood her ground ever since. She has the internal strength to handle this situation. She’s a pistol, a fighter, a right proper brawler. She’ll do just fine amongst us boys. We’re the ones who have to look out…

Digression… My pickle is a star. I’ll go and wake her from her nap in a few moments. She’ll be ready to tear things up between now and bedtime. I have a feeling she’s always going to be like this, an untamable, intrepid spirit. A world beater. A champion of everything awesome and sublime. My prettiest of pickles… I couldn’t be prouder.

Oh, and for the uninitiated: Pickle pickle is Sophie’s nickname. Ask me about it sometime.

She’ll always be my pickle, alternately sweet and sour. She is so very affectionate when she wants to be. She’s also bruisingly blunt if you’re not careful. But she never means any harm. What a brilliant person she is.

There’s a point to this post, but I can’t really remember what it is. I have special and individual bonds with each of my children. And as I stated earlier, they each need different things from me. This new stage in life as a single parent poses the challenge of deciphering what those things might be without the aid of Janie. That is a sad and frightening position to be in.

But when I get it right… ah, that is rewarding. I’m finishing up this post on 8 September, so a few days have elapsed since I began writing this. We have had a good week up until now. Sophie just keeps ticking over, a happy little pickle without a care in the world. She knows that the people in her life love her and that is enough. For now.

One day she will have to learn about her mommy. She will need to come to grips with the fact that her mommy died before she had a chance to formulate concrete memories of her. It’s the sort of landmark event that will largely define her as an individual: I am the daughter of dead mom. Thankfully, her dad is still around, as are her grandparents and aunties and uncles. She is not without a loving network.

But a mom is pivotal in that quadratic equation that ends up in an individual. It’s a tough one. I know she has the strength to work her way through it. I have no doubt that she will be fine. Still, I cannot relate to what will be her upbringing. What a strange, tragic situation for her.

I’ll not go on and on. This week has been miserably hard on the emotional front. I’ve done my best to be present for the kids, but I’ve had better at bats than the ones this week. And it’s been sunny all week. Not even the weather has helped. That’s all part of the journey: sometimes, no matter what, nothing helps.

My dear friend Emma sent me an article that you can read here. I found it very useful and encouraging. In it, the author at one point comments that his son did more to help him cope with his grief than the reverse. I find that to be true. Being forced into the rhythms of the day, day after day for the kids has kept me sane. They give me a reason to carry on living. For that I am so grateful, and hope that one day when they’re old enough to understand that I will be able to tell them that they helped me survive their mother’s death.

The imminence

Originally Posted on September 7, 2011

There was a very young boy here in the highway area, aged four, who died on Sunday. He had a brain tumour, much like Janie. He was given eight weeks to live when the doctors diagnosed him. That was 14 weeks ago, so mom and dad had a little time with their dear boy.

I know his name but won’t divulge it here. He was a sweet, dear boy, just a bundle of happiness and positivity. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet him but a very good friend of mine knows him and his parents, who are very decent, good people. A few days prior to his passing, they decided to stop giving him a steroid treatment which was somewhat balancing his hormones and prolonging the inevitable. Maybe the treatment was more for them, so they could say all they needed to say before they sent their boy on his way. Too young to die. Too, too young.

I just want to meet these folks and give them a hug. What a cruel, crappy thing to happen.

I get sick of listening to the earthy types saying death is a part of life and all that. Whatever. If it were so much a part of life we wouldn’t mourn and be torn to shreds inside. Death is not a part of life. Death is a curse.

I get just as sick at the Christiany types who prattle on, quoting scriptures saying that there are no “good” people, that we’re all depraved in our sin or whatever. As in “there is no one who is good, not one.” (Psalm 14:3) So it’s not that bad things happen to “good” people because no one is good. Really? These are good people. This was a good boy. He did not deserve to die. Not that way, anyway.

I suppose it’s all in your definition of “good.” Maybe the word “good” comes from some ancient derivative, like “goodly,” which comes from “godly.” If that’s the case, if we mean “good” as in God’s goodness, or rather, God’s perfection, love and so forth, then yeah, not many people match up to perfection. Maybe no one can be perfect. But people can be just good people, just average, well-meaning people. People who wouldn’t harm a fly, at least not intentionally. Those kinds of people I would call “good.” Not a shadow of nastiness or viciousness in them. Do these kind of people deserve to lose their four year old son?

I dare you to say yes.

I dare you to stand up and have the nuts to say that they had it coming.

Of course they don’t deserve it. Mom, Dad, little boy, none of them deserve this. They should stay as a family unit. They should carry on. Little boy should grow into big boy should grow into young man should grow into fully grown man should get married should have babies of his own should die at a ripe old age. That is how it should go. Things rarely go according to plan.

I hurt for this family. I hurt to the pit of my soul for them. I am as helpless to help them as I am to help myself.

No matter what your world view, can we not look upon this tragedy and not see it for what it is: a sick, wrong thing, a wrongful death?

This boy was diagnosed with his brain tumour before we even knew Janie had anything wrong with her. You can’t compare deaths like these. You can’t compare the death of a mother and spouse to that of a four year old boy. Both are untimely. Both are wrong.

A broken world, this one. And where is God in the midst of this? My faith tells me he is here. My emotions can’t process that.

Once you’ve lost someone truly close to you, like a spouse or a child or close family member or best friend, until then, you’re just oblivious to the imminence of death. Once it’s happened to you… it’s just everywhere. It’s like scales have fallen from your eyes. Everywhere you look… there it is. Just on the other side of the veil, waiting.

After Janie passed away, my uncle died. Then Janie’s aunt died in a plane crash. Then you hear stories like that of this young family.

Then you meet one person after another who has lost a child or a relative or a friend. It starts to dawn on you that we’re all a part of this community of the bereaved. Sooner or later, you join the club. Sooner or later, it will happen to you.

Or you’ll die. Lucky you.

Inevitable death. No way around it, it’s going to happen, no matter what. We can be philosophical or dogmatic about it, the choice is there for us to make. Mostly, I just think it sucks. We should all get to just keep going indefinitely. But then, I’m not making the big decisions.

This is not my place. Not my place to judge or to point fingers. But tonight, I don’t know… I’m just not okay with death. Death can go to hell. It shouldn’t happen.

Especially not when you’re four.

Are we there yet?

Originally Posted on September 6, 2011

It’s Monday afternoon when I write this and what I can feel right now is the pain of her absence. My arms ache for her. My heart is crushed by the fact that I will never hold her again.

Some days, I miss the ethereal bits about her, like her integrity, goodness, kindness, gentleness. Today, I miss her nearness. I miss the way she looked at me. I miss the way her lips were soft against mine when we kissed. I miss how her body felt pressed against mine. I miss the softness of her skin. I miss the scent of her hair.

Her head was shaved when she died. It’s stupid, but I almost wish I’d asked them to collect all that hair and give it to me. I’d give anything to smell her hair again.

I’d give anything to hug her again. I’d give anything to kiss her again. There’s no bottom to this well. It just goes down and down and down into an abyss of pain and sadness. The torment of this sorrow is indescribable. I feel sluggardly and utterly restless at the same time.

These ambushes are decreasing in frequency but increasing in intensity. I guess early on in grief, you get accustomed to the sensation that is so akin to utter despair: there is nothing I can do about this. There is nothing I can do to get her back. You get used to it early on, because it’s always on your mind.

Then you start to get on with things, and these ambushes come along. They’re likely no more intense in their pain delivery than they were early on, but after a few good days in a row, you forget it’s possible to hurt so badly. Your body and mind want to go back to a semblance of normalcy. Then this grief thing pops up like FLEC in the jungles of Cabinda, and it’s all over. Kiss your sunny day good-bye.

I am told that grief is a process. There are metaphors stating that grief is a journey. In that case, are we there yet?

I’d really like to be there, wherever or whatever the other side of this thing is.

Not yet. Not today.

An incomplete portrait

Originally Posted on September 5, 2011

This last weekend, I had the wonderful Aldouses (Aldous’s? Aldous’? Aldi?) over to the house for some seriously good grub consisting of duck and Vietnamese side dishes of rice noodles and an unbelievable green papaya salad. The leftovers are in the fridge. I’m going to destroy them as soon as I am done with this post…

We spent an incredible four to five hours hanging out and just being in community while our children played as only children can do: with ebullience and unfettered joy. Their laughter filled my small house and made even the brownish walls look pretty. That is the quality of the laughter of children: to me, it is the sound of sunshine.

But I digress… we had a marvelous time. They left at around 4pm, and as their car pulled out of my driveway and I stood in the entrance of my garage holding Sophie in my arms and with my arm around Sean as I pulled him close to my leg, I felt Janie’s absence in a way that brought the heartache and sorrow up in a powerful way. It is as though I had an out of body experience, looking at the three of us standing there. The portrait lacked something. It lacked her.

All the child grief counseling books say it’s good to allow your kids to see you crying, but this time I hurried to the bathroom and shut the door. I ran the bath and stuck the kids in it for bathtime, went outside and wept.

There’s not resolution to this sort of thing. I can’t graft her back into our current family picture. She’s not here any more.

These moments come unannounced. I was very happy right up until the point I had that insight. I am amazed at the power of that image in my mind, the three of us standing there, lacking something.

Nevertheless, we are still a family. The fact that mommy isn’t here doesn’t change that.

Perhaps it was the sound of the children’s laughter, the wonderful time all of us spent together, something in there made me realize that Janie would have enjoyed the communion immensely. Something at that moment of parting drove home the immense hole she’s left in us.

But we’re still a family.

Seanie told me earlier today that he makes me very happy. I try and tell him this often, that Seanie makes daddy very happy. So he said it back to me today, quite out of the blue. I was delighted to hear that.

Because Seanie still sees that I get sad. I want him to know he brings me joy. I miss mommy, but Seanie makes daddy very happy. I want him to know that. I want Sophie to know that. It’s mind boggling that in the midst of such sorrow, these two babies make me so happy. They really do. They are lights on a stormy, dark night to me, drawing me home.

Seanie calls our house “home” now. I’ve succeeded in another goal: he knows where home is. This house lost its heart when Janie died. It felt odd and strange to be in this house right after her death. Somehow, Seanie’s acknowledgement of this being our home makes it true for me as well. Who says a three year old can’t teach you something?

It’s a funny thing, because despite the fact that I don’t want our family to not have Janie in it, I can’t for a second discount that we are very much a family. We are somewhat diminished by her absence, and that is perhaps unavoidable, but in no way does that negate that we are family. And I am learning the value of family in such a powerful way right now.

Seanie went up to his grandpa the other night and told him that daddy is happy now. Last night, I wrestled and played with the kids for ages, chasing them around their grandparent’s yard. We laughed and cavorted, it was fantastic. It seems bizarre in hindsight that so much joy can be experienced despite the gaping hole I feel in my heart. I so wish Janie was here. I so want her to experience those moments. It just crushes me that she’s not here to play with these two beautiful babies. However, while my joy is somewhat tempered by these things, I cannot deny that I am feeling the joy of parenting these two amazing little individuals. Her absence does not so much diminish the joy I feel as perhaps frame it in a different light. It is a different type of joy, but it is still joy.

Some will say it’s bittersweet. Yes, that’s part of it. It is bittersweet to see our family reorganizing itself around a different dynamic that, while unwanted, still has its massive positives. It is good that I am bonding with these children in the way that I am. It causes me to pause and wonder if I would have this level of connection with them if she were here. So, that in itself is a good thing. It is not a good thing that she is gone. But what is happening between me and the children is good. What a strange conundrum!

Out of the darkness of this event, a light shines. A hope that we will find our feet in this new paradigm that none of us would have chosen, had that sort of thing ever been on the table in the first place. No one would choose this, I don’t think. Not when what we had before was so undeniably good. Nevertheless, that new good things are emerging is both stunning and humbling. I am bursting with gratitude and heartache simultaneously as I write this. How I long for her to be here. How grateful I am for this new depth of love between me and the children.

Given that I cannot change what has happened, the only sane thing to do is be grateful for what is. Affirm that a wonderful thing is taking place, completely unlike what came before. A wonderful thing that is likely to be the fertile soil that will provide the nourishment for our little family to continue to thrive as we move on into the future. I can be thankful for that.

I can be thankful for what came before. I can also be thankful for this. The one does not negate the other. They were (are) both good things. I think that to be grateful for both allows me to frame this event in a different way: death doesn’t get the last laugh. Death claimed my Janie. It doesn’t get to devour my future, nor that of our children. Our future will be very different than what was envisaged, but it can still be good. Very good. Excellent, in fact.

And I realize this is the first step in letting go of Janie. That is what I would call bittersweet.

Because she was such a fabulous partner, friend, lover. She was such an incredible human being. How am I supposed to let go of her?

That’s not something to answer at this time. It is enough to be grateful for the 13 years of our blessed acquaintance. It is enough to be grateful for the budding of a new, savage love for my children.

It is enough that this incomplete portrait of a family is still a good thing.

Peaks and troughs

Originally Posted on September 2, 2011

I’m really not a fan of roller coasters. The up and down of the thing makes me ill, and I just always believe that I’m gonna be the poor sucker to go flying out of those oh-so-safe carts they strap you into. I’m not real big on putting my trust in something like that. I like to be in control and to know what’s coming next.

So today’s dark cloud came as something of a surprise. I was speaking to someone earlier today who wanted to know what happened to Jane. Given the person’s, shall we say, technological stuntedness, I figured pointing her to the blog really wasn’t an option. So I told her the story.

And three solid good days came to a screeching halt. I feel like I’m on the edge of a breakdown.

I really wanted to come home to her today. I wanted to tell her all about the sales I’d made, about how the drive up to Maritzburg was so beautiful, share the sunshine and wonderful mild weather with her. Sit down after the kids are in bed and watch TV. Run my fingers through her hair. Be woken by her as she talks in her sleep.

These odd little things that matter more than big things. These little comforts that sort of filled in all the cracks and spaces and made our life together so comfortable.

I am so aware of what is absent today.

But that’s how it goes. Grief sneak attacks from time to time. Tonight I’ll go see friends and eat a decent supper at a fancy restaurant. Maybe that’ll brighten the mood some.

Anyway, it’s Friday. Tomorrow is market day. The Right Reverend Benjamin James Jacob Aldous will bring his wonderful family to Casa de Jones and there will be much madness and hilarity. Sunday will be an opportunity to meet with God with his people.

It’s just today… this will pass.

Eventually this grief will pack its bags and move on. Not soon enough for me obviously, but we don’t get to pick how things go down much of the time.

Happy weekend to you all. We’ll chat again on Monday. Thanks for reading, and as always, subscribe, subscribe, subscribe.


Originally Posted on September 1, 2011

We have rituals in Casa de Jones. Things that are done every day, without fail. I’ve been told that routine and rituals instill a sense of security in little ones, and so there are some things that always get done, no matter what.

First thing in the morning once the kids get out of bed is “tea in a bottle” time. The babies still go to bed with a bottle at night. I retrieve their bottles and make a nice, sweet rooibos tea with some milk in it, and give it to them while they watch a little CBeebees (we recently had DSTV installed. To my American friends, DSTV is basically Direct TV, and CBeebees is the BBC kids channel. Like Nick Jr., but, sadly, without Blue’s Clues). This happens every day, without fail.

We go to Faye Faye’s playschool every day, except during holidays, which are sheer, unbridled hell. Not really, they’re good kids. But I’m sort of starting to understand why kids in Japan are made to go to school all year round…

We nap every day, without fail. Actually, we fail on this one often. But every day, as far as I can manage it, they at least go into their room (Seanie naps on my bed) with a bottle and have to spend time on their own. Sophie almost always sleeps. Seanie does maybe 3 times out of 5. He’s growing out of it, but he’s so much more pleasant when he naps.

We bathe every day without fail. Actually, we also fail this one from time to time. But not tonight. Tonight I got behind their ears!

We have suppertime at the table, every day, without fail. Unless we’re having a braai or something at granny and grandpa’s house. Then it’s whatever goes. Laps, coffee table. Sometimes the TV stays on. But if we’re at home, the box is off and we sit at the dinner table and eat as a family.

And, lastly, every day, without fail, we read stories. Usually three, but tonight we read four, because the new book to capture their fancy is the hilarious Skippy Jon Jones, which was given to us by the amazing Salfrank clan along with several other books.

This book is so fun it’s ridiculous. Actually, the book is ridiculous, but in the best possible way. It’s about a little siamese cat with a huge imagination, which carries him off to old Mexico to battle a giant bean-eating bumblebee. It allows me to put on my broadest latino accent and hoot and holler lots, which the kids love. We read it tonight. Funny thing is, we weren’t going to.

See, we had already read our complement of three stories. But then Seanie put on this little look, like he was really bummed out that story time was over. So being the huge sucker that I am, I said “how about just for tonight we have another story?” Below is an example of Seanie’s 50,000 megawatt smile:


Seanie’s famous 50,000 megawatt smile

You’d think I had just told him Santa Claus was real and was unloading the sled in our lounge at that very moment.

So we read Skippy Jon Jones with all accents and sound effects thrown in. It’s too much fun, actually. I was worried all the excitement of the story would keep them awake, but it’s now 40 minutes since I put them down and not a sound.

Funny thing about this story is I’ve read it to them a few times in the past. But last night and again tonight, they actually sat there and listened to it. And they loved it. Like, sheer, unvarnished pleasure. There’s something about the way little kids get into things. Fair enough, most things are still new to them, but… I don’t know. Magic is made of this kind of stuff. I feel like Gandalf on happy pills right now.

Parenting is difficult. Single parenting is even more so, but there is no doubt that it is rewarding. That I can provide these kids with a sense of continuity in the midst of this disaster is affirming. It affirms my sense of self worth and competence. I’m not a great parent, but I am the parent of these two brilliant children. I am rising to this challenge, if fitfully. There are days when I am an enormous turd. But kids are forgiving by default, they don’t hold grudges, and love spurs me on to become a better version of myself for them. This is a good thing, despite the circumstances.

These little rituals are an enormous blessing, too. They know that certain things happen at certain times, and if they go amiss, they ask about it. No bath tonight? Really? Are you sure? I want to hear them say that. It means I’m keeping them on metre, following the rhythm of our new life. This is a grace, a bit like an invisible helper. My mantra has become to “never break routine” if at all possible.

There are other rituals. Saturdays we go to the farmers market. Sundays we go to church. Thursdays, they spend the night at granny and grandpa’s house. Daily rhythms interspersed with weekly ones. Rhythms, like the lulling rise and fall of the waves on the ocean. Like day turns to night. Like seasons. I suppose they provide security because it gives the illusion of control. Janie’s death was completely out of our control and it has rocked us all to core of our beings.

Ultimately, Janie’s death is an interruption. That may sound calloused, but allow me to explain: we had our previous rhythm, our previous life. Janie is no longer present for it. However… life carries on. We are, in a very real sense, starting over. Some facets of life have carried over from our previous one, such as Faye Faye’s playschool, bathtime and bedtime rituals, etc. Others are new, such as the weekly farmers market jaunts, Thursdays at granny and grandpas, and so on.

The point is that in order to establish a “new normal,” we have to find our rhythm. Having two babies has helped me enormously in this sense. I must take the lead and set the pace. The pace needs a rhythm, a drum beat, like the way the armies of old would march to the time of the drummer boy. I’m not big on military imagery, but in this sense it is entirely appropriate. Death is as cruel as it is inevitable. When it arrives early, you have to, in a sense, rally the troops, lay down a new rhythm and march on. Because to fail to do so is not just to lose a battle but the whole damn war. And I will not lose this war. There’s too much at stake.

In the grand scheme of things, these little rituals may seem like they account for little, if anything. However, just as nothing happens in a vacuum, these tiny, little, seemingly insignificant things add up to something big over time.

Being a pastor’s son, I’ll use an illustration to drive home the point: who here has watched The Karate Kid? Daniel san, do small circle left, small circle right, breathe. Daniel san, paint fence long stroke up, long stroke down, breathe. Inane, little tasks. In the end, he was learning how to fight through the insignificant little things he was doing on a day to day basis.

I kind of lost my way in this post! I started out talking about routines and then wound up fighting wars and doing a crane kick. I suppose the lesson in this is to not disdain the little things. Routine is important for the security it imparts in little ones, and because it builds in them a pattern for keeping at minutia and seemingly pointless tasks that build up towards something lasting. We are raising tomorrow’s leaders, after all. As a parent, I forget that. It’s good to remember that little things count, and that a lot of little things add up to one big thing: wholeness.