My boys turned eight years old a couple of weeks ago. This month has been a bit of a roller coaster, as I suppose you would expect. Their first day of school also happened this month, and I haven’t yet had the stones to write about it.
Here it comes. This post will most likely be too long to read, and will encompass the start of school as well as our Month Long Birthday EXTRAVAGANZA! Are you in it with me? Here we go.
At the end of school last year, I was so excited for summer to begin. I thought that once I was freed from the daily grind of mornings and lunches and rides to and from school, I would be able to take control of my life and of my schedule. I would be able to get more work done, take care of the house better, and of course spend more time with my kids.
I don’t have to tell you it does NOT work that way. I must have been suffering from some sort of temporary insanity caused by wishful thinking.
It was a wonderful summer, full of late mornings watching Teen Titans Go in bed together, late nights playing XBox and two family trips. It was much needed, but it was not particularly productive. So as school approached, I was glad. I was not glad in the traditional wine-drinking mom “yippee the kids will be out of my hair and occupied for part of the day” kind of way. I was glad because once again, possibly delusional again, I believe this is when I will be able to take charge of our household schedule.
In the days leading up to the first day of school, I went on a special one-on-one outing with each of the kids. I bought back to school clothes and shoes (I pre-ordered the supplies from the PTA last year.) I bought Starbucks cards for the kids’ teachers, and wrote each one an introductory email explaining that my boys have therapy once a week and if the time does not work for their class schedule to let me know, and also to let me know if they notice any behavior in class that I should have the therapists address. The teachers, of course, know that my husband died last February. I set up schedules for homework and nighttime and morning routines. I set up a new chore chart and star chart. I stocked the fridge with school lunch items, bought new backpacks and lunches, and ordered new coats and jackets. I did this all on my own.
Honestly, it’s not that different. Trey was not much of a ‘planner’ or ‘preparer’ (except for his disaster prepping – eyeroll.) I would have taken care of most of this on my own even if he were still alive. I felt good. I felt optimistic for the school year and confident of my ability to make this work. I took the kids to school the first day, using our schedule and star chart. We did not have to rush or scramble, and we were not up against the tardy bell. After school I picked them up. They hung up their backpacks and helped unload the dishwasher to earn tablet time. I started cooking dinner.
Then I was punched in the stomach.
This routine we are setting up — it doesn’t include Trey. He’s not just gone now or for this first day of school. He is going to be gone for all of the days of school. There is no bargaining for who will be making dinner. There is no talking each other into or out of ordering a pizza. This is it. This is my routine every night. Helping the kids with homework, making dinner, washing dishes. Alone. This is it.
So then I’m crying by the sink again, which for a short while was no longer my favorite hobby.
Three days after the first day of school came the boys’ birthday. For the first year ever, I managed to talk them into having their party a couple of weeks later. I couldn’t figure how to get invitations out in time to have a party right after the start of school, and I didn’t think anyone would be up for attending a party at that time. But I did want to mark their actual birthday. At first we were going to meet the grandparents for some free Denny’s birthday goodness. But naturally I am overcompensating for their dad being gone so instead we went on a Pirate Cruise.
Because what says, “I’m sorry we are having your birthday without your father being in the world” like a pirate cruise?
We went with my parents. It was a lot of fun and I only cried a bit later that night.
The next weekend, we went to visit my uncle who lives about three hours away. His town has a fair and rodeo, and we go every year to see him and attend the fair. This year was weird without Trey. It was weird largely because it was kind of nice. Bless his heart, he really tried to be a good sport about it, and he never said this out loud, but I have been going to fairs with him for years and the truth is: he hates fairs. Hated fairs, I mean. In past years, the kids would go up with my folks, and then Trey and I would join the next day, close to the end of the day so we could spend an hour at the fair. He hated the walking and the smells and how much everything costed. I love the ridiculous food, the pig races, the world’s largest whatever. So going to the fair without him was kind of nice in a way. I went when my folks did, and spent the entire day with the kids getting their faces painted and spending too much money on bounce houses and unwinnable games.
And then K decided he wanted to go on a ride called the Storm Trooper. I thought he would be too scared, and didn’t want to let him do it. Something I always tell myself, however, is to not let fear keep you from doing things. So I let him go. I’m too fat to ride those rides so my mom rode with him. He loved it. I could see him scared at first, and then laughing and loving it the whole time. I was so glad I let him go, and I was so horribly sad that Trey wasn’t there to see it.
I didn’t cry.
This weekend was their birthday party. We did bubble soccer, something we did a couple of years ago and it was a big hit. The kids wanted Minecraft themed cakes and decorations, and then had extremely specific requests for their cakes.
Now, I bake exactly once a year — on the birthday. I still remember cakes that my mom made for me, so it is important to me that I make the cakes for my kids’ birthday. I reserved the bubble soccer place a month ahead of time. I started baking a week ahead of time. I burned up the Pinterest boards making cakes and cupcakes and decorations. This was going to be the best birthday ever.
Today we arrived, and it went well at first. But, see, K has been sick for a couple of days now. He hasn’t had a fever, but he hasn’t felt well. He’s had a runny nose and he fell asleep yesterday afternoon. I thought about postponing, but for a multitude of reasons decided not to do that. (I did warn the other parents, in case they wanted to stay away from the germs.)
So when he fell down early on and twisted his ankle, he was already feeling kind of cranky and this just ended it for him. He tried to stay in the fun, but he was pretty much a little ball of screaming crying anger. Normally when he gets like this, he just needs some time alone but I could not figure out how to give that to him in this case. I took him to the room where the cakes were set up. That’s when he unleashed on me:
“This is the worst birthday ever!”
“We’ve had seven birthdays and this is the only one that is terrible!”
“This is a waste of a whole birthday! I won’t have another for an entire year!”
I know he’s a kid and kids lash out, but I was already fragile and I just crumpled. I kept my cool, told him I was going outside for a bit and asked if he needed me to get anything before I left. He said he wanted to lay down in the car for a while, and I thought, well duh that’s a great idea. I can’t believe that didn’t occur to me.
This is when my dad stepped in. Seeing my barely controlled anguish, he offered to take K to his car to lay down and have some cooldown time. I gratefully accepted his offer, and found a quiet corner of the building in which to have a complete breakdown.
I went outside and sobbed. I wanted so much for this birthday to be amazing and wonderful and special, and somehow I had managed to ruin it for him. He would always remember this first birthday as being terrible and I couldn’t do anything to fix it. He was hurting and it made me hurt and I couldn’t handle it. So I let myself cry for just a couple of minutes, then pulled myself together (I thought) and went back in.
One of the other moms — one who knows I’m recently widowed — was in the lobby on the phone. She saw my face.
I guess I wasn’t as stealth as I thought I was.
She immediatly hung up, stood up, and hugged me. “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you.” I started crying again. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I just cried.
I pulled myself together again – or so I thought.
We went back inside, where my other boy was having a grand time. One of the other moms there is also a widow — she’s just over two years out. She saw me and immediately asked if I was okay.
I started to say yes, I’m fine.
We all do that. We all say we are fine.
WE ARE NOT FINE. WE ARE NOT OKAY. NOTHING IS FINE. “Fine” just means “I managed to generally function like a human being today, despite this pervasive wrongness that I carry.”
I didn’t say I was fine. I looked at her, she had asked if I was okay, and I said, “No.”
She said, “Of course you’re not.”
So now I’m just openly widow-crying in front of everyone. All this work to make it seem like we are moving forward okay and that we are doing “as well as can be expected” is gone. I’m a blubbering widow-y mess.
I did manage to pull myself together in time to call the kids to the party room for pizza and cake. K came in, refreshed from his time alone, and was able to laugh and play and have fun for the rest of the party. Everyone said it was a huge success, and I’m glad everyone had a good time. I’m especially glad that K was able to reign it in and have fun for the second half. I’m super proud of him. That’s not easy to do.
I had fun, too. I talked with the other moms about chore charts and allowances. It was good.
Now I’m sitting at my computer bawling. I had Amazon Now deliver a small bottle of bourbon and I’m quickly getting blotto and am about to watch Donnie Darko.
Thank you for listening.