Friday, November 30, 2012

The season catches up with Rowan

It was bound to happen, wasn't it?

I know some people close to Aimee have been struggling with her death more lately, due to the nearness of the one year anniversary, but Rowan initially seemed unaffected. She was excited about Christmas, loved helping me decorate, and we've talked (a lot!) about what she was going to ask Santa for. I was holding on to a secret hope that she'd make it through unscathed.


Yesterday morning, while getting ready to leave for school, Rowan started to get fussy. When I asked her what was wrong, she said in a small, sad voice, "I don't know. I'm just not feeling like myself today." Besides seeming like a big thing to say for such a young kid, I probed a little deeper, and got to this: she's suddenly hit by the connection between Christmas and her mommy's death.

"Rowan, are you sad?"
"Are you sad about mommy?"
Another nod.
"Are you remembering Christmas last year without her here."
Rowan: "Yeah, I was just looking at mommy's stocking and I'm sad because she I miss her."


So the trigger this morning was the stocking. We all have one - even the dog - and Rowan had asked that we hang Aimee's up when we were decorating the house last weekend. No big deal, I figured. So I hung it up. But Rowan apparently was looking at it this morning and was remembering Christmas last year, and it hit her all at once.

I'm not surprised this is happening. Like I said, it's happening to a lot of people. I was talking to my therapist on Monday about my overly heightened memory of what I was doing this time last year, and we talked about how normal that is when approaching a traumatic anniversary. It only makes sense that it would happen for Rowan too. but I had hoped somehow that maybe as young as she was that maybe she'd get by with more of the joy of the season and less of the sadness of her mom's death. but it looks like that's not to be.

Well, we'll deal with this like we've dealt with the rest of it. We'll talk about our feelings. We'll make sure that Rowan knows this is normal for someone who's gone through what she has, and let her know that we can talk anytime she wants. Then we'll talk about good memories of Aimee, and of Christmas, and I'll do my best to guide Rowan in how to move on while honoring and remembering her mother's memory.

And we will do our absolute best to have a Merry Christmas.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The eleventh month

We're here. The last month of the first year. If you've ever lost someone, you've probably experienced it - a heightened sense of memory of what you were doing near the end of your loved one's life. Ironically, Aimee was going through this last year, remembering in the last few months of her father's life.

I'm going through it now.

Thanksgiving was a couple of days ago. For me (and I know many others), this holiday marks the beginning of the march towards Christmas. Last year was no different. I put up the tree last Thanksgiving weekend. I also decorated the outside of the house, hanging lights and setting up lawn ornaments. Aimee frequently referred to me as "Sparky" (a reference to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the single best holiday movie ever).

The following weeks were filled with double excitement: Christmas was coming, but before that, our vacation with her side of the family for eight days in the Florida Keys. Sunny weather, warm temperatures, and some quality time remembering her father, who'd passed away December 19 of the previous year. Sounded like it was going to be a great time, right?

What could possibly go wrong?

Over the next month, my posts will likely be mostly focused on what was happening this time last year. I know that's what will be frequently on my mind in the coming weeks, and the best way for me to process that that is to write about it.

Let the journey through the eleventh month begin.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Missing Aimee, but thankful

With Thanksgiving being this week, there's a lot of focus on what we're thankful for. As it relates to my time with Aimee, and the time I've lived since her death, I have come to realize there is a lot I'm thankful for, in the midst of her absence.

Most of the greatest gifts Aimee gave me
are related to being this child's daddy

  • I am thankful for eight years of laughs and of love. Being loved by Aimee was an incredible thing to experience.
  • I am thankful that she showed me how to be a great husband, and that she did so without ever saying a word.
  • I am thankful that she majored in early childhood development, plus took a class on childhood grief and trauma, and that she shared so much of what she'd learned with me. I am so much better equipped for where I am not than most people simply by virtue of having been lucky enough to have married a woman with Aimee's educational background.
  • I am thankful that so much of what she shared with me penetrated my thick skull. If that's not a sign of a Higher Power, I don't know what is.
  • As much work as being a single father has been, I am thankful that Aimee and I had Rowan. She has kept me grounded, and given me perspective over the last 11 months.
  • I am thankful for the countless friends and loved ones who've stepped up and stepped in through more ways than I can begin to count. 
  • I am thankful for the ways modern technology has made it easier to preserve memories. I have digital photos and videos of Aimee. I also have this blog.
  • I am thankful I was raised with a strong faith in God that helps me see the (much) bigger picture, which in turn helps me deal with both my grief at Aimee's death and my anger at the reasons it happened.
  • Finally, the last thing I'm thankful for (tears in my eyes as I write this) are all the times Aimee said to me, "I have faith that if anything ever happened to me, you'd do a great job raising Rowan." For as high as her standards were, to have that complete faith in me is just amazing. When I've struggled as a single father the last eleven months, I've held on to that and felt like if Aimee could have that kind of faith in me, maybe I could allow myself to feel it as well.

To each and every one of you, have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On being a man raising a girl

When Aimee was pregnant, I'll confess I had just a tiny tinge of hope that the baby would be a boy. Just a tiny one, mind you. Like most parents, my biggest hope by far was for a healthy child, and gender was an extremely distant second to that. But a while after she was born, maybe somewhere between six months and a year old, I realized I was really glad I'd had a girl. My relationship with my dad had been awful, and I realized that at some level I might be carrying a bit of baggage in regards to a father-son situation that didn't exist between me and a daughter.

Besides, I loved Rowan so much that I really couldn't have cared less what her gender was. She was just an amazing, wonderful kid.

Fast forward to now. I'm raising her on my own, at least for now. Not that I don't have help, because Donna is pretty involved, plus her sitter, and her teachers at school. Still, I am the parent at home. And I'm a man trying to raise a girl. As Rowan gets older, this has started to lead to some funny topics of conversation. For example:

  • I recently tried to describe "accessorizing your outfits" to her as a way of explaining why she might want to wear barrettes in her hair. Two things I know little about are accessories and hair (for those that don't know, I have had a shaved head for going on 15 years). But I am trying to teach her.
  • We routinely discuss what types of shoes go with the outfit I picked out for her that day. I have, on more than one occasion, completely changed her outfit for the day to match the shoes she wanted to wear.
  • Since she's been obsessed with Disney princesses and their fairy tale version of how people fall in love and get married, I've had to explain to her that daddy 'finding a new mommy' is a hell of a lot more complicated than she thinks. I can not simply attend a royal ball (I'm not a prince anyway, so even an invitation to such a grand event is not going to land me Cinderella). And kissing women who are asleep and expecting them to immediately run away with me will not only not work, but most likely land me in jail (think Snow White and Sleeping Beauty). Now maybe if I owned a castle my results would be different, but I already covered my lack of royalty.
  • A couple of months ago I got a book out of the library to teach her about anatomy for both girls and boys. I was uncomfortable as hell. Fair or not, that's one job I absolutely would have insisted mommy do, had she been here.
This is more up my alley, taking
her to the fair or to carnivals
I'm sure there've been others as well. The point is, I sometimes feel woefully inadequate to discuss some things with her.

But there then are the times when Rowan looks at me and says, "You're the best daddy, ever." And she's been saying that a LOT lately. I love it, even though she really has nothing else to compare me to, and I'm pretty sure I'll get the "I HATE YOU!" treatment at some point in her life. But that's OK.

A few nights ago she was sitting on the couch watching a show on TV (part of the pre-bed ritual). I sat next to her and wrapped my arms around her, and she just melted into my chest. As she did, I leaned down and kissed the top of her head, and just felt my little girl in my arms. And her posture told me she felt loved, safe, and cared for. And I was reassured that although we may not connect over barrettes or shoes, we connect as daddy and daughter. We love each other, and our bond is strong, and we're going to be OK. In fact, we're going to be better than OK. We're going to do pretty damn well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

"Find the bottom and stand up"

Earlier this week, Rowan finished her first 5 week preschool swimming class through the local aquatic center. The class focused on getting kids comfortable in the water and learning some basic skills. Rowan loved the class, and loved her teacher. It was well worth the time and money.

As I sat and watched her last class, though, I had this sudden flashback...

It is the afternoon of December 18, 2011. I am with Rowan at Jacobs Aquatic Center in Key Largo, FL. A short while earlier, we'd briefly seen Aimee before she'd left to go out for her scuba dives. Rowan and I are playing in a large swimming pool, and Rowan is staying on the steps. It's too deep for her off the steps. She's having fun, but I, trying to be a good parent, tell her that if she slips and falls and lands on one of the steps, all she needs to do is 'find the bottom and stand up'. I tell her as long as she does that on one of the steps, she'll come up with her head above the water.

I repeat this over and over to her in a sing-sing kind of way... 'find the bottom and stand up... find the bottom and stand up.' Although the exercise doesn't really have a point, since I'm never more than an arm's length away from her and I'll grab her if she does start to slip, I am trying to help her increase both her knowledge of how to deal with that scenario and her comfort level in the pool.

I am trying to teach her how to not panic in the water. I'm trying to teach her how not to drown (in the context of the poll she was in at that moment).

At the same time as I was giving Rowan her little impromptu lesson, Aimee was on the boat, on her way out to Molasses Reef....

So as I watched Rowan splash and play in the pool a few evenings ago, at one point she did slip, but caught herself before she fell over. In my mind I heard my voice automatically say 'find the bottom and stand up', and suddenly I was back in Florida with Rowan in that pool, where just a short while earlier we'd waved a final goodbye to Aimee.

A short while later Aimee would be dead.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Superman cries

Lately I've been feeling pretty good about how I'm doing as a single dad to Rowan. She's been happy lately, which is the most important thing. But on top of that, I've just been pretty much on the ball. Ballet classes (I even bought her a tutu), gymnastics classes, and swimming lessons. She's really enjoying all of her activities and school, and she and I have never been closer.

On our own, the two of us do a mixture of fun stuff 'out' and staying at home and playing together. She still occasionally asks me to be 'mommy', but this is not quite as hard as it used to be. I guess I'm a little more used to this request, and it makes me feel good to somehow meet this need in her to talk to her mother.

It's the culmination of the last 10+ months of very determined efforts to be the best parent - both father and mother - I could be. I feel like Rowan deserves the best, and it's sure as hell not her fault that she lost her mother and got left with me. I have strived to be so good a father that she feels the loss as minimally as possible in her day-to-day life.
Rowan on Picture Day

Today was her preschool's Picture Day. I got her into a pretty dress and really beautiful white shawl/hood that someone gave her. She had on tights that matched and cute shoes. I even made sure her hair was brushed and glasses were clean. Before we left, I snapped a picture of her with my phone. I had the thought that has become so common to me now, that Aimee should have been here for this, but it happens so often now that I've gotten used to that too.

I started to feel a little like Superman, handling it all, doing it with a smile, and never a hair out of place (that's a bad bald joke).

But a while later, sitting in a Starbucks telecommuting, I suddenly thought about just how well I've learned to manage on my own, and for some reason, that made me really sad. It was like I suddenly felt like because I could do this on my own, and fairly well, that I not only didn't need Aimee anymore, but maybe even that I never had.

That thought brought instant tears to my eyes.

Because it just isn't true.

If someone had handed me Rowan at birth, without Aimee there, I would have been utterly lost. Even if they'd handed her to me when she was a year or even two years old, I'd have had no clue. It was three and a half years of learning from Aimee that made me the father I'm able to be now. Yes, I knew a thing or two about parenting already, and yes, I have some good instincts to go by. But the difference between the father I would have been and the father I am is huge, and can be traced back to the incredible woman I married back in 2006.

Aimee, if you're somehow watching, I hope you approve of how I'm doing. And thanks for helping me get to a place where I can be a father Rowan loves and trusts.