I am an unabashed night owl, a trait I inherited from my father. No really – researchers have actually found that there is a genetic component to a person’s circadian rhythms. Growing up, I would often come downstairs in the middle of the night to find him reading or working or making up his own crossword puzzles. Sometimes we would talk but often I would simply curl up next to him, my head rising and falling on his chest in rhythm with his breathing. Nighttime was when he helped me solve my problems, mended my broken heart, and told me fantastic stories. Nighttime was our time.
Last Friday was apparently National Sibling Day. I didn’t know that was a thing until I saw the plethora of pictures pop up on Facebook and Instagram. Hallmark used to be the inventor of fun but meaningless holidays. Now it’s social media.
But maybe it shouldn’t be a meaningless day. We have holidays to recognize mothers and fathers – why not brothers and sisters? They are, after all, our first friends and our first loves. It is from our siblings that we learn to share – the affection of our parents, the space in the backseat of a car, the last piece of cake. From them we learn how to fight fairly and how to forgive. We learn how to keep a secret and how to communicate without uttering a word. We know each other’s greatest sins and biggest dreams. We have seen each other at our best and at our worst and we love each other anyway.
Sunday morning I put on my lucky orange pants for the last time this season. I didn’t know it at the time of course, although I had an inkling. That is, after all, the nature of the post-season – survive and advance or lose and go home.
One year ago, I stood in a similar stadium, watching Virginia play the very same team, and there wasn’t a single part of me that believed it would be the last time. Hope is a funny thing that way.
But one year ago, I didn’t know what I do know. That you cannot will something to be simply because you believe. One year ago, I hadn’t yet listened to the voices of the paramedics performing CPR on my dad. I hadn’t held my child and told him everything was going to be okay, even though I knew it wasn’t. In my head I knew. But my heart still believed in the improbable. As my brain was busy calculating the ugly logistics of death, my heart was exhilarating in the moment that was surely ahead of us when the doctors would joyfully tell us of the medical miracle that they had performed.
A month ago, I had the great pleasure of accompanying Jack’s class on a field trip to the Chrysler Museum. As we were passing through Huber Court, Jack caught sight of my parents’ names etched in the marble wall and stopped mid-stride. Oblivious to the boisterous chatter of his classmates fading into the glass gallery down the hall, Jack stood immobile. And then he slowly reached out his hand.
Silently I watched him run his fingers over the grooves in the marble, painstakingly tracing each letter in my father’s name. I knew what he was doing. He was willing himself to see and feel my father instead of just a name carved in the cold marble.
In the months since my father has died, I have heard the same question over and over again: “Are you really okay?” Most of the time it is a genuine question, although sometimes it is dutifully asked as a perfunctory exercise of social graces.
Either way, my answer is always the same: “I’m really okay.” I always have been, even if I didn’t understand why.
But the parade of confused looks and barely hidden disbelief at my unconventional reaction made me start to think that everyone else knew something I didn’t.
I should have known that 2014 was going to be a . . . challenging year when it began with a virulent bout of the stomach flu.
But things started to look up after a week at Disneyworld with our favorite people. After the Lucky Orange Pants had the time of their life at the ACC tournament and the Sweet Sixteen. At Will’s preschool graduation. An unforgettable weekend at UVA basketball camp. When my brother got engaged to the greatest girl in the world. After an inauspicious beginning, 2014 was looking like the best year on record.
Of all of my favorite Christmas activities – and good Lord there are many – doing our Christmas card is high on the list. Normally, I love coming up with pithy holiday puns for the greeting. I relish spending countless hours I don’t actually have looking back through pictures and choosing the ones that capture the personality of the boys, even if their hair isn’t brushed or their clothes don’t match. The pictures that tell the story of us.
But this year I have been uninspired. My heart just hasn’t been in it.
Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. Don’t get me wrong – I love sitting around a table with my family and eating. Those are, in fact, my two favorite things in the world.
I don’t have anything against Thanksgiving. I’ve just never been inspired by it. Maybe it’s because we are lucky enough to routinely sit around the table and eat giant meals with our families. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving has none of the magic and majesty of other holidays. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is entirely… contrived. It isn’t about anything except being together. Being thankful. Which is, of course, exactly why some people love it. I get it.
I have not been to church since my dad died. It’s not because I am angry or because my faith has been shaken. Or because I am worried that the sound of my heels clicking on the stone floor will trigger a memory of the last time I walked down that center aisle, holding my mother’s hand.
No, it is none of those things. It is simply that my heart was not yet ready for the enormity of emotion that fills me every time I sit in those pews. I still don’t know if I am ready. But today is All Saints’ Day.
Oh how I want to talk to you today. There’s so much I’ve wanted to tell you, so much I want you to know about the last three months. When we were living with mom this summer, I would often come downstairs in the middle of the night and walk into the den, half expecting to find you reading on the sofa. I so wanted to curl up next to you like I did when I was younger. To have you put your arm around my shoulder and hear you say “tell your dear old dad what’s bothering you.”
Of all of life’s pleasures that are wasted on youth, the most overlooked is the luxury to indulge in a bad day.
Children can throw themselves on the floor wailing and moaning over a seemingly inconsequential disappointment. Adolescents can walk around sullen and slam doors, just because they feel like it. Brokenhearted college kids can curl up in the fetal position, play sad songs, put a straw in a bottle of wine, and sleep for 18 hours. Because sometimes it feels good to just wallow.
But wallowing is an extravagance for the young.
Last week marked the official end to summer. This was old news to many of us who said goodbye to summer weeks ago. Perhaps at the exact moment we were photographing our children (looking the best they will look all year long) holding their Pinterest-inspired first day of school signs. We have already grudgingly readjusted to the strictures of routine and schedule and simultaneously given up caring what they look like when they go to school. Nearly one month in to the school year, my boys left the house looking as if they had not brushed their hair in 4 days. And last week I let them wear stripes on stripes. Don’t judge.
You can read Part I of the story here.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried this summer. I’m fine, remember?
I didn’t cry at my dad’s memorial service. In fact, I reveled in the celebration of his life and took odd comfort in consoling the people who came and cried on my shoulder.
I didn’t cry as I spent 8 weeks living in my parents’ house, the house I grew up in, surrounded by his things. I looked at his clothes hanging in the closet, at his briefcase filled with law review articles, at the pictures of him scattered on tabletops and bookcases. I liked seeing those traces of him everywhere, as if he was about to bound through the doorway at any moment, ready to kiss my mom on the forehead and tell the boys a silly joke.
After months of despondently pretending to care about tennis and golf and baseball while secretly watching reruns of the 1982 Peach Bowl on ESPN Classic, the drought is finally over. With August comes a return to all that is good with the world.
I love everything about football. College or NFL. Televised or live. I love the play calls, the pageantry, the speculation over coaching hires and recruiting. Most of all, I love being a fan. Since I was a little girl, I have loved my Giants and my Wahoos. But truthfully I will watch any game, any time, anywhere.
Today is my least favorite day of the year. The day before school starts. The end of summer. The beginning of homework and drudgery.
The end of fun.
Jack has been dreading this day for weeks. He angsts. He frets. He worries about things to come instead of basking in the remaining moments of his freedom. He is, after all, his mother’s child. I do my best to distract him, to cheer him up, to reassure him he will love it once he gets there. But I am pretty sure he can see right through me.