Diana took this one at a crawfish boil when Summer was a baby. Her first boil? Matt was a proud papa and we were the only ones with a baby.
I am going through old pictures on CDs to get rid of the old media. Wow, this is an old one. I thought it was before Matt had contacts but that’s not right. He must have been wearing his glasses in preparation for laser correction for his eyes on this day at the zoo with Summer’s preschool class mates.
Going on the fourth Christmas, I have come to accept the Christmas tree as Matt’s presence at Christmas time. Before we had kids, Matt wanted nothing to do with having a Christmas tree. We celebrated Christmas of course, but he kind of bah humbugged a lot of it on the principle that Christmas is over commercialized. As soon as Summer was born, he went out and bought a huge artificial Christmas tree. It is 12 feet tall and he got a very good deal on Craig’s list. It is a high quality tree but it is not pre lit and you have to put it together, branch by branch. He even researched the best way to string lights which is not round and round but in and out along each branch. To properly light the tree in this way takes about 1000 lights and 2 full days of work. Needless to say, once Matt died, this was not something I was able to do on my own. But with three kids, I had to have a Christmas tree even if I didn’t feel like it. The prospect of putting the tree up in good time was quite a burden. The first year, Josh and the McNamaras helped put it up. The second year I went shopping for a pre lit tree. I looked at Target, at Lowe’s, at Home Depot and online. What I found was that none of the trees measured up to the fullness of our tree and the ones that came close were very expensive. My solution was to put up 2 instead of 3 sections of our tree which meant a 9 foot tree instead of 12 feet. There are about 9 or 10 rows of branches this way and since the top section has shorter branches, it goes up pretty fast. I also don’t try to get the tree up all at once. We work on it about an hour a day over the course of several days and now that the kids are older, they can help by fluffing out the branches before I put them up.
This year, I pulled out the tree and decided it would represent Matt himself and that putting up the tree is a meditation of sorts and a way to measure my readiness. It’s also a sort of Advent calendar as seeing the tree go from a small tuft at the end of a six foot pole to a five foot tree raised up above the ground to the full 9 foot portion corresponds to the days closing in on Christmas. The kids love holiday decorating so much and that definitely helps a lot. I try to get most of the gift shopping done in November and then slow down in December with only Christmas extracurriculars and a goal to de-rush amidst the Christmas rush. This year actually feels a bit measured and steady.
That’s something I learned from daddy– how to play with your food, while you’re eating it. Remember, he used to throw grapes in the air and catch them?
Summer, playing with her Pull n Peel Twizzlers at age 10
The air pressure in the tires of the car are low, and I am finding it hard to get the problem resolved. It’s not that I keep forgetting or that I don’t know what to do about it or even that I don’t want to do it. It’s hard because it’s one of those things that Matt would have done for me. I call it evidence that Matt is not here. It is also evidence that Matt is here– this bit of resistance is just him reminding me to move forward consciously.
The picture below is from the end of 2010. Matt is putting away the co-sleeper for the third and final time. I took the photo to mark the milestone.
One morning last week before school, Luke hits me with: “What was my daddy’s name?” This brings me full stop in my school morning routine to give him my full and questioning attention and to say “Matt.” Luke says in reply, “I want it to be Uncle Josh… because I like him.” It strikes me that of all the men Luke knows, he understands at some level that Josh is Matt’s brother.
I think my favorite vacations with Matt were the ones where we saw lots of natural sights. These vacations usually involved more driving, but that was okay. Matt never wanted to go to the same place twice and he was always financially savvy about our plans. The first years of our marriage, I did most of the planning, especially for the road trips. Later, Matt did the leg work although I had a big say in where we went. (Yes, you can read this as Matt being a bit of a control freak. I was always happy with his plans and was happy to not have the burden of planning.) We did a lot of beach vacations and they were never Matt’s favorite. He didn’t like to swim and he didn’t like all of the salt and sand. Still, Matt usually remembered the vacations fondly, even if I wasn’t sure he was enjoying himself at the time.
- Cancun – This was a really good vacation except for the day that we tried scuba diving. The weather was grey, the boat was small and I threw up several times. The hotel we stayed at was really nice and reasonably priced.
- Road trip to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and San Francisco (2000) – We drove in the Porsche 951, with Oliver in the back and it was a fantastic vacation. We drove very fast through Texas. I remember camping outside of Yosemite and freezing at night and then just driving through the park the next day and being disappointed that we couldn’t spend more time there. We visited a friend in San Francisco and a waitress at one of the restaurants guessed we were newlyweds. Then on our way back we drove through the Grand Canyon for the second time.
- Bahamas (2001) – I remember this vacation being a dud. We stayed at the resort Atlantis, although not on the main property, and everything was prohibitively expensive for us. We didn’t feel comfortable trying to navigate the island outside of the resort so we mostly sat on the beach and read. It wasn’t the sort of vacation Matt liked– he preferred being fairly active, doing activities and seeing sites. This was the first vacation that we had a digital camera.
- Road trip/camping to Colorado and New Mexico (2002) – This time we had two puppies and a BMW M3. We camped in Mesa Verde on our way where there was a lot of wild fire damage.
- Maui (2004) – Summer was six months old and every day of the vacation at dinner time, she would melt down without fail. But Maui is beautiful and we saw and did many wonderful things.
- Caribbean Cruise (2005) – This was the vacation that our marriage counselor encouraged us to take. I don’t like cruises; the idea of being confined on a boat with a bunch of people does not appeal to me. But we took the advice, leaving Summer for the first time. I don’t remember it being a strained vacation.
- Colorado (2006) – Rocky Mountain National Park, the Denver Zoo, Garden of the Gods
- California (2007) – Yosemite, Los Angeles, San Diego Zoo. Once again, an infant (Cole this time) meant a lot of crying, but this is the sort of vacation we liked best with lots to do and see and wide open spaces.
- Miami and Disney World (2008) – We went to visit my sister Anna and the beach. Last minute, Matt decided we should take a trip to Orlando and go to Disney World. (I think he was tired of my family.) We were reading Summer The Wizard of Oz at the time and we told her that we were going to Oz. We got right up to the Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom and she still didn’t know where we were till we told her.
- Paris (2009) – To celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary (sans kids). I had just found out I was pregnant with Luke before we left and by the end of the vacation was starting to feel morning sickness.
- South Padre Island (2009) – I remember the turtle rescue center and running after Cole at 6 months pregnant when he took off across the beach and Matt had already gone back to the condo.
- Michigan (2010) – This was such a good vacation, even with three children. I just remember turning on the vacation switch and feeling so relaxed the whole time.
All of our big vacations were week long vacations. Before we were married we took a road trip to the Grand Canyon, went to Daytona and Niagara Falls. We did other shorter trips after we were married to New York City without the kids, Dallas for a baby moon before Luke was born, ski trips before the kids were born to Salt Lake City, Wolf Creek, and Angel Fire.
This week I was at the daycare picking up Luke. Summer was with me and we had just come from a successful shopping trip at the mall for new tennis shoes. As Luke came off of the playground, Summer said, “Luke, look, I got new shoes.” Luke looked over and said “Ooooooo.” I observed this adorable sibling exchange and at the same time heard Luke’s “oooooo” as if it had come out of Matt’s mouth.
I’m afraid I’m at the point where I had to rack my brain for a few moments to reassure myself that I was remembering correctly, that his response wasn’t familiar for some other reason. Matt didn’t say it very often, but sometimes when one of the kids (or me) was showing him something special, he would say “ooooo” in a sort of childlike or silly way, with an inflection halfway. I’m certain Cole never uses this response. Summer maybe has said it before, but Luke has it down precisely.
Some people want to believe that a loved one’s spirit is with them and can send them messages from beyond. I want to believe that even if Luke does not explicitly remember much of his father, his implicit memories of him are there, planted deep and blooming forth through his life.
Today, Luke was looking at his birth pictures in the bedroom and it dawned on him that Matt was with him when he was a baby. (I realized that he’s still too young for the word “alive” to really mean anything to him.) “Daddy was here when I was a baby?!” He was delighted and he asked me, “How old was I when daddy was here?” When I said zero, he thought it was the silliest answer ever.