family story

Its more exciting to say it began with hamster entrails on the living room floor, but it didn’t. That was a few days after the Thanksgiving break. It really started with 14 inches of snow and -6 temperatures the day before Thanksgiving. That is where it all starts.

My truck is a California girl named Petunia. I let Truly name this one despite Tadgs protests, I just couldn’t call my truck “Ninja” as he wanted. I got gentle Petunia her antifreeze changed and new all weather radials a month before the first storm, but she is a rear wheel drive truck. Which is to say even on good tires she drives in the snow like the cars I grew up with. I remember waiting with glee in the vast back seat of my Mom’s Thunderbird, anticipating that weightless feeling when it started to drift like an office building on rollerskates. What glee for me, what horror for Mom. This truck drives something like that in the snow.

I wisely prepared for the OLD Central Oregon winters, the ones that dropped 16 inches of snow over about 3 months like angels farting occasionally from above. Instead we got the megalithic ice-train of Snowmageddon. Which means the rechargeable hair dryer I got for a snow blower didn’t quite cut it, unless you hit the driveway again and again throughout the day, first me then Tadg for about three days.

The kids had both experienced snow before but this was a whole new level.

“When will the snow plows come?”
“I don’t know.”
“YOU DON”T KNOW!? Like we could be here for weeks?!”
“No, I don’t think so…probably not.”

It turns out my driveway, when covered with ice, is not so great for launching Petunia the California girl but it makes for awesome sledding! I managed to hurl Truly down the driveway hard enough to send her across the road. Which was fine because nobody was driving on our road, especially snow plows.

Bella found a new level of happiness and herding. She took the kids sled bound rocket trips towards the unplowed road as immanent catastrophe, with a dash of fun thrown in. Wagging her tail she grabbed their coated arms in her jaws and pulled hard to stop them. Kids swatted her away, she frolicked in the snow and then attacked them to save them again. Frolic, bite, repeat.

Everyone found their snow-self very quickly.

Tadg focused on his Ninja training when he wasn’t sledding with Truly or online with friends. He’s freakishly good at hiding and sneaking up on people, add to that a new nerf gun with really big bullets and you have a great reason to focus on hiding with your beer supply. That was really the most stressful thing about being locked up for so long, that and the late arrival of my snow chains. On Friday I hiked out to the group mailbox down the road twice only to find the chains on my front door when I returned at dusk.

Everything is going to be OK, you don’t have to be perfect all the time.

Don’t I? Being a successful Dad has become the measure for everything lately. I want to have everything in place for them, everything should be complete and perfect. I should have had the right snowblower, should have had chains a week ago. Its OK, the kids are fine, happy. We may end up eating turkey three times a day, but we’ll be fine.

Fine but not perfect.

Petunia did much better with chains, but it was still a rough ride. With nighttime temperatures in the negative numbers, town was all snow drifts and truck-skating. Thankfully no crashing. We joined the mini-throngs in the store re-stocking (Sisters has a population of 2k, we couldn’t muster a mob if we tried.) Driving home I realized there was no way I was going to drive True 20 miles to school on chains this winter, all of my fillings would rattle out of my mouth like confetti in the first week. Time to order studded snow tires.

“Yeah, I think I can fit you in tomorrow for new tires, be here by 3.”
“Great – thank you!.”
I made sure to leave in time to arrive by 2.

This would be my victory lap: drop off the truck, walk to the library for an hour or two, maybe grab a bite and arrive home with gnarly snow tires with real teeth. Perfect was just within reach again. The chains on the left rear wheel had slipped, I had to refit that tire, the other side looked good.

The roads were packed with tourists, some dressed in Dickensian garb, horse drawn carriages weaving through police barricades, snow drifts and too many cars. I managed to pick the day Sisters had its own mini-winter parade. We were just heading into the thick of it when my brakes started to dissolve.

“Daddy, I think the chains are gone.”
“I can’t see the chains any more. Oh wait, there they are.”
“Tadg don’t add any more stress! I think the brakes are going out.”
“What does that mean?”
“We can’t stop!”

The worse my brakes got, the more small children dressed like Tiny Tim slipped and drifted out in front of the truck. It was oddly hilarious. Of course people couldn’t move out of the way, the roads were covered in ice and they were wearing boots made in the 1800’s. Horses danced in front of my grill. I managed to slow to a snails pace by pumping the brakes and down shifting. The traffic was so bad there was no going fast. I threw it into park and watched Petunia skate a few times, but there was always room for error. I made it to the tire lot at 2pm, jumped out to find the chains on the right rear tire almost invisible, wrapped around the brake calliper and line. Fluid was dripping into the snow.

“See Daddy I was right, almost gone!”

Me and perfect are not getting along right now. At least they do brakes here as well as tires.

“We won’t be able to get to it until Monday. The part has to come from Redmond.”
“Just for a brake line?”

Crap. Stuck in town, no car and its getting late. Fucking Tiny Tim. Time to call a cab. I still have not fallen in love with Uber yet, I opted for the towns only advertised cab.

“Hey guys, I’m Courtney, where are you going to?”

Single Mom, another refugee from CA. Had a great talk. Promised to drive us into town on Monday when the part arrived. So much for school on Monday. Still, we’re all home safe and we stocked up on Friday. Monday shouldn’t be too hard a stretch.

That was supposed to be Truly’s first day at her new school. The old school was working out, but the spirits thought we could do better for True. I journey regularly to helping spirits to check in about what the kids need, how I can be a better Dad (how close to perfect can I get?) They said Tadg was in the right place, but they let me know there was a better fit for True. It took me a while to figure out the metaphor they gave me to point me to the new school: a radiant woman, shining like the sun with her arms stretching down like a mountain.

It was only when we visited Sun Mountain Fun Center for the first time, that I realized another Montessori I had considered shared its property line. I’d never seen either building, but the Sun Mountain sign was unmistakable, just like the image the spirits shared. This was the place. It took a few weeks of work but I arranged to transition Truly right after Thanksgiving. That would have to wait one more day.

Courtney arrived at noon, ready to reunite us with our missing Petunia. She was a bit too focused on catching up with us and drifted off the driveway, slamming into one of the boulders that line my property. Wow, thanks for the free adjustment! No harm no foul. She charged me 1/2 price for the ride. At least Tiny Tim wasn’t crushed in the process. We arrived in town to discover the lunch spot we wanted to go to was closed. Perfect. Better call the tire shop to make sure at least they were on schedule to be done by 3 at the latest.

“Sorry, not done by 3, more like 6.”

Perfect drifted away again, hysterical laughter was looking pretty close though. Stuck in town, no vehicle with 5 hours to kill and they’d probably fail to meet that promise. Nope, not gonna do it.

“Let me talk to the manager…nevermind I’m coming in.”

It sounds dramatic to say I marched the kids through snow and ice all the way from one end of town to the other to talk to the manager in person. In Sisters thats about 4 blocks. I think True danced most of the way, I pouted. I was ready to do the whole single-father-widower-with-two-kids-and-no-car-since-Saturday routine. Time to throw down a major pity parade. I made sure I had a kid in each hand when I stepped forward to talk to the manager.

Me: “Blah blah, had it since Saturday, blah blah promised me, blah blah, no car, blah 6 pm, fuck Tiny Tim” (OK I didn’t go after Tiny Tim.)
Manager: {Let me step behind this door, talk to someone and make everything perfect.}
Me: “Thank you.”

And thats just what he did. Perhaps I shouldn’t genuflect over a 4 pm pickup, but I did feel deeply, spiritually renewed. The studded tires were awesome, totally delivered. Time to go out to dinner to celebrate.

I did not arrive home to discover Bella guarding the remains of Truly’s hamster, Pip in the middle of the living room floor. That would be the next evening. This evening the sink flooded the floor in the kitchen, causing the boards to buckle.

I’d like to pause in this moment to say that this period was actually really cathartic for me. I’ve been working on self-love the last few months, and for the first time in my life I’ve really been able to feel my sense of self love, to map it throughout my day. Suffering is a lot of what has made that so clear to me. Not big suffering, but the little, annoying suffering that marks our first world problems. Dragging kids all over town, living without a car for a few days, feeling a little locked up for a week, all paint a canvas that lets me see my self love come and go. Its actually been really great for that.

Maybe life gives us a little suffering so we can remember who we are.

I shut off the water to the kitchen sink and we went to bed. Tomorrow I’d wake at 5:15, do some yoga and get the kids off to school on my new tires, buy a new faucet and oh yeah deal with the fact that one of Petunias headlights is out. And yes – there is that eye exam (do I have floaters or cataracts?…turns out floaters.) Actually it was a pretty cool Thanksgiving break in the end … an epic journey for us all.

And yes we returned home to find Pip missing from her cage. Bella sat dutifully next to what the cats left of her. We wouldn’t find her head (in the middle of True’s floor) until the next day. I rocked Truly while she screamed and cried. Pip must have pushed against a partially closed latch, escaped and then fallen prey to one of the cats. These tears did not lead to new grief about Momma, but that conversation has deepened recently.

“Daddy, did you see Momma’s face when you planted her in the ground?”
After talking about the Earth transforming Mommas body into new life, Truly now feels we planted her rather than buried her.
“No honey, she was wrapped in cloth when we buried her.”
“Oh, OK.”
That seemed to make her feel better, for Momma not to have dirt on her face.

Hamster Pip was dead, but perhaps not in the same way that Momma was dead. Hamsters come and go, they can be dead with only one round of tears. Momma’s passing haunts Truly, its part of her day, every day. Not necessarily sad, but there always. Terry is at once a question, a comment, and a hope and even a grace.

The grace of Pips are that you can buy a new one. Truly cried over Pip 1, I checked in with her a number of times to make sure she was through the crisis portion of Pip 1’s passing. And then we went to the pet store after school and found a new Pip. I feel a little cruddy about it, Pip 1 somehow deserves more loyalty. And certainly Pip 2 will receive greatly improved security. But supporting Truly in her forward momentum has felt paramount to me.

Not perfect, but OK. Maybe thats enough.

I had to use the sawsall to get the old faucet off. After the powerlessness of Petunia’s crisis it was very satisfying to tear into something. I managed to stop my destruction with the faucet, though there are parts of True’s room that are looking pretty enticing. I like the new faucet better, and I’m going to look into getting tile put down in the kitchen to replace the cheap flooring that never should have been in my kitchen to begin with. I even opened up my dryer control panel and cut the line to the annoying buzzer that is so loud and terrifying it makes my dog pee on my bed when it goes off.

Which brings me to the real heroes of this story, The Oakland Raiders – actually Raider Nation.

The roads were clearing, temperatures coming up and Pip 2 was really settling in. The great storm of our first Thanksgiving had passed. Bend was having its Christmas parade on Saturday so I grabbed the kids and we drove into town. It was a very solid parade. There were two or three high school marching bands, lots of horses, local politicians, contractors, old guys dressed as elves driving around on scooters, and then the weirdest breath of sunshine broke through.

Superfans of the Oakland Raiders football team identify as members of the Raider Nation. These are not ordinary fans, its likely ethnic and national identity are way down on the list when you push a Raider Nation member to list his or her allegiances. I don’t share their passion for football or the Raiders, but I admire their willingness to unite beneath a single, mindless passion. It reminds me that no matter how much we grow up, we’re all just a few steps away from filling the feet of our one piece PJs with mashed potatoes and running around the house like chipmunks on cocaine.

Between bands, after the Kiwanis club, before Santa, Raider Nation rolled through complete with live rap (pretty damned good), dancers and enough shaking beer bellies to blow Santa completely away. These people were representing their Motherland with a Hallelujah and a “hold my beer.” Two large vehicles packed with fans, grey black and white head to toe, screaming and dancing, declaring Central Oregon wholly owned by Santa and the Raider Nation.

Tadg and I looked at each other with a special, delighted understanding. If this wonderful weirdness could deliver itself here, through a blizzard, arctic temperatures and all the fluffy white-ness that is Christmas, then surely we could not only survive but thrive here. It was a kind of beautifully unsightly early Christmas present. We had passed through a gauntlet of snow and ice, emerging to find ourselves in Raider Nation.

Cruising home on our new snow tires, images of pirate-faced defensive linemen dancing in my head, I felt complete.

Finally, perfect.

Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.

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