Category Archives: Family

Pondering next moves

I went for a long hike in Weston Bend State Park to clear my head. It was a good decision, and helped quite a bit.

To say that I haven’t been feeling myself lately would be a bit of an understatement.

I have these moments where everything is fine, and then something will come across me and I get a little teary eyed thinking about my mother’s death. I hear that isn’t uncommon, and it’s certainly not unexpected.

There are times where I want to call mom, but then realize that’s something I can’t do anymore. Mom would use Facebook as a way to keep track of me (and definitely watch for pictures of the kids), and I would often post things thinking of her in mind. I find those thoughts still go through my head when I post to social media, which I find disconcerting. I’m still thinking about “Will she see this?” when clearly, she won’t.

I keep thinking of questions I want to ask her. It’s funny how these questions show up now, instead of when she was alive and I had the opportunities to get the answers. There’s probably a term for that.

Things feel a little better than they did a week ago, and far better than two weeks ago. My first week back to work was pretty rough. The first few days was a blur and chock full of emotions. The people I work with have been fantastic, and are giving me grace while I work through emotions while at work. I am blessed and honored to have their support.

I’ve been spending time trying to process what to do next. If I were talking to others in the same situation, I would tell them to take time, mourn, don’t make any big moves. I half follow that advice, and am thinking of my options. I have been thinking more of permanence. What are my financial plans for the future? When do we buy a house and start setting down deeper roots? How involved should I be with my extracurricular activities versus spending the maximum time I can with my family? Should I get busy executing my plans for my side work or should I just veg out?

At one point I said to my wife, “When do I get my fire back?” I spent most of this year charging hard, and now I feel only a flicker. I’m sure it’ll come back, but clearly it’s going to take some time to get there. I surmise that first I’ll have to get through the holidays, and all the sorrow that will come with it. My mom loved the Christmas season, and at this moment I can’t even imagine what this year will be like without her.

Right now, I’m mostly focused on short-term thinking. I’ve been spending more quality time with the kids. Last weekend I had moments of good times with each of my children, and although tiring it was the right move.

One of the positive things that have come out of this event is it has driven me to get a few things done off my lingering todo list. I have this long list on my phone of things I have noted to get done, and I’m starting to work on them. I seem to have more of a sense of urgency now to get things done. The trick is making sure they are things that are actually worth doing rather than simply doing busywork.

I think the next thing I need to do is to find time (and a sitter) for a date night with Amy. It’s been awhile since we had some time to ourselves, and it seems more necessary than ever that we go out on the down and think about something other than death and sadness. We need a little happiness soon, if only for an evening.

Time is the fire in which we burn, and I want to be more intentional of the flames I stoke from now on.

A new normal

Getting adjusted to life after my mom’s death has been nothing short of a monumental challenge.

I’m really not sure how I’m supposed to do this life thing now. I find it hard to concentrate at work. Sometimes I feel like I just want to do nothing. When I do nothing, I feel like I should be doing something.

I feel very lost.

I think about a lot of things related to her death. My mom took a fall at the beginning of September, and I’ll forever believe that started the events that led to her demise. I take the elevator at work now when I can. That’s silly, I know. But I can’t help but think about it. In case you didn’t know, falls are the number one cause of injury or death among older Americans. I don’t think I’m old, but I imagine her falling down the stairs, and I remember the pain and suffering that escalated after that day. I will never know for sure what happened, but that doesn’t stop my mind from coming with with all sorts of scenarios.

It all seems so unfair. She worked all her life and didn’t get to enjoy a retirement. When she was in the hospital in mid-September, I floated the idea to her: “Have you given any thought to retirement?” She loved her work, and I am unsure if she would have retired anytime soon had she lived. Her main concern was having health insurance. She had insurance through her employer, but was afraid that if she couldn’t work, she wouldn’t have coverage. She was worried about that while she lay in that hospital bed, and said to me, “I couldn’t retire until I turn 65 when I would be eligible for Medicare.” Her 65th birthday would have been Dec. 11.

Why is healthcare tied to your employer? Why does it cost so much? How come other countries have this more figured out than we do?

Healthcare in this country is a joke.

I would have loved for her to have retired, get healthier, and then she and dad could have came and visited more. They could have spent time with their grandkids, enjoyed their company, and lived out their days comfortably. But that didn’t happen. Isn’t that something? Most of us think that we are working toward a time when we can kick back and enjoy our lives a little more. But that day may never come.

My thoughts are with my dad. He built his world around her. The house they lived in, with a few exceptions, was built around her. From the countertops she wanted, the color of the walls, the bed they slept in, to the decorations she loved to put up for holidays, he was committed to shaping a life around her. I remember when she went to school in Colorado to work toward becoming a nurse practitioner, he was a bit of a mess. He missed her presence deeply. On the day she returned home, he had a big “Welcome home Linda” (or something like that, I don’t remember the exact wording) sign attached to the side of the house for her (and everyone else in the neighborhood) to see.

He acts like a curmudgeon sometimes, but he’s also a teddy bear.

And now, all of that is gone, ripped away. I’m angry about that. I don’t want it to be true. I’ve wanted to call her this week but it is not to be. I just want to chat, but I can’t.

This is the new normal, and it’s unjust and unfair. I hate it.

For my mother

My mother, Linda Jane Gruber, died Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. She was 64 years old.

It’s interesting how we all know that death is coming for us, yet we’re never quite prepared for it. It’s 3:20 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14 as I write this, and I’ve spent the last three hours processing, crying, mourning, remembering. I feel like there is something I should be doing, and yet, I’m completely helpless until the sun rises.

I have spent decent amounts of my life writing, and have never been one to shy away from the emotional. So while this sting is still fresh, I want to get something down. Honestly, it’s the only thing I feel like I can do at this very moment.

Mom was pretty sick in September. She had some issues that started around Labor Day, which ended up sending her to the hospital shortly after. Thanks to some generous time provided by my employer, I was able to go down and spend time with her, and tend to some things while I was there to help ease my parents’ burden while she was recovering. That ended up being very precious time, indeed.

My wife, Amy, and I have cried a lot since I got the call. Late night calls are not typically not good, and I knew when my dad called me that this was it. I could feel it before I unlocked the phone and said, “Hello?”

The thing that is foremost in our minds now is how awful Sunday morning is going to be. My three children are sound asleep right now, unaware of the news we will have to give to them when they wake up. I am thankful they got to bed before they got this news, if only to enjoy one more night of pain-free sleep. My kids love all their grandparents immensely. This will be a very painful time.

I am so fortunate. My mom was an excellent mother. She was always loving, and was an incredible giver. I am so thankful for technology that allowed us to video conference Oct. 9 on my oldest daughter’s birthday. She seemed like she was doing better. A week ago she texted me to ask “Are you watching the Chiefs?” (She obviously was, as was I.) On Tuesday, we had a FaceTime call. She and my dad sang “Happy Birthday” to my daughter, Ember, for her 12th birthday. We talked on Thursday afternoon. She texted on Friday to say her recent tests were looking very good. “All normal,” she said.

And on Saturday, she was gone.

I feel like I have much more to say, and yet, this feels like all I can muster for the time being. My heart is pounding. My head is tired. My soul is anxious that I have to tell my children that their grandmother is dead.

Please, I beg of you: put away your past disagreements. Bury you past hurt. I had a great relationship with my mother, and even still, I have regret. I should have called her on Saturday. Did I tell her I loved her the last time we talked? Did I turn out to be the man she hoped I would become?

My heart is completely broken.

Kids can be so rock and roll sometimes

Today I received a text from my wife that read “I need to talk to you. I don’t know how to handle something that just happened.”

“Oh dear,” I thought. “This can’t be good.”

I went to a quiet place to call and was told the news. One of my daughters (those who know my family can probably guess which one) received some Valentine’s Day candy from her grandparents, and had eaten all of her stash. Still craving chocolate, she went into the kitchen and got a handful of chocolate chips to enjoy. She was stopped by her mother, who told her that no, she couldn’t have those chips because she had eaten all her candy.

Without missing a beat, dear daughter licked her other hand and placed the chocolate chips into her saliva-coated palm, all while staring at my wife with a look of “Oh yeah, what are you going to do about it?”

She didn’t get to finish those chocolate chips, and she received some other punishment as well for her defiance. But I have to admit when I heard this story, I laughed hysterically and uncontrollably. My gut reaction? I was impressed with her audacity.

Man, that was pretty rock and roll.

Not that I encourage such types of behavior, of course.

Ending the compromise

Cut up your credit cards. If you use a credit card, you don’t want to be rich. — Marc Cuban, How to Get Rich

What seems like forever ago, my wife and I were on a crusade to eliminate our debt.

A friend had turned me on to Dave Ramsey’s plan, and we went after it with a vengeance. We killed our credit card and automobile debt and had money in the bank.

When our first child was born shortly after, everything stalled. We didn’t incur new credit card debt, but we weren’t making the kind of progress we were on other debts pre-kid. And then kid No. 2 came along. We needed a van, which we bought on credit.

The compromises began. We got credit cards again. And then in 2010, we purchased a house. Along with that came its own expenses, and because we weren’t following Ramsey’s plan, the expenses mounted up. The credit card bills started rising. We were fools.

A year ago, my wife and I took our 10-year anniversary vacation, and while we were traveling across the great state of Arkansas, we got to discussing all of those things above. We decided to change. We couldn’t let things go any further, so on Aug. 1, we refocused our efforts on getting out of debt. I took on more side jobs, and by the end of the year, we had paid off the last of the credit cards.

Except we didn’t; when you have a credit card you tend to use it. We didn’t typically carry a balance, but it happened a couple of times. Finally we realized: any credit card was too many.

Since my wife closed her business in May, we’ve found that by embracing the constraint of a temporary smaller income, we can live within our means just fine. It’s a challenge, but certainly doable. And so, we’ve decided to cut the last safety net and embrace constraints even more.

Today over lunch, I shut down the last two credit cards. We are done; no more of this. We will use cash and our debit card, and focus our remaining efforts on paying off the student loans for good. Perhaps the best part was that instead of using my children as a crutch for why we couldn’t get out of debt, they’ve now become a driver for why we will. And so, I had them help me get rid of the last one.

So now, forward. We have no auto loans and no credit card debt. The only thing we owe is our student loans. For the first time since we graduated college, we paid extra on the student loans this month. And when those things are gone, it’s “Hello, Disney World!”

It’s a good feeling to be where we are today. Today is a good day.

The end of a chapter

After almost four years in business, my wife, Amy Gruber, is shutting down her business, Tiny Tykes Playcare. Today is its last day.

This post is in praise of Amy.

Amy Gruber

Amy Gruber

When we got had our first daughter in 2006, Amy was working for a school district 30 miles from home. It didn’t take long for her to determine she didn’t want someone else to raise her child while she went off to work. She finished out the school year, and then found other employment that allowed her to be mom in the day, and worker bee in the evening.

And so, when we had our second daughter in 2009, she got to thinking about how she could stay at home with her children, yet continue to make a living. She decided upon the idea of using her teaching background and created a preschool in our home. Her desire was to create an intimate, manageable setting for teaching young minds, while still being able to be mom.

She did it. With very little advertising, no media coverage (I tried, but I guess they weren’t interested), and mostly guerrilla marketing, she transformed our home into a school. She was able to achieve everything she set her mind to, and was blessed to have a steady stream of customers while educating young minds in the process.

Running a business is quite difficult. I’ve watched how much it’s consumed her time and her mental energy. From the (quite idiotic) regulations she had to keep up with, shopping for food for her kiddos each week, keeping up with a curriculum, training, and constant cleaning, she pulled it off fantastically — all while being mother and wife. I don’t know if many people knew just how good the hands were that their children were in. I realized I am biased, but I assure you: those kids were in excellent hands.

Perhaps most importantly, when our children look back at their lives, they will remember a mom who was there for them. This was the primary goal, and she achieved it.

But now we’ve turned a page in this chapter. We are expecting our third and final child in late August. She won’t be able to continue doing Tiny Tykes Playcare with a newborn to take care of. We’ve taken steps over the past few years to whittle down debt, raise some income, and build some savings. Our ability to learn to live within our means will allow her to just focus on being a new mother.

We certainly feel blessed.

And so, she’s reached the end of this chapter, and is starting a new one. Congrats to you, Amy. You have done excellent.

The bookshelf

One of the benefits of living in an age where manufactured goods proliferate is that the cost of things goes down while their availability goes up. Unfortunately, that can also be a curse.

It’s not a big secret, but a lot of the “easy-to-assemble” furniture you can buy in a store isn’t of great quality. I’d love to purchase more high-end furniture, but it’s often out of a price range I’m willing to pay. But for those times when I did spend the extra cash, I’ve been pleased with the purchase.

shelf-crap

The old bookshelf is falling apart. Note the sides of each shelf where the sides are pulling away. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

My girls have tons of books. After fixing their particle-board bookshelf to keep it from falling apart late last year, I decided that would be the last time. I would build them a bookshelf. I put it on my list of goals for 2014. In the evening of Jan. 17, the start of a three-day weekend for me, I started the work.

My goal was to work hard and fast and get it completed no later than the following Monday on Jan. 20. You see, I’m a great starter but not a great finisher, and I wanted to prove to myself I could beat my own bad processes.

As I got going, I found myself giving in to my temptations. This was for my girls, so it had to be perfect. I kept finding imperfections in the wood that I would keep sanding away at. That process was exacerbated by my refusal to buy an electric hand sander. After buying all the wood, brass screws, and paper and a few other things, I didn’t want to shell out another $30 plus for a sander.

The refusal to buy a sander proved to be the most idiotic decision of this build. At first it seemed almost romantic. The sandpaper in my hand, I caressed the wood. It seemed to talk to me, telling me how it wanted to be shaped. I examined every detail, and when I found an imperfection I’d spend minutes on that one area making it absolutely perfect.

Eventually I needed a break. Covered in sawdust, my hand cramping, losing time, I told my wife why it was taking so long.

She asked, “You think $30 is too much for an electric hand sander?”

“I don’t now,” I said.

I didn’t finish by Jan. 20. My minimum viable product hadn’t been achieved, and I ended my three-day weekend with the project undone.

Then the cold hit. The snow came. Weeks upon weeks of frigid temperatures  made it undesirable to work in my garage. The bookshelf sat there until we had a break in the weather. I propped open the garage door and worked more on it one weekend. Things were looking good.

And then more cold came, with more snow. More delays. My dad gave me a saw I needed to finish the back. Finally last weekend the weather was great enough for the final stage: a few coats of clear lacquer.

My desire was to put on one more coat before I attached the back and called it done. But this week, the shelf my girls’ room began to deteriorate very quickly. It was the end of the road. I needed to finish the shelf. I needed to ship.

After breakfast today, I made coffee and headed to the garage. I nailed in the backing, and carried it inside.

The finished bookshelf. It's rock solid.

The finished bookshelf. It’s rock solid.

The bookshelf has some imperfections. This is not the build of a master craftsman. There are some pencil marks I didn’t get fully sanded out. The backing has some uneven cuts in places. The lacquer isn’t perfectly smooth. And I would have really liked to put on one more coat.

But all of that really doesn’t matter. Done is better than perfect.

It is done.

What’s in a name?

The other day my oldest daughter asked me, “Daddy, what does Gruber mean?”

Oddly enough, I wasn’t sure, so I told I sent her a link to lmgtfy.com.

Just kidding.

So I looked it up. I found this definition at Ancestry.com:

German (Grüber) and Jewish (Ashkenazic): topographic name for someone who lived in a depression or hollow, from (respectively) Middle High German gruobe, German Grube ‘pit’, ‘hollow’ + the suffix -er denoting an inhabitant.

I found this very interesting. I’m a transplant to Lawrence, Kansas from southeast Kansas, which had a large mining history in its past. You can read more about that from the LJWorld story, “Mining’s Legacy, A Scar On Kansas.”

Southeast Kansas is known for its “strip pits,” which removed a lot of the earth in pursuit of precious materials and, in turn, left behind quite a few ruts (and places to fish). And so, quite literally, I am Eric J. Gruber, and I come from a place with pits.

Amazing!

In my search, I also found another less common definition from Urban Dictionary:

A bearded-stallion of a man. Always heterosexual.

That one gave me quite a chuckle. Stallion!

Eric J Gruber

 

Why I told my kids that Santa isn’t real

Last night, my wife and I told our children that Santa Claus isn’t real.

It might be difficult to under the duality of this: it was a difficult choice to make, and it was also imperative that we do so. Allow me to explain.

Long before I had children I had it in my head I was going to be upfront with my kids about Santa. I’m not quite sure how it happened (perhaps the blame can come from being a tired, shirt-stained-with-baby-puke new dad), but it got away from me. Before long, I was on a sleigh ride out of my control.

Last week, Ember got some mail that had in it a map of the world. She loves it. We taped it to the wall and she started investigating her new treasure. “Have you ever been there? Mommy’s been there! Oh, look, there’s Portland (where I attended DrupalCon this year)!” And then she saw Antarctica.

“Is that where Santa lives,” she asked?

“No. He lives at the North Pole,” I said.

You big *&^%&# liar. So much for the truth, eh?

Strike one, as they say.

Fast forward to Sunday. I stumbled across the knowledge that Ember thought we lied to her earlier this year about Amy’s pregnancy. I was devastated. She didn’t understand that we had lost the pregnancy, and since the baby didn’t show up, we must have lied to her.

Strike two.

My league only allows for two strikes, especially after Sunday’s doozy. After thinking about it for most of the day yesterday, I knew what had to be done. Amy and I discussed it, and proceeded with the truth.

Remi didn’t seem to care (or maybe she doesn’t quite understand), but Ember was a big bag of tears. We talked through it and got to the core the issue: She was really hoping for a certain gift (having been through months of “No you can’t get that, Christmas is coming”) and thought Santa was the only way that could happen.

We assured her: there will be gifts. There will be gifts because we love them and want to give them some presents. We told her the cruel, hard truth: mommy and daddy work hard to provide for our family. We told them both that we will give them presents not because of some list that tracks rights and wrongs, but simply because we love them very, very much.

The tears went away. The smile reappeared. And a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I actually felt lighter.

(And yes, in case you’re wondering: we’ve warned them that not every parent decides to tell their kids this news, so she should keep quiet for now.)

And so, I tucked my sweet little girls into their beds, gave kisses and hugs and said good night. The last thing Ember said assured me I had made the right decision.

“Maybe you can dress up as Santa Claus,” she said with a smile.

I think that’s an excellent idea.

No gifts, please.

Do you remember what it was like as a kid when your birthday rolled around?

My mom would ask me what kind of cake I wanted, and she’d make it herself. She would buy cake tins for Soundwave (Transformers), R2-D2, and a few others I can’t remember. Friends would come over, games would be played, cake and homemade ice cream would be eaten.

What an experience. Summer birthdays are awesome.

Of course, I’d also get gifts. I remember when I got … well … no, I don’t. I had toys, I played with toys, and I had lots of fun playing with toys.

But I’ve reached a point in my life that I don’t want for gifts (much). I don’t want more things in the house, but less. The exact opposite is true for experiences, however. As a busy parent in the Great Recession, there aren’t as many opportunities as I’d like right now for life experiences. Be it time, or money, those types of things are harder to come by these days.

Given the choice, I’d take an experience (or a surprise; I love enigmatic events) of any kind over any tangible gift every time. Let the kids have the gifts.

Today is my birthday. I am thirty-six years old. No need to say the obligatory words.

And no gifts, please.