Jingle, jingle, jingle

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Imagine the sounds of the Christmas season: the ripping of wrapping paper, the squeal of an excited child, jingle bells, the whispers to Santa, and your favorite Christmas carol.

Now imagine the holidays without those sounds. That’s how it was for Riley until she turned 2. With the help of cochlear implants and years of auditory-verbal therapy, she is able to enjoy all the sounds of the season just like any kid with typical hearing, including me yelling, “Riley! Stop shaking your presents!”

One of Riley’s favorite Christmas sounds is a DVD by The Wiggles. The kiddie band was one of the first things she heard after her implants were activated. “Mama, I don’t care how old I get, ” she says, “I’ll always love The Wiggles.”  The photo at right shows her gettin’ wiggly during her first holiday to hear. Pretty special, right?

Since then she has sung in numerous school Christmas programs and played three roles in her third-grade-class production of “A Christmas Carol.” Not bad for a girl who, when she was born, couldn’t hear a jet engine if you held her next to it.

When all the noise starts getting to you, stop and think what it’d be like if you couldn’t hear at all. No kids singing “Away in a Manger,” no friends laughing, no voice saying “I love you.” Then be grateful for the sounds. And take some ibuprofen and a nap and get on with your holiday-ing.

Christmas without my girl

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Light showEver wondered what it’d be like without your child at Christmas? Well, here’s what it’ll be like for me this year:

I’ve been a single mom now for two of my daughter’s birthdays, one Mother’s Day, a dance recital, one softball season, a year and a half of school, and this month will mark my second Christmas.

However, this holiday won’t be like any other – I won’t be with my daughter. And like Elvis once sang, “it won’t seem like Christmas” without her. Riley will be with her dad, visiting his relatives halfway across the country. While I know she will enjoy her time away, I’m dreading it.

What do I do on Christmas morning when she’s not here to wake me up, shouting that Santa left boot prints on the floor? How will I handle seeing her stocking on the mantel the day after Christmas? Do I want to go to my family’s big Christmas dinner with everyone else’s kids there? Or do I want to go to a movie alone and wallow in my sadness for a couple of hours first?

Keep in touch
Recently, I was clicking through Pinterest, an online bulletin board where you collect ideas for crafts, books, outfits, home decor, and I saw a recipe for a crockpot breakfast casserole with the note “great for Christmas morning.” It sounded yummy, so I repinned it to my board. Then I thought, “Oh, never mind. Riley won’t be here, and that’s too much food for just me.” It’s the little things that sadden me most.
Of course, I’m not the only one going through this – in 2009, 40,000 other Alabama residents saw their marriages end, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  And many of us are wondering how to handle the holidays, especially the first one away from  our children.

According to Lee Block, a life coach, author of The Post-Divorce Chronicles blog, and a divorced mom of two, it should be a priority for children to talk to both parents, if possible, on the holiday. “It’s a great way to still feel connected and also help the other parent who is without the kids,” she explains.

Because I knew my daughter would be out of town over the holidays, I decided to upgrade to an iPhone with FaceTime, or video calling. When I message my daughter’s iPod Touch, we can actually see each other when we talk. If I can’t wake up to her smiling face in person, at least I will have the gift of seeing her via modern technology on Christmas morning.

IMG_0432If you don’t have an iPhone, try Skype to video chat – all you need is a computer, Internet connection and webcam. It’s easy to set up and free.

Invite folks over
Another way to banish the holiday blues is to make yourself do something fun, Block says. Fill your home with the sounds of laughter and friendship to ward off the melancholy.

I’m sure with all of the prep and planning and buying and wrapping some of my friends could use a breather right about now. A night of cocktails and cookies, no prep needed, would be a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the holidays – just bring a favorite drink, whether it’s a hot chocolate or a hot toddy. Or how about sharing the wrapping duties while watching a holiday movie, sipping lattes, and making plans for the new year? Hmm, I think I’m on to something!

“Just because you’re alone on the holidays doesn’t mean you have to wait to get an invitation somewhere. Have your own celebration and invite everyone to you,” Block says. “Having a house full of people will keep the loneliness at bay.”

Start new traditions
Of course, because your family has changed, the way you celebrate will change, too, so Block suggests creating new traditions for your kids. “Because you are no longer the same type of family unit, it is important to do things a different way than you did them before.”

Each year, Riley and I open one gift on Christmas Eve, bake cookies for Santa and leave him a letter. We make reindeer food and sprinkle it in the front yard so Rudolph and his pals can spot our house from the sky. And each year we get out the Nativity sets and read Luke 2 aloud.

But this year will have to be different. Since we won’t have Christmas Eve together, maybe my daughter and I can make New Year’s Eve special. We could get dressed up and go out for a fancy dinner then to a movie. And top it off with some hot chocolate, admiring the gigantic tree at our favorite outdoor shopping area. Or we could invite a few friends over to ring in the new year with a Wii Just Dance tournament.

If we make it through December
Nothing will cure the ache that I’ll surely feel when I hear “Blue Christmas” on the radio around December 23 and I’m missing my girl but having a plan to lighten up when the holiday blues creep in makes me feel a bit better. And time apart will make my time with her that much sweeter.

And while I know Riley is excited about her trip to see her dad’s families, today my heart broke for her. As we were driving home from school I was singing along with the Christmas songs on the radio. Normally she sings too, but she had her hands over her ears and wouldn’t even listen.Pretty pretty lights

“Mama, turn off the Christmas music. I don’t want to hear it.”

“Why not? You like it.”

“I don’t want to listen to it.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Because I want to be in Alabama with you on Christmas.”

Oh my heart! I told her that it was OK and that she will have a ton of fun on her trip. I reminded her that we’re going to do Christmas with my whole big family before she goes and with me and my parents when she gets back. She’s satisfied for now. I sure hope our FaceTime works while she is out there because it’s going to be hard without her.

Girl trip!

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Riley and I took our first mama-daughter trip two weeks ago during her Fall Break, and we had a great time. The only thing we argued about was what music to listen to … we compromised by using headphones (her) and plugging my music player into the truck’s radio. There’s just so much Selena Gomez and “Shake It Up” that a mama can take!

We made the 7-hour trip to South Carolina to visit my brother, his wife and their two boys. We were treated to baked spaghetti, barbecue cups and sausage balls as well as trips to make ceramics (see photo at left), shopping, and the pumpkin patch. And I finally got to see Charleston, thanks to my sister-in-law who willingly made the 2-hour drive just so I could walk around and snap pictures.

The boys were tickled to see Riley, and she was so happy to see them. They played Wii, ran around the house on stick horses, and read books and played with Little People playsets. Riley and Lincoln even made a “gingerbread” Halloween house, while little Griffin napped one day.

At The Mad Platter, we made gifts for my mom, Riley and Lincoln made a bat and a snowman, and Robin and I made handprint platters. It was fun to do something I wouldn’t normally do. Robin picked up our creations last week, and she said they look great. Can’t wait to see!

I think the kiddos had the most fun at the pumpkin patch that had a pirate ship on the playground. They were excited be able to run around and yell and “walk the plank” and fight the bad guys who were trying to take over their pirate ship. We also saw some goats, ducks, an ostrich and a little Shetland pony at the petting farm. Of course, Robin and I loved the great photo ops we got.

Our last day was spent in Charleston, walking around admiring the houses on Rainbow Row and the Battery. We had a picnic in Battery Park, chased the kids underneath the old trees and watched them climb on the Civil War cannons and cannonballs. Lincoln and Riley pretended to be fighting the battle, carrying cannonballs to the cannons and “launching” them out to strike imaginary invaders on the sea.

We walked downtown and looked through the vendors at the Market, which apparently used to be where slaves were bought and sold. The history made me squeamish – I still can’t wrap my brain around why people thought treating humans as chattel was OK.

Today, the Market features beautiful woven baskets, handmade jewelry, souvenir T-shirts, and photograph and other artwork. I bought 4×6 photos of various objects that spell out Riley and my names, and I’m looking forward to framing and hanging them in the living room.

The trip ended with my brother Michael and I hanging out in the backyard by his fireplace, listening to the high school football game down the block, and reminiscing and planning and dreaming. We might not agree on everything, but I love my little brother and times like these are the best.

Riley and I had a wonderful trip, and we already miss them! We don’t have to wait long to see them again, though, because they are coming here for Thanksgiving, and we’ll celebrate Griffin’s second birthday. My house will be filled with laughter, love, and my family.

 

 

Happy Birthday, Riley!

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Riley turned 10 on Monday! I cannot believe I have a 10-year-old. 🙂

She celebrated with a sleepover (the five girls were loud and fun), a Justin Bieber cake, pizza, and ice cream. Her dad and I got her an iPod touch, and she is thrilled. She has already downloaded Angry Birds and Ninja Fruit. And she and I are having a blast with FaceTime. It’s a cool feature from Apple, and I look forward to using it more. She thinks it’s hilarious to FaceTime me when she’s in the kitchen and I’m in the living room.

I love that she is technologically savvy but not too savvy. We keep a close eye on what she sees and hears online and what she plays. She doesn’t know any passwords to buy or download anything. And it’ll be that way for a long time.

When Riley was born, she made my life infinitely better, and my love for her is one that can never be measured.

 

 

Vacation … it never lasts long enough

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Riley and I and my mom and dad spent the last five days in Gulf Shores, Ala., at the beach. The sand was sugary white and not a tar ball in sight, but we did see several jellyfish.

As soon as we got there, we had lunch at The Hangout. The food is overpriced, but the atmosphere is fun – it’s right on the beach with live music and fun for the kiddies. Riley enjoyed climbing the sand dune and posing in the adirondack chairs.

We hit the beach that evening and stayed until nearly dark. Which we did every night.

Instead of eating out all day every day, we bought groceries and had breakfast and lunch in the condo. We also had hot dogs, and bacon and egg sandwiches on two nights. Another night we ordered from Pizza Hut. The other night we ate at Desoto’s, which my mom and dad loved. I’m not much of a seafood eater, but I did enjoy the fish.

Of course, most of our time was spent at the beach and the condo pool. I can never get enough of the beach. I would love to live there, but not among the crowds. I want a little house on the beach with very few neighbors and a little mom and pop grocery store and a good cafe.

Our final day there, I took Riley to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo and Fort Morgan. She was all smiles and told me it was the best day ever.

The trip home was fine until just north of Birmingham, when I blew a tire in the left-hand lane on I-65. I couldn’t get over because there was so much traffic. I called the Highway Patrol, but no troopers were in Jefferson County at the time (really? what’s up with that?) and the service patrol doesn’t work on weekends (again … really?), so the lady connected me to Hurst Towing. The guy helped us unload some of our beach bags to get to the spare and jack. And he changed the tire for free! But I couldn’t go without paying him something, so I did.

We made it home safe. I’m thankful for such a great time with my family.

Tornadoes wipe out part of my community

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I found this receipt from Hackleburg, 115 miles away, on our sidewalk the day after the storm.

After 5 days without power, I’m finally charging my computer and blogging about what has happened in my community and the state. And I’m asking for your help.

Tornadoes ripped across Alabama on Wednesday, from Tuscaloosa to Huntsville. While Tuscaloosa is getting most of the attention, it’s not the only place affected.

Several small towns were obliterated. Towns where I played softball, towns that I drove through on my way to Brewer State Junior College, towns whose schools I covered during my time as a sportswriter.

Communities gone. Thousands of people are left with nothing.

Part of the damage in the Lawrence County community of Mount Hope. Photo by Matt McKean/Decatur Daily

Mount Hope.
Hackleburg.
Phil Campbell.
Carter’s Gin.
Harvest.

All these places need help. So fire up your phone and text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to tornado relief here in my beloved Alabama. Or visit Red Cross to give online.

You can also donate blood; it’s a lifesaver that’s always needed.

If you live near any of these places, see what they need … bottled water, clothing, diapers, feminine products, food, tarps … and donate some goods.

Or you can sign up online to volunteer in the cleanup.

The sky just after the storm went through Wednesday night.

My neighbors and I have been sharing food, shelter, hot water (some have gas water heaters and generators), and companionship. Having wonderful neighbors has been a blessing, especially when you’ve got a bored 9-year-old who doesn’t know what it’s like to live without electricity for more than an hour or two.

We still don’t have power at my house, but there is power at work, so I’ll go back tomorrow. Two days without pay is two days too many. Riley will be with my parents until we get power back and school starts back. Ryan is without power and needs to work when he can, too.

Grilled SpaghettiOs for lunch

I am so grateful that my family and my home made it through these devastating storms this week. And I’ll be doing what I can to help my neighbors and community heal and rebuild in the coming weeks and months.

I hope you’ll help, too.

White Christmas

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Turns out instead of a blue Christmas, I had a white Christmas. And a happy Christmas.

Riley and I woke up to about two inches of snow on the ground and it fell steadily until around noon. We built a snowman, threw snowballs and caught snow on our tongues. It was awesome.

Blue Christmas

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Every time I’ve come here to write, I’ve decided against it. But today’s the day. I’m going to talk about what’s been going on the past five months. But not in too much detail. Details suck sometimes.

I will be a single mom probably by the first of the year. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you’d planned. Sometimes two people just don’t fit together anymore. It hurts, but it’s time to move on and start a new life.

Y’all know how much I love Christmas, from the lights and trees to presents, shows and music. So this year, three of my favorite tunes – “Blue Christmas,” “Please Come Home for Christmas” and “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” – certainly apply to my situation. I love these songs whether I have someone to meet under the mistletoe or not.

While it will be sad that the three of us won’t be a family at Christmas, I won’t be singing these tunes about the past and love lost. I’ll be singing them and I may brush away a tear or two, but I’ll be doing my damnedest not to be sad and blue. I have Riley to make it bright and shiny and new and happy.

And I’ve got the rest of my family and friends, a job I love, my writing, a roof over our head and food in the fridge. And it’s Christmas! So while my happiness might have a little blue around the edges, it’s still going to be merry and bright. And I’m grateful for that.

Good progress

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Some good news about Riley and her auditory-verbal therapy … our therapist cut us back to every other week instead of every week! After seven years of weekly sessions (give or take holidays and illnesses), it’s nice that she’s made so much progress that we can go less often.

Her expressive vocabulary is better, her sentences are better and her conversation skills are better. I think a lot has to do with her social life, too. She plays softball and dances and has lots of friends who treat her like a “normal” kid. Her teachers and coaches expect the same out of her as they do other kids. She has accommodations at school, but she’s still expected to do everything.

Riley’s teacher makes her use correct sentence structure even when she knows what Riley is trying to say. I do the same at home. Her coaches often ask her for clarification, too. Everyone is working together to get the best out of Riley, and it’s paying off.

Third-grade math is a bit of a struggle, but she’s catching on. Slowly. This carrying the one and taking away the one and multiplication is tough. She’ll get three or four problems right, then miss one or two. One thing I’ve done to help her is have her tell me how to solve the problem. We go column by column and she tells me what to do and what numbers to write. Then we check our work with the calculator. That works pretty well.

She has two projects to do over fall break: a book report and a multiplication model. She hasn’t picked her book yet, but she’s finished her model using candy to illustrate 2×9=18. That’s my girl! Anything hands-on she loves and will get cracking on it right away. She did the same with her “All About Me” poster at the beginning of school. Finished it the day it was assigned.

She makes my life beautiful.