What do I say?

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I want to write something, but I don’t know what to say. It’s not a new story. Just another chapter in a book I am ready to shelve for good.

As always, Riley and I will be fine. We have great family and friends. And each other. And that’s what matters.

Campfire story

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Daddy tells us about him and his buddies being stranded after the car ran out of gas. His pals were just going to sleep in the car but he decided to head home. He started walking by himself down spooky, dark Kerby Lane where rumor had it someone was once hanged. Listen … and yes, we have a bit of an accent.

Now he tells a silly joke, that cracks me up every time!

Best weekend in a long time

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Riley and I spent Memorial Day weekend at my parents’ and it was good for my soul. Friday night, Momma, Riley and I went to visit Granma at the nursing home. I showed her some of Riley’s dance pictures and we had a nice chat. She’s doing pretty well.

When we got back to Town Creek, Daddy built a fire in the portable fireplace and Riley roasted “smarshmallows.” Or burned them. We sat around the fire and listened to Daddy talk about camping out under the stars when he was growing up, and about him and Momma fishing down at the creek when they were a new couple.

We also laughed about our camping gear when we were growing up. We had a shell on top of Daddy’s pickup and he created a makeshift bunk bed in the bed of the truck. My little brother Michael and I slept on twin mattresses on top of a plywood board anchored above the truckbed, and Momma and Daddy slept underneath on a mattress in the bed of the truck. It worked. And we always had fun.

Saturday, I got up early and went for a walk around the neighborhood before everyone else awoke. Then we spent the day at Jordan’s pool, celebrating his high school graduation. We ate BBQ, baked beans, pasta salad, buffalo dip, broccoli salad, corn on the cob, squash, and O’Charley’s rolls. And we swam. And laughed. And enjoyed being together to celebrate Jordan.

That evening, Momma, Riley and I went shopping at Target. And we stopped by Georgia’s on the way home, where they were putting a new liner in their pool. They finished up around 9:30 and we went inside and watched “A Dolphin Tale” (Riley loved it) until nearly midnight. I love days like that … no drama, no stress, just enjoying the company.

Sunday, Riley and I threw the softball and played volleyball, Daddy vacuumed out my truck, and Momma taught me and Riley how to play Rook. Momma and I beat Daddy and Riley. That was a lot of fun.

On the way home, I stopped by to see my best pal Kristi at her mom’s house. Her daughter just turned 21, so Riley and I had to swing by and wish her happy birthday.

After getting home and unloading all off our stuff, Riley’s dad came and picked her up. My friend Kim came over and we hung out on the patio until midnight, laughing, downloading music, and talking over a couple of beers.

I love my family and friends. They love me for who I am and who I’m not and what I can still be. They’re the best.

 

 

Burn, baby, burn

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FireYesterday I was doing laundry and piddling when I came across my journal from my final year of marriage and the months of separation until the divorce was final. I took it to the closet and stashed it out of sight on the top shelf. Then I saw it. An old popcorn tin filled with letters from when we were dating. Those letters had been there for 18 years … 18 years.

Of course I took them out, unfolded them and quickly skimmed them. “I miss you.” “You are the best girl a guy could have.” “We should talk about our future together when I get back.” “I love you.”

We were so young. And so dumb. We were 23 when we got married and had barely lived away from our parents, much less experienced life as adults.

Instead of putting those letters back in their hiding place, I took the tin full of paper and ink and memories and once-upon-a-time love to the patio and set it on fire.

I watched the sweet words curl up and become ashes after the fire. It was as if my heart was being cauterized. Sure, as I thought about what we had for a while, a tear rolled down my cheek. I wiped it away and stirred the scraps in the tin again, making sure every envelope and sheet of paper felt the fire.

After I was satisfied that every piece burned, I poured water into the tin and headed back inside.

Throughout the evening I peeked out the door, watching as the ink, ash, and paper froze.

Burn, baby, burn

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Fire

Yesterday I was doing laundry and piddling when I came across my journal from my final year of marriage and the months of separation until the divorce was final. I took it to the closet and stashed it out of sight on the top shelf. Then I saw it. An old popcorn tin filled with letters from when we were dating. Those letters had been there for 18 years … 18 years.

Of course I took them out, unfolded them and quickly skimmed them. “I miss you.” “You are the best girl a guy could have.” “We should talk about our future together when I get back.” “I love you.”

We were so young. And so dumb. We were 23 when we got married and had barely lived away from our parents, much less experienced life as adults.

Instead of putting those letters back in their hiding place, I took the tin full of paper and ink and memories and once-upon-a-time love to the patio and set it on fire.

I watched the sweet words curl up and become ashes after the fire. It was as if my heart was being cauterized. Sure, as I thought about what we had for a while, a tear rolled down my cheek. I wiped it away and stirred the scraps in the tin again, making sure every envelope and sheet of paper felt the fire.

After I was satisfied that every piece burned, I poured water into the tin and headed back inside.

Throughout the evening I peeked out the door, watching as the ink, ash, and paper froze.

Party down on New Year’s Eve

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We made good on our New Year’s Eve plans by getting dressed up and going out. We had a fabulous meal at Rosie’s Cantina, our favorite restaurant, and we walked around Bridge Street until it was time for our movie, Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, to start. She giggled throughout the show and that’s what made it fun for me. We got home around 10, watched the ball drop at 11, played Just Dance 3, saw fireworks from our back patio, counted down to midnight here, and welcomed 2012 like only we can.

Saturday Night and the Single Mom

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Here’s my latest column for Birmingham Parent.

Saturday nights used to be my favorite time of the week. After a day of fun, we’d be settling down for the night, looking forward to one more free day before heading back to school and work. Now I hate Saturday nights and bedtime. I feel guilty about what I did or didn’t do while Riley was with me. (Riley’s dad picks her up on Sunday mornings, and she’s with him until I pick her up after school on Wednesdays.)

When Saturday night rolls around, I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about everything I did wrong. Am I the only mom who feels this way? How do you stop the guilt? How do you balance “mean mom” with “fun mom”?

Did I tell her enough that I love her? Did I yell too much because she wouldn’t clean up the paper clippings and glitter after an art project? Will she smile thinking about cooking chicken burritos together? Or will she cringe because I got frustrated after telling her for the umpteenth time to brush her teeth?

Enjoying life with my 10-year-old is my goal – I want our days together to be more satisfying and less frustrating. More calm, fewer arguments. Of course, I know every single minute will not be a party. What’s fun about your mom making you put away dishes and laundry or making you write your spelling words three times each?

Lately, I’ve been focusing on taking a deep breath when I get frustrated instead of yelling. I admit it: I yell a lot. I’m not proud of it, and I’m working to chill out because hollering only makes it worse for both of us: Riley’s feelings are hurt, and I feel guilty. And the dirty clothes are still on the floor.

Maybe we should pull out the old chore chart again. She does what is on the list and gets rewarded with her chosen prize. Or she doesn’t do her jobs and faces the consequences. Dirty clothes not taken to the laundry room? Don’t fuss about your favorite shirt not being clean. Markers and glue sticks are missing? You should’ve put them away before I put them in the “earn it back” box. Either way, I stop yelling about it.

Besides, I try to balance the “boring” days with small outings at least once every week. We have season tickets to our local children’s theater and a standing Friday night dinner date. And during the week, we watch a couple of “Big Time Rush” episodes after homework, or she does my hair. Sometimes we just sit with my laptop and laugh at a slideshow of her old baby photos.

One Saturday night soon, I’ll be able to to drift off to sleep easily, knowing that even though I’m not a perfect mom, Riley understands that I have to be both “fun mom” and “mean mom” in order to be a good mom.

Warning: 2012 will bring honesty

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In 2012, honesty is the word here – I’ll be writing about what’s really on my mind. I’m tired of tiptoeing around because of who might be reading. I’m a grown woman, I’m single, and I’m a writer. I’m going to write about grown-up issues, and the joys and challenges of being mama to the best girl in the world. Besides, it’s easier for me to write about it than talk about it.

2012 To Do List
1. Tell the truth on my blog. Otherwise, why bother?

2. Wear these shoes. Often. Red peep-toe heels

3. Do 10 real pushups. Get off my knees and get it done.

4. Get to Dallas in September for Bamapocalypse II – Alabama vs. Michigan – and finally meet my Roll Bama Roll pals who’ve made the past year easier.

5. Run another 5K. Yes, run. A little walking is fine,
but I aim to run most of the 3.1 miles.

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Running my first 5K with my brother Michael

6. Return to a writing routine.
I have a book in me. Somewhere. I want to get it out.

7. Learn to embrace that I’m a woman with wants and needs. It’s natural and normal.

8. Read more books. I have stacks by my bed, on my dressers,
on the bookcase, on my desk that I want to finally read this year.DSC09426

9. Go to church more often. I want Riley to grow up
with faith in God like I did.Peace

10. Take control of my money. Learn what’s worth
spending it on and what’s not. Save accordingly.

11. Expect nothing from anyone except myself. And then expect good.Me

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.