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.

 

 

Touchdowns and touchups

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Roll Tide A final swipe of Crimson Joy lipstick and I’m ready. I’ve been looking forward to this all week. The anticipation is killing me. I hope things turn out like I want them to. Just 10 minutes more and … Roll Tide, baby!

Watching Alabama play football is an event at my house, even if I’m watching alone. While most women get fixed up for a Saturday of shopping, I get done up for a Saturday of Alabama football. After showering, shampooing, shaving and doing my hair and makeup, I slip into my jeans and an old Bama T-shirt. Bring on the Hogs or the Vols or the Tigers. I’m ready.

(Editor’s note, this column is from 2006. A LOT has changed …)

Last Saturday I took it up a notch because my daughter’s fifth birthday party was going on during the Bama-Ole Miss game. I added eyeliner and a push-up bra to my routine. I looked good serving cake and ice cream and yelling at the TV in my crimson-and-black-striped tunic top, crop pants and flip-flops.

Most Saturdays at my house are planned around the Crimson Tide. A typical Saturday goes like this: Get up, get ready for my daughter’s soccer game, watch the 5-year-olds try to keep the ball in-bounds, grab some lunch, head home, watch a little Noggin with my girl, jump in the shower, then get my game face on for the 2:30 kickoff.

If it’s a late game, we might hit Walmart or the bookstore. If it’s an 11:30 kickoff, we skip lunch and head straight home after soccer. No matter what, we’re home in time for the game.

When my team is on TV, I’m on the couch. Distractions are few; not even a special on Jon Bon Jovi or a sale at Target can get my attention. At least, not until the game is over.

Feel free to call me during the game, but only if you’re going to keep it short–very short. Otherwise, you’ll just think I’m rude because my attention will be on the game not on our conversation. If you call to rub it in after a loss, expect the same in return when your team goes down. Turnabout is fair play, right?

Lately my daughter has joined me for the first half, shaking her crimson pom-poms and yelling “Roll Tide!” It doesn’t take long, though, before she gets bored and heads to her room to play with her dollhouse or to the bedroom to watch Animal Planet or cartoons. Maybe next year she’ll be ready to watch the whole game and ask questions like, “Mommy, why don’t we ever throw the ball on first down?”

My parents have joined me for a couple of games, but mostly it’s just me and my TV, which is fine. That way I don’t embarrass myself when I get too caught up in the game. Yes, I yell at the refs, the players and the announcers. When Bama scores I dance a little jig, and when the team makes a bad play I stomp around, muttering under my breath. What fun is it to just sit and stare at the TV? Getting all worked up is part of the game for me.

And when the game is over, a quick touch-up of Loreal’s Crimson Joy and I’m ready to hit the town, or maybe Target.

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.

AV therapy, softball, dance, Bama basketball

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Since Riley’s therapy was cut back to every other week, we’ve been focusing on getting her to think about graduating from auditory-verbal. She has two goals right now:

1. Look at the person who’s talking
and the person you’re talking to.
2. Talk in complete sentences.

She’s doing pretty well with those two objectives, but I still have to prompt her occasionally.

Our therapist completed vocabulary testing last week and to everyone’s surprise Riley scored at or above her chronological age! We think it’s the first time she has hit or surpassed her “real” age and not her hearing age. She is on the right path.

We are working on synonyms and antonyms, idioms, context clues and inferences – important things heading into fourth grade next year. Riley is also supposed to be making notes of words she doesn’t know when comes across them in her reading.

Report cards come home Thursday, so that will tell the tale. Her weekly grades are mostly A’s and B’s, with a smattering of C’s and a D here and there. No more F’s, though. The lower grades seem to come whenever new material is introduced, which is why preteaching is so important. And, obviously, I haven’t been doing enough of that lately.

Also, her class is reviewing for state testing in math right now. Third-graders take the SAT (I think that’s the name), and I’m anxious to see how she does. Geometry, fractions and decimals have all been part of the curriculum this year.

Dance class is getting busier … she’s taking only acrobatics this year, but costumes are coming soon and picture day is in two weeks. Riley is good at acro; she’s almost got the back walkover and a one-hand cartwheel is a piece of cake. Next year, I’ll probably let her go back to taking two or three classes because dance is something she excels at.

Softball is starting next week; several practices have been rained out, so her team this year (all new to her except for two) will be rough around the edges. I will brag a bit about Riley, though. She is one of the fastest and has one of the strongest arms on the team. Her throwing is much improved.

The divorce was final last month, and I’m selling the house. I’m glad it is over, and we can move forward.

Oh, and, Roll Tide! Basketball season was fun, but I think the Tide got hosed by being left out of the NCAA Tournament. Winning the NIT would be nice, though. Go, Bama!

Justin Bieber is cute. My girl watching JB? Cute overload!

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Last night, Riley’s BFF’s mom and I took the girls (and BFF’s little brother) to see Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never 3D. I went into it expecting your typical cheesy Disney/Nick platitudes and overprocessed pop, and was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t any of that.

It was good, and I came out a Justin Bieber fan. Seriously. The kid can sing and he seems to be a good boy. He exudes happiness on the stage, and he appears grateful for his opportunities. I particularly loved Justin’s grandparents, who helped his mom raise him. His grandfather tears up when describing the day his daughter and grandson left Ontario for the U.S. It’s touching.

The best thing about the whole night? Watching my daughter and her friend freak out over this cute little pop star. “Ohmygosh, we can touch him! Ahhhh!” they said when we got to our seats in the theater. The two of them, nodding their heads to the beat, wearing their 3D glasses was a priceless sight.

It reminded me so much of myself in my early days of discovering musicians and music. For me, it was Shaun Cassidy, then Bon Jovi and New Kids on the Block in high school up through today and Amos Lee and Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights.

My friend McLovin said it best via Twitter: Musicians. They start stealing our hearts early and never give it back. They just get new faces.

She is so right.

Rock on, baby girl! Never lose your love for the beat. 🙂

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.