‘Tis the season for lights, lights, lights

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Riley, my mom and dad, and I drove out to the local Christmas light display tonight. It’s become an annual tradition since Riley was about 3 or 4, when we had to keep her from crawling out the car window to get a better look at Baby Jesus and Santa.

The Wrights go all out. Rudolph shares yard space with Spongebob and Frosty. Helicopters and semi-trucks have the transportation angle covered. Outlined kiddies jump rope and “wheeee” down slides. Candy canes and trees line the driveway and paths.

It’s not a professional job, but that’s what I love about it. The display is this family’s way of sharing the joy of the season with anyone who wants to drive out to rural Colbert County.

If you visit, be kind and drop a couple of bucks in the donation box so they can keep the lights on for another year.

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.

When is it OK to move on?

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What I've been doing

Has it been long enough? It’s been more than a year that I’ve been on my own … which isn’t long at all seeing that I was married for 15 years.

Is it OK to admit that I miss not a specific person but companionship? Having someone to hang out on the couch with, to watch cruddy preseason football with? Or should I pretend that being lonely is just fine?

Is there a timeline for getting back out into the world? Do I want to try it again? Not marriage. Heck, no. Just someone to watch football with, go to a movie, get coffee, catch a concert, have a beer, hang out. Maybe more, maybe less.

I do get lonesome sometimes when Riley isn’t here. The house is so quiet without her energy and joy that I just turn on the Braves while I read or write or unpack all the boxes I packed when I thought I might move.

Of course, I enjoy many aspects of my alone time. If I want to go out with friends, I go. The bathroom counter space and walk-in closet are all mine. I can stay up all night reading. My razors are lasting quite a long time. Obviously, there are some benefits.

Still, though, as the great Bruce said, we all need that human touch. Even me.

Christmas lights bring calm on long drive

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My dad has been in a Florence hospital since Dec. 3, so I’ve been driving the hour and a half to visit him and help out my mom. Seeing my dad hooked to IVs and tubes and drains is not how I pictured the holidays.

However, the long, late-night drives home are brightened by the Christmas lights I see between Florence and Huntsville. I mark my journey by the Nativity scenes, the wooden Santas, the three crosses, the glowing reindeer, the flag display and the lighted wreaths.

When I need a break from the hospital, I can drive a couple of blocks to Florence’s Wilson Park, which is transformed into a wintry scene with tons of lights.

A favorite sight in Huntsville is on Sebring Street just off Oakwood Avenue (last photo on the left) – Santa’s sleigh is pulled by reindeer as Tigger keeps watch. Frosty and his family greet viewers from inside their snowglobe, candy canes line the driveway and snowflakes “fall” from the sky. The delightful scene thrilled by daughter. And it’s nice on my drive home after work.

These photos on the left are of our house. We did the best we could with the short time we had … and I probably love this display more than the years when we had the eaves outlined just so and the two lighted trees standing sentry at the front door.

Somehow this year’s display, though Charlie Brown in its disarray, means more to me than ever.

Check out Huntsville resident Mike Duncan’s incredible display set to music in the video to the left.
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=8326384&server=vimeo.com&show_title=0&show_byline=0&show_portrait=0&color=ff0179&fullscreen=1

Christmas Light Show 2 from Mike Duncan on Vimeo.

Losing a pet is hard for an 8-year-old

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December has been a tough month: Daddy is back in the hospital with a serious infection, and he is scheduled for major surgeries Wednesday. My grandmother fell for the third time since summer and is now in a nursing home.

And last week, we had to let Carlo, our 11-year-old lab mix, go to a better place. Ryan and Riley had taken him to an emergency vet a week earlier because he was eating very little. They came back with a diagnosis of fungal pneumonia and prescriptions for pain and antibiotics.

The meds did nothing, so our regular vet came to the house to check on him. Carlo was laboring to breathe, could hardly walk and completely stopped eating and drinking. Our vet listened to him breathe and checked him out and said it was either fungal pneumonia or lung cancer. We had already discussed a plan and once we had confirmation that we could do nothing more, we made the decision. And it was hard. Riley gave Carlo a hug, and we sent her to our neighbor’s. Ryan and I stayed with him until the end, crying and talking to him.

Carlo was the sweetest, goofiest dog. When it came to eating, he was like a vacuum. He loved to run around in the backyard, and he loved our first dog and his mentor, Eboni, whom we lost several years ago when Riley was very little. And he loved us.

I miss him snuffling against the back door when he wanted in. I miss his barks when we pulled into the driveway. I miss him looking at me with those big eyes when he wanted to go outside.

That night, Riley asked when the angels were coming to get Carlo and if we were going to put his body under his tree. She asked if he was going to play with Eb and Bonnie (Nanny’s late dog). She asked if he was going swimming. We said yes to all. We tried to explain about his spirit, but that was fruitless. We didn’t have the words to get it right. She drew a card for Carlo and Eb and took it to school and all her classmates signed it. Isn’t that the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard?

The photos below show a 20-month-old Riley checking out Eboni (red collar) and Carlo; Ryan helping Riley get to know Carlo a little better; Carlo hanging out on the patio; and Carlo “opening” his Christmas present last year. In the drawings, Riley encourages Carlo to go see Eboni in heaven and marks Carlo’s final resting spot – under his favorite tree in our backyard.