Burn, baby, burn

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.

Saturday night and the single mom

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.

Christmas without my girl

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.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream

Today we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his work toward equality for all. Ryan and I stayed up late to watch “King” on the History Channel last night, and what I saw made me terribly sad, angry and mortified.

Is it possible to be ashamed and proud of something at the same time? Because that’s how I feel about my state. I am so ashamed of the bombings and fire-hosings and beatings and cruelty that happened during the struggle for civil rights. To see people toss food on someone sitting at lunch color just because they were different was disgusting. To see peaceful marchers attacked because they weren’t white made my stomach churn. I can’t wrap my head around hatred because of skin color.

Yet, I still have a sense of pride that this is where the movement started, with one woman standing her ground and refusing to give up her seat. With thousands standing up to the racism and inhumanity. And with television cameras capturing it all for the world to see.

With President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration just one day away, America has come a long way and many people have sacrificed their time, their jobs, their reputations, even their lives to get us here.

I hope we take advantage of this new chapter and continue to make the United States of America a more perfect union, where our children can be anything they want to be if they try hard enough, where they are not judged by their skin color, where we live by this Declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Visit the King Center site to hear what it’s all about.

It’s Now or Never (Election 2008)

I was about halfway up in the line; there were a good many more behind me.

Today is a beautiful day to change the world. Ryan went to vote before work, while I waited until about 10. It’s a gorgeous, clear, sunshiney day. The leaves on the trees behind the church are spectacular, and a nice breeze blows across the pavement just as everyone is starting to get a little too warm on this November day.

I put together a quick Obama ’08 playlist this morning because I knew I’d have to wait awhile to connect the arrows on my ballot. A few selections:

A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke
Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi
Express Yourself – NWA
Time for Love – Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights
Doo Wa Ditty – Zapp & Roger
You’ve Got It (The Right Stuff) – New Kids on the Block
Gotta Be Somebody – Nickelback
Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
Keep Marchin’ – Raphael Saadiq
Let It Be Me – Ray LaMontagne
I Believe – Elvis
Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye
So Whatcha Want – The Beastie Boys
King of Rock – Run DMC

Read about our experience at The Daily Dish and send him your story.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

A couple of weekends ago, my friend and I went out to eat for our annual birthday celebration; mine is Feb. 23, hers March 6. We reminisced about high school and old friends we hadn’t seen in awhile, including Robin. For an instant, her phone number popped into my head and I thought, “I should call her.”

Later that week I read this verse during my nightly Bible reading Wednesday night.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15 (NIV)

And I stopped and thought, “That’s kind of weird.” Then I read it again, and thought, “OK, I get it now. That means His child is now with Him in heaven.”

Thursday morning my dad called to talk to Ryan about some golf range balls, and I heard Ryan say, “You’re kidding me. Oh, no.” I wondered what that meant in a conversation about old golf balls.

“Tiff, I’ve got some bad news.” My heart started beating faster.

“Robin died.” What? What do you mean? I felt numb, and I couldn’t move. It just didn’t seem real.

He put his arm around me and the tears started. My dad couldn’t tell me that one of my best friends in high school died, so he asked Ryan to. I’m so glad he was there when I found out.

We’ve been friends since kindergarten, and even though we’d go long periods without seeing each other, when we did bump into each other when I’d visit my hometown, the friendship was always there. Robin was sweet, smart, pretty and a good person – homecoming queen, a cheerleader, Miss Hazlewood.

Thursday night’s Bible reading was titled “It’s Later Than You Think.”

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 (NIV)

Kind of hard to do, but as I thought about it, I gave thanks that I knew Robin as long as I did. The gist of the devotion: “Our greatest fear is running out of time.” We’re constantly rushing to get things done, and we tend to forget the important things: friends, family, rejoicing, being thankful.

Monday’s homegoing celebration was sad and touching. Her family barely held up; her fiancé shared about his love for Robin – “She made me feel like a man again” – and it was heartbreaking. After lots of struggles, she was finally happy. And it was over. You know what verse the preacher chose to highlight?

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15 (NIV)

If a friend’s phone number pops into your head, call her. If you have thoughts about someone you haven’t seen in awhile, get in touch. It could be God’s way of preparing you for something. Maybe they need a friend; maybe it’ll be the last time you talk to them.

The Hazlewood High School Class of 1990 lost another friend; Michael T. died about seven years ago. Robin leaves behind three young daughters; Riley could’ve been great friends with the two youngest if I’d done more than think about getting in touch. I should’ve called her, spent time with her and her girls, shared mom experiences.

It’s too late to do these things with Robin now, but I hope my regrets inspire me to keep in touch with other friends, do more fun things with my family and be grateful for the blessings I do have.

I’ll never see Robin on this earth again, but I will see her again. I take comfort in that. Show your love whenever you get the chance.

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Love to y’all!