Never alone; thanks mom

This time of year is tough.

In just 15 days it’ll be five years since we lost dad.

This day a couple decades ago (I won’t say how many) my amazing, strong, resilient and rock star mom was born.

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It’s so hard to look at any of the days this month without having the countdown to Jan. 28. And, selfishly, I hate that amazing days — mom’s birthday, my sister and I’s birthday, my nephew’s birthday — are almost marred with this terrible, unimaginable thing.

But that’s life, right?

I fear sometimes that in my desire to honor and keep my dad’s memory alive — because let’s get real, he was an out of this world, over the top, loving, caring, awesome dad, husband, friend and advocate — that the stellar, shinning status of my mom is overshadowed.

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So, today, on the anniversary of the day of her birth, I’d like to shout from the rooftops — MY MOM ROCKS! I, without a doubt, would not be here today without her. And when I say that, I’m not talking about the fact that she birthed me (which she did, along with my twin sister in natural birth super star style.) What I mean is, I wouldn’t be the functioning successfulish adult that I am today. I wouldn’t be the loving, caring, trying to be patient, fun and rock star in training mom that I am today. I wouldn’t be a committed and passionate community advocate/volunteer.

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Yep, without her I would never be where I am today with my amazing family, a great job and an over-committed (but great) life. She’s been an incredible example for me showing me what it takes to be a powerhouse in the workplace and supportive, loving mom at home. She’s shown me the importance of having hobbies and passions and following through on them. She’s shown me how rewarding a life of service is and always modeled an accepting and tolerant sensibility.

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Without her unending support — emotional, financial and physical — I would have never graduated from college, become a peace corps volunteer, have a rewarding marriage and amazing children and countless other things.

Phone calls, tear-soaked shoulders, boxes and boxes of “just because I believe in you and love you” cards, silent but clear signs of support and encouragement… I truly have no idea what life would be like without her.

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I’m lucky. I celebrate. I love.

So as these next few weeks drag on, and I’m flooded with the memories of those last days with dad that I simultaneously want to never let go of and also bury far away, I’m going to try to remember that this month isn’t all bad. It gave me a lot, and most importantly, it gave me my momma.

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This note in a card — the woman has single-handedly kept Hallmark and the U.S. Postal service in business — sums up her never-ending support and dogged belief in me, even in my jerkiest of childhood/teen years:

“Nothing would be the same without you being in my life. Be the special person that you are. Let everyone see what I see! Love Mom”

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Wordless Wednesday

Merry Christmas from the Doyles. I made three Christmas cards (people only received one of each, I’m not that silly) because I couldn’t pick my favorite. And if you are on my Christmas card list… queen of procrastination didn’t get them out in time for pre-Christmas delivery. But they are, as the saying goes, “in the mail.”

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Miles’ angel boy

Raising a grateful child is so important to me. Raising a generous child is a priority. And raising an empathetic child is a must.

And those three things are extra important this time of the year but it seems as if during the holiday season it is even more difficult to instill or renew those values.

The “I wants” can be overwhelming when what I wish I could hear was, “I’m grateful for…” or “I want to help…”

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I’m sure that as a kid I was the same. I vividly remember sitting on the floor with a giant Sears catalog atop my knees and an ink pen between my teeth poised to circle ALL OF THE STUFF I wanted. But I also, with ease, can recall shopping for less fortunate children with my parents and combing through our toys and clothes to find things that we no longer played with or wore to donate to area charities.
Those lessons — the ones about how there were many who went without — stuck with me. I remember getting a warm, gushy feeling doing that shopping with my mom and dad or packing up some items to take to the Salvation Army.
I am hopeful to pass that message, that greater meaning to this season, on to my own children. So this year Miles — the only one of my two kiddos who’s capable of saying, “I want, I want, I want” — and I chose a little paper angel off of the tree at our church filled with children in need of some help for a brighter Christmas. I looked for a child as close to Miles’ age as possible — we found an 8-year-old boy.
Yesterday afternoon we decided to go shopping, but before I left I picked Miles’ up and pulled him on to my lap.
“Let’s talk,” I said, in my serious tone.
“What mom?” he said in his goofy tone but doing his best to look me in the eye with a serious face (it looked more like a rabid dog, his eyes all wild and crazy and his jaw set.)
“We are going to go to the store but we aren’t going to be buying anything for Miles or Owen or anyone else in our family, OK?”
“Aww, man!”
“Now wait, listen,” I say, pleading he’ll hear this message. “There’s this little boy, and he might not have any presents under his tree for Christmas this year.”
“That’s so sad,” Miles said, truly looking forlorn, his eyes even wetting. “What can we do?”
“We are going to buy him some presents and clothes and food. Do you want to do that?”
“Yes!”
So we took off with our paper angel cut-out in tow. Miles gripped on to it tightly, repeatedly telling nearby shoppers we were shopping for his “angel boy.” Toys, clothes and a food essentials as well as a stocking and some candy and other snacks, that Miles proceeded to stuff inside the stocking. He kept holding the angel cut out up to the bright, blue, oversized sock saying, “He wants to see his stocking!”
When we checked out, Miles plainly explained to the cashier what we were doing.
“My angel boy, he didn’t have presents under his tree. So we got him some.”
I’m not going to lie… We didn’t make it out of the toy section without a few protests over why Miles couldn’t get something too. But, after a few deep breaths (on both of our parts) and a reminder of why we were there, he was OK with it.
It’s just one tiny part of a lifetime of lessons about privilege, the joy of giving, civic responsibility and empathy. But I definitely walked out of the store feeling like we’d made some progress. And Miles, even hours later, talked about his angel boy.

Thankful thoughts

I try to do a pretty good job recognizing how good I have it in the moment. And I’m pretty blessed that I have it pretty good most of the time.

Even with that, though, I could use a reminder about gratefulness, appreciation and acknowledgment.

And what better way (and day, since it is THANKSgiving today) to do that than offering my fellow Features staffers a chance to talk about what they are thankful for and for me to do the same.

IMG_4904Kids — I really hit the lottery with this one. And I’m not talking about the cursed lotto either where you squander your riches and find yourself sad and broken in the corner. I am so lucky. As crazy as my boys can make me feel sometimes (it is very difficult raising a mini-version of my hardheaded, strong-willed self), I am the luckiest woman alive that they lovingly (usually) call me Mama. There are days when mere thoughts of them make me cry from overwhelming joy.

IMG_2842Family — I am so lucky that I have a husband who not only loves, but also (mostly) tolerates the me who completely overbooks and overcommits herself and hurriedly comes home greeted, many nights, to dinner. You love me, and you love our boys. It doesn’t get much better than that. The rest of my family is also pretty amazing, with my super heroesque mom who can pretty much do anything and has spent 34 years putting up with me (we’ve started the sainthood process already.)

Meet our toddler chicks -- Mocalotive, Choo Choo, Stella, Olive, Foghorn Leghorn and Chicken Little

Chickens — Yes, they can be stinky (you were right, Michael) and being a chicken mom in the pouring rain and freezing winter hasn’t been awesome, but I’m so grateful that I finally have them. And I’m kind of a farmer now, which is awesome.

Co-workers — It’s been nearly a year since I took this position. I’m thankful to have amazing co-workers that not only make the job easier but who also make my day better just by being a part of my life. I am grateful to my former boss who helped prepare me for this position and championed me to others, and most importantly, to myself.

New opportunities — There are several of these on the horizon. And I’m stoked. It will mean good things for me and my family, and I’m thankful. And while I’m aware of a few opportunities in the works, I know there are many, many more to come — that’s one of the best things about life!

Comfort — When I roll down my window handing a dollar to the homeless man, see a family waiting at the bus stop in the freezing rain or hear about families who are juggling whether to pay their electric bill or buy groceries, I’m smacked in the face with my own privilege and comfort. It shouldn’t take those reminders, or even worse the never-ending stories from across the world of need, to be thankful for things as simple as clean water or shoes.

I’m thankful.

Features writer Kelly Gifford is thankful, too.

“I am thankful for the new beginnings that my family has been through in these recent months. My parents said goodbye to our childhood home in Bloomington and now live just down the street from my sister and her family in Newburgh. This move has taken a toll on our whole family but has given us a new chapter that will be full of memories and experiences with one another.

“I’m thankful for having met a pretty neat boy, who’s introduced me to a large and wonderful family who resembles my own in many ways. I’ll be forever changed by them all, especially him.

“Lastly, I’m thankful for having spent the first year of my journalism career at this paper, in a newsroom full of journalists who are dedicated to informing our community with the best reporting and writing around.

“It’s been a great first year.”

Features intern James Vaughn is grateful, also.

“I am thankful, first and foremost, for my opportunity to receive an education. I am thankful for friends and family who never fail to support me or lift me up when I’m down. I am thankful, especially this year, for the sense of freedom and hopefulness that I enjoy the comfort of, but too often take for granted. I am thankful to live day to day without immense fear. I am thankful for the roof over my head and the food in my mouth.

“I am thankful for my dog, Gigi, whose pure love gets me through most days. And last but not least, I am thankful for the opportunity to be telling you, our readers, what I’m thankful for, including this platform to share your stories.”

Please share what you are thankful for @abbeyrd99, @kelgiffo or @jamesrlvaughn on Twitter.

New found love of traditions

By Michael Doyle

Growing up, my family didn’t really go gung-ho for Thanksgiving.

Sure, we enjoyed it well enough. But when it came to getting everyone together — the big extended family event — we saved the major hoopla for Christmas. Thanksgiving was nice and all, but it was really a preamble to the “real” holiday.

So when I got married and became part of a new family, it was pretty interesting to get involved in a different set of traditions. First and foremost, that’s Thanksgiving.

For her family, Thanksgiving is, as the kids say, a Big. Freaking. Deal. I never realized it was possible to get that psyched up over a plate of turkey and no presents.

And honestly, that thing where you all stand up around the table and tell everybody what you’re thankful for — I thought that was just something they did on those corny holiday special TV episodes.

But these people do Thanksgiving — all of it. The turkey, the football, board games around the table, the whole shebang.

And somehow Thanksgiving has come to be my favorite holiday too. The cool thing about Thanksgiving, I’ve come to realize, is that it is actually NOT Christmas. You don’t have all the stress of gift shopping or trying to write the perfect Christmas letter or card — and you still get to eat whatever you want without remorse.

There’s a saying with my in-laws: “If you do it once, it’s tradition,” which is commonly just shortened to “It’s tradition!!!” — emphasis on the exclamation point and usually accompanied by some manner of jazz hands.

And it’s kind of true — we do the same things every year. It evolves and changes a tiny bit, but for the most part, this extended Thanksgiving weekend is pretty well planned out to the hour.

A big traditional dinner on Thursday, with everyone gathered and the kind of shenanigans you would expect when you have 40-plus people who (mostly) get along in the same house.

For those brave enough, Black Friday shopping at some unspeakable hour in the A.M. (not my cup of tea, but I’m not too proud to send a wish list).

Something called “guy’s day” on Friday, which I can’t disclose too much about, but includes the kind of things you might imagine would happen when you get 15 or 20 adult males together with nothing much to do. It’s not quite Norsemen plundering Europe, but it’s not far off.

On Saturday, something called either “girl’s day” or “arts and crafts” day, which I suspect has a somewhat more nefarious purpose than what the name might imply, but at the very least almost certainly consists of all the women sitting around complaining about how much money their stupid husbands spent on beer and electronics the day before.

I am sure a big factor in my newfound love of this holiday is that I’m unable to participate in my own family gatherings in Louisiana anymore since we are so far away. But it’s also because, as I get older, I find that traditions are becoming more important to me.

It is also knowing that our kids are building a lifetime of fuzzy holiday memories for themselves, and understanding just how lucky I am to be a part of two very special families.

I do have an awful lot to be thankful for.

Michael Doyle is a stay at home dad to Miles, 4, and Owen, 1, a freelance writer and married to Features Editor Abbey Doyle.

Great weekend, I think

Expectations.

I know I’ve written about this before (and banged my head on the wall over them about a million times,) but I’m hopeful that maybe doing it again may help me breath a little better then next two days.

I can’t possibly be the only person on the planet who envisions things as being amazing, perfect and blissful, shoving nearly all of my eggs in this vision basket and hoping for the best. Right? Tell me I’m not the only one …

This gal right here does this A LOT. I stay too busy most of the time, and my quality time with my boys — the husband, the biggest of my boys, included — is pretty limited. So when this time includes something more than the rote “getting everyone fed and snuggled into bed,” I get pretty excited.

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Exhibit A:

A couple months ago I took a Friday off work when Miles had that day off school. I researched ahead of time what hours were open swim for the YMCA so all four of us could go swimming together. Afterward we’d go to Sam’s and get frozen yogurt. And then, depending on the level of nap need, we would go to the park. Perfect day, right? Kind of day that dreams are made out of for 4-year-old boys, right?

Apparently not this, not for this little boy.

At every turn I was struggling with Miles. There were so many tantrums, tears, protests.
About 20 minutes into the struggle to get the kid dressed into his swim trunks — and I should note, he WANTED to go swimming — I stood in the hallway in tears myself nearly shouting, “I just want to have a special day.” After finally getting him, the baby and myself dressed and the million necessary accessories packed, we piled into the car and headed toward the Y. There was more tears and protests when we pulled up to the Y because it was the “wrong” Y; he wanted to go to the other one (which didn’t have open swim, mind you.)

Finally in the pool things calmed down, we all had a good time. Leaving after two hours of swimming went surprisingly smooth with the promise of frozen yogurt. But once we arrived at Sam’s the outbursts continued. I can’t even pinpoint what started them, not because I can’t remember but because there was no real reason. But before we even made it into the story Michael and I turned to each other, once again my eyes filled with frustrated and sad tears, and decided we just needed to go home.

Spur of the moment Christmas trip.

My expectations were of this perfect day — sunshine, rainbows and ice cream. What could be better, right? But nothing went as expected. Looking back — several months later — I still can’t really pinpoint what happened to create the chaos. He’d gotten a good night’s sleep, he ate a good breakfast, he wasn’t sick. What I can pinpoint is that he’s four. Yep. That’s about all I have to say, AND I have to remind myself of this ALL the time. He’s still working on figuring out how to express his emotions, frustrations, feelings. Maybe he was just having a bad day; I have them too. But I’ve had the privilege of nearly 30 more years on this planet to figure out how to control, process and deal with that than he has.

So, with all that said … I’ve been spending the more responding to the standard, “What are you doing this weekend?” excitedly talking about my “perfect weekend.”

I know, I know, wanna laugh with me about that!

My expectation: Tonight we are all going to camp out on the living room floor in cozy jammies and watch “Polar Express” and drink cocoa and eat homemade cookies that Miles and I made a couple hours earlier. And then Saturday we are all going to giggle and smile and ride the “Polar Express” in French Lick.

It’s totally going to go just like that, right?

Germs seem to be winning the battle

By Michael Doyle

It’s 2 a.m., and I’m staring at the endless wall of cold medicines at the drugstore when I get a major sense of déjà vu.

Then I realize, it’s not déjà vu; I actually did do this before. It was probably about a month ago that I stood in this exact same spot in this exact same CVS, probably shuffling my feet while taking in the enormous variety of red, green, purple and blue syrupy, boozy bottles guaranteed both to taste terrible and knock you flat on your back for an evening of non-cough interrupted sleep.

I picked out a green one. The guy in the checkout line in front of me got red.

“You know they have the two-packs of this stuff,” the cashier quipped. “You want to go back? You look like you might need the two-pack.”

“Seemed like a jinx,” I told her. “I’m just gonna hope one is enough.”

At our house, cold season has been going on for a while now. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that young Miles started back to preschool in late August and the germs started taking over about a week later.

I’m sure it’s uncomfortable for the little ones. But they can shrug it off a little better, it seems — wipe your nose on your sleeve and get on with the business of being a kid. For all the confluence of green goop always pooling around Miles’ nostrils, you won’t ever hear him talk about feeling “sick.” And even Owen, who just turned a year old, seems to take it in stride. His poor raw, red and crusty little nose doesn’t really seem to deter him from his daily routine of household exploration (AKA destruction) and dog-tail chasing.

For me, though, it’s another story. I already have such chronic sinus and allergy problems that getting a full-blown cold on top of that is just about all my immune system can take. I feel feverish and get chills, my throat hurts, my body aches and get a heavy hacking cough that always seems to linger for weeks. By the end of the day, I’m a disaster, all used up by 7 p.m. or so, which just so happens to be my bedtime for most of the last week.

And what’s worse is, right when you think you’re starting to get better, it comes back on you full force.

I don’t know if we’re just passing the same set of germs back and forth among each other or if there are new invaders constantly making their way into the house.

It certainly can’t help that we’re all in close quarters, breathing and recirculating each other’s germs constantly. My guess is if you had a microscope the place would look like a bacteria’s dream come true, complete with a little bacteria Statue of Liberty right outside the front door:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of germs, waiting to break free.”

Surely this whole season of germ-giving will come to an end soon enough. In the meantime, we will continue to live in a world where there are too many boogers and not enough Kleenexes.

From swaddling clothes to waddling in blink of an eye

It’s hard to believe, but my baby boy is already 1.

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It seems like just yesterday we were bringing him home from the hospital in the tiniest little giraffe-print outfit, loving every minute of the experience and wondering just what in the heck we were going to do with two kids.

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Now, I look up from my easy chair to see Owen flailing his way across the living room in that way that newly-walking toddlers have, hellbent on destruction — gotta knock all the DVDs off the shelf, then dig in the recycling bin, then a leisurely stop at the kitchen cabinets because that shaker of cinnamon isn’t just going to spread itself all over the floor on its own, mom.

And guess what, a year later Michael and I still wonder — at least several times a week — what the heck we are going to do with two kids.

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Owen has always been a happy soul. There was nary a cry for the first several months, or at least that is how I remember it. I’m sure there was fussing here or there, but when I think back to those first few months with Miles, who’s temperament is much different from his baby brother’s, I know just how easy I have had it this go-round. The nights were sleepless — aren’t they always — but the middle of the night nursing and snuggle sessions were filled with giggles instead of cries. That was quite a relief — since his older brother Miles posed more difficulties in that area as a baby.

Looking back I wonder if the difference was in the babies, or instead in the mama who was much more relaxed and confident the second time around.

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Baby O, as we often refer to him, and I have spent thousands of hours over the past year in my dad’s old green chair I inherited. That’s my “nursing” chair. While I struggled with breast-feeding Miles, Owen and I have had a healthy breast-feeding relationship since Day 1 that is still going strong. And as any breast-feeding mom will tell you, that stuff can cure all the world’s ills. And I have loved every minute of it.

Well, maybe not so much all the biting, but other than that it’s been an amazing experience.

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The interesting thing about raising babies is not how much work it is — the lack of sleep, the constant messiness or any of that stuff. Instead, it is how quickly you integrate all of those things into your daily life. It becomes the norm.

What once seemed like a huge mess on the living room floor now gets a weak shrug: “Meh, I’ll pick it up tomorrow, maybe.”

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When in reality tomorrow will be gymnastics or we’ll decide to spend the evening at the park or going to cMoe — there’s always something and it is most assuredly more fun and valuable than a tidy floor.

There was a time when five hours of sleep would’ve left me staggering through the day, ordering the bucket-sized iced coffee (with sugar-free vanilla flavoring) just to keep my eyes open until lunch time. Now, five hours of sleep is practically a dream come true.
None of these are complaints, of course — it just goes to show you how your priorities, and life, change.

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All of those long nights, messy floors and bite marks are completely worth it when I see that beautiful little face each morning, smiling that cute gaptoothed smile of his, wrapping his arms around me and delicately placing his head on my shoulder when I lift him out of the crib. I am reminded, once again, that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do with my life. This little boy — along with his big brother — has made me the happiest mom in the world.

Happy birthday, Owen.

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Wrong way to save money

One day a couple of weeks ago, my 4-year-old son Miles walks up to me with one of those sad, puppy-dog expressions on his face.
It was just then I realized that the house had been a little too quiet for a little too long that afternoon.
Uh-oh.
“D-d-dad,” he said meekly, with tears welling up in his eyes, “I made a mistake.”
Understand, Miles is an extremely energetic, strong-willed kid; spirited is what my wife calls it. He doesn’t talk quietly about anything, and he certainly doesn’t admit to doing anything wrong. I started having a mild freak-out.
“What is it? Is everything OK?”
“Uh, I think I swallowed a nickel.”
“You think you swallowed a nickel? What does that mean? You either swallowed a nickel or you didn’t.”
“Yeah, I swallowed the nickel. I don’t know why. … Dad, I feel a little sick.”
I am pretty proud of the way we handled it.
We figured out that his “sick” feeling was just anxiety. I calmed him down and did a little research on the Internet. Abbey called our pediatrician. The nickel should, she explained, “turn up” within a week or so. If it didn’t, we would have to have a doctor extract it.
The prescription: Make sure he gets lots of liquids and fiber. I don’t think I have to spell out the implications for anybody reading this.
Unfortunately, I did have to do just that for the nickel-eater. And it just so happens that, being the typical 4-year-old boy, that particular bodily function is one of his very favorite subjects.
“OK Miles, here’s the deal.”
“Yeah, dad?”
“We’re gonna have to watch out the next few days for that nickel to come out.”
“It’s going to come out? Where?”
Sigh. I can’t believe I’m having this conversation right now.
“It’s going to come out in your poops.”
Of course, a fit of laughter ensued.
“The nickel’s going to come out of my butt! Hahahaha!!”
He literally rolled around on the floor laughing. His laughter is contagious, and despite myself, I got the giggles too.
“Hey dad?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“How are you going to find the nickel?”
“Well, first thing I’m going to do is go to Rural King and buy the best metal detector they have.”
Fast-forward to the next day, and I’m on my hands and knees on the floor, poking around a pile of you know what with a plastic fork. Who knew metal detectors were so pricey?
Eventually, mom retrieved the treasure. Of course, she got it on her first attempt. In the meantime, I had been forced to repeat this rather odious task three more times that week before her first attempt.
“I don’t think so … Wait! Here it is!!” she crowed triumphantly from the bathroom. “Thank goodness we don’t have to take him to the doctor.”
So, we’re five cents richer. Sort of. We have saved the nickel and are accepting ideas on how best to “preserve” it for posterity’s sake.
I just hope he doesn’t ever decide to reinvest in that particular savings plan.
Michael Doyle is a stay at home dad to Miles, 4, and Owen, 1, and married to Features Editor Abbey Doyle. He also is a freelance reporter. You can read more about the Doyle’s parenting adventures at their blog, A Parently Obvious at courierpress.com/aparentlyobvious.