The Woes of Christmas

*This article was written about my mother in 1997. I share it to have the message live on.*

After Losing Her Job, Single Mother Of Four Struggling To Put Gifts Under The Tree.

The Woes Of Christmas

December 11, 1997|By VANESSA BAUZA Staff Writer

In a corner of her living room, Yvonne Rice keeps what she calls the "no touch, no sell cabinet."

Tucked away behind the glass doors of this wooden hutch are special mementos: A plaster mold of her daughter's tiny hands; a new Pocahontas doll Rice thinks could one day help pay for a child's college education; a heart-shaped box.

"We have taken a few things out, but this is what's left and it will never be sold," said Rice, 35.

A single mother of four, Rice doesn't remember when money wasn't tight. But things have gotten worse lately. She has had to sell pictures off the walls and clothes from the family's closets to make ends meet.

"We're not used to a good life," said Rice, a tall woman with blond hair and a raspy voice. "We're used to just getting by and that's good enough because we've got each other. But this time, there's no way I can get by."

Three weeks ago, she lost her $40-a-day waitressing job when she fractured her finger. She worries that her used minivan will be repossessed any day. And the Coconut Creek mobile home where they live is falling apart around them.

Rotten floor boards sink underfoot despite Rice's efforts to patch them up with carpeting. The counter top in one bathroom has crumbled to the floor. When it rains, a large hole in the ceiling of 4-year-old Steven's bedroom leaks water onto his bed, so he ends up sleeping in the living room most nights. Windows are broken.

The mobile home community has left four notes on her front door warning that the family could be evicted if the home isn't pressure-cleaned and painted soon.

Still, the Rices have tried to get into the holiday spirit.

A small, artificial Christmas tree - salvaged from a neighbor's trash a few years ago - blinks with multicolored lights in a corner of the living room.

Rice's daughters, Tanya, 10, and Amanda, 11, hung stockings and decorated the tree with ornaments donated by friends. Steven and 16-month-old D.J. occasionally take the ornaments down and play with them before carefully putting them back. Rice doesn't know how she's going to buy Christmas presents.

She tries to be optimistic. With Steven and D.J. curled up on her lap on the easy chair, she can almost forget that the electricity may soon be cut off because she is behind in payments.

Rice wants to rise above the constant flow of bills that keep her in debt. But it is difficult to get beyond the immediate needs of her four young children.

In the spring, she had to drop out of a computer training course when D.J. got a bad rash. She went back to waitressing, but later had to leave because of her finger and because she couldn't afford a baby sitter.

The children's father has been unable to help financially.

Rice has already asked her children not to be angry if she can't buy them what they want for Christmas.

They have few toys and play with a Giga Pet - an egg-shaped, electronic virtual pet - borrowed from a friend.

"They get embarrassed because they don't have the things their friends have," Rice said. "I told them, `Please, don't hate me.''' Amanda and Tanya are shy when it comes to asking for presents. They smile, say they would like some shoes and clothes first, then maybe a virtual pet or a CD player. Steven, an active boy who keeps his older sisters on their toes, likes Power Rangers. D.J. also needs clothes, socks and underwear.

Rice's wish is simple - a small cross to replace the one they sold at a garage sale.

"This is the worst time of year for me," she said. "As a single mom, I never know what's going to happen. I told them I'm trying the best I can. I'd like to put something under the Christmas tree."

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