While most people were counting down the days of December waiting for Christmas on the 25th, Colleen Riordan, 32, was going to bed early waiting on Dec. 21 -- the day she regained custody of her four children.
After spending half her life hooked on heroin in Philadelphia, Riordan is now sober, living in Cape Girardeau and playing mom to her three sons. Her daughter stayed in Pennsylvania with Riordan's mother to finish high school.
"She's going to come down for a month or two in the summer. Maybe the whole summer," Riordan said while her 5-year-old Jayden climbed and wiggled on her lap. They are going to finish part of the basement of the house on Sunny Lane where she, her husband, sister and now the three boys all live.
Derek, 9, has built a fort in the backyard with a tarp and the grass is black from Saturday night's bonfire. He has a fish named Nemo and a blue parakeet named Princess at his new home in Missouri.
"It's so cool," he said. "There's cool dogs around here."
Riordan was brought to Cape Girardeau and admitted to the Vision House, a women's drug rehab center, in the spring of 2007. She has been without her children for nearly two years. After successfully completing rehab -- something she had tried nine different times in Pennsylvania -- she moved into the house and started the custody hearings to get her children back.
"We were really concerned about getting Jayden," Riordan said.
When put in foster care, Jayden, who is deaf, became self-abusive. Riordan was told he gagged himself, hit his head on things and would not use the toilet.
"Because of my mistakes they've been through so much," she said. "Since he's been here, he hasn't thrown any tantrums."
Jayden's case worker in Philadelphia and people from a community group showed up at the custody hearing Dec. 11 to block her from taking him. They said Missouri couldn't handle his deafness and even said he had a dentist appointment so he couldn't leave.
"I just told them, 'Enough about his deafness. What about love and family?'" Riordan said.
The judge agreed, and she took all the boys home. She has had four months of sign language lessons and talks excitedly with her son.
"Me and him, we communicate just wonderful," she said.
The family and people from Iona Baptist Church, where the family worships, enrolled in sign language classes at Southeast Missouri State University.
Her oldest son, 10-year-old Matthew, already has friends at church and in the neighborhood. He told his Aunt Shannon -- Riordan's sister who lives with them -- that he would come to Missouri on two conditions: "I don't have to shovel snow and I get my own room."
He said spending Christmas with his mom, dad and brothers this year was much better than with a foster family. Derek agreed, listing off presents before cuddling up to his mom on the couch to watch Nickelodeon.
Jayden covers Riordan's eyes when the characters on the show lean in to kiss. He is a healthy 5 year old, and Riordan can barely move him, but that doesn't stop her from pulling him onto her lap or carrying him to bed after he falls asleep in front of the TV.
"I'm tired, but it is the best tired in the world," she said.
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