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.

Playing ball when you’re deaf

She’s come a long way since she got her first glove.

Riley’s had two softball practices with another set for Saturday. She’s paying better attention this year, but we still need to figure out a better way to communicate than just yelling at her. It’s hard for anyone to hear a coach yelling from the dugout during a game and even harder when you’re hearing impaired. That’s one reason we’re considering an FM system … so she can hear easily whether she’s on the field, in the classroom or out in the backyard.

Another family offered to let Riley try out the system their children no longer use, so I think a phone call is in order. Of course, the system will have to be tweaked to complement Riley’s hearing and programs, but we should get started on this soon.

The first two practices were COLD – the poor girls were bundled up so tightly they could barely move! And you know how much it hurts when you swing the bat and don’t hit the ball solidly. Ouch!

She batted right-handed the first practice and did OK, but she switched back to being a lefty the second day and did even better. I’m going to let her decide how she’s most comfortable at the plate. Lefty or righty, it’s her choice.

The coach worked her out at second base and Riley did really well for her first time on the field since May. Several of the other girls played throughout the fall and are also playing on a travel team during the community season, too. They’re getting a lot more reps, but Riley will catch up.

I’m the dugout mom again – keeping the batting order; making sure helmets, batting gloves and bats are where they’re supposed to be; helping the catcher get dressed; bandaging any scrapes or strawberries; and yelling for mom or dad if I can’t help. Basically, several moms are tag-teaming to take care of everything from uniforms to snacks to picture day to concession duty.

We’re all ready for spring and softball and warm weather.

Happy Birthday to Jon Bon Jovi

JBJ as seen through my 12x optical zoom lens and the big screen.

Today is my rock star fantasy’s birthday: JBJ is 48 and still rockin’.

Here’s a bit about how this love affair started:

**************
My journey into infatuation started in the mid-1980s. I was about 14 and just getting into MTV. Long hair, tight leather pants and ripped shirts were all the rage. And I’m not talking about the ladies.

One band surpassed all others in every way…music, looks, number of cans of Aqua Net … Bon Jovi was the baddest, the coolest and the hottest. To use the slang of the day, lead singer Jon was fine. And I was hooked.

As a teenager, I didn’t have the means to buy the albums or go to the concerts. I started my collection by obsessively listening to the Top 40 countdown shows on the radio, tape recorder at the ready. “Casey, would you stop talking over the intro!” I wore those cassettes out, playing “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Bad Medicine” over and over and over.

I taped their videos, their appearances, anything I saw. I have no idea where those tapes are now, but I wish I could find them.

Yes, I changed the words to “I was born to your baby, you were born to be my man.” Yes, I imagined getting backstage and meeting Jon. (Get your minds out of the gutter – he was always a perfect gentleman. And back then I wasn’t as well educated as the kids are now.) Yes, I begged my mom to let me go to their concert in Huntsville just before I turned 16 … no dice.

Fifteen years later, just as I was about to turn 30, part of my fantasy was fulfilled. I was in the same building as Jon. Oh, my gosh … finally I got to see my Jersey boys in all their glory! And I was not disappointed.

It was like going back to high school…I felt like a schoolgirl, screaming and dancing and singing every song.

**************
I’ve seen Bon Jovi twice more since then, and unless I hit the jackpot, I doubt I’ll see them in April in Nashville. Ticket prices continue to climb, and I can’t justify $150 for a ticket stuck in the middle of an arena, where I can barely even see Jon, where my camera batteries will die five minutes into the show because I’m so far back I have to use the flash, where my photos will come out grainy because I have to shoot the big screen in order to even see Jon’s face, plus finding someone who can afford to go with me … and so on.

They’re pricing fans out of their shows, and it’s unfortunate. Even being a fan club member got me no perks … unless you consider $1,500 for a front-row ticket a perk. Sure it’d be a priceless experience, but sometimes the price is just too high.

The ever-increasing cost of seeing my favorite band live tends to dampen my love a bit. It’s disappointing that longtime fans have to spend so much money just to get decent seats. Meanwhile, bands and brokers and promoters are raking in the dough. It’s frustrating and unfair.

At least I’ll always have my fantasies.

As close as I’ll likely get to JBJ, and with a 12x optical zoom. Sigh. In Nashville, 2008.

How do you map an ear?

Riley waits for her snack after the softball game. See her blue and pink CIs?

I’ve previously talked about taking Riley to her mapping appointment at the HEAR Center. You’re probably wondering what that means. Mapping means programming. It’s a little like upgrading the software on your computer. Sometimes your computer slows down or needs a boost to do some new processes.

Same thing with the CI processors, which are the pink and blue devices you see Riley wearing. They contain tiny computers that need occasional updates.

The cochlear implant processors have to be readjusted at various intervals depending on how long a child has worn them. For example, when Riley first got her CIs, she had to get them mapped every month for the first couple of months. Then every three months for a couple of years. After nearly seven years, unless she’s having trouble with the CI, Riley’s map is updated every six months.

The audiologist hooks the processors to her computer and updates the software on them. This mapping sets the devices’ electrode stimulation levels in Riley’s cochlea so she can detect soft and loud sounds comfortably.

Over time, Riley will adapt to the settings. What was once too loud might become too soft as her brain’s auditory center gets used to the sounds. Then we’ll go back for another mapping session.

Bilateral CI daughter sings

Nothing is sweeter than hearing my bilateral CI daughter singing The Chipmunk Song and Jingle Bell Rock. Especially considering there was a time when we weren’t sure she’d even talk.

Yeah, she misses and messes up a few words, but when I was 7, I didn’t get “snowing and blowing up bushels of fun” either. She also loves to belt out We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Jingle Bells. We’re still working on Silent Night and Away in a Manger.

And, thanks to A Charlie Brown Christmas, she knows Hark! The Herald Angel Sings. And she sings it exactly as kids do in the cartoon: face upturned toward the heavens and mouth wide open!

This was her first Christmas to hear! She was 2 and loved everything, except Santa.

Hangin’ Tough

Heaven. Seriously.

I am not even kidding, New Kids on the Block are still so hot. The show was amazing; I haven’t heard that much screaming in years, not even for Bon Jovi. When we opened the door from the lobby area to go inside, it was so loud that my hair blew away from my face. The noise literally blew us back. Incredible.

My sis-in-law and I were giddy like kiddies (/Jason Castro) while waiting for the lights to go down. SIL’s cousin and three more friends were there, too. I want to say the guys made me feel like a teenager again, but the thoughts I was having were not teenager thoughts. heh heh

They opened the show with Single and my gosh did they sound good. Better than I expected. And, no, they were not lip-syncing, so pipe down all you haters.

My heart will always belong to Donnie; dude has become a real Grown Man, lemme tell ya. He defies description; he’s such a dirty boy, but I wouldn’t have him any other way.

Jordan’s not looking too bad himself, and Danny, well, he’s got some pipes, and I’m not talking about his singing. (I secretly loved him, too, ’cause he can move.) Joey has become a good-looking man, and Jon is as cute as ever.

From Single they went into My Favorite Girl, which I videoed. I don’t remember being so shaky, but the video proves it. Is that pathetic or what? I can’t remember the order of the set list but they also did:

Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)
Please Don’t Go Girl
You Got It (The Right Stuff)
I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)
Cover Girl
Step by Step
Tonight
Baby, I Believe in You
Games
Valentine Girl
If You Go Away
Give It to You (Jordan)
Stay the Same (Joey)
We Will Rock You
Click Click Click
Summertime
2 in the Morning
Grown Man
Dirty Dancing
Twisted

While the whole show was one big highlight reel, my particular favorites were:

Baby, I Believe in You – Jordan’s shirt somehow got unbuttoned during this song. For some reason, we all loved it.

Click Click Click – The more I listen to this one, the more I like it. And I’m listening a lot. “Pose for me, pose for me …”

Dirty Dancing – This would’ve been the only time floor seats in the back wouldn’t have sucked. A small rotating stage was set up near the back with a piano and the guys. “Ooo, It’s so crazy, she’s like Baby, I’m like Swayze …”

Cover Girl – Donnie strapped on a guitar and played a little to open this one.

Grown Man – Oh, my, my, my, Donnie is so good, but so bad in this song. Photographic evidence below. Brace yourself for some dirty dancing.

They closed the show with Hangin’ Tough in their beloved Boston Celtics jerseys.

Guys, please don’t make me wait another 15 years to see you again. I had a blast and would do all again tonight if I could. Peace!

It’s My Life

From world of silence to high-tech hearing
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
By Tiffani Hill-Patterson
The Huntsville Times

Complete silence. Can you imagine? Turn off the television. You probably can still hear the refrigerator hum in the kitchen.

Insert earplugs. You can still hear your own breathing.

But for 12,000 children born deaf each year in the United States, there are no lullabies, no birds singing, no comfort from mommy’s voice.

Just silence.

Silence was the world of our daughter, Riley, until she was nearly 2 years old.

We had suspected something for a couple of months, but we preferred to embrace denial.

How could anything be wrong with our sweet baby? Family and friends said there was no way she could be deaf. She turned her head toward us, she responded appropriately, and she babbled.

She was so good at feeling vibrations and reading our faces that she had all of us fooled.

May 7, 2003, changed our lives.

Grief, guilt and anger

“She’s never heard your voices. She doesn’t even know her name.”

The audiologist’s words knocked the wind out of us. We were devastated and in shock. Even though we had concerns, we weren’t ready for the diagnosis. Our perfect little girl was deaf – severe to profound hearing loss.

Our hearts were crushed. It was like the child we thought was ours didn’t exist.

Grief hit us hard. All the songs we had sung, all the “I love yous” we had whispered – she had heard none of them. That was the hardest thing to take. Did she even know we loved her?

Then came the guilt. How could we not know that our child was deaf? We knew people wondered that about us, and some even said it out loud. We just didn’t know. How could this have happened? No one in our family was deaf. Was it something I had done while I was pregnant? Had we done something wrong after she was born? Why had we waited so long?

The anger was next. Why had the nurses dismissed the second failed hearing test so easily? Why hadn’t her pediatrician noticed anything? C’mon! A little help here, please?

Finally acceptance came. We channeled our guilt and anger into providing Riley whatever she needed to hear and communicate. We set up appointments with a geneticist, an Auditory-Verbal speech therapist, an Early Intervention specialist, our insurance representative and an ENT surgeon. The time for tears was over. We looked ahead to Riley’s future with our chins up and shoulders squared.

Cochlear miracle
Two weeks after her diagnosis, Riley was fitted with high-powered digital hearing aids, and she started A-V therapy, which teaches children to listen and talk.

We also met with a geneticist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who told us after testing that Riley’s hearing loss was caused by the Connexin 26 gene. Both my husband and I carry mutations of the recessive gene. Finding out the cause was a relief, and knowing it wasn’t our fault freed us from a lot of our guilt.

After seeing that the hearing aids were not powerful enough, we began the process of getting a cochlear implant. On Sept. 16, 2003, Dr. Audie Woolley at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham did the surgery. On Oct. 9, 2003, our little girl heard our voices for the first time.

I wish you could see the video: She turned bright red, looked around, found us and started clapping and laughing. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed.

Five years later, Riley has two cochlear implants and is about to finish kindergarten. She understands almost everything, and her language skills are catching up with normal-hearing peers. She plays soccer and softball, loves playing with other kids and loves to read.

Our daughter is a normal 6-year-old – she just has some colorful ear accessories.

Tiffani Hill-Patterson is a Times copy editor. Reach her at tiffani.patterson@ htimes.com.

© 2008 The Huntsville Times
© 2008 al.com All Rights Reserved.

Dream Come True

One of the dreams I’ve had for Riley since she was born came true Saturday. She played her first softball game. I’ve been waiting 6 years for this day, and it was worth it. Seeing her swinging that bat, running the bases and stopping and throwing the ball made my heart so full. And except for a little trouble with the batting helmet, we had no problems with her cochlear implants, and she was able to hear the coaches telling her when to run and when to stop.

I started softball when I was 6 and played for 20 straight years, until I started working nights as a sportswriter. My mom and dad both played; heck, my little brother and I practically grew up on a ballfield. While they played on the field, we played behind the bleachers, using a wadded up paper cup as ball and our hands as the bat. My husband played baseball for years, too, and we both ended up with college scholarships.

Yeah, it’s a little selfish that I want her to play because I get such enjoyment from it, but I have other reasons. It’s healthy, it will keep her out of trouble and it will help her make friends and give her confidence.

The only trouble we had with her Freedoms was when she tried to put on her batting helmet the first couple of times. She got nervous and rushed and kept knocking the magnet coil off. Thankfully, on her third at-bat, she had figured out the way to do it and was ready to go.

This is her first at-bat; she went 3-for-3 in an 18-17 loss. In T-ball, each team bats until it scores six runs or makes three outs.

Here’s Riley taking third on a basehit by a teammate. She didn’t score this inning, she did after her final at-bat.

Here’s Papa making an emergency glove repair in the second or third inning. The lace along the thumb came out and had to be restrung and tightened. It worked because Riley stopped a ball later in the game when she was playing centerfield.

After the game she said, “The Pink Panthers didn’t win, but maybe next time.” Except for the nervousness over the helmet with her first two at-bats, everything went smoothly. She knew where to run, how to stop the ball and where to throw it. It was an awesome experience. Even if she decides she doesn’t want to play again, I will treasure this season with my little softballer. Go, #17! Go, Pink Panthers!
http://www.blogger.com/img/videoplayer.swf?videoUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fv1.nonxt3.googlevideo.com%2Fvideoplayback%3Fid%3Dc55e452e8e949fdf%26itag%3D5%26begin%3D0%26len%3D86400000%26app%3Dblogger%26et%3Dplay%26el%3DEMBEDDED%26ip%3D0.0.0.0%26ipbits%3D0%26expire%3D1266314959%26sparams%3Did%252Citag%252Cip%252Cipbits%252Cexpire%26signature%3D32F0A3CD3DF209963ADBC684DE50B36A4200416B.409D134BAA305BF79F897F4183608F05D53E3CA8%26key%3Dck1&nogvlm=1&thumbnailUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fvideo.google.com%2FThumbnailServer2%3Fapp%3Dblogger%26contentid%3Dc55e452e8e949fdf%26offsetms%3D5000%26itag%3Dw320%26sigh%3DbMtmsq9S5ElJZMBQ-YxC1AC6dX0&messagesUrl=video.google.com%2FFlashUiStrings.xlb%3Fframe%3Dflashstrings%26hl%3Den

Whenever I Run

Run, girl, run
Speed doesn’t matter; hitting the road does

(Column first appeared at FemmeFan.com in October 2006)

By Tiffani Hill-Patterson

I am a runner. I’m not fast and I don’t do long distances, but I am a runner.

That description is one I never thought would apply to me. As a high school and collegiate athlete, I hated to run. When running is always used as punishment it tends to make you hate even the thought. Slowly, I’ve overcome that mind-set, and I no longer see it as the price you pay for missing a grounder or serving the volleyball out of bounds.

I see it as a way to sneak some time for myself, to gather my thoughts, relieve some stress or just zone out to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And the bonus is that my legs are stronger and slimmer, my heart is pumping more efficiently and my mind is clearer.

I started running when I started doing the Body-for-LIFE program. The cardio portion was a 20-minute workout, and I did a combination of walking and running. Eventually, I was able to jog and run the whole 20 minutes. Without dying. And I liked it. It was a miracle.

The longest length of time I’ve run is 42 minutes, 12 seconds. That was my first 5K, on Memorial Day. It may have taken me awhile to finish, but it was exhilarating.

My husband had tears in his eyes and said, “I’m just proud of you” as I headed to the starting line. If that doesn’t put a spring in your step, nothing will.

My daughter stood near the finish yelling, “Go, Mommy!” I knew I couldn’t slow down even a little until I crossed that line.

And I couldn’t have done it without my little brother, who has run 10Ks and half-marathons. He ran with me and kept me going. And my parents and sister-in-law were there to cheer us both on – it’s great to know you’ve made your family proud.

But even better was the pride I felt in myself for taking on the challenge and accomplishing the goal. I did it. For me. To prove that I could.

After my first 5K, I met a woman at the gym and we hit it off and started running together at least once a week. She’s faster than I am and much more committed. And that’s a good thing. She doesn’t know it, but she challenges me to get better. And even though I haven’t been giving much lately, I’m grateful to have someone to be accountable to.

My second race was in September, and I cut about 2 minutes off my time. Another goal met. Another boost in self-confidence. This running thing has turned out to be more fun than I thought. And I’ve made some friends along with getting in better shape.

The final proof that I am a runner came last Saturday, the day of my third race. The first thing I had to do when I awoke was hit the bathroom. Um, someone find the Imodium. After three trips, I was sure there’d be no running, but I was going to do that 5K anyway, even if I had to walk the whole way.

That’s just what I did. The cool air and conversation with a fellow walker kept my mind off my tummy troubles. At least for the first mile-and-a-half. By then I was halfway done . no point in stopping. Finally, I saw the 3-mile marker and rejoiced; the finish line was just ahead.

I spotted my husband and daughter in the crowd and yelled for my daughter to come with me. My sweet 5-year-old grabbed my hand, and we ran the last 30 yards to the finish line. The look of excitement on her face was enough to make me sign up for another 5K in November. And to dream about the day she’ll run a race next to me.

I’m not fast; I’ll never be fast. That doesn’t matter. I’m a runner because I run.