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.

A Southern afternoon long ago

This short short story is just a compilation of memories from my childhood. I’m not sure if the people and dates actually match up, but this is a snapshot of a day in the life of two little kids in Town Creek.

Family circa 1980s
We were at some cookout somewhere on the river.

 

After School

by Tiffani Hill-Patterson (April 7, 1999)

Rrrrriinnnnngggggg. Finally. School is out. Time for a Coke and a candy bar.

I grab my books and wait on my little brother, Michael, to meet me at the end of the hall. I’m 10, he’s 7 and we both go to Hazlewood Elementary School.

“What took you so long?” I ask.

“Miss Davis made me stay after,” Michael says.

“Did you get in trouble for not having your homework again?” I ask him.

“Yeah, I’ve got to get a note signed, too,” he says, frowning.

“Oh, well, you probably won’t get a whipping or anything. They’ll just make you miss ‘The Dukes of Hazard’ tonight.”

Daddy is waiting for us at the end of the road by the school. Our house is right across the highway, but he doesn’t want us to cross the big four-lane by ourselves. So he meets us whenever he is off work to help us. If he’s at work, we walk to the babysitter’s because Momma works, too.

“Hey, y’all,” Daddy says. “How was school?”

“Fine,” we say together. But Michael hands Daddy his note.

“What happened with your homework?”

“I forgot about it. We had baseball practice and I forgot.”

“Well, I’ll let you off this time, but from now on you better have it done,” Daddy says sternly.

“Yes, sir. Can we go to the store now?” Michael asks as we begin to scurry across the highway. Traffic is heavy at this time of day in our little town. High schoolers who drive and parents who pick up their kids from school form a line that stretches about 100 yards from the red light and past our house.

“Not yet. I’ve got to go to the post office and go pay some bills,” Daddy says as we reach our road.

“Awwww. That’ll take forever,” I whine, walking up to the carport.

“Get in the truck and we’ll hurry,” Daddy says. So we all climb into the old gold Chevy, roll down the windows and turn up the radio. The post office is two minutes up the highway and City Hall, where Daddy pays the water bill, is a minute from the post office.

We pull up to the post office and climb out of the truck.

“Daddy, can I open the box?” I ask. Daddy picks me up and tells me the combination of letters as I turn the knob. I get the box open and out tumbles the mail – a Field & Stream, a couple of “duns” as Daddy calls bills and a Marvin Morgan Furniture circular. I love getting the mail.

Daddy gathers all the mail while Michael and I stare at the FBI “Most Wanted” posters behind the glass casing. We memorize the faces, just in case.

Back in the truck we head down the street to City Hall so Daddy can pay the water bill. He never understands how it can be so high. It’s probably because Michael and I run the hose outside for so long, squirting each other to death.

Michael and I play with the radio a minute, and then Daddy walks out the door. Uh-oh. Mr. Hoover stops Daddy to talk.

“Look, Michael,” I say, nudging him with my elbow. “Now we’ll be here all day.”

“Yeah, Mr. Hoover always talks too much.”

After listening to The Oak Ridge Boys sing “Elvira” on the radio, we finally see Daddy shaking Mr. Hoover’s hand and walking to the truck.

“Can we go now?” Michael asks.

“OK,” Daddy says as he cranks the truck. “Where do you want to go? Clayton’s or Mr. Reg’s?

“Mr. Reg’s,” we yell.

Mr. Reg has a punchboard that you can play for a quarter. We love to punch out that piece of paper, hoping to win something.

We go home, get out of the truck and walk through the backyard to Mr. Reg’s. It’s easier to walk than drive and park at Mr. Reg’s. His parking lot is on the corner of two highways and it’s barely big enough for one car. So we walk through our grass, stop on top of the grate to look down the water drain, jump up and touch the Joe Wheeler State Park sign, and finally step into the cool, damp store.

“OK,” Daddy says. “Tell Mr. Reg what you want.”

“I want a Coke and a plain Hershey bar,” I say.

“I want a Dr Pepper and a Whatchamacallit,” Michael says.

“And I’ll take a Coke and a bag of peanuts,” Daddy says.

“All right,” Mr. Reg says and hands us our food. “That’ll be $2.50.”

As Daddy pays for the goodies, we grab the drinks out of the cooler and stick them under the bottle opener and pop off the caps.

We walk back to our yard and settle under our big oak tree next to the highway.

Daddy dumps his peanuts in his Coke, and Michael and I tear open our candy bars. We play the car game – the red cars are mine, the blue ones are Michael’s. And that chocolate tastes so good.

Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”

Before A Moveable Feast, I had never read an Ernest Hemingway book. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Interspersed throughout his stories about his time in Paris in the 1920s, Hemingway describes his writing process (“I always worked until I had something done” ) and how he coped when the words would not come (“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know”).

He talks about his friendships with Gertrude Stein (she was “always right”), Ezra Pound (“the most generous writer I have ever known”) and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Though he seemed somewhat of a chauvinist (“There is not much future in men being friends with great women …”), a surprising part was his writing of fatherly duties such as boiling nipples and mixing formula for his son Bumby’s bottles and taking Bumby with him while he wrote in cafes.

However, the fatherly duties didn’t include hiring a sitter. He and first wife Hadley often left Bumby alone at home in his crib, watched over by only the family cat. “F. Puss was the baby-sitter,” Hemingway explained.

If you’re interested in Hemingway, “A Moveable Feast” is a good first look. It offers insight into how he wrote and how his personal life influenced his works.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Wonders and Marvels in return for a review.

My writing goals

The following questions come from author and writing teacher Christina Katz:

On a scale of one to ten, how’s your self-respect? Can you say no? Do you say yes to yield to social pressure and supposed-to’s and then suffer for it? Are you catering to too many other people’s needs but burning out in the process? Do you listen to and trust your instincts about what is and isn’t the best way to proceed?

My self-respect is about a 9 – hey, no one’s perfect, right? Over the past year, I’ve learned to say no when a writing project doesn’t fit my goals or when the topic doesn’t interest me. If a subject doesn’t appeal to me, it’s hard to make it interesting for others. And isn’t it a bit dishonest? “Hey, I couldn’t care less about doomaflotchies, but I sure wish you’d read my story about them.”

Also, I got in over my head a couple of times last year, taking on too many assignments and had to back out of projects. I hated doing that, but I would’ve hated even more turning in something that wasn’t up to par. Now, I’ve learned how much I can handle without spreading myself too thin or losing my sanity or self-respect.

And when it comes to getting paid for my work, I’m not afraid to ask for more. The worst a client can do is say no, but many times they’ll say yes. For instance, yesterday, after agreeing to write a piece on short notice, I asked my editor if she could bump up my per-word rate. She thanked me for my work and doubled my rate for this article and future ones.

Another editor agreed to boost my pay for an assignment after I pointed out that a lot of information was available on my topic and would need to be distilled. A couple of national sources and two or three local sources and I’m good to go.

It pays to ask for what you’re worth.

Photo by sushivina on Flickr’s Creative Commons

Alabama: National Champions: A family affair (Part 2)

Part 2 of the 2009 edition of Crimson Tide football and family

Dec. 2
Just when we thought things were getting back to normal, Daddy faced another setback. A lingering fever signaled an infection that landed him back in the hospital, facing more surgery, at least three procedures.

Dec. 5 Florida (SEC Championship), 32-13
Momma, Michael, Ryan and I watched this one with Daddy in the unit, along with the other patient and nurses, who were all Bama fans. For the first three quarters, we took shifts with him so we didn’t tire him out too quickly. In the fourth quarter, we all gathered around his bed and watched the Tide finish off the Gators and earn a trip to the National Championship game in Pasadena. Finally!

Dec. 12 NYC
Sophomore running back Mark Ingram of Flint, Mich., became Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner. I was as nervous watching this as I was watching The Drive that beat Auburn.

Dec. 16 Surgery day
Daddy underwent an axillo-bifemoral bypass, the removal of the infected aortic stent and the removal of part of his bowel. The surgeries went well, and Momma, Michael, Ryan and I were able to go see him a couple of hours afterward.

Dec. 25 Christmas
Ryan, Riley and I took presents and a little fiber optic tree to the cardio-thoracic recovery unit where Daddy was. The gifts and our visit cheered him up. Momma said the next day that our visit really helped lift his spirits.


We’ve been to see him as much as possible between school and work, and finally just before the new year, Daddy got to move to a regular room.

Jan. 7 Texas (BCS National Championship), 37-21

Daddy was released from the hospital and sent to a rehab center at a nursing home closer to their house. He made it in time to watch the title game. Again, I had to work, but at least I was at home. I texted Daddy before the game and got a “Roll Tide” back. I was unhappy with the way this one started – it was like Auburn all over again – and I hated to see Colt McCoy get hurt. But I loved the 24-6 halftime score.

However, the conservative third quarter made me nervous. And 24-21? Yikes! But I was confident that Bama’s run game could keep the clock moving and our defense could tighten up and stop the Longhorns. And they did.

Marcell Dareus, Eryk Anders and Mark Ingram came up big. Heisman jinx? No such thing. Sports Illustrated jinx? Whatever. McElroy played with two cracked ribs, Ingram was banged up and linebacker and soon-to-be NFL star Rolando McClain was given fluids before the game and at halftime after suffering a stomach virus all week.

Heart. Toughness. Dedication. All part of Coach Nick Saban’s process. Focus on the journey and you’ll arrive at your destination.

I think that philosophy could help Daddy, too. (And me as I start on a new path in a few weeks.) Ryan, Riley and I went to see him yesterday at the rehab center, where he’ll be for three weeks. He and Momma were tickled by the championship T-shirts we took them. It was good to see him in a sweat suit instead of hospital gown and without all the tubes and drains.

We all took a stroll with him down the hallways, and he said he was looking forward to starting his physical therapy today. I hope he puts in good work and is able to get home by February. I know he is ready.

Alabama: National Champions: A family affair


This season of Alabama football took me on a roller coaster ride, despite finishing the season a perfect 14-0. The Crimson Tide has always been special to my family, and this year was no different. Although, circumstances kept us from watching as many games together as usual, Bama football was still a family affair.

Sept. 5 Virginia Tech, 34-24

Sept. 12 Florida International, 40-14


Sept. 19 North Texas, 53-7
I just remember this being an early game on Fox and being glad I didn’t have to buy it on PPV, which I would have done. And early season backup QB Star Jackson led a TD drive. Then I went in to work.

Sept. 26 Arkansas, 35-7

Oct. 3 Kentucky, 38-20

Oct. 10 Ole Miss, 22-3
Bama intercepted four Jevan Snead passes, but it only scored one offensive TD … by Mark Ingram, of course. Leigh Tiffin kicked five field goals. Ryan, Riley and I watched the game at home.

Oct. 17 South Carolina, 20-6

This was Riley’s 8th birthday, and we were at Walt Disney World. We hit the Magic Kingdom first, had lunch with all the princesses, rode the dizzying tea cup, race cars, the Astro Orbiter, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We headed back to our room to let Riley open her DSi and Three Musketeer Barbie dolls. Then we plopped down on the beds and watched the Tide whip the Gamecocks at the most magical place on Earth. Ingram’s 246 yards rushing landed him on some Heisman watch lists.

Oct. 24 Tennessee, 12-10
I wasn’t able to watch this game closely because I had to work, but it was probably a good thing. Otherwise, I may have thrown something at the TV at home. I had my emotions a bit contained at work. However, I did see the key blocks, thanks to a co-worker and fellow Tide fan who was nice enough to arrange his TV so I could see, too. I downloaded this one from SECSports.com, so I could watch at my leisure.

Oct. 31 Open

This is where things got crazy for my family. On Halloween, we carved our jack-o’-lanterns, Momma came over, and we went to hang out with friends. While we were eating dinner and making trick-or-treat plans, Daddy had an abdominal aortic aneurysm rupture, or AAA.

He’s very lucky that he called Momma and listened to her when she told him to call 911. The blood was leaking into his abdominal cavity and was life-threatening. He went through four hours of surgery to put a stent in his aorta and was in the critical care unit for six days. He spent another 13 days in a regular room, including the LSU and Mississippi State games. We spent lots of time in the hospital waiting room.

Nov. 7 LSU, 24-15

Riley and I drove to the hospital in Florence to hang out with Daddy and Momma and to watch the game. Daddy was in good spirits, and we watched most of the first half together. However, the rooms are so small and an 8-year-old can only take so much, so we headed to my cousin’s so she could play. I watched the rest of the game with her husband, a big Auburn fan, who kept trying to discount Ingram’s Heisman candidacy by saying “he isn’t even the leading rusher in the conference,” that AU’s Ben Tate was. If that was true, it didn’t take long to rectify because Ingram ran for 144 yards. QB Greg McElroy also had a nice game with 2 TD passes. After the game, Ryan & I went back to the hospital to discuss the win with Daddy. He was pleased.

Nov. 14
Mississippi State, 31-3
This game is always played the week of Daddy’s birthday, Nov. 11. This year he celebrated in the hospital and with a butt-kicking of the Bulldogs. It was also my first time live-blogging with the fine folks at Roll Bama Roll.

Nov. 21 UT-Chattanooga, 45-0
Senior Day whoopin. And another Saturday at work. Daddy actually got to watch this one at home since he was released from the hospital Nov. 18.

Nov. 22 Griffin born

Another big day for our family: My brother and his wife welcomed Griffin, on his due date. Big brother Lincoln proclaimed him to be “perfect!” And he is.

Nov. 26 Thanksgiving

We celebrated Thanksgiving at Momma and Daddy’s with the traditional turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, mac & cheese, pasta salad and rolls. It was good to see Daddy eat some good food and watch a little football with him.

Nov. 27 Auburn, 26-21

Who thought playing the Iron Bowl on the day after Thanksgiving was a good idea? It was dumb. And I had to work in the office. Let’s just say that my co-workers who are Auburn fans were not too happy with me. 🙂 Few people were working during the game, so I didn’t feel bad about my outbursts. However, on one of those big AU plays, I did hurt my hand by banging my fist on the desk too hard. I got a text from Ryan late in the game: “What do ya think?” My reply? “Bama’s going to win.”

To be continued ….

15 minutes of fame … sort of

My story on hosting a playdate with a friend with special needs is in this month’s Parenting (School Years).
And my piece on cochlear implants and sports is in the July/August issue of Volta Voices, which should be arriving in my mailbox any day now. I also just got another assignment from VV for its back-to-school issue.

Another national magazine, this one published by a major medical association, is considering a pitch for its fall issue, too. Crossing my fingers that it comes through.

My freelance work is cruising along, and I am grinning and grateful!

Twilight takes me back

I resisted all the hype and hoopla … until Sunday when I picked up Twilight. I finished today (Tuesday) sitting in the parking lot of Books-a-Million, and immediately after, I walked inside and bought New Moon. Yes, watching the movie is on my list of things to do. I think I need to watch it alone, though, to take in the glory that is Robert Pattinson. Thanks to the trailers that I watched just a few minutes ago, I’m sure he’ll live up to my expectations.
Although the writing isn’t the greatest, it’s the story that drew me in and kept me turning pages until 3:30 this morning, when I realized I had a knot in my stomach and that the wind was rattling the bedroom windows. I knew I better stop reading or I’d scare myself silly. I need to read the next book during the day or at least make sure Ryan is still awake.

Even at 37, I could relate to the love story … I remembered feeling that way about a boy back in high school. Giddy and nervous when I was around him. Disappointed if he wasn’t at school. Even though we never got together, the tension was there and I remember it well. But as far as I know, he wasn’t a vampire. 😉

The story is every high school girl’s fantasy: the boy who loves you more than life itself.

President Barack Obama sounds good

I blogged about our trip to see Obama when he was in Birmingham nearly a year ago. We had high hopes that day:

I’m glad we went, and I hope Riley will remember the day she danced and clapped and shouted and cheered for the person who could be the next president of the United States.

And today those hopes are on their way to being fulfilled. It wasn’t only about Obama becoming president; it’s about what he can and will do as president. It’s about what this country can become with him as president and the nation heading in the same direction, for the same purpose, to make this country the best it’s ever been.

Happy Inauguration Day! Now let’s get busy making changes in our own communities.

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
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