Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Can I tell you a little story about my boys?

Noe and Asher, Powell Butte.   Nov 2014

Noe has never seemed outwardly connected to his brother.  Despite Asher's constant outpouring of love and affection, Noe ignores him, only interacting with him when we prompt him to do so.  Asher has learned to accept that this is the way it is with Noe.  It doesn't upset him anymore.   And Asher continues to try and engage with his brother and help out.  This kid has played more games of Candyland and Hi-Ho Cherry-O than any typically-developing ten year old should have to endure.

Asher has hit a rough patch at school.  He is bored with his schoolwork, a little disengaged, and is getting more self-conscious around his peers.  He says that his bright spots at school right now are his after-school pottery class, PE, and lunch and recess with his little group of dude friends who mutually obsess over Minecraft, Harry Potter, and the Seahawks.

Yesterday, Noe's teacher cornered me in the school yard after school ended to tell me this story.

After winter break, Noe's class switched lunch periods to the same one Asher has with his class.   Noe buys his lunch every day (I've never been able to get him to eat sack lunches).  After he went through the hot lunch line, he spotted Asher in the cafeteria and immediately went over and sat next to him.  Panic ensued for a moment when Noe's teacher couldn't locate Noe, but an IA quickly discovered him.  She asked Asher if it was ok if Noe ate lunch with him and his friends.  She said Asher looked up at her, surrounded by a swarm of 4th grade boys in Seahawks jerseys and said, "Of course it is! He's my brother!"  Then she asked Noe if he wanted to stay with Asher and he nodded his head yes in his way that means, "don't even think about making me do something different than this thing right here." They've been eating lunch together every day since.

These are the stories that I carefully gift wrap and store in the back of my mind in order to pull out, unwrap, and admire, during the hard days.  Of which there are many.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Saluting Your Sister Ship

I'll never know, and neither will you of the life you don't choose.  We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours.  It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us.  There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore.

~Cheryl Strayed, via tiny beautiful things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar

This was written in the context of an advice column to a man trying to decide if he should become a father.  It might be one of the most beautiful, profound things I have read in awhile.  We all have ghost ships.  Some of my own have included having more children, having a more robust career, my constant obsession with moving back to my hometown.  Instead of living in regret of the choices we don't make, it is such a powerful visual to salute those sailing ships from the shore.  Wish them well.  Know they were virtuous, formidable alternatives, but they no longer belong to us.  And treat them as such.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pablo's Papa

After living in three big cities and having family in two others, we don't have a lot of annual holiday traditions.  We do the "city holiday stuff" in whatever city we're celebrating in that particular year, we bake cookies, we hang stockings, and we read our Christmas books.

Our beloved Christmas books follow us to wherever we will be for Christmas and we look forward to reading them throughout the holiday season.  Here are a few of our favorites:

Olive the Other Reindeer
Polar Express
Snowmen at Night
N is for Navidad
The Nutcracker
The Best Christmas Pagaent Ever
The Legend of the Poinsettia

Our favorite of all, however, is probably Pablo's Christmas, a story about a boy in rural Mexico who has to care for his family while his father travels to the United States in search of work.  Pablo has to do many of the chores left by his father's absence,  including scary ones like fighting off coyotes from the chicken coop.  As Christmas approaches, there is no word from his father and his young sisters fear that a "magical queen" has tricked their father into falling in love with her and staying in the United States.  Pablo sets out to make Christmas special for his mom and young sisters, despite their lack of food and money.  He cuts a Christmas tree and carves dolls for gifts.  On Christmas Eve his father triumphantly returns, bringing the family back needed money and a few gifts as well.

We've talked a lot about that book over the years.  Why Pablo's father would leave his family to work in the US.  What kind of work Pablo's father likely had to do when he arrived here. Why their own Abuelos made the same decision to travel to the US for work many years ago.  How that courageous decision changed our entire family's life for the better.

The boys see men working around the city every day.  Men who resemble their abuelo and their papi.  They work in the peripheries of the city.  These men do construction, they dig ditches, work in the back of restaurants, they spend anxious mornings in Home Depot parking lots, hoping the day will bring work.  Their hands are dry and callused and their eyes tired. 

Thanks to the story of Pablo's Christmas, the boys look at these men working around them and see Pablo's Papa.  They see loving husbands and doting fathers forced to work far away from their families.  They wonder if these men miss the food, the language, the predictable customs of their hometowns.  They hope that there is a happy homecoming with their families awaiting these men very soon.  Perhaps on Christmas Eve.  

Friday, November 28, 2014

not fit for a family blog notes

(This is about a year old but I forgot to publish it….)

the "f" word

Asher whispered to me on the way to piano last week.  My friend at school said "f-u-c-h" is a bad word.  First, it drove me insane that it was misspelled and had to correct it.  Then I said, "Yes.  it is a very bad word. one of the worst."  REALLY? said Asher totally shocked.  Worse than the S-H-U-T word (shut up).

the finger

Awhile back, Asher came home from school and said a friend (perhaps the same one as above? Who is this kid?) said it was bad to stick out your middle finger to someone.  I said, yes it is and don't do it.  he asked what it meant.  I said it means "go away" in a very mean way.  I was proud of my explanation without having to get into more details.

Fast forward a Thursday afternoon that always has us running to catch the bus to UW for Noe's speech therapy.  There is a short window of time between when I get the kids from school and when we need to catch the bus.  We almost always end up running up a Seattle hill, book bags and therapy bag in tow, in order to catch the bus.  That day was no different, except the bus pulled away as we got to the bus stop.  I couldn't believe the bus driver wouldn't open the door for us (he had closed it, but hadn't pulled away. I know they can't stop once they pull away) so I flipped him the bird in frustration.   Most of my bird flipping was contained to my NYC living days, but once awhile, in an extremely frustrating situation, it makes an appearance.  As soon as I did it, I heard Asher shout out, "Yeah, GO AWAY!"


We were walking University Ave trying to find something for a school project after Noe's therapy appt at UW.  I looked down to see Noe was eating a bag of Swedish Fish.  I didn't buy him any Swedish Fish.  He had taken the five finger discount at one of our stops.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Take 2 Seattle Times Sports Blog

A piece I wrote was recently featured in the Take 2 Seattle Times Sports Blog .  It is all about my love/hate relationship with the Seahawks and coming to Seattle amidst NFL football madness.  I wasn't in love with what I wrote when I submitted it, but it has received a lot of attention.  It was really fun to have my "own editor" and to see my name on a byline.

I'm trying to find more time in my life to write.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Funnies for the Week

Just a couple of funnies from this week that I want to jot down to bribe the kids someday for the sake of posterity:

Asher, age 9
Noe, age 11

Asher:  Opening a mini-Three Muskateers bar from his Trick-or-Treat stash, "Why do they call it THREE Muskateers?  There is only one piece of candy here!"

Noe's teacher told me that he pulled out a back molar during class this week, walked across the room, and handed her the tooth.  Too bad it wasn't Teacher Appreciation week?

Asher told me at dinner one night this week that his friend Ben told him that a girl in the class "liked" him.  He told me that after Ben told him, he marched over to her and told her that he was too young to make up with girls.  I asked him what exactly making up with girls means?  He paused for a couple of moments and said, "I really have no idea."

Noe goes through periods where his OCD is high and this is one of those times.  His big thing right now is going through the house constantly turning off lights, shutting doors, etc. I'll be in the kitchen with the dishwasher door and various cabinets open, putting away dishes, and he'll rush in and shut all the doors in a huff, and rush off.  Also, when we are using the toilet, Noe will be lurking outside the door and as soon as we start to open the door, he'll rush to it, run over to the toilet, shut the lid, and run out.  It feels like I'm in some kind of bizarro skit ala Saturday Night Live.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Mysterious Case of Billy H

Billy and Asher.  Golden Gardens Park, Seattle WA, Aug 2014

Flipping mindlessly through my Facebook newsfeed on the school playground waiting for the release bell to ring, I had quite a shock when I recognized the face of the sweet-natured, curly-haired boy Asher had befriended at Golden Gardens Park last summer.

The post was an FBI alert from the Seattle Times.  Billy had been abducted by his father.

I frantically texted Ed at work, sending him the photos I had taken of him and Asher.  We know this kid!  We can help him!  But, it turns out, we haven't been able to help him much at all.

The weather was spectacular here in Seattle throughout August, our days were mostly free, and the beach was less than two miles from our front door.  The boys and I got into a daily rhythm of heading to the beach in the mid-morning, just as the fog was lifting and before the crowds arrived.  Billy approached the boys one day to play….and from that time forward they always looked for (and usually found) each other.  Billy was usually alone playing on the beach.  Only once did I see his dad, a fair distance away on his cell phone.  He didn't approach me and I left him alone to talk.

The boys played in the water, built cool stuff in the sand, covered each other up in sand, flew kites…all the standard beach stuff.  I tried to ask Billy a few personal questions, but he was not very interested in talking. I figured he was having too much fun playing to want to stop and chat with a boring adult.

He did tell us that he and his dad were sailing along the Pacific Ocean this summer on his dad's boat, which was currently moored next door to Golden Gardens.  He said he was from California (perhaps he had lived there previously, but we found out later he lived with his mom in Pennsylvania).   And he played Minecraft on the boat.  And that was all we knew about Billy, but we were all amazed, and a little jealous, of his grand summer sea adventure!

Did I see some red flags?  Of course.  Honestly, one of the reasons why I brought the boys to the beach so often was that I didn't want Billy to be alone.  I wouldn't personally allow my nine year old to play alone on the beach for hours on end, and I would guess most other parents would not allow that either.  And, at the very least, if I was Billy's father, I would definitely want to meet the family who kept him occupied most days.  But Billy looked well-cared for, and he played easily and happily with my kids.  He could return back to his boat, a very short distance away, at any time.

Also factoring into this whole situation, in my mind, was a slew of news stories of parents being charged criminally for allowing their older children to be in parks, and other public places, unsupervised.  Like many others, I felt this was sending a dangerous precedent of interference of parental rights, and further frightening parents out of teaching their children independence, an important life skill.  I didn't want to "tattle" on a fellow parent.

And the reality is that Billy's father had broken no laws during the time we had contact with Billy.  He still had legal custody of Billy during the month of August.  It was not until early September, when he failed to return Billy to his mother in Pennsylvania, that he was charged with kidnapping.

I'm not self-important enough to think that I could have "saved" Billy last summer, but I do have one haunting regret.  I wish I would have forced the issue and met his father.  Perhaps something in my brain and my senses would have clicked that this was not a good situation for Billy, that he might be in imminent danger.  Perhaps I would have tattled.  And likely, it would have done no good, but perhaps it would have caused a reaction that would have sent Billy back to his mother before his father's fateful decision to disregard the law.

Immediately after my Facebook discovery, we did our due diligence and contacted the FBI, telling them everything we knew about Billy.  Ed enlisted the help of his photo editors at the Times and sent the FBI one of our photos of Billy, which is now being distributed by the FBI in their efforts to find him.  I reluctantly told Asher the news about his friend, in hopes that it would spark a memory of Billy revealing where he and his father were headed next on their boat. (Asher doesn't remember, and likely never had that conversation with Billy).

It took a lot of explanation for Asher to understand how a father could "kidnap" his own child.  It is a strange concept, for sure.  I reassure Asher constantly that even though Billy was taken away, he is not being harmed.  I have to reassure myself as well, and hope it is the reality.  That Billy is on his grand adventure on the high seas, having the time of his life, and oblivious to the legal fallout of his father's actions back on land.

UPDATE 10/29/2014:  Billy was found on the small island of Niue in the South Pacific! His father was arrested and extradited to the US on kidnapping charges.  Apparently it took a few days for travel arrangements to be made, so he got to hang out with a local island family.  I hope that Billy is having a wonderful reunion with his mom in Pennsylvania and can move on from any trauma he experienced the past few months.