Sunday, May 16, 2021

#21



Today is the 21st anniversary of my dad’s death. I wasn’t going to write anything, so many of my friends have suffered their own huge losses and mine isn’t any worse. We’re all going through our own stuff.

I won’t lie, I still feel anger about his death. And I’m especially angry that he left us so young. I’m only a couple years shy of the age that he was when he passed away and everything in my own life feels unfinished. It seems so unfair that he had to endure all the work and the hard of raising five kids through their early years without all of the rewards. He missed the high school and college graduations, the weddings, the grand babies, the career accomplishments. There are times when we are all together as a family and enjoying each other’s company and I find myself fading out of the scene and wanting him to be there with us so much that it physically hurts.

But instead of sharing more anger and heartache, I’m going to share some of the things his death has reinforced to me over the years:

1. Always say I love you. I never get off the phone with my family without saying I love you. This isn’t something we did before my dad died. You just never know the last time you’ll see or talk to your people.

2. Take all the pictures, save all the notes. I have so few photos of my dad and I together since his life happened pre-iPhone and pre-social media. And the only handwritten note I have from him was one he wrote in college to tell me I had overdrawn my bank account and to do better. But man, I sure cherish that note 🤣. I try and take photos with all my people, even if I’m not in the mood. I’ve noticed as I’ve aged that my photos tend to look better to me in the future. Like if I feel like I look frumpy in a photo - give it a good 5-7 years and then I’ll usually think I look pretty good 🤣.

3. Stay close to your siblings, they are your best friends. I will never understand how the same two parents created five such completely different humans, but we’ve all worked to stay close over the years on a foundation of shared grief and trauma. This doesn’t mean we never fight (oh…we do!) but we’re quick to apologize and repair bad feelings.

4. Grief comes in waves, just let them hit you. When my dad died, I figured the grief would last about a year and then I would be done. I will let you in on a secret if you haven’t figured it out yet: The Five Stages of Grief is a complete hoax! I remember thinking often, “if I can get through this first year....” But 21 years and counting, the waves keep hitting, and usually at the most random times. Like the other day I was shopping at Fred Meyer and I passed the men’s sock section and I got all teary-eyed because every year my dad would wake up at the crack of dawn on Black Friday and go buy us all our athletic socks for the year. Surrounded by bins full of white athletic socks, I bawled until the grief slowly passed and soon I just felt thankful that I had a dad who cared about keeping his family in socks.

5. Write the will. For someone who died in their forties and completely unexpectedly, my dad did a great job of “having his affairs in order” and it was such a gift to our family. There were so many more important things to worry about.

6. Love your kids and leave them alone. This one is a work-in-progress. My dad and I clashed a lot, especially during my teen years, and it created a pile of regret when he passed away. My natural way to “love” is to control the situations and people around me and I have to fight that instinct with everything in me. The past year of pandemic life has reinforced this — there was so little I could control, the only thing I could do was love my kids, and be there for the highs and crushing lows of life in lockdown. Loving them and leaving them to their own mistakes and accomplishments has been my lesson of the year.

So, in summary: love your people, save the good stuff, write the will.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Guilty



The boys and I decided to hike this afternoon and as we drove away from the house I turned on NPR. They were announcing that the George Floyd verdict was imminent. 

Pandemic year note: The boys are still doing CDL and I'm working part-time so Tuesday afternoons are free, and now that the sun is out, I'm not complaining quite as much!

Asher and I talked about the trial as we listened to the NPR commentators in the car. When the judge finally announced the jury's verdict we found ourselves in the middle of a Burgerville drive thru in Gresham still en route to Oxbow Park. We held hands and closed our eyes as we braced for the judge’s words.


“Guilty….guilty….and guilty," he read.


We exhaled pure relief and then pumped our fists out our car windows. Accountability. Not full justice. But a start.


A single detail caught my attention. He had a middle name, which was announced along with his guilt. Derek Michael Chauvin. When he was born into this world, he had a mama who held him with love and cared enough to give him a middle name. Little did she know this little baby would grow up to be the kind of man who knelt on a black man's neck for sport until the life drained out of him, and then used his police duty as a cover for his sadism. This tiny detail...his middle name...shook me to my core. You start fresh. You start full of hope. You start with a middle name from your mama ...


I hiked through the giant trees and bright green fern and along the banks of the Sandy River and looked up at the blue blue sky and enjoyed the company of my two boys. Sons I lovingly gave middle names as I held them in my arms as babies. And I pondered what it all meant and what was to come.


Thursday, January 21, 2021

January 6, 2021

I keep thinking back to my days as a college intern in Senator Wyden's office waa-yy back in 1997. One of my intern duties was to assist with Capitol tours for constituents. I loved the tours because I didn't really get many opportunities to go to the Capitol building, aside from occasionally delivering papers or messages to the Senator or his aides in that pre-smart phone world. There was a holiness to the building. It definitely was not a sinless place, but sacred, nonetheless.

I also thought about the tour itself, which was mostly comprised of witty stories about the Capitol's history: the British torching the building in 1814, President Jackson's attempted assassination in 1835, the infamous "death-by-caning" on the Senate floor when tensions over slavery were at its peak. These anecdotes were always delivered and received with air of "Can you even imagine that happening nowadays?"
I'm embarrassed to admit I never completely considered the trauma and fear that must have accompanied these events before yesterday. And I'm left to wonder, will there be an intern 100 years from now, giving a tour of the Capitol and describing the Great Insurrection of 2021? I kind of hope so, because that would mean our democracy survived.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

2020 Favorites

NonFiction Books
1. Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X Kendi
2. Untamed, Glennon Doyle
3. Shrill, Lindy West
4. How to be an antiracist, Ibram X Kendi
Fiction Books
1. The Refugees, Viet Thanh Nguyen
2. City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert
3. Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
4. Homeland Elegies, Ayad Akhtar (still reading)
MR/YA Books
1. Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan
2. It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel Firoozeh Dumas
3. Hello, Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly
4. New Kid, Jerry Craft (graphic novel)
5. The Stars Beneath our Feet, David Moore
New (to me) Podcasts
1. 1619
2. Nice White Parents
3. The Daily
4. Code Switch
Streaming
1. Mrs. America
2. Orthodox
3. Queens Gambit
4. Soul
5. The Last Dance
Honorary mention: The Crown, S4

Moments
1. Watching Noe's final Unified Basketball game at Grant with a gym packed with supporters, the Pep Band (including Asher), cheerleaders and especially when the Grant students ran down to the court to make a human tunnel for the players during game introductions. (February)
2. Going night kayaking at Wallowa Lake with my sisters and their boys. (July)
3. Our neighborhood's daily 7pm Thank You to Healthworkers (March - June)
4. Biking the trail to Benham Falls with Asher in Bend (October)
5. Waking up to rain at 3am - Ed and I opening up our bedroom windows and laughing and listening and BREATHING fresh air after 2 weeks of wildfire smoke that kept us locked inside. (September)

 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Dodgers won the World Series, and I feel fine


For the last several years after the Dodgers would win their first game of the season, I would turn to anyone who'd listen, usually Jen or maybe my parents via the phone, and proclaim, "This is the year!"

It was always meant as a joke, but deep down I wondered if one of these years I'd ever be right. 

Well, the moment I wondered if I'd ever see again took place on October 27, 2020, at 8:37 p.m., when Julio Urias struck out Willy Adames to secure a 3-1 victory in Game 6 to clinch the World Series for my beloved Dodgers.  

It was the first World Series championship for the Dodgers since 1988, when I was 11 years old and in sixth grade. Because baseball is so meticulous in its record keeping, I was able to calculate precisely how long ago it had been. 

Yes, it was 32 years ago. But the time in between Orel Hershiser striking out Tony Phillips in Game 5 to clinch the 1988 title, and Urias slamming the door on this year's Series? 

Exactly 11,695 days... and 11 minutes.

In that time, I went to and graduated from prep school, went to and graduated from college, started my journalism career, got married, moved to New York, had two sons, moved to D.C., bought our first house, moved to Seattle, bought our second home, saw my sons become teenagers, watched my father retire from his job after 44 years, turned 40, left the journalism industry, moved to Portland, saw an aunt die, voted in six presidential elections, and lived through a global pandemic.

In short, it had been a while.

*******

When it comes to the Dodgers and me, there was no other way it could've gone. I was born in East L.A., and the house I grew up in, and in which my parents still live, sits five miles from Dodger Stadium. The family that raised me (my mother, father, and two aunts) all fell hard for the Dodgers after emigrating to the U.S. from Mexico. Even before Fernandomania blew up in 1981, they had already lived and died with the Dodgers during the 1977 and 1978 World Series, both losses to the Yankees. My father still curses Reggie Jackson's name.

That 1981 season, more than even 1988, is the common bond for my parents and aunts, and myself. One of my aunts was easily the biggest Fernandomaniac of the family, saving and cutting out all the newspaper clippings she could get her hands on, while also having a big crush on Dusty Baker. My other aunt used to get ulcers over the Astros teams that featured Cesar Cedeno and Jose Cruz. My mom and dad loved the steadiness of the Ron Cey/Bill Russell/Davey Lopes/Steve Garvey infield, and appreciated the stalwart starting pitching the team had with Jerry Reuss, Burt Hooton and, of course, Fernando Valenzuela.


Tons of stories have been written over the years, and there was a tremendous documentary produced about it, but the cultural significance of Fernandomania cannot be overstated. Though my family already rooted for the Dodgers, the floodgates opened when Fernando established himself immediately like he did in 1981. The legacy of that is unquestioned, as close to half of the Dodger fanbase now identifies as Latino. 

Because I was 4 years old in 1981, I only remember slivers of moments. I remember my mom and aunts going crazy in the living room of our house when the Dodgers pulled ahead in the "Blue Monday" game that clinched the pennant that year against Montreal. I also remember my mom taking me to the victory parade after the Dodgers won the World Series. I recall my mom holding me in one arm while she reached out with her other arm to the float with the players to shake one of their hands. 

The 1981 Dodgers, with Fernandomania and a stirring run to the championship, were unquestionably the forever team for my parents and aunts. That whole era made them fans for life. And as a result, the seeds were planted in me.

Like I said, it could really go no other way.


*******

I really do think them raising me to be a Dodger fan was well-intentioned. The team was competitive and fun to watch. And it was a constant that would always be there, year in and year out, providing something to look forward to, and eventually, to commiserate about, no matter where I was living or what I was doing.

The first crushing playoff disappointment that I recall vividly was the 1985 NLCS against the Cardinals. Jack Clark hit a three-run home run with first base open in Game 6 to secure the pennant at Dodger Stadium. It was a day game, and I got home from school (I was in third grade) just in time to see the ninth inning. I cried. 

After two subpar seasons, the magical run of 1988 happened. Fernando dealt with lots of injuries and was eventually left off the playoff roster that year, but Orel Hershiser emerged as the star who carried the team to the title. There was also a dash of magic thanks to Kirk Gibson's heroic home run in Game 1 of the World Series, easily the greatest childhood sports memory I have. I watched the final game on a TV in my parents' bedroom while they hosted a bunch of friends in the living room for a watch party. I quietly jumped off my parents' bed and raised my arms triumphantly as the celebration began. Little did I know how long it would be till the next one...

After 1988, there wasn't tons and tons to cheer about. The Dodgers even went 20 years with one solitary playoff victory (thank you, Lima Time, 2004). Sometimes I wondered if we burned all of our good karma on the 1988 championship, but in reality you can never underestimate the level of incompetency teams fall under sometimes (thank you for nothing, McCourts). But you kept rooting, and hoping that this year would be different, and during the phone calls home, the Dodgers were always a standing item to talk about. When I'd visit L.A., if it was baseball season, I always made sure to get a game or two in.

At some point, probably when the Dodgers reached the NLCS in 2008, I started thinking: I just want to see the Dodgers play in a World Series again. Obviously, I wanted them to go all the way, but it would be fun to have them be one of the last two teams standing. And preferably, I'd love to see it before my family got too much older, so I could enjoy it with them.

Even with new ownership in 2012, and the emergence of pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the waiting continued. The Dodgers fell two wins short of the World Series in 2013 against the Cardinals (there's that team again!), and then got knocked out in the first round by the Cardinals in 2014 when Kershaw stayed in too long and gave up a three-run home run late in the game (the Jack Clark PTSD bubbled up pretty strongly that day).

The Dodgers continued to make the playoffs, offering more chances to hope but also providing more chances at disappointment and frustration. It didn't help that they would keep losing to the eventual world champion from 2016-2019 (and the eventual National League champion, in the case of the 2015 Mets). One more hit, one more out, one more decision, and would the narrative have been different? 

Speaking specifically about the 2017 World Series against the Astros, I'll just say this: even before the sweet relief of this week, I had pledged to not dwell on it. Though I'll always wonder about Game 5 of that series because of how dramatically Kershaw melted down, the Dodgers lost two games at home, including a gut punch of a Game 7. So I choose not to stew about it. Whatever happened, the principals involved have to live with it and I don't need to pile on.

*******

My father, whenever the Dodgers would inevitably end their season in disappointment in recent years, would always wonder why they couldn't be like THOSE teams that he fell in love with 40 years earlier. Never mind that, like this current era of Dodger squads, those old teams lost back-to-back World Series and had other crushing disappointments before finally breaking through in 1981. Funny how a championship changes your perception of a team. I'm happily learning that this week. 

In fact, I sketched this out recently, and it was eerie some of the similarities I noticed in the eight-season stretch of Dodger baseball between 1974-1981 and the one from 2013-2020.

Just to rattle off a few:

  • My parents' teams featured two managers (Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda), just like this current run (Don Mattingly, Dave Roberts).
  • The old teams won four pennants and one World Series title, this current run features three pennants and one World Series title.
  • Both teams won World Series championships under unusual circumstances -- the 1981 team winning during a strike-interrupted season, the 2020 team winning during a pandemic that required a postseason played at a neutral site with little to no fans in the stands.
  • The clinching game of the World Series for each team featured a young left-hander closing it out with a multiple-inning outing in a Game 6 -- Steve Howe pitching 3.2 innings to beat the Yankees in 1981, and Urias going 2.1 innings to finish off the Rays in 2020.

It's not an exact comparison, to be sure. Comparing eras in baseball is never a clean exercise. And it's pretty apparent that this current group -- with its young core of star players like right fielder Mookie Betts, shortstop Corey Seager, center fielder Cody Bellinger and pitcher Walker Buehler -- is well-positioned to contend for a while, whereas the team that won in 1981 was at the end of its run. The Dodgers missed the playoffs in 1982, and Lopes was the first key player to be jettisoned before that season, with Garvey and Cey leaving before the 1983 season.

But it is a fun coincidence that I now have a version of a Dodgers World Series title that puts an exclamation point to an era and ends a long dry spell (the 1981 team ended a 16-year title drought).

*******

I also love how culturally significant this 2020 team is, a team truly of its city and of its time but with a natural and easy connection to the franchise's proud history. Having a superstar the caliber of Betts and a manager like Dave Roberts feels right for the team of Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella. And having Urias and fellow Mexican pitcher Victor Gonzalez emerge as playoff stalwarts for a team with such a significant Latino fanbase, I can't think of a better legacy for Fernandomania.


Which brings me back to my aunt who was the big Fernando fanatic. She died in the summer of 2018, so unfortunately, her last big memories of the Dodgers involve the 2017 World Series against Houston.

After Urias was one of the many Game 7 heroes in the NLCS with three perfect innings against the Braves to clinch it, I thought how much my tia Cira would have loved seeing Urias pitch. To that point, he was 4-0 in the playoffs with a microscopic earned run average. 

So when it was apparent in Game 6 of the World Series that this game belonged to Urias and he was being tasked with ending it, I made sure to grab a picture of my aunt so that I could hold it and have her there in spirit. And when Urias finished the job, I cried.

This time, they were tears of joy and relief. 

There was also a tinge of sadness, because I would have loved for my aunt to see it. But the rest of my family saw it and savored it. And it's a good thing, too -- my father turns 70 next week, my mother turned 72 in September and my aunt celebrated her 79th birthday in March.

And ultimately, that's where this is all rooted: familia. 

Yes, it's absolutely wonderful to no longer have to say, "the Dodgers haven't won the World Series since 1988." But it's absurdly thrilling to share one more Dodger championship with my family, these well-intentioned fanatics who introduced me to this sport and this team. And to have it come with a flourish in the form of Urias and Gonzalez, and to have it take place in a year where we didn't even think we'd play baseball, it's beyond my wildest dreams.

And for all that, I am grateful that this really was the year


Monday, September 14, 2020

2020-21 School Year





First thing this morning we headed over to the High School for Picture Day. Once we rode our bikes up to the school grounds, Noé was ecstatic. Everyone at Grant HS knows Noé. His autism quirks don’t camouflage well in a high school environment. And he is accepted and affirmed every day in his school community.

Noé understands routine. He knows once it is Picture Day, the First Day of School is not far behind. But I haven’t been able to figure out how to communicate to him that he won’t be attending school this fall (and let’s be honest, school will likely be online most all of this school year). Distance learning just doesn’t work for kids like Noé. He will lose an entire academic year. And high school is this kid’s last chance to be a part of a large, inclusive community.

All of our kids are losing out in all kinds of ways. And, this morning, I’m angry crying because it absolutely didn’t need to be this way. With the science and information we now have, the COVID levels that keep school unsafe are absolutely a choice our society has made out of willful ignorance and utter disregard for others.

Today, I’m mourning. And tomorrow - I’ll get to work trying to figure out how to make this school year work for both of my kids - and as many other kids as I can help as well.



 

Wildfires 2020

Asher asked me if the sun is supposed to be the same orange hue as Trump’s face. No, no it’s not, son. Our home smells like a campfire, even the indoor parts, and I have a raging headache from inhaling smoke. Yet we are so profoundly lucky to live in the city right now. Living three miles from downtown, if WE get an evacuation order all of Portland is going up in flames.

There are 500,000+ less lucky people evacuating near and around our city and more announcements every hour. So many friends and family packing up and leaving and wondering if they’ll have a home by the time the rain finally arrives on Monday. A good friend told me she had one of her kids take video of their home before they left to keep him busy amidst the anxiety. Now this friend and her husband (both firefighters in the county near Portland most affected) are off to fight the fires that threaten their own home and so many others.

My Facebook feed is full of friends and family looking for help with their animals, updating each other on their whereabouts, and sending photos near the heart of the Beast. And many others from the non-evacuation zones are offering up their homes, their yards, their love. Every time I look at the posts I’m saddened by the devastation and uplifted by all the goodness. I wish I could be more helpful. I wish I could take your cow and goats but I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed in Grant Park. I’ll find other ways to help.

And in a small corner of my mind I’m doing my own bit of mourning. We happened to take one of our pandemic-induced “we’ve got to get out of the house” family drives out to Clackamas County last Monday. We looked out at Willamette Falls and drove along the Clackamas River to the quaint little pioneer cemetery where my grandparents are buried. All of this beautiful land lies well within the evacuation zone now. I wish I had taken photos.

What did Frederick Beuchner say? “Here is the world, Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

Don’t be afraid, and don't look away.