Thursday, February 16, 2017

Blown away...

Flashback to last December 28th. Noé is celebrating his 14th birthday around Grandma's table with cousins. Physically unable to bake a birthday cake three days post-Christmas, we serve up some of his other favorites: pizza and root beer floats. I stick a birthday candle in his slice of pizza and explain to his cousins that Noé's apraxia makes it impossible for him to blow out his candles. Singing is followed by my long-winded explanation...blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I look over and Noé is sniffing out his candle with his nose, and it totally works!  He can't blow but he can sniff!

Forward to this morning, sitting at my desk and reviewing the IEP Noé's teacher has created for this year. I am pleasantly surprised to see his progress in school and all of the things he is able to do. A year ago, I never would have dreamed he could answer reading comprehension questions (even the simplest ones) after listening to a story. But here we are.

Just like on his birthday, I am once again reminded not to limit him. Not to decide what he can and cannot accomplish.

He finds a way. In his own time, in his own way. He continues to blow us away......

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas, from Grandpa's Kitchen

It's been over five years since my Grandpa Razz passed away, but I still miss him every day. And especially over the holidays. I keep thinking it will ease with time. I remind myself that he had an adventurous and full life. And both in life and death and through every season he is with me.

He is an endless Portland summer evening, and I'm relaxing out on the back patio. The smell of his rose garden, the taste of Alpenrose ice cream on my tongue, the sound of his laughter rising above his post-WWII neighborhood.

He is a rainy autumn Saturday in Portland, his hamburger soup served up with crusty bread and parmesan cheese on the stove of his tiny kitchen. The local news hums from the living room. We discuss the Blazer's playoff chances this year. Every Blazer season is Rip City for Grandpa.

He is Christmas. Dipping chocolates onto cold marble in his attic. Every nook and cranny of my grandparent's small home decorated in Holiday. Warmth and giving and friends and memories.

He is hard work and family and love and generosity.

I wouldn't consider myself a generous person by nature. I'm a true introvert. My safe place is within myself. I hold a strong desire to be generous, but too often over think things (Is my gift wanted? Is it the best way to help?) But my grandpa…he just gave. 

He never went anywhere empty-handed. Like Santa Claus, he always came bearing gifts. Always willing to lend a hand. Always wanting to make a new friend. He had beloved nicknames for his neighbors and friends that stuck over generations.

Grandpa helped me move into my graduate school apartment in Eugene after my dad died. He and my other favorite grandpa, both well into their seventies, hauling heavy furniture up my narrow, wooden staircase. My heart!

He was my first phone call after Ed asked me to marry him.

He was my favorite dance at my wedding.

When Ed and I decided to take a job in New York City six months after that wedding, I dreaded telling my grandpa. It took me multiple attempts to spill out the news. The only other time I have ever seen him cry was after my dad's accident, when it became apparent that he would not survive it.

My dad had passed away less than two years earlier. My grandma's dementia was worsening. His health wasn't great. His family was abandoning him (well, at least I was). 

I may have left him for the Big Apple, but he has never left my heart. When I miss my grandpa and want to feel close to him, I know exactly what to do. I find a way to love and be generous towards someone else so that I can feel him strongly inside of me. And I am instantly transported back to the smells and warmth of that tiny kitchen. The Blazer game buzzes in the background. Grandpa is answering his front door to guests. I hear his jingling laugh. Everyone is welcome here.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Noé's Starry Nights

I've been staring at this painting for days after rereading Temple Grandin's Thinking in Pictures.

In the book, Temple explains her theory that Van Gogh was an autistic and painted his world of perceptual distortions:

The swirls in the sky in his painting Starry Night are similar to the sensory distortions that some people with autism have. Autistics with severe sensory processing problems see the edges of objects vibrate and get jumbled sensory input. These are not hallucinations but perceptual distortions.

And now I'm dying to know.....

Is this how you see the world, Noé?

Do the edges of your bedroom, your neighborhood, your school, vibrate?

Is every day a starry night filled with blinding brightness and swirls and dark intrusive dreams?

Do you want to reach toward those bright stars or hide away from them?

Is your world marked by agitation or beauty? Or perhaps both?

One thing I am sure of, my Noécito. You don't see the world with ordinary eyes.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hands Around Green Lake

"Why are we going to the protest again, Mom?"

"I think it would be nice to do it together as a family. It's been a hard couple of weeks."

"Will it make Trump not be our president?"

Asher was right. I didn't really know why we were all trudging down to the lake this afternoon in the pre-winter rain (well, I knew why the boys were going -- we had promised them a treat afterwards). It did seem a little hippy-drippy and pointless. I just knew that I needed to begin to face the next four to eight years head-on instead of letting the "what ifs..." hold my brain permanently hostage.

Turns out, there were a lot of good reasons to go.

We circled all three miles of the lake and held hands in silence for a few moments. And then we chatted with our neighbors, shared cookies and hot cider, gathered donations for a local homeless shelter.

At any point along the lake, you could see people aligned together. There were no gaps. A human friendship bracelet of sorts. These were our neighbors. We stood together, at least for the afternoon.

It felt good to be surrounded by people who felt the same way as we did, who shared our values, our hopes, and our worries. I think it was the first time since the election that I felt hopeful and relaxed instead of vulnerable and worried.

Afterwards, we stood in a long line at our neighborhood bakery to make good on our promise of a post-protest treat. I put my arms around Noé so he wouldn't get antsy and start touching the strangers around us, and I let my mind wander. Asher and Ed joked and talked in the way that only the two of them understand.

On our way out of the shop, baked goods in hand, an older lady cornered me. There were tears running down her cheeks. Her voice was calm, barely above a whisper.

The way you and your husband show affection to your boys is so beautiful to watch. You have a beautiful family. 

Surprised, I thanked her for the kind words and walked out of the shop.

Perhaps she was caught up in the emotion of the afternoon. Perhaps she noticed our collection of skin shades and our autistic teen and felt compelled to say something nice.

Regardless, the validation felt really good. And I felt renewed gratefulness for this little corner of the city in the corner of the country that I call home.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lessons in soccer and chickens

To be completely honest, Asher's soccer season has been kicking my ass.

Every year, the practices get a little longer, the tournaments multiply like lice. This season, I've been completely late to the game, in all respects of that statement. It doesn't help that Asher is also playing on an Ultimate Frisbee team this fall, the other official sport of Seattle. It doesn't help that Ed is away on Seahawks duty for most of the fall.

Today, we were on schedule for Asher's game. But then we forgot the water bottle. And then Noé refused to enter the car for ten full minutes. Suddenly, we were behind schedule. We headed towards Queen Anne, my Seattle neighborhood driving nemesis. If I'm not stuck in traffic, I get lost somewhere on that giant Ant Hill in the Sky. Today was a little of both. Asher rolled out of our moving Honda CRV as we reached the stadium, just minutes...ok, maybe seconds... before kickoff.  I searched for parking. Noé quietly contemplated how to make this game especially miserable for me.

Navigating Asher's busy schedule with Noé in tow requires a lot of logistical planning. I drop off Asher at practice, we play at the park with snacks on hand. Game day? I take Asher to his game, then find a nearby hike. We hike until halftime. I go back to the game to check on Asher and to see if he needs his inhaler, and to sneak in a quick high five. Noé and I go find a treat around the neighborhood during the second half, and then come back and watch the final five minutes of the game. I try and cheer extra hard so Asher will forget I'm not watching him the other 55 minutes.

I got a lucky break today. The stadium had a whole section of empty seating near the field where Asher was playing. Noé happily began stomping up and down the aluminum stairs, "thump...thump.... thump....splash...splash...splash." I found a wet bleacher and sat down.

Asher doesn't have a pro contract, or probably even a college scholarship, in his soccer future. But, for the first time all season, I really watched him play. And I was in complete awe.

His legs are growing and he has serious speed. When did that happen?

His coach is a yeller. But instead of getting down on himself, my sensitive kid kept his head high and did his best to follow his coach's instructions.

When he had a decent shot on goal, he push passed the ball over to his teammate, who had an even better look at the goal.

On the sideline, he cheered hard and gave out high fives to all of his teammates.

Today, they lost by three goals. It was indeed a rare loss for the Gold Division Lucky Chickens. Yes, that is their team name. The very best thing is when the coach shouts "Hey, Chickens!" at the top of his lungs and eleven tween boys turn their heads in unison.

But Asher hustled and ran down balls and slide-tackled opposing players until the final whistle blew.

The Lucky Chickens have played together for three years. They are not the most athletic or even the most skilled group, but their coach has taught them to work together within a system that enhances their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses. It is soccer's version of the Triangle Offense adapted to a group of rowdy, amateur and sometimes immature 11 year olds. The kids have bought into this system as their wins have piled up. They all have their roles, they all understand the rules of the system. There are no stars, truly. Everyone's role is equally important. A goal scored is a team success, a goal given up is a team failure. They win with grace. And today, they lost with grace. When luck is not on the Chickens' side, they identify the problem, and fix it. On the field. Together.

These are lessons that Asher, or anyone else, won't learn from a book or in a classroom and definitely not in front of a screen. Sometimes, we need to outsource the most important learning opportunities for our kids. And sometimes the best source of these life lessons is a crazy, hollering coach and his flock of tween chicks. Even if it means our evenings are spent in traffic and our dinners are cold and our weekends are booked.

I think I forgot all of this until today. When I got to watch my own Lucky Chicken and found some new perspective.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Namaste, October

September is always insane in our house thanks to back-to-school, the start of Seahawks season, and my own work schedule ramping up in a big way. But once October hits, our family life tends to find a rhythm.  I woke up to a foggy and rainy October 1st morning today, ready to embrace autumn and the steady but predictable beat of our days. This despite my 6:45am Saturday morning wakeup call for Asher's 8am ultimate frisbee game. Why????….

Overall, we've had a good start to our school year. This has been a winning stretch for our little family. I feel like we are all thriving in our individual ways. Here are ten quick hits from our last month:

1. Noé has the most awesome teacher and staff in his classroom this year. And there is so much good happening in there every day. I am so pleased. I feel like a drooling fangirl every time I go to his school to speak with his teacher. I have almost forgotten the nine-month long migraine that was his 6th grade year.

2. Thanks to his awesome school setup, and a later school start time, Noé loves going to school this year. He has been getting up before Asher in the mornings and has been eating a good breakfast every morning. These are both alternate-universe phenomenons in Casa Guzman.

3. Asher's K-8 school is living up to its hippy hype. As he enters his classroom each morning, he has to tell his teacher "Namaste" and touch palms with her. They plot their mood on a grid. There is a lot of journaling. But, his rag-tag class of ten 6th graders have all become great friends and it is a very diverse and supportive learning environment. I try to hold my tongue.

4. I received an email from Asher's math teacher the first week of school introducing himself. He mentioned that he is calling him "Buzz", per his request. I am completely baffled. Asher has never been called Buzz by anyone. He just isn't a "Buzz." My mind starts wandering and wondering if he is trying to create a new identity at a new school with a new group of people? Do I know the real Asher, I mean Buzz???

A couple hours later, his teacher emails back with a whoops….wrong kid….explanation. We call him "Buzz" around the house now!

5. All transportation departments of large school systems have their issues, especially at the beginning of the school year. But Asher told me a funny/crazy story about the bus that many of his friends ride to school. The driver had just moved to Seattle the night before and drove her first route that morning. She got completely lost and the bus ended up at Seattle Center next to the Space Needle, which is a good four miles or so (and a LOT of Seattle traffic) away from his school. The kids were telling her she was going the wrong way but she kept insisting she knew what she was doing. Some of the kindergartners were crying. Finally, a school vehicle (the bus police?) arrived and the bus had to follow it to the school. They were two hours late when they finally arrived at the school.

6. Noé got off the bus at school one morning before his teacher could meet him. A massive manhunt around the middle school grounds ensued. Noé was found in his classroom, sitting at his desk, looking at a book. I suggested that maybe it was time for him to go independently to class each morning.

7. I decided NOT to hire another instructor to help me with my side STEM business, so I am teaching five LEGO robotics classes this fall. Trying to remember five classes worth of kids names when I only see them for an hour each week is the worst kind of Memory game ever. Those little buggers get really pissy when you call them by the wrong name.

8. Our friendly neighborhood heroin addict jumped out of the bushes as Asher and I were walking to his bus stop one morning. He started yelling incoherently and lunging towards us. Luckily traffic in both directions saw what was happening and stopped so we could cross the street immediately.

9. Ed's press pass for the Seahawks has 'No Autographs' written in bold letters on the front. There is an ongoing debate in our house about who is not supposed to give autographs…. Ed or the Seahawks.

10. Ed inherited the Seattle pro sports teams this fall with several of them on the verge of the playoffs (namely the Sounders, the Storm and the Mariners). We say a lot of prayers in our house that sound something like…."Please let the Mariners lose tonight so they'll be further away from playoff contention so Papi can spend next Saturday with us." We basically want them all to lose, except the Seahawks, because they make the paper a lot of money.

Update: The Mariners lost last night and are safely out of playoff contention! We obviously have some sway with God.

My kids are proving something to me that I've failed to believe myself. The middle school years don't have to be awful. In fact, they can be pretty awesome. I am taking their lead on this as I watch them learn and grow and change faster than ever.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Echoes of the past that ring in the present, more than ever

Note from Sept. 2016: The above photo is not one you would necessarily expect to see on our humble blog, even with one of us working in sports journalism. But with the protests staged by numerous NFL players during the national anthem in recent weeks, I remembered a piece I wrote when I was a young reporter for The Oregonian in Feb. 2002 in which I got to interview John Carlos, one of the two U.S. athletes who participated in this iconic protest during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. 

The pitch to my editors was to write something related to sports for Black History Month. But selfishly, I had always been fascinated by the story behind the protest and was dying for any excuse to interview Carlos. 

I finally had one! 

From what I remember (the details are fuzzy thanks to my impending middle age), it was remarkably easy to get ahold of Carlos. I cold-called him at the school he worked at, we spoke briefly (he was very gracious) and he asked to call him back at an appointed time. A few days later, I had what is still my favorite interview of my career (his recounting of his conversation with Martin Luther King still gives me chills). Hopefully, some of that shines through in the piece. But more important, he provided some insight that resonates, especially in our current climate in this country. Which is why I wanted to share it here. 

Because it was the dark ages of the internet (i.e., before SEO was a thing), I've had an impossible time trying to find it via Google. But I remembered I had a copy of it on an external drive that was dated 2004. (Guess I was trying to build up a clip file? Who knows?) 

Anyway, without further ado and with apologies to my former employer, here is the text of the story I wrote:

There is still passion in the voice of John Carlos.

It is a passion that burns more than three decades after he took part in one of the most famous silent protests in the history of sports, at the 1968 Olympics.

It is a voice that is both symbolic of a bygone era and strikingly relevant to today's sports world, a world that sometimes is painfully void of an assertive voice willing to speak up on issues for fear of offending or losing the almighty corporate dollar.

But surely things are better now for African Americans in sports than they were in 1968, aren't they?

The fact that people like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Barry Bonds are multimillionaires; the fact that Magic Johnson has become a successful entrepreneur after his playing days; the fact that three of the four Division I men's basketball teams in Oregon have African American coaches; the fact that Tyrone Willingham was hired as football coach at Notre Dame, the fact . . .

"I think we're still on ground zero," Carlos told The Oregonian. "All right, we have black coaches. But did they come about because we wanted to let black coaches in or because Jesse Jackson or Jim Brown started to speak up on the issue? These things are still going on.

"You look at Tiger Woods, who still has to go through some suffering even though he's the greatest golfer in the game now. Michael Jordan is above the norm in money making, but I don't think sports have really, really changed a whole heck of a lot."

Carlos, a bronze medalist in the 200 meters in 1968, is now 56 and working as a counselor at Palm Springs (Calif.) High School. But he still questions, still continues to carry the spirit that he brought onto the medal stand on that muggy night in Mexico City.

And he still gets hate mail.

"These are people that have problems themselves because the world is changing around them and they want to strike out based on the fact they haven't grown up," Carlos said. But, as he is quick to point out, he would repeat his place in history "today, tomorrow and yesterday. There's no hesitation if you know what you're doing is right."

The protest that gold medalist Tommie Smith, Carlos and Peter Norman -- an Australian who took the silver -- staged after the 200 meters on Oct. 16, 1968, had its roots in the Olympic Project for Human Rights. It was a group started by Harry Edwards, then a young professor at San Jose State, to bring attention to the fact that America's civil rights movement had not gone far enough to eliminate the hardships African Americans were facing.

The original idea was to boycott the Olympic Games, although many athletes were leery of giving up that opportunity. The plan eventually was abandoned.

Carlos says he was very much at ease on the stand after winning the bronze -- like "a person having a peaceful Saturday in the park." And one glance at the picture -- still one of the most famous and poignant pictures in sports photography -- seems to confirm this. There is some noticeable tension on the face of Smith as he raises his gloved right fist -- symbolizing black power -- and bows his head into the black scarf -- representing black pride -- around his neck.

But Carlos, left gloved fist raised -- representing black unity -- was lost in his thoughts as the national anthem played.

"I was thinking about a vision I had as a kid when I was about 7 or 8," Carlos said. "I had just won a race and all the people were applauding, but a split second later, it turned into name-calling. I also thought about Dr. Martin Luther King, the things that happened to my father in the war.

"But most of all, I was thinking that the end result could hopefully make things better for my kids."

Who even thinks like that in today's sports world? Can anyone picture a high-profile athlete today acting selflessly on a sports platform to convey a socially conscious message?

Maybe it's because we lack the iconic role models that Carlos had, such as King -- whom Carlos met less than six weeks before the civil rights leader was assassinated. King, who supported the Olympic boycott, met the athletes at a midtown Manhattan hotel to discuss their objectives.

"It was the most terrific thing that ever happened in my life," Carlos said. "It was like saying you had an audience with the Pope or Mother Teresa. I was as in awe of him then as I'm in awe of thinking about it now."

And although the boycott did not come to fruition, Carlos came away with powerful advice from King.

"He asked me if I had any questions, and I had two," Carlos said. "First, I asked him why he would support an Olympic boycott, and he said it would be a potent, nonviolent statement. So that impressed me.

"The second question I had was because he was talking about being a second lieutenant of this boycott if he got back from Memphis. I was looking deep into his eyes and I didn't see one iota of fear. So I asked him why he would go if he felt he was in danger. And he said he had to go because his life was secondary to those that couldn't stand for themselves.

"That was like a bombshell."

It was the catalyst to a statement, a statement that came with a heavy fallout even Carlos could not have envisioned. He and Smith were suspended from the U.S. Olympic team and evicted from the Olympic village. Carlos' marriage broke up and his wife, Kim, committed suicide.

"I didn't anticipate my family taking the brunt of it," Carlos said. "It took the better part of 20 years to get over it."

Carlos is not expecting today's athletes to become political martyrs. He understood that even in 1968, when the threat of the boycott was lifted and the athletes competed. Who is he to keep someone from performing or taking in the millions of dollars in endorsements?

"It's the sign of the times," Carlos said.

Part of it, he thinks, comes from not having a sense of history. It's something he tries to instill in the kids he works with today whenever a student might see his name in a textbook and wonder if it's the same person.

"You tell them to go do their own research and come back with what they find," Carlos said. "It creates a dialogue that way."

Still, for Carlos there is a nagging feeling that today's African American athletes could do more.

"These are multimillionaires, so that must mean you're satisfying the boss quite well," Carlos said. "So you should have the opportunity to say, 'I would like to see this happen.' Like food programs, like recreational programs, parenthood programs -- these are things sports figures can be pushing.

"Nothing is really being put back into urban areas and I feel they have a responsibility not just to their communities, but if nothing else, to themselves so they can feel more comfortable."

Think some high-profile athletes could wield such influence with the companies they endorse? Would they?

"If they're worried they're going to lose commercial money, then they need to think a little further," Carlos said.

The voice of Carlos, still full of passion. A reminder of how one can still "wake people in the middle of the night and deal with their conscience."

Or, in the words of King, a reminder that we "must use time creatively . . . and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do great things."