Thursday, September 13, 2018

Portland

Ramona, Grant Park


We've lived in Portland for a month now. It feels both strange and wondrous.

When we get on the freeway after visiting my mom, it is still weird to exit back into Portland onto I-84 rather than continue on towards Seattle on I-205. It was eerie to take Noé to school on his first day to the school building my dad attended. I, of course, have no memories of his high school years, but I always try to picture him walking those hallways circa 1969.

A lifetime full of memories in the city that has always had my heart. I was at the post office a couple weeks ago and I had this instant flash bulb memory of waiting in line as a 21 year old at that same post office on no sleep and sporting sweats. I had just finished my Washington Seminars DC internship and I was mailing off final papers in exchange for a college diploma. I was so relieved. BYU was hard for me and I was glad to be done.

We pass Blind Onion Pizza and I remember that first impromptu lunch with Ed when we both worked for The Oregonian. We discovered we were both reading Phil Jackson's Sacred Hoops and both followed women's basketball religiously. It's amazing where one slice of above-average pepperoni and sausage pizza can take you in life.

We take the boys on a bike ride down to Saturday Market for elephant ears and I am once again a little girl and my Grandpa Razz is handing me my very first taste of the cinnamon sugar and doughy goodness wrapped in wax paper and only found in Portland.

I feel relief because the boys are settling well. Noé has been doing really well since school began and Ed arrived from Seattle. The special ed department at his school seems well-organized and the activities they have done, like making slime for science class, keep him engaged. Asher, although he misses his friends in Seattle, is enjoying his new school and all the activities. He made friends from the first day and he likes most of his teachers and classes. It isn't perfect - they didn't have a Spanish class to accommodate him and his core teacher sounds like she is working overtime to instill a hatred of reading in her students. But other things are really outstanding - such as the music program. He is playing in two jazz bands as well as the symphonic band and running cross country and loving it all. He will thrive and I think he will make even better friends here who will take him through high school.

After a hot, smoky beginning couple of weeks, the weather has been glorious. Sunny during the day, cool at night, with hints of autumn in the air.

Ed and I sit and stare at each other across the table and then laugh at our ridiculous life. We go to bed and we wake up together as a family. That itself feels magical after years of uneven, grueling work schedules and swapping childcare responsibilities. We both work from home. No commute, one aging Honda CRV that lies dormant on the street, an arsenal full of bikes in the garage. A tiny charming home in the coveted Grant Park neighborhood. We're making less money than we have in the past, but we cover the bills just fine. We bike up to Alberta Street for warm croissants and raspberry jam at Petit Provence and ice cream at Salt and Straw.

A bus whisks Noé away to school and brings him home late each afternoon. Asher rides his bike the mile to his middle school early in the morning with his sheet music and stick kit for early morning jazz band. Next year, the renovations for the high school around the corner from us will be complete and they can walk to school, through Grant Park and past the bronze statues of Ramona and Henry and Ribsy (this is Beverly Cleary's neighborhood after all), for their final years of public education. They symbolism of my kids trudging past their childhood book heroes each day and entering the doors of the large, historic high school will not be lost on me.

I feel the pull of my kids, the waning years of intimacy with them and any remaining influence on their world view. This is our final sanctuary. I aim to regret nothing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

HTC

Beginning of my second leg, Hawthorne Bridge at dusk.

Last Friday and Saturday I ran the Hood to Coast.

At one point, sometime in the dark, blurry-eyed hours of Saturday morning, my team sat in our van and declared, "We discovered hell. A HTC race that never ends." And then it ended and it was the best thing we had ever done.

On Sunday, I rested. I rested because it felt like someone had violently beat my legs and back and feet with a rolling pin, nonstop, for an entire year.

On Sunday, Asher said, "This is the last day of summer and of my freedom. LET'S DO SOMETHING FUN!"

I said, "Asher. If you can find something fun to do in this house, I'm all in."

Asher said, "Well, how about a board game."

I said, "PERFECT!"

He walks back into his room and brings out ... Twister.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Un tributo para mi tia Cira

My tia with Juan Gabriel, not when we went to his house in Cuidad Juarez.
My tia Cira died on Aug. 13, on the eve of her 68th birthday. The cause was complications from cancer. We celebrated her life this past week, and I was lucky enough to give a eulogy for her on Thursday night, in Spanish. I share it here, in English and Spanish:

Good evening. Father Jose, thank you for all your remarks tonight. Among the many things you spoke about was the Holy Spirit. Well, now I'm going to share some thoughts about the spirit of my tia Cira.

It's a little strange to say this, especially on such a sad occasion, but it gives me such great joy to be here with all of you. Especially cousins, aunts and uncles, some of whom I haven't seen in so many years.

But it just shows you that even in a time of death, when we remember my tia Cira, there is life.

There is life in this building.

There is life in the memories that we have of her.

There is life in the actions of her experiences, a joy that she brought to everything she did.

And especially, at such a profound volume! Who is going to forget that voice? Every time I called home, my father and I always said the same joke when I would hear talking in the background, usually in the other room:

"Tell her I can't hear her!"

It almost pains me to retire that joke, but well, that's how it goes.

Life and joy. Remember those words, because that's how I'm going to choose to remember my tia Cira.

But first, let me quickly acknowledge why I do feel pain and sadness over the death of my tia Cira. As Juan Gabriel, her favorite singer, said in "Amor Eterno":

"How I wish, that you were still living, that your eyes had never closed, so I could keep on seeing them..."

I always explain to all those who meet me and get to know me that I lived with three mothers. And thus, to this day, I also say my two sons have three abuelas. Now, I'm not going to tell you how they rank them, because I don't want to offend anyone here...

My mother, Aurora; my tia Teresa; and, of course, (motioning to the open casket), my tia Cira.

They all lived with me and raised me ever since I was a baby. And that's why I feel this loss so profoundly.

From my mother, I learned the importance of family. "Family is family," she always told me. And we are this way with my immediate family to this day.

From my tia Teresa, I learned the importance of education. She always pushed me and helped me with my homework, and she was the first one to mention Stanford University, back when I was 15 years old. Seven years later, I graduated from there, and I'm happy to say my three mothers were there for that occasion.
My tia and me on my graduation day from Stanford in 1999. That was a good day.
And from my tia Cira, I learned the importance of joy. She taught me to enjoy and have an enthusiasm for life.

This manifested itself in many ways.

As I've mentioned, my tia loved Juan Gabriel. When I was 13 years old, she took me to Torreon to see my tia Lupe, who is here tonight, and her family. We went on the bus, because as you all probably remember, she hated to fly. We had a stop in Cuidad Juarez and some time to kill. Well, Juan Gabriel has a house in Cuidad Juarez, and my tia was determined to find it!

We had also taken a camcorder with us on this trip, and she wanted me to record the moment she knocked on the front door of Juan Gabriel's house. I'm reasonably certain this video is still somewhere in my parents' house...

We get there and she knocks on the door. Some guy comes out, a personal assistant probably, and she asks him:

"Good morning! Is Juan Gabriel home??"

I imagine that she really, truly believed that she was going to see Juan Gabriel that day.

But oh, how she loved his music. And all kinds of music, really. She liked it so much that she loved to sing as well. If there was a mariachi band, she would for sure be singing. Without fail. She was going to tell it to you "borracha y en su juicio." For example, she sang at my wedding. (Next week, we celebrate our 17th anniversary.) We had a mariachi band, and we apparently had a singer. And the nice thing is, she'll always be on my wedding video, singing happily at our wedding reception.
The wedding singer. Always and forever.
I also remember how much she loved the Dodgers. Her favorite teams were the ones from the 70s and 80s. The teams of Garvey, Lopes, Cey, Monday and "her boyfriend," as she referred to him, Dusty Baker. Until her final days, any time I mentioned Dusty Baker in any context, she would always correct me and say, "my boyfriend Dusty Baker." When "Fernandomania" hit in 1981, she was front row for all of that. That team managed to win the World Series and that was always her favorite moment related to the Dodgers. But she always loved going to games and watching them on TV. And that made me a fan for life. When she died last week, by pure coincidence the Dodgers were playing in Seattle, where I currently live, the following weekend. So I went to all three games, Friday-Saturday-Sunday, because I wanted to do something in her memory. My tia would have enjoyed seeing the Dodgers play, and win.
Some newspaper clippings my tia had saved from that championship season. Sweet, sweet memories.
One other memory I have of my tia has to do with her citizenship. I was pleased to see her wearing a scarf with an American flag print on it. My tia came to this country at 19 years old in 1969, and she became a U.S. citizen during the 90s. I was so incredibly proud of her for achieving that goal. And she took her citizenship very seriously, voting in every presidential election since 1996. During 2008, the year President Obama won, she had great enthusiasm. She went to the annual Mexican Independence Day parade in East L.A. sporting her Obama button. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was the grand marshal and when his car came up, my aunt ran out to the street to go shake his hand and hug him. He sees her button and starts a "viva Obama" chant, and the crowd is chanting back. All of this from my aunt approaching him! On Election Day, after she voted, she stood outside the building and asked everybody who came out: "Who did you vote for? Who did you vote for?"

As I said, life and joy.

It's certainly easy to see and remember what we lost: an aunt, a sister, a grandmother, a friend.

But what will be hard, dare I say impossible, to forget will be all the memories she shared with all of us.

And I urge all of you to hang on to those memories, remember the good times, because she would have done the same for all of us.

Because her life and joy bore out an Eternal Love ("Amor Eterno"), to call back to a theme I mentioned before. I love you, tia, and thank you so much for all you gave me. And as Juan Gabriel said in that song:

"Sooner or later, I'll be with you again, so we can keep on loving each other."

Thank you very much, and may God bless you all.

My tia's quinceanera in 1965, four years before she came to the U.S.
Buenas noches. Obispo Jose, gracias por todo sus observaciones. Unas de las cosas que usted menciono era el Espirito Santo. Bueno, ahora voy a compartir unas observaciones sobre el espirito de mi tia Cira.

Es un poco raro dicir esto, especialmente en una ocasion tan triste, pero me da tanta alegria estar aqui con todos ustedes. Especialmente primos, tios, tias que no he visto en tantos anos.

Para que miren, hasta en tiempos de muerte, quando reordamos a mi tia Cira, hay vida.

Hay vida en esta iglesia.

Hay vida en las memorias que tenemos de ella.

Hay vida en las acciones de sus experiencas, una alegria que trajo a todo que ella hacia.

Y especialmente, a un volumen profundo! Quien se va olvidar de su voz? Cada vez que yo llamaba a la casa, mi papa y yo siempre deciamos el mismo chiste quando la oiamos hablando en el otro cuarto:

"Dile que no la oigo!!!"

Hasta me da lastima retirar ese chiste, pero bueno, ni modo.

Vida y alegria. Recuerdense de esas palabras, porque asi es como yo quero recordar a mi tia Cira.

Pero primero, quero reconocer rapidamente porque si suento dolor y tristeza sobre la muerte de mi tia. Como Juan Gabriel, su cantante favorito, dijo en "Amor Eterno":

"Como quisiera, que tu vivieras. Que tus ojitos jamas se hubieran cerrado nunca y estar mirandolos..."

Siempre les explico a todos que me conocen que yo vivi con tres madres. Y hoy dia, tambien digo que mis do hijos tienen tres abuelas. Bueno, yo no voy a decir en cual orden ponen las abuelas ellos, porque no quero offender a nadie aqui...

Mi madre, Aurora; mi tia Teresa; and, claro (senalando a mi tia), mi tia Cira.

Ellas vivieron conmigo desde pequeno. Y por ezo, siento esta perdida tan profundamente.

De mi mama, aprendi la importancia de la familia. "Familia es familia," siempre me dice. Y somos asi en mi familia hasta este dia.

De mi tia Teresa, aprendi la importancia de la educacion. Ella fue la primera que menciono la universidad de Stanford, cuando tenia quince anos. Siete anos duespes, yo gradue de alli, y estoy feliz en diciendo que mis tres madres estaban alli para la ocasion.
Mi tia y yo en el dia de mi graduacion en 1999. Ese era un bien dia.
Y de mi tia Cira, aprendi la importancia de la alegria. Ella me enseno a disfrutar y tener un entusiasmo para la vida.

Esto se manifesto en muchas maneras.

Come he mencionado, mi tia amaba a Juan Gabriel. Cuando tenia trece anos, ella me llevo a Torreon para ver a mi tia Lupe, quien esta aqui esta noche, y su familia. Fuimos en el cameon, porque como ustedes recuerdan, no le gustaba volar. Teniamos una parada en Cuidad Juarez. Juan Gabriel tenia una casa en Cuidad Juarez, y mi tia la iba encontrar!

Tambien llevamos una camera de video, y ella queria que grabara cuando ella tocaba la puerta de la casa de Juan Gabriel. Estoy seguro que todavia existe este video en la casa de mis padres...

Llegamos a la casa y toca la puerta. Alguen sale, probablemente un asistente personal, y le pregunta:

"Buenos dias! No esta Juan Gabriel??"

Me imagino que ella de veras pensaba que iba a ver a Juan Gabriel ese dia.
Mi tia y Juan Gabriel, no en el dia que fuimos a su casa en Cuidad Juarez.
Pero como amaba su musica. Y todo tipo de musica, en realidad. Le gustaba tanto que le gustaba cantar tambien. Si habia un mariachi, de seguro que ella iba a cantar. Sin falta. Te la iba decir borracha y en su juicio. Por ejemplo, ella canto en mi boda. (La proxima semana, vamos a celebrar diecisieste anos de casados.) Teniamos un mariachi, y aparentemente tuvimos un cantante. Pero lo bueno es que ella siempre estara en mi video de boda, cantando alegremente en la recepcion.
Mi tia cantando en mi boda, 2001.
Tambien me recuerdo cuanto amaba a los Dodgers. Sus equipos favoritos fueron los de los anos 70s y 80s. Los equipos de Garvey, Lopes, Cey, Monday y "su novio," como ella lo nombraba, Dusty Baker. Hasta sus ultimos dias, cada vez que mencionaba a Dusty Baker en caulquier contexto, ella siempre me corrigia y decia: "mi novio Dusty Baker." Caundo la "Fernandomania" pego en 1981, ella estaba primera fila para todo eso. Ese equipo logro ganar la Serie Mundial y ese siempre fue so momento favorito de los Dodgers. Pero a ella siempre le encanto ir a los juegos y verlos en la television. Y eso me hizo a mi un aficionado por vida. Cuando se murio la semana pasada, por pura coincidencia, los Dodgers estaban jugando en Seattle, donde vivo actualmente, el siguiente fin de semana. Asi que fui a los tres juegos, viernes, sabado y domingo, porque queria hacer algo en su memoria. Mi tia hubiera disfrutado ver a los Dodgers jugar, y ganar.
Recuerdos de 1981 que mi tia guardo.
Otro recuerdo que tengo de mi tia tiene que ver con su ciudadania. Me alegre de verla con una mascada con una bandera americana. Mi tia llego a este pais a los diecinueve anos de edad in 1969, y se hico cuidadana americana en los 90s. Yo estaba tan increiblmente orgulloso de ella que la logro. Y tomo su ciudadania muy seriamente, votando en cada eleccion presidencial desde 1996. Durante 2008, el ano que gano el Presidente Obama, tuvo un gran entusiasmo. Fue al desfile anual del Dia de la Independencia de Mexico en el Este de Los Angeles luciendo su boton de Obama. El alcalde de Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa era el gran mariscal y cuando su carro se acerco, mi tia corrio a la calle para saludarlo y abrazarlo. El vio su boton y comienza un canto de "viva Obama," y la gente repite el canto. Todo esto porque mi tia se acerco! El dia de la eleccion, el cuatro de noviembre, despues de que ella voto, se quedo afuera del edificio y les pregunto a todos los que salieron, "por quien votaron? por quien votaron?"

Como les dije, vida y alegria.

Es facil ver y recordar lo que perdimos: una tia, una hermana, una abuela, una amiga.

Pero sera dificil, y dire imposible, para olvidar va ser todos los recuerdos que compartio con nosotros.

Y yo les exijo a todos ustedes que detenganse de esas memorias, recuerden los buenos tiempos, porque ella viera hecho lo mismo para nosotros.

Porque su vida y su alegria crio un Amor Eterno, para volver a llamar a esa tema que mencione antes. Te quero bien mucho, tia, y muchas gracias por todo lo que me diste. Y como dijo Juan Gabriel:

"Tarde o temprano, estare contigo para seguir, amandonos."

Muchas gracias, y que Dios los bendigan.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Sick


Noe is sick. He has a fever, probably a summer cold, but I'm keeping an eye on it.

I hate it but I also secretly love it when he's sick. He doesn't get sick very often. The last time I remember him running a fever was when he was in sixth grade and in bed for over a week with a bad flu.

It is remarkably obvious when he is ill. His constant movement and OCD behaviors grind to a halt and he lays eerily still in bed and stares up at me with his sad, moist eyes.

I've been trying to analyze why I secretly love it. This has to stay a secret because I am a mom and moms aren't supposed to enjoy seeing their children ill. I don't enjoy seeing him suffer ... at all. It's not about that. But. I do enjoy having a problem surrounding him that I can actually fix.

I can give him medicine and liquids. Make him comfortable with blankets and pillows. Put a cold washcloth on his forehead to take down his fever, or rub his back. I can read him a story or put a vinyl record on to help district him from his discomfort. Eventually his fever lifts and his energy returns. I can't cure autism, but I can take down a fever.

I also get a glimpse of him without all of his autistic behaviors. Sadly, I think he looks most like a typical kid when he is under the weather. It makes my mind wander a bit, thinking about what he would be like without the yoke of his autism. It is futile wander, always leading to disappointment when he recovers and inevitably resumes his stims.


Postscript: It wasn't a summer cold, but strep. Confirmed at the doctor for the both of us when I woke up with my throat on fire a day before our move down to Portland. Another challenge of raising a nonverbal autistic kid - figuring out when to see a doctor. Unless he gives his illness to me, I don't always know what is going on in his body. We are now recovering together in our new Portland home stacked high with unopened boxes.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Belief

It is almost bedtime on a warm July night. The open bedroom window offers a gentle breeze. We are snuggled into our summer book of the week.

A sentence grabs his attention. The teenage daughter in the story is rebelling from her Catholic upbringing.

"Is it really ok with you if I choose what I want to believe about God?"

"Yes, mijo. As long as it does good for others and is true to your heart, I will always support you."

I watch his face relax. He reaches for my hand.

I can offer him this gift.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Language and Race

I’m currently reading the Trevor Noah memoir - Born A Crime. It’s a really interesting look at apartheid through the lens of a child growing up as “colored.” He makes lots of really interesting observations about race. One of his best observations is when he explains how “sharing a language” is more powerful than sharing a skin color. He talks about his experience entering the newly desegregated public school system in South Africa. He could speak English and several African languages, so he was accepted by all groups even though he was the only “colored” (half black, half white student) in the school. He eventually felt the most comfortable around blacks and joined their group.

Interestingly, in America, Trevor would have been identified as black. But in apartheid South Africa, “colored” was its own category of people and they were separated geographically from both blacks and whites, and given their own set of rights (less civil liberties than whites, but more than blacks). I'm a little embarrassed that I knew none of this before reading this book.

I find so much truth to the power of shared language. Growing up with lots of immigrant and refugee students in my classes at school, they seemed much less like “the other” as their English improved. Ed always tells me how much easier his life became at his Boston prep school once he lost his East LA accent and learned to talk like the other East Coast kids. Every incident of racism that I can remember Ed experiencing occurred before he was given the chance to open his mouth. Once people hear that he speaks flawless English, he is mostly accepted - or at least left alone.

When Ed and I were dating and I started to introduce him to extended family, I’m pretty certain this “shared language” alleviated fears in some of my oldest relatives. If Ed had spoken in broken English, or even had a strong accent, the “sell” might have been harder.

I’m afraid this observation could be interpreted to mean that everyone should speak English in America. Rather, I see it as stating a fact of human nature - and being aware of it so that you can make more of an effort to find common ground and friendship when there are obstacles of language.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Privileged

I grew up thinking I had a really hard life. I was a survivor. Oldest of five? All of the pressure! All of the extra responsibilities! Babysitting my little brothers and sisters! I always played the victim. I didn't get into my school district's Talented and Gifted program even though I knew I was brilliant. The coach didn't played me enough even though I was clearly the best on the team.

I tried to use my victimhood to motivate me. I took all of the hard classes in high school to prove I should have been a 7-year old TAG kid who rode the bus once a week to a special school in a faraway location. I ended up making all-league basketball my senior year. But really, the victim look was pathetic on me.

Between the lines you can see my privilege oozing out. A college prep education with plenty of extracurriculars. In high school and college, I worked jobs for gas money and movies, not food or rent. A spacious home in a quiet, safe neighborhood. Two parents who loved each other and a larger family who loved and supported me.

A friend once said about the kids in our neighborhood, "We had everything we needed, and a few things we wanted, and nothing more." We had a little more than most, but I didn't know that until much later. There truly isn't a better way to grow up.

Into my forties, I am still realizing all the ways my life has been charmed. It has been a slow process, this unearthing of my privilege. Kind of like digging through sand with my bare hands. The sand is always shifting and the bottom still isn't in sight.

I remember being a senior in high school and an Asian friend explaining to me the concept of "Driving While Asian." We were sitting in AP English with our copies of Things Fall Apart and he kept insisting that cops targeted him and other minorities on the road. They would pull him over for no reason, and even occasionally harass him. This was my introduction to racial profiling and I thought he was being completely ridiculous. I could read a book about blacks in Africa and believe their oppression, but I couldn't accept it was still happening in my own country.

A few years later, after I met Ed, I watched him get pulled over by cops needlessly and ridiculously. I saw it with my eyes in real life, and I could no longer deny it. I started doing most of the driving and handling all interactions with law enforcement. It was easier.

And later we had kids and lived in a little town called Reston tucked deep into the DC suburbs. Reston was supposed to be this shangri la of the south. Constructed in the early 1960s by an eccentric and idealistic millionaire, it was explicitly unsegregated and meticulously planned. Quite diverse in terms of race and income, it really did live up to most of its hype, but privilege didn't disappear completely.

Reston was comprised of several neighborhood villages. Each village included different types of housing, a central shopping area, and often an elementary school and park. The villages were connected by roads, but also by a system of wooded trails for biking and walking. We spent a lot of time walking and biking those trails with a young Noé and Asher. Besides the public parks, most neighborhoods had their own private playgrounds. Technically, these playgrounds were only for the kids that lived in the neighborhood, but no one really enforced that rule and kids were free to play anywhere.

The boys LOVED one of the private parks in particular, nestled right against the Reston trails near our home. I think it was the fast, twisty slide that warmed their little hearts the most. One day, Ed came in with the boys after a walk. Everyone seemed upset. When I inquired, Ed explained that they were kicked off that beloved playground by a neighbor. I was shocked - I'd taken the kids to that park many times without incident. I knew a lot of the moms and kids who played there and we were always made to feel welcome. When I expressed my outrage, Ed just mumbled something like..."it wasn't the first time this has happened." I was welcomed to this private space with my kids, Ed was yelled at and told to leave with these same kids. Repeatedly.

Oh...there are so many more stories to tell. The Greek laundromat owner in our Queens neighborhood who screamed at Ed for every ridiculous infraction whenever he went in to do our laundry (and I thought for the longest time he was just trying to get out of helping with the laundry). The time when I had to go rent an apartment without Ed because our friends who were leaving us the apartment sheepishly admitted they were afraid the owner may not rent to us if Ed was there. (Yes, in retrospect, we should have never played that game, but the rent was SO good and the location was SO great...a New Yorker's dream).

The funny thing about Ed is that he never cries foul. He never once pointed out what became fairly obvious - like most other POC in this country, he was being singled out for the color of his skin, so I came to these realizations on my own. Perhaps more slowly than most.

There was this process of realization for me with every incident that went something like this:

1) my oblivious denial of racism in the world, or at least in *my* world

*racist act occurs*

2) initial confusion and disbelief

3) realization and stark anger

This process has been condensed for me now to - initial confusion and then quick anger. I can sniff it out pretty fast now.

It's to the point now where I often do things, just because I know I can get away with it, to remind myself of my own privilege. Nothing illegal or really even wrong, just dumb stuff, like going into a nice restaurant that I'm not eating at just to use the restroom. And then as I'm walking through the restaurant, I think...this is about where Ed would get stopped.

I just can't believe there are white people in America who deny the existence of the privilege the color of their skin affords them. But then, I can. Because I was one of them. It all comes back to being willing to understand the experience of POC in this country. Reaching out, listening to them, and believing them.