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.  

Thursday, July 16, 2020

How's your pandemic going?







Ours was going just fine, thank you very much.

We were doing the work from home and the school from home. We were washing the hands and disinfecting the house. We were baking the banana bread and planting the garden. We were taking the evening walks. The world was falling around us, but we had this shit down.

Then, on a quiet Thursday evening in late May, Noé fell into my arms and had a tonic-clonic seizure. His face turned a haunting blue as Ed dialed 911. I really thought we were having our final moments with him, all squeezed together inside his tiny bedroom. Noé's bedroom that we had decorated in a surfer theme because of his love for the beach and with his Grant High Unified team photos pinned proudly on his bulletin board.

***************

When you think your child is dying in your arms, the adrenalin rush of the situation expands your brain capacity like a mylar balloon. Instead of completing one thought or one task at a time, you can simultaneously process a myriad of thoughts and scenarios, all while being acutely centered in the terrifying present.

In those minutes waiting for the ambulance, I thought about some of our best memories with Noé -  riding the waves at Surfer's Healing camps, hiking around the Northwest - we always made him carry the backpack because he was so quick up the trails, watching him ride a bike for the first time around the Daniel Bagley schoolyard, sending him off to 5th grade camp, the first member of his SpEd class who had ever attended. And then, more recently, starting high school, where he looked forward to his bike ride to school and scamming extra lunches off of the lunch lady and was surrounded by teachers and peers who accepted and affirmed him.

I thought about the day I gave birth to him, seven weeks before his true due date in a cramped Manhattan hospital room. His tiny perfect body and jet black, shaggy hair and sleepy brown eyes. I shared a room with an Orthodox Jew and her steady stream of visitors and often felt envious - wishing my entire family could have been there to help welcome Noé into the world. I remembered the day of his autism diagnosis. Noé - age 2, a pudgy, curly-haired toddler who had lost his words and his smile around 18 months. I had wondered often back then if my marriage and sanity would survive this diagnosis.

I tried to imagine a new family life, just the three of us, sin Noé. Could we even have a proper funeral for him right now?  I was unsure if I'd ever recover, ever feel whole again.

I also wondered if I had picked up the living room and if the medics would notice our unwashed dinner dishes in the kitchen sink. And if the neighbors would gawk out their windows as Noé was loaded into the ambulance. My face went hot and I instantly yearned for more privacy than our neighborhood would afford. And....where was that insurance card, again?

Meanwhile, I'm pleading to Ed and the 911 operator, who was still on the line, and whoever else was listening, Hurry...please god hurry....he's not breathing. And then I'm suddenly aware of Asher sobbing in the corner of the room, so I hear myself telling him to go outside and wave down the ambulance.

***************

By the time the ambulance arrived, the seizure had started to slow in intensity. The medics were kind and calm and capable. They put an IV into his tan, skinny arm, wrapped him up like a burrito and loaded him onto a stretcher and then into the back of the ambulance as his body quieted and he entered a postictal state.

But his heart rate continued to climb so I put on a mask and hopped into the back of the ambulance and we raced off to Randall's Children's Hospital just a couple miles away. I didn't even know a children's hospital existed in our neighborhood before tonight. That's how healthy my kids used to be.

His doctors ran some tests while Noé recovered in the ER but they didn't find anything immediately alarming. We were sent home early the next morning and told to schedule an appointment with a neurologist ASAP. Taking him home from the ER reminded me of his birth and that Manhattan hospital. Seventeen years later and, once again, we had no confidence in our abilities to care for him at home. I wasn't sure I wanted to leave the safety of the medical professionals and the medicines and the machines. I felt a little silly that I'd convinced myself he was dying and then they had sent us home less than a day later, but mostly grateful that I was so wrong.


****************

Maybe this seizure was just a crazy one-off thing, I began to convince myself. I desperately wanted to hold on to our previous "normal" which, in the Time of Pandemic, really wasn't normal at all. I held on even tighter to this theory after his neurologist did not immediately put him on anti-seizure medication, but only prescribed a rescue medication "in case" of another seizure.

But then there was a second seizure. And then a third. Seizures seem to have permanently wormed their way into our family life.

After a very long week that started with putting Noé on a medication that might have been meth (think 17-year old boy going 40+ hours with no sleep and literally climbing the walls of the house) and ended with yet another seizure in the hospital as Noé was waking up from an MRI, we are starting to recover and find a new rhythm. A second medication has managed to control his seizures (so far) with limited side effects. We are extra careful around water. He no longer gets to climb heights and a bike helmet is non-negotiable. He has to take a giant pill two times a day and there will be regular blood tests in his future, but otherwise, so far, his life hasn't been too terribly interrupted.

I have less fear of the next seizure. We know how to keep him safe. We know that the chances of him dying from a seizure are quite low. I'm just sorry he has to endure yet one more thing. As if he hasn't had enough challenges in his seventeen years on this crazy planet.





Sunday, May 10, 2020

Family History: The Repatriation of Patrocino Reveles





Patrocino with a son and a grandson



"She wasn't deported. She was repatriated," my mother-in-law explained to Ed, in Spanish.

I had begged Ed to call his mother. I was desperate to know the truth about his abuela after reading about The Mexican Repatriation, which was unknown to me before I stumbled upon it reading a YA historical fiction novel. So many of the things I'd heard about her life matched up to her being a part of this horrifying moment in American history. But I didn't know for sure.

The Mexican Repatriation is another really uncomfortable part of American history that receives little attention. In March 1929, the federal government passed the Deportation Act which gave individual United States counties the power to send Mexicans back to Mexico, regardless of their immigration status. The Great Depression was just ramping up and lawmakers thought if they got rid of the Mexicans, they could solve unemployment (spoiler alert: it didn't work).

The 1929 equivalent of ICE organized "deportation trains" and made "immigration sweeps" in the San Fernando Valley and around Los Angeles, arresting anyone who looked Mexican, regardless of whether or not they were citizens or in the United States legally.  The number of Mexicans deported during this so-called "voluntary repatriation" was greater than the Native American removals during the nineteen century and also greater than the number of Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. Many of those sent to Mexico were native-born US citizens. Many had never even been to Mexico or had very faint memories of the country, not unlike like many of the DACA kids facing possible deportation today.

Included in one of these immigration sweeps was Ed's abuela and Noé and Asher's bisabuela (great grandmother). She was eight years old and orphaned when she was sent to Mexico, a place she had never even visited.

Understanding Ed's family history is like trying to piece together a giant jigsaw puzzle with half of the pieces missing.  I only know snippets of his family's stories. Immigrating to the United States has been a double-edged sword for his family. It has provided hope and opportunity for better jobs and education. Immigrating to the United States has also been full of unspeakable difficulties and sorrow. It isn't exactly happy dinner-time conversation to talk about your father's deportations, brutal work in the fields of the Central Valley and in sweatshops for little pay, the redlining your family faced when trying to buy their home, and .....oh yeah.... that time grandma was expelled from America during the Great Depression for being brown. So a lot remains unsaid around Ed's family dinner table.

In contrast, I've always known the stories of my grandparents and great-grandparents who are largely of Nordic descent, thanks to a Mormon heritage which is obsessed with family history. We have meticulous records of all my ancestors. Not replete of struggle, the stories of their lives are full of joy and upward mobility. I can confidently say that not a single relative of mine was ever kicked out of this country after arriving here.

Here are the pieces of the life of Ed's abuela that I have put together so far: Her name was Patrocino Reveles Moreno. She was born in California in 1923 and was sent back to Mexico when she was eight years old. She was then living with an aunt and uncle after her mother had died in childbirth and her father had abandoned the family. She married at age sixteen and made a life in Zacatecas, eventually having eleven children and an untold number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including Noé and Asher. She lived in Mexico until her death in 2003.

Why isn't The Mexican Repatriation common historical knowledge? Why isn't it included in school history textbooks along with the Japanese internment, the racial injustices of black Americans, and the removals of Native Americans from their land? Ed would say the Mexicans need a better PR team.  Ed had never heard of The Mexican Repatriation either, despite attending public school in East Los Angeles until high school. When I told him about it, he shrugged. His experience living as a brown person in White America has acclimated himself to this level of racism. I, however, continue to be shocked.

And language is so powerful. The U.S. government branding the roundup as a repatriation conveys choice, participation in a noble cause. Even Ed's mom, almost ninety years removed from the event, was careful to point out her mother wasn't deported from the country, that there was no wrong doing on either side of the equation.

But Ed's family lost an entire generation to the Repatriation Act. Patrocino's children had to re-immigrate (in much more dangerous conditions this time around) and re-acclimate themselves to American life.  Their rightful United States citizenship by birth was stripped away and they had to start over the process. A generation of upward mobility was completely wiped away, while up in Oregon, my own grandparents prospered in post-World War II America.

When American history suddenly becomes your own family's history, you feel a shift under your feet. Empathy becomes rage. These stories no longer just belong in books that you can put down if they are too uncomfortable to read. Now they run through your children's DNA. Patrocino, future great-grandmother of Noé and Asher, was forced from her own country as a child. The same country I taught my kids to stand up for, put their hand over their heart, and pledge their allegiance to at every public event.

I've resigned myself to having complicated feelings about being American. I love living in my corner of the United States and I believe in the American experiment - however flawed. I'm deeply ashamed of parts of our country's history, most especially the racism and the treatment of immigrants and minorities. And I don't know if I'll ever be able to recite the end of the Pledge of Allegiance again with liberty and justice for all without looking over at my husband and children and feeling a bitter taste in my mouth and shame in my heart.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Today

Today it rained and nobody got out of their pajamas except for Ed, but really that was a dress shirt on the top, pj pants on the bottom zoom meeting situation. Noe did his math with me for 15 minutes but only if I allowed him to touch my elbow three times in between each problem. 

Asher came busting out of his room carrying his laptop during Spanish and said we were being "hella loud" and went out to the deck, where it was still raining, to finish class. I shouted, “Habla español, por favor!” as he stormed out of the house and slammed the door. 

I stared back and forth between some work projects and some paperwork I've needed to complete like the sloth at the DMV in Zootopia because my brain works at 1/10th of its pre-quarantine speed now. 

I keep looking through my kitchen cupboards thinking, “I don’t want to eat anything in here.” and Then I shut the cupboards and quickly peek again in case the Quarantine Fairy stashed a bowl of Marukin Ramen or some Pips Donuts in there when I wasn’t looking. 

But the house is quiet now, minus the faint sound of Christmas carols coming from Noe’s room. Oh and Asher's drumming...there is always the drumming... and we’ll try again tomorrow for a better day, because there is always a chance for redemption when you’re with your people 24/7.

Friday, February 21, 2020

That time Asher and I met Mayor Bloomberg






This isn't a political story. But it does feature a prominent politician. And it really isn't a story about an overwhelmed young mom, although I did play that role exceptionally well.
It's more a story you'd put in the category of "only in New York...."
We were living in a second floor walkup in Astoria, Queens. Man, I loved that apartment --- and the neighborhood --- with its authentic Greek food, cranky Italian laundromat owner, and, of course, The Park. Our apartment was just a couple blocks from Astoria Park, with its supersized pool, green spaces to stretch your legs, and magnificent views of Manhattan.
It was early afternoon of early fall, 2005. My internal clock was ticking because soon Ed had to leave for his late shift at the New York Times, leaving me alone to wrestle Baby Asher and Toddler Noe. I raced out the door with Asher in the jogging stroller and pointed it in the direction of The Park.
Astoria Park was crazy packed for a weekday afternoon. I soon heard rumblings about "the mayor" filming a "campaign ad" somewhere inside the park. I was all about the business of getting my run in and avoiding human contact. After assessing the crowds and cameras on the outer edge of the park, I started to run along the empty waterfront, and straight into.....Mayor Bloomberg waiting for his small camera crew to set up.
I stopped running, terrified of being tackled by the NYC mayorial equivalent of the Secret Service, but Bloomberg called out a friendly hello, noted my Brazilian soccer jersey and asked, "voce falâ portugues?" I knew just enough Portuguese to know that I did NOT, in fact, speak Portuguese and shook my head. A true politician, he went straight for the baby, shaking Asher's little hand with his finger. "Cute baby," he commented (now I wonder, should I have believed him?) The next few moments I stood there awkwardly while he played with Asher, wishing I had at least bothered to shower before meeting the mayor of New York City, before we went our separate ways.
And that was the time Asher and I met Mayor Bloomberg.