Thursday, June 27, 2019

Serious People

I am reading this gem of a middle reader book. I'm not sure exactly why I like reading from the MR and YA section, but I do. There are a ton of great books for kids to read these days. I'd like to think the quality of writing has improved since I was a MR and YA.

While the book is mostly about a girl named Merci (Mercedes) and her changing relationship with her family amidst her grandfather's dementia, as well as surviving 6th grade at a private school, there is a quieter subtext of growing up as working class immigrant Cuban-American family.

One phrase that pops up continuously in family conversations is being "serious people." Familia Suarez is always worried about being perceived as "serious people" by the rest of the community. Merci is constantly reminded by her parents to be a "serious person."

A serious person seems to be defined as someone who is ambitious, engaged with their studies or work, reliable, and always doing what they are supposed to be doing in the place where they are supposed to be. I never felt the push to be a "serious person." I might even have felt more pressure at times to be the opposite.

But the hearing the phrase echoed throughout the book made me suddenly understand some things about Ed and his family and some of their behaviors that confounded me for so many years.

~ When we go out to a restaurant and The Abuelos order way too much food, or the most expensive item on the menu, to show they belong there.

~ Ed has always dresses up for work: clean-shaved face, dress shirt ironed and starched, slacks, dress shoes shined, even when working in the newsroom slums where half the staff couldn't be bothered to find non-flip flop shoes to wear to work (I'm looking at you Oregonian). I never really got why he felt he needed to look so professional all of the time.

~ The Abuelos constantly sending the kids dress clothes (no two boys have ever owned so many polo shirts and ties) and Abuela's constant nagging that I iron all of their clothes (I do not), and their obsession with the kids' grades and college, even as they never made it through middle school.

~ Casa Guzman adorned with American flags. They even have a bumper sticker on their SUV they received from the LAPD stating they contributed to some police compensation fund.

The list goes on....but the bottom line is that they still struggle to feel comfortable in this country they've lived in for almost half a century. On many levels, they feel like visitors that need to impress in order to keep their invitation.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Come Hike with Familia Guzman

Hiking Observation Point at Zion National Park. A family that
hikes together......

I don't treat our family blog as a journal on purpose. I know it would make me feel constantly behind, and writing would quickly become a chore rather than an escape. So, I miss a lot of family events on here. For instance, last month for Spring Break we spent a fun week in Los Angeles visiting The Abuelos. We had perfect weather, great visits with family and friends, and California was greener than I'd ever seen her. One day we snuck out of East LA and hiked Malibu Canyon in full spring bloom. We saw remnants of the fall forest fires highlighted by bright green undergrowth and we remembered those same hills from episodes of MASH filmed on location decades earlier.

And last weekend, we camped at Cape Disappointment, just north of Astoria on the Washington side of the Columbia River. And we took a spectacular hike up to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. We were alone on the lush green coastal trails, and the route offered gorgeous views of the beaches and river below.

Hiking is woven throughout our family life. It is something we can all do together. It is something we all enjoy doing, especially when there is a promise of a post-hike treat. It requires very little equipment -a huge bonus for our minimalist lifestyle. We are lucky to live in a place where hiking is easy to get out and do, and is also extremely rewarding. It doesn't take much driving or effort to find amazing trails and scenery. It gets us moving, off the couch and out of our heads - good for both the teens and middle-aged among us.

And for me, it is just the bit of adventure that I crave. I love the splash of nerves and adrenaline I experience before beginning a new trail. I never know what lies ahead….will there be steep edges? Wild animal encounters? Will it be peaceful or crowded? Will Noe get poison oak again from his insistence on touching all the plants?

Some of our best family hikes by our various residences …  

Everything was a hike in NYC. But with babies, no actual forest in the city and no car access, we were not hikers during this time in our lives.


  1. Appalachian Trail via Shenandoah National Park, our first real non-urban hike as a young family.
  2. Theodore Roosevelt Island - the perfect hike with toddlers, just minutes from downtown DC and the Mall.
  3. Reston Trails - Reston was a special place to live. A suburb that felt some parts suburb, some parts urban center and a few more parts rugged wilderness. The trail from Walker Nature Center to the lake was a favorite and just minutes from our home. I also learned to appreciate the beauty of winter hiking on these trails, especially all the opportunities to spot birds on bare winter tree branches.
  4. Great Falls - the trail system wasn’t extensive and it was always crowded, but the waterfalls were very beautiful and also a short drive from our home. 
Washington State
  1. Rattlesnake Ridge, just east of Seattle
  2. Mt. Constitution Trail, on Orcas Island
  3. Lava Canyon Trail and the suspension bridge! near Mt. St. Helens
  4. Discovery Park - we hiked it extensively and often, but a specific hike on a gloriously sunny January 2018 day with the snowcapped mountains in full view with the Sound below us helps vault this urban nature park onto our “best” list.
  5. Carkeek Park - We also knew these trails inside and out, but they were especially glorious in the fall when the salmon were spawning

Props to my Best Seattle Friend Julie for getting me on the Washington trails with my kids and teaching me how to get them to hike long distances.  Hint: candy


We are just getting started in Oregon, but here are a few of our favorites from visits over the years:

  1. Eagle Cap Wilderness - shhhh...don’t tell anyone about the magical Wallowa Mountains.
  2. Crater Lake Rim. We hiked it July 2017. I hadn’t been since I was a kid and it took my breath away. There was still so much snow that we couldn’t access parts of the trail. The kids were so enchanted with the views they didn’t complain once!
  3. I will always have a soft spot for Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. Most memorable was running the trail for the Forest Park 10K with some of my siblings.
  4. My favorite Columbia Gorge hike is Triple Falls, but maybe it was because we had such a beautiful day to hike it. Noe did it barefooted. Thank goodness we were in Oregon so it wasn't weird. I have lots of memories hiking in my younger days with my BFF Angie, but I'm excited to share the Gorge with my family in the coming years and as it slowly recovers from the recent devastating forest fire.
Other Favorites:

  1. Devil’s Garden at Arches National Park. Between the heat and hopping large boulders, I’m so thankful we’re all still alive.
  2. Observation Point at Zion National Park. Also heart-stoppingly wonderful.
  3. Damnation Creek Trail - Five miles roundtrip through magnificent CA Redwoods to the ocean. I think this was my all-time favorite hike with my people.
  4. Temescal Ridge Trail - near Pacific Palisades, along CA coast near Los Angeles. Breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. And snakes!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Snow City

Most people think pre-snow hysteria in Portland is ridiculous and I totally disagree. I think it is one of the best things about Portland.

All day today, everyone was buzzing. How much snow will we get? When will it come? How many days will the kids get off from school? How mad will we be if it just rains!?!  There was a current of excitement that went beyond usual Friday levels.

Biking home from work, I spotted people outside salting down their sidewalks while chatting with neighbors. Another man was awkwardly lying on the ground trying to put chains on his car. I stopped by the library to pick up some reading provisions to get us through the potential of consecutive homebound days. Packing up the books and getting back on my bike, an older woman, a complete stranger, approached me and gave me a hug for being out on a bike in this kind of weather, all to help our planet. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I love to bike so much, I might still do it if it increased greenhouse emissions. It's just a lucky twist of fate that biking helps me look like a heroine of the planet.

And I'm pretty sure people who live in the Midwest don't empty out their grocery stores at the threat of 2-4 inches.  It's all a part of the hysteria that makes Portland quirky. While pre-storm grocery shopping isn't exactly fun, it's definitely a memorable experience and a great reminder that our food isn't necessary limitless. I went into Trader Joes with a quick exit plan, but there was less food and longer lines than during my visit to Ruble Crisis Russia in 1999. 

I came out of Trader Joe's with frozen vegetables, soup, spaghetti noodles and sauce and frozen orange chicken. None of it on my original list, but it will get us through the weekend. I also came out of Trader Joe's to....RAIN. Not a single flake in the sky.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Sitting with my grandma at the hospital

I'm just sitting here,
holding grandma's
hand, watching her die. (Jan 22 text to Ed)

I walked into her room that night a little ill-prepared. She looked fine, good actually, for someone so close to death. But I did recognize the death, and hadn't experienced it in-person since my dad passed away. I immediately wanted to run far away from it.

But I sat down and held her hand. And thought of the million ways she's loved me over the years. And I looked at her sweet face, still full of color. And I felt her soft, warm, wrinkled skin, and hoped I could pass a little of that love back to her.

Sunday, December 23, 2018


2018 is cooking dinner in my kitchen with my earbuds plugged into Pod Save America - raging at DT in my head along with the Pod boys. It is going about my regular day, smiling at regular people, working a regular job, while the world might be crumbling around me. It is a state of constant helplessness with occasional commercial breaks of action  - a protest here, election canvassing there, donating to a cause over here. It is utter guilt for the ease of my uninterrupted life while so many others suffer. 2018 is sipping my morning chai and looking out my front window at my beautiful neighborhood, and beyond that - a dream city, and feeling peaceful and happy and lucky but also the slightest bit empty.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Autism in Photos

I've been working on a photo project: Familia Guzman, the New York City Days. I have photos from that time period scattered in boxes, on my external hard drive, in random emails, and I wanted to put them all together into a book with some creative order so we could enjoy looking at it. I imagined us all snuggled together on the couch as a family, the glow from our fireplace lighting our faces as we laugh and reminisce. Or something like that.

So last week, I started compiling photos on in hopes that I could create a family photo book in time to wrap up and put under the Christmas tree.

Spoiler alert: Due to a minor emotional breakdown, I did not make my deadline. It's gonna be a Valentine's Day gift now.

Instead of creating a cute family photo book of memories and nostalgia, I've had a week-long flashback to the hardest couple years of my life.

Because I gave birth to Noé six months after we landed in NYC, and Asher was born two years later, and we were only there a total of four years, much of the book is Noé-centric. We collected hundreds of photos of Noé from ages 0-3. I began to pick through all of his earliest moments with a fine-tooth comb.

I'd always wondered if I had given him enough love and attention during those earliest years. Maybe I was a frigid mom? I wasn't ready for kids. I was finishing up my MBA when I discovered I was pregnant. The reality of my pregnancy surfaced after I ran out of a class presentation just seconds before throwing up outside the University of Oregon Business Administration building. A blood test confirmed it soon after. Noé was kind-of dropped on us, like an Amazon package arriving on your doorstep that you were sure you hadn't ordered.

I wondered if he smiled. I wondered if he was disinterested in me and in his surroundings and had other obvious autism markers, but I was too absorbed in my own life to see this reality. I just couldn't seem to remember anything with exact certainty from that time period.

It was a huge relief to unearth a happy baby from those pictures. And, for the most part, a baby that interacted normally with the outside world. I held him and he liked being held. He smiled, laughed, pointed and played. He looked at his board books, stacked his blocks and played peek-a-boo like a boss. Sure, looking back, there were some obvious differences. He was obsessed with certain things: watching the ceiling fan in our apartment, putting his hands in running water. He was the worst sleeper in the history of babies. He didn't babble nearly as much as other babies his age.

I now have photo evidence of when everything changed for him - shortly before his second birthday. He no longer looks at the camera and smiles for pictures. He looks slightly disheveled and confused.

I remember taking him to an easter egg hunt with many of his little pals from church when he was 2 years old. All of the other toddlers are running around filling their baskets with bright, plastic eggs, but there is Noé, alone in the corner, peering through the wrought-iron fence, mesmerized by the cars racing past on the adjoining street. I hand him a plastic egg and he throws it down. Then he picks it up and throws it down again. I show him how to put the egg inside his basket and how to pull it apart to discover the treat inside. He toddles away.

It is now time to take group photos. All of the kids smile brightly at the camera and show off their overflowing baskets. Noé has turned himself away from the camera, his basket hastily discarded in the grass.

It was so easy to dismiss his strange behaviors and ever-growing developmental deficits. Oh, his world was just rocked with a new baby brother. Oh, he was premature, he's still catching up. Oh, his father was a late talker.

By age 3, our new reality has set in. Most of the photos of Noé are taken during his many therapies.

There is Noé with his morning ABA therapist matching letters!

There is Noé with his afternoon ABA therapist imitating with playdough!

There we are on the subway, headed to Occupational Therapy!

And nothing about our lives has been normal since. Look right here, the photos tell it all.

Monday, November 19, 2018


When Noé calls for me, the sound echos from deep inside himself. It's a plea that stops me cold. It is also a call of affection and love.

We fought many years for verbal communication. We had some talented, optimistic teachers and therapists dedicated to making it happen for him. We made Noé repeat his words over and over, from morning until night, hoping that initial sounds would morph into full words and then into sentences and life would suddenly click and we would have a verbal child!

After years of watching him fight and struggle for every sound with really no marked progress, and growing increasingly frustrated by not being able to truly communicate with him, we looked for new answers.

When we moved to Seattle five years ago, his new school team pushed for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) delivered from an iPad. The iPad would be his voice.

We'd always shied away from this - we were told previously it was not implemented well in the schools. Teachers weren't properly trained on it. AAC became a crutch rather than a tool for true communication.

We were also warned that he would likely lose the few words that he had learned to say.


So we handed him an iPad, secured training for his teachers, found a speech therapist who specialized in kids like Noé, and hoped for the best. It wasn't a magic bullet. He was still lacking some of the fundamental skills of communication. But slowly, he started making independent requests using his iPad. Soon, he was doing much of his school work and greeting others using his iPad as his new voice.

And he lost all of his spoken words.

Except 'Mom'.

Usually he calls for me when he needs something and he's frustrated. Or when he's hungry. Sometimes, just before he goes to sleep and I'm giving him goodnight kisses, he'll look at me and mouth the words.


I have recurrent nightmares. Noé is lost in a forest and he's pleading for me to come to him! We are in a large crowd and someone is taking him away from me! He is struggling in the water and I can't reach him! It is always dark and murky, like a bad made-for-TV movie. I fight and struggle but I can't reach him. I jolt upright from my sleep, that three letter utterance pounding in my head.


So many people have asked. How does it feel to have a child who can't talk to you?

It must be lonely.
It must be frustrating.
It must be heartbreaking.

Being non-verbal was often described to us as the worst-possible outcome of an autism diagnosis, and it become our reality.

Today, I don't understand the question.

Of course he talks to me.

He talks to me with his eyes, his body language, his actions and behaviors, if not with his iPad. We've learned to listen to him in the silence. To talk to him in the silence. To love him in the silence.

When we were moving down to Portland this past summer and Noé gathered all of his most prized possessions and put them in a box and carried the box around with him everywhere we went for an entire month, we knew exactly what he was telling us.

We tried to calm his fears with soothing words, but also with as much immediate stability as possible. We put together his bedroom before our own, and even before we unpacked our kitchen. We toured his new school and met his new teachers. We took bike rides and walks around our new neighborhood and visited all of the local parks and shops.


It can be frustrating.

When Noé won't sleep, for example. Is he sick or in pain? Is he anxious? Is he just being a jerk and refusing to go to bed? Sometimes I'm not sure. Sometimes I guess wrong.

But it is not any less frustrating than when my other son has a bad day and won't tell me what is wrong.

I hear from so many fellow moms who get tired of hearing their children call for them all day long. I get it. There is a lot of mundane, thankless work (and lost shoes) in the frayed edges of parenthood.

But will I ever tire of hearing both of their voices call for me? Never. It's complicated bliss.