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.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

It's an L.A. Thing

I was born and raised in East L.A., and my parents still live in the same house I grew up in, but I haven't lived in Los Angeles for any great length of time since I was 14. It was always home, though, and the Lakers were one reason why I proudly identified as an Angeleno through all the many places I've lived, both by myself and with a family that eventually came to include two sons.

As a result, today's absolutely devastating news about Kobe Bryant and his daughter felt a little bit like a loss in the family, because the connection to Los Angeles and the Lakers that he represented to so many of us was profound, deep, and omnipresent.

I grew up in an absolutely crazed Laker household. I was a kid for the Showtime Era and as a result, Magic Johnson has always been my all-time favorite player. (We'll save the "greatest Laker" debate for another time; today's not the day, in my opinion.) I have lots of memories of watching him on TV on what was then KHJ Channel 9, with this intro music pouring into our living room:
As I mentioned, the Lakers were always an easy way for me to stay connected to home, in ways big and small. I remember sitting in the dining hall of my prep school as a ninth-grader on November 7, 1991, when my friend Sid Saraf ran up to me to tell me that Magic Johnson was diagnosed as HIV-positive and was retiring from the Lakers. I never thought I would ever match the shock of that as a Lakers fan, but today matched it.

By the time Kobe entered the league in 1996, I was a sophomore in college, but he quickly took over as that Laker-esque connection to home. I remember watching in agony his air-ball game against the Jazz in the 1997 playoffs at the Stanford Daily offices. The following season, over winter break, a bunch of friends from college who lived in L.A. and I got together and went to a Lakers-Celtics game at the Forum and I got to see Kobe in person for the first time. He was not yet a starter, but he scored 17 points and had 1 assist off the bench that night in a 108-102 loss to Boston. Definitely a sign of things to come. 

When Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers were championship contenders in the spring of 2000, I was a rookie reporter at the Oregonian. It just so happened the Lakers were in the conference finals against... the Portland Trail Blazers. It was all hands on deck for our sports department, and I got to be on hand for Game 7, when the Lakers rallied from 15 points down in the fourth quarter. I was behind the basket and up a few rows in the auxiliary press area when Kobe lofted the ball to Shaq for an iconic dunk that sparked a new run of titles for the Lakers (and as a bonus led to one of my all-time favorite Chick Hearn calls; sorry, Portland friends!)




I could go on and on with my memories of Kobe, but it was always about so much more than that. Kobe was an authentic and consistent touchstone for what my dear hometown was all about. He was a relentless worker. He was married to a woman of Mexican descent and spoke Spanish. He had achieved fame and celebrity. He absolutely got L.A., all of it, and fans of every stripe adored him for it. If he's not the most important figure in L.A. sports history of the last 30 years, he is absolutely on the short list.

(And I'll be the first to admit Kobe was difficult to root for at times during his career. This is definitely not an apologist's tribute.) 

As I continue to process whatever grief I feel, and read the tributes pouring in, it finally hit me this afternoon during a long walk: this must have been what it was like for my parents when John Lennon died in 1980. (My folks are also Beatles fanatics, something they've passed on to me, and I to my sons.) The parallels are strangely eerie: both driven icons in their respective professions. Both suddenly and tragically dead in their early 40s. Both seemingly on the cusp of a wonderful second act in their lives, but gone before it was fully realized. 

Paul McCartney once said of Lennon: "John Lennon was a great man. But part of his greatness was that he wasn't a saint." 

I think you could say the same for Kobe Bryant. And much like with Lennon, we'll always have the memories. But that doesn't make their losses any easier, because of what they represented to their fans.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Noé, at age 17

Noé, at age 17, has finally mastered the art of blowing. This sounds ridiculous unless you understand that he has severe apraxia, which makes him unable to coordinate and initiate movements of his mouth and jaw on command. This is also the primary reason why he is nonverbal. For years, he ignored his birthday candles. We would "practice" blowing them out ahead of his birthday, but he just could never do it. Then, more recently, he "sniffed" out his candles. But this year, he shocked us all and blew out his candles on the cake he shared with his brother earlier this month at their family birthday party. Today, on his actual birthday, he was blowing out candles left and right, including the ones I put on his favorite meal: lasagna.
It's amazing how good these seemingly small victories feel when they come - especially when you've worked on these skills for years and you begin to wonder if they'll ever show up. You take your kid where they're at, love them, and hope for the best.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

12,842 words

That was my version of last month's NaNoWriMo.

Very short of the 50,000 words you are supposed to write (who picked November, a month of holiday prep and school activities for NaNoWriMo, anyways?) but I'm finally on my way to writing my first book!

And, guess what?  My book sucks!

(But that's okay, I've done enough reading about the writing process to understand that first drafts are never good).

I do see small glimpses of potential within the graphs. Sometimes I have to look hard, but it's there.

It's the greatest feeling to come up with an idea for a character and then get it into the draft.

I'm looking forward to piecing it all together into a book, learning a ton in the process, and keeping expectations grounded for this very first try.