Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas, from Grandpa's Kitchen

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

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

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

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

He is hard work and family and love and generosity.

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

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

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

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

He was my favorite dance at my wedding.

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

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

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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Noé's Starry Nights

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

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

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

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

Is this how you see the world, Noé?

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hands Around Green Lake

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

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

"Will it make Trump not be our president?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lessons in soccer and chickens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Namaste, October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

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

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

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

I finally had one! 

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

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

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

There is still passion in the voice of John Carlos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he still gets hate mail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That was like a bombshell."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 10, 2016

How to Survive A Visit From Your Mexican In Laws

The abuelos with their nietos.

Having fifteen years of Mexican in-law experience, and after enduring countless overextended visits, I pretty much consider myself an expert on this subject.  Below you will find my very best tips.

1. Before the visit, find a safe space. Fill it with the very good chocolate and a good book or podcast, then escape as needed. (Shhh….my safe space is my walk-in closet. My suegra "mother-in-law" rarely finds me because she doesn't do stairs and if I close the door I can't hear her yelling for me.)

Note: I am typing this post from my safe space.

2. Just accept that conversation throughout the visit will be broken down accordingly:

80% Food
- what to cook tonight/tomorrow/next week
- a meal consumed five years ago
- how much everyone ate and who is fat and who is too thin (there is no middle ground!)
- what foods need more salt and jalapeño
- speculation concerning what part of the cow we just ate

And the classic interaction at the FamiliaGuzman dinner table:

Abuela puts more food on your plate.

 "No mas, por favor."

….ignores and continues to pile food on your plate.

10% Juan Gabriel's death

10% Which Juan Gabriel song should be played at each person's funeral

3. Have a mantra. Repeat it frequently when you are annoyed/embarrassed/angry.

My current mantra is #onemoreweek

Abuela airs out her granny underwear in your tiny, urban yard?  #onemoreweek

Trip #4 to the grocery store today to find a random Mexican spice that was forgotten on trips #1, #2 and #3?   #onemoreweek

Abuela insists on dressing your tween and teenage boys? #onemoreweek

Abuelos take your kids to McDonalds while you are cooking their dinner? #onemoreweek

4. Make sure you know what telenovelas your suegra is currently watching, their start times and channels, before the visit. This will save a lot of frantic channel surfing with multiple remotes that you rarely use anyway, while an angry abuela looks on.

Note: Don't laugh at the ridiculous story lines. Especially at the same moment your suegra is crying.

5. On that note, plan to surrender your television to Telemundo and Univision for the duration of the visit.   

6. Remind your husband at least once a day how much he owes you. But also give him a kiss each time your suegro "father-in-law" mocks him for doing "women's work." Which in his mind includes preparing any kind of food, taking care of the kids, washing something with water and soap.

7. Keep your cool when your suegra arrives and unpacks a suitcase full of her own pots and pans and chorizo. This time she brought her own bath towels as well. Because we don't use bath towels? #onemoreweek

8. It's ok to throw your kids under the bus. They will survive the visit. Your sanity may not.


[Asher walks into the door from school.]

Abuela: "Why are his pants so wrinkled?"

Me: "No sé. They were ironed before he left."  (False: the only time I iron is when someone dies.)

Abuela: "Mijo, what you do to your pants? Keep them nice!"

Asher: ?????

Oh, but don't forget there is a heavenly reward awaiting your suffering  …….

Stacks and stacks of mind-blowing enchiladas, flautas, sopas, rice, beans. Fresh guacamole. Homemade horchata. All at your dinner table. All of the time.

Buena suerte y que Dios te bendiga!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Noé - Summer 2016 Progress Report

A quick list of Noé's progress this summer:

- Dresses himself fully from his drawers without any prompts  (clothes rarely match, but they are on the correct body parts).

- Writes first name legibly. Still working on last name.

- Can find things not in his direct sight. (If I tell him to go put on his shoes and they're downstairs, he will do it).

- Mastered the capri sun! Including getting plastic off the tiny straw.

- Chores: Helps to empty dishwasher, takes out garbage, recycling and compost (almost independently) to curb, carries groceries from car to kitchen (highly prefers to carry in the foods he likes).

- He understands numbers and that they represent an amount (up to 10).  Doing very basic addition and subtraction.

-Body parts. He's finally labeling parts of face.

- Games: Jenga, Perfection, Connect 4 with help.

-Reading: He still hates books and has low to zero reading comprehension but can identify just about any word.

Here's to summer progress and sending him off to a great teacher for the 7th grade in five days!!!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Autism's Summer

When Noé was 2 1/2 years old, and newly diagnosed with autism, I sat down at my little table in my little apartment in big New York City and wrote out an action plan, because that is how I deal with my problems. I "list" them away.  That summer day back in 2005, I wrote down every deficit and unreached milestone. And then I stamped a future date next to each bullet point. These dates were target goals for Noé to overcome each individual problem related to his autism.

I had him completely cured of his autism by age 6 and I was such a fool.

A naive young mother who loved her child and wanted desperately to help him navigate this disorder.

But nevertheless a fool.

Autism doesn't respond to timelines or targeted goals. For sure, progress can happen, even in the worst cases. We've had too many mini miracles for me to doubt that. But progress rarely, if ever, happens in a linear or tidy way.

Noé is now 13 1/2 years old. Each morning I drag myself out of bed early and finish my 'paid work' as quickly as possible. And then I sit down and work with Noé. I've given up on district-sponsored summer school. He spends more time on the bus than at the school site. And we've known for a long time that he really only learns in one-on-one situations that are highly motivating and fun for him.

We work together in 15 minute increments, while I dole out M&Ms and fruit snacks to keep him engaged. We practice writing his name, a skill he has learned and forgotten a half-dozen times over the years. I know he will rely on assistive technology and typing to communicate throughout his life, but I want him to be able to sign his name. I want him to have that one bit of freedom and ownership over his life. Noé could care less, but I press on.

We do simple addition with manipulatives, while in earshot, his little brother masters pre-Algebra via Kahn Academy. I model how to use adjectives on his communication device. "Do you want a BIG cookie or a LITTLE cookie?" We share how we are feeling in the moment, also using his magical talking device. Despite his blank face, Noé always FEELS GREAT!!!

I am skeptical.

This summer, we are conquering puberty. But probably puberty is conquering us. I show him how to put on deodorant. He applies it correctly under each arm, but does not bother to take the lid off.  We spend a lot of time practicing "quiet hands" and discussing things you can do in the bathroom or your bedroom but not at, say, THE SWIMMING AREA AT THE LAKE!!!

This particular summer has unleashed a fresh new fear. With his latest growth spurt and dark summer skin, I find myself looking at him and worrying throughout the day …. does he look more latino or white? Would it matter?  I know it might. How would he respond in a confrontation? I know he would never comply; he would never understand the expectations of such a stressful encounter. I know he could be in serious danger given the most star-crossed situation. And I know it can't be left to chance, that Ed and I must never leave his side.

It is all exhausting, terribly lonely, and I never really know if I'm doing things right by Noé. So many well-meaning people, yet never an offer of real help, never a break. And the ever-stark realization that autism will be in our lives forever.

We plug along each summer day with September and the promise of another school year on the horizon. We practice our sight word flash cards, sort the laundry, master the art of making chocolate milk from a mix, because time will pass anyway.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

End of School Year Wrap-Up

Since I am doing a lot of end of year wrap-ups for my job, I thought I would write one for our little family as well. This is always a weird time of the school year. Most of our extra activities have ended (soccer, swimming, Ultimate Frisbee, etc.) but there is still over a month left of school! We won't see summer vacation until nearly July this year thanks to the teacher's strike last fall.

When we all come home for the day now, we are often really HOME FOR THE DAY. Which is nice. But also gives me more time to think. Which is sort of a mixed-bag of good and bad. Sometimes it's easier not to THINK too hard but rather just DO.

Looking Back. Overall this school year has been a good one.  Noé's initial transition to middle school was difficult. New school, new teachers, new expectations and a new really early wakeup call was a pretty volatile mix. There were some weeks last fall that I wasn't sure we would all survive. I desperately wanted to find a better school situation, but instead, I dug in and made school better for him. It took me and another parent in the class a full two months of calls, meetings, angry emails to the district, to get his class size down to an acceptable level. Then I worked on getting him switched over to an elective he enjoyed (rather than the one that was easiest for an IA to take him to), made sure his teachers knew how to motivate him, reworked his IEP. It was a PROCESS and I can't say I had the best attitude about it. Sometimes I just wish it would all just happen like it should for once rather than resorting to lengthy measures and subtle threats. I am collaborative by nature. I don't like being the parent that teachers fear when I walk into their classroom. But I've learned how to be that parent when necessary. I hate that he is in a school that does not value inclusion or… honestly… special education. Unfortunately, alternative middle school options are few and far between right now.

I have discovered some upsides to Noé's current school situation. His lead teacher, although not proactive, does have a good base of special ed knowledge and is pretty effective with using data and various teaching techniques in the classroom. Noé has made solid progress on most all of his IEP goals. I truly feel like she cares for him. The specialists in the classroom are also solid and I've had a lot of one-on-one time with the school SLP, who also lives in our neighborhood. There is one wonderful IA in the classroom who gets it all. The classroom is large and has a kitchen (I think it is a former home ec classroom). The kids cook every Friday!

Noé went from a boy to a teenager in the stretch of this school year. It is hard to get used to his deep laugh, his chiseled face, strong shoulders and man-sized hands. He walks into my room at night and reaches for me and I jump to the ceiling because I think he is a stranger about to attack me. He seems to be taking these changes in stride these days. Last fall, he would come to me and start crying for no apparent reason. It must be so hard to have all of these weird changes happening to you and no way to communicate them.

His TouchChat iPad app continues to be a life line for communicate with us. We are starting to work beyond requests and on expressing emotions, thoughts, etc. It will take some time for sure. When I ask Noé how he is feeling, he almost always types in….I feel AWESOME!

We took the long road to AWESOME is all I can really say.

Asher's year was pretty non-memorable in a spectacular way. We set some goals for his school year at the beginning of the year after some 4th grade challenges with friends and the social layout of tweendom and he had achieved them all before Thanksgiving. Once he was truly happy at school again, he thrived in every way….academically, socially, in soccer, and especially in piano. He has gone from your average 10 year old piano student to a total star! I can't even help him anymore…he has mostly surpassed my piano abilities.

The end of this school year also marks the end of our time at our beloved little urban neighborhood primary school. I think this needs it's own separate blog post. So many tears every day.  (mine)

Looking Ahead. Noé will stay at his current middle school. He is stable and it's just not worth the potential downsides of uprooting him.  Asher will likely spend 6th grade at a nearby K-8. The middle schools here are in total flux as they struggle to find space for students while they build new schools, so there is no true "neighborhood middle school" or traditional elementary-to-middle school pipeline in our area. Asher's classmates are fleeing to all parts of North Seattle for middle school, both public and private schools. We have a place at a nearby public K-8 which I think will be a good fit for him. I am not a fan of the middle school concept and think most 6th graders are far better served in an elementary school setting. Perhaps my opinions will change this next school year. For 7th grade, we will have the option of sending him to the new comprehensive neighborhood middle school or keeping him at the K-8. Both schools will be located just five blocks from our house in the same new school complex. I will likely move Noé over to the new middle school for 8th grade. There are just too many advantages to having both kids in the same school just blocks from your house!

I am excited for Asher's K-8 adventure for many reasons. When we visited the school we found a place with a truly diverse student body (economically and ethnically), super small class sizes, some really impressive curricula and teachers. A few things give me pause, mostly to do with the culture of the school. Students call teachers by their first name which I find a little disrespectful and also confusing. I read the school newsletters and I can't figure out who is a student, who is a parent and who is a teacher. There is also a lot of decisions made at the school through "student consensus." Hmmm….  (I know it…my liberal shelf is cracking and I'm becoming a grumpy old traditionalist!)  It will be interesting to see where we are next year in our middle school journey. It is nice to have the convenience of the new neighborhood middle school opening up if alternative K-8 education is just not our thing.

Meanwhile, this summer we have some fun trips planned at the beginning of the summer and will likely hang loose in Seattle for August. I'm looking forward to working on some skills with Noé that we just don't have time to tackle during the school year when Mom is working full-time and Dad is hijacked by Seahawks coverage. Both kids are doing some local camps as well…Noé will be at Outdoors For All swimming and boating and biking and hiking the city and surrounding areas. Asher will do a triathlon camp and crew camp on the lake. And maybe a soccer camp stuck somewhere in there as well.

Summer is always spectacular in Seattle…I can't wait!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Checking his race

Asher came home from school and mentioned he had taken a standardized test that day.  And before he began filling in rows of scantron bubbles with his ever-reliable Number 2 pencil, he told me he was asked to check his race and ethnicity in a box.  Slightly startled, I asked him which box he chose.  He admitted he was really confused because he knew I was white and his "papi" was Latino.  He felt badly filling in either one because he was afraid he would hurt one of us.  I asked him what he ultimately decided to do.  He said he looked down at the back of his hand and filled in white because his skin looked more "peach" that day (It was winter in Seattle.  His "Mexican" comes out more in the sun).  He cringed when he told me this, fearful he had offended his father and a long line of anonymous Mexican ancestors.

It is easy to forget that Asher hasn't been here from the beginning days of Familia Guzman.  When Ed and I started dating and we would hold each other close, the contrast between our skin tones was striking to me, my skin being on the fair side of fair and his complexion being on the darker side of Mexican American. When we were out together, I often wondered how other people perceived our difference in skin color.  It was upsetting when we would go to a restaurant and the host or hostess would assume we were not together, even as we stood together.  

However, after fifteen years of marriage, what was once glaring has become familiar. You forget the very first thing that others see when they initially meet your family is your cross section of skin color, laid out like paint chips at a hardware store. You forget that your children might have questions or confusions.

Asher has never heard his father speak in accented English.  Ed lost his accent while attending his East Coast boarding school, an attempt to duck the constant ethnic jabs from his majority white upper class peers. Today, his speech seamlessly flows between English and Spanish.  (My Spanish, unfortunately, also sounds too much like my English.)

For better or for worse, our family has blended into middle-class America. We spend Saturday mornings at soccer and swimming lessons, pay our mortgage every month, take a vacation or two every year. Asher doesn't know any other life.  But our different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds initially took a lot of working out.  Ed did not understand why I never discussed money, why I strived so hard to be thin, how my family could argue without yelling.

I didn't understand Ed's paralyzing fear of cops, the general lack of trust he had of strangers, why his eyes were always drawn down, while mine were drawn up, when we were out and something was happening on the street.

And let's just say, nothing makes you feel your full WASP-iness more than joining a clan of noisy, rambunctious, and acutely affectionate Mexicans.

And after fifteen years of living in pleasant neighborhoods in large and diverse American cities, we don't deal with ugly people on a daily basis. But we do have stories.  Maybe, someday, when the time is right, we will share these stories with Asher…..

We had recently moved to New York City and while getting to know a coworker, she asks me why someone "like me" would marry a "dirty Mexican."

It was horrifying to move to New York City, the cauldron of all melting pots, and hear 'dirty' and 'Mexican' used together as if they constituted a single word.   

We even had our moments in our multi-cultural Northern Virginia Shangri-La ….

Ed is loading groceries into our Honda CRV at our neighborhood Safeway. An older lady, feeling entitled to his parking space, yells into his face, "Do you even speak English?"    

We are headed for a rare …  our first ever…. anniversary weekend away, waiting to board a bus into the District.  Ed coughs into his elbow.  A woman turns around and shouts at Ed to "go back to where (he) came from" and spits towards him.

Sometimes we laugh these and other experiences off.  They become inside joke fodder.  We hold up our noses, knowing that we have more education, more resources, we are BETTER than these ignorant people.  Coping strategies to dull the pain.

There will always be people who will reduce you to an ugly stereotype, no matter the contrary evidence. This we have learned.

At the end of the day, and before his next standardized test, this is what I want Asher to know….


Your Mormon/Mexican/Oregon Trail pioneer heritage is rich and dense and vastly beautiful. Your abuelo, the same man who rolls tortillas for you like magic, calls you 'Achercito' because there is no "sh" sound in Spanish. Your abuelito. He was plucked off the fields of the Central Valley and deported twice before receiving his green card and with it, a tiny slice of security and hope.  Your abuela and tias labored in downtown Los Angeles garment factories, shoulders haunched over sewing machines in dark rooms choking with heat.   

That Mormon handcart company, those early Oregon settlers, and your abuelos in Mexico all forged separate trails of opportunity. They walked poised and penniless across great plains and across country borders, aided by coyótes and handcarts and companions making similar journeys. With faith and resolution and endless sweat they built new lives of integrity and modest means. All of these trails have intersected at this very point in time for you, Ashercito. They constitute your present life filled with joy, choice and privilege.   

Keep your family close to your heart always.  But then check the box or boxes that feel right to you, or check none at all, and don't think another thing about it.

And even as you are asked to fit yourself into tidy boxes, avoid putting other people in them.  Listen to others and give value to their experiences, especially those coming from different backgrounds than your own.   And most especially those who have been traditionally put into narrow boxes of hate rather than given voice or true opportunity.  Never forget there are many who don't have the luxury of deciding how to label their shade of skin on any given day.

 If you do these things, you will never let down your family or yourself.

We love you always,

Your Mom and Papi

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The holiday letter I never wrote

A quick update on all four of us:

Ed….still works for the Seattle Times. Will this be his final year in the newspaper business? We shall see.  Earning a batch of APSE awards has renewed his energy for things like waking up at 4am every Monday to write a Seahawks column (even in the offseason!) and returning phone calls to elderly readers who want to know what channel the Huskies game will be broadcasted. The very best thing is when he returns their call and they don't remember calling him in the first place. Ed is very into podcasts these days and we are officially the old married couple barking at each other over his earbuds. He is also the token dad at hiking club (a group of mom friends and kids who hike a local spot every Monday afternoon).

Noé…is finally accepting his fate as a middle school student. The transition last fall to a new school with older kids and new expectations was pretty rough. He continues to love his Adele and Amy Winehouse and spends a lot of time after school playing their records on his record player. In his 'History of Rock and Roll' elective class at school, he introduced the class to Miles Davis after he requested Miles Davis on his iPad when the class was listening to music. His teacher found an album to play for the class and was pretty amazed that a 13 year old with severe autism knew 'Kind of Blue'. After a period of boredom and non-participation in his Keyboarding class (his other inclusion class), I emailed his teacher lyrics to all of his favorite Adele songs for him to practice typing out and Noé has eagerly attended class ever since. I just signed him up for three weeks at his favorite outdoor day camp this summer, which I tell myself is all for him, but it really is all about my own summer break sanity.

Asher…discovered a hidden passion for Star Wars when the last movie came out, after previously claiming to be "the type of kid who just isn't into Star Wars." When Asher likes something, he likes it ALL the way. We have known this since he was two years old and fell in love with trains and our lives were hijacked by Thomas the Tank Engine. He watched all the Star Wars movies in short succession, read the books, including the Origami Yoda series. His bedroom has now been transformed into a Star Wars origami production factory. He also just started another season of Ultimate Frisbee, the official spring sport in Seattle, and will start spring soccer soon as well.  At his piano recital last month, he played his song beautifully, but after he finished the song, his piano teacher, who was sitting next to me, looked over with a look of bemused shock and said, "that's not the one we practiced for tonight!"I guess you could say he's the type of kid who isn't afraid to go off script a little….

Me (Jen)… is still working at the same job I tried to quit three years ago when we moved to Seattle.  Every time I think about finding something else, I remember what I love most about it…zero commute time, the scaled-back summer hours, and the East Coast schedule which means I'm done early and can justify working in my pajamas. So basically I'm lazy. I've even figured out how to adjust the camera on my laptop so that I can video conference and no one has any idea I am wearing pajamas, as long as I remember to brush my hair. I am still also a small business owner as well, peddling LEGO robots to 2nd graders like crack cocaine. I meant to have reached a decision at this point - whether or not to grow the business into something full time and legitimate, keep it as a side gig, or let it die, but I really haven't decided its fate. The economics say go full-on, but I am tired of being up to my eyeballs in LEGOs. Plus, my heart tells me that I was truly meant to be a poor, unknown writer, and I have officially written four paragraphs of my very first book to prove it.

I think I speak for all of us when I say we continue to love the Seattle life. The city sustains us all in different ways. Noé loves hiking through the streets of the city and in its forest corridors, along with the ubiquitous water. Asher loves studying the city and figuring out ways to make it run better. Ed loves his return to urban living, and the role he has been able to play in building up a very fine sports team at the Times. For me, I love everything about PNW life and there isn't much that could tear me away from it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Sunday afternoon in January

We were all recovering from viruses, had been stuck in the house all day. Ed was in the office, sorting through the rubble of the Seahawks playoff loss.

Tired of being inside, I lifted our house arrest. I fumbled through a drawer to find a Starbucks gift card left over from the holidays. We climbed into our rain gear.

The outside air felt heavy. We trudged out the door through the layer of gray and gloom. It was three o'clock in the afternoon, which meant dusk on a rainy, winter PNW day. We headed down to the lake and then walked the familiar and calming half mile along the shore to the Starbucks. Noé avoided dogs as usual. When two giant huskies came toward him on the trail he backed himself up to the edge of the lake to avoid them, almost falling in.

Entering the Starbucks, we let ourselves absorb the warmth and coffee goodness. I quickly found a corner table. Asher instinctively let Noé sit down ahead of him so he was trapped between the table and his chair, and thus unable to wander the restaurant or sample food and drinks off other people's tables. I got up to order our hot chocolates and baked goods, keeping half an eye on our table. I noticed the guy seated across from the boys, giving Noé a one up and then looking at me. I gave him my involuntary, don't-mess-with-us side glance. I couldn't decide if it was warranted….if he was just figuring out Noé and his constant rocking and his hand full of ribbon, or if he was annoyed we had sat next to him and messed up his laptop-on-the-table-and-iPod-in-the-ears zen.

I set the food and drinks down on the table and immediately noticed Noe's hands, which had turned black somewhere between home and Starbucks. I smuggled him into the women's restroom to clean up and we sat back down.  Two sips of hot chocolate later, half of Noé's hot chocolate was on his vest. Feeling thankful we went with the waterproof outerwear, I ran over to grab napkins. All wiped up, we settled back down into our snack, and I then noticed the photo above us.

It was an oversized black and white photo of the swimming area at Green Lake, located right across the street from where we sat. The photo was dated 1936. The focal point of the photo was a wooden diving platform. Teenagers swarmed it like honeybees, a few frozen mid-dive off the highest platform. The boys wore European-style swim bottoms and the girls were in modest one-pieces and frilly swim caps. All looked really thin, perhaps the Depression showing on their bones.

I pointed out the photo to Asher and told him that when it was taken, his great-grandpa (aka grandpa-by-the-train) was also a teenager, living in Portland, skiing Mt Hood and taking day trips to Seaside. The photo felt full of youth and energy. I tried to picture my own grandparents in that photo. Eighty years later, my grandparents are well into their nineties, feeling their age, and writing the final paragraphs of their well-lived lives. Most likely, many of the teenagers in that photo have already passed away.

We finished our treats and headed back toward the lake for our walk home. I pictured the teenagers in that photo swimming on the lake, just as we do each summer. We've only lived in this neighborhood for three years, but the boys have grown considerably under the watchful eye of the lake and the protective canopy of the trees surrounding it. I feel so blessed to have this beautiful place as the static and dependable background of their formidable years.

(Click here for the 1936 Green Lake photo we saw at our neighborhood Starbucks)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Monday evening

It was the end of a long Monday for both Ed and I. Noé had just done something that had created a huge mess. Something he definitely knew better than to do. Ed and I let our anger get the best of us. We both raised our voices at him and then sent him straight to bed so we could begin to deal with the cleanup.

Ed happened to walk by the boys' darkened bedroom and noticed a shadow climbing down from the top bunk. He peered into the room just in time to see Asher sit himself down on the lower bunk, next to a sad-faced Noé. Asher put his arms around his brother, an offering of comfort and love. Noé accepted the hug and they held each other for a few moments. Ed and I were both humbled to tears.

We continually learn how to love from this kid.

Saturday, January 2, 2016


My first baby is 13 now. All sharp edges, unruly thick dark hair, an ever-deepening voice. There is no hiding his autism from the world, not that I feel the need to do so. Even the regulars on our bus line, disheveled addicts and the mentally unstable who regularly pick fights with invisible bus passengers, take note of Noé and ask me if he has autism.

Between the autism and the teenagerism, he can be stubborn and difficult. He communicates well with his iPad, but on his own terms. It still takes a lot of energy and reinforcement (think skittles) for him to be cajoled into learning new things. We have to set a timer on his music, otherwise he will listen all-day and non-stop to his record and iPad music collections.  His OCD tendencies have increased in the past year. He spends his free time shutting or opening doors, and obsessively touching the points of objects and surfaces.

But we have these moments.  His eyes will catch mine. Often it is a quick flicker of happiness or engagement, a flame that I have to reach out and hold before it disappears. I try to be on the constant lookout for these moments, lest I miss an opportunity to be with him.  In these moments he is engaged and eager for interaction. We will talk and I know he is listening. We play simple games, we tickle, we dance together to his music.  He will let me hug him without pushing away.

Blessed moments with my first baby.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Favorite Facebook Posts - 2015

Feb 26
Easy Ed just informed me that my habit of double-spacing-between-sentences "dates" me. This is hard to ignore, with his job history of employment at certain highly pretentious newspapers. But. I. Can't. Stop! So thank you, Mrs. Carlson, freshman typing teacher, with your outdated electric typewriters and smart secretary suits and frosty permed hair and tragic blue eyeshadow.

May 7
Getting a quote for some home repair work this morning. I have this conversation every time we hire out work.
Spanish-speaking contractor: Where is your husband from?
Me: He's from LA, his family is from Mexico
Contractor: (Blank stare)
Me: He didn't get the home repair genes, ok?

July 26
So we've had an uptick in crime in our neighborhood so our neighbors banded together to create a FB page as a sort of neighborhood watch. Someone posted that there was a Hispanic male, 5'8 and wearing an LA Dodger's baseball cap, in his late 20s or 30s, casing our block yesterday.
I think I found him.

Aug 24
Noe has been playing Christmas music full blast in the house while I frantically get us ready for camping in the San Juans and slather sunscreen on everyone and everything. ‪#‎autism‬

Aug 27
Whenever we go to 7-11 for slurpees, my kids always insist on measuring their height on the front entrance door with the giant ruler they use to ID robbers. It's so embarrassing!

Sept 2
"I love waking up to the sound of traffic and looking out my window as the cars and bikes whiz by." -Asher ‪#‎truecitykid‬ ‪#‎futureurbanplanner‬

Sept 22
What's it like to be married to the son of Mexican immigrants you might wonder? Well, here is a small peek: Today we had lunch together at a neighborhood Greek restaurant. We spent the first half of the lunch waxing sentimental about our early years of marriage and the kids, and the second half predicting how and when we will die. Mexican sentimentality and fatalism apparently cross the border as well.

Sept 29
Poor Noé fell asleep on the toilet this morning. This early middle school schedule is hard on his little preteen body.

Oct 15
Poor Noé fell asleep (Part 2)….drinking his morning mug of chocolate milk. Standing up. Chocolate milk everywhere. The morning struggle is real for this kid.

Nov 2
Asher hid his Halloween candy from Noé the nightstand next to our bed. He obviously has a thing or two still to learn about his parents.

Nov 22
There has been a lot of excitement at Casa Guzman over the new Adele album. Wait, I don't think you quite understand. For the last four years, we have listened to Noé play '21' on his iPad daily… usually for several hours at a time. I think even Adele herself would agree it was a little much. I've been driven to the edge of Adele-induced hysteria for the past few weeks anticipating the new album and whether or not '25' would meet Noé's impossibly high (and extremely narrow) standards of acceptable iPad music.‪#‎Hello‬, I'm proud to report…it's been all '25' all weekend long. ‪#‎autism‬

Nov 27
Our foreign exchange student caught us eating pumpkin pie for breakfast this morning and it instantly confirmed all of her suspicions about Americans. I could see it in her eyes.