Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I have this great memory of my maternal Grandma.  She was born and raised in northern Alabama.  When we went "home" for holidays it was usually to Gadsden or Birmingham to see her and the rest of the clan.  One Thanksgiving, I think it was, we all drove to someone's house to eat.  In the backyard was a trampoline.  Well, everyone that could manage it got on the thing and jumped til they wanted to puke.  After the initial hoard dispersed and went inside to, no doubt, watch the Iron Bowl (as all good Alabamans do), I lingered outside with the young ones ("youngins") and my 80+ year old Granny-Ma.  After a little cajoling she gingerly ascended a ladder to the trampoline and, by golly, she jumped. 

Her smile was wonderfully huge and she couldn't stop laughing.  She didn't jump high.  She didn't jump alone, either.  She was surrounded by giggly little second cousins who wanted to see how high she could go.  I laughed so hard.  The joy and exhilaration on her face was amazing.  This was a woman who survived the Depression.  She picked cotton in a field as a young woman to take care of her family.  For some reason I thought of all of that as I watched her laugh.  I also thought, "I hope I have half that much zest for life when I get older.  I hope I never grow up. "

Granny-Ma was amazing.   She passed away about a year and a half ago from complications of dementia, among other things.   I miss her so much.  I had said my goodbyes long before her mind left us.  The pain washes away and good memories remain. 

Remind me later to tell you about the time she fired a tater gun into my uncle's lake when she was in her late 80's. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stupid Autism

My son was diagnosed with autism in 2000. He was a little over 3 years old.  The symptoms started (I thought) suddenly when he was 2.  I remember telling a friend it was like someone came in the middle of the night and switched my son with someone else's child.  He had been an exceedingly bright baby, early with all his milestones.  Then, after age 2, he stopped responding to his name and became inconsolable for the slightest reason.  Later he became barely verbal and when he was, he exhibited echolalia, repeating everything he heard.  A very brave daycare worker quietly slipped me a newspaper article on autism. She said, "I think you should read this."  (Bless her.  She knew I needed to know.)

Well, fast forward through preschool, grades 1, 2, 3 and onto 4th grade.  By this time my son and I had become used to the routine: play therapy with the local autism center, meds every morning, checklists, verbal cues and IEP meetings.  My son was (and is) a real trooper.  He had accepted life as it was up to this point.  But grade 4 was hard.  He had become more self-aware - something kids do much earlier, age 3 or so.  In 4th grade Wally started to realize he was different, and I had to finally sit him down and tell him why. 

It felt like blur, but I remember accentuating whatever was positive about it.  I also remember telling him that everything happens for a reason and maybe the reason for this was that he, a high functioning and now more verbal autistic boy, could help doctors understand the other kids with autism who couldn't speak.  He seemed to be comfortable with that.  He was a champion of sorts.  He had purpose.  He started helping the teachers with other children after that, so I know he was able to find some kind of coping strategy. 

And so we crossed the speed bump and kept going...until a day when something happened at school and he was sent home, suspended.  I don't remember what happened.  It doesn't matter now.  We know now that he was reacting negatively to recently prescribed meds.  My sweet, bright little guy was host to a battle of conflicting neurotransmitters.  Mother Theresa would have been suspended given what Wally had been processing.  Those 3 days of suspension we sat on my sister's patio, reviewing what school work we could so he wouldn't be too behind.  After a particularly difficult lesson he became exasperated.  He  threw stuff on the ground and shouted, "Stupid Autism!"  I didn't know what to say.  The exclamation was heartbreaking, funny, and oddly zen at the same time.  He never asked to have this.  No child asks for a disability.  But when that child is able to comprehend that they are different, through no fault of their own, and still persevere, how can you not marvel at that strength? 

Wally is now 14.  He's a high schooler.  High school!  He still has an IEP, but early meds (now non existent) and special education have paid off.  He has friends, tells jokes, gets A's in some classes, and struggles in others, just like other kids.  He still retains some odd features, mostly OCD and communication issues, but with counselling they are becoming slighter and slighter.   

I picked him up from school today and we went to the corner market where all the kids hang out after school.  When we left, someone called his name.  He said, "That's my friend, Ahmed!"  We walked a  little and the he said, "You know, mom? I think I'm gonna try and live here when I get older."  A wonderful demonstration of perceived acceptance and a big victory over stupid autism! 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Brother, the Tree

I haven’t been to Denver in quite a while.  I really need to go. My brother is buried there. 
The last time I visited Dennis’s grave I was on a cross-country trip from DC to LA.  None of us lives anywhere near Denver so we don’t get to see him often.  The first time I went alone I couldn’t find his grave.  The church was locked, and I had no way to find his plot.  I wandered aimlessly for a while before I had to make some peace with my conscience and leave before it got too dark. 
The next time I went through Denver I stopped, stayed overnight and headed out to the cemetery early.  A nice woman at the church looked through the records, gave me the plot and site data and a map.  I parked on the side of the road and walked to the place he should have been, but there was nothing there but a large oak tree.  Confused, I asked a grounds keeper named Bob Vaughn if he could help me find it.  I felt sick inside.  How on earth was I supposed to tell my mother that I couldn’t find him again? Bob went to his truck and spoke to someone on the radio.  When he came back I half-expected him to say, “Sorry”, or some such platitude. Instead, he pointed to the oak and said, “He’s right here!” 
I cannot tell you how unbelievably happy this made me.  I know my face couldn’t conceal it.  I think I actually clapped my hands in front of my chest like a child when she sees something amazing. I know I felt like I was 5 years old again.
When Dennis was buried back in 1972, a baby of just a few days, the tree was small.  Both of them were small.  Now, over 30 years had passed and that tree was Dennis. He and the tree were one - big and strong and forever watching the Rocky Mountains.   
I spent the next 2 hours taking pictures of my brother, Dennis the Tree, and talking to groundskeeper Bob, a Vietnam Vet who used to work on the railroad.  I grabbed a few acorns to give to my mom.  I knew she’d like that. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


This past weekend I cleaned out my storage compartment here at the apartment and found 2 hockey sticks and an equipment bag big enough to fit a body.

Today I watched Slap Shot.  I haven't seen it in a while.  It appears the Universe wants me to think about hockey.

I've never been a die-hard hockey fan, but I love watching the games when they're on.  (I usually cheer the Capitals since I lived in DC. )  There's something compelling about watching a bunch of large guys wobble onto the ice and suddenly become graceful and frightening at the same time.

But there is another reason that I like hockey.  When I became a new mom, I uncovered a quiet midnight feeding routine.  My son would whimper and I'd immediately rise and turn on the TV.  Not much is on at 2 AM, but hockey is.  I'd sit covered in blankets in our little apartment with the lights off and a soft glow from the little muted TV.  My son would crane his head, bottle in mouth to see only hockey.  Nothing else interested him.  Jeffersons? No. Infomercial? No.  Just hockey.

I would hold him and think about his future.  He was a small, warm little entity with a timeline of potential ahead of him.  He could be anything.  He could do anything.  And my life was nothing but for him.  All of those thoughts with Brett Hull in the background gliding on the ice.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Sarah's Favorite Pandora Station

My dad is a musician, among other things.  He may not play trumpet anymore, but I know music is still a large part of his life.

Mom is a big music lover as well.  She has a beautiful voice and can play piano.

When you grow up in a house filled with music, your life has a soundtrack.  I grew up listening to a lot of samba, bossa nova, jazz and classical music.  The bossa nova brings back instant memories of our living room in the Philippines.  Massive blue and white capiz shell lamps and spanish-style fixtures hung in the living room.  A large shag rug on a wood floor and wicker furniture everywhere.  Tropical air wafting into the rooms from a very green outside.   And to make it all complete, bossa nova from AFN on dad's stereo.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

AT my desk at work there is a photocopy of a picture that was taken when my son and I left Wisconsin to move to Pasadena, CA.  It was a horribly stressful time.  I had no job, no savings, no husband/friend and my son was starting to show signs of autism (although I didn't know it at the time.)

I stayed with my sister and her boyfriend.  They were kind enough to endure us.

One particular day we drove somewhere to eat very good Cuban food, probably Versailles.  I was in the back seat of the car looking at all of the palm trees imagining that they wanted me to stay.  I knew deep inside that the timing was wrong and that I wouldn't be staying in California very long.  That hurt me because I had already gone through so much.  I wasn't sure how much longer I could handle single-motherdom without a job or home, much less move again.

I thought about all of this while my then 3 year old son was sitting next to me in the car seat, getting punchy because he was tired.  I took out his little Cordoroy book and proceeded to read it to him in Homie-the-Clown voice.  He laughed soooooooo hard.  He couldn't stop!  His little laugh was the most infectious thing I've ever heard.  I, of course, couldn't stop laughing either.  Someone turned around and took this picture of me laughing the hardest when my life was at its most uncertain.

So much has happened since then, good and bad.  So much will happen from here on out, good and bad.  I think my ability to allow myself to let go and laugh is one of my strongest weapons against fear, pain and doubt.