Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Friday, April 29, 2011


As I peeled super glue off my fingertips yesterday, I reflected on the humor and irony of family life. I had been trying to mend a broken flower pot,using super glue and a small paint brush. The pot resisted my every attempt, and in my frustration I got a liberal amount of glue on my hands and fingers, across the countertop, even on the faucet handle. Everything I touched became sticky and begrimed. A metaphor for the day? I could only hope not.

After dousing my hands in nail polish remover and paint thinner - undoubtedly taking several years off my life - I at least coated the glue with a shiny shellac of chemicals, which reduced the stickiness. Though I could not feel much through the coating, I could at least write a check, go grocery shopping, and throw the pot away without getting stuck to anything. Despite my frustration, I had to laugh at my idiocy and this reminded me of another laugh-out-loud moment, from our Easter church service, of all places.

There were two such moments during the 10:30 service, one generated by our own 5-year-old comedian, and one by another child. The pastor was telling a story in which the lead character asked of his audience, "It's for you girl, can you hear me?" Not recognizing the rhetorical nature of the question, a young girl near the front answered our pastor, "I can hear you fine!" The 1200 people in the service all chuckled, either because they heard the joke or because everyone else was giggling.

My little guy fussed and squirmed and led his father a merry chase. He put on Rob's sunglasses, ate snacks, stabbed the paper with pencil (too overwrought to draw anything), and sang. His favorite tune was the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah," which I had been playing in the car for a few days. The choir did a great job with the Chorus, and we were all listening and singing raptly . . .until the brief pause before the very last notes of the song, when Daniel shouted out his version of the word 'hallelujah' - "adibooyah!" He started softly and crescendoed, so that most people around us just caught the word "Booyah!" I turned to glare at him but just dissolved into laughter. He had on his dad's shades and had two thumbs up with a huge grin on his face.

Sometimes you just have to say, "booyah," especially when your hands are glued together in prayer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I’ve felt physically vulnerable lately, as my stomach went on strike and decided it could not "stomach" corn, chocolate, coffee, nuts, and multiple other substances that I usually prefer. It’s not unusual for a person with celiac disease to have stomach problems, but I am careful about what I eat and so the freefall that I recently experienced is not a common event. It’s happened one or two times before, usually a stomach virus lingers for far longer than normal, then a stressful event or events compounds the problem, and physical activity can either make things worse or provide sanity – or both.

In this most recent episode of about six weeks, I had all of the above factors, and my weight and energy dropped crazily – eight pounds (in six weeks) that I did not intend to let go. Part of the problem this time was a series of intense workout sessions at the gym that I signed up for and enjoyed, but that seemed to take a huge toll. I vaguely remembered, about six weeks in, that one of my doctors had told me not to work out with any intensity for longer than forty or so minutes . . .which I was regularly exceeding. I blocked out a lot of memories from the time of my diagnosis; though it was a huge relief to know what I had (after three years of getting steadily sicker with no answers) I heard a lot of news that was unpleasant. No wheat, gluten, dairy, limited alcohol and sugar, reduce your exercise and oh, by the way, don’t have any more children.

I also recall visiting an internal medicine doctor for a regular physical – just before I got my diagnosis from another doctor’s office. The IM put me on the scale and whistled at the number. He said, “I have so many patients who would just love to have this weight.” I was aghast. I felt so sick and my clothes were falling off of me. For my height and activity level I was underweight – and he was complimenting me! That felt sick and distorted to me, and I never went back.

We all have vulnerabilities and weaknesses, though they may not show. I guess if I look strong and can perform certain acts of strength, I must be strong? To some at the gym perhaps this appears to be the case. But I feel fragile, and occasionally hurt that my expression of vulnerability (and fear and worry) are not taken seriously. It was a good reminder to me to really listen to people around me, to hear their fears and concerns. It is easy to look good on the surface – but we all have wounds underneath. It also needled me into remembering this quote by John Wooden: "Never make excuses. Your friends don't need them and your foes won't believe them."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cranes Take Flight

I offer a second update to our school's relief efforts on behalf of Japanese children as our fundraiser ended last week. Our elementary school raised $1884.50 and folded over 1700 cranes - a magnificent outpouring by the children and their families, as well as by the teachers and staff at the school. I was close to tears many times during the week as children brought ziploc bags full of pennies (oh, so hard to count, but certainly cherished!) and crumpled dollar bills from the inner recesses of their piggy banks. Parents wrote checks, generously passed on receiving change, and waited patiently while their offspring spent long minutes selecting the perfect crane. I hope the children - especially the fourth graders who helped to orchestrate the project - feel empowered to help people in distress, whether they are far away or close at hand. I know I feel much more energetic after participating.

To add to the good news, my sister writes that her school in southern California has also folded over 1,000 cranes - and her class alone has folded 500. Their elementary school has raised over $2,000 for Japanese children. I know that we feel united in our efforts and buoyed by the responses in both of our communities. I hope we can do many similar projects together in the future.

My daughter offered this concise opinion of the Crane Project: "It was good." When asked to elaborate she said that she liked selling the cranes the best, though I thought she showed more passion as a teacher of the smaller children (see picture at right). She was thrilled at the kind thank you note from her teacher, who was instrumental in getting this project accomplished, but I could tell that her joy came from winning the approval of the teacher, whom she loves, rather than from completing the act of service. That is fine, I think love is grand motivation, and still hope that the seeds of service are planted somewhere in her consciousness. I want my children to know that helping people is not only possible, but necessary, and gives great joy.

If you want to read about our project online, here is a link: .

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tidings from Nogales

Maria came up to my shoulder, her bright orange t-shirt leaping out at me despite her small stature. I interviewed her in a halting combination of Spanish and English (her English was better than my Spanish) and tried to jot down notes while balancing in the middle of the bus-depot waiting area. Deported men and women occupied striped bus seats on all sides of us while others milled around the folding card table staffed by young volunteers for No More Deaths( , who wielded cell phones and long lists of people waiting to call relatives in the United States or Mexico. Many had not yet had the chance to tell family members if they were alive or dead.

Maria's story is typical in many ways, but it did not feel typical or trite in any way as I wrote down the events that had befallen her. Her worry, frustration and fear made every stroke of my pen personal and gave her words longevity in my mind and heart. She is nearing 50 years old and has been married for five years to a US Citizen in Delaware, about 15 years older than she. They had tried to adjust her US status but that is difficult today, under our current laws even if one is married to a citizen. Then, disaster struck her family in Puebla, Mexico, and she had to go to them without proper documents.

After her family crisis was resolved, Maria and her brother returned to the border, about 30 hours from her home town. Maria was desperate to be with her husband, who has health issues and relies on her care. Without documents, the siblings joined a group crossing the border on foot. Shortly after they started their journey, they were robbed by cholos, armed bandits. Maria's eyes grew wide as she recalled: "they made us take off all our clothes except for our underwear - it was so embarrassing! Then they made us kneel and put our hands behind our heads. They put a gun behind us and took everything we had. It was terrible." She cried. I did, too.

The group was picked up by Border Patrol and separated. Maria lost track of her brother - she did not see him at the deportation center in Tucson where she was "voluntarily repatriated." That means she agreed to go back to Mexico willingly instead of going to jail in the US. She was taken to Nogales, Mexico, without possessions of any kind. When I met her she was waiting for her turn at the cell phone to call the Mexican Embassy in Tucson and find out information about her brother. She had been able to call her husband, and her family in Puebla, but no one had heard from her brother.

I asked what she was going to do next, and she said she had no idea. "I'm so worried for my husband," she said. My husband was with me at the bus station, and both of us were shaken by Maria's story, just one of hundreds that can be heard in Nogales every week. I felt both lucky and wrong to walk out of the bus station and across the border with him, my life tied up with a bow while hers lay in shambles.