Wednesday, December 09, 2015

What no one told me

People told me many things about becoming a mother, but no one told me that every year, when my kid's birthday came around, I'd relive every single moment of his labor and delivery.

That I'd relive the excitement.
That I'd relive the nervousness.

That I'd relive the amazement.
That I'd relive the moment of sharing this all with my older child.

That I'd feel again the physical act of this creature inside of me, one with me, become his own separate person, yet still attached.

That I'd relive the intense, over powering emotion of ecstasy, of love, of pure joy as he came into this world.

No one ever told me that I'd laugh. And I'd cry. And I'd smile.
No one ever told me that I'd look into his eyes, big brown saucers they are, and see my own soul.

No one ever told me that I'd love my kids' father that much more with each passing birthday.

As my soon to be six year old has been reminding us every day for the past month, his birthday is nearly here. It's a celebration of him, of his life.

For me, it's my celebration of his birth, of the moment, after 38 weeks he grew inside of me, that he became himself. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Memory

On July 14 two years ago, I saw the news that Cory Monteith, star of Glee, aged 31, had died of a suspected drug overdose the night before.  I was filled with anger, but in a small apartment with two families while on vacation, I bottled up my emotions, not wanting my kids to see me cry and not being able to explain why. As a high school kid who loved music and dancing but couldn’t sing, I was the glee club groupie of my day. So, many years later, I naturally loved the TV show, and its star.  A life cut short is always sad, but why did the death of this stranger send me to the bathroom to hide and cry my eyes out?

Because, 24 years before, there was another 31 year old at the top of the world, full of life, the kind of person to make everyone laugh and smile.  He was the kind of person who, when he walked into a room, you knew the party had started. There’d be song and dance and joy. He was the kind of person who would give you the shirt of his back, who would rush to your side to help you up. He was also the kind of person who also had a darkness inside he couldn’t overcome, whose pain was so unbearable he turned to cocaine to numb it.  He was my big brother.

The first emotion is anger – why would someone be so selfish as to turn to drugs? Don’t they know they have a family who love them? Friends? Fans? (And believe me, my brother Albert had fans!) Sometimes it takes years to get over that anger, and sometimes it comes back, like each time a well-known person dies in the same way.  Sometimes the anger is directed at ourselves – why didn’t we do more? Why couldn’t we fix it? Why couldn’t we love enough? What did we do wrong?

But the other emotion one recognizes over time is one of sympathy, if not quite understanding.  Depression, real depression, is a powerful demon, not easily controlled. It’s not about “feeling blue.” It’s about being brought to the depths of despair and feeling like there is no way out.   People in that place find a way to numb the pain.  I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand it, but I recognize that it’s not so easy to toss off. 

Sometimes, a loved one can help pull them back up. Often, they can’t. You can love someone completely, you can be there for them, you can give them your hope, but you can’t save them. 

In June of 1989, when my brother hadn’t returned my calls for a number of days, I got worried. I went to his apartment and he wasn’t there. I found an open window and climbed in. On the counter I found a steno-pad with notes about cocaine: what it does to the body, how the body reacts physiologically, how the brain reacts.

Then he walked in.  At first relieved he was ok, I then worried he’d be furious to see his 19-year-old kid sister snooping, but he was calm, peaceful.  He told me that he’d not only been off cocaine for many months, but was working on understanding it so he could learn to counsel kids about drug use.  We talked for hours that night. Finally, I went home, content that he was well into recovery.  A young man full of so much promise, so much love and hope. A man full of laughter.

Two weeks later, in a particularly dark moment of despair, he reached for the one thing he knew could numb the pain, cocaine. And it did. Forever.

[edit: I'm being an armchair psychologist. To my knowledge, he was never diagnosed with depression, because I don't think he ever sought out psychiatric help. But knowing what I know now, the manic-depression-drugs cycle is very obvious. I use addiction and depression interchangeably, because for him, I think they were linked. ]

Friday, March 27, 2015

My first airplane trip

Summer of 1985, my sister, Denise, was 12 and I was 15.  Not quite a kid, but hardly a savvy world traveller.  My brother Tim lived in St. Croix, USVI and my sister Theresa lived in NYC. My mom decided Denise and I should visit (how exactly they came up with the money I don’t know, but it was bargain basement air travel…). My only experience of airports had been picking up visiting relatives.

Denise, getting ready to board
One-way from LA to NYC on People’s Express for $100.  Uneventful. Theresa and her friends met us in NYC, we took our first subway ride, had a blast. The next day she delivered us to JFK for our flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico then onward to St. Croix.

When Denise and I arrived in San Juan, we had to change airlines to a small puddle jumper. Though PR is a US territory, it’s definitely a Latin American place and, despite growing up in a very Hispanic area of Los Angeles, seemed foreign. So, dragging our bags, we searched the airport for the airline counter and couldn’t find it.  Eventually we noticed the sign for that airline, but no one was at the counter. I asked the people in the counter next to it and was told “Oh, they went out of business.”  

Now would have been a good time to freak out, but I guess when you’re clueless, you don’t realize you should be freaking out.  

So what did that mean? The folks there had no idea, except, the airline no longer existed.
Tim and Denise at Grassy Point, East End, St Croix 

Somehow, I found a pay phone and called my brother. He had been notified of the airline’s situation and managed to arrange an alternative flight. So we trudged over to the new airline and made our way to St Croix.

First crisis over.

On the way back, our flight into JFK was delayed. We arrived in the international terminal (not sure why as we came via PR) to a crush of people pushing on the barricades. That was overwhelming, having never seen such a sight.

Again we had to change airlines for our onward flight to Ohio, where we’d meet the rest of our family and drive back to California.  Knowing we had very little time to make our connection and having no idea how these things worked, I told my 12 year old sister to get our luggage while I ran over to the ticket counter to tell them we had arrived and told her to meet me there.

At 12 years old.  In JFK. In the International Arrivals area (having since spent many hours in this area, WHAT WAS I THINKING?!)

And then Denise didn’t show up.

I waited. No Denise.

Finally the agent said they had to let the plane go, meanwhile I’m thinking “Holy crap! I sent my 12 yr old sister into the bowels of a crowded airport and I am responsible for her and what if something happened?”

Now’s an ok time to freak out.

And then she showed up, dragging our bags. I had never been so happy to see my sister in all my life.  Denise wasn’t the least bit scared, or worried.

Just pissed off. And calm, in her very-Denise way that involved looks of shooting daggers deep into my body.   

The US Airways agent, nicest man ever, then spent the next 2 hours trying to figure out how to get us to Cleveland, Ohio, where my other sister, Michele, would meet us.  My sister wasn’t in NYC at that time, so we couldn’t go to her place. There were no more flights out of JFK to anywhere in Ohio.

Finally, he found a flight out of La Guardia, leaving in less than 3 hours, but that required getting there. We had little money, no credit cards, no cell phones (it was 1985).

So we took a bus. In NYC.  The kindly agent said “HURRY!” So we rushed, and got on the wrong bus.

My brother Chris with Malinda and Ronnie's son, Scott.
Finally got on the right bus. Somehow made it to La Guardia in time, checked in, and got on our flight, arrived safely in Columbus, Ohio where our cousins Malinda and Ronnie picked us up and eventually delivered us to the rest of the Rohr Clan.

A lake in Holmes County. Buckhorn?

That was our first every trip via airplane.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Measles and gratuitous cute kid pictures

I haven't updated this blog in ages. The kids are growing and are as cute as ever.

But here's a timely topic: Measles. Fortunately, neither of our kids have it. And as they're fully vaccinated, their risk is very small. MEASLES

As a public health professional, my job is to worry about everyone's kids, not just my own. If you haven't been vaccinated, please do so.

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