Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Glimmer of Hope

In a weekend of many lows, there was a highlight that will forever stick with me. My daughter and I, along with some fierce friends and thousands of others participated in the Women's March to protest the direction in which our government is going in light of the new administration. Politics aside, sharing the experience with my daughter was powerful. It was empowering and reminded me of when my mother and I walked in our first 5K when I was a little older than my daughter is today.

Let's flash back to the early nineties, circa 1993/4. My aunt was being tested for Multiple Sclerosis. My mother is extremely close to her sisters and felt helpless, scared and sad at this possible diagnosis. At the same time, I was battling my weight and my mom was leading the charge to create a healthier lifestyle for the entire family. I don't know where it came from, but she got a brochure for a 5K for the Multiple Sclerosis Society and said we should do it together. It was a nice blend of being active and helping a cause that was quickly becoming near and dear to our hearts.

We didn't know a thing about 5Ks, outside of what the brochure said, and we were unfamiliar with how to find the starting line. Somehow, after an hour and a half on city buses, we found it. I can't recall how long it took us to walk the route. What I remember is that I could feel my mother's hope with every step. We had raised a little money as part of our participation that we hoped would help in the search for treatments and cures for MS. The day was sunny, but there was still a bite in the air that is common along the lakefront during early spring in Chicago. We followed the other walkers and runners, and there were some people on the sidelines who cheered us on. It was just my mother and me, and coming from a family of five, that kind of one-on-one time was rare. 

At the end of the 5K our completion time didn't matter. We weren't concerned about being exhausted, or that we hadn't run an inch of the route. We had done something in the face of a situation that felt hopeless and where we felt helpless to change it. Did our walking result in a cure? No. Did it change the pain my aunt was facing? Not in the least. But there is a lot to be said for restoring hope and for the shared experience of finding that with someone who needs it as much as you do. 

Aside from being part of history and having a voice when many are scared to do so, my daughter and I shared a moment of hope at the Women's March. Even as a twelve-year-old my daughter knows that what is happening within our nation is scary and threatens her future. We have talked about what it might mean to be a woman under this administration, a brown woman at that. It doesn't look pretty. It has caused a lot of anxiety and sadness in me and has made her look at things differently. As we marched, read the signs of those around us, heard the speakers and chanted responses we did not feel hopeless and helpless because we were doing something. We were not letting our fear stop us and she got to witness the thousands who were there in protection of her voice, her rights, and her future. 

My hope for her is that no matter what lies ahead that she remember that she and her mom got together and did something to bring hope back at a time when it was missing in our lives. We stepped up on a day we were sad, mourning and hurting from our loss to join others in making a statement. We had never seen crowds of that magnitude assemble in Des Moines and it was impactful and powerful. I hope the memory of what she was a part of stays with her so she knows that she is not alone, that there is hope, and that above all else, she and her mother stood up and participated together and created a unique memory together that can't be taken away, no matter the outcome of the day's event.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Reunion

Baron Sasha Morrow
2005 - 2017
As if January 20th didn't come with enough sadness and dread, it became even worse when I took my dog to the vet and got the worse news possible. I was told I should put him down. It was completely unexpected. I thought his symptoms were arthritic and I would be told that he'd need medication and special concessions for the rest of his life. I had already begun thinking about ways to make my home and car more accommodating for this condition. Instead, I was told that he had a massive tumor. The vet showed me the X-ray and explained where organs should have been that were being crushed by the tumor - including his heart and lungs. Her fear was that it would rupture and he would bleed out, which could happen at any moment. He wasn't in pain, but he wasn't comfortable, either. He would soon no longer be able to eat or digest food. Walking had already become difficult, as had his breathing. The tumor made him anemic, too so he was incredibly weak and kept losing his balance. He had already fallen several times, prompting the vet appointment. 

People who have never loved a dog might say that Baron was just a dog, a pet that was never meant to live several decades. To me, he was family. He was my fur baby, my papito lindo, my handsome boy. He was gentle and sweet. We had so many adventures together, from the moment I saw his photo on He was smart and energetic, and a loyal running buddy. He was also a pain in the ass who gave me gray hairs by his love of running away, chewing himself doggie doors when left alone, trembling and crying during storms, and had a flatulence problem that could wake you from a deep sleep. 

A few weeks ago I blogged about his reaction to losing Warren and what it taught me. By all accounts, Baron was a member of the family. My nieces and nephews played with him, tortured him and loved him like kids do. He was always tender and patient with them even when they mistook him for a horse or a pillow. When he had his fill of little people he would sigh and stand at the door, ready to take refuge outside. There was never any growling or showing of teeth. 

What I loved about Baron was his easygoing nature. He could go with the flow better than any human. From crowds to just the two of us, his demeanor was steady, with bouts of joy and excitement at the sound of his leash. He should have been a therapy dog because he helped several people get over their fear of dogs or preconceived notions of what dog ownership was like. From children to adults, I constantly heard, "I don't like dogs, but I like Baron," "I am afraid of dogs, but I feel fine around Baron." I loved hearing that. It was fitting considering that he had also been Warren's dog. 

As I held Baron his last few moments, I released him to Warren. I told him to run to his two-legged daddy and nuzzle him and cuddle him for me. I sent him with messages of love and assured him that he had been a good boy. I told him he would never again face closed doors, lonely moments away from his humans, or scary thunderstorms. He was going to frolic and run free. He would soon see his aunt Charity, and Warren would introduce him to his sister, Mica, the first dog Warren and I rescued shortly after we got married. 

When the moment came for the final injection that would stop his heart, I thought of how proud Warren would be of him. When the vet said he was gone, I pictured Baron running into Warren's arms and Warren crouched down with a huge smile, welcoming his fur baby. I saw him running around his alpha human as he had done so many times when Warren walked in the door, with a wagging tail and goofy look that only those of us who loved him could recognize as a smile. 

While that image was beautiful and comforting, I was envious, too. I wanted to share in that moment. I wanted to run into Warren's arms and cry my heart out. The familiar feeling of not knowing what is happening to a loved one and then getting the most terrible news you can imagine was ripping me open from the inside. I was filled with dread at walking away from another hospital room and leaving behind a piece of my heart. I did not want to walk into my house knowing that I was walking in there alone to face pain and grief once more. Baron was gone yet I couldn't leave that room. I could not find a way to stop holding him while he was still warm. That's exactly how it went down almost five years ago in an ER room. I held on to Warren, hugged him tight and felt him near me for the last time. I wanted to hold Baron until he became cool to the touch and stiff so I could know with all my being that he was truly gone. I couldn't go while he looked like he was in a peaceful sleep and might snore at any moment. Also, I couldn't stop telling him I loved him, just as I had told Warren over and over again while my dad pulled me away, telling me it was time to let go. 

This time I was allowed all the time I needed to unwrap myself from my fur baby and wrap him in a white blanket. His paws were crossed and his eyes closed looking handsome and peaceful. Everyone told me that I had done the right thing by not letting him suffer. His quality of life was only going to deteriorate and I spared him from going through that. They were right and I knew that I wouldn't be able to face him if I had selfishly allowed him to live with a tumor that was slowly killing him because I wasn't ready to lose him. I also knew that my decision meant facing pain and loss that I didn't want to deal with again. There would be no more hearing Baron's paws on the hardwood floors, just as there was no more hearing Warren's voice. I would never again be greeted by Baron at the door, just as I would never start my day at Warren's side. Another piece of my life with Warren was gone. Baron had experienced Warren's love in a way few outside of our home got to see. My family had gotten smaller once again. I wasn't ready for that. But then again, who is? I would never be ready for that.

The silver lining in the day was that I felt incredibly loved. Upon hearing the news of what I had to do, I messaged my friends and family. Throughout the day they came to say their goodbyes to Baron and give him love and attention. While he was weak and still, he basked in it and I could tell he loved it. When I got to the vet's office for the final goodbye, my friends had filled the waiting room and stood by me for every minute of Baron's last moments. As I lay on the blanket wrapped around Baron I was thankful that I wasn't alone. My mom sat across from me and friends who are like family formed a circle of love around us. That is just as much a part of my memory of that event as the pain and sadness. It does not escape me how incredibly lucky and blessed I am to have this kind of support in my life. That is what has sustained me since losing Warren. It gives me the hope I need to remember that I may have lost Baron and Warren's earthly love, but they left me with a lot of love to help me through and show me that life doesn't just go on, it can shine beauty amidst darkness. Warren taught me that lesson and Baron reinforced it, and I am beyond grateful to have gotten this final gift from them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Not Perfect, but Impressive

For me, particularly at that time, writing was the way I sorted through a lot of crosscurrents in my life — race, class, family. And I genuinely believe that it was part of the way in which I was able to integrate all these pieces of myself into something relatively whole.
People now remark on this notion of me being very cool, or composed. And what is true is that I generally have a pretty good sense of place and who I am, and what’s important to me. And I trace a lot of that back to that process of writing.
- Barack Obama
Like many Americans, I am scared of what is being unleashed with the changing of administrations, but more selfishly, I will miss the picture of wholesomeness and hope I had come to be proud of these last eight years. I am not saying that Obama was a perfect president, or that I agree with his policies. He deported a ridiculous amount of people who were not harming our country or a threat in any way - hundreds of children among them. He has allowed for detention centers and the prison industry to become profitable businesses that are deplorable and ineffective. His actions regarding police injustices and issues of clean water were cowardly and dismissive at best. Despite these and some others, he made me proud to be an American.

I was lucky to travel to various continents and countries during his two terms and I always encountered people in those places who admired him. When in South Africa a German guy asked about Obama and when Warren said he had met him and shook his hand, the guy acted as though we had said we were friends with Micheal Jackson. He had all sorts of questions about him and seemed more impressed by that, than the safari we were on at the time. 

Aside from politics, it was the way he carried himself that made a positive impression. He was not arrogant and showed genuine interest in others. He came across as a guy with whom you would want to share a beer or coffee. I think a lot of that personability comes from being a writer and a reader of fiction.

As he states in the quote above, dissecting himself and his roots, as he did in Dreams from My Father, he had to come to terms with parts of himself that might never have been explored otherwise. The process of diving into where he came from helped him better understand who he was becoming. It's no surprise that the process of writing something so deeply personal and defining shaped how he wanted to be viewed.

While all his published writing has been non-fiction, Obama also wrote short fiction stories about the people he worked with as an organizer. Having worked in similar roles, I recall people sharing stories with me of their hardships and triumphs. It becomes heavy carrying those stories. Writing them in a way that gives you some kind of control over it helps alleviate that weight.

Obama also escaped his reality through reading a variety of fiction. This was no surprise. As having one of the most stressful jobs I can think of, leaving it behind to bask in the words of Junot Diaz sounds like a necessity. Not only did reading those books provide a place to go mentally, his reading choices also touched on some of the themes and topics he was facing in real life.

Going back to impressions, when I read his interview about reading habits I felt validated in my beliefs that books can change a life. They are tools of growth and reflection while providing a landing spot and launch pad. Having a world leader who understood and valued the role of both reading and writing, and could so eloquently state how it shaped him as a person and helped his career, is a point of pride and connection that I will miss as we prepare for a leader who lacks the same eloquence and articulation and whose example is already leaving vastly opposing impressions on our youth and future.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Statistics and Stereotypes

Back in the day I would see young Latinas getting pregnant in their teens, way before getting married, or forced to marry because of a baby. I left a lasting impression on me and I remember thinking, " I do not want to be part of that statistic." In my neighborhood I saw it more than I wanted, and I felt bad that these young women had such a struggle ahead of them. I'd see single moms who looked so tired and old when they were barely twenty. I couldn't imagine the stress and pressure they lived under to provide for themselves and another person when they were still at an age to be cared for.  There was one girl in particular who was super bright and energetic. She was older than me and looked like she had her life planned out and ready to be taken on. Then she fell in the trap. Her spirit wasn't the same. I hear parenthood is one of the best things that ever happens to people, and kids are great and all that jazz, but I didn't see that in these young girls. 

When I left Chicago I didn't see much of that same statistic happening in college, but we weren't exempt either. On top of the pressure to perform academically and keep a scholarship, some girls did face pregnancies while getting their degrees. The cases I knew personally handled it very differently. One went home and it took her more than ten years to finish her degree. The other stayed on campus and on-track for her four-year degree. 

As a Latina, I am highly aware of the stereotype that surrounds us of being young, unwed mothers. When Warren died, I joined those ranks. I wasn't as young as most, but the statistic is unchanged. When I register my child for school and only list one parent I get the looks. When I attend single mom events other mothers see me and assume I had a child by a man who left me to do this on my own. Technically that is sort of my story. When it comes up that I am a widow, I see looks of surprise, even from other Latinas, like they expected my story to include a deadbeat dad or a fling that ended in a child. It makes me uncomfortable and angry when I am confronted with strangers who only see a brown mom and her brown child at an event where others have a male counterpart. I wish I could wear a sign that says WIDOW to try to avoid the judgments and assumptions. 

I know that at the end of the day, how we get to where we are is nobody's business, but that doesn't make me immune to feeling like I owe an explanation about my situation. As incidents of bigotry and intolerance against "others" are on the rise, I feel like single motherhood is another target. It is personal, like I am regarded as a burden to society; surely I must be mooching off some system to sustain myself and my child. As per the rude comments made by an impatient, racist shopper against some Latinas that happened a few weeks ago, the hateful rant included implications that the Latinas must have a bunch of kids that tax-payer dollars were caring for. The racist called them "nobodies" and not a single person in that long line of shoppers, nor the cashier said a word. While I have never had that level of  ignorance thrown at me, the times I have felt like I need to defend my single parenthood has been in situations where that inference has gone unsaid. While no words are spoken, it has been expressed in looks, facial expressions and body language. My daughter has felt it, too. She has had to explain to other kids that her dad did not leave her, nor is he in prison. The first time it happened she didn't understand the correlation between her being Latina and the question. When it came up again she got it, and it angered her. 

This blend of being a statistic that fits within a stereotype is a twisted reality that I didn't envision when I thought I was defying odds and making alternate life choices. But in the end, they caught up and when put in black and white, statistics look the same, no matter the route in getting there. 

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