Viva España

By Leroy Metcalf

“There is no night life in Spain. They stay up late but they get up late. That is not night life. That is delaying the day.” – Ernest Hemingway 

Beth and Leroy tie the knot. in Portland, Oregon.

After my wife and I were married last year, we had the pleasure of honeymooning in Spain. From seeing Spain in movies, to hearing amazing stories, I now had my number #1 location on my bucket list. Our first stop was Madrid.  

From the time we reached the city from the airport, I was blown away by Madrid’s architecture. The detail on the old buildings. The statues. The statues on the old buildings. Absolutely stunning!!! And I’m not just talking about government buildings or hotels. Even the office buildings were amazing. 

The Metropolis Building or (Edificio Metrópolis) is an office building in Madrid.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the amount of architecture in Madrid. Not me, though. I embraced it and wanted to see everything that there was to see.  

“I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends is Spain!” – George Orwell 

Tons of restaurants are scattered throughout Madrid, and we definitely found one of its gems! A mission of travelers seems to be to try to find the most authentic food possible. Bingo! Let me introduce you to Celso Y Manolo. The fish. The beef. The flavors. The freshness. The atmosphere. The people. There’s so much to love about this place. And did I mention the drinks?? And yes, you’re reading that right. And it’s delicious! Plan ahead because reservations fill up fast. Case in point, our dinner reservation was at 10pm. And, damn, it was worth it! 

Drinks menu at Tasca Celso y Manolo in Madrid.

I cannot not talk about the people. The people were so inviting. So patient. And so….nice. Around every corner, every elevator ride, and every shared restaurant table, there was a conversation to be had. Maybe because I myself am an extrovert. Or maybe people in Spain are just really friendly. Or maybe it’s both. Regardless, though, it helped in making our trip amazing.  

During our stay in Barcelona, we stayed at the W Barcelona Hotel, located in the Barceloneta district in Catalonia. What a beautiful hotel. The views allowed us to see for miles, of both the city and the Mediterranean Sea. And although the hotel is almost 10 years old, it’s very modern. At the time of our trip, the hotel boasted of two restaurants, and also an amazing top-floor cocktail lounge and sky bar. It’s a great hotel, and they know how to treat their guests. If you’re looking for a great place to stay, look no further! 

W Hotel on the beach in Barcelona.

If you ever….no, no, no. WHEN you travel to Spain, make sure you take comfortable shoes. One of the fascinating things about Spain, is the many cobblestone streets. It kind of reminded me of Savannah, Georgia, but much more grand. It seems like a country stuck in time. But it’s beautiful. There are a ton of streets that are just for walking, which made the experience that more amazing. Imagine the number of tourists that would get hit by cars if they were too busy standing in the middle of the street taking pictures. Spain is a place to be enjoyed. To relax. To get comfortable.  

One thing I immediately noticed about Spain is that people don’t seem to be in a hurry. I’m not saying that they are not mindful of time. It’s more like, slow down and enjoy. And enjoy we did.  

El Born neighborhood in Barcelona, Spain.

Spain did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded all expectations. Unfortunately. though, we only visited Madrid and Barcelona. Not that it’s a bad thing. It’s just that there are so many other places in Spain to visit. Next time.  

Ahhhh Spain! Hasta la próxima! 

Author’s note: Since meeting in 2010, George and I have become friends. We’ve shared meals. I’ve allowed him to take my quarters playing poker. We’ve fought across from each other in some serious battles of cornhole. And I had the pleasure of his attending our wedding last fall. Our friendship has stood the test of “meeting for a season,” which appears to be the norm these days. We can talk about anything under the sun, but all conversations tend to lead back to the Michigan Wolverines’ football team. We both know that elusive championship is coming. The question is when. 

Editor’s note: A chance encounter at a downtown bus stop those many years ago, prompted when I commented on Leroy’s U of M beanie, led to more conversation in a coffee shop and, eventually, to the activities and friendship described above. As a natural introvert, I admire Leroy’s friendly approach and appreciate being among those in his orbit.

Tomorrow:  Eric Scharf | My name is Eric. I am an addict.

Advertisements

Don’t blink

By Nike Bentley

“Close one eye,” she commands, my face between her hands that are losing what little baby fat they had to begin with, our noses mere inches from each other. I close my left eye. She looks intently at me, scrutinizing this trick she has only recently become aware some people are capable of.

“Now the other one,” she says, still expressionless. I close my right eye, which I find more challenging, since winking is not part of my routine.

We repeat this for a while, my face still pinched between her hands, then she nods, drops her hands, scoots off my lap, and tells me she’s going to get “one book” as she runs awkwardly to the play room. I secretly hope she never stops running spastically. It’s the best. 

4th birthday gifts: a bug habitat and a tutu

Children are different. I have been hearing this my whole life and it seems to be true. You can’t compare two children because they are born with their own little personalities, interests, and aptitudes. This ideology made sense to me, so when this baby didn’t grow as fast as her sister did, wasn’t walking by the same age, wasn’t interested in solid foods right at a year, and didn’t say her first word until she was nearly 18 months old, I just rolled with it. 

True to Grandma’s prophetic words when Little Blondie was a newborn, she is a character. She enjoys her life and wants everyone to see how fun life can be. She takes every opportunity to make us laugh, whether it’s an appropriate time or not.  She gives “thumbs up” when she’s asked to do something.

Little Blondie loves the dentist. This is good since she’ll be our orthodontia child

She’s always a little feral looking by the end of the day, so much so that I started documenting what she looked like when I sent her out into the world compared to how she returned to me at the end of the day. She has the cheesiest grin.  

At preschool she is everyone’s friend. Six months into the school year I realized everyone knew her name, but she just waved and could not tell me anyone’s name. At this age it’s all a guessing game – do they not know their friends’ names? Did she forget? Does she just not care to answer me? Eventually I asked her teacher if she referred to the other children by name during the day and after thinking a beat she replied, “You know, I don’t know. She plays with everyone but I can’t think of a specific time she’s referred to anyone by name. We’ll work on that.” School pick up now takes significantly longer as she hugs and says goodbye to everyone by name. 

She seems to have a knack for recognizing who needs her. She is a light spreader and, though more introverted than her sister, willingly shares it with others. She will happily grab an elderly stranger’s hand and engage her in conversation. We ended up with two grandmas while walking to our car from Farmer’s Market recently. Little Blondie latched on to one of them and I figured they couldn’t get too far from us, so we all walked together for several blocks. They were missing having young children around as their grandchildren are all adults but none have started families yet. When our paths diverted they had the biggest smiles on their faces. 

Girl hike at Catherine Creek on the same day as a dental appointment. This is the hike that started the inquisition, “Is it time to go to the dentist yet?”

Inexplicably, she is not bothered by dirt or bugs or any manner of grossness, but to ask her to hike is the worst imaginable request. Because she loves us and she is (mostly) an agreeable child, she’ll do it, but she’ll let us know everything she would rather be doing along the way. We know she’s really had enough when she starts asking if it’s time to go to the dentist yet.

After a recent hike around Latourell Falls she cozied up to an elderly woman with a long white braid when we returned to the trailhead. “I like your braid. Did you go hiking?” Upon learning this woman had stayed at the trailhead while her family was hiking Little Blondie’s eyes lit up. She did not know this was an option. She proceeded to introduce the woman, twice, to our party of 8, and when Little Blondie jumped off the bench, she said, “Next time we’re here, I’ll call you and we can sit.”  

This child was a surprise and that she has stayed so small for so long has been a grace to me. I love the baby years. I am flailing in the little-big-kid years. She turned four last month. We weren’t ready and yet overnight she has grown. Her body is a little longer. Her hair, mine in a different color, longer and wilder. Soon it will be time for her first haircut. She’s more observant. Inquisitive.  And every day she challenges us to see the good in the day. I am so grateful for her. 

***  

Nike Bentley is an Oregon native, wife to Jason, and mama of two girls. When she’s not being refined by her oldest and learning grace from her youngest, she can be found reading a book under a snuggly blanket or touting the importance of living in community with others because “we need each other.”  

Editor’s note: Ten years ago — ten? yikes! — I taught a weekend communications course at Portland State University.  One of those students was a bright, gracious young woman from Eastern Oregon who wrote a blog called Small Town Girl. That young woman, Nike Bentley, has become a bride and a parent and a gifted writer. I grinned from beginning to end of this wonderful piece.

Tomorrow: Leroy Metcalf | Viva España

On Meaning, Memory, and Desire

By Kate Carroll de Gutes

August is the cruelest month.  Didn’t T.S. Eliot write that line?  Oh, that’s right, he said April.   

But for me, August is the cruelest month. It’s the month my mentor and editor, Judith Kitchen, who died two days after the final edit on my first book, Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, was born.  It’s the month my mother died—quickly in the grand scheme of things, but unfortunately aware that we’d moved her from her private assisted living apartment to a tiny room in a foster home for the last ten days of her life. (“Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” she said in one of her cognizant moments.)  It’s the month the mercury rises and we watch the horizon for signs of smoke, especially after these past two years.  And this year, it’s the month that I’ve begun hearing and seeing flocks of geese—flying north.  If that isn’t a sign of the Anthropocene, I’m not sure what is. 

Sometimes I don’t remember Judith’s birthday—I just feel my nervous system go all vibrating and shaky.  Then, I’ll look at the calendar and notice that it’s her birthday.  Or that it’s the week my sisters and I moved our mother to her room in the foster home, almost killing ourselves to turn the 10×12 room into a miniature replica of her 550 square foot apartment without her noticing that we were discretely moving objects out of the apartment and feeding her persistent delusion that I moved her to different apartments on a whim.  Or that it’s the week my mom started having tiny strokes that led to a massive stroke that hastened her death at the end of the month.  Then this intense desire to hibernate makes sense.   

So while families and friends swim or float—on giant inflatable unicorns or blow-up slices of pizza—in the Washougal or Lewis rivers, in the Cascade lakes, or even in the Willamette (although I doubt the reports that the river isn’t a Superfund site because I almost break out with some weird skin sore a few days after I fall off my paddleboard into the Willamette), I often stay home binge-watching the latest streaming series or sit quietly, trying not to think at all.   

I live in a three-story townhouse with lots of light and I live an active life, so when this happens—during some of the best, if hottest, weather of the year—if I’m not watching Star Trek Discovery or Queer Eye or some PBS documentary, I’ll sit on my balcony and watch life pass below.  Until my mother spent time here with me, I didn’t appreciate how much life went on below the second-story windows and the balcony of my house.  But my mother, who moved slowly and with great difficulty, whose dementia left tracking conversations or the day’s plan near impossible, found great pleasure simply being in the moment and sitting in the dining room or on the balcony and watching what occurred below.

There, neighbors parked their cars—Oh, that guy can’t parallel park for beans!—or shuffled to the coffee shop that is literally across the street from my townhouse—I can’t imagine walking that far for a cup of coffee!—or walked their dogs—We just let our dogs into the backyard.  I’ve never thought about what you’d do with city dogs. That’s a lot of work!—or any number of other things, including street fights between drunks staggering home from a morning of mimosas or Bloody Mary’s at Slim’s or the line of kids marching from the school on one corner to the Rec Center on the other, and positioned between two adults at either end of the line. 

This, in particular, surprised my mom, that the kids couldn’t walk alone from the school to the Rec Center, could not travel unescorted.  When I said they were Kindergarteners through third graders, she still balked.  You walked home from Kindergarten unless the temperature was thirty-two degrees, real or wind chill.   

I usually replied, “Mom, that was forty years ago.”  

That this happened forty years earlier meant nothing to her demented brain. She would demand, What?  No!?  How old ARE you?  How old am I?  

I’d tell her I’d turned 50 and she’d slap her preternaturally high forehead and shriek, cannot believe I have a child who is fifty! When I look at you, I see a little towheaded child with a mischievous smile, and I just want to wrap you up and hug you. 

Although the neurologist diagnosed my mother with Alzheimer’s, she likely had a multi-infarct dementia from high blood pressure, several head injuries, and diabetes.  We never knew for certain because her artificial hip meant she could not undergo an MRI to map her addled brain.  An accurate diagnosis really only mattered to her children, I suppose, and maybe just me—as if by naming it I could somehow control it.  Dementia, Alzheimer’s, they both eat away at memory and desire, but the great gift of my mother’s memory loss was that she never forgot who her children were or how much she loved us, and she remembered us out loud as we existed in her mind’s eye.  And although we hadn’t always been, now we were her entire world because she’d stopped reaching out to friends years earlier, unsure of her memory, worried about her manners. 

Ironically—or perhaps not—social isolation contributes hugely to dementia and so this August, I’m foregoing hibernation and reaching out to people I don’t know as well, choosing activities that push me into new social situations, even as I’d like to watch season four of Queer Eye.   

So far, I’ve created art with a group of women I don’t know very well and then shared vulnerable new work.  I ate tacos in the park with friend of a friend (because our mutual friend moved out of town and we are left behind telling each other stories about our missing friend).  I went to Shabbat dinner with a circle of people I don’t see very often and listened to the prayers and shared the good, the bad and the surprising of my week.  I invited the most intuitive person I’ve ever met to join me for a beach fire at Cathedral Park and we read the smoke and the flames together and tried to make meaning. 

I guess that’s what I strive for each August—whether I’m streaming videos or pushing my own boundaries—creating meaning. A reason must exist that so much happened in the 8th month of the 15th year of the 21st century.  I think that the mixing of meaning and desire that Eliot spoke of must be, for me, the creation of a community where we tell the truth about our lives.  Where the reality of death and those who died is always with us even as we live, laugh, eat Mexican food, pass the challah, or watch sailboats pass under the St. Johns Bridge.  

In “The Wasteland,” Eliot wrote, “Who is the third who walks always beside you?/When I count, there are only you and I together/But when I look ahead up the white road/There is always another one walking beside you.”  There I see my mother, and Judith, and those who died before, even as I am of this world and desire so much to stay here, reaching out and looking for the illuminating gift of connection.   

Kate Carroll de Gutes: Rocking the bow tie

Kate Carroll de Gutes lives in Portland, Oregon, in a house with lots of light, wood floors, and a view of the best bridge in the city.  In the evenings, she sits at her great-grandparents’ quarter-sawn oak table and writes long-hand about grief, the drama of dating at midlife, riding bikes, and the joys and challenges of authentic living.  Also, she apparently uses a lot of hyphenated words. She was lucky that George wandered into the party for the launch of her second book, luckier still that he liked it.  Learn more at katecarrolldegutes.com 

Editor’s note: I was dazzled two years ago when I attended the launch of Kate’s second book, “The Authenticity Experiment,” at a cozy little theater in Northeast Portland that’s next to an upscale coffee shop. I loved the way she strung words together and I loved how accessible, how genuine she was afterwards in talking with friends and newcomers alike. After recently reading her first book, I decided to reach out and invite Kate to write for VOA 2019. To my delight (but not complete surprise), she said yes.

Tomorrow: Nike Bentley |Don’t blink

The treasure of diversity

By Michael Arrieta-Walden

I walked into my school in Denver to start a new year, and felt blessed again: My students are from all over the world. 

When I hear those who spew hate, I think back on how fortunate I have been in the past year. I wish they could have spent the year with me. They would have learned about the treasure of diversity. They would have seen that our differences make us better, they enrich us. 

After 24 years in Portland, my wife, Fran, and I decided to move closer to my parents. We made the leap to Denver last summer. When we first arrived, however, we thought we had traded Portland for more of the same. Both cities are in incredible natural settings. Both cities are booming with high tech and hipsters. Both cities have soaring housing prices, propelling gentrification. 

Yet as much as I miss Portland friends (and the beach), moving to Denver has given me another gift in my late years – diversity. 

Students at Denver’s Swansea Elementary share a laugh together.

As a liberal white male, I think I had an intellectual appreciation for diversity. I even worked in a relatively diverse school in the Portland area. I advocated for diverse voices as a journalist. I recognized my white privilege. 

But in Denver, I’ve grown to truly live and appreciate what it means to value diversity. Throughout the past year, I have spent most of my time in the minority. From grocery stores to school hallways, from restaurants to my own classroom, I have been surrounded by a rich tapestry of people of color. 

Our mayor is African American and the leader of the school district is a Latina who went to Denver Public Schools. You can hear Spanish throughout the city. At Mass in Aurora, statements are read denouncing the climate of fear for migrants and refugees created by the federal government. And many prayers are said for migrants and refugees seeking better treatment and to tout the many gifts immigrants bring to our country. 

I am probably sounding like a naïve do-gooder who has encountered people of color for the first time. That is not the case. What I’m trying to share is that my experiences in the past year have had a profound effect on me. It is not so much a matter of better understanding white privilege. It’s more that I have been privileged by my experiences.  I am a better person for them. My perspective has broadened, my empathy has deepened and I feel much richer. And it is because of diversity. 

At my first school in Denver, the students were mostly Latino. But even more amazing was that the staff was incredibly diverse. Most of the teachers and administrators were Latino. Working with such a diverse staff taught me so much. From native Denver Latinos to teachers from throughout Latin America, my colleagues taught me a lot about different cultures, and more about myself.  

The stories of many of my fellow teachers were inspiring. They came from Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico. They not only learned English, they pursued advanced degrees so they could teach students. Now, they are helping students soar. 

Their strong teaching skills are enhanced by their amazing language abilities and cultural understanding. They collaborated instead of competed. They warmly created a team. They are making a difference in so many children’s lives. It was an honor to work with them.  

Now, I teach in the Aurora School District, which pointedly celebrates its diversity as its strength. The district proudly declares on its web site: “Our students come from more than 130 countries and speak more than 160 languages.” In the district, fewer than 15 percent of the schoolchildren are white. The city, a suburb of Denver, notes that one in five residents are considered either immigrants or refugees. 

After only one week with my new class, I am humbled and excited. I hope my students will learn a lot. But I know that I will learn and grow because of them and their families. I will gain more empathy and insight. I will be transported outside of my own narrow world. 

My students from throughout the world are a gift to me. I know they will make America great. 

Michael Arrieta-Walden

Michael Arrieta-Walden is a fourth grade teacher at Laredo Elementary School in Aurora, Colorado. He formerly taught in the Tigard-Tualatin School District and was a managing editor at The Oregonian. He and his wife Fran have a daughter, Maya.  

Editor’s note: Way back when I worked at a Salem newspaper, my colleagues and I were blown away by an exceptionally talented intern out of Northwestern University. That was Mike. He became a star reporter, then a well-regarded editor in Washington, New Mexico (where he edited a Pulitzer Prize-winning project) and Oregon. After leaving journalism, he became a school teacher, as ever defined by his passion, empathy and humility.

Tomorrow: Kate Carroll de Gutes |On meaning, memory, and desire

Tears

By Andrea Cano

Lagrimas…Tears.

It was one of those lazy, sunny weekends with friends, wine flowing, laughter, the simple delight of being ourselves and enjoying one another – as we have for decades. 

Then a thought crossed my mind.  I could lose any one of them if their heart stopped beating or if they had one, last breath.  How could I live a day without any of them?  Not to say I haven’t had the same, heart crushing thoughts about my partner, son, father, and other family members.  But this was the first time I realized how much my friends meant to me as we step into our tercera edad  – our elder years and into the homestretch of our lives.

My eyes filled with stinging tears – not the kind that easily roll down your face. These flame your eyeballs first, puddle up in the crevices, then leave a burning, acid trail down your cheek if you don’t wipe them away first.

Glass beads symbolize our lagrimas or tears.

I don’t remember my last stinging tear episode, but this one jolted me. Not only the thoughts which prompted them, but also the physical reaction.

It reminded me that there are different qualities of tears. In the same way I learned to understand that Eskimos had numerous words to describe snow – because there are different characteristics of snow. 

Large, wet, clumpy snow.  Dry, flaky snow.  Pristine, artsy flakes.  Blowing blizzard snow.   Almost snow – ice pellets and sleet.   And a zillion other expressions of this phenomena.

Tears are like that.

They can signal a zillion, glistening expressions of what we are feeling or thinking, even when we don’t want them to.

They are in charge – even in a darkened movie theatre.

They are relentless ­ – during profound grief and sorrow.

They are what makes us human. They frame empathy, regret, frustration, disappointment, relief, anticipatory loss of any kind, and more.

On the other end of the tear spectrum, are the ones we are literally happy to shed.

The birth of a first child or grandchild, or any child.

Offering or receiving a proposal of marriage.

You fill in the blank _____________________________________.

A spontaneous carcajada (loud peal of laughter) among friends and strangers triggered and shared at the very same second.

And my personal favorite – during howling, uncontrollable and virtually unstoppable, almost pee-in-your-pants laughter.  You have to be with others to fully experience this, re-live it again five minutes later as you pick yourself off the floor anew. 

Then you recall this event and others like them years later with those same cherished friends, for those shared moments and shared memories are golden. 

Stinging tears or grateful tears.  They crystalize our connectedness to one another which is essential to our humanity – and to all who were breathed into being, into family, and into community.  I look forward to more.

Andrea Cano is now semi-retired, meaning she doesn’t go to work every day.  She still serves as an on-call clinical chaplain for Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, leads conversations for Oregon Humanities, and enjoys collaborating on projects with the great team at the National Policy Consensus Center.  Her next personal projects are to organize Sunday suppers with family and tetulias at her home to conjoin the constellations of people in her social universe, and laugh until tears of joy runneth over.

***

Editor’s note: Even in semi-retirement, Andrea makes me look like a slug. She is a wonderful example of someone who is involved in her community on spiritual, cultural and policy levels. She is a former journalist who grew up in Southern California and chaired the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs for several years. I was fortunate to meet her while I was still at The Oregonian.

Tomorrow: The treasure of diversity | Michael Arrieta-Walden

Falling from the sky

Eric Wilcox: Thrillseeker

By Eric Wilcox

Sky diving is a very safe sport, but when things go wrong, they can go spectacularly wrong.

The young lady nearest the door, probably in her mid-20s, is getting ready to do a “pop and drop.” As the roll-up door on the side of the plane is opened, cool air flows in and the noise level goes up. According to the altimeter on my left wrist we are nearing her jump elevation of 6,500 feet. She is small and with the main and reserve chutes, she looks even smaller.

She has at least 10 successful solo jumps in her log book, so she knows what she is doing. She checks her harness and altimeter then tightens her chin strap, gives a thumbs up to the jumpmaster, and receives a thumbs up in return. She moves to the doorway, positions her feet and body to face forward into the wind. She leans out, pulls back in, then steps out. She’s gone…

The jumpmaster leans out, watches for a few seconds. The door is rolled down and we continue our climb up to my jump elevation: 13,000 feet.

Alone in my thoughts in a crowded plane, in a male macho way I think, if she can do it I can. The jumpmaster leans over, tugs on my harness, smiles and gives a thumbs up, I try to smile back, but can only manage a nod. He points to my helmet and signals to put my goggles on.

This is my second solo jump. I so badly screwed up my first that I have to do it over again. I did everything wrong. Most importantly, due to bad body position, I couldn’t find my main deployment handle (commonly known as the rip cord) and the jumpmaster had to move in and pull it for me. No matter how well you do everything else, if you can’t pull the main deployment handle, you pretty much fail the jump. So, I’m jumping again, I have to prove to myself that I can do this. 

There are actually three of us on the jump: the jumpmaster, assistant jumpmaster and me. These two men will be right next to me, watching my every move, adjusting my body position as needed, and in case I have problems like my first jump, they will move in and take over.

As the plane turns into the jump run at just over 13,000 feet, the door is rolled up. The sky is clear blue and cold. Off in the distance and slightly below us is Mount Hood. Ground is two and a half miles down. This is it. A check of my goggles, harness and altimeter, a quick touch of the pull handle, it’s where it’s supposed to be. A nervous thumbs up and a smiling thumbs up in return and we are ready.

The plane isn’t big enough to stand up, so we move in a crouched position. The assistant moves to the doorway and leans out, then he climbs out the door and hangs on the outside of the plane and waits for me. I’m next. I have to move to doorway position myself in the opening with each foot aligned with the edge of the sill. One hand on a grab bar overhead, one on a grab bar on the jamb and I’m ready.

This position only lasts for a few seconds, but seems forever. I’ve got 100 mile per hour wind in my face, the noise drowning out all other sounds. Making eye contact with the assistant, I yell “check-out.” A nod in return, looking back then forward l lean out and shout “out.” Pull back in, shout “in” then yelling “oooout” I step out and let go.

The next few seconds are absolutely amazing, incredible adrenaline rush, complete freedom, no control and everything is a blur.

Breaking down a free fall. 1) Body position: good. 2) Eye contact with the jumpmaster: thumbs up. 3) Going the right direction: down.


Then back to the task at hand, getting safely to the ground. First, body position: on my stomach, head up, legs spread, toes pointed, knees slightly bent, arms spread out, elbows bent so hands are just above your head, back arched. All good. Then check the horizon. It’s there where it’s supposed to be. Which means I have good body position. I make eye contact with the jumpmasters, one on each side, look for any signals from them. Lastly, check the altimeter on my wrist: 11,000 feet. I’ve already dropped 2,000 feet and I haven’t done anything. We are falling at a rate of a thousand feet every 6 seconds, almost terminal velocity.

Thumbs up from the jumpmaster. This is the signal to do three practice touches of my pull handle, a cloth ball about the size of a golf ball positioned in the small of my back, just above the right hip. I reach back, find it, grab it, pretend to pull it. All good, do it again and again. Thumbs up, all good.

Now I get to look around. Horizon, yup. Jumpmaster, yup. Altimeter: 9,000 feet! Time really does fly. It is beautiful, the sky is clear, horizon all around, earth below, complete and total exhilaration.

Check the altimeter: 8,000 feet. Thumbs up from the jumpmaster, I return a double exaggerated thumbs up. Look around, check my body position. Check the altimeter: 7,000 feet. Focus on the altimeter.

Waving off the jumpmaster, getting ready to pull the handle

At 6,500 feet the process to pull the handle starts. First, wave off the jumpmasters. They move further away to avoid becoming entangled. Wait a few seconds then reach back, grab the ball, pull hard and fling the ball away.

As the pilot chute deploys, in turn pulling out the main chute, there is a gentle jerk as I am pulled into a vertical position. After a few anxious seconds, the slider drops down and the chute is fully deployed, bright yellow and beautiful. Everything is now completely quiet. Drifting along on a silent wind at about 5,000 feet. I reach up and grab the loop pulls.

Main chute starting to deploy.


Over the one way radio I hear “yellow chute turn right.” I pull down on the right loop and turn right. “Yellow chute turn left.” I pull on the left loop and turn left. I am flying the chute. Pull both loops and I suddenly get a brief period of lift. Let go and I start back down. Flying the chute is fun. I take a few turns and spins. Next, I need to find the drop zone, right next to the runway, all good. I get to play for a minute.

At about 1,000 feet “yellow chute turn right.” I turn and line up parallel with the runway on the downwind run. Holding this direction for the length of the runway and dropping to about 300 feet. “Yellow chute turn right.” I turn. “Yellow chute turn right.” I turn again. Now on the final leg, at about 200 feet.

Pulling down slightly I slow and control my descent. 200’, 100’, 50’, 30’ 20’ “flare”. With a slight jolt, like stepping off a low wall, a roll and I’m on the ground.

I did it. According to the jumpmaster all went very well, except I didn’t have to roll on the landing. For that minor error I only got a score of 3 out of 4. I am relieved, I did it. I proved to myself that I could do it. And as my jumpmaster said, “any jump you walk away from is a good jump.”

But, I still had two jumpmasters as my safety net. The young lady that did the “pop and drop” was on her own. She had less than 9 seconds to get through the full jump sequence, less the practice pulls, before things start to go wrong. That is what the jumpmaster was watching before he closed the door. Apparently she did everything right. I have a lot of respect for her, I’m not sure I could do that.

My jump was a good jump, but probably my last.

Eric Wilcox is an architect living in Northeast Portland with his recently retired wife, Sue, and Murdoch (“Not-a-bear”), their Newfoundland.

***

Editor’s note: Eric is a longtime friend and neighbor whom I’ve known for 30 years-plus, ever since our wives met through a play group that included each of our youngest-born children. As the years pass, I find more to admire in my friend’s artistic side (a designer and maker of stained glass) and his adventurous side (Spartan Race finisher and now skydiving).

Tomorrow: Andrea Cano | Tears

Striving for higher ground

By Elizabeth Hovde

Fall was hard. I lost some friends after opposing a teacher strike and writing my newspaper column about it. Showing up to picket lines with questions instead of doughnuts was not welcome. And years of volunteer support and crafting cocktails for my kids’ teachers wasn’t enough to insulate some relationships.

Shortly thereafter, I was off-the-charts disappointed in what I saw as #BelieveWomen laziness. In the rush to say women should be valued and respected, we did some harm. I raise two middle-school boys busy becoming men. They’re watching. And they heard they’re not to be believed. Women are. 

When I expressed frustration while hearing a man-bash in process, I was treated like I had betrayed my gender. My beliefs were ridiculed, even around a campfire with some of my oldest friends. 

Then in October, I took a public and colleagues’ lashing after talking with an activist many of us were writing about — but, in many cases, not actually speaking to. I lost more friends. Piles of research and first-hand inquiry did not spare me from the verbal flogging. Local politicians even weighed in with disdain. 

The result of the fall season? I feel more isolated and conservative than I ever have. That troubles me.

I’ve always felt center-right in this liberal land. I cycle, hike and drink craft beer, which has allowed me to play reindeer games with a lot of people whose politics I don’t share. I listen to and read mainstream and left-leaning news, avoiding conservative pundits so I can better think my own right-leaning thoughts. I have a fairly obsessive Oregon Public Broadcasting habit. Like others, I often sit in my driveway to finish listening to guests interviewed on Think Out Loud. I’ve even been one of those guests — again, allowed to play reindeer games.

The vast majority of my friends are liberal. Of course they are! I grew up and live in a liberal land where the biggest minority is an ideological one. Conservatives don’t grow on trees. I also worked in and wrote for newspapers for 24 years, hitting a 10-year mark for The Oregonian this year. My column was discontinued shortly after my head was hunted when I wasn’t saying what others were about a polarizing figure.

In my experience, it’s true that conservatives in newsrooms are as rare as preteens who don’t like Fortnite. It’s also true in my experience that despite wide disagreement on issues, newsroom employees usually agree on going out together after work, learning from each other, sharing laughs at parties and finding common ground. Some of my greatest supporters and friends have been liberals I spent time with in a newsroom.

I didn’t support Trump or Obama. I am anti-death penalty and anti-abortion, even if I would leave Roe v. Wade on the books. Because of my Purple Party tendencies, I’d be considered a liberal in the South. I was when I lived there for a short stint in the ‘90s. In Portland, however, I’m often labeled “right wing” and called things like “the Northwest Ann Coulter” — when I’m not being called an “idiot” by the “tolerant, inclusive” left, that is.

President Trump gets a lot of blame for the way members of the media are treated. He should. He often says, irresponsibly, that reporters and columnists are unprofessional losers. Poor form, Mr. President. But be assured: Some of us were treated as enemies of the state in the Clinton, Bush and Obama years, too. I have plenty of hate mail to prove it. 

Feeling more conservative than ever concerns me, and it should concern liberals, too. I believe Trump was elected in 2016 in large part because right-leaning people were being kicked in a corner, called stupid and told that their opinions were unwelcome. Those beatings seem worse than ever now.

As Trump continues hitting below the belt, people like Former Attorney General Eric Holder are joining him. He’s said Former First Lady Michelle Obama got it wrong. Instead of the wise encouragement she gave to go high when others go low, Holder said, “No. No. When they go low, we kick them.”

With all the kicking, on both sides, I worry we’re sending more conservatives into bubbles of unchallenged conservative thought, leaving those who lean left in liberal-only bubbles to nod in unison without interruption. Less growth. Less learning.

I hope we find our way to higher ground soon. The view is way better up there.  And you get to keep your friends.

Elizabeth Hovde is a recent Oregonian columnist. One of those “greatest supporters” she mentioned in this writing was her editor of several years, George Rede. He knows how to find common ground, Hovde says, and she is forever grateful.

Editor’s note: Elizabeth is a longtime colleague and friend who, like me, has gone from traditional journalism to adjunct college teaching. We’ve confronted similar challenges in the newsroom and classroom and shared strategies that we hope will engage the newest generation of students. I admire her energy, her grit and hustle, and her determination to keep an open mind in the face of way too many trolls.

Tomorrow: Eric Wilcox | Falling from the sky

Let’s talk about breastfeeding

By Alana Cox

A lot has happened since I wrote about how brave I was to adopt a cat (lol) [“Not always right, but always sure“]. I lost 60 pounds, got pregnant, got promoted at work, and became a mom. I guess I listened to my own advice and took a few leaps.

I struggled with what to write about this year, because a lot has happened, and because I knew the thing I wanted to say the most is something that a lot has been said about already, and that people are understandably opinionated and emotional about. Buckle up — I’m here to talk about breastfeeding.

I am not a public health expert. I am not a mommy blogger. I just want to impart my own experience.

When I was pregnant, I was asked at every doctor’s visit if I planned on breastfeeding. There were signs everywhere with a clear message: good moms breastfeed. Do it for your baby’s health. Do it to bond with your baby. Do it because it’s cheaper. Just do it! I honestly don’t know why, but my answer to those questions was “I hope to breastfeed” or “if I can.” I scoped out the pumping room at work. I read about how to ensure success. I was going to do my best.

Orca’s not so sure about this “baby coming” thing.

During a class for expectant parents at the hospital, the nurse/teacher had a lot of amazing tips and tricks for new babies, and we all had a laugh diapering and swaddling our little baby dolls. I was struck by how the tone changed when it came to breastfeeding. This was serious business. After going through the material on how to successfully breastfeed she said something, sotto voce, that floored me. “I’m not allowed to talk about formula, but if anyone wants to talk about it, see me after class.” Formula is a topic so shameful it was banned from baby classes?!?

Then, in the wee hours of February 5, 2019, on my third day in the hospital, I gave birth to baby Cecelia. Within the first hour of her being born, while they were still poking and prodding me as I bonded with my new baby, I gave breastfeeding a try. She had a pretty good, if a little “chompy” latch. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

Over the next couple of days in the hospital, I gave it several more goes, with the helpful advice of every new shift nurse and lactation consultant we saw. Cece’s diapers looked promising. Her biliruben score, which shows jaundice and is generally an indication of whether baby is getting enough to eat, was ok but not great. This was normal, I knew. Through some strange cosmic trick, moms’ milk doesn’t come in right away, and babies get good nutrients through colostrum, but they lose a little weight at first. Ok. No big deal. Nobody panic.

The pediatrician sent us home from the hospital with the condition that we bring the baby in a couple days later to check on her jaundice level. The first night, Cece cried and cried, and I felt like I was breastfeeding her all night long. She was latching and spending plenty of time and falling asleep on the breast. A good sign, I was sure. Nothing so sweet as a sleeping baby.

That first visit to the pediatrician was on a snowy day, and was our first outing with the baby since coming home from the hospital. That’s when I found out Cece was crying because she was hungry. More than normal hungry. The lactation consultant wasn’t there that day, and the message I received from the doctor was clear and devastating- you need to try harder because you are starving your baby. On a week of no sleep, recovering from childbirth and trying to manage caring for a new baby, I had fallen on my face at the starting gate. I couldn’t even feed my baby.

 Baby Magoo’s first outing to the doctor.

By the next day, when we went back, things were worse. The baby was sleeping too much, because she was jaundiced. It was time to give her a little bit of formula, just to get her through until my milk came in, but not so much that she won’t take the breast when the time comes. I started pumping constantly and imagining waterfalls of milk and eating weird oatcakes and taking supplements and doing pretty much anything and everything to get my milk to come in. When I wasn’t changing diapers or putting the baby to sleep, I was talking to lactation consultants, pumping, and trying to get this breastfeeding thing figured out.

I talked to my mom friends and found a remarkable number of them had the same experience. They had struggled. They had felt like bad moms. They had hooked up crazy contraptions to make it seem like formula was coming out of their breasts. They had sobbed when their partner dropped the quarter ounce of milk they managed to pump. They had various levels of love and hate for lactation consultants. They provided tips and tricks and commiseration.

Then my husband and I turned to the best worst place in the world: the internet. What happens if I can’t breastfeed? Will my baby be sickly? Will it stunt her inevitable rise to the top of her class? The best scientific answer on the internet we could find: who knows? [“The case against breastfeeding”]

It would be unethical to do a double blind study on babies, so it is impossible to say if all the benefits of breastfeeding are from the milk itself, or from the fact that people with more money and more education are more likely to have the luxury of breastfeeding their babies.

Then I met an amazing lactation consultant. She got me a better pump through my insurance, gave me permission to sleep more than two hours at a time at night, said I was a good mom, recommended magic drops that stopped the baby from spitting up, and made it clear that breastfeeding is great, but being a happy, healthy, and present mother is better. When I went back things hadn’t improved- I did everything I was supposed to be doing and I was still not producing enough milk for my baby. Then she gave me the greatest gift of all- she let me off the hook. She said if it hadn’t happened yet, it wasn’t going to happen. She gave me a pumping schedule to get the baby the nutrient benefit of a little breast milk, but she allowed me to let this thing that had been the focus of the first two months of Cece’s life go.

That wonderful woman gave me permission to be a present mom. To have fun with my baby. To take a shower when she naps, rather than pumping. To allow my husband and I to truly divide the labor of raising a newborn, including the night feedings.

A week or two later, I was telling a friend that the nurse had told me it wasn’t going to happen. “That b*tch!” she exclaimed sincerely, “did you tell her to pound sand?” “No,” I said, “I thanked her from the bottom of my heart.”

Today, Cece is a healthy, happy, well-fed baby. She and I both discover new things every day. I’ll never know how things would be different if I had been able to breastfeed her, but it doesn’t really matter.

What matters to me now is that we consider the pressure we put on new moms. Tubs of formula include a notice that, while their formula is good, nothing’s as good as breast milk. Thanks for the reminder. Every time I go to the doctor they ask if I’m breastfeeding, as though I might have had some sort of miracle since that last time you asked me. They also ask me if I’m sad. I’m lucky that I’m not, but the constant reminders that I was not able to “do the best” for my baby aren’t helping.

The desire to do right by our children is primal and universal. Let’s cut a break to all the moms out there doing the best they can. 

Alana and daughter Cecelia.

Alana Cox is a public servant living in Salem, Oregon, with her husband Jason, daughter Cecelia, and cat Orca.

Editor’s note: Alana is a daughter of our dear friends Tom and Elsa Guiney. We’ve known her since she was in diapers, so it’s nice to see her thriving in all aspects of life — as a state agency manager, as a spouse, as a cat owner and, now, as a new mom.

Tomorrow: Elizabeth Hovde | Striving for higher ground

Fear and Loathing Between a Farter and a Fatso

Michael Granberry, next to a bust of Ernest Hemingway in El Floridita in Havana, Cuba.

By Michael Granberry

The first time I went to England was 1981. I had booked a 14-hour flight from LAX on Freddie Laker Airways. The company went bankrupt in 1982, and well, I’m not surprised. I remember being scrunched in a middle seat between two ginormous dudes — one of whom was uncontrollably flatulent — and soon resorted to scarfing potato chips and tuna fish from the limp brown bag I’d brought on board. It is, however, a minor miracle I made it at all, considering what I’d done the night before.  

I was at Dallas Cowboys training camp, visiting an old college buddy. He was at the time a Cowboys beat writer for a Dallas newspaper. And, well, he was a drinker. He cajoled me into going out and having, in his words, “just a few” the night before my first-ever sojourn across the pond. Against any semblance of sanity in my yet-to-be-formed frontal lobe, I said yes. And within minutes, “just a few” was a bunch.  

Miller Time.  

My defense? I was, in the summer of 1981, a wee lad of 29 and didn’t know any better. By the time we schlepped back to the Cowboys’ prison-like quarters at Cal Lutheran College in Thousand Oaks, Calif., we were, well, you know, blitzed, to use a football term. So, my friend got the bright idea to have “a nightcap” by going to the practice field and working out on the blocking sleds before going beddy-bye. Problem was, the padding for the sleds had been stored away for the night by the Cowboys’ equipment crew. So, what we were hitting, over and over, was raw metal. Even so, I followed along, like the stupid idiot I was in the summer of ’81.  

“Ready, set, HUT!” my friend bellowed, with Lombardi-like glee, his beery chant piercing the dank night air. In the windows above, I could see Cowboys players peering out the windows, their faces expressing a collective annoyance, wondering what in the hell the ruckus was. They, after all, would have to be up early the next morning.   

“BAM!” my friend proclaimed, as we both struck the jagged metal, our bare shoulders providing the only protection our fragile bodies could muster against the stupidity we were inflicting on them.  

Photo credit: oxnardchamber.org

Minutes later, I succumbed to a deep sleep, not yet feeling the ravishing pain yet to come. By the time I awoke, it was there. Was it ever there! Despite my agony, I wedged my damaged torso into my absurdly cramped seat on Freddie Laker, wondering if I could possibly endure a 14-hour marathon from L.A. to London, stuck between a Farter and a Fatso, feeling as though I needed to scream every three minutes. By the time we limped into Heathrow, in what was easily the longest 14 hours of my life, I was in more pain than I thought any one knucklehead could endure. Somehow, I stumbled outside and summoned a cab. I all but barked at the cabbie, demanding he take me to a hospital as fast as his Cockney wheels could get me there.  

Within minutes, I was nursing my pain in a grim-looking hospital, whose idea of décor put the “D” in Dickensian. Within minutes, they whisked me to a room, albeit a pitiless, cold room, where they commanded me to wait for the doctor. Soon, a peach-fuzzy chap showed up looking eerily like Harry Potter — though Harry Potter had not been invented yet.  

“You have a separated shoulder,” he announced after a short but suitably thorough examination. “I will put your arm in a sling and prescribe painkillers that should have you feeling much better quite soon. May I ask, though, how did you do this?” 

I debated whether or not to tell him, then decided, oh, what the heck, I have a return ticket. I can always return to the warm blanket of America, the one that tolerates idiots. I explained that I had been striking the unpadded blocking sleds at Dallas Cowboys training camp over and over the night before, and the reason I did that was, I had been drinking for hours with my friend, who by the way is now in prison, having been sent there (again) for numerous DWI violations. I will note, however, that my friend went on to have a remarkable writing career. He is the author of 10 books, two of which became best-sellers, one of which will soon become a major motion picture. And he, by the way, suffered no injury whatsoever from our drink-induced shenanigans. 

“You what?” my Hunter Thompson wannabe of a pal said later, laughing uproariously. “Nope, I was fine.” 

Of course, he was. But I digress.  

The Harry Potter lookalike simply stared at me quizzically for what seemed like forever, then muttered, “Yes, well, you should feel better soon,” and with an ever-so-slight British grin added coyly: “I would, however, not recommend hitting another unpadded blocking sled, presuming you can even find one in Britain.” He might as well have added, “Stupid American.” But he was nice enough not to. 

“How much do I owe you?” I asked, nervously.  

“You mean payment? Oh, you owe us nothing. We have national health coverage. Your treatment is free.” 

To use an American phrase, is that a great country or what?!? 

Sure enough, I felt remarkably better within hours, igniting a love affair with Britain that has lingered for decades. I call my strange experience and the feeling of longing it engendered “The Catch.” And ironically, that’s how the Cowboys’ 1981 season ended, after my blocking-sled debacle: Dwight Clark caught a game-winning touchdown pass from Joe Montana in the closing seconds of the NFC Championship Game that came to be known as The Catch, thus ending the Cowboys’ playoff hopes on a bleak January day in 1982.  

Bleak for me and the Cowboys, that is. The San Francisco 49ers are still hoisting beers over their shining moment from the ’81 season.  

I, however, am enjoying a different kind of catch. Mine has returned me to Britain, London in particular, multiple times, albeit on better flights than Freddie Laker. I returned there in 2008 to preview the King Tut exhibition and ended up staying in a place a friend recommended called Portobello Gold, on Portobello Road in the magical neighborhood of Notting Hill. It was a lovely, quaint, crackling pub with eight rooms above it that I soon fell in love with (as did President Bill Clinton, who showed up there in the last month of his presidency). Owned by a delightful chap named Mike Bell, Portobello Gold stayed open long enough for me to indulge myself with as many exquisite visits as my family and I could squeeze in. All good things come to an end, and sure enough, Mike closed it a couple of years ago.  

My visits to the Gold allowed me the most blissful accommodations while roaming London with my stunning wife, seeing some of the best theater the world has to offer. My favorites were God of Carnage with legendary actor Ralph Fiennes and Grief, a scintillating world premiere written and directed by Mike Leigh and starring the incomparable Lesley Manville.  

I need to go back. The last time I went to London was 2014, when I flew across the pond from my home in suburban Dallas to see the Cowboys whip up on the Jacksonville Jaguars. That, too, was a lovely visit. And not once did I pummel a blocking sled.  

Michael Granberry is the arts writer for The Dallas Morning News. He has also worked for the Los Angeles Times (from 1978 to 1997) and once worked as a sports editor in Alaska, where he covered such things as the Iditarod and the Eskimo Olympics. And during the Watergate summer of 1973, he interned at The Washington Post with some dude named George Rede.

Editor’s note: I’ve been blessed to call Mike a friend for 46 years now. He was a standout in the Post intern class of ’73, and not just because of his precocious talent. He was pretty hard to miss with a shock of red hair and a Texas twang. He was a groomsman at our wedding and he remains one of my favorite people on the planet. Even if he is a Cowboys fan.

Tomorrow: Alana Cox | Let’s talk about breastfeeding

A butterfly named Midori

Editor’s note: Two years ago in this space, a brave 13-year-old told her story of coming out as queer and her father wrote a companion piece expressing his support. Both writers are back this year along with another family member, the 12-year-old little sister, to reflect on themes of identity, judgment and acceptance.

By Midori Mori, 15 | The best of both worlds

Midori is at-ease and all smiles with life as a high school student.  

Because I run in multiple social circles, my father has always told me I represent the queer community well…that is, if they even know I’m queer. Among the guys, they just see me as “another bro.” And honestly, because there’s some sort of rawness I treasure in friendships with other boys I don’t really have the heart to correct them at the moment when they refer to me as “brother” or “main man.”

This only became controversial when many of my older friends from middle and elementary school knew me to be female while my newer connections were left unaware of my past. Now I am lucky enough to have the option of a gender-neutral bathroom at my school, but it also just so happens to be located in the most crowded part, putting me at a high risk of being spotted.

To deal with this on the rare occasions I need to use it, I try to go in between class periods avoiding crowds, wearing a hood to keep facial recognition minimal, and quickly cramming myself in before anyone notices. This is usually the part where I have to slap my hands blindly on the walls of the bathroom in the dark in an attempt to find the light switch, tripping over the edge of the sink in the process.  

To many, it seems like a waste of energy to keep up this charade, but at the end of the day, I love the way I get to live my life. Sure, being queer has its stigma, and I understand that. But I see it as my opportunity to get the best of both worlds.

Often times we say to ourselves that if someone were to leave us after hearing the truth, they weren’t worth it anyway. But what if all people needed was time to let down their walls a bit before knowing the truth? Chances are if I had come out straight away as queer to my friends, half of them would’ve left on the spot. But after a while, many of the people I meet know me to be someone they can depend on, laugh with, and get a hand from when needed. My only hope is that if this whole cover-up fails one day, they would find the label queer worth so much less than the other impressions I have left on them.  

***

By Ayumi Mori, 12 | A star I couldn’t stop following

Ayumi and Midori always celebrate with sushi, following an ice-skating or judo competition.

As our experiences widen our perspectives, we as humans begin to mature.  I wasn’t always aware that not everyone would be kind or good; over time, life just showed me this.  It didn’t help that my sister, Midori, was such an admirable and considerate person. I was convinced that everyone should like her. 

I grew up thinking that she was perfect.  She had every desirable quality I could think of.  What could I do? I was her little sister.  Even though she tended to dress more masculinely and had more muscles than your common girl, I was always proud of that.  She was a star I couldn’t stop following.

Midori and I entered a Chevy’s restroom.  A woman and her three daughters followed shortly after.  The three girls started whispering amongst each other.  I didn’t question ‘why’; girls would be girls.  Midori on the other hand, began to harden her posture as she stepped into a stall.  After coming out of the stall, the three girls snickered and gossiped more intensely.  When their mother caught sight of Midori, her eyes widened and she hurried her girls out quickly. 

Midori was not oblivious to the woman’s actions.  I watched her look down at the ground, and it hurt to watch her try to disappear.  I began to feel indignant towards these people who made Midori ashamed of being herself.  In encounters like these, Midori blamed herself.  Only then, was I starting to grasp Midori’s constant situation.  Even though I was the younger sibling, I took it as my responsibility to confront those who were quick to judge.  

Much like a quote I once read, I view Midori as a butterfly: “Butterflies can’t see their wings.  They can’t see how truly beautiful they are… ”  As the topic of college emerges and her departure from this house is nearing, I can’t be there by her side forever.  I constantly fret that she will change her personality should enough people get beneath her skin.  I just hope that one day she will get a glimpse of the wings she was given.

She truly is a butterfly.

***

By Aki Mori, 50 | A father’s joy and assurance

Celebrating Father’s Day with Ayumi’s homemade strawberry mousse cake.  From left: Aki, Midori, Katie and Ayumi.

One of my regular joys during Midori’s first year of high school was picking her up after school on those afternoons that she had club activities.  As she saw me pull into her school parking lot, she would stride forward with a smile on her face, often wearing one of her trademark snapback caps.  I loved listening to her wide-eyed, amusing stories as we drove home.  On one rare occasion, however, she didn’t have a lot to offer in terms of conversation, and so I sensed that something was bothering her.  

She proceeded to explain how her teacher had inadvertently put her in a predicament when she asked all the students to go wash their hands at the restroom, prior to participating in a cooking activity.  Midori does not inconvenience others with talk about her gender expression or gender identity: her longtime friends know her as a girl from elementary and middle school, while many of her newer acquaintances relate to her as a boy. 

So on this particular afternoon, she was presented with a no-win situation.  She risked some level of scandal, whichever restroom she would have chosen, including even the school’s gender-neutral restroom which would have forced her to separate from her friends.  Ultimately, she coped by momentarily escaping. 

That conversation hurt.  I wished I could help her more as a father, but by that time I had long come to realize that when it came to challenging social situations, Midori’s own instincts had easily proven to be more trustworthy than any of my own that I could offer her. 

True to form, the awkwardness of that particular restroom incident was short-lived.  It seemed that way to me, at least.  It’s difficult to know for sure because optimism and confidence seem to come so effortlessly for her. 

One might remark that I could talk to Midori more to clarify her feelings, but I have seen that she and Ayumi share everything with each other.  They are each other’s preferred advisors, and that gives me both joy and assurance.  Midori is charting her own path, and I have no worries.  

***

  • Midori:  Midori lives with a happy-go-lucky mindset.  The term “passion” only scratches the surface of her love of Judo, which she has competed in for seven years. When finding herself against the crowd, she takes it in stride and remembers her father’s words: It’s OK to be unconventional.  Midori will be a sophomore in high school this fall.  
  • Ayumi:  Ayumi is an extreme introvert, but has a strong sense of when to speak up.  She observes her surroundings because she knows: Everything you see and experience is art itself.  Ayumi will be in 7th grade this year. 
  • Aki:  Aki used to think he was a pretty remarkable guy.  But after experiencing helplessness, he has learned to appreciate the support of others where he didn’t before.  He and his wife Katie are trying to figure out how to celebrate their 20th anniversary next year.  He is an educator in Beaverton, Oregon.

Editor’s note: I met Aki several years ago when he submitted an op-ed piece to The Oregonian’s Sunday Opinion section. I noticed in his bio that he had taught in the school district serving Union City, California, the working-class suburb where I grew up across the bay from San Francisco. Turns out his wife also had a Union City connection, having attended the high school I would have gone to had my family not moved to a neighboring community. And now we are all connected as parents of a gay daughter.

Tomorrow: Michael Granberry | Fear and loathing between a farter and a fatso