Spring Break Education for All: What Death and Seclusion have in Common

So last week for Spring Break I had so many items on my To-Do list, including Spring cleaning, but instead I was roped into this public school re-zoning debate thing.  This was the primer: Educate Don’t Segregate, and here’s the latest news: Why wealthy D.C. suburb shouldn’t reverse socioeconomic school integration – Wash Post 3/28/16.

I’m convinced it was the energy of my Stepdad Moises (who passed away 3 yrs. ago last week – 3/22/16) who channeled the passion and got things done (through me and all the dedicated families working on this issue).  Here he is back in 2011 at the nursing home with my daughter Madeleine and son Darren (he was 94 years young here):

CA San Mateo Aug 2011 005

It’s no coincidence that the Community Meeting at Rust Library in Leesburg, held on the date of my Stepdad’s death (3/22/16), had almost 200 people in attendance (and I would say about 25% were Latinos). Here is the proof: Educate Don’t Segregate & Community Mtg. 3/22/16.   Univision has been a strong supporter in spreading the word, or as we say, “pasando la voz.”  View more here:

Mon. 3/21/16 11:00pm Newscast

Tues. 3/22/16 11:00pm Newscast

The Washington Post has also served a significant role in garnering national attention with their front page story – Separate but Equal Wash Post 3/20-3/21/16.  The Century Foundation, Loudoun Times-Mirror, and Loudoun Now, all came out of the woodwork.  Even Kojo Nnamdi aired a broadcast on the debate last week (albeit a bit one-sided).

I haven’t seen this much attention to Leesburg and Loudoun County’s Spanish-speaking and low-income populations since the disgraceful behavior of the previous Sterling, VA district Loudoun County Board of Supervisors representative (who somehow kept getting re-elected for over a decade).  Well, that, and the immigration backlash of 2007 caused by a resolution passed by a previous Loudoun County Board of Supervisors – Loudoun Approves Measure Targeting Illegal Immigrants Wash Post 7/18/07.  There’s more where that came from, but let’s not dwell in the past.  Instead, let’s focus on current events.  There’s a ton of research out there to support school integration efforts, but here is some of the most salient right now:

The Myth of the “Natural Neighborhood – Century Fdn. 3/23/16

The Benefits of Socioeconomically and Racially Integrated Schools and Classrooms – Century Fdn. 2/10/16

Activist Group Rallies Support Ahead of Leesburg School Boundary Vote – Loudoun Now 3/22/16

‘Educate Don’t Segregate’ Group Forms in Response to School Boundaries Debate – Loudoun Now 3/21/16

Research Briefs – National Coalition on School Diversity

WAMU Kojo Nnamdi Show 3/23/16

Yes, my Stepdad had a particular stubbornness about him and extraordinary love for children, which still has its advantages, even from the heavens above.  After death, a soul still has that fighting spirit, just as those who are “separate but equal” on this earth raise their voices to be heard, finally.  Some of the twelve plans that have been presented by the Loudoun County School Board appear to mimic the seclusion that our most vulnerable populations feel today.

I am eternally grateful that Moises was a great father to me and always stressed the importance of a good education to “defend myself well” – para “defenderme bien” (Note: he was only able to make it to the third grade in his native El Salvador).  Tomorrow, March 29, 2016, will be a big day for the Leesburg/Loudoun community.  I hope Leesburg/Loudoun County residents and all those affected by this boundary debate will show their courage and stand up for justice.  We owe it to the community to allow everyone to receive the best education possible to “defend” themselves, too.

Here’s the information you need, in English AND Spanish: Lo. Co. School Board Mtg. 3/29 English – Lo. Co. School Board Mtg. 3/29/16 Spanish.  Just a note for those who are not aware – there will also be a demonstration from 4:00pm-6:00pm prior to the 6:30pm School Board meeting.   I will always miss you my dear Moises; but when my community’s future is at stake, you give me the strength to persevere, and it is all worth it in the end…

Viaje a Mississippi para el Huracán Katrina

El 1 de septiembre de 2005, llegué en Montgomery, Alabama con un grupo grande de voluntarios de Servicios de Desastre de la Cruz Roja Americana. Asignado al trabajo en refugios, nos dijeron para contar con el peor. Para prepararse, recolectamos y cargamos provisiones, tales como agua y las “Comidas Calentador” (como las raciones militares, pero en un empaquetado más agradable).

La mañana siguiente, el 2 de septiembre, nos dirigimos a Gulfport, Mississippi. Mientras que acercamos a nuestra destinación, la destrucción se notó más de la autopista. Algunas áreas del terreno fueron niveladas, mientras que otras parecían que ni siquiera estaban tocados. Entonces, pasamos por unos coches en línea de casi dos millas de largo cerca de una de las salidas para una gasolinera. Nos sentíamos relevados que todavía teníamos casi tres cuartos de un tanque y que llegaríamos antes del toque de queda de las 8:00pm.

Más tarde por la mañana, llegamos a la Jefatura de Operaciones Temporales de la Cruz Roja Americana de la Costa del Golfo de Mississippi. Me asignaron como la Encargada Auxiliar de Albergue en la Escuela Primaria Central de Harrison en Gulfport. Finalmente, conocimos a las dos hermanas que se encargaban del refugio. Aunque eran cansados de funcionar el albergue después de una semana, y ellas habían perdido todo ellos mismos, eran buenas y provechosas. Dormimos en el piso para los primeros cinco días hasta que los catres fueron entregados. Afortunadamente, teníamos la agua corriente y una ducha de expediente.

Yvette Castro-Green en Hewes Avenue en Gulfport, Mississippi en un barrio afectado por el Huracán Katrina (septiembre 2005)

Yvette Castro-Green en Hewes Avenue en Gulfport, Mississippi en un barrio afectado por el Huracán Katrina (septiembre 2005)

Me impresionó la resistencia de los 164 residentes, quienes habían formado un equipo que cocinaba entre sí mismos, y que servía tres comidas al día, gracias a un generador que había sido donado. También me sorprendió el hombre que había inventado la ducha de expediente de los cajones plásticos y de las latas de la soda (con los agujeros empujados a través de ellos) para una cabeza de la ducha. Otro residente, una mujer flaca con una voz cansina distinta de Mississippi, era un ayudante leal, siempre limpiando los cuartos de baño diariamente y de buena voluntad.  Y aun otro hombre, que perdió a su panadería, logró reunir a todos los suministros, me horneo un pastel delicioso para el día de mis cumpleaños, el 10 de septiembre – que me hizo sentir como si estuviera en casa.

Como voluntarios ardientes, trabajamos en equipo para hacer funcionar el albergue. Las luces se apagaban a las 10:00pm, pero el calor del noventa-grado no se aguantaba. Mi tanda era generalmente desde las 8:00pm hasta las 2:00am, así que manejaría los sucesos inusuales, tales como emergencias diabéticas o de respiración, que resolví con la enfermera. Después de que algunos días pasaran, algunos residentes fueron juntados con miembros de sus familias, mientras que otros dejaron el refugio por una nueva vida en otros estados, o esperaron ansiosamente para volver a sus hogares. Yo salí también del albergue después de trabajar allí por dos semanas, y entonces el albergue cerró algunos días después.

Durante las últimas dos semanas, me asignaron al Escritorio de las Operaciones de Los Servicios del Socio en el edificio de La Jefatura en Biloxi. Como Enlace del Gobierno de la Cruz Roja Americana, colaboré doce horas al día con los socios del gobierno local, estado, y federal, y con otras agencias voluntarias, para resolver las necesidades de una estimación de 950.000 gente afectada en Mississippi.  Mi responsabilidades incluían lo siguiente: Tomar llamadas telefónicas, responder a las visitas de funcionarios de varios sitios, y resolver situaciones. Manejé preocupaciones verdaderas, tales como vaciar los basureros que se desbordaban, proveer agua a las cocinas de la Cruz Roja, y asegurar la presencia del Protector Nacional por el control del gentío en nuestros sitios de la ayuda financiera. Al principio, teníamos centenares de solicitudes.  ¡Cuando dejé el trabajo, las solicitudes habían sido reducidos a la mitad de la docena! Sí, habíamos progresado…

El 29 de septiembre, monté un avión para regresar de nuevo a Leesburg, Virginia. Gracias a toda la gente en Mississippi y los muchos voluntarios de cercano y de lejano, respondimos a la necesidad y ayudamos de una manera pequeña. Todavía me estraña esos días en que el refugio finalmente llegó a ser con aire acondicionado, cuando los residentes del refugio me dijeron “gracias, ” y cuando compartí la cena después de un día largo en La Jefatura con otros voluntarios llamados para ayudar. Pronto todos regresaríamos a nuestros hogares, familias, y las camas cómodas, a diferencia de la gente que aguantó la pérdida causado por una tormenta tan feroz.

Journey to Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina

On September 1, 2005, I arrived in Montgomery, Alabama with a large group of American Red Cross Disaster Services volunteers.  Assigned to work in shelters, we were told to expect the worst.  In order to prepare, we gathered and loaded up supplies, such as water and Heater Meals (like military rations, but in nicer packaging).

The following morning, on September 2nd , we headed to Gulfport, Mississippi.  As we approached our destination, the destruction became more noticeable off the interstate.  Some areas were leveled, while others were untouched.  Then, we passed by a line of cars almost two miles long off of one of the exits for a gas station.  We felt relieved that we had about three-quarters of a tank left and that we would arrive before 8:00pm curfew.

Later that morning, we arrived at the American Red Cross Mississippi Gulf Coast Chapter Temporary Operations Headquarters.  I was assigned as the Assistant Shelter Manager at Harrison Central Elementary School in Gulfport.  Finally, we met the current shelter managers, two sisters.  They were kind and helpful, even though they were tired from running the shelter for a week, and they had lost everything themselves.  We slept on the floor for the first five days until cots were delivered.  Luckily, we had running water and a make-shift shower.

I was impressed by the resilience of the 164 residents, who had formed a cooking crew amongst themselves, and were serving three meals a day, thanks to a generator that had been donated.  I was also amazed by the resident who had devised the make-shift shower out of plastic crates and soda cans (with holes poked through them) for a shower head.  Another resident, a thin woman with a distinct Mississippi drawl, was a loyal helper, always willing to clean the bathrooms daily.  And yet another man, who lost his bakery, managed to gather all the supplies, to bake me a delicious cake on my birthday, September 10th – it made me feel as if I was home.

Yvette Castro-Green on Hewes Avenue in Gulfport, Mississippi in Hurricane Katrina affected neighborhood (September 2005)

Yvette Castro-Green on Hewes Avenue in Gulfport, Mississippi in Hurricane Katrina affected neighborhood (September 2005)

As eager volunteers, we worked as a team to run the shelter.  Lights out was 10:00pm, but the ninety-degree heat was unbearable.  My shift was usually 8pm-2am, so I would handle the unusual happenings, such as diabetic or breathing emergencies, which I resolved with the nurse.  After a few days passed, some residents were reunited with their family members, while others left the shelter for a new life in other states, or waited anxiously to return to their homes.  I, too, departed from the shelter after serving there for two weeks, and it closed a few days later.

During my last two weeks, I was assigned to the Partner Services Operations Desk at the Headquarters building in Biloxi.  As a Government Liaison, I collaborated twelve hours a day with local, state, and federal government partners, and other voluntary agencies, to meet the needs of an estimated 950,000 affected people in Mississippi.  My responsibility was to take phone calls, respond to visits from officials at various locations, and resolve issues.  I handled real concerns, such as emptying overflowing dumpsters, supplying Red Cross kitchens with water, and securing National Guard presence for crowd-control at our financial assistance sites.  Initially, we had hundreds of pending requests…by the time I left, the requests had been reduced to half a dozen!  Yes, we had made progress…

On September 29th, I boarded a plane back to Leesburg, Virginia.  Thanks to all the people in Mississippi, and the many volunteers from near and far, we responded to the need and helped in a small way.  I still miss those days when the shelter finally became air-conditioned, when the shelter residents said “thank you,” and I shared dinner after a long day at the Headquarters with other volunteers called to help.  Soon we would all be returning to our homes, families, and comfortable beds, unlike the people who endured the loss brought on by such a fierce storm.

To the Least of our Brothers/Sisters

To the Least of our Brothers/Sisters

I read this article several days ago – and I have yet to come to grips with the recent events and the turmoil experienced by this particular mother and her son, along with the shooter, the victims, survivors, and all their family members.

This past Sunday, I had the unenviable task of providing an explanation to my 9 y/o son after the event was mentioned at my church and we received a recorded message from the principal of our son’s school that evening (and he just happened to be standing next to the phone when the call came in).  Fortunately he’s not into watching the news on TV or listening to the news on the radio.  He thinks the TV news is boring and NPR or any talk radio gives him a stomachache.  To my surprise, he didn’t respond w/crying or fear, but expressed the fact that what I told him “creeped him out.”  He said he had no knowledge of the incident before I told him about it.  We must listen to our children closely while examining what went wrong and to discover the real solutions.

I guess my only consolation is that OUR community has great Mental Health support and law enforcement.  There has been lots of effort on the prevention front and that is comforting – I can vouch for that as I stood side by side with them after 9/11 and continue to work w/them while serving some of our most vulnerable populations, recently-arrived or even established immigrants that need support.  However, there still exists that consternation in the back of my mind each day when I send my child off to school or step outside and imagine what could be.  School administrators and counselors need more specialized training to deal with these “out of the box” scenarios.  They have so much on their plate, but it must come to the forefront!  We are the lucky ones, but what about other communities that slip through the cracks because of lack of funding, advocacy etc.? 

Flashback: I remember vividly when Mi Mama y Mi Padrastro (stepdad) would recount the days events.  In particular, I will never forget when one of my brother’s high school classmates went missing – it was several weeks before authorities discovered his body at the area by Water Dog Lake, down the hill behind the local elementary/middle school.  The school just happened to be down the street from our house and Mi Padrastro used to take us on hikes down and up the mountainside when he had the time, or play soccer/baseball for hours on end.  I think I was about 10 at the time since I think my brother was a Freshman and he’s 3 yrs. older.

Mis padres (my parents) always watched the news in front of us, read the paper daily, and served as our protectors.  Yes, there were those occasional horrifying events that occurred and were unfathomable.  Yes, Mi Padrastro often referenced the Book of Revelation in the Bible and explained that God said once children start killing their parents, that will be the end of the world!  Could this have been something he brought with him from the Mayan tradition, having spent most of his childhood as an orphan in Guatemala?  Mis padres always kept everything out in the open, well, except for maybe some of those more sensitive subjects, like the birds and the bees 😉

In any case, I am not a cynic.  I want to still believe that everyone is still good, down deep inside.  I have hope that the “helpers” in our community and the nation can use the tragedy in CT (and all those prior) to turn around this disturbing trend, rally for expanded mental health assistance, and move us in the right direction.  It’s the least we can do to make the world a better place – and we owe it to Newtown…

Happy holidays everyone!

 

Tribulation, triumph and tranquility (Peace = La Paix, La Paz)

Whew, what a loooong and trying day…tomorrow is a new day, thank God.  Let me preface this by saying that my initial skepticism/dislike with Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) has developed into an extreme, strong dismay that I don’t care to deal with any longer.  Hope the new LCPS Discipline Task Force actually makes real progress and isn’t just a bunch of good old boys of the LCPS School Board giving the appearance that they are actually doing something.  I’m just about ready to put my son in a private/military school right now @#%^&.  OK I’ll get off my soapbox now…here’s a partial timeline of Thursday’s highlights (note: references to “D” = my son and “M” = my daughter):

1) 3pm – D returns from school – behavior chart again was less than desirable (of course his main teacher went into LABOR days early and this was 1st day w/new long-term substitute); D informs me that Mrs. ______ had her baby yesterday, it was a baby boy, and she named it _______ (oh joy); spend next 15 min. lecturing him and proceed to give a detailed outline of the rules, previous conversations that were extremely familiar on these topics, and that he would be rightly punished and grounded if it happens again…
2) 3:05pm – D forgot his study guide for the Jamestown test tomorrow, so we go back to school to get it (like the 100th time this year); am I a slave-driver Supermom?  No pun intended.
3) 3:10pm – Lovely substitute teacher still in the classroom, so I get to meet her and hear about D misbehavin’ and how he didn’t write complete sentences for the answers on his study guide (“Oh, but the answers were all correct, he just needs to write complete sentences,” she stated) as D is practically in tears – SO NIT-PICKY IMO!!  Not off on the right foot…
4) 3:15pm – stop by the office to let them know D will be out of school a couple of days due to impending travel; my two “favorite” people are there (principal and asst. principal) [as I say sarcastically in my mind]; so then Mr. ____________ (asst. principal) comes up to the desk and proceeds to say “Hi Darren…so, gonna have a better day tomorrow?” as if D had not already been put down enough for the day – I felt like smacking the man upside the head…no disrespect intended to school administrators in general
4) 3:20pm – Return home and spend another 15 min. lecturing D while serving as maid getting a snack for him; spend another hour on homework – pushing and prodding while D whines and rebels and I send him to his room a couple of times; all while hacking away and still feeling strong effects of double ear infection/bronchitis!
5) 9am-5pm (on/off) Spend half the day trying to track down/speaking to references for potential new babysitter
6) 5-5:35pm – Call from Madeleine’s daycare 1.5 hrs. before closing time to come pick her up because she had a potty accident and they had no change of clothes for her = (…pick up and change her
7) 5:35 – Nightmare trip to Target to pick up my new medicine:

I tell D the rules “Remember I am NOT buying any toys for you and I expect you to behave.”  Enter store…M starts asking for the Hello Kitty stuff right by the Pharmacy and I tell her “No, we’re not getting that…”  She proceeds to whine and cry as D starts acting out…lecture time for D as we wait in line behind three people…M starts wailing & I say en francais “Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?  C’est pas gentil!” (translation: What’s wrong?  That’s not nice)…

Kind woman in front of us, in full Flight Attendant outfit who appeared to have just flown in from Dulles, asked if I wanted to go ahead of her & I thanked her profusely, then politely ask the cashier for my Rx while hacking away…

M starts running off to an area that had one of those triangular signs w/the guy slipping & I have to quickly retrieve her and reprimand her “No, it’s dangerous” I said firmly – “C’est dangereux”…she starts wailing again…

Check-out with cashier seemed to take hours…finally, the mission, what seemed impossible,  accomplished, and I say a very quick “Thank you”; head out of the store (no looking back), holding M’s hand and walking swiftly while she’s wails and I tell both kids “I’m never coming here ever again with you” (Yeah, right, how many millions of times have I said that?).

Out to the parking lot, go to put M in her car seat while crying & I say “Mais, qu’est-ce qu’il y a?” “But, what is the matter?” all the whilst never ceasing her tears…
8) 6:30pm – Return home, go back and forth w/M to troubleshoot DVD player so she can watch a movie and PLEASE GIVE MOMMY A BREAK!! ; multitask taking new medicine while checking e-mail, etc.
9) 7:00-8:00pm – Make dinner, have a relatively peaceful time eating w/kids (minus Daddy who is on travel at a work conference), clean up & take a deep breath before bedtime ritual while listening to free entertainment courtesy of D on the digital piano (<<sigh>> he’s finally sufficiently distracted not to cause any more damage)
10) 8:05-8:33pm – Draw/take M bath, get D to take shower, give M her regular yogurt dessert “Yaourt, en francais” before bedtime (note: in the car on the way home and after dinner I exclaimed to both children that “you will both go to bed EXTRA early tonight since you went to bed EXTRA late last night.”  It was especially fun last night dragging my sleepy, cranky, preschool daughter to the Little League baseball game, pacify her with Angry Birds on my phone to attempt redirection, when I feel terrible.  Then coming home just in time for the WS game, so kids extend their day not to miss a moment (never again, I say!!).

Flash forward to today: “Hallelujah” I thought to myself…”kids in bed by 8:30pm” (almost never occurs in this household).  Although M was extra fussy, I couldn’t figure out what she wanted, and I was ready to call it a day, so I halted entertaining any thoughts on what could be wrong.  Being the naive person I am, I thought I could escape to watch the WS game in the basement, and when I came upstairs 40 minutes later, M is still crying in her bed…turns out she needed to go to the bathroom & couldn’t get out of her crib.  OMG I felt like a bad Mom…but what’s a Mom to do when she’s practically deaf still and needed to rest…I swear, I couldn’t hear a thing from the basement!  But, alas, there was victory with the advanced potty training – score for Mommy!

Grateful D was fast asleep initially, and finally had conquered M at 9:30pm.  It’s that “Aaaaaaah, now I can relax” mode, when you let out a huge exhale, and feel the day is finally coming to a close, and you’ve survived once again, albeit beat-up and bruised.  I was fortunate to have slept pretty well last night and enjoyed a leisurely stroll in the late morning with my Black Lab mix, while viewing and taking snapshots of the beautiful Fall colors.  It’s those little moments of tranquility that I cherish and help to set the tone for the rest of the day…

Why is it that kids turn your whole world upside down?  They are such little people, but somehow they create the havoc that never seems to be easily remedied…I guess it’s a life-long process.  They were right when they said this parenting thing doesn’t come with a manual and it takes a village to raise a child.  Sometimes you have to figure it out along the way.  It just seems like when you’ve overcome one obstacle, another challenge appears in the mist, taunting you at every opportunity – interrupting your work day/routine/flow, penetrating your dreams, affecting the tranquility of slumber, and on and on.  I love my kids to death, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world, though…now gotta get back to my Giants and MY bedtime ritual – time to take care of ME, bahahaha (cackling in the spirit of the Halloween season under my breath).

All in all, it really isn’t that bad, you always make it through the day in your own special way.  As I have always told my kids when I tuck them in tightly before bed (an altered version of what my Mom “La Salvadorena” used to say to me every night):

“Bonne nuit…
Good Night…
Buenas Noches…
Que Duermes con Los Angelitos…
Sleep with The Angels…
Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite”

…and a kiss on the forehead CURES ALL!

“Todo Acerca de Mi” (All About Me)

Chinese Fortunes I’ve collected over the last several months:

1) Trust your intuition.

2) The respect and help of influential people will soon be yours.

3) A solid challenge will bring forth your finest abilities.

I think I experienced #3 this afternoon being bashed by a certain male offspring and spending 1.5 hours arguing about 4th grade homework, including the difference between rounding to the nearest tenth/hundredth/thousandth and rounding a number to its highest place (i.e. – place value).  After consulting w/my better half, the Math wizard, and carefully working it out along w/back-up research on the Internet, I validated my suspicions and proceeded to explain to my son the correct way to do his assignment.

Fifty imaginary lashes and one hour later, my son finally succumbed and corrected his answers, although he assured me that “Homework didn’t matter and we don’t get graded on it anyways.”  Well, “guess what” I explained that it didn’t matter what his teacher, principal, friend or anyone else said – “homework is important to you, me and OUR family.”  I told him that homework was practice and “practice makes perfect.”  After all, if he was going to learn anything and succeed on the tests/quizzes, the process was most important, right?  Tests, quizzes, and the grade he received was important, but it was even more important to understand HOW to do it.  “You could go through 12 years of school, get A’s on everything and not understand how you did it.  Is that going to help you?  No,” I stated to him firmly.

Analogies were spewed as a last resort to get through the kid’s thick skull: practicing baseball, becoming an engineer and needing to know math concepts to work out problems in his job.  It was like my first time stepping foot in my public speaking class in grad school, except just to see eyes roll and my son beg me to let him finish his homework – no real “moral” support.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I was blessed with victory (or so I thought).  The battle definitely ensued with some wounds, but culminated with “quizzing” him on his Spanish lesson with a full kinesthetic drama of conversation “Todo Acerca de mi” (All About Me).  The boy falling to his knees in my arms crying/laughing simultaneously saying “I hate Spanish, I hate Spanish, why do I need to learn it?”  I reassured him that I understood him and “Aw, it’s all right baby” – then I told him that it’s important to learn it, “because you have relatives in Costa Rica and my parents spoke to us in Spanish and we want you to learn the language & culture.”  And so the dialogue began:

¿Cómo te llamas? (What is your name?)

¿Cuántos años tienes? (How old are you?)

¿Dónde vives? (Where do you live?)

Me llamo Darren.

YES!

Ok, now ¿Dónde vives?

Me llamo _____ (insert age here)

NO!  You just said “My name is ____ (insert age here)!”  Try again, honey…

Then I gave him an example as my preschool daughter, Madeleine, is standing next to me: “Mi hija tiene ___ (insert number here) años.  ¿Darren, cuántos años tienes TU? (How old are YOU?)

But he finally got it at the end of an arduous 45 minutes.  The scene was pathetic, yet accomplished the goal.  I was standing at the top of the stairs, he ran down to the basement thinking he had escaped to go watch TV and I stopped him in his tracks:

Me: “No, no, no, where are you going…we’re NOT finished yet…¿Cuándo es tu cumpleaños?” (When is your birthday?) and as an example with Madeleine sitting next to me, I said:

“El cumpleaños de mi hija es el _____ (day) de ____ (month).”

In the heat of the moment, it came to me – a more effective teaching technique for this special learner could work – so I proceeded with the Happy Birthday song in Spanish dancing w/my daughter at the top of the stairs:

“Felíz cumpleaños a ti, felíz cumpleaños a ti…”…¿Cuándo es tu cumpleaños, Darren?”

Whining son: “Uhnh…Mi cumpleaños es el ___ (insert day) de ______ (insert month).”

Then he scurries away quickly to watch TV as a cucaracha (cockroache) would go into the corner after someone’s unsuccessful attempt to squish it with a big black shoe…I guess you had to be there.

http://www.allegiancemusical.com/blog-entry/reflect

http://www.allegiancemusical.com/blog-entry/reflect

I know it’s a day late, but still remembering 9/11/01…I was working at the American Red Cross Loudoun County Chapter as the Emergency Services Director.  I oversaw 3 programs – Disaster Services, Armed Forces Emergency Services, International Services, and depending on the day, sometimes the vehicle donation program, sometimes assisting w/coordination of Health & Safety, etc., since I was the only one who spoke Spanish.

I decided to go in early that day to catch up on some work, so I didn’t have a chance to watch/listen to the news.  Soon after I arrived, one of our dedicated volunteers who came in daily to answer phones/do admin. work called and told me that a plane had crashed and to turn on the TV.  So, I did, and I couldn’t believe my eyes – at first I thought maybe it was an accident, then I immediately knew it was a terrorist attack when the second plane hit.  As I watched in horror, the adrenaline soon kicked in and I recalled vividly all my Red Cross training in Disaster and WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction), but still, I hesitated on what action to take first – “there is so much to do and so many people to contact, and my God, how many people affected?,” I thought to myself and felt so alone.  Soon enough, the phone started ringing off the hook, every 7 seconds to be more exact.  Most of the public wanted to donate blood, and we didn’t know how to direct them…henceforth I no longer felt alone – on the contrary, I was surrounded by all these caring souls who felt helpless.

I did not return home until after midnight that night (technically Sept. 12th) as we were all busy bees that fateful day.  What was on my mind in the middle of the madness was my husband and whether or not he was OK as he was working in DC at the time.  Phone lines were jammed and cell phones were not working – I was eternally grateful for the two-way pager, which I used to communicate w/colleagues.  I finally got through to my husband after midnight when I got home (thank God for our landline phone) – he decided to stay at the office so he could avoid the traffic, who could blame him : /

When I arrived home, our dog (10-month old puppy at the time) had chewed through the wooden gate in the kitchen, traipsed around the entire house, spread garbage all over the house (toilet paper & miscellaneous items), made messes here and there, and was laying in our bed.  It didn’t help that she had been “fixed” the day before on Sept. 10th!  Understandably, with the non-stop nature of that day, I had completely forgotten about anything household-related, including the dog.  There were a barrage of messages on our answering machine from family across the country worried about how we were doing, so I called them in the middle of the night to quell their fears.

Little did I know what lied ahead in staffing Dulles airport with the Disaster Mental Health workers who we had trained a few months prior and managing the casework for the victims families.  Those volunteers were our saving grace…along w/the 100+ spontaneous volunteers who came through our doors to do anything in their power to support the operation.  Young, middle-aged, and elderly came in droves – it was the most emotional, frustrating, frightening, yet rewarding experiences of my life.  One of the volunteers was kind to offer to take in our dog and cared for her since she had been neutered and was not allowed to run/jump – not to mention I couldn’t leave her alone at home due to the long hours!  And all the businesses that came forth – it truly became a community-wide effort…

There is one case in particular that I will never forget – a woman who had relocated from NYC to Loudoun County several months after 9-11.  She called us and briefly told me how she ended up here, so we made an appt. and she came in for a meeting with me.  Behind closed doors, she told me about how she lived in an apt. building which was in close proximity to the WTC & Twin Towers.  She described how she saw body parts fall from the sky and all the soot, etc. cover their building.  She proceeded to tell me about evacuation procedures and many other details I can’t remember since it’s been so long.

I had heard many stories throughout my long Red Cross career, including Holocaust survivors accounts, but never like this; nothing that brought it so close to home for me.  A woman, who could have been me, experiencing such atrocities in my lifetime, not far from my own abode.  She mentioned that she would be writing a book, but I don’t remember her name or if it was ever published.  I just know, we helped in some tiny way – by listening to her story and being there when she needed it most.  That changed my entire persective, and after all the pain, suffering, anger, frustration that I, the victims families, and the public experienced/felt, that one story & helping her was like a catharsis for me.

I realized that despite the tragedy that befuddled us, we made a difference for at least one.  In reality, I knew there were dozens of other families, hundreds of volunteers, colleagues, and people in the community to whom we lent a hand, whether it be providing financial compensation for their loss, a way to give back, a debriefing to make sure Red Cross workers could deal w/PTSD, or allowing school children to raise money for the cause.  Regardless of all the politics that occurred – that day, and in the days, weeks, and months that followed, we all came together as a community, young/old, police, fire, Mental Health professionals, EMS personnel, and American Red Cross staff to meet the needs as best we knew how.

That is what happened to me – a transformative role and experience in my life.  Now to reflect on how others reacted, what they encountered, and how they felt…