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I will never forget September 11

As is a tradition for this blog, I repost my personal story of September 11 every year here to pay tribute to the memory of an experience that profoundly shaped and saddened so many lives. At the time I was a 26 year old architect living in New York City with my then boyfriend, now husband JR, and working in Tribeca, about a mile north of the twin towers. I wrote this letter via email to friends and family on Sept. 12. The photo below was taken by my co-worker Nick as we watched the chaos from the street near our office.


I just wanted to let everyone know that JR and I are okay. Yesterday was probably the worst thing we have ever been through.  I wrote down what I experienced and I want to share it with you:

I don’t even know how to start writing about this but I want to get so much off my mind right now.  Yesterday was one of the most terrifying, awful, unbelievable days I think I will ever have to face.  I  keep replaying the events in my head and I still can’t believe they aren’t parts of a nightmare.

I left the house at about 8:40 AM on my way to work worrying about the most petty things: my new pants, all the tasks ahead of me at work, a friend coming into town that night…. I was at Mott Street just south of Houston when I heard a plane very close above and a couple seconds later a thud.  At first I thought the plane was probably nothing and the thud was coming from a construction site nearby.  As I reached Lafayette Street between Prince and Spring I saw fire trucks racing out of the fire station there and then saw smoke in the sky in the direction of the World Trade Center and suddenly knew something awful had happened.  I ran down to Lafayette and Kenmare where I could finally see the World Trade Center and I just couldn’t believe what I saw: a giant hole in two sides of the North Tower.  It gaped like an open wound, like nothing you could imagine.  Smoke and flames were coming out of the hole and everyone around me was staring in disbelief, calling people on their cell phones, muttering stifled exclamations.  I ran across Lafayette and walked/ran to my office at White Street, a couple blocks south of Canal.  We are about a ten minute walk from WTC.  My coworker, Nick, was in the elevator on the way up to the office.  Nobody was in the office when we arrived and we decided to go up to the roof to see what was going on.   At that point on the roof where we stood we could see just the North tower burning.  You could see the bent steel at the mouth of the hole and again flames and smoke.  Papers were flying through the sky, flickering like in the Ticker Tape parade.  It was so haunting and awful.  Nick and I then when back to the office where still nobody was, so we went down to the street.  At Church, a block south of White Street we saw my boss Jeff and at that point saw that the South tower, which had been fine minutes before, was now on fire.  Up until that moment I had really believed that this was an airplane accident.  It just seemed impossible that it could be anything else.  But once we found out that the South Tower was also on fire we knew, just knew it was terrorism.  People didn’t know what had really happened at the South Tower, my boss thought it was a bomb.  Then eventually we heard there had been two planes.  All I could think of was how could this be happening, how is this possible?  And we all thought this was it.  The worst that could happen had.  I asked Jeff if he thought the towers could recover from this and he said he thought they were doing pretty well so far.

We went back to the office.  Our client who was scheduled for a morning meeting called.  She said she lived down by the WTC and was on her way up.  We turned on the radio and heard reports that the Pentagon had been bombed and the White House evacuated.  It felt like the world was collapsing around us and we couldn’t do anything.  I tried to clean up my desk a little, I called JR, I called my parents.  I startled my dad and brother and told them what was going on; it was 9:30.  I told them not to go anywhere.

I don’t know how much time passed, and as I continued to clean my desk suddenly our building shook.  We heard on the radio that a mushroom cloud had erupted at the South Tower.  We looked out our window over to Broadway and saw masses of people running north.  At that point I ran up to the roof and traipsed over several roofs to see the South Tower but there was nothing except smoke and sky and the lone North Tower.  People on the roof said the South Tower had collapsed!  All I could think of was all the rescue workers who had been there trying to help and were probably crushed and killed by the falling debris.  I turned to a woman near me and we just cried and said how awful we felt that the rescuers were probably themselves killed.  My bosses came up to the roof and I pointed out that the South Tower was missing, gone.  I think they hadn’t even conceived that anything worse than the plane crashes could happen.  They went back downstairs but Nick and I stayed to watch the fire at the North Tower.  I just kept thinking I had to stay in case the North Tower also collapsed.  It was that sick fascination mixed with disbelief, mixed with the feeling that you are witnessing history, mixed with concern, fear, worry.  We watched and part of me said that the collapse of the South Tower, which had seemed more badly damaged because it’s corner was ripped off, was all the more that could happen.  Surely the North Tower, whose top1/3 was on fire but whose bottom 2/3 seemed perfectly intact would make it through.  As we watched we could see huge pieces of debris falling off the building.  We saw flickering rectangles float to the ground-probably windows.  At some point we could see that the part of the North Tower closest to the former South building, had been scarred, gashes running down the side.

I moved to a shady part of the roof still trying to comprehend what was happening.  And then the impossible.  The top of the North Tower, giant radio antenna and all, turned from a square to round circle of dust, the antenna fell north, the building disintegrated, exploded before our eyes, paper and dust.  The whole building just sunk to the ground, even the bottom 2/3 which had seemed okay.  There were no guts left, no elevator shaft, no steel skin, in a couple seconds.  The entire thing was gone.

I hugged my coworker and just screamed and cried.  I don’t remember any sounds at all, just screaming.  After a few moments of pacing and looking up in disbelief and crying, I looked over at my coworker who was crouched down, upset, and told him let’s go inside.

We got back to our office and reported to our bosses that the North Tower had just collapsed.  We just looked at each other in shock.  I don’t think any one of us could have imagined it possible to destroy the WTC so swiftly, so deliberately, so awfully.  To me the towers were like two giants, themselves containing thousands of lives and watching this destruction was like watching thousands die in the shape of a building.

We waited and waited for our client to come.  I called JR and my family again. Finally our client showed up and we were so relieved.  We talked about how the collapse had been so clean.  A structural failure seemed like it would be messier and we wondered if additional bombs were set to go off to collapse the buildings, intentionally an hour or so later when even more people, rescue workers etc. would be at the scene.  It seemed too sickening to fathom and yet everything we had just seen would have been impossible to imagine just hours before.

Our bosses said to go home.  I left the office and joined thousands of people on the streets.  All the subways and roads were shut down.  There were lines at every pay phone.  I saw a group of people who were covered in dust and I asked them how they were.  They said they worked in WTC and had managed to walk down before the collapse.  They said some of their friends weren’t as lucky, some didn’t get up.  They said they saw bodies and body parts  everywhere, it was horrific.  I told them God Bless and continued home.  I stopped at a friend’s house on the way and we just hugged and shook our heads.

The rest of the day passed in a blur, just the news, and walks up to the roof, and downs to the street.  JR and I took a walk last night and the streets were almost empty.  Most businesses and restaurants closed.  The few people on the street were mostly silent.  All you could hear were the sirens, a never ending stream of sirens.  Later as I tried to fall asleep I couldn’t tell if the sirens I heard were real or in my head.

Today I just feel devastated.  I feel like everything that was important to me is just petty.  We’re just lucky to be alive.  I love you all.


I cannot tell a lie

Yesterday my son found out how bad a lie makes you feel. A little white lie to spare someone’s feelings is still okay in my book but in lies in general eat away at your insides. They can literally make you feel sick.

Case in point, last night at dinnertime my 5 year old son threw his usual fit over being told his computer time for the day was officially over. My husband, tired of this daily struggle, told him to think it over quietly in the bedroom then get his tush to the dinner table. The rest of us sat down for a mildly relaxing meal  listening to the occasional protest coming from the bedroom until finally it stopped. Convinced that Alonzo was calm enough to come join us, my husband walked into the bedroom to find our little boy shaking and upset. When he got to the table he was whimpering and grabbing for me, clutching his stomach saying he wasn’t hungry. I immediately thought this was a ploy, after all he is “conveniently” sick as soon as he gets to the table? He appeared just fine minutes before when he was happily playing video games on the computer. Hmmmmm……..

But the act continued very convincingly so we shuffled him off to the living room, wondering if his stomach really hurt him after all. He also complained that he was having trouble breathing. We let him lay down on the couch and tried to get him to relax and finally my husband said he was going over to the store to see if there wasn’t some type of Pepto Bismol for kids that might help.

After a few minutes on the couch resting, my son started fidgeting and then asked me if he could sleep on the couch tonight. Pretty soon after he sat up and seemed to be feeling better. Then he told me he needed to go outside and begged me to join him. As I followed him outside he said, “Mommy I need to tell you something.” Here we go. I knew he wasn’t sick, just upset…. “Yes, honey, what is it?” I calmly reply. “Mommy, I broke the lamp in the bedroom. When I was mad I spit on the light and it broke.”

Now the picture starts coming together. We head to the bedroom and sure enough the bulb in bedside lamp has shattered into pieces. The whole thing must have exploded when Alonzo spit on it. I didn’t get mad. Why? Clearly the lie had been festering inside my son, so much so he had made himself sick. The explosion must have frightened him and the thought of what Mommy would say when she saw her lamp broken and what Daddy would say about what he had done was enough to make him think keeping it a secret was the best option. This isn’t how I want my son to feel. He kept checking in with me to see if I was mad but I told him I believed he had a already learned his lesson, that lying makes you feel awful, truly sick to your stomach. It also taught me that the idea of punishment or reprimand has made him worried about being honest. I’ve read that punishment is not the answer to behavioral issues and the concept was front and center last night. Time to consult my tried and true (and wrinkled) copy of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.

Immediately after unloading the truth Alonzo was 100% cured! He was chatty Cathy, telling me everything he had felt and thought when the light exploded, how he was scared and out of breath, how the incident made him have a virus that hurt his body, and that he now felt hungry and ready to eat. My husband comes home to this “miracle” and I tell him to not get mad but what really happened was……

He gave Alonzo some Pepto Bismol anyway.

I let a 3 year old give me a pedicure

When my mother-in-law was visiting us this summer she brought along a bottle of nail polish. Like a bee to honey my three-year-old daughter Clara saw it and immediately wanted to paint everyone’s nails. I’m not sure what instinct beckons girls to make-up and “fanciness” but you didn’t even need to explain to her what it was for, bright red paintable goop? Let me at it! With Grandma, Clara was a patient nail painter; Grandma helped her apply the polish to her toenails. But with Mommy she insisted on showing me just how good she was at doing it without help.

After a day at work I really didn’t have the energy to argue… I stretched out my toes, grabbed a glass of water, and didn’t look down. Of course as I felt the cool polish on my skin I knew we were maybe not coloring within the lines. When all was said and done I looked down to find the scene above, it looked a little bit like I had just dragged my feet through sharp glass but Miss Clara was so proud. I smiled and gave her a huge hug and congratulated her on a job well done.

The funny thing is we don’t have nail polish remover and red remnants dot my tootsies to this day. Nonetheless, I’m happy to keep the color until that last little bit chips off, it always makes me smile when I look down at my toes and think about the fancy girl that painted them.

I finally found the magic penny

Two Sunday’s ago my darling 3 year old daughter swallowed a penny. 

She was sitting right next to me while I snoozed and my husband read the kids a bedtime story. Suddenly I hear this gagging sound and my first thought is she’s vomiting. Panic adrenaline stirs me out of my sleepiness and I’m about to rush her to the toilet when we realize she’s gagging on something. Her face conveys her fear and she finally says something about a penny and points to her throat. As the picture of what happened becomes clear we give her a glass of water and tell her to drink, hoping that if the penny is still in her throat this will help wash it down. After a few sips and some moments to breathe, Miss Clara calms down and tells us she indeed swallowed the penny that had been sitting on the nightstand. We momentarily admonish her for putting a penny in her mouth and she tries to tell us she thought it was food, hmmmmmm…..After the number of things I’ve found her chewing on I’m surprised she hasn’t swallowed something worse before this and I relay my own experience of swallowing a marble as a child. “It will be okay,” we assure her, and then we all go to bed.

Of course the next morning I wake up in a panic and head straight to the internet to google “child swallows penny”. One of the top articles that comes up tells parents to rush a child who swallows a penny to the hospital because some pennies are corrosive if caught in the esophagus. Great. Thankfully every other article says it’s okay and that it will make its way out naturally. Luckily Clara’s doctor concurs.

And so the “checking” process starts. I didn’t expect to see anything in the first day’s bowel movement. On days 2 and 3 I’m jumping up every time Clara says she has to poo, thrilled by the prospect that the penny will be there waiting for us after all is said and done. By days 4 and 5 I’m getting frustrated. No penny. I start emailing and calling her doctor, “Shouldn’t it be here by now? Do we need an X-ray?” The doctor keeps assuring me it will come out. I keep her updated on a daily basis but by the weekend she’s asking me “Are you sure she swallowed it?” I tell her I’m 99% sure and when Monday comes and we are still empty handed, the doctor finally orders an x-ray.

My husband took Clara in to get her picture taken and sure enough there it is! The penny we’ve been searching for, right there in her intestines, clear as day. A few people I show the X-Ray to ask me if she swallowed a quarter because it looks so big but I remind them she’s just a wee thing.

I have a nice chat that afternoon with the doctor and she says this penny sure has a slow transit time. That night Clara poops and I check, nada, thirty minutes later she says she has to go again and FINALLY there waiting for me is President Abe Lincoln himself. Here I’ve been all week sifting through the muck and he’s on his own in the bowl, practically smiling at me. I grab the potty and march to the kitchen table (yes, we were halfway through dinner) to display the treasure to the whole family. The idea of the four of us staring at a potty full of excrement in between mouthfuls of ravioli isn’t off putting at all, we’ve been waiting 8 days to see this! Happily we all breathe a giant sigh of relief.

I’ve been letting that penny sit in cleansers for the past few days, next it will get bleached, and then maybe framed ;). My son Alonzo told me later that he’s so glad he can now have his magic penny back. “Your magic penny?” I ask. He says it is his penny. “And you really want it back after you know where’s it been?” “Yes” he assures me, “It’s mine”.

I have a kindergartner

My son started kindergarten this week. 

Perusing Facebook the past few days was a like a “what ever happened to” for preschool. It was fun to see pictures of all the preschool grads starting their first day of kindergarten and read all the comments about their reactions to the dramatic change. Alonzo did well but frankly I’m having a hard time.

We chose a co-op preschool because we could be involved in our child’s education. The idea of dropping Alonzo off at kinder with his teacher and picking him up at the end of the day with no knowledge of what happened during the 6 hours in between is making me a little crazy. And if you think you can get long and detailed answers out of my 5 year old, think again. His teacher has been so busy dismissing everyone at the end of the day that I haven’t had a moment to chat her up, but luckily a few parents have been at school volunteering both their time and information, so my husband and I have been able to get a little bit of the lowdown.

As expected there are ups and downs, pros and cons. Our son is attending our local public school which is a California Distinguished School. That doesn’t change the fact that LAUSD can only afford one teacher for 24 kindergartners, no teacher’s assistants. It wouldn’t bother me too much except that the grapevine informed me several disruptive children are making it hard for the whole class to learn. Add to that a bully who already teased my petite son about his stature and what’s a mom to do? Well, for now take a deep breath, give it some time, and if nothing changes COMPLAIN!

I do think things will settle down as the kids get used to a routine, and the troublemakers get disciplined and the kids who need extra attention get the help they need, and, well, I know I’m being very optimistic….In any case I plan on being a very vocal parent if things don’t happen. I also plan on giving my son the tools he needs to deal with mean kids, challenges, and frustrations. I think the hardest thing is knowing that I won’t always be by his side to help him through tough situations. It’s inevitable that he will be teased. Every kid is teased by someone about something. I was teased for being a nerd, for my name, for my overbite. I survived. And I know Alonzo will survive too but it doesn’t make hearing about it any less painful.

On the plus side Alonzo already has two buddies he’s talking about on a daily basis and he’s coming home with gold stars and smiles. The magic moment I’m waiting for is when I open his lunchbox at the end of the day to see it empty, right now it’s coming home 3/4 full…..hmmmm…..give a child a little independence at meal time and I see what happens ;)

Here’s the long road of education ahead.

I’ve been on vacation

I just love the movie Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation; it’s a super campy Jimmy Stewart film from the early 60s about a banker who takes his family on a month long vacation to the beach one summer. They pull up to the “beach house” they rented to find a dilapidated old  Victorian with plumbing problems galore, but despite a tumultuous trip riddled with family drama they ultimately decide to take the place again the next year.

That’s a little bit like how we felt when we pulled up to the house we rented for a week this summer in Cambria, CA. 

The first words out of my husband’s mouth were, “Wow, this place could use a paint job.” Rusty nails were sending red streams down the facade and the carpet looked like it had seen too many sandy shoes shuffling down the hall. But then we fell in love. With Cambria, with the history of this house, which we found out was actually the old light keeper’s house that had been moved to this site years ago, with mornings spent in the bright old kitchen gazing out the window at the ocean down the street, with the local tidepools and fresh berries, with the blubbery elephant seals up the highway, and with my favorite place, the cove at old San Simeon.

The kids finally put down the iPad for the week and spent some time exploring the outdoors, chasing waves, and wading in lagoons. We ate too much and spent too much but made a lot of good memories in the meantime. 

I’ve also taken a brief vacation from my blog, which you may or may not have noticed. This summer has hardly been relaxing. The Los Angeles School District moved their start date up a full month this year and that has meant a  super compressed summer. I’ve traded Science Mom at our Co-op Preschool for President so my duties have increased just a little I would say….Still I couldn’t give my hard work and time to a better place.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

I know the answer now

I finally got a copy of my mother’s autopsy, not an easy thing to read. We asked for an autopsy because the only way to definitively diagnose someone with the particular form of dementia they have is, sadly, through an autopsy. 

My mom was diagnosed with a variety of things over the years, first it was MCI or Mild Cognitive Impairment, then it was Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease, and most recently it was Fronto-Temporal Dementia. I don’t know what I believed it to be and it never really mattered because the outcome was the same, I was losing her day by day. 

My mom had “Severe Alzheimer’s” according to the autopsy.

Throughout my mom’s illness the family had a lot of heated debate over what she had. So many of us didn’t want to accept the reality of what was happening. We brushed certain behaviors off or told ourselves things were normal. Doctor’s never really listened either. Once they hear memory problems they are quick to jump to the conclusion of AD. 

We took my mom to see a new General Practitioner a week before she died. My father and I tried to keep my mom from repeatedly trying to escape from the exam room while waiting for the new doctor to arrive. As soon as the doctor entered the room, the first thing out of her mouth was “Why isn’t she on any medication for memory?!” Presumably she’d read my mom’s chart outside. This was a week before my mother passed away from “severe Alzheimer’s” The fact is no medication really helps, at least not that far down the disease’s road. But for the most part doctors don’t ever take the time to get to know a patient. They look at a chart and test results and make conclusions. In my mom’s case they were often wrong. The only doctor I ever really liked was my mother’s long time General Practitioner in Santa Barbara. She had known my mom for years and was compassionate and caring and took time with her and us to walk us through everything. 

The results of the autopsy are one more piece in the puzzle of closure for me. I can now definitively answer the question of what did she died of.  But I still don’t have an answer for how to get over it.

I’m writing my last weaning post…

One week done. Clara asked me yesterday to have the Babo (her nickname for well, you know) and I sweetly declined. She didn’t take it too hard. The other day I found her talking to her Dora doll and explaining that even though Dora wants it she cannot have the Babo becasue she is three now. Then she told me all about it. I saw the conflict playing out in my little girl’s head and her trying to resolve it through play. Kinda mind blowing, actually. 

Instead of nursing Clara now asks to cuddle with the Babo and for me to sing Frere Jaques.

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Dormez vous? Dormez vous?
Sonnez les matines, Sonnez les matines
Din din don, din din don

This weaning has been a less painful process than I ever imagined. I have to say waiting this long actually made it a lot easier. You can reason with a  three year old, even though she doesn’t like it she is trying so hard to be strong.

That’s my girl!

I survived weaning “Day Two”

I recieved so much feedback after yesterday’s post I thought I would update everyone on Weaning Your Toddler Day Two. 

Clara asked once for the Babo at lunch time and didn’t fight me when I said no. All day we celebrated her bravery in giving it up and at bedtime she didn’t even ask for it.

When the lights went out she cuddled up next to me. I told her she could put her hand on the Babo if she needed to. She did for a moment then squirmed to find a comfortable spot in bed and fell fast asleep. She didn’t wake up once during the night.

I was emotional all day, knowing this truly is a right of passage for us both.

All in all I’d say it couldn’t be going better.

I’m Weaning My 3-Year Old

Yesterday was my sweet little girl’s third birthday. And up until yesterday she still nursed. 

Extended nursing was never even on my radar when I first had kids. I had the textbook standard of one year of breastfeeding in my head and never thought much about it. But then my son showed no desire to quit nursing at age one and I thought, “No problem. He’ll wean soon”. Well soon developed into another year and may have lasted longer except that I was pregnant again and decided he had to be weaned before the new baby arrived. I considered tandem nursing but ultimately wasn’t up for it. So after an excruciating week of rocking him to sleep on top of my large belly he finally gave it up and never looked back. Then came Clara.

Clara loves the “Babo” as she calls it. She loves to nurse. I knew that I would go at least two years with her since I’d already nursed my son that long and she too showed no interest in weaning.  Her second birthday quickly came and went and she was still asking for Babo every day at nap and bed time and when she got hurt or was really upset or nervous, or just needed to connect with Mommy for awhile… get the picture. So we kept going. A few folks pushed me to wean her but for the most part everyone kept their mouths shut no matter what their feelings were on extended nursing and I appreciated it.

I think it shows how far society has gone down the breast-feeding road in recent decades. My maternal grandmother believed nursing was unsanitary and that sterilized bottles and formula were the way to go. She shared those beliefs with her daughters and my aunt felt the pressure to bottle feed. She went from barely nursing her first child to two years of nursing her sixth child, gaining confidence in her decision to breastfeed with each of her successive children. My paternal step-grandfather discouraged my grandmother from nursing her second child and she eventually ended up with severe postpartum depression. These stories show the full circle society has gone through when it comes to breastfeeding in just a couple of generations. Ironically the whole history of man breastfed until modern formula companies marketed it as “dirty” or “traditional”. But without getting too much into the politics of it, I’ve been happy to be part of the nursing comeback.

But back to Clara.

I decided a couple of months ago that it was time to wean. I was getting annoyed with her too often over her desire to nurse and I felt it was starting to inject bad feelings into our relationship.  Having no good strategy I came up with the idea that when she turns three she will be a “big girl” and not need the Babo anymore. I sold my beautiful little girl on this bill of goods and we talked about it over and over again. We discussed how hard it might be for both of us but that we would do it together. And then yesterday arrived.

I couldn’t go back go my promise to her or me. I knew that if I caved it would be hard to enforce any weaning at all. At naptime she screamed for awhile but was so petered out she fell asleep in my arms fairly quickly. Bed time was a whole different story. She yelled for a good 45 minutes off and on. Screaming until her little throat got hoarse. Alonzo said to me at one point, “When does Clara turn 4? Maybe she should stop the Babo then.”  I was so close to giving in, this was a hell of a birthday gift, and Clara kept yelling, “I can’t take it!”  But we held firm. My husband finally pried her out my arms and gently lulled her to sleep, rocking her, and whispering birthday sentiments into her ears.  It was so sweet. She woke up several times throughout the night, sleepily asking for Babo and my husband and I “shushed” her until she fell back asleep.

I’m weary this morning and sad, too. Nursing may be clearly a form of soothing for a child but in many ways it is comforting for a mother too. Holding your baby in your arms and cuddling is something that won’t last forever. Part of me knows I nursed her for so long because I too had trouble letting go of “my baby”. But she is a big girl now and I know I’ll probably miss nursing more than she will.  

Day One down.