Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 27, 2015

My first airplane trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

First crisis over.

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

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

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

And then Denise didn’t show up.

I waited. No Denise.

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

Now’s an ok time to freak out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lake in Holmes County. Buckhorn?

That was our first every trip via airplane.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Measles and gratuitous cute kid pictures

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

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

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

This. Just this.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Village

I just read an article entitled “I miss my village.”  I read it while folding pool towels, preparing for an onslaught of neighborhood kids and their parents to come over for a summer afternoon. The only reason I was “preparing” was that, after so many impromptu neighborhood gatherings, I decided we had to limit them a little bit so we could plan other activities. (The house is still a mess, but that’s ok because I know my fellow villagers don’t care)

See, I live in The Village. That village where your neighbor’s door is open and your kids freely wander in. Ok, not so freely, my neighbor put sleigh bells on her back door so she could hear when my kid wandered in, as often she’d turn around, startled, to find a stealthy 4 year old looking up at her. 

A neighborhood where, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer and faced multiple surgeries, before I could blink my eyes neighbors planned childcare for our two kids, planned and delivered meals, even offered to clean my house.

The village where, when I must write down the responsible adults who may pick up my child from school, the newcomer at the school thinks I must be nuts: I have at least ten names down. Then a teacher steps in and says “I have to explain to them about ‘the neighborhood.’”  Because, at any given time, if I’m stuck across town, or having a sleeping baby I would rather not wake, or was in the middle of a home project, I could call and ask “Can you get my kid from school today?”

The village where, when I had to go out of town for the day, I could rally a tag team of five families to pick up and deliver my kids from different schools to different homes until I could get back.

The village where, when I need a wine opener, I can walk next door and borrow one, then share the wine. Ok, I’ll be honest, usually it’s my neighbor asking for the wine opener because I’m well stocked, but we still share the bottle.

The village where, after yet another pool party, the gathering will morph into dinner and movie watching with multiple families (this one planned, because, we know by now it’ll happen anyway).

The village where I can chat with my female friends, some other moms, some without kids. The village where I can chat with my male friends, some dads, some without kids. The village where my childless next door neighbors are honorary grandparents to my kids. The village consists of all types of families, not just those with kids. 

Our village is urban, and while we have trees to climb, there are streets to traverse, which mean we can’t just let our four year olds run to their friend’s house a few blocks away (as much as he may think he can).  There’s enough traffic that I don’t let my kids play in the street, but they can walk down the sidewalk to the neighbors' houses. We have what one neighbor calls "Walkpooling" - she'll pick up anywhere from five to ten kids and walk them home from school. 

Our village has multiple layers.  The layers include two major neighborhoods and another smaller one, but still, all One Village. The layers include families with small kids, families with grown kids, childfree families, and singles.  One Village. 

I don’t miss the village. I live in The Village. We even have a flag. 

Saturday, July 05, 2014

And this is 8!

I haven't updated in awhile, these kids keep me on my toes.

I can't believe our first born is now 8! How did that happen? Wasn't it just yesterday she was a tiny baby? Now she's a gorgeous, fiesty, smart, curious, fascinating girl. No surprises there.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Dad, Opa, husband, uncle, friend

Martin H. Rohr made an impact on everyone he met. Having lived 81 years and giving his family and friends a lifetime of stories, he died peacefully on Friday, Feb. 28.

Marty was born on Nov. 24, 1932, the tenth of 14 children of Elmer and Helen Rohr and raised on the family farm in Massillon, OH.  Joining the US Navy in 1951, he reported for duty at the US Naval Training Center in IL, where 63 years later, his grandson would also report for duty.  Serving through the Korean War, it was while stationed in San Diego that he became friends with Charles (“Carlitos”). Far away from his own family, Marty happily tagged along to the large Mexican family gatherings of Carlitos’ extended clan in Los Angeles.  It was at these events he met Elaine, who would become his wife after his honorable discharge in 1955. Together they raised eight children in Baldwin Park, CA.

Always a hard worker, Marty was a milkman, a meter reader for the electric company, and worked in various construction jobs before founding Martel Rebar, later to become Rohr Steel.

He gave a lifetime of service to others.  He was a continual presence at the schools his children attended:  St John the Baptist in Baldwin Park and Bishop Amat High School in La Puente. From moving bleachers, to conducting parking at football games, to setting up for festivals, he was always ready to lend a hand.

As Scout Master of Boy Scout Troop 695 in Baldwin Park, he taught the boys (and some of their sisters) how to tie knots, led camping and hiking expeditions and served as a role model to a generation of boys and girls.

Most recently, he was a very dedicated member of the American Legion Post Charter Cove 755, donating many hours of his time and expertise to the Post. He considered his fellow Legionnaires family. He will long be remembered by Legionnaires, friends, and family alike standing over an open fire making his famous Mojo potatoes and telling stories.

The many friends of his eight children knew him as “Dad Rohr,” the man who drove the 1963 Ford van filled with teenagers to football games, visits to the mountains, and trips to the beach.  Marty was a father figure and role model not just to his own children, but to all their friends and neighbors, to his many nieces and nephews, to his grandchildren and to their friends who also called him “Opa.”  Indeed, when remodeling the small 3-bedroom house in Baldwin Park, he said his goal was to make the house so that all friends and relatives would feel welcome and there was always space for one more.  

A strong believer in the importance of education and known for giving the shirt off his back to someone in need, he donated his body to UC Irvine Medical School, so he could continue to be of service and to foster education.

Preceded in death by his son Albert and granddaughter Camie, he is survived by Elaine; his children and their spouses: Tim and Leone; Theresa and Paul; Loretta and Bruce; Chris and Debbie; Michele and Steve; Cherise and Frederic; Denise and Kurt, and 25 grandchildren. He is also survived by his siblings Cletus, Ron, Gerrie, and Helen Ann, and more than 60 nieces and nephews.

The family is especially grateful to those who assisted in his care in his final years at Claremont Place Assisted Living and to our cousin, Susan, who always brought a smile to our dad’s face.

Marty leaves a legacy of service, of laughter, and celebration. A Catholic Mass in celebration of his life will take place at 1:30 pm on Saturday, March 8, at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, 925 N. Campus Ave, Upland, CA, 91786. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to St John the Baptist School Youth Programs, c/o Noreen Ebiner, 3870 Stewart Ave, Baldwin Park, CA 91706. 

The short obituary in the Daily Bulletin (Inland Empire) can be found http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/indeonline/obituary.aspx?n=martin-h-rohr&pid=169984031>here
 and the http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/indeonline/obituary.aspx?n=martin-h-rohr&pid=169984031>Massillon Evening Standard 

Sunday, December 08, 2013

My 4 yr old monster

Four years ago this little creature entered our world. Life has never been the same.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

All hallow's eve

All Hallows Eve

Spooky. Scary. A night intended to scare off the demons.

But what I finally realized tonight, is that it is anything but.

I've never been a huge Halloween person. I've had my share of parties and been to my share, but if it didn't happen, I probably wouldn't have missed it. But now I have kids. And they're All. About. Halloween.  Dressing up, getting candy.

Sami, Will and Lenaïc 2010
But now, what I realize Halloween is really all about? Neighborhood. Community. What is "trick or treating" if not a way to become part of the neighborhood? And the way we do it, Lavaca style, it's all about the 'hood. See, when we first moved here, there weren't many kids and it was not exactly the coolest place to be. Halloween saw precious few kids. Around the same time, the trend for kids to trek to the "cool" neighborhoods became the norm. And by "cool" I mean where they could get the most loot. But while our closest neighborhood is THE place to be, some years ago we realized that trick or treating with truck loads of roving teens was not so fun for 2-4 yr olds. So a few neighbors decided it was time to Take Back Our 'Hood.


And so we did. We started with a pre-party for the kiddos to get fueled up on "healthy food" (i.e. something that wasn't candy), check out costumes, take a group picture, and head out. The neighbors, long since accustomed to so few kids coming by, were THRILLED.
Lenaïc, Sami, and Will 2011


Attempting to herd cats, 2013
And here we area, 4 years later. It was our turn to host the pre-party. We saw old friends and made new ones. We connected with our usual neighbors, we made friends with new neighbors, we sent kids out trick or treating, and then with friends to our next-neighborhood to pass out candy to the masses. I sat, realizing, that Halloween is really just, or most importantly, about community. And oh, how lucky my kids are to have that.

Will, Sami, and Lenaïc, 2013
 After all, what is Halloween, without friends and neighbors?

Sunday, April 28, 2013


KWAKs are our King William Area Kids. We parents, I like to call "SAPs" - Southtown Area Parents.

Because one can have too many parties, every year during Fiesta (a city-wide, 10 day series of events), our KWAKs participates in the King William Parade. The http://kwfair.org/parade/>parade
kicks off the King William Fair a sort of arts gala and tribute to the funky and weird that is my neighborhood (King William is the fancier side of Southtown). The local newspaper described the parade as "geared towards families." And it is, if your family enjoys drag queens. My family does, so it's all good.
Ok, not ALL drag queens, but the KW Parade is all about anything goes. Quirky, funky, strange, serious, funny, real, and unreal. For a number of years now, the kids in the 'hood jump on the trailer made into a float and sing, cheer, and sometimes pout.

Needing to get things off to a fun start, we decided to merge our Friday playdate (just a few kids...) with the float decorating party and move it all to our house.

While the kids played, the parents worked, then the kids worked, and despite the drizzle off and on, we created a float.

 And on Saturday, the kids went wild. And then we all partied some more. These days, we don't bother going to the Fair itself. After the parade we hang out at our friends' house along the parade route, enjoy our neighbors, then stumble home.

We didn't get too many pics of the actual parade, but we got the important part - the KWAKs! 
Click HERE for more

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Kids in the 'Hood - Easter

Every year our neighborhood has an Easter Egg Hunt. A wonderful family who live across from Upper Mill Park collect eggs all week (every family is asked to leave 1 dozen per kid) then spend the wee hours of the morning hiding them. This year they brought some bunnies too. And it was a record year - well over 100 eggs to be hidden!

The 3 yr olds and under go first, then they big kids count down 60 seconds, and race off.

I cheat though. While I left off my 2 dozen eggs, I brought another dozen in my bag. Having seen my own kid confused my the whole "race to get as many as possible" idea, and there are usually a few late arrivals, I keep my stash and hide one at a time for the little ones. After awhile, I was re-hiding Lenaïc's own eggs, since really all he cared about was finding eggs. And it helped to have a few to hide for his buddy Will.

The kids have a blast hunting for eggs and playing with friends.

For more pictures of the Hunt, click HERE

The Egg Hunt was followed by two birthday parties and a dinner party. All the better that none required getting in the car!

So we spent Easter Sunday relaxing, well, until Angelina went next door and found they were going to another egg hunt and invited herself along....Oh, and if you consider my working 6 hours in the yard as relaxing.

What a great neighborhood!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why I Love Lavaca part XXIVI

Yesterday was another regular sunny Sunday with no commitments. Well, that part was unusual as we often have some local activity happening. But anyway...

One neighbor posts a note on Facebook that his kid wants to kick around a soccer ball. A few of us say we'll join them. After playing an hour or so and all are ready to stop, Angelina yells "every one over to my house!"

Parents conferred and agreed it was ok. An entourage of kids head over, on the way we see another neighborhood family on the river, invite them to join us.  Soon we have 9 kids playing in the yard.

Frederic reminds me he wants to drive out to see the comet - west of here, where the viewing is better.  The other parents wanted to see it as well. We also realize it's dinner time.  Though I haven't gone shopping, I scrounge up everything in my pantry and fridge while others run home to see what they can bring from their fridges and gardens. We manage a feast for 6 adults and 7 kids (plus one baby). We eat and caravan to the west end for comet viewing.

Just another day in the neighborhood.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Southtown Kids, take 2

I sit here in my partially renovated 1880s-era Southtown house, soaking in the quiet.  So calm and peaceful with no kids in the neighborhood. Well, that’s because it’s 10 am and they’re all at school. If I were to write this at 3:30 pm, well, I wouldn’t. There would be too many distractions - kids laughing, kids playing in the street, kids chasing the dog in the yard, kids playing on our trampoline, or slide, or playhouse or, in the summer, our pool, kids going back and forth between houses on the block, like they’re all part of one family.

But, “No families live downtown.”

And so, coming back to my computer late at night, it went today. By 4pm, at least 10 neighborhood kids were in our yard playing, and a few non neighborhood kids who come to Southtown because “this is where all the fun is.” In the summer this is a weekly event. In the winter, it’s about once per month, not including all the other impromptu events with kids.

Every day we walk our older child to the neighborhood school, with smiles and cheers for our beloved crossing guards.  We watch a neighbor ride his bike to school, another ride his scooter with his dad – a teacher at the local school, and 2 younger sisters, while my 3 year old follows along on his tricycle. Just a few of many kids on foot or bike.

But there are no kids in Southtown.

And then there’s KWAKs – King William Area Kids, a group organized to get parents in Southtown together for fun and kid activities. These include bike rides on the Riverwalk (we don’t even have to get in a car), nature walks and scavenger hunts along the river, Easter egg hunts, picnics at Chris Park, and, for the one activity that requires getting in a car – a neighborhood campout.  The first campout was so much fun, that the second annual campout spots filled up in a matter of hours.     

I wonder if the kids I see every day are really invisible, since one reporter believes, from driving around, that “no kids live in Southtown.”

If we “young professionals” or “aging hipsters” fancy a beer and a bite, we head over to The Friendly Spot.  So friendly it has a playground and on any given day a ton of kids running around. Or to Alamo Street Eat Bar, where the neighborhood kids come up with elaborate, creative games while eating gyros or bahn mi. Or we walk for a taco at Taco Haven.  And then, we walk home. Walk? You know, that thing you do with two feet, that doesn’t require a vehicle, gas, emissions and all that fun stuff.

I think Southtown must be filled with aliens under 4 ft tall, since no human kids live here.  Or so says one local reporter.

For those of us who come from far away lands, with no family nearby, we learned the value of a community. We know that, should I require an emergency hospital stay while the other parent of my children is out of the country, there is no hesitation. My children have “extended” family – not blood relations, but neighbors, friends – who will take them in in a heartbeat.  We know that, when we have other health or family crises, or when we just need a mental health break, our neighborhood community is there to step in and help – so many in fact that we have to say “Thanks but we’re covered for now.”

But there is no “community” in Southtown,  “it's basically an apartment complex spread across several blocks of tree-covered lots. It will not evolve.

I moved to Southtown as a single young professional, when it was far edgier and far less hip than it is now.  I later met someone, fell in love, bought a house around the corner from my rental in Southtown; had kids, and am now raising them in our beloved Southtown, among what my 6 year old describes as her “family.” In her mind, Southtown is one big commune, and all her neighbors – including those without kids, including those straight, gay, single, married and all colors of the rainbow  – are her family.  

Southtown has evolved. It has evolved back to what it was in its earliest days: a community of people who share their lives, and a place where my kids know they belong.  It will continue to evolve. It will evolve so that our kids’ kids can live here too.

But, apparently none of us really exist, since “there will never be herds of little kids riding bicycles to the corner store or playing street football.” Except, oops, there go those kids riding their bikes and playing football in the street.

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