Where would we be without our mothers?

When my parents moved to America from France in the early 1950’s, Maman was eight months pregnant. She left behind her large, boisterous and close-knit family in France and followed Papa because he wanted to start a new life in the New World. In those days, French people didn’t just pick up and leave and cross the ocean, especially not with a baby on the way. But Maman followed her heart. Maman raised six children in a country where she had no relatives, and at first no friends to help her, and where she didn’t speak the language or know the customs. But she learned them.

Maman must have deeply loved Papa to leave all that was familiar behind, and Papa was no ordinary man. Take camping. Camping for my dad meant spending the three summer months in a cow field in Kentucky, sleeping in tiny pup tents, using a stinky wooden outhouse, and cooking over a campfire. We cleaned ourselves by bathing in the river below, and my mom had to trek into town to a Laundromat while papa went to work during the day. Some of us tykes were still in diapers, and it wasn’t easy taking care of us with no running water (other than the river below). At night, Papa would take us frogging in an old rowboat on the river, and we would eat froglegs for breakfast cooked over the open campfire. It wasn’t till I moved to France as a young adult that I realized that the French did in fact eat frog legs, but not for breakfast, and usually not cooked over an open fire.

My family moved often, about every three years because that was how long it usually took for Papa’s construction projects to be completed, and then it was on to the next one. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Rosebank on Staten Island, Portsmouth, Stapleton Heights on Staten Island, Altadena in California, and so on – Maman took it all in stride. Think of all the moving and organizing that meant Maman had to do; the number of boxes to pack and unpack, all the stuff six children and a few pets can accumulate. The new school enrollments, finding new doctors and dentists, and acclimating to a new small town or a new big city, trying to find babysitters and make friends. My mother’s French accent was so think, that everywhere we moved people thought Maman had just moved from France, and would comment, “So, you’re from France; how do you like America?” Once Maman had obtained her American citizenship, she would respond “I am an American, what do you think?! I have six children they are all born here!”

When people see what life with my son, Jeremy, entails in terms of energy, and organization, advocating, resource-finding, they often ask, “How do you do it? How do you handle raising a child so impacted by autism, besides having Rebecca?” I think of Maman, raising the six of us (ok, none of us have autism but we had our share of neurodiversity in the family) in different cities every three years, and I realize where my resourcefulness came from. “I had a great role model,” I reply.

Happy Mother’s Day, Maman!

This blog first appeared on Huffingtonpost.com, May 10, 2009

Swine Flu and Paranoia, North of the Border

Recently I traveled to Mexico (see Autism and Hope, South of the Border) and came back really sick, so sick that I visited my medical clinic three times in two weeks. Last Friday, I actually got to see my regular doctor, but that was before we knew the swine flu existed.

Over the weekend, I started getting the phone calls from friends.

“What, you’re still sick? You never get sick like this! Didn’t you just come back from Mexico?” “Well, did you get tested for swine flu?”

I started getting worried, so I called my sister Dominique. She’s a nurse practitioner, and she knows everything, medically speaking. I guess you see a lot of interesting things when you work in the ER of a hospital in Greenwich Village. “You should get tested, seriously. It’s a pandemic alert level 4,” she tells me. I had no idea what that meant, but it did sound scary.

I decided to poll my facebook friends. I filled in the “What’s on your mind?” space with “OK, so I came back with an ear infection and really sick from South of the Border a couple of weeks ago. Should I get tested? I hate wasting my time. Am I being paranoid?” I have 822 friends, but only 9 cared to comment. They all said I should get tested.

I took a break from this strenuous decision-making process and went to visit my mom who lives down the street in a skilled nursing facility. There was a big sign on the door: “DON’T ENTER IF YOU HAVE BEEN TO MEXICO OR THINK YOU MAY HAVE SWINE FLU”. Great, now I was really getting paranoid. My iPhone buzzed and I got a text from my sister. “I think you should be tested ASAP,” it read.

I decided to call the doctor’s office and let them decide if I needed to be tested or not. I was still sick, and if I was possibly carrying around something I could spread to others, I guess it was the right thing to do. Sheepishly, I explained to the office staff person that because I’ve been sick ever since I came back from Mexico, I wondered if I should get tested for the Swine Flu.

“What are your symptoms?” he asked.

“Well, my ears were all plugged up which turned out to be an ear infection. And it started with a sore throat. I still feel terrible.”

“I’ll talk to the doctor and get back to you,” he said.

An hour later the phone rang. “Do you have, or did you have, a high fever?” This question always poses a problem for me. When I feel crappy, I usually pop tylenol or ibuprofen, anything to feel better. Of course, this reduces any fever as well. He asked me about a few more symptoms, and as he described them, I felt them coming on. “Do you feel achy all over?” I tried to remember what my initial symptoms were, and of course I then ached all over and I felt even sicker. I was really paranoid now, but still felt stupid for calling in the first place. He tells me he will talk to the doctor and get back to me.

I turned on the radio for a little distraction, and I listened to the news on NPR. “There are misconceptions about how the swine flu is spread,” the announcer says. “Some people think they can avoid it by not eating any pork….”

“Well, I definitely didn’t catch swine flu in Mexico, I was staying in a vegan household,” I tell myself.

“…. But the reality is it is spread by human contact. People should wash their hands and use alcoholic…..”

“Unfortunately it was also a “dry” household,” I remember. A week in Mexico, and no tequila!

“….gels and avoid sharing utensils and cups..”, continues the announcer. I’ve had enough, so I switch off the radio.

A little later, the doctor’s office calls back. “The doctor said not to worry, and there’s no need to get tested,” the person said. “Great!” I replied.

This evening, I heard on the local news that a baby died of the swine flu in Texas. “All of humanity is under threat,” Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said during a news conference in Geneva. I guess it is true because World Health officials have raised the pandemic alert level to 5 (out of a possible 6), and in Egypt, health officials ordered the slaughter of 300,000 hogs.

Some officials in Washington are calling for the borders to be closed between here and Mexico. President Obama says that’s not going to happen, “That would be like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.”

I’m sure he meant to say pig, not horse.

The local news continued, reporting that two new cases of swine flu were confirmed in San Diego County, and that there is one possible case at San Diego State University, where officials said a female student sickened by what could be Swine Flu would not be allowed back on campus until she had fully recovered.

In other local news, there were reports of local San Diego residents acting pig-headed and hogging the road more than usual, but so far any connection to the swine flu outbreak has yet to be established.

This first appeared on the Huffingtonpost.com on May 1, 2009