Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mendocino County is On Fire

On friday, we had an incredible lightning storm. I was out that night with my writing group and as we left the cafe and walked across the overpass, we watched the flashes of lightning strike through the treacherous black clouds which were smothering the hills. Fascinating and beautiful. And then I thought, Uh Oh. I bet there's a fire burning now.

Not only is there a fire burning, there are over 130 fires burning in Mendocino County, one just ten miles from the city of Ukiah where I live. Every fire is burning out of control because there just isn't enough man power to deal with so many fires at once, especially when you realize that all of Northern California is threatened by fire. Cal Fire is on overload, so Mendo Fire Crews are battling the blazes mostly on their own. There are a lot of Community Volunteer fire crews, inmates from the County Jail, and homeowners out there, battling thousand acre blazes with garden hoses and shovels.

The smoke burns your throat and eyes. I'm watching my daughter closely for signs the smoke may be damaging her lungs. So far she seems fine, although she did have a cough last night. I don't want to interrupt her daily routine too much, though, so I let her go to school as usual (they are keeping the children indoors during recess). The forecast is 30 days before the smoke clears. It's going to be another one of those decisions where I have to balance her happiness with her health. For now, we'll stay where we are.

In Ukiah, we are mostly safe, but of course, not completely. Besides the heavy smoke dimming the sun and reducing visibility to less than 1 mile, a fire could reach this town. When I was in the seventh grade I lived in Lakeport in Lake County. That summer, Cow Mountain caught on fire and the fire blazed almost unstoppable toward the town. My family and I stood on a hill in town one night and watched the flames crest the hill and race toward the freeway. We were all praying the flames wouldn't leap the four lanes of asphalt, but the fire was burning so hot and the air was so dry, the town was on high alert. No one slept much that night. We had suitcases packed, waiting for the evacuation order. Somehow, CDF and local fire crews managed to keep the fire from reaching the freeway, saving the little town of Lakeport. A few days later, the fire was out.

I have a list of things to take, just in case. Documents, medications, some clothing, food and water, dog food, both computer towers, my lap top, and Paul's letters. If there's time I'll grab the photos. Both vehicles have full tanks of gas and we have friends in the Bay Area we can go to if need be. Odds are, Ukiah will remain untouched by anything more than dense smoke, but just in case, I'm ready.
This is California. We all need to be ready. If it's not catching fire it's falling down in an earthquake. I've lived here my entire life, so droughts, wildfires and earthquakes are nothing new to me, but the loss of life and property is tragic. You can't take anything for granted, not even in California where the weather is gorgeous 80% of the time and the views rival the French Riviera. Enjoy the beauty, but watch for smoke.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Learning to Walk Takes a lot of Falling Down

My daughter was born with a physical impairment which makes moving around tricky, so you can imagine how hard it was for her to learn to walk. But she did, slowly, painfully, and with hope and determination, she found a way to make her wobbly legs and ataxic body stand up. Pulling up to stand took over a year. Cruising around from chair to book case to table took several more months. And then, at age three, she took that first step out into the living room, away from the protective stability of the couch, where she weaved as if trying to walk on a ship in the middle of a storm before falling smack on her butt.

She cried and screamed with frustration, then crawled back to the couch, pulled herself to standing, and tried walking again. One, two, three, four steps... then WHAM, back on the floor. It took six months before she could walk across the living room, still weaving back and forth like a sailor, but eventually finding her own sense of balance. Triumphantly she stood on the other side of the room as she looked back to see how far she'd travelled.

Despite her best efforts, she still fell down. ALOT. That's when we started calling it a "Gravity Check."

"Gravity Check! It's still working," I said while I helped her stand back up and regain her balance. She'd laugh, and try to walk again.

Eventually she started to say it to herself when she fell on the floor. "Gabbidy Chick." This would make her giggle which helped with the frustration and encouraged her to try again.

Every transition in a child's life is a Gravity Check for parents. We see our tiny babies grow into toddlers, then children, lose their first baby tooth, go to Kindergarten, graduate from elementary school and become teens. When your child has a disability, those Gravity Checks are a little stronger. The natural fear all parents deal with is amplified and it's a struggle to tame that panic every time we let our children out of our sight. Who will keep her safe? Who will help her stand back up when she falls? Will she be happy?

My daughter is now thirteen and about to enter Jr. High. This Gravity Check is a rough one. She may be ready to grow up and be a teenager, but I'm not. I'm scared, tired, frustrated, and proud all at once. I'm happy to see how strong and beautiful she has become, how funny and intelligent, but I'm nervous about the perils of 7th grade and the social problems she may have to cope with. Can we do this?

Then I remember how she fought to learn to walk, despite how many times we were told by "experts" that she never would. Oh yeah? Just watch me, doc, she says as she races away with her walker. Sure she stumbles around like a drunken sailor, but she's the most beautiful drunken sailor you've ever seen.

I started this blog to connect with other parents who are raising a child with a disability, especially teenagers, and I'd love to hear your comments.