Saturday, September 2, 2017

Hurricane Harvey: What Day is It?

I have no idea what day it is.

I'm not the only one. Anyone I've talked to that's just lived through Hurricane Harvey is a little murky about days. Is it Friday? Maybe Saturday? Wait, it's September?

It's a bit hard to see but the water came right
up to our porch. 
I know six days ago on a Sunday, the sky opened and rain fell and fell and fell. Three or four inches an hour, it fell. All. Day. Long. 

Across from us is a construction site where they are building (ironically) a detention pond. At its deepest, it's close to 20 feet deep. The kids often run around in The Pit, climbing dirt hills. Now, it was completely full of water and overrunning its banks.

That night, my husband and I stood on our tiny concrete porch and watched the water cover our cul-de-sac, then the sidewalk, and finally our front yard.

The barricade we built around our porch.
All of us, our neighbors too, scrambled to move what we could onto tables, and upstairs. Have you have had a few moments to decided what's most important to you? I grabbed social security card and birth certificates.  Yes, yes, that's good. And a granola bar. Oh, and the box of pictures I have in the garage. Some chocolate chips. The important stuff, y'all.

The water came to our front porch.

We built a little barricade out of cinder blocks and held our breath. Around eleven o'clock, dripping wet and exhausted, we waited and . . . the rain eased. Neighbors peeked out their front doors, calling out to each other, "You okay? You get any water in your house?"

No, no one, mercifully, had. 

The rain didn't stop but it wasn't the deluge of water it had been. The waters receded and we could see our lawn again. Finally, on Monday, we saw our street once more.

And on Tuesday, we saw the sun.

The next morning, I stood on the corner in front of my
house and took this picture of the street and The Pit.
But still, we're all a little shell-shocked. A few of us have admitted to waking in the middle of the night to check if it's raining. Some of us feel like we've been holding our breaths for a week. We've been stuck in panic mode for days on end.

So, no, most of us can't remember what day it is.

Most of us are just putting one foot in front of the other. We're ripping up carpet and drywall for anyone that needs it. We're baking cookies for the National Guard camped a mile from our house. We're watching bayous and reservoirs swollen with rain and hoping they start to recede. We're waiting to get into our homes that are still covered in feet of water. We're seeing the men and women that have come from states far and wide to help us.

"What day is it?" A woman at the grocery store asked me. She sighed, brow furrowed. "Why can't I remember what day it is?"

Hurricane Harvey, the flooding, the devastation, and the pure heroism we've witnessed have changed us somehow. Even the way we measure time. They'll always be a before and an after now.

It's not Saturday anymore or even September.

"Heck if I know," I said. "All I know is that five days ago, the rain stopped and we saw the sun."

Kingsland Baptist Disaster Relief
Katy Christian Ministries Donate to Recovery
Mayde Creek High School Amazon Hurricane Wishlist for Families--Approximately 2000 students have been displaced by the flood. This wish list was started by a teacher. The school is inaccessible so donations are shipped to the teacher for distribution.
Adopt a Houston Classroom
Texas Diaper Bank
L.I.F.E. Houston
Baker Ripley
Houston Furniture Bank
Northwest Alliance Ministries
Hope Impacts
Clothed By Faith
Pregnancy Help Center
Christ Clinic

Animal Help
Jurassic Bark Rescue
Kitten House Rescue
Crossfire Equine Rescue
Special Pals Shelter
Fort Bend County Animal Services
Houston SPCA

If you know of any LOCAL organizations helping, please comment below and I'll update the list. 

And national organizations like:
Donors Choose Hurricane Relief for Classrooms
YouCaring Flood Relief Organized by JJ Watt
Preemptive Love
Samaritan's Purse

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hurricane Harvey: Musings, Volunteering, and How You Can Help

On the news yesterday, I heard someone ask a newscaster, "What's bigger than a catastrophic flood?"

"Bigger?" he said. "Biblical. Biblical flooding is the next level up."

If you've watched the news at all, you've seen the photos and footage of the monster that was Hurricane Harvey. An 800-year flood. Unbelievable photos of freeways that are now rivers, houses that are hidden under a sea of water, boats rescuing people out of suburban neighborhoods. The devastation here is beyond words.

Good ole' Harvey. His name is likely to be retired from the list of hurricane names, kind of like they do with famous sports people. Harvey's claim to fame? He was a huge jerk.

Today was the first day the rains died down so I ventured out. I trekked to the grocery store. This is the line. It moved fast but we were only let in ten or so at a time. They did have milk and eggs but bread (rolls or buns too) was no longer available and any sort of meat was almost gone. Still, today was the first day several grocery stores reopened. The hours are limited. We're all under a curfew.

While I was in line, I got the news that my brother-in-law and nephew had to evacuate by boat. They live in the house my husband grew up in, the house his parents have owned for close to 50 years. Never once has it come to close to flooding. It has about a foot of water in it now. My husband picked them up in the parking lot of a hotel, which is also flooding.

Wait, you said it stopped raining. 

I know, I know. But we have bigger problems than rain. Namely a couple of reservoirs that are at capacity and have overrun their banks. The city engineers have had to release water to help ease the strain on the dams and levees. There've been a few breaches. Not only that, but houses that have never, ever been at risk for a flood, are flooding. Not inches, but feet. Some areas are under 10 or 20 feet of water. Our dear friends evacuated (thank goodness everyone is okay), but their house looks like this.

It's supposed to get worse before it gets better. Better might be a few days or weeks or, in some cases, months. My heart is breaking for them and the thousands of others displaced, waiting desperately to make sure their homes are okay and being devasted to learn they are not. 

After days of feeling helpless, after watching the water come to our very doorstep Sunday night, I decided to volunteer at a local church set up as a shelter. These shelters are everywhere--at schools, a conventions centers, at church, daycares, and even martial arts centers. As one building reaches compacity, another opens somewhere, and more people fill it. 

Houston is also receiving help from everywhere--National Guard, New York, the Cajun Navy, and regular citizens who have a boat and want to help. I've seen Blackhawk helicopters fly overhead as they search for evacuees stranded on their roofs. (Oooh, awesome Top Gun-esque moment--I saw a freaking jet get refueled in the air.) Today, I saw a long line of vehicles by my house--the Miami-Dade Flood Unit. 

I ended up at a local church, where I was sent out to pick up some newly-rescued evacuees. My friend and I arrived at the end of the staging area for the rescues. There were huge military trucks, police cars, people arriving with boats, and extra tall utility vehicles specifically designed for water rescues. 

It was in the parking lot of a gas station I met one woman, about my mom's age, dressed in bright pink. She was surrounded by four or five pieces of luggage and she was alone.

"Do you need help?" we asked her. "We can take you to a shelter."

"I'll think about it," she said, her eyes wide, hand shaking slightly. In shock and utterly alone. About 75% of the people rescued have someone to call to pick them up, but the others don't. We finally did talk her into letting us help her. She came back to the shelter and seemed to relax a little. Everything she owns is in those suitcases. Who knows what will be left when she gets back.

I drove a family of three--Mom, Dad, and a little girl--back to my side of town. Their plan was to wait in the parking lot of a closed mall until a relative from San Antonio came to pick them up. "We're okay, we don't need a shelter," they said.

But, by the time, we finished our drive, they decided a hot meal and a roof over their heads would be better. They lived in the second story of an apartment complex. The first floor was flooded. They planned on sticking it out until they were told the electricity was being cut off to the area and the flooding would get worse. They had four hastily packed bags and very wet shoes by the time I met them. The little girl's school is flooded, as is the adjacent middle- and high- school. They'll go to San Antonio to stay with relatives.

Maybe they'll come back and maybe not.

So many people. So many more stories.

But, today, we also saw the sun for the first time in days. "The sun is out," the woman I drove to the shelter said, that same woman with nothing but four bags of clothes and wet shoes. "God's taking care of it."

If she can say that, so can I.

If you aren't local but would like to help in some way with Hurricane Harvey relief, here are a few churches and organizations in our area taking monetary donations:

Kingsland Baptist Disaster Relief
Katy Christian Ministries Donate to Recovery
Mayde Creek High School Amazon Hurricane Wishlist for Families--Approximately 2000 students have been displaced by the flood. This wish list was started by a teacher. The school is inaccessible so donations are shipped to the teacher for distribution.
Adopt a Houston Classroom
Texas Diaper Bank
L.I.F.E. Houston
Baker Ripley
Houston Furniture Bank
Northwest Alliance Ministries
Hope Impacts
Clothed By Faith
Pregnancy Help Center
Christ Clinic

Animal Help
Jurassic Bark Rescue
Kitten House Rescue
Crossfire Equine Rescue
Special Pals Shelter
Fort Bend County Animal Services
Houston SPCA

If you know of any LOCAL organizations helping, please comment below and I'll update the list. 

And national organizations like:
Donors Choose Hurricane Relief for Classrooms
YouCaring Flood Relief Organized by JJ Watt
Preemptive Love
Samaritan's Purse

And, most importantly, pray.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

That Time Chuck E. Cheese was a Jerk

Small ride. Big kid. 
Let me preface this post by admitting my bias up front: I hate Chuck E. Cheese.

I hate the loud noises, the screaming, squirming hordes of children who aren't my own so I can't yell at them, the exorbitant amount of money I have to pay for the bad pizza, and tokens used to play games where kids earn one ticket at a time in order to trade them in for the one and only thing they must have and it's 15,000 tickets and I can buy it at Walmart for $3.

So, yeah, I hate Chuck E. Cheese.

Hate. It.

But, you know us parents will do a lot of things we don't like for our kids. A couple of months ago, Gideon began asking about Chuck E.-freaking-Cheese. Gideon, if you didn't know, is autistic and has very limited language. When he does ask for something, we try really hard to make it happen. And so, I promised him for his birthday in August, we could go to Chuck E. Cheese.

Today, while we waited for storms to blow through from Hurricane Harvey, we packed up the four kids and headed out. Since most people with sense stayed home today, the restaurant wasn't too crowded and that worked to our advantage.

About fifteen minutes after we came, Mr. Cheese himself made his rounds. Gideon was the first to spot him and rushed over.

Chuck held his hand out.

Gideon shrieked in excitement and bounced on the balls of his feet. He carefully, cautiously reached out a hand and brush Chuck's paw (do rats have paws? Or is he a mouse?).

Chuck waved.

Gideon jumped and giggled.

I held up my phone. "Can I just get a picture?"

Tugging on Gideon's hand, I tried to situate him closer to the Great Furry One. But, he was nervous and it was hard to wrangle him. I smiled at Chuck. "Sorry about this. He has autism. This will just take a minute."

Mr. Cheese looked at me with his beady black eyes, shrugged, and walked off, leaving Gideon upset and me fuming.

No, my mommy-heart wanted to yell. No, you don't get to dismiss him like that. He just wanted you to take thirty seconds out of your stupid rat (mouse?) life and show him a little kindness. 

Instead, I sighed and directed Gideon to the play area.

The rest of the three hours we spent there (yes, I deserve the biggest Mommy Medal you can find) frustrated me. Gideon is eight now, and a very big boy, over four and a half feet tall, and, shall we say, built like an NFL linebacker.

But he's autistic and has developmental delays. He wants to ride the rides made for the tiny little guys and doesn't understand why he can't. He wants to show his excitement by jumping up and down and flapping his hands, by making funny noises, and laughing too loud.

And with that come the looks.

Most of them were sly glances as we passed, from people trying not to stare. Maybe a whispered comment to a friend about that "weird kid who's too big to ride that ride."  See, Gideon is past the "Isn't he cute?" stage of a kid with disabilities, the one that makes people smile and fawn all of them. Now, it's more of an "Um, what's wrong with that kid?" stare, a wide berth around us, and hastily-avoided eye contact.

It's moments like that, days like these, that get to me the most. It's when I realize that Gideon has a hard road to walk. It's a road he may never fully grasp. He may never understand to be embarrassed when he does something silly or to be upset when he's been wronged. That's where I come in--that's my job as his mom. I take an extra dose of anger and frustration because he can't. And I take an extra dose of hurt and sadness because he doesn't.

Sometimes, it hits me that I have a hard road to walk too. 

There was this one moment though.

When Gideon had ridden the same ride seventeen times in a row and we were out of tokens, we passed by a man and his little girl. The man looked at Gideon, and then met my gaze and nodded.

I blinked at him in surprise.

He smiled at me. Smiled, y'all! He smiled like a guy who knew Gideon was different and it didn't matter all that much. He smiled like a guy who would pose for a picture with a kid just to make his day. He smiled and I remembered not everyone in the world is afraid or dismissive of a person with a disability.

A smile, such a simple, small common action, but, when done correctly, it's everything that matters.

He smiled and I remembered not everyone in this world is a jerk.

(Eh-hem, yes, Chuck E. Cheese, I'm looking at you.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I Got a Tattoo And Here's Why . . . .

I got a tattoo today.

It's my first. I've thought about getting one for a couple of years but hemmed and hawed about what I should get and where.

Then something happened.

On June 22nd, my only sister, Gabbie, passed away unexpectedly. She was 32, a wife of 13 years to her husband, and mama to two boys, ages eleven and seven. She lived with severe back pain and lupus and she was also a breast cancer survivor but managed to do it all with a smile and optimism, even when it was very, very hard to have either. 

It's been a very surreal few weeks, seeing family, saying "thank you" over and over again in response to the "I'm sorrys," going through the motions of traveling, viewings, and the memorial service. Even now, I've traveled home to Oregon to hold a get-together for Gabbie's friends here and scatter some of her ashes in the ocean.

Last week, I spoke at her memorial service. Here's what I said:

When Gabbie was two years old, she hurdled a Sunday school shoe at my head. You know the kind of shoe I’m talking about? Black, patent leather with a buckle and a little heel on it. She threw it just the right and hit me smack in the nose with the heel.

She laughed; I screamed.

And then I went after her.

In the end, only one of us got in trouble and it was me. “You’re the oldest,” Mom told me. “It’s your job to look out for Gabbie.  You’re her big sister. That’s what sisters do.”

Our family was small, just Mom and Gabbie and I. I was six years older so I was more like a second mom to Gabbie. She hated that most of the time. But, as her older sister, I have had the pleasure of watching her grow into a beautiful, kind person, a wonderful wife, and an amazing mom. 

For the last few days, I’ve tried to put Gabbie’s life into words and I discovered it’s impossible. There aren’t enough words to do that. And that’s pretty hard for me, a writer, to handle. But Gabbie’s life can’t be defined in words.

When she was little, there was a song we often sang to her. You’ve probably heard it:

You are my sunshine, my little sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you.
Please don’t take your sunshine away.

At first, those words sounded terribly sad to me. Then, it hit me, Gabbie’s sunshine is all around us.
It’s in every person who’s ever received a five-minute phone call that turned into a three-hour marathon.

It’s in every birthday card she ever sent. Or anniversary card. Or congratulations card. Or You-Got-a-Raise! Card.

Her sunshine is in every cheesecake and truffle or Thanksgiving meal she ever made.

We see her sunshine in the memories we each have of her, of how her kindness and optimism and sheer determination touched each of us in some way.

And her sunshine is in the smiles of her two boys, whom she loved with everything in her.

Gabbie’s sunshine will never, ever go away. The people who knew her will always carry a bit of her light with them.

A few days before she died, I posted a Bible verse on Facebook.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”--Joshua 1:9

Gabbie commented, “I needed that reminder.” 

It was the last thing she would ever say to me. 

She was always stronger and had more courage than she gave herself credit for. She withstood more things than most people can imagine and she did it with strength and courage.

I’m taking comfort that Jesus was with her during her life, through all the bad things and the good things, and I know she is with Him now.
So, today I got a tattoo for my sister and also for me. It's to remind me of Gabbie and that God is with me wherever I go. 

Just like He was with her.

Just like she is with Him now.

A few photos:

The Forbidden School of Body Art

Chris, Tattoo Artist Extraordinaire 

It's beginning . . . 

Almost done. 

The finished product. Joshua 1:9 as a reminder of God's faithfulness.
The pink sun is to remind me of Gabbie always. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I Dream of Your Voice: A Poem

I wrote a poem.

Poetry has always been equal parts intimidating and confusing to me.  But, this year has been a season of new things for me so when I started to play around with some words the last couple of days, it just happened. What started with a few whispers and what-ifs in my head, somehow evolved into a poem.

So, here I am, sharing it with you (despite my nerves). I think you'll figure out what it's about on your own.  I'll just add that this is probably one of the aspects of parenting a child with autism, especially with very limited language, that I struggle with the most.

I'm just a baby poet (if I'm even allowed to claim the title) so don't judge me too harshly. I hope you find something about it that touches you.

I Dream of Your Voice
By Sharon M. Peterson

I dream of your voice
soft, slurring syllables of a whisper,
harsh, staccato rhythms of anger,
smooth, rounded vowels of amusement.

The language you speak is foreign
and you are stingy with the lessons,
parsing out tiny bits of knowledge,
only to change the meaning.

I wonder at the words you’ve never said,
thoughts tumbling around unspoken,
questions left unasked, unanswered,
fears and hurts never voiced.

I ache to hear the words “I love you,”
without pretense or thought,
for them to slip off your tongue effortlessly
and be hidden indelibly in my heart.

Instead, I hear you with my eyes, guessing.
You speak without words. A look, a touch,
your movements, your stillness tell a story.
In your silence, you are speaking.

Am I listening?

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016


You might have noticed I've been missing-in-action the past few weeks.  That's because 15 days ago National Novel Writing Month started and I took up the NaNoWriMo Challenge.  It's a daunting goal--50,000 words to write for the entire month of November.

My biggest struggle with this challenge has been finding time to write. I've had to get creative about where I write: bed, the kitchen, in the minivan, Starbucks, and more than once in the waiting room at a therapy center.  Sometimes I can only write a paragraph but, late at night, after the kids are in bed, I can sit for hours.  So I do.  Some nights I even get to bed before 1 a.m. But, this year had been a year of me stretching my wings and this challenge is just one of them. I'm happy to say that I am just over half way to my goal.  At this very moment, I've written 26,215 words.

This is the reason my little blog has gone forgotten for a few weeks. It might be a two or three weeks before I can get back to blogging.  But I'll be back, I swear. 

What am I writing? Well, this is a novel writing challenge so . . . drum-roll . . . I'm writing my first novel.  I thought in lieu of a blog post, I share a short passage I've written.  Now, remember, this is a rough (and, I mean, really rough) draft.


            “Charlotte Anne, let’s go.  Move it!”  I shouted down the hallway.
            “Just a minute,” she said, her voice muffled and faint. Thirty excruciatingly long seconds later, the toilet flushed and Charley ran down the hallway towards me, her face flushed.  “Sorry, Tess.  I had business to take care of,” she said, her voice serious.
            I just resisted rolling my eyes.  “Next time, take care of your business before we’re late, okay?”
            “I’ll try but Daddy always says you can’t help when it’s time to take care of business.” That sounded exactly like something Aaron would say.
            “Just get in the car!” I said loudly and herded us out the door.
            It was only after finally getting Charley strapped in the car and I was pulling out that I felt it,  the uneven gait of the car.  I slammed on the brakes and hopped out, leaving my door open, and rounded the car with a sinking feeling in my stomach.  It was the rear passenger tire and it was flat.  A flat tire? Now?  Really?
            “Dammit,” I yelled, throwing up my hands.  “Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.”
            “Tess, those aren’t nice words,” Charley admonished me. “Mommy says we have to use kind words, even when we’re angry.”
            “I’m sorry!” My voice still too loud. I looked down at that flat tire and something inside me broke a little.  “I’m very sorry. I’m so sorry that you’re late to your first day of school and that Dustin hates me for making him sit in a car seat.  I’m sorry we got up late and you had to eat half a pop tart for breakfast.  I’m sorry!” My voice grew shriller with each word and my face felt like it was on fire. 
“I’m sorry that I’m not good at this.  I’m sorry that your mom and dad are gone and you’re stuck with me.  I’m sorry I don’t know how to talk to Dustin and I am completely confused about how to help him and his autism. I’m sorry that I wasn’t a better friend to your mom. I’m sorry that I screw up all the time and I’m tired and the house is a mess and I don’t have all the right answers.  I’m sorry about . . . about . . . about this dumb flat tire.” I kicked the tire in question and then winced as pain shot through my leg.  Worse though, were the tears that started to fall, making my eyesight blurry.  I tasted the salty wetness on my lips, felt them fall to my shirt.  “I’m sorry,” I sobbed.  “Dammit.”
My legs gave out from under me and I slid to the ground, my arms windmilling out to catch my fall.  Tiny bits of gravel bit into my hands as I sat there, crying.  I don’t know how long I stayed that way, staring at that tire, and wishing I could take back all those words, when I felt a small hand on my shoulder. Charley stood next to me, her pale blue St. Clair eyes somber.  “I’m sorry, too, Tess.”
My breath caught on a sob.  “Oh, Charley.” I’m not sure which of us reached for the other first but, the next moment, Charley fell into my lap and wrapped her arms around me.  I hugged her tight, burying my face in her hair. 
It was then, from the back of the car, I heard a small, high-pitched voice yell, “Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!" 

I'd love to hear what you think!  

Now, I'm going to back and write some more.  Stop distracting me! 

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