Saturday, December 26, 2009


Winter has now officially arrived. Am I the only one who enjoys this time of hibernation, short days, and long nights? It is my last week before I return to work. Soon it will be 2010, and I realise that it is really only this year (2009) that I truly entered and acknowledged the digital age! I have at last surrendered, and now I write a blog and read from a Kindle. I hardly recognise myself!

My life has always been one of coincidences - synchronistic happenings which occur in different countries, at different times. Seemingly miraculous meetings with people from my different and varied experiences, places, and interests.

I remember a long ago very dark winter in London, trying to descend the stairs into the tube at Oxford Circus, being jostled by the teeming crowds. I banged against someone and we both turned around to either shout, or apologise to each other. I found myself staring into the face of Michael Klein, last seen years before at Northview High in Johannesburg. Or the time when I walked through the stiles at Earls Court station, at rush hour, and heard a voice from above, "well, if it isn't Nesta." I looked up into the face of the tall man hovering above, Peter Cimring, also from high school. Peter was a year ahead of us, a really clever guy. He suffered from congenital cirrhoses of the liver and sadly he died in a pensione in France a few years later. These seemingly random events heralded a lifetime of similar occurrences.

Doris Lessing has described these events as being synchronistic, rather than coincidental. Everything exists simultaneously. Past, present, and future are constructs we have created in order to function. Every person, place, object, and thought, are interconnected. For the most part we are closed to these experiences. But they seep through. How often is it that we think of someone only to have them phone us in the next minute? When I wrote my first, (unpublished) memoir, I sat typing in my cottage in Rockridge in Oakland. It was at night, and I typed about Raymond (Rafi - my late husband)'s nightclub in Tel Aviv. The phone rang, interrupting the flow of my writing. I answered and heard a man ask if I was Nesta, who lived in Israel. This was the man who co-owned the nightclub with Ray, a tall, brash American who returned to America at the time we moved to a kibbutz. I remember Ray telling me that he heard he had died of a drug overdose! He assured me he was alive and well, and then he asked whether I was still with Raymond, and I told him Ray had been killed in the Yom Kippur War. This man had obtained my number through a potential business partner of his, a South African man who lives in San Francisco.

Last week I checked my e-mail to find invitations to people on Facebook that I last saw 35 years ago! One woman is Danish, I told her I still own a pair of socks she knitted for me 35 years previously. I have connected with family and friends in Australia, Denmark, South Africa, Israel, Canada, all in a week. My sister-in-law found me online and we reconnected. She and her family live in Toronto.

These are the same connections and synchronistic experiences, but they now happen in the digital age. Thanks to the web, the internet, e-mail, skype, videos, we don't even have to step away from our sofas or tables to meet old friends.

Indeed, we are all connected.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter solstice

2009 draws to an end. My mom died exactly today a year ago, and I lit a yahrzeit candle. Last night was the last night of Hanukah, and also erev shabat. A blaze of dancing lights illuminated my space.

It is no surprise that I have spent quite a while thinking about eyes, and sight. I am grateful beyond belief that this time the surgery appears to have done what it is supposed to do. My pressure is appropriately low. My bleb, the doctor assures me, looks wonderful!!! This news is truly joyous.

These past few years have revolved around my eyes. Although prior to my first eye surgery in 2006 I had glaucoma, I used drops and had no problems. However, at the beginning of 2006, after some truly horrendous events happened at work, and which I will write about at some stage, I awoke one morning unable to see out of my left eye. It was as if a dark grey curtain descended and I could not raise it or pull it aside. I thought maybe I had 'squished' my eye while asleep, and soon the world would become clear, but the curtain remained static. I am not sure how, but I drove myself to the ER in Kaiser, Richmond. The lovely young doctor who checked me and my eye stated that the pressure in the eye seems to be so high that she thinks her machine may not be reading it correctly. She sent me to the eye department where a doctor confirmed the reading and put me on steroid drops. As it happened, I had an appointment with my 'glaucoma' doctor the next day. The pressure did not decrease even with the use of steroids and my regular drops. Thus began my saga. My doctor sent me to the glaucoma specialist. This doctor is truly wonderful, but I have had to see him far more times than I care to count. He has been respectful and thorough in his care. He involves me in decision making, explains what he is doing, the reason for the surgeries and the subsequent ghastly procedures. If it were not for him, his care, and his humor, I am not sure how I would have managed.

Besides western medicine I tried homeopathy, acupuncture, and tibetan medicine, to no avail, glaucoma is my inheritance.

After each surgery I experience a sense of vulnerability that is difficult to put into words. Our working bodies are such intricate, magnificent machines. When something goes wrong, one's whole experience in the world is changed. My spatial and depth perception changes, leaving me feeling as if I have drunk a little too much. I bang into objects, feel wonky, and the worst part is that my memory seems to float away. I cannot recall simple things. My doctor insists there is no correlation between the surgeries, subsequent procedures, and my mind, but I know there is. Because the pressure did not decrease substantially after the first two surgeries he would stick a needle into my eye. This is a technique devised by a sadist cum torturer to 'needle' the eye and open the bleb. The other, possibly even worse procedure, required me to 'massage' my eyeball and press the contents upward. I couldn't bring myself to do this because every time I pressed into my eyeball I felt like vomiting. With the blessing of the passing of time, and a decrease in my pressure, the memory of these horrors faded, only to resurface with this latest surgery. But I have not required any of these invasive procedures this time. It is miraculous. I actually feel good, my mind seems to have remained relatively intact, and I feel okay in the world. This is a really blessed way to end the year. I am thankful indeed.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Why this strange title? I had eye surgery on November 10th and am now at home recuperating. This is my third eye surgery, but the first in my right eye. I have out of control glaucoma, and the surgery is called a trabeculectomy. If you are interested, you may look it up. As far as I understand it, the procedure involves creating a new drainage area in the eye by cutting, pasting, stitching, and creating something called a bleb.

The recuperation period is six weeks during which time I am not allowed to lean over (anything that involves my head being lower than my heart), or to pick up anything heavier than 5 lbs. Memory of painful events is blessedly short. Now, three weeks after the surgery, I remembered that before each such surgery I fantasized about trying out every one of the variety of restaurants which grace my neighborhood. Every day I would take a book, eat lunch and write a review of the restaurant, or cafe. In truth, I do no such thing. I simply do not feel up to this pleasant task.

My days are spent resting. I sleep inordinate amounts, then take sedate little strolls around the neighborhood. I love this time of the year, late late fall. When the sun shines, and it often does, the quality of the light filters out shadows and the leaves on the trees, the pebbles on the road, and the houses on Albany hill and in the Berkeley/El Cerrito hills are sharply delineated. The sun turns home and apartment windows into sparkling gemstones. The fallen leaves crunch underfoot.

Over the last few days I walk to a neighborhood tearoom, drink a pot of tea, listen to classical music, and read. This feels like such a civilized way to pass the time. Back in South Africa, promptly at 4 in the afternoon Martha, our servant, brought in a tray bearing a pot of tea, cups, saucers, a small jug of milk and a plate of biscuits. The only change in this routine would be cake instead of biscuits. Years later, in America, I learned that what we call biscuits they call cookies. Cookies for us were what cupcakes are to them, and what they call biscuits we never heard of.

I say toe-mah-toe.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What Happened

Here's the thing. The woman who has cleaned my home for the past couple of years has vanished. I will call her Sonia.

Sonia knew I would be away and the last time she cleaned my home before I left she left a note saying goodbye, wishing me a safe trip, and asking me to call her when I return. This has happened over the past few years, and she has always returned.

I called her as I said I would, but her cell phone is now blocked to incoming callers. This is new. I called her home number and a child answered. He spoke english perfectly, in other words it did not sound like her seven year old son. I asked for Sonia and whomever answered called a woman to the phone. She had no idea who I wanted and confirmed that I had dialed the correct number.

I am at a loss. I know Sonia's last name, but I also know that her husband has a different last name, because the woman always keeps her maiden name. I know they live in Richmond Annex, but I do not know the exact address. I do not know where her son goes to school. A short while before I left she told me she was having problems with her young son. She didn't elaborate, but she said he was 'misbehaving' and that she and her husband were concerned. I gave her some phone numbers of places I thought could help. What I never asked Sonia was whether they were here legally.

Because I left South Africa at a very young age, I never had a servant. I felt conflicted about hiring Sonia, after all, I am perfectly capable of cleaning my house, but I don't have much time or energy for doing so. Now this situation feels a bit like South Africa where people had servants, but never knew their last names or anything about them.

Where can she be?

My mind is reeling - could she be a victim of domestic violence?

Could she or her husband have been taken away by the ICE?

Have they just upped and left?

These concerns are not just flights of fancy, I have come across of domestic violence situations too frequently. Sometimes the mother takes her children and runs to a shelter. All too often she returns to her abuser. Of course services such as counseling and shelters have suffered tremendously from the recent cuts, so who knows if she even found a place.

I know many families who live in fear of the ICE.

I have come across families who have upped and left. I have arrived at homes where I had been a week before and the home is empty, as if an entire family had never been there just a few days ago.

I don't know where Sonia is.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I am back

Hi - I am back. I returned two weeks ago, straight back to work, and the nitty gritty details of living!

My trip was really good. It was meaningful in terms of my parents and my family. My sister kept all of my mom's stuff and we went through the meticulously filed piles. It took a week during which we entered another world, that of our ancestors. Our sifting through photos and boxes and objects shed light on where we are now, our life choices, and our history. We alternated between crying and laughing, sharing memories. Mom kept all our letters, our school reports, a lock of my hair, essays, all carefully preserved, and shipped from South Africa to Israel. I read my fathers' letters he had written home during his years of service as a legal officer during the Second World War. He had such a clear vision of South Africa, of Capitalism, of his experiences in the Middle East. I found the letter in which he announced his engagement to my mom. We sorted out paperwork, put aside objects for relatives and friends. Thus we worked through 90 years of a life well lived!

Then my sister, brother-in-law and myself went with a tour group to Montenegro. No, it is not in Africa, nor is it in South America. It is the newest country in what were the Balkans, nestled between Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania and the Adriatic. Quite beautiful - rugged and raw. We drove jeeps up forested mountains on hairpin bends which passed for roads, hiked through the last remaining rainforest in Europe, and had hair raising adventures. Besides anything, it is so refreshing being away from any news, from the internet, from microwaved food, from the ridiculous pace of life we all live.

Returning is always somewhat unsettling. First, there is that state of jetlagged induced insanity to overcome. Then, for me, the shock of America, with, as a friend put it, its 'tidy widy' sterile suburbs and malls. In the Safeway in Marin the clerk nearly fell over herself with her pleases, thank yous, have a good day and false smiles, I felt like slamming her! Of course, when I am dealing with gruff rude clerks in Israel I miss the bland and polite American way. Such is life!

Of course ...returning to work which I will write about very soon.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I have a blog on one of my beloved families in progress, but, as ever, like everyone I am pressured for time.

A few short notes: At work we are having a 4.5% pay cut. It could be a lot worse, and the company I work for has handled this in an exemplary fashion. They have been transparent, and caring, for workers and consumers. As we all know, we are going through extremely challenging times.

On a lighter note, I leave on Sunday for my annual trip to Israel. My mom passed away in December and this will be the first time without her, so I have mixed feelings about this trip, but am very excited to see my family there. I doubt whether I will post anything from my travels, so ... I will be back on line in about a month. Thanks for taking your time to read these posts, and of course, any feedback is welcome.

All the best!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ongoing Violence

This foggy Tuesday morning, August 4th, 2009, I sat down to my morning-before-work cup of coffee, and opened the San Francisco Chronicle. The following headline glared out of the Bay Area section:

"Richmond criminals don't care who gets hit, indiscriminate gunfire is on the rise in Richmond."

Then followed a disturbing article by Chip Johnson. Ten people were killed in Richmond in July, and, according to the article, it appears that the killers, mostly very young men, do not care who they hit. Apparently city and county social service programs have identified Richmond families with criminal pasts that extend across at least four generations.

This morning I was to see a famiy in North Richmond. The mother is an obese young woman from Mexico. She has four young boys and on my weekly visits she tells me terrible stories of the things that happen with her neighbors, and on the streets. She relates these stories in the presence of her children. I am there to see her twin boys of 18 months who, thankfully, do not understand her, but the older boy, of six and eight are always present because of summer vacation. They listen, interject, and add their versions. Three weeks ago she told me about her neighbors, who also happen to be relatives. The father deals drugs and sometimes hides them in her mailbox if he thinks the police are coming. He keeps a gun in his infant daughter's chest of drawers, and has taught his eight year old son to use it. Furthermore, over 4th of July he plied his eight year old son with liquor, until the boy passed out. She found him passed out on a patch of grass. She told me she pushed him until he woke and she told him to breathe out, and she smelled the liquor onhis breath. His mother works all day and doesn't want to hear what goes on in her absence, she said.
"Great," I thought, a delinquent in training. I have to report child endangerment and neglect, and so I did pass this information on. The next week she told me that she and her boys were at a nearby park, (an open lot) the day before. It was about 7 p.m. and young boys were playing soccer. A car came by and someone stuck out a gun and shot two of the boys playing soccer. The bystanders saw the car speed away, then stop on a corner and two men ran out and fled, while another climbed in and drove away. According to her one of the boys was killed on the spot and the other was shot in the head."Two brothers," she said, "one fell down 'pobrecito' and there was blood everywhere. He asked for water and someone came to give him some, but a policeman pushed him away."
She told me this as she reclined on her couch. The twins ran between the two sofas and the older boys played with the toys I had brought for the twins. When she described the car they both ran to the window to point in the direction it came from. She continued: "The ambulance came after half an hour. Can you imagine the boys' mother? I don't know where the father is. She will go back to Mexico. Last night I couldn't sleep because I kept seeing the blood pouring out of his head."
She described the supposed killers saying they were Latinos. The police had already distributed fliers to the residents asking for witnesses to step forward. She won't say anything because she doesn't trust the police. She said she knows a woman who told the police about a gunman, and then her husband was killed. She thinks that was because the police let everyone involved know she had informed on them.
I listened in horror and suggested she tell the police what she saw, because it is anonymous, and if people don't talk, this insanity is just going to continue. She said she will speak to her husband when he gets home. When I left the home a red car sped up to the corner not even one block away. A man standing on the pavement walked up to the car, leaned in and yelled at the driver who sped away and began spinning donuts in the street. He drove his car around and around, rubber burning, tires squealing. This display of out of control testosterone truly petrifies me, so I ran back into the house where the boys crowded at the window, looking at the car. I waited until it sped away and quickly made my getaway.
One day that week I drove home down San Pablo Avenue, and just beyond Potrero Avenue I saw a man holding a cardboarad sign at the side of the road, it read: "Please donate money for funeral."
That weekend a boy of 14 years old was killed. Another of my families, also Latino, asked whether I heard about it. The mom told me they were driving back from OSH Hardware and the road to their home was cordoned off because of this shooting. She has pre-teen nieces and nephews who attend local schools. They told her that would be gang members are driven somewhere by a gang member, handed an assault weapon,, and when the gang member points at someone they are told to shoot them.
I did not want to believe her, and now this article confirms what she said. "The victim is often in the wrong place at the wrong time, a victim of indiscriminate gunfire."
That this is disturbing is putting it mildly. Something is very very wrong.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Good Things

This week, as I ate lunch with a fellow worker, a oolleague burst into the lounge:

"Come to the program, Oscar walked in." she said.

Oscar had a large portion of his brain removed when he was just a few months old, because of uncontrollable seizures. I began seeing him after this invasive procedure. His mom was so very young, just 17 years old. She came from Mexico to join her husband, and this was their first child. Mom had no idea what was going on with her son who was treated at Childrens' Hospital in Oakland. I did my very best to tell her how to position him, how to exercise his limbs, and where to place objects (to his right side), while she struggled to care for him, to take him to his appointments, and to clean and cook. One day I got there and noone was home. I called Mom. She answered after a few rings, saying "I am in hospital, I have just given birth." I had no idea she was even pregnant!!!!!!!!! And then there were two boys to care for! Oscar suffered from right side neglect (he had no idea he had a right arm and leg, or that he could turn his head to the right.) He made fairly good progress, learning to turn his great big blue, black-lashed eyes to his right, and to reach for a toy or his bottle with both hands. But it seemed he would never be able to sit without help, let alone stand up and walk.

I saw Oscar for several months until he began attending our Great Beginnings Program.When Oscar left the program, at three years old, he could stand briefly using a walker, and with the help of someone at his side, guiding his every move. And now, five months later, in he walked!

All of us were so excited, we smiled and exclaimed and hugged him wiping away our tears. His mom said that one day at home he simply got up and walked, alone, without the walker or anyone's assistance. He walked up to every one of us, and then him and his mom said goodbye and they walked away, leaving us grinnning uncontrollably.

Sometimes, in my darkest moments, something wonderful happens that makes everything worthwhile.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog

I suppose if I am to keep a blog, then of course I must blog.

I have been coughing and coughing all day - my sore throat began a few weeks ago, with a general feeling of malaise. Because I work with little kids, who are really like petri dishes, becoming ill is an occupational hazard! When I first began this work I seemed to constantly be ill; colds, flus, coughs, viruses - but since then my resistance has improved. The good thing about not feeling so well is that I have to rest, and then I find time to write.

I am imbibing hot teas loaded with ginger, garlic ,and lemon, as well as chicken soup supplied by my neighbors who themselves were recently ill. I gave them some of my emergency supply of frozen chicken soup, and today they gave me their stash, fortified with set-my-mouth-on-fire peppers.

Yesterday I was out at lunch with family members. I spread butter on warm, crusty sourdough bread and was about to take a spoonful of cream of artichoke soup when the volume around me seemed to fade and go flat. It was like when one listens to music on speakers, and suddenly one speaker stops working. This strange sensation lasted quite a while. I ate my food and strained to listen to what was being said in this new world of one dimensional sound. After lunch I bought Sudafed, took one and in a while full volume sound returned. This 'flat' sensation returned today. I am sure the cough and my hearing and my sore throat are all connected.

Of course this makes me think about my 'wee ones.' So many of them have recurring ear infections, especially the ones with Down Syndrome. They also have hearing problems and have tubes inserted into their ears to drain the fluid. It is fascinating seeing them respond to sound after they have the tubes put in. Their bodies move to music and they look in the direction of voices and sounds.

Our bodies and their workings are miraculous. In Mexico City I saw the exhibition Cuerpos Humanos, the controversial display of human bodies which has been shown around the world. For me it was somewhat akin to a spiritual experience, seeing all the systems and their interactions. The three little bones through which the vibrations of sound are conducted look like beautiful delicate miniatures lovingly carved out of translucent mother of pearl. When everything works as it should, we take it for granted, for the most part. It is enough that one tiny thing go wrong for us to appreciate each perfect little system.

So today I drink my fire inducing fluids and contemplate the mysteries of the body.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I Have a Big Problem

Before I begin blogging in earnest, it goes without saying that all the names of the people with whom I work have been changed.

I have been working with Carmela and her family for over a year. I was initially referred to her five month old son because he was diagnosed with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, and has a shunt from his brain to his stomach.

The first time I went to the room in which she lived, a man was there along with Carmela and two older girls who played on the paved path outside the door. They had to play there, because the 'home' was a room in a house, with its own entrance. I learned that Carmela and her three children lived in the room which she shared with another woman whom apparently worked as a beautician. They shared a shower, toilet, and tiny kitchen. The family ate in the same room which served as their bedroom, living room and dining room. The little boy's crib took up much of the space, and a chest of drawers and crates overflowed with clothes and shoes. The older girls colored on the cement with chalk. They looked exactly like the man, and so did the baby boy who had the most adorable smile. Of course I presumed he was the father, but I never saw him again.

Carmela was from Mexico, and like with all my families, I got to know her slowly over the course of our time together. We spoke in Spanish, but she attended ESL classes, and was hoping to get her cosmetology license, like her roommate. She was in her late twenties, and already the mother of two girls of eight and five. I never saw them much, because they were in school, but the few times I did see them I was impressed by their behavior and their intelligence.

Carmela told me that she had prenatal care for all her children. When she was six months pregnant with Gabriel, the little boy, she had an ultrasound and the doctors told her and her husband that he had spina bifida and hydrocephalus. What is more, they thought he also had Down Syndrome. Of course they were devastated, but there was no doubt they would have the baby. Her husband left her and the girls two weeks' after the diagnosis. Within a month he was living with another woman. He did pay child support for the girls, but Carmela was alone, pregnant, worried, and very depressed. Other than a brother who lived in Fresno, she had no family in the States.

Carmela was obviously depressed, but she had to continue for the sake of her children. Gabriel did not have Down Syndrome, but he had to have a shunt put in his brain to drain off the excess fluid, that would be there permanently. The doctors were not sure just how he would be affected by his spina bifida, but they hoped he would be able to walk.

One morning he was sleeping and Carmela had the TV on. The reception was choppy and erratic, but this morning we could see the pictures for the most part, and the sound reception was okay. She was watching "Casos Realidad de la Vida," one of my favorite programs. Apparently viewers send in letters of real life situations, and these are reenacted. Mostly they are heartbreaking stories with something to be learned from them, for example, to listen to your child if they tell you someone is mistreating them, or to leave an abusive husband, or not to treat someone different like a pariah. I don't exactly remember the contents of that particular program, but it had to do with an alcoholic father. Carmela had tears in her eyes. During the commercial break she told me she was the only girl. Her father was an alcoholic, and although he never physically abused his children, they never had any money for food, because he bought drinks with whatever he earned. She and her brothers were forced to beg for food. Her mother cleaned homes, but she was not well. Carmela never went beyond grade school and she realized the importance of an education. Besides her ESL classes she went to nutrition classes because she wanted her children to eat healthy food. She wanted to move out of the room because she felt very badly that her children lived in these, to put it mildly, cramped conditions. Somehow she scraped enough money together to buy a car. She cleaned homes, and registered for classes at the local college.

Carmela was always petrified that the ICE would come to her home. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) a not so known branch of Homeland Security. She hoped that they wouldn't take her because of Gabriel, and she had letters from doctors attesting to his medical condition.

The first time I saw the ICE was early one afternoon as I was driving to a family in South Richmond. I saw police with ICE inscribed on the back of their jackets. They stopped cars. I had no idea what was going on, but it felt ominous and my stomach churned as I was waved through the roadblock. I saw a woman and child walking to a police van. I have seen roadblocks in Israel, and in South Africa I saw black men being herded into vans for not having their pass books with them. I thought of Nazis rounding up Jews, But I did not know about the ICE. They are looking for illegal aliens, and since these raids began, families have been separated, parents have disappeared. Apparently the undocumented people are taken to detention centers, usually along the border. Children are not allowed to open the door to anyone, and parents are even scared to send their children to school. Carmela had heard that there were raids that morning. She showed me a pamphlet sent out by the community asking people to come to demonstrations against these raids.

Thank goodness they have not yet come, but Carmela has yet another thing to fear. Eventually she found a small home to rent in North Richmond. Now the four of them lived together in two rooms, with a separate kitchen and bathroom. Friends gave her furniture, and she fixed up this new place nicely. Gabriel progressed well, and was now crawling, instead of hitching himself along on his backside. Her daughters were doing well in school.

One morning when I arrived, she sat on the sofa, then looked at me and said "I have a big problem."

Now what could it be? She didn't leave me a long time to wonder. "I am pregnant," she said.

My head reeled with many questions and my own judgments came to the fore.

The father, she said, is the father of all her children. The one who left and lives with another woman. Apparently, when he came to pick up his kids, he slept with her! Furthermore, his girlfriend was pregnant also.

How could she let him take advantage of her? How could she allow herself to become pregnant? What about birth control? Why does she not have an abortion? What the hell is wrong with him? Has he no sense of responsibility? I looked at this from my vantage point of being an older, educated, self sufficient woman. She is an uneducated, poor single mother who has no self worth. Abortion is totally against her religion, it is out of the question. I had to agree with her, she does have a really big problem. I asked her whether there was anyone she could speak to, and she said she would speak to her daughter's counselor because she needed to know how to tell her children of this latest development.

The following week she was not at home when I arrived. I called and she apologized for not calling me, she had an urgent event come up. It turned out that nature had intervened and she had a spontaneous miscarriage. Sometimes I do believe in a God.

On a subsequent visit again she said "I have a big problem."

I knew she meant it. What now. The ex-husband lost his job, and his house. He had no money for her or his children. Now she had to apply for welfare. Over the next few weeks she told me about the social worker who was never available to help her, and that her application for welfare had been refused, apparently because of computer errors. She spent her days going to school, taking care of her kids, and going to all the necessary offices, including one for free legal aid.

It is now school vacations and her girls are at home. When I arrived for my weekly visit, Gabriel was in his stroller, and the girls had on their coats. Carmela appeared from the back room donning a coat. "I'm sorry," she said, "But I have a big problem."

Yesterday they went shopping at Food Max and left their car in the lot for a long time, because they also went to the welfare office. When they returned they found their car had been towed! "The ICE took it." Said her youngest daughter. That wasn't true, of course, but she had no money to pay for it, so they said goodbye to the car. Now they walk to the various offices, and they had to leave now as she had an appointment with the social worker.

Because Gabriel was doing well, we agreed that he should attend our early intervention program. It would be good for him to learn from his peers. Carmela was initially hesitant, knowing it would be difficult to part from him, but she went to look at the program and decided it would be best for him. He would be bused back and forth as they no longer have their car.

Working with Carmela and her family, I realized I have a big problem in that I cannot change her circumstances. I can work with Gabriel, and be supportive to Carmela, but I cannot solve her many problems. I cannot transport them in my car to the offices, as this would not be legal. I can ask for numbers of agencies who can provide help, but that is the limit of what I can do. I really admire her courage, her realisation that she has much to overcome, and her fortitude in the face of ongoing struggles. I can let her know that I admire her, and I do this.

Monday, June 29, 2009


I decided to begin a blog because any number of people who have read my book, Tree Barking: A Memoir, have asked whether I will be continuing writing about my work. To sit down and write intensively about my work would require that I quit working, a luxury I cannot afford, so I shall keep people updated through blogs. Of course I cannot promise how often I will post them, but hopefully I will do so quite frequently. I invite comments, questions, and so forth, and hopefully this will become interactive.

When I wrote the book I worked mostly with an adult population. After the Home Health Agency was closed I began working in Early Intervention. I work with a population of infants and toddlers from 0 - 3 years of age. They are refered for any number of reasons; deemed at risk due to different syndromes, genetic and environmental factors, prenatal drug exposure, low birth weight, and premature birth, being just some of them.

Often I am the first person who comes to their home (after they have been evaluated by Regional Center). The mere fact that I have entered a stranger's home means that something is 'wrong' with their child. This is an extremely delicate situation for the parents and family members. I usually visit once a week for an hour, during which time I evaluate the child and monitor his development, including gross and fine motor skills, cognitive development, self help, language and social-emotional skill levels. As an Occupational Therapist I draw upon a large variety of modalities and treatments, and instruct the mothers, mostly, in handling techniques, appropriate exercises, feeding methods, and so on, in order that the child can progress and develop.

Any home visitor should understand the background and culture of the families, or at least, try to, so as not to impose our ideas upon the family. Learning happens best in an atmosphere of trust and respect. When I worked for Contra Costa County we had the help of a Medical Social Worker who would also visit and provide assistance when needed. I am no longer with the County and in my present position we do not have a Social Worker, so of course our position becomes all encompassing. There are severe psychological, financial, and personal stressors on the family, and we become witness to their situations, sounding boards, advisors, supports, and whipping posts. The work is both extremely rewarding and very trying, and hopefully I will be describing it.