A non-birthday-card for my mom

My mom and me in 1972. I was embarrassed by my braces and chunky legs but my mom insisted I was beautiful. I always thought she was elegant. But those “Mad Men” era fashions? Not so flattering.

My mom has a real gift for picking out birthday cards. Her cards reflect careful consideration and a deep understanding of the recipient’s strengths and recent challenges. They always seem to say exactly what the person who gets the card needs to hear.

So when it’s time for my mom’s birthday (which, being on May 12, always falls right near Mother’s Day), I fret. Weeks ahead of time, I start looking at birthday cards and Mother’s Day cards. Nothing ever seems to fit. Cards that are marketed “for mother” are typically pretty syrupy. Is it too much to ask that someone create cards for moms that express deeply held emotions without the cliches and gooey gestures?

This year, I gave up looking. I figured I’d spend some time this weekend writing a few words of my own that recognize specific things I love about her. So here goes.

My mom has always been there when I needed her most. She packed boxes for nearly every move I made. She took care of me after every birth. She came to care for my family so I could work day and night to launch a magazine 23 years ago. She even helped me paint my sons’ bedroom the year I decided they needed a purple-and-orange Phoenix Suns motif.

My mom cherishes and shares our family story. When the rest of us allow busy lives to convince us that all that “ancient history” doesn’t matter, she finds subtle ways to bring it back to our awareness, sharing anecdotes that bring long-deceased relatives back to life and offer clues into what makes us the way we are.

My mom is selfless and deeply sensitive to the feelings and needs of those around her. I remember when an elderly family friend was failing and my mom and I went to the nursing home to visit her. I was self-conscious, uncomfortable. All I could think about was that I didn’t know what to do and certainly didn’t know what to say. My mom sat close to our friend, holding her hand and speaking to her in a quiet voice, sharing stories and talking to her like it was any other day. When she noticed our friend’s dry, cracking lips, she pulled her own Chapstick out of her purse and gently applied a coat of relief. I will never forget the significance of that intimate gesture.

My mom does the right thing, even at great cost to her own personal comfort. When that same elderly friend passed away, we attended a sad little service conducted by a clergy person who knew absolutely nothing about her. The service was full of platitudes and devoid of details to help us celebrate and honor our friend’s life. My mother is not someone who easily stands up to speak in front of a group, especially when the subject is emotional. But she stood up that day, with no preparation, and told the stories and said the things that needed to be said. That is real courage.

My mom is resourceful and always prepared. She used to tell me that she took the “be prepared” motto to heart when she was a Girl Scout and it has served her (and the rest of us) well. She is the one we all count on to keep track of the details, plan ahead, think things through and prepare for any scenario. She’s great to have along on a trip. Need a breath mint? She’s got you covered. Stomach growling? She’s got some toasted almonds in her purse. Forgot your hotel confirmation? She’s probably got a copy.

One of the most powerful things my mother has always done for me is to provide affirmation. When I achieve some measure of success, she points to skills and personality characteristics that guide me. When I struggle, she commends me on my courage and determination to get through.

My mom even does this for complete strangers. I remember being at Kohl’s with her one day when she spotted a harried mother trying to get her shopping done with her young son and a crying baby in tow. The little boy was patiently helping as best he could, holding items for his mom and standing near the stroller to distract his little sister. My mother went up to him and said, “I can see that you are working really hard to help your mom.” The little boy (and his mother) looked at her with surprise, but I like to believe that child will always remember the lady who recognized that he was trying. I know I will.

A recent Saturday morning with my mom, my niece Mandy and my brother Bob.

“Tipping the Scales” – an award-winning look at childhood obesity by a team of ASU student journalists

I was at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Friday morning to be interviewed for a video presentation that I probably shouldn’t describe — I think it’s a surprise for the person I was there to talk about.

At the end of the interview, I learned that the young woman asking the questions, senior Lisa Blanco, was part of a team of students who earned “best student documentary” in the 2012 Broadcast Education Association’s Festival of Media Arts competition, an international exhibition of award-wining faculty and student works.

ASU announced the award in February. The actual presentation was made at an award ceremony earlier this month at the BEA annual convention in Las Vegas.

Blanco co-produced the documentary, called “Tipping the Scales,” with Arielle Horsch, Samantha Lloyd and Angela Ortega. The 27-minute video tackles a tricky topic: childhood obesity.

I spent part of my Saturday afternoon watching the documentary. It is a sensitive, thoughtful and sometimes painfully honest look at the many factors that figure into our country’s childhood obesity epidemic.

The documentary also points to solutions, following the founder of an innovative exercise program and profiling a family that has made conscious choices to adapt a healthier lifestyle.

Childhood obesity is a much-reported topic, which makes the challenge of relating the story in a fresh and meaningful way all the more daunting. It is clear that this film’s young producers spent an incredible amount of time reporting their story and working together to find creative and impactful ways to tell it.

Who do you trust with your child? – Part 2

She was just a few months old, so she had only her cries and her body language to communicate her fear. It could easily have been dismissed with any number of excuses — maybe a precocious stage of separation anxiety. But her daddy knew it was something else.

“You could tell she didn’t want to be with her [caregiver],” he says now. “She clung to me. You could see the terror in her eyes. She was clawing and scraping, and I thought, that’s weird.”

But it didn’t make sense. The person who cared for his daughter while James Motz and his wife were at work was a family member. “She was good with her own kids,” James remembers, shaking his head as he still struggles to understand it all. “Her daughter, who is a little older than my daughter, was perfect — well-behaved, well-mannered, polite.”

But there was that one thing: The child had a hurt arm every once in awhile. James and his wife didn’t dwell on it. Kids grow up with bumps and bruises. It doesn’t always mean something sinister is going on.

Still, he couldn’t let go of a gnawing sense that something wasn’t right. “I told my wife I needed to put in cameras [at the caregiver's home],” he says. He had every right to do that. James, then a wildly successful 24-year-old business owner, had bought the house in which the caregiver and her family were living. It was just a few blocks away from his own west Valley home.

The decision was supposed to be a win-win, a way to provide safe and loving care for his daughter while James and his wife went back to work. He was trying to be a good guy, finding his own solution by helping some relatives who were down on their luck. He’d given them a place to live, given them both jobs.

But cameras? Basically spying on someone you have every reason to trust? James and his wife argued about it. How do you weigh vague suspicions about your daughter’s safety against the privacy rights of a family member you’ve entrusted with her care?

Before the decision could be made, before the plan could be implemented, Lily was in the hospital, a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Her parents were faced with the prospect of raising a child who could have permanent brain damage.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child advocates around the state are commemorating it by launching a new awareness campaign to help parents choose safe caregivers.

“Who Do You Trust With Your Child?” is a joint effort involving the Arizona Department of Economic Security, the Arizona Coordinated Prevention Campaign, ChildhelpSouthwest Human DevelopmentPhoenix Children’s Hospital and Prevent Child Abuse, among others.

A dedicated website at childhelp.org/mychild directs parents to resources. A hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) is operated by trained staff who can answer questions about safe caregivers.

James Motz with his daughter Lily (now 5), who made a full recovery from her injuries. Photo courtesy of the Motz family.

If you could talk with James Motz, if you could see how this experience haunts him still, you would realize how important it is to trust that primal, instinctual sense of danger we all have deep inside us. You wouldn’t hesitate to consult these resources if you had even the slightest sense that something was wrong in a childcare environment.

“I’d never had kids,” says James, who is now a stay-at-home dad to Lily and her younger brother. “I didn’t know if  I was just crazy and overprotective.”

His advice to other parents? “Trust your instincts, 100 percent. If something is off, it’s off.”


Who do you trust with your child? – Part 1

James Motz and his daughter Lillian (then 3) in a photo that ran in our April 2010 magazine. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

What do you think when you see this picture? A proud, loving father. A caring, protective father. A guy who would do anything to keep his precious daughter safe.

That’s what James Motz of Surprise thought he was doing when he went to extraordinary lengths — near superhuman lengths, some would say — to make sure his baby girl would be in safe hands once he and his wife returned to work following her birth.

They had looked at some child care centers as they considered their options.  They interviewed some nannies. Nothing felt right. Then some family members came to mind. The husband had lost his job; the couple had declared bankruptcy and were losing their home. Maybe, James thought, he could do something to help them that would also solve his own dilemma. Who better than family to love and care for his daughter?

He found his brother-in-law a job. He hired his sister-in-law to take care of then 3-month-old Lillian. He even bought a house for the couple. It was just down the street from his own. It was a spec home and it wasn’t cheap. But James was 24 and making $350,000 a year. To him, it was an investment well worth making.

Phoenix writer Mary L. Holden won an Arizona Press Club award for writing the story of what happened next — and what happens all to often in what should be a safe and trusting environment.

Before she was 5 months old, Lily was in the hospital, a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Her dad’s confidence that he could protect her was shaken, too.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child advocates around the state have chosen to commemorate it by launching a new awareness campaign to help parents choose safe caregivers.

“Who Do You Trust With Your Child?” is a joint effort involving the Arizona Department of Economic Security, the Arizona Coordinated Prevention Campaign, Childhelp, Southwest Human Development, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Prevent Child Abuse, among others.

A dedicated website at childhelp.org/mychild directs parents to resources. A hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) is operated by trained staff who can answer questions about safe caregivers and make referrals to specific resources.

“Unsafe caregivers are often someone we know,” says Mark Klym, MPA, program coordinator for the division of Children Youth and Families at DES.

Next: Why James suspected his daughter was being abused. 

One proud mama

It’s not unusual for a proud mom to call our office with the following request: “My son appeared in a photo in your magazine and I’m wondering how I can get a copy?”

This time, however, it was definitely unusual. The mom was calling from Syosset, N.Y.

“Hm,” I said. “There must be some mistake….” I launched into my spiel about the local focus of Raising Arizona Kids and the pride we take in exclusively running original stories by local writers that are illustrated by photos of local kids and families.

She listened politely, then just as politely protested. “Oh, but he is in your magazine,” she said. “His name is Rustin Morse and he was in a picture at the emergency department at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.”

I was still confused. In February, we published a directory of Valley emergency departments, trauma centers and urgent care clinics. I didn’t remember a picture of a little boy, and certainly not one from New York.

“His name is Rustin Morse,” she said. “Dr. Rustin Morse.”

Rustin Morse, M.D., associate director of pediatric emergency medicine, with Taylor Mariscal (10) of Eager. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Finally the cobwebs cleared. Her son was the emergency physician who just happened to be at the hospital the day staff photographer Dan Friedman ventured that way to shoot cover art for our directory. It was one of those golden shoots, Dan told me later. The kind where you go, not quite sure what you’re going to find, and all the stars align.

Dan always wants the shot where something is happening. As luck would have it, 10-year-old Taylor Mariscal of Eager had a snow tubing accident that day. Taylor had undergone cleft palate surgery at Phoenix Children’s when she was a baby, so that was where her worried mom, Tommi, went to seek care for her daughter’s injury. Even though it meant a four-hour drive to Phoenix.

Morse just happened to be on duty that day, so he ended up in the photo shoot, too. And in one brief moment he managed to ease the mind of Taylor’s mom while doing one more thing to make his own mom proud.

I asked Marsha Morse if her son had always known he wanted to be a doctor. She said that he’d always shown a proclivity for math and numbers but it wasn’t until the summer after his first year in college, when he did some volunteer work with the ambulance corps attached to the fire department, that the idea of a career in medicine began to dawn.

“He decided he wanted to become an ER doctor,” she says.

“Why pediatrics?” I asked.

Apparently, the day before the very last day he could submit his residency preference, he realized that much as he loved emergency medicine, he loved working with kids more. So he spent his residency training at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh and a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s Memorial Hospital at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.

I was happy to send Marsha some copies of the magazine in which her son’s picture appeared. When she emailed me to say thanks, I had to smile.

Her email address is BABYDOXMOM.

RAK RESOURCES

Find our directory of Maricopa County emergency departments and trauma centers.

Find our directory of urgent care clinics in Maricopa County.

The restorative power of painting poppies

The months from November through February are always a long slog for our small staff.

As if the challenges of publishing monthly magazine and daily online content are not enough, we add two huge projects to the mix: our annual Schools, etc. education guide and our annual Camp Fair AZ, held the end of each February. We sandwich them around the busiest season of the year: the winter holidays.

It’s exhausting, overwhelming and yet, when it ends, immensely satisfying.

The Phoenix Herpetological Society brought a gentle female alligator named Tuesday to Camp Fair AZ.

Our 2012 Camp Fair AZ ended Sunday afternoon. The two-day event was a filled with smiles, wide eyes and great information.  There were welcoming hugs from longtime vendors who have become friends — some who have attended every one of the nine years we’ve put on the event. There were wide eyes from children amazed to see a live alligator at Tesseract School Shea Campus on Saturday and a flying (remote-control) fish at Seton Catholic Preparatory High School on Sunday. There were grateful parents who swooped in and spent an hour or so collecting brochures and asking questions. As they thanked us warmly on the way out, we all felt every bit of the extra work was worth it.

When we were packing up to leave on Sunday afternoon, one of the vendors said to me, “Well, at least now you can take a break!” If only. My staff had to hit the ground running on Monday, with deadlines looming for our April magazine.

So it probably wasn’t the best time for me to plan my own birthday party and expect them to come. But that’s exactly what I did.

A few weeks earlier, on a Sunday afternoon when I was feeling particularly exhausted and ineffective, I honored a whisper of yearning and signed myself up for a “Van Gogh Vino” painting class at Carrie Curran Art Studio in Scottsdale. Carrie started to program to allow non-artists like me to experience the joy of completing a painting. She and her staff provide smocks and supplies, then walk participants through the process in gentle, manageable steps.

My version of Van Gogh's "Starry Nights."

I found the process transformative. For three hours, all I had to do was focus on my canvas. There was no room in Carrie’s bright, colorful studio for stress and worry. My completed painting didn’t look exactly like Van Gogh’s “Starry Nights” but it wasn’t bad. I was hooked. And eager to share my experience with others.

My birthday falls near Camp Fair ever year. This year, I decided to celebrate it at Carrie’s studio. With my staff. Two days after Camp Fair and in the middle of a busy deadline week.

It was probably crazy. The worst possible time. Everyone was feeling behind in their respective workloads and I was planning a party?

Still, we assembled at Carrie’s studio yesterday morning. Fortified by bagels and fruit, salads and amazing peanut butter brownies provided by Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist, we painted. And laughed. And enjoyed each other’s company.

As I was filling my plate, I said to staff photographer/writer Dan Friedman that I probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to hold a party. He agreed that there is never a “good” time when everyone is busy and time stretched so thin. “But think about it,” he said. “If everyone waited until the ‘perfect’ time to do anything — especially to have a baby — it would never happen.” So true.

Sometimes when you least have the time is when you most need to take it — to recharge your energy, replenish your spirit and regain your perspective. For two and a half glorious hours yesterday, that’s exactly what the RAK family did.

Carrie taught us that there is a bit of an artist in everyone.

No deadline on thank you

All I had to do was stick a couple of magazines in some envelopes and affix mailing labels. I’m not sure why it took me a month to do it.

I could offer the typical excuses — deadlines, conflicting demands on my time. December, after all, is a busy month. But when I face it square on, I realize the only real thing in the way was me.

Sometimes I agonize over the simplest of tasks, convinced I won’t get it right. That propensity leads to a kind of mental paralysis. The more I worry, the more I procrastinate. And when things that matter don’t get done, I pile guilt on top of the worry. It’s such a needless cycle of wasted effort — one that many writers, I suspect, would find familiar. Fear of not writing the “perfect” thing blocks most of us from writing anything at all, even when it’s something as small as a thank-you note.

Paul Giblin (on the right) with Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Chad Brandau.

I wanted to send copies of our December 2011 magazine to Phoenix journalist Paul Giblin, who is currently working as a civilian employee with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan. Paul, a longtime Valley news reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote our lead feature article for the issue, sharing insights into the challenges of “Parenting from Afghanistan” while painting a vivid picture of what life is like in a war zone. I also had an envelope ready for Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Chad Brandau of Tucson, who was quoted in the story.

I looked at the two manilla envelopes daily, feeling completely inadequate. How could I thank these guys for sharing their deepest thoughts? And besides, it was the Christmas season. I should be sending gifts! It would be really lame to simply send the magazines.

Three days before Christmas I still hadn’t sent the magazines — though I’d emailed Paul to tell him they were coming. My husband was home from work that day and had offered to run some errands for me. He had other items to take to the post office. So I finally scribbled quick notes of thanks and stuffed a couple of magazines into each labeled envelope.

I had no idea how long it would take to get mail through to Afghanistan, but it was only a few days later when I received this email from Paul:

We received hard copies of the magazine here in Kabul. Thank you very much. Your editor’s column was especially kind.

Brandau went on R&R back to Tucson just before Christmas, but before he did, he carried a copy with him to show everyone he bumped into. I also posted the entire spread in an encased bulletin board outside the dining facility. You would be amazed at how many people stand out there in sub-freezing weather to read it. Lots of people nod their heads as they read. Also, people stop me or drop by my office to talk about it, particularly newly arrived folks. I hope it was received well by your regular audience too.

Thanks for the tough assignment Karen. Have great new year. – Paul