Category Archives: Updates on stories we’ve covered

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. 

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

Happy times and high stakes

Musse and Jesmina deGuzman blow on kazoos during the pajama parade at "Lyle's Pajama Party," held before Childsplay's Sunday afternoon performance of "Lyle the Crocodile" at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Warm flannel pajamas and cozy slippers on a brisk December afternoon. Pizza and pretzels, cookies and lemonade. Face painters, costumed characters, crafts. The giddy abandon of parading around a place more typically associated with culture and refinement while blowing on kazoos.

A play based on a favorite childhood book. A cast of characters clearly devoted to the excellence of their craft. And the company of two young children who have become very dear to me in the two and a half years I have known their family.

A few blocks away, a group of graduate design students near the end of a semester-long project. As I sit with two wide-eyed children in a darkened theater at Tempe Center for the Arts, these students prepare for a performance of their own. Their final review is Tuesday and the stakes are high. Not just for them, though this project will likely be part of any future career-related discussions and job interviews. More pressing than that are thoughts of a trusting, grateful  community in a remote Ethiopian village where a lot of people are counting on them.

Their task: designing a campus where 2,500 children — some who walk to school each day from up to 10 kilometers away — will be educated. The process has been exhilarating, agonizing, exhausting. The hard work and long hours have been full of frustrating uncertainty, conflicting opinions and the challenges of team dynamics. The determination to persist came from a place of higher accountability than grades or degrees. Unlike most graduate-level design studios, where final plans remain theoretical, these plans will be used to build a school.

A school that the parents of my two young theater companions have pledged to build.

Phoenix architect Jack DeBartolo 3 AIA, an adjunct professor at The Design School at ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, leads a discussion with graduate architecture students at EthiopiaStudio 2.0.

Now we are 2

A Sesame Street-theme cake for Tesfanesh and Solomon, now 2.

Tesfanesh and Solomon deGuzman — the children I first met as babies in Ethiopia — are 2 years old. They shared a birthday party Saturday with their older brother Musse (who turns 4 this week) at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale. Big sister Jesmina (yet another November birthday!) enjoyed her party at a different location the night before.

Musse's party included a Captain America cake and an actual Captain America character.

The train park was filled with families celebrating birthdays Saturday. Balloons were tied to nearly every picnic table; all the ramadas were full. Gifts and pizza and cake covered every surface. Children ran in and out of giant inflatables rented for the occasion. The miniature train ran around its track nonstop, its horn tooting a friendly warning as it reached pedestrian pathways. The passengers’ smiling faces and waving hands added a sense of shared community to the festivities.

It was a day of milestones; none more remarkable to me than the fact that this was the very park in which I first met the deGuzman family more than 2½ years ago. The place where I first started learning about the arduous process of international adoption. The place where I shared a secret yearning to see Africa and Keri deGuzman said, “Come with us!” The place where a story began and a friendship was formed — both of which have changed my life in ways I could never have predicted and continue to discover.

The babies (they will always be “the babies” to me) are happy and thriving. I don’t see them as often as I’d like, but when I do, I thrill to their ready acceptance and recognition. It’s as though they know we are linked in some inextricable way, simply because I was in the room during those first few magical moments they spent in their parents’ arms. The day they became part of a family.

Jesmina had a cowgirl/boy-theme party Friday at Pump It Up in Scottsdale.

Brian and Keri deGuzman have a way of building family around them. With their own closest relatives living in far-flung parts of the U.S. (and abroad), they have created a family around them in Arizona. As four birthdays were celebrated in less than 24 hours, there were smiles and hugs among those of us who have found ourselves pulled into this loving and welcoming circle.

Even in the midst of this joyful flurry of activities, I could see that Keri had other children on her mind. She and Brian remain very much involved in projects to benefit the children in Ethiopia who will never ride a miniature train, never receive a pile of brightly wrapped packages, never taste a birthday cake and never know the security of a true family.

As the party was ending, I heard Keri talking with another mother who expressed interest in helping with fundraising efforts for the construction of Shebraber School in a remote village southwest of Addis Ababa. As they talked, I could picture the graduate architecture students who are part of EthiopiaStudio 2.0 at The Design School at Arizona State University  who were no doubt working that very moment on plans for the school, which Brian and Keri have pledged to build.

The students, under the guidance of Phoenix architect and ASU adjunct professor Jack DeBartolo 3, AIA, are giving a presentation Wednesday — a trial run, of sorts, for their final presentation in December. Like me, they took a chance, followed a yearning and found themselves drawn into a new level of awareness from which they will never return.

RELATED WRITING

Other blog posts about Ethiopia and the deGuzmans’ adoption story.

Sharing an Extraordinary Experience (Raising Arizona Kids magazine, December 2010)

An Ethiopia Adoption Story (Raising Arizona Kids magazine, December 2010)

Changing by Design (PHOENIX magazine, August 2011)

Adventures with the older deGuzman kids

Jesmina (4) and Musse (3).

I knew I’d finally won him over when we were singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in the car. We were taking turns filling in the blanks:

And on that farm he had a….

We’d run through the standard cow, horse, pig, chicken, duck, dog, cat. It was Musse’s turn to pick.

And on that farm he had a….

“Karen!” he shouted, then erupted into gleeful giggles, unaware that his moment of inspiration had me almost in tears.

I was midway through my Saturday adventure with the two older deGuzman kids — 4-year-old Jesmina and 3-year-old Musse — and I finally knew I’d been accepted by the always affectionate but sometimes reticent Musse. This moment was huge.

Jesmina, Brian, Musse and Keri deGuzman at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in March 2009.

I first met Jesmina and Musse on the playground at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in the spring of 2009, when they posed with their mom and dad for a photo that appeared in our May 2009 magazine. That morning changed my life forever. As the kids played in the sand with their dad, cardiothoracic surgeon Brian deGuzman, I talked with their mom, Keri, a former pediatric intensive care nurse, who shared the story of how these two Ethiopia-born children had come to be part of their family. Keri told me she and Brian had applied to adopt two more children from Ethiopia, a largely impoverished country on horn of Africa, where millions of children are orphans.

Before we left the park that day, Keri invited me to join them when they traveled to Ethiopia to bring home the two babies. Sixteen months later, in July 2010, I met the two youngest deGuzman children for the first time in a foster home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was a deeply moving experience that left me feeling forever bonded to two beautiful babies who are now rambunctious toddlers, brimming with energy, personality and smiles.

In the 15 months since we all returned to Phoenix, I have visited the babies periodically, always interested in their growth and development, unwilling to sever my connection to their extraordinary family. Because my visits typically happened in the morning, on my way to work, I’d often miss Jesmina and Musse, who were off at school. As honorary “auntie” (thanks to Keri’s generous insistence), I’d been looking for an opportunity to spend some time with them, too.

So on Saturday, I took Jesmina and Musse to see the Valley Youth Theatre production of “Dora’s Pirate Adventure.” When I arrived to pick them up, Jesmina greeted me with excitement, a warm hug and a picture she’d drawn to thank me.

I love how Jesmina drew my hair -- and all of me, actually -- in yellow. I've always associated yellow with sunshine and happiness.

Musse was in double character as both Superman and a pirate. He wore the pirate hat throughout our five hours together, which included the (very cute and enjoyable) play, a pizza lunch, a long walk at the mall and, just before we headed home, a frozen yogurt treat.

At one point in “Dora’s Pirate Adventure,” Dora and gang encounter a character called The Singing Bridge, who is struggling to remember the correct words to “Old MacDonald.”

For me, that song will now forever be associated with two laughing children in the backseat of my car — and a tenuous connection made lasting and real in the joyful exuberance of a 3-year-old’s sense of humor.

Silly fun during our mall walk.

A patient entertainer

Ellington King (10) of Phoenix shows us part of an IV while his child life specialist, Sarah Maurer, watches. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

He’d just had his spleen removed and he was still a bit woozy from the anesthesia. But 10-year-old Ellington King was game when child life specialist Sarah Maurer asked him, and his mom, if we could stop by to visit.

I was at Phoenix Children’s Hospital with RAK staff photographer Dan Friedman,  shadowing Sarah and trying to get a sense of what her life is like now that she is no longer a patient, but a patient advocate. Her story is the first is a series of magazine articles I plan to write in coming months that revisit the stories of children and families we’ve featured in the past. (“Sarah’s Story: 1993, 2008 and today.” is in our September 2011 magazine.)

Sarah was a cancer patient at Phoenix Children’s when she appeared on our cover in 1993. She was a college student when she was featured again in a 25-year-anniversary story we wrote about the hospital in 2008.

And now she is a child life specialist at the hospital that saved her life.

Sarah sat near Ellington’s bed and talked with him just as she would if our entourage, which included two members of the hospital’s public relations office, hadn’t been there.

“Any surprises?” she asked Ellington, referring to his surgery.

“Yeah,” he said. “All of you!” We laughed, eager to hear more from this bright, engaging fifth grader.

Sarah handed him a laminated, handmade flip book, something she and other child life specialists use to prepare children for surgeries. The book shows pictures of the various places and pieces of equipment that are involved. She asked Ellington to describe his experience.

This child needed no props to launch his monologue.

“I’m knocked out, havin’ a great time, sleepin’, dreamin’ about hamburgers and French fries all the time,” he said.

“Because you couldn’t eat anything all day, right?” Sarah prompted.

“Then I wake up, I say, ‘I got my spleen out!’ then I come back here and get knocked out again.” (Meaning he fell back asleep again, tired from the medicine, Sarah explained.)

Being on anesthesia “just reminds me of the ‘forget me’ stick from Megaminds,” he said, and more laughter erupted.

As we looked at the pictures, Ellington showed a clear grasp of all the work Sarah had done to prepare him. As he explained how an IV is used to administer medicine, he looked at Dan. “You might want to get a picture of this,” he said.

Ellington, who told us he’s been in the hospital “hundreds of millions of times,” has a condition called spherocytosis. His mom, Cheerve, told us it affects him much like sickle cell anemia would, though “he is not as severe.” Her son also has asthma.

There was nothing in Ellington’s demeanor that would indicate he was in any discomfort or pain. Still, he told Sarah, “I was just crying here a little while ago, I was hurting so bad.”

“Did you tell someone, so they could give you some medicine for the pain?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. “They did give me pain medicine, right here, in the IV.”

“What else can you do to help the pain?” she prompted.

“Pray and breathe,” he responded.

Sarah liked both of those suggestions and reminded him that there are things she can bring to help: bubbles to focus his breathing, play-doh or squeezy balls to work out stress.

I asked Ellington if everything he’s learned and all the time he’s spent in the hospital had him thinking about a career in medicine.

“No!”  he said emphatically. “I really just want to be in basketball. But now that my spleen is out, I’m totally playing football. Knocking everybody down.”

“I’m kinda thinking maybe comedy?” I said.

“Oh yes. I’m thinking of being a comedian, too,” Ellington said. “Or an actor. I’m acting right now because I really feel like just passing out.”

Before we left, I asked Cheerve if he’s always like this — or if the pain medications were contributing to the entertainment factor of her son’s comments.

“He’s always like this,” she told me. So if comedy (or acting) is in his future, he’s clearly got what it takes.