There’s this thing going around where bloggers share five things about themselves that people might not know about them. I just love these posts! Micaela at California to Korea was kind enough to tag me for participation, and since I’m always up for an easy post idea, I couldn’t resist! Here it goes:
Our family has close ties to Mexico, and I always assumed that our kids would grow up spending a lot of time there. My paternal grandfather (the one who’s always cooking for us, even at 98 years old) spent over 30 years living in Mexico and South America, working as an engineer overseeing the construction of refineries. My dad grew up there, mostly in Mexico City and Tampico, and speaks Spanish with a Mexican accent. We often went to Mexico to visit friends in my childhood, and to this day my grandfather talks about how much he misses it.
Joe has a similar background: His grandparents had some orange groves along the Texas-Mexico border, and Joe spent many summers picking oranges all day, then crossing the border in the evenings to hang out in Reynosa. His uncle’s wife is from a small town in Nayarit, and she still has a charming little cottage on the Pacific ocean that we used to love to visit.
Unfortunately, the parts of Mexico where we have the closest ties have been some of the hardest hit by drug violence, so our kids have never even visited. I really hope that one day we’re able to start going down there again, since I think of getting to know Mexico as an important part of our kids’ family heritage.
2: THE COLON CANCER GENE
I’ve done a lot of talking lately about my genetic blood clotting disorder, Factor II, since it’s responsible for all of the recent health drama. However, my family also carries another genetic disorder as well: HNPCC, which is known as the colon cancer gene mutation. People who have HNPCC will almost certainly get colon cancer, and are at high risk for other types of cancers as well (both my dad and his mother had colon cancer because of it, though it wasn’t fatal for either of them). For many years, our family has been involved with researchers at MD Anderson to study this mutation. They’ve gathered lots of blood samples from us, and have been particularly interested in our family tree. It’s fascinating and tragic to watch the gene get passed down over the generations: when you look at one of our family trees that lists causes of death, you can watch the disease snake its way through the family line.
One time when I was at MD Anderson, the researchers spread out a huge map of the United States that was covered with colored lines. The lines were the family trees of all known people with HNPCC, all going back to one man who immigrated to the US from Hesse, Germany in the mid-1700s. Five percent of all colon cancer cases are due to HNPCC, and it all goes back to this one guy. So, if your family is an HNPCC carrier (of if you’ve never been tested but have a strong family history of colon cancer that tends to have its onset when people are in their 40s), then we’re related!
Children of carriers have a 50/50 chance of inheriting the mutation. I was tested back in 2004, when I was pregnant with my first child. Before they would give me the results, they wanted me to talk to a counselor who would help me process the news either way. (I wasn’t upset about it, but that may be because I’m an only child: evidently there can be a lot of anguish if, say, one sibling finds that she does not have it, when her brother does.) I’ll never forget the day they called me with the results. I’d been taking a nap and the phone woke me up. I saw that it was the researcher’s number. I braced myself when I answered, knowing that what she was about to say would change my life. She skipped any kind of greeting and got right to the point: “You don’t have it, ” she said. I exhaled and felt overwhelmed with relief that I had just won the biggest coin flip of my life.
There is only one thing in my life that I can’t really talk or write about in detail because it was so traumatic, and that’s the year I spent at a bad junior high in Littleton, Colorado. It was a dangerously overcrowded school where most of the teachers had mentally checked out due to their own bad circumstances, and a Lord of the Flies environment had taken over. (Half of the kids at that school went to a high school called Chatfield, the other went to one called Columbine.) We moved around a lot when I was growing up, and I attended eight different schools in a variety of places across the country in my K-12 education, so I’m pretty familiar with what normal kid teasing and bullying looks like. What I saw in Littleton was something else. The actions I witnessed, and sometimes experienced firsthand, were fueled by a kind of cruel heartlessness that could only be described as demonic. When I saw that viral video of the kids harassing the elderly bus monitor, I was saddened but not shocked. There wasn’t a week that went by at that school in Littleton that I didn’t see (or end up on the receiving end of) something like that. To say that that was a formative experience for me is an understatement; it very much impacts the person I am today.
4: 10, 000 HOURS
As I mentioned above, we moved around a lot when I was growing up. As an awkward, nerdy only child, it usually took me a long time to meet people at new schools. I’m an introvert and had a good relationship with my parents, so it didn’t bother me too much that I would sometimes go months and months without a single friend (other than sitting alone at the lunch table so much — man, that never stopped being weird).
The most significant thing that came of it, however, was that it launched my love of writing. This was just after word processor computer programs had come on the scene, and so I would pour my energy into writing essays, novels, and even little plays. During summers and weekends, I would sometimes spend six, eight, or even 10 hours a day writing. When I encountered Malcolm Gladwell’s famous “10, 000 hours” rule, I was amazed to realize that I had easily done 10, 000 hours of writing in my life. I think that makes me proof that having that much experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be a genius at the top of your field; some of us need 10, 000 hours of practice in order to be minimally competent.
I was baptized Catholic as a baby. I had no religious upbringing after that (so much so that once when someone responded to me with the rhetorical question, “Is the Pope Catholic?” I had to ask, “Wait, is the Pope Catholic?”), but I am convinced that the grace of my baptism played a large role in helping me find my way home. I wrote more about that here.
* * * * *
Well, that’s a lot about me. Now let me ask you something:
Typing up #3 made me realize that that was the most formative experience of my life outside of my religious conversion, in that it was an experience that has led to significant and long-lasting changes in who I am as a person and how I relate to the world (mostly in a good way). So my question for you is:
What was the most formative experience of your life?
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