Monday, February 26, 2007

I'm back at work after Mardi Gras, and OH, how I had to drag myself out of bed this morning to come here. My students seemed no more pleased to be back than I am. Spring semester is always more difficult for all of us, I think, for a number of reasons--among them, Mardi Gras. (There's also the beautiful New Orleans "winter" weather, Jazz Fest, and the fact that many of my Spring semester students have failed freshman composition and are having to take it again. *sigh* to all of it.)

Mardi Gras is my favorite time of year, and this time, in spite of a bad head cold, was no exception. I paraded with the Ninth Ward Marching Band in both the Krewe of Muses and Proteus Parades (I'll posy pics soon), and on MG day, Simon and I took to the streets with our friends for the Saint Anne's parade and an afternoon of galavanting through the Quarter. I donned my red satin pantsuit for what may have to be the last year (it's falling apart on me!), and my yellow "100% fun" mask. I hope I lived up to its reputation, and I suspect I did.

I am always wishing that my out-of-town friends and family can see Mardi Gras so they can "get" one of the reasons why we love New Orleans so much. Our Mardi Gras, after all, is not the one that they typically picture. There's no Bourbon Street (well, not in the sense that one would expect--all "show me your tits" and whatnot). There's no dudes screaming and chicks on balconies or frat boys vomiting. Instead, there's neighors--young, and yes, old--all in costume, letting it all hang out, but in a good and liberating way. It's so, so, so fun...

I was happy to have my parents here for the latter part of the week, though, because I was able to show them Holy Cross and the house we are buying. My mom, in particular, seemed worried about our buying--not just in New Orleans, but specifically in a flooded part of the city. Once we went down to the house though, and then took a walk on the levee, my mom "got it," and I think she really did. We went down again the next evening to watch the sunset on the levee, and I felt as rosy as the sky knowing that my parents could see what we did--and now seem as excited for us as we are.

The hard part now is waiting. We've signed the contract and forked over a deposit. We're pinching pennies and preparing for the inevitable budget-crunch that will hit us come sale-time. The tentative sale date is September 1st, but given the work the house needs, and the fact that no work has yet begun, we aren't too confident that we'll be in by then. Now that we have decided to move I just want to GO. When my parents were here, staying with us, I kept listing the things that would be better once we moved--no more loud train, no more perpetual next-door construction (it's been 7 years of intermittent and sometimes late-night banging!), no more obnoxious and sometimes dangerous bar on the corner, no more cars tearing down the street to beat the train, no more piles of stuff everywhere (lack of storage space), no more walking through the bedroom with dinner plates, no more eating on trays in front of the TV, no more having to wash the dishes by hand, no more window AC units, no more of so much that I am ready to leave behind.

Of course, there are also those things we will miss. I will miss most the oak tree in the back yard. Already I've visited a nursery to ask about planting one--it appears we'll have to shell out a couple grand to get one that already has even the slightest of canopies, so we'll probably plant a sapling and watch it grow five feet before we die... We'll also miss the location and being able to walk to the Quarter and to coffee shops ('though lately we don't do that much, after the murder down the street). We'll miss our neighbors (it will take a while before we have any down in Holy Cross). I'll miss the house, itself, too... I've grown up a lot there, and I have so, so many memories from that space. I hope that the new tenant is a friend (Jackie has asked about it, which would be great), so I don't have to REALLY say goodbye. I don't think I knew until I moved to that house that I am such a nester--and that place is so, so, important to me. But it is, oh it is.

So here's to a new place, a new nest, and new memories...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Our New (Old) Home!

Simon and I have done it: we signed a purchase order for a historic home in Holy Cross. We'd fallen in love with the neighborhood, and with the house, itself, and after a lot of worrying and sighing, and TONS of research, we have committed to buy the home once it's renovated. Happy Valentine's Day to us!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Jabari and Terrence, Christmas 2004

When I read the story that follows, I thought immediately of our dear young friends, Terrence and Jabari, both of whom have had a rough time since the storm. Terrence calls us regularly, and sometimes I feel like one of the depressed parents the story mentions. Sometimes I don;t answer, and Terrence will leave a thoroughly pathetic message that makes me feel even worse.

Before the storm, Terrence and Jabari knew everyone in the neighborhood. It's funny, because the Bywater/Marigny was already pretty thoroughly gentrified, so black folks, and black kids, especially, were a rare sight in our 'hood. Terrence and his parents or cousins would regularly hang out on the corner and greet passers-by. Perhaps the sheer numbers of black people together is what freaked out some neighbors. In any case, many of our neighbors made it clear that they wished that Terrence and his family would leave, and they've practically celebrated their loss, post-K. Simon told me about one member of the neighborhood association saying weren't we glad that family is gone--always hanging out on the porch and whatnot. To them, Terrence's loss has been their gain--their hike in property value. Hooray.

This is one reason why we want to move. No, we are not glad that Terrence and his family was forced to move. We are not glad that Jabari had no school to attend and so was forced to move to Houston to live with Terrence's family and attend school. No we are not glad that this neighborhood is even less diverse. This was their home, too.

I need to call Terrence. Last year we were working hard to find a place for his family to rent, but it was embarrassing to have to call them with rentals that even we can't afford. We gave up, and so did they.

I miss my Terrence. I hardly see kids here at all, any more.

This is Terrence's poem, which I published on my blog way back when, and which deserves second post:

"I Wanna Go Home"

I wanna go home.

A summer day has come and gone.

Texas is wrong.

I wanna go home.

Report: Up to 35,000 kids still having major Katrina problems
2/2/2007, 2:44 p.m. CT
By JANET McCONNAUGHEY The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Up to 35,000 children — one-third of those across the Gulf Coast still displaced by Hurricane Katrina — are having major problems with mental health, behavior or school, a new study indicates.

To make things worse, many of their parents are depressed as well, leaving them less able to help the children, said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness and president of the Children's Health Fund, which conducted the study together.

More than 60 percent of the parents and caregivers tested high for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, the report said. That is well above what is usually seen among people with debilitating chronic diseases, and even higher than Louisiana caregivers reported six months after the storm, it said.

"I've been doing advocacy and direct services for kids for more than 30 years. I've never seen anything like this," Redlener said in an interview Friday.

Every day in the continued post-Katrina instability many are living through damages their chances of recovery, he said.

"What I'm concerned about is the long-term consequences for these kids will be horrendous in terms of academic achievement, mental health conditions and long-term ability to recover," he said.

The Columbia/CHF report said more than half the parents and caregivers interviewed reported that at least one child had emotional or behavioral problems since the hurricane. That is an even higher rate than displaced Louisiana residents reported six months after Katrina, it said.

"Furthermore, there was a near fourfold increase in the clinical diagnosis of depression or anxiety in children after the hurricane, and the prevalence of behavioral or conduct problems doubled," the report said.

The study released Friday includes findings of a recent Mississippi follow-up to a study done in Louisiana and reported last year by The Associated Press. Taken together, they indicate that between one-quarter and one-third of the displaced children are having serious problems, Redlener said.

The total number of children still living in FEMA trailers — not only in trailer parks, which he described as essentially refugee camps, but in the front yards of devastated neighborhoods — is somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000, Redlener said.

He said he is "quite comfortable" with an estimate that 25,000 to 35,000 (the report itself said 30,000) of them are in serious trouble.

At a guess, he said, about two-thirds are in Louisiana and the rest in Mississippi and other states — with most of the remaining one-third in Mississippi.

The first study looked at 668 randomly chosen households in Louisiana's FEMA trailer parks and FEMA-subsidized hotel rooms; the follow-up looked at 576 Mississippi househoulds in FEMA trailer parks. Together, they represent more than 26,000 households in the two states.

The new study also found that:
_The working class and the working poor were hurt worst: in more than half the households earning less than $10,000 a year, people had lost their jobs, compared to 15 percent of those earning more than $20,000 a year.
_One in six children who needed medical care for an illness or injury had not seen a doctor.
_Three times as many children were without health insurance after Katrina than before the hurricane; Mississippi children were twice as likely as those in Louisiana to be uninsured.
_Nearly one-third of children aged 6 to 11 years had missed at least 10 days of school in one month during the last quarter of the spring 2006 semester. Four out of 10 teenagers missed that much school.

Other health organizations also see signs of problems among children following Katrina. Joy Osofsky, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, said more than one-third of the children screened at schools in New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes show serious problems.

They used a national screening test for children and adolescents who have been through hurricanes. In the winter following the August 2005 storm and in spring 2006, about 49 percent met the cutoff score for mental health referral; this past fall, the figure had dropped to 41 percent, she said.

"We're certainly not seeing a huge dropoff in mental health symptoms and problems," she said.

The federally funded Louisiana Spirit crisis counseling program saw at least 150,000 adults and children over its first year, said Dr. Tony Speier, director of disaster mental health operations for the state Office of Mental Health.

He said about 500 counselors work in the program.

"Five-hundred counselors, at one level, sounds like a lot of counselors, which it is. But when you stretch that across 64 parishes and the whole population grid — unfortunately, we could use a lot more."