Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spread the Word to End the Word


Our language frames how we think about others.
Help eliminate the use of the R-word in everyday speech.

I've written a little about "The R Word" before, here, here, and here. But this is the first time I'm participating in the awareness day (March 31st).

Last Sunday evening, on our way back from visiting my younger sister, we paused at a rest stop in rural southern Illinois.

Ellie and I went into the large accessible stall at the back of the women's restroom and spent quite a while there. I'm acutely uncomfortable in public bathrooms (or, really, any bathrooms) so I sang, danced, talked, did whatever I could to avoid freaking out about how long Ellie was taking and the fact that she kept grabbing onto that disgusting lip at the front of the toilet between the two sides of the seat. I knew full well that when I stepped over to help with wiping and pulling up pants, she was going to grab at me with those nasty, nasty hands. Oh, the trials of parenthood.

Eventually, two people came into the bathroom and went into stalls of their own. They turned out to be a mother and daughter, probably in their late 40's and early teens, respectively.

The mother's phone rang. And she answered it. In the public bathroom stall. (I hate that.)

"God, your sister's retarded," she said to her daughter after ending the call.

"What'd she say?"

"She asked me if I was in a town somewhere. I was like, yeah, where else would I be? I'd be in pretty big trouble if I wasn't!"

The two shared a laugh at the absent daughter's expense, but I was on her side. I mean, we actually weren't "in a town somewhere." As far as I could tell, we were miles from anywhere. And what's wrong with a daughter wanting to know where her mother is, anyway?

But there were so many things about this exchange that bothered me. Like the fact that the mother was so rude to her daughter on the phone. And then she insulted one of her children to another of her children. And, of course, that she used "The R Word" as an insult.

I thought about how to handle the situation. From the relative anonymity of my stall, I could call out, "I'm in here with my young daughter, who has Down syndrome, and that's language I prefer for her not to hear."

The mother finished up and left, but the daughter stayed. I could meet up with her at the sinks and tell her why what her mother said bothered me. But that would put the daughter in an awkward position.

I could try to find the mother outside after we were all done and have a private conversation about how I found her language offensive. I didn't seriously consider lecturing her about her parenting style.

In the end, I did nothing at all.

I hated it, and I hated Ellie hearing that exchange, though it didn't seem to register with her. Fortunately, I don't think Ellie's ever heard that word applied to her before, so even if she was listening the the stall-next-door conversation - which I do not believe she was hearing - the insult probably didn't seem personal to her. I could be wrong about that; Ellie always surprises me by "getting" far more than I think she's heard, let alone processed.

But in the end, we were at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere, at night. The woman seemed . . . volatile. I had no idea how she'd react to a public correction from a stranger, but I couldn't realistically imagine a positive outcome.

So I let it go.

But I really didn't. Because I'm still angry about it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Waldorfessori v. Public

I don't want to say that things were easy for my parents when my sisters and I were small, because they weren't!

But some of the decisions about which activities we'd participate in and when, how we'd be educated, etc., those were perhaps a little simpler.

For example, I took gymnastics classes at the YMCA as a kid. But there was only so far I could go with that, both because I wasn't very good and also because there were no equipped training facilities around. I took dance classes for years, once a studio opened up in town that wasn't intimately tied to the child beauty pageant scene. My mother had one gymnastics program, one dance school to choose from! I played a musical instrument - starting in 5th grade when they were introduced in schools. I played lots of organized sports - but just t-ball and softball over the summers until junior high, when school sports were introduced and I choose volleyball, basketball, and dance squad/drill team. (I stuck with the music and the volleyball, later adding in golf. The rest eventually fell by the wayside.)

But now, there are so many choices! And if you don't have your preschooler in the right programs today, she might not be able to compete with her classmates and teammates later! How do you even know what the options are, let alone what your child would actually enjoy doing later, at such an early age? And why does it all have to be so difficult?!

I am a product of public education, K-12. Rah rah rah! And I went on to a highly ranked private university! On academic scholarship! Which I kept for 4 years, whereupon I graduated and got a job! Success!

But. Might I have done better if I'd been otherwise prepared? I did very well in high school, and had parents who were both both highly educated and highly involved with my life and education. Yet I was not prepared for college. I saw how easily some of the kids from private high schools took to life away at university, and I was jealous.

In my town, my parents had a choice: public school or Catholic? We're not Catholic. (Plus, the small Catholic school couldn't offer nearly as many resources as the larger public school.)

But my children and I currently live in a much larger community with a dizzying array of educational choices. Public, private, parochial. Montessori, Waldorf, special focus/magnet.

Is public education still the best? Shouldn't the children attend the same school? Is the same solution right for both of them?

Might not Ellie really benefit from a close-knit, bonded classroom like that found in a Waldorf program, where the focus is on age-appropriate development, development of imaginative play, and learning as a group/unit?

But might not Ada feel frustrated in that environment and want something different and self-paced, where she can indulge her fascination with rockets/shuttle launches/flight? And dinosaurs. And butterflies.

At our local public elementary school, kindergartners do yoga, therapy services are integrated into the classroom when possible, and third graders are taught violin. So maybe that is best for both children, after all.

And it is free, a not-trivial-consideration.

But as a parent, how do you deal with the pressure to make the right choices for your children when they're too young to decide on their own? How do you deal with the guilt of wondering if you've chosen rightly or wrongly, if you're doing enough, if they're involved in too many activities, or the wrong ones, or not enough of them, if later your children will wish that you'd done something differently and you'll look back and think, of course, it's obvious, I should have done that right from the beginning?

One thing I know for sure; I will not be homeschooling. I would not be good at it. I would hate it. (And therefore so would the children.) But most of all, I wouldn't be able to handle the constant and crippling guilt that I was making the wrong decisions and doing everything wrong!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Spring" Break

It turns out that we didn't take very many pictures on our vacation last week. Oops.

But here is my middle sister's older daughter, the one who was born the day after Ada, modeling her new hat. I made matching hats for Arria and her new baby sister, as well as a coordinating scarf. Then I ran out of yarn. The gear was more useful than I expected it to be; it turns out that it's still winter in northern Michigan!

While I'm talking about yarn, here are the 100% alpaca arm warmers I made for my other sister's recent birthday (as modeled by her). I messed up on one of the cuffs and need to tighten the thumb holes, but these might also be useful year-round as my youngest sister is always cold. I love my looms!

Meanwhile, also in Michigan, Ellie loved holding her new cousin:

The playroom - and particularly the family-sized hammock - were huge hits as well:

In fact, the whole house was amazing. It may be way up in northern Michigan, far from (our) family and Middle Sis's friends, it may be very difficult to heat and maintain, it might have eccentric water and electricity, but that house is cool:


Also, to my great delight, the girls are past demanding movies every moment we're in the car on long trips. They're now interested in reading sometimes, and playing "I spy with my little eye." Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mutable Infancy

You forget what it's like, to care for an infant. This happens almost instantaneously, I believe, making it nearly impossible for new parents to have any sort of perspective on their infant's schedule and patterns. It's all about the moment. This is probably how we continue on as a species.

You might remember things, later, in images and chunks. You might remember holding a soft, sweet-smelling baby. You might remember a feeling of camaraderie with your spouse, late nights hanging out together, watching TV and waiting for the baby to fall asleep. You might remember all the wonderful firsts and how fleeting the stages seem in retrospect.

You probably forget that much of the baby holding time was spent walking around, bouncing, trying to soothe a baby whose needs aren't apparent. You might not recall that there were times you didn't want to be holding the baby, no matter how soft and sweet-smelling it might be. You probably forget that that sense of spousal camaraderie grew out of a feeling of enduring shared hardship, that as much fun as late-night television might be, there were occasionally other things you might want to be doing, including sleeping. You probably forget how much you worried over each first, how much you feared each stage would never end, that there was something wrong with your child, that there were delays, medical problems, that the baby wouldn't survive to toddlerhood let alone beyond.

Hindsight is a fickle thing.

"You.Are.Amazing," my friend wrote me when I texted that I had all three children - my 5- and 2-year-olds, her 5-month-old - down for naps at the same time two days in a row. "You are super-mom!" my husband said. "You're ready for number 3!" they concurred.

The last two days have convinced me otherwise. I think I'm not quite ready to give up the little pockets of "me" time I squeeze into my days, the stolen moments to read, to check email, to go the bathroom alone while my girls are playing independently or together. I'm not quite ready to give up my (theoretical) two mornings a week of writing time. I'm just . . . not quite ready.

Submission Guidelines

From a magazine's (current!) instructions to writers:

Do not use the italic, large-size, or boldface characters some computers are capable of generating.


(I had a deadline tonight, plus I cooked for hours this evening at Time for Dinner, after a day of keeping up with my two girls plus a spare that I'm borrowing for a couple of days this week. I had forgotten how much work infancy is. Parenting seems so easy when others are doing the work . . . Anyway, I hope to be more brain-fresh tomorrow.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

I've Been Practicing Bowling-

Stushie let me know that Obama made a "foolish and insensitive remark" comment about Special Olympics when he was on Leno the other night, so I went out to find it.

I was all set to be angry. After all, Obama's position on disability rights was one of the things I really liked about him as a candidate. Although I am very sensitive to "humor" at the expense of people with developmental disabilities, and I expected to be both disappointed and offended by Obama's comment, I really wasn't. Below is a transcription, the clip itself, and my understanding of it.

Here's my transcript:

Leno: Are they going to put a basketball - I imagine the bowling alley has been just burned and closed down.

Obama: No, no! I've been practicing bowling-

Leno: Really? Really?!

Obama: I bowled a 129-

Audience: applause and cheering

Leno: covers mouth delicately then gives Obama a pity clap, says: Oh, no, that's very good, that's very good Mr. President!

Obama: This is like Special Olympics or something.

Here's the 29 second clip:

And here are my thoughts:
One characteristic of the Special Olympics that's widely known is that every athlete gets cheers and honors for participating, regardless of ability level. I really think that's what Obama was referring to, that he got praise because of his effort and his improvement, not because the score itself was so impressive. I don't think that he was comparing himself directly to a Special Olympics athlete, favorably or unfavorably.

And I think it's OK to talk about people with developmental disabilities, to refer to the Special Olympics, in lighthearted and respectful ways, as long as the people and the organization are not the butts of a joke. In fact, I think it's worse to pretend that the organization and the people who participate in it don't exist in popular culture!

But even if I'm reading that incorrectly, and Obama really did intend to insult people with developmental disabilities in general and the Special Olympics in particular, I like this response:

Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver said yesterday that the president called him from Air Force One to apologise even before the show was broadcast.

“He expressed his disappointment and he apologised in a way that was very moving. He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate this population,” Mr Shriver told ABC’s Good Morning America.

What do you think? Do you hear it the way I do? And, if not, what do you think about the preemptive apology?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Meeting My Sister, Whom I've Known for 31 Years

Sorry for my slow replies to comments lately; I've been out of town. I knew that I was spending part of Ellie's spring break visiting my sister in Michigan, so I scheduled a couple of posts in advance for last week. Love that Blogger feature!

Anyway, we're back home now, and I'm so exhausted that I'm about to fall over. I'll post pictures for Friday photo blogging this week, but in the meantime I just want to say how awesome it was to see my sister's house. Not just the house itself, but the stuff that was inside it.

My sister is cool. I'm more of a family-game-night-geek; she's more into her friends and her current life than the one we shared together growing up.

Or so I thought.

But in her house, I found so many more reminders of our shared history than I expected. So many more than I have in my own house. On the mantle were pictures of my children. On the dresser of the guestroom where we slept were pictures of my two sisters and me as young children and as young adults. On many of the walls throughout the house were prints she'd acquired as an adult picturing beautiful places we traveled together years ago. Various gifts I'd sent her over the years were prominently displayed and obviously well-used. A picture of Paul and me at my sister's wedding was tucked among my niece's toys in her playloft.

In some ways my sister and I are such different people. But in even more ways, we are so similar. And nothing can change our shared past. My sisters and I had such a good time this weekend. I feel a little like Sally Field at the Oscars.

How about you? Did you grow up with similarly-aged siblings? Are you close to them as adults? Do you recognize the homes they've created for themselves or do you wonder if one of you has been replaced by a clever impostor?

Friday, March 20, 2009

World Down Syndrome Day

March 21st, 3/21, is World Down Syndrome Day. It probably won't shock you that Down Syndrome Awareness is a cause near and dear to my heart. I feel called to share my experiences with Ellie with as many people as possible, to help dispel myths and fear of the unknown. You might have picked up on that.

But what I feel compelled to write about this year is the no man's land I feel myself caught in, where I am a part of the Trisomy 21 community, but I have some significant differences with many in that community. I feel . . . at odds.

First is the prenatal diagnosis thing. There seems to be consensus within the T21 community that prenatal testing is problematic and that the safe, affordable, new 1st trimester diagnostic test for DS is a Bad Thing. I'm all about availability of prenatal testing. Rah rah rah! But I do share the concerns of many withing the T21 community; we just differ on how we think we should address the problem.

Second is the issue of Treatment. Here is a greater difference, I believe, than those over prenatal testing and abortion. Here, I don't think we share goals or concerns at all and I feel a little alien.

Before Ellie was born, I met with her pediatrician, a woman who also has a daughter with Down syndrome, and I still remember many of the things she said to me. The conversation was immeasurably helpful to me at that time, and the doctor has been a huge source of support ever since.

One thing she said was that her daughter was only 2 weeks old - it was a surprise post-natal diagnosis - when she realized that she wouldn't change her if she could, wouldn't remove that tiny extra piece of DNA even if she could wave a magic wand and make all of her chromosomes typical.

Huh, I thought. I can't imagine feeling that way. I look forward to coming around to that!

I still haven't. I think that what makes Ellie uniquely Ellie is more than just her extra chromosome. And if I could make things easier for her, I would do it. If there were a safe and effective treatment that would help her brain process more efficiently, I'd offer it to her as soon as possible.

I love Ellie as she is. But I see the ways in which she gets hurt and discouraged. I see the ways that life is so much harder for Ellie than it is for other kids, including her sister. I see . . . how much harder we all have to work - but especially Ellie - to do everything.

I would take some of the pain from her, if I could. I would take some of the frustration from her, if I could. I would still love her, and I believe that she would still be herself. I also think that she'd be a happier kid. Treatment? Yeah, I support research into treatment.

Many parents don't, and I get that. I'm . . . on the outside, within the community but not of it, coming together at times but standing separate often. It's an interesting feeling.

I think it's kind of how my Ellie feels a lot of the time, actually.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is This the Kiss Part?

I love our new French Press. Which is different from a French Kiss. Which reminds me: where did you learn about the mechanics of all that stuff? How and when to French Kiss, what comes next and why?

I was on a date with a new guy once. It was our . . . second date, I guess, but the first real one, where he picked me up at my house, we went out to a carnival then to dinner - he paid! a pleasant surprise! - and then back to his house to hang out and watch movies. It was a double date with his sister and her boyfriend, which was not as weird as it might sound. We were all (young) adults.

Anyway, before the end of the first movie, my date's sister and her boyfriend were fast asleep, totally dead to the world. And the boy and I were kissing. Judge me if you must! It was exciting, but like most new relationships, it was a little awkward, too. I was sort of sitting on his lap, and he kept unbuckling my belt. Shortly thereafter - each time - I'd refasten it, though we never stopped kissing.

What's up with this guy? I wondered. How is he not getting the hint, here? Don't all guys know that wearing a belt on a date is a clear sign? What makes him think I'd let him down there on a first/second date, anyway? He's skipping a whole bunch of critical intermediary steps. And his sister is right over there! Plus, what he seems to have in mind is a physical impossibility in this position, anyway!

I ended up dating that boy for more than 3 years, so we had ample opportunity to discuss what happened on our first date. And what didn't.

"I didn't have a lot of experience with dating," he said. This was, perhaps, something of an understatement. "On TV and in movies, whenever people start making out, they always have sex. So when we started kissing, I just assumed . . . "

Seriously. And he was honestly sincere about the whole thing. But I couldn't believe how unrealistic his expectations were. Or were they? Maybe it was just me.

Since then, I've been more conscious of the way sex is portrayed in movies and on TV, and he was right. Kisses don't seem to really exist in their own right, anymore, they are more of an introduction, or even a physical euphemism. Sad.

Now it's your turn. Do you prefer your coffee drip-brewed or from a French press?

Flexibility Is Good!

Children thrive on routine and schedule, right?

But what about breaks, vacations, holidays?

They're magical! We should make them as special as possible!

Of course, we can't go to Disney World every Saturday. But we can talk about "Yay! Spring break!" and eat a little more pizza, stay up a few minutes later upon request, get moving a bit more slowly in the mornings.

Fun for all!

Except, no, not really.


Tonight we had visiting friends from out of town over for dinner/play and Ellie passed out, exhausted, when they left at 10:30. Woo-hoo! But the previous two nights we started bedtime at 8:30-9:00 and she didn't get to sleep until around 11:00. Those battles were . . . painful for all.

And that's not even the worst of it.

Monday, the girls and I went to a fun playdate for babies and preschoolers with Down syndrome, then took a special trip to Borders . . . wherein Ellie took off and escaped through the back emergency exit. This presented me with an immediate and alarming quick decision: leave my 2-year-old unattended in the store while I retrieve my 5-year-old from outside, or . . . what? I dropped my purse and the book I was holding and tore out the emergency door, shoving it wide, grabbing Ellie, and pulling her back inside before the door had a chance to shut behind us.

The rest of the day was OK, including lunch, naps, and a trip to the library . . . but the girls kept escaping to the back of the van and refusing to sit in their car seats when we were loading up to go somewhere. This was a battle I chose not to fight, since we weren't on a tight schedule, and after a couple of warnings/consequences like losing car music privileges I'd just sit and read until they came to their seats. Not ideal.

Last night was another fight to sleep, and today we had some more behavior issues. Ellie and I took Ada to school, during which trip she opened a random classroom door and tried to join the class in progress. Then we headed to Target for a rare and coveted shopping trip together. (Since Ellie's in preschool 5 days a week, Ada and I usually run errands while Ellie's at school.) Then there was a quick stop at Hobby Lobby for stitch markers and row counters (this crafty stuff sucks you in and the tiny little costs add up!). All that went pretty well, though Ellie insisted on riding in the cart at Target and stood up periodically, which she balanced by lying down in front of the door while I was checking out at Hobby Lobby. Relatively easily dealt with.

Then we enjoyed some quiet conversation over a table for two at Starbucks, followed by a trip to the park. Lovely, quality, one-on-one mother/daughter time!

Then we went back to pick up Ada. While I was helping the little one into her backpack, the big one took off. I wasn't worried; we were at church. She's comfortable there and knows her way around. But she got into the elevator and went . . . where? We tried downstairs and didn't see her in the Shop or any of the MusikGarten classrooms. So we went upstairs and tried the big kid Sunday School rooms. No luck. So back to the main level to check in . . . still no Ellie.

Eventually I found her, hanging out with the facilities and youth directors in the church office upstairs.


After that came necessary grocery shopping, which we all survived.

GAAAAAH. I think . . . I'm looking forward to the resumption of school next week.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Writing Goal

A couple of months ago, I emailed back and forth with one of the organizers of Love Is Murder about pitching to agents at the conference.

"Don't forget to pitch to editors, too," she said. "After all, the goal is to be published, however that comes about."

In the end, I decided against pitching to the editors who were at that meeting, just because I didn't feel like any of them were the right fit for this project at this time. (From their own words about what they're looking for, I believe they'd agree.) But I've been thinking about what the conference organizer said ever since.

"After all, the goal is to be published, however that comes about."

I've decided that I do not agree. That's not the primary goal, not for me.

I'm not just dying to see my name on a spine, my search result on Amazon. (As it turns out, there are 3 search results for me at Amazon.com, though none of a novel with me as the author, of course.) I'm not that anxious to have my book out there, to be able to tell people that I'm a published novelist.

I want to produce the best work that I possibly can, and that means working with talented, dedicated people who "get" me, who love my work, and who want to help make my writing better.

I also want to build a career out of this.

Those are my goals. It's not "just" to be published.

1) Write the best story I can write.

2) Build a career out of it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Frireproof: The Movie

I expected the acting to be amateurish. I expected the message to be heavy-handed. I expected that it would be Splenda-sweet.

Perhaps because my expectations were so low (this is common for me, as you might have noticed, and is something that I do intentionally) I did not expect to enjoy the movie. But I did. And I didn't not expect to get much out of it. But I did.

Fireproof: The Movie

You know I'm leading a weekly marriage enrichment class at our church, right? And this is a Christian marriage-enrichment movie. The fit seemed too obvious to skip, and I figured that even if we totally hated the movie it would spark interesting discussion.

So on Saturday night 35 of us gathered at church - in the fireplace room with gas fire burning, naturally! - and ate pizza and salad and veggies and cupcakes. Then the little ones went up to the nursery with a sitter and the grown ups sat down in front of bowls of candy to watch the movie. The next morning we got together at Sunday school to discuss it.

I think we were all surprised that we liked it, that we found the message valuable and helpful. We thought the acting was a bit silly, the story a bit silly, and the message about as subtle as, well . . . That spoof video up there? The silly one? It's not a spoof. It's actually on the DVD as a recap of the film.

But there was a great discussion about the difference between seeing marriage as a contract (I give this, I expect that) and as a covenant (I give this because it's the right thing to do, and don't get so caught up in worrying about what I deserve, what I'm going to get out of it). There were solid reminders about how to treat the ones we love - things should know already but sometimes forget.

I am a mainline Protestant, and am not a particularly evangelical Christian, unlike the creators of the movie. (Have you been following Kirk Cameron since Growing Pains?) I expected to be uncomfortable with the religious message. (For example, I believe in evolution and believe that faith is integral to Christianity. I am not a Christian because someone "scientifically proved" God to me.) But even the faith stuff felt appropriate to the tone of the movie and the message didn't bother me.

In short, I had a good time on Saturday night! And I liked the movie! Maybe next weekend I'll got to a rave or something, just to balance things out. Because I'm footloose, baby!

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Matter of Perspective

Here's a twist! I was writing in a coffee shop this morning and scooted my table a bit closer to my chair (in this case the table was much easier to move than the chair). There was a man sitting alone on a couch near me, earpiece in ear, presumably chatting away via his cell phone. And he shot me a venomous look for making such a loud and inconsiderate noise with my table, disrupting his phone call!

Without transition.

Good friends of ours moved house this week, from a nice, typical subdivision model home to an 80-year-old house in an inner suburb. There are a lot of things I love about the "new" house, like the stairway:

The doors:

And the light:

My girls love the house too. This is their favorite part:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Huh. I Forgot What I Was About to Say.

So I guess I'll just do the title of the first post of every month for last year meme thing, since I forgot to do it in January. Two forgettings cancel each other out, right?

2008 in Blog
January: Big, Fun, Scary
February: At Least I'll Go To Bed Before Midnight
March: St. Louis Bloggers Carnivals 8 and 9
April: Feeding
May: Nothing To See Here
June: Successful Venture
July: I (Briefly) Lost Ellie Today
August: Cool
September: Friends Are Friends Forever . . .
October: Whine, Slap!
November: National Novel Writing Month Is On!
December: Pastor's Advice for Better Marriage: More Sex

On second thought, I'm no longer sure I see the point of that exercise. Perhaps if I had more descriptive titles it would make more sense. Thanks for sitting through that. Posts in the queue include a brief discussion about sex, so, you know, come back again and stuff.

Monday, March 09, 2009

How Stimulating

Do you understand The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, aka the Stimulus Package? Are you skeptical? Have you wondered aloud, in public, if it's such a good idea to keep bailing out banks and financial institutions?

Then you should probably check out to last week's This American Life on NPR (listen here to 2/27/09's episode 375: "Bad Bank") for an easy-to-understand - but not dumbed-down - explanation of what happened to cause the current banking crisis and what sorts of things we can do about it. It's a very useful, and surprisingly interesting show. But if you're a multitasker like me, you'll need to be doing something else while listening, like driving. I dusted my house while listening to the show and felt both smarter and more productive afterward.

I have a couple of rants about the way people are talking about the stimulus package, the economy, and Obama's administration, and I'm going to share them with you right here, right now! Hold onto your wallets.

1) "Why should I pay for . . ."

This is a line of thinking that drives me batty. Why should I pay for the schools, when I don't have children? Why should I pay for the military when I'm a pacifist? Because we're citizens of The United States of America and our country has determined that educating our citizens and having a standing military to protect us in times of war are important. If we don't like the government's priorities, we should change the government. But the "why should I pay" thing is just ugly and stupid.

Most of us pay taxes, and they come out of our paychecks before they even get to the bank. We might end up paying thousands of dollars a year, though the largest percentage may well go towards our own retirement (Social Security). How many of your dollars are really going to bail out the banks? Not very many. Most of your money is still in your own pocket, and most of your tax dollars are still going to things like public health initiatives, interest on the federal debt, and Iraq/defense. Yes, the economic stimulus package is a lot of money, but it's all about scale.

2) Who's going to bail me out? I want free money, too!

No one's getting free money. Why is it that people don't seem to get this? The government is LOANING money to banks and financial institutions, to "bail them out," not handing them huge checks of free money. The government has been buying illiquid mortgage-backed securities. When the economy - and in particular the housing sector - recovers, the government makes back the money, WITH INTEREST. How is this a bad thing? Of course, if the banks are allowed to fail, then, in addition to plunging the country into a very scary economic depression, that money will be gone gone gone.

Personally, I've got a mortgage, two car loans, and two credit cards, plus perpetually lingering student loans. I don't want anyone else to loan me money right now. Free money's always nice, but see above. TANSTAAFL.

3) Things should be looking up by now.

Economic recovery always looks worse before it gets better. (Witness the early 80's and the early 90's.) Obama and most of the economists I've heard talking about this - the folks with impressive titles and PhD's after their names - have always said that things aren't going to turn around over night. Did people really believe Obama would be inaugurated and miraculously global climate change would reverse, the economy would recover overnight, and unicorns would frolic with winged fairies in crystal castles filled with rainbows? He's smart and charismatic, but he's also, you know, human and stuff.

4) This is what you call bipartisanship?

Do you know how you kill bipartisanship? You reject out of hand everything that the other party says, then attack them for not working with you. You act like a negative Nellie without offering reasonable solutions of your own. You over-simplify complex solutions and rely on popular sound-bites instead of doing the right thing in a complex situation, no matter unpopular it might be in the short term.

President Bush was a big fan of less government regulation, more big business, etc. But after being briefed exhaustively on the economic crisis, he came to the conclusion that stimulating the economy in this way was necessary. When he was criticized by other neo-conservatives for this change of heart, he said that he hoped they'd have done the same, when faced with the same crisis and information he'd had.

In the panic of last fall, lots of Republicans were for infusing money into the banks to keep them from failing. Now that the election's over and the political climate has changed, some have started openly hoping and working to ensure that Obama fails (by making sure that we can't fix the economy any time soon) rather than actually doing their damn jobs. I'm perhaps a tad riled up about this.

There is, of course, room for reasonable and intelligent people to disagree about how we got here and what we should do to address the current crisis. But I find a reliance on soundbites instead of intelligent analysis of a complex situation, an automatic rejection of the opposing party's proposals regardless of how many of their economic advisers come from your own party, worrying about image rather than substance in times like these: unconscionable.

And, while we're at it, I'd like to scold the people who toss out words like "earmarks" and "special interests" with vitriol like they're extremely bad words. There's certainly plenty of abuse and waste within the system. But: you know what's an earmark? You know what's a special interest? Funding for police departments, hospitals, prisons, and schools is sometimes secured through earmarks. "Special Interest Groups" include just about every organization with a political arm that lobbies congress directly or indirectly, from Planned Parenthood to the National Rifle Association, from Greenpeace to the oil industry, corporations and labor groups, AARP and the American Medical Association, AAA and the Christian Coalition. One of my favorite "special interest groups" is The Arc. I'm also a big fan of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was heavily sponsored by special interest groups.

So that's me on the economy. Where are you?

"Congratulations! I have something important to tell you . . ."

I met Brian Skotko on Friday, and I was very impressed. In fact, I was relieved that he said "irregardless" once; otherwise I might have developed a major crush on him. (Hey, we all have our little pet peeves. That's one of mine, regardless of the fact that Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary says that it is, technically, a "word.") I'm being very light-hearted here, of course. Dr. Skotko was extremely nice and very well-spoken.

I am excited by the work Skotko is doing, and I really enjoyed his presence and the talk he gave on Friday to a group of physicians, nurses, genetics counselors, and social workers at two different local hospitals. Skotko's research is compelling, his presentation dynamic, and his personality warm, inviting, and surprisingly humble.

Skotko was talking about the ways that physicians - or others - share a diagnosis of Down syndrome with pregnant women/mothers either prenatally or postnatally, and the effects of the way the diagnosis is given. If you have an interest in this kind of thing and have a chance to hear Skotko speak, do it!

As part of his presentation, a representative from the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis shared information about the many fabulous resources the organization has available for hospitals, practitioners, and parents. Then they had a parent speak to share her experience learning the news of her baby's diagnosis. I was honored, delighted, and thrilled to be able to share my story at one of Brian's talks, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Over and over. It was one of the most rewarding and important things I've done lately.

The whole presentation went very well - the doctors, nurses, genetic counselors, and social workers in the audience were very engaged, active listeners - and afterward they asked a few questions! Then Brian Skotko made me feel even better than I already did. "In two weeks they won't remember a thing I said," he said, "but your words will stick with them." I doubt it's true - his presentation was memorable and striking - but I hope that they do remember my experiences too. Skotko quoted an English study where mothers were asked, before they left the hospital after having given birth, to share the words their doctors used to share the diagnosis of Down syndrome with them. 20 years later, the research team followed up with those same mothers, and with 90% accuracy, they remembered the words exactly! 20 years later! This is an important task these providers have, one that sets the tone for the way women feel about their babies and impacts them for years to come.

If you'd like to read the rough text of my little speech, read on! (If not, I'll see you tomorrow for . . . politics!) Below is my written draft and misses a few of the little flourishes and (hopefully!) laugh lines I add in while I'm talking.

I am Sarahlynn. I’m a 34 year old mom and writer married to a 31 year old director of business intelligence for a healthcare organization. We have two daughters, ages 2 and 5. Our 5-year-old has Trisomy 21, and we learned her diagnosis when I was about 20 weeks pregnant.

Although I didn't feel so at the time, I was lucky in so many ways. I was lucky because I live in a wonderful city with tremendous medical resources, and I was lucky because my obstetrician was tied in with many of those resources.

I was standing at my desk at work, gathering some files to take to a big meeting, when my phone rang. I probably should have let it go to voice mail, but I answered instead. It was a medical assistant from my OB/GYN’s office. She told me that I’d screened positive for Down syndrome and would need to go to the high risk pregnancy center at Wash U for further testing and to talk to a genetic counselor.

That appointment happened relatively quickly, but the intervening days were miserable and confusing. Of course I did as much internet research was possible during that period, learning, as I did so, that “screening positive” did not guarantee that my baby would have Trisomy 21.

Indeed, as the genetics counselor later told me, given the results of the blood test my risk was only 1 in 221. Still a relatively small risk! She took medical histories from my husband and me, then told us not to worry.

“Everything is going to be fine,” she assured us. “You’re young and healthy. This is just a false alarm.”

Then we walked across the hall for the Targeted Ultrasound, where the technician was great. Then the perinatal specialist came in. He had a quiet, reassuring voice, and he did a good job of telling us about our daughter’s heart defect and other “soft markers” for Down’s. He was also very accessible to me and my frantic phone calls over the next several days.

After meeting with him, I went back to see my own OB. Unfortunately, the two doctors hadn’t had a chance to touch base, so I had to relay all the information to her, though I was a hormonal sobbing mess.

She reminded me that she’d encouraged me to have the quad screen even earlier – I think she was worried that I might be litigious – then said what I considered to be a very professional and appropriate thing. “This is the last day that you could legally terminate in the state of Missouri,” she said. “But if you do decide to go that route, please come to me. I’ll make sure that you are referred somewhere safe in another state. I don’t want you to try to take care of this on your own.”

Later, I did mention to her that the worst part of my experience was hearing on the phone at work, “You’ve screened positive for Down syndrome” from a medical assistant. The doctor was adamant that they always share the specific results, but then, it wasn’t she who actually made the call. And it’s possible that the medical assistant did say something about a “screening test” being different than a “diagnostic test,” though I didn’t hear much after “You’ve screened positive,” so I can’t be sure. And I know that I didn’t hear the specific results until we met with the genetics counselor.

Throughout my pregnancy, the nurses and medical assistants encouraged me to bring my baby when I came back for my 6-week check-up after delivery so that they could ohh and awww over her. “We love seeing the babies,” they said. The second worst part of my experience was that the doctor didn’t look at my beautiful baby once. The nurses and medical assistants didn’t ask to hold her during my exam. Nobody showed any interest in her at all, and I felt like they thought she was damaged. This wasn’t the road I’d expected or hoped to travel, but this child was mine, and I loved her so much. This bit of rejection was painful.

The third worst thing about my experience was the false hope held out to my husband and me by the genetics counselor. I appreciated hearing the science, the odds, the unlikelihood. But I wish she hadn’t been so adamant that everything was fine; it just made finding out that much harder and more shocking.

Still, in retrospect, I think I was lucky. I got to find out about my baby’s diagnosis in time to prepare myself and assemble a great medical team. I got to read some books about babies with Down syndrome and look at pictures. I got to decide, to CHOOSE to have her. I got to change the hospital at which I intended to deliver, to be closer to a children’s hospital. I got the best medical care and advice I could have gotten.

But it could also have been a bit more sensitive.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

And the Academy Award for Language Development Goes to . . .

Ellie's on a bit of a Latin kick. By which I mean that she speaks in a little bit of Dora the Explorer level Spanish (like, "No embuje, Ada!" and "Ándale, Mama!"). It's always entirely appropriate and in context; she absolutely knows what she's saying.

Also, two of her favorite library books this week are Oh, No, Gotta Go #2 and Let's Make Tacos.

Let's Make Tacos is entirely in English and is an easy reader. ("Next I put cheese in my taco shell. I put the cheese on top of the meat.") It's just photographs of a kid and his mama making tacos for dinner accompanied by simple directions. We've averaged tacos once a week for the past three weeks, and although I enjoy and support Ellie's enthusiasms, I'm almost ready for this book to go back to the library. On the positive side, neither of my girls would eat tomatoes before, and now they both insist on them!

(Ellie's just playing around on the booster seat; she doesn't usually sit in one anymore.)

Oh No, Gotta Go #2 is addictive and fortunately I enjoy reading it over and over. I hope I memorize it before it has to return to la biblioteca. "My parents and I were out walking la calle. Mamá packed a basket, with every detalle, I sat on my trike and was ready to roam. I’d gone to the baño before we left home..." So lyrical!

The only downside with this book is the line, "'The salad! The spinach! The green espinaca! Why that means,' Papá said, 'she has to go caca!'" Yes, you guessed it, Ellie now insists on using the word "caca" as frequently as possible. Super.

Seriously, though, I'm incredibly proud of mi hija.

And since this is Friday photo blogging, I'll toss in a couple of pictures. Our church had an Oscar night pre-party complete with homemade pizzas, a viewing of Wall*E, and a red carpet photo event. Here we are!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Book Club and Toy Party

I'm in two writers' critique groups and two book clubs. One of the writing groups comprises published writers, the other is for folks at the beginning of their writing careers. Similarly one of my book clubs reads typical book club literary fiction (Love in the Time of Cholera, The Book Thief, that sort of thing, usually published within the past year). The other book club is a little more diverse in terms of geography, age, lifestyle (e.g. kids or no kids, partnered or not), and reading material. Over the past year we've read plays, classics, and genre fiction, but nothing published within the past 12 months.

My first book club, the book club book club, the one comprising mostly married suburban white women between ages 32-33 with young children, the one where we read A Fine Balance and The Life of Pi, met this week.

We discussed Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off The TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!) by Douglas Brown. Frankly, my expectations couldn't have been any lower. I read all the Amazon.com 1 star reviews. I scorned the idea publicly.

And then I caved and picked up a copy from the library, Ada comfortably settled on my hip. I scored a young librarian, probably somewhere around my own age, but I was in Mommy-running-errands mode and it hadn't even really occurred to me to be too embarrassed about my choice, at least until she carefully and obviously put the book face down on the counter and slid it across to me with . . . was that actually a wink?! "Book club selection," I found myself mumbling inexplicably. "Meeting tomorrow. Probably won't even read the thing."

I was uncomfortable. Who knew?! I started reading and taking notes about what I didn't like. Within a couple of hours, I'd already laughed aloud three times and put down my pen. There were parts that might have been better, parts that I didn't feel entirely comfortable with or had trouble believing. But over all . . . I really enjoyed the book! Which is not to say that Paul and I are going to attempt such a marathon ourselves. Craziness! But I would like for him to read it. There's good relationship stuff in there, in addition to humor and, um, suggestions and stuff.

To go along with the book discussion, my book club had an adult toy party. The engagement was billed as being, "sort of like a Pampered Chef party, but for sex toys." I knew what to expect, but somehow opening my friend's front door and seeing a large collection of colorful . . . toys . . . spread out on the coffee table was still somewhat jarring. No foreplay, just - pow! - vibrating pink silicone right there in view.

Weirdest of all - it was really fun. And the discussion afterward was so great. There are things that - believe it or not - even girlfriends don't often discuss seriously. At least not in my experience. And we talked honestly about some pretty significant but frequently ignored things.

And then I came home. Have I mentioned this week's homework assignment for our marriage enrichment Sunday School class? We're in the midst of a chapter called "God’s Plan for Sexual Intimacy." Pretend that your relationship with your partner is very new. And pretend that you're someone who would not have sex on the first date. Each day this week, set a limit for yourself. To stay in the mood, it might be helpful to remember all those bases we talked about incessantly in high school. Determine in advance how far you're willing to let things go each day; touch and cuddle with your partner . . . but don't go all the way! At the end of the week, at your discretion, you might choose to recreate a "wedding night" type of scenario.

Yeah. The timing of this book club selection and Sunday School homework assignment was a little . . . unfortunate. If Paul and I were newly dating high school kids, we might be considered just a little bit slutty.

So, how about you? If it were NOT assigned to you by your pastor, would you make a commitment to have sex with your partner every single day - no excuses - for a week? A month? 101 looooong days? When fighting, when sick, when traveling, when children won't sleep?

And have you ever been to one of those sex toy parties?

Lifelines and Warning Signs

Barrie Summy's The Book Review Club (March)

I met CJ Lyons at Love Is Murder last month and immediately knew that I wanted to buy her book. She was on a panel with James Strauss, novelist and senior writer for House, M.D. (one of my favorite television shows): House VS Holmes: C.J. Lyons and Jim Strauss spar and chat about these two loveable, drug-addicted misanthropes. Someone asked a question about Lisa Cuddy, which sparked an interesting discussion about the portrayal of women in medical fiction.

We all agreed that Lisa Edelstein's character wears absolutely ridiculous clothes, and her character is not always perfectly . . . believable. "If you want a realistic portrayal of female doctors," Strauss said, "Read CJ's book."

Like a good, self-promoting new author, Lyons took this opportunity to hold up her first novel and introduce it: a behind-the-scenes medical drama set in a major trauma center in Pittsburgh, focusing on the intersecting lives and friendships between an attending physician (Lydia), a resident (Gina), a charge nurse (Nora), and a medical student (Amanda). The mystery in Lifelines, which published last spring, involves gay rights activists and neo-Nazi skinheads. She was also promoting her second novel, a sequel to Lifelines. The mystery in Warning Signs, which just published last month, is much more medical . . . and personal for one of the major characters (looking at you, Amanda!).

I was immediately hooked. I bought Warning Signs the next day (CJ was offering a buy the second book, get the first free deal, which I could not refuse) and started reading right away. I read straight through both books, though not without a hiccup here and there.

First was the cover. When I saw it up close I nearly backed away. "Realistic portrayal of women in medicine," I reminded myself. "Written by an award-winning author and real ER doc."

I picked up the book despite its cover, and wasn't disappointed once I got past the art. I like the layout and design just fine; it's the models that drive me crazy. They look like models. I totally don't buy any of those women as doctors. I sure don't think the very young-looking brunette in the white coat looks like Lydia Fiore, ER attending and former street kid. Maybe the red head could be a nurse, and the blonde a med student. But I sure don't buy the tall African American woman as a tough, assertive, bulimic third year emergency medicine resident. The four women look like . . . models. Young models with professional hair and make-up.

The second hiccup happened on P. 4: Trey Garrison . . . glanced up, revealing a pair of vivid hazel eyes that locked onto Lydia's gaze.

"Ack!" I thought. "I've been tricked into reading a romance novel." I didn't love that style of writing, which happened occasionally through both books, but I was caught by the pace, the mystery, and the lives of the four women. Indeed, Lyons is a member of Romance Writers of America in addition to a few mystery writers' organizations, and describes the series as "Thrillers with Heart." Upon reflection, I feel like the novels fall slightly more on the side of "romantic suspense" than "medical thriller," though there's a lot going on in the stories and only one romance arc completes with each novel. Actually, I keep going back and forth on how I'd categorize this one.

My third hiccup came in Warning Signs, when I decided that the characters were a little too flawed. Lydia's past is . . . intense. Which would be fine, but each of the other main characters is equally damaged. And I really don't like Gina. I'm sure that I'm supposed to, and it looks like Book 3 will be her book, so here's hoping that I start to find her just a touch more sympathetic.

My fourth hiccup came as Nora repeatedly missed the obvious signs of what's going on with her boyfriend. I have strongly suspected that Louis has a particular sleep disorder since early in book one, and I really hope that I'm wrong. I don't like to figure things out too much faster than the main characters, when we're given the same data. It also drives me crazy that Amanda keeps refusing to tell people that there's something physically wrong with her. Again: I know; other characters don't; it's uncomfortable for me. Especially when there's an easy and obvious solution: tell someone!

I really enjoyed reading Lifelines and Warning Signs, and am eagerly awaiting the third installment. But I still don't like the covers.

Mostly, I'm very interested to see where CJ Lyons goes next. There's something very fresh and honest about her, no artifice. I think she's an exciting new author to watch.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Full-Day Kindergarten

This morning, I was interviewed on camera by the preschool director for our school district.

"What do you look forward to with your child to experience in kindergarten?"

"I hope that in kindergarten, learning to read, she really starts to develop an independent love of learning, and the realization that she can teach herself new things. I also hope that she'll develop her sense of independence."

"What concerns do you have about your child entering kindergarten?"

"My husband and I loved school so much and we want that for our daughter, too. I'm just so afraid that she'll find kindergarten too hard and will want to give up. I'm afraid that she won't like it, that it will be too different from play-based preschool. And I'm a little scared of all the independence she'll have and the room for making bigger mistakes."

Then we went next door to Ellie's classroom and the teacher attempted to interview Ellie. We'd practiced at home, of course, but she was absolutely not really into it. And who could blame her? Sure, we blather on about "kindergarten" from time to time. But what does this strange word mean? It sounds like our beloved "Musikgarten." Come to think of it, what is "next year," anyway? And new schools are nothing big to her; she's been in five classrooms in three preschools already.

"I wonder what you will do in kindergarten?"

Ellie did this little mutter thing she does where she doesn't make eye contact and doesn't use actual words but mumbles along like Charlie Brown's teacher. This is not unlike what I do when I don't know the words but want to keep singing. Or when I feel like I should know the answer the rest of the group is reciting.

"Ellie, what do you think you will do in kindergarten?"

"New friends," she said very quietly, smiling at her sister playing on the trampoline directly behind her . . . and turning completely away from the camera.

"What do you think you will learn in kindergarten?"

I can tell you what she did not say. She did not talk about computers or reading, as her father and I had suggested to her during our earlier practice sessions.

"I wonder what you will like the most about going to kindergarten?"

Ellie did not mention eating lunch at school or riding the bus. In fact, it was pretty obvious that she was not into this scene and was so done. She headed off to play.

I shrugged at the preschool director and cameraman. It happens. And there were lots of other children to interview.

Back at home, over lunch, I flipped through the day's mail.

"Dear Parent,
We received a number of applications for our Full-Day Kindergarten Program and twenty children for one class were selected through a random drawing. Although your child's name was not drawn . . . "

Ack! Not even in kindergarten and already a rejection letter, if not a personal one. We applied for the limited full-day program because we know that Ellie will be pulled out of the classroom some for therapy serives and we worry about her missing too much class. But all that will be addressed after her transition I.E.P meeting and we're not too worried about the schedule yet.

A couple of hours later, after naptime (we're sort of back on naptime) I was chatting with Ellie about kindergarten again. She still wasn't very into it. The phone rang.

Ellie's principal is an interesting dude. We know him from her stint in the early childhood room at the local elementary school, and he's very nice, easily approachable, and extremely accessible to the children. He's young and handsome: tan with white teeth and curly blond hair. He also has the highest voice I've ever heard from an adult man. It's much, much higher than mine. I don't type in pitch, so you'll have to use your imagination here.

"I'm calling with good news!" he said. "So many families were interested in full-day kindergarten for next year that both classrooms will be full-day! Eleanor will be in Mrs. X's class or Mrs. Y's class, and . . . "

It's starting to feel almost real.

Next year, I will have a child in elementary school. She'll be doing things like going into the building on her own. And losing baby teeth.

I'm sure I'll be doing things like turning grey and biting off my fingernails.

Not Writing (Enough), Not Sleeping (Enough) Either

Last week was a busy week.

This week is a busy week.

I try very hard to protect my two dedicated mornings a week for writing, but it's not going very well. It seems like there's always something oh-so-important that crops up to cut into both my morning and my evening writing times, slowing - but not stalling - progress.

How does this keep happening?

In the meantime . . .

I finished "knitting" my third hat. The first two were a little smaller than I wanted them to be (one in circumference, the other in length) and the third was much longer than I intended. Perhaps I'll have to start - gasp - counting rows or something. In the meantime, I'm all set for the next time a friend has a baby with a very small head. I intend to try arm warmers next; wish me luck.

I'm reading Brandon Sanderson right now, instead of the TWO books that I haven't read for my TWO book clubs that are meeting this week. (Sorry, book club pals.)

I read an interview with the refreshingly humble and apparently very hard-working Sanderson in which he said that he suspects he'll go down in history as a footnote on Robert Jordan's bio, as the guy who wrote the last book in the Wheel of Time series.

When I first read that, it made me a little sad for Sanderson. Here's a young guy, just starting out in his career, and he catches a big break. But there's a catch. The "big break" is too big; it pigeon-holes and typecasts Sanderson. His own work will never have a chance to be evaluated on its own merit; he'll never have a chance to build his own fan base; he'll always just be that guy who finished A Memory of Light.

The more I read him, though, the less concerned about that I am. Sanderson's writing style is distinct from Jordan's. He's also hard-working, dedicated, and prolific. He keeps publishing his own work while he's working on the Jordan novel, and he has a unique voice. His world building is fabulous. (Oddly, I have a hard time really connecting with and caring about his characters, but the setting and conflict are interesting enough that I'm willing to keep reading to find out what happens. I do, however, find that I put the book down more often than I expected to. I'll sit down with a cup of coffee and the novel, expecting to read a chapter while the children nap, and suddenly find myself in another room, checking my email, wondering what happened.)

But I probably wouldn't have picked up a Sanderson novel if I weren't a Wheel of Time fan trying to find out about the guy who's finishing the series. And now I've bought three of his novels and visited his website several times. I'm a fan of Sanderson's work through his connection to Jordan, and I doubt I'm the only one. I think he'll do very well for himself.

And now I need to go get a little beauty rest; early tomorrow morning Ellie and I are going to make our small-screen debut in a video about families with kids entering Kindergarten next year. I'm off to sleep in curlers.