2016 … My Musings

As I look at my calendar – 2017 is quickly approaching – I can’t help but reflect. Social media has been a bit depressing the last few days. It seems the plethora of posts about George Michael has now become about Carrie Fisher. I am a child of the ’80s. And yes, it seems my generation has lost quite a few big names from that era. The entertainment and sports world has also lost quite a few outside of the ’80s generation as well. And though there’s always a brief pause when I read of someone passing away, a short prayer for the repose of their soul, I have never really understood the grief that comes from the public over a celebrity death.

Many people have died in 2016; most of those who have died, even if we only look at those who have died in our own respective countries, states, or even cities, we didn’t know, nor will never know their names. It feels as it a greater proportion of those deaths this year were big names. And maybe they were. But death is not a respecter of age, gender, nor fame. It comes to those when it comes.

I understand that a celebrity death may seem more tragic to people who have never met them. Due to their celebrity status, we feel we did know them. They entered our lives through the big screen, through our television sets, through the radio, and through the earbuds in our ears. Because we caught a glimpse of them – not even necessarily an authentic glimpse of them – we feel we are somehow closer to them than say the man a few blocks over who died that we never met, or the young mom in the next county who lost her battle to cancer that we didn’t know.

But for most of us, we really never knew them. We didn’t break bread with them; we didn’t celebrate seasons with them, pray with them, sit up with them through an illness, discuss the latest book we read, or share a cup of coffee. What we knew of them was mostly what they were willing to share with the world – a character, a script, a song. Yes, they shared their passion with us – but that passion was being someone different than their authentic self. And maybe that’s what made them so good in so many ways – that they could craft a character, perform a show, convey a story so well that we thought it was them, and therefore, we thought we knew them.

Death is tragic. It ends a life here on earth that most people weren’t ready to see go. It alters our future – our collective future. Death takes away the ability to see any other Star Wars movies with Princess Leia in them, the ability to await a new album from George Michael or Prince, the ability to see Craig Sager on the sidelines in his outrageous suits crafting a post-game interview. And when the death is of someone close to us, it turns our world upside down. But at the end of the day, I cannot put much personal stock into the death of a celebrity. It is sad. It’s an end of an era. And yet, my life goes on. Those I know, those I love, are here. This is where my heart is meant to be.



A Legacy …

There was a time when a man spoke very impatiently to my father. He had seen a copy of the Iliad lying on the table. “You are reading this?” he asked.

“I have read it many times. Now I read it to my son.”

“But he is too young!” The man protested, almost angry.

“Is he? Who is to say? How young is too young to begin to discover the power and the beauty of words? Perhaps he will not understand, but there is a clash of shields and a call of trumpets in those lines. One cannot begin too young nor linger too long with learning.”


My father was a tall man, and now he stood up. “My friend,” he said, “I do not know what else I shall leave my son, but if I have left him a love of language, of literature, a taste for Homer, for the poets, the people who have told our story–and by ‘our’ I mean the story of mankind–then he will have legacy enough.”

Louis L’Amour, The Lonesome Gods, p. 141-142

(emphasis mine)

Though our homeschool has changed a bit here and there over the years, one thing has been constant pretty much from the beginning – we wanted to make sure we read to our children, read often, read good books, and gave them a love of reading. Honestly, you could say this began Ian’s first night home from the hospital. He had his nights and days very mixed up, so after he nursed, John took him and hung out with him until it was time to feed him again. Starting that very first night, John read to Ian. If I remember correctly, it was Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You Will Go! It didn’t matter that Ian didn’t understand a word of the story. What mattered is that he knew his daddy’s voice, heard the rhythm and cadence that comes with hearing spoken language, and knew that daddy was with him.

That practice has continued throughout our children’s lives. Even now, I still read to them in the mornings during the school year, John reads to them most nights at bedtime, and we often have a family audio book going. Reading – together, alone – has become part of our culture as a family.

I still remember something my principal told a group of us when I was still teaching. His two sons were older – one in college and one in high school – but he said they still read aloud as a family. They often took turns, sharing books they loved, with each other. They also would listen to books in the car as they drove places. To realize that once my children were able to read to themselves that it was still a good thing to read to them made a huge impact on me. Ian, that little newborn who heard his first story the night he came home from the hospital, still loves to listen to his father and I read to him and his siblings. Truth be told, they all still love to listen to the early pictures books being read to the youngest two.

“Who knows how much he will remember? Who knows how deep the intellect? In some year yet unborn he may hear those words again, or read them, and find in them something hauntingly familiar, as of something long ago heard and only half-remembered.”

Louis L’Amour, The Lonesome Gods, p. 141

We may not have monetary riches to leave our children. At this point in our lives, with my oldest nearing the end of his homeschooling career, I’m just hoping we have riches enough to help with college for five children. But, we can leave them a few things money can never buy – a love for language, a love for literature, a friendship with some of the greatest writers who wrote some of the greatest works. Combine that legacy with being able to give them their faith, and they will be rich beyond compare.

It’s Eugenics, Plain and Simple

With the latest asinine thing Richard Dawkins has said, I think it’s time to revisit something I wrote nearly three years ago. At that time, the new prenatal testing for Down syndrome was being touted as a medical advancement that would save many from suffering and allow mothers the opportunity to abort. It seems we are still fighting this fight, and will continue to for many years to come. Maybe if Mr. Dawkins had said something about aborting a female baby in order to try again for a male, people would see it for what it was – selective breeding. Or, aborting a baby with a same-sex tendency that was detected early on. Or a baby of a certain ethnic background. Down syndrome, though, is fair game apparently. 

It is believed that approximately 90-93% of pregnancies where the fetus (baby) has been prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are terminated. Read that again. Ninety to ninety-three percent … more than 9 out of 10. Because of Down syndrome. Not because of an unwanted pregnancy, but because of a triplicate of the 21st chromosome. Because what the future *might* be like. Some try to make this a pro-choice versus pro-life issue. I believe that is only a smoke-screen designed to ignore the real issue: eugenics.

eugenics |yo͞oˈjeniks| plural noun [ treated as sing. ]  the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means of discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable, undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable, desirable traits (positive eugenics).

Yes, that word carries horrible connotations. And it should. And we should not forget the lessons of history where groups of people were deemed less worthy (or completely unworthy) of life due to race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic makeup, or any other “defect.” And yet, in the 21st century, we find ourselves still at a medical, ethical, and moral crossroads. This is not about religion. This is not about when the unborn becomes “human.” This is about deeming whether one (potential) life has more or less worth than another. Maybe I can illustrate …

Take Woman A and Woman B. Woman A is a young college student on an athletic scholarship, working towards a degree in hopes of a fulfilling career. Woman B might already have that degree. She is also in a steady, longterm relationship. Woman A has a boyfriend, but knows they are not in it for the long haul, yet for now she is enjoying the relationship.

They both, though, have one thing in common: they find themselves pregnant. Woman A, accidentally, as either the birth control that night failed or the birth control was forgotten. Woman B, though, is purposely pregnant. Though she and her partner may not have fully planned on it at this moment, they knew this was something they wanted and are excited. Woman A, knowing that an unwanted pregnancy would jeopardize her scholarship, and thus potentially jeopardize her future, sees termination as her only choice. She more than likely does not go to the OBGYN for prenatal screening and an ultrasound, or any other testing. She confirms the pregnancy and then makes an appointment to terminate. Woman A is an example of pro-choice versus pro-life.

Woman B, on the other hand, is carrying a wanted pregnancy. She goes to her OBGYN and does the recommended screening. Her initial blood screens come back with an elevated risk for Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome). Her doctor highly recommends one of two things: scheduling a termination now or more invasive testing. [I am going on anecdotal information here … it is hard to find hard stats, but I have heard from more than one source that termination was urged following only the old blood screenings without any concrete confirmation from amniocentesis.] She is scared, especially given the stats from her doctor: mild to moderate mental retardation [yes, that word is still used by some], very short life expectancy, probable multiple health problems … but since this pregnancy is desired and the baby wanted, she agrees to more invasive testing even though it carries a risk for miscarriage. Her doctor has her come in for the results, which confirm a diagnosis of Down syndrome, and again the doctor counsels termination. She says she needs to talk with her partner and will get back with the doctor.

Woman B’s situation is not about pro-life versus pro-choice. For this particular pregnancy, Woman B was pro-life up until the Down syndrome diagnosis. She wanted the pregnancy. She was planning on carrying it to term and was more than likely looking forward to welcoming a new member to the family. Once Down syndrome entered the equation and her doctor recommended termination, it became squarely about eugenics. It was now a question of whether this baby is worthy of life now that it is known something is “wrong.”

Eugenics strives to eliminate unwanted characteristics in the human race. To many, Down syndrome is seen as an unwanted characteristic. Children that otherwise would have been welcomed and cherished are instead being aborted because they are not worthy of coming into this world, based purely on the number of chromosomes they have.

Everything about this new test scares me. It has the potential of doing good … many people like to know things ahead of time to prepare. Having an early diagnosis of Down syndrome could mean more time to research what that means, could be a time to help the pregnant woman increase her intake of key nutrients known to improve brain function, could be a time to have specialists monitor the developing baby for potential heart or intestinal problems. It could be a time to help educate the family on what Down syndrome *might* look like. It could be a wonderful time for a family expecting a child with Down syndrome to meet up with families raising children with Down syndrome, to line up support from those who have walked this path already.

But, based on the advice given to so many women, based on the insanely high termination rate already, based on erroneous information given to families upon receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, I do not hold out much hope. Because the test is done so early in pregnancy, and does not involve invasive testing like amnio or CVS, more women, and younger women, may also begin terminating their pregnancies. When scared women and scared partners are given only negative information, and often outdated information, regarding raising a child with Down syndrome, I cannot see the termination rate going down.

Raising a child with Down syndrome is not always “rainbows and unicorns.” I am reminded often how blessed we are with Miss K and her health, development, and overall well being.

But, you know what? There are absolutely no guarantees in life, regardless of the number of chromosomes you sport. “Typical” children, children with 46 chromosomes, “normal” children … they can also get sick. They can also be in serious accidents. They can also grow up and have a hard or difficult life. It is not guaranteed that if you are born with the normal 46 chromosomes that you will have an easy, pain-free life. Nor is it guaranteed that if you are born with 47 chromosomes, you’ll have a hard, painful life.

So, why are so many potential lives being thrown away before they even have a chance to show us all they can become? Why are some lives deemed more worthy of living than others? What happens when there are non-invasive, prenatal tests for Juvenile Diabetes, childhood cancer, autism? Where do we draw the ethical and moral line determining the value of a person, especially an unborn one who has done nothing wrong except be created a little differently? When can we really see this for what it is … not an issue of “choice” but an issue of worth?

Why I Feel I’m Living in a Picture Book

If you have read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, then you can understand how wanting a cookie can turn into needing a hair cut, drawing a picture, and taking a nap. And if you have read it, then you might also understand how painting a bedroom or three could turn into not only cleaning out the attic and garage, but also painting the living room, den, and “touching up” the kitchen.

In the back of my head, I’m sure I knew it would come to this. You put a very nice color up on a few walls and think, “This would look really nice in *that* room also.” Then you realize that room is the same color as the next, so they both should be painted. And while you are filling in the dings and dents that have accumulated over the last six or so years since you last painted, you realize the kitchen could use a little spackle too. The next thing you know, life is chaotic (well, more so than normal), there is a fine layer of dust over most all surfaces, and you wonder if you will ever be able to sit on your couch again.

In the midst of this, I still have sixth grade and eighth grade to plan for my older two (third grade is almost planned), my husband has to figure out high school math Common Core in the next four weeks, and we’d love to get a couple “field trips” in before the school year begins. At least I’m 99% sure I have finally ordered everything we need, aside from a few school supplies. It’d be overly embarrassing to mention how many times I forgot something while ordering online, only to have to put in another order once I remembered. What I hope is the final order is on its way now. If it isn’t, then we will just do without.

Adventures in painting the bedrooms, or why moving might have been easier

As last summer was the summer of the very long road trip (more on that later, probably in a different post), this summer has become the summer of home improvement. Honesty, ending one school year (our homeschooling year and my husband’s teaching school year), embarking immediately on a month long road trip across most of the US, and coming home just in time to prep and plan new school years left us very little time to do much of anything around the house. What began as a simple desire to declutter some of the mess that manages to find its way in our house has turned into an empty attic, almost empty garage, and rooms that should actually be painted. The painting seemed a good idea and relatively easy on the home-renovation scale. The kids’ rooms were painted a nice sky blue, and though I didn’t see it as “boys only,” it did feel “little boyish.” Plus, over the years, numerous stickers had been stuck on the walls near beds. So, fresh paint was a good excuse to scrape all stickers off the walls and neutralize the walls a bit.

We ended up choosing Dunn Edwards’ Sandcastle. I first saw it when my mother-in-law painted her house. It’s a beautifully warm and yet light color, changing with the light in the room. It doesn’t pop out from the wall and yet doesn’t dissolve into it either. In keeping with my desire for simplicity, I decided all three bedrooms would be painted, plus the hallway. I think my husband fears that will extend to the living room, kitchen/entry, and den. It probably will. But painting isn’t that big of a deal.

For some reason, cleaning out the bedrooms to get ready to paint turned into my husband declaring that the attic needed cleaning out. Now, before you picture wonderful “grandmother” attics, complete with rocking chairs, old chests full of treasures, and even a window overlooking the yard, let me explain by my loose usage of the word. Our attic is a glorified crawl space. I think Miss K is the only one who could probably stand up in there. We do have a drop-down ladder in the hall for access. But getting anything in or out requires staying very low if you wish to preserve your head. With that said, even with our “attic,” we did manage to fill it quite nicely. Three boys can collect many toys over the years. Add to that Christmas decorations, most of which we don’t even use anymore as we decided the electric bill was not worth it, and it doesn’t take long to fill the place. All of it came down, one box or bin at a time. I vowed that most of it will not be returning. There is simply not enough time in their lives to play with everything we have accumulated over the last thirteen years of child rearing. Our over abundance will make some other children very happy.

Well, with the attic cleared out, and with the promise that it will only house a few select things after this weekend, it was only natural for the garage to get in on the action. I mean, what’s a bit more mess. Not only does our garage house our stuff (think bicycles, bike trailers, skateboards, RipSticks, tents, coolers, baseball equipment … you get the picture), but still houses many of the things my dad left behind when he passed. I don’t think we will ever have use of a table saw, for instance. But when we inherited the house, we just kept everything. Much like the attic, the garage will be cleaned out and put back together with far less than it has now. By this point, and with the mess we have made, it seems moving might have been easier. We already have a large portion of our stuff “packed up” and ready to go. But I love our little house. It’s a nice house even if it’s a big snug around the edges. A little decluttering. A bit of paint on the walls. A cleaner attic and garage … maybe not the easiest things to do, especially with Miss K underfoot, but in the long run, much easier than moving.

Starting Over

I will admit it. I’m a blogging drop-out. Three times over. So why, one might ask, am I thinking the fourth time will be any different? Well, I don’t necessarily think it will be. But recently I’ve had the opportunity to join in with some wonderful writers at Sandbox to Socrates, and writing those articles rekindled my love of writing. Life does take over, and things do happen. This blog may not make it far. But, for now, I feel the desire to begin again, sharing my thoughts and ideas with whomever chooses to read them.

As my life is multi-faceted, this blog, too, will be multi-facated. Two of my previous blogs were fairly narrow in their focus, both dealing specifically with homeschooling. My third blog began as a place to post photos, grew into a blog focused on Down syndrome awareness, and eventually encompassed my life in general. There are still thoughts on my third blog that are relevant now; I may share some as I continue this journey. I could have revived that blog, but other than reusing the name, I felt a clean start with WordPress was in order.

My musings here will span from homeschooling, including homeschooling a child with special needs (Down syndrome in particular) to living out my Catholic faith. You, my readers, may not always agree with what I post; I do ask that if you choose to comment, even if it in disagreement, to please do so respectfully. I have found lately that the Internet seems to breed snark and general bullying. The anonymity encourages this as we forget the people behind the black and white words on a page are real people with real feelings and their own unique set of life circumstances. Common curtesy and a life of virtue are lost arts; we are working to instill both in our children.

I thank you for visiting my little corner of the blog world and invite you to stick around.