March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day.
Temple Grandin wrote:
It is likely that genius is an abnormality. If the genes that cause autism and other disorders such as manic-depression were eliminated, the world might be left to boring conformists with few creative ideas.
Down Syndrome is not genius, at least not in the intellectual sense. If I could wave my hand and eliminate that third copy of the 21st chromosome, I imagine I would do so. But would that be a good thing? The more I hear from families of children with Down Syndrome, the more I wonder if these people have something important to offer the world that shouldn't be thrown away.
Even if eliminating the genetic defect that results in Down Syndrome would be best for all concerned, I know for a fact that eugenics is not the right way to effect a cure.
The population of people with Down Syndrome is diminishing rapidly, not because someone has cured the condition, nor found a way to prevent its occurrence, but simply because more and more babies with Down Syndrome are killed before they have a chance to be born. Prenatal testing to determine the presence of that extra chromosome is widespread, and more and more parents are opting for abortion rather than meet this challenge.
It's not my place, here, to judge another person's response to a difficulty I have never faced. But as a society we need to be aware of exactly what we are doing. There have been other times in our history when we have made deliberate efforts to eradicate the "unfit," and those actions have been rightly condemned by subsequent generations.
C. S. Lewis wrote about peer orientation? Certainly not by that name.
But recently, as part of my C. S. Lewis retrospective, I came upon a passage in Mere Christianity that immediately brought to mind the epidemic of children taking their culture and direction from peers, rather than from parents or other adults, which has been going on in our society for at least three generations.
What Lewis was actually writing about was the central tenet of Christianity: what it is and what it is not.
The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did that are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.
As part of his explanation of one of those theories, Lewis likens God's work in us—enabling us to repent, reason, and love—to a teacher who helps a child learn to write by holding the child's hand and forming the letters with him. Later he writes [emphasis mine],
I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, "because it must have been so easy for Him." Others may (very rightly) rebuke the ingratitude and ungraciousness of this objection; what staggers me is the misunderstanding it betrays. In one sense, of course, those who make it are right. They have even understated their own case. The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them? The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the teacher is grown-up and knows how to write. That, of course, makes it easier for the teacher; and only because it is easier for him can he help the child. If [the child] rejected him because "it’s easy for grown-ups" and waited to learn writing from another child who could not write ... (and so had no "unfair" advantage), [the student] would not get on very quickly. If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life. Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) "No, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one foot on the bank"? That advantage—call it "unfair" if you like—is the only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?
Rejecting the help of those who are stronger than ourselves is what we have been doing for decades. We turn for help and advice—for the very shaping of our lives—to our peers, and we not only tolerate, but encourage, the same in our children. Unlike all generations before the 20th century, we do not acquire our culture from our parents, but from agemates who have no more experience, knowledge, and wisdom than we ourseves. We ignore history, throwing out all mankind has learned from the beginning of human life on earth, on the grounds that the benighted, ignorant savages that came before us have nothing to say to our modern world. The latest TED talk or Huffington Post article gets more respect and attention than the wisest writings of the past.
No wonder we're in a mess.
One key to holding on to our sanity is realizing that it is in the interest of so many others to keep us in a state of fear. Fearful people stay riveted to news programs, they buy lots of stuff they don't need, they indulge in expensive and unhealthful habits to dull the pain, they give up their vital freedoms and basic rights in the name of security, and their anxiety is all too easily turned to anger and hatred. Fearful people are sheep, easily manipulated and ready prey for the politician, the salesman, the agitator, the televangelist, the gang leader.
Another key is to understand that as horrific as are the events we hear about on the news, they are much more rare than we are led to believe by those who profit from our fears. From school shootings to vaccine reactions, from raw cookie dough illnesses to child kidnappings by strangers, we are given the impression that statistically infinitesimal risks are looming over us daily. They're not.
Generally, crime rates in America are much lower now than they were when my own children were young, but it's today's parents who are afraid to let their kids walk to school—or even play in the back yard without an adult present—and won't leave 11-year-olds alone at home for a few hours. (Twenty years ago, 11-year-olds were considered responsible babysitters.) When one is bombarded daily, and repeatedly, with stories of crime, and crimes against humanity, it's hard not to think that our world is worse than it is. More concerning still, studies show that fictitious violence (movies, television, video games) has the same effect on our gut as real news stories.
In any case, here's the very important paradox: No matter how bad we may think the world is, the way to raise healthy, well-adjusted children—the kind who will contribute to making the world better—is to avoid passing on our anxieties. Children need to know that the world is, generally, a safe place, beginning with their own families, and that where it is not, it can be faced with courage and hope. Growing up fearful is not conducive to good mental health.
How to resolve this? For one thing, we should help our children to become as competent as possible in basic life skills, so that they have—and know that they have—the tools to face the world as it comes to them. I also recommend the Fred Rogers quote about the importance of looking to the helpers in any bad situation. And stories. Lots of good stories, from biographies of heroes to heroic fairy tales, where evil is defeated by goodness and strength and courage. As C. S. Lewis said, "Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage."
Maybe that can work for adults as well. It's worth a try.
I almost cried in church today. Instead, I fist-bumped Porter.
We are learning more and more about our new rector. I don't expect always to be pleased with what we learn, but if I heard him right, today was huge on the plus side.
He was talking about the Confirmation class he will be teaching, explaining that unlike some rectors he prefers to teach everyone together instead of separating children from adults.
He went further. Families, he said, belong together in church. He reminded people that we have an alternative children's activity that families are welcome to take advantage of if they wish, but added that in his view the norm is for famlies to worship together and children are welcome in the service. He didn't explain any further—this was more of an aside during the announcements—but I very nearly broke my staid choir persona and shouted, "Amen!" It's a personal, as well as a philosophical, issue for us.
It's too bad Lucerne and New Hampshire are so far away. I can't wait till 2020 when I anticipate bringing 10 grandchildren and their parents to sit in the front pews. :)
It was a grandmother moment.
I woke up today to this report from six-year-old Vivienne:
I get to open the Advent calendar! It's my first and only composite!
That's my girl!
We had a deep fryer once, long ago, and I found the whole process messy and rather more of a pain than it was worth. However, having recently experienced some really amazing fried food at the Melting Pot, I thought I'd investigate what new technology might now be available. (Who knew that deep-fried kale would be so awesome?)
I haven't made up my mind about anything yet. What holds me back the most is knowing I'd have to find a place to store a new appliance.
Be that as it may, look what I found in a review of the Presto Cool Daddy 6-Cup Electric Deep Fryer:
- Ideal for a small family up to six people.
I like the way they think.
Revealing my age, I can say that I remember the days when a family of six was considered small; now our children's families (of six and eight) attract attention wherever they go.
Back then we didn't have Presto fryers, nor frozen French fries: my mother made fries for our (small) family of six starting from whole potatoes, and using a pot of oil on the stove. And they were so good! As time went on, she did switch to using frozen French fries, which was definitely easier, though not better.
Does anyone have thoughts about deep fryers to share? I'm interested—if I am interested; I'm still not sure—in something small, since our current household is small by any standards (two).
Unlike most of my friends, I did not grow up fantasizing about getting married and having children. My fantasies were more inspired by the books I read: becoming a research scientist, an explorer, or a detective; flying an airplane, fighting for an important cause, having adventures. My mother thought this peculiar, and at one point asked me, "What's wrong with our family that you don't want to have one of your own?"
She had completely missed the point. Why should I want to do that? I already had the perfect family. In her defense, I had not actually verbalized my thoughts, which were more gut-level than reasoned out. But why would I want anything different?
Eventually I caught on to the fact that life doesn't remain static, and part of the purpose of a family is to reproduce itself, albeit in a theme-and-variations sort of way. I might still have missed out, though.
When we married, our friends thought the timing peculiar, since it was in the dead of winter and the groom was still a few months away from graduation. They wondered if perhaps I was pregnant—which was decidedly not the case.
To this day, I don't know why we were in such a hurry to get married—but the young, as a rule, are not particularly patient. However, there's a very good reason why I'm grateful for the timing: three months later my mother died, suddenly and unexpectedly. Not only would she have missed the wedding, but I might have succumbed to the temptation to quit my job and move back home to help my father and three much-younger siblings. And then life would have taken a decidedly different turn.
Who knows? That probably would have turned out to be good, too. But from where I stand now, it's unthinkable, because it would have been without the people who taught me that motherhood wraps up most of my childhood fantasies into one glorious package: being a research scientist, an explorer, and a detective; fighting for important causes, and having incredible adventures. I haven't yet flown a plane, but I'm okay with that.
All this rumination is prelude to wishing one whose entry into this world changed our lives forever a very Happy Birthday! (I also wish we could be there to hear the handbells ring and taste the chocolate mousse.)
I recently had the opportunity to read The Excellence Habit: How Small Changes in Our Mindset Can Make a Big Difference in Our Lives by Vlad Zachary. As a whole, I did not find the book helpful, because despite the promising title, it is primarily directed at the business world. However, the following passage clearly applies to us all.
The one stress factor that always reduces our choices and affects how we react is the availability of time. ... At any moment we are hurried, or feel hurried, we will exhibit a diminished ability to respond in line with our circumstances. Even when we encounter new, unfamiliar, and potentially dangerous circumstances, if we had plenty of time, we would have a better chance of self-control and adequate response. When time starts running out, so does our capacity for reaction, problem solving, and creativity. This is almost universal as a response to time pressure.
Having read that, my reaction was to be confirmed in my belief that we need to build more time-space into our lives by reducing our commitments, beginning preparations well in advance of an event, building deliberate open spaces into our schedule, and not getting into the car with just enough time that if all the lights are green and there are no slower drivers in front of us, we will just make it to our destination as the event begins.
The author, however, heads in a different direction.
Awareness and preparation, therefore, are critical to how well we perform when short on time. ... Practice and how well we do under pressure are positively correlated. ... The more we prepare, the better we will perform when it matters.
I can see that, too. The correlation is obvious among athletes, musicians, artists, the military, and my friends who carry guns: practice is the only way to build up the good habits and automatic responses that will enable us to react correctly and effectively under pressure.
I would go further. For any positive trait we wish to acquire, or instill in our children—compassion, timeliness, responsibility, courtesy, self-control ... good handwriting, mathematical facility, driving skills ... the ability to handle pain, to resist temptation, to follow the right course in the face of opposition—without correct, consistent, and constant practice under more favorable circumstances, a crisis situation will leave us wide open to panic, paralysis, poor decision-making, and the betrayal of our own values.
As usual, jet lag is kicking me on the return trip. (The outbound trip is much easier, for several reasons.) I had thought I was over it the first day—but it turns out I was only so exhausted that sleep came at any time, any place. :) But it's getting better. Gradually, my wake-up-and-can't-get-back-to-sleep time has stretched from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. to this morning at 4:30 a.m.—almost normal. I knew there was no hope of getting back to sleep today, because I woke up thinking about how far away our children and grandchildren are, and how much that not only hurts now but potentially makes life difficult years from now if we don't get hit by a truck but have to face becoming too old and infirm to live independently. a sad situation many of our friends are currently going through with their parents.
Lying in bed awake was not producing any solution to that problem, so I got up and went to work. And one of the first things I ran across, on a totally and completely unrelated search, was this song: "The Missing Piece," by Cherish the Ladies.
Yes, I cried.
There's a sadness woven throughout Irish music, despite the gaiety of many of its songs. Naturally, this song of family far away and of the expat's dilemma—homes in two countries and yet a stranger to both—moved me especially this morning. Like most music of this sort, it also dredged up other sorrows, present and ancient, from family visits recently postponed to the loss of loved ones almost half a century ago.
We need such moments of grief and remembrance, and that's one of the strengths that make Irish music what it is.
Then it's time to move on and get to work. (After writing about it, of course. That's how I cope.)
Ember Rising, the latest in S. D. Smith's Green Ember series, is now available! I have just completed a delicious re-read of all the previous books—The Green Ember, The Black Star of Kingston, Ember Falls, and The Last Archer—and am almost halfway through my advance copy of Ember Rising. It was hard to wait patiently to read the new book, but worthwhile to get the old stories clear in my head again. (I am not like J. R. R. Tolkien, for whom there was only one "first reading" of a book. I read voraciously, and I read fast—but I forget quickly, too, and don't really remember a book until I've read it several times.)
TODAY, Februay 7, you can get the first two Green Ember books in Kindle format for FREE. Enjoy!
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In a comment on my previous post, my sister-in-law introduced me to Vicki Hoefle. In trying to figure out how to add a video link to the comment—I couldn't; it appears to be exclusively on Facebook—I came upon an essay on Vicki's website that also addresses the issue of immunizing our children against the risky behaviors that are all-too common among peer-socialized teens. She doesn't used the term, "peer-socialized," but there's a lot here that reminds me of Gordon Neufeld's Hold On to Your Kids.
The bottom line? It's all about a child's connection as a contributing member of his family and immediate community. Here are a few excerpts from "Teen Fads: Parents are talking about all the wrong things."
The public response to these fads is usually to call the teenagers “stupid”, assume their own child would “never do something so absolutely idiotic” and then blame the fad on social media or their friends, the media, the college, or the companies who sell the products. Because who in their right mind would actually do something so risky and downright dumb?
Answer: They’re not dumb. They’re not from bad families. They’re average kids who are seeking connection and purpose. These kids are desperately looking for a place to belong. They want to be noticed not simply for attention, but for a bond to others that will satisfy their needs for a social network where they feel valued.
The first opportunity for your children to develop a social network is at home. Your family and immediate community is the first social network in your child’s life and if they don’t feel connected as a contributing member, they’ll search for their social network elsewhere.
- What are you doing as a parent to ensure your child feels connected, capable and like a contributing member of your family?
- How are you interacting with your child to enforce the idea they belong, they are important and they are accepted – exactly as they are today?
- How are you supporting the development of essential skill sets so they feel competent and comfortable contributing to the success of their family?
- How are you ensuring they feel valued, listened to and appreciated for their perspectives, opinions, and preferences?
There's more of value in the essay, but I'm pushing the boundaries of fair use with what I've quoted here. (It's a short essay.)
It's the American way, and even more so the Japanese way, and apparently the Swiss way also: the professionalism of parenthood. School is no longer so much the place where one learns specialized skills that can't be picked up at home or on one's own, but a place expected to teach children nearly everything a society deems important. The Four R's: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic ... and all the Rest. Because, well, you know, the professionals can do it so much better, and who has the time, anyway?
Society is beginning to take notice that our children are getting to the once-upon-a-time age of adulthood without many of the life skills we take for granted, skills that enable them to live independently and hold down a job. Employers have noticed this for years, but the rest of us are finally beginning to catch up, if only in our derisive sneers at "Millennials." Is it the job of public education to teach these skills? Of course not—though I agree with those who insist that any institution that takes away most of a child's life, practically from the cradle, should be expected to return a lot more benefit from such a huge cost. But when a social need is found, it's likely to get dumped on the schools.
Enter the Let Grow Project for Schools, created to address this need. This is actually something different from the norm, in that the schools are only the vehicle for spurring action by parents and children. It begins with this basic homework assignment: Go home and do something your parents did at your age. The suggested activities are shocking: cooking, cleaning, buying something from the store, playing outside unsupervised, riding a bike in the neighborhood, briefly watching a sibling, walking to school. Shocking, apparently, for parents who have been conditioned to believe that such activities are too dangerous to think about; shocking, definitely, for those of us who grew up doing them in a world statistically more dangerous than the one we live in today.
Parents aren't stupid. They want their children to grow up to be independent, competent people. But it's hard to live against the grain, when the media, friends and colleagues, and sometimes even the laws of the land are telling you that overprotecting, even coddling children is simply good parenting. What the schools are doing here is giving parents permission to take that first step.
My only concern is that some parents will approach the project without common sense; the best way to learn to swim is rarely to be thrown out of the boat into deep water. (I know someone who was taught to swim that way, but she doesn't recommend it.) If our grandchildren are extraordinarily competent—and they are—it's because they've been taking baby steps toward independence all their lives. A child at age 11 can go through the steps faster if he wants to, but it still takes time and training.
I haven't seen it mentioned in the literature on this subject, but my theory is that a major contributor to over-dependent children is the modern trend toward small families. When parents have only one or two children, it's all too easy to do for them things they should be doing for themselves. (Mea culpa.) Larger families simply cannot. Training children to do their own laundry, to wash dishes, to shovel snow, to cook meals, and to entertain themselves is a matter of survival. And it pays big dividends, for parents as well as children. As my daughter (mother of six) proclaimed, referring to her then thirteen-year-old son, It was worth all the work (and that work did include tears, it's not like I'm forgetting) in training him in the kitchen from a young age to be able to say now, "Please make dinner on Thursday night. Quiche would be nice."
There's no reason why this can't happen in smaller families, of course. But it's like exercise. Once upon a time, people got plenty of good exercise without having to think about it, because their daily lives were so active; now, our sedentary lives mean that this essential element of health and happiness requires deliberate action.
May the Let Grow Project help more families find the "child competence exercise program" that fits them best.
Bring on the next book! Bring on the next Kickstarter appeal. I'll be there. #RabbitsWithSwords
The time has come. Ember Rising is finally in the home stretch. The book is written, artwork done, cover chosen ... there's just that little matter of publication. Once again they are funding this through Kickstarter, which I see as a great way to support a good author and play a small part in getting these wonderful books out of his head and into the world.
I'm now officially an S. D. Smith fan. I don't support projects for the sake of the rewards, any more than I donate blood for the t-shirts and gift cards. But they're still nice to have, and this time I chose a level with rewards that duplicate things I already have—such as Kindle versions of the books—because it also gets me physical copies of all the books published so far. I had some, from previous campaigns, but gave them away, because why take up bookshelf space when you have the Kindle versions? Unless, of course, you have decided that you really like the books, and you're a true bibliophile, and still love the feel of a real book in your hands. And want to be able to lend the books to friends, or attract the eye of a visiting grandchild. That sort of thing. You can read a Kindle book, but you can love a physical book, and some books deserve to be loved. Hence my extensive collection of George MacDonald, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Arthur Ransome, Miss Read....
What happens when good quality musical instruments are found under the Christmas tree. I'm sorry for the back-of-the-head shots, but if I'd brought the camera to where it was visible, it would suddenly have become the center of attention. It's a little hard to hear the keyboard, but it is providing the music that they are jamming with.