Thirty weeks – April 15.
I know that I am breaking some unwritten law of parenthood by writing about this, and I offer no defense except to say that it’s a milestone that’s weighing more heavily and bittersweet on my heart than I would have imagined, and so I write, because that’s what I do.
It’s been coming for a while, but the time is now pretty much upon us. Last night, Michael told Kevin that it’s time for him to shave. I feel like crying just writing that! Yes, yes, I’ve watched that fuzzy shadow on his upper lip become more and more prominent, even zooming in on a recent photo of him in iPhoto to get a better look (because god knows he’s not actually going to let me get close enough to get that good a look in person), and great balls of fire! There are distinctive whiskers sprinkled up there! But still, he’s blond-ish and fair, and only 15, so I really thought shaving might still be a way off for him.
When Michael told me that he told Kevin it’s time, my stomach knotted up a bit. I’m serious! This is my first baby. His first steps, first day of school, first time riding a bike sans training wheels all seem like yesterday – and those were bittersweet for me. Now all signs point to the fact that he is, indeed, on the brink of manhood, and there is no going back – no turning back the clock and putting him in little footie pajamas, no snuggling him on my lap for The Runaway Bunny, no reaching out for him to hold my hand as we cross a street or parking lot. Time marches on, and babies grow up and become men and women.
I am thankful, however, that this young man still hugs his mama, and still wants her to tuck him in at night.
In my quest to make this – my final, very last (seriously!) pregnancy ever – celebratory and memorable, I had a friend come over last weekend to shoot some photos. She’s actually been our babysitter since Joey was a baby (and she was barely knee-high to a grasshopper), and Michael and I practically think of her as our niece. Here are some outtakes.
Stay tuned for the good ones, coming soon 🙂
We’re coming up on three years that Michael’s cancer has been in remission, if you count from when he had his surgery – which, for the type of cancer he had, they do. The farther away in time we get from it, the less often it darkens my thoughts. I don’t want to live ruled by fear; on the other hand, I’m also afraid of being lulled into a foolish belief that it’s all behind us, that we paid our dues, only to have the rug yanked out from under us again. So what’s the balance to strike? I’m still not sure. You just live, I guess, with a respect for the fact that life is unpredictable.
Cancer seems to be everywhere. Just since Michael was diagnosed almost three and a half years ago, four people he or I have known have died from cancer. The most recent was a former co-worker/friend of his who was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer after he was diagnosed; she passed away last night. She leaves behind a husband, children and grandchildren (several of whom she was raising), and a lot of friends.
I didn’t even know her – met her a handful of times, that’s it – but the news this morning kind of threw me. I keep thinking of the kids left behind who needed her, of the husband who surely must be feeling lost, and of all the grieving friends. And I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t crossed my mind that that could be us. It makes me feel incredibly fortunate and very sad and angry at the unfairness of it all, at the same time.
There’s no sense to it. No justice. Cancer steamrolls its way through families, willy-nilly, sparing some, destroying and taking others. I can see how faith would bring a sense of comfort for some – to believe that, whether we understand it or not, there is a rhyme and reason to it all. But I remain unconvinced, so in my view, it’s senseless and completely unfair.
But it’s true: none of us gets out of here alive.
We just wrapped up a blissful week of spring break. Okay, it wasn’t really blissful – the kids were cooped up inside for a large part of it due to inclement weather (yes, that’s right, right here in sunny Southern California), we dealt with the stress of an out-of-town visitor whose name I won’t mention, and there was plenty of tattling and bickering. And that was just me and Michael!
Anyhow, that said, there’s still something about not having the whole school deal to deal with, you know? The morning rush, the afternoon madness . . . and homework. God, how I hate homework. Hate it.
Today the kids went back to school. And while it was nice to have some peace and quiet so I could
kick my feet up and relax with a magazine and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s do laundry, balance the checkbook, and deal with Little League business, the moment the kids walked in the door after school, my reverie came to a screeching halt.
The demands for snacks. And the homework. The homework, the homework, the homework.
It’s the three girls, really. Kevin and Joey, thank goodness, have grown to be independent homework-doers. They don’t need supervision to get their homework done (that’s not to say they don’t both engage in procrastination on long-term projects, but somehow they both get their work turned in and are both doing very well in school), and it’s rare that they need help or input from the parental units. But the girls? Ack. It’s not so much feet-dragging and stalling techniques anymore, it’s just that all three of them seem to require huge amounts of supervision and help to get their homework completed every day. Honestly? It feels like I’m being assigned homework. And I resent it. I did my share of homework when I was growing up (and I don’t remember the homework load being anything like it is nowadays), and frankly, I never wanted to be a teacher. Never ever. Yes, I realize that part of being a parent means being a teacher, but a parent is meant to be a teacher in the life sense, not so much the academic sense.
Right before Spring Break, we (second-grade parents) were notified that the kids will now be required to do five minutes per day of math practice. A list of choices is given for methods of math practice, and the parent must sign off on it each day. Methods include flash cards or various math websites. This is in addition to the daily homework they already have to do! Yay. The first problem is the choices. Do you know how long it takes a seven-year old to make up her damn mind about which method of math practice she wants to do? Roughly twelve minutes. And of course she wants to do a practice game from one of the various websites offered. Which means I have to turn my laptop over to said grubby-fingered seven-year old. But first, I have allow her to choose an activity from said website. Which takes approximately nine minutes. Then I have to read the instructions and explain them to her. Another four minutes. Child then attempts her chosen practice game, but within two minutes is wailing, “Mommy! I don’t understand this!” I grit my teeth and explain it to her again. This kills another three minutes. She then spends the allotted five minutes doing the activity. Can you do the math? What was supposed to have been a five-minute activity has now taken 35 minutes. And I have TWO second graders. Lather, rinse, repeat.
And what’s this all for, anyway? Haven’t multiple studies shown that homework does not actually improve skills or scores?** And worst-case scenario (and probably pretty common) is that it makes learning a drag. I mean, seriously, what kid wants to spend six and a half hours in school and then come home and do more schoolwork – and with a harried, pissed off mom?
I’d like to tell you about my version of Utopia. In my Utopia, there is no homework for elementary school students. If a child in grades K – 6 actually needs extra help, then customized homework may be assigned, the aim being to assist him with grasping the concepts he’s having trouble with and practicing/reinforcing those concepts. This one-size-fits-all-homework-whether-they-need-it-or-not? Nonexistent. Instead, kids come home from school – happy! Because they know that Mom is fairly relaxed (because she’s also not dreading the prospect of an afternoon of homework), and they know that the afternoon is theirs for the taking. Milk and cookies await them. And then what’ll it be? Racing scooters up and down the sidewalk? How about a rousing game of hopscotch or hide-and-seek? Or maybe they’ll just lie on the grass and stare up at the clouds, daydreaming.
My two second-graders’ teacher happens to be a very close friend. I hope I haven’t pissed her off with this. I hope I haven’t pissed off any of my teacher friends (I seem to have quite a few teacher friends). But this is the truth: homework sucks. I know, I know, there are mandates and other parents demanding more homework (what kind of crack are they smoking?), and budget cuts and program cuts and overcrowded classrooms, all necessitating more parental involvement in the kids’ academic upbringing than ever before. I know. It just stinks, that’s all.
Two more months until summer break. I’m counting the days.
I knew very well when I wrote my review of Bloom a few days ago that it wasn’t going to go over very well with a lot of people. I actually had a bit of a knot in my stomach as my cursor hovered over “Publish” because I knew very well the shitstorm that would ensue. And I was right – it’s still going on, though I think it’s died down some. You can go check it out yourself on my book blog if things like this yank your chain. Or maybe you’ve already been over there and have seen the hoopla, in which case a lot of what I’m about to say here will be redundant.
Still, I feel compelled to say a few things, so bear with me (or don’t).
First and foremost, it was a book review, people. As someone else pointed out, basically a product review. Are there personal observations in my review? Yes, because it’s a memoir, personal by its very nature. I could be way off on my observations, but that’s what they are: my observations based on what the author put forth in her book.
I’m a little tired of this whole notion that poor Kelle was just sitting there, minding her own business, and BAM! this burden of being a representative of the Down syndrome community was foisted upon her. I don’t buy it. She started thinking in terms of writing a book the day after Nella was born (she says so in her book). How her birth story went viral, I’ll never know for sure, but I have no doubt that her dad played a very instrumental part in making that happen (he was monitoring the comments on the birth story from the get-go; that is also clear from her book). Kelle didn’t want anything to do with a Down syndrome support group (which I totally get – I’m not a support group person myself, and the last thing I wanted to do when I was still grappling with Finn’s diagnosis in the early days was surround myself with a bunch of other people who lived and breathed Down syndrome – that was my perception, anyway), but when she was asked to be a guest speaker at a local Ds support group meeting, she accepted. Nella was two months old. Within a couple of months of Nella’s birth, she was contacted by a literary agent. My point? I think her popularity fed on itself, and people wanted to be a part of it, and she wasn’t sitting idly by with no idea that all the pressures of fame and fortune were about to fall into her lap against her will – she wanted it and she welcomed it. And really? More power to her! She took some opportunities that presented themselves to her, and look where she’s at now – good for her.
Just let’s stop this whole poor Kelle thing, okay?
This leads me to another issue I’d like to address: I do not begrudge Kelle her success. This seems to be a very popular accusation to hurl at anyone who is not a fan of Kelle’s. What I do begrudge her is the materialism and vanity and sense of entitlement and self-congratulations she, at the very least, portrays (though I’m positive these aren’t the qualities she intends to portray). It’s a turnoff to me. It’s not what I think life is about, and I guess I’d like to see something deeper gained from having a child with Down syndrome.
Having Finn has changed me. It’s changed my whole word view and how I see my fellow human beings – not just those with Down syndrome, but people from all walks of life who are victims of marginalization and dehumanization. It’s changed the way I approach teaching my kids about diversity, and it’s making them more compassionate and open-minded than they probably would have been had Finn not come along sporting his extra chromosome. It’s taught me to hold strong to my convictions and speak out, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so – and my 15-year old son has already internalized that lesson, all thanks to Finn. It’s changed how we – our whole family – see the world. It’s not about how the world sees us.
I don’t know how having a child with Down syndrome has changed Kelle, because she doesn’t really ever say. Has she done a HUGE benefit to the Down syndrome community by showing that Down syndrome can be beautiful and that life can be good with Down syndrome? A resounding YES! And I thank her for that. But there’s more to this whole journey than just image – or at least I’d like to think so. People like to say in defense of Kelle that she was all sunshine and rainbows before Nella was born, and she’s still sunshine and rainbows – it’s not like she’s changed, for goodness sake! Yeah, that’s kind of a problem for me. Why isn’t she changed? Maybe she is. But she doesn’t tell us that.
And this whole “optimism” thing. I’ll just say it: what the hell does she have to not be positive or optimistic about? What has she overcome? This might be the one thing about her that I am a little bitter about. There are those of us who have lived some pretty hardscrabble lives, who have faced things like abuse and being a runaway and drug addiction and more abuse and abandonment and alcoholism and the untimely deaths of loved ones and imploding marriages and cancer – and who have somehow still managed to hang onto gratitude and humor and, yes, positivity. And those of us who have faced down real adversity like that? Well, it’s just really hard to see someone like Kelle Hampton as a hero.
I’m tired, tired, tired of the terms “angry,” “bitter,” “jealous,” “sour grapes,” and “bully” that are so frequently thrown around with regard to anyone who expresses distaste for the Kelle Hampton brand. I saw a comment on someone’s Facebook thread today where someone said something to the effect of “There are people on this journey who are still so bitter and angry over their own circumstances that they can’t be happy for someone else.” I have no doubt at all that that thread pertained directly to my review of Bloom, though nobody had the balls to say so.
Honestly, I don’t even want to dignify that with a response. I’ll just say that anyone who has spent any time at all reading my blog knows that I am far from bitter or angry about Finn’s diagnosis.
And that’s another thing: people who come and get all up in arms and leave comments, not because they’re even remotely interested in my blog, but because they happened to Google “Kelle Hampton” and have deemed themselves Keepers of Kelle Hampton’s Reputation. Which is just weird. Get a life, okay? Despite being accused of “riding on Kelle’s coattails,” I really want people to read my blog because they’re interested in the things I write about – not because I mention a name that they’ve become preoccupied with seeing untarnished.
What is it about Kelle Hampton that elicits such passionate, emotional responses? She’s like a new religion for some people, it seems. It’s fascinating, and disturbing. Let’s just be rational, people. Okay?
Phew. Glad I got that off my chest.
Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected by Kelle Hampton
I’ve been reluctant to read this book ever since I first heard, months ago, of its impending arrival on bookstore shelves, given that I’ve been turned off by the whole Kelle Hampton brand since her now famous birth story first started making its way around the internet over two years ago. I finally relented because, let’s face it – it’s pretty much the biggest thing to hit the Down syndrome community since Road Map to Holland. There’s been a ton of hype and promotion of this book, and in the end – especially since, as a parent of a child with Down syndrome myself, I try to read everything that hits the Down syndrome literary landscape – I caved and downloaded Bloom to my iPad.
Read the rest here.
Meet Annie by Heather J. Scharlau-Hollis
In this short and sweet book aimed at young children, we meet Annie who is just like you and me in all the ways that count to little kids: she likes to play with her toys, she likes to splash around in her swimming pool, and she sometimes gets in trouble . . . .
Read more here.
Also, check out Down Syndrome New Mama’s post for a chance to win a signed copy of this book!
Today my dad would be 65. It’s been 13 years now since one stormy day, four months after he died, when my brother, my dad’s wife, and I let my dad’s ashes loose on the ocean, the crashing waves melding with my sobs of grief, the wind and rain whipping wildly about, mixing with my tears, blowing remnants of my dad’s remains into my hair and onto my wet skin and clothes, and in that way I carried a part of him with me for the rest of the day.
I still miss him terribly – more keenly at some times than others. When I find myself feeling low and in some way alone and, yes, like a little girl, unloved, I miss him the most. He was so flawed and dysfunctional for all the years I was growing up, but in my adulthood, although he never overcame the demons that would eventually cause his demise, he became my greatest champion, always seeing the best in me, always there with a word of encouragement and understanding, always expressing his pride in having me – me – for a daughter. So, it’s a selfish longing, a longing for that acceptance that he gave me.
I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I believe the only afterlife there is is how we live on in other people’s memories. And so I try to keep my dad alive in my memory, by honoring him every year on his birthday, and every year on the anniversary of his death, and in between by often thinking of him, remembering him, wondering what he might think of me and my life and my family now were he still here, and looking for pieces of him in my children.
Happy birthday, Dad. I miss you.