Thursday, January 19, 2017

Call Me a Bleeding Heart Liberal, but I Will Always Keep Trying to Help (Even When I Get Burned)

When I was driving into work on Tuesday morning, the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I decided that I'd give my students a King quote for their quickwrite. The one I chose was:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

I projected the quote onto the screen and had my students write about it for eight minutes, then we had a discussion. It became an incredibly deep discussion, which is always exciting when you're a teacher. As we were wrapping up and transitioning to Romeo and Juliet, one of my students asked where the quote came from.

When I told them, one of them noted, "Oh, Martin Luther King ... so THAT's why you chose it."

It was ... and it wasn't.

Let's face it, America is going to change when Donald Trump becomes president. Trump's candidacy and election have scarred me deeply on a personal level, and I spend far more time thinking about unhappy things than I should.

During that drive to work (it's about forty minutes), I got thinking about the people that say, "Invite a Syrian refugee to stay with you!" or "Why don't you pay higher taxes if that's how you feel?" I know people that say these things. I even like some of these people.

But I don't understand them.

Why? Because I have an inherent need to help, to fix, to make life better for others. My mother used to tear her hair out over it (I once gave away a brand new and evidently very expensive jacket to a child on the bus that had no jacket and lived in a very poor neighborhood); she referred to me as "a social worker", and it was not meant as a compliment.

I understand my mom's frustration now, since I have tried desperately to help people before and gotten burned badly as a result. The student I lent $100 and never got back (I no longer loan students money as a result). My abusive alcoholic ex-husband. You know, the usual suspects.

There are a couple of recent attempted random acts of kindness, however, that have gone shockingly awry. Those are the ones that keep me up, those strangers that myself and my family went way out on a limb for, and we ended up feeling guilty and sort of like the bad guy.

This summer, a woman and her three children moved in across the street. We noticed immediately that she was always hollering at her kids, even yelling swears and epithets like, "I'm going to kill you!", but a DCYF report was pointless unless we had "video evidence". It upset all of us, needless to say.

One summer day, when it was 98 degrees and humid (which, in New Hampshire, is unbearable and, if you're me, means you're not leaving the air conditioner for anything), I was watching out the window as this woman tried to move a couch into her house. It wasn't going well, and her kids were running into the traffic, throwing rocks at her to impede her progress, and poking a dead bird with a stick. She finally sat down on the couch, put her head in her hands, and started sobbing.

I called down to Jeff and told him that I was going to go try to help her get her house inside. Being more suited for this duty (and well aware of how pleasant I am after three minutes in the heat), Jeff volunteered to go in my place.

Long story short, we were soon babysitting the kids every Monday night while their mother went to visit her ex-boyfriend in jail. We'd feed them, keep them from hurting each other, and try to teach them some manners and control. In return, they would break our kids' toys and throw epic, loud battles when it was time for them to go home.

Once school started, the thankless babysitting gig got to be too much for us, so she stopped asking after we said no once (I think one of our kids was legitimately sick). It was honestly something of a relief, although it made us all sad that the kids were stuck getting screamed at all the time.

Anyway, over Christmas vacation, I got a text from her out of the clear blue sky asking if we could watch the kids for two consecutive days from 8-5:30.

I said no.

No reply, no "Thanks anyway", no "Thank you for all the times you did watch them", nothing.

That stung.

The other situation involved a guy that wanders around neighborhoods asking to do odd jobs for cash. I was petrified of him, but Jeff would hire him to mow the lawn or something. It got to the point where he was doing bigger jobs, but he was also coming over ALL THE TIME trying to find jobs to do so we'd pay him.

It got out of control when he was injured in an accident, and we felt bad for him and fronted him money that we couldn't afford to front. He then came and did the agreed-upon work, but he wanted to be paid for it. It got very ugly, and he spent a lot of time begging Jeff to hire him again.

He said no.

So even bleeding heart liberals have a breaking point, I guess. Being taken advantage of and used isn't pleasant ...

However, I would rather live a hundred scenarios like these then not try at all. You see, I know that the few times mine hand has gotten burned for reaching out and trying to help, memorable and painful as they are, is both a warning and an affirmation.

I could stop trying to help people in need. Yeah, those people going on and on about the Syrian refugees when we have people in need of help right here--I don't see them stepping up. I did, and I'm not sorry. If my fatal flaw is a desire to help others, then so be it.

I would rather help other people genuinely and at their level of need than sit around looking down at them.

It was easy to look down on the screaming and incompetent mother, the would-be handyman who we suspect fell off the opiate wagon after being put on painkillers following his accident. I'm not proud; I looked down on both of them, both before and when I was trying to help them. This is not something I'm proud of, but I'm being completely honest here.

I take pride in being a good person, one who helps others in times of need, but there is a part of me that knows that pride is dark and ugly and perhaps influences how some situations end up. Who knows?

My students got talking about King's quote vis a vis being a good and "loving" person and driving out the darkness through that, but they also recognized (and vocalized) that we are all a balance of good and bad.

I can tell you from personal experience, some dark will not allow any late, no matter how brightly you may shine; some people will never allow love to replace hate. It's just the nature of the human beast.

I have always tried to help, particularly the downtrodden, and I will continue to do so no matter the cost.

If that makes me a bleeding heart liberal, so be it.

I am a work in progress, and I will never stop trying.

Image result for Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Dear Trump Supporters: There is No Timeline for Bringing a Sexual Assault to Light

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the victim-shaming started vis a vis Donald Trump's latest debacle (why don't we call it "Pussygate").

I've spent the last week in a state of shock as I heard Trump boast gleefully about his inappropriate behavior with women. I've been distracted, I've been having panic attacks and nightmares, and it's only getting worse.

My feelings are at a fever pitch today as I've read about women coming forward to allege that Trump's "locker room talk" went way beyond words, that he actually did many of the things he boasted of to Billy Bush according to numerous women, including former People magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff. 

And these women are being crucified by Trump supporters, who are making comments about the convenience of the timing, that they are shooting for optimal financial opportunity and publicity, and even one of my Facebook friends writing, "I have a hard time believing women who jump on the bandwagon 15-30 years later." 

I do not talk about the night I was raped. I have written about it here on this blog, where I have a degree of anonymity and privacy, but I still cannot talk about it.

I do not know my rapist's last name. I do not know where he lives. I do not want to know. I have been fortunate, if you want to call it that, to fall into what could best be classified as "date rape by an acquaintance", which means I've never had to see the monster again.

If the man that raped me--Tom--suddenly started running for public office, if his face was all over the news, if he was spreading hatred, I'm still not sure I would have the courage to come forward publicly. Why would I? The statute of limitations on that crime has run out, and any physical evidence is old and probably useless. 

The vast majority of women (and men) who suffer sexual assault are not going to want to make it a public thing. Those that have the strength to do so immediately, you have my utmost respect, by the way. It eats me up sometimes to think that Tom has probably done what he did to me again because I didn't go to the police (or my mother or a rape crisis center) right away when physical evidence existed, and I could have stopped it by reporting it. I didn't have the strength, though, and I hate myself for that. 

Here's what happens in the aftermath of a sexual assault.   

You have to deal with the physical first. My rape was extremely violent, and there are physical ramifications that still exist today. If you're smart, you get tested for STDs ASAP (I was sort of smart...I did get tested, but I did not share my reasons for wanting this testing done with my doctor). 

After that, you try to find your life again. This can take a long time. Sometimes I think I'm still working on it, nearly twenty years later. You crave normalcy and try to avoid at all costs anything that will bring back the rape in your mind.

By the time you get to the point where you're "okay", you do not want to go back down that rabbit hole. Why would you?

And so you live your life. You slowly learn to live and love and trust again. You do the best you can. Some days are better than others, and blah blah blah.

I wrote that I would probably not have the courage to bring Tom's name forward even if he became a public figure, and I meant it. 

There would, however, be one exception: if Tom was caught on a hot mic joking about raping stupid college girls that didn't know enough not to put down their drinks, particularly if he was running for President of the United States, I would come forward. I would share my story, no matter what people might say about me. 

There is no timeline for bringing a sexual assault to light, and I'd wager a guess that about 85% go unreported. However, we all have a line. That would be mine, and if Tom crossed it, if he lied about who he was and what he did to me that long ago night and how he basically ruined my life, I would still feel a moral obligation to speak up, to not let the sleazeball get away with it anymore.

I suspect Natasha Stoynoff knows that line well. 

Although she no longer works for People, the magazine ran her story. In fact, People might well have been the only major publication that would run it as they were no doubt able to match up her story with a timeline of their own. Was Stoynoff a family friend of the Trumps until that day? Did her professional relationship with them change afterwards? Do the details in her story jibe with what the magazine knows?

Well, a magazine that reports on celebrities believed in Natasha Stoynoff enough to run the story, risk alienating Trump as well as other stars, and issue a statement explaining why they ran it. That would really be going out on a limb for a publication company that depends on maintaining good relations with the people they want to interview and report on.

So to all of you muttering about convenient timing and payouts, please just stop. 

Living with the aftermath of a sexual assault is something no amount of money can assuage, and there is no convenient timing, only the right timing for you in your own personal situation.

That Donald Trump brought about this reaction in so many women speaks to how horrible their experiences must have been, how frightened and damaged they were, and how truly deplorable a human being he is.

He brought about the timing--and the collapse of his house of cards--all on his own.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Trends on Facebook Today, and Why I'm Scared for America

I confess, I have an unhealthy addiction to Facebook.

I like to know what's going on in the lives of my family and friends, obviously. I'm an introvert--increasingly so all the time, it seems--so Facebook is something of a lifeline for me in terms of maintaining relationships that are difficult to hold onto otherwise. I like to stay on top of current events. I enjoy clever memes. And, yeah, I gravitate toward spoilers and theories about The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. And quizzes about '90s music, iconic movies, and Stephen King books, which I usually ace. Go, me.

Usually, there is a pleasant balance of personal, educational, and entertainment offerings on Facebook to keep me going back.

Today, was different. Where were the pics of cute kids wearing "3 months" stickers? The memes about dogs and thunder? Even Donald freaking Trump?

I guess the first thing is that there are many cancer scares going on in my circles. Tumors removed. Cells regrowing. Radiation therapy. Some of my peeps are sharing positive news, but in general the Big C is beating down many that I love. It's pretty depressing, yet I love that they have the courage to share their journeys when many don't. On any other day, it would make me pensive and thoughtful and probably increase my chats with God (yes, we have a relationship).

Today, though...

And the son of one of my sister's old friends was in a very bad car accident. A bright, handsome, kind-hearted boy who volunteered his time and openly loved his momma and baby sister now lays in a hospital bed with swelling in his brain, a brand new tracheostomy after removing the breathing tube didn't go well, and the real possibility of a permanent shunt. The boy is still unconscious, but it seems likely that there will be some degree of permanent damage. A lot? A little? Only God knows, and only time will tell. He is strong, and he's a fighter, but the hopeful tones of the daily updates have darkened a bit. I chat with God about Tyler, too.

Today, though...

People are angry about the shootings of African-American men Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota at the hands of police officers.  People are angry that a militant named Micah Johnson went to a peaceful demonstration against officer-involved shootings (and both Sterling and particularly Castile were pretty obviously victims of heavy-handed police officers, yet the demonstration was by all accounts peaceful until Johnson destroyed it) and killed five Dallas police officers. People are angry that President Obama is doing nothing, yet Obama characterized the Dallas shootings as "vicious" and "despicable" (further, he has tried desperately and taken much heat for trying to keep assault rifles out of the hands of people like Micah Johnson, but that's an inconvenient truth that nobody really wants to talk about). People are angry that "Black Lives Matter" has become "a thing". People are angry that "Black Lives Matter" has had to become "a thing". People are angry because they are incapable of seeing how you can be both appalled at the brutal murders of two men by police officers abusing their power yet hold police officers as an entity in the highest regard.

People are angry because they are scared. Philando Castile was trying to comply with an officer's request to get his ID after informing the officer that he had a license to carry and was armed when he was shot. In front of his girlfriend. And her four-year-old daughter. We want to tell ourselves that this doesn't happen in our country. It did, though...Castile's girlfriend had the presence of mind to videotape it.

And Sterling? A homeless man was harassing him for money. Threats were made. Police were called. Two officers had him on the ground. He had no gun in his hand (one of the officers took it out of the pocket of his pants). He was shot in the back multiple times. And what are people talking about? That he had a criminal record. Why? Because they are scared and shocked that this happened, and even though his prior criminal activities have nothing to do with this situation, it seems to make people feel better about his death to imply that he brought it upon himself, at least a little, through past bad acts.

I could never be a police officer, and I respect those that are tremendously. However, police officers that do go too far, that act without thinking, that kill before understanding the situation when there IS no pressing emergency requiring multiple bullet wounds in the back or shooting off the arm of a compliant cafeteria worker in front of a young is a problem, and the dawning awkward reality that this is happening increasingly to African-Americans cannot be ignored.

All lives matter, and we need to make sure to focus on our black brothers as well as our blue brothers in the aftermath of this latest ugly chapter. All colors, all races, all people need to step up to the table and say, "What can my part be to solve this problem?"

Make no mistake. It IS a problem, and it's not going away. Instead of spewing hateful rhetoric on Facebook and Twitter, let's try to solve it together.

Any ideas?

Friday, May 6, 2016

As I Rebrand this Blog into What I Hope Will be a "Think Tank" (with Guest Posts Galore) , Here are 10 Things That I'm Thinking About Right Now

1. Although I love to learn, always have, always will, I was not a traditionally good student. I have ADHD and two learning disabilities, so the way I learn was not always conducive to how my teachers wanted me to learn. It was quite a slog, let me tell you.

2. I am an iPhone girl, although I tried desperately not to be. I tried desperately to be pro-Android, but the iPhone is just far superior.

3. I have lost myself in the past two years. I am trying desperately to find myself again. Results are mixed so far. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

4. William Shakespeare got human nature before anyone else, in my humble opinion.

5. I have learned more from my students than they will ever learn from me.

6. My favorite foods are cheeseburgers, lobsters, potatoes, cannolis, and maple sugar candy.

7. I am what they call "working poor". I work three jobs but can't afford medication, new socks, clothes, and often gas to get to work. If you read what I write and feel compelled to donate via the button on the right, I would be deeply appreciative. I would love to have more time to write...

8. My four children are my entire world.

9. I have been irreparably damaged. I have told some of those stories. I hope to live long enough to tell all of them.

10.  I believe that you can be in love with more than one person at a time. This is a terrible tragedy. 

Thanks for reading this to the end. It is my hope to explore many rich and thought-provoking topics on this blog moving forward. Please email me any and all suggestions you might have for me to tackle here or hit me up on Facebook.

Let's make The Philosophy of KLo great :-)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Teacher Appreciation Day--Share a Story!

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day.

As most of you know, I am a teacher (from a long family history of teachers). For the rest of this week, I am going to write posts about teachers that have impacted my life.

For today, though, I wanted to extended an invitation to you, my readers, to share stories about teachers that have made an impact on you. Those stories mean more than you will ever know to those of us that are (or have been) in the trenches).

Share stories in the comments. Share stories on Facebook. Send me an e-mail and I'll add them to this post.

Oh, and here is the official proclamation from President Obama:

Our country's story, written over more than two centuries, is one of challenges, chances, and progress. As our Nation has advanced on our journey toward ensuring rights and opportunities are extended fully and equally to all people, America's teachers -- from the front lines of our civil rights movement to the front lines of our education system -- have helped steer our country's course. They witness the incredible potential of our youth, and they know firsthand the impact of a caring leader at the front of the classroom. 
As our national narrative has progressed, we have become a more equal society, cleared paths to opportunity, and affirmed the extraordinary potential of all our people -- regardless of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their religion, or the zip code they were born into. But there is still work to be done. If our country's story is going to reflect the diversity we draw strength from, it needs to be written by people that represent the wide range of backgrounds and origins that comprise our national mosaic, and as the next generation rises and prepares to shape that narrative, our teachers will be with them every step of the way -- imparting critical knowledge and opening their minds to the possibilities tomorrow holds. In working to ensure all our daughters and sons have the chance to add their voice and perspective to America's story, our teachers help shape a Nation that better reflects the values we were founded upon. 
When I took office, I did so with a bold vision to foster innovation and drive change within our education system, and to expand educational opportunities and outcomes for all America's learners. Central to that goal is our work to build and strengthen the teaching profession so our teachers are enabled and equipped to inspire rising generations. I have worked hard throughout my Presidency to make sure my Administration does its part to support our educators and our education system, but the incredible progress our country has seen -- from achieving record high graduation rates to holding more students to high standards that prepare them for success in college and future careers -- is thanks to the dedicated teachers, families, and school leaders who work tirelessly on behalf of our young people. 
Just as we know a student's circumstances do not dictate his or her potential, we know that having an effective teacher is the most important in-school factor for student success. That is why my Administration has been committed to better recruiting, preparing, retraining, and rewarding America's teachers. Following the worst economic crisis our country has seen since the Great Depression, my Administration supported significant investments in education through the Recovery Act to keep more than 300,000 educators in the classroom. We have invested more than $2.7 billion through competitive grants to better recruit, train, support, and reward talented teachers and educators, and we have worked to make sure teachers have a strong voice and a seat at the table in the policymaking process. At the urging of the Department of Education, all fifty States are advancing teacher equity plans to ensure that districts can support and retain educators in schools that need them most. In my State of the Union address in 2011, I announced a national goal to prepare 100,000 public school STEM teachers by 2021 to help ensure more of our young innovators can seize the opportunities of tomorrow -- and I am proud that we are on track to meet that goal. 
I recently signed the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which ensures students are held to high standards that will better prepare them for college and careers. And because cookie-cutter solutions are not always effective considering the diversity of our communities and of the students in our classrooms, ESSA reflects my Administration's approach to education reform by empowering States and local decision makers, who know what their students need best, to shape their own progress with accountability. ESSA also aligns with the Testing Action Plan I announced last fall to help reduce the burden of standardized testing so educators can spend less time testing and more time teaching. This law will also allow more States and districts to support teachers and expand access to computer science, a critical skill our students need in the innovation economy. 
Our future is written in schools across our country. It is likely that the first person who will go to Mars is in a classroom today. Our students are our future teachers, scientists, politicians, public servants, and parents -- a generation that will steer the course we will take as a people and make possible things we have not even imagined yet. We look to the women and men standing in front of classrooms in all corners of our country -- from cities to reservations to rural towns -- to vest America's daughters and sons with the hard skills they will need to put their dreams within reach and to inspire them to dream even bigger. On National Teacher Appreciation Day and during National Teacher Appreciation Week, let us ensure our educators know how much we value their service in the classroom, how much we appreciate all they do for our students and families, and how thankful we are for their contributions to our national progress. 
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 3, 2016, as National Teacher Appreciation Day and May 1 through May 7, 2016, as National Teacher Appreciation Week. I call upon students, parents, and all Americans to recognize the hard work and dedication of our Nation's teachers and to observe this day and this week by supporting teachers through appropriate activities, events, and programs. 
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Why People are Getting Angry About Tom Brady's "Deflategate" for the Wrong Reasons

In the name of full disclosure, I live in New Hampshire and am a fan of the New England Patriots in general and of Tom Brady in particular. I think Brady is a tremendous player, has done some outstanding philanthropic work, and I am truly a part of Patriot Nation.

That being said, I can't help but be a bit disturbed by the direction society (and I'm sorry, New England, but this is mostly you) is going with their reaction to this.

From Russell Street Report, which gives a pretty good bulleted list of the findings of the Wells Report, and makes clear that "the standard of proof required to find that a violation of the competitive rules has occurred".

In other words, the Patriots knowingly cheated. I don't want it to be true as a Patriots fan, but I have a hard time looking away from a preponderance of evidence. Read the report if you haven't ... the Wells Report is dry, but the bullets from Russell Street are pretty easy to follow. It outlines the evidence.

Which does exist. (Sorry, but it does)

Football is a game. It's a game well loved in America, and I've certainly done my share of drinking beer and eating pizza while watching men in uniform dance around the line of scrimmage.

When something happens during a game to directly impact the integrity of the game, there needs to be a game-level consequence. Unnecessary roughness. Holding. Encroachment. False start. All are dealt with during the game.

Deflating footballs was a different level of offense ... and so it had to be dealt with at a higher level.

However, it was still an offense about a game.

Deflategate is, when you take the air out of everyone's arguments (heh), a rich and powerful football team trying to cheat and win a big game. They got caught. They got punished.

Along comes this meme. though, and others like it, and I get upset. Appalled. Shocked. Unable to understand why people are unable to see what they are saying ...

I think the person who made this meme (and those who are posting out, many of whom are my friends on Facebook) has this mindset:
"These terrible men did awful things and the major sports leagues don't say anything. Tom Brady has knowledge of deflated footballs and he gets suspended for four games. How unfair is that????"

While Brady looks pretty silly standing in that company over air pressure, the fact is that his is the only offense that was in direct violation of the game of football. He is the only one of the six men on the meme that cheated at his given sport, was caught breaking the sport's specific rules, and has to pay the consequences.

If you want to have a beef with anybody, take it up with the national sports leagues. They allow violent athletes to act a certain way off the field or out of the ring but rarely hold them accountable for this terrible behavior as long as they hold it together while on the team's turf.

I want to make it very clear that I am not making apologies for the men in this meme.

Ben Roethlisberger is accused of sexually assaulting multiple women. Ray Lewis was charged with two counts of murder. Boxer Floyd Mayweather used the mother of his children as a punching bag. Ray Rice knocked his former fiancee (now wife) unconscious in an elevator. Adrian Peterson beat his son with a tree branch.

These are not nice people. No, these are horrible people, and I can say as a woman once married to a man who abused both myself and my children as well as a rape survivor that I would never be an apologist for this sort of behavior. It is never okay to do the things that Peterson, Rice, Mayweather, Lewis, Roethlisberger, or Peyton Manning (just because he kept it under the radar does not mean it didn't happen!) did.    

Their bad actions do not make "Deflategate" less legitimate, however.

The NFL isn't wrong to punish the New England Patriots for the air pressure debacle that has become known as Deflateglate. This was a football game issue, and it is being sanctioned as such. We may not like it, but it is fair.

What they, and many other national and international sports teams ARE wrong about, however, are that no set sanctions exist for deplorable behavior such as those monsters in the meme posted above.

This opens up a can of worms where people will start screaming about what exactly constitutes "unacceptable behavior" (a DUI? shoplifting? marrying a cousin? using the wrong bathroom in North Carolina?) and we'll have the whole political correct screaming fit because it's impossible to have respectful discourse anymore, but it seems to me that something has to be done.

This bad behavior has been allowed to continue because these athletes are so very talented and it's off the field, so the contractual language is fuzzy.

Yeah, friends and neighbors ... Deflateglate's a smokescreen for a bigger issue that nobody wants to talk about.

Let's please have that conversation...

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Angst I Felt at the Prospect of Having an Average Child ... and Will She Ever Forgive Me for (Even for the Short-Term) Believing That About Her?

There was no question leading up to the days before her birth last June that my fourth daughter, Clara Hope, had some large shoes to fill. I think most babies coming into the world with older siblings do to a degree, but poor Clara has the gift (or curse) of truly incredible sisters.

Although her next oldest sister, Gabrielle, had by far the worst birth story, Clara's pregnancy was the most difficult (when they tell you that childbirth gets more difficult when you approach forty, they're not lying). I was uncomfortable all the time, my feet swelled, my blood pressure fluctuated, I had unspeakable migraines, I had weird bouts of confusion and pain that were ultimately tied to potassium and other vitamin deficiencies, and so on. Because of the drama of Gabrielle's birth, there was no question that Clara was going to be a C-section delivery, then we found out she was breech, so this opened up a whole new can of worms.

Anyway, her C-section was scheduled for a Friday morning, but my water broke Wednesday afternoon and she was born that evening.

The day after she was born, we were informed that Clara had failed her newborn hearing screening. They'd need to repeat it the day we were discharged. When they repeated the hearing test, she still failed. They set up an appointment for several months in advance and let us bring her home.

Once home, Clara decided that she did not like to nurse. Ironically, I've never been one of those vehement "breast feed or die" women, but at the same time, I've had incredibly good luck with my first three daughters and they breast fed almost to a year old. I didn't know how upsetting it would be for me that Clara wouldn't nurse, but it was terrible!

And then I got to feel like a selfish jerk for the first of many times, because here I was having a pity party about my baby not wanting to nurse and she was literally wasting away. She was at the doctor's every day for a week while we tried to figure out how to handle it (in case you're wondering, I became slave to the breast pump and we supplemented it with formula ... it was a very long summer).

We worked very hard to get her weight up, and things seemed to be going well, and then out of the blue, Clara stopped breathing one night. I was out with my oldest daughter celebrating her 21st birthday, and when I got home the baby was coughing and coughing, which she'd evidently been doing all night, then suddenly she stopped and couldn't breathe. It was a nightmare I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. They kept her in the hospital under observation for two days, and it was unspeakable. She was such a trooper, but the rest of us were collective messes.

The big stuff settled down after that; well, as much as possible with four children, a dog, a cat, and all adults working full-time jobs. I took Clara to her three-hour hearing screening, and she passed it with flying colors. Life is good.

And yet, I have this problem ...

Clara's sister Gabrielle is sixteen months older than she is. What that means, of course, is that it's impossible not to do a bit of comparing, no matter how hard you try to avoid it (and Gabby's so young still that it's hard to avoid).

Gabrielle walked early. She talked early. She is, at the age of two, the most naturally funny human being I've ever met. Her speech was slightly delayed by a year's worth of ear infections, but once she got tubes put in her vocabulary has taken off like a rocket. As a very young baby, her receptive language was unbelievable, and that has continued.

When she was a year old, Gabby said Mama, Dada, Ari (her sister), Mimi (grandmother), Howard (the dog), kitty, cheese, cracker, more, all done, and so on.

Clara says Dada. Possibly Mama. There are rumors that she said water once, but no witnesses.

When Gabby was Clara's age, she was building block towers that meet milestones set for three-year-olds. Clara bangs two blocks together on a good day.

I see what I'm typing, and I hate it. Gabby's my favorite child and is going to be an engineer, and Clara is going to be a bank teller, right? No, that's not it at all.

I have two other daughters, one an exceptional musician and linguist (I could brag for hours but I won't) and one a competitive gymnast (same). These two girls are superstars.

If our beliefs about Clara are tied to her crawling well over a full month after Gabrielle did, what is going to happen when you add in phrases like "Fulbright Scholar" and "elite gymnast"?

And so for awhile, we believed that Clara was just going to be an average child. In a family of academics, this is something that I think Jeff and I struggled with silently and separately ... what if Clara wasn't as smart as the others?

We've gotten to know Miss Clara Hope pretty well by now, though, as I'm sure you can imagine. I look into her eyes, see the sparkle, and wonder how I could ever have doubted that her mind is just as brilliant (and likely just as diabolical, at times) as every one of her sisters'.

My mother kept saying to me that, even if she wasn't smart, she wouldn't be loved any less, and this was always, always the truth.

Now we know that she is smart--too smart, not to beat a dead horse ... she sits at her day care and steals pacifiers from the other babies, laughs, then gives them back; she locates every possible piece of detritus on the floor (it doesn't matter if the floor was just vacuumed) and gets it into her mouth; she waves bye-bye and claps her hands when you say, "Yay, Clara!" and loves playing in her toy kitchen with her sisters.

It took us awhile to realize that Clara is a child that will never do something until she decides that she wants to do it. Not walk, not talk, not crawl (although she started doing that this week), nothing. It occurs to me that we do at times treat Gabby like a trick pony--"You have to see Gabby count to ten ... her Hulk impression ... her rendition of 'Happy Birthday to You' ... how she hits the high note in 'Let it Go' ... her block towers."

Nope, Clara saw that writing on the wall and decided to pull this average thing. Too bad we're on to her ... although I think it's been a tremendous learning experience for all of us.

I loved Clara Hope when she was inside me, I loved her the second she was born, and I've loved her every minute since then. I would not love her any less if she was not exceptional like her sisters because I love her for her, which is of course how I got to see that she was never "average" at all, even after I'd resigned myself to it.

I don't know why the idea of an average child was hard for me, but Clara helped me come to terms with it, just before she looked at me again with that sparkle in her eye so much like Gabby's and said, "Mama."