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."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

When Did Respectful Discourse Become a Thing of the Past?

Fact: I used to love writing pieces that generated discussion.

I didn't care if people agreed with me or not. In fact, I kind of liked it when they argued with me, and we could have a generally respectful conversation about the issues at hand.

I am a very well-educated woman. I am also extremely well-read, and not just on one side of an issue (I tend to get historical or cultural obsessions; for example, I'm pretty sure I've read every book ever written about the Kennedy assassination with every possible bias--don't try to sell your "Oswald acted alone" bullshit to me--and I don't think there's a person born later than me that knows more about the Manson family than I do). I am something of an introvert (in other words, I do a lot of listening).

I do form opinions. I was raised in my formative years by an attorney and a nurse and later by a contract specialist. It was possible--not frequent but possible--for opinions to change in my family.

More important than the changing of opinions, though, were the discussions that happened, and I owe my parents and stepparents deeply for giving us the great gift of open mindedness.

My siblings and I accepted same-sex relationships because we were extremely close to family and adult friends that were gay. We were never exposed to anything but natural and appropriate love from these people. When we heard our friends making fun of homosexuals or were exposed to politicians go on and on about the dangers of exposing innocent children to these terrible people, we were flummoxed.

I can't believe that it's 2016 and people still want to beat down some of my family members because they were born with an attraction to the same sex. I think it's ludicrous. I spent weeks living with lesbian couples during school vacations, and it did no harm to me. I was never touched inappropriately, exposed to bizarre rites, or even privy to any porn. I would even go so far to say that it might even have been more normal than my living situation at the time.

It used to be that someone would say, "I am morally opposed to homosexuality," and I would ask, "Why?" and even though I didn't agree with what the person said, I could see where he or she was coming from. I could respect that. He or she could respect me.

I have friends that own guns and keep them in their house. I do not. They make their choice, and I respect that. I am not trying to take away their second amendment right. They are not trying to force gun ownership down my throat. We can discuss this. We can agree to disagree.

Why--and how--has this changed?

I use the anti-vaccination movement as an example.

A British quack named Andrew Wakefield faked a study claiming that there was a link between pediatric vaccinations and childhood autism. It has been widely debunked. For some reason, people don't want to debate this, which is really a non-issue (The CDC website states unequivocally, "Vaccines do  not cause autism.").

No, they want to fight about it. They want to put up Aidan Quinn and Jenny McCarthy as poster children for the "my kid got autism from a vaccination" movement. They have no idea how dangerous this is. (**Note--I am a teacher, and autism is a mighty challenge, although I see in both my professional and personal life parents that raise magical autistic children that they view as the gifts they are).

And when I say fight, I mean FIGHT.

You could show them statistics proving otherwise until you are blue in the face, and they will just stick to their pathetic, holier than thou, "You don't know what you're talking about."


I used to enjoy debating politics, but it's ugly now. People see only in black and white. I'm noticing it more now because I'm not really thrilled about any of the American candidates, I suspect, but people are just vehemently opposed to civil discussion.


I thought I married men that cared about what I had to say, that thought I was interesting, that wanted to talk to me and hear my thoughts and share their thoughts so lots of mind augmenting could go on. I was wrong on both counts (but at least one never hit me or drove drunk with  my children in the car), so  I thought for awhile that it was just me.

The more I watch the news, though, the more I look at my Facebook feed, the more I listen to conversations around me, the more frightened I am as I realize that there are precious few conversations characterized with respectful discourse going on anymore.

I don't have to agree with you, you don't have to agree with me ... but I need to be able to see where you are coming from on some level. That seems to happen less and less likely these days.

Or is it just me?

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