Friday, November 21, 2008

Children and Religious Diversity — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

We are a very liberal household. We chose our community in part because it is diverse — racially, ethnically, socioeconomically and, presumably, politically. Many residents who have the financial ability to live almost anywhere frequently cite our city's diversity as a major draw.

Yet few of us are naive enough to believe that we have achieved true integration of these diverse populations. There is still a pronounced achievement gap in most of our schools. There are neighborhoods that are considered "better" or "safer" than others. Children who play together in preschool and elementary school drift apart in middle school and high school — often along racial lines. Still, we try. At least our children know that not everyone looks alike or comes from the same background.

In our home, we talk a lot about tolerating differences, even within our family. My children are so different that I sometimes think they aren't even members of the same species. But we strive for acceptance (except when it comes to college football, as we are devout Michigan fans). So imagine my surprise when my middle boy came home in second grade and asked if it was OK that he was friends with someone who didn't believe in God.

I was stunned by the question. We are Jewish and our children attend religious school, but we are not particularly observant and have certainly never implied that we had a corner on the religious market. In fact, within our own extended family we have plenty of believers of different faiths, as well as our fair share of nonbelievers.

"Of course, you can still be friends," I assured him, and we had a wonderful discussion about how freedom of religion also includes the freedom not to believe. The First Amendment suddenly made perfect sense to this logical child and he moved on to being intolerant of his brother touching his stuff. I patted myself on the back for another parenting job well done.

So imagine my surprise when, a few years later, my youngest child encountered an even more disturbing form of religious intolerance at school — in third grade! A big playground brouhaha arose when ugly words were hurled at a child who said that his family did not believe in God. Parents and social workers were called in, and the school conducted a "Cool Tool" lesson in the classrooms about tolerance. I was proud of the school for addressing the issue directly, and yet something still did not sit right. I was particularly struck by the fact that both these instances of intolerance were directed at children and families who did not believe in God. Differing religious beliefs did not raise an eyebrow, but non belief seemed to be a huge issue.

One of the things I like about Judaism is that the religion itself encourages questions, debates, even arguments (at least within the Reform community). There is a constant quest for knowledge and understanding. We made the conscious choice to bring our children up within this religious setting because most of the people I knew who were raised without any religious affiliation grew up to believe in nothing. We felt it was important to give our children some background that they could learn about, rebel against, embrace or reject — but come to their decisions from a place of interest, knowledge and questioning.

I worry now, however, that by providing specific religious instruction, even in a tolerant congregation, we may inadvertently be teaching them that our beliefs are somehow "right", which almost by definition implies that different believers must somehow be "wrong." I hope this is not true. I hope these examples of intolerance will lead to more discussions, more growth and more tolerance. I hope my children continue to question — us, their religious teachers, their friends and their community — and I hope they do it in the spirit of achieving true diversity.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan isn't pondering the big questions of religion and politics, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Photo courtesy of Jeanne Levy via; the chalk art was done by Liza White and Kary Taylor at the Forest Grove Chalk Festival.

Diversity in America

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who ignore our differences and those who embrace them. 

Today, on the Moms Blog Group, bloggers from all over the country are tackling the topic of diversity head on. It's a conversation long overdue. Click here for my post on Children and Religious Diversity. Then spend some time reading the other posts on the topic by clicking on the listings on the left side bar. 

Please share your comments by clicking here.

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Photo courtesy of Jeanne Levy via; the chalk art was done by Liza White and Kary Taylor at the Forest Grove Chalk Festival.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Golden Birthday — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

"They look like space aliens," said my 12-year-old stepson. And they did. Born at 24 and 3/7ths weeks gestation, my twins spent five months on the neonatal intensive care unit, with tubes and wires attached to every part of their little bodies. The ventilators huffed and the monitors blinked and bleated day and night. Nurses shaved their plum-sized heads in a quest to find viable IV sites, and their little toes glowed red from the pulse oximeter that measured their blood oxygen levels, just the way ET's finger glowed.

On their birth day, my son weighed in at 1 lb. 8.5 oz. and my daughter was 1 lb. 10 oz. They were not the earliest preemies ever born, nor the smallest — world records I'm happy we do not hold. Chances are they won't make it through the night, we were told. Chances are they will be blind. Chances are they will be deaf or profoundly hearing impaired. Chances are they will have cerebral palsy, severe learning disabilities, asthma, allergies and chronic lung problems. Chances are they will have to be hospitalized on a regular basis.

But chances were with us and this week we celebrate their "golden" or "star" birthday, when they turn 17 on the 17th, in perfect health as juniors in high school. It was a long haul. They spent nearly a year on oxygen and reached every milestone months (in some cases years) after their peers, but they did reach them. In honor of their birthday, I would like to share 17 of the many gifts they have given to me:

1. Good things come in small packages. These babies were literally gifts, their conception the result of a fertility treatment called gamete intrafallopian transfer (or GIFT).

2. Live in the moment. Until I was hospitalized 11 days before their birth, I wished my life away, always hungry for the next thing: growing up, going away to college, moving to a new city, getting married, buying a house, getting pregnant. Because we didn't know what the next minute would bring as we tried to stave off their premature birth, I saw for the first time the value of living in the now.

3. Be grateful for the simple things. Breathing is beautiful and not to be taken for granted. So is peeing, which I learned as we prayed for my baby boy to urinate as proof that his kidneys were not shutting down.

4. Never wake a sleeping baby (thanks mom). When my daughter came home on March 10th, nearly five months after she was born, she weighed four pounds. I was told she would act like a newborn, waking every two hours to eat. She didn't. That first night home, I watched her sleep. When she didn't wake at the two-hour mark, I put a mirror by her mouth to make sure she was still breathing, even though she was on oxygen and electronic monitors. I stared at her for two and a half more hours before she finally woke. She was tired; people had been poking and prodding her for months. From that night on, she slept six hours at a stretch, just like a real baby.

5. Everyone is different. These twins who shared so much were completely different right from the start. I learned that comparing them to each other or anyone else was pointless. I also learned to stop comparing myself to others.

6. We all learn at our own pace. The best piece of advice I got when they were born was to ditch my copy of the baby bible What to Expect the First Year. Everything that happened that year was unexpected. Everything that has happened since has been unexpected. As long as we are making progress, it's all good.

7. Boys and girls are different. It's not nurture, it's nature. I did not have the time or energy to give these boy/girl twins different toys or different kinds of attention. Girls mature faster, boys are noisier and more physical. Are these generalizations? Sure, but they're generally true.

8. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. My son has struggled mightily in many ways, but you would never know it to meet him. He has a short-term memory deficit, which makes learning by rote very difficult, as well as finding things, like your homework or your socks. On the other hand, each day is a brand new adventure, and he never suffers from emotional hangovers. We could all use a little more of that.

9. You are what you think you are. My son was diagnosed as small for gestational age for most of his life. Until he was 14 and had been on growth hormone for four years, he never even reached the lowest percentile on the growth charts. He was always the smallest kid in the class, but when you asked him how big he was compared to his classmates, he would say "Oh, about in the middle."

10. Trust yourself. We have had the benefit of hundreds of talented, dedicated professionals who have helped bring these children to where they are today. But I am their mom, and I know them better than anyone. To become an effective advocate for them, I had to learn to trust myself.

11. Ask for help. As the saying goes, it takes a village. A neighbor of mine took me to a Mothers of Multiples support group meeting even before the babies came home from the hospital. Those women saved my life. I also found therapists when we needed them, as well as a great pediatrician, not to mention all the times I leaned on my parents, other family and friends.

12. This too shall pass — and faster than you think. When they were little, it seemed that we'd be mired in diapers forever; we weren't. My son was finally potty trained at four and a half. It seemed like they would never talk; they did — at four. The problem with "this too shall pass" is that it applies to the sweet times, as well as the sour ones, so pay attention or you might miss something good.

13. Read aloud together. They are 17 and we still read together — not every night, but often enough. I have loved this time together (except the Go, Dog. Go! phase).

14. Never give up. These tiny, frail, vulnerable babies (fetuses, really) are the strongest people I have ever met. They survived more challenges in their first year of life than most of us do in a lifetime: ventilators, lung damage, jaundice, retinopathy of prematurity, heart surgery, and invasive infections, just to name a few. They fought hard to be here.

15. Don't listen to the naysayers. I can't tell you how many people told us it would have been better if they had never been born. I was terrified at first, sad that I had not carried them to term and that their lives were going to be harder (at least in the beginning) than it should have been. But we are so lucky they were born at a time and in a place where they had a real chance to survive and, given that chance, they have thrived.

16. Celebrate. Many loving, well-meaning people had no idea how to react when they were born. We received no gifts or cards or flowers until they came home. People were afraid they were going to die. My mother handled most of the phone calls, conveying to everyone that we were celebrating. Whether they lived 90 hours or 90 years, this was the only life they would ever have. We're still celebrating.

17. It goes by fast. These children were babies for a long time, much longer than most, and yet here we are, on the edge of 17, that dividing line between childhood and adulthood. How did this happen? I swear I was paying attention.

So, my babies, Happy Birthday! And thank you.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan is not sobbing over baby pictures, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

You've Come a Long Way, Babies!

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who come in the easy way, full term and healthy; and those who struggle with prematurity. 

In honor of Prematurity Awareness month and to celebrate my preemie twins' 17th birthday, I have a new post on Chicago Moms Blog

If you know anyone who currently has babies on the neonatal intensive care unit, you might also want to check out another Chicago Moms Blog post called NICU 101 for Families and Friends.

To all of you who cared for them and us during those long and stressful months and in the years since, happy Ike and Molly's birthday! We're still celebrating.

Leave your birthday wishes or tell your preemie story by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And the Winner Is …

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who enter contests and those who don't. 

My grandmother was absolutely positive that she was going to win the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. No one knows how many magazines she bought over the years, but I believe her Reader's Digest subscription will continue in perpetuity. Each year, during Prize Week, she would get her hair done and dress up every day, refusing to leave the house because she was convinced that Ed McMahon and the Prize Patrol would knock on her door any minute with a giant cardboard check. We teased her about it gently, rolled our eyes behind her back, and secretly hoped she would win. She never did and I, personally, will never forgive Ed McMahon for disappointing her.

Some people are born lucky. In our family, the winner is my youngest boy. In fact, he is so successful at raffles that we now only enter his name. Most recently, at the annual elementary school fall fundraiser, in addition to the chocolate covered pretzels he won at the cake walk, his name was pulled during the raffle, winning a really cool felt pumpkin bucket full of gummy candies that we handed out for Halloween.

I'm not a big risk taker, so most of the contests available to me (gambling, the lottery) don't appeal. Oh, we all have our price, and mine is $100 million. On the rare occasion when our state Lotto jackpot reaches that high-water mark, I buy a ticket. Just one, as I'm only willing to flush one buck down the toilet at a time. So far, I am not a winner.

My fellow writer, Cindy Fey, recently entered a writing contest. That is so ambitious and productive. I'm more of a fill-out-the-form-and-drop-it-in-the-box kind of contestant. Just this weekend, at the grand opening of a new L.L. Bean store at our local mall, I filled out a form to win a $1000 family kayak package. I have no idea what I would do with it if I actually won this contest, as no one in my family has ever been kayaking, but hey, sometimes you have to take a chance.

A few years ago, I saw the Julianne Moore movie, The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio. It was based on a book by Terry Ryan about how her mother, Evelyn, "raised 10 kids on 25 words or less" by entering jingle contests during the 1950s and '60s. Evelyn won more than 200 contests, with prizes ranging from food and watches to European trips and sports cars. 

My brain is cluttered with advertising jingles, frequently blocking out important information like my children's names. I've tried repeatedly to delete these maddening little snippets from my hard drive with no success. I still know how to spell bologna; I still know where Bandaids stick; and I still know what kind of kids eat Armour Hotdogs

Despite the number of cells my brain has devoted to jingles, I was intrigued by Evelyn Ryan's story. I love that she used her talent to help her family at a time when her options were limited. In addition to her talent, Evelyn learned to jump through all the quirky hoops required of these kinds of contests. It must have been a full-time job. As a life-long direction follower, I appreciate her tenacity and attention to detail. Watching the movie, I became nostalgic for a time I don't remember where these kinds of contests were commonplace. 

So, a few weeks ago I was inspired by Evelyn to enter an online giveaway through a blog called Tippy Toes and Tantrums. The idea was to win holiday cards offered by Tiny Prints by writing a holiday greeting. Guess what? I won! Here's my greeting:

A little merry, a little glow
A little love and mistletoe.
The gift of thanks, the gift of cheer
With peace and joy throughout the year.

Clearly the moral of this story is that I should stop trying to write the next Nobel Prize winning novel, the next Newbery Medal winning children's book, and the next Pulitzer Prize winning editorial, and stick to writing schmaltzy greeting card copy. 

What's your winning story? Tell me about it by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Voted! — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

And when I say "I" voted, I mean we voted: me, my husband and my two youngest (ages 10 and 12) were up at 6:20 a.m. and at our polling place by 7:06. The boys were so excited, and I was gratified to see a line. In all the years I've been voting at this same spot, there has never been a line. In fact, the last time I voted there it was early evening and I was the 76th voter for the day. This morning, at 7:06 a.m., I was already voter #103.

The political discourse surrounding this election has also encouraged me — at least the discourse in our household. My children have raised many important questions on vital issues, including: What is the difference between an opponent and an enemy? Can we solve the energy crisis and protect/cleanup the environment? Why haven't we ever elected a woman or an African American or a Jewish American to be President or Vice President? Can I push the buttons on the touch screen?

It's been a long haul. I strongly believe political campaigns and wedding engagements should be limited to no more than a year. But, it's finally here, and maybe even my political junkie brother will sleep better at night. The one thing I want to remind my children about on this historic day is that the election is not the end: it's a new beginning.

This an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When not standing in line at her local polling place, Susan can be found blogging at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

You Know Who You Are

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who vote and those who don't.

I voted. Did you?

Read about my voting experience on my new post at Chicago Moms Blog. You'll recognize it — I used the same scan of my "I Voted" sticker.

Let me know about your voting experience in this historic year by clicking here.

Post Script: OBAMA WINS!

10:57 p.m. President Elect Obama is about to address the crowd in Grant Park. Wow!