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Archive for August, 2013

I obviously care about values, values in the media, and how we teach our children values (and help protect them from some of the value-less media out there). Let’s just say for my purposes here that “values” is shorthand for positive messages and content that is low on vulgarity, harsh language, sex, violence, and other crudeness.

I started my book-review website, Rated Reads, because I wanted to provide useful guidance for readers of all ages and parents of younger readers. The more information we can obtain as media consumers and parents of media consumers before actually viewing movies, TV, books, websites, etc., the better: we can protect ourselves from content we wouldn’t want to have to see/hear. Luckily, there are a good number of websites and other resources available to help us make good, informed decisions about movies and TV shows, as well as music. I started Rated Reads because there weren’t nearly so many resources available with the same kind of information about books.

Naturally, with this mindset and as the mother of four daughters, I want to be able to protect them from seeing and hearing vulgar, obscene, gross, crude content. I don’t want to see/hear that stuff myself, and I certainly don’t want my girls to be inundated with it. I can’t protect them from other people or from other kids at school (much as schools supposedly try to police obscene language, etc., it’s a losing battle in reality, honestly), but I can help them to feel safe at home.

With this as my philosophy, I’ve always been shocked by what I see other parents do/not do for their own children. Sure, all parents are different, and I can’t say that “different” is usually or always bad. But sometimes it’s hard not to judge, such as when I see adults bring tiny kids to PG-13 movies or just movies that are super-scary or intense. Or those who routinely let their young kids watch R-rated movies at home. I just can’t see that that does any good for (and doesn’t harm) these impressionable youngsters.

But what really, really makes me start steaming is seeing vulgar movies or TV starring children. For example, when I went to the movies this week, I saw a preview for a movie I will NEVER go see, called “Bad Grandpa.” An actor dresses up as an old man and takes a young boy cross-country with him on an MTV “Jackass”-inspired trip. They pull all kinds of pranks and film real people’s reactions. One clip in this trailer showed this young boy, who is 9 years old, dressing up as a pole dancer and gyrating in all kinds of crude ways that would make me cringe if it were an adult performing the acts. But this is a CHILD! To expose kids to this stuff is bad enough, but to then make a child PERFORM these acts is beyond irresponsible. It’s heinous. It’s horrible. It goes beyond the pale.

I don’t think I’m a prude. I simply believe in values (and if you don’t, then don’t bother commenting because we come from very different sides and will likely never agree). I believe in teaching values to our kids, in protecting them from as much as we can, in helping them learn ways to protect themselves from vulgarity as they grow older. Again, none of us can possibly shield ourselves completely. But we can take steps to reduce the amount of crudeness we have to ingest. And it’s parents’ responsibility to reduce exposure and teach their children, not douse them in “adult” filth.

We’re living in a world that’s radioactive with crudeness and vulgarity. We’re going to be exposed. Question is: will we take precautions and shield ourselves and our kids, or will we allow ourselves to be constantly irradiated, leading to sickness, cancer and death of the inner self?

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So I’ve written a few times about my (mostly happy) love affair with Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter books. Most recently, I wrote about the Infernal Devices series, which was completely satisfying and just right. And at the end, you may notice I wrote about my eagerness to see how the movie version of City of Bones turned out.

Here’s what I thought was kind of funny initially, before the movie even started: Since I’m quite a fangirl when it comes to this series (although I refuse to shell out $2.99 per story for the Bane Chronicles; all together, that’s going to be a lot of moolah), I honestly expected to see crowds out front of my local theater when I dashed out to see it last night, right after it opened (but, admittedly, on a Thursday, before weekend busy-ness). After all, Twilight fans were lined up for hours ahead of each show. And honestly, this series is even better: it has action, hot romance, supernatural elements, and wit. But when my husband and I got there, 35 minutes before showtime, there were two other people seated in the theater. Wha? By the time it started, there was a reasonable small group in there for a Thursday night, but I sat there thinking, I hope that audiences do not miss this movie. 

So I’m recommending it to everyone.

The movie did not disappoint. It stays true to the story without taking too many liberties but not, however, being so faithful to the book that it bogs down the pace of the action and plot; the action is engaging enough for male viewers to be able to get into it (come on, you know that Twilight the movie wasn’t exactly geared toward the men); the romance is still scorching hot (the great kiss scene in the middle is even better on film than it is in the book, which is saying something); the story and the world building are interesting, as in the book; the sets are great. I loved seeing everything I imagined (and didn’t get around to imagining, apparently) come to big, beautiful life on the screen.

City-of-Bones-Movie-JaceCasting: When it all comes down to it, the most important casting pick was for one crucial character. The actor (Jamie Campbell Bower) who portrays the central character, Jace Wayland, is honestly just about a perfect choice. I admit I don’t think he’s great-looking (and yes, I do think that RPatt is just to die for when it comes to looks, not to mention how funny he is in interviews), but the character isn’t really either. It’s all about presence. Jace is intense, moody, and utterly irresistible because of how he emotes. And Bower nails this. He has screen presence galore. He smolders up there on the screen. His hair looks terrible. But it simply doesn’t matter. His whole body, his face, his eyes show who the character is and what he may or may not feel or believe. And when he looks at Clary, his face near to hers, temperatures rise. Yikes.

Now I did mention in that previous post that my main concern would be the humor. The books are laugh-out-loud funny in the banter between the characters and some of their one-liners. The movie just did an OK job on capturing this wit. There were a few good lines, but still, as I feared, that delicious banter isn’t in constant supply. The action and romance win out, and the wit came in last. Even so, it wasn’t a complete bust. I really felt that the Harry Potter movies suffered in comparison to the books because they really did sacrifice most of what I saw as clever and funny in the books. I didn’t feel that this movie did quite so badly.

Overall, a great adaptation and a movie I’m going to have to watch a few more times on the big screen. I liked it that much. Now pardon me while I get ready to head to the theater, this time with my oldest daughter.

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I’ve thought about this idea a lot, but seeing this little article reminded me: “Do we really want cartoons telling our kids they can do anything?

Now, I haven’t been thinking a lot about the idea in terms of cartoon or movie themes, but the media portrayal of this concept is one facet to consider. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen motivational posters, pins, memes, etc. online or somewhere out and about that say something to the effect of, “If you work hard enough, you can do anything you can dream of!” In the case of this article, it addresses the related but even less likely trope, “If you dream it and believe hard enough, it can happen.”

I don’t believe either one is right, true, or even healthy. Let’s just think about this: how many people do you know of who dreamed of being NBA stars or actors? How many of them actually achieved their dreams? My husband played basketball in high school and was pretty talented. Problem: he’s only 5’8″. I think there have only been a handful of players in the past few decades of NBA history who have been that short. So my husband still sighs sometimes: “If only I’d been taller.”
I also happen to know a couple of people personally who became actors. And they’re not even particularly well known. But they are making a living in the movie business.

pie in skyI’m in no way saying we shouldn’t encourage each other, particularly children and teens, to dream big. But at the same time, we’re doing them a disservice if we tell them “all they have to do” is believe hard enough or work hard enough and their dreams will come true. Because in reality, those kinds of pie-in-the-sky dreams don’t usually come true for most regular people. Even those who dream of going to a particular university (which isn’t quite as lofty or nearly-unattainable) quite often can’t, no matter how talented or hard-working they may be. Sometimes we may try and try and work really hard, but things just don’t fall into place; there are mountains in the way that we simply can’t climb over or move.

Even as I write this, I must clarify that I’m an optimist. I love to encourage people and to shoot for the stars myself. But I’m also midway through my life, and through personal experience and plenty of observation, I know what reality tends to be. What the odds are. Sure, we hear of stories of people who “beat the odds.” But the nature of “the odds” is that one person is the exception to the rule, while the rule comprises a million others. Only a few win a million bucks in the lottery; the rest lose lots of hard-earned cash.

Let’s still encourage each other and young people to work hard, to do their best, to dream, to envision futures that will please them. But let’s also help them to shape goals and futures that are realistic, that have a touch of “dream” to them but still a good chunk of attainability. Because don’t we want more people to really be able to achieve their goals and find that glowing, wonderful satisfaction in reaching that star, even if it’s still in our own galaxy?

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I’ve always known that each of us has a different way of seeing life and the world based on our own unique background. Our opinions come from what we’ve read, seen, heard and learned, all steeped in our own self-hoods, our childhoods, our family and friends, what we’ve had or not had. So I definitely respect the fact that we won’t all see life very much the same at all. And that’s OK. It makes life and interactions with each other interesting.

sunsetBut a pertinent layer of the package of beliefs that each of us carries is that of how we see our life in an even bigger potential picture. Some of us have no belief whatsoever that anything exists outside of the 20, 40, 60, 80, or 101 years we might live on this Earth. But others of us believe that mortal life is just a part of our whole existence. For instance, I believe in the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is that we were created as spirits by a loving God and we lived as spirits with Him and learned what we could before we were born on Earth, which is a vital and necessary part of our learning and growing process as people. And after we die, we have a whole eternity ahead of us. This life may be 10 or 100 years long (and whatever it is, it can feel like a very long time), but it’s still a tiny portion of our whole life. Not to say that it’s not very, very important, but it’s short when you look at the big picture.

I’ve definitely come to appreciate recently just what a huge difference just this one facet of belief about life, which we all experience but experience differently, makes in who we are and how we approach life and other people in our world. We may debate about politics or moral issues and have vastly different ideas about how things should be legislated — or not. But if we don’t appreciate even a little each other’s backgrounds, it makes it impossible to understand the other’s point of view. It also sometimes means that, once we learn and understand a little about the “other side,” we likely will still stay in our own corner, sure of our own way of thinking. But at least we will have had the time to “travel,” to walk in someone else’s shoes.

I know many people don’t agree with some of my opinions, just as I don’t agree with theirs. That’s OK. But I know where I belong in the “big picture,” and having an eternal perspective makes all the difference for me.

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For a long time, I was young enough that I could still think “that (fill in the blank with anything particularly tough or tragic) can’t happen to me.” Then, as I got older, got married, and started having children, those things did start happening, either to me or to someone close to me, so that lovely delusion of the young went “poof.” Bubble popped.

Marissa babyI definitely never expected to be “one of those people” who had a child with Down syndrome. I knew a few people over the years, through church congregations actually, who had a youngster or teen with Down’s in their family, and I really, really never expected to be in that position myself. It was something that happened to other people. Only when I was pregnant with my second child and I picked up the newly delivered copy of the Reader’s Digest that featured the story of Alabama football coach Gene Stallings having a son, John Mark, with Down’s that it hit me — hard — that I could have a child with Down’s too. And sure enough, soon after I had blood work results indicate an amniocentesis would be useful, which confirmed my gut feeling. Yes, I grieved. I was worried, I was sad, I was surprised. But soon after, I accepted this new reality, and, well, you can read a little bit more about my wonderful teen on some other posts.

Dad's camera photos Oct 09 041I also thought my parents would live forever. Only other people’s parents died. When my husband’s mother died just a year after our first child was born, I was sad for my husband and myself, but I still thought it would be a VERY VERY VERY LONG TIME before my parents left this life. It still was 12 years later that I had to go through that heart-rending experience, but it was still far, far earlier than I’d expected to lose one of my parents. My dad was only 71 at the time and very healthy, though a bit of a hypochondriac (yeah, it’s true, Dad.). Now I know just how fragile and unexpected life can be.

This year, a family member ended up paralyzed from the mid-torso down after a surgery. That’s the kind of event I have certainly never pictured happening to me, and to have it happen to someone I care about is something that weighs on my mind. My thoughts are with her so much. Sure, you read about these kinds of things, but … having it happen to someone close is still unthinkable. Until it happens, and it’s always in your thoughts.

I’ve now had friends lose children, a very particular kind of heartbreak. We lost the bishop of our ward, our local church congregation, three years ago this month, to a fatal shooting. It was headline-grabbing news, the kind that strikes your heart when you read about it happening to strangers. Having it happen in your own church building, to someone you know, to a family that’s extraordinary … well, it strikes your heart and stays there permanently.

Yep, here I am in my 40s and I’ve left behind those days of “it happens to other people.” Whatever “it” is, it can happen to me, my family, my friends. Life is fragile. It’s unpredictable. It can bring tragedy and pain and grief. Yet, at the same time, every day of life is also a miracle. It can bring refreshing rain or warming sunshine. It can even create rainbows. And when life offers up “those things” to each of us, we face the grief, we work through the pain, we move on. But we don’t have to do any of it alone. I find it such a blessing every day to know I have friends and family to turn to when life serves up the unexpected. And I try to make sure I’m there for them when they face “those things.” When “it can’t happen to us” turns into “it does happen to us,” we have each other.

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My four girls all started back to school today. It’s a delightful year in which the two older ones are both now at the same high school and the two younger ones are both at the same elementary school. (Next year, though, the oldest will be at college and the three others will all be in different schools.) It’s the last year of free, living-at-home education for my oldest, and I dread her flying the coop. But for now I have her for this one last year. All in all, good things.

Again, as always happens come August, I am relieved to have the school break over with and my children back at school. Honestly, they are too. They had a fun summer, but they really do enjoy being in school. They enjoy the learning and the socialization.

But I find myself with mixed feelings. I’m not just jumping up and down that my kids are no longer constantly underfoot. I feel regret about not having done anything I’d hoped to do with them (aside from the trips we planned to take and actually went on). Even though I know in reality my best shot is just to get through two and a half months with four children always around with my sanity mostly intact by the end, I still foster these high hopes of doing extra things for and with them.

For instance, this year, as I also had thought of last year, I wanted to teach the oldest and the third one, who’s ready for it, the rules of grammar. They’re great at English and always do well on tests because they naturally “know” how everything should sound and be, but they have no idea what most of the rules are. I don’t think schools are really teaching that so much anymore, so I’d hoped to go over some rules and even do some sentence diagramming. Did we? No.

I’d also hoped to take a little time here and there to introduce some basic piano concepts to my youngest. She’s not ready for real lessons, but I had thought I could teach her some basics. Did I sit down at the piano with her once? Nope.

I had thought I might take some time to learn a bit more about how best to grow herbs here in our area and finally successfully grow a few out my back door. Did I grow a single one? No, indeed.

I think I actually had fewer expectations and plans for this summer than I did last summer. But I still feel I got absolutely nothing ticked off that fairly short but apparently grandiose list. As always, I just survived. I feel so much happier and can do more (including more with my kids) when I get regular blocks of time to myself. And it’s so much harder to get any time to myself during the summer; it’s so hit and miss and not nearly enough. I need regular refills of time and when I don’t get them, I am running on empty, and it’s not a pretty sight. You can just smell the burning.

With a lot of summers under my parenting belt now, you’d think I’d learn from the experience not to have any expectations for doing anything cool with the kids. It’s sad, but it’s true. We went on our family trips, and we went to the library every week. We read together. I made breakfasts and dinners. I made them a bubble table (which they used for about a week) and bought them a bunch of paints and rolls of paper (which they used for about two weeks). That’s the extent of my mothering fabulousness. But I’m just not one of those moms who relishes every single moment with the kids and who loves to get down in the dirt with them or … whatever looks so great on someone else’s Facebook wall or Pinterest boards. I enjoy them sometimes; I do cool things with them sometimes; other times, I just want to be left alone. And that’s OK.

Perhaps next year I’ll finally ease up on my expectations for myself. But, knowing myself, I probably won’t. But I guess it’s time to just let my regrets go and just start celebrating the start of a new school year and some very welcome and necessary time for myself.

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Yes, she lights up our lives just as she is, but any improvement for her would be great too.

Yes, she lights up our lives just as she is, but any improvement for her would be great too.

I have a child with Down syndrome, but I’m not involved in the “community” in any way at this stage of our lives. (When she was little, I was on the board of directors of the local Arc, which advocates for and serves people with disabilities, but that’s pretty much been the extent of my activism or involvement.) I get a monthly email from the National Down Syndrome Society (or is it Congress? see: I don’t pay a lot of attention), and I sometimes read it. But generally, I don’t pay a lot of attention to the latest news.

This month, I’m late to the party in hearing about this latest bombshell of research: scientists have found a way to “silence” the extra chromosome that causes trisomy 21 in the lab.

Whoa, dude.

I’m still trying to get a handle on what the research really means. But essentially, it could mean there could be some kind of treatment developed in the future to help reverse some of the symptoms associated with people having a whole extra chromosome. Biggies: maybe reducing the likelihood of heart problems or even the cognitive delays that affect all people with Down’s. Apparently, it couldn’t “cure” DS before birth, but it would be a treatment sometime during a person’s life.

Of course, people who have children or other family members with Down syndrome, or who are self-advocates, have varying opinions about this news. Some worry that “curing” DS would remove a valuable segment of the population that arguably helps teach others about love and understanding.

Here’s my take: if it’s possible to give my daughter a better life, I’m all for it. Of course, I love her just the way she is, and I love how she is just herself and how she contributes in her unique way to our family. But I have every confidence she would be just as wonderful and a delightful contribution to our family and to the community if she didn’t have Down’s. I am not actively seeking or hoping for a cure. No, but if this research were to lead to some improvement in her life, even a drastic change, I’d still take it. If it allowed her to be able to (finally) understand math, for heaven’s sake, I’d take it. Why not?

I don’t expect that this research will lead to any real change or treatment within her lifetime, really. But in the land of what-if’s, I’m firmly on the side of taking a cure. I don’t think Down’s makes her the delightful, amazing kid she is; I think she’s just that person anyway. And if she could lead an even more productive and healthy life, I’d let her. Doesn’t every parent want the best for their child? I know I do.

As for the idea of taking away a whole “culture,” I still feel there are plenty of other people with disabilities of varying types that still teach us that extra love and compassion. I don’t see us curing any of those things wholesale. It would just be a strange kind of selfish to just keep people with a disability disabled if they didn’t have to be, just so we could have another way to help people be compassionate. That just seems upside-down and weird to me.

I’ll be interested to see what comes of this research. I won’t hold my breath for a cure or any real life-changing treatment from it. But it’ll certainly be interesting to see what happens.

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