Posts in Practical Parenting

The Gosnell Movie

October 18th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 2 comments

I did not want to see this movie. Despite its PG-13 rating, I knew that it would be distressing. How could it not be? Dr. Kermit Gosnell was a prolific abortionist sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. He was convicted for (among other things) murdering three infants and of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient at his clinic.

The reason that I am posting this as a Practical Parenting column as well as a Musing is that I recommend you take the parental guidance part of the movie’s rating very seriously. I would not have wanted to see this movie when I was pregnant or nursing. If my child’s youth group was going to see it, I would try, at a minimum, to see it myself first and decide if it is appropriate for my child. In Hollywood’s world, gore and violence are routine, so to them this movie may seem unremarkable, but the subject matter is mature and the visual impact is powerful.

The Gosnell trial is relatively recent history and the movie’s producers make clear that most of the material is drawn from transcripts and police reports. I knew of the trial and how unprofessionally the press tried to ignore it. It was a fight to produce the movie as well, and there is no question that there is a strong cultural attempt to suppress it. Each and every person who acted in or worked on the film is a hero because there will be ramifications to his or her career.

The movie is gripping. I am not qualified to write a review that talks about the acting, directing, musical score or other aspects. I can only say that the movie touched and disturbed me deeply. Concern that this might happen, of course, is exactly why I didn’t want to see it.

So, why did I make myself view it? I did not see it to pat myself on the back for being pro-life. Kermit Gosnell was not on trial for performing legal abortions. He was either a very disturbed or a very evil man – probably both. I know caring and good people who support abortion. None of them would defend his actions. To say that his clinic was unsanitary is a gross understatement. He reused instruments intended for single use, had unqualified teenagers dispensing anesthesia and drugs and killed babies who were born alive. Indeed, he was convicted precisely because he broke the law.

If that is so, why is it so important to so many news outlets, newspapers, media influencers and politicians that people not see this movie? I think it is because Kermit Gosnell is not the only bad guy in this story. The government of Pennsylvania, its politicians, health department and social services failed the women of that state, especially low-income minorities. Because they saw abortion as a sacred cow that must not be questioned, they did not carry out inspections or respond to complaints. Laboring under a false, sanctimonious belief that nothing must prevent women’s access to an abortion clinic, they all but guaranteed that women would be abused. Were it not for the relentless political pressure of the pro-choice movement, Kermit Gosnell would have had his medical license revoked. Were it not for the importance of abortion to secular society, Gosnell’s practice would have been closed. The records make clear that nail salons received more scrutiny than abortion clinics. Had Gosnell not been protected in this way, lives would have been saved.

This movie is disturbing as well because, today, abortion is light years away from how it was understood in Roe v Wade.  Abortion today is a widely accepted and celebrated culture. Furthermore, science, in its understanding of the fetus and its ability to treat newborns born prematurely, is worlds away from 1973. The description of legal abortions in the trial was unsettling. 

Very few people today actually look at abortion with rational and probing minds. It is a sacred sacrament of the Left, not open to debate. The good people I know who are pro-choice will need to ask themselves and answer serious questions if they see this movie. Not questions about Kermit Gosnell and his actions, but tremendously uncomfortable questions about the entire pro-choice movement and about legally sanctioned abortion. No wonder so many want to keep this movie under wraps.

As an adult citizen of a country in which abortion is legal, I felt obligated to see this movie. I believe that any honest pro-choice individual who squirms at the current suggestion that having an abortion is a reason for pride or a wonderful rite of passage should see Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer (an unfortunate subtitle in my opinion). Despite the reservations I expressed at the beginning of this Musing, I would use every bit of parental pressure at my hands to make sure that any college-aged student or older child of mine saw it.  Because of cultural repression, that isn’t going to be easy. That, in itself, should encourage all principled and open-minded people to make the effort.

On another note: I am friends with many of you on Facebook. Due to changes on that platform I will now be posting my Susan’s Musings, Ask the Rabbi (and me!) and Practical Parenting posts on my new page instead. Find out when there are new posts by following me here.

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Still Mothering: An Update

October 16th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting 2 comments

Almost six years ago, I wrote:

My baby came home. O.k., as a third-year medical student, he isn’t technically a baby. He isn’t even technically my baby as three younger sisters arrived after him. And he only came home for four days. But any mother reading this knows what I’m feeling.

There seems to be so little I can do for my children now that they are grown. It filled my heart to be able to cook his favorite meal, prepare his bed with clean sheets and pick him up at the airport. Forgotten is how tiring it was to prepare nutritious meals every night, to do constant laundry (though from about the age of nine my children were responsible for their own clothing) and to be the on-call chauffeur. Also forgotten (almost) is the exhaustion of sleepless nights when he was an infant, the disgust at his joyful eating of slugs in the back yard as a toddler and even my fright and annoyance when as a teenager he almost drove my car off a cliff.

At least when he was younger I could take care of him. I could nurture the illusion that I could keep him safe. For a few precious years my kiss or hug cured most ills; my attention fed most needs. Even later, when my touch wasn’t quite as magical, I could welcome his friends to our house and expose him to books, various skills and nature. Not so today. As much as I would like to smooth his path, I cannot produce his soul mate. I would do more harm than good by contacting the powers-that-be and explaining to them why he will make a fabulous doctor and they should give him his first choice of residencies. I can’t spare him the pain of maturing or save him from his, altogether human, mistakes.

I do what I can. First and foremost is prayer. A distant second comes grabbing whatever opportunities I have to feed and nurture him. For which I am most grateful for the past few days.

An Update:

The third-year medical student was accepted to the residency of his choice, finished that training and is into his second year of serving in his specialty. There remained little I could do to ease his way over that grueling path.

His soul mate didn’t show up quickly. To our delight, she did appear, though as the young couple lives thousands of miles away, we don’t see them as often as we wish. When my husband was invited to speak for a wonderful business located near our children, we joyously accepted.  This past Shabbat, our son and daughter-in-law graciously welcomed my husband and me into their home.

Our son has been grown-up for a long time now. His choice of career means that many times a week he makes decisions that severely affect people’s lives. His father and I have been in awe of his maturity. What a thrill it was to see our lovely new daughter join him, care for him and cherish him and he, her. I’m still praying, but now it is for two, not one. And while we enjoyed having them as guests a few weeks ago, there was a special pleasure in being the guests ourselves, for which I am most grateful.

Book Recommendation: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

October 14th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

I get a thrill every time I read a book that prods me to grow a bit, makes my day brighter or grants me a portal into a world different from mine. When a book does all three of those things it is a definite winner. It gets bonus point if I can share it with the young people in my life and watch it expand their horizons.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is such a book. Since it came out in 2012, many of you have probably read it already and/or seen the movie version. I was a late-comer to the fan club since I tend towards classics, but I came across it recently and I want to share my delight.

Wonder tells the story of fifth-grader Auggie Pullman, a boy born with a severe craniofacial deformity. Because of health concerns and repeated operations he has never been to school, and now that is about to change. The book is divided into sections that tell of his entrance to school through his own eyes and then through the eyes of his “normal” sister, her boyfriend and her estranged  childhood friend, as well as from the perspectives of some of Auggie’s classmates, whose behaviors range from kind to bullying.

This book is more powerful than a hundred anti-bullying slogans or lectures. Aside from humanizing a boy who looks different, it respectfully shows the challenges of children (and adults) dealing with something drastically different from what they usually meet. The various perspectives provide a  tremendous opportunity to realize that others see the world differently than we do.

This book and its sequels are recommended for ages 8-12. I disagree. I would suggest ages 8 through adult. Certainly, it can be invaluable for teenagers. This would make a great book to discuss as a family, especially if parents can do more listening than talking. It is one of those books that we can only hope stays with us long after we finish reading it. 

Our Teacher, the Judge

October 4th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 4 comments

As I wrote in my post, Insecurities of a Homeschooling Mom, for many years I had a nagging worry that I might be depriving my children of a truly great teacher such as the one I had in fifth grade. That concern wasn’t enough for me to stop homeschooling. After all, there were many other considerations and the stories I was hearing from friends with children in school reminded me that those teachers were few and far between. Still, the niggling worry lodged in the back of my mind, moving into a more prominent position whenever I was disappointed in my own teaching.

When I had already been teaching for a few years, I received a hug from Heaven reminding me that teachers are found in all sorts of places. My husband returned from a conference and informed us that he had invited a fascinating man he had met there to join us for Shabbat dinner. Our table was rarely without guests and my young crew (aged 1-11) took the news of this new arrival in stride.


Insecurities of a Homeschooling Mom

September 20th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 6 comments

It is no secret that I love homeschooling. That doesn’t, however, make me opposed to traditional schools. One of my major concerns during sixteen years teaching at home was, “Am I causing my children to miss out on Mrs. Richman?”

Mrs. Richman was my fifth-grade teacher. Our class full of easily bored and, hence, mischievous kids adored her. We worked harder in her class than for any other teacher. She introduced us to Shakespeare, setting us passages to memorize that I still remember. We honed our writing skills and in eighth grade I submitted a composition I had written for my fifth-grade class, and received an ‘A’ on it. She loved Greek mythology which, years later, led me to take classes in Greek and Roman classics in college.


Take Two: Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent

September 12th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 9 comments

When I wrote about Cyrus, the Unsinkable Sea Serpent by Bill Peet, I thought that I had pretty much covered what I wanted to say. Then, one of my daughters made a point that I thought was worth sharing. Shortly after that, I read the synopsis of the book on Amazon and realized that I had another point to make as well. If this keeps up, my commentary on the book will be longer than the book itself.

My daughter noted that, like many older books, Cyrus uses language that is not familiar to most young children. While books like those of Dr. Seuss are easy for beginning readers as well as fun, their vocabulary is limited. The Cat in the Hat was certainly an improvement over scintillating school texts that used sentences like, “See Dick run,” but it doesn’t exactly utilize the richness of the English language.   

There is value in books that do just that. When that same daughter was three-years-old, I took her, along with her younger sisters, to visit my parents. Since our family was living on the other side of the country from where I grew up, many local aunts, uncles, cousins and friends came to see us. At one point my three-year-old walked into a living room filled with people and conversation and exclaimed in a clear and piercing voice, “What a pandemonium!” Not surprisingly, the pandemonium only grew.


Making Sense of the World: Unit Studies

August 31st, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 3 comments

Two of my favorite homeschooling years occurred when I used KONOS as the basis of my curriculum. I heard one of the founders of KONOS speak at a homeschooling convention and loved the slogan she used to describe her perspective (which I’m probably not getting exactly right), “God put the wiggle in children, don’t take it out.”

KONOS was based on the idea of integrated unit studies, a concept that I heartily applaud. Each unit had a theme and what we covered in history, science, literature and Bible studies was chosen to fit into that theme. While KONOS was Christian-based, I found it “easy” to adapt because the themes were built on character traits, in Hebrew, what I would call midot.


It’s a Miserable Life

August 29th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 19 comments

If you were unaware of the inaugural Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature that took place recently in Las Vegas, so was I. If you have pre-teenage and/or teenage children, you can’t afford to be.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal features an article about the summit by author and journalism professor Steve Salerno.   (You need a subscription to read it online.) To anyone has been paying attention, young adult literature is increasingly dark and this summit suggests that things are getting worse. Unless you live off the grid and completely isolated, your children will be exposed to this form of literature. If your children go to school, some of it may very well be required reading.


Cyrus, the Unsinkable Sea Serpent

August 27th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

I read Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent by Bill Peet half a dozen times over the past week. It is a favorite of a seven-year-old granddaughter and she recommended it to her similarly aged cousin. To my surprise, his two-and-a-half-year-old sister enjoys listening to it as well though I wouldn’t have chosen it just for her.   

Cyrus is one of the many books still on our shelves from our children’s early years. It is what I think of as a transition book; it is more complicated and wordy than early readers like The Cat in the Hat, but still short enough to be read aloud in one sitting. It appeals to children who can read and ideally after listening to it and understanding the tale, they soon want to pick it up and read it themselves.

As I read it over and over, I started asking myself why I like it. The book has danger, threats and violence. I don’t normally gravitate to those features. My seven-year-olds are enraptured by it.


Up, Down and All Around: A Lesson in Prepositions and Life

August 21st, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting No Comment yet

It was a brilliant idea. I would introduce prepositional phrases to my children through a visit to the playground. They would have a great time going up the ladder, down the slide, through the tunnel and around the trees. Just about everything they did could be utilized for a fun and memorable grammar lesson.

Or at least, that was the plan. The outing steadily deteriorated via one bee sting, one bleeding knee and multiple squabbles. Another brilliant homeschooling idea hit the dust.

It is ever so much easier to be a wonderful parent before you have children, an inspiring teacher before you have students and an effective politician when you are a candidate, before you have responsibility and authority.