Sharing DNA Does Not a Family Make

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web_ready_gathering_final_kondrichLately I’ve been seeing stories about people seeking out others whose mothers were impregnated with sperm from the same donor – ostensibly looking for “siblings” they didn’t know they had. There’s even a new TV series called Almost Family, the premise of which is that a young woman discovers that her father, a renowned fertility doctor, used his own genetic material to impregnate many of his patients. This news sends her reeling and in search of biological half-sisters and other half-siblings running around unbeknownst to her.

I object to the idea that sharing DNA makes someone a part of one’s family. Aside from medical considerations such as the need for matching bone marrow or a kidney, there is no real family connection between people conceived in the sterile confines of a medical facility with sperm from the same donor. And the implication that somehow “blood is thicker than water” is a slap in the face to adoptive families such as my own.

I have three biological children conceived, luckily for me, the old-fashioned way. I loved the early bonding I was able to have with them, loved being able to nurse them and know them from even before they were born. I recognize the emotional pull of wanting to have one’s own biological children. And I truly understand why couples go through the rigors, expenses, and discomforts of fertility treatments.

But I also have a daughter adopted from China when she was eleven months old. I missed her very earliest days and the ability to breastfeed her. We had a short adjustment period during which we had to get to know each other, and she had to learn to trust us as her new mom and dad, brothers and sister. Yet today, my closeness with her, my sense of her as my own child is indistinguishable from my feelings for my other three children.

A family is made from shared love and experiences, from late nights comforting a colicky or sick child, from laughs shared at the dinner table, even from fights and defiance and setting boundaries. Families are made, not born, and a tenuous biological connection is fairly inconsequential.

I’m not dismissing the urge for adopted children to wonder about or search for their biological parents. Wondering why they were given away, wanting to know something about the mother, say, who carried them in her womb for nine months is perfectly normal.

But thinking that somehow you’re connected to someone because the same anonymous donor contributed his DNA to both of you? That reduces the idea of family to something mechanistic, impersonal, and ultimately meaningless.

In this day and age, families come to be in so many different ways. It’s unconditional love that makes a family, not the biological origins of one’s birth.

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Savasana Among the Trees

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I have practiced yoga in nature before. Sunrise yoga on the beach was a wonderfully relaxing and fun part of a few past vacations. But today I got to practice my asanas under the trees.

My local arboretum holds outdoor yoga classes, so I decided to sign up. The morning was overcast and humid but not exceptionally hot. I found the location, a patio facing an expanse of grass ringed by trees, and put down my mat. Our instructor, Natalie, was young and sweet-voiced, and she encouraged us to take an affirmation card from a pile of them she’d provided. I selected one at random. It said, “Everything I touch becomes a success.” I smiled.

Natalie took us through the poses, all the while encouraging us and reminding us that it’s okay to fall, to not be perfect. The trees presided over our movements, and when I closed my eyes, I could hear the birds chirping. It was one of the most enjoyable yoga classes I’ve ever taken, and I have to believe it was due to the fact that we were communing with nature.

Every yoga class ends with savasana, or “corpse pose.” The complete and total surrender it entails makes savasana my favorite part of the hour. Afterwards, my mind, body, and soul felt rested, yet invigorated. I slowly gathered my things and started heading toward the parking lot.

On the way, I found a fragrance garden with a bubbling fountain. I sat on a bench and enjoyed the quiet gurgling of the fountain, the flowers and plants, and the emergence of sun from behind the clouds.

Like anyone else, I have my share of worries. My mother-in-law is undergoing a surgical procedure as I write this. My senior in high school is immersed in college applications and trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to become. My other children are living their lives in far flung cities across the U.S. But yoga among the trees has given me an inner peace that helps me know all will be well.

After all, everything I touch becomes a success.

Our Own Worst Enemy

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There has been a rash of car thefts in my neighborhood lately. I’d be a bit more concerned about the safety of my area if I didn’t know that in almost every case, the stolen car had been left outside unlocked and with the keys inside. These car owners are practically inviting a car thief to help himself to their vehicles!

In so many ways, human beings are their own worst enemies. We willfully do things we know to be unhealthy or dangerous – to the point that the state has to pass laws protecting us from ourselves. Seatbelt laws and newer ones banning cell phone use and texting are evidence that we just don’t know what is good for us.

Another thing I see a lot of is people pumping gas with a cell phone to their ear. Have they not heard of static sparks igniting a fire. And speaking of igniting things, how can anyone in this day and age take up the habit of smoking? I truly feel for older adults who became hooked on nicotine before we knew the dangers inherent in smoking. Nowadays, though, when I see a teenager smoking, I just shake my head in wonder. Are their heads in the sand? Did they not see the diseased lungs during their D.A.R.E. lessons?

To top it off, vaping has become a craze among teens. Flavored substances make vaping attractive to kids, despite the fact that they are still getting hits of nicotine (and sometimes other substances). Recent illnesses and deaths due to vaping have made using the product even more scary. But do you think a photo of a teenaged kid on a ventilator due to a vaping-related illness will stop anyone from picking up a Juul? Fat chance.

What is it about human nature that makes us our own worst enemies? Is it our pleasure-seeking id that seeks only its own gratification? Do we have a sense that we’re immortal until it’s proven to use dramatically that we’re not?

I myself am not immune from the tendency to act against my own interests. Despite mounting evidence that sugar is a cause of many modern health problems, I can’t seem to quit the stuff. The problem is that if I eat a sugary, fatty donut, I don’t immediately keel over with a heart attack. Those smokers and vapers and gas-pumping cell phone users have performed those actions numerous times without dropping dead or setting themselves aflame.

I guess we’re our own worst enemies because danger seems abstract when it is not right in our faces. The chances of a thief selecting my car out of all the other cars in town to steal seems remote. Still, I won’t take any chances. I’ll choose to learn from the mistakes of others and lock it up tight.

 

Summer Cold

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It started earlier this week when my husband had a runny nose and nonstop sneezing. Sure that it was his allergies, he was disappointed in the failure of Claritin D to stop the onslaught. Then that evening, I started to feel it: the telltale tickle in the back of my throat that signaled an oncoming cold. Allergies indeed.

Having a summer cold is a strange phenomenon. While everyone is out and about on a beautiful sunny day, I am stuck on the couch with a box of tissues. Colds make sense in the depth of winter when the sun hasn’t been seen for days and the air is frigid. Then it seems appealing to have a cup of hot tea with honey or a nice bowl of chicken noodle soup. But since it’s sunny and warm these days, I’ve been using cold food and beverages – mostly water, but also the occasional bowl of ice cream – to assuage my sore throat.

I had all kinds of plans for cooking my son’s favorite dishes before he returns to college in a week. But since I look and sound like a plague victim, it seems unsafe to be handling food. And I had also planned to watch my daughter play soccer on this lovely morning, rare for August in Chicago, when the temps are moderate and the humidity low. But the weight I felt on my chest this morning when I woke up told me it would be best to get some extra rest.

Summer colds are a drag – unexpected, unpleasant, and inconvenient. In the scheme of things, I guess, my little cold is no big deal. With all my downtime, I’ve been reading a novel about a virus that turns people into vampires, creatures that the futuristic characters in the book call “virals.” In comparison, my bout of sneezing and sniffles seems like a summer breeze.

 

Bad News on Bingeing

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2016-11-28-1480351093-5664005-themarysue_gilmoregirls-656x353For some reason, I find summertime to be a great season for binge-watching my favorite shows. During the school year while my kids are busy with their full schedules, lounging around and watching TV seems too decadent. I try to be as productive on the home front as they are at school. But in the summer, while they oil themselves up and head to the pool, I’m happy to revisit my favorite series Gilmore Girls for the umpteenth time.

But today I read some distressing news. Studies are revealing the adverse health effects of bingeing on video content. Spending hours in front of screens can lead to vision and sleep problems, deep vein thrombosis, and obesity from all the sitting and eating. Nothing in the report was all that shocking, yet seeing it in black and white brought home to me how damaging my habit can actually be.

Ironically, summer is also when the weather is often fine and suitable for more active pursuits. I have increased the frequency and duration of my daily walks lately. And the summer sun brings cheer that makes me more energetic about household tasks.

Medical experts suggest that if you want to binge watch a show, you should get up often to take breaks, stretch, throw in a load of laundry, walk the dog. You should also prepare healthy snacks to eat while bingeing, such as cut up vegetables and air-popped popcorn. Luckily for me, I still have one child at home, so I’m regularly getting up to help her find missing items, trudge upstairs to wake her up, or do her mountains of sweaty soccer-related laundry.

My husband is fond of saying, “Sitting is the new smoking.” It’s a good reminder that as much as I’d like to hang out with Lorelai and Rory Gilmore all day, I need to be active and productive. That way, at the end of the day, I can feel tired and accomplished and feel justified in enjoying a couple of episodes of my favorite show. Those Gilmore girls aren’t going anywhere, after all.

 

How Sweet It Is!

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I’m sorry to say that after giving up dessert for the 40 days of Lent, I haven’t lost my sweet tooth. On the eve of Easter, I can almost taste those dark chocolate marshmallow eggs I crave.

I was really hoping I’d lose my taste for sugar, villain number one according to the latest nutritional advice. It’s sugar, we are increasingly being told, not fat, that we should be avoiding. And I think that’s because as with many things in life, we take our love for sweetness too far.

In the olden days, sugar was a luxury item. It was used sparingly to sweeten coffee or tea. Mother might bake a cake for a special occasion, but people otherwise didn’t get much refined sugar in their diets. In wartime, sugar was one of the things that was rationed.

But as modern technology made all kinds of convenience foods available and cheap, sugary foods and drinks became ubiquitous. One of the biggest sources of calories in the American diet comes from soda pop, which is loaded with sugar. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in particular is a molecularly altered sugar that is believed to interact in harmful ways with the human body. (Thanks for that science-y info, cousin Trish!) And HFCS is the main ingredient in most sodas.

And switching to diet drinks does not seem to help people lose weight in the long run. I think that’s because the artificial sweeteners still make us crave sugar. And I think that is behind my annual failure to curb my sweet tooth during Lent. Not having banished all sugar from my diet, I still want it.

Sugar is synonymous with fun and celebration. Every party features sweets: from birthday cakes to Christmas cookies to Easter candy. When I was a child, in the evening while we watched TV we were allowed to pick out a candy bar for “treat time.” Dessert was always the reward for having eaten those horrible green beans. Sweets are the stuff of childhood dreams. Why else would Roald Dahl have written the fantasy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Why else would the Brothers Grimm imagine a candy-studded gingerbread house to lure the unsuspecting Hansel and Gretel into the witch’s clutches?

Tomorrow the Easter Bunny will leave some delicious chocolate at our house. Luckily, the treats the Bunny brings are far too pricey for me to wolf down in one sitting. So I’ll pace myself (and share with the family). I may never conquer my sweet tooth, but let’s hope my Lenten abstinence from them will help me better appreciate the delights of sugar.

As Shakespeare would say, “Sweets to the sweet!”

Just Say No to Teenage Drinking

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Teens-Drinking-at-a-PartyThis morning’s Chicago Tribune had an article about New Trier officials’ alarm at the increase in binge drinking by their students, as reported anonymously in a survey the students complete annually to gauge teenage health and safety. As national underage drinking rates go down, New Trier’s has gone up.

Recently my teenage daughter told me she wished my husband and I were more “cool” about underage drinking. Apparently many teens’ parents tolerate and even expect a certain amount of drinking on the part of their high school kids. Many parents reason that it’s safer to have kids drink under their supervision. They feel it will lead to more responsible drinking in college.

But as New Trier assistant superintendent says, “All of the research shows it doesn’t work that way.” (“New Trier officials: Binge drinking grew exponentially,” Chicago Tribune, March 11, 2019) According to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, “Adolescents who attend parties where parents supply alcohol are at increased risk for heavy episodic drinking, alcohol-related problems, and drinking and driving.” (Celia Vimont, drugfree.org, Oct. 1, 2014)

It’s difficult as a parent to take a hard line on the issue of teen drinking. Our culture is very accepting of it, popular movies depict it, and it has come to be seen almost as a rite of passage for teenagers. And teens can find ways of sneaking alcohol unbeknownst to even the most vigilant parents. Yet the research is clear. As Stevenson High School’s substance abuse prevention coordinator Cristina Cortesi states, “We know all of the studies find the number one reason kids don’t use [alcohol] is their parents.” (Tribune, March 11, 2019)

As parents, we want our children to be happy and healthy. In the short term, our teens may hate us for holding the line on teenage drinking. But we need to take the long view and realize that it is their prosperous and happy future that should be our goal.