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parenting

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By Daniel Dunaief

When we are born, the experience is passive, as we don’t suddenly decide, despite what our families might tell us later about how we couldn’t wait to see the world, that it’s time to leave the womb.

Similarly, once we’re outside, we don’t make many choices. We can’t say, “Milk? Again? You don’t have orange juice or maybe a chocolate milkshake?”

The people around us, the customs that define our days and years, the languages we speak and many other factors that shape who we are remain outside our control.

Definitions of normal vary by our circumstances. People who share a single room and one bathroom with four siblings and those with four dogs, three cats, and two parakeets typically accept the conditions around them.

“Everyone has a crazy Uncle Allen and a chatty Aunt Dorothy,” they think. Or, perhaps, “everyone shops for a new wardrobe each year before the start of a school year” or “doesn’t everyone run three miles before breakfast every morning?”

And then, in the journey through life, we get a window into the lives of other people.

When our daughter was about four years old, she visited a friend, who, our daughter reported, drank soda with breakfast and ate candy as a post breakfast snack. “I like soda,” our daughter declared after the playdate. “Why can’t I have it with breakfast, too?”

It’s not just visits to other homes that become eye-opening experiences: we read about people, watch dramas about their lives, and get a sense of what we think we might strive for or reject in our expanding world.

We and our children see our families in a completely different light when we have the opportunity to compare them to the world outside. Sometimes, we not only measure up, but we exceed the limitations of other people’s lives. Our children might, for example, spend time with parents who pay little to no attention to their sons and daughters, barely aware of their comings and goings.

At that point, our helicopter parenting, which made them gnash their teeth every time we asked for more details about the events of their day, upcoming tests, school dances, or tryouts for school plays, might seem considerably less unbearable or even, dare I say it, charming.

Other times, we fall short in ways that even our children recognize is well outside the experience of most people. Some of their friends’ parents might own private jets, have a spare house on the lake, or have season tickets near the front row to watch one of their favorite teams.

Despite the id-driven desire to have similar life amenities, our children, sooner or later, recognize that they shouldn’t expect such lavish luxuries, even if they secretly, or, perhaps, not so secretly, hope to attain them.

And then there are the times when the world outside the family seems like the kind of easy-going, light-hearted, jovial tv show in which they’d like to star as the plucky but successful child.

During those moments, we can ask some questions about what they want or wish for that they don’t have, or that, perhaps, they find too cumbersome. Yes, we tell them, we really are related to that wacky Uncle Allen, but that doesn’t mean our children are going to become like him or that he has no redeeming qualities. Indeed, the search for redeeming qualities in everyone, starting with our own extended family, may help re-inflate our disappointed children.

If the head-to-head match up leaves them wanting something else, we have other options. We can suggest that no one will ever love or appreciate them as much as we do.

We can also suggest that they can use their desire for something more or different to inspire them to work hard for it and to find it for themselves and, if they choose to have one, for their own families.

Hopefully, our children can recognize that, on balance, the things that they considered givens — material, cultural, ethical and otherwise — didn’t drop from the sky, but came from hard work and the best of intentions.

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

When our children were young, we tried the Ferber method to encourage them to put themselves to sleep.

No, we didn’t abandon them in their room and return six hours later with a smile and a wink. We walked out of the room, told them to go to bed, and slowly extended the time before we returned.

It worked, although the complaints sometimes frayed our nerves to the point where we would argue about who drank the last of the milk, and I can’t even drink milk.

When the children got sick, all bets were off. Walking out of the room when they couldn’t breathe, when they had toxic sludge coming out of one or both ends, and when they had a fever was not an option for us, no matter how little sleep we’d had the night, week, or month before.

Once they recovered from their illness, however, we had to go back to the gradual Ferber method again, as they seemed to have forgotten that they might not need anything from us and that they should just close their eyes and go to sleep.

Parenting in the wake of the pandemic is a little like trying to figure out what role to play after the world has been sick for a few years and when we had to adapt whatever parenting rules we had established.

Do we tell them to “suck it up,” to “fend for themselves,” and to “tough it out,” or do we continue to offer support after they, and we, endured a new set of rules designed to keep us safe in the long term, but that caused all kinds of frustration in the shorter term?

Parenting always seems to have more questions than answers, but the number of questions and the frequency with which we ask them seems to have increased.

Indeed, even as our children have reached the age when we no longer have to strain our backs to make sure they don’t walk too close to the edge of a pool or to a rough surf, we still wonder what role, and how aggressively and consistently, we should play after the pandemic.

How many times have we wanted to agree with them in the last few years when they complained that “this isn’t fair?” Offering the reply, “who said life was fair,” didn’t seem appropriate, sympathetic or understanding. That response would only reinforce the reality that a year without graduation, proms, or downtime that didn’t involve a phone or a Monopoly board was definitely not fair.

Recently, I chatted with a parent in my neighborhood whom I haven’t seen in months. Within seconds, she shared her son’s recent tale of woe. Returning to the soccer field, he injured his leg badly enough that he’ll likely be out of action for soccer and several other sports for the next six months.

That, she said, is heartbreaking on top of all the time he missed on the field.

Amid all the concern for his physical well-being, she shared her worry about his mental health. She reached out to psychiatrist and psychologist friends, hoping to find someone with whom he might talk about yet another interruption in his plans to enjoy participating in a team sport.

To her dismay, she found that the mental health care system is as overburdened as the physical one was during the worst of the pandemic. Concerned about the context for her son’s life, she has dialed back her urge to encourage him to return to school on crutches, standing at the ready to bring him home whenever he feels physically and emotionally overwhelmed.

I completely understand that. At the same time, I wonder if and when we might deploy a safe Ferber-style approach after all the disruption of the last few years.

Coolsmiles Orthodontics in Port Jeff is hosting an event aimed at examining the causes and identifying solutions for bullying. Stock photo

Orthodontists are usually tasked with improving young peoples’ smiles, but the partners of a Port Jefferson practice are taking patient well-being a step further.

Coolsmiles Orthodontics in Port Jefferson is sponsoring an event entitled “End Bullying Now: Here’s How” at 7 p.m. Nov. 5 at Port Jefferson Village Center, a lecture that will be conducted by Jessie Klein, an associate professor of sociology at Adelphi University and author of the 2012 book “The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America’s Schools.”

The practice will cover the cost of renting the space for the forum and hiring Klein, and the event is open to the public free of charge.

Dr. David Amram, one of the practice’s partners along with Dr. Justin Ohnigan, said he has always viewed his job as not only improving patients’ teeth, but also impacting their overall self-esteem and well-being as a whole.

“When I was younger I had a really great relationship with my orthodontist,” Amram said, which has led him to view his responsibility as broader than just teeth. “I realized what kind of impact that [self-esteem] change could have on an individual.”

Amram said the practice regularly has discussions about trips and events it should sponsor that are meant to foster positivity and build relationships with the families who visit Coolsmiles, like outings to Long Island Ducks baseball games and other similar events and trips. He said the practice’s exposure to dozens of kids everyday inspired them to tailor an event around an anti-bullying message. He shared a story from a young patient that he said has stuck with him.

“One kid asked for a specific kind of jacket for the holidays, he wanted the jacket and he was wearing it, and then it was gone,” Amram recalled. He said the child explained he stopped wearing the jacket he couldn’t wait to get because other kids made fun of it. “I saw that in him and it was heartbreaking … The need for this kind of thing is striking.”

Klein said she is still in the process of planning how the event will actually play out, but summed up the theme as a look at what goes on in society to encourage that kind of behavior from bullies from a psychological and sociological perspective, and to examine ways to foster a more compassionate society. She said she hopes the forum inspires parents to talk to their kids whether they’re being bullied or displaying signs they may be bullies themselves. She called bullying a national epidemic and said more federal and state resources need to be directed toward prevention of the problem, rather than punitive responses and more security to stave off possible school shootings.

“You really need everybody on board with the same message,” she said. Klein commended Coolsmiles for taking on the responsibility of community betterment from the private sector, and setting an example for others, calling their decision to host the event beautiful and positive. “Them stepping up like that is exactly what is needed.”

Those interested in attending can RSVP by email to [email protected] or by calling 631-289-0909 by Oct. 25.

Is driving uninspiring for the next generation?

My daughter recently got her license and my son is attending driver’s education classes so he can join his sister behind the wheel. This should be cause for celebration for them, right? Nope.

When I ask my daughter if she wants to drive somewhere, she often shrugs and says, “Nah, that’s OK, you can drive.”

I recently took a long drive with my son, where I pointed out the magnificent trees along the side of the road and where I couldn’t help noticing the license plates of cars from Alaska, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and Oregon, just to name a few.

“Dad,” my son interjected, after the pitch of my voice rose when I saw the one from Alaska, “you really like license plates.”

No, he doesn’t get it, just as I don’t get his generation.

When I got my license, I couldn’t wait to visit my friends, to go to the movies, to drive to West Meadow Beach where I had spent so much of my time walking, jogging or biking. Driving meant I no longer had to count the curves until I was at the beach. I could also exhaust myself in the waves and run out to the end of the magnificent sandbar, which seemed to stretch halfway to Connecticut, without worrying about leaving the beach before sunset so I could get home in the light.

I could also offer to pick up my friends. I could drive to their houses, knock on their doors, show off my license to their parents and then laugh my way into the car with a friend, who would turn on the radio to music. It wasn’t the boring nonstop news stations that my parents listened to — and which I now play in the car when I’m alone.

I could drive to The Good Steer in Lake Grove and meet someone for a burger and a mountain of onion rings. I could make the car as hot or cold as I wanted. A driver’s license meant independence, freedom and maturity. I didn’t have to wait for anyone.

But, no, my children and, from what I understand, many kids just aren’t as enthralled with the opportunity to get a license. For starters, as we have told them endlessly from the time we handed them their first wonderful-terrible device, they can’t use their cellphones when they are driving.

When we drive, they can ignore the road signs and street signs. They don’t have to search the side of the road for deer, turtles or the rare and exciting fox. They can chat with their friends, who are similarly indifferent to their immediate surroundings, while the car, driven by someone else, magically carries them to their next destination.

We must have taken them to so many places where they wanted to go that they had no great urge to get behind the wheel and drive themselves. I know my mom was a chauffeur, too, driving the three of us hither and yon, but maybe we haven’t said to our children, “You can go when you can drive,” often enough.

Maybe all the FaceTime and Skype time means that they can see and laugh with their friends without leaving the comfort of their home. They can’t bowl, see a movie or drink an Orange Julius, but they can hang out together while being in different places.

Access to Uber and Lyft may also have reduced the need for them to drive.

Then again, maybe it’s much simpler than that. I recently asked my son why he wasn’t more excited about driving.

“Because,” he sighed, “when I get my license, you’ll ask me to do stuff.”

Pencils, notebooks, batteries, calculators, binders, blah, blah, blah. The back-to-school shopping list, after more than a dozen years, becomes tedious. Or, maybe, it’s just that teenagers turn shopping for anything into a toxic brew of frustration, impatience, and we-know-better-but-we-still-want-you-to-get-involved-too experiences.

This year, in addition to all those standard school supplies, I’d like to shop for a collection of unconventional stickers or messages to put on the breakfast table — assuming the kids have breakfast — or in the bathroom, that they can read each day. How about:

“No, she doesn’t hate you.” Your teacher may have had a bad day and she may have a difference of opinion with you, but the chance that she hates you isn’t all that high.

“There is no such thing as ‘fake homework.’” It’d be nice not to have to do some subjects, but falling behind creates more work tomorrow, when you’ll be even more exhausted.

“Turn off your phone.” Yes, you might need the phone for homework, but you spend way too much time pretending to do homework on it while you’re killing virtual people or sending pictures of yourself to the world.

“Take a shower.” You smell, you’ll get away from your homework or job for a few minutes and you’ll make everyone else’s lives better after you no longer smell like a locker room.

“Smile, even if you don’t feel like it.” It’s amazing how much better you and everyone else will feel if and when you stop scowling.

“Don’t write in all CAPS!” It’s annoying and it makes you look like you want to shout.

“Yes, I’m sure he’s your brother.” We brought both of you home from the hospital and we intend to keep both of you.

“Neatness counts.” This is true at home and at school.

“Don’t waste too much time today.” Yeah, we all know that we won’t be efficient all the time. How about if we strive for less inefficiency today?

“Say something nice.” That is, to someone other than your best friend(s).

“Assume Santa Claus is watching you today.” Kids get presents regardless of whether they’ve been naughty or nice, which leads them to believe the song about Santa watching all the time is wrong. They may, however, suspect that he could focus on a few times or days. Today could be one of those days

“No, everyone is not an idiot.” Not even you.

“Laugh with someone more than at someone.”

“Clean up this crap.” You made a mess and you can clean it up, even if it’s more fun to watch a parent do it.

“Even if no one else knows, you’ll know.” Isn’t that enough?

“Everything might not matter, but something should.”

“Close the door and scream.” Shouting can release tension.

“Make more mistakes today.” Your errors present opportunities to learn.

“If you feel like you’re falling asleep when you shouldn’t, ask a question.” And no, it shouldn’t be, “Will this be on the test?”

“Your ideas are fine. Your breath could use improvement.”

“Yes, we have to have winter again.”

“Are you sure you want to cross that line again today?”

“Do you really believe your own argument?”

“Are you sharing more with strangers than family?”

“Try to say ‘please’ out loud as often as you send an instant message.”

“Yes, that clock is accurate, so move along.”

“Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true or false. It could be both.”

“Help someone other than yourself today.”

Maybe a few of these stickers will make a teenager’s world and those of us who live around it into something that smells better, is neater and contains a few extra social graces. Then again, perhaps aiming lower, a sticker could suggest:

“Try not to roll your eyes when you read this.”

From the time we’re teenagers, we’re taught to control our emotions. As we get older, people tell us not to make emotional decisions.

We see our emotions, particularly the ones in the moment, as being at odds with the rational decision-making side of our thought processes.

We roll our eyes and shake our heads when a teenager makes decisions or declarations that seem driven more by the hormones surging through their growing bodies than by the intellect we hope they’ve developed.

And yet, every so often, we and our teenagers take those raw emotions out for a few hours or even days.

This past weekend, my wife and I did our periodic Texas two-step, where she brought our son to his baseball game in one state and I drove hundreds of miles to our daughter’s volleyball tournament in another.

The journey involves considerable effort, finding food that doesn’t upset allergies or sensitive stomachs at a time when indigestion or a poorly timed pit stop could derail the day.

The games themselves are filled with a wide range of emotions, as a player’s confidence and ability can rise and fall quickly from one point to the next, with slumping shoulders quickly replaced by ecstatic high fives.

In the stands and outside the lines, the emotional echoes continue to reverberate.

One girl sat next to her father, sobbing uncontrollably with her ankle high on the chair in front of her. Her father put his arm around her shoulders and spoke quiet, encouraging words into her ear. Her coach came over, in front of a stand filled with strangers, and said the girl would be able to play the next day as soon as the swelling in her ankle went down — the coach didn’t want to risk further injury. The girl nodded that she heard her coach, but couldn’t stop the torrent of tears.

Not far from her, a mother seethed as her daughter missed a shot. The mother was angry, defensive and, eventually, apologetic to the parents of the other players for her daughter’s performance. Other parents assured her that it was fine and that everyone could see her daughter was trying her best.

Another parent hooted and hollered, clapping long after the point ended, as her daughter rose above her diminutive frame to hit the ball around a group of much taller girls.

Many of the emotional moments included unbridled joy, as a group of girls continued to embrace each other after winning a tough match, replaying point after point and laughing about the time the ball hit them in the head or they collided with a teammate on the floor.

What will they remember next week, next month or in 20 years? Will it be satisfying when they find a picture of a younger version of themselves, beaming from ear to ear with girls they may not have seen for many years?

Even if they do think about one particular point or a strategic decision that paid off in a game against talented competition, they will also remember where and how they expressed those raw, dramatic emotions.

While feelings can get in the way of whatever grand plan we’re executing in our head, holding us back from
taking a risk or preventing us from showing how much we care, they can and do enhance the way we experience our lives. Despite all the work driving behind slow-moving vehicles which take wide right turns and encourage you to call a number to let someone know how they’re driving, the effort — even when the event doesn’t turn out as well as we might hope — is well worth the opportunity to drop the mask and indulge those emotions.

From the time I was a young girl, I wanted to be a mother. The urge to hold and to love a baby, my baby, was a conscious one. I also had professional ambitions, so in those days, before women expected to be able to do it all, there was a bit of a conflict in my head. Curiously, while I don’t remember telling anyone about my maternal urges, I did mention it on my first date to the man I eventually married. He told me that he too looked forward to having children, so the rest is history.

When I did have my first child, I was quietly terrified. I was the caboose child in my parents’ families, meaning that my parents were older, and everyone in my generation was already born before I came on the scene. There were no babies for me to practice on, I had never given a baby a bottle nor changed a diaper, and I was afraid I was inadvertently going to do some terrible harm to a helpless infant. It wasn’t until the baby’s one-month checkup, when the pediatrician exalted about how his development — size and weight — were “off the charts,” that I began to relax and believe the baby would survive my ignorance.

After that the parenting urge was so fulfilling that we did it twice more in record time. Judging from my friends’ tales of their children, we had it easy with three boys. They were exceedingly energetic but never moody, didn’t hold a grudge for more than three minutes, weren’t particular about what clothes they wore and could be entertained with a generous supply of miniature trucks on rainy, “indoor” days or any ball game on “outside” days. Baseball on our dead end street was their favorite, and I became a pretty good pitcher, if I do say so myself.

They didn’t much like it when I started the first newspaper and was away from the house a great deal. They were all in elementary school by that point and they came to accept the new arrangement, even were infrequently pleased with my new occupation. And since my office was only some five minutes from the house and three minutes from their school, I felt I could get to them quickly if they needed me. I was able to look in on them in the course of each day. In fact, I had more trouble convincing my mother than my
children that it was acceptable to work both inside and outside the home. I just could never understand how all three unfailingly picked friends who lived on the farthest ends of the school district and had to be driven back and forth. That and the constant car pooling for games and music lessons made me grateful that I had learned to drive — not a typical skill among my urban classmates when I was growing up.

I weathered their teenage years as best I could, sometimes marveling that only my children could make me scream (and my mother). At the same time, my husband and I vicariously enjoyed the children’s various successes: academic, musical and athletic. They were blossoming into young adults and we were regularly irritated by them and immensely proud of them.

As the children reached their later teenage years, the family dynamic shifted. My husband was terminally ill, and the children were forced to deal with death. My mother and my father had both passed on by then, and the boys had been deeply touched by their loss, but the death of a parent at a far younger age than expected for either their father or themselves struck me as a cruel trick. Somehow we had not lived up to our part of the parenting contract.

I guess that was when my children started to become my friends. It probably would have happened around that age anyway, but we became allies in the face of adversity. And then life’s wonderful joys unfurled. … They graduated, got jobs, found their loved ones and eventually made me a grandmother. That’s a club one can’t apply to oneself, but having arrived there, I can endlessly sing its praises.

Bottom line: How ultimately satisfying it is for me to be a mom.

I looked around the packed

Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia this past weekend. Let’s face it, I and — more importantly — my genes, fell short.

It’s not necessarily a character flaw, but it’s not exactly the kind of advantage I’d want to give my children.

There I was, cheering on my vertically challenged daughter in a game where height matters. Despite her stature, she has developed a royal passion for volleyball. The perpetual smile that crosses her face when she steps across the lines makes it all worthwhile, despite the effort, the expense, the endless attempts to get the stink out of her knee pads — and the driving through horrific traffic.

She couldn’t be happier than when she’s throwing her small body around the floor, trying to get to some giant’s smash that seemed only a moment earlier out of her reach.

When you have children, you want them to find their way, to develop outlets that they find rewarding and to contribute to something bigger than they are.

Sports, I know, don’t cure disease. And yet, somehow, it’s become part of the American way, with people flying, driving and caravanning from all over the country to play in competitive tournaments where, if they succeed, they can get enough points to make it to nationals.

So, there we were, listening to whistle after whistle at this volleyball attention-deficit-disorder factory when it occurred to me how my genes did my daughter no great favors. Many of the fathers towered over me. If I lived in a land where food were placed near the ceiling, I and my offspring would starve.

My mother played volleyball when she was younger. She was tallish for her generation. I played volleyball as well, although not nearly at the competitive level that has taken my daughter to places around the area, including Penn State.

While my daughter is involved in numerous activities inside and outside school, it is volleyball that tops the list. When we go on vacation anywhere, the first thing she looks for is a place to play volleyball.

As I watched her warm up for the third match of the day, I chatted with some of the parents from Virginia, Texas and Arizona that we met this past weekend. After some pleasantries about the event, the conversation inevitably turned toward the identity of our daughters.

I could see the satisfaction they felt at pointing out their children from across the convention center floor. “My daughter is the one ducking her head down to walk under the exit sign over there.” “My daughter? She’s just a hair over 6 feet tall, but she’s still growing. How about you?”

I’d smile sheepishly. “My daughter is in the middle of her teammates over there.”

“Where?” they’d ask politely.

“She’s No. 9.”

They’d squint into the group. Just then, my daughter would laugh her way to the outside of a circle of girls that looked like a group of gnats, diving in and out of the center of a circle of joy.

Then again, as I watched her throw herself across the floor, I thought about the match between her personality and the role she plays in this sport. Sure, it’d be easier for her to stand out if she were taller. But, given her need to defy expectations, she’d probably want to be a jockey if she were 6 feet tall.

As the weekend came to a close, I asked her if she wished she could play volleyball every day. “Of course,” she said.

“Can you imagine having a job one day that made you feel that way?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she smiled, trying to imagine a job that fits her interests as well as volleyball.

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File photo

Parents of Port Jefferson School District students rejoice.

With the implementation of a new smartphone application for parents in the district called Here Comes the Bus, those waiting to meet their kids when they’re dropped off by the school bus in the afternoon, or waiting to be picked up by the bus in the morning, can now do so within the comfort of their own homes, instead of on a cold street corner.

An image from the Apple version of the app.

The service was kicked off Nov. 1 for high school and middle school bus routes, with availability for parents of elementary students to come at a later date, according to the district. Users of the app can see the location of their child’s bus both before and after school, confirm that their child’s bus has arrived at the bus stop, at school or both, and also can sign up to receive a push notification or email message when the bus is near their stop, has been substituted, or when the district has important information to relay.

“You will have the information you need to send your children to the bus stop at just the right time, helping to protect them from inclement weather and other roadside dangers,” the district said in an email that went out to parents last week. “What’s more, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your children haven’t missed the bus.”

The GPS-tracking technology is currently only available for regular inbound and outbound buses at the beginning and end of the school day at the present time. The Here Comes the Bus app can be downloaded and used for free through Apple’s app store or on Google Play. Before use, the app requires that parents verify they are a parent of a student in the Port Jeff district by entering their student’s school identification number, and a five-digit code provided by the district to ensure buses can’t be tracked by anyone other than parents or the district.

“My kids ride a bus that is sometimes late as it drops the middle school and high school after school activities participants off first,” said Brenda Eimers Batter, a parent in the district, in a Facebook message. “It would be nice to be able to track when they are coming around the bend so I don’t have to stand outside in the rain or cold.”

“My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

— Laura Dunbar Zimmerman

Another parent who used the service Nov. 6 gave it rave reviews.

“Love it!!” Laura Dunbar Zimmerman said. “My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

Kathleen Brennan, president of the Port Jeff board of education, said during a phone interview the board was first made aware of the technology through the bus company.

“We thought it would be a benefit for parents and caregivers of students to be able to know when the bus is getting to the neighborhood, and if the bus is delayed they’d be aware of it also,” she said. “I think it’s a great safety feature and a great time saver.”

The application is available in English, Spanish and French. Those with questions about Here Comes the Bus for Port Jeff district can call 631-791-4261 or visit www.help.herecomesthebus.com/en/support/home.

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The recently aired story of Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle forcefully reminded me of my mother. I was probably thinking of my mother, since it would have been her birthday this past Monday. She was born in 1906, one year after Prince John. The sixth and last child of the then-Prince of Wales and Mary — by 1910, King George V and Queen Mary — young John was a handsome but unusually rambunctious member of the House of Windsor. That may have had something to due with his diagnosis of epilepsy at age 4.

From that time, Prince John lived increasingly out of public view, looked after by a governess, and there are no official portraits of him after age 8. He died from a severe seizure when he was just 13 years old. Only then was his illness disclosed to the general public along with his learning disability, and on some official family trees of the royals his name was erased altogether.

It was not at all unusual at that time and through much of the ensuing 20th century for families to hide their imperfect children. Often those were separated from their families and sent to institutions, where they died, perhaps from inattention or wanton neglect. Another such prominent family with a less-than-perfect child was that of Arthur Miller, the acclaimed writer of morality plays. He and his third wife had a mentally retarded son who was separated from his parents and sister, given over to the care of an older, childless couple and barely acknowledged, an apparent embarrassment to his cerebral father.

Into this world my younger sister, Maxine, was born in 1942. She was diagnosed with Down syndrome almost immediately, and my mother’s highly regarded New York City obstetrician advised my parents to “do yourselves a favor and throw her into the nearest garbage can.” We live in an entirely different world today, made so by much of the investigative reporting of journalists like Geraldo Rivera and his expose of terrible and unconscionable conditions at the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island in the 1970s. The courageous outing of their disabled sister by the Kennedys in the 1960s was also a transformative moment in this change from hiding away children with handicaps to helping them develop as humans entitled to their lives.

Fully supported in her decision by my father, my mother fiercely insisted that my sister had every right to be loved and brought up alongside her other two children. She then devoted the rest of her life to caring for and teaching Maxine to the extent possible.

There were no public schools to help the mentally challenged at the time any more than there were facilities to aid those with physical disabilities. But my mother, with infinite patience, taught my “profoundly retarded” (that was her diagnosis) sister to read and do simple arithmetic on perhaps a second-grade level. In addition, Maxine was accepted into a private school for those with disabilities run by the Catholic Church in Brooklyn, which further helped her development.

My sister was a delightful member of our family with a wickedly good sense of humor and a heart full of kindness and love. She enriched all our lives and lived until 2008, something of a record for those with Down syndrome.

Maxine was unlucky to be born with a severe disability and in the first half of the 20th century. But she was incredibly lucky to have my father and mother as her parents. My mother completely ignored the stares of passersby on the streets and on the buses of New York who had never before seen a person with Down syndrome. She valiantly withstood the ire of her sisters, who emotionally urged her to “put Maxine away,” the euphemistic phrase for institutionalizing, because she would ruin the good marriage prospects of the next generation if she were seen. And she integrated Maxine into her daily life to the edification of the neighborhood, whose residents came to greatly respect my parents and enjoy Maxine.

Happy Birthday, Mom.