Family ties through music

Recently I attended a wedding of a friend at church, followed by the customary reception. After a delightful meal, some charming innovations to commemorate the occasion and the cutting of the cake, there followed hours of dancing, slow and fast, as also is customary. What struck me in this quite ordinary and conventional setting was how a kind of folk music has returned to our society that had been practically banished long ago by the popularity of ballroom dancing with the waltz, foxtrot and two-step and the decline of what was called folk dancing, not to mention square dancing. The latter are by no means dead but it would be inaccurate to say that their appeal had not been eclipsed by the dancing of couples as distinguished from larger groupings. As a children, many of us developed a decided prejudice against folk dancing as quite beyond the pale, for squares and old fogies. But those who have attended ethnic weddings, as we tend to call them, particularly Jewish and Greek (or just seen movies), experience, if only vicariously, group dancing on as big a scale as the number of people in attendance will encourage. Young and old, "cool" and "uncool," will join hands and dance with abandon with no reservations about being out of place, or worse, mixing adult dancing with kid dancing. I still recall a comment made by a friend who suggested that we not object to loud, raucous music played by young people because it is "their" music. That divide always has bothered me.

However, partly because I am widowed and partly because I like the exercise, I have taken to the floor and "danced' for hours to whatever music was being played, occasionally but not often well, and enjoying it. (I just learned how to line dance too.) At the wedding last week I danced with my 30-something daughter and two teenagers from her church youth group and realized that it might just as well be a Jewish or Greek wedding, because adults were dancing with children and bonding by means of music. Indeed, the bride was holding a small child and dancing around the room, quite common these days. I realized that some of the music was the sort that I have long disdained, especially "rap," but because the occasion called for a sort of communal expression, I danced to whatever was playing.

I used to criticize the rather unstructured form of dancing that has become so popular, on the grounds that there were no partners per se. But that presupposed that the only legitimate form of dancing was the kind I grew up with. (Granted, growing up in the 1950s, as I did, meant learning to dance to rock 'n roll, etc.) As a parent I tried to impress upon my children the virtues of slow dancing, and that lesson has been learned well enough. But now I'm just having fun and glad that the generation gap can be bridged at least under the circumstances which originally threatened to foreclose that possibility. If it is natural for families and friends to bond, then nature has found a novel way to reassert itself. That's a gain.

Abortion stalks women every day

From time to time the issue of abortion is a matter for political controversy, but for women it is an issue every day. With 45 million abortions for the last 36 years, that is, 1,500,000 annually, 125,000 monthly, 28,846 weekly and 4,109 daily in this country. Those children could have been men and women who became mothers and fathers, employers and employees, civilians and soldiers, craftsmen and professionals, and so on. But abortion is an ever-present temptation, legal for all nine months of pregnancy for any reason.

Last year when I was on the campus of Barstow Community College, I encountered a small group of young people who identified themselves as Survivors, meaning they were born since January 22, 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade invalidated the laws of all 50 states with varying degrees of restrictions on abortion. The Court found them in violation of a recently discovered "right to privacy" that included the power to take human life in the womb.

These young people are alive because their mothers decided to bear them. Advocates of abortion emphasize that this decision is "personal," suggesting that no one should take that from women. But they ignore the fact that reassuring authority figures, from politicians to doctors, are pressuring them to "terminate" their pregnancies.

Take the case of M, who is pregnant with her first child, having waited nearly four years after marriage, but is having difficulty all during her pregnancy. Bed rest is prescribed, and the labor and delivery look to be yet another challenge. She is comfortably cared for in a hospital room that resembles a nursery, in which compassionate care givers want only what is best for her.

For those months of waiting the "choice" is gently proposed of avoiding all difficulty by a procedure which will eliminate the "problem" and postpone birth to some other pregnancy. But the young woman ignores the entreaties and goes ahead with 33 hours of labor and a difficult delivery anyway.

Then there is A, who has given birth in marriage, but that marriage is over and she has met another man who captures her heart but also gets her pregnant. There is no shame these days, it seems, in unwed pregnancy, but she is in the midst of her higher education and means to become a professional, a teacher it turns out. Abortion was a theoretical but not a real possibility for this young woman who, with the support of her family and church, gave this child up for adoption to a childless couple.

Finally, there is H, who has already given birth to two children and her husband has had a vasectomy so that their budget is not strained by another child. But, lo and behold, she learns that she is pregnant anyway, her husband’s timing being a little off. In a visit to her doctor she is told of a procedure known as amniocentesis, the results of which will tell her if hers is a healthy child and in particular whether it is a Downs Syndrome baby.

She surprises, nay, horrifies the doctor when she declares that she is not taking the test, for she is going to give birth to that child whatever its condition. The doctor can hardly believe what he is hearing and remonstrates with the young woman for not taking this "sensible" precaution. But H is adamant and when the doctor pushes back she says, "Go ahead and schedule the test but I won’t show up!"

The massive issue of abortion is dealt with every day by women such as these acting from their minds and hearts to do right by their children. But a powerful array of perhaps well-meaning but definitely misguided persons requires them to affirm what was rarely questioned in an allegedly less "enlightened" time. Then abortion was viewed as a criminal act that both threatened the health and life of the mother and was at war with her natural desire to give birth to a child.

Despite the legal status of abortion, abortionists are still not seen as respectable people, just as slave catchers were low on the list of possible friends despite centuries of legal slavery. "Law never made just what is by nature unjust," declared George Washington when speaking of Great Britain’s exploitation of colonists. Somehow, despite the easy choice of abortion, millions of women know that abortion is the wrong choice and refuse to make it. God bless them.

GOP must keep defending marriage

Standing up for your principles is as important as knowing what they are. That's a key post-election lesson for Republicans. After 2008 we’ve learned that we need to know who we are and then not betray the party faithful. But that also means we must be careful to choose wisely the principles we adhere to and defend. For political expediency, and to increase the size of the tent, our political leaders condone, and some even advocate, abandoning some long-standing social principles (i.e. Log Cabin Republicans). We should take pause and carefully consider our individual action or abstaining in this area. We must be thoughtful when we stand up and take ownership of this party.

Bending with the gale of social passions is something the left is comfortable doing. Power is their only purpose and the fuel with which to feed itself more power. They abandon any principle they feel will hamper their drive for complete social power. For example, in Ben Smith’s recent blog on civil unions and marriage, he writes how in a few short years, the political correctness of gay rights has moved dramatically ‘pro’ and become more socially acceptable. He writes:

“Here's a marker of the warp-speed change in the politics of same-sex marriage: Back in 2000, Howard Dean was a gay rights hero for signing a civil union measure -- forced on him by the courts -- into law. Four years later, civil unions are the fallback for the center-right, and Vermont is considering same-sex marriage, and Dean was campaigning for it in Burlington last weekend.”

Those who are agnostic with their social principles will continue to hammer on those who are not. Why should anyone take a stand and go against the tide of social convenience? Because it matters.

Teacher's Desk: Shape Up, Parents

I keep telling myself I like my job and love my students, but when the weather is mild, students’ behavior gets wild. And boy, could I use a mental health day today. I awoke this morning with a bad case of crabbiness, but unlike regular public school teachers who get ten sick days and five personal days a year, I came in. I only get five days for both personal needs and illness. I used three already because I needed two for the Jewish holidays. I understand that I work with at-risk youth, but I also know many of their parents. If these nice folks knew how disrespectful these adolescents act toward adults, I’m sure most of them would be very embarrassed.

I’m as guilty as many supporters of charter schools and vouchers about blaming poor instruction for the sorry state of not only Colorado’s but America’s declining student achievement. That is really not fair to many teachers. What I haven’t alluded to enough is the shabby habits of many of our students’ parents. Shut the television off. Turn off the video game. Give your child a healthy dinner and conversation. De-clutter a desk or table, so he has space to do homework. Ask him to show you his homework. Don’t make your teenager babysit a younger sibling and miss school. Set up doctor and dental appointments after school. Keep the iPod at home. Don’t call him on his cell phone in the middle of the day. Use the school telephone. Call his teacher regularly. Show up for parent/teacher conferences. Provide money for lunch, or better yet---make him lunch. Make your child go to bed at a reasonable time, and make sure he gets to school on time in the morning. I’m sorry if you are a single parent. I’m sorry if you are here illegally and cannot speak or understand English well. I’m sorry if you, yourself, were a high school drop out; if you are not going to be responsible in properly raising your offspring, then don’t have them. I know that sounds really harsh (I warned you I was crabby!).

Good parenting includes continuing to parent during the high school years. I know some of these young adults wear parents down, so some parents are just counting the days until the fledgling leaves the nest! But poor parenting while your child was younger had considerable effect on his behavior now. Your young adult or your small child does not need another friend. He needs a parent. He needs someone to model reasonable behavior. He needs someone to show the consequences of behavior. He needs you to say NO.

Kathleen Kullback is a special educator with an MA in educational leadership. She is a former candidate for the State Board of Education.

Prairie family memories for Christmas

Americans typically are very thoughtful this time of year. We have retrospective thoughts about the past year and we ponder the future as to what the coming months will bring. We wish each other blessings at the celebration of the Christ Child, and glad tidings for the New Year. Our wishes include good health, happiness and prosperity. With prominent people from Illinois taking up a lot of the air time these days, my thoughts revert back in time to the folks in the Land of Lincoln that shaped my life and gave me the tools necessary to be a productive, law-abiding citizen. This year, prosperity and the lack thereof, are foremost in our minds. Yet, when I remember my parents and grandparents that weathered the Great Depression, I know our current economic climate is still a better place to be than where they were a few days before Christmas during the early 1930's. By example, they taught me what courage, sacrifice, and hard work are really about. There was a humbleness to those generations. There was no giving up; there was no thought of throwing in the towel and sitting on a street corner with tin cup in hand. They knew by instinct that within themselves they had the tools necessary to survive and make a better future for their families. Hard times had befallen them, but better days were within their power. It was their responsibility to make it happen. When stock markets crashed and torrid heat and relentless wind sucked the life and productivity from farm land, basically everything besides their faith and trust in God, the roof over their heads and their determination were taken from them. From scratch, they started over again. There was no time to complain or bemoan their fate. There was work to be done. Maybe there was a temporary WPA job to help keep the family fed, and some fortunate souls had a family member with a little more excess than average and that person shared a little to help sustain life.

It is important to remember that few families did not come back out of those hard times. It took varying amounts of time, but my ancestors--hard-working, frugal Germans--got busy and made good things happen in their lives. Some gave up along the way and some fell prey to illness and lack of food and medical care. Many infants and young children did not survive the Great Depression, but the will of most people could not be destroyed. Today, no matter how poor any of us are, we still have the blessing of being able to walk into any hospital in this country and receive emergency medical care, regardless of ability to pay.

My parents, born in 1927 and 1928, grew up in large families. They slept, 4 and 5 to a bed in unheated upstairs bedrooms of old farmhouses. Wood and coal stoves worked 24/7 to try and heat non-insulated wood frame structures. My grandmothers used every scrap of cloth they could find, including feed and grain sacks, to sew quilts and clothing for their many children. Not a scrap of food was wasted and had both of my grandfathers not known how to hunt, their families would have surely starved. Back then, gun control and gun rights were unheard of social issues. A loaded gun hanging on wooden pegs on the back porch meant the difference between having some form of protein to put into your children's stomachs and watching them try to survive on boiled potatoes. At age 5, my father was given the responsibility of keeping wood cut and chopped to fit the kitchen stove. He apparently was so accomplished at it that he was given the same job at the one-room country school were he received his entire formal education---8 years.

As did other young farm boys of his generation, he knew that his life's work was already determined. After volunteering to serve his country during WWII, he returned to the black loamy soil where he would live his entire life to embark on his career. He would be a servant and steward of God's fertile Illinois farmland until his death. He accepted his pre-ordained calling with pride and enthusiasm. He never failed at his work. He endured drought, flood, crop failures caused by insects and blight, and yet, many years he watched in renewed awe as bumper crops of golden grain flowed from the combine auger. During profitable years, break-even years, and years of loss, he always kept his eyes focused on the Heavens above, from which he knew all his blessings flowed and from whence his help came. His work was never done and the tremendous productivity of just his pair of hands always amazed me. He fed untold numbers of people throughout his career which ended at age 65. Thousands of head of cattle and hogs were raised and sent to market as a result of his efforts. He worked tirelessly, starting every morning at 4:00 a.m. Baby pigs came during the coldest months, Dec-Feb. He and my mother sat up many a night in a bitter cold farrowing house assisting little pigs into the world and getting them quickly under the heat lamp. When calves came in the Spring, he endured biting winds and sleet, walking the pastures to check to see if any of his herd needed shelter, a shot of penicillin or other attention. His calloused hands broke up ice in livestock watering tanks with the claw end of hammer several times during sub-zero nights. I remember those very coldest nights, he couldn't sleep because he worried about the livestock and would bundle up several times and go out to check on all of them.

The person that designed those heavy denim bib overalls had a man like my father in mind. Every little pocket and loop was re-loaded each morning with the tools of his trade--pliers, nuts, bolts, nails, a little spool of electric fencing wire, a little baling twine, electrical tape, a small livestock syringe and bottle of some type of medication, tape measure, book of matches, carpenter's pencil and more items I cannot remember now. He could predict the weather by the look of the moon or the sunrise or sunset, knew when a cow was about to calf, for the most part, could repair all his farm machinery himself, had a brilliant mathematical mind, being good at predicting the markets and knowing when was the right time to sell grain. He was a man of many talents, gaining all his training from hands-on experience. He was a woodsmen, chemist, vet, hunter, teacher, patriot, devoted grandfather, and a father I will always admire. He was a loyal neighbor, always willing to put his own work aside when a friend needed a helping hand. He could be counted upon, no matter what. He was shrewd and practical and frugal, but his heart was as generous and giving as the wide open spaces he dearly loved. He taught me to count the rings in a fallen tree stump to determine the tree's age. Riding shotgun with him in the pickup to go pick up feed in town or taking a ride to check all the rain gauges he had installed on fence posts at intervals around his fields after a shower, he'd point out wildlife and where to always look for them. He was smart, he was tough and he was a survivor. From my parents and grandparents in east-central Illinois, I never saw corruption and I never saw success taint a person's future. Instead, success was the result of hard work and a kindly nod from God above and certainly nothing to brag about, but rather, count your blessings and be grateful because hard times will come again.

Our country is seeing some hard times now. Sometimes I can't decipher between what is really horrific and what is media hype. My world, and that of my immediate family is secure for now. For that, I am humbly and greatly appreciative. I know there are struggles this Christmas for some families, but I know that is the case each year. Whether a lot of people are hurting or a few, the fact remains suffering and want never go away. That is the result of an imperfect world. Those that came before us knew the true definition of worry about tomorrow. They knew what it was like to put sick children to bed that needed a doctor but there was no money for that luxury. They used gasoline sparingly, and for many children of those generations, a truly wonderful Christmas would be the gift of a new pair of socks or maybe an apple or an orange. I was born in the 1950's when prosperity was abundant. In my lifetime, I've taken for granted much that my parents and grandparents would have considered absolute luxury. Some among us are giving things up now and it is painful. We aren't accustomed to a feeling of want, and we should be grateful to our ancestors for the bounty we enjoy. We should also look to ourselves to make straight our individual courses and make better choices if we have failed to do so.

There's a lot of talk right now about corruption in Illinois, and other places, for that matter. Power and prestige does that to people. A young governor from my home state comes to mind, along with John Edwards, a man that admitted to not having the fortitude to keep his personal life in check. He was lured into bad behavior as a result of a cult following that made him believe he was special and invincible. We have a new president coming in that is someone that has seen unprecedented laud and honor and glory showered upon him. Before even taking the Oath of Office, expectations run high that he will cure every ill around the world. Every problem that inflicts pain upon Mankind will somehow be reduced or eliminated. Two thousand and some years ago, a Child was born that filled the world with hope and the promise of change. To be lumped into that category must be very frightening.

Whatever 2009 brings to us as a nation, it is my hope for the coming year that our readers here, and Americans across this great land, stop once in awhile and think about how we got here and who in our lives allowed us to stand on their shoulders in order that we may prosper and thrive. In every life, someone came before that sacrificed and did without so that this nation would go forward by the grace of God, yet another year. Whatever challenges come, and come they will, as a united people, we will weather the storms of change and with God's help, the hopes of our Founding Fathers and the remarkable documents they authored with which we govern ourselves will prevail. God bless each of you at this Merry Christmas time, and may your prayers unite with mine that God will continue to bless these United States in the New Year.