Magazine article The Human Life Review

Welcome to Sparta

Magazine article The Human Life Review

Welcome to Sparta

Article excerpt

I used to teach fourth grade at a school for boys. One of my favorite lessons was about ancient Sparta.

The boys loved it, too. Spartans were soldiers. They prized strength. They celebrated those who could withstand great pain and survive harsh conditions. Spartan boys began training for war at age seven, but the process of weeding out weaklings began at birth.

The Spartans would put the puniest babies on the mountainside to die. They didn't want weak men, so weak babies were exterminated.

My students would initially decide that the idea made sense. Eventually, however, they'd notice a problem.

"The biggest and the strongest don't always have the best ideas," one would point out. "You'd also want smart people to help make battle plans."

The Spartans sacrificed their unwanted children because they thought it would make them stronger. Even fourth graders could see the mistake.

I don't teach boys anymore. Now, I'm a full-time, stay-at-home mom of four, one of whom-my six-year-old daughter-has Down syndrome.

There's a fellow mom I enjoy seeing around town from time to time. I also can't help but envy her. She's beautiful, sporty, friendly, and warm. She remembers people's names. Her children are lovely and well behaved. I, on the other hand, am always a half step away from total chaos, and I can't recall the last time I brushed my hair.

One day recently this mom approached me at the park. We made small talk. She commented on how well my daughter seemed to be doing. Then she locked eyes with me.

"You know, I had a daughter with Down syndrome, too. Well. I mean, I was pregnant, but she passed away a month before my due date."

"Oh my goodness," I said. "I'm so sorry."

She nodded and went on. "I used to be a teacher. I've had a few students with Down syndrome. I was so excited. so ready for her. She would have been the same age as your daughter.

Tears pooled in her eyes. I stood stunned, as much by the information as by her sudden confession of it.

"Every time I look at your daughter," she said, looking at me, "I imagine they would have been friends."

At this, the tears rolled down her face. She smiled quickly and wiped them away. I could tell she was embarrassed.

"I'm so sorry! I haven't talked about it in a while." She brightened up as she beamed at my daughter.

I, too, had tears in my eyes.

I envied this woman because she seemed to have everything that I lacked. In fact, she wanted what I had. She wanted the kind of baby that the Spartans would

have left on the hillside to die. She wanted it more than anything.

When you have a child with a disability, someone will invariably send you an essay written by Emily Perl Kingsley called "Welcome to Holland." It has helped hundreds of thousands of new parents adjust to the confusing news that their newborn child faces unexpected developmental or physical challenges.

"When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip-to Italy," Kingsley writes. "After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says,'Welcome to Holland.'"

Most travelers would be justifiably angry at such a mix-up, and most parents go through a period of despair at learning they will spend their lives in Holland rather than Italy. …

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