Midlife Cabernet: My Grandkid has More Chromosomes than Yours

In January of 2009, a woman in California gave birth to eight children, giving her a total of 14 healthy kids. She was single, unemployed, living with her parents, and later she received income by filming a pornography video and taking welfare. The following January my daughter gave birth to a precious baby girl who has Down syndrome. Because I have human frailties, my first reaction was to cry and then curse the Octomom.

My angst was soothed when I held my tiny granddaughter, careful not to disturb the various tubes and monitors covering her body in the incubator at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I’ve never wallowed in the life-is-not-fair pity party, but I was confused about the unknown: Why did this happen? How do we help? What is her future? What about my daughter?

Almost four years after the initial shock, the extended family now is convinced that this little bundle of funny faces, squawking noises, and death-grip hugs has much to teach us about love and life. And she answered my worried questions: It happened because an extra chromosome appeared in the early stages of fetal development. We can help by loving her and offering to help her parents. Her future is better than if she had been born 50 years ago and institutionalized. And, her mother outshines Wonder Woman.

Uneducated and insecure people reveal their prejudices when they ridicule someone with Down syndrome. When I’m with Sweetie Pie, sometimes I get “the look of pity” from others or the recognizable sigh of “I’m thankful that didn’t happen to me.” Because of Sweetie Pie, I have learned that ignorance and cruelty are bigger handicaps than a little extra chromosome. Any pity should be given to the 14 children in California and their irresponsible, incompetent mother.

It’s not all hugs and kisses. Sweetie Pie has developmental challenges that other toddlers don’t experience. She only recently learned to walk and has a limited vocabulary. Some children with Down syndrome aren’t toilet trained until they are 8-years-old, and other siblings must adapt to the family’s schedules. But Sweetie Pie was born with her parent’s tenacity and her own unique strength. She is destined to amaze all of us.

We have a photograph of my daughter with her two daughters. She is holding her newborn baby, still wearing oxygen tubes, as the 2-year-old stands beside them. My daughter looks into the distance, and her gaze reflects all the emotions of a dedicated woman. This mother will never degrade herself as the Octomom did to support her children, but she will fight like a warrior to protect and raise them. With the help of a good husband, she is the strength, the passion, and the force that make everything work. She is awesome.

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Our family is walking with Sweetie Pie in the Buddy Walk in downtown Boise. Drivers shouldn’t be irritated as we block busy intersections but should wave and celebrate as little ones with almond-shaped eyes and braces on their legs take another concentrated step toward independence. They are worthy of respect. They are worthy of life.


Today’s blog was fueled by a 2009 Cain Concept red wine from Napa Valley. Named The Benchland, this delicious blend offers a splendid combination of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot. It’s complex and complicated – much like life – and proves that goodness comes from having more than one kind of grape in the batch.


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