Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hardest Best Decision

Confession: I'm a stay at home mom who doesn't stay home. I'm a part-time working mom with 3 jobs (1 at home, 1 outside the home, and 1 a mix of both). I tend to work about 10-20 hours a week at all 3 jobs. I also drive my son to preschool two days a week, and attend a Mom's group or social event at least once a week on average. I'm also a wife. There is no way to "get it all done".

However, I feel that staying at home or partly staying at home is the absolute best thing I can do for my kids at this point in their development. I've recently made the decision to homeschool, though, s now I'm even more terrified that I will be "staying home" forever.

I work at my jobs because I love them, not because of the money. The majority of my hours, I earn about $8 an hour on average. However, I get the benefits of feeling significant, getting out of the house, and helping people (more than just my kids). At home, I face the isolation, stigma, and depression often associated in today's society with "at home" mom's. Why is this only prevalent in today's society?

Well, about 50 years ago when "everyone's mom" stayed home, women had neighbors. They had friends their age in the same situation, they had no "stigma" to fight against to prove their worth. Now, we have to join "groups" to meet other people in the same situation. We have to search online and across town, and hear about friends of friends.

So, I am a little terrified that if I homeschool because it's the best situation for my children at this point in their lives, I may never end up being able to convince myself that a "regular" school is the best situation for them. So then I can "never" fulfill my own dream of going back to school to become a marriage and family therapist and help thousands of people (I know I'm being a bit naive that I can truly help people - people have to first want to help themselves).

In reality, I'm probably postponing my dream by about 6 years or so. But isn't it interesting how our minds can make us feel trapped? I'm not truly trapped. In reality, I'm making the best decision I can for my family at this point in time. Is it self-sacrificing? Yes, to some extent. Is it also freeing, because I do have the decision-making power? Absolutely.

Why am I making this difficult decision? Why don't I just put my kids in school and/or childcare full-time, like everybody else?

For one thing, I was a homeschooler from Kindergarten through 4th or 5th grade (I was doing 5th grade level work, but when I went to "real school" I chose to go with my age group rather than my school level). I've also been to private school, public school, college, and I spent almost a full semester as a teacher at a public school. While I had a great experience with academically gifted/advanced placement high school courses, I also had some pretty terrible experiences in "regular" classes. I also, as a teacher, saw how ineffective the "system" was for reaching students.

In today's world, the "system" wants to make everyone the same by "including" all students in the same class. So one teacher is being asked to teach 20% who don't speak English, 20% with moderate learning or behavior problems, 20% who can't read, and 20% advanced kids. Oh, and there might be a remaining few children who are "normal" whatever that means. How can one teacher teach all these students (20-30 of them) without a TON of wasted time and effort? Even in the "best" schools (which just means fewer percentage of students in the "lower" categories) there will be kids who are bored and kids who are left behind.

To make a long story short, I'm comfortable being my child's teacher, I feel like elementary age kids need more time to play and less time in a boring school setting, and I want my child to be taught at his level and not taught towards the "average".

Why have I resisted for so long? It's really hard being home all day. The hardest thing I've ever done is become a (mostly) stay at home parent. There are no accolades. There is hard work, there is financial sacrifice, there is loneliness and boredom. There is the stress of constant discipline and oversight, trying to keep two young boys alive and in reasonably socialized behavior. Also, the longer you homeschool, the harder it is to go back to "the real world".

When you're child is in 4th grade and you explain to them that instead of having school for 3 hours a day and playing the rest of the time they will now be gone from 7am until almost 3 pm, not counting any additional transportation time if they have to ride the school bus or travel across town for school. Then they will have homework when they get home. It's also hard as a parent to let your child be gone for that long, when you can't oversee their behavior or learning. I don't know how long I will homeschool, but I think it will likely be through or until middle school for my oldest child.

My "dream school" for them would actually not be homeschool or public school, but a type of cooperative learning with about 15-20 kids in a relatively close age range and 3-4 teachers with a basic curriculum or plan and some fun group activities for 3 hours a day or so. At least for the elementary school years, they really shouldn't need much more than that.

Want to know our curriculum for next year? Look for a new post on Monday! Post your comments regarding homeschool below!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Second Child Birth Story

Youngest children may be spoiled, but in some ways they do get the short end of the stick. For example, my youngest child (known as J for this story) will be 2 years old this March, and I'm just now getting around to putting his birth story on "paper". The interesting thing is, it's the most amazing and miraculous birth story so far (of my two children).

The first part of the "miracle" is actually difficult to explain. I consider it a part of J's birth story, despite the fact that it was prior to his conception. We actually found out in January 2012 that we were expecting and started seeing a nurse-midwife since I was unhappy with my treatment at the multi-doctor practice I saw for our first child. Our first appointment at this new practice was supposed to be for our 12-week appointment and took place in March of 2012. Unfortunately, there was no heartbeat. An ultrasound eventually showed that a missed miscarriage happened. Sometime around the 5th or 6th week of pregnancy I had miscarried, but my body hadn't realized it. I did complete the miscarriage at home that week and only had to see an empty amniotic sac rather than a partially formed baby. I avoided the dreaded D & C, but did have to return several times to a very unsympathetic nurse for blood draws to make sure my hormone levels dropped appropriately.

You may think this is the opposite of a miracle, but I'll explain my reasoning at the end of the story.

Fast forward two full cycles after my hormones were regulated (the minimum amount the midwife told us to wait before getting pregnant again) and we were able to get pregnant again right away. Now, instead of our first and second children being two years apart, they would be almost exactly two and half years apart, with an expected due date of February 20th. Now, with the bad experience at the nurse-midwife and the person in charge of blood draw (I do not do well with needles and she would not allow my husband to come back with me during blood draws), I decided to choose yet another practitioner. This doctor attends the births for all her own patients, despite having an "On call" doctor and a multi-doctor practice, and delivers at the hospital with the best/highest level NICU in our area.

Based on an early ultrasound (due to the previous missed miscarriage), my due date was adjusted from February 20th to 26th. It was a relatively normal pregnancy. I didn't have the smell/taste aversions quite as bad as I did with D (firstborn). I also gained a lot of weight (about 60 pounds or so) which was about the same amount I gained in my first pregnancy. This time around, however, I carried all the weight in my belly. I never measured "large for dates" although I was asked in December if I was having a "Christmas baby" even though I was only 6.5 months pregnant, as well as if I was having twins.

Well, February 20th came and went with nothing more than a few bouts of Braxton Hicks contractions. I was disappointed, but thought that I would certainly give birth by my adjusted due date of February 26th. On February 25th my doctor said that she would "talk about inducing" at the next appointment, but not to worry about it yet. Finally, on February 28th, I went into labor. I knew it was the real thing, because I had experienced the real thing before. It was very similar to my early labor with my first born, except for one major difference, I had unfortunately caught the stomach bug the same day I went into labor.

Very similar to my first labor, I was originally told by the hospital to go home and rest. I tried, but this time around "resting" was laying on my side on our bed and then getting up every hour to sit on the toilet with a trash can in front of me. I could not hold down any liquid or even ice chips, so I finally checked myself back into the hospital and told them they had better keep me this time and that I needed an IV (again I hate needles, so this was desperation). I knew I needed something to help me get through labor. I will say that a sugar IV was the best thing that ever happened to me at this point, I desperately needed some energy and hydration.

Fortunately, the third time they gave me anti-nausea medicine, it seemed to work, and I was able to rest for a little while as my labor progressed. I still refused an epidural, and my angel of a doctor had no problem with that. However, as I got into the transition stage, it was really hard to get over the mental hurdle from being sick all day. The pain was just overwhelming and I was not able to handle it as well as with my first born. I did eventually ask for and receive some pain medicine through the IV, which allowed me to rest between contractions.

Finally, just after midnight on March 1st, I started to push. After about a half hour of pushing, the doctor started to act a little worried. There was a lot of meconium in the fluid. After a few more pushes she was able to see the baby's head. She asked for a nurse to bring in her "instrument bag". It sounded like she thought he was breech, but I wasn't concerned about that because I could tell that he was head down. After a little over an hour of pushing, and after alerting the NICU unit because of the meconium, she said that we would need to use vacuum suction to help him out a little more quickly. At that point, I was up for anything that would get him out more quickly.

After one or two successful attempts with the vacuum assistance, his head finally came out, followed quickly by his shoulders and body. The NICU team quickly took over and had the baby intubated, cleaned, and diapered before the doctor finished delivering the placenta. We were able to hold him for a few minutes before the NICU team whisked him off to be treated for meconium aspiration. He had a very low 1-minute Apgar score (I believe it was either 3 or 5) but since he was being treated right away, no one seemed terribly concerned. After being intubated he perked up quite nicely, and seemed like a perfectly normal healthy baby, despite being a bit big. He weighed 11 pounds 1 ounce after being intubated and having a newborn diaper on. He was 22 inches long.

My husband went with the baby to the NICU and I was transferred to a recovery room. After my husband came back down from the NICU, he ran home to change out babysitters for our older son and grab some food. While he was still gone, one of the NICU doctors and the "on-call" doctor from my doctor's practice came to my hospital room. It's never encouraging when there are two doctors coming to talk to you. They said that J was having seizures due to hypoxic ischemia and needed to be treated right away. They had actually already started the treatment by giving him anti-seizure medicine (it took 3 medicines to find one that worked), but they wanted to let me know what was happening. The other treatment they wanted to try was brand-new. Sometime in January of that year, this hospital had received their first "cooling blanket" to treat infants with hypoxia. They would cool down his body to create a hypothermic state and he would stay in that state for 3 days. It was the only treatment available that had a chance of working, so I agreed to start that treatment and called my husband right away to let him know. Essentially, the anti-seizure medicines could stop the seizures, but there was still what they called "suppression activity" on the EEG which meant that the brain damage was worsening.

The first time I saw my son in the NICU his toes were already blue and he was sedated so he wouldn't pull off the many wires and tubes. However, I was also told that only a short time after being put on the cooling blanket, the EEG showed that the suppression activity stopped and the brain waves were completely normal. After 8 total days in the NICU the top pediatric neurologist in the state said that he was cautiously optimistic that J would make a full and complete recovery with no brain damage.

I know it was a miracle that this was the only hospital in the area with that specialized equipment. The equipment had only arrived a few months before my son was born and needed it. He was already in the NICU for meconium so the doctors and nurses recognized the seizure signs right away and got him treatment right away. If I hadn't had a miscarriage and the same scenario happened, he would not have had access to this treatment. When I first heard the diagnosis, I wondered how much brain damage there would be, now I only wonder how I will keep up with my smarty-pants 20 month old who has a 200+ word vocabulary and chases/climbs/jumps to keep up with his big brother. He is above average on all the developmental tests, and his neurologist has completely cleared him.

Every time I visit the pediatrician, she marvels at this "perfect" child and tells everyone what his original diagnosis was. I think I never realized exactly how bad the situation could have been until we were required to speak with a social worker prior to J's discharge because of his diagnosis. She was so serious discussing all of the treatments available and I was just so excited that the neurologist thought he would be fine. I know many parents are dealing with treatment plans and therapies and we did have a few extra follow up appointments in the beginning. I pray every time I see one of my friends who are dealing with speech therapy or epilepsy or babies who have died at 3 or 10 months old from various conditions. I know that bad things do happen to good people and we don't always understand why. Maybe we won't understand until we get to heaven, or maybe the answer is that evil and death and suffering exist in this world. I also know, that in this case, one bad thing did happen, but a miracle happened too, and I'm so excited to see the plans God has for my spoiled rotten almost-two year old.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

House Hunting

I'm torn between two houses. There's the "imaginary" house in my head - move in condition, plenty of room for a possibly growing family, low maintenance, convenient to shopping, work and school, in a good school district. Then there's the house I currently live in. All of the above except the move-in condition and extra room.

We used to call our apartment our 800 square feet of heaven. Now we've upgraded to 1100, but added two little boys to the family. We actually moved into this house when I was 8.5 months pregnant. It's 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. It has adequate closet space, a huge backyard, and is in a good school district. The problem is the size, and the clutter. I know I could get rid of the clutter and it would feel so much bigger, but that takes time. I know we could put the two boys in one room if we needed to, but my husband did not enjoy sharing a room with his brother, so he would rather have another bedroom if we add to the family.

My problem is that our housing right now is so affordable, I can't justify increasing our property taxes, insurance and utilities, not to mention the much higher principle and interest payments. I also look at the places we would need to cut our budget. We would have to give up something for a higher housing payment. We live on a pretty tight budget in any case, because we tithe based on our gross income in addition to participating with other charitable giving (Feeding America, World Vision - 4 sponsored children, Operation Christmas Child). When I think about what those charities mean versus my "wants and desires" I feel pretty selfish.

We don't live in a mud or stick house. We don't worry about what to eat or whether we have enough food for our children and ourselves. If we need new clothes, we drive 10 minutes to any store we could want. If we need healthcare, we have access to among the best doctors in the country within 30 minutes or less.

I'm trying to learn contentment, but it can be so difficult at times.
We do have some of the best trees on our block.
Feel free to comment on what you are least content about and why.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Discipline Years

I don’t claim to be a parenting expert. My children are still in the middle of their “discipline years” and I think sometimes the wisdom we find while we’re still going through the struggle can be more effective than the “experts” advice 10 years after they’ve moved on to the next stage. I’m not looking to replace expert advice; I just want to record my thoughts for this time period of raising my children.

First, what are the Discipline Years? Most experts agree that children ages 18 months-5 years old are in the “discipline years”. I’m not focusing on the “baby years” where you simply need to meet your child’s basic human needs for love, attention, food, warmth, comfort. You can go to all the parenting websites you want to determine whether you should co-sleep or cry-it-out, and I’m not jumping on either bandwagon. Most parents don’t struggle too much mentally with those years – that time period seems to be more of a physical battle. After the night-time feedings, and millions of diaper changes, and tiny laundry by the thousands, we seem to think that the “hard part” is going to be over and we’ll move on to something easier.

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but the discipline years are definitely not easy. Parents of preschoolers are mentally exhausted. I’ve heard several parents (usually mothers) say that they feel like all they do all day is say “No!” or “Stop that!” or “Go to timeout”. If they are parents of preschoolers, the easy answer to give them is, “That’s completely normal.” Does discipline need to be so mentally exhausting? Do we need to repeat ourselves a hundred times a day? The longer answer is, “Yes, and no”. It is mentally draining; one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do is properly discipline your children. However, if done correctly, you should not have to discipline the same behavior a hundred times a day.

How do you discipline? Proper discipline requires a few basic things: a few simple, clear rules, positive reinforcement of good behavior and positive attention in general, and consistency.
Simple Rules: We may have in our adult minds several dozen things that we “never” want our children to do, but we have to understand that a two-year old is simply not developmentally ready to learn that much at one time. We need to add on gradually and focus on one or two of our top rules so that we don’t overwhelm ourselves or our children. At age four, my son has four rules that are written down. There are other things that are not currently written down because he already understands them. 

For instance, one of the first rules we had was “thou shalt not run into the parking lot or street without holding hands” this was never a written rule but we focused on it starting at 18 months old and never let him “slide”. It probably took about a year of consistent practice, but now we don’t have to repeat ourselves a hundred times a day. General guideline(s): focus on one “active” rule for each year of age. Once they’ve “Mastered” the rule, you can move on, but don’t forget to still enforce the previous rule. I consider them to have “mastered” the rule when they can follow it 90% of the time without reminders or when they remind you. You will still need to enforce the previous rules, but it shouldn’t be “a hundred times a day” unless something has gone wrong with the next two items on the list.

Positive reinforcement/attention: I’m probably the poster-child for this, and maybe I’ve over-done it a little bit. When my oldest child was about 3 years old he would always remind me if I forgot to “catch him being good”. Because he was used to me saying it all the time, he would say, “Were you so proud of how nicely I played with my toys?” Yes, I was. I’ve dialed things back a little bit since then, but he still likes to check in with me if he’s done something good and I haven’t noticed. It is important to provide our kids with positive attention. Sometimes, when we find ourselves repeating the same rules and disciplining all day, we may need to ask ourselves whether or not our child has had positive, focused attention from us. 

Attention is a basic human need. If your child’s day consists of rushing to get out the door to do some errands, then popping him in front of the TV or smart phone so you can finish the dishes and laundry, then you don’t need to look any further to understand why he keeps breaking the rules that he should already know. He or she is looking for some positive interaction with the person he loves the most, and if he can’t get positive interaction, then he’s looking for any interaction he can get. Try to spend some time cuddling and reading a book first thing in the morning. If mornings are too busy, then try to at least give your child a big hug and positive remark on your way out the door, and some focused attention time as soon as you possibly can.

Consistency: This is the part you don’t want to hear. You do have to enforce the same rule a hundred times a day in the beginning. When you think about training to mastery, in any situation, you know that practice makes perfect. Repetition is the most basic method of teaching because it works, so keep enforcing those rules and repeating yourself until they can repeat it back to you. In addition, how can we expect our children to be trained if they don’t really know what the rules are? If our rule is no walking in the parking lot without holding hands, but sometimes when we’re running late or it doesn’t look like bad traffic, and we don’t really enforce it because we’re too busy, we’re setting ourselves up for later failure.

Keep in mind that children are not born knowing right from wrong. We have to teach every instance. Your toddler who hits or bites, is not trying to hurt another child (or adult) they are learning that they can get a reaction and then determining if they want to get that reaction again. If they don’t get a consistent response, then they will just have to keep trying it out.

Along with consistency, you have to mean what you say and say what you mean. I once watched a mother of a 3 year old whose son was running into a parking lot (less than 10 feet in front of a moving SUV, fortunately the driver saw him and stopped in time). The mother was calling quietly after him, with a sigh at the end of her voice “John, come back….. please.” She was exhausted and he could tell. Let me tell you, if it’s an urgent situation, your child had better know that they need to listen and it is NOT a request.

Even though you need to be consistent, you also need to know “when to hold them and when to fold them”. If you’ve been consistent for a long time and are still having trouble with a particular behavior, it is okay to change the consequence. For instance, if you’ve been working on getting your child not to hit other children by giving them a “time out” and it’s not working, consider moving to a different set of consequences (removal of the toy that caused the child to hit for example) and vice-versa. Not every technique will work for every child. You have to keep in mind the “why” of your child’s behavior and not just the behavior itself. It’s easy sometimes as parents to get frustrated and say “The experts said to do this to get rid of this behavior” but we also have to keep in mind that we know our children’s “why” better than they do. We need to enforce consistently, but if we think we’ve been going about the enforcing the wrong way and we’re making the problem worse, it’s okay to say to our children, from now on, if you do this, the consequence is going to be different, but you will get a consequence. Just make sure that you’ve decided in advance what the consequences are and you enforce them clearly by saying it with authority.

Comment below to share your favorite discipline strategy or argue with me about one of mine!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Too Busy?

So, I have come to realize that I'm doing too much. I'm one of those people that's motivated very easily externally, and not as easily internally. What does that mean? It means that I don't do what I tell myself I will, but I am absolutely responsible if I make a commitment to someone. Hence, why I have not posted since January despite my best intentions.

Part of the problem, I have recently realized, is due to my crazy job schedule. I am a "stay at home mom" who works three different part time jobs. I have a part-time job teaching swim lessons at the Y (currently 4 days a week for 1-3 hours at a time). I have a part-time job at my church helping with their childcare ministry for Bible studies and currently a summer "day camp" for preschoolers (this can vary between 3-15 hours a week) and I have a part-time work at home job tutoring online. This doesn't even take into consideration all of my volunteer commitments (once per month in the nursery and counting the church offering, leadership position I just accepted at my "Mom's group" at another church). It also doesn't count the fact that when I go to work at the Y, I also have to drag along the kids and shower and change afterwards. Oh, and the whole being a full-time mother thing too.

I get so many "rewards" from work, that I don't realize how packed my schedule is until I try to schedule a doctor's appointment or therapy for my oldest son's sensory issues. I get the "rewards" of a paycheck every two weeks or so, and the feeling of helping others and a job well done. I get the rewards of some time without my kids (at least in the case of the Y job) and love the fact that I don't have to put my kids in childcare with strangers.

However, I do wonder sometimes if I'm stretching myself too thinly. Am I too busy for the most important things in life? Women are told that we need to be "super moms". We need to contribute to the budget, and teach our kids, and love our kids, and discipline our kids, and keep a clean, tidy house, and cook and play with our kids, and be a good wife, and take care of ourselves (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually). I heard somewhere that it's only possible to do 2-3 things well, and everything else will be done halfway. You can be a good wife and mom at the expense of yourself. You can be a good provider and mom at the expense of your marriage and yourself. You can take care of yourself and your spouse, but neglect your kids or not contribute to the household finances.

So, I think it's time to take another look at my priorities. Which two or three things are really the most important to me? Is it the $500 net a month I can bring home if I work in every possible spare moment of the day? Or is it taking care of my sanity, so I can take care of my kids and my spouse? I will say I know my priority is not taking care of the house/cooking, but we get by with the basics in those categories.

I'm also thinking that I need to find an "accountability" partner who is also focused on the same goals I have. I definitely need the external motivation. I often find myself comparing my schedule to other moms with older kids or more life experience than I have. I need to compare myself to my ideal life and not other people's lives. We can't all do everything, so let's do what's most important.