Saturday, December 22, 2012

Long post about why I've fallen off the face of the earth :)

So the homeschooling bug didn't just bite.  It took my leg off!  In September Ian started to have frequent tantrums and to utter threats when he felt cornered.  Thanks to an environment of zero tolerance, I started to get almost daily calls, and the anxiety for him and for me was really detrimental to our family life. Things were escalating to the point that I felt that he might be expelled since he does not have a 504 plan or IEP in force.  I decided that any place that brings out the very worst in my kid is not the place for my kid.  That place was definitely our local elementary school!

We had always been rather culture shocked by the atmosphere of the school.  The academic pace was fine, but the pointless homework and finding out that they were wasting time at school watching non-academic movies upset me. The passive aggressive notes from teachers indicating that we were not involved parents really upset me!  I am a very hands-on momma, but my kids require a lot of hands!

The constant emphasis on something to buy or something to raise money for also caused undue pressure on us.  We don't believe in selling at church, and we aren't about to bother neighbors or co-workers with catalogs of overpriced crap.  The frequent parties (that we were asked to bring stuff for) were so incongruous to the atmosphere of constant disapproval and discipline.  Ian had one good teacher for 2nd grade, the best teacher I've ever met.  However, his first grade teacher was marginal.  Aidan had an acceptable kindergarten teacher, but his first grade teacher was awful. Common methods for handling minor behavior issues or irresponsibility included losing tokens for a crappy school store in the distant future and losing recess time.  Kids with hyperactivity and impulsivity issues will not really learn from losing a privilege in the distant future, and the last thing you want to do with kids like this is take away their time to blow off steam.  Really, it's basic childhood development!

When Ian was a first grader in 2010, we had him tested for giftedness.  He tested extremely high in some areas but tested so low in working memory that it skewed his scores.  The teacher took the opportunity during this IEP meeting to dump all kinds of issues on me that she had never mentioned before.  I paid over $1000 trying to figure out what was wrong with my child that he had such a low performing working memory.  Turns out it was just anxiety.  They didn't test for compliance.  Another example of poor professionalism! It was fine that he didn't get into the gifted program because it was ONE HOUR per week.  Whoop de doo!  I told the first grade teacher in that meeting that the results confirmed my feeling that I should homeschool him.  She warned that it would only make him more socially awkward and make it harder to re-enter school later.  I listened because I was so overwhelmed by our move to Wheeling, a recent 2nd degree burn to my entire right thigh, and a mix-up at WJU that resulted in us having no money for Christmas that year.

Dealing with the principal was a whole other matter. He was completely unengaged in the IEP meeting, like a bored kid in church. Since I began having trouble with the school, I suddenly heard all these reports that he is a well-known womanizer who cheated on his wife, broke up his family, and now trolls the bars asking out every woman he meets, including many women that I know personally.  Rumors, maybe, but this is not the kind of person I want my kids to be around.  When I spoke with a professional who works with children in the area, her advice was to wear a low-cut shirt when dealing with him.  I looked around at the PTA and saw why he let them do what they wanted.  They were his type!

I also heard from other education professionals and from social workers that the man is clueless and that he is very unprofessional.  I saw this first hand.  He ignored letters I sent him about my concerns.  He blew off any criticism that I expressed in meetings.  He demanded that we meet in person (a huge inconvenience with four kids) when a phone conversation would have sufficed.  He has abdicated all responsibility to the unqualified members of the PTA, entrusting most of the routine mass communication to them.  He claims that he can't make many policy changes "because it was like this before I got here".  Show some leadership!  He seems baffled by routine discipline issues that I deal with every day. When I pointed out that he has a hand-picked demographic of involved and educated parents with financial means, he dismissed this and claimed that the school's performance is really due to their superior teaching.  (See paragraph C!).

In Ian's second grade year, his behavior was generally fine, and I never had a call from the school. His teacher and I were able to communicate very well via email, but her classroom management was spectacular, and she didn't let things escalate.  The first month of 3rd grade I had 1 or 2 calls per week.  It was the change in teachers that undid any progress Ian had made.  I recently got a message that I had missed in September, hidden deep in my voicemail.  The teacher was calling and ORDERING me to REPORT (used that word twice!) to the office first thing the next morning.  Good thing I missed that call! That was the day I pulled him from school.

I had just started leading a 6 week walking program and a semester of 6 credit hours that included 60 hours of observation, so this was NOT the time to begin homeschooling.  Except that I had no other option.  Putting Ian in another school right away would only lead to more frustration and acting out.  I accepted this challenge to do what was right for my child and trusted that God would give me the strength and wisdom to do what I needed to do each day.

And it worked!  Ian has become much more calm and reasonable.  We hiked through the local park, Ian guiding Mara, and Ella on my back.  We played and learned and enjoyed peaceful days....until Aidan came home each day.

He would explode into the house, tired, cranky, and annoyed with life.  He would fight me for two hours each day to complete his homework. I would get notes from his teacher asking me to work with him on his math skills, but there was no time to do so! I would think about various homeschool activities, only to have to scrub them because they would interfere with being home for Aidan's bus drop off time.  We had some of the benefits and  homeschooling and of traditional school AND all of the drawbacks.  Aidan came down with bronchitis in October and never went back to school when he got better in the middle of the month.  We did a trial run of homeschooling while he was sick, and he loved it!  I realized that he had matured enough and our relationship had grown enough for us to spend all day together.  It just felt right to have him home and not have this persistent low-level annoyance of having the school dictating priorities to us and intruding into our family life.

Now we spend two or three hours a day doing direct instruction and seat work, which is NOTHING like the drama we would have doing homework after a long day at school.  Then we read in the afternoon, go on fun outings, play, watch documentaries, scour the library for new ideas, play at the gym at my husband's university, and enjoy our time together.  Aidan excels in reading and language, and his math fluency is improving slowly.  I know it will click one day!  Ian is working on multiplication with answers in the tens of thousands, along with decimals, fractions, and percentages.  He'll be ready for pre-algebra next year.  His class at school is learning multiplication.  Ian is reading on a 9th grade level (lexile around 1000), and he read The Hobbit this semester and enjoyed it very much! I assign math and language activities based on their needs and abilities, and they choose science and social studies themes for the quarter.  It has really been a lot of fun!

Of course, on top of all of this I've been working on those 6 credit hours!  I managed to limp along with my work all semester and ended up with a 4.0 thanks to my family's support!  I live school all day long, and I'm learning so much about how children learn by spending all day with mine.

Behavior issues are dramatically decreased at home and away from home.  They're like different kids!  Our whole family dynamic is SO much more positive!  Is this ideal for our family?  Yes and no.  It is the right thing for right now.  I don't have time to spend with friends and recharge my momma batteries as much, but I am surrounded by a lot of support.  I'm feeling so blessed that God had been preparing me for this over the last few years!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Taking the Long View

My husband and I differ dramatically in our outlook about life and family in one particular way. He assumes that it's okay that things are kind of miserable sometimes. When things aren't going smoothly, I am convinced that they can be vastly improved with a new strategy or organizational overhaul. That...and sheer force of will. We WILL be happy, everybody!!!! Can you tell I'm a firstborn?

The good news is that I'm generally right. It's usually a simple change in strategy, and we're back on track until the next pile of crazy presents itself, which it will, sooner or later. And we generally are happy. So why do I mention my husband's sometimes bleaker perspective on family life? I think it's worth thinking about because it has a positive side. His lower expectations are a real saving grace for me on the hard days. His priorities are that everyone is loved, fed, and safe that day. Anything beyond that is just gravy.

Does this mean we don't have bigger plans and expectations for our brood of four? No, definitely not! It's more that our perspectives together allow us to take a long view of things. I'm at home for now doing the daily routine of wiping noses and bottoms, but I dream of more for them and for myself professionally. My husband is out there doing the job he was made to do, and at the end of every long day (and aren't they ALL long days?), he just wants to know that everyone is taken care of and happy.

This long view allows us to see that the Star Wars figurine that a kid worked for this summer is totally worth it now that he knows his multiplication tables. He doesn't need all of the series, and he's thrilled with the one that he earned. A vacation every year just isn't going to happen, but it's worth taking one every few years to make some special memories. The rest of our travel budget? Visiting grandparents in Indiana and Pennsylvania on alternating holidays. Not a vacation, but source of special memories as well! With the long view, we know that a vacation will happen, but we're not going to only have meaningful family time at some distant point in the future. The key I'm finding is not to let the daily toil wear us down, to offer our parenting partner a nap or time away from the kids, to find peace and joy in the little moments in life, to give sacrificially for the kids and for each other, because all together, that's what makes up the long view.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

perfect schmerfect

One of the best things about having all four kids home all day during the summer is that I can NOT afford to be a perfectionist. Not on any front, whether it be housekeeping, behavior, or activities. Things will go awry, but it's always an opportunity for one or more of us to learn patience and flexibility. Often that person is me, and summer is the perfect time for me to learn these lessons. The sun is shining, the kids can play outdoors more, and if one day doesn't go perfectly, there are plenty more where that came from. We all have our morning routine that involves a quick clean-up to maintain sanity and sanitation. The older kids have to do 3 jobs each in order to earn screen or outdoor time. If we're headed out for the day, they will also locate shoes, fill water bottles, and pack them with a picnic blanket. They'll help me pack a lunch and grab the swim bag if we will need it as well. Leaving the house with four is still crazy, but it's easier than when I had two. I have my own chores to accomplish each day, but I know that if I don't get to all of them this week, I will get go them the next week. Hopefully, that won't mean that the vacuum sits unused in the kitchen for a week! If we're out somewhere and one of the kids acts up, I don't take it personally anymore. I have learned that staying calm leads to peace being restored much more quickly, and responding with anger fuels the mayhem. I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I'm raising people, and it can be a messy process! If circumstances beyond our control threaten to ruin our plans, it's not the disaster it used to be, which was typically a screaming public tantrum, follwed by a hasty retreat to our very messy home and a vow to never go out in public again! Something had to change, and most of the change was my responsibility. My response to a change in plans signals to my kids that it can still be a great day. I'm thankful that we've had enough good days for them to know this is true!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

not grey at all

I've been ignoring this cultural phenomenon for months now, but now that I am using a kindle, I find that I have to see Fifty Shades of Grey every time I look at the Kindle ebook options on Amazon. In.the.first.three.slots. gross. If a man said on Facebook "whooo! I just got some pornography in!" we would not think twice about blocking him. If a man said "I am so excited about this pile of pornography that I got that I'm ignoring all my personal responsibilites to engage in a fantasy life that no woman could ever live up to!" I would find him unbearably creepy and probably even threatening. Here's the thing: erotica IS the female equivalent of pornography. Men respond to images, and women respond to fantasy and language. Fifty Shades of Grey is erotica, and it's fan fiction that was originally based on the Twilight characters, which were poorly written enough. Essentially, it's derivative porn for women. All this discussion of who might star in the movie? A movie about these books would be pornography, or it wouldn't cover the book. I'm concerned that enough women are already in controlling and abusive relationships wih men, and this series glorifies that. I have not read any more than the snippets I've seen in other reviews, and I found the writing juvenile and creepy, just like the status updates in which women are gushing over this foolishness. People complain about their marriages/relationships, but reading about abuse and debasement (and a stupid woman's codependent acceptance of this treatment) won't improve anyone's shot at a lifetime of love and respect. I think that announcing that you LOVE FSoG invites speculation/imagination about what your personal tastes might be, and I find that unwelcome.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


We had a great surprise last night-- a quick visit from my dad!  Papa Benjamin was in the house, and the kids got to have breakfast and play with him this morning. I had a head's-up a few days prior, but the kids had no idea.  He's en route to New York and Massachusetts on business and to pick up two of my younger sibs who were helping my brother Nate and his wife settle in there.

Today I did my yearly exercise in parental penance by taking the kids to the youth festival at one of the larger parks.  It is a hockey rink  (no ice) full of tables where people from local organizations can give away literature and trinkets, etc. There is live entertainment and a free unhealthy lunch, and it's a favorite event for my kids, so we do it every year as part of our back-to-school routine.

Dan has a dinner tonight, so we're just taking it easy, eating off-brand Nutella (aka, No-tella) on store brand (HFCS free) bread and whatever is in the freezer.  Summer is winding down, and we're ALL feeling it!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

104 Days

Okay, so it's been forever, and my recent posts haven't been a personal since they've been the drafts for the local parenting magazine blog.  I need to write down what's going on so that I remember it!

The kids are all doing fantastic!  Great summer, very busy, lots of fun with friends and family.  Mara and Aidan are squabbling more than I'd prefer, but otherwise things are pretty peaceful.  Dan is teaching a few courses this summer to help the financial margins be a tad wider.  Ian is growing so fast and is sporting a mouth full of big kid teeth.  Aidan is active and enthusiastic about life. Mara is into everything and underfoot all day, and her smile and creativity warm my heart daily.  Ella is a roly-poly 9 months!  She's about to get her first teeth any day and has begun to crawl.  She eats real food and sleeps at night.  Easy baby most of the time!

We have done lots of VBS this summer, lots of friend time, plenty of park playtime, some swimming, a few concerts, and one terrible library event.  The kids don't really care about story time, and my fines are a bit up there, I think thanks to Ian taking library books to school for book report approval and then never bringing them home.

We've traveled to Indiana twice, once to celebrate a cousin's first birthday and see all of my siblings, and once to see our Notre Dame friends before one dear family moved to California.  We were so blessed to go to the going-away luau and have fun with friends.  Following that, my parents took the older 3 kids for a few days so that Dr. O' and I could get a break.  It was heavenly!  We had a date with Ella at Later Gator and got locked out of our car.  AAA to the rescue!

The big kids returned, and a few days later we drove to Nags Head, NC for an Outer Banks vacation with Dan's brother and his family.  We had not had a vacation since our honeymoon nearly 14 years ago!  The combination of cousins and grown-ups was just perfect, and everyone had a fantastic time!  We ate great food, played on the beach, played in the pool, and got lots of relaxation in. Aidan took to the waves beautifully, and while they liked the water, Ian and Mara preferred the safety of the sand and shallows.  I think we'll be paying for a surf lesson for Aidan some day!

The plan is for me to begin taking education courses this fall to get expanded licensure in middle school and special education so that I can be ready to teach again when the girls go to school.  I need to do something for my brain, and this is free!  I want to be ready to do whatever job God has for me, and education seems like the way to go for now.  

The kids start back to school in 2.5 weeks!  Great summer, and looking forward to a great school year for all!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Treacherous waters of raising daughters- thoughts on beauty and intelligence

I'll admit it. The thought of raising girls stresses me out! The pitfalls are all too numerous, and their effects are often lasting.

There is a duality of narcissism and inferiority that threatens our children's stability and happiness. If my daughter puts her confidence in being a pretty girl, will that stunt the development of her character? If she puts her confidence in her intelligence, will she become lazy and shy away from anything that requires hard work and discipline, or might she shy away from demonstrating her intelligence in front of boys? If she feels unattractive, will she be potential prey to the man or boy who makes her feel beautiful? If she is made to feel stupid, will she rely on the judgment of others rather than developing her own ideas?

The cultural phenomena of children's fashion, beauty contests, and popular TV shows are symptoms of a society that values the thin and the cosmetically perfect, along with the wealth and fame that these traits supposedly bring. I worry that kids are learning that if they are not wealthy and famous, it's because they are not thin enough or beautiful enough. If fame, wealth, beauty, and thin-ness are my daughter's goals, where will that take her? What kind of person will she become? My faith teaches that the pursuit of beauty leads to deception, vanity, and indiscretion. Definitely not the path I wish to steer my girls toward! I want to teach them to care for their bodies and their inner and outer beauty as gifts from God. I don't want them to choose their playmates based upon which ones are the prettiest and risk falling into harmful company.

I also mentioned intelligence as one of the traits I'm also uncomfortable with praising. Why? Intelligence is partially genetic and partially environmental, but what the person DOES with their intelligence is their actual accomplishment. When I praise a child for being smart, they hear and internalize it. When a task is difficult later, they may come to the conclusion that they are not smart, that they no longer have this trait that I praised them for, and that I am a liar. Instead, I praise my children for their hard work and problem solving; in other words, I praise them for USING their intelligence.

For this reason, I am resisting the tendency to emphasize these traits of brains and beauty, which my daughters have plenty of, in favor of emphasizing more lasting and beneficial qualities. If my daughters are kind, confident, resourceful, and hard-working, I will be proud of their accomplishments. My preschool daughter enjoys dressing up and playing princess games and putting huge bows in her hair, and I am happy to give her the opportunity to play in the girly-girl realm, as much as it's not my thing. She's also happy with oatmeal in her hair and sitting in the sandbox building forts all day, so I think she'll turn out just fine!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Turning "Greenish" and Saving Green: Lessons we have learned as a family of 6

Over the last 10 years, my lifestyle has changed considerably. My husband has gone through grad school and gotten a job. I've quit working full time and started a family. And kept going. We have four kids, and one of our big concerns is the environmental impact of having a larger family. We want our kids to be good citizens who live mindfully, but that's not how our progression toward "greenish" living began. Nope, it began with grad school and soul-grinding poverty. We do this stuff because it has solved problems that we have faced, it saves money, and it actually simplifies the shopping process that would otherwise be taken up by extreme couponing. I consider us "greenish" because I don't sweat it if we can't recycle or compost an item. We don't drive a car that gets anything resembling good gas mileage. And of course we eat bananas that are more well-traveled than I am! When my husband was in grad school, and we were living on a tiny stipend with kids, I learned to make many of our favorite foods from scratch from bulk ingredients, saving money and packaging, and improving our health. Our first had feeding issues, so I had to experiment to get him to eat anything. After that, making baby food for our second child was a breeze. I had thought about cloth diapering our first, but my mother-in-law talked me out of it. Had I known how long my sons would take to potty train, I would've investigated a bit further, but the initial cost scared me. After my boys spent 3.5 to 4 years in diapers (long story) and I was still washing out funky underpants, I decided to give modern cloth a try for child #3. I loved it, and it brought about a laundry revolution in my house! With the residue-free detergent needed to maintain cloth diapers, I no longer needed fabric softener (1/8 cup Epsom Salt in the wash for clothes). Also, if I left a load overnight (always), I didn't need to rewash it because there was no build-up on our clothes! I started making my own detergent and scenting it with eucalyptus oil, yummy! I've had to tweak it for Wheeling water, but I have a new formula that's working great! Baby #4 is happy and dry in the same diapers her sister wore, and child number 3 potty trained much younger than her brothers did. I also found that hanging diapers in the sun made them smell clean and look great. We make wipes out of old t-shirts and wet them with a little soapy water. We cut paper items like paper towels, napkins, and plates early on to save money. Then I mixed up my own cleaners with a few cheap and safe ingredients, and I found that cleaning didn't make me feel sick! When we had kids, we didn't plan for them to be breastfed until just before the first one was born, and he nursed for 9 months. The next three have never had formula because they didn't take bottles, and they've been with me most of the time anyway. Even though we've always qualified for WIC, we haven't had a need for formula for long, which has saved a lot of containers and washing water. Having a lot of kids means that everyone figures you need clothes and gear and toys and books, and lemme tell you, it's so TRUE. We have been blessed by this fantastic form of recycling, and we are happy to pass it on when we are finished with it! And at our kids' ages (6mo to 8 years), they absolutely don't care whether they are the first to wear something or not. We have found that chasing deals for this stuff takes gas money and time, and amassing too much stuff requires a lot of storage, so we keep enough off-season clothes for one kid's size in a tote bin, and we get rid of anything that doesn't fit in the bins. Now that our family constitutes a "large family", or so EVERYONE in Kroger tells me, I have to work to keep healthy food in these growing bodies. By slow cooking and then freezing beans, I have a ready supply of BPA-free beans for 1/7 the cost, and the ones I cook are organic! It also cuts out a lot of trash from all those bean cans. By using one container of Stoneyfield yogurt to make all our yogurt each month, I'm saving about $30 and lots of plastic containers (yes, we eat a quart of yogurt every other day!). We make bread that has no icky additives and doesn't require a plastic bag each time (it doesn't last that long with all these kids to eat it!). We're getting back into gardening this summer, and I'm excited to see our seedlings sprouting in the basement. What I like about our lifestyle is that my kids don't have a sense that we should go out and buy things as a first resort. It has made them more resourceful to see us make things, reuse things, and use things until they're worn out. It helps them to have sense of thankfulness when they do get something new and to take care of their belongings. They are more creative when the toys don't do the playing for them, and that's why they're out in our green yard building a ramp and a catapult at the moment. Curious about making some greener choices for your family? We have a good thing going at Wheeling Mountain Sprouts, a support group for parents who are interested in any aspect of natural parenting. Check us out on Facebook, or join us at 10am on the 3rd Saturday of each month at Edgwood Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Chaos with a side of bacon

I often find myself in this odd predicament of standing in the doctor's/dentist's office making appointments figuring "I'm a SAHM with a flexible schedule currently surrounded by boisterous small people who just want a lollipop and to get out of this office". This is true. However, there is a serious flaw in my system when my kids have run the battery down on my iPod battery down during the visit, and I can't access my iCal to check for conflicts. I make the appointment, shove the card into my purse, and try to get out of that office without any incidents. Thank goodness most of these offices call us with reminders later! What has been happening recently is that I have accidentally scheduled appointments on a random day off in the Ohio County Schools schedule. I took all four kids to a dental filling, and they were great, including the kid with the cavity. Last Tuesday, however, was much more complicated. It was Election Day, which means that I needed to vote AND there is no school. It was also review and final exams week at WJU, where my husband is a professor. And the baby had a check up that resulted in 3 prescriptions. It all started out fine but went downhill from there! Dr. O', husband extraordinaire, offered to keep the big kids while I took the baby to her appointment. In the spirit of fairness, I took two kids and left him with two. What should've been a routine check-up turned into multiple diagnoses requiring a stack of prescription slips. I filled them all but cleared her up just fine with one, by the way. Lesson learned. The office visit lasted two hours and resulted in yet another visit tomorrow. We rushed home to let Dr. O' get to his noon class, and I left my stuff in the van planning to drive him in so that he could avoid getting rained on and we could get the prescriptions filled. When we got in, the other kids were eating lunch, and the baby was hungry. Dr. O' kissed me goodbye and left, and I assumed he was walking to work. An hour later, I had the kids all ready to go get the baby's prescriptions, and one of the kids shut the door behind us at the EXACT moment that I realized that we didn't have the van. Or my keys. Or my purse with my little-used cell phone. No windows were open to shove a skinny kid through to at least let us all back inside. THIS is why we bought a house near campus, because I have locked myself out half a dozen times! I informed my kids that we were walking to campus. I found an umbrella stroller on my porch along side the double jogger stroller that I would have taken had the front wheel not been in the van. We had no way to carry the baby's heavy carseat that far, but I decided we'd figure something out. I pushed preschooler girl in the stroller and carried baby girl in the Boba carrier while carefully instructing the boys on safety as we walked to campus. We arrived safely and found Dr. O' between classes! Eldest child said "we should've known better than to leave travel arrangements to someone as absent minded as Dad!", which was true but not very kind. Dr. O' took baby girl to his class, much to the delight of the undergrad girls. I drove the van home with the rest of the crew and picked up baby girl's carseat. Dr. O's class didn't have any questions about the exam, so class was brief. He watched the kids for a few minutes while I ran to the WJU gym to vote. Civic duty done, I piled the kids back into the van, kissed my beloved, and headed to Kroger. We had 20 minutes to wander the store while waiting for her prescriptions. Baby slept in the Boba, and two kids rode in the cart. They were remarkably well behaved, and I was informed several times that I "have my hands full!", which is the stupidest thing ever to say to a mother. Ever. While we were there, I picked up some nitrate and nitrite free bacon and let the kids pick out some fruit for a fruit salad. That night we enjoyed Breakfast for Dinner, one of my family's favorites. A bit of bacon, whole wheat pumpkin waffles, scrambled eggs, and fruit salad. The waffles freeze well, and I make a double batch of these on a regular basis. I highly recommend them with a drizzle of real maple syrup, not that corn syrup junk. I of course posted the bare bones of this day on my Facebook page because I found it funny. A few friends offered encouragement or registered their shock at our survival. I admit that at one point, I would've probably just cried and been completely overwhelmed. Last Tuesday, though, I was actually glad that all the crazy happened on the same day because it seemed less surprising that way! My advice to one Facebook friend who was once my little ninth grade student and is now a momma of two is to "just keep calm and keep moving". We can TRY to be organized, but life with kids IS chaos. Success or failure each day is in how we deal with the chaos!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My White Flag in the Mommy Wars

I've been reading some reviews of Elizabeth Badinter's "The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women" and at the same time feeling so much in agreement with many of her points, yet feeling that we would never be able to have coffee together. I would agree with her that women can have it all, but as someone I read years ago put it, "just not all at once".

Like this French philosopher and feminist, I am an educated woman and also a mother. I think mothers should be able to choose what kind of family life they want to have for themselves and their children. We are both alarmed by the burden of guilt that mothers are carrying today. However, our viewpoints diverge when it comes to parenting philosophy. She feels that the cause of feminist equality as a societial value is more important than the decisions of an individual mother, that when one mother makes the decision to stay home, she's making a choice that when combined with all the other mothers who make the same decision leads to an aggregate weakening of the strides made by previous generations of feminists. She believes that all women need to be in the work force. She sees natural labor, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, and making homemade baby food as forms of modern maternal slavery. Bottles, convenience products, vaccinations, and childcare are the means of feminist freedom in her mind, and many young women are abandoning them in favor of a cult of all things "natural".

What Badinter seems to not see is that fidelity to the cause of feminism also robs women of the right to parent the way that some of us wish to. I have been home full or part-time for the last 8 years. I like to work. I like the feeling of earning money and contributing to our family's financial health, but working isn't the only way to do that. With small children in my home and a husband in school, I felt that my efforts would be better spent in trying to make the most of my husband's stipend rather than getting a teaching job and watching my paycheck go to daycare expenses and feeling less control over the quality of our family life. Now that my husband has a job that allows me to stay home full time, I continue to manage our resources carefully so that I can stretch our budget to fit our growing family's needs. My plan is to finish up a master's degree by Spring 2014 and get back into teaching when my children are all in school in Fall 2016, and for now I am reasonably content to be at home. I don't always like my choice, but I ackowledge that it's mine and live with it.

The problem is that women are becoming so polarized on the issues of motherhood. Instead of providing support to all women to parent the way that works best for their families, many women are quick to engage in the "Mommy Wars", with women like Badinter on one end of the spectrum and the hippie Earth Mommas (for lack of a better term) at the other end. The moms in the middle of all this are left feeling guilt and pressure and alienation from all sides. I find myself there too!

Traditional feminism relies on a degree of "choice" that denies the nature of women and motherhood, I would argue. It requires that women be unencumbered by their families, and these requirements come from other women. It requires a control over one's personal life that just does not exist with small children, who are creators of chaos and do not operate on anyone's schedule but their own. Guilt among working moms is common, as is the pressure to get quality time with their children and to be successful in their careers.

On the other side of the Mommy Wars is this trend toward natural parenting. In its extremes, it reveres and glamorizes all that is natural (although let's face it, asbestos is natural) to such an extreme that either alienates mothers or draws them into its tractor beam of guilt. Pressure is common in this demographic as well, as is rampant fear. It reminds me of Charlie Brown's Christmas Special in which he is diagnosed by his friend Lucy with "panto-phobia, the fear of everything!". Women like me have enough free time to Google all kinds of scary things, and we either become paralyzed with alarm or become empowered to find solutions. I am careful to make sure that my interactions are about empowerment as mothers rather than a monolithic movement based on mutual guilting. I see some young moms determined to embrace all that is natural in order to follow this doctrine of Good Motherhood, and I want to say to them, "you're wearing yourself out for nothing! Enjoy your baby, and do the stuff that actually helps your family". Natural parenting at its best empowers parents to find non-corporate solutions to the common problems that young families face, and its environmental and social impact can be powerful when it is spread by positive example and not by pressure, guilt, and fear.

Feminism at its best empowers women to make the choices that work for themselves and their families as well. It involves women speaking out about their needs at work and making sure to support each other in getting those needs met.

I don't view my life as maternal slavery at all, even on the days when I've handled more poo than I'd care to elaborate on. It's my way of parenting with the least amount of guilt. I see my life as voluntary service of my family, training them to become independent and thoughtful people. And it will be voluntary service of my family that motivates me to go back to work some day. As I sit and breastfeed in my bathrobe while typing, I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Sanity Clause

Today has been one of those tremendously productive days, although you wouldn't necessarily know it to look at my home.

I chatted with my best friend, who is really one of the most magnificent people I know. I miss her all the time.

I folded and put away about 6 loads of laundry. I lost count.

I made pizza, and behold, it was very tasty.

I thoughtfully read some articles by Elizabeth Badinter, and I saw her point yet felt that she had missed THE point entirely. More on her later.

I made a real plan for weekly and monthly home management. There are several weekly tasks (mostly of the food and laundry variety) that are now in my iCal and my iPod, and I will see them every day and know what the plan is. I have specific days for shopping, for the library, and for scheduled appointments. I also have a little 10-30 minute chore for each day of the month, and those will show up on my iPod as well. It's all kind of a loose variation of the Flylady idea. We also have a chart on the wall with pull-off cards with jobs that need to be done every day (ish).

After a month of intermittent illness, I want some peace and sanity, so I spent a lot of time writing this plan. I'd call it my sanity clause, but everybody know there ain't no sanity clause ;).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Of Biohazards, yelling at strangers, and peeing in a cup

M is ill with an icky gastro and respiratory virus. Her doc was worried that with the high fever, she might also have a UTI, so he had me go to the lab and get her urine tested. I forgot to put either stroller in the van. I had a baby carrier but left it in the car, thinking it was in the diaper bag. The carseat is very heavy, so I carried the baby in, planning to put her in the Boba carrier once I could take her light bunting off. M walked in fine. An idiot in a truck had to stop short because he clearly didn't plan to let us walk across the pedestrian zone safely but then realized that might end in his incarceration and thought better of it.

We got the lab paperwork from the peds office, registered, and headed toward the lab. M screamed at a stranger who tried to talk to her, and frankly he deserved it. He told her to stay with her momma, but she was afraid to walk to me because he was between us. I told him "She's afraid you're going to harm her. Keep walking!". Thankfully we got right in at the lab. I got back to the lab bathroom and realized I didn't have the carrier or any place to put the baby! She was in a light bunting, and I put a light blanket down on the floor in the blood draw part of the room and put her on it.

Then I turned my attention to M, who had a diaper on because of the tummy trouble she's been having. Turns out the diaper was full of trouble. I cleaned her up and got her on the toilet for a urine sample, which I was to collect midstream. She balked at this but eventually produced 2T of urine. Baby E meanwhile had fallen asleep on the floor. I tossed the floor blanket, packed up our whole mess into my backpack, and went out to tell the lab people that we were successful. M started screaming again that she wanted to blow her nose, but she was frustrated that she couldn't get it all out. Meanwhile, the lab people were ignoring us, which is hard to do with a screaming toddler. Finally I said, "Hey, she peed in a cup!". Then M got a serious case of ambulatory refusal, and I ended up walking out to the car with both girls (total combined weight of 45lbs) all the way to the car. That urine better be ugly!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Writing is good for me, which is probably why I'm not doing it.

I knew that this poor blog would be neglected following Baby E's birth, but I didn't know how much. I'm struggling to keep up with writing for the local parenting blog, an offshoot of the local parenting magazine. I'm struggling with laundry. I'm struggling with homework time. I'm struggling to make dinner. But I'm doing it all. Just very slowly and somewhat incompletely. I have to remind myself that that is enough.

I killed a rat last week. Yeah. I bludgeoned a rat to death. While that sounds pretty wild, it's also pretty common in Wheeling since the sewers here are old and full of little creepy nasty things that manage to find their way into the old homes here. Fortunately, I'm blessed with a helpful degree of coordination and clear-headedness in a crisis. I grew up killing gophers in the garden, so this was quite similar. I do have a twinge of conscience when it comes to taking any life, but it's their babies or mine! This one was actually kinda cute! I've since set up a series of traps in case there are any others, and we are working to seal up any possible access points. Peaches the foolish mutt was actually quite helpful in harassing the critter so that I could nab it. I have to put the traps in boxes, or Peaches gets snapped because she can't resist eating the bait. &%#@(&* joys of home ownership! A run-down home down the street appears to be the source of the critters. The owner evicted his tenants, waited 6 months, and then gutted the house, stirring up a lot of critters. That's about the time we realized we had company. We know people who have had rats in every home they've lived in in Wheeling, so we're just doing our best to eradicate and prevent them.

We're painting the whole interior of our home these days. We put in a new dishwasher, sink, and garbage disposal. Yep, tax check came weeks ago! Roman shades are going up, and clutter is heading to the curb or the thrift shop. It's a challenge to keep the bio-hazards at bay with this crowd of sticky-fingered minions transporting food all around.

On the health front, my PPD and SAD are improving tremendously. I'm taking Zoloft for the PPD, and it's March, so the SAD will continue to fade! I'm dropping baby weight. I've developed a vastly better support network of good friends who love to go out for some fun activities, with and without kids in tow. My kids have been healthier this year than any other year of their lives, with IM missing no school all year due to illness, a first for him! A-man, who's always healthy, has missed two days. The pediatrician has confirmed that they indeed have ADHD, so we work to help them develop self-control in a world that is not particularly patient with their kind of energy. M-girl has had one ear infection after her tubes came out, and she's doing great. Baby E is healthy and round and teething these days.

Dr. O' has graciously offered to teach some summer courses to help us live quite comfortably and cover the unexpected, so he will be very busy again this summer. He will also be writing an article for a theological dictionary and writing an article for his yearly conference. I'm hoping that the boys get some time at camp and swim lessons this summer. They're getting so much bigger and more independent now! They can meet up with a counselor and board a bus near our home every Tuesday for 6 weeks this summer and go to camp for the day. Now that they are both old enough, I plan to send them together.

The parenting group I'm involved in is thriving and offers a ministry of support and grace to many women in our area. I'm so thankful for this outlet! We have people planning meetups, new friendships are forming, and we are all learning so much from each other.

Our church family continues to be a source of love and support to our family. I love teaching the children and seeing their hearts grow closer to God through the work of the Holy Spirit. Dr. O' was asked a few weeks ago to preach the sermon since our pastor was out of town and the sub couldn't make it. He got to church, looked at the readings, and made up a great sermon. I did the children's sermon that day, someone else led worship, and everything went great.

A-Man had been eagerly awaiting his first communion for about a year, and he finally got to participate in the sacrament a few weeks ago. Since then, he's been prostrating himself in the center aisle, or maybe taking a rest. I'm not quite sure. He also joins our pastor for the benediction and can say the whole thing himself. He can say The Apostle's Creed and explain each article with a bit of help. I love to see his heart grow in Christ!

IM is growing up so quickly these days! He turned 8 in December and is turning into a young man these days. He's still so very innocent, and it's interesting to hear his views on life. He likes to boil everything down to facts and rules one minute and is wildly imaginative the next. He reads everything he gets his hands on and is blossoming socially. I took him to a birthday party, and all the girls from his class came up and hugged him and lifted him off the ground!

M-girl turns three this week, and I'm in awe of how rapidly she's attaining new language and new skills. The period between 2 and 3 is simultaneously so fascinating and frustrating for me. All my kids have gone through a period of being so curious about the world that they have this rapid explosion of social and verbal development. The downside is that they also get into insane amounts of mess-making and trouble-causing at this age. I realized that age 3 is when I start thinking about preschool for each of them, so M is off to preschool in August. She's bored and needs some stimulation and structured activity.

Baby E is still pretty much the nicest little baby ever. She's sweet and smiley and easy-going. She waits pretty patiently for me to get to her, she throws her self backwards to indicate that she wants to be put down, and she falls asleep in any position when she's tired. She sleeps 10-12 hours straight at night and wakes up all smiles. She has her fussy days, but those are typically due to teething. Quite a remarkable little chubby cherub, and I can't imagine life without her. Her hair is falling out a bit/ getting thinner on her growing scalp, and her eyes are slowly turning brown.

Me? I'm doing what I do. We've been over that ;)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Picky eaters series for local parenting blog - triple post!

Picky Eaters Series - Strategies for Peaceful Mealtimes

I have picky kids with food sensitivities and allergies, so planning meals that they can eat and will eat is a challenge. However, that doesn't mean that we're doomed to eating hot dogs and chicken nuggets every night!

Strategy #1. Hide the good stuff
This strategy gained national attention when Jerry Seinfeld's wife Jessica published a cookbook called Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food. I own a copy and use it as inspiration for boosting nutrition in the meals I already cook rather than as a straightforward cookbook. She includes ways to sneak purees of veggies and fruits into meals, snacks, and even desserts (Brownies with carrot and spinach hidden!). If you've got a baby, you can use the purees for baby food and to fortify the rest of the family's nutrition. My kids like her chicken nuggets that are dipped in veggie puree before being coated with breading. This strategy works best for kids who truly cannot abide the sight of veggies in their food. My oldest was this way and actually required occupational therapy for eating as a toddler.

Some examples of other sneaky strategies include using garden vegetable spaghetti sauce and pureeing it first before serving it over pasta or on pizza. Many breads can be baked with shredded zucchini when that's plentiful in the summer. Rather than using regular juice, try the juices with vitamins blended in. Smoothies made with blueberries can also have leaves of fresh spinach in them. One my favorite strategies is making and freezing a Central and South Amercian cooking sauce called sofrito. It's a chunky puree of green peppers, a red pepper, an onion, garlic, and cilantro. To use it, sautee 1/4c sofrito in oil, then add rice or beans or meat, then cumin, chili powder and paprika. It goes great with any Tex/Mex food!

I also make whole wheat waffles with pumpkin puree. They're full of fiber and vitamin A, and the whole wheat is very filling. The pumpkin pie spice makes them smell fantastic, and with just a drizzle of maple syrup they are like a treat. When I can, I make some to store in the freezer for a quick breakfast. They heat up great in the toaster or microwave!

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Waffles (adapted from

Mix in one bowl
•2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
•2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
•1 teaspoon baking soda
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•3 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I double this!)

In a separate bowl mix
•1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
•4 large eggs
•2 cups well-shaken buttermilk (or milk with 2t vinegar, or yogurt)
•1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (or make your own pumpkin or butternut squash puree for a twist)
•3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Mix the wet and the dry ingredients together, and bake as your waffle iron directs, and you may need to oil the iron.

For another sneaky veggie treat, check out I make a double batch, and they never last long!

Strategy #2. Be a good example and allow a range of choices

We can't expect our kids to eat well if we don't! And don't we deserve healthy bodies too?

For the reluctant child, Jessica Seinfeld recommends putting raw veggies out with a healthy dip while dinner is cooking. This provides a healthy appetizer that won't spoil anybody's dinner and takes the pressure off of a kid to eat veggies during mealtime, where the showdown typically occurs. My kids like this because they want to see what I'm doing in the kitchen, and they snack on the veggies or fruit I put out while we spend a little time together before dinner.

At mealtime, my kids have a choice between eating the veggie side that I serve or eating a handful of organic raw spinach. My boys usually choose the spinach with no dressing or dip. I try to keep in mind for my toddler girl that a serving of vegetables for her age is really just a few tablespoons, so if she eats a few peas, most of the corn, and all of the carrots from her mixed vegetables, then she has made a good effort. All my kids will eat broccoli, but my toddler who is not fond of green veggies will only eat the very tops of them. I figure that's where the nutrients are, so great! The key is that she is willing to touch and to try the vegetables. When I make soup, the kids have to eat at least half of what is in their bowl. They're getting a lot of the vitamins in the broth, and they find that the veggies are more palatable when the flavors have all mingled.

A friend of mine recently reminded me of her afternoon years ago with my firstborn, who was a preschooler at the time. He was my kid who had sensory problems and was terrified of the feeling of vegetables in his mouth. She had a house rule that everyone had to eat a small amount of veggies before they got down to play. No big deal. For my son, this led to total meltdown! Years went by, and she now has a child with sensory difficulties and who can't handle food textures. She understands completely!

The best strategy in this case is a gradual approach to introducting new foods, even if the child is school-age. My son had to smell a new food, touch it, kiss it, lick it, and finally taste it, possibly several attempts later. This worked great for us, and he now eats a wide variety of foods. He's still picky, but he rarely melts down over dinner at age 8. I also allow my big kids a few "no thank you" foods. They may be exempted from eating a very short list of things that they have tried as long as they are polite about it and agree to try it again later. If the child wants to put honey, ketchup, salsa, barbecue sauce, cinnamon, or any other favorite flavor onto the food, it's fine by me! It's not worthwhile to fight with kids over food, so it's best to avoid power struggles.

I will admit that we occasionally have a grown-up meal and feed them what we call "kids pick". This is for when we want to eat something that is utterly delicious and totally not kid-friendly. Our kids hate curry, and they don't have an appreciation for Mediterranean food. Fine, more for us! You can have your nitrate-free all-beef Kosher hot dogs, kiddos.

Here are two practical ideas for a way to serve a meal that allows each family member to choose what foods they like best but still eat the same meal. Keep in mind that with practice these are quick meals. I make them regularly during afternoon chaos while parenting 4 kids, 8 and under.

1) Pasta Bar
Boil an appropriate amount of pasta for the family (try whole grain!)
Provide pasta sauces such as marinara and alfredo
Bake and slice one or two chicken breasts
Sautee a green pepper, an onion, and a zucchini with some garlic and olive oil. Season it with Italian seasoning and maybe a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
Provide parmesan cheese

This way, family members can customize their dinner with their favorite pasta toppings. My husband doesn't like pasta, but he took the rest of the leftovers to work the next day.

2) Chipotle Night - no need to make all of these unless you want a little leftovers!
Provide wholegrain tortillas and tortilla chips
Shred some melty cheese like colby jack
Open a can of black beans, drain them, add a little salsa and cumin, let warm on the stove or in the microwave, then mash them
Stir fry an onion and a green pepper
Scoop out an avocado, add salsa, cumin, cilantro, and lime juice and blend for guacamole (stick blender rocks!)
Bake or sautee a sliced chicken breast or two. Marinate or cook in a mixture of soy sauce, lime juice, garlic, olive oil, and chili powder. Grilling makes this spectactular!
Make Chipotle rice with lime and cilantro. This recipe uses basmati, which cooks very fast!

This meal can be made faster and cheaper than a trip to Pittsburgh for Chipotle, and it is so delicious!

Strategy #3 - Include them in shopping and prepping meals.

I know, I know, this one is a PAIN. If you ever see me with my kids at Mt de Chantel Kroger or Jebbias, you'll know us by the noise and chaos swirling around my cart. However, I feel like there are many good lessons to be learned in the store with my kids. When they ask for a treat, we look at the box and try to find the ingredients to make it at home and make it healthier. They are more likely to eat vegetables and fruits that they have helped to select. I have my kids each choose a fruit and a raw vegetable that they like, and it's amazing how fast the food disappears!

I'm hoping that this year is the year we start gardening here. My kids have enjoyed helping with a vegetable garden in the past, and I can't wait to try this spring! The anticipation of yummy food they have helped to grow will make the food more delicious and will give us a fun outdoor activity.

The big struggle I have is with letting kids help in the kitchen. My 8 year old likes to help with grinding wheat for bread (yeah, I'm crazy), and my 6 year old is fascinated by our compost pile, but letting any of them help me in the kitchen means that the oldest 3 will all be crowded around me, and the baby will be strapped to me, so I have to set some ground rules. Only one helper at a time, and only if the baby is sleeping. Everyone must wash their hands, and no fingers are to go into their mouths or their noses (strange what rules I have to make these days!). King Arthur Flour has a great post on baking with kids this month

Note: no giveaway on this blog. This is just where I write my rough drafts! This post will be 3 separate posts that will go up tomorrow.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Merry Christmas

I tried. ;)

Post for local parenting blog

So I'm back! After a good birth of my fourth child, an eventful adjustment to being a party of six, my husband's trip to California, an exhausting end of the semester, and a bout of serious postpartum depression just before Christmas, I'm glad to be back.

Eating hospital food for 2 days inspired today's post, and this inspiration was further bolstered by the holiday treat baccanalia that followed with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, two birthdays, and New Year's in rapid succession. Our bodies aren't meant to be fueled this way! My health and mood go down when this is how I eat. My kids' behavior takes a turn for the worse, and they catch more of whatever plague is going around when we don't eat as nutritiously.

I am absolutely to blame for this, but you know what? I don't beat myself up about it. I am a reasonably skilled baker, and I make hundreds of cookies during the holiday season to give away, to take to events, and yes, to munch on. I'm all for keeping this special tradition. I made about 900 this year, and I still have a triple batch of citrus sugar cookie dough in my freezer that will stay there until Easter, I believe. I am happy to say that we don't have any actual cookies in the house. I think there's an errant tin of them under the seats of the van, but I'll excavate that one of these days and take the cookies to church for coffee hour. At least they're in cold storage, right?

My biggest concerns with this excess of sugar have been my second son's behavior, my toddler girl's pickiness, and my own postpartum crash. My son has always been really good about savoring a treat and taking forever to finish candy, but his sweet tooth has suddenly been switched on, and he has no off switch. He is not able to stop himself when sugar is available, and that is how I was as a kid, resulting in a lot of cavities and mood swings. I want him to develop some self-control, and I need to model that for him. He asks for dessert every night, even though it's never been more than a weekly or bi-weekly option. I lack the will to make everyone go cold turkey, so we will scale back our sweets for a while and then possibly give up all sweets for Lent as a family, with exceptions for the two birthdays that occur then. My major strategy for all of us is to make lots of veggie-loaded soups. Whole wheat pasta, beans, rice, and barley are nice add-ins for many of our favorite soups, and whole wheat bread is a filling side.

As for myself, I have come back to reality (as opposed to survival mode) now that I'm taking Zoloft, and I know I can't eat a cookie every time I breastfeed my sweet and ravenous two month old. I have to start my day with a kefir-yogurt-berry smoothie or a bowl of oatmeal. Kefir and good yogurt contain healthy bacteria and yeast that balance out the flora in the gut, allowing the digestive system to work properly. Some frozen blueberries provide vitamins and antioxidants, and I feel great when I start my day this way. I sweeten it with a little stevia if the yogurt is very tart or the kefir is very strong, and it is delicious! Oatmeal is helpful in keeping breastmilk production up, and I feel full all morning when I have a bowl.

I need to eat lunch. Every day. This shouldn't be an epiphany, even though I'm writing this on Epiphany. I get so busy with infant and toddler girls that I often skip lunch and nosh on whatever is handy. I need to make sure that nutritious stuff IS what's handy so that I'm not setting myself up for failure and crashing by the time my school-age kids come home.

My toddler girl has been on a course of antibiotics and needs good yogurt to help restore the flora in her belly as well. It provides calcium and protein that she does not otherwise get because she is sensitive to uncultured milk. She has been on a graham cracker diet because she was sick and didn't want anything else, so I'm taking this opportunity to get her back on a variety of healthier fare as well. She won't eat what I'm not modeling and providing for her. I'm happy to say that she sneaked and finished my oatmeal this morning.

Interested in learning how to make yogurt and kefir? Join us at Wheeling Mountain Sprouts at Edgwood Evangelical Lutheran Church on January 20 at 10am. I'll be demonstrating the processes and sharing some fresh yogurt and kefir. We'll also be talking about bread baking.