Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Death and Children

There's a quote I don't particularly like, but it does concisely relate how I feel about the vulnerability of children: "To become a mother is to forever have your heart walking around outside your body."

I know several people online who have lost their children to death. Somehow, they got up the next morning, continued to feed themselves, continued to breathe. Some had other children before the death; some went on to conceive the siblings after the fact. In any case I am always humbled by the strength of their humanity, supremely grateful for them that they still have children to love in the here and now.

Every new parent who actually bonds with their child knows a fear of loss. Entrusted with this new life, this entirely helpless, squirming bundle for whom you've been overwhelmed with love, most of us have elaborate fantasies about how we will protect them from all comers. Modern consumer society is happy to oblige this instinct, selling parents everything from car seats to outlet covers to crawling-baby kneepads. Some are useful and reasonable, most are just an elixir one can purchase to buy off that feeling of NEED. If we buy enough protective gear, then maybe that pit of fear will go away. We can protect them! We can keep them safe and with us!

Most parents get over this in time. Every woman has a benchmark: "she's past the age of SIDS now," or "he's three, he can eat popcorn safely now." They grow beyond the need to take the baby to the bathroom with them, and the parent-child bond reaches a more manageable level. I make great fun of "first time Moms" because I was a classic example of the hyper protective, freaked out Mommy. I would use a stroller in the mall for my first daughter, when I wore a sling everywhere else, because I could put her carseat in it and make this hermetically sealed baby bubble by drawing closed both sun shades, shielding her from strangers' eyes and germs. By the time we had our third child, he never even got to use the travel system; who had time to navigate all that equipment?

The truth is, however, there is a big part of my heart still trapped in first-Mommy mode. We all know how horrible it must be to lose a child. We all know that our days are not promised to us. We all say we can not even imagine the heartache.... but frankly, I think I can. My daughter was 13 months old when she had her first anaphylactic reaction to peanuts. She was 18 months old when her allergist told me her IgE count was unusually elevated, even for his office. "This is one very allergic little girl," he said to us. But I was already well on my way to trusting the child, trusting life to take care of itself. He knew I wasn't understanding him. When someone looks you in the eye and tells you deliberately, "Listen to me. She will die if you don't keep these substances away from her," life pauses. Time stops. He got our attention. He changed my life.

Since then, her general health has improved to the point where she's probably healthier than most of her peers. While she still reacts to things, she hasn't had an anaphylactic reaction since she was three. It's easy to become complacent when her allergies only manifest anymore as the stuffy nose that so many of us walk around sporting. To look at her, to see her life and how easily she navigates our world, most people have no clue. She looks like a flourishing little girl with a nose-picking habit. I am both grateful and proud (for the flourishing part, anyway.) But sometime, at some point during nearly every day of my life, I feel that chill. This is something I do pray for: please let my children outlive me. please.

In my home community, the general attitude regarding food allergies isn't very accomodating. "Just don't eat it!" or "YOU need to keep her HOME if she's that sensitive," were the prevailing sentiments. They either didn't get it, or more likely, they truly didn't care. For us, with our awareness of a new layer of cruelty in the world, it wasn't until she was six that we started to relax out of that first-parent fear a bit: "She's old enough to say she's allergic. She's old enough to ask about it, to say no." Even now, I know she's not old enough to discern whether people are wrong, though, and it dismays me every time I have to correct an adult who has told my child to eat something that would harm her. Every time, I think about what would have happened had I not been there. Every time, I get nauseous and realize that my experience as a mother, our experience as parents, is different from most others'. They can't understand and they never will.

Nathan was seven this year when he died. Quinn would have turned seven this October. Their mothers know what it is to lose that greatest privilege and joy. Yet they're still breathing. They're still mothering. I wonder whether they resent their courage and the admiration they receive; because to them, those qualities are not a result of anything they have chosen for their families. They are coping with something they hate. I care for these women, I grieve with them. But just the fact they exist proves these things happen. The idea that our children were born the same time just pierces me. Death does come for children, and the obnoxious reality is that for some of us the odds are higher than others. All I can do is outwardly ignore the possibility and take comfort that we're doing the best we can. So is G.

My focus has shifted from protecto-mode to life mode. The allergy doesn't manage us anymore, we manage it. It's taken me years to get here, and I remind myself to take each moment into my heart. It's her life, and I gave it to her to live it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Local Moms Frontier Co-Op

I am finally doing this in the coming month. If you are local and willing to pickup Chez Moi (except for someone who can not drive right now for health reasons) then you can be included in the co-op. Please let me know. We only need 250.00 for free shipping and between even three of us, we're golden. I won't be taking any action on it this week as we are settling into our new YMCA-bloated schedule.

Feast your eyes: https://wholesale.frontiercoop.com/whslpubl/FrontierWholesaleCatalog.pdf

Sunday, October 28, 2007

It's not your degree, it's your involvement

The Fraser Institute: Home Schooling Improves Academic Performance and Reduces Impact of Socio-Economic Factors

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Oct. 4, 2007) - Home schooling appears to improve the academic performance of children from families with low levels of education, according to a report on home schooling released today by independent research organization The Fraser Institute.

"The evidence is particularly interesting for students who traditionally fall through the cracks in the public system," said Claudia Hepburn, co-author of Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, 2nd edition and Director of Education Policy with The Fraser Institute.

"Poorly educated parents who choose to teach their children at home produce better academic results for their children than public schools do. One study we reviewed found that students taught at home by mothers who never finished high school scored a full 55 percentage points higher than public school students from families with comparable education levels."

The peer-reviewed report, co-written with Patrick Basham and John Merrifield, builds on a 2001 study with new research and data. It examines the educational phenomenon of home schooling in Canada and the United States, its regulation, history, growth, and the characteristics of practitioners, before reviewing the findings on the academic and social effects of home schooling. The full report is available at www.fraserinstitute.org.

Hepburn said evidence clearly demonstrates that home education may help reduce the negative effects of some background factors that many educators believe affects a child's ability to learn, such as low family income, low parental educational attainment, parents not having formal training as teachers, race or ethnicity of the student, gender of the student, not having a computer in the home, and infrequent usage of public libraries.

"The research shows that the level of education of a child's parents, gender of the child, and income of family has less to do with a child's academic achievement than it does in public schools."

The study also reports that students educated at home outperform their peers on most academic tests and are involved in a broad mix of social activities outside the home.

Research shows that almost 25 per cent of home schooled students in the United States perform one or more grades above their age-level peers in public and private schools. Grades 1 to 4 home school students perform one grade level higher than their public- and private-school peers. By Grade 8, the average home schooled student performs four grade levels above the national average.

Hepburn said a growing body of new research also calls into question the belief that home schooled children are not adequately socialized.

"The average Canadian home schooled student is regularly involved in eight social activities outside the home. Canadian home schooled children watch less television than other children, and they show significantly fewer problems than public school children when observed in free play," she said.

The report concludes that home schooling is not only a viable educational choice for parents, but can also be provided at a much lower cost than public schooling. The report notes that in the U.S., home schooling families spend less than $4,000 per year on home schooling while public schooling in the U.S. costs about $9,600 per child.

"Canadian and American policymakers should recognize the ability of parents to meet the educational needs of their children at home, without government involvement," Hepburn said.

"While home schooling may be impractical for many families, it has proven to be a successful and relatively inexpensive educational alternative. It merits the respect of policy makers, the attention of researchers, and the consideration of parents."

The complete report, Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream 2nd edition is available in PDF format at www.fraserinstitute.org.

The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization based in Canada. Its mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government intervention on the welfare of individuals. To protect the Institute's independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research. Visit www.fraserinstitute.org.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Nights in the Northwest

Last night the house was quiet. No TV, no computer, no voices. Everyone else was asleep and I was up babysitting the huge pot of potato soup I had been brewing all evening. It wasn't late, maybe 9 PM, but the moon was out in its bright, silvery blueness I had not encountered before moving to the Northwest. With the lights out, I carried my steaming bowl into the living room, guided by the light of that moon, when I was swept up by the calming emotion I get when I feel like I am in the right place at the right time.

Or maybe I just relaxed. I don't know.

Warm bowl in hand, I leaned against the chilled window, peering up through the evergreens at the huge silver disc in the sky. It's that classic Northwest wilderness iconic image that is so quintessential to the mystique of this corner of the world. And it was my comfort tonight, as on so many nights here before.

When we moved here we ended up in a very congested part of Federal Way. There was little of the expansive wilderness one expects to breathe in upon arriving in the Northwest. The neighborhood was beautiful, to be sure, but it was that crafted, after-the-fall rebuild, using native plants and landscaping. I would stand in G's room after everyone slept and peer far into the East on nights like this. In the distance, the Cascades would silently guard the horizon; I could see the conifers everywhere, and the moon glimmering over everything. It gave me comfort then too, that we were at least on the right track. Wrong place, perhaps, but in the correct world.

Here in the wooded harbor, the home we chose is unprotected against how overpowering that world can be. We don't have streetlights, but I am awakened several times a month by the glare of that moon. We have skylights and large windows. Even though they are curtained, one can't shut it out, the nature of the Northwest. The owls sing to me, the coyotes bay in the distance and the moon lights it all. The power of this region, guarded by the massive sentinels of the Olympics and the Cascades, and nourished by the huge flows of water that comprise the Sound, is palpable even in this day and age. Living here, on the fringes of the urban world, makes me question whether I could even tolerate the raw energy of the true wilderness. People do live there, and they commute for HOURS just to bask in that beauty whenever they aren't required to satisfy the demands of modern life. Were I to try that, I know I could be lost to it.

Maybe later. Right now I have children to raise, a book to finish and a life to finance. The moon can keep me company in the meantime.

(click the link for a silver Northwest moon)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Adventures in weaning

“OK,” I said cautiously, “you can come sit on my coffeetime lap if you want to cuddle,” weighing the word cuddle meaningfully.

“OK,” D-baby said sweetly, nodding with eyes as big as he could make them. Up on the lap, up into my arms. For a brief moment I was able to enjoy the little legs and arms, the soft tufts of toddler hair. Then the wiggling and the arching began. Ah the true Machiavellians, the toddlers.

“Noooo D-baby,” I admonished, “we only nursey once a day, not right now!”

“YEEEEEEESSSS! NUUURSSSSSEYYYYYYY!” the stutter-temper-cry started, tensing me instantly.

“D-baby, D-baby,” I said calmly, straightening him up, “You’ll be THREE soon, and three year olds don’t nurse!” I silently prayed for forgiveness as I left off “in my house.”

“I a BABY!” he retorted. Choosing not to respond to that, I said “WHAT are we going to do for your BIRTHDAY party? You’ll be THREE soon!”

Blink blink.

“Do you want a pool party? A pizza party?”

“Noooooooooooooooooooo,” he grinned.

“Do you want a party together with Nomi?”

“NOOO! It’s MY ONE! Nomi can’t have my party!” he shouted indignantly.

“Well,” I asked again, “What kind of party do you want?”

He grinned mischievously…. “A NURSEY party! A BOOBY party! At the ComPOOTER party!”


Monday, October 22, 2007

Time for a change

I now officially hate my blog background and will be changing it dramatically.

Any ideas?

Friday, October 19, 2007

I am a product of the 1980s, it is true.

Which Tim Burton character are you?

Ed Wood

Voted worst director of all time, but you sure look good in that sweater!

Personality Test Results

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Brought to you by YouThink.com quizzes and personality tests.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Batch update

So with last week's news, whatever makes me me exploded and I kind of spun out for a few days.

"It's only money" works for me until we don't have it anymore. This repair-- 1800.00 will sink us for a while and we actually had to draft a budget. One I don't like, but it pays the bills and that's the important part. We haven't had a working budget in a few years so this is not a bad thing. I will look up and ahead.

Found out from this mechanic (this is the second time another mechanic has asked "Um, who did the engine replacement?") that Eric-the Dumbass in Port Orchard failed to put in two bolts that hold the engine IN the VAN. Further, he omitted to replace the harness that holds an O2 sensor in place, and it had been melting on the exhaust of the van. NICE. So I have chosen to be grateful for this fault because it probably saved us from an engine fire or worse.

G continues in Karate, and had a meltdown on Saturday because it is a mixed belt class. A more experienced student tried to toss her. G, who wasn't paying attention to the instructions, flipped out and was upset for a few days.

N started indoor soccer league on Saturday and some serious cuteness (and noise) abounded with 30 5 year olds running around chasing balls.

We had our campout last week at Camp Seymour, and the children duly had a wonderful time. It amazes me still how well run that program is. In 24 hours the kids learned to shoot bows and arrows, use orienteering compasses and sharpen their boating skills. Mom also learned a few things; this was much more of a "slice of camp" experience, and I felt confident for the first time that my kids could take part in a sleep away camp. They are really thriving in this program. We were only able to make it this week because another homeschooler loaned us her car while ours was getting fixed. How cool is that?

D-baby made me nuts the whole time though-- constantly escaping and being very TWO in a non-TWO environment. God bless homeschoolers; the staff was GREAT with him but it was the other children who really made him feel part of the experience and made ME feel at ease that he wasn't ruining it for them. During one breakfast, for instance, an entire cadre of Bainbridge Island home high-schoolers drummed on the tables and stomped their feet so Dougie could breakdance in the dining hall. P-daddy came at night, and while he couldn't stay because he had to go to work, he did share supper with us and he got to go to campfire. That made us all very happy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Placeholder for our wonderful zoo trip

wherein I post pictures of the nice meet up we had with Nikay (including free boxes of won't-poison-you animal crackers they gave each child)


try not to cry again that I barely made it home because the tranny on THIS van has decided to kill itself.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Onions have layers

Like ogres. Like marriages.

The onset of the season has come full force. I can relax into October --autumn-- and feel the contentment I always feel this time of year. P-daddy is coming around, despite the weather change tossing him into a cycle of despair. I called his bluff about being miserable and wanting to move. I found a job for him in Chattanooga-- same pay, same title-- that is so interested in him that they emailed and called within hours of receiving an email resume. Chattanooga is on my very short list of acceptable places to move, so I was willing to call this out. He was taken aback and said, "No I think I am staying where I am for now." Well good, then. Your family loves it here.

October is also G's favorite month, but for a very different reason: Halloween. Living here has made it even more cool because of our town and because of our neighborhood. The town we live in has a downtown waterfront and the merchants all open their doors to trick or treaters. It's like a scene from that movie childhood I never had, where it's still light out and the little kids are swarming the streets, Moms in tow. Of course, in our real life, the Moms are toting umbrellas and sipping coffee, which is even better. Furthermore, there is usually a tall ship docked with a crew dressed as pirates, handing out gold coins, argh. It rocks.

Our own neighborhood is dark dark dark, but the people are mostly older. They genuinely love it when the little kids come through and give out the GOOD stuff. It's a lot of welcoming fun. Our personal traditions about Halloween, begun out of necessity, have served us well as the kids have grown. The Great Pumpkin who takes their offering of collected candy delivers a gift in return, usually sneaking in while they are taking their after-TOT bath. He makes lots of noise and flashes the lights. It's somewhat frightening if you ask me.

Having said all that, the amazing this is this: G is not excited right now that it's Halloween month. She is beside herself, checking the calendar every day, already packed and tingling, because Camp Seymour's overnight is coming. I can't tell you how happy that makes me!

Speaking of happy, our church had the Blessing of the Animals last night, and G sang in the children's choir while holding her hermit crab. So cute. Following, P-daddy took the kids home and I stayed for my best rehearsal YET in this state. Vivaldi! Luther! Hal! Oh yes! That SOUND that choirs make when it's right-- that SOUND that embodies worship of the great spirit for me-- that is what I have been missing. It draws me, addicts me, it humbles me and makes me feel grateful to be able to participate. It was a very good day.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lightning and Hail and Froggie Boots

Welcome to autumn in a year we forgot to have summer!

Today we went to the Y to go for a swim. As we crossed the Purdy spit we looked over the bay at a very impressive, ominous stormcloud over the Eastern sky. We started making jokes about The Nothing coming to get us; it was so dark and huge and the sheets of rain you could see from the distance looked like combed grey wool being strung from the sky. We made it to the Y without the Nothing catching us, but while we were changing and showering for the pool it arrived.

G got into the pool faster than I, but the boys and I hadn't been in the pool three minutes before the lightning struck. (Here in WA, lightning is an odd occurence. P-daddy and I balefully miss the dramatic thunderstorms of the South) No one moved. I called my kids over to me and said, "Back home, we would be getting out of the pool because of a lightning strike like that." Hearing me, the closest lifeguard, a girl of maybe 16, looked at us nervously. Almost as soon as I had finished my statement, the pool supervisor came barreling out of his office, bellowing "OUT OF THE POOL! EVERYONE OUT OF THE POOL!"

The big kids and I started laughing. I was reassured that yes, we do have similar water safety in mind, but I am also perverse enough that I thought it was funny watching the newbie lifeguards scramble. Mommy won know-it-all points from the big kids, but D-baby was having NONE of it. His howls very nearly drowned out the thunder as we left the pool room.

After we changed and the kids shifted expectations, they decided to go for a run. All of them. G was dressed for it in her purple running outfit, but N, who wouldn't put down his new too-big-for-him backpack, couldn't keep up with D-meister. Yes, the D-meister was running laps at the Y, in yellow and orange tie-dye and green froggie boots. Ah, Washington.