Saturday, July 9, 2016

Back from hibernation

It's been an eventful few years. I was in full time doula practice, while homeschooling and dealing with special needs for 3 kids, as well as chronic pain for myself. Perhaps I'll update in more detail later.

As for now, I realize its time to start blogging again.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Webster Chiropractic: Not Just for Pregnancy

I have blogged about my hip/sacroiliac problems before. They were so bad that my husband and I considered not having any more children, and then surprise! In August of last year, I found myself pregnant with my third baby. We started that pregnancy with trepidation. I had heard stories of a woman in similar circumstances not walk after the birth of her third baby and I was terrified that would happen to me. As the pregnancy progressed, I was again surprised to find that my hip wasn't giving me the trouble that I thought it would. I made it all the way to the third trimester without much complaint.

It was then that I noticed that the baby was stuck in a very awkward position. It felt like she was trapped against my hip bone and this was uncomfortable to me. It must have been uncomfortable for her too. At times she certainly seemed unhappy. Since I was obviously dealing with positioning issues, I turned to Spinning Babies to try to get the baby to move. One of the best ways to reposition a baby is using a Rebozo. Lucky for me, a doula training was being held around that time in my area so I signed up and volunteered to the resident pregnant lady for everyone to practice on.

We found that the rebozo helped but she still seemed trapped. She wasn't breech but both my midwife and I agreed that a referral to a Webster Chiropractor would be helpful. Thanks to a recommendation from a woman at church, I found a chiropractor in my area. Since then I have realized that she is the most recommended Webster chiropractor in Seattle.

Let me tell you, finding Dr. Gita was an answer to prayer. She informed me that Webster Chiropractic is not just for pregnancy and baby positioning but that its for pelvic balance and issues impacting the  sacrum at any time of life and for any gender. If only I had known! I could have started seeing her when I was postpartum with Belle and saved myself 2 years of discomfort and difficulty.

The Webster technique is a specific chiropractic analysis and diversified adjustment. The goal of the adjustment is to reduce the effects of sacral subluxation/ SI joint dysfunction. In so doing neuro-biomechanical function in the pelvis is improved.

Dr. Larry Webster, founder of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association discovered this adjustment as a safe means to restore proper pelvic balance and function. This specific sacral analysis can be used on all weight bearing individuals to determine S/I joint dysfunction/ sacral subluxation and is therefore applicable for the entire population. The assessment includes heel flexion to buttocks, with restricted flexion indicating the affected SI joint. Correction is made with a diversified, sacral adjustment. It is used on all weight bearing individuals presenting with this biomechanical restriction. Common symptoms include (but are not limited to) low back pain, sciatic neuralgia, and symptoms associated with sacral subluxation and/ or S/I joint dysfunction.

Since I started with the Webster technique during my third trimester, we were able to get the baby to move from LOP/LOT to LOA. I felt more comfortable and I did not experience any of that tightness in my hip and back that I experienced at the end of Belle's pregnancy. After birth, I did not have any flair ups. Each time I start to feel the familiar ache, I was able to get an adjustment and it would go away.

With my previous chiropractor, the technique she used was not as gentle and my hip actually seemed more likely to slip out of joint after an adjustment.  I stopped seeing her and started seeing the Upper Cervical Chiropractor, which helped but was not as effective as the Webster technique. I go more time between the first signs of discomfort with Dr. Gita than I did with the UC.

I was so surprised to learn that Webster is not just for pregnancy. As a doula and as a mother, I know that Webster is the thing to do for breech babies, but it goes so far beyond that. Its not just pregnancy, its not just birth (though that is the population who frequents a Webster DC most), but its for any one with SI, hip or sciatic issues. Both my father and my grandfather could have greatly benefited from this type of treatment.

Another funny thing is that both my older children are prone to the exact same sublaxation that I am so when they visit Dr. Gita, she performs the same adjustment on them as she does on me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I wish I had known

When Willem was around 18 months old, he read the letters on my husband's T-Shirt, complete with ASL fingerspelling. "C-A-L...Cal."

I was blown away but at the same time totally lost as how to encourage next steps. I knew I wanted to avoid drilling, flash cards and employ child directed learning. Even when he started recognizing all the letters, I still didn't know where to go next. Now I regret that I didn't seek out what I could to learn about the natural development of reading skills then.

Even as a preschool teacher, I learned how to instruct children in pre-reading skills, but I was not taught the next steps. We were basically trained to leave that to kindergarten teachers. Additionally, I was familiar with the European model of early education which maintained that children were not instructed in reading and writing until age 8 or third grade--obviously not a popular practice in the United States. What I didn't realize--and what I wish I had known--is that it has been a tradition in Jewish and Japanese communities for children as young as three years old to start reading, naturally in a child directed way. That definitely would have sparked my interested and I would have been all years to learn how it is those ends were achieved, in order to decide for myself if that was developmentally appropriate (much in the same way I was incredulous about elimination communication but learned that it is indeed possible).

Its better late than never, though. I didn't know about EC when Willem was a baby and started late with him, but when Belle was born, I did have that knowledge and started with her from the beginning. And now it is now with reading, Belle is starting late (based on the following steps written about in the book The Secret of Natural Readers (available for free download).

The book offers case studies of a number of children who were intent on reading at a young age and led their parents along in learning about letters, their sounds and words to the extent that they were definitively reading during early preschool. There is some background, historical information as well as a discussion of implications for early readers in the school system, but the meat of the book is Chapter 11 where the How, When and Where are described. Parents are offered a framework for how to support their children's print awareness and tips for bridging to the next steps (which is what I needed). The strength of the book is that is employs "talk story" to illustrate the methods that children found most interesting and helpful to inform their skills.

One thing I realized is that teaching reading comes more naturally to some parents more than others. I definitely needed this book to provide a framework and introduction to reading acquisition because I did not figure it out on my own.

With that information, now I feel like I can run with it and find creative and fun ways to turn phonemic awareness into games. Belle, who is now 42 months old, is totally in to it. She has a love for story time and reading out-loud that Willem is just discovering (for some reason, he was totally resistant to sitting down and being read to until just recently). We find that the car is a great time to sing songs about the letters and sounds, in particular the LeapFrog Song for the letter sounds. For digraphs, we sing a variation of "Here we are together" that put letters together like B and R or S and H (Belle's favorite AND its helps to calm a fussy baby).

Stages for the Development of Reading Skills:
Stage 1: A preliminary period of gaining awareness and general knowledge about books and prints (starting any time during the first year).
Stage 2: Learning the names of the letters and acquiring a beginning sight vocabulary (starting between twelve and eighteen months)
Stage 3: Learning the sounds of the letters (starting between twenty and twenty-four months)
Stage 4: Putting words together (starting between twenty-four and thirty-two months).
Stage 5: Reading aloud from familiar books (starting between twenty and thirty months).
Stage 6: Sounding out short, unfamiliar words (starting around thirty-two to thirty-four months).
Stage 7: Independent reading of easy, unfamiliar books (around thirty-sex months). 
Stage 8: Reading for enjoyment of content (around forty-eight months).
Other resources we are using include, The Starfall Speedway Game, Bob Books, and The Reading Lesson. Pinterest is also a great resource for DIY reading games. Also recommended to me was Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons but the online reviews convinced me that The Reading Lesson would be more kid-friendly. So far, the guide regarding attention span ability by child's age (3 pages at a time for a 5 year old) is right on.

Willem also requested that I start teaching him piano lessons and after a generous gift from a neighbor complete with Teacher's Guide and all the Level A books, we are having lessons about twice a week.

But you are probably wondering, what did Willem decide regarding homeschool? In my last homeschool post, I mentioned it was up to him. He did decide to go to kindergarten (the school is just around the corner from our home) and he is really enjoying the classroom culture and the other children. In the last 2 weeks, the novelty has worn off and I am beginning to suspect that near Christmas time, he might tell me that he's ready to switch to homeschool. I will cross that bridge when we get to it, but for now, I am trying to keep a low level of academic parental involvement that runs parallel to the school curriculum. Maybe that will offer a low-stake way of getting some positive homeschool interactions under our belt and build up our confidence and comfort with working together as teacher and student.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: The Conflict

The Conflict, written by Elisabeth Badinter tells about the cross-section of feminism and attachment parenting, making the case that the attachment parenting movement is a retrenchment from the feminist movement of the 1970's and 1980's. The book is not subtle about its main argument: Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women.

I'll be honest, I was dreading reading this book because its very common for books written about me (because I am one of those "modern mothers" she is writing about) to be offensive in their characterizations of their subjects. Not surprisingly, I was right. The author writes about AP mothers, relying on research and prior journalism to make her case, rather than actually interviewing any women who were examples of the mothers of whom she was writing. In doing so, she fails to go to the source to understand modern mothers' motives and decision-making.

In describing the historical arch of women adapting to culture and society amidst the changes of the last 60 years, Badinter paints a picture of mothers today responding with dissatisfaction to the way they were parented by their mothers 20-30 years ago.  On that, she does indeed accurately capture my experience. I am the daughter of a "liberated" woman and after seeing the gender roles she lived, I decided I wanted a different kind of life for myself when I became a mother.

My mother who was a teenager in the late 60's, worked my whole childhood. Unlike her childhood, I was not cared for by grandmothers while my mother worked. My grandmother was a real anomaly of the early 50's. Influenced by the entry of women into the work force during WWII, she took my mother to work for her early months. After that point, my mother was cared for by grandmothers until she entered kindergarten.

Both my mother and grandmother were lucky to be able to bring their babies to work for the first few months, but after that point, I was in childcare from 9 months on and I remember spending a large portion of my childhood in after school child care, at my mother's office, and with my bipolar father, while my mother was cared for by her grandmothers. Throughout my childhood, I often found myself reaching out to my mother but feeling guilty that I was interrupting her work to do so.

Because of my experience, I quickly realized that I would be able to be more available to my children by staying home to care for them. At the same time though, I was educated and found that the pace of staying at home with a baby was a hard adjustment intellectually. My graduate program and thesis was just the outlet I needed.

Because of my education in child development, I easily incorporated the research regarding attachment parenting into my parenting philosophy. Scientifically, breastfeeding makes sense, co-sleeping makes sense, homebirthing/out-of-hospital/unmedicated birth with midwives makes sense. Politically and philosophically, homeschooling makes sense.Though Badinter does a good job describing the research regarding the benefits to mothers and babies to the name parenting behaviors, her tone remains snide toward mothers who seek to be guided by the research promoting healthy development in little humans.

Contrary to what Badinter portrays in The Conflict, attachment parenting is not mutually exclusive to women working. Instead of attacking an employment/economic system that compels people to live to work, she attacks mothers for choosing the path they feel brings them the most happiness in the face of such a inhospitable and family un-friendly system. It seems evident to me that Badinter is not familiar with some of my favorite books on the topic of family friendly, worker-friendly emplyoment policies, namely: Equally Shared ParentingRadical Homemakers, The War on Moms, and The Motherhood Manifesto. Though she had nothing but disdain for the choices I--and my peers--are making in regards to making motherhood and womanhood work, I find a good deal of satisfaction in envisioning and engendering a part-time worker/part-time parenting team with my husband. I do believe that the longer we are at it, the easier it will become; in part, because we will get better as we go along and because cultural and policy changes will occur to be more respectful of workers' desires to work to live and then to life fully outside of work.

The greatest failing of The Conflict was the author's inability to take into account the ocean in which women are swimming. The author appears to blame children and parenthood for why women and men cannot compete in the marketplace of professionalism, without taking thought on the ways that professionalism is a cultural construct that did not develop in a way to promote the natural state of procreation and parenthood that ensure the survival of the species. The history of employment is built on the twin pillars of slavery and exploitation--the big boss man taking advantage of all that a serf/laborer/employee will give him, and then twist his arm to take some more. At some point, a generation is going to turn the employment structure around to value the workers are the basis for the success of companies so that workers, of whom 80-95% are parents, make a living wage and are present and involved as the primary caregivers to their children. Badinter appears to throw her hands up in defeat towards any efforts to alter attitude towards workers' family lives without taking the next step saying that its just a matter of time before culture progresses in such a way that employment respects and values the contribution parents make towards an equal and balanced society.

In the end, the author concludes with a point that I can wholeheartedly agree, "insisting that the mother sacrifice the woman delays her decision to have a child and possibly discourages her from having one at all." if only that had been the framing used for this book, instead of an attack on parenting in general. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Homeschool Plans and Prep 2012

I don't know yet if we will be a 100% homeschooling family this fall or not. Our neighborhood elementary school is right now the street from our house and my son knows its up to him to choose whether he goes to afternoon kindergarten or if he stays home to carry on with our homeschool curriculum. Supposedly, he will make his decision after he gets a tour of the kindergarten classroom later this month.

As we've jumped into things, I am surprised to find that we are doing quite well. By following his lead, we have practiced first grade math skills (counting to 100, counting by tens, addition, subtraction). He's been introduced to multiplication and division and gets the concepts. Physics has also been a big topic in the house (thank you, Angry Birds). Thankfully, he has encountered a surprising amount of learning opportunities and extension activities through the game, including a love for construction, archery/sling shots and storytelling. He claims he wants us to make an Angry Birds birthday cake but we'll see where his interests lay 6 months from now.

We have also been discovery some excellent resources that he is adopting into our curriculum. I love that he is leading his learning and that my daughter who is two years younger is also getting into the fun and starting to guide me to what she is interested in understanding. Between all the materials we've found, I feel confident in my ability to facilitate their learning for the whole year.

In my more anxious moments, I fear not knowing or being able to teach my son to read in the next year. While I'm familiar with the methods of Reggio Emilio and other European methods which introduces reading around the 3rd grade, I know that many children do show the interest in learning during the kindergarten/first grade year if not earlier. I expect at some point, Willem will show that he is determined to learn to read but I'm not sure if I am comfortable if he were to not show interest in the next year. That, I recognize, is more my problem than his, and could become a much greater problem if he were pushed to do something he is not ready to do. Given his personality, it could be quite detrimental. My goal is to find a common ground where we continue to follow the curriculum and diligently cover pre-reading skills and concepts in the hopes that I do not push him too hard and that he discovers the desire to crack the code of written language.

Due to these anxieties, I've built in regular reading skills into our curriculum using the fairy tales from Oak Meadow, and their first grade curriculum. I also attempt to work through one Bob book with him each week and then to set out Brain Quest worksheets practicing handwriting and letter shapes. Don't bother hating on these strategies because I know. I'm not a fan either, but its a token effort to at least keep appearances that we're working on learning to read. At least, I recognize it and am willing to admit it.

Life Sciences
He's more interested in biology and math, which is both my husband and I highly value and appreciate. Because of this our curriculum is very heavy in life cycles, botany and agriculture, environmental science, animal behavior and physiology. Thankfully both the book series Herb Fairies and Beatrix Potter's Complete Works combine reading in with all the biology concepts that he cares to learn about. Both also emphasize nature illustration which is a hobby of my husbands so there are times that the two of them sit down at the table together and work on various illustration projects. Both series also extend into the kitchen and garden so we continue to try to produce our own food and then use math concepts to cook the food. We will also be using the book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades to mesh our garden efforts to our local environment.

Borrowing from Waldorf, we are following the Pagan Wheel of the Year to observe natural life cycles of the seasons and moon phases. This summer he participated in a week long wilderness camp where he spent all day outside exploring farm and forest. I love the idea of the school year length nature preschool that convenes once a week from September to June. I have 4 objections to it based on known habits and needs of my family: 1) too expensive ($2000 per child), 2)requires a commute, 3) starts too early in the morning and 4) weekly is too much for our routine. However, there is a wooded area near my house where we could spend 2 days a month outside all day exploring and discovering nature. I plan to sync out wilderness days to the new and full moons each month and use this Handbook for Nature Study for homeschooling families, in addition to Herb Fairies since it tells the stories of children fending for themselves in the forest.

Music and Movement
Willem has also expressed interest in taking piano lessons so I am looking for a teacher who can get him started. He will continue gymnastics classes and he is excitedly looking forward to turning 6 when he can start the tumbling class. Watching the Olympics has only got him more intent on learning floor exercises so he can run, flip and fly through the air.

My husband says that he learned to read by his family's tradition of reading scriptures every night before bed. Starting when Willem turned 5, we have been reading through The Book of Mormon (my favorite book of scripture next to the New Testament). That is part of our bedtime routine: usually we read some fairy tales, say a family prayer and then read 10-15 verses from a chapter. There is a book on teaching children to read using the Book of Mormon but I'll admit. I'm not a fan.

Each Monday night, we join together for Family Home Evening where we review morals, values and ethical rules of conduct. After a brief lesson on some skill or concept, we play games, and share a treat. This is also a time for singing songs. Lastly, the children attend 2 hours of religious education each Sunday when we attend church where they are learning the basics of Jesus's teachings and God's plan for people. We likely will be visiting various churches in the coming year as we discuss the meaning of religion and culture with an emphasis on finding precious perspectives on truth in all religious paths.

That's about all I have planned for this year. I think it will be plenty--plenty of fun that is!

We started homeschooling in January when Willem turned 5 and gave ourselves a 9 month trial period seeing how well we interacted around learning activities (I don't have good memories of working with my father who was a teacher as a child so I worried that similar patterns would bleed into my parenting relationships with my children). Thankfully, that has not been the case and I am been impressed with how much my son has learned and how well we are doing with structuring our days and weeks for learning. That's been enough to show me that we can do it and it can be good for our family. I just needed the confidence boost of a trial period.

Links to Resources
Oak Meadow First Grade curriculum
Herb Fairies by Kimberly Gallagher
Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Baker
Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter
Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades
Handbook of Nature Study
Wheel of the Year
Bob Books
Angry Birds
BrainQuest Worksheets
Sunday School Lessons (Willem is in the CTR-4 class this year)
Learning to Read Using the Book of Mormon

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Test Kitchen: Young Children Learning Responsibility

The other night my three year old asked me when she would be able to make dinner all by herself. She followed that up with, "When I'm a mama, I'm going to make dinner for all my childrens!" She says that rather frequently. Sometimes I think that means that she doesn't like the way I do things and want to do it her own way--at least, that's what older children mean when they say that...

I feel quite strongly about the value of family work and that it is at home that children learn to work. At first it is through the example of seeing their parents work hard to maintain and care for the home and all the people in it, but from a young age, children can be involved in household care. Being a part of clean-up from early toddlerhood is one of the most obvious ways that children become involved in work, but, as my children have shown me, the kitchen is also a very excellent place to extend that learning.

In my early childhood education training, recipe boards were really common to provide opportunities for language arts, fine motor and math skills to develop. I'll be honest, I don't do that much at home, though perhaps I should...

With all those thoughts swirling around my head, I realized that a plan is starting to take shape. We're 5 years into this parenting thing and I've figured out some practices that have worked for our family in teaching my children the necessity of contributing to the overall needs of the household. It feels good to feel like I got something figured out. But now my thoughts turn towards the future, where do we go from here.

Below is an outline of what has worked with my children thus far, listed by ages when certain tasks are likely to be developmentally appropriate (with typically developing children):

0-2 years: babywearing from newborn to young toddler, then parallel play with utensils and kitchen materials while parent is cooking, transitioning to helping with simple tasks like dumping, shaking, retrieving ingredients.
2 years: put plates on table
3 years: fully set table with plates, silverware and cups, clear off table
3 years: take turns helping in the kitchen with dinner preparation (2-3 nights a week per child where the focus is on helping them learn and practice tasks)
3 years: help load dinner washer (minimally)
4+ years: increasing opportunities in more complex tasks
5 years: stationed at sink to rinse dishes before handing them off to be placed in the dishwasher

Now the next milestones I look forward to discovering is at what age is a young child capable to fully preparing a simple meal for the whole family and when can a child load a dishwasher without supervision? And what could possibly be the most simple meal for a child to learn to prepare?

The first meal I ever remember preparing (and being taught) was Scrambled eggs. Easy enough to break some eggs, mix them up, pour them into a hot pan and scramble. Next I got adventurous and put in salsa and some spices to make Southwest scrambled eggs. If I remember correctly, I was 8 or 9 and my parents didn't put much effort into teaching my cooking until that time. Both my older children show me that they really enjoy being in the kitchen and being a part of food preparation. So it makes me wonder, will they learn simple recipes before 8 or 9 years old?

Then there is the holy grail of parenting, when will they be able to take some of the work load off me? When will they be capable of significantly contributing in reducing the amount of housework the parents do?

I can't reliably look to my childhood because my parents did not place much emphasis on sharing household, particularly mealtime responsibility. Perhaps being an only child had something to do with it because I do find that somehow having more children makes sharing seem a lot more natural.

Currently, my oldest children take turns with setting the table and clearing it off. For one week, the same child sets the table each night while the other child clears it off and the next week it is switched. Both will readily admit that they look forward to the time when their baby sister can take over that job.

My son asked me what he'll get to do when baby sister is old enough to help and I told him that he'll get to move loading the dishwasher. I may try in a few months to get one child to do both setting and clearing off the table while the other helps with dishes.

I have also considered having a designated kitchen helper (dare we call them sous chef?) in the kitchen a couple of nights each week. This would be perfect with 3-4 kids over the age of 3 so my family is not quite there yet. However, I do enjoy when my 3 year old spontaneously joins me in the kitchen and we cook together. Give her a stool and a wooden spoon and she is very happy, especially if you let her do some dumping.

I find that one of the ways that my children feel loved is through connecting with our food and it starts in the garden. They truly enjoy the process of planning, growing, harvesting and cooking what we grow. I realize that I can love my children through these activities and cooking and baking is a natural extension of that. Shopping can be too. Costco in particular makes my life a little bit happier since my children are happy to come with me for the "zamples!" as my 3 year old says it. I enjoy that time talking with them about our meal plans and what we can make with the various ingredients we take from the shelves.

These are some of the reasons that the thought of sending my children to school does not appeal to me. They are learning some very valuable concepts through the shared experience of everyday life. Its not about exploiting their labor as much as it is connecting with one another, learning necessary life skills, and discussing academic and complex thoughts while using real-life applications.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The 10-20 year midwifery plan

I've had a number of friends who are in basically the same situation with me: mothers of young (or frequently homeschooling) children who also have a passion for birth and a desire to *someday* be a midwife. I've been trying to take it slow, but also seriously. Its a constant balancing act but with the mentoring of the midwife I was able to apprentice with, I saw a way that it could be done. My preceptor basically did just what we are attempting to do now, but she was doing it 25 years ago.

The following is a list based what I've learned from her example and my limited experience in the area. I like the way that I have entered the field so far. I personally feel like direct entry midwifery and training through apprenticeship is the way to go for mothers who do not feel that full, or even part time schooling will work for their family or their budget.

I've also included the approximate cost of the things I can.

1) Read, take notes, outline and annotate Holistic Midwifery Vol 1 and Vol 2 by Anne Frey (about $290 on amazon). Also get the Diagnostic Manual and Healing Passage (another $200)
2) Take a class on birth assisting or midwifery skills lab. Birth Assistants NW has a good class but the AAMI Skillslab is also really good. ($450)
3) Watch midwifery skills training videos like those from BirthJoy Midwifery.
4) Take NRP, CPR, AIDS/bloodborne pathogens training. Karen Strange's class is basically the only way to go and that is $220. CPR for Professionals is about $100
5) Start apprenticing with a midwife.
6) Work towards CPM designation through NARM.
7) Take additional classes/workshops/seminars (doula training, breastfeeding education, Rebozo, herbs, emergency skills, etc.) Classes are generally somewhere between $40 and can be upwards of $400-500. Keep a record of all trainings in a portfolio.
8) Take any additional classes required by the state for licensure (this may become the case in Washington state if certain advocacy efforts are successful).

I love the work at your own pace nature of this approach and how one can shift focus at any time. Right before I got pregnant with Elizabeth, I felt like it was a good time to share my time between my children and my work/training. Now with a new baby in the house, I'm obviously taking some time off, but I will soon be trying to take on a lesser load than I had when I was pregnant.

During my apprenticeship (I don't want to believe that its over, but I think it might be for now...), I felt so awkward every time I was asked what my plans for becoming a midwife are. It has been a process to really own the answer that feels the most correct for me. Maybe sometime soon I will be able to answer with confidence that I am a midwife in training on the 10-20 year plan to starting my own practice and becoming licensed. However, given how fulfilling my experiences during my pregnancy were, it just feels right to do it that way.

Who knows maybe that could be accomplished in 5 years? It will be interesting to see what the future brings...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A week in a full and joyful life

Every so often, I realize that I am very blessed in my life. I love that my family has a balance where I am able to pursue work that is meaningful to me and to be engaged with my children in their learning and play.

This last week, I've been busy with a project I've been working on. The midwife who attended Elizabeth's birth and I worked with as her student during my pregnancy is on the board of directors for the state midwifery association. She is working on a committee to reform the licensing laws in Washington to make it easier for the state to evaluate people's applications to become licensed. I've been working closely with her to develop the new paperwork. On June 5th, she invited me to go to the state capitol to present to the council that reports to the licensing board. Its been a dream of mine to work as an adviser on public policy issues so I've been really excited about and enjoying the opportunity.

I also got the registration forms for kindergarten for Willem. He and I both are leaning towards homeschooling but the elementary school is right down the street. I want to at least do what it takes to give him the opportunity if he wants it. I'm happy to continue his learning at home and we've been having a lot of fun with it. This morning he asked me, "What is the number before infinity called?" I'm impressed by that question!

In spite of considering kindergarten at the nearby public school, I did order the appropriate homeschool curriculum for Willem from Oak Meadow. I've been enjoying reading their books on learning and teaching theory and I am already better parent for it.

I was finally able to get the kindergarten forms because, Peter finally came home with the news that he will be staying for another year to finish his PhD. He had applied to a university for a job opening there but did not get it. We are not surprised but once he's finished with school, he will look so much more attractive to them. Right now, he has his name on 4 publications but by the end of the next school year, his name should be on 10 or 11 and he'll be Peter W. Alderks, Ph.D. He is also applying to another school in California but he expects that the result with be the same as with the first school.

I'm just happy to know where we will be living this next year. I am very tempted to get a dog since the children want one very much and we have a perfect yard for one. We also have the perfect yard for a chicken coop and a rabbit hutch but I'll compromise on a dog. The children are also very much wanting a large trampoline and a playground set for the background. I've heard that they resell in this area quite quickly and for between 1/2 and 3/4 of the original purchase price, so I will admit that I am considering it.

Its been very hard for me wanting to live life to the fullest and create an enjoyable childhood for my children and to also know that nothing we do right now is permanent. I've decided that it is better to live like we are going to be staying here and move when its time to move and say goodbye to all we've built up and created here than it is to constantly feel like everything about our life is temporary. So part of me want to say, yes! Let's get a dog, a trampoline and a playground set, plant our garden, build a coop and raise chickens! The other part of me says that its too expensive, we won't get our money's worth and it will be such a hassle to move or sell or say goodbye to those things.

The baby is doing well though we are still struggling with her latch. Its either tight and uncomfortable for me or its more comfortable and she slips off frequently, swallowing a lot of air which is resulting in a good deal of spitting up and crying. Its not as stressful as the early days with my first child since I understand what is happening and am working with it. Every couple of weeks, we see a craniosacral therapist to help her open her mouth for a deeper latch and to promote proper growth of her jaw and face. We also see our pediatric chiropractor weekly. I'm looking forward to having some resolution with this, and I hope it doesn't involve a labial frenectomy to release her upper lip. We've been doing all the therapy in order to avoid that. I keep telling myself that if she is still spitting up and frequently gassy when she's 3 1/2 months old, I will seriously consider the frenectomy. I'm praying we can avoid it. Other than all that, I've been having a lot of fun with my play sessions with the baby. She's working on social smiles and is overall a pretty easy baby (either that or I'm getting better at this new mom thing).

So there you are, that is what is going on with us. We are well and happy for the most part. Peter and I are truly blessed to have each other. Our children bring us so much joy and appreciation for life and we have a great deal of fun teaching them. I can't say I grew up with a particularly happy childhood so I'm honest when I say that the last year has been the happiest of my life. I'm really looking forward to continue to build on the work of the last year to make the coming year (thinking along the academic calendar) even better.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Blessed Daughters

I have daughters now. Two of them. The reality is just starting to set in. With my first daughter, I've basically spent the last two years wondering how in the heck am I going to raise a girl in this world? At first, I didn't feel like I had many answers and more than anything I was feeling intense responsibility mixed with confusion and a healthy dose of anxiety. I've come a long way and since Beth's birth a couple of weeks ago, I've had some breakthroughs. I feel more prepared, grounded and capable of raising daughters than I have before.

The reason for the breakthrough is probably brought on by my recent reflections on the phases of womanhood and how to honor and celebrate not just pregnancy and birth but womanhood in general. I had planned a blessingway/mother's blessing and prayer circle with a friend to honor and celebrate becoming a mother to my third baby, but that baby had a different plan and she was born before we could have the party. It was going to be a fun party so I didn't want to cancel it all together so I figured it was a special opportunity to adapt the blessingway into a welcoming celebration for a new girl into her matriarchal community. Since I had already thought of two different times to honor a woman (both during pregnancy and at birth), I starting thinking of times in between those times when a woman could be honored in a rite of passage ceremony and blessed by the women in her life.

I came up with a list of a number of times when a girl could be initiated into various stages of development. They are adapted for girls who belong to the LDS community and culture. You can read about them here if you are interested.

Its interesting that the one that I've been thinking about most lately is menarche, or the transition to menstruation which has symbolically been linked to the beginning of womanhood and is literally linked to the beginning of fertility. I know a number of friends who have asked about how to honor menarche for their daughters. It even came up at Beth's welcoming party. Another friend told me about these books: Becoming Peers: Mentoring Girls into Womanhood and The Diva's Guide to Getting Your Period both written by Deanna Lam. Since I'm babymooning and in need of reading material, I got both of them to add to my library in preparation for a few years from now when my daughters will be experiencing menarche.

Now I'm thinking about how I will want to teach my children, not just my daughters but my son also, about sexuality and the biology of their bodies. One of the first questions I had to settle for myself was to define when I believed womanhood began and when a girl becomes a maiden.

In the Maiden Mother Crone model used by Deanna L'am, a girl is a maiden until menarche when she becomes a woman. Another traditional view is that maidenhood ended when a girl lost her virginity which I just find troubling, especially in a world with a history of arranged and forced marriages and a rape culture. However, I seem to have a slightly different take on maidenhood. In my mind, maidenhood is a distinct stage after childhood and it starts at puberty. Then it ends at taking on adult responsibility either through choosing marriage, setting out on one's own or becoming a mother (and hopefully for my children, becoming a parent will come after marriage).

I see the span of time between menarche to motherhood as a preparatory period, like an initiation to fertility. This time offers the opportunity for a young woman to understand her cycle and her sexuality before she can be burned by participating in sex not knowing the implications or being ill-prepared to handle the consequences of such participation. With mentoring and education, she can know the risks she is taking with her life (thinking STIs, unplanned pregnancy) and she will be prepared to deal with whatever consequences she experiences if she makes that that choice can bring. Hindsight being so reliable, I like to think if I had known to think of it that way when I got my period, I would not have had sex for the first time at 14.

My theory for my own daughters is that I will teach my daughters about fertility signs soon before or soon after menarche and gift a book like Cycle Savvy (written by the author of Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

Preferably, my daughters can experience a phase between maidenhood and motherhood which I like to call priestesshood. This is a period of time when a young woman can dedicate her life to an important work, apprenticeship or service. Many young women serve missions for their churches, but many also study, go into military, or the Peace Corps. I consider this a time for young women to gain experience, skills and knowledge that will give her life experience that will serve her in each phase of the rest of her life. I also hope that in this phase, my daughters will learn their responsibility to serve and protect others throughout their community and world. In my teaching to my children, you bet I will be talking up all the things that can be enjoyed by putting off potential childbearing.

Hopefully my daughters will experience a good long while between the time of menarche and their first experience of sex. During this time, I will try to teach them about their fertility or encourage them to learn about it on their own. In borrowing from pagan traditions, I can imagine conducting a series of full moon mysteries mother/daughter circles through the teenage years where each full moon, we will explore a different aspect of becoming a woman and maturing into the women they hope to become.

During this time I also plan to encourage them not to repress their sexuality but to deal with it in healthy ways, and encourage them to understand their physiology and what feels good to them. I greatly appreciate that some marriage and family therapists (including the author of And They Were Not Ashamed)recognize that solitary sexual exploration is good preparation for marriage. I will however include the encouragement to remember balance and not over do it since it can be quite easy for that activity to turn into an obsession. If its a short-lived phased, great, and I anticipate in most cases, that will be the case for most young people. This is one area where strict prohibitions do not serve well and moderation and balance is key.

If a daughter of mine were to choose to have sex before marriage, I do not plan to shame or condemn her. I would hope that it was her choice and that she did not experience rape. If it were her choice, I would expect that she is prepared to accept whatever consequences come out of it and embrace their new phase, whether it is priestesshood or motherhood. If she were to become a mother as a result, awesome. I do not personally believe that teenagers are ill equipped to be parents and that with community and parental love and support, they can be empowered to become excellent parents. So if I faced teen parenthood with one of my children, I plan to support and love them and teach them everything I can about parenthood (there are analogous phases to manhood as well and you bet my son will get similarly appropriate education). If my teens are sexually active and they are lucky like I was, then I teach them repentance and moving into priestesshood/priesthood.

I sound so prepared and like I have so many answers, don't I? We shall see about that. I hope that this preparation will prove helpful to me when the time comes to begin teaching these things to my children. If anything, I'll have this post to remind me of my conceptions!

Welcoming the New Girl

I didn't realize it at the time but when we hosted a blessing party for Beth soon after she was born, we were doing a variation of not only a blessingway post-birth, or a woman centric blessing ceremony equivalent to the LDS name and blessing ceremony, but also the Jewish Simchat-bat, a naming ceremony for girls. The party was even held on the Jewish Sabbath!

Originally, her blessing party was supposed to happen with her still inside me and it was going to be a mother's blessing for me in preparation to childbirth. Alas, she was born a little earlier than I anticipated. I was pleased to still have the party and with the help of some wonderful friends, I did very little in preparation for it (i.e. I showered and fed a baby, and made a phone call or two to order things for the party).

The prayer circle was so touching that I wanted a way to record it and share the words spoken with Elizabeth as she grew up. Click on the link below to view the book I look forward to sharing it with her as she grows older.

Click here to view this photo book larger
The new way to make a photo album: photo books by Shutterfly.

Thank you for being a part of welcoming my newest daughter as a reader of my blog. I hope you will add a hope/prayer/blessing/wish for her in the comments.