Friday, October 31, 2014

Changing Priorities

My employer offers below-market wages, limited opportunities for promotion and advancement, and expensive benefits. Why do people stay? There is one major benefit offered at no cost to the employee which is a significant incentive to stay no matter how limited your career might become. Each employee is provided with up to 70% of the university's current tuition rate for up to 24 semesters of college for the employee's children. Given that the university I work for is a high-end, high tuition, private college, it essentially means free college for three children since 70% here is over and above 100% most anywhere else.  This is a powerful incentive to stay.

If all goes according to plan, I will be quitting my job here at some point in the future. Hopefully sooner rather than later, but the fact remains that, if I get my way, my children will have their college education almost completely paid on one day and then the next day, they won't. And it will be because of me. I have always been a saver. I plan out expenses and agonize over spending money unnecessarily. The idea of having college tuition provided for my children is deeply comforting to me. 

When I began to struggle with my ideas about my role in my family, this benefit was the last sticking point before I decided I wanted to quit. Why should my personal preferences impact my children's ability to pay for college? College was the priority and I thought I should be willing to endure anything to make it happen. I wrestled with this idea for months before deciding that my being present with my children during their childhood was more important that having a guaranteed paid college education. After this decision was made, I felt a lot of peace about it, which for me is highly unusual. I am good at second guessing.

Even though I feel peace about the potential of leaving all the money on the table, I haven't actually walked away from it yet either. It does make me a little nervous about how we will manage their educations. Perhaps when the money is really gone, my attitude will change. Over the years I have made enough money for us to live on comfortably, but we don't have much left over. Our emergency savings is not what I would like it to be. Our long-term savings for the children is also not nearly what would be necessary. Of course, it wasn't supposed to be this way, but it is. I can realistically look ahead and know that it is likely we will be taking a pay cut when I am no longer employed and our ability to save money will be even less. This uncertainty would normally make me feel ill, but I am strangely calm about these possibilities.

Slowly and then all at once, my priority changed from providing the funds for college at some distant point in the future to asserting my role as mother right now as the primary purpose in my life. What good is college if I am separated from their childhood and I only have a limited ability to influence their actual lives? My biggest fear in this transition is that when my children get old enough to go to college and if we still do not have the money to help them, they will resent me for choosing my present peace over their future livelihoods. It's a gamble I am willing to take.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Lobby Church

Our parish is a newly established one. We were officially created in 2008 and have met in a strip mall ever since. The new building is supposed to be completed next year,  but for now,  we make do with a strip mall sanctuary next door to a rock band bible church.

Since Marian is at that delightful age where she is too old to sleep during Mass and too young to understand that she needs to be relatively still and quiet, she and I spend a lot of Mass time in the lobby. We have a small cry room available, but I don't like going in there. It's small, I feel like I am on display, and inevitably it is filled with children too old to be there. Call me out for being judgmental, but families with only elementary age children should not automatically default to the cry room. Also when your family has one member who might need the cry room, it isn't very considerate to take up the entire room with your entire family by default just so you won't have to move later. But I don't intend to go down a rabbit hole about cry rooms.

Our general Sunday Mass routine is for us to begin together as a family in a regular row, usually towards the front, and then when Marian needs to be removed for whatever reason, I take her out to the lobby and continue to participate through the glass doors as best I can. I will nurse her and try to hold her if she will let me, but many times I just put her down and let her toddle around, chasing her down when necessary to bring her back to my central location behind the glass doors.

Mass in the lobby contains an interesting group of people. There are one or two other mothers like me who have brought big babies and young toddlers out to stretch. The mothers still stand and kneel and participate as if we were in the nave and not out stranded in the lobby. The babies point and smile and play with each other, kindly sharing snacks and drinks with the less fortunate whose mothers do not bring food to church. There is a young grandmother who regularly brings her granddaughter to church. I am not sure of their story except that I have never seen the child's parents and the girl is a bundle of toddler energy. She and Marian carry on, amusing each other. They play peekaboo through the glass. The girl is about six months older than Marian and is a bit of a mascot for the more involved members of the parish who regularly pick her up and carry her around to give Grandma a break. There is a father who regularly strolls his baby in a stroller all around the lobby while reading the prayers out of his Magnificat. We all smile at each other and give knowing, sympathetic looks and quietly remark how big each baby is getting.

These are the sights I expect to see out in the lobby. What I did not expect is the numerous other people who make their way around the lobby. It is not unusual to find a family sitting at a back table well away from the doors to the nave. The children, who seem to be of an age to be able to sit and behave in Mass, are coloring or doing a quiet activity while the mother sits in a chair giving off an air of nonchalance, as if she is paying attention to Mass but doesn't want to look like she is. I wonder what drives her into the building but stops her short of fully engaging. She isn't alone. There are several adults who come and are here, but not here. In the building and not really participating, but they aren't ignoring Mass either. They care enough to come but perhaps are afraid to do more.

There is another family who tends to run a little late and, rather than enter the church, they spend the whole Mass fully participating next to the mothers-of-toddlers with their tween-aged children. I suspect they do not want to interrupt anyone inside. They are good-natured and they laugh at the baby antics.

There is also a couple in their fifties who tends to run very, very late. Many times they come in, look around, see there is not much seating available, turn around and leave. I don't know if they just call it a week or if they return for a different service.

We get to see the older children who walk in and out, in and out of the church as they visit the bathroom over and over again. We have to be careful that they don't let a toddler inside to run wild.

There is an older, but not elderly, man who is in fairly poor health. He has trouble walking and getting around. He always sits in the last row of chairs inside the church. His gait is awkward and slow and yet every week around the time of the homily, he gets up, leaves the church, goes outside, and smokes a cigarette.

There is a Hispanic man who looks to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He is very focused and does not seem to notice the patter of the babies around him. He stands; he kneels; he prays. He makes no eye contact with anybody. Marian is always trying to get his attention, but he pays her no mind. I try to keep her from bothering him because he is obviously trying to pray, but then I can't help but think that he can't expect solitary silence out in the lobby. I don't really think she bothers him because at every Sign of Peace, he seems to return from that far-off plane where he has been and he smiles at her and offers handshakes to all around. After the fraction rite and priest's communion, he steps into the church, blesses himself at the font, and leaves. I wonder if he is going to work.

Another feature of the lobby is that the door to the office is adjacent to the door to the church. Everyone who is trying to pay attention and participate is doing so right in front of the office door. We hear the phone ring. A lot. Usually around the consecration, a person or two will arrive to do a little clerical office work and begin shuffling papers, preparing to count the money from the offering, and having conversations amongst themselves. We in the lobby are guests at the heavenly banquet. Their appointment at the table is at another time and they carry on as normal. It can be a little jarring having the sacred and the secular separated by mere feet and the purposeful intention to pay attention.

This little society always breaks up at Communion. We each take our place in line, process up, and then disperse to our own little worlds. I usually return to the row with the rest of my family if I think Marian will cooperate and I can manage it without having to climb over somebody else.

In spite of our differences and in our similarities, we are all called to be there, to worship and to be fed, and we try to fulfill this call in our own imperfect ways and in the season of life in which we reside. I hope we all have ears to hear even out in the lobby.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

GFLN Week 8 Oct 25th

Thanks to Melanie for hosting.

Again this week was completely absorbed by other matters so not a whole lot happening on the education front.

Spent all Sunday afternoon at my MILs preparing for court. Grace got bored, raided the fabric stash, and decided to make a cheetah pillow. I'm always impressed with their little sewing projects since I excel at threading a needle and that's about it.

On Monday the girls came home with their first quarter report cards. Both girls did well.

Olivia's report card: reading level F, 3s in Language Arts and mostly 4s in Math.
Grace's report card: Language Arts 94 Math 98 Science 98 Social Studies 94 Reading 97

Olivia's report card is a bit of a muddle to understand. They don't give As and Bs any more and the "grades" are different than even when Grace was in early elementary. You can get a 1, 2, 3, or 4 in a variety of specific content areas. Mastery is 4 and Regular is 3 and the others are not as great. Basically if you get 3s, you are doing fine and 4 is better than expected, I guess. The reading levels are also a bit convoluted. They tell us a range for each grade level and that's about it.

The Monday Night Football game was in Pittsburgh and the announcers always love to mention The Confluence.  Olivia heard it and so we gave her a brief explanation of what a confluence is. She didn't seem terribly interested until I told her the big river that begins in Pittsburgh is the Ohio which is the same big river we crossed in Cincinnati on our way to Columbus. Then she nodded a knowing nod. Oh that big river!

I read a few books with Sam over the week, but poor Olivia is really getting the short shrift right now.  We boom and bust with her homework and her reading. There were several nights I intended to listen to her read and then we all got distracted and I forgot. Try, try again.

The only real educationaly thing that happened this week is that Grace heard that a person's wingspan is the same as his height and she wanted to know if it was true. I thought a minute and said it sounded about right but how about we measure everyone and see the actual numbers. So without further ado, the data measured mostly by me and recorded mostly by Olivia in giant numbers and letters.

                    Height               Armspan

David:         69.75 in             70.75 in
Jenny:        61.5 in               62.75 in
Grace:        49 in                  49 in
Olivia:         44.5 in               44 in
Sam:          41.5 in               41 in

Marian was not measured because I decided it would be too much trouble. From our little data sample, it appears that the adults are shorter than their arms and the little kids are taller than their arms. Grace, of course, is perfectly symmetrical much to her delight. I wonder if the adults have shrunk from their full height a bit, a shadow of which is left in their armspan. And maybe the little kids have yet to grow fully out of their toddler bodies. So the answer to Grace's question is that yes, armspread is a good approximation of height, but it isn't exact even if hers is.

So maybe this next week, life will return more to normal and I'll have more to say.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Time or Time Management

I was involved in an extended discussion yesterday in a working mothers group about exercise and time management.

I am grateful this group exists. It gives me much needed perspective on what other mothers have to cope with and many times pulls me out of my own pity party. As much as I would like for my life to be different, it could be a whole lot worse. All this being said, one of my frustrations with the group is that it is not limited to women who work full time outside the home. Now I don't want to say that mothers who work part time or who work at home are not busy or don't need support. I don't believe that at all. It's just that working full time outside the home is an entirely different ball of wax and many of these threads consist of the two groups talking past each other. So yesterday's thread had a mother who works full time outside the home (works at work mother--WAWM) asking if anyone makes time for exercise. Her particular issue is that she does not want to spend even more time away from her family and having an exercise routine would demand it. I am completely sympathetic to the problem.

I am the poster child of the sedentary lifestyle. I commute over two hours a day. I sit in my office chair up to nine hours a day. We try to have lingering family dinners to reconnect in the evening which usually means another hour of sitting. I nurse the baby which is more sitting. Less now that she is older, but as a young infant, I might spend another hour or two in the evening nursing. Sitting. I do a lot of sitting and it concerns me.

I am well aware of the long term health implications of all the sitting I do. I would like to get regular exercise. I would like for physical movement to be more a part of my regular life, but for now it isn't. The reason isn't because I'm lazy (although I am) or because I need to manage my time better or rearrange my priorities or anything that can be fixed. The reason I do not exercise more is because regular exercise would require me to be away from my family more than I already am.

I am usually gone about eleven hours a day and I have about three hours in the evening to spend with my children. In those three hours we eat supper, clean up, do homework, take baths, and get ready for bed. Deviating from the schedule is problematic. I am not under the impression that these hours are "quality time" because, mostly, they are not, but it is time. So if during the regular work week I can expect to spend about fifteen hours with my children, the thought of reducing that time by 3 to 4 hours is not very appealing. Am I willing to give up 25% of my limited time with my children to exercise? Right now the answer is no. It isn't a very satisfying answer. I know that in 20-30 years I might regret sacrificing my long term health, but I also know I will regret sacrificing more of my children's childhood right now.

It is a topic I have thought long and hard about. So back to the thread. Several women jumped in to commiserate and joke about how sedentary we all are. Then several work at home mothers (WAHM)
began to talk about their exercise routines and how they fit them into their day. This was so, so frustrating. If it had just been that they wrote about themselves, it wouldn't have bothered me, but many of them decided they could help us and started giving advice. The runners began to explain how they get up early before the children are awake to go running and how we could just get up early and go running.

When do they go running exactly? Why when the sun comes up! Great, except I'm driving to work when the sun comes up. For me to go running in the morning before work, I would have to get up at 4 or 430 in the morning and run in the pitch black dead of night. My evening schedule would be compressed more than it already is because I would need to get in bed at least an hour before I do, pushing my shower time to before the children go to bed. If I were a morning person, this schedule *might* be workable, but I am not so it really isn't.

The thread continued with more advice about time management and arranging priorities and I could feel myself getting more and more agitated. Finally someone started talking about a blogger who writes a lot about time management. She, the WAHM, said she had gleaned a lot of information from this person and she really recommended her for helping everyone manage their own time. She posted the link and I clicked over. I immediately saw it was written by a stay-at-home homeschooling mother and had to quell my irritation.

Now you all know, or should know, that I love stay-at-home homeschooling mothers. Perhaps, one fine day, I will be one too. I think they are busy; they do work; they have one of the most important jobs there is to do. But. But. The time issue is just not the same. It's not. They have flexibility in their time that WAWMs just do not have.

I thought to myself it wasn't fair to write off her advice solely for who she is so I continued reading. Her first point was to prioritize sleep. I can agree with that. I definitely have found that I need a certain minimum of sleep or my productivity declines rapidly.

Her second point was to "Deduct at least two hours for 'Margin Time.'" That's when my head exploded! I have three hours a day at my disposal and I am supposed to deduct two so I have time for the unexpected. I guess that explains why I get nothing done ever. In my frustration, I went back over to the thread and explained my situation in fuller detail. That I don't have a two hour margin. My choices are either to sleep or to do something else and not sleep and that's it.

I am not detracting from the blogger's advice because I am sure it is very useful to those who have the latitude to implement it, but that's not me. And it is not most mothers who are full time WAWMs. We are not in charge of our schedules. Honestly most of us are barely surviving. We are well aware of how much we don't do, of how much we miss, and to even have the group that is supposed to understand exactly what it is like and support us filled with people giving us time management advice is irking.

I was talking to Literacy-chic over private messenger so she could talk me off the ledge. She made an excellent and succinct point:
WAHMs have "time management" problems. WAWMs have TIME problems.
And that's it in a nutshell. I prioritize sleep, I try to enjoy my children as much as I can, and I prioritize all other important and necessary tasks. Of those important and necessary tasks, exercise being one, many just don't get done. Not because I don't know they are important, not because my priorities are out of order, not because I don't want to do them, not because I don't know this one neat trick to make my schedule work, but because the time isn't there to manage.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sam's Birth Story or A Great Nurse Makes All the Difference

After all the anticipation of the last weeks of my pregnancy with Olivia, I discussed the possibility with my doctor of not doing so many cervical checks because the whole thing is just so stressful. She agreed that if everything seemed normal when I had the Strep B test done at 35 weeks, I could skip until 38 weeks. So not exactly what I was looking for, but at least it wouldn't be a weekly event where everyone and their brother would ask how far I, the freak show, had progressed without actually being in labor.

We also discussed how to approach my actual labor. I detest being hooked up to the machines. I hate that my comfort as a laboring mother takes second (or third) place behind the requirements of the machines and the convenience of the medical staff. We discussed, with the eventuality of inducement in mind, about the possibility of avoiding the machines. Since my induced labor with Olivia went so well and so quickly, my doctor agreed that as long as I was not on pitocin, she would only require a heplock during my labor. If I needed to be induced, she agreed to only break my water, not immediately hook up pitocin, and watch to see if labor would progress well enough on its own without further intervention. I was happy with this agreement. Even if not having the pitocin elongated the time of labor, it was worth it to avoid all those wires and machines.

We also had to discuss one last issue. During Olivia's pregnancy I had developed some pain in the area between my legs and my pelvis. This is a hard spot to describe where it hurts. Not really my legs, not really my hips, but it felt like my legs were being pulled out of their sockets. If I tried to stand on one leg, it was agony and very unstable. It was nagging but not terrible with Olivia and I didn't really research it to figure out what was happening. With this pregnancy, I had the same pain again except it hurt most of the time. I had trouble standing up and walking without warming up into a full upright stance. Putting on pants was a chore since you have that moment of balancing on one leg. I was in almost constant pain. The doctors seemed to have no answer beyond it being the normal aches and pains of pregnancy. I did a lot of research and found it was probably pelvic girdle pain and could be a pelvic separation. Doctors in Europe seem to recognize the problem, but doctors in America? Not so much. One of the tidbits I found in my research is that delivering on your back aggravates the condition. As a result of my reading I decided I WOULD NOT deliver on my back ever again. I had to explain my thoughts to my doctor and she was fully open to any position I preferred, so we were all set.

At 35 weeks, I had the strep test and first cervical check: 3cm. Of course. No check at 36 or 37 weeks which made my mother extremely nervous. She thought I was being reckless. I thought I was only trying to reduce my stress levels. There was nothing to be done no matter how far I had dilated so I'd just rather not know.

At 38 weeks came the next check: 4cm. See! That wasn't so bad. At 39 weeks came the next check: 5cm. "Do you want to be induced?" "Not really." "I don't want to wait another week to see you. Come back in a few days."

The day before Sam was born.

I thought this was a good belly shot. The view from above!

On July 1, 2010, at 39 weeks and three days, I returned to the doctor and she checked again: 6cm. "I want to induce today." "I suppose." I really don't like being induced but it is the standard treatment for precipitous labor.

My appointment was scheduled for first thing in the morning so afterward, I did the next logical thing; I went back to work. This was a surreal feeling. About ten days prior, word had come down that one of our servers was being taken out of service and all the users with our software would have to have an update installed to redirect the pointers to the new server. Since the shut down was scheduled to happen during my planned maternity absence, I had spent the last week or so in a mad dash to visit and reinstall all of our users in the building before I had the baby. Visiting so many people while nine months pregnant is comical. I had to repeat every detail multiple times a day. There's nothing to reinforce the ego like having a random acquaintance tell you that you look huge several times a day. Most times they also wanted to know when I would have the baby. On the day I went back to work after my inducement was set, I got the special amusement of telling my shocked audience that the baby would most likely be born that same evening.

After I was back at work, my doctor called and told me that all of the appointments for the day had already been booked so she scheduled me for 7pm that night. I now had an entire day to mull on my fate. Knowing that you are definitely going to be in labor later that day but aren't right now is pretty distracting.

To help pass the day, I decided my father was going to take me to lunch at a nice restaurant. I called him at work, told him that the doctor wanted to induce that night, and asked him to take me out to lunch at a local Italian restaurant. He obliged. We went to eat and I had a huge meal with appetizers and salad and bread and pasta with vodka pesto sauce, and dessert. Yummy and filling. I figured since I knew what was coming, I deserved a good meal on the front end. Daddy and I talked a bit about the upcoming evening and then he brought me back to work. I tied up all my loose ends and decided about mid-afternoon to go home.

After I was home, I spent the rest of the afternoon spending time with Grace and Olivia. At the end of pregnancy, I always feel compelled to gather my born children around me and soak in the last moments of the old normal. Dave took a few pictures of the girls during the day for us to remember them the day their brother was born. Since I had a huge lunch, I was not in the mood for supper. I took a shower. The others ate supper while I relaxed on the couch and then it was time. Around six we loaded the girls up in the van, brought them to my in-laws for the night, and then set off for the hospital. We finalize our name, Samuel David, on the way. We know that this baby is supposed to be a boy.

When we got to the hospital around seven, they told me the room wasn't ready yet so we had to wait. We sat in the waiting room for awhile and then finally they brought me back to a room. I think the time was 730-745. I walked into the room quite apprehensive. I knew that I had extensively discussed my expectations with my doctor, but my doctor wasn't there yet. I had to make it through the nurses first. I walked in expecting to have to argue and advocate of my behalf and then deal with nurses who thought me unreasonable. You never know who is going to be waiting on you at the hospital and I wasn't sure how much would be in my chart or even if the nurses would read it if it were there.

My main nurse, Susan, introduced herself and the assistant immediately started prepping me for all the bells and whistles. I quickly said that my doctor had agreed to no IV, only a heplock and intermittent and not continuous monitoring. The assistant looked baffled, but my nurse didn't miss a beat. She said they would have to confirm with my OB when she got there but it shouldn't be a problem. I then broached the topic of delivery. I explained my pelvic pain and how I did not want to deliver on my back. I expected some kind of pushback here, especially when I said that I also preferred for her not to count at me. Instead of giving me the hairy eyeball, she had a very positive attitude and immediately started making suggestions about positions that might be less stressful. I also told her that I did not want the baby given a bath after birth because I was not going to have the debacle with Olivia replayed a second time. She, again, indicated it was no problem, noted a non-separation order in my record, and acted like nothing I requested was out of the ordinary. And I breathed a sigh of relief. The assistant inserted the heplock, which was in a terrible place on my wrist and even to this day I can feel if I push on my wrist in the right spot, and we waited for the doctor to arrive. I, of course, also took my trusty Pepcid. Never labor without it.

It was after 8 o'clock now. My doctor arrived and she and the nurses all got on the same page. She also asked if it was okay if a resident delivered the baby. I always feel a strange obligation to let the residents deliver. I know that I have unusual births so I feel like the resident needs a chance to see someone like me. And, really, I don't mind. We were ready to begin.

For intermittent monitoring, she required that I be on the monitors for 15-20 minutes every hour and then I would have the rest of the hour off the machines if everything looked normal. She decided to do the first session of monitoring before she broke my water so we would have a normal base to compare. So I was hooked up to the hateful belts again, but it wasn't so terrible because I was not having contractions.

Me waiting for the party to start
My parents and my brother and his wife had come to the hospital to keep me company. We all just hung around and talked while the machines beeped. Finally the doctor decided she had enough data. I was freed from the monitors and it was time to break my water. Everyone stepped out of the room. The doctor checked my dilation one last time, 6.5cm, and then did the deed. This is always such an odd moment. The time was 9pm.

Everyone returned and we waited for the contractions to start. It didn't take long. I was having regularish contractions within ten minutes. Hello, back labor. I was sitting straight up in bed and moved around to find the most comfortable spot that kept the weight off my back. I think I was sitting up on my knees, but I don't quite remember. But the contractions weren't bad enough to make the company leave. That didn't last too long.

By 930, the contractions were pretty strong and I decided I wanted to go to the bathroom. My parents and brother used that opportunity to go visit the waiting room for the duration. I was so grateful to not have to unfurl myself from a hundred wires to get out of the bed. I walk over to the bathroom uneventfully and empty my bladder. The contractions were real and relentless now. I walk back over to the bed and lean into it with my weight on my arms. Wave after wave of pain in a near constant pain of back labor.

The time is now around 945 and it is time for me to be hooked to the machines again for the next session of monitoring. I have a moment of despair. How am I going to get back in that bed? I can barely move. How am I going to endure the worst of transition while having to lay back to let the machines work? My nurse asks if she thinks I can get into the bed. I just look at her and shake my head. In an act for which I will forever be grateful, she does not make me get into the bed. She reaches over, grabs the monitoring belt, and holds it to my belly while I stand leaning into the bed. And there we stand for fifteen or twenty minutes: she holding the monitor so I don't have to move and I leaning over the bed in agony.

The time for monitoring was finished and everyone knows that birth is close. The time is around 10pm. My nurse tells me she is going to stack pillows on the bed where I can be in a hands-and-knees position to push. My knees would be on the bed but the stack of many pillows would serve as upper body support. She also reassures me that we can change anything if it isn't working for me. I climb into the bed with help, grateful to not have to flip over. I put my knees down and flop forward into the pillows letting them completely support me. I begin to feel the urge to push, but the nurse tells me to wait. Everything is still being set up. I indulge a little, but not too much because I can't see what is going on. It is all happening behind and below me which is an exposed feeling. Dave reaches his hand to me.

Finally I am given the all clear and I begin to push. I feel his head engage and I push again. He is moving quickly and all of a sudden I feel him begin to crown. This time the pain does not shock me. I remember this pain and know it is almost over. I remember what the nurse from Olivia's birth said to me and I repeat it to myself here. "Don't draw back from the pain. Push through the pain." I give another hard push and his head is out. My doctor tells me to stop pushing because his hand is up on his face and she needs to adjust it. Again I am cleared to push and with the next contraction, I push and he is completely delivered. Time of birth: 10:14pm. He cries as they clean him up. His size is 7lbs, 10oz and 21in long. About the same weight as Olivia, but several inches longer than either girl. Total time of labor from rupture to birth: One hour and fifteen minutes.

Shortly after I deliver the placenta and I am stitched up again. Second degree tear right down the same ole scar line. I nursed him which went so-so. His latch as a newborn was never great. Everyone returned from the waiting room and we all visited for awhile. Since it was late in the evening, nobody was in a hurry to rush me out of the delivery room. So instead of being wheeled out at exactly hour after birth, I didn't leave until around midnight. This was so much more relaxing instead of being hurried out of there like I was in somebody's way. And when I got to the recovery room, I was even given the option of ordering some food, even though it was late. That was a nice change.

Sam was never separated from me and we visited until late in the night. The next day the girls were brought to the hospital to meet their brother and they were thrilled.

This birth was, by far, my best experience of birthing in a hospital. I was pretty much left alone as much as a hospital will leave you alone. My only complaints were that the heplock was in a really bad spot and the recovery nurse was apparently unaware that I had had no IV fluids and so expected a lot more bladder output than I was producing. Once that was clarified, she backed off considerably. I couldn't ask for better in my delivery nurse. She was positive and calm and helpful. She could have made me miserable with my nonstandard choices, but she went above and beyond to make everything go well.

Monday, October 20, 2014


So, at what point in your blogging life do you stop hitting refresh on the stat page?

I'll go to the stat page and see that someone is here, right now!
Hit refresh.

This person is reading another post!
Hit refresh.

Oh, look, another post!
Hit refresh.

Am I going to get a comment?
Hit refresh.

Maybe now?
Hit refresh.

Hit refresh.

Well, I think the person is gone now.
Hit refresh.

Comment now?
Hit refresh.


Hit refresh.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Open to Life

What does it mean to raise children to be open to life? Honestly it is not something I have given a lot of thought. We just live our life and our life happens to include more than the standard issue of children. Sometimes, though, I get a peak into how our way of life radically impacts the worldview of our children.

One of the neighbor girls ate lunch at our house today. She is around eight years old and has a baby sister who is around 6 months old. Grace matter-of-factly asked her today if she wanted the next baby to be a brother or a sister. The girl answered that one baby gave her mother enough trouble. Grace responded that of course the baby was a lot of work for her mother, but what did *she* want if they had another baby. The girl wrinkled her nose and shook her head no. Grace tried to make sense of this answer by saying, "Oh, you just want to get used to having one baby before you think about the next one." This is the entirety of the exchange.

In Grace's world, it is perfectly normal for there to be another baby at some point and for that baby to be A Good Thing. She is sometimes so glib about her expectation of having more siblings, I have to remind her that children are not just mail-order delivered.

My children are not abnormal. They fight amongst themselves, but they also don't view their siblings as threats or people to be avoided. We do not pit them against each other and we are all encouraged to be understanding of the developmental level of each member of the family. The baby cries and needs to be comforted. The toddler grabs and needs to learn to share. The older ones all need a turn to be the leader of the game. Sometimes the parents need to be left alone. It is everyone's responsibility to help provide what other family members need. I forget that other families just don't function this way.

Grace doesn't know how to avoid adoring the baby even when the baby sometimes drives her crazy. She doesn't understand that some families focus on the sacrifices that babies require and never get around to embracing the joy. She does not live where the normal demands of babies are met with the language of resentment, negativity, and anger. She doesn't recognize that the likelihood of the neighbor having another sibling is probably low. She would be horrified if she ever realized that her friend is glad the probability is low.

According to Grace, there is no reason why you wouldn't want another baby. And this is how I know we are raising our children to be open to life.


My ability to write has been significantly impacted by lots of drama on the homefront involving my MIL's house and a contractor.

Friends, let me give you a word of advice. Please do not pay a contractor 82% of an estimate before any of the work has been done.

This is all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Sticks

Back in the spring, Bearing had a post about an experimental chore system she was implementing with her children. I was very intrigued. I watched her updates and after she showed positive results, I decided it was worth a shot with my own older children.

We first implemented our version of the system in the middle of August as a practice run. I bought some popsicle craft sticks, had each girl choose a color, and colored the tips with the assigned color and wrote their name on each stick. We found a jar to put the sticks in, placed the jars on their dresser and commenced the experiment. I decided that each stick would be worth 25 cents at the end of the month. I wanted to start with a low bar for two reasons. First, we don't have a lot of money to spend on children's chore money and second, I wanted room to be able to give raises later.

For that partial month, the daily jobs required to keep the stick were 1) empty and put up lunchboxes when getting home from school 2) all shoes and socks where they belong and 3) they get ready for bed when told without nagging or delay. This third job entails several sub-jobs which are put on pajamas, put laundry in the dirty clothes basket, brush teeth, go to the bathroom, wash hands, and get clothes out for tomorrow. 

That first month went okay. There was much wailing over lost sticks when I found wadded socks all over the house, but they took pretty well to the idea of having jobs and the number of stray socks in the house diminished significantly.

At the beginning of the September, I added trash duty to the mix. I gave Olivia the upstairs trash and Grace the down. Overflowing trash cans has long been a problem here. The ground rules are that if the trash is less than half full, she can leave it, but if it is half or more, it needs to be emptied and a new bag put in place. The bags are, of course, our never ending supply of plastic grocery bags. The one exception to the half full rule is the small trash can under the kitchen sink that needs changed daily since that's where the stuff that rots goes. This particular trash can is the primary reason Grace was assigned the downstairs. Dave and I kept duty over the large kitchen trash can where the girls were to deposit their bags and the baby diaper trash can.

I expected a lot of problems with trash duty because, yuck, trash, but to my amazement, after it was all explained, they all took to trash duty like it was Very Important Work including Sam. He helps! Our overflowing trash can problem of many years enduring disappeared overnight.

The first six weeks of the sticks were fairly successful. The only real complaint I had is that I felt like I was having to do a lot more reminding than I wanted. Honestly, though, it was Olivia needing most of the reminders. "Now what are my jobs again?" She is only six so I have to remind myself not to get frustrated with her because, really, she is only six. Grace generally doesn't need much reminding at all. And if she happens to lose a stick one day, she gets so upset over it. Crying and wailing and "It's not fair!" but I hold her to the standard and encourage her to do better the next day.

From the beginning, I really wanted to give them the responsibility for keeping their room clean, but their room was in such a state that I could not expect them to organize it. The job was too big for two little girls. They needed a clean slate before I could reasonably expect them to keep it up, but that had to wait until I had the opportunity and time to clean it up. Since I was taking the week off of work during the girls' Fall Break from school, I decided the first full week of October would be the perfect time to get the job done. I complain about doing it here.

Look at the wonderful clean floor!

Finally, hallelujah, the room is clean! The girls are now expected to keep their room clean. Clean means no piles on the dresser, no piles on the nightstand, no piles on the chair, no piles in the closet, no piles on the floor, no piles on the bed, and no trash in the floor. Do you sense a theme? I did not, however, require that they make their beds. Olivia has a double and Grace has the top bunk so each has a difficulty and I decided that wasn't a battle worth fighting right now.

Only took three months to hang the cheetah poster
Look for the lion poster

Since they share a room, they immediately wanted to know if they would be responsible for the other person's mess. Oh I had read about that question before. I immediately deferred to the Bearing rule which made perfect sense to me:
When I check your room, if I can tell that one person has done his share and the other hasn't then I'll only take that person's token -- for instance, if one bed is made and the other isn't. But if I can't tell, like if there's just a bunch of laundry on the floor, I'll pull both tokens.
Neither girl loved this answer. I also clarified that they were ultimately responsible if Sam or Marian came in and made a mess. Yes, we would require Sam or Marian to help pick up as their ability dictated and yes, we would help them clean up a mess not of their making if we could, but at inspection time, it was to be clean or the sticks would be lost. Again they didn't love this answer, but I think they both accepted it and there wasn't too much argument about it, only clarification and discussion.

So here we are in the third month of this experiment and the areas for which the girls have responsibility have definitely, definitely improved. But now the rubber hits the road. Can the girls keep their room clean? I surely hope so. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

GFLN Week 7 Oct 18th

Thanks again to Melanie for hosting!

I have been very derelict this week in typing up notes. Most of my free time has been consumed by all of the local drama. I'm sure we've talked and been very educational. Right? But I do remember a couple of things from the week.

First, Olivia and I read one of her school readers one night. She has just moved up a reading level and was struggling. It was late in the evening which didn't help. She would see a word she didn't recognize and try to sound it out, but the "sounding it out" was mostly guessing at the sounds she thought the word might be while looking at the picture instead of actually sounding out the letters. Very frustrating for me, anyway. "Olivia, look at the word. That letter isn't there." After several pages of this, I would just tell her the word if she started to struggle because I'm patient like that.

Second, we had a conversation with Grace about group punishments and group responsibilities. She was upset because her class was due to miss nine minutes of recess the next day because her teacher found nine pencils on the floor of the classroom. Since there was no way to identify who all the pencils belong to, the whole class would have to miss time.  Grace knew this was Not Fair!

They weren't her pencils. How is the teacher supposed to know that?

She then launched on an elaborate explanation about how since two students were assigned to be the custodians of the room every week, they should be the ones punished for the pencils on the floor instead of the whole class. What's that, you say? She said that the custodian job should work the same way that her room responsibility works at home. At the end of very day, if her room isn't clean, it is her fault and she takes the consequences whether she made the mess or not. Hey, at least she understands the expectation! Her argument is that the classroom custodians bear the same responsibility so if there were pencils left on the floor and the custodians did not pick them up, they should be the ones punished instead of the whole class.

We explained to her that it wasn't exactly the same situation and that the student custodians should not be the only ones responsible if the classroom gets too trashy. Would it be fair for the school custodian to get in trouble for not having clean bathrooms if some students decided to throw toilet paper all over one of the bathrooms? No. The same thing applies here. The student custodians are supposed to keep the regular classroom messes in check; they should not be held responsible when fourth graders decide to throw an unreasonable number of pencils on the floor. Since there is no way for the teacher to know who is leaving pencils all over the floor, it is reasonable that the whole class miss a little bit of recess for each pencil until the situation gets better so everyone understands he is responsible for picking up the floor when necessary. She maybe, reluctantly, agreed with us but still wasn't happy. I told her that if she didn't want to miss some recess time, all she had to do was pick up the pencils off the floor whenever she saw them. As long as that happened, no recess would be missed and it wasn't a terrible imposition to pick up a pencil. She humphed. Turns out all this angst was for nothing because the nine minutes were just empty teacher threats letting the students know that they ought to be grateful someone picked up their mess, otherwise they would have lost some recess time. Anyway, I liked hearing Grace apply the rationale from one situation to another similar one.

Last story. On Thursday Olivia didn't want to eat breakfast before school, then got motion sickness on the way to school, and ended up throwing up on the bus before she got to school. When she got sick, she called for Grace who was a few seats away and then a couple of boys jumped in to help her and take control of the situation. Grace was highly offended! Olivia is her sister! She should be the one helping her and going to the office with her! Those boys had no business telling someone else to do it. Her job! She told them so and went to the office with Olivia after they got to school along with the child appointed by the boys on the bus, the nerve. Dave was called and picked her up from school. Olivia was fine the rest of the day, just a little embarrassed to have thrown up on the bus.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

GFLN Week 6 Oct 11th

Joining with Melanie at The Wine Dark Sea

FALL BREAK WEEK!!!  Since I am no longer allowed to bank my time off at work anymore, I thought I would take the week off with the girls just for the heck of it.

Sunday, Oct 5th

The big kids went camping with my parents at a state park about 30 minutes away. We drove over and spent the afternoon. We went on a short hike where we got down to the river's edge. Marian liked splashing in the water and the girls enjoyed picking mussel shells out of the water. Olivia was fearless in reaching into the water to grab those shells. They also found some hickory nuts that they cracked and picked open. We sprinkled them on our food for supper. Sam helped carry wood for the fire and generally liked being in the woods. I also got to roast marshmallows which was excellent.

Olivia searching with gusto!

The Loot

Roasting marshmallows for probably the first time in five years.

Monday, Oct 6th

The big kids are still gone, but Marian says lots of cute things. Her language acquisition is on fire right now.

The fallout from Sam's packing

Tuesday, Oct 7th

I retrieved the big kids from camp where they helped tear down and clean up. We kept everything low key in the evening because they were tired and dirty. At supper I asked what their favorite thing about camping was:

Grace--exploring and looking for shells
Olivia--exploring, looking for shells, and getting messy
Sam--hearing the train whistle in the distance

My father called the woods they were hiking in "The Enchanted Forest" which is so out-of-character for my father as to make you wonder who that man who looks like my father might be. The Granddaddy Effect. They were said to be extremely helpful so hopefully they learned a lot about camping.

Wednesday, Oct 8th

We set the alarm early for 4:50am to attempt to view the lunar eclipse. About an hour or so before the alarm, a big storm blew through so it was questionable whether or not we would see anything. We got out of bed and looked out and the sky was pretty clear. Overhead I heard children walking around because Grace had also set her alarm so as to not miss anything. We all tramped outside and looked. The partial eclipse was already underway, but there were also clouds blowing in from the west. The children were excited to see the partially eclipsed moon, but soon the clouds won before it was complete. We stood for a few minutes waiting and occasionally a glimpse could be seen which elicited a shout from some child and then we waited some more. It was soon apparent there were no more glimpses to be had. None of our pictures really turned out. We went back inside and fired up the NASA live broadcast on the computer and saw the eclipse in totality and listened to the NASA guy talk. The NASA guy was in Huntsville which is just a couple of hours down the road. I was glad of that because he always gave his local time first when discussing the timing of events and his time is our time. We all eventually went back to sleep in order to wake up less than an hour later to get ready for a dentist appointment. We were a tired bunch and cranky by the end of the day. Most conversations for the day revolved around talking about the eclipse, how it works, why it happens, why is it called lunar, why the moon turned red, what is a solar eclipse, and on. Lots of astrological excitement here. I learned that Grace already knew what refraction means. Also just announcing that the total solar eclipse in 2017 will pass right over my parents' house so anyone who wants to come see it is invited to the party.

Olivia was sick in the afternoon.

Thursday, Oct 9th

I was in a pretty poor mood on Thursday. I spent the day either cleaning or avoiding cleaning by staring at the Internet. The only thing of real note from Thursday is that Grace is reading a lot. She is reading to the point of being annoying. "No, you can't read at supper." "Grace, put the book down and come here!" "Grace, where did you go? Why haven't you come back in here?" "Just finish what I told you to do and then you can read."  She is reading a wide variety. I die a little death every time I see her engrossed in the Disney Princess storybook, but she is also reading Magic Kitten.  :P   Also Children of Noisy Village and St. George and the Dragon and a Boxcar Children book, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and part of Prince Caspian. So yes, reading.

Olivia was sick all day.

Friday, Oct 10th

Olivia still sick and I am still cleaning. The highlight of the day was rearranging the bookshelf in the girls' room and reading to Grace out of the Barefoot Book of Classic Poems. It really is such a lovely book. After reading and discussing several of the poems, Grace asks, "Mommy, are you supposed to be cleaning?" And thus ended our poetry session because yes, I really needed to be cleaning.

I've read Sam several books over the course of the week, but I've not really kept up with what they were. He is also starting to sit and examine books on his own. He spent a lot of time looking at Noah's Ark and wanting to know why the town was on fire. He is obsessed with fires and firefighters right now.

Saturday, Oct 11th

Olivia is getting better but still sick and I am endlessly chasing Marian since her new favorite hobby is banging on the computer keyboard and clicking on the mouse.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


I intended to sit down and write a post about the ongoing 'sticks in a jar' chore experiment we have happening right now. I still intend to do that, but that's not what this post is about. Nope. This is about housekeeping and my inner demons.

My house is a wreck.

There's no nice way of saying it. We have junk everywhere. The couches are covered. The floors are covered. The countertops are covered. Every surface that could possibly have something piled on it has something piled on it. You know the saying everything has a place and everything in its place? Nothing has a place here or if it does, it's not likely to be in it.

I hate living like this. It drives me crazy. It's embarrassing.  And more than embarrassing, it makes me not want to spend extended time in my house. Don't misunderstand. I don't mean I don't like spending time with my family because I do. I don't like spending extended, unstructured time at my house. I am the type of person who needs order to feel relaxed. Clutter makes me anxious. I am surrounded by clutter. I am also the only person in the house afflicted in this particular way. No one else seems to notice we are drowning in junk.

Since I'm gone so much, I can spend a lot of time at home during the week with blinders on. I am busy and I can pretend not to notice as I kick a pathway of junk to traverse the living room. Over the weekend I am tired and feel entitled to relax a little. Feeling entitled is usually your first sign of a problem. I catch up on a bit of housework, but I rarely dive in to do what needs done to make the house enjoyable to me. I work hard to keep that area of my brain turned off because when I think about it, I usually get angry. I don't like getting angry about it but I do. I am resentful and bitter and angry.

A lot of my frustration goes back to when we moved in. I was pregnant and sick and I never got the house put away in the way I wanted. There are still packed boxes shoved in closets. I have felt perpetually behind ever since. This feeling of being behind ebbs and flows with any particular season of life. When I am pregnant, nothing gets done. I feel terrible for most of my pregnancies and so the little bit of pick-up I do day-to-day and week-to-week stops and the house slowly collapses on itself. After delivery, there are the demands of a newborn that usually squashes the majority of my dreams of getting stuff done while on maternity leave. Then I go back to work and for the first six months or so, the baby demands every moment of my free time after work since I abandoned her all day long. I don't mind giving my time to the baby but it does mean other stuff doesn't get done. After that intense newborn/infant period, I usually start digging the house out of the backlog until I get pregnant again and start the cycle all over again.

Even though Marian is 16 months old now, the truth is that our house has still not recovered from that pregnancy and, for whatever reason, my will to put the house back together has been lacking. There have been a few bright spots such as the victory over the paperwork pile of doom which was well documented on FB. Fun fact about that project: the two bags of paperwork that needed shredded are still sitting in the living room. The real problem is that the house is in such a state that each room is a muti-day project and if I can't complete the work, I'd rather not start. It is too demoralizing to work all day Saturday on something and have most of that work destroyed before the next Saturday. So I just don't do it. This is not an admirable attitude.

I feel like if I ever got the whole house completely in order at the same time, we wouldn't live in such squalor because I would be able to maintain it. It *is* easier to clean a clean house, but I've never had a clean house to start from. I spend two or three weeks working on one area and then spend two or three more weeks working on another. There are weekend activities and trips away interspersed among the work. By the time I get back around to the first area, it looks like I never touched it. Having seven days elapse between cleaning sessions when the house is lived in full time is not very productive.

My favorite analogy is mowing the grass. What if you could only mow an eighth or a sixteenth of your yard once a week? You first mow the area nearest the house. Then what do you do the next week? Do you mow by the house again or pick another spot? Whatever you do, by the end of the summer, large sections of your yard are going to be impassible. You live amongst chest-high weeds.

Since I've been off from work this week, I decided I wanted to get the girls' room in shape. I have been wanting to add their room maintenance to their daily jobs but knew I would need to dig them out of the hole first. I try to be efficient by separating into three bins: trash, stuff that should stay in the room and stuff that belongs in other rooms. It saves time to stay in one spot with the bins rather than get up and down constantly putting things away. After the whole room has been sorted, then I put away the bin items.

I have struggled. I still haven't finished sorting the room. I've made good progress, but I start and stop attempting to find the will to just get it done. I am annoyed and distracted. Even as I work on their room, I can't help but think of all the other areas of the house that aren't getting attention this week. It makes me angry and I feel defeated. I'm running out of time and I am starting to wonder if I am going to get it finished. There is just so much junk in there, but the real problem is that I am not working diligently enough at it. This is stupid. The girls have taken well to the stick experiment so I have a reasonable expectation that their room would be maintained and not fall back into chaos. It might finally be checked off the list. So why am I having so much trouble getting it done? I don't know.

Sometimes I wonder if I am being tested. Do I have to make peace with the chaos before being given the opportunity to correct it? If so, I'm failing the test badly. The disorder drives me mad. This is why I close my eyes to it and pretend it doesn't exist until I am here for an extended period of time and am forced to reckon with it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Value of a Vacation

I am taking this entire week off of work. The vacation policy at work has changed and, if I don't use the time before the end of the fiscal year, it's gone. This is an entirely different mode of being for me and for the first time since I started working, I am taking regular non-Christmas time off of work. I have spent years in maternity leave time hoarding mode where I would take a day or two off through the year, several days at Christmas, and then jealously bank the majority in a cyclical attempt to piece together paid maternity leaves for the pregnancy that was eventually coming. My number one priority in managing my time was to have as much time as possible with my newborn, even when that baby didn't even exist yet. And now I'm not allowed to do that and instead have regularly scheduled breaks throughout the fiscal year.

In July I took an entire week off of work in order to go on the first vacation for our family since 2009. Five years between getaways is a long time. In many ways it was just what I needed. I had such a sense of desperation to get away from work. I was ground down. It had been so long since I hadn't been at work, it was hard to remember what it was like to go out and have fun. To stretch my boundaries and break out of the routine. To breathe a sigh of relief. Our family really needed that time together and we all had such an enjoyable time. Even now, three months later, many family conversations revolve around what happened on our vacation and when we might go back to visit the cheetahs. It was so, so good for us.

At the same time, I noticed how little I thought about work. Isn't that odd? I spend the majority of my waking hours doing work that I rarely have a passing thought about while not at work. The few times work arrived in my consciousness, it was only to note how much time I had until I had to go back. I could honestly walk away from my job and never think about it again. I could just decline to go back and not blink. I don't necessarily think that is admirable.

The cliche about taking vacation is that you return to work revitalized and ready to tackle challenges with fresh energy. This did not happen to me. My return to work in July was horrible. All those feelings of freedom had to be stuffed back into the old routine. I despaired at what my life actually looked like instead of the neat picture in my mind of what could be. It took me the better part of two weeks to emotionally recover from the vacation. I knew that returning to the regular schedule would feel hard, but I did not anticipate how bleak it would look to me. In some ways it reminded me of returning to work after maternity leave: raw until the numbness takes over. So I was surprised at the extremity of my feelings and wondered if it was better to maintain my numbness in the routine rather than picking at the scab with the possibilities that free time allows you to ponder.

Now I am taking another week off. We aren't doing anything out of the ordinary this time. The girls have fall break, but I will probably just take the time to catch up on the housework that I am perpetually behind on. I am prepared to crash again next week when I return. Perhaps my own awareness of it will mitigate its effects.

Taking regular vacations from work is a privilege that I thought was just not mine to have, but here it is. Since it has only been three months since the last set of days off, I do not have that same feeling of desperation this time. Just an easy expectation of a light schedule and good company.

Is there value in breaking a routine and breaking through numbed emotions? I think there is. This precious time away is a reminder that I am not that job. I am not my schedule. There is a whole life out there that can be lived even if I can only glimpse it occasionally one week at a time.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

GFLN Week 5 Oct 4th

Linking with Melanie again at The Wine-Dark Sea.

Sunday, Sept, 28th

I honestly don't remember what I did with the children yesterday because it has all been blotted out in my mind by an argument I had with a stranger on the Internet for most of the day. I don't recommend those and usually don't get sucked in. My bad.

Right after we got home from church, my brother called to tell us that Jack Hanna's Into the Wild was about cheetahs and we needed to turn it on and watch. We complied and brunch was delayed while we distractedly got food together and watched the TV. They had a king cheetah, which has stripes instead of spots, and Dave speculated that it was probably more like a breed of cheetah instead of a sub-species. He and Grace discussed the difference between breeds and species and Grace was skeptical until the cheetah expert on the TV said that they used to think that king cheetahs were a separate species until they studied them and determined it was a recessive gene trait. So there.

Olivia worked on handwriting a little and said her teacher said she wasn't allowed to work on cursive at home. I told her the teacher doesn't get to tell us what we are allowed to do at home.

Olivia's portrait of her cousins

Monday, Sept 29th

I arrived home to find Sam and Olivia with an elaborate pillow fort happening in the living room while Grace was upstairs buried in a book. Both Grace and Olivia had library at school. Grace checked out "Double Fudge" and Olivia checked out a book on swans.

At supper Grace said that she was going to have to do a PowerPoint project on a European explorer with a partner. The explorer is to be drawn at random out of a hat and the partner is to be drawn at random out of a hat. Everything about this project makes me want to hide: PowerPoint and group projects. Grace is pretty anxious about it. She has a whole list of people she doesn't want to work with because they don't do good work. And she is also self-conscious about her lack of ability in PowerPoint because her stupid parents don't think PowerPoint is very important in the elementary curriculum and don't let her practice.

We then talked about random European explorers and what they did. I think she is a little unclear on the concept of the continent of Europe because we would mention that so-and-so was Spanish and she would object saying the project was only on Europeans. Spain is in Europe, dear. I meant to get the globe out after supper but forgot. Memorable line of the night:

Dave: You could get Marco Polo.
Grace: Did he invent the game?

After supper, Marian was tired of being confined so I repaired upstairs with her so she could run free in the only minimally baby proof area of the house while Dave stayed down to wash dishes. What happened next I can only describe as the closest thing to feeling like a homeschooler without actually being a homeschooler.

Olivia announced she had homework that was due tomorrow. This was true enough. Actually we had completely ignored Olivia's monthly homework for the past three weeks and had mountains to make up. Since her homework requires an adult to sit with her and read through the instructions out loud, she came upstairs so I could help her. Grace wanted to work on her cheetah blog and Sam wanted me to read to him out of the nursery rhyme book while Marian ran all over. I would read Olivia an instruction on my left, turn to Sam on my right and read him a verse, randomly spell out words for Grace as she called them out, and tend to Marian as she crawled all over us, wanting to nurse, wanting down, wanting Sam's book, wanting Olivia's pencil. We kept this rhythm up for probably 45 minutes. Olivia and I powered through FIFTEEN pages of math homework! No page had more than six problems and a lot of the problems were just counting problems, but still, it was a lot of work for a six year old. I was mulitasking to the extreme and never got frustrated. Olivia got tired towards the end, but she, too, never got frustrated. The whole evening was glorious! I felt like a real mother doing real mother things.

Signed two agendas and Olivia's homework pack, read one newsletter, and learned that Wednesday is another Burger King night.

Tuesday, Sept 30th

The girls had cross country practice after school. They both had art class too. Olivia painted her sunflower from last time and Grace made a value chart. I had no idea what that might be so she explained it to us. Sounds like a color chart where you start with black and then the next spot is a little lighter and the next a little lighter until you get to gray and so on with all the colors. She was amazed to hear I have never taken an art class in school.

After supper, Sam and Olivia created an elaborate workshop out of a couple of big, cardboard boxes we had gotten that day. They had a room with windows and doors, a computer with a mouse, and a TV with remote. They set about to do their work and played this game most of the night. Grace was in and out of the game, doing whatever she was doing.

 Laptop. Note the mouse with the mouse pad.

Signed two agendas and ignored a stack of letters that came home for me to read.

Wednesday, Oct 1st

The girls had their final cross country race of the season. They both did well again. Both finished in the middle of the pack again. I hope we get their times soon.

While we were driving over to the race, Grace told us that instead of having her regular class in the afternoon, they had a big assembly on bullying. Whoopee! Olivia had the same assembly. I asked them if they learned anything new. Of course not. Guidance on steroids. Perhaps I fail in my duties as a parent, but my contempt for these exercises is not concealed so we all got a big laugh out of it. Then Grace said that the fourth graders had a separate assembly early in the week to talk about tobacco. Oh, lucky girl! Two assemblies in one week! Grace gave me a packet of information where parents were issued a challenge. Oh yay! We are supposed to discuss the information provided about the dangers of tobacco use with our child and practice saying no with them every day for a week. A week! Then sign the attached certificate stating we followed through and talked about tobacco and said no every day for a week. Um, we will not be doing this. Grace immediately said she didn't think we would and that she didn't want the bag anyway. The bag? Oh yes, if you return your certificate you get a bag. They even provide five helpful ways to say no. They are:
  1. Say "no"
  2. Say "no" again and again
  3. Say "no" like you mean it
  4. Say "no" and give a reason
  5. Get up and leave
I wish that list was a joke, but no.  So I guess we did take the opportunity to discuss our views on tobacco use and how it is possible to not smoke even though people around you are smoking, but we are definitely not doing it every day for a week. Part of what annoys me about this is that they are taking away from instruction time or, worse, recess, for futile attempts at influencing future habits. Of course there are exceptions, but I am willing to bet that the vast majority of future smokers live in a house with a current smoker and all the assemblies in the world is not going to change the impact of the lived experience of a child. So I don't know. I understand why the schools feel the impulse to do these things, but it seems like a giant waste of time to me.

After the race was Burger King night! Hopefully there will only be one more of these coming up for awhile. After we got home, girls needed bathed and then the bustle of getting ready for bed, and then Grace announced she had homework. Tears as we said she just needed to go to bed.

Signed two agendas, got Olivia's school pictures, and saw some other piece of paperwork that I cannot call to mind right now.

Thursday, Oct 2nd

I had to leave a little earlier than normal (well it actually should be my normal leaving time, but that's neither here nor there) so I didn't go up to tell the girls good morning before I left. As I drove away, I saw a light on in the girls' room so I am presuming Grace woke up early to do her homework.

I don't remember much because I don't remember. Olivia had technology class and Grace had PE. When Olivia went to technology, Grace was in the computer lab working on typing out a story about cheetahs for her writing class. Grace is working on her blog again. In Grace's folder I found multiple drawings of a mermaid queen.

The funniest thing of the evening was when Olivia was "reading" Sam a book. She was full of commentary and inflection. It was hilarious, but as soon as she realized I had turned my attention to listening to her, she stopped. That's a bummer. Olivia has a very wry sense of humor but hates being the center of attention. I feel like I should spend more time with Olivia's reading, but it keeps not happening.

Signed 1 agenda since Dave had already signed one, got Grace's school pictures, and read several letters pertaining to the school fundraising festival which will happen the week they get back from Fall Break.

Friday, Oct 3rd

Not much conversation at supper. Grace had library where she checked out Andrew Clements "No Talking" which she had mostly finished by the end of the day. Olivia had PE. There was another school wide assembly for the official end of the magazine fundraiser. Oh will these fundraisers ever end?

After supper, I read Sam a couple of books, "Smokey the Fireman" again and "Mud Pie for Mother." Olivia took over and they looked through a "Tiger" book. Sam has really become interested in books and drawing recently. Sometime this week, he drew portraits of Marian and Olivia.

Olivia by Sam

Before bed Grace and I were talking about her book which was inspired by a silent protest of Gandhi's and applies the concept to an elementary school which, of course, pits the boys against the girls. It sounds like a strange book to me. Gandhi was protesting societal injustice and the principal in the book just wants the kids to shut up and proposes a no talking challenge, but problems arise when the students take it seriously and then won't respond to their teachers. So, um, what is the point of this book? I don't know, but it gives Grace something to think about.

She found out that her European explorer is Henry Hudson and I had tell her that, in fact, the Dutch are not French.

We also talked about 4 digit by 4 digit multiplication and how you have to add one more zero to each addition line for every digit and why that is true. I again emphasized the need to keep your columns straight and neat which I think she is starting to understand why I have stressed it. Her handwriting is messy so there is lots of room for improvement here.

Saturday, Oct 4th

Dave and Grace made pancakes this morning and Dave made her double the ingredients so some early morning math happening. Overheard quote by Dave while Grace was mixing ingredients that made me laugh: "The more you knock out of the bowl, the less that will be in the bowl." Yes. that's true.

Lots of screaming and whining here this morning for reasons I can't quite figure so they were all banished outside as soon as it was plausible. Even Marian was cranky, but she's currently passed out in the playpen.

The girls are on Fall Break next week so I'm not sure what will be going on around here. Grateful to not have to sign anything for a week.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Wait, I Thought You Were A Music Major? Part IV

Continuing from Part III

Once we moved to Knoxville, we launched ourselves into finding a way to survive. Dave searched for jobs.  He interviewed a few places and quickly found a job as a middle school band director/high school assistant. He was in the sweet spot for getting hired, a couple of years of experience, but not too much experience. The new job even paid more than the old job.

I applied for graduate school on campus and was quickly accepted. I was offered a graduate assistantship which would cover my tuition and pay a small stipend on top. Since almost none of my previous college credits were sufficient to prepare me for graduate level computer science courses, I had to register entirely for undergraduate work. But all was well. We had taken a blind leap and landed on our feet.

Over the next two years, I took almost the entirety of the computer science requirements for a bachelor's degree plus numerous math classes. I enjoyed the logic of the work and the coding, but our program was very systems focused and I wasn't terribly interested in systems. I wanted a career that was broadly applicable and didn't involve endless time as a code monkey. I took a class on database programming and was thoroughly intrigued. I thought a blend of computer science with business would be a great combination.

I looked at the graduate program in computer science for which I had been taking all the prerequisites and realized it would take me another three years to get through the program. I hadn't set out to become a professional student. At this point I was nearly 27 years old. We knew we wanted to start a family soon. I started looking around at what was available for me to finish up a program, move into the direction of database work and get on with our lives. The available coursework in databases was spread across three departments: computer science, business, and information sciences. Information sciences is the new-fangled name for library science. N.B. I don't know if every information sciences program has an extensive catalog available in database design and implementation, but one of the profs in this program had a special interest in the area.

After examining what was available on campus, I decided to change my major to information sciences. There was a two-fold reason. 1) I knew with all my previous CS coursework standing as electives, I could finish the program in a calendar year if I took a very full load. I could not finish either of the other two options within that time frame. 2) I knew there would be some opaqueness into an employer's understanding of what information sciences is.  If the degree was still called library science, I would not have made the switch. Since I knew that I had the foundational knowledge for what I wanted to do, the name of the degree was not that important to me, but I did not want to have a degree that employers would dismiss out of hand. Library science would be dismissed. Information Sciences sounds techy.

I secured another assistantship and launched into Information Science taking all the database classes that were available on campus. I also took the core requirements for the library portion so, technically, I am qualified to be a librarian as well. I got pregnant partway though my coursework, planned to the nth degree. The last few months of school were grueling because I was very sick. I graduated in May 2005 with a Master of Science in Information Sciences. I had Grace in August.

When Grace was born I was overwhelmed with motherhood. I was not quite as sold on our original plan as I thought I would be, but I was managing the household and myself about as well as the mother in Simcha Fisher's classic essay, which is to say not well. I still struggled with the feeling of not accomplishing anything, feeling like I was shirking my duties, and just generally feeling lazy.

In the meantime, Dave had become extremely disgruntled in his work. The schedule was insane, the pay was terrible, and some of the students were unbearable. We actually had to swear out a warrant once, but that's another story. He wanted out, badly. I started looking for employment.

Even though I had some misgivings, it looked like our plan really was the wisest course of action to take. In October 2006, I accepted a position as a database analyst working directly under the DBA. Even though my title has changed, I still have the same job today.