Saturday, May 30, 2015

Pulling the Rug Out

On Tuesday, the school board member who represents my little slice of the county emailed the agenda for the next school board meeting to a friend of mine. In it was the bombshell that our area is potentially being rezoned to a different school for the next school year.. This is a little bit different than your standard rezoning school fight.

The place where I live is on the very southern edge of what could be considered the satellite communities of Nashville, but it is also on the northern end of a county where most of the power is concentrated in a good-ole-boy town south of us. The northern part of the county is growing like crazy while the central and southern areas are not. There is a pronounced difference in demographics.

Now demographics is usually some kind of code word for racial minority or something like that, but it isn't what I mean. The town I consider myself a member of is mostly populated with middle income, upwardly mobile, professional families. The town south of us is a typical small Southern town where competence and planning aren't always the top priorities, but the good ole boys like it that way. The schools in the satellite area of the county are high performing schools as the demographics might indicate. The schools in the rest of the county generally are not.

Up until now, my neighborhood has been zoned for the schools in the Nashville satellite part of the county. The people who live here and the property values reflect that fact. The system is now wanting to rezone our neighborhood to schools south of here into the small town part of the county. The rezoning isn't just changing schools; it is changing the type of community our children will spend most of their time in and it is potentially changing the level of academic standards. It is also in the total opposite direction of everything we do.

This situation, as you can imagine, has generated much heat and some light. I have spent most of my week working on this problem, facilitating community discussions, and trying to find alternatives to rezoning. The major problem is that the school system has not adequately planned for the growth in the north of the county and does not see much need to start now. The families affected by the rezoning implicitly understand that once our area gets pulled out of the high performing schools, they are never going to let us back in. Our diminished prospects will be reflected in both our children's education and our property values.

As you know, I have been exploring homeschooling rather seriously as we transition out of my job and into Dave's. The timing of this transition has always felt angsty to me. The sooner, the better, last week if possible. Now this timetable feels much more fraught. I have no desire to send my children into the town south of here for school. My educational concerns with their current school have always been that the classes may not be accelerated enough to prevent boredom. If they are moved into a lower performing school, it can almost be guaranteed the curriculum will not move fast enough for them. Since we cannot afford to move or pay tuition, homeschooling would be our only option.

This is both exhilarating and terrifying. I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us. My ability to approach homeschooling as a hopeful experiment where the schools are present as a safety net is severely compromised. If the lack of planning and haphazard rezoning continues into future years, it is easy to predict that we will soon be pushed into a zone for a middle school that I will NOT send my children to. The writing is on the wall. And at that point, homeschooling must succeed.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Febrile Seizures and a Busy Life

Yesterday, I read and slightly participated in a FB thread discussing the trade-off parents make in assessing risks for their children. A point was made that we, as a society, tend to discount the health risks associated with waking sleeping children and that habitually disturbing a child's nap is actually bad for the child.

Later in the afternoon, an ambulance passed the farmer's market with sirens blaring. Ever since Sam's febrile seizure when he was two years old--have I ever mentioned that Sam once had a seizure?--he almost always asks if any ambulance we pass is "his" ambulance. So I had an opportunity to retell the story of Sam's seizure to one of the vendors at the market.

This morning I thought of these two conversations together and they sparked a thought in my mind.

It is thought that febrile seizures are caused by a sudden change in body temperature, though not necessarily a concerning high body temperature. For example, a temperature that builds gradually to 102 should not trigger a seizure, but a fever that suddenly spikes to 102 might, all while 102 is objectively not a dangerous temperature in either case.

I have read that there has been a marked increase in the number of childhood febrile seizures over the last few years and doctors don't really know what is causing the increase.

Now more than ever, children are being required to conform themselves to the schedules of the adults around them. Babies and toddlers are brought to daycare and activities while their parents work and the ability of parents to take sick days away from work is sometimes limited. I wonder if children are being pushed while on the edge of illness more than they used to be.

Could the difference in the rates of febrile seizures be something as simple as children not being allowed to rest when they start to feel poorly whereas, in days past, the children would just crash on the couch when necessary?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


At my house, we do not snack. We eat meals. We eat a good sized breakfast, a decent lunch, and a good sized supper. We do not bring food when we go shopping or go to church or for any type of outing that does not involve mealtimes. The girls may fix themselves a small snack when they get home from school. The baby/toddler may be given something to eat during meal prep to make the noise stop. But that's it. Snacking is not a lifestyle at our house and I have found that we will, in fact, not die if we have to wait until mealtime to eat. Baby is nursed on demand in case anyone is concerned.

My oldest children are getting older and now spend a fair amount of time roaming the neighborhood visiting friends. Their wanderings have led me to a universal parenting truth that has somehow eluded my house: Every other house is an endless source of snacks. What is truly mind-boggling is that other people not only feed their own children snacks, they feed mine as well. I do not understand.

I do not object to my children eating in other houses if someone wants to feed them. We have no known allergies or medical issues so I am not uptight about it, but I do not understand. Why do people want to randomly feed my children? I do not want to randomly feed their children. I do not want to randomly feed my own children. Why is this a thing? I am not fixing snacks for your children because I'm also not fixing snacks for my children.

Many times once home again, the children will pick at their dinners and, when we inquire, we learn they had (popsicles, crackers, cookies, apples, popcorn, cheese, oranges, candy, goldfish, bananas) and aren't hungry anymore. I wonder if the epidemic of child pickiness at meals is a consequence of constant grazing. 

So there is is. My children are deprived and I am probably setting them up for a lifetime of therapy and eating disorders, but I cannot deal with the whole process of snacking. We are all definitely hungry at mealtimes so I count that as a positive.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Nothing Grows Stronger

I had a business lunch last week where the expectations of my next month at work were discussed. We are indeed not loading any more new data into the system after this month. Beginning next month, the system will need to be prepped in order to archive it off to a data warehouse. My coworker, the one with the real job, is going on vacation for most of the month, so he doesn't want to start training me in the new system until he gets back. In July.

This prep work in the old system will be my sole job duty next month in addition to my twenty minute weekly button pressing job in the new system. It consists of about two days worth of working and about a week's worth of babysitting the system. Since no new data is being loaded into the system, all my other duties will be gone.

I will spend the vast majority of next month driving into work, doing nothing all day long, and driving home. Who could guess how painful doing nothing could be?

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Middle School Bus

When I first began my discipline of getting up earlier to get to work earlier, I felt pretty terrible physically. It was a hard adjustment on my body. Every morning I felt bleary and tired and wished I could just go back to bed instead of driving around in the dark. As I drove out of the neighborhood painfully early, around 615am, I saw kids waiting for their school bus. I felt sorry for them because I remember my high school days of the bus coming around six because school started at seven. But more than feeling sorry for them, I felt sorry for myself because looking at them made me feel so old.

Every morning I would see these high school kids standing in the lightening shadows of the early morning. They were not clearly seen, but they seemed so young. I would look at them and think that this is how I know I am getting old because the high schoolers now look impossibly young to me. Day after day, I would sigh for all of us being out in the morning darkness and sigh for my lost youth evidenced in their own youth.

One day I mentioned this feeling of impending old age to a friend. It was then that she enlightened me. These children were not high school students. The high school bus did not run until 645. These were middle school students that were standing in the dark at 615 in the morning waiting for the bus.

All at once I was relieved and horrified. I'm not that old after all! These students look like grade schoolers because they *are* grade schoolers. Hurray! I am not fast retreating into old age where everyone looks like a child. I will not have to yell, "Get off my lawn." Relief.

But then in set the reality of the situation. These are middle school students sent out into the dark to wait on the bus. How awful. To get to the bus on time, they must be getting out of bed around 530. Do they get to eat breakfast at home or is that an impossibility? What must bedtime look like at these houses? They must need to get into bed very early. Do they? Or are they all walking around sleep deprived as they are forced to keep these hours coupled with homework and activities? How much screaming and crying happens in these houses since everyone is in slavery to the schedule?

It is terrible to think about it. I know how much stress is in my house trying to get children in bed while their bus comes at a decent hour. I know how tired they are after a full day at school and how cranky it makes them. What would it be like when they are denied another hour of sleep and the demands made of them are higher? How will I react to having to get children ready for school at an hour at which I am not functional? I will have to awaken earlier still. It is not comforting.

The specter of the middle school bus hangs over me. I admit some of my ambition to homeschool comes from wanting to avoid the consequences of that bus.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tornado Priorities

I have, through my life, had recurring themes in my dreams. Most of these kinds of dreams are produced by a particular anxiety and I have come to recognize them as almost comfortable when I have them. I might wake up with a start, but during the dreams, I am rarely afraid. It is like an old friend come to visit whom I observed from a distance.

I am significantly near-sighted so it should not be surprising to you that one of my recurring dream themes is being unable to see for some reason. Either my hair is in my face and I can't get it pulled back or the sun is shining too brightly or I just can't wake up enough to open my eyes, but I just can't see. I recognize it as addressing some level of anxiety about my poor eyesight.

I am also notoriously slow moving. When completing tasks, I am thorough and plodding and take about seven times as long to do things as most people. It might be perfect when I am finished, but wow, it takes a long time. This is my basic conundrum with bathing, cooking, and cleaning so another reoccurring theme is being unable to move at the same speed as regular people. Everything else in the dream will be happening at normal speeds, and I will be stuck in Super Slo-Mo unable to make myself get to where I need to be even though I desperately want to get there. Again, I recognize it as addressing anxiety about being slow.

The final and most alarming reoccurring theme I have is the "we all die in a tornado" dream. I am not really sure what triggers this dream, but I suspect it is a catch-all for feeling out of control and generalized anxiety. Or it could be storming outside. The dream is never exactly the same in terms of people or location, but the general idea is that we have a tornado bearing down on us that I can see in the sky and we are fleeing for shelter. I always wake up when the tornado reaches our location.

I had the tornado dream again last night. In this dream, there were tornadoes in the area and I had to clean out our closet we use for our shelter because it was full of stuff. All of a sudden I could see the funnel forming and dropping from the sky over our neighbor's house out of the window. I screamed for everyone to get in the closet and everyone madly rushed in. Just as I was about to enter, I remembered that my Boba carrier was still in my bedroom. I ran to my room and grabbed it off the floor, and, as I was running back, one of the shoulder straps snagged on a chair and I had to pause a moment to free it. Just then the tornado smashed into our house and I woke up with a start.

So there you have it. I love my carrier so much that I am apparently willing to die in a tornado in order to avoid losing it. I have odd dream priorities, but I do love my carrier.

Monday, May 11, 2015


I am still working. Ha! You knew that since you haven't yet heard me screaming, "I QUIT!" from the rafters.  This is an interesting month for me at work. Unless some different decree comes down from on high, the ancient, slow, and long obsolete system in which I have worked since 2006 will be shut down at the end of the month. I have done the same tasks month in and month out for years and next month, I won't be doing those tasks anymore.

About 18 months ago, my employer hired a consultant to help me with my monthly tasks in order to free up my time to implement the new system. In a totally logical move, they followed up on this outlay by never assigning me any tasks in implementing the new system.

Do you know how in certain workplaces there are incompetent workers who are basically maintained but are never given any new responsibilities because experience has taught their supervisors that they muck up everything new they are given? I am absolutely positive that situation does not apply to me because I have never been given any new responsibilities to muck up. I have the equivalent of a bachelor's degree in computer science and I was not consulted At. All. in any of the new system development. My coworker has built it all.

In the new system, I now have exactly one job. Everything about this task was designed, built, tested, and executed by my coworker. Once it met his specifications, the task was turned over to me. It consists of me, once a week, pressing a 'go' button and waiting to see if the job completes about twenty minutes later. That's it.

Because I am generally disillusioned with whole idea of a career anyway, I have been somewhat content with watching all this play out at a distance. I don't go ask questions or offer help or ask for new projects. If they are going to treat me like a data entry clerk, I have decided to act like one. But twenty minutes of 'work' once a week is pretty extreme, even at this place

Right now, I am perplexed. Is anyone paying attention? What in the world will I spend next month doing? My coworker, who has built all these nifty programs, is taking off most of June as a result of the new PTO policy so I can't imagine I will spend a lot of time training with him. I have no idea what I will be doing. I might spend the whole month surfing the Internet. It's just the latest chapter in this strange, dysfunctional institution. It's almost comical except I still have to show up every day and live it.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Random Observations

Do you know what is really attractive about homeschooling?

Never feeling obligated or guilty about clipping and collecting Box Tops for Education. Those little bits of cardboard currently torment my existence. Wouldn't it be great to never have to think about them again?

Sunday, May 3, 2015


I heard secondhand that there was recently a big argument online about epidurals. My understanding is that women who were pro-epidural were piling on women who expressed misgivings about them. I didn't read it, but it got me to thinking about epidurals.

I have never had an epidural, but because of my labor history, I have never felt like I should take a side in the argument. Due to the nature of precipitous labor, epidurals are not really a reasonable option. I suppose I could have had one the two times I was induced, but it seems silly to stick a needle in my back to avoid an hour's worth of pain. I did have a dose of the narcotic Stadol when Grace was born. I despised it. It only made me incoherent and unable to cope with the pain. And that's my entire experience of pain relief during labor.

I watch these arguments unfold feeling like I do not have a right to voice an opinion. I feel like my experience is so outside the norm that my opinion would only cause eyerolling or resentment because, really, one hour labors aren't that bad. It is an unexpected tidal wave that crashes on you all at once, but then it's done.

I am inclined to say that I would never have an epidural. I don't generally take medicine when sick anyway. I suffer through head colds and fever and headaches and rarely take anything for it. This is just my nature to think it isn't so bad, that it is almost over, that if I go to sleep it will be better when I wake up. It isn't any long-developed character trait in which to take pride. As I type this I remember that as I get older, I have taken more ibuprofen for fever than I used to because I ache when feverish now whereas I never did before. Knowing this stubbornness about myself and apparent high tolerance for pain, I want to say that if my labors were of average lengths, I still would not get an epidural. The truth is that I have no idea what I would do if labor lasted for eight hours.

I have mulled on it for awhile and I have figured out why the topic of epidurals irritates me. The reason I get annoyed with the blase approach to epidurals is two-fold. First, they are not risk-free endeavors, but they are often presented as the no-brainer response to labor. 'Why would you want to feel pain when you could avoid it?' is the argument. But epidurals have drawbacks as well as benefits. There are complications, side effects, and unintended consequences from an epidural. Sometimes the benefit far outweighs the risk (hello, c-section) and sometimes the risk isn't worth the benefit (a one hour labor). I am not going to list all the possible reasons one might want or need an epidural, but they exist, there are many, and it is a blessing to have this kind of pain relief available. But to decline an epidural does not mean that one is a glutton for pain. It could mean only that for any particular woman, the benefit is not worth the risk.

The second and major reason I get irritated with overwrought discussions about epidurals is that American hospitals are run with epidurals being the default treatment for labor. The standard hospital procedures for childbirth in America require that women give birth in the most painful positions possible. Women are immobilized and strapped to machines for "safety." Safety from liability, mostly. They are poked and prodded and subjected to painful exams which serve little purpose except to satisfy the curiosity of the doctors and nurses. Women are routinely starved for hours at a time on the very slight chance they will need general anesthesia. They have their bag of waters habitually ruptured artificially to "speed things up" which dials up the pain level exponentially. Who is in such a rush besides the medical team? I suspect most people would prefer a longer, less painful labor for themselves if it was explained that the presence of an intact bag is a significant cushion to the pain. Women are put into bed on their backs where they have to fight against all the laws of gravity in order to deliver, but the doctor has a convenient chair and easy view. They are habitually cut to mitigate the problems borne of the ridiculous, yet expected birth position, and have to deal with the consequent stitches for weeks. 

Every coping technique and mechanism is routinely stripped away from women at their most vulnerable time and then the hospital asks, "Do you want an epidural?" Only the most stubborn decline. Childbirth should not require such stubbornness in order to have access to more humane birthing practices. We accept all the fallout and complications from epidurals as a normal consequence of childbirth, but it really isn't. We have a culture that fears birth in large part due to the conditions we are subject to while giving birth, but we don't recognize that the conditions can be changed.

I have had conversations, in the past, with women from Europe who thought the childbirth scenes in American movies were a joke. Nobody could possibly think the practices depicted were a good idea. Surely, it didn't happen that way in real life. They were gobsmacked when I explained that, while the movies were dramatized and somewhat absurd, the shell of the procedures were the same: the positions, the counting, the confinement in bed.

So while a skirmish in the Mommy Wars consists of one group of women declaring their superiority in their all natural childbirths, another group of women accusing the first group of being masochists and perhaps insane, and the rest of us trying to find our ways through the happy middle of those ideas, the medical community skates along mostly unnoticed in their culpability for creating conditions where such drastic pain relief is almost always required.

Childbirth is painful. There are not many ways around that basic fact. If hospital procedures were more humane, childbirth would still hurt. There still would be a need for epidurals and pain relief in many cases. The use of pain relief is not a failure on the part of the woman. But what could change is the cultural expectation, borne of fear from real experiences, that childbirth is so excruciating that the only reasonable response is to be numb from the waist down. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Suffer the Little Children

There is always some low-level controversy simmering about the presence of young children at church. Some people think the children should be left at home until they are old enough to properly behave. Others let their kids run the aisles. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

Our policy has always been to bring the kids to church. If I'm there, they are there unless there is an illness. We expect them to behave appropriately for their age, and if one who is too young to understand starts bothering the people around us or being too loud, out into the lobby we go.

Since Marian is getting a bit older--she is about 23m old--I haven't had to spend as much time out of church as I have in the past. Part of the reason is because she is quieter than she used to be. Part of it is because I probably let her get by with a little bit more because I know she is likely to settle back down. Even though she is young, she is learning the rhythms of church.

This past Sunday, Grace and I were both astonished when, at the Confiteor, Marian began, "I confess..." and at the appropriate moment, struck her breast saying, "my fault, my fault, my fault." Grace and I looked at each other and marveled at her awareness. Marian grinned.

Now I am not under the delusion that Marian is having a deep religious experience where she understands what she is doing. No. She listens and watches and mimics as toddlers do. She says and does these things because she sees others doing them. And yet I cannot help but feel that she is also marinating in the rich environment that Mass offers. She hears the words and sees the actions and learns, incrementally, the faith. She does get something out of Mass. It isn't pointless for her to attend.

We still have a ways to go before all the children can reliably behave in church and truly understand what we participate in, but it is nice to get a little sign that maybe we are on the right path.

And just so you don't think I have a preternaturally, well-behaved child who is all holy and pious, her religious mood passed and she decided poking at the eight year old boy in front of us was great fun. The boy was less than amused. By the middle of the homily, I scooped Marian up and retreated to our regular spot where she promptly knocked over all the architectural drawings for the new building which are set out on easels for examination. Knocking over giant pictures is also great fun.