Monday, March 28, 2016

Homeschool Planning. In Bits

We are coming to the time of year when you raise your eyes past the grind of your everyday life to see that shining new tomorrow of next year.

Locally, people are beginning to post their used curriculum to sell and I am itching to sit down and think about what we will do next year. There is also a Seton Conference in Nashville at the end of April so I would like to know what I need to buy before that point to save on shipping.

This past year has been quite the adventure. We flipped the running of our household upside down. See anything tagged transition. Since I knew we would be stressed by all the changes, I purposely pared down the scope of academic subjects for this year. I am mostly okay with that, even if I have the occasional panic about the horrible injustice I imposed on my children. This coming year, I would like to round out our academics again. Hello, spelling and science. But my time to sit for long stretches of time and ponder is short indeed so I thought I would hit a lick at this over the course of several posts. First subject: Math

Child number 1: Sam will be doing Kindergarten this coming year. I had hoped to add his schooling into our schedule this semester, but it hasn't happened. Teaching someone to read from scratch isn't something I can do on the fly. Maybe we will start phonics lessons before next fall, but math will not happen before then. And I have no idea. Just throw out what you know here.;postID=8594309763678223665;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=0;src=link
Child number 2: Olivia has worked with me through Life of Fred and has worked fairly independently in the 2nd grade Seton workbook. She should finish through Goldfish in LOF and will finish the Seton book. I expect for her to continue in LOF next year. I don't think they are the be-all and end-all math curriculum, but I do think they give an interesting and unique perspective on how mathematics integrates with life and I like how it name drops more advanced concepts well beforehand just to get the student accustomed to the idea. I also have some problems with some of the underlying world-view philosophy, but it's elementary math so I won't get too far in the weeds.

I am not sure what her more substantial math curriculum should be. I am fairly certain I want to move her into Saxon in fourth grade, but what about next year. Should we continue the Seton, jump into 3rd grade Saxon, or find some other alternative for next year? I am not super-duper impressed with the Seton, but it's solid. I've been told that A Beka math makes a good stepping stone into Saxon, but the company gives me the willies. And of course, there's Saxon, but I'm not sure Olivia is ready for pages of text and math problems. Thoughts?

Child number 3: Grace, my math textbook loving child, has found her home with Saxon. I gave her the placement test off the Internet back in November and was somewhat surprised that it placed her in the 76 book even though she is in fifth grade. I knew she was advanced in math, but I did not expect her to be a full year ahead in a curriculum known for its rigor. Even so, we did not start immediately. Part of the reason was purposeful to pull her out of her comfort zone and part of the reason was sheer logistics. We finally began the textbook at the beginning of March and she likes just about everything about it. She even declines to skip problems when offered because, well, I don't know. I would if I were her.

Since we didn't start until March, we probably won't finish the book until next February. See above for panic about injustice to her education. If we had started in November, we could have reasonably finished the book this year and then next year, she could likely move on to pre-algebra, and THINK HOW FAR AHEAD SHE COULD BE!!!. Except we didn't. So we will finish this math textbook in the middle of next year and I have to figure out where to go after that. At the end of this book, there is a test to determine whether or not to continue to the next book (87) or jump into pre-algebra. Is it reasonable to start pre-algebra in March of 6th grade? Or should I just go on and expect to do Saxon 87 to round out the rest of the year and start seventh grade with pre-algebra? Any voices of experience would be appreciated here.

Those are my math thoughts. Such as they are.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Flow in the Kitchen

Leila has a post up about about doing dishes. Since I am knee-deep in a kitchen that has not been completely clean in over a week, I was interested in what she has to say about it. 

Why hasn't my kitchen been cleaned? First Marian turned off our refrigerator Saturday last week. We discovered this delight on Sunday. Sunday afternoon was spent dumping all the spoiled food out of their little saving containers. Some of this was long overdue anyway. I've been meaning to clean out the fridge for months. Monday, I washed all the regular dishes and about half of the junk from the fridge. On Tuesday I washed the regular dishes and the other half of the junk from the fridge. So maybe everything was clean last Tuesday? It's hard to remember. On Wednesday I decided to take the plunge and tackle the fridge. I dismember shelves and drawers and cleaned every surface I reach as well as I could without getting out the toothpicks. Believe me, I had to resist the toothpicks. Good enough is good enough, right? This job took all of my post-supper cleaning time on both Wednesday and Thursday, which means I didn't wash the regular dishes on either night. On Friday, I was gone almost all day long, night too. On Saturday, I washed about 40 percent of the build-up from the past three nights. I intended to catch up on Sunday, but time change and evening plans made my day quite unproductive. On Monday, I stayed up until 1am making cookies for our parish's St. Joseph Altar. Tuesday, being exhausted from Monday, didn't work out well and I was gone all evening to put cookies in bags for church. Now it's Wednesday. Dishes are everywhere and I am hiding from them by writing this post.

But hey, my fridge in the kitchen is clean. We won't discuss the freezer side or the refrigerator in the garage or the deep freeze. We are pretending those don't exist right now.

One of the problems I have had is getting the children involved more with the daily chores. I feel like they are a mountain to climb everyday and I haven't figured out how to teach the children while I am barely hanging onto my own grasp of the situation. It always feels like it is about to spiral out of control and turn into, well, the way it looks now. How can I let them help when one false move means a carefully stacked piles comes crashing to the ground?

Anyway back to Leila's post. She has one paragraph that stuck out to me and has me puzzled:
Another thing: Figure out where you will stage things.
You can’t handle a sink full of dirty dishes and neither can a kid. You need a place where you will put away food (that’s someone else’s chore, by the way!) and stack things so that they are scraped and ready for the dishwasher or soapy basin.
It is true I cannot handle a sink full of dishes. It is so overwhelming--I'm writing this post instead, remember. But how do you develop flow in a kitchen that has no room for staging?

I have found over these months that you can do one thing at a time in here. You can cook one or two dishes, but not more than that or it gets hectic. You can clean, but trying to cook at the same time is difficult. Let's just say having the dish backlog along with regular meals plus the cookie baking just about sent me over the edge. Lots of ill-tempered phrases were uttered. Lots of inefficiency from making trips all over the kitchen just trying to find a blasted clear spot to set things down.

How do you stage without a staging area? We have one small countertop where the dirty dishes are stacked. We have one smallish countertop where the drying rack is kept. An aside: I don't understand how people go without drying racks or even take them out and put them away fourteen times a day. Something is always wet here and wouldn't it take an eon and a half to dry everything by hand everyday? Moving on: We have one countertop where most of the mixing and chopping happens. Sometimes this spills over onto the kitchen table and then setting the table to eat becomes problematic. And we have one countertop that is a staging area for the drinks/stovetop. We pour drinks here and keep all necessary stovetop items here like salt, oil, spices, spoons, whatever. Most of all that gets put away everyday, but while cooking is happening, it's out and then it gets shoved around to make room for glasses.

So then we need to eat. There is no good place to serve so we make a dozen trips back and forth to the table with individual plates or we take the pot to the table to serve. Because we are classy. After supper, we put items on the small countertop next to the sink until it is full and then what? The table isn't clear. There isn't room to stack on the other countertops with out cleaning them up first. There isn't room to put the leftover food into storage containers. There really isn't room for more than two people to be working at once.

I am at the point where I need 20 minutes to clean the kitchen before the kitchen is in a state where it can be cleaned.  Good luck getting the children back after that.

So how do I approach this? Is this something that gets better with experience or when, finally, the kitchen is totally rearranged? Or is this something I just have to live with because there is no good workaround? How do you find flow in a kitchen that makes you want to shake the house designer?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Why a Homebirth?

Having been duly insulted on the Internet, I wanted to examine why homebirth is becoming more popular in this country. It is still an unusual choice, but more and more women are opting for it. Why do you think this is? If the hospital is so great, why are so many women running away from them?

Being a veteran of three hospital births and one homebirth, I think I can offer an opinion. Why did I choose a homebirth after three medically uneventful hospital births? For the record, it was not so I could "give a water birth in <my> own bathtub" because Oh! Gross! I cannot imagine sitting in water surrounded by my own muck Touching! Me! It's bad enough that it's coming out of me. Must I have smeared all over my skin too? Shudder. It might be your thing, but sorry, I cannot go there. And yet I have given birth at home. What other reason could I possibly have?

My third hospital birth was outstanding. My doctor and I had a birth plan we mutually agreed upon. I was not hooked up to IVs and constant fetal monitoring. I could move freely. I was not forced to give birth on my back. By serendipity, I had an outstanding labor nurse who went over and above the call of duty. She embraced and supported my preferences. My preferences are not extreme, but include not being treated like a trauma patient about to die and laboring in positions where the mechanics of birth are the priority instead of the convenience of the attending's view.

I am confident that if I ever give birth in a hospital again, I have the knowledge and experience to negotiate a birth similar to my third birth. It only took me two hospital births to get there. This fact of requiring prior experience is ridiculous and, really, is the problem. A pregnant woman should not have to endure several less-than-ideal births in a hospital to figure out the myriad ways the hospital machine will run her over in order to finally gain the ability to negotiate around them.

Before my first labor, I thought I was well-read enough on the subject of labor that I thought I would manage just fine. When I discussed my thoughts with my doctor, she smiled and nodded, and I stupidly thought all would be well.

When I got to the hospital, everything turned on its head. My presentation was nonstandard--my water broke before the contractions started--and everything I thought I understood was gone. I was not allowed out of bed. I was not allowed to move. I was strapped to several machines that kept me on my back in agony.

The nurses spouted platitudes about increased dangers to the baby because my water was broken and how it was essential to keep the baby monitored at all times. I did not know enough to know they were spewing cow manure at me. Everything I had read had assured me that while the possibility of ruptured waters being the beginning of labor existed, it really only happened on TV and not to expect it. Not much else was said about it so I didn't read further and couldn't argue against them.

My labor progressed very quickly without my crack, professional nursing staff noticing. I received no support while I thought I might be dying on the table, expecting labor to go for eight or ten hours in this manner. They were shocked to find me complete and ready to push after an hour while my doctor was not even at the hospital yet. They made me fight for nearly an hour the intense biological urge to push while we waited for the doctor to arrive. I was chided constantly and repeatedly not to push. To breathe and not push.

When the doctor arrived, it was hard to give in to the feeling after fighting it for an hour. I attempted to push unsuccessfully. It took me a long while to get the hang of it. Finally, as things began to move along, I had nurse come to my bedside whose sole job was to press a heart monitor into my abdomen to keep the baby's heartrate on the machines even as the baby moved out of my uterus. This was total agony.

After 45 minutes of pushing--a rather short second stage for a primipara--my doctor lost patience with this scene and started talking episiotomy. I was laying on my back with my feet in the air with a hard metal device being pressed firmly into my abdomen and my doctor was convinced I could not give birth without a surgical procedure.

Now this situation was one I had read about. I knew it was generally better to tear naturally rather than being cut. I knew that if I could get off my back, delivery might be easier. None of my knowledge or preferences mattered. I spent some amount of time with a baby in my birth canal arguing with my doctor about whether I would consent to likely unnecessary surgery. Nothing encourages a laboring woman to relax and work through crowning like telling her she isn't capable of doing it. After some time and attempts, while never being given the option to change positions, I was worn down by her continual insistence I couldn't do it and "consented" to the procedure. Yes, those scare quotes are intentional. I tore from here all the way to there and my baby, with the low percentile head circumference, was born. It took weeks for me to be able to sit normally again.

At no point during my labor was there anything medically wrong with me or my baby. We were not in distress. We were not bleeding abnormally. We were not showing signs of infection or intolerance of labor. We were just run over by a doctor and hospital policies.

In preparation for my second labor, I took the knowledge gained by previous experience to advocate for myself in this next go around. My new OB turned out to be much more trustworthy than my previous one. We discussed my preferences and she explained her medical guidelines. As it turned out, we induced labor to control for precipitousness and since I was on pitocin, she wanted me on all the monitors again. While this was not my first choice, I understood her reasoning for wanting to monitor how I and the baby might respond to a medication. She had real medical reasons apart from the irrational fear that we might spontaneously combust as exhibited at my first labor.

This labor was much smoother but still I had to listen to a nurse scold me through the bathroom door that I had better not attempt to deliver on the toilet as I emptied my bladder. Yes, it's a little thing, but the little things matter in labor. Was I the patient whose needs were being attended or was I a problem who was crimping the nurse's style?

After a labor that was under two hours and a straight forward delivery, the unexpected happened. No, not a medical crisis, but hospital policy again. I knew that at this new hospital, recovery would be in a separate room from delivery. What I did not know is how tightly they would adhere to a schedule to move me. I delivered at 10:40am. By 11:40am, I was out of that room. In the intervening hour, I had delivered a placenta, been sutured along that old unnecessary episiotomy line, attempted to nurse, had to get out of bed to get cleaned up and changed, get my urine output measured, and signed a pile of paperwork. It was an absolute whirlwind. There was nothing relaxing or undisturbed about that golden hour which the hospital claimed to keep.

In spite of this, I knew once we were back in the recovery room, we would have the rest of the day to spend together. Except we didn't. Somehow my baby didn't make it back to my room with any due speed. Instead of coming to my room, she went to the nursery where she was held hostage for four hours. I was crawling out of my skin, but instead of my need to hold my baby being affirmed and accommodated, I was told repeatedly to calm down, wait, and trust the hospital stuff to bring her when she was ready. I had no idea to expect such a situation and was in no position to advocate for myself. No one else wanted to advocate for me either. I just had to wait until they decided they were finished, whomever they were.

Again there was nothing medically wrong with either us. She was in need of a warm body and a blanket, and amazingly enough I had both that I wanted to provide for her. But that was not allowed. Once again I and my baby had been run over by hospital policy.

As I mentioned above, my third hospital birth was about as good as birth can get. I used my hard won previous knowledge and negotiated every contingency I knew about, and yet I still had to endure one nurse who threatened me with catheterization because my urine output did not meet her preconceived standards because she hadn't bothered to read my chart and see I had not been blown up like a water balloon with IV fluids therefore was not capable of producing the volume of urine she required. I also had another nurse who introduced herself at shift change and I never saw her again, in spite of the fact that two doses of my pain medicine came due over the course of her shift. Note to self: Next time bring your own bottle of advil because you can't count on the nurse showing up with the pain meds. 

Notice that my requests and expectations around birth have had nothing to do with medical requirements being subordinated in favor of some wackadoo, mother-earth goddess zen, orgasmic birth. No. My requirements are that if everything is progressing normally, I will be allowed to move around, find a position that is less agonizing--there is no comfortable position--not deliver on my back with my legs up in the air, and hold my baby for as long as I want after birth. These are not diva-like expectations.

None of my complaints about my hospital experiences will show up in mortality rates. It is the drips of water that strip away the desire to go to the hospital when it becomes clear their medically unnecessary protocols and their own convenience take precedent over the care and comfort of a laboring/postpartum mother and newborn. It should not require two previous births and extensive negotiations to have an undisrupted natal experience when, again, there is nothing medically wrong with either the mother or the neonate. But, sadly, it is required. Without foreknowledge and negotiation, you will get run over by hospital policy because you will be in no position or state of mind to advocate for yourself on the fly in those moments.

Why did I choose a homebirth the fourth time even though I was confident I could reproduce another good hospital experience?

Frankly, my number one concern was delivering on the side of the road. With a history of precipitous labor, it's not an irrational fear. The standard medical treatment of precipitous labor is induction. I don't really like being induced. By the time of my fourth pregnancy, I was somewhat psychologically fragile. I was so very tired of working. I had hoped I would have been able to quit my job by the time of delivery. I felt powerless over my life and schedule. To submit to induction again was once again giving someone else control over my life. With induction, I would likely work until delivery and then be admitted to the same hospital I was employed by. Someone, on their own schedule, would start the process of birth and I, once again, would only be along for the ride. Ironically choosing not to control when birth would happen was a way I could take a small amount of control over my schedule.

I was tired. I longed to hole up in my own home with my own children, but I knew allowing birth to proceed on its own schedule was not compatible with me arriving at a hospital to give birth. If I wanted to avoid induction, I would have to give birth at home. It was too risky to attempt a mad dash to the hospital. I was also afraid that labor might start unexpectedly even if we planned a hospital birth, and we would be unprepared because, again, with my labor history, a mad dash to the hospital is foolish.

I investigated the risks associated with homebirth and compared them to my own medical history. I spoke with people I trust about their own homebirth experiences. I was comfortable with my midwife's credentials and monitoring procedures, a woman who had herself given birth at home and also transferred into a hospital when it became medically advisable. We decided to go ahead with the homebirth, and lo, we all survived.

I am not being flip. It just strikes me as odd which risks we find objectionable and which risks we find acceptable. No one gave any pause to the fact that I was driving up to three hours a day, every day, on a highly congested interstate at speeds up to 70 or 80 MPH while nine months pregnant (and 8 months and 7 months and...). This action was considered an acceptable and unavoidable risk of life. But take equivalent risks in childbirth and people lose their minds.

If I were pregnant again, would I have another homebirth? I might or I might not. I found many advantages to staying at my home for birth, but I am not in that same psychologically fragile place where I feel powerless over my circumstances. I am not compelled to leave my house and children every day anymore. I would not have a maternity leave clock ticking incessantly in my mind reminding me that time is almost up. I am not financially tied to my hospital of employment anymore. I wonder if I gave enough attention to the ambulance response times for my neighborhood. Right now, in my non-pregnant state, induction does not seem like the last straw it felt like the last time I was pregnant.

These are all very intangible criteria and this is the point. Why are women increasingly choosing to birth outside of hospital settings? Because hospitals have shown themselves unwilling or unable to treat normal, uneventful births as normal and uneventful without a massive effort on the part of the mother. The birth culture in this country loudly states that what happens to a mother and baby during the course of childbirth does not matter as long as everyone makes it out alive. I reject this paradigm.

It matters. The little things matter. The unwelcome and unnecessary surgeries matter. The inattentive nurses matter. The counterproductive and unsupportive doctors matter. The denial of gravity matters. The unnecessary and unwanted separations matter. The instinct to tell mothers to suck it up and be grateful everyone is alive matters.

A pregnant mother is a human being. Her physical and psychological integrity matter. She is more than just a baby-producing machine made of meat. Her outcomes matter, even if they don't make a blip on the mortality charts. And none of these things have anything to do with a bathtub. It's time for hospitals to figure it out.