December 11, 2013

Emily's Home Birth Story

Emily was born three weeks ago tonight, right on her due date, November 20th, 2013. Since her sisters were all born a few days prior to their due dates, I had been getting a wee bit antsy wondering when my little Emily would come.  What a waiting game it is those last few days of pregnancy!

On the 20th, a Wednesday, everything was normal most of the day.  The big girls went to school, Juliette went to pre-school, Reese went to work.  And I was tired as heck, so I slept (which ended up being a good thing!!)  In the evening, Reese took the girls to gymnastics and I rested a bit more.  Shortly after everyone came back home, around 7 pm, I started feeling something.. Was it Braxton Hicks again? Or was it the real deal? It always takes me a bit to figure it out!!  I told Reese “I think I may be in labor.”  He told me to call Lucinda the midwife.  I tell him, “I don’t want to bother her if this isn’t the real thing! Let me try to track these and see if anything’s going on.”  And so I start tracking the sensations and it does seem like they are happening somewhat regularly.  So I tell Reese and the girls, “Okay, I think I am going to have the baby tonight!”

The girls were so excited! They started packing their things - they were going to stay the night at Brianna’s friend Sofia’s house while I birthed.  While they packed (it was 7:30 now), I called Lucinda and told her “I think I’m in labor.”  And she said, “Okay, let me get my kids situated and I’ll be on my way.”  And because I learned my lesson with Juliette’s birth where I did not call the photographer in time, I then called Emily the photographer.  She too was on her way!  The girls were ready to go in no time flat, and Reese drove down the street to drop them off at Sofia’s house. 

I went up to my bedroom and started pacing around, listening to my body, timing the contractions, waiting for the team to arrive.  So much anticipation in these moments – you know this huge thing is going to happen to you – you know all these people are going to come to help you through this journey… it’s a bit overwhelming.  I was worried that I would not stay in labor and that my team will have wasted their time in traveling to Mountain House for no reason. 

When Reese returned back home from dropping off the girls, he helped me get the room set up.  For at least a week prior to the birth, I had banned everyone from our bedroom - I had this keen need to have a sacred, pure birth space that was clean and orderly and ready for birthing.   So there was little to do – just set out the birth kit, the bowl for the placenta, get the bed ready with the plastic sheet and the old sheets over it, get drinks out of the fridge for me to drink after I had the baby.  Reese was, as always, amazing in getting everything done with a calm, cool head!

Photo by Emily Marie Photography

Emily arrived to our house first – probably around 8:30.. and then Lucinda and her apprentice Brooke.  They came up to my room to see me and I was still just feeling the contractions – by that time they had spaced apart from every five minutes to every ten – I think due to me worrying I wasn’t really in labor!  Emily took a few shots of me laying on the bed in my side lying laboring position, and Lucinda and Brooke sat on the floor and got all their stuff out and ready for the birth.  

Photo by Emily Marie Photography
I think they did a quick blood pressure check on me and heart check on the baby.. then I said “Okay, I’m going to labor alone now…” so I sent everyone (including Reese!) out of the room.  The room was lit by red candles, and as I enjoyed the dark and the silence, I lay on the bed and witnessed what was going on inside me.  

Photo by Emily Marie Photography

Photo by Emily Marie Photography

As it is with me, things progressed very very quickly.  Before I knew it, the contractions were getting intense.  I got up, opened the door and called out to Lucinda that things were happening.  I felt the need to stand up to get through the intensity of the contractions – such a familiar feeling – the tightness inside, the almost inability to breathe while they happen, the short relief while they subside.  Reese ran to get a plastic tarp when it became evident that Emily was coming quickly and that I wanted to birth her standing up at the end of/edge of the bed.   Shortly after he put the tarp down, I started those loud, vocalizations – it’s funny, this time I could hear myself doing it – so loud I was! And I remember vividly saying things like “It hurts!” and “Just get her out!!” which is not something I’ve done or said before.  I remember the ring of fire this time too.. perhaps because I delivered Emily standing up versus laying down like the rest of my babes?  Anyway, so very shortly, my body shot my little girl out and into Reese’s awaiting hands.  Emily Elise Ramos was born at 11:09 pm, just three hours or so after I realized I was in labor.  

Photo by Emily Marie Photography

I sat on the edge of the bed in relief, and held my baby girl to me.. she was so beautiful.  I felt her umbilical cord – so thick and alive.  It was an amazing moment.  Baby Emily looked just like her big sisters did at birth – a full head of brown hair, a little swollen face, long fingers and toes.. and it turns out she was actually the largest at birth of the four – eight pounds even.  I birthed the placenta easily and quickly too.

Photo by Emily Marie Photography

As I got into bed with her, wrapped up in blankets and a thick fuzzy robe to fend off the inevitable post-birth shakes, I just admired her beautiful little self.  I put her to my breast and she latched on immediately.  I marveled – again – at how babies just KNOW how to breastfeed, right from the start.  Reese made me a meal – scrambled eggs and toast – while Lucinda and Brooke did all the post birth stuff like look at the placenta, take care of me, etc.  What heaven it is, those moments after birth.

Photo by Emily Marie Photography
Photo by Emily Marie Photography

Part 2 follows, my homebirth transport story

October 13, 2013

Confessions of a Homeschool Drop Out

 August 21, 2013 – the girls’ very first day in a traditional school, ever. 

The decision to put them in school was a long time in coming, and definitely not an easy one to make.  They were in a homeschool charter for a number of years, and then last school year (2011-2012), I decided to pull them out of the charter.  I felt that there was too much expectation of me as a teacher given the breadth of the California state standards, and really, too many things I was supposed to teach that I didn’t care that they know.  I had read a good deal about radical unschooling and felt that that philosophy, learning by doing, learning through life – was a far better way to learn.  And in all honesty, I felt it would require less of me – I wanted to have less responsibility and more freedom to focus on my own interests.   During the 2012-2103 unschooling school year, I really did try to facilitate their education – field trips, park days, getting them involved in things they wanted to do, like theater and dance.  We did do a small amount of book work during the year as well.  Elea ultimately finished her math book, Brianna did not J  The girls really had little interest in doing academics and instead spent lots of time playing, dancing, and going to their extra curriculars (dance, theater, girl scouts, etc.).  I liked the freedom of unschooling, and liked having the girls with me, but I was feeling increasingly worried that I was not doing enough to facilitate their learning and their social lives.  Living in Mountain House, we’re far away from the big cities, so field trips are a looong trek.  And they were not able to make any girl friends from any of the park days we went to, as park days were infrequent at best.  Their best friends were boys, which was fine – but every girl needs girl friends!

As for me, I became pregnant, had the miscarriage, and then got pregnant again – the whole first 5 months of the year were very challenging health wise.  And by late spring, I started to feel that I simply could not and did not want, in all honesty, to homeschool anymore.  I realized that teaching was not my bliss; I always had dragged my feet doing what school we did.  And I felt that I was doing my girls a disadvantage at this point.  They deserve to have girl friends, and they need to learn and be exposed to more topics and ideas than I had been exposing them to at home. 

Reese and I wrestled a bit with how school clashes with our belief systems.  While we both did well in school and liked it, we really feel that formal education is overrated – too much focus on success, test scores, things like that –  lots of wasted time on discipline and classroom management.  We believe that the most important lessons a child needs to learn are those taught by people like Tony Robbins, and Abraham/Hicks (Law of Attraction).  I was also worried, too, that school would expose them to all of the things I had worked so diligently to protect them from all these years – they have such strong self esteems and vibrant personalities; I would hate for those to be altered by social pressure.  In my many talks with my mom about this subject, she reminded me to have positive expectations – that school would be a good thing for them (and me!) if my guidance was telling me that school was the next step for all of us. 

So, reservations not withstanding, I enrolled all three girls in school (Juliette had actually been asking to go to preschool!) – Juliette would go twice a week, mornings, and the big girls would be in 2nd grade (Elea) and 4th (Brianna). I decided since Brianna had not been academically focused last school year to put her in 4th even though she was actually of 5th grade age.  I had lots of discussions with the girls about school.  I could see they were actually somewhat open about it, but definitely had a good many reservations.  Which is of course expected, given that school was always a threat in homeschool-world (e.g. “if you don’t do your school work, I’ll enroll you in school!”) and that they had never stepped foot in one and had no idea what to expect.   I did a couple of things that really helped assuage their worries – met with the school principal to get a sense of him, the school, get some initial questions answered about school life; I relayed these things to them and told them I was impressed with what I had heard and with the principal himself.  And then, a few days before school, I had a lovely friend give all of us a tour so we could see the campus, the girls could meet the principal, and we could get all remaining questions answered.  Brianna was lucky enough to meet her teacher that day which I know helped a lot.  I knew Elea’s teacher already, as we have sold her girl scout cookies the past 3 years (she’s a neighbor!)  For Juliette’s part, we visited her pre school a couple times before she started to see the lay of the land, meet her teachers, and play for a few minutes.

The first day of school, the girls were excited and a bit nervous too.  They had their backpacks, and lunches, and were so so cute.  I walked the big girls into the school and waited to make sure they both were sitting in their classrooms before I left.  I was so very proud of them – they embarked on this new adventure with confidence and bravery, no tears or reluctance at all.  Dropping off Juliette that first day was a bit harder.. although she had been saying she wanted to go to pre-school, I think the actual experience of leaving mama was a little harder than she thought.  She hid behind my leg and didn’t want me to leave.  I left her crying that first day and my heart was broken.  I went home and just bawled – I had felt so so much worry that I hadn’t realized – worry that they were scared or worried themselves.  After a good cry, I napped and enjoyed that wonderful silence a bit too.

By about her fourth or fifth day of preschool, Juliette began to loosen up and not cry or cling when I dropped her off.  The teachers were so kind to send me pictures of her those first few days to ensure me that she cried only for a few minutes, and then after that, was able to have fun.  On the second day, I actually stayed in the school’s driveway to see how long she cried – and it was only for a few minutes.. that made me feel better.  I hate to have put her through that, even for a few days, but I also felt really strongly that I needed to have those few hours for myself.  In all my attachment parenting years, I have never had regular time alone – not during the day, not at night.  So balancing my needs – expecting my 4th soon – and hers (I felt that she really would do well in preschool) – I thought that the decision would ultimately be ok.

Fast forward 6 weeks, and I cannot tell you how amazing school has been.  Like surprisingly amazing.  The girls have made girl friends, been invited to parties. They’re having fun! School isn’t all academics.  Brianna’s teacher in particular incorporates fun little games, movies, things like that – into weekly school life.  Elea was nominated by her teacher as student of the month for September – her teacher is very appreciative of her positive, helpful manner and outlook.  Both girls also fit in well academically – they’re doing fine, scoring at level, etc.  We don’t emphasize the scores at home, of course, but it is rewarding and nice that my homeschool efforts did, at least, keep them at grade level and prepared for school J  What I’ve been most blown away by though was how school has actually inspired them to want to learn more.  I was never able to accomplish that! Brianna has finally become interested in and excited about reading! Elea learned a little bit about the Titanic at school and was inspired to research it online and make her own report about it.  How very unschooly that is, don’t you think?

And I am greatly enjoying having 7 whole hours to myself a week.  I spend my own time napping, or cleaning, or helping moms with lactation, and just really loving the silence. 

This is not to say that school is perfect.. there are annoyances for sure – like how the girls don’t have enough time to eat lunch, how Brianna has to wear her street clothes for gym class, how the vegetarian hot lunch options are wretched and all-cheese-all-the-time.  And they do spend too much time on classroom management – particularly the 2nd grade teacher.  I feel bad that the teachers have to waste so much time and efforts on children that don’t or can’t behave.  How exhausting that must be. 

So for now, it’s awesome! For future, we’ll see.  We’ll take it one year at a time.  If it stops being good for the girls, then we’ll homeschool again.  How great it is to have the option of both. 

A few lessons learned on my part:
1) school is not evil J 
2) I should not have felt guilty that I didn’t teach much science and social studies in homeschool – neither girl does much of either one.. it’s very math and language arts focused.
3) it’s okay to have a little time for me.  Moms need time off too.

November 26, 2012

How I Potty Trained My Girls by 18 Months

A number of people have asked me to share my tips for early potty training, so I thought I'd share here on my blog.  I started potty training my second and third daughters when they were about 12-13 months old, and they were both potty trained by 18 months.  The whole process was really easy and stress free.   My technique is very loosely based on the theory of "elimination communication" - which is a term used to describe toileting babies (even newborns) by watching their cues for when they have to poo and pee, and also cuing them to help them use the potty.  Although I love the idea of not having a babe sit in their own poo/pee - which is basically what happens with diapers - I am just a wee bit too lazy to put my floppy babies on the toilet numerous times a day.  So, as a compromise, I use cloth diapers and then start the potty training process around a year old.  Here are the specifics as to how I've done it.

A few important notes before you begin:

1.   Baby Can Walk.  I recommend waiting until your baby is fully mobile, able to walk and able to - with assistance - sit herself down onto a baby toilet seat. 

2.   Do It Early.  I think there is a lovely window of time between when your baby can walk and when your baby gets closer to two and has more of a "my way or the high way" mentality.   I have found the 12-18 month window to work really well for potty training.  Your mileage may vary depending on your child's physical development and temperment.

3.  It's Going to Be Messy.  There's no way around it.. toilet training in this way is going to be a bit messy.  If you're squeamish, a germaphobe, or a Type A "everything has to be pristine all the time" type of person, this technique is probably not for you.

Now to the How To:

4.   Have Her Watch You Pee and Poo.  You've got to be willing and able to be open about your bodily functions to do this right.  The first part of the potty training process is to help her understand what exactly poop and pee are, where they come from, and that those things go into the toilet.  So - when you have to pee or poo, bring her into the bathroom with you.  Let her watch you pee - show her the stream as it comes out of your body.  Say "Look! Mama's going pee pee! Pee pee goes into the toilet." And then after you go, you say "Bye bye pee pee!" and flush.  Do the same thing for your BMs.  (I know, you're probably cringing).  But just think of being diaper free in a few short months, yay! - and it will be worth it.  Also, if you have older children, ask them to do the same thing as you.  The message to your baby - everybody pees and poos and those things go into the toilet.

5.    Have Her Go Diaper Free.  Once you do the above for awhile, then you're going to start taking off baby's diaper whenever you have the opportunity and letting baby roam nakey butt.  The reason for this - your baby has to understand that poop and pee come out of her body too.  I remember the first time I did this with my second daughter.  She looked shocked when she saw the pee coming out of her.   When a baby is in diapers, they have no conception of how their body works... being without a diaper, they can make the connection - Look, I have pee pee too! 

For this stage, you're going to want to have baby potties in whatever room you're in.  We had two - one I brought with me into the room we were playing in, the other was in the bathroom.  So, you take baby's diaper off, go about your business and play - and then, your baby will - at some point - begin to pee.  When she does this, you'll spring into action - you're going to happily say "Look! You're going pee pee! Pee pee goes in the potty."  As you're saying that, you're going to sit baby gently down on the toilet.  After she's done, you wipe, flush (bye bye pee pee!), you wash up, and you say "yay!" 

Same thing goes for BMs.  Fortunately, with BMs, you typically get a lot more notice because you'll likely hear grunting, or they'll stop what they're doing for a minute and get a serious face, things like that.  Once you see those warning signs, say "Oh, do you need to go poo poo? Let's put you on the toilet! Poo poo goes in the toilet."  And then put baby on the toilet.  She may not actually go at that point, and that's okay.  If she does, then do the wipe/wash/praise thing.  Sometimes (and this is the messy part), you're going to miss a poo.  If you do, you'll just say "Oh, look, you went poo poo! Poo poo goes in the toilet."  Put her on the toilet, ask her if she has more poo poo, respond accordingly, and then clean her up.  Then, go pick up the poo poo with toilet paper and put the poo poo in the toilet and say "Look! Poo poo goes in the toilet."  There should be no shaming, guilting, punishing or whatever involved here.  Stay loving and matter of fact.

6.   Messes.  Having a number of potties will help minimize the poo and pee mess, but you definitely will still be getting them on your floor.  I highly recommend doing this process on a non-carpeted area - say the kitchen - so that clean up is easier.  If it's warm enough outside, you can also do it outside and just hose things away.

7.   When She Makes the Connection.  At some point after doing the above for awhile, your baby will start to pee in her pants, and then say (or sign or signal) "I have to pee."  This is great! It means she's making the connection herself.  When she does this, you say "Oh, you're going pee pee! Pee pee goes in the toilet!" And then take her to the toilet and do the routine above.  Soon, she will start to walk or run to the toilet herself when she pees because she's recognizing that she is going pee at the same time she is remembering that she needs to do it on the toilet.

And then, soon, all on her own - she will recognize her own bodily cues - she will recognize that she has to poop or pee before the poop or pee starts coming out.  She will tell you or signal, and then you'll put her on the toilet and go through the drill above.  When she actually does this - tells you first, you put her on the toilet and she goes - that is huge cause for celebration.  I usually clap and cheer! If you have older children, they can join in the praise too.  "What a big girl! Look, you went pee pee in the potty!" 

You're going to continue doing this - praising when she makes it, being kind and matter of fact when she doesn't.  And pretty soon - you will have a child that is potty trained!

8.  Taking the Show on the Road.   I would not recommend going outside and diaperless until your baby has a good track record at home with using the potty.  Once you feel she's ready, get her some thick training undies - tell her they're her big girl undies - and then venture out sans diaper.  Pack though - and be ready for accidents.  I recommend extra changes of clothes, a roll of paper towels and cleaner, and a baby toilet to be in your car at all times during this time period.  And ideally, have a partner/spouse/helpful friend with you the first few times.  If she has an accident, no scolding or shaming, just matter of fact - "uh oh! the pee pee came out on the floor!" - take her to the toilet, clean her up and change her clothes, and then pick up the mess.  Split the duties with your spouse/partner/friend.  If you're going to be out for awhile, do make sure to remind your little one about going potty - they often get really busy and forget - which can lead to accidents.  Set your alarm for every two hours and ask and/or put her on the toilet when the alarm rings.  If she fusses and doesn't want to go to the bathroom, let that be okay - and honor that.  You don't want toileting to ever be a power struggle.

9.  Nighttime.  Nighttime is typically the last step in the process.  Keep your baby diapered at night until you notice that she's gone a number of nights - at least a week - with a dry diaper all night.  If she's done that, you're pretty safe in going diaperless at night.  To protect your mattress, definitely have a puddle pad and/or plastic mattress cover to protect your mattress in case of accidents.  And try to get your little one to go pee before bed.  And when morning comes, pop her on the toilet when she wakes up (if she'll do so willingly.) 

Two final notes:

10.  This Is a Part Time Process.  This type of potty training should be a part time, low key thing.  Spend many weeks having baby watch you poo and pee.  When you're ready to take the diaper off, do it a few times a week, for a few hours at a time and/or whenever you have a nice chunk of time at home.  No pressure - no power struggle.  Remember, you're teaching here.  More to the point, you're allowing your baby to understand her bodily functions and what we do with our waste. 

11.  Regression.  A word about regression.  Fully toilet trained toddlers sometimes start having accidents again.   Regression may happen because something new is going on in baby's life (a new sibling or a move), because of illness, travel, or even just because your baby is going through a growth spurt.  Accidents should be handled with love and compassion, and just as matter of factly as when you were toilet training in the first place.  Remember, your baby is doing the best that she can!

So - that's the process I followed.  There are so many good things about early potty training: not having to wipe gross poopy blow outs (poops that go vertically into the toilet are oh-so-much cleaner to wipe up after!).  Your baby does not have to sit in her poop and pee anymore.  And - it's great for the environment.  As most toddlers don't potty train until twoish, or even way later, that's a lot fewer diapers to wash (cloth) or throw into the landfill (disposables).

Hopefully you find this helpful.  Let me know if you have any questions!!

September 27, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Breastfeeding Toddler

A few days ago, after a l---o--n--g day with my nursing toddler, I turned to my Facebook friends and wrote:

"OMG my toddler nurses like a newborn and I'm going crazy!!!! Growth spurt, teething? Who knows?"

Immediately, SO many of my other mom friends chimed in that they were going through that too!  So - for those of you reading this that may not have the privilege to know any other moms in real life that are nursing toddlers - I thought it might be helpful for you to know that frequent nursing in a toddler is totally, totally normal.  As is going nutty because of it :)

My nursling is currently just a few weeks away from her second birthday.  And she loves her boo boos - as she calls my breasts.   Here is a typical day in her life (and mine!)

5 am - laying next to me, wakes up raring to nurse.  Nightweaning worked great to give me the 10 to 5 block of sleep, but at 5 - if I say no, she will go ape shit.  Yelling, crying, flailing - and then worse - staying awake!! So invariably, we begin our nursing day.  She nurses - both sides - and her sloppy sleepy latch causes her razor sharp teeth to bite into my breast.  Ouch! I become wide awake, waiting for her to finish so I can get my breast out of her mouth and go back to sleep.

6 am - wants to nurse again.  Ditto all of the above.
7 am - yup.  same again.
8:30 am -  The desire to start cleaning the previous days' messes gets the best of me, and - after nursing! - I get up to start the day.  She begins her day making messes in the places I just cleaned :)

9:15 am - try to offer her breakfast of oatmeal.  Or toast.  "Boo boos now!!" she says.  I try to stall her.  "Wait boo boos!" I say.  I want to eat my own breakfast and work on the computer without someone sucking on my boob.  She waits for a few minutes - I eat some of my own food, type a little - and then, without me even realizing it...

9:20 am - She's wormed her way onto my lap, pulled my shirt down, and is sucking on my breast.  Yes, I mean that - I take my attention off the screen to realize that I went through all the nursing motions without even knowing she was there!

9:25 am - She plays with her big sisters.  Ah - so very glad that they are homeschooled and have plenty of time to play with her (and distract her!)

11:30 am - "Boo boos now!" Again.  I say "Wait for me on the couch."  She doesn't.  She knows that I'll get preoccupied with something else (smart girl).  She takes my finger, leads me to the couch - and I sit with her, and take her onto my lap.  I take a moment to realize how nice it is that my nursling gives me the opportunity to sit and be still a few minutes in my hectic day.

1:00 pm - Cranky, cranky baby.  Nothing makes her happy - not sisters and their Barbies, not taking a bath.  Nothing.  I realize it's nap time for her.  I pick her crying little body up - sit on the couch - say "Boo boo time!" She latches on.. nurses.  Her eyes slowly close.  She is beautifully asleep.  I admire how gorgeous she is.  Heart melts.   

1:30 pm - She wakes up.  Because my kids don't.  ever.  sleep.  Yup, lucky me.  Yay!!

1:30 to 3 pm - Homeschooling.  The girl that is not currently working with me watches the baby.  Toddler's too busy to nurse.  Unless the girls get frustrated with her and yell at her.  In which case she cries.  And wants to nurse.

3 pm.   She announces she's "hunga." That's hungry - to you and me.  I offer her a cheese stick. She eats a bit, then chews some up and spits it on the floor.  Yay.  More pick up for mama!!  As a dessert, she asks for boo boos.  We nurse again.

3:30 pm.  Big girls have dance lessons.  

3:45 pm.  Sitting on the couch watching them dance, toddler sticks her hand into my shirt and announces it's boo boo time.  Without further ado, she affixes herself onto my breast.  It's easy for her to do given the tank top portion of my mom uniform.  I quickly pop my hand up to cover her face/mouth and my breast/nipple.  I try not to cause too many coronaries with my nursing in public :)

4:15 pm.  Class still in session.  Same as above.  Boo boo time again.

5:30 pm  Making dinner.  She wants boo boos now!! "You need to wait baby.  Mommy's making dinner.  Go play with sisters."  She hangs on to my leg.  I get frustrated.  I call the big girls and bribe them - If you take your sister upstairs, I'll pay you $4! Bribe worked.  Sisters to the rescue - and I finish dinner without having to stop to nurse.

6:00 pm.  Husband's home.  Hooray!!!! We sit to eat dinner.  Toddler stands in her chair.  Eats a few bites.  Spills her water.  Gets down.  Mozies over to my side.  "Boo boos now!" she cries.  I'm irritated.  I want a bright line rule -  "No boo boos while I eat!"  Husband calls toddler over.  She doesn't come.  He picks her up and puts her on his lap.  She cries.  I give in, put her on my lap, and give her (reluctantly) boo boos.

6:30 - 9ish.  Play time with sisters.  Play time with Daddy.  Maybe one or two boo boos - a minute here and there.  Just enough to touch base.

9:30 pm.  I can tell she's tired.  She's whiny, and cranky.  I say "seepy time baby.."  She crawls onto my lap, drapes her big girl body over me, and latches on.  I caress her soft baby hair, her silky smooth skin.  I tell her I love her.  Her eyes close.  She nurses for ten minutes or more - and when her little body is limp, I unlatch her and put her down.  I admire her.  I feel grateful for her.  I feel grateful she's asleep!

And then - I have an evening to myself (or with husband) - and I stay up too late.  And then rise again in the morn, and do it all over again.

Nursing a toddler is hard work. It can make you frustrated, and irritated as all get out. But - I do it for two reasons: first, my breasts are her rock.  Her safe place to land.  They are there when she's tired, they are there when she's frustrated.  My breasts are her panacea.  And second - because nursing is also so very incredible.  I love taking those quiet moments to hold her and love on her.  It feels so good in my heart to be in love with her so.  

August 14, 2012

Teaching Gratitude and Generosity

Now that my oldest daughter is almost nine, I'm feeling myself get a bit reflective.  I often think, wistfully, of the errors I've made in parenting, particularly in those early years with Brianna.  But I don't often stop to think about what I've done right.  One of the things I've done right (and though I say "I" - I also include my husband Reese) is to convey to our girls the importance of gratitude and generosity. 

The great spiritual teachers that we, in our family revere, teach that in order to live an abundant and happy life, a person must live in a state of gratitude, and must give freely of their time, money and talents. Reese and I strive to live this way, every day.  And we want our children to as well.

One of the most long standing traditions in our house is that everyone says "gratefuls" before bedtime.  Brianna has done this every night since she was old enough to talk.  In the beginning, she was grateful for the things she could see in the room.. her blanket, the bed, the curtains.  Over time, it developed into gratitude for people (her family and friends) and the events in her life.  I love hearing the girls' gratefuls, and sharing my own with them.  I tell them every night how very grateful I am for them :)

As children learn primarily from example, they also often hear me express my gratitude in daily life.  "Thank you SO much my dear neighbor for bringing me fresh picked tomatoes today!"  And I make special points of being grateful - out loud - for things they might not think of.  "I am so grateful for my healthy body that makes babies and milk."  and "I'm so glad we have this beautiful car that gets us where we need to go."

We also teach about generosity by giving of our own time, talents, and money.  We organize, as a family, a huge food drive each fall.  I volunteer in numerous ways in our community.  I talk about how I donate money to causes I care about.  They see Reese help people who are in financial trouble.  They accompany us when we have delivered food baskets and care packages and money to people on the street in need.  Many times, they've handed money to people themselves.  We have shared with them the expectation that each time they receive income, a portion must be saved and another portion must be given.  This past weekend, the girls had a bake sale, and at Reese's suggestion, donated 10 percent of their sales to the wonderful Feral Cat Rescue organization in our town. Today, I was so pleased when they received $5 (for 10 cookies) from a family friend - and they decided to donate the entire $5 to the rescue group.

It is beautiful to see the values that Reese and I are teaching the girls becoming a real part of who they are.. it is my fervent hope that by teaching them as we are, they will not be susceptible to the world belief in lack, and that they will live those abundant lives we so crave for them.

July 26, 2012

More about our unschooling decision

In my last post, I talked about how we are shifting the way we homeschool our children - from a traditional sit down and look at your textbooks way of learning - to more of an "unschooling" philosophy.  Unschooling is basically child led learning.  Though this is very simplistic - an example might be - if your child is interested in bugs, then you and your child delve into bugs - watch videos of bugs, go on a bug hunt outside, tend to an ant farm, draw them, learn about bug anatomy, etc.  In unschooling, parents are educational facilitators - ensuring that a child has all opportunities to explore what interests them.

We came to this philosophy at my oldest daughter's lead.  Generally speaking, she has not enjoyed school as we've done it, with textbooks at the kitchen table.   I often had to resort to threats and bribes to get school done.  As the school year closed last spring, I began ruminating.. how to make my girls enjoy school? After reading a bit about unschooling, my husband and I began talking about what our goals were for our children.

We realized that we don't care that they learn most of the things children learn in school.  Reading, writing, spelling, enough math to run a business - that's pretty much it.  We don't care if they are up to state standards - that they know what the other kids their same age know.

What we do want?
  • We want our girls to enjoy learning, and to enjoy life.
  • We want them to know their options in life are unlimited; they can do whatever they want to in life.
  • We want them to be their own bosses and not feel obligated to work for someone else.
  • We want them to learn about money, investment, and money management.
  • We want them to be compassionate, loving, and generous individuals.
  • We don't care if they go to college.  If they want to, fine.  If they don't, that's fine too.

Unschooling them means that they will follow their passions and interests.  Their own innate sense of self, the God at the center of their being, will lead them to find exactly what they want to do in life.  We will help facilitate that!

One of my biggest reservations about unschooling - which was assuaged when I read more - was that if my kids did decide to go to school, they would be unprepared.  I learned that a motivated child can learn all the math (for example) that they need to know in six weeks.

Since we feel that language arts and basic math are important, we will still be doing a bit of parent directed learning.  I am thinking of continuing our Spelling Power book (my oldest loves it); of having them doing journaling each day; of having them read to us and us reading to them.  We will have some math books available and will go over what we think they need to know to be able to be an excellent money manager and business owner.  Otherwise, we will follow them.

As with our journey into attachment parenting which began 6 years ago, this unschooling thing is clearly a leap of faith.  It's totally, totally out of the box.  It's the opposite of how we were raised (both hubby and I were high achievers throughout school and went on to obtain graduate degrees).  But our daughter led us here - and we're responding.  And because of that, it definitely feels like the right thing to do.

I'll keep you posted!

Oh - my favorite book on unschooling: Radical Unschooling by Dayna Martin.  Phenomenal.
I highly recommend!

July 11, 2012

Life shifts - homeschooler to unschooler - and more

When I started this blog a few years ago, I was going through a life shift - leaving behind a huge part of my life as Holistic Moms leader for a simpler life, trying to get pregnant with our third child.  Today, after a year or so hiatus from blogging, I find that I am in a similar place.  I sense change in the wind.  Both my husband and I are feeling it.  We're ready for a new adventure! I'd love to move to a new place.  I'd love that place to be back with family in Southern California.  He would rather move somewhere dramatic, like overseas.  So - I am watching and waiting to see what will happen with that.

Also changing is the way we are homeschooling.  For four and a half years now, we have been very traditional homeschoolers.  We have homeschooled through a state funded charter school, we've used state curriculum/textbooks, and we've sat at the kitchen table and "done school" for a few hours most school days.  It has worked for us - when "worked" is defined as keeping my children up to state standards - doing the work that kids in school are doing, and scoring proficiently at the state standardized tests given each year.

Problem is - Brianna kept telling me she hated school.  So clearly, what I was doing was not working.  So - this really got me to thinking.  One of the reasons I decided to homeschool way back when was so that she would love learning!  When I thought ahead to the coming school year, I felt a good amount of dread.  How could I make her enjoy learning more? How can I make text book learning fun? I am not exactly a "fun" song and dance type of a teacher.. and with 3 kids - one of whom is a high needs toddler - I don't have much time at all to be searching Pinterest and the web for creative/artsy/exciting ways to teach. 

I then began investigating unschooling.  I posted a message onto our homeschool support group Yahoo group looking for information about unschooling - which is basically child led learning.  I got lots of great references - books and websites to read and explore.  Stories from parents who have unschooled sucessfully.  And - after a month or so of reading and ruminating, and talking with my husband, we have come to the conclusion that we will now take a far more "unschooly" way of teaching our children.  (I will write more about our thought process in a separate post.)

So - it is a time of change.  Of letting things go - I am contemplating letting other things go as well - roles and responsibilities in my life that are not serving me.. to make way for new adventures and new directions.

I hope to do better at keeping up this blog so that I have a record of our unschooling (and other) new journeys.

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