Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dealing With Miscarriage

This is a post that has been done before by others.  However, everyone grieves differently so maybe something I have to say will resonate with someone else.

Just before Halloween I had a miscarriage.  I was eight weeks along.  I hadn't yet told anyone I was expecting.  The first thing almost anyone heard about this pregnancy was that it ended.  It felt far more private than any of my other pregnancies.  This was my second miscarriage.  It was vastly different from my first in almost every way.  But many of the feelings I've had made me remember reactions and feelings I had forgotten or pushed away.  My aim is to give a bit of advice about what the mother may be feeling and how to be helpful rather than hurtful.  This is obviously not a comprehensive list, just what I have felt or needed after my losses.

Allow for differences
My first loss happened at 20 weeks.  It was catastrophic and left me broken.  I didn't know how to be happy anymore.  I was scared and devastated and inconsolable.  I missed my baby like crazy.  It was my first pregnancy.  I felt like the time had been wasted.

My second loss was at a few days over eight weeks.  I had felt oddly peaceful through the entire pregnancy and was blessed to continue feeling that peace once it became clear the pregnancy was ending.  The loss was the result of a blighted ovum (a fertilized egg which produces a placenta but no baby) so there was no baby for me to grieve.

While both losses left me sad and confused, that's where the immediate similarities end.  One loss destroyed me and with the other I was calm.  Sad, obviously, but still calm.  After my first loss I needed to tell everyone what had happened.  This most recent miscarriage is one I haven't wanted to share.

The moral of this little story is that everyone needs to be allowed to grieve in their own way.  Some people withdraw, some reach out.  Some people scream, some turn stoic.  Some people find help with support groups, some prefer solitude.  There's no wrong way to grieve (unless it involves harm to oneself or others), so let those who grieve work through their feelings in the way that works best for them.

What to say...or not say
After my first loss it felt like almost everyone told me what a blessing it is to have the plan of salvation and know that we could be together again.  My first Sunday back at church was Mother's Day, so I got an especially generous helping of it that day.  The only thing that kept me from smacking those people was knowing that they meant well.  I wanted to scream at each and every one of them that I didn't want to see my baby in the future.  I wanted to carry him to term and raise him to adulthood.  Anything else felt like a consolation prize.  Even when the nurses at my hospital discharge tried to comfort me by saying they would see me again in a year (that allows for the three months before another pregnancy and the nine months of gestation) it was painful.  I wanted the baby I lost, not a different one.  

So what's the right thing to say?  I still don't have that completely figured out but "I'm so sorry" and a genuine "I'm here for you" are generally well received.

Fill the hole
Pregnancy take an enormous amount of mental energy.  Everything we eat, do with our bodies, plan for the future (e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g!) takes the pregnancy and future baby into consideration.  After a loss it leaves an empty space where thoughts of the baby used to be.  For me, finding a way to fill that hole was helpful.  I needed something else to think about and do with my hands to take the place of baby thoughts and preparations.  While this is something that is best chosen and embraced by the mother, it doesn't hurt to spend time with her and help fill the void.

Allow for hormones
All those lovely post partum hormone shifts occur with or without a baby.  They tend to make emotions run high.  And while added hormones may make the mother look out of control (totally happened to me) or irrational, it is vital to remember that her feelings are real and they are valid.  They are just intensified by what her body is doing to get itself back to normal.  Be sensitive to that.  And never, never, NEVER blame her feelings or emotions on the hormones.  I will cut you.

More than a miscarriage
The feelings I mentioned in conjunction with the hormones are more than just grief.  There is much more going on than grief.  When my first baby died in the womb I was left with so many unanswered questions and fears.  Did my body reject the pregnancy?  Would I ever be able to carry a baby to term?  Was there a genetic problem with the baby that caused him to die?  Would all our babies be at risk?  Would we ever be able to have children?  Did the loss come because we were unworthy or unable to be good parents?  Testing results all came back inconclusive.  The unanswered questions and fears where overwhelming and maddening.  They drove me to the brink of my sanity.  My emotions were much more than grief, though the grief was palpable.

Now that I have three healthy children those questions are no longer on my mind and sometimes seem a bit silly.  But they were very real at the time.  Despite the calm I've felt about the miscarriage, my mind is still in turmoil.  I'm not yet willing to share with anyone the other thoughts and fears bubbling under the surface of my calm, but I can assure you they are there.  I can't even bring myself to fully consider them yet, as it tips me over the edge and overwhelms me.

Just know that while the sadness is most evident to everyone on the outside, there is much more going on that can't be seen.  And, as I will go over in the next paragraph, sometimes you don't even see the sadness.

Wait and notice
The hardest times I've had with my most recent miscarriage took almost two weeks to come to the surface.  I knew I needed something but I didn't know what.  I have not been grieving the loss of a baby because there was no baby to lose.  But I have felt weak.  I've needed to be taken care of.  I did such a good job of telling people I was okay (and I was) that some of the concern for me may have been alleviated.  But the mental process doesn't happen overnight.  Things I hadn't considered came to mind.  The weak feeling got worse and worse until I lost all motivation for pretty much everything.  I've been working through that.  What I really needed was for someone to notice.  I knew I needed help, but the help was useless if I had to ask someone for it.  I needed someone to think of me and step up without my saying anything.  It's a tall order, as people have their own lives and responsibilities to worry about.  It's also hard to notice sadness when the person has withdrawn.

After my first miscarriage I wondered how people could walk around so bright and happy when I was so miserable.  Couldn't they see by looking at me that I was broken, that nothing would ever be right again?  Of course they couldn't.  The thing I really needed in the weeks following the initial support after the miscarriages was follow-up from people who thought of it themselves.  That was more meaningful.  And it's been true of both pregnancies.  "I've been thinking about you; how are you doing?" is what I've wanted to hear more than anything.  Asking for the help has felt hollow and insufficient.  I wanted someone to see my need and fill it, for someone to take care of me...without a request from me.  I know it's an unreasonable desire and I didn't expect it.  But I wanted it.

I was thankful today when the Relief Society presidency came to visit me.  She knew about the miscarriage. When I wasn't in Relief Society today the presidency all came to check on me.  It was a comfort to have them tell me they love me and want to help in any way they can, including specific questions.  The Relief Society president waited to come see me so I would know she was still thinking of me.  I feel blessed to have that.  

Remember due dates or other significant times and extend that love and comfort.  At the due date for my first I received a note from a friend letting me know she remembered and cared.  It was such a small thing that made me feel so greatly loved.
Sunset the night before the miscarriage.  It felt like a promise that everything would be all right and that there is still beauty in the world.
What I've Learned
I feel this narrative would be incomplete without a note to grieving mothers about a couple of things I've learned while wading through this particular trial.  If this is where you find yourself, I'm so sorry.  I hope what I have to say helps rather than hurts.

First, the world keeps on spinning around you even though yours may have stopped.  People will still be happy.  People will still have healthy pregnancies that result in healthy babies.  Even that woman you know who shared your due date.  Or the one who smoked and drank and screamed non-stop at her boyfriend and other child.  Even the woman who was upset to be pregnant.  Those all happened to me.  It's maddening and unfair, but it is reality.  It's hard to accept.  I found that the sooner I stopped allowing the bitterness to take over I was better able to heal and move forward.  It's part of learning to be happy again.  You may want to hold on to the grief and sadness because it keeps your baby real.  As one who has come through it, your baby will ALWAYS be real to you.  I still love and miss that first sweet baby.  He will always be real.

Second, you need people to be patient with you as you heal.  You also need to be patient with people around you.  They will say thoughtless and insensitive things that will make you both angry and devastated.  Most of what you hear, however, will be well-intentioned.  Just poorly delivered.  Some people really are emotional clods who need a flick in the eyeball but most are just doing the best they know how to help you.  It's a learning process for you and for them.  If someone isn't being helpful they probably want to know.  Gently tell them you appreciate the thought but the action isn't making things better.

Third, asking why accomplishes nothing.  In my experience, a miscarriage or other loss can either bring you closer to God or drive you away.  It all depends on how you move forward.  Placing blame is a dangerous game, whether you blame yourself, God, or even another person.  With my first I wondered if I had done something with my body that hurt the baby.  I wondered if God was punishing me for something.  I blamed my neighbor for creating an unsafe environment.  None of that was true.  It happens because it happens.  We don't know why I lost my first.  I loss this last pregnancy because there was no baby.  Seeking answers that may not exist is frustrating and exhausting, while releasing the anger (when you're ready) is cleansing and cathartic.

Lastly (for now), healing doesn't happen overnight.  That's not true physically or emotionally.  I keep thinking I should be over this most recent miscarriage by now.  I'm not.  I've been cycling through most of the steps of grieving and haven't been able to settle in to "acceptance" for more than a day.  It just takes time.  There will always be a hole in your heart but time helps if you let it.  The sun will keep rising and setting every day

Hopefully this has been something helpful.  As I said, everyone grieves differently and there may well be people out there for whom this list would be a total bunk.  Just remember to be kind, patient, and understanding of those who suffer.  Love them truly and show up when they need you.  If there is anything else I have missed (and I know there is), please feel free to mention it in the comments.

Monday, September 02, 2013

First Day of School...and Ellie Getting Lost

It's here! It's here! When Eliana was born I remember thinking that kindergarten was a million years away. Time passes in an obscenely fast manner.

I decided we needed to do something special to recognize Ellie's first day.  We didn't spend any time at all prepping for it on Saturday so I had to do a mental scramble on Sunday to come up with something.  I also had to come up with something for dinner.  We had Alaskan Waffles.
Waffles with peanut butter, vanilla ice cream, and syrup
As far as I know, the only reason they are called Alaskan Waffles are because my mom's college roommate from Alaska introduced them to her.  Or maybe it's because of the ice cream.  I don't know.  But they're tasty...in small doses.  I think I just need to put less peanut butter on the waffles.  My thought was that the meal would become a tradition for the night before school dinner.  Probably not.
Fascinated with a random bug on our porch.  "There's dirt on our uniforms from chasing all the ants and worms..."
Eric gave Ellie a father's blessing.  It was so sweet to see Ellie folding her arms and bowing her head as he prepared to bless her.  I teared up and I think Eric did too.  Mostly I wrangled the other two kids to keep them from crawling all over everyone.

After the father's blessing I thought I should turn on the camera and interview Ellie.  I definitely want that to be a tradition.  It will be fun to look at in the coming years.  I do not, as Ellie suggests, leave food on the ground for her to eat.  I can't seem to get it to upload the video here, but for people who actually know me, I posted it on Facebook.
She was super excited to start school, if you couldn't tell.
Because I am super lucky to personally know Ellie's teacher, I was able to give her a quick phone call to see if it's kosher for me to stop in to the classroom to snap a couple of pictures of a uniformed-Ellie in her classroom, at her desk, and with her teachers.  They're pretty strict on the rules at Liberty (one of the reasons I was drawn to it) so I thought I should just check.  Her teacher was expecting it.
If there was ever anyone to whom I was willing to give my daughter for school, this is the woman.
I left Maya and Quintin with Eric's dad so I could focus on just Ellie.  We walked in the school at the same time as another mom and daughter going into kindergarten.  It was also her first child in school.  It's nice to know I'm not alone.  We snapped pictures of our little cuties and walked them into their class.  I was happy to see their teacher and give her a hug and best wishes...and ask for a couple of pictures.  Ellie was just ready for me to be gone so she could get moving on her assignment to draw a picture of herself.  She's very much like me in that respect: very independent, though she seemed more confident than I felt on my very first day of school.
There's a kid at the desk behind her who hid every time I busted out the camera.
After lending our little sign to the little girl we met on our way in, I packed up and left my little girl behind in her classroom.  I may have gotten only slightly misty, but my time of crying my eyes out because of the close of one phase of life and the beginning of another were past.  I'd come to terms with it, thankfully.  Ellie never saw me blubber about it and that's good.
Bittersweet picture.  I love it but it means she's growing up.
There was, however, about a half hour of blubbering at the end of the day.  Here's the background:  Parents were sent an email survey asking about preferences for bus opportunities.  I responded that I would be interested but that my daughter was starting kindergarten and I wasn't sure yet.  At the back to school night I asked the lady at the bus table if it was available for half day kindergarten.  She said it was not and I didn't give it a second thought.
My little poser.
Now for the rest of the story:  Ellie's first day of school was a very busy one that included dress rehearsal for the girls' last dance performance of the summer.  I arranged for one of the neighborhood moms (her daughter was also in the class) to take Maya to her dress rehearsal, as it started exactly when I was supposed to be there to get Ellie.  Then the plan was to have her change into her stuff and we would be there just when Ellie's class was rehearsing.  Well, the other mom had been watching someone else's kids and their mother wasn't able to get back on time, making her late to pick up Maya.  It was stressful for me, but what can you do?  I rushed over to the school and waited in the carpool area.  They have that carpool down to a science, let me tell you.  Anyway, when I got to where Ellie should have been, she wasn't there.  They called her name on the megaphone.  They called it over the PA system.  I started to get nervous as they went to her teachers to ask where she was.  When the answer came back that she had been put on the bus because her name was on the list I had to choke down the panic.  I had not looked at the emails with bus routes or stops because I thought it was unavailable for Ellie.  They suggested I go to the front of the school and ask for help there.

I parked the car and hauled Quintin out.  There were several people around the front desk working through all the first day of school stuff.  I interrupted a woman who WOULD NOT stop chatting with the receptionist to tell them my five year old daughter had been put on the bus when she should not have been.  I had already been late to the school, so who knows how long the buses has been gone or which one she was even on, for that matter.  One of them said, "Oh, how scary," and remained planted in her seat, while another asked me if I hadn't wanted her to ride the bus just for that day or if we needed to change it to carpool every day.  Not helpful, ladies.  Not helpful.  I don't think they understood she was missing.  by that time I had spotted a paper with the list of bus routes and asked for it.  I decided which route and stop were my best bet and asked for a copy.  "Sure, let me go find a copy machine..." was the response.  I think they finally understood what was happening when I sprinted out the door as soon as the copy was in my hand.
I drove to the most likely bus stop while making phone calls to let the mom who had Maya know that I wouldn't be able to pick her up as planned, due to a missing five year old.  When I arrived at the bus stop there was one other car there.  I pulled up and confirmed that she was waiting for the bus and what time it came.  There was still another 10 minutes before it was scheduled to arrive.  Then I called Eric to let him know.  I'd figured there was no use in panicking him without cause or while I was trying to make sure my two year old wouldn't also get lost.  That's when I started with the sobbing.  I'd held it together pretty well before then.  Eric started driving to a couple of the other stops on the list while I waited and prayed that she hadn't just gotten of the bus in the next town over.

When the bus arrived all the other moms had their cameras out and taking pictures of their kids getting off.  I stood around with tear stained eyes hoping that each child to step down would be mine.  When the last kid got off I still hadn't seen Ellie.  With growing panic I ran around the bus and looked in the windows.  No Ellie.  Not ready to give up (but ready to call the police) I started to board the bus and there she was.  She'd laid down on her seat while I was walking around.  I cried some more but tried not to show Ellie how terrified I'd been.  No sense in scaring her.  She asked me why I hadn't told her she was going to ride the bus.  My brain almost exploded with that one.
Little girl, big new world.
So all's well that ends well.  I got it worked out with the school the next morning.  She's not riding the bus anymore.  Maybe next year.  But Ellie is LOVING school as much as I could hope.  So am I.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Back to School Night

Two posts in one day on this blog means some big time stuff has been on my mind.  Tonight was Back to School night at Ellie's school.  I was both anxious and excited.  And anxious.  I posted about it here.  Taking Ellie to the school was a salve to my troubled soul.  All day long she couldn't wait to go.  She wasn't best pleased when I told her we had to wait until Daddy got home, but she waited as patiently as her little five year old self would let her.

It was pretty busy inside the school when we got there.  Between the information tables for buses, lunches, carpools, and special ed there were all the students and parents milling around and greeting each other before heading off to meet the teachers.  We went in right behind our next door neighbors and another family in the neighborhood.

Going into Ellie's classroom was both surprising and wonderful.  The surprising part was that they have desks.  There weren't desks in my kindergarten class but there must have been tables.  I'm a bit hazy on that.  The wonderful part was seeing Ellie's teacher.  I feel so blessed and fortunate that Ellie's kindergarten teacher is a woman I know and love.  I started to tear up as I saw her.  She showed Ellie to her desk and pointed out the bathroom in the class.  She let Ellie ask any questions she had before ushering her to the door leading to the playground.  I wish I could remember what Ellie asked her.  Anyway, Ellie happily ran outside to play on the toys, with Maya following closely on her heels.  Mrs. Truman (it feels weird to call her that) then turned to me to chat just a bit.  The other families from the neighborhood came in to say hi and see how she was doing with getting ready.  She said she felt overwhelmed and I confirmed that that was totally natural.  I'm so glad I know her personally so I felt comfortable being completely candid and not just another parent.  When the other families left I told her Ellie was over the moon excited and that I was beyond pleased that she would be Ellie's teacher.  Then Mrs. Truman asked if I was okay.  I told her I wasn't and cried as we hugged.  She commiserated with me and I felt much better.  Then I allowed her to meet the other parents and children because I can't take up ALL her time.  And also because I'm her visiting teacher, see her at church, have her number in my phone, or can just walk to the end of the block and across the street if I want to talk to her.  I'm lucky that way.

On a related note, I realized that the reason I've had such a hard time with sending Ellie off to school boils down to being afraid that they won't love her like I do.  Well, duh.  I'm her mother; no one will love her like I do.  As a teacher I had my fair share of students that I didn't love like I hope their mothers do.  But if anyone can love and appreciate my amazing little girl, it's Mrs. Truman.

Eric and I let Ellie and Maya play outside for a bit while we stared at the classroom.  As I looked out the door and into the hall I saw one of the other students I knew would be attending Ellie's school.  They were in preschool together.  Her mom recognized me and they came in to greet us.  We all went outside to reunite the two little girls.  Ellie came off the playset and they gave each other a big hug.  It did my heart good.  They continued to play, holding hands at every possible moment.  I cried again.  Ellie will be fine.  They may be in different classes but, with the other girl in the all day class, there's a good chance they'll be able to meet up at recess.  And hopefully they'll be in the same first grade class.  Fingers crossed for that.

Now that I've been able to let go of my fears I think I'm as exited as Ellie is.  Maybe.  She spent the day asking about when she was going to school and giving me a massive hug and an, "I'm so excited!!!" every time I replied.  She can barely contain herself and it's charming beyond words.

After we left the classroom I decided to stop by the school's surplus sale.  So glad I did.  Not long after I got there and started browsing through the books, the woman who was supervising and taking money (also in my ward and one of my running buddies) announced that, because of the lateness of the hour, all the books would be 25 cents each.  I left with 12, nine of them Usborne books.  The cost of just those Usborne books would have been upwards of $60 so I was pretty stoked.  I had not brought along cash or check so I was really glad I knew the one taking the money.  She whispered to me that, as an employee, she was able to get things on an IOU and she would just let me pay her.  Score!  Three dollars for at least $80 worth of books is pretty terrific.

So the night was a huge success for both Ellie and me.  I think Eric liked being there, too.  I know Maya will be super happy when her turn comes for school.  And Ellie may just burst with excitement before Monday comes.

Getting (Mommy) Ready for School

Ellie starts school on Monday.  Three days from now my oldest baby will start the next phase of her life.  It really is a new chapter for us.  Thankfully we had her in preschool last year and that, I think, will ease the transition.  I hope.

So far I've seen nothing but excitement from Ellie.  I'm really happy about that.  When I talked to Ellie this morning and had her try on her uniform (now that I've finished sewing her shirts) I asked her a few questions. She's very excited.  When I asked if she was nervous at all she told me she wasn't in a tone that told me she sees no reason to be nervous.  That makes me happy.  There were a few hours yesterday when I was a wreck thinking about Ellie starting school.

I have no worries about the school itself.  I spent so much time and effort choosing a school that I am confident it's where Ellie should be.  And, if what I hear is right, she has the teacher I really wanted.  I visit teach her and she's kind of my hero.  We'll find out for sure about her teacher tonight.  If she has the teacher I'm hoping for then I will feel even better.

My nerves all came from thinking about the friends (or lack thereof) that Ellie may have.  She knows four other incoming kindergartners at her school.  None of them are in her class.  Two are in the all day class and two are in the other half day class.  There was one other student Ellie knew who was assigned to her class, but they decided it wasn't the best thing for their family and will be at another school.  I was pretty devastated that Ellie's little friend wouldn't be in her class but I certainly can't fault her parents for doing what's right for their family.  Knowing her parents, I would expect no less from them.  I'm happy they're making the best choice.

Once I got final word of their decision everything became real and it happened all at once.  All the fears and insecurities I've spent years either overcoming or denying came out.  The difference is that this time I'm feeling them on behalf of my sweet little girl.  I cried.  I have to let her go to experience whatever comes, good or bad.  I can't shield her from the possible emotional growing pains.  Possible emotional growing pains.  I hope my fears don't come to pass, but they might.  Or they might not.

I remember starting kindergarten.  I remember feeling nervous and a little scared.  My mom remembers me waving over my shoulder without looking at her while my two best friends clung to their mothers' legs and wailed.  After we all came into the class I led my two friends around the circle until I chose a place to sit, then they sat down on either side of me.  They had not met before, as one was my friend from across the street and the other was my friend from church.  Now that we live in Utah my kids' friends are both in the neighborhood and at church.  That's something I never had growing up so the experience is different than what I'm used to.

Once I found out Ellie won't know a single student in her class I started to worry.  I started my worries.  I am so grateful that her worries are different from my own.  Part of me always believes that when I go into any new situation I will be rejected.  Brutally.  Or that, if I am accepted, it will be out of grudging obligation and I will still always be considered an outsider.  Over the years I've learned to squash that fear and go in confidently, whether or not I actually feel it.  Fake it 'til you make it.  It works for me.

But...what if my baby girl is rejected?  I can't protect her from that.  I've seen her approach a group of little girls only to have them turn their backs to her as if she never existed.  I wanted to go over and shake each of them by the collar and tell them it's wrong to treat someone that way, especially if the someone is MY little girl.  I stood there, heartbroken, and did nothing because I knew Ellie would need to learn to deal with that kind of disappointment and because I didn't want to make a big deal out of it for Ellie's sake.  I'm glad I didn't rush over to her.  She looked perplexed for a moment, then walked over to another little cluster of girls and joined them.  Part of me was still heartbroken, but I was so proud of Ellie in that moment.  I hope she keeps that ability all her life, the one that allows her to simply shrug off the mean people and find something better.  I hope it's one that I can more fully develop.

There are so any what ifs.  A few months ago I bought a book called Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster in preparation for Ellie entering kindergarten.  Turns out I needed it more than Ellie.  The Whatif monster asks the scary "what if" questions that can make anyone nervous about doing something new.  Jonathan James then asks the great "what if" questions that can make a new experience wonderful.  So while I'm worrying about "what if everyone rejects her", the better question is "what if she finds her very best friend".  What if Ellie finds her bosom friend, the Diana Barry to her Anne Shirley.  I am hopeful.  Monday will be scary for me but I hope it will be wonderful for my baby girl.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

A Full Fourth. (Also my 400th post. Cool.)

This year's Independence Day was a super busy and super fun day.  It started off with me waking up early to participate in the Freedom Run 5k.  I ran it in support of this cause, raising money for a new mom fighting brain cancer I had thought about running the 10k because I've never run a 10k race before, but opted for the 5k because my training schedule had me at 3 miles for the day rather than 6.  So 5k it was.  That may have been one of the better decisions I've ever made.  It was one of the hardest runs I've ever done because it was so humid.  To give you an idea, I spilled a little on my shirt at a water station and it took over an hour to dry.  Yeah, humid.  I'm not used to that.  Still, I made pretty good time considering I had to stop and walk several times.
I didn't bring my camera along so here's the only shot of my face before the race.
After the run I met up with Eric and the kids so we could watch the parade.  I got to use an actual bathroom when I saw our former upstairs neighbors on their lawn before I found my family.  They graciously let me use their facilities so I wouldn't need to use the blue Honey Bucket.  We stayed at the parade until the kids were done and Eric realized that the 501st wouldn't be in there.  Nerd. ;)

Following the parade I changed out of my sweaty, stinky running clothes and we had lunch.  We headed over to the vendor booths downtown and got our yearly fix of Texas Twister and cinnamon pecans.  Mmm...  Ellie really wanted to go on a ride so we bought some tickets.  She wanted to ride this one:
I tried to talk her out of it but she was determined.  She and Eric waited in line until they told her she's not tall enough to ride yet.  We reevaluated our tickets and found Both the girls and one parent could go on this ride:
image via clowningaround.me
The girls and Eric loved it.  I hung out on the sidewalk with Quintin.  Just watching it spin makes me queasy.  I'm a carnival lightweight.  Eric enjoys training his future roller coaster buddies.  The girls also got to meet a princess and they were pretty happy about that.
I made their little shirts
My aunt and family are in town from out of state, so we joined up with my extended family for some swimming fun at the pool at my grandparents' condo.  Ellie proved herself fearless by jumping straight into the pool with no one to catch her while I was still holding Quintin and hanging on to Maya's hand (Eric was changing).  She had swim lessons two summers ago and that's it.  The man in the pool noticed as I called for her to wait for me before she jumped.  Her head popped out from under the water for a moment before she went back down.  I knew the man had heard e call to her and had watched her jump in.  He was close enough that I could calmly say, "She doesn't swim."  I had to point at her and say it again with more urgency before he understood I needed him to save my child.  Then he acted very quickly.  Ellie wasn't phased at all. She and I had a little chat about waiting for me before jumping in the water.  Hopefully it sank in.  Maya was quite a bit more timid.  She went from sitting on the side to sitting on a step to leaping off the side into my waiting arms.  She thought that was pretty good.  Quintin was highly upset to be surrounded by water (weird; he LOVES baths) until he realized the potential for splashing.  Then he was a happy camper.
Waiting for fireworks last year. I hate this picture of me.
Waiting for fireworks this year.  Boom!  That's what 35 lbs of weight loss looks like.  So many reasons to smile.
 Before heading out to enjoy the Pleasant Grove fireworks show with Eric's family we scarfed down some dinner with my extended family at a pavilion.  It was there that we heard a distressed scream from Maya right before she let her bladder loose.  Dang it.  We put her swimsuit back on and called it good.  Ellie would also have an accident that later that evening.  She also got to wear her swimsuit again.  Not a good night for keeping dry...or for grandma's blanket.

While we waited for fireworks to start Eric, Amber, and their mom took the girls to see Eric's grandpa's grave.  I stayed behind with Quintin and Mike, where I was able to complain about how hard the Freedom Run was to a new set of ears.  The kids enjoyed playing cards, eating grapes and popcorn, running around, and flying a kite to keep entertained before the show started.
Looking disheveled but happy after swimming
A minute or two before the fireworks show began Maya said she needed to go potty.  Crap.  There was no bathroom nearby and nowhere close would be open at 10 pm on a holiday.  Rather than take her to a bush I hustled her to the van to see if we could find something to catch it inside.  I found a styrofoam cup.  I tried to use the van for some measure of privacy.  You know what happens when you get in our van?  The lights turn on and stay on for several minutes.  So we were in a brightly lit van and facing a crowd waiting for a show as I tried to hold a cup between her little legs.  Basically it was a reverse drive-in movie.  The situation deteriorated further when Maya told me she wouldn't go in the cup and I tried to figure out how to let her sit without risking getting the mess on my white shorts.  I ended up wedged in Quintin's car seat and perching Maya on my knee.  The overhead lights were still on, further exposing our actions to the crowd.  Then the boom of the fireworks started.  Our van was centered under them.  Nice.  It ended up being a fruitless effort and I walked back to our blanket, defeated and more than a little embarrassed.  About two seconds after I got back it occurred to me that I could have simply put one of Quintin's diapers on Maya and told her to have at it.  Too little, too late award goes to me.  She ended up holding it for another hour.
Fuzzy but fun.  The younger two kids were pretty much done taking pictures.
It was a fun, long day.  Next year we're praying for less humidity...and bringing a potty.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Choosing a School, Part Two: What I Love

So now the change to American Preparatory Academy has happened.  After attending an informational parent meeting I am more excited than ever.  Their teaching model, direct instruction, is decidedly different from what is used in most other schools.  This teaching model is also the main source of the conflict with those who oppose the change.  The rudimentary basics of a few (not all) subjects are taught with a script.  At first my teacher instincts flared up and I was against it.  Everything I knew about teaching to different types of learners was screaming at me that a script couldn't possibly be a desirable way to dispense information.  But I decided to listen to the why behind this teaching style to find why they thought there was any merit in it.  Using the script ensures that students are  taught ALL of the required information and that it is taught correctly.  After teaching basic skills many times over there is a risk of skipping something that may be second nature to adults and easily taken for granted, but which is vital new knowledge for the students.

As an example, I used to teach about recipes by having my students write a recipe for making a PB&J.  I would then follow the recipe exactly and give the sandwich to the group.  Only once or twice did any students give an estimated amount of peanut butter or jelly to place on the bread.  Some groups got only as much jelly as stuck to the knife after dipping it in the jar, while other groups had about a half cup of jelly on their bread.  The basics are important.

When I allowed myself to see past what I had been taught in my teacher training classes and consider that there might be another effective teaching model I was able to see direct instruction as a valid option.  Besides, I never was quite the disciple of John Goodlad as were many of my teaching instructors.  I was also pleased to hear that the scripted teaching is only for the basics and is not done all day.  Some of the teachers were concerned that they would no longer be teaching, but only delivering a script to the students.  This is untrue.  I also thought it very telling that the teachers who went to observe at the Draper campus have all committed to return to Liberty next year.  It seems they saw something they liked.

Putting the direct instruction teaching method aside, there are other things that make me happy about the change to APA.  First off, and my favorite of the changes, is the structure.  The schedule is predictable and expectations are clearly set out and consistently maintained, which is the #1 reason I was drawn to a charter school in the first place.  The system they use (CHAMPS) has it down to a science.  I was very impressed.

Another aspect of the school I loved is the organization.  All the students' work is filed in a docket that comes home every night and goes back to school in the morning.  There's no losing papers in the desks and they don't have a problem with students leaving their docket at home because no work can be done without it.  It becomes a habit for both parents and students to check that they have it before leaving the house.  That will help me, as well as the kids.

The school is a very loving environment.  Behavior correction is done in a loving manner.  They want the school to be a place where students feel valued and loved, not just an institution of learning.  Learning is the main goal but they also heap on the praise.  One of their character development tools is a poem about builders and wreckers.  Builders create and build up, while wreckers destroy.  The builders have knowledge and skills that help them.  The wreckers simply destroy.  They acknowledge that we are all both builders and wreckers but that we can work to fix things we do when we are wreckers.  I'll have to find and post the poem because I love it.

The last thing I'll post today (there are so very many) that I love about the change is the small group learning. Certain subjects are taught in small groups and the students are placed in their groups according to their learning levels.  The students are evaluated weekly and placed accordingly.  I like the weekly evaluations.  It keeps the groups as fluid as they need to be and maximizes each student's abilities.

I was so pleased with what I learned about the school and how it does things.  I love that Eliana will start with it now and have the time to grow with the program as it expands.  The whole thing is really exciting to me and I look forward to Ellie starting school next year.

Choosing a School, Part One: Why I Chose

I've been feeling the need to write something about the choice we made for Eliana's school and decided to finally sit down and do it.  There were a lot of reasons that I went through everything I did in choosing a school.  The biggest reason was that I wanted to make sure I was making a long term decision (can you say junior high? Ick.) that was best and that it was the best for our family.  What's best for our family isn't necessarily the best for everyone and I know that there are people out there who believe this choice was a mistake.  That's okay.  I am confident in the choice we made because I went into it with a lot of thought and care, as well as plenty of prayer.  I talked to other parents, read everything I could on each school's website (really, I did), studied up on the schools' proficiency rates in all the subjects, made a list of questions that were important to me, and visited the schools with my list in hand.  I was thorough, as I wanted to make this decision only once.

When I was a teacher I saw a different side of education than I did as a student.  I only taught school for two years, but by the end of those two years I was pretty dead set on sending my kids to a charter school.  That was a rather naive view of things and I had to consciously take those blinders off so I could see what would be the best decision for Ellie and for our family.

After all the preparation and prayer my choice was Liberty Academy.  There was another charter school that I knocked out of the running fairly early on.  The other choice was our neighborhood school in the regular school district.  I didn't look at any private schools because I believe in public education and because there's currently no room in our budget for tuition.  I was very pleased with the neighborhood school and what they had to offer.  I liked their plans for how to improve the school and to reward students for good behavior.  I was also very pleased with Liberty and their greater flexibility to work with students in smaller learning groups.

In the end I chose Liberty over the neighborhood school through the Spirit (or by gut feeling if that's more your cup of tea).  I would have been happy sending Ellie to kindergarten at either school.  I have no problems with our neighborhood school.  There was just something about Liberty that felt best rather than good.  I wasn't sure why it felt that way; I just knew that it did.  So I went with it.  Now, several months later, some major changes are taking place at Liberty.  And I'm excited for them.  Very excited.  I feel that these changes are the reason that Liberty was the best choice for us.  Again, I wouldn't say it's the best for everyone.  That's the beauty of different choices and different ways of doing things: you can find the best fit for your family.

The decision was recently made for Liberty Academy to become a campus for American Preparatory Academy.  This year will be a trial year.  The decision was made because the director (principal) announced his retirement and because parents were unhappy with the math and reading programs being used by Liberty.  It was confusing to both students and parents.  I went to a parent meeting at which the board announced they would be looking for a new director or that they were looking at joining with APA.  There were a lot of emotions in that room, ranging from parents who were begging for a change to a few teachers and parents who threatened to leave if the change to APA was made to one parent who basically told the teachers they were employed by the parents and they were free to quit if they didn't like it.  I was glad that I could be there as an emotionless observer so I could see all the sides without a previously formed bias.  Watching it all made me slightly nervous but, oddly enough, by the end of the meeting I was energized and even more confident in my decision about what would be best for us.