Education, both ways

I’ve been homeschooling various of my children for a long long time. 

I guess you could say that from the moment I became a mom, twenty four or so years ago, I’ve been educating the kids one way or another. And I’ve been learning a lot myself– maybe not as much as I should have, but I have been learning. 

Lately, I have been learning that I still have a lot to learn.

I love the planning part of homeschooling– choosing books, hunting them down, finding the best deal, coming up with a curriculum, designing a schedule. It’s in the execution of the plan where things start to fall apart– so much of the time, I’m just overwhelmed by life. I’ve spent a lot of time ill or juggling a newborn or trying to cope with very little sleep. I haven’t always gotten through the books or forced us to plod through the curriculum. Some of the books remain on the shelves, as pristine as the day they came in the mail.

The half-hearted schooling that we barely scraped through last year has, oddly enough, proved to be a blessing in disguise. Instead of a forced march through phonics, the boys had time to play, to goof off, and, in their own time, to come to realize that words and numbers are IMPORTANT. You see, it’s hard to play video games if you can’t read. People spell words over your head to keep you from understanding what they’re saying. Signs and books and watches are a foreign land and you’re shut out of the knowledge that they possess.

The boys learned firsthand that knowledge is power, and they didn’t much like it that they didn’t have this power for themselves.

So the Ninja skipped past our infrequent phonics worksheets and taught himself to read. The Tank gathered up a handful of letters for himself and started figuring out numbers. Each of them decided that they wanted to learn and went out to find out for themselves how things worked.

It’s made them more patient and more interested in learning than their older brothers ever were. I wish I’d had the leisure and ability back them to just let the boys develop at their own pace instead of pushing them into public school. I did the best that I could at the time, but they bear the scars of my mistakes.

I’m learning, too, that the things we do are taken to heart by our children even when we think they’re not making an impression. The Tank is hard to read books to– he wanders off, he starts playing with toys, he gets bored, he whines. It makes it sometimes feel like it’s not worth it. Yesterday, though, we were picking up groceries, just he and I, and as we walked out through the parking lot he told me (out of nowhere): “I love you, Mom. You’re really good at reading books. I like stories.”

I’d read to him that afternoon, in a rare moment, because I realized that I was losing my temper with the boys while trying to clean their room. I was getting increasingly frustrated with their glacially slow progress in putting away the contents of the costume box, and I was just about to scream at them both. I had a moment of inspiration, though. Instead of yelling at them about the capes and masks and bead necklaces, I picked up a library book (Emma’s Lamb, by KIm Lewis), sat down on the bottom bunk of their bed, and just read them a story. 

It calmed me down enough that I was able to plow through the rest of the cleaning without any shouting. And I guess it lodged in the Tank’s mind, even though he wandered away and didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the cute book. 

I still have a lot to learn about parenting and homeschooling and everything else. But I learned yesterday that keeping my temper has many more rewards than just sparing me a sore throat.

Humbling. But important.




Why UNattended Childbirth advocates scare me

In the summer of 1998, you may have thought I was a great candidate for a “natural” birth. Maybe even an unattended one, although maybe not out in the woods. I hate bugs.

I’d had two spontaneous vaginal deliveries, both of them at 42 weeks, of large babies– one 9lbs and the other one 8lbs 15oz.  I was 41 weeks along with a healthy pregnancy and 5 cm dilated, 80% effaced. My baby had “dropped” a month before, and each week my OB was frankly disbelieving that I hadn’t gone into labor yet. I was 24 years old. My blood pressure was perfect, I’d gained a moderate amount of weight, and I was active and kept busy chasing around my 5 year old and 3 year old daughters.

I opted, at 41 weeks, to be induced. My 3 year old daughter had recently been diagnosed with autism and I was frankly exhausted. She slept about 2 hours a night, which meant I only slept two hours a night, too. It was summer in Texas, and I felt like I was walking around with a bowling ball on my perineum. I was sure that I’d go into labor within another week, and I’d strenuously fought against being induced with my previous two post-dates pregnancies, but I was too tired to deal with another week. My doctor suggested simply breaking my water and letting my body figure out the rest. After all, I was so dilated already, it surely wouldn’t take long. My first labor had only taken eight hours and my second labor was over and done in only four.

So I went into the nice comfortable labor and delivery ward, very modern and cozy, and my doctor broke my water. And then I walked around the halls for an hour, hoping that my mild contractions would turn into something real. They petered out, however, and by 7am I wasn’t contracting at all. So they gave me a very small dose of Pitocin. Within an hour, they shut off the Pit because my body had remembered what it was supposed to do and I was in labor for real.

My labor was reasonably quick after that– 3 hours later I was ready to push. I pushed three times and the baby’s head emerged– just like my second daughter had done.

And then the baby’s shoulders got stuck.

There are moments of true terror in life– this was one of those moments. The doctor and the nurses leapt into action, hauling me into the positions to dislodge a shoulder dystocia, one of the nurses leaping up on my belly, the doctor manipulating the baby’s head this way and that. The atmosphere was suddenly deathly serious.

After a few minutes, probably no more than five or six, each of which seemed nightmarishly long, they finally wrestled my son out of his deadlock with my pelvis. They handed me my healthy, blessedly alive 9lb 5oz newborn son and sewed up a minor tear that only took two stitches to close. We went home the next day, happy and alive.

If I’d been at home, unattended, I can only imagine what would have happened. My son would likely have died. I’d have had a real possibility of death myself. There were no signs such as “turtling” of the baby’s head– he was so low in my pelvis that he was practically out already by the time it came to push. He wasn’t significantly larger than my other babies had been and was, in fact, a week “younger” than they’d been. I was able to get up and move around during labor, I didn’t just lay flat on my back. There was no warning that this was going to happen.

That’s why I get shivers down my spine when women say they want an unattended birth or a birth attended only by their spouse or mother or doula. You just don’t know. Intuition only takes you so far. And blind luck isn’t on your side . . . just play poker for a while and see.

Responsible midwives are a different story. Birthing centers are a different story. But the story of a woman giving birth alone in the freaking woods is a horror story in the making.

Don’t forget the hard-won advances we’ve made and the women who died from the lack of trained and educated assistance. There are still women dying in this world simply from the lack of proper medical care– either because there isn’t any in their region or they can’t afford it. How silly would it be to add to their numbers simply because one was convinced that “nature” knows best. Nature is red in tooth and claw, lest we forget.

Unscheduled events

So according to the medical terminology used by my hospital, I had a “scheduled” c-section in the middle of the month of May.

Hmph. Scheduled in that they tortured me for 24 hours first and had time to reserve an operating time and room to suit my doctor’s plan for his day. Essentially UN-scheduled in that my baby wasn’t due for another three weeks and I certainly wasn’t planning on having him that day.

Such are the indignities of pre-eclampsia. My vision of a natural childbirth fled before me once my blood pressure started spiking and my kidneys started to do Very Bad Things.

Magnesium is Not Fun, and I had to be on it for four hours before my delivery and then twenty-four hours afterwards. And since I was on mag, I was also confined to bedrest, stuck with a catheter and little pressurized air boots, and continuously monitored for blood pressure and oxygen levels. Did I mention that I’m allergic to medical devices? My catheter, my IV, the little boots, all the tape and every place a plastic/silicone device rubbed my skin, all of them were swollen messes. I can assure you, being allergic to a catheter is no joking matter. Benadryl and Vistaril only helped somewhat.

And my precious boy, my ultimate son, my skinny little under-cooked 37 week baby, ended up in the NICU within 12 hours of birth, struggling to get enough oxygen into his blood thanks to pulmonary hypertension. He spent the next six days in there, and I didn’t get to hold him until day 3 after his birth. I didn’t even get to touch him, actually, because my spinal anesthesia knocked my arms out entirely for about 6 hours during/after my surgery. Not being able to touch your baby is pure hell. I feel extreme sympathy for all NICU moms– it’s awful.

But we’re both alive.

This is good. We had a close call, both of us. And he continues to struggle, having already battled off a horrible cold that threatened to turn into pneumonia, sleep apnea, and epic diaper rash from the antibiotics we used to fight the infection. Plus he’s been on steroids for swelling in his throat. And he’s apparently allergic to something in the house and has chronic congestion problems.


I am helpless in the face of all this. This is not how I envisioned the first two months of my youngest and (presumably) last child’s life. I had cozy images of a nice breastfeeding relationship and quiet peacefulness and an uncomplicated delivery. But I didn’t get those things, due to circumstances mostly beyond my control. The baby turned out to be a slow feeder who much preferred the bottles he’d begun getting in the NICU to the squishy realities of momma’s appendages. And my middle-aged post-surgical body decided that milk production was superfluous when I was still so sick myself and shut off production. Life’s been crazy around the house with lots of chaos and un-planned-for events. And my doctor freaked out when confronted with my history of 2 shoulder dystocia events, three sonograms showing a kid large for dates, and pre-eclampsia. So there went the entire vision of simple and natural.

But I’m alive and he’s alive, so it’s okay.

But it shot my plans all to hell. And woke me up to reality. Memento mori, valar morghulis, whatever you like to call it– we’re all going to die. And I’m not exempt.


So, yes, I’m going to die, and I don’t get to dictate the terms of THAT, either.

I’d better get serious about this business of living, then, huh?


Let’s get to it.