Saturday, June 29, 2013

That Part of Parenting That's For Mom (or Dad)

In my last post, I mentioned not wanting to set up a nursery per se, as it would be very short lived before baby outgrows it, and I commented that it's mostly for the parents anyway.  Today, I wanted to mention that doing something under the premise of it being for the child when in reality it's for the benefit of the parent is not in itself a bad thing - at least I don't think so.  I simply used this point as an explanation for why I'm opting out of the planning-the-nursery aspect of prepping for baby in lieu of other excitement.  To each their own.

For instance, though I started a bit backwards, I've been making my way back from researching homeschooling approaches to parenting styles to finally the day-to-day scheduling and expectations I can have for myself and our baby in the early years.  In my research, as I've mentioned previously, I've come across Waldorf education and attachment parenting, both of which really resonate with me.  Upon further scrutiny, I see that one of the reasons they both resonate so well with me and what I want for my child is that they remind  me so much of my own childhood, which by all accounts I would describe as "wholesome", something I think both Waldorf education and attachment parenting aim for as well.

Therefore, I'll come right out and say it - one of the perks of parenting for me will be to relive some of the best parts of my own childhood.  Take wooden toys for example.  I came across a negative comment claiming that children don't want wooden toys.  Perhaps if you've already spent years getting them all the latest plastic and electronic gadgets they demand after seeing them in commercials, and all of a sudden you switch to a simple wooden toy.  But children do not need to be entertained.  They need to be inspired and encouraged to be creative, entertain themselves, be innovative, discover the world around them, not be spoon-fed it to them in the guise of academics.  I think wooden toys are much more conducive to building a child's imagination than are modern toys made with a specific, pre-programmed scope of activity that only calls for the child to click a button and sit back and watch.

I know it's going to be tough to balance gratitude for any such modern gifts that may come our way from well-meaning and generous loved ones with my overall desire to create a wholesome atmosphere for my child.  Not sure yet how to go about it, though of course any gift for my child must go through me and Alex for final approval.  I'd hope that people - especially those who are parents themselves - would think to ask us as parents if a particular gift may be appropriate.  But I guess if one's criteria for one's own child aren't very narrow, one wouldn't have on one's radar the idea that there is such a thing as an inappropriate or unwanted toy, item of clothing, or gadget.

I think I will simply divert to the polite smile and thank you for any gifts I feel aren't wholesome or appropriate for my child, followed by a regularly scheduled trip to a donation center.  And I'll take it upon myself to select the items with which I do want to surround my child.  After all, I can't be the only parent wanting to get some benefit out of parenting for themselves?!  My child will play and learn like every other, but why do it the way all the Joneses and Smiths do it, when we can do it our own way?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Green, Frugal, Simple for Baby

Reading the parenting magazines and listening to all the hype, you'd really believe that it costs thousands and thousands of dollars to raise a child.  But I'm looking forward to attachment parenting and frugal green living, followed later by Waldorf-inspired homeschooling. 

Baby's got to eat.  Well, God thought of that when He gave me boobies!  Barring any complications, we plan to arrange our lifestyle such that I can exclusively breastfeed baby until s/he no longer requires breast milk.  For the few times I may be away from baby when s/he's hungry, I'm partial to using a baby syringe as a nipple replacement, instead of bottles.  We'll need that for medication anyway, and it's free at most pharmacies.

Baby's gonna pee and poo.  We do want to keep that content off the furniture and clothing, so we are diapering.... with cloth diapers.  One time expense, and a much greener and more comfortable option for baby, plus helps encourage potty training since baby learns not to enjoy that moist butt feel as a toddler.  We opted for simple prefolds with white velcro covers.

Baby's gotta get around.  Since we do live in an area where we utilize a car often, a car seat is a must.  What is not a must is three or four different car seats and boosters as the child grows.  We're opting for a convertible car seat that can be set up rear-facing with the appropriate inserts to keep baby from flopping all over the place, and eventually to serve as a booster chair.  When not driving, a baby carrier will be our first choice of transportation.  It keeps baby and parent close together, plus baby gets to see what's going on at a higher level than in a stroller.  Having said that, we do have a stroller we bought years ago second-hand that converts from a bassinet style to a sitting position, which also lets you move the handlebar so you can either be facing baby or you can both be looking in the same direction. 

Baby's got to wear clothes.  At least in public!  We're fans of unisex clothes for the first few months for several reasons.  First of all, we are not finding out the sex of the baby.  Second, I don't like color-coding kids, and if we knew we were having a girl, for instance, many of our loved ones would shower us with frilly pink princess themed stuff, which makes me want to gag!  But most importantly, babies grow.  Very fast.  Any item of clothing in the first 12 months of life or so will only be worn a handful of times anyway.  With unisex items for this stage, should we be blessed with baby #2, there won't be a reason not to reuse the same stuff.  Speaking of hand-me-downs, if you've got baby clothes you want me to take off your hands, let me know!  I am anything BUT a hand-me-down snob.  I love hand-me-downs.  We practically dressed our foster daughter in the hand-me-downs of a nice lady I met online who didn't need her kids' clothes anymore.

Baby's got to be clean.  Wet washcloth baths in the very beginning and baths on a towel in the tub later on sound like a plan to me.  I watched my siblings bathed this way, and I don't see any reason to purchase items to complicate a simple process.  Baby can also use the same towels we use (obviously clean), so no need to designate one with a hoodie that can't be used once baby is too big.

Baby's got to be healthy.  So there are a few items that I think need to be in our first-aid kit.  A thermometer, baby syringe, nose aspirator.  This category is hardly a bank-breaker.

Baby's got to have fun and get some exercise!  First of all, toys for babies are like bicycles for fish.  Completely pointless, though the fish owner may get a kick looking at the fish and toys in the tank together.  Since I'm focusing on the very early time period right now, I won't go into toys that I do think are advisable for toddlers and beyond.  But babies?  They play with their toes, your finger, a sock.  Just be creative.  They don't care if it's made by Disney.

Most importantly, baby needs mom and dad.  And no store in the universe can compensate for one-on-one time with the parentals!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thinking of Homeschooling Already!

The idea of homeschooling fascinates me.  For one thing, I’ve had my share of negative experiences with the public school system to know that I want something better, much better, for my children.  For another, homeschooling strikes me as an extension of attachment parenting, a way to keep my children in the home when they are young, and not delegating my job to teachers who may not share my values.  Finally, I have spent 10 years of marriage waiting for the time when I could be a mother.  The last thing on my mind is getting my child out of the house for the majority of most days of the year.  Instead, I look forward to the one-on-one time we will spend together, benefitting both our relationship and the child’s education.

What I did not expect was the sense of being overwhelmed by the options of methods (never mind curricula!) available to homeschoolers.  Luckily, I do have several years to iron out the details, as my baby is not even due for 5.5 more months.  So I’ve taken to writing as a way to figure out where to begin.
The first step, after writing a mission statement to gather our attitudes and beliefs about the purpose of education and homeschooling, is to tackle one grade at a time.  What I’m learning from the blogosphere of homeschoolers is that the general trend is not to simply choose a method and a curriculum and stick with it for 12 years.  Furthermore, I will have to consider the child’s individual learning style when deciding on the best way to approach learning with her or him.  Then, it’ll be a matter of trial and error, committing to a method and perhaps curriculum for one grade at a time and reassessing our needs each year.
With this in mind, I am more relaxed in knowing that this is simply not something I can plan in advance and put away to wait for my child to be “school-aged”.  In fact, what is considered school-aged is the first thing I need to take into account.  Here, I am attracted to Waldorf and Montessori methods of education, in that both stress the importance of letting little children be little children, and not trying to teach academics before they are ready to learn them.   In the same vein, both of these methods discourage exposure to electronic media for young children. One difference between these two approaches at this early stage is that Montessori focuses more on children learning through work, by doing age-appropriate chores around the house, for instance.  The Waldorf approach, on the other hand, focuses pretty much entirely on allowing the children to play, thus building the foundation for later academic learning.  Another, perhaps inconsequential, difference is that Waldorf would have the child wait until age 7 to begin any sort of concrete homeschooling, whereas Montessori starts a year earlier, at 6 years old.
For the time being, I see that my approach to “Kindergarten” will definitely come from some overlap of these two approaches.  Since my child is due to be born in December, I think it’s best to plan to start first grade in September of the year when s/he will turn 7.  One benefit of Waldorf is that I have already found ready curricula available for all 12 years (should we end up sticking with this method), and I do feel the need to have some guidance, at least in the beginning of my homeschooling career.  Since Montessori is more child-led, the expectation is to focus on what the child shows an interest in learning at the time, so homeschooling parents have to gather their own resources independent of a set curriculum.  I certainly appreciate this approach to a degree.  However, I also crave structure, and I envision establishing some boundaries within which we can spend more or less time depending on the child’s interests.
The only thing I have found somewhat concerning about the Waldorf approach is its focus on art, since I am not very artistic.  I look forward to various arts and crafts we can learn together, but an artist I am not.  Still, at the early stage, this is not something to lose sleep over.  Therefore, I think I’ll settle into the expectation that we will utilize a Waldorf homeschooling curriculum in the 1st grade, with the understanding that I will most likely pick and choose eclectically to change or supplement as needed.  After all, I am looking for a curriculum as a guide, not as a rule-book. 
With this matter settled, I can go back to more pressing plans, like a gentle birth and attachment parenting.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Remembering Rachel a Year Later

My best friend has been gone for a year now.  A year is a milestone.  In Poland, it's considered the appropriate amount of time one mourns for a very close deceased relative.  This is done (almost exclusively) by women in part through the wearing of all black throughout this time period.  It's a reminder both to the person in mourning and to others that a great loss has been suffered.  I think sometimes we try to minimize the grief because it's so painful.  While I definitely think there's a place for looking on the bright side ("She's no longer in pain", "He's in a better place now", "We'll see each other again someday"), it is important to let yourself actually feel the hard, ugly, disturbing emotions as well.

I have had periodic dreams of Rachel over the past 12 months.  At first, I welcomed them as signs that she was indeed in a better place and visiting me in my subconsciousness to let me know this.  But as the first year anniversary began to approach, the dreams led to me waking up in tears and remembering what it was like in the months and days leading up to her death.

Now that I am pregnant, I have conflicting feelings.  On one hand, I wish she were here for me to share this time with her.  Even more, I wish that her desire for us both to be pregnant at the same time and become "mommies" together could've come true.  Remembering her now just reminds me that this didn't happen.  On the other hand, her memory still makes me angry and sad, and I now worry about any negative effects of grief on my developing baby.  I don't want baby to think mommy is sad because life on the outside sucks!

Tomorrow will mark the first anniversary of Rachel's funeral, and also what would've been her and her husband's eight wedding anniversary.  In honor of this, I wanted to just briefly reflect on a few of the memories of that day, because I think it's important to incorporate her funeral and burial into my framework of our relationship, to better ease me into a life without her, without a best friend.

Alex and I flew to Florida for the funeral.  As we entered the funeral home, Rachel's sister-in-law, who had apparently remembered me from Rachel's wedding, welcomed me with a hug.  Soon, one of Rachel's grandmothers (and she had a fun family tree!) greeted me, saying "I knew you'd be here."  Indeed.  I hadn't realized until that day how important I must've been to Rachel as a friend, since so many of her loved ones knew me. I was told we should sit in the family section, because we were practically family.

I went up to greet Rachel's mom, step-father, brother, and sister-in-law.  Then I went up to Rachel's open casket.  I recognized her, yet I distinctly remember thinking that "Rachel", the animated soul that I knew as a friend, was not in that body, in that box.  They had dressed her up, combed her hair, put on her make-up, but she was no longer there.

On the flight there, the airline was gracious enough to bump both of us up to business class.  It was there that I noticed Alex's half & half that he was using in his coffee.  Rachel and I had an inside joke from our teenage years.  We used to hang out late at night at Denny's, and I once made a comment asking what does "ha-ha, lf-lf" mean, because the way the words were written on the container separated the first and second syllables down the middle.  Rachel laughed, corrected me, and never let me live it down after that.  So I got an idea to return the favor of an inside joke by keeping one of the half & half containers in my purse.

As I stood there alone by the side of Rachel's casket, I carefully slipped the empty half & half container under the scarf she had wrapped around her and her arms.  For my 30th birthday, she made me a frame with three pictures.  The frame read "laugh", and she added above that the words "she makes me..."  In the middle was a picture of the two of us at her 30th birthday party.  To the left was a picture of me reading a book on women she had given me, and to the right a picture of me hugging a palm tree.  Surrounding the photographs, she had written, "What makes Karolina so great?... Her strong beliefs (first picture, referring to my early feminist days), her wonderful friendship (second picture, referring to my trip to Florida for her birthday), her quirkiness (third picture, referring to my sense of humor.)  And so, I thought she would appreciate a half & half reference now.

I spoke at Rachel's funeral, per her widower's request.  I was the only one to actually stick to the requested 2 minute limit, but that's fine.  I felt I needed to redeem myself after I bombed big time trying to give a toast at her wedding, where I was so overcome by emotion that I doubt anyone could decipher what I was blubbering.  I even got the crowd (Yes, there was a crowd of people whose lives she touched who came to celebrate her life.  They had to add chairs up and down the aisles to fit everyone into the church!) to laugh when I mentioned that Rachel learned how to say "I'm 19 years old" and never adjusted it as she grew older.  I remember reaching out to her father's shoulder on my way up, making eye contact with her mother while I was speaking, and hugging her husband as I was returning to my seat.  I ended my eulogy in Spanish, a language she was fluent in and loved as long as I knew her.  "Te amo, chica.  Nos vemos al otro lado."  ("I love you, girl.  I'll see you on the other side.")

The burial was not what I expected, as it was my first American funeral.  I abided by my own, perhaps Polish sentiments and Alex and I remained in our car as the crew finished covering her grave even after everyone else left.  I couldn't imagine leaving before she was properly laid to rest.  When they finished, we approached to say a final goodbye and take a few pictures.  That's when I noticed that they had put the wrong name plate at her site!  We rushed to track down the crew and had them call the funeral director.  We were told they would come back and fix it.  Meanwhile, I made a make-shift corrected name plate with her name and dates of birth and death.  I couldn't imagine the added grief the mistake might've caused Rachel's mom or husband if, upon their return, they found her grave improperly marked.

The reception was surreal.  It was my first time visiting her house.  Her widower gave me a tour, and I remember distinctly as he softly pushed on her glasses case on the dresser and commented on the his & hers sinks he was grateful for because of her hair clogging up the drain.  He also showed us where he had found her on the day of her death.

I mingled with her family, some friends.  I saw evidence of her influence throughout the house.  I cringed at the thought of being in her widower's shoes, surrounded by remnants of her but not quite her. And in keeping with Rachel's expectations (which she voiced to me as we discussed my planned visit to see her), I hugged the palm tree in her front yard. 

I remember thinking in the weeks following her death if I would have a new best friend down the road.  I questioned if it's normal to have a best friend, and if that one passes away, a new one arises.  I entertained the idea of going through life without a best friend.  Now, a year later, I understand.

If anyone asks, I used to have a best friend.  Her name was Rachel, and she loved me unconditionally.  Now she is home with God, where I will join her someday.  There is no replacing her.

Rachel's tombstone.  Note the picture of a teacher in the upper right corner.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

If Dogs Could Preach... part 5 (God's unconditional love)

Recently, one of our dogs - the troublemaker - got into a garbage bag where there were chicken bones.  Please note - we did NOT give him the bones, we do know better!  When Alex saw him, he of course gave the command to drop it, which had the opposite effect on Hunter, who began to gulp it down even quicker to make sure Alex didn't take the precious, forbidden treat away. 

We quickly realized that there was something wrong when Hunter started acting erratically, scratching at his mouth with his paw, which was bloody.  At first, we couldn't figure out what was bleeding - the paw or the mouth.  When we realized that we couldn't risk getting bitten by putting our hand in his mouth to try to remove the bone, we put his muzzle on him and Alex rushed him to the veterinary hospital.

Everything happened so quickly, within 5 minutes they were out the door.  But in that time period, I managed to be angry at Hunter for costing us an unknown amount in hospital bills while at the same time being scared that he may not make it.  At this point, we weren't sure if he was choking or what.

As it turned out, he got the bone stuck behind his upper hind teeth, so he was definitely in pain (he was bleeding, after all), but not in imminent danger.  The hospital staff made him wait as they tended to real emergencies.  He ended up needing anesthesia in order to allow the vet to remove the bone.  While he was under, he got a complimentary pedicure, so that was good.

When Alex finally returned with Hunter after 3 hours, we were both relieved.  The bill wasn't as bad as it could've been: $200.  And most importantly, Hunter was ok.  He gets on our last nerve pretty much on a weekly basis, but this episode made us realize that we love him anyway, he's part of the family, and we'll just have to accept that he comes with drama and trouble.

While I was praying to St. Francis of Assisi to intercede and help Hunter, I realized that we are so often just like Hunter.  We sneak things we're not supposed to do, and when we're reprimanded, we get even more adamant about having our way, until we finally get hurt.  Even as God tries to help us, we resist, not realizing what is good for us.  Yet how awesome to think that just like we put up with Hunter, God puts up with us.  He loves us even though He'd much rather we didn't bring so much drama and trouble everywhere we go!