sharing my life experiences, reflections and insights as a mother, a writer, an Occupational Therapist and and a spiritual being having a human experience

Posts tagged ‘unschooling’

March 21, 2016

Writing

Writing is my passion. It is who I am.

I remember getting my first diary. It was a gift from my sister for my 10th birthday.  I remember because I have this diary and every diary and journal after that first one. When I have read through the entries of my childhood diaries, I have realized that I remember the events described in the pages because I wrote them down.

Parenting and Work

When my oldest son was born, November 10, 1997, we had a plan in place.  I would return to work full-time after a 12 week maternity leave and my husband would stay at home with him while he grew his business.  I was able to return to work at 32 hours a week and remain fulltime.  Before my son was born, this plan sounded great.  I remember telling my co-workers that the father could be the primary caregiver as well as the mother.  My plan was that once my husband’s business grew enough,  I would reduce to part-time hours.  In 1997, I could work “prn” and earn double my full-time hourly rate. It sounded so easy, I could work 20 hours per week (without benefits) and make same amount of money as I did working 40 hours. 

Birth and Bonding

I had hoped for a natural birth but only took the hospital birth class and one offered by my NP at my OB-GYN office.  I wound up being induced with an epidural but was so glad he was born without a c-section.  I intended to nurse for 6 months because that was what was recommended by the AAP at the time.  I was very happy to have a healthy baby boy yet boding with him took time.  Parenting was a whole new experience for me. When he was 12 weeks old, I had to return to work. It was the most difficult thing I ever had to do. 

Motherhood and Parenting

Going back to work was so difficult for me. I was glad he was home with my husband when I went to work and I don’t think I could have left him otherwise.   I wanted to be home full-time with my baby!  Don, my husband, told me he would get a job so I could stay home. We had a plan. He had quit his job to be in business full-time for several reasons but a big one was because he wanted to be involved in his child’s life and be there. His previous job required regular travel.  We both knew we wanted to raise our child and not have the child in day care. We shared the parenting experience and he worked when I was home.  Yet, from that moment when I returned to work, my goal became to find a way to work from home. 

Employment and Working from home

I remember researching working at home opportunities. All I remember about that is ordering some ribbons to make some bows for a company, but the ribbon was tiny and I never made any of those bows.  It was 1997 when my first child was born and we had the internet because my husband wanted it for his business but I did very little on the computer back then.

My job changed dramatically in 1999 with the many healthcare changes that happened. I no longer had a job 4 miles from home working 3 full days and 2 half days.  I had to drive to two different nursing homes, one 45 minute drive and the other a 90 minute drive and work in both each day to keep my job. My salary was cut by 15% and my benefits changed including less paid time off and higher healthcare costs.    I did that for 9 months and managed to change my hours to working just 4 days per week and remained full-time but started job hunting.  Because of the changes in healthcare, there were not many jobs to be found at the time. 

In 2000, I found a new part-time job in home health care. I had more flexible hours and could do my paperwork from home.  Moving from full-time work to part-time was a big jump. Also, having to manage my own schedule was a significant and challenging change for me.   My income was half that year being part-time compared to full-time.  (as a side note: when my husband quit his job to go full-time into his own business, ( because  I pushed him to do so saying I could support us) our combined $100,000 income went to $50,000 that was 1996.  When I returned to work in 1998 at only 32 hours per week, my income was $42,000).  I share all these figures to truly paint the picture for you.  We choose to live on less because being home with our child was more important to us than having a bigger house and a newer car. We were looking at moving to a new home in 2000 but because  our lower-income, we had to suspend that plan.  My husband’s business was slowly growing but I remained the primary breadwinner for some time.

An Idea Is Born

I attended my first LLL meeting when my oldest was 3 weeks old.  I was looking for support with breastfeeding with returning to work.  Being in the room surrounded by moms and babies and children, even nursing toddlers, was an eye-opener to me!  I swore I would never nurse my baby past age one. Yet, being surrounding by attachment parenting moms was a new world for me. I can remember  talking to a mom of a 3 month old. She worked as a nurse and worked nigh shift so she was home with her baby in the day.  I can hear here saying something to the effect of, “aren’t they wonderful “(meaning the babys).  I was still bonding with my baby and adjusting to motherhood at that stage.  I know deep inside of me, my soul knew that this was the life for me. 

My oldest, Harrison, developed a love for road signs at an early age.  You can read more about this here.  I became more involved in the attachment parenting world and learning from my son how to be a mother.  From these two aspects, an idea was born.  I envisioned a conscious parenting website and called it, “Mommy, Daddy, STOP”.  My meaning in this name was “Mommy, Daddy, stop what you are doing and pay attention to me because I will be a baby and a child for a short period of time and spending quality time and quantity time with me is important.  And stop reacting and just parenting the way you were parented, but consciously choose your words, actions and your method of parenting.” By this time, my husband’s business had morphed into a website business and he secured the domain name for me even before I started the website.  I spend time writing about parenting and created a notebook full of ideas for my website.  As I write this, I am picturing my notebook with colored pen marks and realize that I need to find this notebook!

Flash Foward to 2008

I finally created the site on the Ning platform with the help of my now 10-year-old son. And I created a homeschooling website on Ning as well.  I was motivated to finally jump in and do this  because my husband had lost his job August of 2008 when I was three months pregnant with our third child. Backing up…My husband sold his website business in summer of 2007 and then went to work full-time for the man/company he sold his business too.  This was a wonderful opportunity for our family. We had regular income for the first time in years and I was able to not work outside the home for the first time in years.  And it was what I was waiting for to even attempt to have a third child.  I had my second child in 2002 after a year of attempting and one early miscarriage.  I was working in home health care and was able to very slowly return to work when she was 8 weeks old. Literally working just 3 hours per week for several weeks before increasing to about 6 hours per week and slowly increased to an average of about 15 hours per week.

Ning Websites

In 2008, creating a website on the Ning platform was free of charge.  Ning is a platform for creating a social media website which was new and fresh at the time with the growing popularity of that big social media website, you know, Facebook.  I also found work again, prn work as an OT at a local nursing home that summer without telling them I was pregnant.  I needed to bring in some income while my husband rebuilt his business and before my new baby was born! I also poured my time into primarily my homeschool website thinking it would be the one to first bring in income, eventually.  I had no initial plans for making money, I just knew the site would benefit the homeschooling community at a time when it was difficult to find out about homeschool support groups and area resources.  I trusted in the universe that somehow over time, this pursuit would bring me income in order to be home full-time with my children.  And I began posting articles on my Parenting site; the tag line for Mommy, Daddy, Stop was : consciously parenting our children, our parents, and ourselves. 

Baby number three is born in 2009

I worked until mid December of 2008 and then went on unpaid leave. When you work prn, you don’t really “go on leave” you just don’t sign up to work any hours.    He was due January 4 but my other two children were born before their due dates: 12 days prior and 4 days prior. Jason was born on January 8, 2009 in our kitchen, an elective home birth with a lay-midwife.Yes, that story is for another post. I remember getting called from a co-worker after a few months asking if I would be coming back to work.  I told them I wasn’t ready to come back to work yet.  We managed to live from savings and eventually credit because I wanted to be home full-time with my baby for at least a year.  And I did not return to work until after he was  a year old but our financial situation was demanding it and it was a crazy hard decision for me. 

Advertisements

Making the Difference in the Life of a Child

I have been part of an on-line journaling community and here is this week’s writing prompt:

“There’s a wonderful quote that says when we die, it doesn’t matter how many things we have in our possession; what matters most is the differences we made in the life of a child.  There is so much wisdom and power in this statement.  Imagine if we lived our lives with only this intention?  To make a positive difference in the life of a child.  All of our fears, inadequacies, and self-doubt would disappear.”

And then….

“This week, write about the most important things you would teach a child.  Even if you’re already a parent or grandparent or great grandparent – start from a blank slate.  What are the most important lessons you would teach him or her?  Why are they important?  Do these lessons move us towards peace, love and joy?  Speak from your heart.”

  • I see a big difference in these two paragraphs:
  • “To make a difference in the life of a child”
  • “start from a blank slate– What are the most important lessons you would teach (a child)”

Children are not blank slates. Even if that was not what was intended by this statement, I think it implies that we must teach children everything.  I disagree with this idea.  Yes, we do “teach” children. We teach them all the time in our actions.  They learn from watching us.  Just like they learn to crawl and to walk and talk, they learn how to act and respond based on what they observe.  We need to be the change that we want to see in our children.  Not in a “hey look at me, I am doing it this way and so should you” form of  modeling but in our everyday words and actions.

I see this all the time just by watching my children.  With three children, I see how the youngest, who is 3 years old, copies the actions of his older brother and sister as well as how the older children copy each other as well as me and my husband.

When I think about “making a difference” in the life of a child, I think of stopping and listening to a child. I think about loving a child, meeting his needsjoining her in her world, spending time with him, connecting with her, being there for him.

My mind goes to the birth of my children and all my choices prior to their birth,  during and after.  I recall how I began to really think about what I was putting into my body and how my diet evolved and changed over time -which has been good for my health too!  My birthing choices, the classes I took and how much I learned after my first was born and the changes I made for my second child’s birth as well the changes I made for  my third child”s birth.  My decision to breastfeed my baby and attending La Leche League meetings and learning more and more about nursing my child and mothering.  Learning about attachment parenting and child-led weaning.  For me, these are very powerful ways I have made a difference for my children’s lives.

Here I am, almost 15 years after I gave birth to my first child remembering those early days.  How can I continue to make a difference?

I read books, educate myself and reach out to like-minded communities to connectshare information, resources and support. It doesn’t matter how long we have been a parent, it is a continual learning process.  I can improve my communication skills and modify my “parenting method” as I grow and evolve as a mother.  Our children are all unique and have their own strengths, weaknesses, gifts and talents.  I see my role as nurturing, supporting, empowering, and maybe at times guiding them.

But even as a homeschooling parent, I do not feel I am here  to “teach them”.   I believe that my children have far more to teach me than I could possibly teach them.  

The Gift of Life: Reflected in My Children

Happy Birthday to me!

I prepared for today’s post by reflecting  on my entry from last year: My 42 Year Journey

This year we celebrated at home the day before my birthday.  My husband and three children shared their cards with me as we enjoyed homemade gluten-free and egg-free chocolate cake with coconut milk ice-cream   And my amazing 10 year old daughter wrote this story for me.  She has been doing a lot of writing and I really enjoy hearing her stories and poems. She has also been collaborating with her PA cousin via Skype to write stories.   All of this has been her idea and her initiative– aka- unschooling at it’s best.  It is exciting to watch my children develop their interests and really take off with something that they enjoy doing.  It is also a great reminder to me that my actions do affect my children and one of the best things I can do for their “education” is to show them in my actions that I am pursuing my interests and following my passion!  

This has been very clear with my oldest child, Harrison as his personality is one of concentrated persistence.  Many of his interests have been easy to nurture with trips to the library and home made items.  His focus on achieving what he sets out to do has enabled him to find a way to build a computer and obtain software as well as purchase a digital camera.  It was really cool to get a handmade -with paper and crayons- card from him this year.   A pleasant variation on his recent 

computer generated  cards and picture compilations.  It helped me to remember that despite having an “old soul” beyond his years persona and the fact that he will soon have a driving  learner’s permit, he is still in his  childhood and his younger self is so much very alive in him in a new teenage form.  I can see similarities in my youngest and oldest. Maybe having a three year old and a fourteen year old simultaneously is the key to seeing the similarities between teens and toddlers as well as being able to appreciate that they are their own person at every age.

We think of our youngest as the busy, full of energy, and action kid, yet I keep getting reminders how much he loves to sit with art supplies.  We spent time together last night coloring with markers in a coloring book and also with blank paper and he said to me, “I’m good at drawing. I’m supposed to be an artist”.  One of those moments when you feel like you are getting a big glimpse into their soul.  He has also made a similar comment to me some time ago about sailing.  I have to wonder if these thoughtful responses are coming from a deeper place than just his physical three-year-old self.

I hope I am able to nurture all of my children’s passions.  I know I began my parenting journey with that focus and see it clearly with my oldest child who was an only child for four years.  I feel like my daughter has been given more and more opportunities to pursue her passion since we adopted our dog and now that she is  able to act more independently with pursuing her interests.  Jason’s future remains a mystery and their is something exciting about that.  Sure, I don’t know exactly what paths any of my children will take in their adult lives but I have a much clearer picture with the older two who are almost 15 and 10.  At three and a half years of age, Jason’s future has yet to unfold.  He loves food and helping to prepare food.  He is also very nurturing and I could see him in a helping profession and he has a very physically engaged side and does love fire trucks.  It is possible that having had the experience of fireman coming to the rescue of his dad while he suffered a heart attack, might influence his future career path.  He also has a very imaginative and creative side and loves taking pictures and videos, an activity likely inspired by his big brother.  And I aim to not put any expectations on who he will become but rather spend time nurturing who his is now.  Who knows how these early years of his life could shape his future.

I decided to homeschool my children because I wanted to nurture their love of learning and empower them to nurture their interests.   I have chosen to work less hours in order to be there for them and with them in the process and my husband choose to leave his former work which involved regular travel and too many hours away from home.  Making that choice has involved financial challenges (Note to Universe: I am open to abundance and  moving away from that experience! ).   I would like to believe that despite our limited resources,  my husband and I have been able to at least expose our children to different experiences and help them to further their interests.  Maybe the fact that we have limited financial means will only further their passion to pursue their interests.  There are times when I doubt this.  Yet, I am very aware that childhood is a short period of time.  I am happy to celebrate another year of my life knowing that I am giving my children something more valuable than anything money can buy, my time.   Being a mother is the greatest gift of my life.  I know I have made mistakes, more than I would like to admit, yet, I can be an example to my children in my failures as well as my successes.

I look forward to another year with a renewed focus of being not only with them but present in their lives and available for them emotionally, spiritually and mentally.

 

 

 

Choosing my life… the life I am living

I can’t believe my last post was January 5…so much time has passed since then, nearly 2 months.

Life happens

I’ve been slowly getting over reoccurring Bronchitis since November.

My youngest child turned 3 and we enrolled him at Romp N Roll again, for a gymnastics class with mom.

My daughter turned 10, fell in love with a rescue dog who lived a short time, and recently began ERP therapy.

I have been exercising 2 or 3 times a week with my oldest son and helping him with pre- Algebra, at his request.

Time spent with my children is always time well spent.  They come first in my life. Sure, I need to meet my basic needs, put my oxygen masc on first, yet, I enjoy life most when the larger chunks of my time are spent with them.  I chose to have children and to be there with them as they grow and figure out living in this world.    I sometimes forget this, but when I look at how I am spending my time, I always desire to have more time with my children.  The reason that I do not want to work away from the home is to be with them.  Sure I have writing dreams that I want to pursue and I make time for this as life allows, but my real frustration is being there consistently for my children because I have needed to work outside the home.

I have three children, spread 11 years apart.  The biggest reason for the age spread is because after I had my first son and had to return to work full time when he was 12 weeks old, I wanted to wait until I could be working less from home before I had another child.  The third one came about only after my husband sold his business and went to work for the person he sold it to- full time job.  It was the first time I felt like I didn’t “have” to work.  It was a great feeling.

Unfortunately, it took time to conceive and then my husband lost his full time job when I was 3 months pregnant.  I worked during my pregnancy but then held out going back for an entire year, even though, financially, we really needed me to go back much sooner.  We have lived off savings, and now have some debt beyond our mortgage that we are not happy about and never had before and are even dipping into our IRA funds now.  But you know what, when I think about how I worked hard for the money in my IRA accounts (401K rollovers), I feel blessed to have that money there to use now when we really need it and so that I do not have to find full time work.   I can always work more when my children are older.  But right now they are 14, 10 and 3 and we homeschool/ unschool and they need me and I need them.

They need my support, my time, my love, compassion and assistance in various ways. Of course the 3 year old, just wants mom around.  He played happily by himself for about 3 hours at my sister’s house this past weekend  because I was resting on the bed in the same room.  He did not “need me” until I got up and went down the hall to the bathroom, “Mom, where are you?”  He went searching for me, not realizing where I had went as he was absorbed in his play.  My husband and I were surprised at how long he was content in the room with me sleeping on and off but not really talking to him.  Of course, when I thought about it, I wasn’t really that surprised.  Toddlers need to know mom is near by even if they can play on their own and not need mom to interact with them.  Attachment parenting in action.  He also needs mom to listen to him and pay attention to his endless conversations and imaginary play. And to answer his questions about everything in his world and all those things that fascinate him.  He needs me to engage with him, to get his needs met including his needs for physical activity and mental stimulation.  He needs me to pay attention to his behavior and how it varies with  foods and when needs are not met.   He needs me to play with him, to read to him, to take him new places and engage in life with him.  Exploring the world with a toddler is so fun and exciting and brings out the child in me and it is also mentally and physically exhausting!  I feel my age, being 42 now as opposed to 31 when my oldest was 3.

My daughter needs me because she is 10 and generally an extrovert and because she has been dealing with an anxiety disorder for the past 2 years.  She is limited with making food for herself and needs help to put on her shoes because of the anxiety.  She is by nature a very compassionate, kindhearted and generous child.  Yet, when her anxiety overwhelms her, her behavior looks very different, nearly the opposite of her personality.  She has needed our help in understanding and dealing with her issues, supporting her, as we figured out by trial and error, what to do and not to do.  She has needed us, her parents,  as advocates, researchers and encouragement to deal with her anxiety and be able to live her life.   She also needs me to help her find the resources and materials to pursue her interests and to keep her mind busy and engaged.  She is a very intelligent child and her anxiety is noticeably less when she is engaged in pursuits she enjoys and most especially with her passions.   And she needed us to say “Yes” when our neighbors who moved suddenly asked us if we wanted to take their dog who had become my daughter’s  best friend” -her words.  I am a cat person, and her dad is someone who enjoys pets, when they live outside or at least that was how he was raised.  She needs us to help her find and participate in dog related activities because this is her passion.  Loving animals and dogs is who she is.

My oldest child, my 14 year old son, needs me because for at least 2 years, if not 3, he has not gotten as much attention as he needs and especially now as he experiences puberty and all the changes that are happening within his body.  He likes structure and plans despite our unschooling life.  He has many interests and pursues them independently.  I don’t think that he has ever uttered the words “I am bored”, or at least rarely.  Yet, he needs help organizing his time and getting things done that he wants to do.  He has been very interested in pursuing computer science for some time and knows he needs math and so we are now using a curriculum for the first time (in our own way) because of his desire to advance with higher level math.  He needs 1:1 time with me, as all my other children do, and even more so now than he did a few years ago.  He needs to be able to vent and talk freely with one of his parents and share his life and experiences with mom and dad.  He needs us to help him with getting together with his friends and to transport him to all his social gatherings and and all his other activities.   He is an introvert, yet, an outgoing introvert, and a calm, quiet- natured person,  yet, he has had a growing need to get together with his friends.  Sometimes, I think and he admits, he needs to just get out of the house and away from his high energy- physically active younger siblings.

They all need me and in different ways.  I enjoy having children of different ages and I know that I appreciate my toddler much more because my older two children are long past the toddler years.  Sure, it has its challenges having 3 children all in different stages of life.  We join up for the summer reading program at the library and join all three age-group programs, one with each child.   My son is in a middle and high school only co-op where nearly everything is only for him.  It took many years before my oldest two could participate in an activity together due to the 4- year age spread.  Now, my 3 year old, who tells us he wants to “stay wittle” and  “not get big”, strives to do all the things his older siblings do.  He gets things out of the refrigerator himself and wants to make his own sandwich and help mom in the kitchen.

I understand why years ago, people told me to have my children close together in age.

But, I wouldn’t change anything.  I always wanted 4 children or at least 4.  If I had had another, I would have liked to have one between my 10 year old and 3 year old.  Yet, this is the life I have and the children who are in my life and my care.  I need to make the most of it and appreciate them for who they are and their special gifts and spend my time seeing the beauty in their souls and empower and affirm them as they are.

If you read what I write and think that I live a blissful life enjoying every moment of my children’s lives…..

….Don’t kid yourself!

I am living a human life with all my human traits, my own past experiences, fears and doubts.  I  strive to be the best parent that I can be.  Far more often than I like, I fail to follow my own basic principles and beliefs as a parent.  I believe that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience but  I need to write about this in order to remember it and to truly live it!

Jumping with Jason,right here and now while he is 2

Before the holidays, my friends on my Facebook Homeschool Group shared information about a Groupon for a new Jump place that was opening and they planned to attend the first week of January.  I went to the site and saw pictures of giant padded sided trampolines and learned there was a separate area for younger kids.  I knew my younger two would like it and maybe my oldest.  I bought three Groupons.

My daughter came down with the coughing crud I had before Christmas and wasn’t up to jumping today and my oldest wasn’t interested, he is a jump alone kind of guy.

And so, Jason, my almost three-year old (his birthday is 4 days from today), and I headed out alone to drive across town to go jumping.  Well, I had a ticket for him and not me, hadn’t even thought about if I could get a ticket but had assumed his sister would be jumping with him when I got the Groupons.

As usual he was slow to warm up and despite being only one of two kids- the other was my friend’s son that he knows even though they don’t interact much yet- and it took him time before he would try.  I sat on the edge and even walked on the trampoline surface with him- as you can walk right up to it at the same level, but was told by the nice attending employee that due to liability, I wasn’t allowed on the trampoline surface but she got her manager and they had me sign a waiver and get a red arm band and I then got to join him (at no charge- shh,not sure if that is the policy)!

He still didn’t like the girl who was working there and wanted her to leave which he expresses well for a 2-year-old and then other kids came to the area and he doesn’t like people he doesn’t know.

Then we jumped into the foam pit and luckily there was no one else around at first because he got to stay in the foam pit which he loved.  He was sad when we had to get out of the foam pit to let others jump into it but I convinced him to go to the other area that was just trampoline space and we began jumping!

It was frustrating when we were there with just my friend and her son and he wouldn’t try it, yet all my children have been “slow to warm up” kids.  Sometimes with Jason, it takes him until it is time to go home.   That is always sad and challenging to have him riding in the car home saying “I want to swim” or “I want to get my hair cut”.

It was so great that I got to join him today.  It was fun and took his mind off all the other people, who he usually calls “evil” and describes how he will knock them down or put fire on them.   The only other kids about his age were also jumping with a parent which was good to see.

I think we push kids away from us before they are ready and miss opportunities to spend time with them when they are small and want to be with us.  Trust me, it doesn’t last.  Sure, I am very close to my older two children and we spent a lot of time together but there is nothing like the love of a toddler who wants to marry you and live with you forever.  I guess I like my kids when they are in the “need mommy” stages.  It seams simpler to help them when they are young or even ill and just want to sit with mom.  I know I appreciate my youngest as a toddler more than my older two because my older two are 9 and 14.  Even though, he is my most challenging toddler!

He used to want to be big like his sister and brother but lately has been telling me he wants to stay “wittle” and stay with me.  I am happy to hear this.  I tell him he can live with me forever and he will be little for a long time.  It is good to enjoy being little and each and every age of our children because it all passes….and too quickly.

A good reminder to me for sure because I have my days when I wonder why I had more than one child or long for the day when they are all out of the house.  But not really.  Life can be crazy and noisy and out-of-order at my house, but I do like having children and three of them.  I still wish I had four because it would be more even but that didn’t happen and instead  we somehow  have a dog instead (I am so very much a cat person) and so she is number four.

Now,I need to find a way to remind myself of this every day and especially during the really challenging times.  This makes for a good New Year’s Resolution.  To remember how much I love having kids and to remember that they will soon be 3, 10 and 15……and then 18, 25 and 30!  Enjoy them for who they are right here and now.

Words can’t possibly describe….

I am grateful for our dog, Olive.

Olive came to live in our home one year ago.  She was our neighbor’s dog and I remember when I first met her, she was a small, adorable puppy.   A few years later, Olive became my daughter’s best friend.  Abby would go to visit Olive and we would take her for walks together and sometimes Abby would just bring Olive to our yard to play.

And then Olive became our magic angel who helped my daughter out of her fear and rage that went along with the severe anxiety that began to overtake my daughter’s  life when she was 8 years old.  We would sometimes bring Olive into Abby’s bedroom when she awoke in a rage.  Like magic, seeing Olive could help her calm down and begin to move out of  fear and be able to engage in life, to eat a meal or stop her aggressive behavior.

And so when our neighbors told us they were moving in a few weeks and the house they were renting did not allow all three of their dogs and asked us if we wanted to have Olive, what else could we have said?  Sure, my husband and I thought about it and discussed it privately for a few days.  We were already considering getting our daughter a dog in the future, possibly in a few months.

So Olive came to live in our home, first temporarily but knowing it could be permanent.

Olive more than tolerated our exuberant and energetic youngest child, Jason who was not yet 2 when she came to live with us.  We watched the two of them very closely in the beginning and had some couch “resource guarding behavior” to deal with initially but Olive otherwise had nothing but kisses and love for our toddler.  I am sure it helped that he gave her treats whenever he could get a hold of them and often as many treats as he could give her.

I am even more grateful for my daughter, Abby, thanking me for Olive. 

I am happy to say that one year later, and much time and effort helping my daughter with her anxiety disordrer (OCD), she spontaneously thanked me for her dog, Olive.  It is exciting to see her running up to Olive and saying “I love my puppy!”

Abby, gave me a Thank You card the other day. She thanked me for giving her:  life, love, giving to her, our cat, Peanut and Olive.  It was one of those miraculous moments of motherhood that you cherish forever.  One that erases hours, days and years of challenges.  For my daughter, it was also a monumental point for her given her experiences over the past year or so.  An expression of her new ability to write and express herself on her own and an amazing turning point in her life with severe anxiety- a sign of the “real Abby” the beautiful soul who is without fear and is pure love and joy. A reminder to the rest of us as to who she really is.

Today Abby asked me, “Why is Olive always already outside when I wake up?”

I resisted the urge to say, ‘Because you wake up so late and often don’t get out of bed until 9:30 or later’.  Instead, I saw her need and interest in spending time with her dog (something to be celebrated!)  in the morning and told her that I could bring Olive inside for her.  And I joyfully, brought Olive back in the house.

I realize that there are not words to describe or  fully express the magnificence of these small but huge leaps for my daughter.  She has always loved Olive and continued to when Olive came to live with us.  Yet, within days of Olive moving into our home, Olive became part of my daughter’s anxiety disorder.  She could not touch Olive for some time, maybe with her arm or the back of her hand and then later only if she had washed her hands for a certain length of time (read: a very long time).  She quickly grew unable to feed Olive- she couldn’t touch the container that held her food, and for some time, she couldn’t hold her leash.

At the beginning of this year, my sister, an animal love, dog behaviorist and kindred spirit with my daughter,   began coming to visit monthly, and spend time with Abby and Olive.  With those visits combined with Abby and Olive  taking a local dog training class, we have seen  improvements with my daughter being able to do more with Olive and improvements with her anxiety.   I used to have to bring Olive to Abby when she was in a “stuck place” and I would say, “Her’s your dog, Abby.  Olive loves you no matter what.”

Take all that I have described and multiply it in your mind by 1000 and now you have a glimmer of understanding of her life over the past year.

Abby may have a long way to go with her anxiety and maybe a lifetime of managing OCD, yet, to see her enjoying her dog brings us hope.  We want our children to be happy. When a child has had an experience of pure hell;  an experience that takes away her childhood  innocence , as her parent, you just want to take it all away and make it all better.    As much as I have wanted to take away her pain,  I have always known that I can’t do that.   It is her life to live and my job is to love her  and provide support and encouragement for her.  I can comfort her, but I can not take away the ‘bad’stuff, nor can I always make it better.

So to hear Abby thank me for her dog and to see her joyfully and spontaneously run  up to Olive and hug her and spend time with her is truly an amazing and beautiful sight to behold.  Our daughter is coming back.  She is showing wonderful moments of her true self, without the fear and anxiety and it fills my heart with joy and gratitude.

Living outside of the box in a boxed up world: not for wimps!

How does one navigate in a closed-minded world full of rules and regulations that take on a life of their own when one has chosen to live outside the box?

Outside the Birth Box

Since I became a parent, my life has been a journey of exploration and discovery into unknown territory.  I gave birth to my first child in 1997, desiring a natural birth.  Yet, I had grown up in a culture where birth was portrayed as an evil experience requiring strong pain medication.  Just watch any sitcom or movie  from the 1980s and 1990s where there is a scene involving a woman in labor.   I also knew nothing about breastfeeding.  My mother had been discouraged from breastfeeding by her doctor in 1966 when she was pregnant with my sister, her first child.  She was also given sodium pentothal during labor in 1966 and again in 1969 when I was born.   Because I have always been a reader and researcher, I had discovered that having a natural birth and breastfeeding my baby was the best thing that I could do for my child.

And then my child was born, after being induced and then the inevitable epidural after a full day of increasing levels of pitocin.  We survived the hospital experience and the early difficult days of breastfeeding.  When my baby boy was 3 weeks old, I made a decision that would forever have an impact on his life and mine.  I attended my first La Leche League meeting.  La Leche League is an organization that provides mother to mother breastfeeding support, encouragement, information.  I was introduced to the world of attachment parenting and got to observe nursing mothers with babies and children of varied ages.   It was a new world for me.

Flash forward, 4 years later, I attended Bradley Childbirth classes before the birth of my second child who was born by nurse midwives in the most baby friendly hospital in my area and my daughter never left my side during our short 24 hour hospital stay.  I signed several waivers at the hospital to prevent standard procedures that my baby did not need.   And seven years later, my third came into the world in my quiet, dimly lit kitchen assisted by a Professional Midwife and her assistant.  And because he was born at home, we had to provide proof that I was pregnant and drive downtown to file papers to get his birth certificate and file for his social security number.  And if we had not done that, would he then not be really here? Born in my kitchen in North Carolina, but not a US Citizen.

Life Outside the Typical American Diet

Our diet has also evolved over the years. Granted, I grew up eating two veggies, one green, for dinner, fresh fruit and limited sweets.  My mother is 100% Italian and she cooked in way that looks very much like what is now called “The Mediterranean Diet”.  My husband and I decided to stop eating red meat about the time that our first child was born.  He wanted to lower his cholesterol and felt it was a healthier way to eat.  Over time, we eventually eliminated all meat but fish from our diet.  Later, I learned I was eating too much soy and way too much processed soy.  I added poultry back into my diet but we continued to eat many vegetarian meals.  I learned more about the importance of whole foods and over time greatly reduced the number of processed foods in our diet.  My diet changed once again when I learned my cholesterol was low and possibly too low to become pregnant and so I began to purchase grass-fed beef from a known source, yet my husband continued to avoid red meat most of the time.  When my oldest was about 8, he decided to become a vegetarian, not surprising because he grew up eating very little meat.

Life in a smaller, simpler box

When I became a parent, I was the sole breadwinner for our family.  After two years, we took a leap of faith and I reduced my hours to part-time and switched jobs to one with more flexible hours that allowed me to do my paperwork from home.  Our income was nearly cut in half that year for the second time in our married life. The first being when my husband quit his full  time job,  encouraged to do so by me, to pursue growing his business that he had begun a year earlier. We could write a book  on living on less and building savings before you have children.  Yet, most people have no clue about our simplified life and can not fathom how we live on the income we have had over the past 11 years.  I want to ask those people who live in large houses with perfectly manicured lawns, why do you live in such a large house and maintain a beautiful yard when you are never there to enjoy where you live?

The un-boxed life

As I give these descriptions of aspects of my life that are outside the norm or average way of living in America, I realize that it only shows a glimpse of how very different from society my life has become.  We live in a world but we are not of the world.  We drive cars that we purchased used and are now fully paid for; our house is over 40 years old; we have a gravel driveway; we have basic cable television- about 25 channels;  I make my own water keifer and nettles infusion and make smoothies adding green vegetables, fruit and coconut milk.  My first two children nursed until natural weaning- it was well past the toddler years- and I can give you a long list of health benefits for nursing past two years of age.  At my first La Leche League Meeting, I swore I would never nurse my child past the age of one.  We homeschool our children or more accurately, unschool, but I prefer to say we learn through living.  My husband and I have shared child care responsibilities over the years and often have worked alternating hours so the other  could be with our children.  Why would you give birth to children and then send them to someone else to raise them?  Why would you give someone else the joy of watching your children grow and explore the world?

When life puts you in a box

And then, my husband, Don, had a heart attack, May 4, 2011,  Cuatro De Mayo.   We had to survive in the system.   I was grateful to the hospital and all the people we came in contact with from the medics who arrived at our home and continue to be grateful.  Yet, after my husband was in the hospital over a week and we were looking to his coming home, I found myself feeling alone and lost.   Don was on continuous cardiac monitors for the entire 12 days he was in the hospital and only the last few days was he up walking around, his unit only.  He could not leave his unit.  Yet, they sent him home, unmonitored and with only a home health nurse who came 3 days per week and  because I insisted on that.  I even had to call the home health  company once we got home because somehow the hospital failed to inform the home health company that he had been discharged from the hospital.   Luckily, I had worked in home health care and knew what to do.

I was ashamed  to cry while I was in the hospital room with him.  I quickly wiped tears from my face when a nurse  came into his room.   Why is that?   Reality did not look anything like Gray’s Anatomy.  I saw him briefly in the emergency room before they wheeled him up to the “Cath Lab”.  And then I was led to an empty waiting area where we sat, me, my children and my good friend, for over 2 hours wondering what was happening and wondering whether Don would live.    A nurse finally came by to inform us that things were going well and if they continued to go well, he would be moved to the CCU and someone would come get us.  She had thought it would be about 30 minutes,and then an hour past and my fear intensified that something was wrong.  Thank goodness for my friend who was not in shock and knew to call the front desk and asked if he had been moved to CCU ~which he had.   There were no doctors holding your hand and standing by as you grieved and felt the emotions of the trauma you were going through- especially for me, the family, the wife of the man who had the heart attack. They treated my husband and took good care of him.  Yet, his heart attack happened to more than him, it affected his entire family, his wife and three children- aged 13, 9 and 2.

It was a traumatic experience for all of us and in some ways more so for us than Don because he has little to no memory of the initial events.  No memory at all from the time he went unconscious on our living room couch until he was awake in the CCU.  At home, when he was having increasing pain in his mid back and his neck, it never occurred to him that he might be having a heart attack. I knew and my 13-year-old son did too.    And those early days in the CCU are very blurred and foggy in my husband’s memory.  Somehow we survived and even became closer as a family those 12 days Don was in the hospital.  And then the bigger challenge, his coming home and continuing to recover in a home with three young  children.  And now, 4 months later, here we are.  Our life greatly altered on some levels and in other ways it looks as it did before.  Life will never be the same, experience changes you, changes your perspective.  My children never again will have the full childhood innocence of feeling like your parents will live forever.  Watching your father have a massive heart attack and cardiac arrest is not a typical experience for a child of 2, 9 or even 13.  The hospital staff kept saying that many 50-year-old men have heart attacks but what they failed to see was not many 50-year-old men have a 2-year-old child.   I personally did not grow up seeing family members have a heart attack in their 50s or any age really, other than my uncle who just two years prior to my husband’s heart attack, suffered a dissecting aorta at the age of 47.

Re-negotiating life and moving out of the box

We continue to navigate in the healthcare system and now the financial assistance system in our county and state.  I have come to realize that part of my angst comes from living a life outside the box yet needing  these systems that exist in our culture.  Systems we were never a part of before or not to the extent that we are now.  They want to put us back in the box but there is not a box that fits us.

Navigating in this world, in the American culture of  this millennium, while pursing life from a spiritual perspective is not a task for wimps.  I have learned that I do well under pressure and that I am a survivor in a crisis.  Adrenaline is addictive but one  can not continue to live with high levels of adrenaline running through your system.  Sometimes, the more difficult part of life is not the early trauma, but the getting back to regular life part, when the flood of support and assistance tapers off and when you are faced with the complexities of life and the new challenge of helping a loved one with a new medical condition to recover and live again.

Over time, aspects become easier but other factors emerge as stressful and challenging.  It is a process, a continual process of recovery.  I do not know how long the process lasts nor how long the intensity remains, yet here I am 4 months later, still feeling strong feelings as I recount and relive the experience.   It has been a roller coaster of ups and downs occurring within a life already full of uneven terrain.  I have moved closer to and further away from my spiritual side throughout the process.   I  have grown stronger, and more in tune with my spiritual self through my writing.   When I do not write, I often fall away from my true self and have found  myself sitting in the bottom of a lonely box.    Sometimes , I get up out of the box and other times, I need to just sit alone in the bottom of the box.  I see now that  I am a strong woman, even when I am sitting in the bottom of the box.

It takes strength to live in this world and each challenge makes you stronger unless you choose to stop and not move forward.  Unless you become permanently and completely dysfunctional and unable to care for yourself in any manner, you do become stronger.  The decisions you make and the life that follows are a matter of your perspective but know that you do become stronger,  you become more of who you choose to be.