Monday, November 19, 2007

Is it the kids... or is it me?

Recently I did a post about how our five-year-old was going through a developmental change around her birthday. It seems to have made her want to test the boundaries again and made her very emotional about things that didn't matter to her before.

Well, the Adrenaline Junkie is going to turn three in just a couple of weeks and I think she is going through a developmental change too. Suddenly she just seems older and more three-year-old-ish. She suddenly has an even shorter attention span, a hyperdrive activity level, a ferocious independent streak and bigger tantrums when called on misbehavior. It's times like this I wish the kids had their birthdays staggered a little more throughout the year. But if that were the case I suppose I would have to deal with the upheaval through more of the year instead of all at once.

And in case you're wondering, yes the Happy Boy has been having his troubles, too. He has decided that Mommy is the only one who can console him when he's upset, feed him when he's hungry, or put him to bed when he's sleepy. I've not experienced a child with separation anxiety this bad when his sisters went through it. One of my parenting books suggests that it is a sign of strong attachment and that the earlier it occurs the more likely it will pass quickly. I sure hope so.

In the meantime, I feel like a much loved mean Mommy.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fall Health Problems

There is a part of me that loves the coming of Autumn. The pleasant 60-80 degree temperatures during the day (better than the over 100s of summer)...the coming of holidays...special events...time with family; these are things I enjoy. However, the Fall also brings the first diseases of the season and along with the cooler weather comes my frequent bad health. I'm not often completely out of commission, but I am frequently either fighting off a cold or dealing with extra allergies. Either way, any time that I'm in less than stellar health, I start to fall behind with the little daily things that help the household run. And since my allergies are mainly environmental, falling behind in housework actually makes them worse. The return of the rains and the colder nights mean extra time indoors as well as generally stuffy noses. The problem with this is that I am indoors with the dust mites and the cat dander which makes me feel sick, which in turn makes me less likely to clean. The result is a dirtier house and less inclination to clean. I know it isn't good for me. I know my improved health depends on extra care to my living environment. But when I am feeling sick to my stomach and add on to that a sinus headache, somehow just getting through the day managing the basic needs of the kids seems like almost too much.

So, Fall brings a long string of sicknesses and allergies. I know that there are plenty of drugs that can be taken to improve my symptoms at least. Until a few days ago I was taking one of them. I was even marveling at how well I was feeling in comparison to last year. But, I also am one of those people who tend to avoid medication when possible. Added to that my husband and I plan to try for another pregnancy soon and my allergy medications are not on the OK list (frankly almost nothing is on the OK list). My understanding is that only some of the medication not on the OK list have known problems for people who wish to be pregnant. The others they just don't know because no one wants to be responsible for using pregnant women in their drug trials. So here is the issue, take the drugs to relieve annoying symptoms for my convenience and possibly cause some unknown harm to a future child, or don't take the drugs and suffer until... well ... until after such child is not only conceived but born... however long that might be. It's not a fun choice. Some might suggest that I take the drugs now and try to get pregnant in a later season. The thought has crossed my mind, but doesn't really work. My allergies are year round. They just peak in the Fall and in the Spring. And my husband and I don't think waiting is a good choice either. I'm already 40; the longer we wait the less likely that future pregnancy will be.

So the choice is the conservative route. Do without the allergy medication for the duration of the wait. So, I'll probably be struggling with my health this fall. And I hope any visitors will excuse the messy house.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Kids grow up and change

During the past week or so, we have been having the toughest time with our eldest daughter the Pillowfight Fairy. She just turned five and it seems like this tremendous change in her life necessitates retesting all the boundaries and making sure the foundations of her life are still dependable. Because of this, I've been trying to figure out what is going on in her head and how to make this transition easier for all of us. I haven't got that figured out yet, but in the process I've been reflecting on how change hits kids and how they transition from one period of life to the next.

When we started homeschooling the Pillowfight Fairy, she was not quite four years old, but already reading and understanding her numbers and basic mathmatical concepts. At the time I knew that the preschool programs described to me were not academically advanced enough for where she was, but kindergarten was socially beyond what she could relate to. So I tried to come up with some way of giving a preschool-thinking child the school age academics she was showing that she was ready for. It was hardest at the beginning when I wasn't sure what to try. We would try short little tasks since she had trouble sitting very long and spend more time on what caught her attention. She would spend hours reading with me, drawing or doing dot-to-dots, but could stand no more than a few minutes of "lessons."

As we went along, she made progress in many areas. Her abilities improved and her attention span improved. Right now, she is doing work beyond Kindergarten level, but I still call her a Kindergartener since that fits her age and social interactions best. I was always frustrated that Preschool level material and books talking about Preschoolers would give an accurate view of a child of that age and the maturity level the child has, but not help much with teaching a child who's academic readiness was beyond that which was the average expected. When I would go to Kindergarten level material it was aimed at an older child who had a greater maturity level, which wasn't appropriate for my preschooler. Also, books talking about teaching Kindergarten and elementary age children assumed a maturity level that my daughter hadn't reached yet. I didn't find anything that helped with my problem or even explained that a transition needs to happen between the preschool age and the school age. I didn't make a thorough search, but the only book that I found that explained a transition in the way children mature was "Your Baby's Mind and How It Grows: Piaget's Theory for Parents," by Mary Ann Spencer Pulaski, published in 1978.

This book is all about how the child thinks at different ages starting at birth and continuing level by level until adulthood. According to the book, around ages 4-7 a child makes a mental transition from "the world is magical and all about me" to a prelogical or intuitive stage that starts leaving the magic thinking behind. I haven't found any other books that deal with a transition around this age that takes a child from preschool thinking to school age thinking. The book did help me understand earlier changes with the infant stages.

I remember when our oldest was a baby how astonished we would be that she would suddenly be able to do something she previously couldn't and then do it like she always knew how. It was exactly like someone flipped a switch and the new way became the new norm. We watched her make transitions as a baby. She made the transition to the dreaded "terrible twos" fairly easily. The transition when she turned three was much harder. We thought we had things stabilized, then she went through another hard transition when she turned four. Now that she is turning five, I notice that this transition seems to be the hardest so far.

Some of the things that I have noticed is that she is aware of change around her. I think she is somewhat aware that she is seeing things differently, but isn't sure how to deal with it. She is starting to understand plot-lines in videos that went over her head before. She is starting to get jokes (especially the really bad jokes that five year olds love). She is starting to ask questions about deep things like death. We recently were given some wonderful Beatrix Potter story DVDs that combines a live action Beatrix Potter with watercolor animation telling the stories. She adores the stories, but these stories deal with life and death, with good and evil. She has been in tears more than once over what happens in the stories, but she wants them again. My theory is that she is needing to figure out these important ideas and she is drawn back again so she can think about it. She worries that Daddy won't come home when we are driving home in separate cars. At the same time she wants to dictate to us how she wants things to be and we have to remind her that we are the parents and she is the child not the other way around.

She is going through one of life's major transitions. She is starting to see the world with clearer vision. She is starting to get glimses of difficult concepts. She is starting to be open to new ideas and information. She is learning to be more independent. She is learning to interact with other people and understand that they are "other" and not participants in her latest imaginings. She is learning to think differently. I think this is that unmentioned transition that makes all the difference between the preschooler and the school age child. I'm not sure if it is just that kids don't like change so these transitions are just naturally bumpy. Or maybe the difficulty of the transition has more to do with what the individual's tolerance level for change is. But, this is looking like a doozy of a transition we are going through. Change is hard both for the Pillowfight Fairy and for us. But, I am looking forward to the new world on the other side.

In the meantime, if anyone has come across any helpful information that talks about this transitional time, I would love to hear more about it. I'm guessing that our worst bumps are at the beginning when we aren't ready or expecting a change. But, so far these transitions she has gone through have taken months to calm down to a new equilibrium. A little more understanding of the process might help.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Quizzes can be fun

I was highly amused by a quiz my husband just did and decided to try it myself. It was about discovering your inner European. Here's my results:

Your Inner European is Italian!
Passionate and colorful.You show the world what culture really is.

I love those boots by the way.

I've been mistaken for Italian before. Of course I've been mistaken for a lot of things before. I wonder how this side of me meshes with my inner Amish. I'm not sure how many people think I show the world "culture." Good heavens, I've been pretty out of step with my own culture most of the time.

Well, I would like to eat mounds of pasta right about now. I was sick this week and ate almost nothing for three days. Now I find myself constantly hungry. I had dinner and seconds only an hour ago and I want more already.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Family Values? Which ones?

Not too long ago, I read a news story that caught my attention and got me thinking profound thoughts. We'll see how well those profound thoughts translate to a blog.

The news story was about how "The Mob" is having hard times lately. The reasons stated involved tougher law enforcement and a decay in family values. Apparently, the younger generation of mobsters are more ready to rat each other out to avoid jail time. Besides finding this somewhat amusing in itself, it got me thinking about family values in general. For instance, what family values is "the Mob" known for? Family secrets stay family secrets. Family honor is prized highly enough to die over. "The Family," both born and made, work together to benefit "the Family" regardless of legality.

OK. That's just what I could think up in a few minutes, based on my viewing of numerous movies that stereotype this group, plus a bit of U.S. history that I know which mentions them. Does it hit you as a little weird that a network of crime families is troubled because they are losing touch with their traditional family values? Do criminals have family values? Well, yes they do in fact. Actually, we are so used to hearing "Family Values" being talked about by politicians and an assortment of talking heads on T.V., we forget that the words have meaning of their own.

I don't know what you think about when someone starts talking about family values. After thinking about it, I generally think about quality of family life, family friendly society, family friendly entertainment, government programs to aid families such as education, welfare, social security, and medical care. Why do I think of these things? Are these the things I value for my family? The closer I look, the less I see these things as what I really value for my family. I do want a good quality of life for my family, but what I see as quality of life, may not be what you think of and almost certainly isn't what can be given to me by anyone but my family and me. I can't do much about society in general except to try to live among people with which I want to be in society. If I watch entertainment that isn't family friendly, I have only myself to blame. No one is forcing me to watch. As for various government programs mentioned above which were intended from the beginning to improve life for families one way or another, I have various disagreements with them too. I don't believe that the government should have a monopoly on educating the children. In my family's case, we homeschool instead of using the local government funded school, believing this helps our family fulfill our family value on education. We are doing our best to avoid welfare. Watching the last 50 years or so of the use of welfare in U.S. history, our family sees danger in relying on welfare beyond a quick help in dire emergencies. Social security was also designed to help out the older members of our families and lighten the burden a family bears when the older members can't work anymore. It has it's good reasons indeed. However, I have been told since I was a child that my generation probably wouldn't get any benefit from it since it will probably fail in the retirement of the Baby Boom generation. At the rate the people in charge have been fixing this problem, that prophecy will probably be true. My husband and I have made our own retirement investments and see paying into Social Security as helping our parents. As for medicine, I don't want a government program to dictate my medical decisions or my doctors' practice of medicine. We are perfectly happy with our HMO.

I value for my family, love, fun, security, home, and faith. How that works out seems to be what people in politics like to argue about. I value being, with my husband, the primary decision makers about how we achieve the best situation we can for our own family. I value spending time with others who have similar values as ours. I value relationships and institutions that build up my family and don't tear it down.

Now, it is tempting to me to think that everyone else must value the same things. I may have thought that once, but I don't anymore. Every culture around the world has a set of family values that have developed over many generations. There are a few similarities which are usually due to the fact that they are meant to strengthen families in each of those cultures. However, in most of the world, family values are about the family in the large view. My family values are much more independent minded than those in the rest of the world. I am looking at my husband and me, as the parents, and our children as one family. Many in the rest of the world think of a patriarch or matriarch and adult siblings who have their children and the addition of assorted other aunts, uncles, and cousins. This is the biggest difference that I could think of in my family values and those of the rest of the world.

Now, I care about my extended family. I am still close to my parents and visit with them often (although we moved away from them to be able to more easily afford a house). I try to keep up with what's going on with my brothers (although I admit most of that is hearsay through my parents and a couple of short visits a year). I am fond of my aunts and uncles and cousins but haven't actually seen very many of them for years since they live on the other side of the country and I don't like to fly (my parents were the ones to move away in their generation). Growing up, my parents made spending time with family including the extended family a priority for us. We went on family vacations for our nuclear family on weekends, especially long holiday weekends. My dad saved up vacation time over two years to drive across country every other year to visit my grandparents and other relatives. When my brothers and I grew up, we didn't move out of our parents' house until our own marriages or an urgent family need arose (a grandparent moving in). I remember several years ago when my Dad was recovering from a bad car accident. He was out of work for a long time recovering and some of his co-workers would occasionally come to see how he was doing. I remember distinctly one man who was originally from India. I was working only part-time at the time and was able to be at home much of the day to help my Dad. This co-worker complimented my Dad on having a traditional family where an adult daughter was at home to take care of him. I'm not sure how traditional we are if you look closely, but on the surface it looked like it. I suspect that my family tends a little more toward the traditional extended family viewpoint than many other American families.

OK, where am I going with all this? I think the point I want to make is that it is useful to give some thought about what you value. Don't just assume that it will work itself out. Life is lived out whether we plan things or not, but with a plan in mind we might actually get where we want to be. What do you want your family to be like? What do you want your children to learn from you? Do you want your grandchildren to value the same things about your family that you do? How can you help that happen? Here in America (and a few other places too) independence is so highly prized that some of our independent choices are tearing families apart. Could it be that we might need to rethink some of those choices to start putting the families back together again?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Holiday suggestion, reminder, or whatever...

First I would like to apologize to my apparently small readership for not giving you more posts to read. My excuse is that I got my husband interested in blogging and he has taken to it like a fish to water. He is such a prolific blogger that it is hard for me to get computer time. So instead of waiting until evening after the kids are in bed (and when he also wants to blog), I'm giving up my afternoon nap. So on to my current subject...

It startled me yesterday to realize that Thanksgiving is only three weeks away. I didn't always understand the fact that the holidays are hard for some people. There are many people who do not have the ideal perfect christmas memories that remind them that the world is a wonderful place, people are a delight and precious magical moments are always just around the corner. For some people, the world has been a hard and difficult place, people have been especially nasty to them in one way or another, and difficult or painful memories jump out at them from around every corner.

I didn't really start to realize this until I was a young adult. I remember reading the Ann Landers column in the newspaper where she would bring up this idea every holiday season. After all, she was in the business of giving advice to people with troubles of many kinds. My own family experiences had been not perfect but mostly loving and happy. I had trouble realizing what other people were going through. Then when I was in my twenties my family had several years in a row where trouble came year after year around the holiday time. Nearly all of my grandparents became ill or died in the season starting just before Thanksgiving and going until just after New Year's. One year my Dad was in the hospital during Thanksgiving after barely surviving a car accident. When these things were going on with our family, we kept finding that many of our friends and acquaintances were going through problems if not similar, at least as stressful. I began to see how easy it was to be fine one minute and then have someone say something perfectly innocently that either brought up depression or anger.

Since there are so many great expectations for the holidays with gatherings of friends and family, there are frequently many failed expectations. Those in themselves can set a person off, who doesn't even realize that they are in a precarious emotional state. I have found that there have been times when I was surprised by situations that I should have avoided. One example of this was attending a Sunday ladies class where the topic was death, the week when my miscarried child's due date came. I had thought that I had already dealt with my loss and my grief had subsided some. I didn't realize that the wound was still fresh and it hurt almost as badly as when it first happened. It would have been better for me to spend the class time helping in the nursery if I had realized ahead of time.

So my suggestion/reminder/whatever you want to call it is to resist the temptation to expect other people to fulfill your holiday dreams and wishes. Take the time to treat the people around you (family, friends, co-workers, perfect strangers) with care, respect, courtesy, and patience. If you encounter people who are obviously having a difficult moment, a bad day, or a bad attitude, take the effort of extending them some grace in their troubled moment. It is too easy to take the path of snapping back or responding in anger yourself and the troubled feelings spread and grow. If we all took the time to restore a relationship, discard a grudge, free others of our expectations, and treat strangers with kindness, our lives would be better for it and so would the people we encounter. Give it a thought. It just might make the difference in your holiday season and in somebody else's too.