Thursday, June 18, 2009

When News Hits Close To Home

I couldn't help noticing this story recently. It is a story about a woman who blogged about having a terminally ill baby. What do you know, we had a terminally ill baby. When I read more, she claimed that the baby was a trisomy 13 baby. We had a trisomy 13 baby. She claimed that her Christian faith kept her from aborting the child, but to carry it to term. We made the same decision. Lots of people followed her blog and sent her encouragement... same here. The key difference was that she perpetrated a hoax... it was all a lie. Our story was true. Many people are upset with her. Some want her to be prosecuted, but there isn't really any way to do that. She apparently did it to work through some issues that she did actually have in her life. The article states:
In her apology, Beushausen said she began writing the story as therapy but became addicted to the attention it generated. She said she lied "to a community of people whose only intention was to support me through this time and that is wrong, and for that I am sorrier than you could know."
I saw references to this story several times, and the angle seems to be that lying on the internet is just wrong and should be treated as a heinous crime. I would like to say for the record that whether or not lying is a crime it is still wrong. But people have lied for various reasons throughout history. As a librarian, I have always been amazed that people seem to understand someone lying verbally, but they are aghast if it happens in print. Somehow they believe that newspapers only print truth. Book publishers only print truth. The Internet only prints truth. Hello out there! There is not some magical process that prevents lies from entering print media. You have to evaluate truth or falsehood the same way every time. Consider the source and how reliable it is. If you don't know the source, you can't tell how reliable it is. If you follow a blog site for a long time, you may get a better feel for its veracity. Is it backed up by supporting facts? If the story is a very personal one, it is harder to tell.

I also wondered how many people would start second guessing our story since it sounds so similar.

But I am getting off the topic that I really wanted to pursue here. All of that is dealing with the issue of lying to the public. I really wanted to deal with the object of temptation. Before I saw that story, I had already noticed that there was a temptation to people who go through tough issues like we did. Until you are in that situation you may not realize it. And if you are in that situation you may give in to the temptation before you realize it is there. The temptation is to take undue advantage of people's good will to you. Let me take you down the road with me for a while and maybe I can show you what it is like.

When I first got a call from the hospital that they noticed something unusual in our ultrasound, I was proud of myself for having the presence of mind to sit down while they described what they found and why they needed to have a more detailed ultrasound to determine more fully what the situation was. I told Tim what they told me and we were very concerned. We knew that something bad was likely happening, but we knew nothing more than that and we started telling people that we needed prayers.

At our appointment for the second ultrasound, they described the concerns they had based on the first ultrasound and then we had the second one. The pictures were much better and they confirmed the problem. As another avenue of information, we decided to have an amniocentesis done that day, which did confirm trisomy 13. We were shell shocked at the time. We sought information hungrily. I felt like I was moving through a haze going through life and our kids kept pulling me out of this hazy world of seriousness into the present where I still needed to play with them and feed them and love on them. I still had to prepare for Christmas. We shared with everyone our news so that they could pray with a little more information. As a result we were inundated with prayers, concern, love, and good wishes.

The fact that we still had to get on with our lives helped and so did all of the attention people were showing us. I am sure the prayers we didn't even know about helped too. During this early time period we had to make basic decisions like continuing the pregnancy. This is the time when I did most of my mourning for our daughter. Because of the discomfort of the pregnancy, I often found myself awake in the wee hours of the morning. That is the worst time for a troubled person... everything seems bleaker then. It was also the time when we were first public about our trouble and had people coming up to us to find out what was happening. We frequently had people telling us how heart-broken they were for us. They kept asking us how we were doing, asking how we could possibly be managing through it all, and volunteering to help in any way.

Before long we had people telling us how amazing we are and how strong we are. Not all that long ago I had someone I barely know tell me "you're a good christian woman" (out of the blue, as we passed each other, with no other context). Not only do I not really know what she meant by that, both Tim and I are puzzled by these things.

Now we would like to think that we are all the nice things that people are saying to us. However, from our perspective we are simply trying to do the best we can and didn't have a whole lot of choice in dealing with the diagnosis of a trisomy 13 baby. Yes, we did have to make a few choices along the way, but that doesn't change the fact that it had to be dealt with one way or another. We were getting a lot of attention. People were being very good to us. People were making us dinners nearly two months after our baby died. When my doctor asked me (over and over again) how I was managing, he was impressed by the support we were getting.

Do you start to see where the temptation comes in? First you get lots of attention. Then people start saying really impressive things to you and about you. People decide to put their desire to help into action and you get physical help in one way or another. Before you know it, you get kind of used to getting the attention. Then you start getting a big head over how wonderful people say you are. Then you start to receive physical benefits from people who are showing you their love for you. That can be addictive. Apparently that was what happened to the woman in the news story.

Now the reaction to this woman who lied seems to be that people are feeling that their good actions were given to the wrong person, who benefited from it and they feel burned. I want to say that just because someone committed a hoax, should not keep people from doing good things. But I will say that people in the real situation do have a temptation to take undue advantage. So, I will also say to those doing the good works for them, "don't be taken advantage of." I have seen someone wrap herself in what seemed to me to be a cloak holiness. She was frequently used as a motivational speaker who was guaranteed to make people cry as she would tell her story. I knew someone with a terminal illness that rubbed me the wrong way, when I saw her wanting to be treated extra special by everybody all the time. I saw a couple who seemed strong at the beginning when they lost a child, but who went through a very troubled time for many years after because the strength was more show than substance. In all of these cases, I had a little bit closer dealings with these people than a passing acquaintance so I saw a difference between public behavior and private behavior. I don't want that kind of thing to be part of my story.

I would rather people see me for who I am. I am not extra holy. I do not consider myself somehow stronger or especially blessed to handle trouble. I like to think that what we all face in life is common to man. The rain falls on both the godly and the ungodly after all. Instead of saying "why me?", I think the more appropriate question is "why not me?" So, all the extra special treatment felt a little odd to me. It was very helpful. It did do us some good. But I think it is appropriate for a season. It shouldn't become a lifestyle. At least it shouldn't be a lifestyle for the person receiving the special treatment. It is very appropriate for the person giving it as long as they spread it around to everyone.

Friday, June 05, 2009

I'm getting in that mood again...

This blog is supposed to be about my war with chaos and how I keep trying to bring order to my world even though having three young kids works against my efforts. I must be feeling better lately, because I've been getting in the mood to start another assault on chaos. I've been noticing a large number of toys that aren't getting played with much and toys that are being out-grown. I've been trying to finish up some left over projects (though I did start new ones of sewing dresses). I'm trying to retake the garden from the weeds. Every time I turn around I see some area of the house that can use some heavy-duty organizing or simplification.

Maybe this mood is prompted by my renewed energy now that I am no longer pregnant and have made good progress in recovering from childbirth. Or maybe it is caused by my realization that if I'm going to start school with the kids in July, I only have this month to get some things done before I "go back to work" as it were. Whatever the cause, I have the itch to be productive. Here is a look at some of the things going on lately:

1. Reclaiming the garden. I've actually been working at this for a few weeks now. I've been trying to get out and weed the garden a few afternoons a week while the kids play outside after lunch. I don't always get a lot of time at it, since the Happy Boy has been wanting more attention from me lately. But I've pulled the weeds out of a few rows that were actually producing vegetables. Then I went to the plant nursery and the girls helped me pick out some vegetable plants to fill up the empty spaces. I've also been a little more regular in watering the garden. Perhaps we can get some drip irrigation put in to help with that soon. The plants that still survive the Spring planting are: cabbage, broccoli, carrots, and onion. We did have spinach and snow peas, but we finished those up already. We also have a clump of chives that came up from last year's garden (which never came up last year). The new vegetables are a cherry tomato plant, some pepper plants, some garlic and several stalks of corn. I also planted green beans in place of the snow peas.

2. I finished and framed my last needlepoint project. Now I just have to find a place to hang it. That will have to wait until we have framed a picture of Baby E. then we can find places for all our new framed pictures at the same time.

3. I have been putting away baby things that we plan to keep a while just in case we need them again. I have also been planning what things can be gotten rid of (like some baby toys) since the Happy Boy is outgrowing them. I'm hoping my umbrella strollers will hold out until I can trust him to walk with me obediently. With all of the walking we do, they are showing the wear.

4. I have made two summer dresses for the girls within the deadline I had for myself (sorry, no pictures available yet). Now I am starting the Pillowfight Fairy's fancy occasion dress. So far it is merely a bag of fabric and a cut out paper pattern. I will try to have it done by the end of the month so that I can spend July doing one for the Adrenaline Junkie.

5. To help free up some shelf space for the coming year's schoolwork, I bought a comb-binder machine to help me bind old schoolwork in preparation for storing it away in the garage. Unfortunately, with the Adrenaline Junkie starting school with me this year, we still need more space for books and binders. I'm still investigating what possibilities are left to us to solve the problem. Tim and I have already thinned out our books as far as we are comfortable with. I think I will just have to clear off the top of a filing cabinet we have in the living room and make that the designated school work stacking spot. It is either that or buy new bookshelves to replace some smaller ones currently in use.

6. I'm also thinking that some of our kitchen is not utilized properly. It would be nice to clear off some counter space and reorganize some of my cabinets for better storage. The kids' craft supplies shouldn't be in the kitchen. Neither should I have an entire cabinet for storing plastic grocery bags. Food preparation would be so much easier if I didn't have half my counter space covered with clutter. And one of these days I really ought to put up the curtains I bought for the kitchen (five years ago!).

So what do you think? Is it possible to get finished with all this before July? Maybe not all of it. But I hope to do most of it. I was slowed down a little this past week by sick kids (and me too). My biggest problem is putting too many things on my to do list. I haven't mentioned all of the other things that I dream about doing but don't think will get done any time soon. Ah... maybe I'm learning to be content with those things I can't change right now. It is hard to have contentment when you're trying to change the status quo.

Monday, June 01, 2009

I've finished the planning stage

I am happy to announce that I have finished planning for the coming school year. This is a really big thing for me. To understand why, you need to understand what I mean by planning. For some people, a plan is a nebulous idea of something they might do sometime, somewhere in an undetermined place. That's not me. When I have finished planning something, it is complete and detailed.

Our new school year will start in July. The reasons for choosing this time are varied. First, we did it that way last year and it worked well. Second, the kids can only stand so much vacation until they get antsy for school (Really! They do! My oldest is already reading ahead in her new textbooks). Third, their grade levels change at our church in July. Fourth, Starting that early helps in scheduling our nearly year round school. The only catch in this schedule is that the Adrenaline Junkie will not immediately move up to Kindergarten in the church class although I will be doing Kindergarten with her at home. That change will take place when she is more able to sit and listen for more than a few minutes at a time. I can work around her wiggliness here at home, but I don't expect another teacher to do so with a full class of kids.

I've spent hours and hours over that last five months, planning the new school year (I got an early start since I knew I was expecting a baby and didn't want to do intensive planning right after giving birth.) The Pillowfight Fairy has a year that will be just as full as last year was and slightly more challenging. The Adrenaline Junkie will be starting some basics. How to juggle their lessons will probably be my biggest challenge this year (that and how to keep the Happy Boy from feeling left out).

The Adrenaline Junkie will be following a course of study that includes reading, writing, spelling, and mathematics. Her reading program will start with McGuffey's Eclectic Primer and continue with practice reading in a variety of books that we have or can get from the library. She has gone through a phonics program and knows how to sound out words, but she still considers it hard work and prefers to have people read to her. My goal is to get her to do enough practice of sounding out words that it becomes easier and therefore something she wants to do herself.

For writing lessons, I am going to try Handwriting without Tears. She is actually very good at forming letters that are readable. But she has some work to do at drawing her letters the same way every time with proper size and spacing. She actually does a better job on blank printer paper than she does on lined paper. She also has no consistency in method. Sometimes she writes left to right, sometimes she writes the letters and words backwards from right to left. She may start writing a letter at the top or bottom and never the same way twice. She doesn't follow a consistent pattern of writing curves in clockwise or counterclockwise directions. Maybe this is because she is more of a free spirit than her sister was, but she needs to learn consistency for her own ease of writing.

I am including spelling lessons because I find that they reinforce the writing and reading lessons. Besides... she is always asking me how to spell things that she wants to write. If she is wanting to spell words, she should be learning basic spelling. We will be using Spelling Workout.

For math, we will be using Horizons Math. This has worked well for our first daughter and we like the teaching method and pacing that it uses. It is also flexible with students with different learning styles. The Adrenaline Junkie gives the impression that math is not something that she thinks about. However, this is a deception. I have noticed in her play with her older sister, that she has shown a better understanding of simple math than I had expected. She also tends to have more of an engineering personality than the Fairy. I expect that her learning style will be different, but I think she can handle a challenging math curriculum.

Some of the curricula we plan to use, will finish relatively quickly in the school year, so we will continue reading, writing, and spelling practice in various ways through the rest of the year. I will need to space the Junkie's lessons out a bit during the day to give her time to run around and play.

The Pillowfight Fairy will be having the following subjects in her new school year: spelling, grammar, vocabulary, memory work, penmanship (cursive), mathematics, medieval literature, medieval history, Earth science (1st semester), astronomy (2nd semester), religion, art, and music. I am fully aware that this is a lot. However, the way it is arranged in her schedule, it really is manageable.

She will be doing spelling lessons four days a week. Grammar and vocabulary will be trading off days (three days grammar, two days vocabulary). Memory work will be a combination of memorization from other subject areas and her church memory verses. Penmanship will be five days a week to start and then adjust to three days a week as she completes the formal lessons and moves on to practical application. Math will be five days a week. Literature will no longer be daily (as done last year), but instead will be selected stories to match up with what she is studying in history and to be read concurrently with them. History will be three days a week. Science will be two days a week of readings and lessons combined with daily weather observations for earth science (nightly sky observations during the astronomy section). We will continue our Bible readings where we left off. According to my schedule we will pick up in the book of Numbers and finish in I Samuel (yes I did really read ahead and break up the readings into appropriate chunks). Her art lessons will be a combination of art technique (using Drawing for Young Artists), crafts to match her history lessons, and history-themed coloring books. Music lessons will be piano practice five days a week, a weekly piano lesson, and a weekly music theory lesson.

This is a challenging schedule, but it looks more daunting on a daily basis than it really is since she is such a quick learner. She is a good enough reader that I will be having her do most of her own reading rather than me reading to her. She will have plenty of opportunity to practice writing in various ways. She loves memorization of poems so I will have to make sure that she gets some of that as well as memorization of drier information. She is good at math and picks it up quickly, but she hates the math practice that is necessary to internalize it. She is very excited about her coming science lessons (especially the daily/nightly observations). Art is a favorite subject of hers, so I will try to incorporate it as much as possible in our lessons. She also loves music, but as with math, she doesn't like practice.

Beside having her read more of her own lessons, I want to have her narrate back her lessons to help her process the information to retain it better. For literature, history, science, and religion she will need to do some kind of narration. She needs to work more on doing verbal and written narrations. I am thinking of letting her have some choice in what kind of narration she will do. Of those four subjects I think it would be reasonable to have one of them verbal, and one of them written every day (her choice of subject). Any additional ones could be her choice of verbal, written, or artwork. With the schedule I have made, some days would have only two, some would have three. I don't think we would be doing any more than that during a day unless we were trying to play catch up after a sick day.

To make my life easier, I think that I can plan our days in such a way that I can have the two girls doing workbook work at the same time so that I could bounce between them instructing and guiding as needed. I can also probably do a reading lesson with the Junkie during the Fairy's Piano practice. I'm hoping that having the girls doing some of their lessons at the table together (even though they are different levels) will help them feel like they aren't having to do all the work alone. That was a bit of a problem this last year when the Fairy had trouble concentrating because her siblings were busy having fun while she was stuck with schoolwork. Also, whenever the Junkie wants to listen in or participate with the Fairy's other lessons, she can. She can listen to the stories, she can listen to the history lessons, she can do art and crafts, she can listen to the science lesson and learn about how to do weather observations. She wants to be a big kid so badly, listening in to the lessons can help her feel less left out.

The Happy Boy will be running amok, most likely. He will be doing his best to find ways to monopolize Mommy's attention. In addition, we will probably need to eliminate our current habit of watching a video after the Happy Boy's nap. As the kids get older, there are so many other things that they can do to fill that time more productively. That will also give us a little more flexibility in scheduling during the day. By the end of next school year, the Happy Boy will probably be giving up naps anyway.

So that is a summary of the plan. I have a folder that contains 46 pages of detailed lesson plans (including books and page numbers). I'll need to double check craft supplies and library books about every two weeks. Then I'll look over each day's plans the night before. This kind of planning isn't for everyone, but it works for me. I like being able to do all the work and decision making ahead of time. That way the actual accomplishment, is less stressful to me.

Another lesson learned and other rambling thoughts about life and death

This time I'm talking about a lesson I have learned rather than one I've been teaching to my kids. After the death of our baby, we have been inundated with well-wishers and sympathizers. People have been very good to us. They've been feeding us and praying for us. This being the first time we have had a child die (and hopeful the last time), it is all new for us. I have encountered death before. But, those cases were more distant: acquaintances, former teachers, a baby niece, grandparents who had lived long and good lives, and first trimester miscarried children. Of those others, the grandparents hit me hardest. That was because I knew them longest and best. I have found that now when I grieve, I am no longer grieving just for one person. I am grieving for all of the losses I've known. I also have found that when I hear of another person's loss, I feel an echo of that in my heart. I'm hoping that in the future, I will be able to be as helpful and supportive as people have been to us.

That echo in the heart seems to be common. When people hear of our loss, I have noticed that there will always be some who then share about a loss they have had. They are the ones most likely to have tears in their eyes for me. I have found that if I can set aside my self-centeredness for a time, those are opportunities to help others know that it is safe to grieve or share current struggles with me. Our next door neighbor is struggling with his wife's failing health. Another neighbor lost his wife about two weeks before we lost our baby. A church matriarch still mourns the loss of two husbands. One of my Aunts still mourns the loss of a baby son who died 50 years ago. Different people deal with death in different ways. For some the grieving process is a long one. I really don't know how long my grieving will go on. Perhaps I will be one of those that grieve for the rest of my life. So far, though, my grief has been fleeting in the few free moments I get from day to day.

It is a recent realization to me that I don't mourn the individual as much anymore as I mourn the reality of death. Death is the enemy that we all eventually have to face. Life by life, people are taken from us. Even though as Christians we know that death of a Christian loved one is a temporary separation, it will last for as long as we ourselves live in this life. As a result, we still suffer the loss of those people who have been taken from us. I no longer feel the need to try to cheer someone up. It is enough to recognize their loss. I have found that letting them talk of their grief or just holding a hand and being silent is enough. They know that I have had a loss and that I understand. It is OK to grieve.

However, I do not feel even remotely sad most of the time. Does this mean that I'm not getting enough grieving time? Does it mean that I'm shallow or heartless? Does it mean that I'm forgeting our daughter? I don't think sadness has to always accompany grief as a neverending mood. I'm a pretty optimistic person in many ways. I'm married to a fun loving guy. We have three wonderful kids ages 6 and under who live in the present and who force us to live in the present. I find it hard to be depressed for long. Life brings joy to us in the midst of sorrow. God knew what he was doing by putting so much beauty in the world. If you find yourself constantly sad, I think you need to evaluate why. If you can't see joy in the beautiful things around you, you probably need some help to bring yourself out of depression.

The fact that I'm mostly happy, does not change the fact of my loss. It just makes it easier to bear. But I've also learned that if I want to be mostly happy instead of sad and fearful, I have to make some choices. I choose to live life for today and not dwell on the past which I can't change. I choose to live for the possibilities in the future and not dwell in fear what might yet happen. I also choose to avoid news stories that describe what horrible things people do to each other. I know my heart is not calloused when I encounter one of these by accident and my blood runs cold. I choose to avoid violent movies (I used to watch them all the time, but now I'm too sensitive to the evil that they depict) and instead try to use my time more productively. I remind myself that it is harder to build up than destroy. Still, I want to be a builder in life. I want to make a difference for the better. So I hope that the loss that we have been through really is building our character. Sometimes I feel like our world is lacking in the character department. Perhaps if we let our character be built by whatever hard times come our way, we will be the better for it and so will our world.