Archive for June 2008

Put Me in Coach, I’m Ready to Play…

June 30, 2008

This past Saturday was my oldest daughter’s last tee-ball game of the season…and thank goodness it’s over! Not that she didn’t have a ton of fun or that we didn’t meet a lot of nice people, but tee-ball has kind of been consuming our lives for the past three months. With one game and at least two practices every week, we have been pretty busy. Add a new baby and my husband’s three-week night class into the mix and things got extra hectic.

We don’t regret signing her up for tee-ball in the least even though it did start off kind of bumpy. The original coach was really unorganized and really creepy, to put it nicely. We had to start the season by making the league dismiss the coach. But one of the dads stepped up at the last minute and agreed to be the head coach. Four other parents, including the head coach’s wife, stepped up to be certified as assistant coaches. I offered to set up a communications systems, and all of the other parents joined together to do whatever was needed to get the team running smoothly, especially since we were at least three weeks behind the other teams due to the previous coach.

It’s a really nice league, and for a pretty small fee the kids get their full uniform (jersey, pants, socks, and cap), a free soda or two free icey pops after every game, a nice photo package, and a trophy. One game of the season was recorded and broadcast on the local public access channel, and we were able to buy a copy. Since the camera was in left field and our daughter was playing third, she’s all over the video. Due to the video, I also learned that they have a very wise policy of not putting a girl alone on a team of boys. They always put at least two girls on a team if they are going to put any. Our team has three.

The team started out really rough in the first game; we got totally creamed. Thankfully, we had a week and a half to practice before the second game. My husband took our daughter out to work on a few skills she was lacking. Basically, she would stand like a statue in the field waiting for the the ball to come directly to her. Her catching was a little off, and she would hesitate to run after she hit the ball. After a little practice and individual direction, she really improved. The team went on to have a seven-game winning street, thanks in part to some aggressive base-coaching.

Due to her excellent throwing skills, power and accuracy, she earned the name “Rocket Arm” from one of her coaches. That also secured her a consistent spot at third base. And to her daddy’s excitement she also played pitcher’s mound in a few games. She earned a game ball for hitting the first home run of the season for her team (of course, most home runs are the result of the high error rate in tee-ball). Unfortunately I missed her triumphant moment because I was still in the hospital with the new baby, but my dad got a great picture of her crossing home plate.

The whole season was a learning experience for the whole family. My husband and I both learned that it is much different to be the parent of a ball player than to be the one playing ball. My husband learned not to schedule anymore night classes for the spring or summer. Besides learning tee-ball skills, our daughter learned about being a good sport even when you don’t feel like it. And her first crush on a boy taught me that we had better start thinking about rules for courtship and dating and how to handle that whole mess before it becomes a big issue.

She has one more year of regular tee-ball and then we’ll have to decide between coach pitch tee-ball or moving her on up to softball. My husband has decided that next year he’s going to the coach’s clinic; he just can’t decide if he wants to be a head coach or assistant coach. We already talked to our current coach about trying to get Bailey back on his team. Sadly, we can’t keep the whole team together because most of the kids will be moving up to coach pitch. We had a good, but personality-filled, batch of kids (and parents) on the team.

My daughter is sad to see tee-ball ending, but I’m hoping to set up a few team play-dates at our practice field before the summer is over. To be honest us parents kind of regret not seeing each other as much, too. I am also hoping that when she moves up from Preschool to Developmental gymnastics in the fall we can get her in the same class as one of her female team mates. In the meantime we hope to reconnect with some of our homeschooling friends over the remainder of the summer.

Even though she is willing, DD#2 won’t be eligible for the pre-tee-ball until the summer after next, but we bought her her first glove last week. She’s already shaping up to be another “Rocket Arm”. My husband wants to get himself a new glove before next season, because he’s realized that if all three girls get into playing ball he will have another 17 or 18 years of official or unofficial coaching ahead of him. 17 or 18 years…wow!

Please Can We Do Some Math Workbook?!

June 27, 2008

You know what I love about homeschooling?  (Ok, one of many things I love about homeschooling.)  That my daughter will actually beg me to do school work.  Things have been really unschooly around here for the last several months.  We were never super-formal at any point, but we did have periods where we would take 20 or 30 minutes to do a few workbook pages or reading worksheets.  Over the past few months I’ve kind of been leaving the kids to their own devices as I haven’t had the energy and patience to oversee anything too formal.

But this afternoon, DD#1(age 5 1/2) begged me to do some math workbook.  She actually caught me in a few spare moments and due to her enthusiasm I agreed.  So we pulled out her Singapore Math EarlyBird Kindergarten 2B workbook (now discontinued), and she was introduced to the basics of subtraction.  She was getting to be a pro at it after about five pages.  While I was giving DD#1 directions, DD#2 (age 2 1/2) came up and said, “I want to learn.  I want to learn.”  So I gave her some 1 cm counting cubes to play with, and she started making multi-colored boats and trains.  My older daughter and I then moved on to the Exuberant Games website in hopes that they had a subtraction game to reinforce the concepts, but the subtraction stuff is still under construction.  So with the aid of some counting cubes she played some of the addition games instead while I cooked dinner.

Right now my two scholars are sitting in the recliner.  From what I can gather they are pretending to ride in a helicopter.  DD#1, “Oh, no, the pilot’s unconscious!!  We have to jump out!”  DD#2:  “Let’s use our parachutes!!”  Then they jump into the “water”.  Blame it on watching too much Drake and Josh.  But they are doing their most important school work right now–lots of imaginative play!

The Home School Source Book

June 25, 2008

On a quick trip to the library I decided to browse the homeschooling section. I’ve pretty much read everything our library has to offer on the subject and have been relying on inter-library loan for more. But I came across The Home School Source Book by Donn Reed this time around. I’m not sure if it was my first time coming across it on the shelf or I had just avoided taking the book home because it looked so worn and outdated. But I should have heeded the old adage about judging a book by its cover, for even though this book is worn and severely outdated I still found some gems in it.

I’m not sure when the first edition of this homeschool memoir/manual/catalog came out. The one provided at my library was the second edition, copyright 1994. In 1994 the oldest of Mr. Reed’s four children would have been 28. Therefore Mr. Reed and his wife were homeschooling their kids in the “pioneer days”. And according to him, he put together the first homeschooling review catalog.

For the most part, the Reeds chose to unschool their kids. They let their child’s own interests lead them to learning rather than sitting them down with textbooks and telling them what to learn and when to learn it (aka “school-at-home”). Unlike radical unschoolers, though, the Reeds were not adverse to strewing or requiring some structured learning if learning didn’t appear to be going on otherwise. Radical unschoolers would probably contend that kids are always learning something even if they don’t appear to be something particularly constructive, so parental intervention was unnecessary in the Reed household. But intervene Mr. and Mrs. Reed did at times. I loved the unconventional ways they found to do so, though, particularly their use of “Word of the Day” and “Quote of the Day” calendars. That’s a little idea I plan to file back for possible future usage.

Donn Reed also offered up a description for a concept I’ve been trying to define succinctly for awhile now. One of my social concerns about schools has been that the reason teenagers smoke, drink, and have sex is that they think they are emulating what adults do. In the absence of constant one-on-one interaction with and modeling by adults, kids develop a skewed idea of adult behavior and responsibilities which slaps them in the face later, usually upon graduation from college. Mr. Reed calls this “false sophistication”, which I think sums it up rather well.

I must admit that I chuckled when I got to the section about the usefulness of computers. “We’re willing to accept the benefits and beneficial possibilities of computers, but we’re not convinced that they will make any significant contributions to the world in any terms of real human progress. (p 266)” This was 1994, just a few years before the internet exploded into the mainstream and revolutionized the world and homeschooling. Now a homeschooling parent couldn’t imagine not having a computer available for the research and shopping capabilities. Then you have the efficacy of computer games as learning tools, word processing and artistic design capabilities, and the social connections opened up to homeschoolers. I want to get my hands on the third edition copyright 2002 to see if he had changed his mind.

I am not so sure, either, about his claim that he and his wife never “used any form of punishment” with their children, because “we know they have no natural desire to break or lie or cheat or steal”. Minor transgressions were viewed as “a mistake in judgment” that required sympathy and forgiveness (p 77).   If there is “bad” behavior they “talk about the problem, explaining why it is a problem, not expecting to reach a solutions that will cover all future problems, and then drop it” (p 78).  Some could argue that these respectful talks are punishment in and of themselves.  For my oldest they would be an invitation for her to continue to explain that her behavior was not bad and how we are just being cruel for suggesting otherwise.  In the Reed household, it seems that they  would accept her rationale.

In their opinion a child only misbehaves if the parent has done something wrong.  I do agree that a lack of discipline in children often reflects a lack of discipline in the parents…to a degree.  There are some kids, though, who will continue to defy and defy and defy no matter how consistent you are with them.  And he doesn’t explain how they handled a child who was willfully defiant, who refused to accept the natural consequences of wrong doing.  For instance, my two-year-old dumped crayons all over the floor on purpose and then refused to help clean them up.  I calmly explained to my two-year-old that since she dumped them out she needed to clean them up, but she still refused to do so.  It finally took some time-out from her fun to induce her to do what she should.  Furthermore, the Reed children never felt resentful or the need to retaliate after a rational talking to, unlike this same two-year-old who is very resentful that I won’t let her change her outfit three times a day or eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.

Over-all their parenting method kind of reminds me of Tomato Staking, but even Tomato Stakers aren’t adverse to the occasional punishment including spanking.  If they started out as the most enlightened parents from day one I truly applaud them, but I don’t completely buy it, either.  Then again they were doing a variety of things on the homeschooling spectrum before they became trendy.  I agree with the Reeds in theory; they appear to be holding up an ideal for character training.  I am just not sure it is realistic unless you have the patience and discipline of a saint, at their most saint-like.

Unfortunately, I was unable to see how this form of discipline without punishment worked long-term for the Reed family.  I don’t know if the third edition includes an update on the family.  I couldn’t find much about Donn Reed on the internet at all other than an allusion to him having passed away.  I do recommend looking through the book if you come across it.  The catalog is kind of outdated in this day and age, but I enjoyed the memoir part of it.  I am a sucker for homeschooling memoirs.  Even if I completely disagree with another family’s method or purpose of homeschooling, I inevitably am inspired to look at my own family’s needs and goals in a new way.

New Rule

June 25, 2008

New Rule: All food must remain and be eaten in the kitchen.

This new rule that I enacted last week has revolutionized our lives. It all started because I decided that I was going to steam clean the living room carpet. It looked horrible and we’ve only lived in this house for two years. The fact that it is white doesn’t help. So I figured it if I was going to the trouble of getting the carpet cleaned then I didn’t want it messed up again immediately. Plus I was tired of finding half-eaten pieces of food everywhere and hauling out the vacuum three and four times a week to clean up crumbs, especially since my two-year-old has started grinding up food with her foot just for fun. Having a new baby really puts into perspective what is not working around the house.

I thought the kids might fight me on this more, but my rationale about cleaning the carpet seemed to make sense to them. I knew the biggest issue, though, was the habit they had of eating while watching television. It is something that I have enjoyed doing as well, and often the most convenient time to eat is while nursing, which usually occurs in the living room. While they were not happy about not being able to chow down in front of the tube anymore, they have taken it in stride. I had no idea what a big deal this aspect of the rule would prove to be in another way.

As a result of our new rule, I’ve found a way to break the thrall of television. One of my bad points as a parent is that I have allowed my children to watch way too much television, especially my oldest. I am
not going to segue this into a post about my opinions on the pros and cons of television, although that would make an interesting topic. I am just stating that I have always felt that I should cut back on my kids television viewing time, but I haven’t had the gumption to follow through consistently.

Now the kids must decide what is more important to them, eating or watching television. If they are watching t.v. I wait for the break between shows, change it to the classical music channel, and steer them to the kitchen; by the time they are finished eating they often think of something to do besides watch television. I no longer have to deal with the tag team combination of television and slow eating to delay bedtime, either. (“But, mom, I’m not done eating yet….10 minutes later…I’m done eating, but, mom, I need to see the end of this show.”)

You’re probably asking why I didn’t have this common sense rule to begin with. I know that I have asked myself the same question. But I think I have some pretty good reasons in my defense. First of all, my husband and I errantly thought that just because we enjoy snacking while we watch television the kids should be allowed to as well. We didn’t account for the fact that my husband and I are less likely to make a big mess with whatever we are eating. We are also more able and likely to clean up after ourselves when we do. We are also less likely to try experiments like how many particles can I mash this package of crackers into?

Secondly, while we had a large kitchen in our previous apartment, it wasn’t a real eat-in kitchen. And before DD#2 was born we had a cat whose litter box was set up in the far corner of that kitchen. To keep our first-born from confusing a litter box with a sandbox or risk her getting burned when we cooked, she was blocked from ever entering the kitchen. It’s harder to establish that food must remain in the dining room when it is just one side of the living room. Plus, when you know that the cost of replacing the carpet will not fall on you, it is easier to be cavalier about it.

When we moved into our townhouse, I did declare that no food or drink other than water would be allowed upstairs. I could just imagine the things that could rot in hidden crevices behind beds and buried under toys in the play room. Again we put up a gate to the kitchen, even though it is a huge eat-in kitchen. I think we did partly because we had done it at the old place, and even though we no longer had a cat (he was psycho) we were still anxious to keep little ones out of the kitchen while we were cooking. But after my husband and I each slammed into the gate fifty billion times thinking that we had opened it (but it had really stuck) and ripped some small chunks from the mounting walls, we threw the gate out.

So from this day on I look forward to not having to vacuum as much, not having ten tons of gunk ground in the carpet, not finding rotten food in strange places, not digging tons of cheerios and various other goodies out of the couch (especially when I talk my husband into getting a new one), and not worrying about what the baby is going to get her mouth on once she starts crawling around. And maybe once DD#3 is mostly potty-trained we can see about getting rid of this horrible white carpet all together, but that will be a few years down the road.

Basic Instincts

June 24, 2008

I’m currently rereading A Return to Modesty by Wendy Shalit. There were a few passages that kind of struck me: “Yet embarrassment is actually a wonderful thing, signaling that something very strange or very significant is going on, that some boundary is being threatened–either by you or by others. Without embarrassment, kids are weaker: more vulnerable to pregnancy, disease, and heartbreak” (p 22). Shalit goes on to point out in her section on Female Self-Consciousness, which follows the one about Immodesty in Dress that: “If you are practically naked in front of people you hardly know, your self-consciousness might be your natural thermometer telling you that something is off” (pg 72).

These quotes are demonstrative of one of Shalit’s main points in the book. One reason women have so many problems (sexual harassment and assault, eating disorders, depression, etc) is that they have been pressured and trained by society to go against their natural modest and romantic instincts from an early age. Embarrassment and self-consciousness are a woman’s internal warning sirens, but girls are told early on that there is nothing left in our modern society to be embarrassed or self-conscious about and they should ignore those feelings.

This whole idea reminded me of Protecting the Gift by Gavin De Becker. One of his main points is that in order to protect our kids from violence we need to encourage them to trust their danger instincts about people and situations. He points out that as a society we are taught “innocent until proven guilty”, to give people the benefit of the doubt, and not to be “rude”. He notes, though, that kids and women should be trained to over-ride those ideas if their danger sense is tingling. It is better to be rude and/or make a scene than to be a victim of violence.

The whole thing struck me because those are not two books I would initially lump together. One on the surface appears to be about “women’s issues” and the other appears to be about “stranger safety”. However, when you do dig deeper they do overlap quite a bit. Shalit could have even titled her book Protecting the Gift, but as she would be quick to point out, society today laughs at the idea of a woman’s modesty and virginity being a gift. I think Shalit would contend that it is better to trust your instincts to be modest in dress and deed and be seen as stuck up or weird or having hang-ups than to have your sense of self-worth and ability to demand respect from the opposite sex shattered by being pressured to act like the “modern sexually-liberated woman”.

I could go on and on about my own experiences that back up many of Shalit’s finer points.  And as a mother of three young daughters A Return to Modesty gives me a lot of food for thought.  I think it would be a valuable read even if I had boys to raise, because we need more parents raising young men with a healthy respect for women.  I think these are must-read books for everyone.

Diaper Math

June 23, 2008

I know there were a few people curious about how I enjoyed using the cloth diapers. They are the most awesome things in the entire universe!!! Ok, in the end they are just receptacles for my baby’s bodily waste and all of the yuck that goes with it. But I did just receive my order for one dozen regular size Chinese pre-folds and 4 more medium diaper covers. The cloth diapers must be working out well enough for me to invest another $80 into them. That brings my total up to about $200 for 2 dozen small Chinese pre-folds, 1 dozen regular, and 10 diaper covers (which are the bulk of the expense), some cloth wipes, and a diaper pail. (I also received a starter of 1 dozen regular and two covers from my dear friend, Kelly.)

On days when we’re not really going anywhere I usually start the baby in cloth around 8:00 in the morning and switch her back to disposable about 8:00 at night. In that time we usually go through about six to eight diapers. I end up washing a load about every three to four days, unless I go through all my diaper covers faster. We haven’t really had any major leakage problems, no more than with disposables really.

It does take a little more forethought to use the cloth. For instance, I just keep the disposables in a little holder next to my changing table, but my cloth diapers and covers are hanging up in the kitchen on my laundry room door. So I have to get a diaper and cover and actually put the diaper in the cover. Then afterwards, I have to move the baby from the changing table to the bouncer so I can put the soiled diaper in the pail, hang up the cover to dry, and wash my hands, whereas with disposable you can fold them up and use your free hand to dump it in the appropriate garbage pail. But it’s not too bad once you get in a rhythm.

I did try my larger sized freebies on my DD#2 before the baby came (and just before she outgrew them), so I learned a few of the ins and outs of handling them. I’ve learned a few other things since then, like the importance of closing the velcro tabs before throwing the diaper covers in the diaper pail. And after washing a few of the Viva paper towels that I use as diaper wipes in the washing machine, I decided to start using cloth wipes with the cloth diapers. Apparently this is a common newbie mistake. I bought a few cheap baby wash cloths at Target, but I also just ordered some nicer ones with my diaper order.

So is it going to be worth the cost I’ve paid? Well, I decided to do a little diaper math. (But please excuse any errors because I still contend that high school Calculus class ruined my basic math skills and I didn’t even get an A to make up for the loss.)  Since you should change a baby at least every two hours during the first year whether they are in cloth or disposable that’s roughly 12 diapers a day (84 per week).  I estimate that I use a minimum of 30 cloth diapers instead of disposable in a week. Some weeks I may use more depending on our schedule. The approximate cost of disposables is 26 cents per diaper, so I figure that saves about $7.80 a week. I’ve been using cloth for about four weeks now, so I’ve saved a minimum of $31.20 so far.

Now let’s look at this more long term. If I use a minimum of 30 cloth diapers a week, instead of disposables, for the first year I should save $405.60. If you deduct the approximate $200.00 for supplies, that still leaves a savings of $205.60 for the first year. Usually, by the second year disposable diaper consumption goes down from about twelve to eight as baby switches from breastmilk to solid food and starts sleeping longer at night, but from what I understand it is still important to change cloth about every two hours. So I’m going to estimate that two cloth diaper changes equals one disposable diaper change. If I continue changing a minimum of 30 cloth diapers a week that should save about 15 disposable. That’s a savings of $3.90 per week or $202.80 for the year.

A savings of $200 per year may not seem like much, but every little bit helps. And if I use cloth for more than 30 diaper changes a week, it saves even more money. For instance, if I were willing to use cloth except at night every day of the week (42 diaper changes), I would save $367.84 in the first year and $283.92 in the second. And if I had another baby and used cloth for 30 changes a week, I would save the full $405.60.

For some people, the amount of savings wouldn’t seem worth the “hassle”. And I didn’t calculate the cost of an extra load of water, electricity, gas, and wear and tear on the washer and dryer, but something tells me that it is not very significant. I do like the idea that it is not taking any longer for my disposable diaper pail to fill up than it did before the new baby came, and as much waste isn’t going to a landfill. So I think I’ve hit a middle road between cloth and disposable that fits my budget, my conscience, and my lifestyle…just like I thought I might when I did my junior high science project. I just wish I hadn’t waited until my third and probably last baby to take the plunge.

Six Weeks Later

June 20, 2008

My beautiful new baby is six weeks old today, and other than a bad case of prickly heat (which I learned is not caused by but only exacerbated by heat) things are running pretty smoothly. She’s getting nice and chubby. I’m no longer tender from nursing, although I’ve had a much more painful experience with my milk letting down than in the past. DD#3 is starting to have more awake periods. And I’ve finally realized that unless I want her keeping me awake for two hours in the early morning with her grunting (and waking her sister) it’s best to wake her up so she’ll poop and we can go back to sleep.

The older girls have finally started somewhat leaving their new favorite sister alone when she resting quietly in her bouncer. The two-year-old has settled down a bit, but I still think that the issues that sprung up in the past few weeks have been partly developmental in origin. I could still use some more sleep, but I’m functioning.

It’s funny the things you pick back up like riding a bike. For instance, I forgot how much I can accomplish one handed, and with one foot I can pick up the Boppy pillow and press buttons. I arranged the hooded towel perfectly across my body to wrap up my post-bath baby without even thinking twice about it. And I recalled that the best place to eat an interrupted meal sitting down is in the car while someone else is driving.

My new MVPBQ (Most Valuable Piece of Baby Equipment) has been my Maya Wrap baby sling. I purchased it with my last baby, but I only used it around the house because I didn’t want to deal with it with a coat during the harsh Chicago winter. With my spring baby, though, I’ve been getting my money’s worth. I use it at the grocery store and t-ball games mostly. It is much less bulky than dealing with an infant carrier and a stroller.

An honorable mention goes to the cheap Target back pack that I bought last year; I think I mentioned it in a previous post. It has become my favorite diaper bag ever. It has mesh pockets on each side that are perfect for holding water bottles for each girl. In the main compartment, I’ve squeezed jackets, sun hats, changing pad, two sizes of diapers, spare outfits, a nursing wrap, baby blanket, one t-ball cap, and one to two ball gloves. The next largest compartment holds the big bottle of sunscreen and snacks. The front open pouch is perfect for slipping in my wallet and sanitary napkins. And the little mesh pouch is perfect for the sun screen stick, baby socks, keys, and other little things like hair elastics. Sure, it weighs a ton, but at least I can fit everything for everyone in one bag.

A second honorable mention goes to our mini-van. I probably would have used my Maya Wrap more with DD#2 if we had a mini-van then. The extra seat not only allows me to get baby in and out of the sling and car seat without being exposed to the elements, but it also provides a comfy and private space (thanks to tinted back windows) to nurse her in various parking lots. And the cup holders, all twelve of them, have been a God-send.

In the next six weeks we’ll probably be settling into a new routine or ten as the baby has more and more awake periods. I think it is usually around this period that many women starting feeling a bit of a hormone crash, so I’ll be on the alert for that. And I am really going to try to keep my calorie consumption up. The busier I get the easier it is for me to skip much need snacks and eat only partial meals. And as tee-ball season wraps up next week, we’re looking forward to getting together with some of our homeschooling friends, enjoying more of the free concerts and activities our area offers, and going to see our family’s favorite Beatles tribute band American English at the local festivals.