Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Dr. Sears, I don't buy your "high-needs-baby."

Babies are all high-needs at first.  But they are simple creatures.  They don't send subtle messages.  They don't have complex emotions.  They don't get offended at your word choice; they get hungry.  They aren't passive-aggressive; they're just helpless.  But they WANT to be quiet, to be happy-- because they WANT to be clean, dry, comfortable, safe, warm and fed.  If they cry, it's for a simple reason: something is wrong.  Most parents learn to run down the list of what could be wrong very quickly:  dirty diaper, too hot, too cold, lonely, hungry, needs to burp, frightening noise, tired... But there are babies for whom nothing "works"-- clean, dry, held tight and loved, they cry and cry and cry.

This is where the estimable Dr. Sears and I must part ways.  He would have us believe that some babies come out of the womb "high-needs;" naturally a bit more demanding; having a narrower spectrum of "comfort" or perhaps just a little ticked off that the world is so bright & cold... and that this is a normal personality variation.

Those of you who've worked nursery or held many children are probably holding up your hands right now, wanting to tell me-- just wait a minute, Christina, there ARE some kids like that!  And I agree.  Yes, there ARE babies who are more "difficult," more "demanding," who cry more and sleep less easily.  Where I differ with Dr. Sears is the assumption that these children are healthy.  These children don't have "high needs personalities;" they are in pain.  While "attachment parenting" can do these babies a tremendous service of ensuring that their needs are met in babyhood, it can also do them a tremendous DISservice of encouraging their parents to stop there-- to meet their needs and no more-- instead of working to correct whatever underlying issue is causing the crying, the fussing, the sleeplessness.

It seems to be common sense that babies would be designed to want "happiness."  Who doesn't want to have their needs met and be pain-free?  Babies are designed to cry until they get what they need from their parents.  If a baby keeps crying, it's because he still doesn't have what he needs.  If he keeps crying, he's in pain.  If he doesn't nap except in snatches, if he doesn't smile, if he seems tense, if he has reflux, if he doesn't want to be put down ever, then your mommy intuition is probably right:  something is off.   (I would extend this to children, too.  If a child is consistently whiny, fussy, defiant, unreasonable, angry, and unpleasant, my first question would be whether they feel well-- physically, then emotionally.  I am snappy and harder to live with when I have a headache!  This could be an entirely different post, but, barring turmoil and inconsistency in the home life, I would be suspect food allergies, vitamin deficiencies, subluxations and other neurological stress.)

But back to "high needs babies."  Having had two who seemed to fit that bill but who actually had underlying medical conditions I've been mentally compiling a list of possible reasons for "colic," "causeless crying" or "high-needs babyhood" over the past 4 years.  They are:

1. torticolis/ subluxation
2. tongue tie
3. other pain/discomfort- digestive, headache or earache- all related to food intolerances
4. neurological damage 
5. overtiredness
6. hunger
7. parenting style

Taking each of these in turn:

1. Torticollis/subluxation-- either in the womb or during birth, some babies' spines are "kinked," especially their necks.  Some get into an odd, asymmetrical position during their last few months of development (especially twins), some have a strange presentation during birth or even birth trauma due to caesarean delivery, forceps or vacuum usage or pitocin-induced contractions (often far stronger than natural contractions).  Go back mentally to the last time you had a neck-ache... often it hurts to look or bend to one side, and at times nerves are actually pinched.  In babies with torticollis muscles on one side of the neck are shorter than the other, causing tension and pain of many kinds, or discomfort when a baby tries to turn its head one way.  As a speech pathologist friend once told me-- "We are designed to be pretty symmetrical.  Whenever a baby isn't, that's a sign of a problem."  One of the major nerves that goes through the neck and is easily affected by even slight tension is the vagus nerve, which affects digestion and heart rate (and mood).  In a baby, vagus nerve compression can cause sucking and digesting issues.
Hints that torticollis or subluxation is an underlying problem:
- baby holds its head always tilted the same way
- baby prefers to nurse only on one side
- baby prefers to lay on same side
- known birth trauma
- chiropractic care- you can find a certified pediatric chiropractor in your area here. Many chiropractors will come to your home days after delivery and adjust baby and mama.  A few testimonies of children helped by chiropractic care here and here.  The pressure used to adjust babies is the same amount you use to check a fruit for ripeness-- nothing scary or potentially damaging! Find a pediatric chiropractor here.
- craniosacral therapy - this therapy focuses on making sure the fluid that surrounds the spine and brain can flow correctly, without any pressure or difficulty.  Practitioners use a light touch-- some are licensed massage therapists, some are chiropractors, and some are occupational therapists.  Some success stories here.

2. Tongue/lip tie.  As you may know, this played a huge part in my son's disposition.  There are the obvious ways a tongue tie can cause issues-- baby gets too fatigued eating so he stops before he is full, then wakes up crying, or baby can't coordinate sucking and swallowing so he chokes-- again, leading to crying-- and with a lip tie, he can't get a good seal, so he often swallows air, leading to painful gas, and/or reflux again leading to crying. But tongue and lip ties also cause a fair amount of tension due to the restriction they impose on the lips, tongue and whole mouth.  This tension can lead to tension in the whole body.  I am on the Tongue Tie Babies Support Forum on Face Book and have seen some truly remarkable before & after pictures, of babies whose whole bodies were tense all the time, and after revision became the relaxed, happy infants they were meant to be.  Often, tongue-tie release (frenulectomy) goes hand in hand with bodywork (chiropractic care, CST, as described above).  It is the recommended follow-up to laser or scissor revision according to most care providers (including our son's doctor, Dr. Larry Kotlow).  Many children with tongue ties struggle with sensory integration and anxiety-- especially if they haven't had bodywork following their revision, or have not had a revision. One mom's testimony here.  Another here.
Hints that a tie is an underlying cause:
- any of these symptoms
- a visible or felt tie.  Check for one yourself here.  Many of the preferred care providers on the TTSG list will also allow you to email in pics of your child's mouth and will give a preliminary evaluation based on that and a description of symptoms.
- complete tie revision by a knowledgable practitioner (usually dentists, a few ENTs) - usually done by laser but some providers use scissors
- "bodywork"- CST and/or chiropractic care
- suck training (sometimes occupational therapy, other times speech therapy)
- stretches, massages and other strategies

3. Other pain.  This includes tummy pain due to indigestion, often due to imbalanced gut flora (too much "bad bacteria or yeast" and too few "good guys"), or could be migraines due to food allergies (yes, even babies can get them), or it could be pain from food sensitivities-- my son reacted to onion, echinacea, nutmeg and potatoes in my milk.
Hints that pain is an underlying problem:
Liam's bright red allergy-cheeks, 3 mos
- baby seems averse to nursing (and a tie has been addressed or been ruled out by a knowledgable practitioner)- he could be reacting to something in your milk and know it instinctively
- eczema or bright red cheeks following nursing (keep a food log to track these)
- gas, burping, drawing up of legs when crying, noisy belly, constipation followed by blow-outs
- have baby's ears checked.  Some babies (especially those with dairy intolerance) have constant low-level ear infections, which are painful but don't always manifest with a fever.  Natural treatments (such as garlic oil or onion; we use an ear oil similar to this one) of ear infections are often very effective in children, as are dietary reduction of sugar, salt and pasteurized cow's milk (all these tend to create mucus).  In cases where diet doesn't help, tubes may be recommended.  See below on probiotics & ear infections.
more allergy break-outs at 10 months old
- chiropractic adjustment- this specifically can help recurrent ear infections.  I've personally felt my ears drain following an adjustment as an adult!
- probiotics.  If baby's gut flora is off, she can't digest her food properly, and this hurts. In one study, L. reuteri was very successful at reducing crying time in "colicky' breast-fed & partially breast-fed babies. BioGaia drops have specifically been studied and found helpful (you can buy on Amazon).  Probiotics are also helpful at preventing and treating ear infections.  In another recent study, l. rhamnosus was used to treat anaphalactic peanut allergies, with promising results.
- essential oils or herbs- many blends are helpful in digestion, often including chamomile, ginger, peppermint and fennel.
- elimination diet for nursing mom or solid-eating toddler - read Doris Rapp (MD)'s "Is This Your Child?" on diagnosing and treating food allergies.  As a child gets older, the GAPS diet may be useful in healing the gut and curing many pervasive chronic conditions, including food allergies and sensitivities.

4. neurological damage- most often, this occurs following vaccinations.  Signs of neurological damage include an inability to sleep long stretches, difficulty regulating breathing, and sensory integration issues.  One is routinely given at 12 hours old:  the Hepatitis B vaccine.  Read the vaccine inserts for all possible reactions-- they include encephelopathy (brain swelling).  It is a fact that at least some children will have an adverse reaction to vaccines; they are legally classified as "unavoidably unsafe"-- thence the establishment of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to provide for & make reparations to families of children injured or killed by CDC-suggested vaccines.  Unfortunately, very little effort has been made to ascertain what risk factors could predict which children are most likely to have an adverse reaction. (you'd think with massive vaccine campaigns this would be important!) "...research suggests that most individuals who experience an adverse reaction to vaccines have a pre-existing susceptibility. These predispositions can exist for a number of reasons – genetic variants (in human or microbiome DNA), environmental exposures, behaviors, intervening illness or developmental stage, to name just a few, all of which can interact. Some of these adverse reactions are specific to the particular vaccine, while others may not be. Some of these predispositions may be detectable prior to the administration of vaccine; others, at least with current technology and practice, are not.” – Institute of Medicine, 2012 (source)
However, there are a few factors that might raise risk:  a tongue-tie or other midline defect (sacral dimple for ex), because it can be a symptom of a MTFHR mutation, which impairs remethylation, crucial for detoxification (this blogger sums it up well and has done her research well); personal history of overactive Th2 branch of the immune system- eczema, food allergies, seasonal allergies; family history of same; family history of vaccine reactions; anything GAPS related; personal history of mild to moderate vaccine reactions (high fever, high-pitched scream, lethargy, catatonia).  This is an area where there are glaring gaps in research:  "The committee found that evidence assessing outcomes in subpopulations of children, who may be potentially susceptible to adverse reactions to vaccines (such as children with a family history of autoimmune disease or allergies or children born prematurely), was limited and is characterized by uncertainty about the definition of populations of interest and definitions of exposures or outcomes.” – Institute of Medicine, 2013"  (some research is being done but it is very limited)
There are other things that could cause neurological damage, including EMFs, metals in the environment, or other known toxins such as pesticides, both before and after birth.  Exposure to plastics can also cause a healthy person's DNA to behave as if they have a MTFHR mutation.  Highly recommended reading:  Gut and Psychology Syndrome (Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride) and Healing the New Childhood Epidemics (Dr. Kenneth Bock).

Hints that neurological damage is a root cause:
 - change in disposition or sleeping habits soon after vaccination
- family history of vaccine reactions
- known MTFHR mutation in family or child
- family history in autoimmune disease
- mother vaccinated during pregnancy
- family home near cell towers or high-voltage power lines
- high degree of EMF in room where child sleeps
- known interaction with pesticide or other environmental toxins

- avoiding further vaccination at least until child's neurological condition has resolved 
- detox baths to aid in detoxification
- GAPS diet in children, best done under the supervision of a certified GAPS practitioner
- switching from vitamins and foods fortified with folic acid to the natural form, folate
- glutithione supplementation and eating foods high in glutithione (ex. avocados)
- coming under the care of a DAN! doctor, who look at chronic conditions in children from a multi-faceted biomedical model

 Well, that sums up the first 4 medical reasons why a baby might be labeled "high-needs."  Tomorrow I will tackle the last 3 which sound so much more ordinary. :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Thanksgiving Books We Love

One of the easiest traditions we have is also one of my kids' favorites:  seasonal books.  I have a box for the major seasons (well, more than one for Christmas!), with the decorations, books & special toys I've collected for that season.  Our "Fall" box has our beautiful autumn placemats, silk flower arrangements, halloween trick-or-treat bags, a pretty "thankfulness leaf" glass jar, my "Harvest Blessings" wooden pumpkin centerpiece... you get the idea.  But the best part (according to the kids) is the books.  Starting small and adding a book or two each year has gotten us a great collection in just 7 years of marriage's time.  Here are some of the books in our Thanksgiving/Fall collection now, along with a few I hope to buy this year.  I keep my eyes open at thrift stores, consignment sales and Amazon Marketplace (used & new) and the most I pay is $4 for a really nice copy.

-- The First Thanksgiving, by Linda Hayward, illustrated by James Watling-- this simple reader is well-illustrated and gives a wonderful brief overview of who the Pilgrims were, why they left England, their voyage aboard the Mayflower, their first winter in Massachusets, their friendship with Samoset, Squanto & Massassoit, and the first "Thanksgiving" (harvest feast).  I appreciate that the text doesn't try to revise history or make any political point:  the story is simply told, both groups (I feel) fairly and positively represented.

-- Squanto & the Miracle of Thanksgiving, by Eric Metaxas, illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis-- I can't read this book without choking up a bit.  The tragic events that God used to allow the first Plymouth colony to survive are not widely known:  that Squanto (Tisquantum) had been kidnapped as a young man and sold as a slave in Spain, that he was bought, set free & discipled by Spanish monks, that he lived & worked in London for 5 years, that he finally came back to his home village after 10 long years to find it completely emptied by plague, himself the sole survivor, that it was this very village, with its abandoned huts, graveyard & stores of corn which offered enough shelter for the shivering Pilgrims to survive that first winter, that Squanto's understanding of English ways & language prevented misunderstanding & allowed the Pilgrim survivors to have a bountiful harvest that summer, that their coming gave a broken man renewed faith in the God who made use of his misery... all these weave together to make a beautiful backdrop for that first feast of Thanks.  Beautiful illustrations.  Together they lead you to praise the sovereign goodness of God.

-- Cranberry Thanksgiving, Wende & Harry Devlin-- This tale about a famous cranberry-bread recipe and its would-be thief is Eowyn's favorite book right now.  She remembered making the cranberry bread (recipe included! We just de-glutenized it =D) from last year and can't wait to make it again.  The story & illustrations are just perfect.  A fun story set at the time of Thanksgiving with the message that not all are what they seem; friendship is found in the most unlikely places.

-- Over the River & Through the Wood,  poem by Lydia Maria Child, woodcut illustrations by Christopher Manson-- This is my personal favorite.  The woodcut illustrations perfectly evoke a 19th century New England Thanksgiving.  I love giving my children a glimpse into what life was like at that time.  Note:  there are many different illustrations for this one classic poem.  Manson's are my favorite of them all. :)

-- Over the River & Through the Wood, illustrated by David Catrow-- this book was actually mailed to me by mistake when I ordered the above version, and it is definitely not one I would have bought.  The cartoonish illustrations are set in modern times (so there is the value of comparing travel then & now), with a baby floating out the window into a Macy's Day Parade and being caught in Grandma's baseball cap.  Ehhh maybe it will grow on me... I just really don't like the style of illustration.

-- If You Were At... The First Thanksgiving, by Anne Kamma, illustrated by Bert Dodson-- one of the excellent Scholastic books in the question & answer style.  It does a great job answering all the questions children want to know about life in Plymouth & that first Thanksgiving.

-- ...If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620, by Ann McGovern, illustrated by Anna DiVito-- overlaps a bit with the above volume but focuses more on the voyage, presented in ways a child unfamiliar with month-long trips in small spaces with NO DVD players, can grasp.

Books I hope to snag & add soon:

-- Bear Says Thanks, by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
-- A Strawbeater's Thanksgiving, by Irene Smalls
-- Thanksgiving Graces, by Mark Moulton, illustrated by David Wenzel
-- An Old- Fashioned Thanksgiving, abridged & illustrated version by James Bernadin-  I had this vibrantly illustrated children's version given to me by a student's parent when I taught preschool... and alas I think I must have left it in my classroom when I moved to SC because I can't find it anywhere!  I also would like to eventually buy the unabridged version when my kids are a little older.
-- The Berenstein Bears Give Thanks, by Jan & Mike Berenstein-- (and/or any of the other BB Thanksgiving-themed stories)-- only because my kids are both absolutely enthralled with these books (I remember being the same way as a kid).  I don't know what it is about these books that so fascinate kids (I kind of groan now when they ask me to read them... which they do... every day), but whatever it is, this series hones in on it!
-- The Great Thanksgiving Escape, by Mark Fearing
-- A Pioneer Thanksgiving, byBarbara Greenwood, illustrated by Heather Collins

There are quite a few books out there that look great-- see my ongoing "wish list" here!

What books do you remember reading about Thanksgiving?  Most of our favorites have been recommended by friends like you! 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Resources for You if You Think Your Baby MIGHT Be Tongue or Lip-Tied

normal latch (what we're aiming for)
This is one issue I get emailed about fairly regularly, so I thought I'd make it into a blog post so more people can see it (and I can easily direct questions there instead of retyping everything every time, usually from my phone no less!).  This is by no means comprehensive and I'm not an expert, and each baby & mom is different.  However here's what I have gathered as helpful data through our own two-year-tongue-tie journey.  Ideally you will be able to surround yourself with a team of people to support and help you-- starting with you- the educated parent/advocate-- and including other adult family members (spouse, SO, grandma etc) who will be able to help out, also knowledgable care providers and specialists.  You'll have a winning team around your baby-- Team Baby!

I would start there; you could read through the dozen or so articles Dr. Ghaheri has written in an evening or so, and would be fairly educated on what ties are & aren't, why they matter, what can be done about them (hint:  it should not require full anesthesia or a hospitalization) and what you can do as a parent.  If even that seems too big an assignment, this one article provides an excellent overview, addressing many tie myths.

- Good cautionary word on over-diagnosing lip ties:

How to diagnose tongue ties:
Unfortunately, most care providers (pediatricians, midwives, nurses, dentists, IBCLCs and ENTs) will not know how to recognize all types of ties. So you most likely will need to first diagnose it yourself, then track down someone knowledgable to confirm it.

Reasons to revise
cheek support during bottle feeding
Breastfeeding moms-- Tricks for latching in the mean time- **Note: these links will take you to videos and images of women BREASTfeeding. **  Try one at a time until you feel comfortable, then try another-- you may use two or more tricks at a time, like latching with the "breastwich" technique, then supporting your baby's cheeks during feeding, then using manual compressions at the end of a feeding. 

- cheek support- often called the "Dancer Hand" position- during both nursing & bottle feeding; the fat in baby cheeks is there to help their milk go down their throat properly.  This webpage is aimed at helping babies with Down syndrome, and much of its recommendations are completely appropriate for babies with ties (revised or not). 
- manual compressions during feeding
- make a "breastwich" with your hand in the shape of a C behind the areola to help baby get a good mouthful, roll it in the way you eat a sandwich:  rolled in from the bottom lip first.
- if baby is tucking top lip:  two "tricks" to help
- "flipple" technique (where baby latches over your finger) or have them latch over thumb so you can roll out the upper lip (it must flange)
- "biological nurturing" position where baby is sitting up against you & you are leaning back.
- U-shaped fingers supporting under breast (see here under "cradle position")
- on augmenting supply (usually by 6 weeks a woman's supply changes from hormone-driven to demand-driven, and if baby isn't effectively draining the breast, you may see a dip in supply)- herbal/food measures, pharmaceutical (domperidone).
- on supplementing at the breast: explanation & video

You may need an Occupational Therapist or a Speech Therapist (we had both!) on your Team Baby but these may help in the meantime or in addition or if you can't get to one:
Oral Training 
- oral motor training stretches- do 3-5 times each day, usually before or after a feeding.  We would make these a game, Mommy making funny noises and faces, and talking through them to baby "Top Lip in, out, whee!" etc
- training baby to make a groove in tongue:  use a Nuk toothbrush, your finger or a bottle nipple to draw a "line" gently down the center of baby's tongue
goal of Beckman Oral Motor Training: puckered lips
- with a Nuk toothbrush, finger or soft washcloth, trace the gums with light pressure-- this helps baby feel whole mouth
- after release:  play games touching all around baby's lips, usually accompanied by silly phrases or noises; baby will naturally try to follow with their tongue, which is great for mobility
Example of finger feeding for suck training
-great explanation of suck training:

Good to Remember:
- Diagnoses depends both on symptoms AND appearance.  A baby with visible frenum may not need revision if there are no problems- but a baby with seemingly less frenulums may be a lot more restricted, as seen by symptoms in mom & child.  Also, a lip tie is almost ALWAYS accompanied by a "twin" tongue tie.

- A child can often bottle feed without being able to properly latch:  the mechanisms are TOTALLY different.  In breastfeeding, the tongue does a wave-like motion; this begins peristalsis that continues all the way down the digestive tract.  If it's impeded it will affect all digestion.  (So don't believe anyone who tells you that "you must be the problem because your baby can drink fine from a bottle."  That MAY be true in your case, but it may not be!)

- Many tied kiddos have a need for "body work:" either & both cranio-sacral therapy (CST) and chiropractic to correct tension from being overly restricted for the first months of life (even in utero).  Just think-- if your arm was tied across your body so you couldn't fully move it for 9 months, and then it was let free, you would feel all "off" and all sorts of tendons, ligaments and muscles would ache as they now had to stretch and totally adjust to the new freedom. It would be great freedom, far better than staying tied up and tense... but still requiring an adjustment.

- Also, most ENTs (and many other care providers) know diddly squat about tongue ties (nothing against them, it's just the way it is right now).  Go to a provider known for understanding ties if at ALL possible (or it's probably a waste of time).  

- Our story is here.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

K5 in Casa Szrama (2014/2015 School Year)

Math- Saxon 1 (also TOPScience "Get a Grip!" workstation, also drawing from Right-Brained Addition & Subtraction).  I am still using my old wall pocket calendar (still haven't seen one I like more!  We use it instead of making our own every month with Saxon).  I haven't been able to track down a stand-alone copy of Saxon 1's Student Workbook Part 1, so until we get to Part 2 (which I do have), I'm filling in with plenty of workbooks I've grabbed from the dollar store and goodwill, our usual pattern block set, clock set, mini-white board, a printed-out hundred chart & numbers to trace (both in a plastic sleeve) and various manipulatives.

Language Arts- Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (last few lessons), then will use real books & readers for reading practice (Bob books sets 3 & 4, Dick & Jane (these are soooo funny to Eowyn, and I find the illustrations to be very attractive! Way nicer looking than the Bob books, IMO)
books, and level 1 & 2 readers from the library), and will start...

First Language Lessons Level 1 for English grammar.  She has started LOVING read-aloud chapter books now.  I have a bunch I hope to read, some tying in to history, others just fun.  Among them are The Little House Books (we're mid-way through Little House in the Big Woods), The Never Girls series (we're on Book 2), Captive Treasure, The House at Pooh Corner, Now We Are Six, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.  We might start The Chronicles of Narnia or Prydain, we'll see.  We also are going through all the nursery rhymes along with Liam & Levi.

Ready for her first day of K5
Handwriting- we are still using Cursive First as well as the Kumon Cutting, Cursive Writing Letters and Cursive Words workbooks (she LOVES the Kumon workbooks, and they are the only workbooks I've found that always put cursive letters in the context of words, which makes sense since cursive letters all connect).  I have some PreScripts workbooks for her but they are a bit beyond her at this point.  (ps i have found Kumon workbooks on ebay for better prices than anywhere else)

Spanish - we're doing a weekly little co-op with a friend who has littles the same ages as Eowyn & Liam.  So fun!  This will tie in especially with our geography & culture when we get to our Argentina  units (see below).

Classical Conversations-- we attend this co-op for 3 hours once a week (for us it's Mondays which is perfect!).  Each week we have "grammar" (basically the building block-nuts-and-bolts of any subject) to memorize:  Latin words, the next chunk of the history timeline (same as last year), a history sentence, set of geography facts, a science question, and a portion of John 1 in Latin.  We also do an art project together.  Liam gets in on the school action and goes to his "cyass" with his beloved Mrs. Tina and a new teacher, Ms. Jasmine.  She came up today when I read the word "jasmine" aloud to Eowyn... he is always listening!!  Anyway I love CC because they are so chill despite being thorough and well thought-out, and have so many songs to help the facts "stick"!  And the fact that it's a three-year cycle so the kids will get all the material a second time by 4th grade, and we can build on it. (spiraling is a great teaching technique!)

Geography-- (with our friend) following CC Cycle 3 loosely, so learning states & capitals.  Each week we read about a state (library books) and/or cities in it.  We use a magnetic puzzle (from Costco!!) as well as one I made out of cardboard, a states coloring book I copy out of, maps and our globe.  We are first learning all the states & capitals, then will "zoom in" on South Carolina for a while, going (more) in depth into our own state geography as well as our history-- I forsee field trips to Columbia!  We also will study New York, Georgia, Oregon & North Carolina more in-depth since we have relatives there, and then expand to US features like rivers, mountains, lakes & deserts.  (We use a lot of songs from CCHappy Mom's youtube channel to help remember capitals.)  Finally we'll skip across the hemisphere to study the geography and culture of Argentina, which is where our fellow co-oppers lived and still have roots.

History-- (with our friend) following CC Cycle 3 loosely, so covering US History starting before Columbus.  We are using the American Girls books (as read-alouds) especially "Felicity" and "Kirsten" a LOT as these tie in perfectly with E's interests, listening level and all the fun extras (paper dolls, crafts, recipes, movies etc.).  My sister & I racked up finding the books for about $2 apiece at consignment sales, and the library also has them all.  We have historical paper dolls-- this series, from the Pilgrims through the Civil War, (thank you, Tia Nicole)-- and I'm excited about how studying the Native Americans, Pilgrims & Colonists will coincide well with Thanksgiving. :)  Of course my childhood favorite Little House on the Prairie series ties in excellently.

Science-- following CC Cycle 3 loosely, so learning about the human body first, then basic physics (parts of atoms etc).  We are using The Magic Schoolbus: A Journey into the Human Body Experiment Kit (which she loves!  Seriously, the look on her face when she "gets it" has been worth the "price" of homeschooling already.  I am so glad I got to be the one to see that!!), and various books on each topic from the library.  I have Reader's Digest's The ABCs of the Human Body as a resource for all the topics too. [Any ideas & resources for the physics aspect would be great; I haven't planned that far ahead!]

PE- she's taking gymnastics for 2 months (thanks to Livingsocial) and if she likes that can continue, otherwise she can go back to ballet/tap (I think she'll go for that).

Bible- we are going through the life of Moses (so Exodus- Deuteronomy) in BSF and I'm doing the Home Study sheets with her (and the boys, who are mostly oblivious, though Liam did have a great retelling of Moses' escape down "da deep wata" from wicked Pharaoh as a baby... on a surf board.) during breakfast or lunch.  I HOPE to get back to catechism somehow, someday this year, maybe using these books as an aid.  We also read Wisdom & the Millers periodically and this is a hit.

about to go in to CC on our first day
(Lil Bro is trying to show "5" like sis)
Music- we've been doing musical theater (right now My Fair Lady is big, with BOTH kids!  I snagged a CD on a whim for $1 at the thrift store), I envision more Broadway musicals & Patch the Pirate stories.  I also grabbed some organ recital CDs and hope to cover Peter & the Wolf, a Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra and The Nutcracker.  I pull out my old music lesson standbys to teach rhythm, pitch and notation as well as my xylophone & their instruments.  My goals in music for her this year are: ability to keep a steady beat, to copy rhythms, to match pitch, to understand "hi"- "low" and "soft-loud" and "slow-fast," know basics of solfege, to know the instrument families of the orchestra, to experience & "get" on some level how musical theater works, and to gain familiarity with the works I've mentioned.

General- I have found the "What Your __ Needs to Know" series to be VERY helpful.  You could really use this as a curriculum base and just supplement a writing/how-to-read and math curriculum.  I am finding it very helpful to just have in the car for whenever we have down time & need to read something (there are so many interesting things in there, stories, poems, history, science, etc.).  I'm especially using What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know for Geography & History this year.

How it Works... (-ish =D)
We spend about 1 hour each morning on "school," total, and on Mondays and Fridays don't do anything beyond our co-ops.  Afternoons are taken up by lunch, outside play and nap time (every day for boys, every other day for E) or rest time (she picks a type of toy and plays with it quietly while L naps.  Options include reading, books on tape, drawing/coloring, playing with blocks, figurines, Barbies, doll or any bin of toys from our "toy library.")

oh wait, this isn't actually school
We try to read every day, both her and me to her, read the Bible (usually over lunch), and focus on one other subject a day, be it math, music, science, geography or history.  My main sources for materials are thrift stores, the library, ebay and pinterest-found-printables offline. School is fun, not stressful, and if we don't cover it one day, I figure we'll cover it another day. Since we only work for 1 hour a day, she is able to focus and stay on-target and I can expect her best out of her.  Also, since the bulk of her learning is hands-on and story-oriented (seriously, try reading a list of words... nope.  Each word gets put into an entire paragraph of a very random story if I let her!)-- she finds workbooks to be fun and loves them! We go outside every day, the kids get lots of imaginative play (dress up, castles & figurines, Barbies, baby dolls, tool sets, kitchen pretend), puzzles, drawing, painting/art, playdough, blocks... basically anything without batteries) and I try to pull out some sensory experiences every now and then (water table, bean box, etc.).  She helps me with chores and is learning to garden, cook & clean.  For us at this point, a laid-back approach year-round with shorter breaks as we need them works just dandy.

Well, that's what I've mapped out for the year and we'll see how it goes!  Any suggestions or comments are welcome!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Letter to Eowyn at 5 Years Old

Dear Eowyn-

I can’t believe you are five years old.  It seems that you’ve been in my heart so much longer, yet also that I’ve been a mother so much shorter than the span of five times around the sun.  You are the first child I felt stir in my womb, the first baby I nourished with my own body, the first being whose cry quieted at the mere sound of my voice or touch of my arms.  I will never forget the glorious moment where I watched your first breath blush through your purple-white body.  As you love to hear, you looked into my eyes, that first precious howl on your lips, and your deep-blue eyes said “I know you.  Mommy.”  I cried because I knew in all my life I’d never done anything to deserve this squirming, breathing gift.

You are still a gift.  Your loyalty, your ability to laugh at yourself, your willingness to help, your honesty, your concern for fairness, your empathy, your inquisitive mind, your memory – all these brighten up my every day.  This year we’ve worked together to coax meaning from those blurs on a page; I’ve done lots of good things in my life, but teaching you to read ranks as one of the ones I’ve most proud of.  It is so fun to me to have you at an age where you are interested in so many things that have fascinated me since I was five:  American Indians, fairies, pioneers, homemaking, the human body, magic, babies, and musical theater.  You are a reliable, trustworthy little soul, a natural caregiver, a problem solver and a story-teller.  You do everything with enthusiasm, and once you know how, you do it well.  I have a feeling you will be able to do most things better than I can in a very short amount of time.

As we’ve been reading the Bible story of Moses together, so many things have come to my mind that I want you to know deep down.  I think Exodus 2 might be the most ironic chapter in all the Bible (excepting Esther, perhaps).  First of all, notice that Pharoah’s name is never mentioned—but the humble midwives’ are.  Pharaoh wanted to be great; he wanted his name to always be remembered… yet he was afraid of losing his power (all oppressors are); he was so afraid he did something unbelievably cruel:  commanded the murder of innocent babies.  The midwives, Shiprah & Puah, however, feared something else: God.  And it’s their names who are remembered thousands of years later.  Their fear of God led them to bravely risk their own safety to save those same innocents fearful Pharaoh tried to kill.  If you go about trying to make a name for yourself, for your own glory, God will topple you.  If, however, you pursue Him, you will find that you don’t need a name to be happy—far happier than you could even dream.

Pharaoh did not value girls very much:  they were less threatening than the boys, who might grow up to fight against him in an army.  Girls?  What could they do?  Well, God is about to show us!  First the midwives, then Moses’ mother, then a servant girl, then Pharaoh’s own daughter, and finally a little slave girl all take their stand quietly against Pharaoh; not by taking up arms, but by doing exactly what God has created women to do:  nurture.  One by one they choose to nurture a helpless baby, to care for him as he grows, to humbly yet persistently, steadily, fearlessly embrace their feminity.  And God uses them to topple the tyrant of an empire.  I pray you grow up to be that kind of woman—that you are that kind of brave, self-less, giving girl now.  God uses the weak things of the world to shame –and often to save—the strong.  Because that gives Him the most glory.

I love you, dear Eowyn Grace.  I pray you, like your namesake, learn to be content as a nurturer instead of being unhappy so long as you are not queen.  For someone with so many ideas about how the world SHOULD work, this will not come easy.  Especially since your ideas usually are quite good. :)  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding-- in all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths."  "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil."  "Come my children, listen to me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord:  whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil, and do good, seek peace and pursue it."  You are precious to us and we long to see you become more (and more, and more!) like Jesus.

All my love, and then some more,

PS. You just came up to me and informed me that I've been working long enough-- that this is too much screen time.  Well then. I love you, spunky thing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Craving Narrative: Why we will always need hymns & psalms

Last week I finally penned some thoughts on trends I see in the modern church's singing habits.  Today I want to follow that up with a simple contrast of two songs' narrative structure (or lack therof, as we shall see.).

I was in a church service several months ago and we sung two songs back to back:  "Hosanna in the Highest" and "Jesus Paid it All."  I was so struck by their dissimilarities that I made a note in my phone!  Here they are:

Hosanna in the Highest

"I see the King of glory coming on the clouds with fire
The whole earth shakes. (x2)
(Yeah)  I see his love and mercy washing over all our sin
The people sing (x2):
  [Chorus] Hosanna Hosanna Hosanna in the highest [x2]

I see a generation rising up to take their place
With selfless faith (x2)
I see a near revival stirring as we pray and seek
We're on our knees (x2)

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom's cause
As I walk from earth into eternity

Ok... so first off, what this song DOES have going for it is a singable, catchy, distinctive melody based on an interesting chord progression (many of them minor, for those who care).  Can't say that about all Hillsong songs.  Well... that's about it.

It's a very small amount of words considering that most churches will sing this for 5 minutes at least (there will be a lot of repetition).  Beyond that, there's really no "theme" to the song, no bottom line that sums up which aspect of Truth this is trying to help us remember and understand... there isn't any story, any logical connective thread running through the song.  What's the song about?

As we were singing it, I was trying desperately to make sense of it.  First off, we start off with a serious, thought-provoking image of the Second Coming:  the King of Glory returning and the earth shaking.  Great.  Maybe the next line ("I see His love and mercy washing over all our sin") refers to how all the redeemed will marvel as He forgives us at the Final Judgment, and it makes sense for all of the people to then sing "Hosanna!" like the children in Jerusalem at His First Coming.

Well... then what?  Suddenly we're singing about a completely different vision-- a generation -- past? present? future? who knows!-- rising to take their (grammatically, it should be "its") place with selfless faith. How does that connect to the image of Christ returning?  Or even the cry of "Hosanna"?  And then we're talking about a "near revival". What does that even mean?  I know what revival is-- a rending of the Heavens and God's power descending on His people... but a near-revival?  Is that like a near-miss?  Or does it mean a revival near to us?  And then we're on our knees, I guess singing/praying "Hosanna"-- so are we the generation rising to take our place with selfless faith?

Now we're to the bridge, which seems to be 4 pleas to God, all good ones-- and we close with a line "as I walk from earth into eternity"-- is that supposed to tie together the first and second verses?  The generation rising in faith (earth) going towards the Second Coming (eternity)?  If so... why do we sing it at the end, not connected with either?  Aaaaaand now we're again singing "Hosanna."  Why?

So there you have it... a string of lines and thoughts-- each one (more or less) true, and appropriate to worship, but following no easily discernible cohesive thought.  What will I take home with me into the week?  What could the Spirit call to mind to help me fight sin and temptation?  Maybe the line "Hosanna in the highest"-- a praise to God... Maybe the image of Christ returning, maybe the plea "break my heart for what breaks Yours"?  But would I really learn anything singing this song? Would I realize anything new?  Probably not... there's just not much there to chew on.  It's a collection of individually true statements that don't mean any more together than they do separately.  Your English teacher would mark this type of "poem" with a giant red question:  "WHAT IS YOUR POINT?"


Now let's take the next song we sang:  Jesus Paid it All.  (This isn't even one of my favorites!)

"I hear the Savior say:  “Thy strength indeed is small; 
Child of weakness, watch and pray; find in Me thine all in all.” 

Refrain:  Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; 
Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow. 

For nothing good have I whereby Thy grace to claim; 
I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb. (Refrain)

And now complete in Him-- my robe His righteousness, 
Close sheltered ’neath His side, I am divinely blest. (Refrain)

Lord, now indeed I find Thy pow’r, and Thine alone, 
Can change the leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone. (Refrain)

When from my dying bed my ransomed soul shall rise, 
“Jesus died my soul to save!" shall rend the vaulted skies. (Refrain)

And when before the throne I stand in Him complete, 
I’ll lay my trophies down, all down at Jesus’ feet. (Refrain)

If I were to ask you "what is the bottom line of this song?" you could tell me without much thought:  that Jesus paid everything (as He declared on the Cross-- "It is PAID"), and that therefore, I owe Him everything.  This hymn carries this theme quite simply and logically through a Christian's whole life, starting with conversion-- when the Savior first whispers to him that He is weak on his own, progressing through life-- rejoicing in God's grace, His nearness, and His power to change him, culminating in the Christian's death-- even then, we will owe Jesus everything, and looking forward to his "glorification" in Heaven, when STILL it will be all about Jesus' work, not our own.

As I sing this song, my mind is putting myself into the story, wondering if I really am living as if I'm sheltered beneath Jesus' pierced side, or if I'm rejoicing in His power to change me.  I'm thinking again of all the various ways that Jesus HAS "paid it all"-- this song touches on all aspects of the Gospel-- how Jesus saves us, gives us a new identity, changes us, and one day will make us perfect (big words: regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification) and addresses each stage of a Christian's walk, whether we are in a place of stony-heartedness, or are trying to somehow work our way into God's favor; whether we're weary and longing for Rest, or are working hard in His strength and rejoice to see Him working through us.

I remember very clearly hearing Keith Getty (a modern hymn writer whose works I LOVE) explain hymn-writing in his lilting Irish voice-- "everyone loves a good story-- tell 'em a good story, and they'll keep singing for hours!" 40% of our Old Testament is pure narrative; 27 books of the Bible are largely stories, and all the poetry & wisdom literature fit into the stories told in the narrative section.  It's the most common type of writing in our Scriptures.  We love stories.  We crave them.  We tell them-- just think of how much of our conversation involves our own life story, retelling of plots of favorite movies or books, anecdotes from our day (or our children's days), or stories about other people (often known as "gossip").  Stories.  We occasionally discuss ideas or argue points of view... but most people relax around a good story.  I've never failed to calm a room full of children-- even middle school boys!-- with a well-read story.

Biblical Models
If you thumb through your Bible to the first hymnal, the Psalms, you'll see that many Psalms follow a logical story form:  the author often begins with a crisis, a grief, a desire, then progresses through remembering how God has dealt with His people (or  the speaker) in the past, looks forward to God's promises, and ends praising God, often looking forward to the Ultimate Day when all will be made Right.  There's often a specific personal story (Ps. 73, for one example), or a retelling of a moment in Israel's history (Ps 99).

Other Psalms are meditations on a theme-- for example, Psalm 104 unpacks its first line "Oh my God, You are very great!" and we all know the poetry of Psalm 23 portraying God as a shepherd.  (I've heard one theory that all the Psalms are meditations on verses from the Pentateuch, which would be Genesis- Deuteronomy... it's pretty cool to try and guess which Psalms came out of which passages.  I think Psalm 23 came from Jacob's words in Genesis 48:15... tangent, sorry!)

Yes, there are Psalms (like Psalm 136) that involve a lot of repetition, perhaps choruses or times where one group of or all the people sang in responsive style, but even those repetitions serve to reinforce a specific point, a theme around which the Psalm is built.

It seems far more beneficial to me to sing songs that logically "take" someone somewhere... or, at the very least, drive home a point.  Cohesive and logical always "sticks" better than disjointed and random, no matter what the subject.  The lines in a work of true poetry mean far more together than they would apart; they build on one another-- each word is meant to be there.  Let's sing songs whose words matter. It isn't just about "the mood" or "the feeling" or "the sound" our music evokes-- it's about the Truth it conveys.  Our world was created through words; our Scripture came to us as words; our Savior is the Final Word... words matter to us.  Let's sing like we actually know that. My guess is that in Heaven, we won't sit around proclaiming nuggets of unrelated Truth to each other-- instead, I think we will probably tell Stories.  I'd almost bet we'll sing them, too.