Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Lord Giveth and The Lord Taketh Away

Wednesday morning, I held the foot of a mother as she pushed her newborn son into the world. Thursday evening, I held the hand of my husband’s Grandma as she passed away. There was crying both days. Tears of joy and tears of pain at both. It is the natural ebb and flow of life.

In what was some amazing timing (or perhaps a mama and baby who were really wanting me there as their support) the baby came five days after his due date, the day after I returned home from vacation. Leaving on the baby’s due date was very hard for me as I had really hoped to be at the birth to support this family that I had come to know, not to mention complete the requirements for my birth doula certification. I hoped and prayed throughout our vacation, believing it impossible, that this baby would wait. And he did.

The labor and birth were perfect, classic second baby labor with very speedy pushing and birth. Everything went as it should with no complications. But birth is never a ‘blah’ event, no matter how textbook it is. There are moments of self-doubt, of anger even at having to go through such a struggle to bring this new life into being. And then there are moments of incredible joy, when the baby is placed lovingly on the mother and all is known to be well. When the tears of relief and wonder escape the eyes of all present.

Gram’s passing was similar in a way. She was 93, she had lived a long and richly blessed life. She passed her driving test almost a year ago and was still getting about mostly on her own only months ago despite her repeated wonderment at when it would be her turn to go. She knew her race was nearly done, she was at peace with going on to meet the Lord (she even quoted her mother, saying “Jesus doesn’t want me and the devil won’t take me”). She fell and broke her hip two months ago and recovered well from the surgery, even walking a bit right before returning to her own condo a few weeks ago.

But it was her time. In the last three weeks her congestive heart failure progressed more rapidly and she was unable to get comfortable rest at night. She still wore her beautifully radiant smile when we visited her only three weeks ago, she lit up when she saw the children. But we could tell that the end was nearing and she was struggling more and more each day.

On Thursday evening, Jeremy got home from work and I had dinner packed up to eat in the car. We had talked with his parents and knew that we needed to go and say our goodbyes. When we arrived his mother met us and told us we had just made it. Gram’s breathing was very labored and her breaths were few and far between. It picked up as we talked and as she listened to her other grandchildren talking to her on the phone.

Evie sat with grandma on the bed pulled up next to GG as Jeremy and I held her hands. Hannah and Eli came in to hold her hands and say goodbye and then Hannah made a friendship bracelet for GG. We put the bracelet on next to Gram’s rosary and Hannah started working on another behind me on the bed. Evie and Grandma moved to the floor to play with stuffed animals and conversation turned to the birth I had attended the day before.

As we talked, Gram’s breathing slowed more and more and then stopped. Mom looked up from where she and Evie were playing, noticing and came to Gram’s side. Aunt Peggy also came over from where she had been sitting and hugged her mother. There were tears. I sent Hannah to the living room and gave Gram one last kiss.

Then I found Hannah, GG Rosebud, in a puddle of tears.

Life, even when it goes as we know it should, is not easy. I guess that is good, but man it hurts. We moved here with the purpose of raising our children close to their family. I wanted my kids to know what I never felt I had - to have relatives at all their birthdays and all the holidays and even the in between days. Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and by God’s amazing grace, two Great Grandmas that they would grow up knowing and then live their lives with the wonderful memories of them. And we have that at a cost. The cost of true sorrow over the loss of a loved one.

My own Grandpa died when I was six years old. I knew him and loved him but I had also spent a large part of my life very far away from him. I remember when he died. I remember my Mom being very sad but I also remember thinking that there was something wrong with me because I was not as sad as she was.

A year ago last week, my own Grandmother passed away. We had the fortune of being with her to say goodbye two days before she passed. I felt a different kind of sorrow at her passing, more a sense of wishing that I had gotten to know her better. I did have some great memories of times spent with her and her old cabin in Marquette marks the one place in this world that I truly feel connected to (being the one place I have returned to repeatedly in my life since I was a baby).

Gram Jennings I will miss more in the everyday. I had the good fortune of getting to know her well over the past fourteen years since Jeremy and I were engaged. I have always been impressed with her sense of style and her generously loving spirit. She made the best lemon cream angel food cake (which I tried making and failed miserably at - I’ll have to work on that). St. Patrick’s day has always been celebrated with corned beef and cabbage since I met her and I love it (being a non-red meat eating person these days I still allow myself some corned beef on St Paddy’s day). I have always loved that she likes silver as much as I do, she got the kids beautiful silver baby rattles. I loved that she loved my kids and enjoyed watching her eyes light up when the kids came to visit. I know they are going to miss the games of hide and seek they always played at her condo. All the family festivities will be a little less without her. One less place at the table for Christmas and Thanksgiving and birthdays and just plain old family get togethers.

So there are tears of sadness. And perhaps there should be tears of joy. Joy that she is finally in heaven where she so badly wanted to be for the past few months. The joy of her passing from this life on earth on to her eternal home, something like the joy of a baby being born.  Once the baby is born, the mother begins her worrying, "is he cold? hungry? wet? hurt?". And now our worrying over Gram is done but our sadness remains.

It is as it should be, just not easy.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Ideal School

I am a fantastical idealist. I believe that everything can be done better and that there is always room for improvement and that maybe, perhaps I could be the one to do it.
Having almost finished my masters degree in education, my head is full of the latest and greatest teaching methodologies and theories, some of which are in use around the world and led to greater successes than what we see in our own public education system. Things as mundane as ‘what do the kids sit on?’ cross my mind regularly (form what I know about our natural physical state, I cannot stand to see children made to sit in seats all day - an exercise ball would be so much better and more natural for their bodies - as would getting up and moving more)!
Make no mistake, I know that we are blessed with some pretty darn good schools where we live, but that is not enough to stop a dreamer from dreaming!
So what would my ideal school look like?

It would be situated near the river and near an open park with natural spaces for exploration and hands on learning. The children would wear uniforms (yes, I did just say that). The building(s) would have windows that open and stay open on all pleasant days. The school would have a garden that is tended by the kids and that provides food for the lunches. School days and annual calendars would be made to work with families - slightly longer days that start a little later and longer school years that have more long breaks within them, similar to the year around schedule. There would be a pool and tennis courts and basket ball hoops and fields for more sports.

And these are just the visual trimmings. The meat of the school comes from the approach to learning and assessment. Teaching would be student-centered with more choice available to students in their learning and more flexibility in assessments, allowing for an individualized education that allows and encourages each child to reach their fullest potential. No cookie cutter test driven learning here, thank you very much!

Oh! I almost forgot, kids would be allowed time to wash their hands before lunch at a long trough-sink that would run down the hallway leading to the cafeteria.

Teachers would be respected as professionals and would have onsite childcare and preschool available for their young ones with time allowances for breastfeeding moms so that returning to work is not wracked with guilt but with pride.

Experts in al areas would be consulted in an ongoing basis to keep the school running at maximum potential and serving families in the best and most honest and straightforward way, keeping communication open to allow for constant improvements.

Students would interact with the world and use technologies to stay abreast of current trends in society - using new technologies to forge international learning communities that support one another and sharing students work in a way that connects them to their parents (imagine being able to see a poem your kid just wrote while you are at work!) and with other learners (think shared subject area blogging about current learning).

The possibilities are endless!!

Someday, someday.

For now, I am preparing to student teach in the fifth grade and hope that I can use some of this enthusiasm to get my students excited to continue learning where they are headed - the terrifying halls of middle school!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tot at the Wheel

I was recently telling someone this story and though I should write it down for posterity.

When I was about 2 years old and we were living in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, my dad had flown somewhere and while we waited for his plane to return, my mom and sister and I were visiting our friends at the Catholic station on the top of a mountain. Mom was talking with Father Hans while my older sister and I were playing around, running in and out of the house.
Now, you have to understand that out in the bush where we were, there were not many vehicles and even fewer people who could drive one, so everyone who had a car occasionally left their keys in the ignition.
So I am told that I heard and then ran out to confirm by sighting my dad’s plane coming in for landing at the air strip. I ran in to tell my mom and she must have, in good mommy fashion, said something like, “okay, just a minute,” and resumed finishing her conversation. being impatient, I ran out the our Suzuki jeep that had it’s doors off and jumped right up on the driver’s seat. Did I call my sister to come join me, or did she just run with me, I don’t know. But at any rate, she jumped in the passenger side and was holding on to the roof with her feet on the seat and her rear end hanging out a bit. Which was probably a good thing because I turned the key in the ignition and the jeep began rolling backwards down the mountain.
At that point my mom and Father Hans must have come running form the house and one of them managed to pull my sister out of the side while the other tried to pry me out. Did I put up a fight, not wanting to get out of my sweet ride? Maybe. Somehow, I must have fallen for a brief moment so that my legs were under the jeep and the wheels were rolling toward me. Someone pulled me to safety and stopped the car only inches from a large rainforest tree.
Maybe this was just another day on the mission field for my parents.
They say that your earliest memories are usually traumatic events that your brain stores with whatever language you have available at the time. So when I was five years old and woke up from a dream about an airplane rolling over my legs, my mom put it together and told me this story.
Crazy. But that is my life and there are plenty more where that one came from.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Twelve Years - Already???

As my facebook page has so kindly reminded me, our anniversary will be this coming Sunday. June 26th. And this will be our twelfth. I know it is cliche to say ‘where has the time gone?’ or ‘it seems like just yesterday!’. Sorry, but it does! I overheard a friend recently telling someone that he always jokes that he and his wife have been married for thirteen years, nine of them happily. The fact that we have a child who will be turning nine this year startles me every time I am reminded. I know some people thought we were married too young and had children too young but we don’t regret a thing. Sure, we have disagreements like anyone else. I know I’m no walk in the park to live with (just ask anyone in my house the day after I have cleaned!). And yes, it might have been nice to have been more financially stable at times (like now, LOL) but what is romance without a few kinks to work out?
You want a good story? I think our story is pretty good. (of course I’m biased)

It all started on a.... Okay, I don’t even really know. I know it was a park around Detroit called Greenfield Village or something like that. There are some pictures somewhere. Anyway, the reason I don’t remember is that I was a couple months old. Jeremy was five years old. He had a baby brother who was a few months older than me who was colicky. So the story goes that Jeremy told his mom repeatedly in the following days that, “that Martha baby is such a good baby, that Martha baby doesn’t cry.”
At that time, my parents were serving as missionaries in Papua New Guinea. Our parents had met when my Dad was serving his vicarage year at their church the year that Jeremy was born, so when we were on furlough, it was a good chance to catch up with old friends. While we were in PNG, Jeremy’s parents would send us care packages with toys and books (when studying children’s literature in college I went home for Christmas and brought back some of my favorite childhood books only to open them and find inscriptions written to Jeremy in the fronts of several!).
But back to the childhood years. When I was seven my family moved to Chicago for my Dad to work on his PhD at the U of C. This meant we got to visit with the Paschkes more often and I developed a schoolgirl crush on Jeremy. Of course, he was 12 or thirteen at the time and he was way too cool to pay attention to an obnoxious little girl in pigtails chasing him around. He does vaguely recall someone chasing him with water balloons at a church picnic. Yup, that was me! I thought he was dreamy with his braces and his big smile, looking so cool as he headed off to baseball games or band practice when we were visiting for dinner.
Then we headed back to PNG for two years. The next time we returned I was twelve and something about moving so frequently gave me the boldness needed to send a letter to Jeremy after we visited them on our way through town. I was in seventh grade and he was a senior in high school who had a girlfriend but he actually wrote back to me. Of course I was heartbroken to learn that he had a girlfriend but I loved reading his letters and loved that he cared enough to write to me so we continued writing. For six years.
Yes, you read that right. What started out as friendly notes back and forth grew into love letters over the course of six years. I was in boarding school in Australia for most of that time and checking my mailbox at the end of the school day was the best part of my day. When I had a letter, it made my day. I would grab it and run to my room and lay on my bed to read his letter even before changing out of my uniform.
My senior year in high school, Jeremy finished college a semester early and came to Australia to study for a year. He arrived when our family was on summer vacation in Cairns, so we got to enjoy my favorite waterfalls and some time together before we went back to our respective schools. Even though he was still sixteen hours away by car (which neither of us had then anyway) he could call me! I remember being in one of the classroom buildings studying on a weekend day when I heard a few of my friends running from the dorms, screaming my name - Jeremy had called (the dorm had one phone at the end of the hall that people could receive calls on). Girls intentionally walked past me several times to eavesdrop on our conversation. So imagine the excitement in the dorm when he actually came to visit once! My house mistress had come to trust me over the three year I had already been there and since he was written down as a family friend who had been approved of by my parents for visiting, she was much more lenient with our visiting. We sat on the steps or Ross Roy, the grand old building that stood at the top of the hill near our dorms to talk one afternoon and a few of my friends tiptoed past to catch sight of my dreamboat boyfriend that I had talked so much about. Then we were allowed to go into the city on the weekend for a few hours (which was pretty much unheard of for our boarding school, so all those years of good behavior paid off!). We walked around the city a bit and enjoyed a picnic lunch before he had to get me back.
Then a stroke of luck - I won an essay contest that sent me to Sydney as a part of the Youth Futures Forum, a national forum that drew youth form all over Australia to talk about how we envisioned the future of the country (I felt like a bit of a cheat, not really being Australian) and it happened to be held at the same time that Jeremy and his parents were visiting Sydney! So when my conference was over, they picked me up and I got to be a tourist in the country I had already lived in for three years. We saw the zoo and rode the water taxis and saw the famous beaches and even caught a show at the opera house. It was amazing! I do recall having that madly-in-love-inability-to chew-and-swallow feeling the whole time and when I boarded my plane back to Brisbane I sobbed like a baby. That Martha baby does cry.
After finishing high school, my family returned to the States and after a half year of working I started college at St Olaf in Minnesota. Jeremy came up to the Twin Cities to study physics at the U of M and one fall day when I took the shuttle bus to the city to visit him, we ate dinner and then he got down on one knee and proposed marriage.
I arrived back at my dorm that night flushed with excitement and after calculating the time difference, I called my best friend who was in a boarding school in Taiwan and asked if she would be my maid of honor. The plans were beginning!
Our engagement lasted almost two years but the wedding day seemed to arrive before I knew it! We were married at my Dad’s church in southeastern Indiana on a very hot June 26th. At our rehearsal dinner the night before, his uncles brought a pig out on a spit and a platter of yams as a continuation of the joke our parents had had about bride-price, which was the custom in PNG.
I woke up on our wedding day with monster-sized butterflies in my stomach. My Dad made me some tea and ran to get something to settle my stomach. The day is a blur of happy memories - I know I cried as I said my vows - I had dreamed of this day for so long it was hard to believe it was happening. I remember it drizzled as we arrived at the reception site and I insisted that the photographer still take some outdoor pictures. I remember his brothers carrying me on their shoulders around the reception hall. I remember all our friends and relatives that were a part of the day. His friends decorated our car but most of it washed off in the drizzle during the reception. I remember my Dad speaking during the reception and playing old tapes of the two of us talking when we were little. There was so much laughter and joy that night.
That outpouring of joy and love from family and friends at our wedding has sustained us through these twelve years as we moved and started our family and as we continue to grow. Sure, we have our spats, we have our days like everyone else but there are a few things I am sure of in life and one of them is that Jeremy and I were meant to be. I still feel like that giddy school girl when I think of how much I love him. Yes, he turns laundry pink sometimes but that makes him human - so that I can get past the flittering stomach of first love and be able to chew and swallow in his presence.
As testament to what our twelve years has brought us - three kids and an over-commitment to our local community - I am only now finishing this piece that I started three weeks ago. As I hear about marriages failing and unfaithful spouses and unhappy wives I know that I am truly blessed to have by my side a man that never leaves me in doubt and whose love I can always count on. Of course it is much more than that. Words do not do justice to the deep and abiding love that you know cannot be broken when you have your soulmate by your side. So here’s to another twelve years and more!

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Secret to ‘Good’ Kids

I was enjoying a conversation with another Mom at the pool last night when she said she really had to leave and added apologetically, that it might get ugly since she would have to drag her daughter out kicking and screaming. I tried to share my secret with her and figured I would share it with all of you too.
Here it is - my kids are not necessarily ‘better’ than anyone else’s although I do (blush) receive lots of compliments on their behavior. I’ve just been sneaky in how I manage those ‘unwanted’ behaviors. You know, the whining, fighting, complaining etc. Which is not to say that they never do it, but I think we are on to something in our house so I want to share it.

1. Whining - especially at stores - the “I want that” “so-and-so has that, why can’t I?” etc. that are frequently encountered in retail settings. Since they were very young, I have kept up an Amazon wishlist for each of them. Whenever something is desired we simply write it down or remember it and add it to the wishlist when we get home. (you’d be amazed how often the must-have item is quickly forgotten) As for grocery store meltdowns over specific commercial items and candies, the remedy was simple. We only shop at Trader Joes. Not only has it been less expensive and healthier for our family, but there are no cartoon characters wielding their trance-like powers over my kids. Oh, and we don’t have TV, so they have not seen the commercials for all this junk anyway.

2. Fighting. Oh No You Did Not Just Hurt Your Sibling! This is a big one for me, any kind of hurtful behavior is stopped immediately. If at home, they are removed from the house to the back step since this behavior is not acceptable in our house. Of course I stand nearby on the inside to watch them and when they are brought back in they are reminded that hurting people is just not an option and they need to apologize ("say it like you mean it" never really works, does it? a muttered and shamed apology is fine). Usually just a quick disapproving look and a reminder that what happened was not okay is sufficient for minor infractions.

3. Complaining. This brings me to the pool incident. Evie HATES leaving the pool. The first time I experienced her strong reaction to my telling her we had to go I froze. It took me a few minutes to gather myself and figure out my strategy - “Hey Evie, if you complain about leaving now, we won’t be able to come back because it won’t be fun for Mommy.” Amazingly, this two and a half year old had the logic skills to figure out the ramifications of continuing her tantrum. My hunch is that all kids are smarter than we give them credit for and most of the time we can appeal to their logic and get great results. This applies to a wealth of situations. Complaining about not having anything to do? Okay, I’ll take your computer for a week. Don’t like the food? You have to try it, not finish but at least try it so that you can be honest in your description of why you don’t like it.

So last night as another little girl was being hauled out of the pool kicking and screaming, Evie whimpered, I whispered this in her ear, she took a deep breath and held my hand to walk out of the pool. Ah, now we all had a fun night and will look forward to returning for another swim!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Praising God on a Beautiful Day

Most of you who know me, know that I am an ‘MK’, a ‘PK’, a regular church-goer and so on. But if you really know me, you also know that I am not very open about my faith. I often feel that my faith is not really up to snuff for someone with the ‘churchy’ credentials I have. I don’t do daily devotions, my Biblical knowledge is sorely lacking, I do not like to pray out loud other than our mealtime prayers and I get uncomfortable when talk of religion becomes anything more than intellectual conversation. So it may surprise some of you as much as it surprised me that today a hymn just popped into my head. And I could not shake it.

We were leaving the pool on our bikes and this hymn started playing in my head. As I started going over the lyrics to myself, I realized that it was quite perfect. The day had been quite perfect. The house was clean, laundry done, Jeremy had gotten some work done but was home in time to enjoy lunch with us on the patio. The kids had enjoyed playing outside some more (well, minus Evie who is going through a spat with insects). The weather was perfection - blue skies with big fluffy white clouds blowing by, right around the mid-70s to almost 80 degrees, not humid, just perfect. I was ready to teach my class which is my real passion. Life is good. I have a new nephew whom I absolutely adore, who is a miraculous gift from God. Siblings that I love, parents who are continuing their phenomenal parenting as fabulous grandparents. Grad school classes are all done, student teaching is coming up and then a diploma, another achievement that will open up life to more experiences, more challenges, more joy. Doula certification is in the works, allowing me to be present and assist couples in that exhilarating experience of becoming a family. We are blessed beyond measure with good fortune in our lives, how could I not be amazingly joyful? Something within me, perhaps my inner ‘PK’ busted out with a hymn that captured the moment perfectly:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

1. Praise to the Lord,
The Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him,
For He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear,
Now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.

2. Praise to the Lord,
Who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings,
Yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen
How all your longings have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

3. Praise to the Lord,
Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness
And mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew
What the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.

4. Praise to the Lord,
O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath,
Come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen
Sound from His people again, Gladly for aye we adore Him.

For all the contemporary Christian music there is, and I love most of it, there is something about these old hymns, maybe it is that my body can feel the surge of the organ and the tingling feeling I get from experiencing the joining of so many voices, whatever it is, there is something about it that makes it so special that it is what played in my heart in a moment of incredible joy. What an incredible blessing from above this day, and all that it contained, has been!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

the single most important societal problem of our day

If I had to say what the single most important societal problem of our day is I would say it is the ‘disconnect’. Funny, we think we are so ‘connected’ with all our technology but in reality we have become increasingly disconnected from everything that is important in life – the people closest to us, the environment around us, and even our own selves.

We think that having the new hot phone will help us stay connected to everything and everyone but we use it as a distraction tool, something to occupy time. Instead of making a connection with the person sitting next to us outside our daughter’s ballet class we check our emails and browse the internet.

I would not even say that it is the fault of the technology we use so much as the choices we are making. Mobile phones are great for many situations. It is not the devices but the users who seem to have lost touch, or disconnected from those around them.

We have disconnected ourselves from the earth and air that surrounds us, we hide inside out of fear or laziness and fail to make a real connection with nature. Maybe this makes it easier to go on using plastic bags and driving gas-guzzling high-pollution vehicles – if we don’t see the beauty that we are destroying through our own daily choices we don’t have to feel bad about what we do.

We also disconnect from our own being, from our physical body through not paying attention to aches and pains and reactions to certain foods that may be causing us more ill than good, and from our spiritual self constant worry about the future and keeping up with the Jones’ rather than being fully present in experiencing the joy in each fleeting moment.

Staying connected to others, to the space around us and to our innermost being is something that takes effort. It requires of us something more than most are willing to give but the payoff is so much greater than we could ever expect – the hug from an understanding friend, the tranquility of sitting peacefully, watching the waves crash on the shore, the incredible peace you can experience when you know that you have made positive decisions that will make not only your own, but someone else’s life a little bit better. That is why regaining the lost connection is worth the effort.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I spent the day today creating what I hope will solve all behavior issues in this house. Cool. I bet you want to know what it is, huh?
Well, I started thinking last week when I went to a home party where a behavior reward system was offered for sale. It was jars with marbles, similar to what my daughter’s second grade teacher does in her classroom - you do good, you get a marble. Once the marble jar is full, you pick a prize. Basically the carrot idea.
Now, having a degree in psychology and almost a degree in education I know that reward systems are used frequently and I also know that they are the cause of great debate. There are several great books out there that explain in detail why reward systems don’t really work. Alfie Kohn’s book, 'Punished By Rewards’ is the one that comes to mind first.
"Kohn, the author of other iconoclastic books, among them You Know What They Say: The Truth About Popular Beliefs ( LJ 8/90), here shows how rewards of all sorts undermine our efforts to teach students, manage workers, and raise children. Although aimed at a general audience, the book is based on extensive research and documented with almost 100 pages of notes and references. The first six review the behaviorist tradition and lay out in a clear and convincing manner Kohn's central argument that "pop behaviorism" is dangerously prevalent in our society. Here Kohn discusses why rewards, including praise, fail to promote lasting behavior change or enhance performance and frequently make things worse. The remaining six chapters examine the effect of rewards and alternatives to them in companies, schools, and the home. Recommended for all types of libraries.
- Mary Chatfield, Angelo State Univ., San Angelo, Tex.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.”
Knowing all of this has not stopped me from using rewards at all with my own children, it is really hard not to. It usually works very well with young children, they love to get a sticker or a lollipop or watch a movie. Rewards can be easy to come up with. So it is very tempting to fall into a trap of always relying on them. I’ll admit that I used rewards with my kids for potty training, although I think I did this more so with the last one. I know the first two kids got a big prize when they went for a week with no accidents, they never got something for each time they went potty. I had seen a friend attempt this and her kid trained himself to let out a little bit at a time in order to rack up the prizes - I’m sure that is not good for a kid physically! I used a random rewards system instead, a reward was given maybe every five or ten times. I often forgot to give one and there was no arguing (worth it just for that!). The final prize was something picked by the child as a celebration of their accomplishments, something they were proud to pick out. not to say this is the way to go, but it did work for us.
It has been a while since the older kids have had any sort of chart for their responsibilities. They had one when they were in preschool and all it entailed was placing a smiley-faced magnet under each task they completed that day before bedtime. There were no prizes that I can remember, but they were excited to see that they had filled in all their smiles.
Recently we revisited the idea of a chore chart in order to keep the kids on task for what they need to be doing each day without my having to scream it at them repeatedly. Every Mom out there knows what I mean. “Seriously, it is almost spring break of your second year of school and you still need to be reminded to wash your hands when you get home???!!!” I have tried to use Dr. Driekurs suggestion of the natural consequence - “If you don’t hurry up, you’ll miss the bus and you WILL be walking today!!!” (his idea is that you make the kids walk just once, with you driving alongside to make sure they are safe, to teach them the idea of why it is important to get themselves ready in the morning). It is a wonderful idea but when I look at my precious little blue-eyed-pouting-lipped little boy I just cannot bring myself to so it.
I saw an article posted on my facebook page about gentle parenting and why gentle parents do not use rewards and punishments. I want to be a gentle parent. I feel that we are gentle parents in many ways with our kids so I immediately decided I had to change the plan. Doing a marble jar was not going to be our thing. I can just picture myself, taunting them with the marbles in hopes of getting them to win the prize because I don’t want to see them not get it. It would get ugly. Just as ugly as having no system.
Instead I went and bought four small wooden plaques and one larger one. I talked with the kids at breakfast and we agreed that a self-assessment system would be our goal. I am in the middle of painting the four signs with our house rules/responsibilities - “Be Helpful” “Be Responsible” “Be Honest” and “Be Kind”. The fifth plaque has the days of the week and each child’s name. They will be responsible for honestly recording how they did each day on the four rules/responsibilities. A smile means “I did great and feel good about this”; a frown means “I know I messed this up today but I will try to do better tomorrow” and a straight lipped mouth will mean “I did some good and some not so good today”. I’m sure there will be days when being honest is too hard, but that is yet another good lesson to be learned.
There may be a surprise movie or dinner out every once in a while when weeks have been particularly good, to let them know how much we appreciate their efforts and recognize that it is not easy.
Sure, we will have to spend a lot of time talking about these values and what things in our daily life are encompassed by each one but I think this will be a good thing and ought to get much discussion anyway. Instead of holding the carrot out in front of them and using the stick when they veer off the course, they will know why they are on the course and what they need to do to stay on it.
Lofty goals, I know. I’ll let you know how it goes. So far today it went pretty well. There was discussion of what needed to get done rather than orders being barked. It felt good for a change and I hope it can stick.

(while I was writing this, Jeremy was watching this:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

PNG - My Life in a Tropical Paradox

I was recently at a party with friends when someone asked some questions about my experience growing up in Papua New Guinea. I had not talked about it in a long time and while talking I realized how much I had missed sharing this experience with people who were interested.
If you did not know this already, I was born in a remote village in the jungles of the Enga province of Papua New Guinea. Enga meris (women from Enga) are known for being quite fearsome. I like to think I can be fearsome. I was delivered by a New Guinean midwife since the Scottish doctor who delivered my older sister was on furlough. Perhaps this is the beginnings of my fascination with the miracle of birth (and an insane admiration of my Mama).
I spent the first few years of my life playing with leaves and sticks and dirt, wearing a grass skirt, being carried over vine bridges on the shoulders of New Guinean men (I don’t think they trusted my parents and their slippery white-folk hair that was no good for a kid to hold on to), and riding in helicopters to go grocery shopping. I honestly do not recall a thing about those early years beyond what I have seen in pictures and been told in stories.
Apparently I could speak three languages by the time I was three. English, Melanesian Pidgin and Duna, the local language (there are over 800 languages in PNG). And I could tell who spoke which language. I am impressed with me. If only I could remember one of those languages well now! I learned recently about myself that my early exposure to many languages while making it easier for me to learn other languages as I grew up, also made me incapable of communicating fully to the extent of my intellectual desire - I reduce everything to the simplest of terms. Perhaps I am always preparing to have to change something into another language. I’ll claim that as my excuse. Please tell my professors!
There were some funny stories surrounding our return to the US when I was three. Like me and my sister diving for cover under the car in the grocery store parking lot when we heard a helicopter - in PNG it would have been a police helicopter coming to break up a tribal war with tear gas. Or my Mom trying to tell us that snow was soft stuff and us jumping off the steps onto our faces in three inches of it.
There was the confusion for me of living in a really white town for a few years and then moving to Hyde Park in chicago and having African American kids - who looked like my first friends - being angry towards me. It took years for me to understand that.
We returned to PNG when I was ten and quickly learned that the paradise we had left behind seven years before was now a pretty scary place to be. Violence, especially against expats and women was rampant. Our home had bars on the windows and alarm switches in every room that could send the Seminary students running to our rescue should we need them. We could not go out at night. The few times we tried to ended badly. Once my Dad picked a few of us up from a school dance and our car was attacked as we neared the one-lane bridge that led to home. He desperately tried to turn the car around but the engine died as the men beat on the windows of the van and my friends and I sat paralyzed in fear. We eventually got turned around and back to the police station where we waited for hours for an escort home. There were even times in broad daylight that were quite terrifying. My younger sister and I were in a friends’ car on the way to their house when a man jumped out and threw a rock into the windshield of the car, leaving us covered in glass and blood. Thankfully my friend’s Mom had the presence of mind to keep driving us to safety. It was impossible to deny the fear that we all lived with.

Yet at the same time there were beautiful moments - we would drive down close to the coast and smell the salty air, or I would climb the tree in our back yard and watch as the sun began to set and the palm trees swayed lightly in the breeze. Between the two different houses we lived in over those eight years, we had pineapples, guavas, lemons, star fruit, papaya, bananas, passion fruit and mangoes growing either in our yard or across the street. I used to make a game of eating lemons and daring other kids to do it too. (One poor girl threw up from it.) And we had a pool. A round, corrugated tin pool that we could make an awesome wave in by pushing down repeatedly on a large inner tube until the wave would crash over our heads and sometimes over the sides of the pool. I remember trips into town when we would get to pick out a treat at the grocery store, maybe some gum or a dove bar. There was a smell about the city. A combination of sweat and buai (it is chewed and spit out like tobacco) and rain. Thinking about that smell makes me happy. I remember trips into town to go to the international hotel and swim in the big pool and eat fries and drink a lemon lime bitter. Once the toucan that resided there caught a ball that was being thrown around in the pool. School was usually fun too, especially when we had to run from building to building through the rain. We would arrive at the next class refreshed and exhilarated! The sound of the rain at night, beating down on the tin roof, was so peaceful. I miss that. So while there was a very real risk and danger involved every day, there was always beauty and fun to balance it out. And that it what life is - balance.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


“I’ll do it.”
It was that simple. I did not hesitate. My friend had been talking about how she was thinking about looking for a gestational surrogate. She had been diagnosed with lupus after having her first child and was told she should not attempt to get pregnant again. Most of us in the playgroup that were gathered at her house that day had just recently had our second children.
We were driving home from an appointment one day, several months later, when she turned to me and said, “why are you doing this?” I could not tell if she was still surprised that I would do this or if she thought that I was a little insane for doing it, but it was easy for me, I knew that she and her husband had two blastocysts that were still cryogenically frozen from their previous round of IVF and I knew that they needed a chance to grow into the life that they had the potential for. I am not choosing sides in the abortion debate here, nowhere near. I am not even judging whether or not people should use medicine in this way. All I knew was that if it were me, and I had two little possible babies out there I would want them to have a chance at life.
Sometime during my pregnancy with my own first child my husband and I were watching the show Everwood and there was an episode where one of the character, Nina, was a gestational surrogate for a friend of hers. I thought it was such a beautiful and selfless gift. I knew that two of my husband’s cousins were struggling with infertility and even though it had only taken a few months for us to conceive our first, each time it did not happen was agony for me. I could not imagine living with that kind of painful longing for so long.
So I signed on the lines and I took the blood tests and I went to the fertility office appointments and met with a lawyer and learned how to give myself injections. We prepared. We got giddy every once in a while, thinking about this beautiful experience we were hoping to share.
My husband was a little reluctant at first but was always fully supportive of me. Others were weary and admitted their concern, if only through their lack of encouragement. I came to learn a lot about those around me as I viewed their reactions to my experience. I did worry about my own children’s understanding of what was going on and how they might handle it if Mommy had a baby and it was not their baby to keep. I knew they would understand when the time came. They were only 3 years old and 18 months.
I don’t remember when they set they appointment for the transfer (it is not called implantation because the blastocysts have to implant themselves, they only deposit them into the uterus). I remember being anxious. I remember them telling us that the blastocysts had thawed well and were of good quality. Then we watched the monitor as they guided the thin tube into my uterus and carefully transferred the tiny blastocysts - we could actually see them on the monitor! It was pretty cool. I was worried that movement might decrease the odds of success, so I lay still for as long as I could (but having had a full bladder for the procedure made it impossible to wait long).
The whole process did not take long and afterwards we went to the Cheesecake Factory on Michigan Ave. for lunch. We were all holding our breath, hoping that it would work. It was December, so they were worried about the ice on the sidewalks.
I was to go in to the office for a blood draw pregnancy test in a few days.
I went home and my wonderful husband agreed to give me the shots of hormones because I was too chicken to give them to myself. He does not do well with needles (usually passes out at the sight of them) so this was huge for him. Every evening he would give me the shot. I was a little surprised at how big the needle was but it was part of the process and I desperately wanted this to work for my friends.
It was just before Christmas and we were headed down to my parent’s house to celebrate early with them. We stopped at the fertility office so that I could run in and have the blood draw that would tell us what we’d all been waiting for.
The next day I received a phone call from my friend. “It WORKED!!!” She yelled through joyful tears. I sat down and laughed and cried with her over the phone.
A few days later we were back at home and preparing to go in to my in-laws for Christmas. I was beginning to feel the nausea and finally feeling like this was all very real. My husband had become quite good at giving the shots and my poor pjs were showing signs of the two weeks’ worth of injections - small drops of blood had stained the waistband. As we headed in to grandma and grandpa’s house the day before Christmas Eve, we stopped for another quick blood draw to confirm the pregnancy for a second time.
I was laying on a bed upstairs reading a Jodi Picoult book while my little boy slept nearby when I heard my phone vibrating. I decided not to answer it and risk waking him up. After a few minutes I checked my messages. It was a nurse from the fertility office.
I don’t even remember what she said in the message but she was talking about the hormone levels being low and something about how I could quit doing the shots. It all became something of a blur as I rushed down the stairs with hot tears streaming down my face. I called my friend. She had heard as well. I had miscarried. But I did not believe it. Physically, nothing had changed. I insisted that they were wrong. Part of me knew that they knew what they were talking about but I did not want to face it, so I still did the shot that night.
We went out to a comedy club with my brothers in law and their wives and a cousin. Everyone had margaritas but I could not bring myself to drink. Maybe they were wrong. Maybe. The comedy skits must have been funny but I don’t remember laughing.
The next morning I woke up and knew they were right. A chill ran through me when I knew the baby(ies?) had passed. I bawled. Relatives tried to comfort me and tell me it was for the best. It would have been too hard anyway. Something like that. Maybe they were right. But it still did not feel right to me.
Days passed. I finally saw my friend about a week later. We drove around for a while and then parked near the river and talked. She seemed so much more together than I had expected. She was worried about me. I was worried about her. We cried and hugged. Someday it would all be okay.
I guess I am naive. It was only about a year and a half later, just after having talked with her about her hopes for adoption that I learned that she had been cheating on her husband for a while and was planning on leaving him. It would seem to be another story altogether but after what we had gone through together I was incredibly shocked. I know that infertility can take it’s toll on relationships but she knew this too and they had one child that they had gone through a lot to have. How she could do this was beyond me and I was furious with her. It damaged our relationship beyond repair. The one thing that kept running through my head was, “if you are so sure that this is what is right for your life, would you have done this even if the surrogacy had worked out? Because you are making a fool of me now too.”
The light at the end of all of this is that as I was talking with her husband as he was trying to understand what was going on, how his world was crashing all around him, my husband and I (I like to claim responsibility) hooked him up with another friend who had gone through a divorce and the two of them hit it off. They have been engaged for a year now! Not how I had ever really pictured things turning out but it is good to have some happy to the ending.
For the two years after the surrogacy I cried a lot right before Christmas. I had also found a new respect for Mary in the Christmas story. She was the first surrogate, after all. I suppose her story did not have the happiest of endings either. At least not the earthly story. Not that I rate myself so highly as to compare myself to Mary. Heavens no! But it does make me pause to think about everything I went through and how there can be little glimmers of hope where we least expect it and even when things don’t go how we’d hoped we can still learn about ourselves and those around us.
Every once in a while we are faced with the opportunity to do something that just feels right. Sure, it did not ‘work’ in the way that we had hoped. But the question was answered. There is peace in that. And I believe it is that gift of knowing and not having to live with the not knowing that was my gift to them. People like to make a bigger deal out of it than I think it is worthy of. I just did what I could to help some friends find a bit of peace in their lives. We all do it in some way or other at some point in our lives.