Monday, June 20, 2016

On Early Childhood Literacy

I like homeschooling. I do. And I think I do a pretty decent job of it, despite all the upheaval that our little Cleftie has brought into our lives, what with her being born on Christmas Day, and then having surgery for her cleft lip and everything.

But I won't sugar coat it. I'll come right out and admit it.

My kid is reading below his grade level. 

When I read the literacy requirements for kids entering 2nd grade, I feel many emotions. They want him to be an independent reader. He is not an independent reader. So I feel disappointed, wondering if I've failed him, if I should have been more consistent, if I should have tied him to a chair and made him read or something.

But then I feel angry. Who came up with these requirements, anyway? Don't they know that lots of kids learn to read later, and in the long run sometimes the kids who learned to read at 7 instead of 5 have better reading comprehension? Don't they know that the insistence that every child learn everything on a list at the exactly the same time is absolutely ridiculous?

I'm annoyed, too, because my kid is above his grade level when it comes to math, plus all the other stuff he has in his head. Like the fact that he has more encyclopedic knowledge of WWII aircraft than most history majors. I'm doing a great job homeschooling my son, but if you're measuring him against that little checklist, nothing that he's really good at matters for much.

And then I feel all the emotions I experienced as a kid when it came to reading. One of my very clearest memories of first grade was of sitting at one of those circular tables, staring at my dumb textbook, hating it so much I'm surprised it didn't catch fire from the strength of my gaze alone. I wanted to rip it to shreds, pick it up and throw it at my teacher's head, run screaming from the room, anything but read from that book in front of my teacher and all my peers.

Obviously I became literate. I remember the exact moment reading became a joy instead of a slog. I was already halfway through second grade, and it involved a big pile of Little Critter books at my grandma's house in Idaho Falls. In first grade I was barely making it. By the time I got to third and fourth grade, I was running circles around my peers. So don't tell me that a child MUST conform to a dumb list in order to be a successful reader.

I still make my son work from a phonics workbook, and he writes letters to his friends and cousins. He copies verses from the scriptures. I know I could be doing more, but I can't bring myself to fight him and fight him over it, not when a) I think state guidelines are stupid and b) I have confidence that he'll figure it out eventually, even if it's a little later than most kids.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Times They Are A-Changin'

It's been ages and ages since I updated my blog. There are several reasons for this.

1) Now that there are four little people running around my house, I have reached what I like to call "peak kid." My youngest, the Cleftie, needed extra care because she wore what is known as a NAM until two weeks ago, when she had her lip repair surgery.

2) Most of my writing energy has been transferred over to I've written over 40 articles so far, if you can believe it. Go check it out now! Emergency Preparedness is very important!

3) I read something (it was this book) that accused social media of being narcissistic. I wanted to deny it until I read some of my older blog posts from 2008. Most of those are like, "And then I went to the store. And then I knitted something. LOOK AT THIS THING I DID AND VALIDATE ME!) And I felt ashamed.

When I started this blog in 2008, I vowed that I would never quit blogging. Mostly this was because I a) couldn't envision a scenario where I would not have time for blogging and b) I didn't want to be a quitter.

I don't think I'll officially quit my blog, but don't expect to see many updates. I have a couple of other projects in the works, and I'll advertise those here. I'm going to start cleaning out my blog, deleting a lot of the old posts that are no longer relevant to what it has become.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Why I still like BYU

I felt a little cheated, I'll admit, when I graduated from BYU but didn't get a job in my field. I know several people in the same situation who have become quite bitter towards our alma mater for this reason.

But now that I have kids, I feel nothing but a sense of deep appreciation for what BYU is and what the university stands for.


  • Free museums! BYU has an art museum, a life science museum, a paleontology museum, and a museum of ancient cultures. They're pretty tiny, but we go to each one several times a year. 
  • Lots and lots of activities for children: Astrofest, Open Studio, and the Beverly Taylor Sorensen Concert Series, for example. We try to attend as many of these as we can. They're consistently well-organized and enriching. 
  • Professors who like kids. My Engineer had a question about squirrels, so I helped him write an email to the university's expert on small mammals. The reply we got from him was warm and informative, as though getting a question from a six-year-old absolutely made his week.
  • A culture of people who like kids.
Here's a big long story to describe what I mean by that last one: Last Friday we went to the Engineering Expo.  (I know it says it was for high school and middle schoolers, but it also said "open and free to the public." Well, we're the public. I knew they wouldn't kick us out. We had a truly fantastic time.) At the very first booth, the baby started fussing. I tried to duck into a corner of the room to get her to calm down, but she just cried louder.

I felt really self-conscious because of how loudly she was screaming. One of the student presenters came up to me and asked if I needed anything, which I found really embarrassing. I got up to leave because I was so mortified, even though he said that I didn't have to leave, and that his own son was the same way.

Well, the baby calmed down and then we went back in and stayed for another two hours. In this day of anti-child sentiment where people hate being seated next to the screaming baby on an airplane, I was shown a considerable amount of compassion. Yes, it was an embarrassing situation, but I felt grateful that everyone was so gracious about it.

I can't say that I have an intimate knowledge of what other universities are like in this regard, but something makes me doubt that we will ever find a university as child-friendly as BYU.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Meet the Cleftie

I told people that all I wanted for Christmas was not to be pregnant any more. I got my Christmas wish! My second daughter, whose blog name will be The Cleftie, was born on Christmas Day 2015.

She has a bilateral cleft of the lip and palate:

The tape over her top lip is to flatten the little bit of flesh called the prolabium so as to facilitate the surgery on her lip that will probably happen when she is 3-4 months old. The cleft in her palate is one of the most severe kinds you can get, and as a result she will have to undergo multiple surgeries, lest she have trouble with eating and speaking for the rest of her life. Luckily, thanks to modern medicine, great strides have been made in how they treat clefts. A couple decades ago a child with this kind of cleft could expect literally dozens of surgeries. That number has decreased to four or five. Other parents of children with this same deformity report excellent outcomes.

Obviously, the cleft is one of the first things you'll notice about my daughter, but she is not defined solely by her birth defect. In spite of the cleft, she looks remarkably like our other children. She clearly fits right in with our family. She is a sweet and gentle soul and is adored without reservation by her brothers and sister.

The process of her birth was very special to me, and I will probably write more about that later. Her birth was a gift that I will carry with me as we navigate this next year, which will be full of doctor's appointments, nasal alveolar molding, surgery, and who knows how many trips to Primary Children's Hospital. My little Cleftie was born in the caul, which I take as a good omen.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Open Letter To Kid #4

Dear Baby,

If you are anything like your brothers and sister, I know that you are jolly well going to come when you feel like it and not when I tell you to. All the same, I thought you ought to know that I would see it as a personal favor to me if, instead of coming a week late on Jan 1, you could come a few days early. Not too early. Just like, five days or so. Dec 20 is looking like a really good day. But no pressure.

I expect you'll want to fit in with your older siblings and turn into a posterior position so as to be one of the "cool kids." I know I won't be able to control what you do, and you can do what you want, but it will be easier on both of us if you stick to an anterior position, and slightly to the left. If you're cool with that.

In 2008 when I miscarried, someone told me that it was actually a blessing because I "wouldn't want a deformed baby." I wasn't pleased to hear it then, and you can just imagine how I feel about that comment, now. You're mine, and I am glad you're coming to our family. I know you have your cleft and as you get older you might become self-conscious about it. If anyone gives you any trouble about your face, I'll wreck theirs.*

As a final note, you are, after all, my fourth kid. I plan on putting a lot of time and energy into raising you. You'd better not put me in a home after I retire. Or else.

Lots of love,

*Not kidding.

Monday, November 30, 2015

My Kids and How They Handle Violence in Books vs. Movies

You will laugh, but my kids' favorite book these days is Beowulf. As in, the Anglo-Saxon epic poem. Yes, that one. We got a simplified version from the library that was quite good, and they enjoyed it so much my mom caused Seamus Heaney's translation to magically appear at my house.

I have been pleasantly surprised by how much my kids seem to genuinely enjoy it. I was reading the introduction quietly to myself when my two-year-old crawled onto the couch next to me and asked me to "wead." I read her a paragraph, then fell silent. She looked up at me with her blue, blue eyes and demanded in her tiniest, sweetest, toddlerest voice that I "wead wead wead wead!" You never know what will appeal to the masses, I suppose. Incredulous, I asked The Engineer if he just liked listening to the sound of my voice or something, but he insisted that he liked the actual poem because of how the words sounded. *Shrug.* Ok, if that's what you really want, I'll read it to you.

The thing is, Beowulf is really violent - it's most certainly not on any list of what would be considered "appropriate for children." I thought my kids would have difficulty with the part where Grendel eats a guy in peices (it's pretty graphic), or the part where Beowulf rips Grendel's arm right out of the socket. Nope. They were totally fine with all those bits. Later I read The Hobbit to the Engineer. I was sure he would have nightmare issues with Gollum wanting to eat Bilbo, or the part with the giant spiders. Nope. Totally fine. He ate it all up.

Just a few days ago, The Husband and I thought it would be fun to have the kids watch Night at the Museum. This was a big mistake. We had to turn it off after less than thirty minutes because it was "too scary." The Cookie begged us to skip past the part where Ben Stiller is being chased by Attila the Hun, and the Engineer was shaking so hard I wondered at first if he was having some sort of seizure. (The Sheildmaiden didn't seem to have an opinion.)

That's not the first time we've had to turn off a movie or skip past scary parts. The climax in Up with the dogs in airplanes was also too scary for our kids, as was the bit with the pirates in Swiss Family Robinson. As a result, there are many, many films I enjoyed as a 4-year-old that my children have not even heard of. The upshot is, of course, that Frozen Fever has largely bypassed our house. I'm not sad about that!

I've read a lot of research that says that books are often less frightening than films, because your imagination won't lead you into places that you can't handle. I'm not sure if I quite agree with that, though - I read Reviving Ophelia as a teenager and I really wished I hadn't. Jurassic Park and The Mummy were sunny afternoon picnics  compared to Reviving Ophelia.

I'm not sure what it means that my kids are cool with graphic blood and guts in books but have difficulty handling even mild cartoon dramatic tension. On a practical level, it probably means that I could read all seven Harry Potter books to them and they'd be ok with everything. But metaphysically? Philosophically? I dunno.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bilateral Clefts Part II: Frequently Asked Questions

My baby is due in five weeks. We've gotten a lot of questions and answering them over and over again has begun to wear on me a little, so I decided to write them all down in a blog post.

When are you due?
My due date is Christmas Day. Yeah, I know. My other three were born one week late, so it's more likely that we're looking at January 1. That's not really better. What with one thing and another, it would be exceedingly less convenient to go early, so I am hoping that the earliest I go into labor is Dec 20.

Does this mean your pregnancy is high risk?
Nope. Apart from the cleft, the baby is really strong and healthy, and so am I. Nothing to report. My pregnancies tend to be pretty unexciting.

How bad is the cleft? 
Not sure. We have a definite diagnosis of a bilateral cleft of the lip, but ultrasounds have been inconclusive in regards to the palate. We have had the option of getting a more detailed ultrasound, but chose not to, as it would not fundamentally change anything and would just be an extra hassle. Thus, we won't find out the extent of the cleft until after the baby is born.

They can fix that, right? 
Yes. While clefts are one of the most common of birth defects, depending upon the severity a treatment plan can include the following: repair of the lip/ hard/ soft palate, bone grafts, extensive orthodontia, tympanostomy tubes, corrective surgery of the upper and/ or lower jaw, and speech therapy. We won't know how many of these will be required for our child until after he or she is born. Many adults who were born with clefts report that the most difficult part was not the surgeries, but the bullying. Needless to say, any punk kid who attempts anything of the sort on my baby will get the black belt treatment.

How soon is the first surgery? 
In Utah, lip repair occurs between 3-4 months of age. The soft palate repair is at 9-12 months, and the hard palate repair is between 3-4 years. This schedule is different from what you find at other cleft palate clinics, but the surgical team at Primary Children's has found that they get better speech results with this schedule, and that this usually requires less, more invasive, surgery later on. 

Are you having a boy or a girl? 
We  chose not to find out. We haven't found out with any of our kids until birth and we like it that way.

At which hospital are you delivering?
Ah. Well....I'm actually going for an out-of-hospital birth this time. I've had two unmedicated births already, so I know what I'm in for, and I know I'm tough enough to take it. The birth center I've chosen is very professional and is staffed by highly qualified personnel. The midwives I'm seeing still do all the blood work and can administer pitocin and all that. I have my reasons for wanting to avoid a hospital birth this time around. We asked the baby's surgeon specifically about the safety of delivering a cleft baby at a birth center and he answered very plainly that this was perfectly all right.

Are you going to have trouble breastfeeding? 
Yes. Cleft babies have difficulty creating suction, so breastfeeding is a known challenge. It is still highly encouraged to try, with the understanding that the baby will need to be primarily bottle fed with special bottles. I plan to do a lot of pumping, because that is something that is important to me. Yes, I already have an electric pump.


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