Je ne regrette rien

Homeschooling: Little House in the Big Woods

Posted in 100 Things, Book Babble, education, Homeschool, life, new orleans, Parenting by Amy on March 10, 2009

book-bigwoodsI remember when I was in third grade. Somehow, I had convinced my mother – who then had to convince my penny-pinching Irish father – that I wanted needed the complete collection of Little House on the Prairie Books. I grew up in Wisconsin. Every day, after school, I ran home from the bus stop to watch Little House on the Prairie from 4pm – 5pm on channel 9. Ten miles from my home, we had our own little pioneer village. I was at one with Half Pint. My mother purchased the books for me, and boy, was I proud of them! SO proud, in fact, that the very next day I took them to school for show and tell. Unfortunately, on my way to show and on my way to tell, I fell down in a snow bank and the paperback copies of the books were destroyed. I was heartbroken, ashamed, and afraid to tell my mother. I told her, she assured me it was ok, but I didn’t ask for anymore books after that, afraid the same thing would happen again.

Now that my daughter is eight, I am forcing introducing her to Half Pint, Mary, and Baby Carrie. Reading the Little House series is apart of the curriculum that I have created for her. I think it teaches her a lot of important things, as well as teaching her about the area that her Mama comes from.  This has an added appeal to her, as I she received the first season of the television show on DVD as a Christmas gift and we do have a lot of fun snuggling up with one another in my room and watching it while my husband productively spends his time playing Resident Evil or some other zombie killing game in the living room.

Our vocabulary for the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, is as follows:

basque
basswood
bladder
brindle bulldog
butcher
buttermilk
calico
cameo
catechism
churn
cowhorn
corset
crescent
curlicues
curried
deerlick
delaine
fawn
fiddle
fierce
flannel
flatiron
flounce
gaiters
griddle
gunpowder
gunstock
hasty pudding
headcheese
hearth
heifer
hickory
hoop
hull
jackknife
johnnycake
kerosene
lantern
latchstring
mink
mufflers
muskrats
muzzle
panther
pantry
petticoats
quivered
ramrod
ravine
rennet
rind
sap
savage
scalp
shock
slender
spareribs
spices
stalk
stout
sulk
thimble
thrashing
thresh
threshing machine
trough
trundle bed
venison
washtub
whetstone
whey
wisp
woodbox
yearling

We use this words as our spelling words and as practice in using reference books.

We have been making our bread from scratch, so she gets a bit of an idea of what goes into that. We also made two batches of Apple Cinn. jelly. Next week we are making cheese!

Easy White Cheese

Great for breading and frying, stir-frying with vegetables, or by itself, this mild cheese will keep refrigerated for one week.

1 gallon milk
2 T. lemon juice
3 T. white vinegar

Pour milk into a large enamel pot. Slowly bring the temperature up to 180F. This may take an hour. Stir frequently to prevent scorching, and hold the temperature at 180F for four minutes. Combine vinegar and lemon juice and add to the milk, stirring gently, until the curds separate form the whey. Line a colander with cheesecloth, and pour the contents of the pot. Tie the corners of the cheescloth together to form a bag and let it hang to drain for three hours. The cheese will be solid when its ready. Wrap and refrigerate. Yield: one pound. Variation: Herbed Easy White Cheese — Add 1� teaspoon dried chives and � teaspoon dillweed to the curds before hanging.

And we are making maps of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Of course a Little House in the Big Woods unit would not be complete without making a handkerchief doll.

And our poem for memorization is :

Pioneer Dolls

By Judie Fordham

Judie Fordham, “Pioneer Dolls,” Friend, July 1992, 27
When pioneer children were crossing the plains,
They didn’t have cars, airplanes, or trains.
They walked beside wagons loaded clear to the top
With food, bedding, and seeds for the next season’s crop.
There just wasn’t room for a toy or a doll—
The wagons were filled with all they could haul.
So Papa’s handkerchief became a new toy,
A cherished soft doll that brought lots of joy.
This cute little doll loves to play or just sleep.
She’ll brush away tears if ever you weep.
So keep her close by—she’s easy to hold—
And pretend you’re a pioneer child of old.

Our big project, though, is to make a log cabin and all of the furnishings inside. The Dollar Tree has craft sticks for $1.00 and although it is a long way from actual logs, that is going to be the walls to our cabin. We are going to gather small rocks and clay for the fireplace.


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Tis the Little Things

Posted in 100 Things, Homeschool, life, new orleans, Parenting, Relationships by Amy on March 10, 2009

We had a pretty earth-shattering experience in our household since the last time I posted.

No one died. (Knock on wood)

We fought minor Post-Mardi Gras Krud without any trips to the doctor. (Thank God!)

I didn’t get asked to sing for The Runaways  reunion tour (though I totally would, if anyone out there is listening, and maybe y’all should reunite – at least for one show since I was too young to ever see you live)

Cleo got her library card.

library-card

Oh, I know, it’s just a library card, but not in this house and not to Cleo. No, this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime, I’m-the-luckiest-girl-in-the-world, I-need-you-to-buy-me-a-wallet-now moments.

We dressed and got ready to go to the Latter Library sale as we do most Saturdays. I had been doing some research on books I wanted Cleo to read along with her homeschool curriculum. We are tackling the Little House on the Prairie series as apart of school, and I wanted her to see some authentic Pioneer Days stuff and get some pioneer-ish recipes for us to make so she can appreciate how hard those that came way before us had to work and could see exactly how far we have come (whether good or bad I leave that for you to ponder) and I thought it would be a good time to go into the library.  I have not seen Cleo light up like this since she caught her shoe at the Muses parade during Mardi Gras. And then when she got Tumbles the dog at Christmas. For Cleo, this was a serious deal.

“Um, excuse me, Ma’am,” Cleo said in her little voice – the one she uses when she is trying to be super polite, but talking to a stranger who has something she wants. I think she was afraid that they would turn her down if she used her big voice.

“Yes, baby, what can I do for you?” the boisterous librarian said behind her librarian desk.

“I would like a library card, please! How many of my coins do you need?”

“I don’t need any of your monies, baby, all you need to do is apply for one.”

“Like you apply for a job?” Cleo asked.

So, Papa Bear took care of applying for Cleo’s library card and I took care of making sure Papa Bear had all of Cleo’s information right, not trusting him to because he is, after all, a boy and boys aren’t always that great when it comes to important things like birthdates. (I assure you there is no bitterness or glares in that statement)

And off we went. We went to the children’s section and by the time we and worked our way down the first row, Cleo had nearly fourteen books that “looked interesting” or “could probably teach her a thing or two.”  I sat her down and explained that we didn’t have to get all of them at one time, that we could find the ones we need and return them to the library near our home, but that simply wouldn’t do. The library by our home didn’t use to be a mansion and she HAS to go to the Latter Library because it WAS a mansion. More important, though, is it has a carriage house and she just KNOWS that the horses that used to live there had to be incredible horses so we need to there to HONOR  the horses majesty. Yes, she said the word majesty and the emphasis was hers.

Needless to say, after she had the library card in her hand, she was happy.

“Mom, we can go to the library every week BECAUSE I HAVE MY OWN LIBRARY CARD!”

“Mom, we should go shopping. I need a wallet BECAUSE I HAVE MY OWN LIBRARY CARD!”

“Mom, I don’t need you to teach me anymore. I can teach myself BECAUSE I HAVE MY OWN LIBRARY CARD!”

Somewhere, we lose that as adults – the need for only the simple things and the simple things meaning the most.  It is like a sweater that we outgrow and we throw away. In thinking about it, it made me a bit sad, the fact that at one time I used to appreciate every single little thing so much and now, well, I’ve been having a case of the grumpies lately – a combination of a lot of things- and have felt so…unhappy.

I decided to try to see the world through the eyes of Cleo, a tough cookie who has been through her own hard times that some cannot even imagine, and try to see how much power is there in the little things. I’m trying…. I’m trying….

amy

This Angel Needs SOLE

Posted in 100 Things, life, Mardi Gras, new orleans, Parenting, Relationships, Uptown by Amy on February 27, 2009

40def00d69cf“Mama, do you think I will get a shoe?” Cleo asked as we were making our plans for the Muses parade. I had been told by so many people that the Muses parade was THEE parade that I certainly did not want to miss, so despite my apprehension of navigating around the city at night, without my husband, in an area unfamiliar to me, I knew that this was the one thing I needed to do if I did nothing else for Mardi Gras.

“I don’t know, baby, maybe!”

“Mom, you said baby and maybe and they rhyme. Are you trying to be a rapper?”

“Yes. I am MC Hurry-UP- Let’s-Get-Ready-to-go,” I said, giving Cleo the look I promised I would never give, the same look my mom gave me and the exact same look I had seen my Grandma Bea give my mom.

We put on her dress and her wings and she asked for some make up, a night to play dress up and receive gifts from the gods  for her and a night to challenge myself and the fears I had developed for me.

We arrived a couple hours early, setting up a picinic, me reading Augsten Burroughs, her reading Captain Crankypants or Underpants or whatever it is that she devours and laughs and tries to mock the pictures of. She spread out on the blanket, her head on my lap, me caressing her hair, her looking up at me and smiling. A  Kodak pictures in our mind that we never will forget.

It was finally time for the parade to start and she took it all in, waiting and waiting. She caught bead after bead, refusing to place some on her neck, partly due to being weighed down and partly due to wanting to share with her mom. It was our night, My Girls’ Night, and I was spending it with one of my favorite girls.

The parade came to an abrupt stop and we sat down, waiting to see what had happened. We had struck up conversations with the people next to us, an older couple visiting from Michigan. We talked about the Mid-West, about New Orleans, and about the transition of moving down here. They chatted with Cleo about books and art. After forty-five minutes and the temp dropping, we decided to head home. The parade was still stopped with no start in sight. We walked the half block to the parades beginning intersection when we saw movement, so we quickly ran back to our spot, and thankfully the Michigan couple welcomed us in, vowing for our previous parade placement when a couple of college kids became upset that they were going to have to compete with a child for beads.

Cleo held her sign up high as each float passed by.

One of the women on the top of one float pointed at Cleo, making eye contact with me, and tossed down to me the coveted Muses prize, a hand decorated shoe. These shoes are hot commodities, with women of all ages holding signs asking for the shoes to be gifted by a generous rider. Cleo’s eyes lit up bright, she gave me a thumbs up, and screamed, “YES!”

“Mama, we can go home now! I got a shoe!!!” she said, jumping up and down.

“Let’s watch the rest of the parade and then we will go home, Ok?”

“Deal!”

We repeated the same routine as each float passed by. Cleo received a few stuffed animals, which made her happy since next to just about anything, stuffed animals are her favoritest thing in the world. She has a trunk full of Bratz dolls that go unplayed with, but her stuffed animals have homes made from cardboard boxes with Cleo’s artistic flair added.

And then another lady signaled to me. Another shoe, this one orange in color – Cleo’s new favorite color.

More beads. More stuffed animals. More smiles. More laughs.

“Does she have an octo yet?” asked the little boy near us.

“No, she doesn’t.”

“She can have this, “he said, handing it to her, causing both of them to laugh, smile, and blush.

And at last, the last float of the parade. Cleo did her same routine, jumping up and down, holding up her sign, screaming, “Throw me something Missus!”

The eye contact came. Along with another shoe. The light in Cleo’s eyes was so bright. In that moment, she was so happy. The difficulties that she faced this past year were erased all she felt was pure joy. Mama’s heart was smiling.

“I need to make sure I bring one of my shoes to Miss Elizabeth,” Cleo said.

And that did it. In the middle of the lights and the crowd and the Mardi Gras joyfulness, I broke down in tears, looking at my daughter, with such a big heart and so considerate of others. That’s my girl.

The next day, we took the shoe that Cleo picked out for Miss Elizabeth over to her bookshop. We took the other shoe to Cleo’s Miss Ellen, the woman who has worked miracles in Cleo’s life. The remaining shoe is proudly displayed on her bookshelf, so she “never forgets our best date out”, next to her Octo and her Elvis scarf she was pinned with by one of the motor scootering Elvi.

This is the Mardi Gras I chose to remember. This is the Mardi Gras that should be reported on NBC, ABC, and whichever other national channel that wants to mar not only Mardi Gras, but New Orleans – a city that is trying to do the best that it can with what it has. A city that care may have forgotten, but not a city that has forgotten to care.

amy

What Mardi Gras Is, Not What It Isn’t

Posted in 100 Things, life, Mardi Gras, marriage, Mental Health, new orleans, Parenting, Relationships, Uptown by Amy on February 22, 2009

This afternoon at 3:30, my family packed up the car and headed to Magazine St. to park the car and have a picnic while we waited for that night’s festivities to begin. This is our first Mardi Gras and. unfortunately,  my husband has to  work for much of Mardi Gras in the French Quarter, so this was really our only chance to spend Mardi Gras together as a family. It was one of those special days that create memories that you will always carry with you, sharing the story with your children’s children, and with anyone else that will lend you an ear to listen.

Cleo and I spread our blanket out, brought out books we were reading, and spend our time basking in the beautiful February New Orleans sun, watching as preparation for the festivies began. People walked passed us, wishing us a Happy Mardi Gras,  and police officers made small talk as they were preparing to take their stations for the parade. We watched as people made their way up Magazine Street, returning to their homes from work or driving to meet up with friends to partake in the Mardi Gras celeration together.  My husband wandered around Magazine Street, looking for a Daquari chain for me, with no such luck.

People next to us, a man named John, was up from Belle Chase with his two boys, Logan and Joshua. Cleo joined the two in a game of catch. He offered made small talk, shared his experiences of living in Southern Louisiana his whole life. Emily met another little girl and they played sidewalk games together, dancing around the cracks that are infamous in the New Orleans sidewalks and playing an impromptu game of hop scotch without the traditional number grid. The parade began and we watched in anticipation, Cleo holding up her sign declaring herself a novice minion of the Krewe D’ Etat, hoping to get something that lit up the night sky in alternating flashes of light.

As D’Etat reached their mid-parade point, we met a couple named Karen and Dave, who split their time between Colorado and Louisiana.  Dave and Karen split their time between Louisiana and Colorado.  We shared with them that it was our first Mardi Gras, told them about moving from Wisconsin to New Orleans, and talked about Cleo. Karen and Dave were so full of life, welcoming us into their Mardi Gras experience. Karen held up Cleo’s sign that declared it was her first Mardi Gras. As the floats passed by, we would make as much noise as possible and before you knew it, Cleo had learned the coordination needed to catch the beads. Dave gave Cleo some beads, telling her that if a boy gives you beads, you need to give him a kiss. Cleo got a kick out of that, and gave Dave a kiss on the cheek.

During our time at the parade with Karen and Dave, I forgot about how much pain I was in earlier in the day. I forgot about everything I was worried about just a few hours earlier. I forgot about what I was doing this time last year and just how difficult the year had been, one plagued with disturbing revelations, familial drama, and the lethal combination of worry and stress. Karen and Dave showed us what being a New Orleanian really is about. They laughed, they smiled, they enjoyed life. They didn’t just enjoy life, they really lived life. Their kindness, not only to Cleo, but to The Viking and I, was unbelievable. I felt so fortunate, so lucky, to have had this experience – an experience that came after dealing with rudeness and greediness – to instill in our whole family is that looking out for one another is what New Orleanians do, more so here than any other place, because the people here in New Orleans have learned what the important things are, and how to be grateful for the blessings they have, not angry about those things that they don’t.

The Viking works the rest of Mardi Gras. Today we are taking a much needed break away from the parades and festivites. Tomorrow we may meet up with Dave and Karen again. Whether we do or not, they really presented us with an amazing gift. Thank you, Dave and Karen, for showing us what carnival season really is about.

A Day With Fibromyalgia

Posted in 100 Things, life, Mardi Gras, marriage, Mental Health, new orleans, Parenting, Relationships, Uptown by Amy on February 20, 2009

250fms_warning“What can I do to help?” my husband asks me, seeing exactly how much pain I am in when I attempt to walk from the couch that I have made my home to the bathroom, five feet away.

“Take me out back and put me out of my misery, ” I respond, thinking of how we took care of ailing livestock back on the farm in Wisconsin.

“Besides that?”

“There is nothing you can do, honey, just help me.”

Unfortunately, in my life, this exchange takes place quite frequently. Sometimes it takes place daily, sometimes weekly, but it is a constant in my life.

For me, it is apart of living with fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is so much apart of my life that I have a nickname for her, Fibro, just like I call my husband Papa Bear or my daughter Pumkin or Peaches or Baby Girl. I don’t have the affection for Fibro like I do for my family, but the thing it has in common is that it is just as much apart of me as they are – it is always here, even when I wish it would go visit somewhere else.

Fibromyalgia affects different people differently. For me, when Fibro is at full flare up, I am essentially immobile. To walk from the couch that becomes my marked territory during these days to the bathroom, a whole ten feet, tears are in my eyes and I am crying because it hurts to even walk. This isn’t an exaggeration. Every step I take causes a shooting, burning, and electric pain to course up my legs from the time that my foot lands on the floor to take a step until I attempt the next step with my other foot.

There have been times when I have walked and my legs completely give out from under me and I fall. This is especially inconvenient when you are out in public and you fall down hard on the cement. This also leads to a plethora of fire trucks and EMS trucks being dispatched to your location, to make sure you are ok, and you have to look at them, humiliation on your face, and tell them that you are just fine, that your legs just gave out for a minute and you will be ok.

For me, Fibro means planning my days and activites on a day-to-day basis — needing to know exactly how i am going to feel that day. It also means not being able to work outside of the home — I obviously can’t get a labor job (although I LOVE labor jobs), sitting for extended period of times causes my tail bone great pain, sometimes my arms hurt so much that lifting them is nearly impossibly, and then there is that whole walking thing.  This means that our family’s survival lays firmly on the hands of my husband, who although he has a law degree, hasn’t been able to find a regular job. So, on top of the pain that I feel, I have a whole hell of a lot of guilt, too.

Aside from the pain with my legs and hips, it is rare day when I am not plagued with a headache. I pop Advil and Aleve like it is candy. I lay down at night and I can feel my head throb. At times I ask my husband if he thinks that I have a brain tumor or if you thinks the thing that will get me is a brain aneurysm. I know it is all apart of the Fibro, but I worry. A. Lot. I also experience non-cardiac chest pain, which is good when you want to go out and live a normal life with your girlfriends. The looks you get are horrifying, though you know they aren’t horrified by you, but worried about what this means and what they should do.

I am thirty-two years old. I should be going hiking. I should be out wandering around this city.

Instead, I am living in pain almost every single day. And nothing makes the pain go away, it just fades into the background and pops up at the most unappropriate times.

Oh, and if my words get confused, or I am having difficulty understanding something that you say, it isn’t because I am a thick person. It’s because “the fog” and memory loss comes with Fibro too.

I went to the Krewe of Muses parade last night with Cleo. I had been told by a variety of people that this was THEE parade to go to and I would love it. All day, I rested, suffering from foot and leg pain, hoping that staying off my feet and taking a nap may dull it just enough. I forced my body to go, even though it was begging to just stay at home.  A few hours later, after I arrived safely home,  I could hardly walk. The pain was horrible. And here I am, trying to get the pain to a level that I can do it all over again tonight for the two parades rolling. Tonight, luckily, my husband is home so I won’t be doing this all on my own. Thank. God.

It’s hard, being 32 and experiencing this level of pain. It’s harder being a mom and not being able to take my daughter to do everything I want to because I am afraid of what will happen or the pain is just to much or my husband happens to be working that day. It’s hard not beating yourself up. We would be in a much better place financially if I didn’t have Fibro. We would have a much more active life. It’s hard not thinking that your husband deserves much more than a woman that is broken, him having to play caregiver some days.

A day with fibromyalgia is not a fun day. But it is a day. And at least I have one more day.  Alone or not, I have one more day.

Homeschool: Mardi Gras and Telling Time

Posted in education, Homeschool, life, Mardi Gras, new orleans, Parenting, Recovery School District by Amy on February 18, 2009

mardigrasfudge2_012507You know what I think is fantastic? I think that it is fantastic that for social studies this week, we can do a week worth of lessons on Mardi Gras. I think it is even more fantastic that going to parades tonight, MY FIRST EVER,  serves as a field trip for Social Studies.  We have learned the history of Mardi Gras so far this week, along with traditions, symbols, and vocabulary. We will be making King Cakes and shoe box floats. And yesterday we went and got our costumes for Mardi Gras Day! Well, Cleo and I did. My husband couldn’t find a masculine plain white mask. He won’t tell me whether he is going as Jason or Mike Myers (am not a horror girl so I have no clue who anyone is except Freddy Kruger), a mime, or some guy wearing a white mask 🙂

It is amazing to me the difference that I am seeing in my daughter. She is now sleeping through the night. She is smiling and laughing more. It is like all of her worries have been lifted off of her and she is a different person. Now, I realize I should have known this was going to happen as she did say going to that school was like being a paper back and having all of the air smashed out of it, but I didn’t realize, really, how deeply this was affecting her.  I am really happy for her.

One of the things that I find absolutely interesting, however, is to see that she was getting A’s in math, but she is not at a third grade math level. What I find even more interesting, however is that some of the concepts that she should have learned last year in 2nd grade, where she also earned As, are concepts that she struggles with to fully understand.  I find this really disheartening. Really, really disheartening.

So, back to basics we go, because I want her to understand these concepts so she can understand OTHER concepts. It’s important, even when she rolls her eyes at me and asks why in the world she has to review the stuff she already knows.

We went as far back as to telling time. She likes to do the digital thing, and now I know why, because she never fully grasped the telling of time. The concepts get jumbled in her head. I can appreciate this, I am 32 and cannot tell my left hand from my right. It’s the little quirks that make us, right? BUT, telling time is definitely essential because not everywhere she goes will there be a digital clock. Everywhere I go, however, I can lift my hand and find which side makes the L 🙂

Here are two poems that I had Cleo write down:

The Clock Poem

I’m in the clock crew and I’m okay!
I tick all night and I tick all day.

I’ve got two hands, I’m having a ball,
Because I’ve got no arms at all!

My big hand can move sixty minutes in one hour,
I’m the one with the strength and power.

My small hand isn’t quite as fast.
If they were in a race, it would come last!

It takes so long just to get around (12 hours you know),
It’s careful, small, and slow.

Now meet my friends that help me tick-tock,
Half past, quarter past, quarter to and o’clock.

Clock Song

(to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus”)

The hands on the clock go round and round,
Round and round, round and round.
The hands on the clock go round and round.
To tell us the time.

The short hand on the clock
Goes from number to number,
Number to number, number to number.
The short hand on the clock
Goes from number to number.
To tell us the time.

The long hand on the clock
Goes around by fives,
Around by fives, around by fives.
The long hand on the clock
Goes around by fives.
To tell us the minutes.

Writing these down seemed to do the trick for her!

I am sending off my application for a homeschooling group in the area. They do a lot of wonderful things and really provide an outstanding social environment for the children.  Cleo is an old woman in a child’s body. She has been through a lot of rough stuff. I want her to have kids to just be kids with, no matter the age. She needs to learn to like to get dirty and play in the mud and have fun! So that is the next challenge I am tackling.

All in all, though, the decision to homeschool has been a good one. We are all much more relaxed – Cleo not suffering from being the odd white girl out and some of the harassment that goes with that, me not worrying about Cleo all of the time.

1:58

Posted in 100 Things, life, Loss, Parenting, Relationships by Amy on February 10, 2009

zachary“Mom,” I shouted, “we need to hurry up!”

I looked at the clock, growing impatient. I had never driven to Stillwater from Barron before, and knew how important it was that Zachary made his appointment. The day before he had his first surgery to repair his cleft lip. He was required to wear an obtainer, essentially a retainer to cover the split in his palate, and since he was sized, his mouth had grown and shifted. When they tried to put it in place, it came free, causing me to panic. The surgeon gave me a disapproving look when I didn’t know what to do, removed the obtainer from his mouth, and told me to get him to Dr. Donna immediately the next day. And that is exactly what I was doing.

“Mandy, we will make it in time. You worry too much, ” my mother said, putting a few slices of bread in a plastic bag, something she did to always be prepared for the chronic tickle that would strike her throat. She looked over at me, her eyes softened, remembering what it was like being a mother for the first time.

“I just.. Mom, it’s really scary.”

“He looks so different,” my mom said, looking up at me as she leaned over, doting on him. This is something that she did multiple times a day, unable to hold him due to being chronically ill, but refusing to not love him just the same. She started cooing at him, a smile breaking across the faces of them both, him answering her back. It always made me giggle, these conversations they would engage in.

“We really need to go,” I said again, calculating time and distance in my head.

“You are going to go see Dr. Donna today and she is going to get you all fixed up,” I said to Zachary as I held him in my arms, playing with the head of hair he was born with. He looked up at me with his dark blue eyes and smiled, as if he understood what that meant.”You are such a good boy. Mommy loves you Zachary, oh yes I do!” I pulled him in closer to me, hugging him, never having felt so many emotions at one time, but mostly felt love. There were a lot of things I wasn’t good at, but being a mom wasn’t on that list. In fact, it is one of the only things I really felt I did well, funny since having children wasn’t something I ever even considered for my future.

As we pulled away, my mother to my right and my son behind me in car seat, the day seemed so hopeful. The sun was brilliant, autumn was foreshadowing its arrival, and Zachary had made it through his surgery without incident. We drove, listening to Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Hank Jr, exploring new roads and new routes. As we drove up Highway 63, woods and changing leaves surrounding both sides of the road shaded the anxiety I was feeling about getting lost, making it on time, and Zachary’s obtainer getting finished that day. I pulled over to the side of the road, an easy task with the little traffic out that day.

“What are you doing?”

“I just want to check on him.”

“Oh, Mandy! He’s fine!”

“I just want to make sure,” I said, exiting the driver’s side door, moving to the back seat, seeing my little boy looking up at me and smiling.

“Maybe I should move him facing front. I know you aren’t supposed to do that, but I can keep an eye on him that way. Never mind, he will be fine,” I debated and decided, then leaned in and kissed my little peanut on the forehead. He looked up at me, coo-ed, and gave me a big smile. It was different, him smiling at me now, after surgery than before. I remembered that smile, remembered how perfect it was, even though it was pretty perfect before.

I had never been to Stillwater before, though I recognized the name from an exit off of I-94 going into Minneapolis where Zachary’s plastic surgeon was based. Because I had never been there or driven this route, I didn’t know that when I had pulled over, we were only ten minutes from our destination. I looked down at the clock on the radio was was relieved that not only did we make it in time, we were early. I liked being early, and tried to make a general rule of arrive fifteen minutes beforehand for nearly everything.

I went to get Zachary out of the back seat and something was different, odd.

“Mom, I think something is wrong.”

“You always think something is wrong,” she quipped at me.

“No, Mom! I’m serious! Something is wrong!” I said, knowing that this was different than my normal worries. Zachary looked different, not right, not himself. I reached in to grab him and his body was limp. His mouth had an eerie blue gray color around it, sort of like when it is a clear day and storm clouds come rushing in out of no where. I put my hand to his mouth. Nothing. I put it to his nose. Nothing. I put it on his chest. It wasn’t rising and falling.

“He’s not breathing!!!!” I screamed, scooping him in my arms and running into the pediatric center where his orthodontist had her second office.

“My son’s not breathing! My son Zachary is not breathing!” I shouted at the receptionist, panic and fear now controlling everything I said, everything I did.

The receptionist ushered me and Zachary to the office across the hall, where I was met with a waiting room of children and their parents waiting to get vaccinations, physicals, and have that odd rash checked out. Immediately they took Zachary from my arms, and I told the receptionist to go help my mom come in. I ordered her to go help my mom. I needed her right now.

I sat amongst the pink dresses, pony tails, blue jeans, and buzzed haircuts when a little blond boy with a bowl haircut pulled at my pants.

“Your angel is going to be ok,” he said, looking at me and then his mother before going off to play with the Lego set that sat abandoned in the corner. I burst into tears, beginning to upset the children, and was taken to Dr. Donna’s office to reunite with my mom.

“We have to call home, ” my mom said, trying to remain calm and strong while I was falling apart.

I dialed my sister’s number, told her what was happening and heard the phone drop. Her husband picked it up, asked what happened because his wife had just fainted.

The nurse from the pediatrician’s office told me they were going to send Zachary to the hospital by ambulance and after I spoke with the police, we could meet them their. The police? I had to speak to the police? A bad lifetime movie began running through my head. A whole series of young girls killing their children had started to spring up across the country. I knew they thought I did this to him. I knew they were going to arrest me for it. I knew that I was be convicted of killing my son unjustly when all I was trying to do was get him to his orthodontist appointment. After talking with the officer, who just wanted to know what happened, I was able to convince myself that maybe they wouldn’t be making a TV Movie-of-the-Week about me, and was even more reassured when the officer offered to drive us to the hospital, given the state of shock we were in.

We were ushered to a private waiting room. The smell of the ER, the sanitized and disinfected smell, was making me feel nauseous. I had to leave, had to escape, and went outside and found salvation by inhaling deeply on a Marlboro Menthol Light 100. I tried to wrap my head around what was happening, why he had stopped breathing. I knew he was going to be ok. Zachary was a fighter. He was born a fighter. They said he wouldn’t gain his birth weight back, and he did. They said he wouldn’t gain weight, and he did. They said that he could potentially have slowed development, and they were wrong. He was going to be ok. He was.

I went back into the waiting room, pacing, crawling out of my skin. A young nurse, dark hair and just as dark framed glasses, asked my mother and I to follow her. Doing as instructed, we were ushered into a different room, being met by a plethora of medical staff, green scrubs and white jackets surrounding me, suffocating me. It was quiet. Everyone was looking at everything else, anything but me. A nurse with short blond hair came in, looking at me, then looking at everyone else.

“Did you tell her?” she asked to someone, but no one in particular.

“You mean you saved him! He’s ok!” I said with a smile coming on my face. Why else would they create this dramatic moment if it wasn’t because they had saved him and my little boy was ok.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but your son died.”

I looked up at the clock. It was 1:58.

Education: Decision Made

socializationgifI’m Catholic, not quite non-practicing, not quite practicing. I have issues with some of the doctrine of the Catholic church and it has been quite some time since I have attended mass, though I have sought counsel with a priest when I was facing one of my more difficult times in life. My daughter has religious education free of dogma and I don’t believe that I NEED to gather with a bunch of people of my same faith in order to have a relationship with God.

Another thing that I’m not is an uber-conservative. I am pretty liberal, actually, empathetic perhaps. I don’t really subscribe to one political ideology and have voted both conservative and liberal, but I have no real ties within the religious right that guide me in my decision making process. I don’t agree with the two party system, nor do I agree with bailing out for the sake of bailing out, or voting based on what the church tells you to. That’s just me. Life isn’t black and white, and I tend to live in the gray.

After much thought, I have decided that I am going to homeschool my daughter. There, I said it out loud to someone other than my friends, so now it is real.  Why did I bring up my religious and political beliefs? Because I didn’t want the basis of my decision to be lost on the stereotype that tends to follow homeschooled parents around: ultra-conservative and very religious.  My decision is based upon the fact that: 1. New Orleans public school system is a disaster 2. More specifically, the Recovery School District is a disaster 3. With the exception of a handful of schools, the schools are a disaster 4. I value my daughter’s education.

Somewhere between the pro and the anti  propaganda lies the truth about homeschooling.  I’m a middle ground kind of girl – see religious and political beliefs – so I choose to take that as I go into this venture. It isn’t something I went into lightly. I did my research. I compared teaching models and curriculum. I spoke with people who had both positive and negative experiences homeschooling. And I weighed the pros and cons of keeping her in the particular school she was attending while in the Recovery School District, and the pros of homeschooling her far outweighed the pros of not.

There are some things that I am still researching and a few people I plan on contacting about their experiences and recommendations, but to homeschool is the final decision made at the end of the day. I do wonder, though, how many have chosen this option (if it is even an option with the fact that so many families need two incomes to survive) because the schools lack a lot of things down here, the good ones are impossible to get into and  waiting lisst extend out what seems endlessly, and private school simply is not an option for them?

Another point of interest, at least to me, is that back in the small area in Wisconsin I spent most of my life, many people I went to school with have opted to homeschool their children and the education system doesn’t face nearly as many challenges as ours in New Orleans. Are more people simply deciding to take control of their children’s education?

I have decided to create another blog, though, to chronicle my adventures in homeschooling. Mostly as a reference clearinghouse for myself, but to share my struggle with the decision and the steps I have taken. I’m not only a list maker, but I’m a chronicler too. 🙂

New Orleans Education: Parents Association Denied

In this post, I discuss the observations that I have made while volunteering at my daughter’s school. Some of the observations were disturbing, some disheartening, and just plain frightening to me, not only as a mother, but someone relatively new to the “public school system” in New Orleans.  I’ve been in the unique situation to speak to both teachers and parents about the apparent disconnect between school, staff, parent, and child and really wanted to do something about it¹ and I created a proposal to start a Parent Association at my daughter’s school. I even volunteered my efforts to its creation and implementation.

I spent a great deal of time researching urban education models and parent associations and the comparisons of a parent association to the PTO/PTA model. I also spend a great deal of time researching the effectiveness of parent associations, particularly in urban communities and in communities that are under-funded, unfortunately something that generally goes hand-in-hand. This isn’t a concept new to the school, as it was mentioned previously by a school social worker and the principal to meet with them about getting this going. Currently, our school has nothing – no PTO, no parent association, nor a parent teacher liason that actually does their job. ²

I received a response yesterday denying the creation of my proposed parent assocation. I was told that an administrator would have to be involved and that currently, the school was not ready for this internally.

What?

You have a parent here who is trying to make a difference in your school, reduce the complaints of staff being over-worked, and helping parents, teachers, and students be on the same path for a better education and you are denying the creation of such a powerful tool? Come again? It has nothing to do with budget. This parent association wouldn’t require one single cent of the school’s funding.

My proposed parent association would not be a fund-raising effort. There needs to be a base of support outside of school administration for parents and children before fund-raising could even be considered, and in an urban area full of crime like New Orleans, I don’t think selling candy bars is really a great idea. That point was met with agreement, actually. Essentially, the proposal included real support for students and teachers like a homeroom parent³, school-wide newsletter produced regularly informing parents on important things like days off from school well in advance, progress the school is making, and upcoming events. Currently, parents are given a note a few days before school is scheduled to be out, the date of LEAP test hasn’t been communicated, and we have no idea why there are people walking around the school with blue prints and visitor passes. Weekly newsletters from teachers letting parents know what will be expected for homework the coming week, so there can be no excuses of not knowing what the homework assignments are for, or letting parents know of class achievements and recognition of students doing well that week. If it were not for the fact that I volunteer in my daughter’s classroom, I would not know most of the children in her class. Quite frankly, I believe that is tragic.

Small steps that could mean so much.

Denied.

Do schools REALLY want parents to get involved, as they cheer-lead in orientations before school starts, or do they really want to be in charge of it all and hope that parents will simply comply with the status quo?

School by Supertramp

1. Because I am foolish and have this whole save the world to make it a better place complex.

2. The same staff member I talking about smacking her child aside the head.

3. Something the school sent sign up forms for in September and have yet to do anything about the information they collected.

A Ho-ing We Will Go!

Posted in 100 Things, Garden, life, new orleans, Uptown by Amy on February 7, 2009

urban-gardenI do not have a green thumb. I don’t. I am not exaggerating.

On a spectrum of colors, my thumb is around pitch black.

My un-green-thumbness started the day after I graduated from high school. As I packed up my car for the big city (a college town of 60,000) I was given my first house plant by the wife of one of the local church leaders.

I thought it was cool, one of the many firsts I was about to experience (You know those firsts: First time you realized paying your own rent and trying to go to work and school was difficult, the first time you saw a mouse in our house and didn’t know what to do, the first time you realized that Ramon Noodles, if eaten in the proper amount, could be *potentially* filling, and the first time you get stuck with a suck-butt roommate) When I got to MY home, I placed the flower in the window, and smiled. I was so grown up, I had my first plant and everything.

Then it died. Three days later.

Since then, it has been a continuous cycle of plant death – no matter where I put them, what I feed them, how much I water them, the kind of soil they are transplanted into – they all die. No only am I able to kill your average houseplant, I am able to kill silk flowers too. Apparently you aren’t suppose to put silk flowers in the washer when they get dusty. Who knew!

It really is a fortunate thing that I have never had to go to a long-term inpatient substance abuse program, as many tell you before you are ready for a relationship, you must keep a plant alive for a year. After that, you move onto a pet for a year. Then, if plant and dog survive, you can have a human.I would never have a human. Hell, I wouldn’t even graduate to hamster.

So, given my history, why in the hell would I decide it may  be a good idea to start a garden? Well, maybe since it is veg and a garden and outside, there is an advantage to survival, mainly being not in the same house with me. At any rate, we have a HUGE backyard that we share with our neighbor to the left and to the right. No one uses the backyard except my kids and that is only when it is cool enough, dragon flies are not out, and there are no lizards (so, pretty much never in New Orleans), so I decided to turn the very back plot into a garden.

I don’t have a clue as to what I am doing. Seriously, I don’t.

But, I am determined to have my damn garden and feed my family veg that I grew on my own , dang it! If Caroline on Little House on the Prairie can save the grain crop and make flour while Charles is breaking rock by hand in another town, I can grow a damn string bean.

Now…. where to start?

Music For the Day: Jim Croce