Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Brothers in Lederhosen

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Because why not?

My mom passed along various pairs of Lederhosen (German Bavarian traditional dress) from when our family lived in Berlin and my mom liked to play dress-up with my little brother. I dig the tradition, so I broke them out and went on a photo shoot in our version of the Grünewald with Alrik (5.5) and Karsten (2).

Alrik in the same outfit at age 2 at a German cultural party.

Tucking away that flag.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Little Sunshine, the imaginary friendly isopod

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I love my children's imaginary friends. I recently reread my post on Silly Guy to Mikko, now 9.5 years old, and we were both tickled at the details we'd forgotten as Silly Guy faded from our lives. To that end, I record: Little Sunshine.

Little Sunshine originally was, I believe, an isopod, or roly poly, that Alrik spotted one day as we walked along the beach a couple years back. Alrik already had established a habit of naming tiny critters we passed, often ants, and telling me their given monikers were things like Rainbow and Cutie. He's never seen the movie with a related title, so I'm assuming Little Sunshine is just something else his brain came up with.

We watched the real-life Little Sunshine crawl along the sidewalk and then disappear down a sewer grate. Isopods, I've learned, are crustaceans and need damp environments to breathe through their gills. In case you were interested. Your call.

But Little Sunshine's disappearance was not his departure from our lives. Oh, no. Alrik, then about age 3, kept talking to him as we continued our walk, and I was obliged to keep up Little Sunshine's end of the conversation.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Robots, Space Invaders, & self-driving cars at the Living Computers museum

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We made it to Living Computers: Museum + Labs,
in Seattle not far from where we live.
We scored a library pass, but you could check it out
on a Free First Thursday evening.

Here's a video glimpse of our adventures
with robots and vintage gaming systems and more:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Me & my boys

Happy spring!


Monday, April 3, 2017

Simple bedtime story template

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Does your mind go blank when your child says, "Tell me a story!" before bedtime? I'm a professional writer of fiction, and I can't tell a children's story on cue to save my life. I've decided spontaneous storytelling is its own skill, and I needed to find a workaround. In case you're in the same boat, I will share it with you.

Just to burst your bubble right away, it's a terrible story. I'm just saying, it works. My five-year-old loves the structure of it and wants to participate in it every night by telling the first part himself. I like that it's adaptable to both creative and literal-minded children, because you invite their feedback, and they can embellish the details as much as they want, or not. It also gives you as the parent an opportunity to feel "homeschool parent-y" by slipping in a little pop quiz about whatever topics you want. (You'll see.)

Once upon a time, there was a …

Now you ask your children what there was. Is it an animal? Is it a person? What's this character's name? What do they look like? Let's say it's this:

… purple giant chicken, and it was friends with …

Another round of character development!

… a friendly and unusually small spinosaurus. They really wanted to …

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Video of a surprise unassisted home water birth

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Here's the video accompaniment to Karsten's birth story. You can head over to that link to read the details if you haven't already.

Short version: We planned a homebirth for our third baby, with a midwife in attendance. After two-plus weeks of prodromal labor, more active contractions kicked in for 21 hours, which meant our midwife went home to sleep. I woke up to my waters breaking, and half an hour later, out our baby whooshed into the birth pool, before the midwife could make it back! It was a lovely, hard, beautiful, excruciating birth, and I was aided by my Hypnobabies childbirth hypnosis practice of deep relaxation and calm.

I've made two versions of the video, one for my fellow childbirth fans and one for, say, my dad. In other words, one is semi-graphic, and one is censored to be family-friendly. There's breastfeeding in both, of course, but I managed to keep my top on this time during the birthing so I could make these videos without as many qualms. (This was a hard ask for me! I tend to unthinkingly strip during labor!)

If you're preparing a child for an upcoming sibling birth, you can choose which video might be more useful. In both, the birth is peaceful, and I edited out the swear words (!), but there is grunting and obvious … um … labor. The family-friendly one has much less vocalizing and no scary bits, so I thought it might be a good resource for sharing with kids.

Full, semi-graphic version:

(I'm wearing a top, and I've censored my bits up till the baby's
literally coming out, because that's what I felt comfortable with.)

Family-friendly version:

(I've shortened the actual birth and cropped in.)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Karsten's birth story: Long start, quick finish

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I've been putting off writing Karsten's birth story, or even thinking it over and retelling it to myself. I can't say why. Maybe it's that it's my third birth. Maybe it's that I've been able to keep it more special and private if it's not recited or shared. Maybe I'm just not sure what to make of it. Maybe a little of all of those.

Labor lasted a long time. What does "long" mean? Weeks, folks. It lasted freaking weeks.

All right, technically that's called "prodromal labor," or "practice labor." Or "stalled labor" or "false labor" (grr … my uterus didn't think so). At any rate, that went for a good long while. I thought Karsten was going to be born around 38 weeks, but he hung in there till nearly 41.

So, every day, I had contractions, many times at regular intervals, and lasting for several hours at a time. And then they'd peter out, and I'd scratch my head and go "huh." Karsten kept bobbing up and down in my belly, at one moment so low I could barely waddle, making me sure he'd just, plop, fall out onto the floor, and then the next bouncing back discouragingly high up. I walked miles each day. I lunged and climbed stairs like a crab and did pelvic tilts and slept in the Sims' position, all to open my pelvis and engage that stubborn baby. I drank red raspberry leaf and nettle tea to tone the uterus and ate dates to soften the cervix. I always tried to get plenty of rest in case this was "the day." I kept myself well fed in case I needed the energy for birthing. I did all the techniques I could Google about how to kickstart a labor, turn a baby into optimal position, free my mind and spirit for birth, etc., etc. I tempted fate frequently: traveling far from home, doing activities that were interrupted when previous children were born, making firm plans in expectation of having them broken.

Karsten could not be moved. He was taking his sweet, sweet time, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I'd been hoping this labor would be more like Alrik's than like Mikko's. To recap, with Mikko I had 42 intense hours of back labor, culminating in a transfer to the hospital and finally a no-meds vaginal delivery. It was empowering that he came out through my strength alone — all 11 pounds, 13 ounces of him — but after the fact, we could guess that he had been posterior, we could see that he came out with an arm wrapped around his head (aka nuchal arm leading to an asynclitic head positioning, both of which are suboptimal), and, well, he was obviously huge.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Sing" the movie shows kids how to be body positive

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My kids and I, ever so charmingly behind the times, just went to see Sing at the cheapie theater. If you are also delayed in your cultural viewing, it's an animated film about animals performing in a musical talent competition.

It's a really cute movie in general, and I love me some musicals, but one thing I was struck by was how diverse the body types were, and how no one cared.

Here are the main characters posing below. You can also see the promo clips in the video above.

Starting from the left, you've got a tiny male mouse with a big ego. The elephant is a shy girl who's trying to overcome her stage fright. The pig in capris is a stay-at-home mom to 25 piglets. (She does some amazing Rube Goldberg-esque preparations to care for her kids while she's off rehearsing, leading me to think she should really have been an engineer.) The porcupine is a teenager who's coming out from under the smothering shadow of her wannabe-rockstar boyfriend. The koala is the morally ambiguous manager. The gorilla is a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who wants to break free of his family's crime business. The sassy pig in bright red spandex is a confidently dancing phenom.

One thing in common with all of them is that never, in the course of the movie, did anyone suggest that they should make their bodies look different.

Monday, March 13, 2017

I've lived the Republicans' plan for the ACA, and I can't support it

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I try not to be too political on this blog. You probably don't believe me given some of my recent posts, but it's true. If you're politicked out and want to skip this one, feel free. I just want to give some public insight into how maternal and child healthcare work — or don't — on a high deductible plan with an HSA, and since that's been my lived experience, I feel an obligation to share.

My 12-month-old son recovering
from a surgery we almost didn't have
because we couldn't afford it.
There are many Republican plans floating around right now suggesting a replacement to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), which currently covers 20 million people in the United States. Several replacement ideas, including the latest GOP plan, have touted health savings accounts as the best option for those who need private insurance. I'm here to tell you how that works out in practice, and how it might nearly have cost me my fertility and my life and how it could have prevented my baby from having a needed operation.

Scenario 1: The five-month miscarriage

When my husband, Sam, and I were first trying to conceive, we got pregnant right away, but not all was rosy. I started spotting at 6 weeks and then full-on bleeding with cramps at 10 weeks: a miscarriage. I put off going to my gynecologist, whom I hadn't seen in a long time due to budget constraints. I figured what needed to come out had come out and that there was nothing more to be done. I had a hankering to keep this baby's "birth" natural in any case, but this was aided by the fact that if I went in to a gynecologist, it wouldn't be covered as a preventive visit. It would be an urgent-care visit, which meant I'd be on the hook for the full amount, including any tests and procedures. I'd had problems with this before, even when going in for preventive visits, which were supposed to be covered with just a copay. The doctor, without asking me, would tack on some extra lab work, and the next thing I knew, I'd be getting a lab bill I hadn't budgeted for.

So I stayed home, and I kept bleeding. And bleeding. And bleeding. For five months, I continued charting my temperatures to see when I'd ovulate, and I'd note which days I had spotting. It was nearly all the days in that five-month span, interspersed with what seemed like menstrual periods as well. I fretted. I searched message boards. Surely this was not normal? I called the midwives I'd been hoping to see for my pregnancy. They told me to call my gynecologist. I called Planned Parenthood, hoping for a cheaper option. They told me to call my gynecologist. I finally did, and my gynecologist's office scheduled me for three weeks out. I called back to see if they could see me sooner, and they scheduled an urgent-care visit for that week, but I was so wracked with anxiety about going to an appointment I couldn't afford that I ended up being too late for it, and it was canceled on me. Not too long after, I woke up tortured by the most painful cramps I'd ever experienced. I cried and labored in the shower, took some ibuprofen, then fell back asleep. When I woke up, a chestnut-size piece of tissue lay in my underpants. After passing that tissue, the bleeding stopped from that day forward.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How an unschooling mama teaches phonics

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The dryness of boredom in school

I had a dentist appointment the other day, and they went hog wild with the sucker tool. My mouth was as dry as the Serengeti, and soon my tongue was nothing but a pendulous husk in my mouth.

I flashed back to my school days when I would deliberately leave my mouth slightly open for as long as I could stand so that my tongue would dry out. I'd try to wait until it was as dry as possible and then I'd close it and enjoy the strange sensation of cotton-ball tongue — a seemingly foreign object — then let it gradually wick up moisture again and return to its moist, plump self.

You see, I was bored. Really, really bored.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mystery Science, fossil bonanza, & a teachable moment

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Sometimes I fear I'm not schooly enough for this unschooling thing to work. This is a common worry among homeschooling types — am I doing enough? Are my kids learning the right things? Would school be doing much better for them?

I see myself as a Type B personality, so I'm naturally laissez-faire. While I think Type A unschoolers have to push themselves to relax, I feel I need occasional nudges into scheduling and activities to make sure we do something.

And so it was I finally cracked open Mystery Science.

(This post is not at all sponsored, by the way. I signed up for the free trial but then let it lapse, because I'm awesome like that. I'm just talking about the single lesson's worth of use I've gotten out of it so far, and this isn't meant as a straight-up review.)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Read along with us: Harriet Tubman & the Underground Railroad

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In honor of Black History Month, here's a video review of two books about the Underground Railroad.

Friday, February 10, 2017

How to talk with kids about refugees: Book, video, & resource suggestions plus concrete ways child activists can help

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A story: My old church supported several Karen refugee families from Myanmar. The Karen are a Christian and Buddhist ethnic minority group in Myanmar (Burma) who were forced from their homes, their villages destroyed, and fled from violence and ethnic cleansing in a Burmese civil war into hiding in the surrounding jungles. Not the pretty Jungle Book jungles but mountainous ones that grow cold and inhospitable, with little food to forage.

The fortunate ones were able to cross the border into Thai refugee camps. The very fortunate ones were able to make their way from Thailand to settle in other nations, such as the Karen community in the south Seattle area. This was not their wish, though. They miss their homes desperately and find it hard to adjust to a new life in a new land where they're definite minorities. As one woman said in an interview with CNN: "[I]f the situation in Burma changes, I hope to go back to my country."

Here's the part of this experience that has stuck with me for years now. A group of internally displaced Karen people still running and hiding in the mountain forests wrote our church for assistance. We raised money regularly to try to get supplies to them and sent words of support and encouragement. In this letter back to us, they asked in particular for one thing: a bone saw. They had been performing amputations on horribly injured members of their community with whatever sharp implements they had to hand. They wanted a bone saw to ease the process.

THAT is what a refugee is. It's a person who's thankful for a bone saw. It's a person whose current greatest wish is an appropriate instrument to perform major surgery in the open air of a jungle as they're running for their lives.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A simple bedtime relaxation script for children

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My kids are all night owls, which means they tend to gain energy as bedtime approaches. To help them calm their bodies and minds, I started a simple nighttime relaxation technique with the older two. My nine-year-old appreciates it the most and will ask for it nearly every night. Mikko and I both have the characteristic of needing a looong time to fall asleep, and he can get anxious about it. This sort of relaxation time helps put him at ease.

If you already have a background of relaxation scripts, you can adapt ones you love. I called upon my own childhood, when my parents offered me some simple relaxation ideas when I kept stealing into their room each night to whisper that I couldn't fall asleep, and my experiences with Hypnobabies childbirth hypnosis, which helped me through three unmedicated births.

Have your child lie down and begin in a calm, soothing voice:

Squeeze your toes … and your feet … and your legs … all the way up to your bottom [or whatever word you use; we're a butt family].

Have them practice isolating each muscle in turn. Mikko has coordination difficulties so at first had to use his hands to assist him in highlighting each body part to contract; however a kid needs to do it is fine.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Counting for hide-and-seek

I just need to preserve the cuteness.

(Dit-do is the name Karsten has given Alrik. We have no idea why. Dit-do decided on counting to 13 for hide-and-seek. Also no idea. I just go with it.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Why we treat our oldest & youngest children differently

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As a mother of three kids, I've had a lot of opportunity to reflect on how the truisms about sibling order come to pass seemingly by accident.

For instance, I find myself expecting ever more grownup behavior from Mikko, my oldest at nine years old, and considering my youngest, now two, as still a baby. But when I look back on my days with Mikko at two, I recall thinking how grownup he was even then.

Here's the explanation, and I think it's a simple one. It's not that we're callous and indifferent parents who can't let our older kids be kids and who can't have adequately high expectations for our younger ones. It just has to do with our experience of their growth.

When our first child is born, it's our first child. This might not apply to those of you who extensively nannied or babysat or co-raised siblings before parenting, but for the rest of us, we're experiencing each milestone as the first time it's happened.

When our firstborns smile, Whoa! Before they'd just gurgle and poop! Now they're social. When they sit up, Holy motor control! When they stand and talk and wave, everything's an obvious big leap forward, bringing them ever more distant from the last stage they were at.