Sunday, October 16, 2016

My Role in Work Overseas and Being a Mother - Part II

I posted a meme on Instagram that said, “The most important thing you contribute might be someone you raise, not something you do.” Or something like that. A friend of mine pushed back and talked about how damaging it can be when our identity is wrapped in parenting, and the message this sends to our girls about where their identity lies.

I explained my thoughts but I deleted the post because I agree that it could send that message and that is SO NOT what I want to say. So - time for an update on my angsty journey in motherhood. My last post on this was nearly a year ago. 

Here I am, three kids, a fully stay at home mother. It is still tough for me. I am not playful and I like personal space, time to process, adult conversation, clear objectives, and desk work. This stage is still not easy for me to feel fulfilled in. I’ve written about that before.  

However, I am much more peaceful now than I was a year ago largely because of expectations. Last year, settling in to Manokwari, I expected to be out of the home much more than I was. I expected to be able to do more things while my kids tagged along. The process of adjusting to reality was rough because I felt I was failing in the kind of mom/woman I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be a focused-at-home mom, I wanted to be a full time mom who was doing other things at the same time. Now I’ve faced the reality of my kids, their needs, their personalities, and their interaction with the local culture. I know that at this stage of their lives (infant, toddler, kindergartner) and without the time saving devices of the developed world, I spend almost all my time at home with my kids.

 Over the summer I also was given the great gift of hearing the hearts of some people I love. As adults they are processing childhood heartache, and there was a cry from each of them (all children of full-time Christian workers) of, “Where were my parents? Why weren’t they paying attention? Why didn’t/don’t I feel loved and safe?” It reminded me of the immense importance of the parent/child relationship at this stage. Since I did feel well-loved by my parents and I didn’t feel sacrificed on the alter of their work, it’s easy for me to forget how common that is. I love my kids and they are precious, sacred little people that need an immense amount of gentle love and attention RIGHT NOW.

And so there is some peace this year, despite not necessarily feeling more suited/gifted/fulfilled, I feel quite convinced of the importance of what I am doing right now as well as that this is exactly where God has guided me to be right now.

The other thing that adds to my sense of peace is a vision for the future. I am okay with doing this for a while because I don’t think it will always be this way. I have been accepted to a graduate program in counseling and I'll probably start classes a year from now (online) and in three years should have a degree. I see several clear ways this could be used here, and I get excited when I talk about it. Friends and family were great with their feedback about all of that this summer.  In the next couple of months I also am taking over a lot of the paperwork/administrative work for our organization – visas, legal things. This is an area where I have experience, gifting, and I can work from home. It is a clear way to help others, and that gives me a sense of being meaningful. It's a job I can put on a resume in the USA too. Totally adds to my contentment.

What bothers me in the midst of this is two things. First, that in fulfilling a stereotypical SAHM role, I will reinforce a stereotype that I do not agree with. I do not believe this is the primary work women are destined to do, where their meaning is derived from. I want my kids to see me doing a variety of things and be raised to see women as fully empowered members of the kingdom of God. I’m afraid I will not send this message well (like say, when Judah says Elly will grow up to be a good cooker like mom and he’ll grow up to turn on the TV like Daddy). As they get a bit older and less all-consuming, I hope to bring back in other elements of work so that they see both mom and dad working and both mom and dad in the home.

Secondly, I don’t want to send the message that this shepherding of kids is the immensely important work… of women. It is the immensely important work of PARENTS. Men and women both. The duties of kids and the home must be divided up and each family has to figure out how to divide them up, but the husband should be equally responsible. I am more content here because I have the unusual privilege of having a husband who was the stay at home dad for the first three years of parenting. I wish more dads would do that. Technically I’ve actually only been the primary at-home parent for a year and a half now. If you’re a married man reading this, please, please, sit down with your wife and consider how you splitting your household and parenting duties, if it’s healthy, if your wife is satisfied, and how you can fully empower her. Please, be your wife’s advocate.

I wrote everything above and then the very next day an album popped up on facebook of a meeting here of various people in the work we’re involved in here, along with our visiting supervisor. It’s the kind of meeting Isaac would avoid because he hates meetings and administration of all sorts. The man is a teacher and scholar at heart and he is SO fulfilled doing that right now. And he’s good at it. It’s cool. In any case, this kind of meeting is totally not his thing…. but it is mine. It’s a topic I’m passionate about, I want to hear what people have to say, I probably have things to say myself, and I
just want to be involved, you know? And yet I was home with three kiddos. My heart sort of sank and I had to sit back and evaluate those emotions for a while.

There is still a longing, and one of the primary lessons of this stage of life is that I tend to find my meaning and identity in what I DO. It is good to work, and it is good to work within our gifting. It is not good that when I am removed from that for a while, I struggle with feeling meaningless. My meaning should come from my identity in my Jesus. Sacrifice for my kids should be glad and beautiful, if it is the right thing at the right time. My prayer is that my kids are well-loved, I grow in my skill through this stage, and that I learn fellowship with Christ. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Getting Started Homeschooling

So here I am, just getting started in homeschooling. I’m about a month and a half into this gig, I’m reading my first book on homeschooling (The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer) and I’m listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and connecting with other homeschool moms. I’m still figuring out the lingo. My google search is filled with things like, “Charlotte Mason vs. classical theory.” We are using Sonlight’s P4/5 core (because I ordered it 1.5 years ago and it took a year to get here) with the pre-Explode the Code books and Primer Math-U-See.

In any case, I’m learning about the uniqueness of my kid. He’s great with math so far, which was a relief because math was hard for me from first grade on. We are loving the Math-U-See curriculum. He has zero interest in arts and crafts so I am not pushing the creativity. He likes to do things his own way – for instance, “drawing a line” means drawing a weaving path all over the page before arriving at the intended answer. Just because. He’s always been resistant to answering questions, but as we get into a rhythm he’s pretty willing to work and try things (yaaay!).  

I’m learning about theory. Seems like the currently popular movement is towards less schooling in the early years and towards imaginative play and outdoors interactions. However, as I read Susan Wise Bauer, she’s having preschoolers do 30 minutes of phonics work every day with the intention of beginning reading at 4 years old. Very different. She stresses teaching without images and loading up on grammar and facts in the early years. As I research I have to figure out what path I want us to take. I think my approach is to move with the developmental stage of my kid (which is why we are in K now at 5 ½ and move steadily, stressing phonics for learning reading and then also basic math. We do this with minimal time every day, leaving most of the day for play. However, when we are doing school we are very uncreative. I just teach the concept and we use workbooks (but good ones!) to reinforce. Quality over quantity. And then, reading. We read lots of books. I agree that being surrounded by reading and good books is a huge part of educating children.

I’m learning about me and my style. I am a planner and organizer, so that’s no problem for me. I SUPER appreciate having a plan and a set curriculum here in the beginning. When I read about “unschooling” it sounds great and I totally believe you can teach little kids most things they need to know through play. The trouble is that I totally stink at playing with little kids. I am not creative; I am bored after approximately two minutes of imaginative play. So, having a curriculum helps me to know what to teach, it gives us quality time together, and it gives structure to our day. I love it. I’m also super flexible and have no trouble at all deciding to give up a book the kids are bored with, put off a day’s work when the baby is fussy, or switch around the way the curriculum has suggested dividing up a book. Each week once I see that Judah has grasped a letter and sound or a math concept, we skip the rest of that section and move to the next one. I make it my own, and when the kids are playing together happily and building or playing make-believe, I never interrupt.

I am learning about curriculum. The curriculum I ordered, Sonlight, is heavy on reading. That’s great, because I believe in the importance of reading, and with the program you get all the books in one package. It’s pricey, though. For next year I bought a used set of Sonlight Core A, and that’s good because I want lots of reading and an emphasis on reading. I agree with Susan Weiss Bauer that the primary goal of grades 1-4 is fluent reading and writing.  I won’t bother with teaching cursive for a while and will use the Handwriting without Tears next year. I am happy with Explode the Code and will continue (though I am tempted by Logic of English). I will use Handwriting without Tears for handwriting. I like Math-U-See and will continue with it. I am interested in Apologia science but might not add it in yet. The two add ins I will choose are typing (I believe in keeping up with technology, not banning it!) and art. Although neither Judah or I are creative, I actually love to draw. I’m purchasing a program that teaching drawing rather than expecting kids to just create from nothing. The other program I’m interested in is Calvert. I’m keeping that in my back pocket for now.

So, so far it’s going well. We’re keeping it simple and so we’re getting it all done. Judah is learning. It’s amazing to watch him already ready for the math, and it’s amazing to watch the lights go on as he learns to sound things out and figure out which letter is which. It challenges me to incorporate learning into our daily life and to be more hands on.

We are not fancy. I look at beautiful homeschool setups with envy, but learning still happens in a non-visually appealing room! I am trying to incorporate lots of activity and outside time, but that is admittedly hard when it’s really hot in the day and we are still working with a colicky baby.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Three Pregnancies and Three Births

Welcome to the world, little Hope Elizabeth!

I write from a hospital room in Kentucky, where the nurse is checking Hope in front of me as baby looks around with wide eyes and Isaac dozes in the easy chair beside me, tired out from four hours of sleep last night and taking care of the two of us.

Side note - as the blogging community has changed and faded, some of us that were blog friends have wanted to stay in touch, and now I'm getting newsletters, following some of you on Facebook, etc. If any of you who know me on here want to follow our family blog and newsletter, let me know and I'll get you signed up. Anyways....

I feel unspeakably grateful. For a smooth birth. For a healthy baby. For grandparents that are watching my other kids. For air conditioning, hot showers, American food made in the cafeteria and delivered to the room. For the caring nurses and doctors that provide so much support. I think of the hospital in Manokwari and what it would have been like to deliver there, and I don't quite know what to do with the privilege it is to be here. It's a mix of thankfulness and some feelings of guilt at this gift. I think of my friends struggling with infertility or major issues with the babies they are carrying, and I wish for redemption. When Hope latches and nurses I think of Elly's first days with the cleft palate, realizing she couldn't suction and nurse on her own, and again I am so grateful.

So here I am, peaceful, thankful.

I've now had three babies, and every one of them such different experiences.

  • Easy pregnancy, little in the way of aches and pain. 
  • Born on his due date 
  • 9 hour labor
  • Labored through the early hours of the night and morning, born at 9am 
  • Epidural meant basically no pain from contractions
  • 30 minutes of pushing. 
  • Cord wrapped around his neck, causing concern during delivery
  • 7lb 13oz
  • Between tearing/stitches and waiting for the pain killer to clear my system, I could barely move out of bed for my two days in the hospital and was sore for weeks
  • Easy feeding and sleeping - a dream of a newborn

  • Worse morning sickness than the first time around
  •  Hormonal acne worse than being a teenager
  • Round ligament pain that made it hard to walk and lift my legs, even midway through the pregnancy
  • Born a day before her due date 
  • 5 hour labor
  • Labored through the morning, born late morning
  • Didn't get an epidural until 8cm dilated, managed the pain to that point okay
  • Basically pushed once or twice - felt like it was over before it began in terms of pushing!
  • 7 lb 3oz
  • Discovered the cleft palate immediately and entered the journey of pumping and basically drip feeding a baby who couldn't create suction to drink
  • Back pain from the epidural that lasted a few days, but recovery in general was faster than #1

  • Worst all-day sickness in the first trimester, with actual puking
  • Braxton hicks (especially at night) for 1+ weeks before actual labor
  • Born four days before due date 
  • 4 hour labor? Hard to decide when labor started (rather than braxton hicks)
  • Labored in the afternoon, born late afternoon
  • Natural birth with no pain killers 
  • Pushed three times
  • 8 lb 5 oz
  • Cord wrapped around her neck and she was born purple, if pushing had taken longer it might have been dangerous. 
  • No tearing and no epidural, so I was on my feet within a couple of hours and had minimal swelling and soreness.

My water never broke before actual delivery.
I never "dropped", everyone would say the baby was carrying high all the way up to delivery
My only craving was really for meat, probably showing a need for fat/protein/iron. Mostly aversions, particularly to coffee and sweets. 

I don't know how long to say this labor was because those overnight braxton hicks never ended that morning. All morning long they'd randomly hit - light and inconsistent most of the time, but still present. I packed my toiletries bag up thinking maybe, maybe this meant real labor was coming (but really I'd been thinking that every day for a week so don't be too impressed by my intuition!). I had my regular weekly OB check scheduled for just after lunch and was thinking that even if I wasn't in labor, surely she'd tell me I'd progressed and things would be moving along soon. Well, contractions were coming regularly through lunch and as I got ready to go to the appointment, but I was still talking through them as if nothing was going on. We started timing them on the way to the appointment (1:15) and they were less than 10 minutes apart, which set Isaac on slightly-panicked mode.

The OB said I was four cm dilated and very soft, and that I would probably have the baby later in the day but that labor was in early stages there wasn't a need to rush to the hospital. That's just what I was thinking. With my other kids I very clearly went into labor and knew it and things progressed quickly, this whole braxton hicks thing was new for me and I didn't know what to expect in terms of how fast things would progress. I didn't want to check in to the hospital and wait around for hours of light labor.

We drove home, got our bags, told Judah we were going to have a baby, and left for the hospital. Contractions were about six minutes apart and I couldn't talk through them. I wanted to walk for a while rather than check in, so that I wouldn't get stuck unable to eat or move around for potentially hours of labor. However, within an hour of arriving at the hospital the contractions were just minutes apart and getting intense, so we went to check in. Whoops, somehow they were totally swamped and had no rooms available so I was sent to labor in the family waiting room, surrounded by people.

Man. That was the weirdest and toughest thing about the labor, I'd say, managing the later stages of labor in a waiting room chair surrounded by people. When they called me in and saw me managing a contraction in the hallway on the way to the triage room I think they knew things were serious, so they checked me right away and I was already 9 cm dilated and I think was "in transition", as they say, moving from managed contractions to waves of intense contractions right on top of each other, nearly ready to start pushing. I was hardly aware of hastily signing some papers, being moved to a wheelchair and run down the hallway and moved to a delivery room, but I was so thankful to be there!

My doctor and Isaac were coaching me through intense contractions. One of the reasons I didn't want an epidural this time around was so that I would have more control during the pushing stage, but man once you enter the transition period things are so intensely primal and physical, not very controlled for me. I was able to hear Isaac more than anyone else, and sometimes follow what he was guiding me to do. I was attempting to breathe through the contractions but was also feeling a ton of pressure. When they started asking me if I was feeling the need to push I'd already been feeling it for a while and half the work had been fighting that urge as they got me to the delivery room and everyone got set up and in place. With all my babies my water didn't break before hand, so once the doctor was in place she reached in and broke the water and I could feel a small gush and knew that we must be close.  I was so relieved when they told me to push. Again, I thought I'd have more control without the epidural, but at least for me it still felt mostly like a crazy overwhelming, just push with everything in me and no idea what I was actually doing or how things were going.

It took two or three pushes and she was totally out. I didn't know it, but she had the cord wrapped around her neck and the OB was pulling it off between two pushes. She came out purple but I think because things moved so fast, it was all okay.  They put her on my chest and I looked at her in wonder but was still panting and totally internal in the management of contractions and pain. That was different than with an epidural, where after the major pushing I was back to very calm and focused on baby. Without pain meds I was still managing lots of pain for a while after she came out.

The best part of no epidural was the recovery, actually. Hope was 8lb 5oz, my biggest baby, but there was no tearing, no back pain from the epidural, no numbness that kept me immobilized in bed for hours, and a real sense of control over my body and limbs after the major contractions died down. Recovery is great.

I am filled with the peace and wonder of this newborn stage, and deep thankfulness that we got to be here for this stage. Now that I have had medicated and unmedicated births, what's my summary of the difference? I'm really glad I did this third one all naturally. It's my personality to stand back and watch noncommittally until I feel like, "Yeah, I can do that." Third time around, I felt like I could do it, and yes it's empowering to have "done it", but that's not really a super good rationale for choosing an unmedicated birth. Also, I could get through the birth unmedicated because I have fairly easy births and this was my third. Laboring with no relief for the hours and hours that many women go through on their first baby - well, I personally say just choose an epidural! It allowed me to relax, to focus on baby, and not be traumatized. But, knowing that labor would most likely be fairly short and relatively easy, being unmedicated this third time around absolutely made for an easier recovery.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Notes from a Changing Culture

Note: this was written a month ago. We are now in America, walking through culture shock and the dramatic difference between our two cultures!

I love relaxed Sunday afternoons, especially ones like today where it's rainy and cool and we all managed to nap together, snuggled and close in the AC room. I feel this baby kick and roll and I marvel at Elly's tousled curls and Judah's steady even sleeping breath and am so thankful for all of this, for the beauty of family, and Sabbath, and worship.

It has been a fun weekend, full of surprises as life here usually is, but it is nice to feel like we roll with the punches without feeling quite as overwhelmed as we once did. We came home today to find a bird flying around the house. We don't know where it got in, but however it got in is probably where the mice get in, so... that would be good to know. Also found in our house this week – three or four little frogs, an enormous centipede (in contrast to the regular sized ones, of which we may see six a day), a crab, and a few other creepy crawlies.

Judah and I got invited to a wedding of a family we know from his school so I took him on a date, all dressed up, to the reception at a local hotel. Since weddings in this culture these days are largely in imitation of Western-style ceremonies, much was familiar. But then there are random twists, like the five foot tall 7 tiered fake wedding cake which was on top of a table on the stage, making it basically a 10 foot tall cake. There was a fake cutting of the fake cake with a fake samurai sword. Judah thought it was the best part of the whole thing.

Then there's church. I have said I love our church, and that's not because it's comfortable. It's often not comfortable as a foreigner, but truly, it is a highlight of life here. I know so many people living overseas say they miss worship and sermons in English, but I don't. I love this, my soul is nourished in this body and joining in worship is a great privilege. This week they sang this song that is set to some American jazz/rock tune that I can't place for the life of me but that we recognize. Luckily the pianist at our church is a blind Papuan man with an afro and dark glasses who also plays with the skill of Ray Charles and dude, the congregation was rocking out because Indonesians love to sing at the top of their lungs. And the words, the words are truth, and I wish you could have been there and sung it with us.

The speaker opened by saying he'd been informed the day before that he was on the schedule to preach today, which was a prequel to us finding out in the announcements that this week an all-church meeting will be at our house. No, it's not really okay here either to find out such things at the last minute, but it happens at the time, a symptom of a culture in which things are trying to be organized but it doesn't always completely happen?

It's so interesting to watch the cultural change happening. We have talked a lot about the timing of things, and how nothing ever starts on time. Except that that doesn't show that in actuality most people want to start on time, and they keenly feel that they need to adjust to the practices of the developed world and so they are really working to implement timeliness. That's not our influence, we see the "rubber time" thing as a cultural difference that we have to adjust to, but they are embarrassed by it and are trying to change. So, for instance, our assistant pastor preached shockingly directly to the church congregation about timeliness being respectful and lateness/laziness (he equated the two) not being okay, directly calling out the ladies Bible study (which started an hour late the first week I was there) and asking for a verbal agreement for timeliness. And since then it has taken me three weeks to realize that it was serious and they actually start on time now, even if only a couple of people are there.

The guest pastor this week, having had the preaching schedule failed to be communicated to him, came to church just 10 minutes before the listed start time thinking he probably had 30 minutes, and was shocked to find the leaders all present and all having prayed, and worship starting a couple of minutes before start time. Unheard of!

Or then we had a baptism service off site on Easter and the leadership exhorted the congregation to arrive 30 minutes before the buses were to depart. "Not Papuan time, ON TIME." Mostly people did arrive on time, but then one bus arrived at the departure time, one bus arrived 30 minutes later, and one bus never showed up. You can work to change one thing, but the rest of the culture may not be ready to adjust with you! So.... things are changing, but it's not always consistent or easy.