Thursday, April 27, 2017

Struggle

I mentioned in my last post that we have had some challenges.  Actually, in some ways, I think that it would be more accurate to say that we have had ongoing frustrations over the last several years.  I know that some people are going to read this and immediately decide that I am a bad parent and that I need to just "get over it."  For me, at least, this has been easier said than done.

I'm a teacher.  I work for a school board with a fairly prestigious reputation that touts itself as being on the cutting edge and doing things right (in contract with several other local boards which are so inferior to us is the implied message).  I'm an idealist and while I have times of feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, I've always listened to the workshop speakers or the staff meeting presenters and agreed (and, at times, felt a bit guilty that I wasn't doing everything perfectly).  I've always put a high value on making parents happy, treating families with respect and not judging their parenting.  I've always tried to do right by my students who weren't excelling and I've tried to stay current in terms of our understanding of how to support students with learning challenges.

I had been a teacher for 10 years when I had Pk,  I assumed that school for her would be the same as school for me.  I thought it would be easy, she would excel without a whole lot of effort and that she would be one of those bright, well-behaved and engaged girls who make life easier for teachers.  Early on, though, I noticed some things that surprised me.  Her vocabulary was incredible and at times, she showed real strengths but at other times, I was ready to lose my mind.  She had so much trouble following how to play games and in her piano group classes, she never answered questions and never seemed to really know what was going on.  The other kids seemed smarter than she was and I was worried but everyone (well, my mother and my husband) kept telling me that I was crazy and that I was pushing too hard.  I didn't want to have the smartest kid but I was seeing some signs that concerned me and everyone was dismissing it as my being an ambitious mother.

Then, she started J.K.  I have taught kindergarten, grade 1, 2 and 3 for years and years and I have seen lots of kids.  Initially, her teacher told us how bright she was - she started J.K. (pre-K in the U.S.) knowing all of her letters and their sounds, some words, she wrote her name and she could count collections with ease.  She learned to read lots of words but she just didn't seem to care about anything academic.  She had a vivid imagination and told wonderful stories but at times, she could be really vague and we had a three year fight about not keeping her water bottle inside her backpack and soaking everything.  I had this gut feeling that she wasn't who I had expected her to be and everyone around me kept telling me either that she was wonderful or that I just wasn't seeing how talented she was.

S.k. continued in the same vein and then, she began grade 1.  She read really well but her writing left a LOT to be desired and for math, she seemed to be almost incapable of learning simple rote math facts.  I still remember the time when she dragged me down the hall to see the self-portrait and personal description she had done.  The art was good but the writing?  I was shocked to see it on the wall next to the work of the other students.  She had done so little  I was a bit surprised that her teacher hadn't required more and I actually spoke to the teacher, asking whether I thought there were problems.  No, she thought that Pk was bright but "social" and that all would be well.

Grade 2, things got much worse very quickly.  It would take me days to tell you the ins and outs of it but let's say that it included marks plummeting, a teacher who didn't know the curriculum, Pk being tormented by two boys to the degree that she broke down crying at school one day at 11:30 a.m. and when I picked her up at daycare at 4, she was still crying and nobody had thought to call me, tremendous anxiety when a new boy moved in who was emotionally very unstable and was dragged daily from the class, screaming and attacking adults.  It was a horrible, horrible, horrible year and with all of the anxiety that developed, we didn't have a clue what was academic and what was due to her high level of stress.

I would say that grade 3 was the absolute worst.  It became clear from day 1 that her teacher didn't like her, viewed her as spoiled and indulged and really, just couldn't be bothered.  We were told that the teacher "had bigger fish to fry", that our expectations were unreasonable and, after 10 weeks of not talking to the teacher, when we tried to contact her to check in on how things were going, that she was "too busy" to talk to us.  I can't describe it.  I'm a teacher myself and I've been at this for 20 years.  Over and over and over again, the teacher was treating us like we were crazy for asking how to help our daughter and refusing to speak to us at all.  In the meantime, the marks continued to fall and yet, the teacher kept telling the principal that there were "no academic concerns."   It was like an alternate universe.

Finally, we gave up on the school system and went to our doctor.  That was the first step in things getting better.  She referred us to a top pediatrician who in turn sent us to a FANTASTIC psychometrist (an expert in educational assessments and the interpretation of results).  Guess what?  Pk is EXTREMELY bright but also has a learning disability (well, actually, three areas of very significant weakness).  By this point, she had moved schools (that happens in grade 4 in our community) and the new school was as wonderful as the old school was frustrating.  I have to be honest, hearing that your child has real deficits is a hard thing to face.  I had a friend whose son was diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities and I remember her telling me about the grief.  Having experienced it myself, I think that was a very good way to describe it.  You still love your child, in fact, in some ways, it helps you to appreciate him or her even more.  On the other hand, though, you begin to understand that life may not be easy for them.  I have overheard one of Pk's friends talking about how Pk just "isn't good at writing and can't do that stuff" which is 1. untrue, she just needs more time and 2. really, really hurt her feelings.  I know that we will be dealing with terrific teachers like the one this year, who loves her, admires her strengths like her sense of humour, her optimism and her kindness and yet is willing to work with her through the challenges but there will also be the teachers who either think Pk is stupid or lacks potential or who insist on viewing her executive function issues as being laziness.  I know that the transition to high school may be challenging and that while according to the psychologist, Pk should be able to pursue any university studies she wishes based on her intelligence, she may well have to work a lot harder than other people.  And, from a purely selfish standpoint, I have to learn to live with 1. that she will never measure up to the standard of the "perfect child" in the competitive world of "mommy-wars" (not that I buy into it but knowing that you will always be inferior in some people's eyes is still frustrating) and 2. that I will probably have to fight for her and that I will often face the dilemma of having to face the choice of being the nice, easy-to-deal with parent or being the mama bear who keeps the system honest for my kid but who knows that teachers are cringing when they see me coming.

So, that's been my tough battle this year.  A friend with a son with a diagnosis told me last fall, when I was in the worst of feeling discouraged that we were almost at the top of the hill - that fighting the system initially and finally getting the diagnosis was the uphill part of the battle and that you spent a bit of time on the level at the top when things aren't so bad but you aren't seeing success yet and then, finally, you realize that the coast down to the easier part of the journey has arrived.  I think that we have finally crested the hill and are starting the descent.  I'm grateful because the trip has left me very tired.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Happiness Update



I'm sorry that I haven't been around (although I don't think many read here anyway but it's still fun).  I always find winter tough and this year seemed to be especially so.  My mom was diagnosed with Parkinsons, which threw all up of for a loop, my parents-in-law sold their house and are moving in with my sister-in-law, which feels like the end of an important era for us (we had quite an attachment to their town), Pk was diagnosed with a learning disability, which, while actually good news (it proved that she is VERY bright but also legitimately struggling with some things that aren't due to poor parenting, which was the message the school gave us), led to some really struggles and, as always, our schedule kept me drained and overwhelmed.  I didn't use to like spring very much but, as the raising of my spirits can attest, I loathe winter and the longer daylight and warmer temperatures really do change my outlook on life.  I'll probably write longer about some of our challenges in another post but this one is going to be happy.

I am finding myself brimming with contentment these days and it often leads to my walking around with a stupid smile on my face (when the world isn't driving me crazy).  I thought I'd write a post about some of the things that are making me feel so happy these days.

1.  Being outside.  Having my dogs (more about that in a minute) means that I need to walk and most of the time, daily, more than once.  I often don't feel like going but once I do, I get such a sense of well-being and clear-headedness from being outside.  I walk at lunch at work, which is a lifesaver and I have taken to either listening to books on Audible or listening to some of my favourite podcasts.  The kids are getting old enough that they now often like to walk with me (and don't whine about being exhausted the entire time).  On Friday, we walked to a field literally five minutes from home and discovered a little waterfall in the creek in the forest.  I had to drag the kids away.  I know, we have started to overly idealize the "freedom childhood" but I really do think that being outside makes kids happier.



2.  Our pets.  We have two dogs, both brittany spaniels, Lucie and Harris and a cat, Sadie.  I can't tell you how much I love these guys.  I know the world is divided into pet people and no pet people and I most definitely fall into the first category.  They can be royal pains in the tush and cause all kinds of trouble and aren't especially well-mannered (having kids seems to have destroyed our ability to train a dog) but the joy they show when I come in the door, having a little body asleep on the floor beside me when I am working or having that presence in whichever room I am in changes my outlook on the day entirely.










3.  Our small town.  I know, small town life isn't for everyone and our proximity to the city means that we get to avoid some of the worst aspects of small down life but we love living here.  I love that we run into people we know everywhere we go, that there isn't pressure to be out doing something all of the time and that there is quiet around us.  I feel a sense of belonging here that I never felt growing up in a big city and I think my kids are really benefitting from that, at least at this stage.  This was Little Man walking to school with a big friend who he worships who he has known since he was born.  The kindness of the big and rough older boy to the little boy trying to keep up just about brought me to tears.



4.  My knitting.  Just before March Break, one of Pk's skating coaches approached me to ask me if she could pay me to knit a ponytail hat in worksocks colours for her.  I wasn't sure but after some research,  I found a pattern and got to work.  These are fun to knit and I have had so many requests for hats!  At the moment, I am making a set of 12 for Pk's synchro skating team for the fall.  They are easy, require little attention and look great.  That makes me happy!



5.  The thrift store.  I love second hand shopping, especially in stores that are clean and well laid out.  There is a wonderful thrift store in the town in which I work that is owned by a particular church group for whom I have tremendous respect and who do wonderful and responsible work globally.  My favourite treat is to go and browse and to buy some fun treasures.  Their books are especially cheap (3 for $5) and generally in wonderful condition.  I love this little treat that involves so little guilt!



6.  Getting out into my garden.  I have these very big dreams of a gorgeous garden and while they are rarely realized, I think that I am slowly and surely having some decent results.  I can't get over how an hour in the garden can change my entire outlook.  I have peas planted in my veggie bed already, I have started chives and dill from dried seed heads I found when weeding and tidying, I have morning glories and sunflowers started inside and many of my perennials have come back.  It's silly but it feels like a miracle to me each and every year.



7.  Podcasts.  I love podcasts and I have found some terrific ones of late.  I have always been a big fan of several shows from CBC (I especially like The Current) but I have stumbled across several that I really have begun to enjoy this year.  I ADORE What Should I Read Next with Anne Bogel (Tuesday is the day the new episode is released and it's silly how excited I become), I have really enjoyed some of the world on The Liturgists and Ask Science Mike, which Mike McHargue and Michael Gungor, Sorta Awesome with Megan Tietz and friends, Serial with Sarah Koenig and a few others that I can't remember at the moment.  I almost never watch t.v. and listening to podcasts is entertaining to me but also lets me do the things I need to do like gardening, knitting and cleaning (which I seem to do so much of these days).

8.  Reading.  I have been on a huge book binge of late.  Anne Bogel has made my life complicated by sharing so many wonderful books and since I discovered abebooks.com, I have become addicted to ordering used books online.  It's so much fun to have books arrive and to find little treasures that someone else has left behind.  I am bleary-eyed too much of the time these days because I can't go to bed without a good session of reading!

So, that's a few of the things making me happy right now.  I hope that spring is infecting you with an appreciation of all that you have.  I'd love to hear what is making you happy at the moment.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Yarn Along


Ginny over at Small Things hosts a wonderful link up called the Yarn Along.  Each week, we share a photo of what we are knitting and what we are reading.  How can you ever go wrong with books and knitting?  Thank you, Ginny, for hosting and for giving us the chance to see some great projects and books!

Life has been even busier than usual in the last week or so and sadly, I haven't had much time for either pastime.  I can't entirely do without, though, so some things have gotten done.  In terms of reading, I finished reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning and overall, I enjoyed it.  It wasn't a "faith changing" book for me the way that other report that is has been but there were parts that really spoke to me.  I'd like to go back and read it again in a few years since it is the kind of book that does seem to have something new to say with repeated readings.  I have also been slowly moving through The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton.  I like it but not love it.  I really enjoyed The House at Riverden by Morton and this book made the list from Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy so I intend to keep going - she has never steered me wrong yet!  Finally, I'm reading Craving Connection: 30 Challenges for Real-Life Engagement from the (in)courage community over at Dayspring.  They have been posting a weekend challenge that links to the book on their blog and I liked what I had read enough that I decided to buy it.  My plan is to read one challenge a week and see how that might work for me.


In terms  of my knitting, that's been REALLY slow.  Pk wanted a hat like her brother's and red is her favourite colour.  They both have really liked the "Pink Pussy Hat" pattern from Kat Coyle and it's SO easy, it works for me, too.  I got a red one done and another pink one.  I think I have four or five more pinks to do before I get one for each of the friends who have requested one.  Finally, the "Able Cable" blanket slowly proceeds.  My friend's baby is due March 25, so it's time to get that off the needles!

I can't wait to see what everyone has been up to!

Lent

Lent is something that I have struggled with for several years.  I come from what I would call a "semi-liturgical" tradition - we talk about Advent and Lent but honestly, other than that the sanctuary was stark during Lent and people talked about giving something up (although it was never really clearly explained exactly why), there really wasn't much to it.  It just felt like a waiting period before Holy Week.  I didn't think about it a whole lot and other than a few years that I tried to give up chocolate (and I think more in the name of trying to lose weight than to draw closer to God), it really was a bit of a non-event for me.  As I get older, I've been trying to find ways to make it a more important time but I haven't really found a way to do that.

Here we are, another year, and I'm trying, again, to find a way to make this a special time.  The DECE I work with in my classroom is a Muslim and watching her fast during Ramadan and the significance of that time in her spiritual life has really inspired me to want to take things further and develop this as a time of faith.  I've done some searching on Pinterest for ideas but again, there's not all that much there, especially as a non-Catholic.  I'm going to have to make things up as we go along.  Here is what I have decided to do so far.

1.  Of course, we couldn't miss celebrating Shrove Tuesday.  When I was growing up, we used to have pancakes at school and "pancake day" was lots of fun.  As I got older and we stopped doing it at school, we'd go to church on Tuesday evening and have a pancake dinner.  Now that we are at a much more Evangelical church, we don't even have that option.  I wanted this to be a fun event for the kids.  Dh is English and he has memories of eating "English Pancakes" on Sunday evening before going to church so those have become our "pancake day" pancakes.  1 c flour, 1 c milk, 2 eggs, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 c water, fry like a crepe and top with sugar and lemon juice.  Yum!  



2.  Reading - A friend posted the link to Addie Zierman's post about Lent and in it, she recommends 9 books to try during Lent.  I decided to buy several - Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit, Paula HustonA Way Other Than Our Own, Walter Brueggemann and Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J. Nouwen.   I won't have them to start Lent but at least I will have a few books to explore once they arrive and for next year, there will be some books to read.

3.  A prayer chain - last year, I did this with my kids and it was a great experience for all of us.  We do pray with the kids but I have to be honest, it can be hit and miss.  I love this idea of being very deliberate and purposeful and last year, it gave us some good opportunities to talk about caring for others and how we might make a difference in their lives.  The kids liked it enough that they would ask to pray if I forgot.

4.  A Gratitude Journal - I have been keeping a Gratitude Journal as part of my year of "Unashamed" and I liked the idea of these prompts to take it beyond just a list.  I have so much for which to be grateful and I have a bad habit of getting stuck in the negative.  I want that to change and this practice may help.

5.  Finally, my family has become very attached to the "Care and Share", a wonderful thrift store run by the Mennonite Central Committee.  We like it more for making donations than for shopping (although I have been very bad about buying many too many books there!)  I found this list of a 40 day clean out and I'd love to get my entire family involved in this - giving stuff away to create more room for the meaningful in our home and also helping those in need, both who need our stuff at a low price and the profits going to help all of the wonderful work done by the M.C.C. around the world.

How will you be marking Lent this year?  Do you have any good suggestions?  I'd love more ideas!


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Yarn Along


I am so excited!  I got a new laptop for work and this is the first post that I have tried on it.  I am a hard core Mac person and I got a Dell and I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to do anything with it.  I am so thrilled that I have figured it out.  There are still many glitches to work out but it's so exciting to think that this is do-able without my having to spend hours and hours trying to figure it out.  Hooray!

I love the Yarn Along link-up hosted by Ginny at Small Things.  Her blog is beautiful generally and when books and knitting are combined, how can you go wrong?  I love seeing what everyone else is working on!



I've been busily knitting and reading but still, I feel like I have accomplished little.  In terms of knitting, LB lost all of his hats and I tried to buy a few and couldn't find any.  I love making them for him but I had such a long list of to-do projects that  I was hoping to save the time.   No such luck.  I'd been working hard on the "Pink Pussy Hats" for friends and since it's such a simple pattern and requires so little finishing, I decided to just change the colour and follow a pattern that I had down pat.  LB now has a rush coloured hat (yarn from my stash that thankfully, he decided was "fox" coloured) and a green one.  That led to Pk wanting a red one (her current favourite colour) so I felt like I had to do that, too.  I hope to get that one finished when I am done here this evening.  I'm also still working on the baby blanket for our friends.  I think three or four more repeats of the pattern and the final edge should finish it up for me.  Thank goodness because this baby is due pretty soon!

In terms of reading, I've been all over the place of late.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the podcast What Should I Read Next? and I broke down and printed off the Modern Mrs. Darcy book journal.  I couldn't resist looking at the book list and Kate Morton appears on the list.  I read The House at Riverden and enjoyed it so I thought it would be worth reading another so I am reading The Secret Keeper.  I haven't made it far into this one yet but it seems good.  I think it was last week, the guest mentioned The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning as one of her top three.  I have had this book waiting to be read for a while and that gave me the motivation to actually open it.  So far, so good.  I am about 6 chapters in and it's good.  I think that because I grew up in a fairly progressive faith background, I don't find it as earth shattering as some (the message of God being loving and good and gifting grace regardless of our sin isn't a new message for me) but there are still some chapters that really speak to me.  His chapter on the loss of wonder makes me want to look at my world again with new eyes.  We are so lucky and there is so much beauty that gets missed each day.  Finally, as part of the MMD reading challenge, I need to read a Pulitzer winning book.  I browsed the list and this book seemed good, The Pope and Mussolini.  I am almost finished the Neopolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante which has me with Italy on the brain.  This book seems like such a logical connection and it's been really fascinating so far!

 I can't wait to see what everyone else has on the go!


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Yarn Along


I haven't done a post for a while for the Yarn Along and I've really missed it.  We just finished a marathon of report card writing and in our province, we have a new report card that took FOREVER to write for each child.  My principal read them this week and they were approved so, I can now go back to my usual evening pursuits.  I love the Yarn Along - seeing everyone's knitting and getting suggestions for books puts me in such a happy mood.  Thank you, yet again, Ginny at Small Things, for hosting this wonderful link up!

I've got two projects on my needles at the moment.  The first is a baby blanket.  I found the pattern on Ravelry (of course) and it is just what I wanted.  I am using some old Bernat Baby that I had at home which is really super soft and it looks so pretty in these cables.  This is the perfect pattern, in my mind - it looks lovely (my lack of skill as a photographer doesn't do it justice) and it's very easy, just a repeat of six rows with a cable on the 2nd row of every six.  I don't have to pay too close attention to what I am doing and it's very easy to fix any mistakes if they happen.  I am loving the pattern!


My other project on the needles is a bit of a silly one.  I am assuming that since everyone here is a knitter, you are familiar with the "pink pussy hat" project.  I had a request from a friend for one and, before I knew it, I had about ten requests for hats.  I have finished five of them now.  The blanket has to be top priority (the baby is due in eight weeks so it needs to get finished!) but the hats make a really easy travel project or when I am sitting around at the skating rink while P.K. skates.  It makes a silly and fun gift and is uplifting to the spirits of some friends who are feeling pretty discouraged at the moment.


In terms of reading, I keep reading several books at once, as well.  For the Red Couch book club over at SheLoves, the book for the month was Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chang Rah.  This book is AMAZING and especially timely given everything happening in the U.S. at the moment  A friend recommended Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster after I mentioned that I had loved his book on prayer.  I'm not reading it quickly but I am really enjoying it.  Finally, I have been reading The Love Letters by Madeleine L'Engle for a while.  She is one of my favourite authors in the entire world and I am gradually collecting all of her books (I love buying used books on abebooks.com and this was a fairly recent purchase).  It's not horrible but I can't say that it's her best.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Back Again

I haven't been around for a while.  It's funny, I've had such an urge to write so many times but at the end, my feelings have been so overwhelming that I couldn't risk now having the words.  I don't think I have ever felt so disillusioned.

I'm Canadian but unfortunately, we live in such close proximity to the U.S. that while we couldn't actually vote in the election (and many of us wish beyond anything that we could have had some influence on what happened), we were flooded with it and the negativity and the hostility and the anger have definitely overflowed into our world.  Honestly, it has made me really struggle with quite a few things and really do some rethinking who I am and what matters.

I think the hardest thing for me is the fact that much of the American church could claim Trump as the "Christian candidate."  It makes me so sad and confused and angry and feel so lost.  How on earth could anyone read the words of Jesus and come away believing that a man who espouses racist, misogynist and hateful opinions pretty much every time he opens his mouth be the right choice?  All I can think of are the mothers and children stuck in refugee camps, facing the dropping of barrel bombs or squeezing their children into filthy boats built for 150 with 1500 crammed on board.  How can anyone see that as anything other that being in need?  How can anyone who claims Jesus truly believe that their own worries (which statistically are completely misplaced) are more important than the safety of other people's children?  I have been called a "snowflake" and a "liberal" (as if that is the worst thing one can be) and accused of being naive and stupid and pathetic because I have compassion and am trying to live with integrity.  There are several people from church (people who I suspected I probably wouldn't agree with on everything but people I could certainly have a warm conversation with) posting hate speech, anti-immigrant rhetoric and, worse, anti LGBTQ material that is beyond hateful.  I have always struggled with feeling like an outsider and now, knowing that at least some of the people around me actually hold these views, I find it hard to sit in church.  I want church to be a place where I feel surrounded by people who are committed to following Jesus and yet, I'm afraid that my very attempt to follow Jesus will be what will get me excluded.  I'm in that weird neverland - I believe in a fairly orthodox theology and yet, I also believe that love has to be given more weight than anything else and that fairness and justice must be our goal.  I'm on the Mission committee at church and when the issue of our support for Samaritan's Purse came up, I really faced a dilemma - do I "out" myself as a "liberal" (I'm generally fairly quiet at church - sometimes I am pretty "out" on Facebook but I still hold back a fair bit) or do I go along with something that just feels so wrong?  (In case you a wondering, I came up with a solution that worked for me - I emailed our pastor and asked not to participate in that vote, explaining my view but that I also understood that my feelings may not represent those of the majority of the congregation and he surprisingly told me that he suspected that there were probably many more that held my view than I realised and he worked things out so that we shifted our support to a less offensive organization).

It's really left me in a "Where do I go from here?" frame of mind.  Do I shut up and listen to all of those on Facebook complaining of how sick they are of the "politics" (although when it comes to injustice, I think it goes far beyond politics and I'm sorry if justice and human rights are an inconvenience to you)?  Do I speak up and call people on their hatred and know that I am going to face hostility and disdain all the time?  Do I hide out with my peeps who don't challenge me at all and just stay out of it all?  I've tried a bit of each and nothing feels quite right.

I think, at this point, all that I can do is try to live with integrity.  I will be respectful of those who disagree and not call names, insult or deliberately antagonize.  I won't post jokes or really nasty or derogatory comments.  I will call racism and bias for what it is and, most of all, I will strive to stand beside those who are being hurt and/or excluded.  I will speak truth and I will speak it with confidence but I will also realize that there are some issues that are about justice and others that are about opinion and I will try to maintain that perspective.  I will also pray and pray and pray - pray that somehow, everyone regains the understanding that these "issues" that we are discussing are people's realities and regardless of our opinions, we need to keep the dignity, safety and human rights of all at the forefront of our discussions.

I really hope that these first few weeks are either an aberration and the result of inexperience and lack of judgement but that will change.  I suspect, though, that the best that I can hope for is an awakening of the passion for justice, the craving for mercy and the humility that we are all called to.