I laugh when I see all the articles and television shows that say women need to make time for themselves; especially mothers. I laugh because I would like to know when they think there is time for me to sit down and find time for myself.
I have three children, a full time job, a husband that would like to have adult time, a house that needs cleaning, two dogs that need to be walked, charity work…. Should I continue? If you are women, especially a mother, you understand my predicament.
My husband is wonderful in pushing me to find time for myself. But I usually say no because he needs it more. I do get quiet time after the kids are put to bed but it usually entails sitting in front of the television folding laundry.
I love to read and I try to sit down and read at home, but just as soon as the plot begins to thicken, a crying child arrives in need of a mommy hug.
So, do I get much me time? No. Would I change that for anything? No. I figure when my children get older and no longer need that mommy hug and can fold their own laundry, I will get plenty of me time then.
Bettie Bransfield is a working mom with three small children living in Montpelier with her wonderful husband. She has a Masters degree in Business and spends her spare time as a volunteer EMT.
This time of year I talk with a lot of people who are considering homeschooling their children or wondering how to get started. Some are parents weighing alternatives as their children are approaching “school age.” Others are looking for a change from an educational setting that isn’t working as well as they’d like. Parents are often wondering what homeschooling looks like, what they are required to do, and how to get started.
I’ll be homeschooling my own daughter (age 5) this coming year and am eager to experience the process as a parent. Despite more than 8 years of experience working with homeschoolers, I have felt some of the same doubts and worries that I hear from other new and prospective homeschoolers. I have to remind myself that in many ways this is just a continuation of the process of parenting a young child—I’ll continue to follow my daughter’s lead and try to offer a range of stimulating and inspiring experiences for her.
There are an infinite number of ways to homeschool your child. You don’t need to follow any particular curricular approach or teach any particular collection of skills and topics. The state has some requirements, but most people find it pretty easy to meet them in a way that also meets their child’s needs and is a good fit for their family. Here are some of the things I suggest parents consider as they think about how they might educate their child(ren) at home:
- What are you excited to do with your child? What do you wish you could do together if you had more time? What might your child do with free time to follow her interests? What interests do you have that you might share with her? Think about the things you already do as a family, like gardening, hiking, watching documentaries, cooking, reading aloud, or discussing the news. Think about major events coming up in your family’s year, like a big road trip, a home renovation, or getting chickens. All these things are incredible educational fodder. You can build on them in meaningful, authentic ways as you help your child explore her world and reflect on what she discovers.
- What are the next steps for your child? As parents of young children, we all observe their progress towards developmental milestones and think about how to gently support their growth. And when they’re fascinated with something like puppies or tractors, we look for ways to build on that interest. This doesn’t need to stop when your child reaches “school age.” Observe your child and think about what she is ready for, intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically. You can do a little reading about this stage of development if you’re not up on it. Talk to your child. Pay attention to what she’s doing now and what she’s curious about and think about what might inspire her.
- Think about rhythm and structure. How does your child learn best? Does she remember everything she reads or does she need get her hands into things to be engaged? How much physical activity does she seem to need? Does she need a lot of quiet alone time or does she learn best when engaged with others? What are her natural rhythms? Does she need to sleep late or snack throughout the day? Does she follow her nose through a series of constructive activities or is she lost without a clear structure? Summer is a great time to make some of these observations. Check in with yourself too—the level of structure you need, your balance of alone time and time with others, and your rhythms of sleep, activity, and creative focus. If these are quite different than your child’s, how will you accommodate each other?
- Once you have considered the above, you’re ready to start making some curriculum plans. There are many materials available to homeschoolers, some free and some quite expensive. You don’t need to buy a complete curriculum package, although you can if you feel that you and your child need that structure. A simple web search can yield homeschool curriculum reviews and used books and materials for sale. Much of what you might need, particularly when your child is young, can be encountered in daily life, borrowed from the local library, or found online.
- There are a number of listservs available to network with other VT homeschoolers. These can be good places to post questions about curriculum materials as well as to look for other families in your area who might like to get together. People often use these lists to organize group activities. Here are some of them:
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/vthomeschoolers (statewide)
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/vt-homeschooling (statewide)
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Homeschool-Teens-in-VTandNH (statewide teens)
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cvt_homeschoolresource (Central Vermont)
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/randolphhomeschoolers (Randolph)
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ChittendenCountyHS (Chittenden County)
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NEKHS (Northeast Kingdom)
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/madriverhomeschoolers (Mad River Valley)
- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/UpperValleyHomeschoolers (Upper Valley)
- Other resources exist in the area as well. Many museums, nature centers, and other organizations around Vermont offer great programs for homeschoolers. I have a resource list of classes, events, contacts, and tutors that I update and send out quarterly by email. Contact me ([email protected]) if you’d like to receive it. I have also helped many new homeschoolers get started. I can help you find resources, make curriculum plans, and complete state paperwork. I do assessments and offer tutoring and small group classes. I also teach at Pacem School and Homeschool Center, where you can find a wide range of classes for ages 10-18 and some homeschool support services.
- The Vermont Department of Education has a Home Study office. You can contact them (828-3352, http://www.state.vt.us/educ/new/html/pgm_homestudy.html) to get home study enrollment forms and information. If you’re homeschooling a child between ages 6 and 16, VT law says that they must be enrolled in VT home study.
Homeschooling can seem like a big leap, but it doesn’t need to be daunting. I hope this list helps you to be excited about the possibilities as you begin this new phase of learning, growing, and exploring the world with your child. ________________________________________________________________ Rebecca Yahm is the parent of a five-year-old daughter and a homeschool teacher and consultant. She has a background in progressive education and previously taught in public and private schools. She has been providing support services, tutoring, and classes for homeschoolers since 2003, when she started Open Path Homeschooling Resources <http://openpathhomeschooling.com> to support homeschooling as an educational alternative. She also teaches at Pacem School and Homeschool Center <http://pacemschool.org>.
Since they were verbal, I have always told my children that if mamma gets sick, the ship sinks. To me, this means it’s really critical for me to take good care of myself so that I can be the best mom and person I can be.
Shift…The music in my car is blasting, ”Oh Happy Day”, the standard gospel tune. My children and I join in and belt it out together as I drive them to school. Sometimes, it’s Patti Casey, who’s singing sweetly, her songs opening me up, as I find myself weeping much needed tears of release. This past winter, midway through, it was “To Life, To Life, L’Chaim”, from Fiddler on the Roof, a reminder from my Jewish ancestors, that I come from hardy stock and that a little aggravation and stress from the transition of a hard divorce is nothing compared to leaving the homeland and arriving on the shores of America with a trunkful of belongings and the names of some distant relatives. I also got myself hooked on another show tune, “Something’s Coming”, from West Side Story, which gave me hope that my next lover, though unbeknownst to me at present, is just around the bend, waiting for the perfect moment to manifest.
My car is my sanctuary on wheels. It’s a place where I cannot multi-task and busy myself to smithereens. My spirit needs music. And, not only that, she needs to voice her pain, joy and wonder in a loud and communal way. When I am by myself, I get to choose the music. The chorus is always on time and warmed up. All I have to do is say, “ready”, and they lead me on, inspiring me to sing deeply and tune in to the little voice that says, “It’s going to be alright”. So if you see me, driving by without my kids, with my mouth wide open in song and my head nodding, just realize that I’m taking care of myself, keeping my ship afloat and getting my dose of prayer.
So, we just came back from a great weekend visiting with family. Relaxing, refreshing and alway nice to feel connected to family that's just over an hour drive from us. There's one thing that's bothering me though, and I think it's time I had a talk with my son about it. No, not THE talk, not the s-e-x talk, but something that takes a similar level of maturity. Come to think of it, maybe it is time my husband and I had the s-e-x talk with our son but that's not what's on my mind this afternoon. Our son is 7 years old, he's happy, relatively well adjusted, and always up for an adventure. He's so proud that he can do the crawl stroke in the pool, that's new this week, and he loves legos, robots, reading, coloring, and most of all Star Wars. He's a vibrant little soul and I have learned a lot from him over the years. About laughter, the little pleasures of an ice cream cone, of rescuing a moth that's beating itself against the window but I've also witnessed his heartache at seeing a dead bird on the sidewalk, of broken toys, and most recently of losing a great-grandparent. He's been so brave and thoughtful, mature and compassionate in a ways I hadn't expected. So, I should trust him, trust that he can take the pain that life sometimes deals out. I think it's time to have a talk with my son...about my brother.
My brother was the happiest kid, loved basketball, was a great speller, didn't like math much, and loved to read Tin Tin. Sometime when he was in college he started having a really hard time, we all thought he was just on drugs, smoking too much pot and taking other stuff. We thought if he would just clean up his act and stop with the drugs that he'd be able to pull himself together. Finally after a whole summer of fighting, just before Thanksgiving, my parents were so desperate that they kicked my brother out of the house. They were really clear...he could come back when he agreed to get help. On Thanksgiving day, as we sat around the table, he called and agreed to go to rehab. It worked, he's never gone back to using but it's also become clear that his problems are deeper than just drug abuse. Looking back, I'm amazed that he managed to graduate from college in Arizona and find a job as a dishwasher to help pay the rent. My parent's were chipping in too, helping pay for his car and some money for groceries. Then, something happened and it became clear that he needed more help right away. Not rehab but something else.
My dad flew out to AZ to help my brother pack his few belongings into his Honda and make the long drive back to Vermont. On the way, it became more and more clear to my dad that my brother needed psychological help. So, when they pulled into the driveway my dad looked at my brother and said..."You can only live with your mom and I if you get a full physical and mental evaluation. We love you and we think you need help." Luckily, my brother agreed to get help. That was 6 years ago. Today he's in total compliance with all the my parent's house rules...no more than one beer a night, no more than 1 cigarette every 2 hours, eat healthy, shower daily, etc. About a year and a half ago my brother was diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Encephalopathy or Psychiatric Lyme disease. Through testing and guesswork my parents and my brother's doctors think he's had Lyme disease for the last 10 years. Not only did he contract the bacteria that causes Lyme disease but he acquired another co-infection, called Clamydia Pneumoniae, probably from the same tick. There is a lot of controversy around whether cronic Lyme disease even exists, lots of doctors would simply diagnose my brother with bi-polar and schizoaffective disorder. Honestly, none of us are sure. It will be years before we can come to any real conclusions. Years of seeing how he responds to various drugs and treatments. Right now my brother's on lots of medications, some for treating his depression, some for his schizoaffective symptoms, and even more for his Lyme disease. We're all holding out hope that maybe he'll pull through and recover most of his mental health. But, we're not holding our breath and we're trying to be realistic.
So, you can see that talking to my son won't be easy. I don't know what to tell him about the future. Maybe my brother will recover enough to live on his own and hold a job. Maybe he won't and he'll alway need someone there to make sure he takes his medications, remembers to turn off the stove, and doesn't spend all his money on sandwiches at Subway. We're certainly considering the possibility that my brother will end up living next door to my husband, the kids, and I so that we can be there for him on a daily basis. I guess I can just tell my son all of this. The main thing I want to convey is respect for my brother, for his fight with mental illness---whatever his diagnosis is and whether or not he gets better.
My brother amazes me in his refusal to give up. His attitude is cheery and sometimes (sometimes) he even jokes about having Lyme disease. He does whatever my parents and his doctors tell him to do, he's the most compliant patient. When we first arrive, after the hour and a half journey from Montpelier he answers the door and asks "Can I get you guys a drink?" and says "Wow, I like your new haircut!" He clears the table after dinner, he offers to read the kids a book even though their enthusiasm can be really overwhelming for him. He goes in the office and shuts the door when he needs some time to himself. In a lot of ways he's learned how to take care of himself. I guess what I'll tell my son is that his uncle is struggling and that when he's having a hard time we all need to understand not to take it personally. That every day my brother wakes up and has to be his own Jedi fighter fighting for his own sanity and that we, as his loving family, all have to be on his team. I want my son to know because I think he's starting to notice when my brother is having a hard time. I want my son to know because he's old enough now to help my brother with his fight for mental health and he's old enough now to know that compassion is the sharpest of Jedi swords.
This blog is hard to write. Even as I am typing this in Word I am debating on whether or not I will actually send it to be put on the web. I’m asking that you please make no assumptions as to the type of person/mother/wife I am, because I am writing this. This blog is not a reflection of me as a whole, just a thing I am going through. So, here it goes:
My little one just went to her 2 month check-up and gotten her first round of vaccines. She isn’t happy, her little legs hurt, and last night she ran a fever, but it’s not her fault. I know it will be better in a few days. Regardless, I find myself amazingly short tempered. Not just with her, but with myself, my husband, the dogs, and our roommate, hell, not even the guy in customer service for the navigation system is safe from my fury. I’m not violent; I’m short, snippy, and just plain not very nice when my fuse gets this short. I am depressed, lonely and sometimes extremely agitated with absolutely nothing of any real importance at all.
These feelings aren’t something new for me. When I had my son 6 years ago, I suffered from really bad post-partum depression. I was a lot younger then, barely 21 and a half. As I got closer to delivering baby #2 I promised myself that this time would be different… I have a great husband, I’m more prepared, and I’m in a better place mentally and physically. But, no matter how much I try to deny it, it’s here again. I felt it creeping up inside me weeks ago. Things were great the first week; the second week was a little tough, but mainly just because I was adjusting to everything. By the time my 6 week post-partum appointment came around, I was beginning to feel really overwhelmed. My midwife and I talked about it, I told her that I really didn’t want to go on medication, that I was doing yoga, meditating, talking to my friends, and my husband about how I was doing, that I was just under a lot of stress… that I would be ok.
Well, I lied… (About some things anyway.)
I do talk to my husband and to my friends, but I am pretty good at making it out to seem like it’s not as big of a deal as it really is. When people ask, “How are you doing?” I am an expert on smiling and saying “I am doing great!” even when I’m not.
So, tonight, as I am working on an invoice for a cake order, my sweet little girl starts crying. It’s hot, she hasn’t taken a good nap all day, I’m sure her little legs are sore and she is probably hungry. I ask my husband to get her a bottle so I can finish up, he says “Sure.”
He had been starting to doze off, and instead of actually getting up, he starts snoring. Sensing my frustration, our roommate says, “I’ll get it, I need to practice anyways, so you will feel ok with letting Uncle Dan babysit.” I sigh, but get up and get a bottle started. My frustration mounts as my husband sleeps through her crying and fussiness, and peaks at the image of our roommate feeding her instead of her father. To try to push it aside, (because it really isn’t that big of a deal) I wash her bottles and my pump parts that were sitting in the sink, and go over the packing list for our upcoming trip. As our roommate says “Oh boy little one, you just blew your diaper up.” I reach my breaking point. I stay calm and reserved as I change her diaper, walk over to my husband, give him a nudge and say “I need you to wake up.” Once he is awake I tell him that he needs to get Olivia and take care of her because I am going to go out for a drink.
At first he seemed confused, but he woke up, took her from my arms, and says “Ok.” I assure him I won’t be long, that I just need to get some air. He asks if I’m ok, and I say “No, I’m not. I don’t know how I am going to manage you working full time, making sure you are getting things done for your B.A. classes for school online, me working part time, keeping the house cleaned, going back to school myself, AND taking care of the baby, all while keeping my sanity… I just don’t know how it’s going to work, and I need to think.” He didn’t say anything, and I left. I got into my car and drove to the bar. I tried to call my aunt, and an old friend from back home, but neither could talk. I’m sure if they realized what was happening they would have…but the moment they answered the phone I put my ‘tough girl’ face on and smiled as they asked if they could call me tomorrow because they were just too busy to talk to me. I looked at the bar doors & thought about how good that drink would taste. So, I pulled out of my parking spot, and went to the empty parking lot a block over, and cried.
I cried for about 10 minutes. I cried out of the fear, the frustration, and the desperation I have been feeling. I knew that by even having one drink, I was opening myself up to a very easy downward spiral, and I wasn’t going to do that. I wanted to…but I knew it wouldn’t fix anything; it would just make it worse. So, I drove to Dunkin Donuts, got an iced coffee and a dozen donuts, and went home.
Olivia was in her crib, cooing to her mobile and my husband was getting his work clothes together. He smiled at me, but behind his smile, I saw his fears. I told him I was sorry, that I’m just feeling too much, and I can’t keep it all contained. I told him about how I feel weak, because I am struggling to stay happy, despite having a great husband, and a wonderful healthy little girl. I told him about how I feel guilty, because he works his butt off 50-60 hours a week to provide for us, and I need him to take care of Olivia sometimes so I can get a shower or go run a quick errand baby free. I told him about how hard it is to keep smiling and stay optimistic when all I want to do is cry. I told him that it sucks because even though post-partum depression is a very common issue, it’s still hard to accept it. I told him how my social anxiety is stopping me from going to play groups to meet other moms, because I’m worried that they won’t really like me or Olivia, that they will just tolerate us to be nice. Then, I cried some more.
Olivia had started to get fussy, so I picked her up and fed her. I was calm and looking into her big bright eyes I shared with him one of my deepest fears. I was afraid of screwing her up. I told him how my great-grandmother screwed my grandmother up, and she screwed up my mother. He knows my mother is manipulative, and a liar. He knows how she used my insecurities about being a good mother to my son as a way to get me to agree to her adopting him, only so she could attempt to completely cut me out of his life. He knows that I struggle with that all the time, and how I feel like I have already screwed up my sons life, and how despite all my attempts to change things, I will inevitably screw up my little girls life. I told him that I just couldn’t do it alone anymore, and that I was calling the midwife in the morning. He said “OK.” And that we would get through this, we just have to keep talking, and I need to stay healthy, and that I am doing an amazing job. I smiled, even though I wanted to scream ‘LIAR!’ at him.
I have a 12 and a half pound, 23 and a half inches long beautiful baby girl. The pediatrician was raving over how healthy and active she was yesterday as we sat in her office. Her blue eyes are the most calming and beautiful thing I have seen since my sons. Her little smiles (when she decides to share those) are the highlights of my day. She sleeps an average of 7-8 hours a night, and will usually take at least one 4-5 hour nap a day, along with a few ‘power naps’ after feedings. I’ve been able to breastfeed (which I couldn’t with my son) and when she is awake, she is typically mild mannered, (unlike my son, who was colicky.) I have a hardworking husband, a supportive roommate, great friends, and an aunt that is more like a best friend. I am a very skilled chef & baker. I’m artistic, love music, and laugh heartily (normally). I have a great apartment, we have 2 cars and some (not much) money in the bank. There is food in my fridge and clothing on my back. I have it great compared to most people.
And yet despite all this, I am unhappy more often than I would like to be. I know it’s not really my fault, but still, I feel guilty. I know many other women struggle with this, but many don’t always feel comfortable talking about it with each other. We circle the answers on the questionnaire we are given at our post-partum visits with a very careful and strategic method…. Not too many “EVERYTHINGS GREAT” sort of responses, and not too many “IM DIEING ON THE INSIDE” responses. We don’t want our midwives or doctors to suspect our lies, so we become perfect at projecting a fake smile. We cry during our appointments just enough so they won’t think we are trying too hard to seem ok, and laugh about little things. When we see other moms on the street, we exchange pleasantries, not wanting to burden the other mom with the truth. Even when it’s a truth she probably knows all too well.
I know it will get better, it always does, this feeling doesn’t last forever, but while it’s here, it can cause havoc. I consider myself to be a very strong person, and even stronger because I am making the right choices on how to handle my post-partum depression. I guess I am writing this because I have something to say to mothers out there; don’t consider yourself weak for asking for help, consider yourself strong and wise for knowing this is something you can’t do alone. And to all the other mothers out there, Please don’t judge!
This is endless. The children need feeding, then the dishes need cleaning, then the children are hungry again. Then there is the hairy dog, which means hairy floors. There’s the scummy bathroom, the stove that needs stoking, the laundry that piles up when a day has been skipped. Changing diapers. Changing sheets.
Then there is the other stuff. Doctors appointments, which, in our case, are at least weekly. In Burlington. Playdates. Grocery shopping. Planning meals. Paying bills.
It sounds like I’m complaining. I’m not. I really like my life. I like the weekly routines, the daily challenges. I feel some satisfaction from my newly Swiffed floor, laundry load number two blowing on the line outside. I know that my children might get noodles and cheese for lunch but nutrition gets made up with snacks and dinner.
But. Where is the rest of it? Before I had kids, my baby was a small farm. Now I can hardly find time to throw some spinach seeds in the ground before something/someone else needs tending. Before I had kids, I would take an afternoon to go hiking with my dog, not caring if I made it home in time for dinner. I would spend hours at the coffeeshop reading and writing. I didn’t feel the need to hurry through what I was doing to start the next thing.
Most of the time I don’t even care that I’ve left that other life behind. Life with young children, particularly sick ones and their siblings, is consuming, rewarding, demanding. My days are full of small things. Pockets get filled with special stones that the 5 year old finds on the driveway. Baskets get carried around with whatever the baby finds important that day. Accidents are averted.
There is barely time to think. By the time they are in bed, it’s time to check Facebook, email. Time to wash the dinner dishes, to make a blend to hang for the tube fed baby’s overnight meal. Time for a quick shower, a bit of TV with the husband, time for bed. Then time to wake up and nurse the baby, and again. Then it’s morning and time to wake up. The day begins again.
I don’t even know where I’m going with this. It’s a mix of happiness and longing, contentment and wonder. I know there is more to me than the current me. I know this chrysalis of early motherhood/childhood is transforming me, but how? I will emerge stronger, older, different. What will my dreams be when I have time and energy to dream again? What will my life be like when it’s not a series of reactions to the current situation?
Sometimes I feel a stirring inside me, a whisper of something when I get a chance to walk in the woods alone. My shoulders fall down, my thoughts quiet. Perspective. This life of needy kids and messy houses is all consuming but brief. In a few years the baby will be cured, both girls will be in school and my own wings will have a chance to spread again in whatever way they will.
For now, I wait. I delight in the small joys of children and routine. I surrender myself to the Sisyphean tasks that running a household demands, knowing that this intense period of motherhood is shaping me into the person I am becoming.
________________________________________________________________ Liz Knapp lives with her husband, two daughters, one dog and one cat in Calais. After leaving her home town on Cape Cod, she bounced between the coasts for a decade before settling down in Vermont to start a small farm. The children arrived, the farm vanished, but the dream is still there, resting and morphing and waiting its turn to blossom again.