Pandemic schooling, Part 2

Our district's much touted "Flexible instruction" means that everyone involved is supposed to be flexible. A few teachers are not flexible. The flexible instruction guidelines sent to us by the district included comments that they realized some children would have to share devices, not be able to get in at particular times due to parents working from home needing family devices, ... They were just to get the work done when they could, to the best of their ability.

In reading emails sent to my daughter (age 9), I found my child chastised for not attending meet ups that conflicted with others. We've got multiple devices, so devices aren't a problem. The problem is conflicting meet ups, and which to attend. Math takes priority over PE. OT, speech, and counseling take priority over art, library, and tech. The scheduling right now seems to have no rhyme or reason, partially because the school day is shorter and chopped in to two not quite two hour long blocks. Reality is that some kids may not have access to a device until later in the day after their siblings have used it, and chastising them by email doesn't help. It hurts the relationship with your students when you send an email to the entire class calling out a handful for not attending the meet up you called with 10 minutes notice.

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Pandemic schooling, part 1

Those of you who know me know that we are a two IEP family.  My kids are great, and are doing very well. My older one is now in high school, and younger one is in the final year of her "lower elementary" school.

Mid-March, schools physically closed and e-schooling began the following Monday. The district stressed that this would be flexible instruction. They preferred kids be logged on for a particular time, but if they couldn't, ok. They understood that there might be issues with internet connectivity. The district has stressed that they understand everyone is on edge.

I work part-time, my husband works full time. Our older child has been extremely independent, and often holds questions and requests for help for later in the day, when we have a little more time. Our younger one has been doing her best. Things came to a head this past week.

I received a couple of emails from teachers telling me my child wasn't doing her work.  As I went through the 300+ emails in my 9 year old's in box, I realized she was getting 15-20 emails per day. No wonder she was overwhelmed and confused. I realized that many of them are repeats of assignments in Google Classroom. I went in to Google Classroom and turned off the send notifications feature. I removed all emails that had dates prior to April 1st. I removed all invitations to meet ups.

I've sat down with my child today to try to help her (on my furlough day). A couple of things jump out. There is no consistent platform being used. Some assignments are coming on Class Dojo, others by Google Classroom, and some by email. If adults have difficulty sorting all this out, you can bet that elementary school students are having a rough time juggling three platforms, and multiple websites. Also, Google Classroom has "stream" and "assignments", but some of the assignments are in the "stream" and some are on the assignments tab. Consistency would greatly help the children (and parents) know what is expected.

I also noticed that although our kids are supposed to have a schedule of 10-11:50 and 1-2:50, with lunch/recess in between those two blocks, that some teachers are scheduling meet ups during lunch time. Some teachers call meet ups with little notice (10 minutes), without recognizing that a child may not see their notice because they are on another meet up with another teacher. Sometimes my child is confused as to what to do when two teachers call a meet up at the same time for different subjects. Academics takes priority over "specials" like art, PE, library. IEP requirements, like speech, counseling, and OT take priority, too.

I understand that it's tough to teach from home. Please understand that parents and kids are doing their best, too, and having a tough time of it.


Breaking free from guilt and clutter

I have a confession to make. I have kept clutter that I did not want in the house out of guilt. Yes, you read that right. When I was a child, guilt and shame were liberally used by my parents on me when I was given a gift that was unsuitable, didn't fit, ... "They spent good money on that. You should be thankful!" I wrote the thank you notes, threw the unwanted gift in the bottom of my closet since I wasn't allowed to put it in the Goodwill box, and my parents would drag the item back out and display it on the shelf in my room. I was taught that pleasing others was always more important than my own happiness, and that my happiness was unimportant. I was unimportant. These are lessons that I am not passing on to my children. Breaking free is a process. I'm sure it will take several years to clean out the items that we no longer need that we have purchased, and the unwanted gifts.  I've come to the point in my life where I have to stand up and say that I matter, too, and that my life is not just to be spent pleasing others at the cost of my own happiness.

A few years in to my husband and my marriage, my mother arrived at our house toting a set of windchimes. I'm sensitive to noise, particularly at certain frequencies/pitches. Windchimes are painful for me. She put them up on a hook outside our backdoor. In the middle of the night, we took them down, as they were driving me insane, banging away in the wind under our bedroom window. For the next three days, she put them up and we took them down. She left, and they remained in the laundry room out of guilt. She'd spent good money on them. They were a gift. They had to be kept and displayed. That was 1997. They have hung in the laundry room of each house we've lived in since then. We bought this house from an estate sale in 2005. There was a set of miniature windchimes hanging in the window of the blue bathroom when we moved in. The gift windchimes were duly hung up the in laundry room. The other set remained in the bathroom. I freecycled both sets last week. It was wonderful to get them out the house. I can open the windows in those to rooms and not cringe when a breeze comes through the window. No more keeping stuff out of guilt.

I have been given many cookbooks over the years. I have bought some for myself. One was a basic Betty Crocker, one was a history of cooking, and one was a World War 2 cookbook. Two were cookie cookbooks. I gave nearly all the cookbooks to the library booksale this past September. That cleared two large plastic boxes. The cookbooks I bought, and one from a friend that has a couple of recipes I would like to try, are all that is left. I will no longer be displaying cookbooks in my kitchen to please the people who gave them to me.

For two decades, we have been given a box of Christmas ornaments annually. I politely requested that they couple stop sending them, because we had more than enough, and did not have room to store them. Neither of us were, or have ever really been in to, decorating for holidays. My request was ignored, and for 20 years, each and every December, a box of Christmas ornaments has landed in our house, unwanted, unused, stuffed in the basement. For many years, our Christmas tree was decorated with ornaments we had no interest in because the visiting relative would otherwise demand to know where this ornament or that ornament was, demand they be brought out, and would hang them on our tree. This past year, I sent a clearly worded letter, stating that we were not accepting or giving gifts in the holiday season as our house is bursting at the seams. Any boxes arriving would be marked return to sender. The box marked "Open when you put up your tree" arrived. I took a red sharpie, wrote return to sender on it, and went out to wait for our mailman to go down the other side of the street. He was a little surprised. He asked me if I was sure I wanted to send this box back. It looked like a gift. Yes, I did, and I explained. He told to me that he keeps everything. His basement is filled with gifts, sorted by who has given it to him, and when someone is coming to visit him, he brings all their gifts up from the basement and displays them. I asked if he liked the items, and he admitted that he didn't, but it was important to make the people who gave them to him happy. His happiness doesn't seem to matter. He lives with a basement filled with unwanted items that he doesn't like, spends time and energy unpacking them, bringing them up to the main level of the house, arranging them, and when his guest has left, he packs them away again. I don't want to live that way.

I closed our house to visitors in December. The grandparents had to be content with seeing us in the city. The kids decorated the tree. They had a blast. Not one ornament that they didn't want on the tree was on it. What was on the tree, you ask? A couple of Star Trek ornaments bought on Ebay (Capt Janeway, Voyager, the Delta Flyer, the Enterprise-E), a space shuttle ornament, ornaments they made, some dinosaurs from the AMNH, a couple of ornaments I bought in Australia, and a bunch that Dinosauria bought in gift shops England at various historic buildings we visited. They were thrilled. My husband and I were thrilled. The holidays were much more pleasurable and less stressed. We did what we wanted and didn't worry about upsetting or trying to please others. My children overheard their grandmother trying to bait me on the phone the week before Thanksgiving, and overheard my conversation with my husband regarding the nasty email she sent me when the Christmas ornaments were sent back. My daughter's response was a humorous gift for me: a mug that says "Bah Humbug!" on it :)

How to make a weight vest

When the OT suggested I get a weighted vest and lap pillow for Dinosauria, she was 5 years old. I went home, looked them up and was horrified by the prices. Eeyore was out of work at the time. I told the OT it was out of the question due to finances, so she told me that if I could sew, I could probably make them myself. If I may, the ones I saw on line were ugly and screamed "weighted vest". I can sew! Nothing fancy, but basic sewing, I can do. I looked on line and found fleece vests on sale at LL Bean for $10. I let Dinosauria choose a color. When it arrived, I went to work converting it and then creating a lap pillow.  The first day she wore her vest to school, her principal complimented her on her pretty new vest. It wasn't until I explained what it was that the principal realized it was weighted. I unzipped it and showed her my conversion job. She was impressed because it was impossible to tell it was a weighted vest.

4 years later, she's outgrown her original vest and lap pillow. I donated the vest to the school and made lap pillows for the special education class. Dinosauria asked for a new vest.

Materials: a fleece vest (LL Bean or Lands End, or whatever you can find), thread that matches the vest color, 2 strips of fabric X inches by 5 inches, packets of sand (Michael's carries a sampler pack of 12 1 oz sand packets)*.
DSC_0063DSC_0062

*You can use any sand. Her original vest had bright blue sand sealed in little packets using the Food Saver machine in my kitchen.

1) Measure the distance between the seams of the vest. Using Dinosauria's new vest as an example, it is a size 10-12 and has about 18 inches between the side  seams.DSC_0064 That measurement is from the inside left seam to the inside right seam of the inside back panel of the vest. These are the seams that attach the back of the vest to the front pieces.

I cut two strips of scrap fabric for the interior pockets that I was making to be 18 inches by 5 inches each. I then hemmed each side of the strips of fabric. I like to fold the edge of the fabric over, then over again, so that it is a nice, tidy looking edge. This picture shows one piece hemmed and one before hemming.
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After hemming both strips of fabric, I laid the strips on the inside back panel of the vest. I placed them below the arm holes and roughly equidistant between the side seams. I pinned them in place and sewed down each side and across the bottom of each strip, creating two parallel pockets.
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I placed five sand packets on one of the pockets at roughly even intervals. I put a pin in between each. I repeated this for the other strip. I sewed from the bottom of the pocket to the top where each pin was, creating five pockets. I repeated this for the second strip.
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I inserted the ten sand packets in to the pockets I had just made. The vest has two built in, interior pockets at the front. I placed one sand packet in each. That's all twelve packets used. If you wanted a heavier vest, you would just use more sand packets. I would try to distribute the weight evenly.
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The finished vest.
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Sandy

We came through Sandy just fine. We were without power for 37 hours, and are thankful to have it back. I am thankful for all the emergency services workers, especially those who work for the utility companies.
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An excellent book

I really enjoyed reading Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season. I'm about to start re-reading it, as I haven't read it for years.

http://www.amazon.com/Unplug-Christmas-Machine-Complete-Putting/dp/0688109616/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1321828965&sr=1-1

I'm a secular Jew who is married to a secular Christian. I felt pushed, early in our marriage, to create the perfect Christmas. A holiday that should have been relaxing and joyful ended up, within a few years, becoming a dreaded holiday, faced with a sense of impending doom. More and more money was spent, and it was not joyful. The final straw was the year my husband's family was invited for a family dinner, and we had to change the date to accommodate one set of in-laws no less than three times. After moving things around for them, they failed to show up and didn't call to say they weren't coming. MIL ate little, then abruptly demanded my husband take her home. He put his dinner in the kitchen and drove her home - this was a 60 mile round trip. A few months later, I came across a recommendation for this book. I read it, and began cutting back. I continue to cut back, and our joy in the season grows.

Since our children were born, I've added in celebrating Hanukkah. It's a quiet, family-centered holiday for us. We light the candles, everybody has a piece of gelt (See's gelt, yum!), we read the story of Judah the Maccabee, and Dinosauria plays with her dreidel.

For Christmas, Santa only fills the stockings, and we give each child three gifts. This was decided on us for Dinosauria's first Christmas after chatting with a friend who does this. She says that there were three wise men each bearing a gift, so it was a good way to keep the holiday from becoming over-done for her kids. We thought that was an excellent idea.

We keep all of the holidays low-key now, and find we enjoy them far more.

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Scholastic Book Fair: notes for parents

I've been volunteering at the semi-annual book fairs at Dinosauria's school each year since she was in kindergarten. I wanted to share some information with you that might help you and your child.

1) Book prices are usually $X.99. If you child comes home and says the book they want is $6, you might want to check the Scholastic website  to make sure that is the correct price. Children come to the cash register, books in one hand, money in the other, and we have to tell them they don't have enough money for all the books. This happens at every Book Fair. In some cases, they don't have enough money to buy even one book. It kills us to have little ones sobbing at the register, but we can't give the books away.

2) If books are being sold as a boxed or wrapped set, we cannot break up the set because your child already owns one of the books.

3) Books do sell out. If they do, don't despair. You may be able to find it at the Scholastic website or at your local bookstore. If the book was available at the Fall Book Fair, and you can't find it on the website or at a bookstore, check Ebay or one of the used bookstore sites.

4) We run out of pennies mid-week. When that happens, we round to the nearest 5 cents.

5) We can refund or exchange for merchandise from the current Book Fair provided it is still in excellent condition and you have a receipt. Please don't bring us merchandise you bought 6 months ago (or longer) and ask for a refund. We can't do it. If your child doesn't like the item you bought him/her, consider donating it to the classroom, school library or public library. Our local public library holds book sales twice a year, so you can donate unwanted items their sale. Social Services and the Pajama Project are happy to receive books as well. Items donated to any of these entities is tax deductible. Your local hospital may also have a children's ward that might like the book for their library.

6) Money should, if possible, be put in a sealed envelope or a ziploc bag, in good condition, with your child's name, the amount enclosed, and classroom number or teacher's name on it. Children lose money, it falls out of holes in pockets, ... You don't want your child to be crying because they can't find their money that they know you gave them. We don't want them to cry, either. Also, we put the receipt and any change in the envelope/bag and tell your child to take it home to you. 

7) If your child is raiding their piggy bank for money to spend, please help them count it and then convert it in to paper money or a check. On the Thursday or Friday AM, a child will come in with a big bag of change and want to spend their money. We have a lot of sales to process, classes coming through to go to lunch or PE, kids needing help finding books. We don't have enough people to devote time to counting your child's $15 worth of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to see if he has enough for the stack of books he's chosen. It seems that every year at least one bag of change will break and go everywhere. We help track down as much of the money as possible that has rolled under tables, while there are children walking through the area asking for help, and inevitably the child will tell us they are sure there was more money, although they don't know how much they had to begin with.

8) We sell a lot of pens, pencils and erasers that kids do seem to use in their classrooms. If you don't want your child to buy them, please have a talk with them in advance about the fact that you are not going to purchase anything from that table for them. Alternatively, ask them for a list of the books they are interested in, and come in by yourself to shop. 

9) When you come to your parent-teacher conference(s) during the Book Fair, please take your kids with you to their classroom(s). We are not a babysitting service for the conferences. At our school, there are one or two chairs outside each classroom where your children may wait for you. Please do not ask us if you can borrow books from the Book Fair to keep them amused. We can't loan them out. I suggest you either bring something to keep your kids amused while you speak to their teacher or come early and shop so they can have their new books to read while they wait.

The people you see unpacking boxes, organizing tables, helping kids and running the cash register are all parent volunteers. We don't get paid for working the Book Fair. Some of the parents you see have taken unpaid time off of work so that they may help out. Others are stay-at-home parents. We are volunteering our time to help out the PTA and the school. Yes, after school when you come to your children's conferences, those are our children sitting on the floor behind the register doing their homework. Sometimes you will see an extra child or two back there, because one of the volunteers has offered to keep an eye on a friend's child(ren).








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Baby stuff

Wow! We had even more than I thought! Between what we were given and bought when Dinosauria was born, and what was given when Baby Beluga arrived, we're way overloaded. I've put together boxes of the current size and haven't opened some of them, proving that we've got way too much. Another purge is coming soon. I have a friend who is going to have her first baby and thought about the confusing lists out there.

Here's what I find useful:

Basic gear: 
car seat - I like a baby car seat for the first few months, then a reversible once they grow out of the baby one. Dinosauria used the reversible one in the rear-facing position for a few months, then in the forward facing position until she outgrew it.

stroller -  Am I crazy to have three strollers? I think probably not really. Sort of. There is one bare bones frame that has a basket underneath and the car seat clips on to bars. It's lightweight, very easy to get in/out the car, very manueverable. I can open/close with one hand. That works brilliantly in the first months. I've loaned it out, gotten it back, it's on it's 3rd kid and showing no signs of breaking down. The lightweight stroller is bigger but works well once they're out of the baby car seat. Our other stroller I call the 4WD stroller. It's a big-ass Phil and Ted's and it powers through leaves, mud and snow like you wouldn't believe. It has been hanging out in the garage for the last couple of years, but it is going out tomorrow. Tuesday the frame-stroller got stuck in the snow on the way to/from Dinosauria's school. We did have an umbrella stroller - its wheels liked to go in 4 different directions at once, making it hard to steer.

high chair - great social tool :) Baby Beluga won't be offered solid foods until later this month, but she loves to sit at the table and "talk" with us. She'll also snooze in it, especially when she's got a cold and needs to have her head up a bit. Ours reclines. With her in that, I can use both hands to eat rather than holding her and trying to eat with one hand.

baby carrier - you've already heard why I love this.

baby gym and exersaucer: the baby gym I bought on the advice of Dinosauria's pediatrician, and found it really helpful because she would happily play under it while I took a shower. The exersaucer I bought at a sale and it worked great as a "keep her happy in one place" toy.

Sleeping: Some people do co-sleeping - we don't because I'm a heavy sleeper, medication can make me sleep even sounder. Baby Beluga sleeps in a playpen next to me but will eventually move to her crib (currently in the basement). I have 3-4 crib sheets. No blankets in the crib/playpen, but I have a huge box of them downstairs. Dinosauria has her favorites in her room for making forts; Baby Beluga will get some of the box for fort-making when she's a bit older and the rest will go to charity. We have a nap nanny that I bought when BB was a newborn with some of the gift cards we had been given. She was having an awful time with reflux, a cold, and a reaction to her bug-infested formula. The formula was recalled and most of her tummy issues were resolved within 72 hours of being on liquid formula. I still use this when she's got a stuffy nose.

We have a little machine that plays recordings of noises - waves, rain, hearbeat, nature sounds/whales. BB loves this.

Diapering: a diaper bag or pail, depending on whether you use cloth or disposables. We use both, so have both. We use disposables at night. During the day, cloth with water-proof covers. No pins - most either have snaps or velcro, but there are also snappis that we use. A pad to change the baby on - although you can just use a folded towel. Some wipes - either disposable or wash cloths that you throw in the wash. A small backpack to use on outings. You don't need a huge diaper bag. I'd also suggest skipping cutesy ones if you want your husband to carry it for you :)  I use a small backpack. I stock it with a pad, a couple of diapers, wipes, a change of clothes for Baby Beluga and bottles. I have hand sanitizer in the outer pocket. We have a tube of diaper ointment we use as needed, but not at every diaper change. If you're interested in cloth diapering, let me know and I'll post links to the types we use.

Feeding: I combifeed. I was advised to buy a hospital grade electric double pump to increase my supply. Since my breast reduction was so extensive, this didn't work. My supply was what it was, is what it is, and no amount of pumping will increase it. We had too many bottles. We've got it down to 16, I think. That gives me bottle washing every other day if I don't get it done each night. Most of those are 260ml, a few are 125ml. We gave most of the 125 ml to our local Social Services dept when Baby Beluga started taking more than 125 ml at a feeding. She nurses, then takes her bottle, then sometimes goes back to the breast afterward. The second time at the breast is more for sucking than actual feeding.

I have about a dozen flannel prefold cloth diapers I use as spit up cloths. They are soft, she can chew on them, they are super absorbent for when she spits up. I put one under her head at night in the playpen. For newborns, they make great little covers when they are in the car seat and you just want to keep the sun off them or it's not cold enough to put on something really warm but you want to tuck something around their legs to keep them a little warmer.

Later on when they start wanting to feed themselves, some plastic bowls come in handy. Bibs are good for feeding and drooling.

For newborn: 5-7 snap-side tshirts, jammies, diapers, a few little outfits, socks. Depending on the weather where you live, you may not need the outfits or might need a snowsuit. The snap side tshirts are because they don't press against the umbilical stump while it's healing. Some newborns are really big and might not fit in newborn size. Some are tiny and need preemie. Mine needed preemie, then newborn, then graduated to the bigger sizes. Buy sparingly in the smallest sizes - you can always get more stuff if you need it.

We had three newborn size "swaddlers" that I'll be happy to pass on, if you want them. Two are cotton, one is microfleece. I promise none are pink. They are these: 
http://www.amazon.com/Summer-Infant-Swaddleme-Microfleece-Large/dp/B0009QYTIE

Post-newborn through toddler, e.g. after they've outgrown the newborn size stuff but before they head off to school: 5-7 shirts, some pants/shorts, socks, 2-3 pairs of pajamas, a jacket, a sweater. Shirts that snap between the legs are great because they don't ride up during those early years. They don't need shoes until after they start walking. I love overalls for little walkers and crawlers.

Bath gear: we have a baby bath tub, but  it's not really a necessity. You can wash baby in the kitchen sink if you want. A couple of towels - you can use what you have rather than buying hooded towels and special baby wash cloths. The money we could have saved there... so sad. I have very few of the stuff you find in the giant aisle of baby lotions and potions. In our bathroom are a small bottle of baby shampoo and body wash, a tiny bottle of baby oil, and a tube of baby lotion. I shampoo BB's hair once a week. When she has cradle cap, I use a soft-bristle tooth brush and some baby oil to loosen the flakes from her scalp before washing it. The lotion I use if I think she's getting dry skin.

Baby toys - I find most of them were never played with. Really. A few favorites, everything else can go. We've got way too many of them.

Baby first aid kit - a nasal aspirator (aka the Snot Sucker), a bottle of saline drops, a rectal thermometer, something to bring the fever down (we use Baby Tylenol drops) and a humidifier. You want to have these before baby gets sick the first time so you aren't out at 10PM trying to find them.

Books and music: can't get enough books. Some kid music is ok, other stuff drives me batty. My rule is they have th listen to some of my stuff if I have to listen to some of theirs.
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Me

As we approached the birth of our second child, I started seeing a psychologist. This was on the recommendation of my OB, as I had serious post-partum depression after Dinosauria's birth. She made a comment the other day. It was along the lines that we were at the end of the session and I hadn't spoken once about myself. I've been thinking about this a lot today, as I have been working on getting the house ready for our new baby.

As a child, I was trained to *not* think of myself. Always put others first. If I didn't, I was a selfish brat. Never upset your mother. After years of making everyone miserable, Mother, the most selfish person in the house moved out. Bankrupted the family by cleaning out the bank accounts, running up the credit cards to the max furnishing her new apartment, taking all the stuff she wanted from the house (best of the best), and taking out a loan on her car. She did all this before she let Dad know she was leaving him.

Why bring this up? I was talking to my sister, and she commented the Mother is really angry that I don't want her here when the baby is born. My mother wants everything her way and she doesn't care who she has to trample to get her way.  I told my sister that Mother's visit when Dinosauria was born was awful and that I hadn't wanted her there then, either, but she came despite my wishes and that visits since then had not been good ones. So, I'm no longer going through life "never upsetting Mother".  I will no longer be run over by her, or anyone else, because I'm supposed to acommodate them. When they are doing something that is upsetting to me, I'm going to tell them.  
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