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Dear Parents of Kids with Food Allergies on Halloween, You’re Doing it Wrong.

Leading up to Halloween there was lots of things circulating social media about the plight of kids with food allergies on Halloween. Stories of parents asking, and sometimes demanding, that candy or treats be purchased by the neighbors and passed out that meets their child’s dietary needs. I’m sorry, but if you’re one of those parents you’re doing it wrong.

To be sure, I get that no one wants to see their child be hurt by feeling left out. It hits you right in the feels to see the disappointment on their face as tears run down cheeks. I get it, I really do. Although I don’t have a child with food allergies, I do have a child who struggles on Halloween. My oldest daughter has Spina Bifida, and requires the use of  wheel chair. We live in a very hilly part of the country, and several of our neighbors have steps or a large curb up to their front door. I watched as she struggled to make it as close as she could to the porches. I watched her face cringe every time she had to wait until all the other kids left the porch to be seen. I saw the embarrassment as she heard her younger brother explain that he needed extra treats to give to his sister when she couldn’t make it close enough to the door for a neighbor to see her. Of course I helped her push up the steps when possible, but there were a good many homes where getting to the front door using a wheel chair just wasn’t possible. I still held her at the end of the night while she cried about how left out she felt, and how unfair it was that she couldn’t walk like the other kids.

I noticed that several of our neighbors decorated their yards and set up tables and chairs in their drive way. She rolled right up with the other kids, and could easily participate fully in the trick or treat experience. I could put out a flyer next year explaining my daughter’s difficulty with Halloween, and ask them all to set up shop in their driveway. I won’t be doing that, and here’s why.

  1. It teaches my child to expect fairness. Life is in no way fare, and it is crippling to teach your child that it is, or even that it should be. In the real world your child will encounter frustration and disappointment. Better for them to learn to deal with those feelings in a positive way than to try to manipulate the environment so that your child avoids hard and negative feelings.
  2. It teaches my child to make her problems other people’s problems. Using a wheel chair in a world designed for people who walk requires lots of problem solving skills. Halloween won’t be the only time accessibility becomes a problem for her. Just like it is not the only time a child with food allergies has to deal with people eating potentially dangerous food around them. Teaching my child to get what she needs and wants while facing accessibly issues is an important life skill. Instead of expecting everyone else in the neighborhood to make it easy for her I teach her to speak up for herself, and let the homeowner know she is at the bottom of the porch steps.. If I had a child with a food allergy I would encourage them to say “I’m allergic to nuts, and cannot eat Snickers. Can I have those Skittles instead.”. I’d also talk about how donating the candy they cannot eat will bring joy to someone else, and promise to buy them their favorite treat they can eat.
  3. It teaches my child its not OK to be different. The fact is my child is different. She will never be able to blend in, and there will always be situations that point out to her just how different she is. I want her to know that different means different, not less than. I want her to feel comfortable and confident in her own skin. If I ran around all the time manipulating situations so that she doesn’t have to feel different, it not only robs her of practice dealing with those feelings, but it teaches her that I am uncomfortable dealing with her being different. If I cannot accept and celebrate her in her diffenetness, how on earth can I expect her to be able to?

I know it is HARD to see your child struggle, but personal growth, problem solving skills, and self acceptance are born out of that struggle. Just as the struggle a butterfly experiences emerging from their cocoon is necessary to fill their wings and allow them to fly; so too is it necessary for our children’s to fully development, and eventual  flight.  Romans 5:3 says” … we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance,  character; and character ,hope.” As a parent my job is not to go out of my way to fix everything for my kids so they avoid uncomfortable feelings. My job is to shepherd them through those feelings when they have opportunity to arise.

 

Why I Don’t Make My Kids Read Or Do School Work Over The Summer

The first weeks of summer my Facebook news feed was full of ambitious summer home education plans. I started seeing posts on limits of screen time, mandatory reading time, and a host of educational websites for learning activities and printable worksheets on line. I am tempted to follow suit as it seems that is what “good” parents do, but then I remember “because everyone else is dong it.” is not a good parenting  strategy.  I have decided not to do any of that stuff, and here’s why.

Summer is a season of rest. 

During the school year our days are a blur. We get up early, spend 8 plus hours a day at school, do homework, run between dance and martial arts, and fall into bed half dead by 8:00. Ok so that is the goal, but often it is actually closer to 9:00. During the summer we do a few church camp things, but we have no extra curricular activities, and no set scheduled when we can help it. 

Summer is for family time:

We are so busy during the school year that we never see each other. Someone is constantly gone to something, and we just don’t have time to bond together as a whole family. My children play together like no other in the summer. When they get board they start making up their own games. Their relationship with the school system will last 20 years or so. Their relationship with each other will last a life time, and at some point I won’t be around to facilitate that. 

Summer is for Self Exploration

We provide a wide variety of materials and toys, and our kids pick out what they want to do with them. If they find something on YouTube or the Internet they want to learn more about we help cultivate their interest. This summer one of my children learned to sew and knit. Another learned about animals, and the boys learned about electric circuits. 

Summer is for FUN!

During the school year we have no time for fun activities like flying kites at the park, or going swimming, or doing Lego lab at the library. One of our favorite things to do is feed the ducks at the pond, have lunch in the park,  and go to our local children’s science  museum. 

Summer is not for “getting ahead” or “falling behind” for average students. 

 To be sure there are some kids who need the extra help. In fact I was one of them. I spent two hours a day in  tutoring during the summers in 3 rd and 4 th  grade. I couldn’t  add 2+2, but soon I was cought up to my peers. I never did school work in the summer again. I still managed to not only get into college, but I did very well.  The point being if my kids are headed for an acedimic life it will happen without me riding them to read daily or do math worksheets all summer. 

Why Our Children Don’t Have College Funds

We have five children, and sometimes people assume that means we have a larger than average income. While we have been blessed financially, I think it is more accurate to say that we have different priorities than many Americans. One of those is we have let go of the financial burden of paying for our children’s college. This is a purposeful decision we made even when we only had one child, and could easily afford a college fund. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying people with college funds are bad parents. Every family and situation is different. The following is simply why our family said “no” to college funds.

We don’t have a dream for our children, because we know God already has a plan. Many parents not only assume, but insist, college is an outcome for their children. We are not in the business of running our kid’s adult lives. God has already equipped our children with the traits they need to become what He designed them to be. It is our job as parents to cultivate that relationship, and shepherd those traits, so our children can grow into the people they were created to become. Both of us have masters degrees so we aren’t anti education. We realize college may or may not be important to any one of our kid’s adult lives, but we just don’t assume that it is. We also know that if it is, the provision will be there without our saving up for it.

We measure success differently. Our children’s value is not tied to personal wealth or choosing a prestigious career. Instead, their value is tied to being children of God. Our hope is that they grow into adults who love God, and pour His love into the people around them. Of course we want them to be independent and productive members of society, but that will likely end up looking very different for each of our children. For example, one of our children wants to be a math teacher, and our first grader wants to be a garbage truck man. All work is valuable, and making lots of money or being well educated isn’t the only way for people to prosper. Our sole criteria on the path they choose is that it is moral, legal, and they can support themselves doing it.

There is value in the struggle. Parents often want to pay for their kid’s college, because they remember what it is like to try and pay for their own college. They remember having to pull all nighters studding because they were working during the day. They remember not running the air conditioning, and scraping together a few dollars to buy milk, and box of cereal, and some ramen noodles. They love their kids, and don’t want to see them struggle the way they did. However, when things like college are simply handed to a mostly grown child it takes something away from them. They loose experiences that grow important traits like self reliance, self efficacy, problem solving and financial management. This is not to say we are just going to throw them out when they graduate high school. Of course we will help them however we can, and we will help them plan for their future. That help will not come in the form of simply writing a check.

A friend recently told me of a story she read in a devotional. A man was watching a butterfly come out of its cocoon. The hole was very small, and the butterfly was struggling to get itself through. Out of compassion for the butterfly the man made the hole slightly larger so that it would be easier for it to come out. Sure enough the butterfly quickly appeared, but unfortunately its wings were never strong enough for it to fly, and it died. What the man didn’t know was the struggle to get through the opening is what makes the butterfly’s wings strong enough to fly. Just like the butterfly our children need a fair amount of struggle to grow strong enough to fly.

We have more important things to do with our money.  God put adoption on our hearts, and by aligning our values and goals  with Him instead of the basic American culture we have been able to say “yes”. Not only do our adopted children have a family, and hope for a better future, but the lessons in unconditional love, grace, redemption, and the importance of family have given our biological children (and us) more than a college education ever could. I realize not everyone has a heart for adoption. However, God has placed a need on every Christian’s heart, and it hurts me when people miss out on those blessings because they think they cannot afford to meet that need. If this is speaking to your heart right now prayerfully consider where your money is going.  Maybe its not a college fund, but instead it is a bigger house, or a newer car, or a big remodeling job. Maybe you need these things, and maybe you don’t. I’m not trying to judge anyone’s life. I’m simply asking that you pray about it, and ACT on the message you receive.

Why Our Child Won’t Take the STAAR Test

Why We Are Refusing the STAAR Test

Note: This was written last year. Everything is still accurate to my knowledge except Pearson lost most of the STARR contract for this school year. However, nothing including the tab has changed much in the way the tests are written and administered.

When my oldest daughter started this year I could have never imagined that we would be going rogue and refusing the STAAR test as an act of civil disobedience. Our child will not be participating in testing this week, and we’d like everyone to know why.

First, we are not refusing because the test is “too hard” or our special snowflake might not do well. We believe in growing strong independent and productive citizens. We value hard work, and goal setting. Letting kids off the hook because they are uncomfortable with something is not part of our parenting agenda. However, teaching them to stand up in the face of injustice is. The definition of civil disobedience is in part refusing to comply with certain policies or laws as an act of peaceful political protest. It is usually done when a group (in this case parents and increasingly teachers) are faced with an injustice yet lack the finances or political authority to affect meaningful change in the system. The current system of high stakes testing is unjust. It is detrimental to children, their teachers and our schools. Today’s third grader is tomorrow’s political leadership and worker base. Thus, everyone has a stake in this…not just those of us with school age children.

The following is a list of reasons the STAAR testing system as it stands now is unjust, and detrimental to public education.

  • Follow the money trail: Standardized testing is BIG business. States pay a private corporation named Pearson to produce and analyze the results of the tests. Texas ALONE has given Pearson 90 MILLION $$$$ for the STAAR test. This does not include the new curriculum most schools had to purchase (also produced by Pearson) so that teaching materials would line up with the concepts on the STAAR. But we are totally not teaching to the test right? Insert eye roll here. Pearson is getting very wealthy, and is protecting their wealth by heavily lobbying and funding legislation that supports high stake standardized testing. Google it… How much money has Pearson paid to lobby for common core and high stake s testing?
  • Designed by politicians not educators: Decisions about education standards, what is age appropriate, and the way testing data is used are being made by politicians and the corporations who fund the public education lobbying machine (Walmart, Dell, Pearson….) Call me crazy, but I think teachers, school administrators and child development specialists should be making these decisions instead of politicians and big businesses whose only interests are  lining their pockets and securing their future minimum wage job force.
  • Has never been validated: Assessments have to be both reliable (meaning you’ll get the same results every time) and valid (meaning it measures what you think it measures). STAAR tests are presumed to measure knowledge of concepts and therefor teacher effectiveness. Does it??? Does a bad grade mean the teacher is not effective?? Does it mean the student didn’t learn the material??? No one knows as it has never been studied and validated as a true assessment of teaching effectiveness or learning. The little anecdotal evidence we have seems to show it is a better measurement of socio-economic status and parental involvement that teaching or learning skills. (Google: The zip code effect in standardized testing). Not to mention that it is likely a lot of the measurement outcome is based on a student’s test taking skills instead of actual knowledge.
  • Not an accurate measurement of gaps in learning or gaps in teaching: Students and teachers get the results far after the end of the school year. Additionally, parents and teachers aren’t informed which concepts the student struggled with. It only shows a final score. Even if the STAAR did accurately measure gaps in learning or teaching (which I don’t think it does) there is no way for the student to review the material they missed. Students who score poorly start the next school year just as behind as they would have without taking the test. Yes, some believe this is the purpose of benchmark testing during the year. However, like the test itself benchmarks really only show abilities to take a test rather than true knowledge. Also, holding a child back an entire school year because he may be unsure on a few concepts leads to behavior problems brought on by boredom.
  • Soooo much wasted time: Things like recess and library time have been all but eliminated in today’s public schools. Teachers say there just isn’t enough time to fit it all in. How much time is spent on learning test taking strategies, and practice tests preparing for the STAAR? How much creative learning time or class projects are pushed aside in favor of worksheets and testing drills? Not to mention that the whole school shuts down on testing days. No one has art or PE those days. The younger kids cannot even play on the playground during those days. No one is getting any instruction time. Teachers are just trying to manage their kids so they don’t distract or disturb another test taker. Does this seem excessive to anyone else?
  • The new STAAR test is based on curriculum that is developmentally inappropriate. In Texas we have a law against using Common Core standards. However, the TEA very quietly issued new standards last year. The difference is most easily seen in the Math curriculum. The Math standards have changed so much that they are 30% different for third grade, and up to 60% different in the sixth grade. This drastic change has set our kids up to fail. Not to mention the curriculum is crazy making. I am a grown adult with an advanced college degree. I feel that if I have to read a THIRD GRADE homework word problem 3-5 times just to figure out what the question is actually asking…there is a problem. This new curriculum requires higher order thinking skills that an average 8-10 year possess. I am not complaining that it is too hard. I am saying the brains of our children (especially third and fourth graders) are not developmentally ready to process the kids of information the new math is asking them to process. This has become such an issue that the TEA is throwing out all the Math STAAR test grades this year. WHAT???
  • It creates a hostile and unfair environment for teachers and students: I am all for some form of teacher accountability, but basing a large percent of teacher pay to their student’s STAAR test performance is not good for teachers. It doesn’t’ accurately measure deficits in teaching, and is more a reflection of the level of poverty in their class room. It basically holds them accountable not for their teaching skills, but for the home lives of their students. Plus, this has the potential to set teachers at odds with kids who don’t test well or otherwise have a learning disability. Let school administrators do their jobs, and create an accountability standard that works for their teachers and their kids. One size does not fit all.
  • It doesn’t’ make our students or schools better: Proponents of STAAR testing tell parents it is helping their child be “competitive in a global economy”, and it helps prepare kids for University Entrance Exams. It is all a lie. We
  • If this is sooooo good for our children and schools why do the people who create it, and lobby for it, send their kids to $$$$$ private schools who DON”T USE STANDARDIZED TESTING? They tell us it is good for our children, and will make them better students, yet don’t want to subject their own children to it…..just say’n.

At the end of the day the system is broken. The STAAR test is bad for young students, teachers, and administrators. Teachers and principals are powerless to stand against the machine because their jobs are on the line. Even so, many brave teachers and administrators are starting to speak out publicly against this system. It is up to parents to clog the machine by saying no to these tests. Get involved, know your rights, and pay attention to what is going on…..The future of our country depends on it. You can find links to all kinds of face book groups and articles on my face book page…..What The Heck Happened To Education.

The People on the Bus Go Up and Down

Using public transportation is quite an experience in cultural diversity. I am not just talking about ethnicity or race. There are many different types of people who ride the bus. There are your professionals dressed to the nine tightly gripping their laptop case listening to their iPods before heading to their high stress downtown jobs. There are the grungy pajama wearing hair brushless kids heading to high school or college. In the back you’ll find the stereotypical inner city gang banging drug dealers. For the most part they behave them selves, but occasionally they’ll get tired of the drunk homeless man next to them running his mouth, and a fight will break out. For this reason we almost always sit in the front near the bus driver. Also in the front are the cognitively impaired young adults heading back to their group home after a day of shopping or long day at work. They are usually chatty eagerly telling you about the details of their day, and what they are eating for dinner. This is also where the wheel chair users and others with physical disabilities ride. Lastly, there is this crazy lady that drags her three children all their crap and a huge over priced stroller on the bus.

As you can imagine with this diverse microcosm of society I have had some interesting experiences. Most recently I had a really nice man give me a $40 check. Of course I never cashed it. He also gave me his 24 hour bus pass because he didn’t need to use it anymore. I tried to tell him I have a monthly bus pass. He insisted I take it as he was absolutely sure I’d need it again. I politely put it in my wallet, and thanked him. The next morning when I got to the bus I realized my husband hadn’t given me my daughter’s bus pass back from the previous night. Ended up I DID NEED HIS BUS PASS. Insert creepy movie sound track music here.

A couple of days later I was going home after taking my daughter to school; so I had just the baby on me. There was this nice, but slightly ominous old man riding across from us. He reminded me of the preacher from one of those poltergeist movies. He commented on how sweet my baby was , and he crept referring to her as the little angel which four some reason made me uncomfortable. Suddenly he asks me if she has been Baptized. I try to politely explain that we have dedicated her to God at our church’s Baby Dedication Day, but that I don’t believe in infant baptism. He starts spouting off one verse after another implying that my daughter’s salvation is in question if she died at that moment unbaptized. Of course I knew these scriptures he was using were not referencing baptism at all. I also knew I had a scriptural basis for believing that each individual has to decide for themselves to accept Christ, and Baptism is an act of obedience, but not an act of salvation. However, when put on the spot I drew a complete blank! I could not get off that bus quickly enough! I shuddered when passing him as I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in the middle of a horror flick. By the way, now that I am calm I should have busted out with Romans 10:9-10 “That if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you shall be saved.”

I just never know who or what I’ll encounter on the bus. Thankfully not all of them are as creepy as the two encounters I described above. Some are actually very pleasant, and I have gotten to know some of the other regular riders over the years. Some are heart wrenching listening to the struggles of others. Still yet there are those obnoxious people who are talking too loud on their cell phones or who are shouting off a row of descriptive expletives next to my chatty toddler. Either way it keeps life interesting!

Our new “Car”

My husband recently bought a cargo trike. It is basically a large tricycle with a basket on the front, and a large flat platform between the back two wheels. My husband and father-in-law designed and built a very large and sturdy wooden box that screwed to the platform.

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It also has two little benches in the back that my two older kids can ride on. My husband can now quickly take them on shopping trips, and to fun places like the pool and playground. Riding is much quicker, and you can cover more ground then walking. Our oldest is too big for either of our double strollers, but is not big enough to walk the five miles or so to their favorite neighborhood park ( round trip). At least not without complaining or being obnoxiously slow.

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The benches are quickly and easily removable for large shopping trips. This morning he easily fit two weeks worth of groceries in there. It sure beats his old method of using large Rubbermaid bins on an industrial four wheel dolly. The box even has a locking lid that can keep the purchases from one store secure while shopping in another. The size lets us buy items that are too bulky or heavy to carry on the bus or under a stroller.

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The size and weight of the bike keeps the speed down, but the three wheel design makes the bike more stable. It is certainly not as convenient as a car, but it makes life a little easer for us. We can be more independent , and it gives us a few more options with the kids. All in all I think Scott, and his dad Al, did a super job on the box, and I know well enjoy using it for years to come.