Category Archives: Homeschool

The Accidental Sabbath: Plans for 2017

accidental-sabbath

The last third of the year can become unenjoyably busy for our family very easily, with ten family birthdays and our anniversary sprinkled in among the bustle of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  So in 2016 Greg and I resolved to designate one day from each weekend in October, November and December as an “at home only” day: no outings, no plans, no chores and no to-do list.  We called it a family Sabbath, although we first instituted this for practical reasons and our own comfort rather than as an effort to obey the religious guidelines of Sabbath keeping.

When we first decided to implement this in October, I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that we would benefit so much from the rest this boundary around our schedule would afford us.  There was one problem though. The only date that worked well for Rowan and June’s joint birthday party fell on the same weekend that the huge Lego tour would be in town. The Lego event that Rowan has been asking to return to since he saw it the last time it came to town two years ago.  The one I had been excited to take the kids to for months.

We looked at three different scenarios: attending an abbreviated weeknight Lego session, packing the Lego fest in on the same day as our at-home birthday party, or breaking our Sabbath guidelines and attending the beloved Lego event on the second day of that weekend.  We decided to break our new rule and go to the event on the second day of the weekend. After all, we made the rule so that we could enjoy the holiday season more fully, and we knew we would all enjoy the Lego fun. This never sat right with me though.  In seasons past when our busy-ness sapped our strength and joy, our schedule was (over) filled with fun, enjoyable things- no drudgery; yet the pace still wore on us. So I sensed that breaking our Sabbath boundary to avoid missing out on something fun and enjoyable was not going to work at all.  I knew that every single weekend during this festival-and-party season, the prospect of something fun, memorable, important or educational would beckon to us, asking to be dropped into that emptied Sabbath calendar square.  Still, I persisted.  I told myself, “We’ll go to the Lego fest this one time, then that’s it- we’ll protect a Sabbath day each week through the end of the year.”

Two days before the big weekend, I went online to secure tickets.  I had delayed, at first, because we were throwing around our scheduling options, and next due to reluctance mixed with a delusional belief that the less popular time slots wouldn’t sell out.  In reality, all of the time slots for this hugely popular, once-every-two-years event sold out long before I got around to checking on tickets.  So we didn’t go.  After the excitement of their birthday party, the kids never even asked about the Lego event that weekend.  They still haven’t- it just hasn’t come to mind. While I’m sure the event would have been a blast, I was surprised that there really was no sting in missing it.  And we had a very restorative day at home instead.

That first experience illustrated to us the immense value of rest, and it revealed that the one obstacle that most often robs us of rest- the fear of missing out- is actually not a very formidable foe; it turns out that the thing we feared- the phantom prospect of missing out on something- never materialized at all.  True, we did not attend the Lego event.  But during our peaceful unplanned day spent at home, we did not miss it either.

This is how we started to implement the principles of Sabbath as a family.  We continued this practice of keeping one weekend day clear for the rest of the year.  We have enjoyed it so much that we are going to continue it indefinitely.

A quick look back:

Unbeknownst to me, this Sabbath idea was percolating at the beginning of 2016.  Last year began with a post about The Big Rocks: Self-Care for Care Givers, which describes prioritizing items in your schedule which are of the most value to you, then fitting in less important or unimportant tasks around those big rocks. It seems as though the rest of last year was a slow, progressive implementation of that post as our family pared down our schedules and our possessions.  That was providential because 2016 was indescribably stressful for me, with so many people, opinions and mistakes thrown into our well-established routine via the Medicaid hoops, nursing SNAFUs, invasion of our introvert sanctuary, the start and shuffling of twice-a-week therapies, the transition from ECI to the school system and ongoing nursing and Medicaid difficulties. This “Big Rocks” process of purposefully stewarding our time and energy protected my sanity last year.  At the same time, I was completing an intensive spiritual discipleship program through our church which introduced me to the works of CS Lewis and other gifted Christian and Jewish theologians.  As I studied, the themes of prioritizing my time and resources and seeking rest stood out to me, given my stress.  Naturally this led to the study of the Sabbath, with is prominent in the Jewish theology I ventured into, and which is the subject of the Bible study I ultimately finished the year on (Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe).

A look ahead:

As I mentioned in the last post, however, this attention to rest and Sabbath results in less blogging.  Or no blogging.  So, while I have many topics and resources I would love to share, posts in 2017 may be sporatic.  If you ever wish to check-in with us or ask a question, feel free to use the Contact button on the blog.   We don’t expect any big medical changes for June this year, since she recently got her g-button out (WOOHOO), and her doctors want her trachea to grow for another year before re-evaluating options for another attempt at removing the trach.  However, Greg is hoping to transition into a new professional field this year, so we are waiting to see what new adventure his school and career opportunities will bring to us as a family, in terms of our routine and location.

We are quite excited about the year ahead.

 

An Election Conversation With My Kids

election-conversation

One week ago, the kids and I ventured out to the polls for early voting.  The “big kids” (my 5-year-old, Rowan and my 3-year-old, June) had decided who they would vote for, hypothetically, by watching snippets of the debates.  This was our pre-voting conversation- June contributing in ASL.

Me: OK, guys, let’s go vote!
June: I’m scared of boats.
Me: Not boat. Vote.  V-O-T-E. [I showed her the ASL sign VOTE  see here.]
June: Vote, not boat, V-O-T-E. What’s vote?
Me: It’s where I pick who I want to be in our government.
June: Who you vote for?
Me: I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.
Rowan: I’m voting for the same person, the girl in the red shirt [in the first debate].
June: I vote for the moon and stars.
Me: That sounds good, June.  The election is very important because the people who we elect make decisions about our whole country.
Rowan: Maybe our president will help Ms. Clinton.
Me: Probably, because our president and Ms. Clinton are in the same political party.
June: OOh! I go vote. See the party.
Me: It’s a different kind of party. Ok, let’s go vote!
June: I vote. Not boat. With talker in my backpack. [Her new AAC device to communicate with people verbally.]

The kids and I excitedly made our way to the early voting location, which was conveniently located at a church that we frequent for Deaf ministry events.
Me: Ok now, we gotta be quiet while we choose.
Rowan: Why?
Me: So other people can make their choices too. What’s happening here is very important.
Rowan: Why?
Me: Well, whoever wins will be president until you are nine years old. And we want to pick the people who will make the choices that we want them to.
June: I pick the stars and moon and water.

While explaining our voting experience to Greg, later–
Rowan: We picked Ms. Clinton!  She’s our president now.
Me: No, actually, we don’t know who won yet. Everyone in the country gets to vote, then only one person wins.
Rowan: Why is that?
Me: Because our country only has one president, and everyone gets to vote for which person they want to win.  On election day we’ll keep track of it on a big map and find out who the next president is.

Tomorrow is the big day!

Follow along with us tomorrow using the electoral college map printable or digital version and other free election resources from:

Scholastic News 

C-SPAN Classroom

Smithsonian Education

 

Our Homeschool Curriculum, 2016-2017

Our post on this year’s curriculum choices is so belated that most homeschool bloggers are writing about how their first 6 or 9 weeks went. So I’ll just roll that info in here, too.

homeschool-2016

Last year, our approach was so informal that I put quotes around “homeschool curriculum” in the post title.  Last year went wonderfully- the self-directed route was a great fit for both of the kids.  This year I felt that, given the kids’ increased attention spans, budding spirit of cooperation and interest in learning, we could add a little more structure.  So we have more formal curricula included this year, which we work on during a morning routine. We retained a lot of the self-directedness though, by using a self-paced workbox system and leaving the vast majority of the day unscheduled. Still, I had expected some resistance to the structure, but I was pleasantly surprised that the kids *love* it.  They ask to do homeschool on the weekends.  This is what we are up to:

Classical Conversations

egypt-one

I cannot display the timeline cards due to copyright, but each event card features a large photo of a relevant artifact, painting or other work of art like this example from ancient Egypt. The kids love the photos and it really draws them into the topic.

What it is:

This curriculum establishes a broad base of knowledge, covering facts from history, geography, science, art, music, English, Latin and math each week.  The “memory work” for the week is available on CD, and many key facts are incorporated into (good, catchy) songs.  Key points from history are depicted on big, colorful “timeline cards,” and science likewise on science cards. Each week includes a science project, often from the book “Van Cleave’s 201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre, and Incredible Experiments,” and an art or music project.

How this is going:

Won.der.ful.ly.  Top reasons I love this curriculum:

  1. The broad base of knowledge the kids are exposed to is the perfect medium for inspiring self-directed learning.
  2. The kids fight over who gets to hold the timeline cards when we review them because they are fascinated by the pictures.  Rowan says that ancient artifacts look like dinosaur fossils.
  3. The curriculum INCLUDES ASL ALREADY.  The awesome Timeline Song that recites all 161 historical events from the timeline cards has accompanying ASL hand motions.
  4. Although we aren’t joining one this year, there are Classical Conversations communities all over the country that meet weekly, which makes it very easy to connect with other families who are learning the same thing.  Being in a metro area, we have at least 6 communities within 15 miles of us, and the one we visited recently was amazing.
  5. As far as curricula go, it is very affordable.  The items we invested in (and scored used copies) are designed to last through elementary and even into middle school years.

 

Reading/Writing

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Chicka Tree, activity from Confessions of a Homeschooler

We’re sticking with parts of the Letter of the Week curriculum from Confessions of a Homeschooler  including all of the morning routine (date, days of the week, weather, shape/number/letter of the week, Bible verse), preschool notebook pages, all of the coloring sheets of the week, and the neat Chicka Tree idea in which every Friday we post our letter of the week to our big tree.  Both of the “big kids” know their ABCs already, but we use the coloring pages for fine motor practice and art, and we tie the letter of the week into June’s speech practice and Rowan’s writing/reading.

Rowan is using Explode the Code and BOB books to practice reading and writing. We both got used to the Explode the Code’s illustrations, so they aren’t causing frustration like last year.

 

Math

We are using Life of Fred, a unique story-based exploration of math concepts.  Rowan loves the stories, but the math concepts quickly became a little more complex than what we are looking for.  So most weeks we keep Fred on hold and Greg and I make up word problems for the kids as we come across simple real-life math.

Skip counting practice with side walk chalk

Skip counting practice with side walk chalk

ASL

We were very fortunate to have a private ASL tutor for most of this year provided through Early Childhood Intervention.  (I had to fight mightily for this, since June is not deaf, so any parents of non-verbal children who are seeking ASL support, I will be glad to pass on my experience and that of other parents who advised me.) Now that June turned 3 and is no longer in ECI, we are studying ASL independently through LifePrint’s courses at www.asl.tc, and staying involved in the local Deaf community.  A good number of kids in the homeschool social group that we joined are learning ASL as well, so June has peers to sign with on play dates.

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The kids inspect some dead wasps

Bugs!

June signs BUG

Speech

At three, June transitioned from ECI into the school district, which will provide speech services.  Voice experts at our hospital say that the sounds June is making with her Passy-Muir speaking valve are made with her “false cords” only, not her vocal cords (which may be paralyzed).  Still, they believe she should learn the mechanics of speech via therapy, despite the currently reliance on her false cords. Rowan is eager for June to be able to communicate verbally, since interpreting her signs often take several guesses, so he often coaches her to practice her speech. The school will also provide an augmentative communication device (a tablet with Proloquo2Go on it) eventually, which June can use to speak for her while she’s still learning to develop her speech.

assistive-tech

June practices using a tablet like the one that will run her assistive and augmentative communication (AAC) app, Proloquo2go

“Field Trips”

Much of our learning is done outside of the house, whether it’s our neighborhood park or a museum downtown.  Our homeschool social group has a dozen or more events per month that we can join.  Also, local parks, libraries, museums, churches, businesses, schools, organizations, and neighborhoods offer a dizzying number of free events every month as well.  And there are many paid options, too, especially as more gyms, dance studios, art classes, book stores, science labs etc are offering homeschool classes scheduled during weekdays.

Rowan tried an awesome "ninja class" in a special gym outfitted with American Ninja Warrior-style obstacles

Rowan tried an awesome “ninja class” in a special gym outfitted with American Ninja Warrior-style obstacles

Special Needs Family Outings: What Didn’t Work (for us) Part 2 of 2

Today we conclude the special needs family outings series with the second part of the discussion on what did not work so well for us (see part 1 here).  Here we’ll share difficulties we encountered during two of the most challenging travel situations we have faced: flying and handling a medical emergency away from home.

Special needs family outings What Didnt work

 

Flying With a Medically Complex Kiddo

June thought having her own airplane seat was pretty cool when big brother wanted to take a turn as mama's lap baby

June thought having her own airplane seat was pretty cool when big brother wanted to take a turn as mama’s lap baby

Two winters ago, our family made the unusual decision to fly across the country with the kids in the middle of RSV season.  My grandfather had passed away after a long illness, and it was important to our family to join the many people who were gathering to celebrate his life and honor his memory.  In order to do this, we faced many challenges including flying with very young children, having access to June’s medical equipment during the flight, and combating the risk of contracting a cold, flu or RSV in the cramped germ incubator that is an airplane.  One idea we had was to snag the first seat in our section, reducing the number of people we are close to.  That did not work, since we then had no underseat storage ahead of us, and we had lots of equipment to stow in arm’s reach.  Another bright idea we had was to be the last people to board the plane, so we reduce the amount of time we are sitting in stagnant air before the plane’s air circulation/cleaner system is operating (the internet said this was a good idea).  That backfired as well, as the plane was full to capacity and passengers were already having to check their carry-ons because the overhead storage was full.  Along came us, with 6 carry-ons which were all essential.  We stood awkwardly at the head of the plane isle while other people’s luggage was shuffled and checked to make room for ours.  And also so that we could switch seats with some very kind passengers in our section since our spots at the front wouldn’t work for us.  When we were seated, we discovered that the essential items we needed to have on-hand (oxygen concentrator, suction machine, and emergency bag) did not all fit under the seat in front of us, so one item had to be stowed above during the critical take-off and landing times, when we aren’t allowed to stand up. I waited very nervously for those few minutes wondering what would happen to me if June did have an emergency and I had to stand and take out our equipment during that critical take-off time.  Thankfully we had no emergencies on either flight. Lastly, on the flight back, which I made alone with the two kids, Rowan had a loud, one-hour melt-down during which we collected some stares, some sympathetic grimaces, and even some gold fish crackers that a compassionate mom brought to us from another section of the plane.  These things were all stressful, but not insurmountable.  Despite the logistic adjustments during boarding and the tantrum, the kids were fascinated by the flight and we had a really wonderful vacation. While Greg and I enjoyed seeing everyone and having dozens of extra hands helping with the kids, the kids learned about their great-grandfather’s amazing life, met many relatives, played in snow for the first time, and witness vehicles driving on lakes.

Vehicles on frozen lake in MN

 

Local Medical Care Is Inadequate (and everything else went wrong)

June, two days after an unproductive trip to the local ER, recovering splendidly and having fun on our road trip this summer.

June, two days after an unproductive trip to the local ER, recovering splendidly and having fun on our road trip this summer.

When travelling out of our own metro area, Greg and I always look up the nearest children’s hospitals in the event that June needs emergency care since most adult or non-specialty hospitals don’t have the experience and equipment to help her.  During our recent road trip, we were encouraged that we would be close-ish to *the* best children’s hospital for trach patients in the country (Cinncinatti Children’s). But when June developed a bad stomach bug, we were 5.5 hours away from Cinncinatti.  June was getting dehydrated vomiting every 30 minutes, so we decided to seek an IV at the local hospital while we evaluated whether we should make that 5.5 hour hike.  My sister graciously took Rowan for the day while Greg, Miles, June and I went to the hospital ER in the mid-sized city close to the relatives we were visiting.  As always, I warned the nurses that it is always very difficult to get an IV in June, and even moreso when she’s dehydrated.  So, I pointed out the only two sites that are successful for IVs 90% of the time, requested ultrasound assistance in locating the vein, and asked that they not draw blood from an established IV.  Some of the nurses were condescending and short with me, stating that they will use their judgment as professionals, and they proceeded to use sites other than those I showed (which failed), tried repeatedly without the ultrasound (which failed), got an IV with the ultrasound and then drew back for blood on it (which caused it to fail), and ultimately did not succeed in establishing an IV at all. The doctor prescribed June an anti-nausea medication which I refused because I knew from previous illnesses there is a life-threatening interaction between it and her heart medication.  The doctor also ordered a chest X-ray but discharged us before reading it. In short, the ER trip was a torturous waste of our time.  Thankfully, June’s vomiting subsided on its own without complications. But that was just the beginning of our misadventures.

In the hospital Greg and I ran down our cell phone batteries entertaining June and keeping family members updated. Miles and I left the hospital with plans to charge my phone in the car, pick up Rowan from across town then return to pick Greg and June up. But I discovered that my charger was not in the car; it was with the jumble of cords we had unpacked back at our lodging.  As I pulled away from the hospital, my phone died completely.  I didn’t have the address or phone of where Rowan was staying.  I didn’t have a map or GPS.  I couldn’t contact Greg. And after one or two turns on one-way streets, I didn’t even know where the hospital was anymore.  So. I drove in “boxes,” always turning right onto one-way streets to stay in the vicinity until I could find something I recognized.  Finally I recognized a street name, then a landmark, and then, by divine providence…Greg and June, who had exited the hospital and were headed for my former street-parking spot.  And Greg’s phone had 22% battery life.  So we rationed the battery to find our way to pick up Rowan and then to navigate to the place we were staying, 22 miles way.  We watched the battery life dwindle as we traveled the dark rural roads.  Near the end of the journey found ourselves on an unlit dirt road lined with 6-foot-high corn on both sides, and our headlights illuminated a fork in the road that wasn’t on the map. And then the phone died completely.  If the horror movies are to be believed, we just knew we were all about to be devoured by zombies.  I must add that despite the drama of it all and the danger involved (we were lost, without communication, in a deserted area with a sick, medically complex child), Greg and I laughed at the sheer absurdity of the situation, and the fact that we tend to have more than our fair share of wild surprises like this.  Ultimately, we saw a light off to the right, so we decided to try that fork. This is another glimmer of divine providence, because the light turned out to be that of the relatives house where we were staying.

June got over the stomach bug fine with Gatorade and some phone consults with our doctors, and we went on to have a ton of fun on the trip.  The boys actually developed the stomach bug as well just in time for our drive home.  But we took advantage of the leisurely pace we had planned for the drive back, and since the kids mostly preferred to rest or play quietly while they were recovering, the drive home was actually pretty relaxing.  We even enjoyed a stop at Dinosaur World without any gastric emergencies.

Dinosaur World in Kentucky is awesome.

Dinosaur World in Kentucky is awesome.

I hope that these stories of our shenanigans may offer some knowledge, wisdom and humor to other special needs families.  I hope they don’t dissuade any special needs families from travelling if they’re considering doing so.  Because despite these bumps, these trips have all been worth it.  The memories we made far outweigh the various difficulties we encountered.  These things have been good learning opportunities, too, and have helped us to prepare better next time.  Which means that every time we venture out, we are increasing our ability, wisdom and mobility as a family.  And collecting some good and unusual stories along the way.

Coming Soon

Coming Soon

There has been a flurry of activity here in the Safari Household recently as we transition from our dino-mite summer back into our typical routine.  Several posts are vying for very scarce editorial attention, and which one will triumph first is anyone’s guess.  So in the meantime, I thought I’d share the topics of these posts which I hope to cover soon:

  • Leaving Facebook- I left FB “for real,” as in deleted my personal account.  I deactivated the FB page for this blog in the process, but you can still follow Yes This I Know on Twitter, Pinterest, RSS and by email.
  • Continuation of the Nursing Saga- I reached my limit with dreading the nursing visits, and we “let one of our nurses go.”  ***Joyously singing the Frozen song now***   Meaning I now only deal with one nurse visit per week.
  • Crazy Heart Block Quilt– I am both thrilled and surprised that I finished this recently, just over a year after starting it while June was in the PICU recovering from her LTR (The project does not require anywhere near a year to complete; I say I’m surprised because I usually have to caplitalize on momentum to finish a big sewing project, and there’s just no momentum to be had on personal projects while parenting 3 kids under 5.)
  • Special Needs Family Outings series- several posts about our travels and special needs travel decisions in general
  • Reading- I’ve been in reading hyperdrive this year as a lot of varied topics have been important or intriguing to me, and unexpected connections seem to arise often between subjects or to ideas I’m mulling over at the time
  • Homeschool Curriculum 2016-2017- homeschool planning posts are always exciting!

….and a couple of stragglers that might escape the drafts box onto the blog eventually.  Maybe even a Quotes of the Day.

Nursing Update: On the Myth of Helplessness

We have had home nursing for a little over a month. We use only 2 shifts a week, intended for ‘respite,’ or a break for us.  So, as of the middle of last week, we had had a total of 8 nursing shifts so far. And I truly didn’t think I could handle having nursing anymore.  This will not be a surprise to other special needs parents who have nursing.  But I know others outside of this medically complex family lifestyle often struggle to understand why nursing (or many other well-intended helps and fixes) can be more of a burden than a help.  Let me explain.

Nursing Update: On the Myth of Helplessness

First, how could professional nursing help, paid for by insurance, possibly be anything but a welcome blessing to a family with one child with complex medical needs and a total of three children under 5?  I addressed many such reasons in a previous post about why we oh-so-happily declined nursing two years ago.  A few examples of how these reasons manifested in real life in the past month:

  • These 8 nursing shifts have been staffed by FOUR different nurses, and we are soon to receive a FIFTH.  So during these “respite shifts,” I’ve met, screened and continuously trained four different people. Enforced boundaries big and small with all of them. Navigated four new personalities while assimilating them into our daily routine.  Not to mention the first nurse we had, I trained for a few hours, and she enthusiastically discussed her upcoming schedule for the week (along the way, breaking a few HIPPA rules and her own company policies I noted), then she left to pick up some missing paperwork for our case at the nursing office and never returned.  She never called.  Didn’t show up for her next shift. And the nursing agency informed me that she was completely new to them when she took our case, and after disappearing from our house she wasn’t returning any of their calls either. This strange incident left us scrambling to figure out if she had access to any of June’s, or our, financial or identifying information while she was at the house, because children with disabilities are vulnerable targets for identify theft and fraud.
  • The only reason nursing would be helpful to me is to have help directly observing June 24/7 to watch for trach plug emergencies.  As I mentioned in the previous post, handing *June’s* emergency trach changes is a task that many trach-trained nurses would not even be up to.  The only emergency trach change that occurred while a nurse was here, I handled myself, because the veteran nurse with decades of trach experience had just finished telling me, “It’s been 20 years since I’ve had an ambulatory patient [one who can walk/has strength and motor control],” and she wasn’t sure if she could handle the quick-thinking wrestling match that an emergency trach change with June requires.  Indeed, she was pretty wide-eyed after the trach change, and regarding her ability to handle a similar one herself next time, she offered sheepishly, “I can try.”
  • Despite reassurances from the nursing company to the contrary, our nurses are not able to end a shift away from our home.  Meaning, we have to be home at 5pm. So, when I needed to meet Greg at work with the kids in order for me to leave for a much-needed mom’s night out?  I had to send the nurse home early.  When we scored a last-minute doctor’s appointment but the only slot available was 4pm?  We had to change the appointment.  When an early afternoon appointment unexpectedly went long?  I did not have the freedom to stop for dinner, or an impromptu play date, or a museum tour while rush hour died down.  Instead, I had to plod through the thick of traffic for two and a half hours, three screaming kids in tow, with a nurse anxiously texting her husband about our ETA at home (and her shift end) which ended up being an hour and forty minutes past her planned end-of-shift.  And because of our limited nursing hours, not only did the nurse end up missing her chance to see her young child before she went to bed that night, the company may not be able to compensate her for the over time. Obviously, that was a terrible afternoon for all of us, and how I wished I had been able to take the kids to see the new amber exhibit at the “dinosaur museum” instead, like we normally would have done.
  • BUT WORST OF ALL. As an introvert, interacting with people other than my little family drains my battery and I need to recharge it in solitude, or near solitude, like driving without other adults in the car, or like supervising the kids while they’re engaged in something else such as the museum trip, both of which were *prevented* by having nursing.  At the end of last week, when I happened to have people in the house every day with no way to recharge, my battery drained to absolute zero.  At zero internal resources, I couldn’t bring myself to engage at all socially. I stared straight ahead and avoided eye contact and talking. Since the nurse was engaged with June, I turned a self-protective shoulder to June, too, which I hated doing.  Ultimately I decided to send the outsiders home and to recooperate by treating to kids to chick-fil-a- hoping to get a little near-solitude while watching them stay occupied in the playplace.  But the momentum of the stress and depletion continued, and I ended up wracked with stomach cramps.  I had to call Greg to leave work early and meet me and the kids.
  • Stewing along with all of this are several upcoming decisions about June’s therapy schedule and schooling decisions, with differing opinions being thrown in the ring by myself, ECI, the school district, the doctors, the caseworkers, the therapists and even other special needs moms.

I share this in order to explain a larger truth:

The “help” that is available to special needs families is often very different in practice than what it is imagined to be by those suggesting it.  And for that reason, special needs families must be able to CHOOSE what help is appropriate for them. 

Respite would be helpful if it worked as it ideally should, but in REALITY, I have spent far FAR too many hours in the last year stressed and dealing with problems caused by this nursing process.  Hours and energy that I don’t have available to waste.

The reason why this nursing problem exists at all is that someone who is not in our situation decided nursing should be forced upon us, “for our own good.” (Our Medicaid requires it; also see here why our situation and insurance necessitates the use of Medicaid.)  While I heartily support resources being made *available* to special needs families to utilize as their unique situation calls for, forcing families across the board to accept unwanted advances of charity is by no means helpful, or even respectful. We have similar battles every time a course of treatment or therapy is suggested that we know from experience detracts more from June’s well-being more than it helps (if it helps at all). We are purposeful about educating the professionals involved about our actual experience of such helps, and why we feel various options are not a good fit.  But even if ONE battle is laboriously won with ONE professional, more suggestions and demands meant to help continue to be thrust at us at every turn in this journey.

Why is this? What about having a special needs child could possibly imply that we no longer have the capacity to manage our own lives, schedules and homes?  Why should we suddenly be subject to any and every idea of “helping” that others conjure up based on their limited observation of our life, AND their limited knowledge of what that “help” actually consists of practically? Indeed what about this situation makes it acceptable for “help” to be inserted into our very living room by the government?

It is actually related to an innocent-sounding myth that often appears when people see a special needs family like ours:

“They need all the help they can get.”

It comes from the right place, on the surface.  But lurking just below is condescension and a denial of common dignity.  Allow me to dispel this myth.

First, this myth paints special needs families as pitiful and helpless, in a constant state of need.  Actually, we are quite capable of seeking help if we need it.

Secondly, this myth that “we need all the help we can get” carries with it the implication that it is acceptable, even encouraged, to attempt to ‘rescue’ us without invitation or permission.  Meaning that anyone can freely assert their opinion, will or resources on us, our home, or our time as long as their heart is in the right place.

Being the recipient of misguided and unwelcome generosity doesn’t sound that bad?  Where shall I send your gift basket of puppies?

To refute these assumptions of helplessness and denial of self-agency, I must say:

We, as a special needs family, are resourceful and intelligent.

And as the sole experts on our situation, WE should decide what our family needs and doesn’t need.  

 

And what does my family need right now?  RESPITE FROM OUR FORCED “RESPITE.”

To spend my time snuggling with my kids instead of corralling the dog while texting with nurses about why they are late this time.

Snuggle

To be able to pull the car over to nurse my wailing infant, play at the park, or stop somewhere for a snack without the danger of holding an employee hostage in the process.

Park

To go to the dinosaur museum- or arboretum- or zoo- or fair- after doctor’s appointments. Or anytime, really.

IMG_20160304_131524

June checking out a giant beating heart at the Health Museum

Library

I love parachute activities just as much as the kids

To be able to wear pajamas past 7am.

Celebratory confetti for pajamas!

Celebratory confetti for pajamas!

To meet my husband for dinner on a whim.

High five to that!

High five to that!

To watch my kids, clean, and cook without a stranger sitting at the kitchen table.

Baking IMG_20160413_163600

To be able to devote time to my small business anytime I decide to, rather than being technically forbidden to “work” while a nurse is providing respite hours.

The firestation (which we toured recently) is one place I'm excited to offer an ASL seminar, so emergency workers have some basic signs and knowledge of special needs patients.

The fire station, which we toured recently, is one place I’m excited to offer an ASL seminar, so emergency workers have some basic signs and knowledge of special needs patients.

What do I want? Simply put: TO BE LEFT ALONE by those who want (and succeed sometimes) to force their will on our complicated life. To be treated with dignity that DOES assume that we are capable of assessing and meeting our family needs by seeking OR declining the range of tools available to us.  And for people to understand that having a family that is different than ‘the norm’ isn’t “a bad thing to be fixed” or compensated for or pitied.  For people to stretch their imagination enough to believe us when we say: Far from being pitiful and in need, we like our life.  No, it’s not your normal. But it’s our normal. And it’s a unique adventure.

A family meet-up at the park so we could 1- Discover new parts of the city 2- have dinner out 3- Greg could take the big kids while I took Miles to a much-needed mom's book club evening

Exploring a cool downtown park this week where we waited to meet up with Dada, who was attending an afternoon sporting event nearby. Then we had dinner and Dada took the kids so MAMA could attend an evening mom’s book club on a far side of town. I say that’s a win all around, but it would have been impossible if we were tethered to the house by a nursing schedule.

Wow: An End-of-the-Year Sigh.

The last month and a half has been difficult. It’s not the kind of difficult that needs fixing, it’s just one of those periods of rough transition that inevitably comes and must be weathered in order to emerge with the tools you need for the next season. I call this a ‘desert time,’ referring to the many times in the Bible that God led people into the desert for a period of difficulty and growth, like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David and Jesus.

cropped-263e5-desertmoses.jpg

Factors in the mix include:

  • the kids’ adjustment to the new baby- which brings emotional and behavioral parenting challenges despite the fact that they are both in love with their little brother
  • our family’s adjustment to June’s ongoing and changing medical needs- which also brings emotional and practical routine changes for all of us constantly
  • a few recent emergencies and hospital trips with June (which all resolved well)
  • the irregular schedule that comes with a new nursing baby
  • the difficulty of having energetic young children under the same roof as elderly dogs
  • the need to adjust physical limits and teaching/discipline strategies as the kids’ abilities and independence increase each day, not the least of which is June being able to remove her pulse ox and HME at will (more on that soon)
  • the kids’ love of “sensory play,” and the soap, water, pom pom, toilet paper, cereal, coin, fabric, dirt, paint …. messes that result, often as a surprise discovery for me due to the previous point
  • never-ending adventures in potty training ‘interest’ from the kids that I *try* to patiently encourage and help them with, but that doesn’t seem to be developing into actual training
  • the typical holiday busy-ness with related events and tasks (though seeing family and friends was a very welcome treat)
  • time spent launching my baby sign language business which was time well spent, but definitely a tight fit into our schedule and routine
  • the normal end-of-the-year paperwork for the house, taxes, insurance, banking, career, etc.

This month and a half I’ve been mostly praying a variation on a specific part of the Lord’s prayer- “give us our daily bread-” by praying for manna for the day.  By prayer I mean words mumbled with a palm on my face when the newest parenting challenge presents itself, as an alternative to breaking objects out of frustration- not prayers done formally during a serene, set-aside time. This is a reference to the Old Testament when God provided daily food- manna- to the Israelites every morning in the desert, but only enough for that day or that day plus the Sabbath.  Similar to my favorite slogan, “One day (or hour or minute) at a time,” I find it comforting to focus on God’s provision for the current needs, even if the future needs and provision are unknown. And, like manna, I’ve had just enough energy and patience each day during this time to compete the bare essentials.

But I think and hope the ‘transition’ period is over and the ‘new season’ has begun.

A few tools I have emerged with, and have big hopes for, include:

  • Prayer/meditation/alone time which I strive to capture once a day
  • Continue to prioritize my own self-care and non-parenting activities like seeing friends, being involved in several church activities, and learning sign language
  • Toy rotation (see this wonderful series on it)
  • Rotation of the chore magnets, so that the often-skipped chores move up in priority the longer I avoid them

Chores Magnet Board

  • Updated homeschool schedule– we’ve been pretty unstructured so far, which I feel is a good fit for the kids’ ages.  However, I think a little more structure will help curb the conflicts between the kids and the surprise messes.
  • Reorganization of several common “problem areas” of the house, which are no longer functional or which aren’t a good fit for the kids needs right now
  • Expanding the use of “toy jail” to include temporarily losing toys that aren’t picked up at the end of the day
  • Rehoming my sweet dog, Sahara, with my parents, perhaps temporarily until her hip problems and the kids’ spontaneity aren’t such a dangerous combination

SaharaBed

  • Playdates or outings- I plan to try my best, but it may not result in many trips because of our need to keep June away from sniffles/coughs, our need to be near to June’s medical equipment, June and Miles’ sensitivity to cold air, and having to work in/around June and Miles’ feedings
  • A part-time return to cloth diapering, which I love but I avoided when June was young due to her health; I hope it will help with potty training and the challenges of having three kids in diapers
  • Breathing. I’m surprised how often I catch myself nearly holding my breath when I’m stressed.  Seems like breathing is good. I’d like to do more of it.

Our “Homeschool Curriculum” Fall 2015

At the very beginning of this year, I shared why I am so excited to “homeschool” this fall.  I use the quotes because most of the time, “homeschool” with my almost-4-year-old son and almost-2-year-old daughter is woven into everyday playing and errand running rather than appearing more “school-like,” such as doing worksheets at a table.  But sometimes we do worksheets and crafts at the table, too.  And sometimes our sole goal is to make it through the day.  But ideally, these are the skills and activities we are aiming  for in a given week.

Homeschool Curriculum 2015
Our “curriculum” is a hodgepodge of different things.  I started my planning with the Letter of the Week Curriculum from Confessions of a Homeschooler, which I’ll refer to as LOTW.  It’s a great curriculum at an awesome price.  It features one letter a week with accompanying blending ladders, a Bible verse, and optional Spanish language vocabulary, plus one shape and one color per month. However, the LOTW falls squarely in the middle of my kids’ current academic levels, as my son knows the content already but my daughter is not quite ready to tackle letters.  But the crafts and activities are so cute, I decided to plug in and/or modify any LOTW activities I could into the content areas that are important to us.  This is the list of categories we are working on this fall and what we are using for these subjects:

Language Arts 

June does parts of the LOTW curriculum including an introduction to the letter in written, spoken, and ASL form and some large letter or coloring pages which don’t require advanced fine motor control.  I don’t think she’s quite ready to learn the alphabet, but I think she’ll enjoy being introduced to the ASL alphabet concurrently since many of the ASL signs she knows already utilize the letter handshapes.

Rowan occasionally uses some of the letter crafts from LOTW which require more fine motor control, like lacing.  Additionally, he has sight words on the felt board and letter discs to match to interesting words (both very cool activities from Confessions of a Homeschooler).  At this point, we just want Rowan to have access to things he’s interested in, rather than dragging him down any specific path or timeline. And with access to our local BBBS resale sites and a big homeschool resale store, we can try out different things without investing a ton in each rescoure. Rowan is quite interested in letters and reading, but he *really* wants to do everything himself.  He has maintained interest in the sight word felt board and letter discs, with game-like pieces that can be used independently. But engagement with the more directed, school-like activities have fizzled out very fast with him, including Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (Bad fit for now! Maybe when he’s older), Bob books (I think he’ll like them once he can read them himself without prompting and supervision from us) and Explode the Code (The uncertainty of what word the drawing is representing greatly frustrated *me,* so we set that one aside for now).  He can also complete lessons on ABC Mouse, but even in the guided lessons mode, the difficulty of the work seems to vary widely, and his engagement with it is hit and miss.

Sight Words Caterpillar Felt Board from Confessions of a Homeschooler

Sight Words Caterpillar Felt Board from Confessions of a Homeschooler

Reading

I separated actual reading from the “language arts” category above, which contains skills needed to read like letter recognition, letter sounds, phonics and blending.  For “actual reading,” I strive to read to the kids each day, signing along with the book in June’s case and having Rowan read frequently occurring words or sound some out from the story.  Thankfully, both kids love snuggling up with a book- with or without someone reading it to them!

Book worm

Book worm

Gross Motor

Both kids can participate in these activities, which involve moving, balancing, and generally jumping around.  The LOTW curriculum has a few activities and we also find fun ones on Toddler Approved like Alphabet Pillow Jumping and via Pinterest like Toddler Color Hop from Learn~Play~Imagine.  But mostly the kids take care of this category all by themselves.  They are forever climbing on furniture and building obstacle courses with the couch cushions.

Standard couch slide construction at the Safari House

Standard couch slide construction at the Safari House*

*A few notes on this:

1.  This is how the kids get their exercise when we’re cooped up for RSV season. Or when it’s too hot to go outside.  Ok, anytime they’re bouncing off the walls but we can’t go out, really.

2. Yes, this is the usual state of my house currently. Unless it’s Monday.  That’s pick-up-and-vacuum day.

3. That formless mass of energy is in fact Rowan.  I think it captured him quite nicely.

4. June’s looking on like, “I got next.”

Fine Motor

This is an area we emphasize with June because her history of prematurity, frequent hospital stays and her mild hypotonia all impede her natural process of learning these skills, somewhat.  Even with all of these factors, she does very well in this area.  So mainly we try to offer a variety of activities to keep her practicing.  LOTW includes tracing, cutting, and prewriting practice sheets which I sometimes provide to June, but they are a little advanced for her.  Mostly, we provide dry erase surfaces or regular coloring activities for her to practice holding markers and crayons, and we get the felt board out with felt shapes of different sizes for June to play with.  Much of the fine motor practice occurs naturally with household objects like picking up small toys, coins, and stickers, using latches and buttons on educational toys, and building with blocks.  Signing is also a huge fine motor work out.  We always model the correct execution of signs, and occasionally we focus on correcting June’s handshape or placement when we feel that she might be ready to perform a certain sign more correctly.  I anticipate that her interest in the ASL alphabet will propel both her signing accuracy and fine motor skills forward this fall.

For Rowan we replaced the LOTW letter writing activities with a dry erase handwriting pack (Lets Get Ready for School Activity Pack: Letters) and making our own word tracing worksheets which Rowan chooses the content for (translation: he’s tracing dinosaur names).  Rowan also gets much more than his daily quota of fine motor practice in by playing with Legos.

June with Let's Get Ready for School Activity Pack: Letters

June with Let’s Get Ready for School Activity Pack: Letters

Spatial Reasoning

Both of the kids are naturally interested in these activities, so we make various options available around the house including puzzles (toddler for June and preschool for Rowan), blocks and Legos.  We try to point out or make patterns in every day play.  Occasionally I also try to get the kids interested in the mazes and object hunt activities in their kid magazines- without much success; here again, self-directed activities are WAY more fruitful than mom-directed ones.

I had to text this to my husband because I couldnt figure out how Rowan made it

I had to text this to my husband because I couldnt figure out how Rowan made it

Sign Language

Because she cannot vocalize with the trach currently, American Sign Language is June’s only mode for expressive communication.  We play at least one Signing Time episode in the background during playtime every day.  Usually several.  The kids love it , and they know more than half of the signs in the series already. As part of our morning routine when we update the board with the day of the week, we sign the days of the week, numbers up to the current day, and review the signs for colors with the Rainbow Song from Signing Time. Greg and I are really striving to sign concurrently when we talk throughout the day, but that is challenging because true ASL is not a word-for-word translation of spoken English; even the basic sentence structure differs between the two.  But we always sign when communicating in basic sentences with June and when reading to her.

June signing "girl"

June signing “girl”

Art and Music

Art activities occur naturally around our house as well, and as part of the other learning categories.  Rowan likes to excavate dinosaur toys from playdough.  June likes to write with anything, on anything right now.  My written objective is to do letter, shape, and color crafts along with our current LOTW curriculum, but those are good intentions that just don’t happen, especially since the kids are self-directed in this area anyway.

For music, we listen primarily to Dinosaur Train and Jurassic Park (Rowan’s picks), Signing Time songs (June’s picks) and pop music (my picks) on my iPhone, YouTube or the radio.  Listening naturally develops into recognizing the rhythm, notes, and new vocabulary (English and ASL).  I’m always on the lookout for NON-ANNOYING educational songs on YouTube that the kids like. Current favorites are StoryBots,  Signing Time/Rachel and the Treeschoolers, and Coilbook.

Nervously watching June use finger paints- homemade so non-toxic, but still a potential danger to her trach. No corn strach in the lungs, please.

Nervously watching June use finger paints- homemade so non-toxic, but still a potential danger to her trach. No corn strach in the lungs, please.

Math

We opted not to use the LOTW curriculum for counting activities because I felt we had ample opportunities to count during the day without printing many-paged activities out specifically for that purpose.  For June, we often count up to 5, like counting the medicine syringes she’s receiving (#medicallycomplexlife) and for Rowan, we often count up to 20 by counting up to the date, estimating the number of crackers etc we pour, and talking through simple addition and subtraction word problems that come up during the day.  We also have a Let’s Get Ready for School Activity Pack for numbers, but I don’t plan to use that until a later date when we venture into written math problems.

Earning money toward a model T-rex from the museum gift shop

Earning money toward a model T-rex from the museum gift shop

Science

This is everyone’s favorite.  I try to do one simple science experiment a week that we improvise, like vinegar and baking soda variations, freezing stuff, or our weight capacity of boxes experiment, or experiments that stumble upon online, like Magic Milk from Lemon and Lime Adventures, DIY Dino Excavation Kits from Live, Craft, Love, or the Solar System Scale Model with toilet paper from Adventures in Learning.  Baking and cooking fall under this category, too, because any homeschool activity that results in chocolate for me is a winner.

Lesson learned: empty cardboard boxes are deceptively strong

Lesson learned: empty cardboard boxes are deceptively strong

Charting the outcome of box weight capacity experiment with Dada- plus a look at our "homeschool corner"

Charting the outcome of box weight capacity experiment with Dada- plus a look at our “homeschool corner”

 

Baking = Science Experiment

Baking = Science Experiment

“Field Trips”

We have to stay away from crowds and close contact with kids during the winter time due to June’s susceptibility to respiratory viruses, particularly RSV.  We also remain sheltered when June has a critical procedure coming up.  But whenever possible, we make up for lost time and jump on [economical] opportunities to learn “in the field” whether it’s nature observations at the park, community/holiday events, free museum days and discounted family memberships to a favorite spot (“the dinosaur museum” and the zoo).  So much learning occurs naturally as we encounter the unexpected on these outings, like when we happened upon a giant iguana (with its baby sitter) sunbathing on the steps outside the Natural Science museum.  The kids are so curious and observant at this age, even trips to the grocery store are educational, as they ask about people they see, our food choices and how money works.

Surprise iguana outside of "the dinosaur museum"

Surprise iguana outside of “the dinosaur museum”

An assassin bug that suddenly appeared on my NECK during a playdate at a new park

An assassin bug that suddenly appeared on my NECK during a playdate at a new park.  Luckily I was in an educational mood and researched it with the kids instead of converting it into an assassintated bug.

Those are our goals this fall!  We think of this list more like a flexible guide to our intentions rather than a to-do checklist. Life gets very busy at the Safari House, but thankfully, many of these objectives are accomplished through natural play.  In fact, with a newborn on the way in early September, I’m certain that in upcoming weeks those “naturally occurring” objectives are the only ones which will get done.  That’s totally okay.  Forecasts predict a season of Legos and couch slides in the future.

QOTD: This Is a Job for Daddy.

Tomorrow marks one month that June has been in the hospital, and we had originally planned on just a 4-day stay. To recap, the various reasons the stay has lengthened include the switch from the two-stage LTR that was planned to the one-stage version, difficulty extubating after the LTR, which led to the need for a new trach to be placed, and most recently, June’s difficulty eating after the surgeries necessitated getting a gastronomy-button (g-button) and Nissen fundoplication.  Hospitalizations are always a wild ride for us.

During the hospitalization, I’ve been staying at June’s bedside during the week, and Greg has been working and caring for Rowan with help from family.  On the weekend, we switch, and Greg stays with June while I hang with little dude Rowan.  This is the first hospitalization that we’ve been able to switch off at the bedside because previously I was still nursing June.  It’s so nice to have this flexibility!  But it’s far from the ideal of having everyone at home. I’ve gathered several amusing quotes from the kids recently which note ways in which Greg was particularly missed in the situation at hand. Some things are simply a job for Dada.

QOTD

Out of nowhere in the car, Rowan formulated a manufacturing business plan that I know Greg- proud Papa and engineer- would have loved to ask him more about: 

R (holding the new T-rex model he saved up for): Do we have model stuff at home? 

Me: To make dinosaur models?

R: Yes. 

Me: No, we don’t.  It takes big machines to make dinosaurs.  

R: It’s ok, we’ll just buy a big machine.

Me: Well it takes a lot of money, so what if we just buy a model that someone else made with their machine?  

R: No, models cost $25. I need my own dinosaur pressing machine. Is dinosaur rubber expensive?

Me: Yes. 

R: I want to buy expensive things but not use much money.

(Welcome to Capitalism 101, bud!)

•••••••••••

At bedtime Rowan was scared by loud thunder.

Me: Do you know what thunder is?

R: Electricity.  

Me: Yes, well lightning is electricity and thunder is the sound. 

R: And can electricity go in water if lightning hits it?

Me: Yes, it can zap you if you’re in water.

R: Why?

Me: That’s just how electricity works. Would you like Daddy to teach you more about it?  

R: I want you to teach me more about it.

Me: Well, I didn’t learn very much about electricity in school, but Daddy studied it a lot.

R: Did Daddy have more school than you?

(I briefly discussed how Greg and I have the same amount of schooling- a lot- but Greg needed to learn about electricity to be an engineer and I didn’t need to in order to counsel people.  And I made yet another mental note to learn some basic physics.)

•••••••••••

Also on the topic of science, this came up in the car randomly:

Rowan: Why did the forest catch on fire in Walking With Dinosaurs?

Me: Lightning hit it, and lightning has energy in it that made the fire.

R: Is it the same energy that’s in our muscles?

Me: Kind of. The energy in lightning is electricity, and the energy in our muscles is from glucose, sugar. [I’m questioning my answers as I say them at this point]

R: And why does fire eat everything?

Me: That’s just how it works…let’s ask Daddy….

•••••••••••

I am expecting our third kiddo in September, and Rowan insists that he is growing babies, too. His 10 dinosaur babies will be born in September as well. While I was driving home from the hospital recently, Rowan surveyed the back seat of the Prius and asked,

“Where will all of the car seats go?”

Me: Your baby brother’s seat will go right between you and June.  Does that sound ok?

R: What about my 10 dinosaur babies?

Me: Hm, there’s no more space in that seat. What should we do?  Are their car seats small?

R: Yes. Me and Daddy will have to build 10 more car seats. They can go in the back where the dogs sit.

•••••••••••

At the hospital, volunteers brought the toy cart to our room, and June got a Rubik’s cube.  I put it slightly off center and handed it to her.  

She looked up from it and signed “Dada.”

(It’s true, Greg is the Rubik’s cube expert in our house.)

•••••••••••

I was just napping with June in the hospital bed and she woke up before me. She signed all about wanting to listen to the voicemail Daddy had left for her.  So I played it about 5 times, but I was so tired I fell asleep between each 45 second playing, and June had to wake me up again each time.  Finally losing patience, June signed “want” “you” “me” “stand up.”  She proceeded to stand up, emphatically signed “you,” and towered over me in the bed indignantly with all of her 2.5-foot-tall height until I sat up.

•••••••••••

And other gems from this month:

While waiting for surgery, June wanted to put on some of her real clothes over the hospital gown. June seems to have inherited a fashion gene that skipped a generation in Greg and me. After helping her dress, I asked June excitedly- 

“Are you wearing a beautiful shirt?”

She replied quite seriously in sign language: “And shoes.”

Later she kept pointing to her pile of clothes signing “hat” even though there weren’t any hats there.  Clearly she felt her ensemble was not complete.

 

•••••••••••

June loves shoes. She insisted on wearing some into surgery, excitedly signing to the surgical team all about her shoes during the transfer down to the OR.  The team kindly waited until she was under anasthesia to take them off.  

•••••••••••

Several staff have joked with June, asking if they can have her shoes.  She answers matter-of-factly in sign, “You have your shoes.”

•••••••••••

While he was waiting to visit June in the hospital, a kind stranger asked Rowan about his prized T-rex that he bought at the dinosaur museum recently. After roaring and playing pretend with Rowan, the stranger remarked,

“What a neat dinosaur you have!!”

Rowan stopped in his tracks and replied, “This is a *model* of a dinosaur.”

•••••••••••

Driving home from the hospital one day, Rowan asked:

“Are we going in the direction of home?”

Me: Yes, we live northwest of here, so right now we are driving ‘north.’

R: And is this the road the snow comes down?

Me: Um, no, we don’t get much snow here.  Why were you thinking there might be snow though?

R: Because there’s snow at the North Pole. 

Me: Oh, well we’re only going a little bit north.  Not to the North Pole.

 

Decluttering: Photos and Craft Supplies

DeclutteringCraftPhotos

The next decluttering topics we’ll attend to are crafts and photos. I’ve combined them here because both of these items present the same problem: too much of a good thing.

First, the crafts. It’s very trendy nowadays to be crafty- with social bonus points going to anyone who uses “upcycled,” “repurposed,” and “reclaimed” materials in their project.  Pinterest has suggestions for how to use virtually anything you might recycle or throw away.

“Turn old egg cartons into a toddler sorting activity instantly!”

“10 minute dioramas from cereal boxes tutorial”

“Add chalkboard paint to old soup cans to create cute pencil holders!”

(Actually, I believe you can add chalkboard paint to anything and it’s instantly hip and useful again.)

Well, these are fun ideas.  I’ve pinned some of them myself.  Others might even categorize me as a “Pinterest mom,” but people, I’ve been crafting since way before it was cool.  I certainly don’t intend to scoff at Pinterest or crafting.  However, this social pressure to create and reuse- especially among moms- can easily lead to hoarding of purchased supplies as well as recyclables.  On a few mom blogs, I’ve seen lists of suggested recyclables “to keep on hand” including old take-out containers, pine cones, shipping boxes, paper towel tubes, packing peanuts, milk jugs, boxes of all sizes, baby food jars….. In addition to the typical glitter and pipe cleaners-type of supplies and maintaining a half dozen trendy “sensory bins” with beans, rice, water, foam, etc, of course.  I’ve found I cannot house even a quarter of those supplies, nor do I want to.

Here are a few guidelines I use to ward off the craft clutter:

1. Do I have a use for it PLANNED?

Can I make a statement about my plans for an object do not include the words “could,” “maybe,” or “one day?” If not, it’s probably not a keeper.

2. How easily could I procure this item if I should need it in the future?

It is rare that the answer to this question is anything other than “very easily.”  Even in the case of recyclables, if you find that you need a set (12 egg cartons?), you can raid your recycling and/or place a request with some friends.  I’ve provided neighbors with some of my garbage on a half dozen occasions in recent years when they posted craft needs on local group forums, and I’m sure they’d be willing to do the same.

3. How much money might I lose if I don’t store this?

This applies when you are tempted by a 10 gallon tub of colorful assorted craft whatnots on sale for half price.  It’s exciting just to imagine!   But think for a moment if the amount of space the tub takes up times the amount of time it’ll be sitting on your shelf is worth the money saved during the sale.  Would you rather buy it at full price at the moment it’s needed?  Who’s to say it won’t be on sale then anyway?  Or better yet, you can buy just the pieces you need when you need them, perhaps at a higher cost-per-unit but at a lower total cost than the big tub, and never store the extra “assorted” bits that you likely will never use.

4. Despite what the craft blogs say, your child’s creative development is not directly proportional to the number of mason jars you have squirreled away around the house for impromptu projects. I promise.

In fact, letting the child devise entertainment with the environment at hand can often foster creativity better than a prepared craft.

 

This leaves the topic of photos, which doesn’t lend itself to specific tips like this.  I’m really addressing “extra” prints here- ones that aren’t destined for a photo album but that you keep anyway “in case you can use it,” like for a craft project.  I had boxes and BOXES of printed photos from the days of film cameras as well as prints from digital pics that were left over after I made my annual photo albums.  A few months ago I finally threw away the photos that I knew I wouldn’t ever use, and they took up half of our huge outdoor trash can.

I can only offer general guidelines because photos are so personal. But once you’ve saved the “good ones” physically or digitally, view the left overs realistically and with an open mind.  Once I looked at my photos objectively like this, I was shocked at how many I had saved in bulk for decades “for sentimental reasons” turned out to be blurry, unintentional, or duplicate shots; they actually had no sentimental value. If you’re a bit of a photo hoarder like I was, you may be surprised how much you can pare down your collection once you allow yourself to flip through it with a critical eye.

 

The last two topics in the decluttering series have more to do with preventing clutter than ridding your home of it, and they happen to be two of my favorite things.  First we’ll talk about home improvement projects and later, garage sale shopping (well, shopping in general, too).