Friday 16 June 2017

Perfection: A birth story

I spent Saturday cleaning. The day before had been surfaces - cupboards and bathrooms and showers and toilets and whatever else appeared not quite perfectly clean. Saturday was floors, sweeping and mopping and scrubbing and washing mats until finally the house felt Ready.

Our fifth precious one was due on Sunday, but our last three had all been 5-8 days overdue so I wasn't holding my breath quite yet. I was predicting her arrival for the following Sunday, Father's Day. I did want the house to be Ready, though, just in case.

At 6:00 am on Sunday, I woke to crampy contractions, as I had each morning at 6 am for the past few days. They were irregular and minor and I paid no attention to them.

At 9:00 am, I went to the bathroom and discovered the slightest bit of bloody show. I crawled back into bed and told my half-asleep husband that the baby was coming today. The contractions continued to be crampy, irregular, and minor.

I had a shower around 9:20, during which the contractions become strong and regular but short. They stayed that way while I put clean sheets on the bed and folded a load of towels.

At my husband's prompting, I paged the midwife at 9:50 and again at 10:00. She called back to say that she was at another birth but would send another midwife from the clinic. We had discussed previously how much I did not like having a stranger in my home as the second midwife during Min's birth, so my initial reaction was are you KIDDING me?? But then she told me who it was; it was a midwife who had been part of my team for Kai's insane unplanned unassisted birth, so that was okay then. I was already quite fond of her and would be happy to have her be here.

After hanging up, we started timing my contractions at 10:15. They were consistently about 45 seconds long and 2-3 minutes apart. I was leaning on the dresser or on my husband and rocking through each one. They were strong but felt productive and easily manageable. We called the midwife again at 10:56 because she still wasn't here and things were feeling pretty serious. She said she was a few minutes out and to call her if the water broke. Less than 5 minutes later, my water did indeed break and we called back to let her know.

It was now 11:00. With my water broken, I knew the baby would likely be coming within the next couple of contractions. I moved to the shower, laid down a couple of towels, and got onto my hands and knees. The next ctx hit and it was strong. I lost my focus and allowed a bit of panic to set in and fight against the ctx, and while the baby did move lower, there was no crowning yet. After it eased, I managed to get one of my legs up so that I was in a better position. I calmed myself down, re-focused, and when the next ctx began, I worked with it and the baby was delivered entirely - head, followed by the slightest of pauses, and then the rest in one smooth motion, there into my waiting hands. It was 11:07 am, just over two hours from the time I had told my husband the baby would be arriving sometime that day.

At this point the midwife was on the stairs. So close, but once again we had unexpectedly had an unassisted birth. The baby began crying immediately. After resting there holding the baby for a couple of minutes, I looked at my husband and asked, "shall we check?" We unwrapped the towel and discovered, to my surprise, it was a girl!

We had a name for her before she was even conceived. Each of our kids had hoped we would have a girl. I would have been delighted either way, but I was grateful that our other daughter would have a sister.

I needed to shift positions, so I asked that we cut the cord now. Kai stepped forward and helped the midwife do so, and I handed our little girl to my husband. I moved into a more comfortable position and the placenta came without difficulty a few minutes later. I showered and moved into our bed. The midwife checked us over and both baby and I were fine.

The morning had been perfect. Everything had gone absolutely beautifully. There were no paramedics and fire fighters as with Kai's birth, no feeling of being swept along by the contractions as with Ell's birth, and none of the difficult decisions that came along with Min's birth. We had deliberately chosen this time to only have my husband, our kids, and the midwife there for the labour and delivery. We may have missed out on the midwife by a minute, but it was perfect anyway.

For our previous three homebirths, we had always included a dedicated support person for the kids. This time, however, we felt comfortable forgoing that (although I did have a wonderful friend on-call in case things did not proceed smoothly and an adult was needed for the kids). I am grateful that we made this choice. There was no pressure, no deadline. In the days prior, there had been no nervousness over whether the baby would arrive before whatever family member was coming to take care of the kids. No one was staring at their watch waiting for me to go into labour before they had to catch a plane back home. There were no extra voices or eyes in the house while I focused on birthing our child. It was simply perfect.

We had, as always, prepared the kids for the homebirth in advance. The kids had been in and out of the room during labour and knew that they were welcome to be there for the birth if they wanted to. Jay had been leading the midwife up the stairs and came into the bathroom just as she was born. Kai had been offered the opportunity to be there after my water broke, but had replied that he was listening to an audio book (C.S. Lewis's "A Horse and His Boy") and to please come get him after the baby arrived (all the laughter and tears at how perfectly "Kai" that reaction is). Ell and Min were both there, along with my husband, who had been, as always, a wonderfully supportive partner throughout the labour and delivery.

Our newest child (nicknamed Zoe in this space) is now five days old. Our first few days have been spent snuggling close as we rest, leaving everything else alone for a while. The world will wait; we will emerge when we are ready. The lovely husband is caring for each of us wonderfully. Zoe and I are working on getting a good (pain-free!) latch - after four other babies, I wasn't expecting this particular challenge, but here we are and we're figuring it out.

I am so grateful for the blessings of these past few days - her beautiful birth, her beautiful self, and each beautiful member of our family.

Sunday 4 June 2017

Homeschooling through the seasons

As year-round homeschoolers, there is no defined beginning or end to our homeschooling year. We flow from season to season as we strive for a holistic life-learning approach to education. Each season, however, brings with it a rhythm of its own, a fresh way to look at our learning and to structure our days.


Here we are on the cusp of summer. With a fifth little one expected within the next week or two, our summer will certainly require a shifting of rhythms.

Most years, however, our summers are spent in outdoor exploration with little in the way of structure. We try out new beaches, parks, and playgrounds. We talk, ask questions, find answers. We learn the names of the flowers currently blooming and we tend our vegetable garden. Butterflies are raised and released. New recipes are tried. Our days are often flipped around to take advantage of the cooler morning weather.

This works well for a season, and as autumn approaches we find ourselves ready for a bit more routine to our day. Although we tend towards an unschooling approach, some sort of framework keeps that unschooling from sliding into chaos for us.


As the rain begins, we move into a different yet familiar rhythm. The specifics differ with each year, taking into account family circumstances and each child's individual needs, but the framework of it is generally the same.

After breakfast and a brief time of housework, we begin our Morning Gathering together on the couch. With some variation, this typically includes:

- Greeting, day's review, gratitude
- Bible story
- Hymn
- The Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed
- Peace

After this gathering, we move into individual RRR time. Each child spends some time sitting with me on the couch and doing some combination of reading, writing, and/or math, depending on their needs and goals for the year.

Reading includes reading practice for those who need it. Our preferred resources are Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons followed by Sets 1-5 of Bob Books.

Writing may include letter formation, copywork, dictation, spelling lists, creative writing, or expository writing.

Life of Fred is our preferred math resource, along with times tables practice, logic and numeracy games, and other varied forms of numeracy development.

Autumn lunches make for an ideal read-aloud time. We particularly enjoy using this time for broad overviews of history such as Hillyer's A Child's History of the World or Gombrich's A Little History of the World.

Fall Fridays are STEAM project day, where we set aside our usual Gathering and RRR times and focus on hands-on science and art instead.

A portion of each afternoon is reserved for quiet time, an essential part of our day for each of us.


As fall moves into winter and a new calendar year begins, we often find the need to freshen up our usual routines. While autumn tends to have an individual focus with a heavy emphasis on reading, writing, and math, winter seems to demand a more cozy, group-based rhythm.

Our Morning Gathering continues, but the spiritual portion is truncated. We read Scripture, pray together, and sing a hymn. We choose a hymn for about a week and go through it one verse per day, discussing what the words mean. This becomes a great theology and vocabulary lesson! The kids take turns reciting our monthly poem; we've been going through Maurice Sendak's Chicken Soup with Rice book this past year. The poems are simple so it's been a great opportunity to focus less on memorization and more on how to make an entrance, introduce a poem, speak clearly, include expression, hold still, and be a good audience.

We then move on to a group lesson and discussion on science and history. This past winter we used David Macaulay's How Things Work for science and Gombrich's A Little History of the World for history.

Our gathering time finished, we move into a brief individual time. Our Life of Fred books are often finished by early December, so we take a break from the focused RRR time and work on more individual subjects. This past winter, for example:

- Jay would take The Jesus Storybook Bible and a regular Bible, read the relevant passages from the day's story in the Bible, and then compare/contrast the storybook version against the full version.
- Kai would read to me. He's a reluctant reader, so having him just sit and read to me each day greatly helped improve his fluency.
- Ell would work on letter recognition and printing with me, as well as early numeracy skills.

After that, if we started early enough, we had time for board games before lunch. With Life of Fred on pause for the time being, we chose to do some "gameschooling" for a while before jumping into the next LOF books.

This group routine is a good change each year, and the discussions add more science, history, and theology to our day than we typically have in the fall.


Eventually, however, our cozy winter group rhythm needs its usual seasonal sprucing up. We wind up our science and history and move once again into a more individual-based rhythm. It's a good time to reevaluate where each of the kids are and what each of them needs for the next couple of months. This spring, Ell insisted that I begin teaching her how to read, and both boys were eager to get back into Life of Fred. We also prepared and planted our garden, spent more time in nature, and of course had the usual pre-baby biology unit (always a favourite with the kids). This led to an unexpected enthusiastic interest in genetics and the opportunity for several other rabbit trails - perfect for spring.

As the weather warms up even more, our routine will shift once again into more of an outdoor/nature/exploration focus. This year we'll stay a bit closer to home, allowing me time to recover from childbirth and giving all of us the opportunity to get to know our new little one. We'll do less day trips and make good use of our backyard instead. There will be less audiobooks in the van and more read-alouds on the picnic blanket in the shade. It will be, as always, what our family needs.

This seasonal shift in routines works well for us and keeps things feeling fresh and relevant. I believe it to be one of the most important aspects of our homeschooling journey.

What seasonal shifts are currently happening in your daily rhythm?

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Creative ways to say "no" to young children

As parents, we try to look for ways to say "yes" to our child's requests, allowing them to explore their world and develop their independence. Often, however, our answer must be either "no" or "not yet". When declining or postponing a young child's request, whether because we are unavailable at the moment or because the request itself is unacceptable in some manner, there are a variety of ways to get the message across without a direct "no".

These variations acknowledge the child's requests, validate their desires and emotions, and give them a clear picture of what options are open to them. Because the focus is on acknowledgement and positive phrasing, the child is likely to be more receptive to the response and less likely to experience overwhelming emotions and melt down as they otherwise might in the face of a simple "no".

Using age-appropriate phrasing, consider the following alternatives:


The answer to the request may be yes, but perhaps that exact moment is not the best time. In that case, postpone the request using a variation of the following phrases:


"When your pajamas are on, then we can read a story."

Yes, after ___.

"Yes, we can go to the park after your toys are back in their basket."

I can help you with that after ___.

"I will get you a glass of milk after I finish washing these pots."

Right now I am ___. Would you like to join/help me?

"Right now I am doing the laundry. Would you like to put this shirt into the washing machine for me?"

Wish Fulfillment

Sometimes a child's request cannot be accommodated. It might sound like a great idea to the child, but it's simply not going to happen. Try wish fulfillment, a form of playful parenting, to acknowledge your child's desires:

That would be fun, wouldn't it? Let's try ___ instead.

"It would be fun to paint the dog. She would be so colourful! I don't think she'd like it very much though. Let's collect some rocks and paint them instead."

I wish we could ___, and then _[expand on fantasy]_! How about we _[more acceptable activity]_?

"You want ice cream right now? I wish we could too! I'd put cherries and chocolate sauce on mine. What colour of sprinkles would you put on yours? Wow, that sounds delicious. Talking about food is making me feel so hungry. Dinner is nearly ready, so let's set the table together."

Redirection and Distraction

While aspects of redirection and distraction can be found in the above phrasing, these approaches are useful in their own right. Here the focus is on avoiding power-struggles through simple observation followed by providing acceptable options:

"You may not play with Mommy's book. Here is one of yours."

"It is time for Quiet Time. Which CD would you like to listen to?"

"I see that you are spitting. You may go spit in the sink. When you are done, would you like to read a book with me?"

Additional Resources

Of course, this is only one tool for use in one particular scenario. Taking "no" out of the equation helps to side-step a power-struggle with a small child, but it holds no guarantees; meltdowns and tantrums happen during this time of development when young children are learning how to express and work through their emotions. When the situation warrants it, reflect the child's feelings back to him and, if needed, offer help in expressing those feelings in a healthy, appropriate, and acceptable manner.

For further reading as it relates to the gentle discipline of young children, check out these additional resources:

The Hows of Discipline
Ten Alternatives to Time-Out
Gentle Discipline for Toddlers

Friday 20 January 2017

Adapt and Renew {One Word 2017}

Each year, in lieu of resolutions, I choose a single word on which to focus for the next 12 months. The fluidity and holistic nature of this word fits my spirit better than one specific resolution. They flow one year to the next, Grace leading to Joy leading to Presence, Intention leading to Rhythm leading to Habit, the culmination of all of those Opening my life wide for what may come. Then, a hard year, a decision to simply Go Forward bravely, one step after another. The year following demanded that I Fearlessly rebuild and heal and live, while the year after that brought Light: Live Light, Seek Light, Be Light.

Now another new year has arrived, and my focus is shifting once again.

2010: Grace and Intention
2011: Joy and Rhythm
2012: Presence and Habit
2013: Open
2014: Go Forward
2015: Fearless
2016: Light
2017: Adapt and Renew

Adapt. Renew. I find these two words circling each other as I look at the year ahead. These past two years have been ones of intense and deliberate habit building. I have shifted my sleep schedule, taken up running, adjusted our homeschooling rhythms, and developed a solid work-from home routine. It's been good. Really good. I'm happy with these rhythms.

But change always comes, and I know myself well enough to recognize that the perfectionist in me doesn't adapt well. If I can't keep my ideal routines, then it's easier to simple cast them aside rather than try to fit them into new shapes.

Well, change is coming again. In June, we look forward to welcoming our fifth child into our home.

I can't tell you how grateful I am to be able to say that.

I also can't tell you how very much this changes those intentionally-developed rhythms and routines.

I've already had to give up running. I had visions of running throughout my pregnancy, or at least for as long as felt comfortable, but my quickly-loosening joints put an end to that early on. The usual first-trimester exhaustion and nausea meant I was sleeping later and napping frequently. My work hours began to dip and homeschooling rhythms shifted as well. And naturally the prospect of a baby meant that further changes to our family routine would become necessary in the months ahead. Such is the nature of pregnancy: a demand to slow down, to rest, to do less.

It didn't take long for that perfectionism and anxiety to start speaking up. If I can't run and if yoga just doesn't quite compare, then I guess I can't really do anything. If I can't get up before the kids are awake, then my usual pre-kids morning routine simply cannot happen at all. And so it goes.

Unsurprisingly, that wasn't working either. I could feel it as my anxiety rose, my patience dropped, and my internal motivation went for a run and didn't bother coming back.

And so I must Adapt. These rhythms, routines, and habits must be Renewed for the coming year. Rather than write it all off as a lost cause, a bit more creativity and flexibility is required of me. The renewal has begun; we are shifting things around, finding what works, always the continual change but this time keeping a little more of the Good from the hard-won habits of the past two years.

Adapt. Renew. The latter brings a sense of birth, fitting for the year ahead, while the former has a less delicate feeling to it, a demand to simply do what must be done. They feel equally fitting, somehow, and I take from each what I need for this time and for the time to come.

Do you have a One Word this year? a resolution? a new goal or habit? We'd love to hear about it!