Monthly Archives: October 2008

Lessons Learned at Five a.m. (and beyond)

Can you bring 30ish juice boxes to your son's kindergarten class for their harvest party this Thursday?

There are alarm bells going off in my head at this point. I know that whenever I sign up for things like this, I either forget, or have to go to Herculean lengths to get the cookies frosted or the rolls baked, or whatever it is. But this is juice boxes right? She's not asking me for homemade cream puffs. And, I'm next to last on her list of people to call. Only one more person to try or all the little Tom, Dick and Janes have to drink water with their overflowing plates of sugar cookies, brownies and Rice Krispie bars.

So, ignoring the alarm bells, I say yes. I write it across the entire week in red marker. JUICE BOXES FOR KINDERGARTEN. Every day I see this, and every day I think, Wednesday night when I take a van load of teenagers to Young Men's and Young Women's, I'll go down to Safeway afterward, and buy them. I'll probably pay an arm and a leg for them, too, but I don't want to go clear out to Walmart.

Wednesday, after the teens slouch off across the parking lot in coagulated groups, I faithfully head to Safeway. We're down to two gallons of milk, so I don't feel like my trip down Pioneer is an entire waste of time and gas, right? As I head back toward the dairy section, I notice noodles on sale. Ten boxes in the cart. Ten bucks. Eight gallons of milk. Great Crickey! It's two dollars a gallon! Gas and milk prices are slipping faster than a toddler on a freshly mopped floor.

It isn't until I get home that my first grader tells me he's supposed to bring pretzels. I tell him he'll have to take a ziplock bag full out of our gargantuan Costco bag of pretzels.

AND I realize . . . I didn't buy juice boxes. Not a one. Not that one would do me much good. My sister in law has 11 in her pantry, and my sister has none. 11 juice boxes on this whole sorry street. I have to go back to Safeway.

Not that the entire adventure is a wash. When I go back the next morning at five am, I learn some interesting facts.

1. At five o'clock in the morning, you don't have to wait at a single intersection from here to Safeway.  This reduces driving time by something like six minutes, at least.

2. Shortly after five in the morning, the employees at your local Safeway Food and Drug like to have a little fun with the PA system. Blow off a little steam, get themselves in a chipper mood for the work day. Air a few grievances.  

3. The checkers working at five don't necessarily know English. You might think they know English but if you actually try to engage them in any sort of real conversation,  you will discover their repertoire is limited to "Very good price on this!" and "Good Morning", which can become disconcerting after a certain point. They don't let these employees in on the PA fun, by the way.

4. Headlights are irrelevant from Pioneer, all the way to Division. The city has streetlights up to this point. You won't even notice you're headlights are missing. I suggest turning them on at this point in order to retain the saved six minutes of driving time and not actually go to the other extreme for an indeterminate length of time spent conversing with an irate traffic officer.

And last, but by no means least:

5. A five year old child may be able to haul thirty juice boxes onto the bus, and even into his classroom, but there is no guarantee that a Kindergarten room mom, or even the resident Kindergarten teacher will think to look IN the backpack to actually retrieve them. They will assume you are as flaky as you really are, and have forgotten to bring them in.  

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I've got two mothers who are due in December. They are both wanting care for their collective 5 children one, maybe two days a week until some time after spring break. Then they are both taking the summer off. They both want to know if they have to pay for their full time slot during this period. They have signed a contract at the beginning saying they pay a full time slot, no matter what. But I can't imagine really them affording this. . . Paid maternity leave is what? A few weeks, tops?

And I want to encourage them to spend as much time as possible with their babies, of course. I hate to have them paying me to do nothing–except they are asking me, essentially, to hold open five full time slots for the next nine to ten months for a negligible sum. One or two days a week–maybe–until April, then maybe six weeks until school's out. I could accept five more kids instead, but I won't do that because I like to keep families that know the rules/routines, etc.

And to think I was seriously contemplating reducing my load by half so that I could really give all my time and attention to these babies–good thing I kept my options open or I'd have had one or two kids left.


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The Hand the Rocks the Cradle

What if I don't want to rule the world? What if I don't want to have anything to do with influencing the course of human history, let alone ruling the world?

Do you?

Okay, so  if I can influence it for good–guaranteed for good, then maybe I'll take a bash at it, but you just never know do you? I think of that king in the Bible who begged for more years to live, and probably did great things with those years, except he also sired a devil of a son who did terrible things.

I look at all these children in my care and I don't know that I want to be responsible for how all these little people turn out–and don't stroke my ego here and tell me I'm a great provider or mother, or anything like that. I'm adequate surely, but I'm not nearly as good as you want to think I am.  Then again, maybe adequate is the best any of us can hope to be.

My down the street a few houses neighbor voiced the opinion in Sunday School a few weeks ago that once we recognize that we have a problem or a personality flaw because of something our parents did or did not do, from that moment on, they are no longer responsible for it–we are. I think I like this reasoning. Especially now that I'm the parent muddling up everyone's lives.

In which case I don't have to be perfect. Maybe all I have to do is teach them to think clearly. And hope they can see themselves for who they truly are at a really young age :o)

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Got a thank you note (delivered in person) today from parents A and B. Wanting me to know that they thought I was a great provider and they do not harbor any ill feelings, and hope I don't either–just that they feel these two boys needed immediate separation. Which may be true. Today was incredibly calm. I don't know if his personality was just a catalyst for these specific children, or if he was just that one-too-many child that tipped the scales into chaos–because once he got used to the rules, he was a good kid–just didn't know when to quit sometimes with the other kids. It seriously felt like we were missing half the children today, not just two.

In any case, I think the withdrawal needed to happen, I just regret that it wasn't handled more calmly, on both sides. But it was the father handling it, for the most part, so what can a person expect? Don't take me for a man basher, by any means. I just think women tend to be more tactful in this type of situation. Of course, then we also frequently don't get it done, either. Always tiptoeing around other people's feelings, etc, often to our own or our family's detriment. I have to admire this guy in that when he saw something about his child's situation needing attention, it was immediate action.

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Another Ambush

Another crazy parent/provider episode.

I'm just going to skip the narrative here, and paste in a copy of my email to the furious parents, minus identifying details. It probably speaks for itself. I only regret that I didn't mention to them the fact that their child kicked a little girl so hard in the face that he gave her a bloody nose this week. She admitted freely that it wasn't on purpose, that they were just playing, and I talked to her parents, and they were cool about it. Understood that kids hurt one another. These parents don't/can't comprehend that (and I quote) their "son would NEVER hurt another child. He is not the aggressor."

Their child "C" has been hurt twice in as many months by the child we will call "D". Who, by the way has been diagnosed as autistic. I agree with his parents that he probably isn't autistic, but he is delayed–I think I've written about him here before. He has a speech impediment that makes it very difficult for him to communicate, and sometimes he gets frustrated. Especially when another child is making fun of the way he talks, or pretending not to understand when they clearly do.

So, the first one was a bite. Serious, yes. Deserved after a morning of relentless teasing? Probably. The second was a poke in the eye. Both times C's parents called and came over here up in arms that their child had been hurt and wanted to know my "protocol" in a situation like this. Thus the following email, since I'm not good at thinking on my feet. Actually, I was sitting and they were towering over me, demanding answers. Quite intimidating actually. This time they are going to look for other childcare options, but please, don't consider yourself done caring for our child until we weigh all our options.


Dear A and B,
I think I have not been very clear about discipline procedures here at our childcare, or what has been going on with C. Main reason:
At the end of the day, when you ask if C has behaved himself, I tell you he has had a great day, because he really is growing. It has taken him a while to remember the rules–you can't climb up onto the roof. You can't throw food. You can't make paper snowballs with the pages out of the books. Normal, spontaneous four-year-old boy behavior, that he is learning to control, and has been doing a fantastic job with. The growth I have seen in C since the beginning of September is outstanding for a child his age.
C has been more respectful about other people's property and person. He asks permission before he gets into things. He remembers rules and tries so hard to remember to obey them. He has done so much better about not calling names and not making fun of D's speech impediment. He has learned to play with a child who is very different than himself, and get along. (Most of the time!)
I do not tell you about every time-out, or every lie or mistake C makes because I feel these things are  between C and myself–if he feels like he pays the consequence of his behavior here, and then I turn around and tell on him, he isn't going to trust me. I firmly believe that with the exception of truly chronic or disturbing behavior, it is more important to forgive, forget and start every day with a clean slate of– I like you, I think you're a great kid, and I trust you to make better choices. I can't do that, if I can't move past the misbehavior as soon as the consequences have been dealt out. If it is safety or serious moral behavior patterns emerging, I'm going to tell you, of course. If he pulls down his pants because he wants to show G his incredibly cool spiderman underwear, I'm going to discuss this with him. If he does it again, then I'll discuss it with you.
I want him to understand that when he tells me, or another child, sorry, and tries to do better, that I have forgiven him, and he can try again.
I hope this protocol about misbehavior is something you feel comfortable with. I really hate to "tell on" C, unless his behavior here is something he isn't willing to work on here. And so far he is willing. Every day he does better. Don't we all? And doesn't God let us have another day, and another and another, and blesses us beyond measure?
I don't like to reinforce the negative. I want him to understand that
I understand that he is really trying hard to make good choices. This goes for the other children as well. Obviously, if a child does something really dangerous, I have to talk to the parents, as I did with D biting.
If a child misbehaves for Marty, he will send them in saying, D needs a time out. He hurt C. And I back him up. But I don't ask for details or rehash the behavior. I trust his judgment and he trusts me to back him up, and it goes the other way too. When he sends C in, I don't ask for the details–it is between him, the child he hurt, and Marty. This is why, when you call, I don't know exactly what happened. After the time out, I will ask Marty and the hurt child if this child can come back out to play.
If the behavior is repeated, or really out of line,  they stay inside and think of something really nice they can do for the other person, so that when that other child comes in, there is a picture or a snack or a sticker to share. But they still have to stay inside, all day.
Just so we understand one another completely about the consequences of behavior and what constitutes behavior I
do need to talk to parents about, I thought I'd list the major points below. Feel free to comment, or raise concerns as you perceive them.
First, the children are never unsupervised. An adult is always watching them, inside and out. We are very careful about this because misbehavior is best dealt with instantly, not after so-and-so said, he said she said they did this.
When a child misbehaves, depending on the severity of his actions, his age and his understanding, he gets a second chance to behave before time-outs begin.
If your child throws toys or fights over toys, I will take the toys away until both children agree who gets the toy.
If your child hits another child out of frustration, he gets a time out, as does the child he hit. They have to mutually agree on when the time out is over and that the other can get up and play, after they apologize to one another. This works really well with C and D because they always want to do the same things. They can't bear to be in time out for very long, and then they become quite chummy.

If your child breaks or spills something, or accidentally hurts someone else, we talk about the behavior that caused the damage, and how it can be avoided in the future. If the behavior is repeated (swinging on the curtains, whipping a coat around in the air so that the zipper hits someone [classic C behavior]) they sit in time out for one minute for every year of their age, and we repeat the talk about better/safer behavior.
If your child lies about behavior, double time out and they have to stay with Kimber all day–no outside time unless she is outside, too. Not as fun as playing with Marty.
If, as occasionally happens, a child seriously hurts another child, they have to stay inside–sometimes for days or a week until they have earned trust back, as happened with D when he bit C.
If in play or anger a child leaves a mark on another child, I have him explain to the child's parent, if at all possible, what happened. This is terrifying to them–rarely do they utter a syllable, as you saw with D.
I address it with the parent of the injured child, just like I did with you when C was bitten–I told you up front what had happened because unless a parent is asking, the children often won't remember to say, hey, this is what happened to me today. I'm sorry I didn't notice the red eyes–he didn't seem to be hurt as much as upset about wanting to take D's blanket inside and D not wanting it inside, etc.
I'm not sure you understood the purpose of my call to you. It wasn't to defend D, so much as to assure you that I do know what's going on, and that it isn't one sided.
You have to realize that C has hurt other children, unintentionally and intentionally. He has never been malicious or really, intentionally dangerous, and so I have never seen a reason to bring it up with you. Kids hurt one another occasionally.
[Why didn't I mention this week's bloody nose here? Maybe because I forgive, forget and MOVE ON] We are very careful with both D and C to not leave them alone near the younger children for even a moment because they play with a lot of energy and momentum. They jump off the slide and they wrestle and throw things. Sometimes they get hurt.
I guess I just want you to understand that neither child is a victim here; neither child is totally without fault. But they are four year old boys. After the bite, D wasn't allowed to play with C outside at all, until C was begging, every day–when can D come out? And they have gotten along really well for the most part these last few weeks. They have learned to share toys, and respect one another's property, and even share G
[the girl they fight over], no small feat, let me tell you.
I feel like C is doing well here. He has come a long way, and he seems happy. But I don't know your son as well as you do, and there is possibly a better fit for him somewhere else.  If you are uncomfortable with my procedures, policies or care, I am totally fine with you looking elsewhere–or even just trying out some other options and asking him what he likes better. I just want to be sure we understand one another.
As far as D and C in the near future, all I can offer is that we can have D not play with or around C until your son asks and receives your permission to do so.
We have many activities here, and they can paint/mold/build/slide/color/read at different times until you find alternate care if that is what you choose. It won't be much of a stretch to separate them since we usually do things in two separate groups anyway.

I really don't feel this is about D specifically as much as it is about you feeling totally comfortable about a good fit for your child in our environment–and that is a crucial thing for a childcare situation. I hope I have explained a bit better what exactly our policies are, and of course, I am open to suggestions.
I have learned to love your children and I wish them the very best, no matter where you take them.

Thanks for your time,



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All is lost

Quite literally. My computer is Kaput. Someone is supposed to come replace either my motherboard or my hard drive–and no, I don't know the difference–some time next week. Because the local people I bought the three year warranty from apparently can't/won't fix it. If it had died a month ago, under the one year warranty, yes, they could have fixed it in 48 hours. But since it died this month, the warranty I paid them for must be serviced by some company based out of Texas. Or Taiwan. I couldn't tell.

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Because we wouldn’t want anyone to actually DIE on death row.

This headline from MSN: "Death Row Inmates Denied Healthcare".

According to ACLU attorney Gabriel B. Eber inmates waiting for execution have been denied prompt healthcare and are in danger of–I kid you not–dying while waiting to die. The article cites instances of inmates waiting 45 minutes for help after pushing the emergency call button in their cells, and then another 3 hours for a doctor to arrive. And dental care. Well. Some inmates are opting to have their teeth pulled rather than suffer pain while waiting for complicated procedures.

Really? They don't want to eat soft, body temperature foods like the rest of us who can't afford to get a root canal, or if we can, have to wait months for an appointment? I went into my local community health clinic–they have a sliding fee scale which is reasonable, and some good dentists. I had to wait six months to actually make the appointment, then another three months to actually be seen. The verdict? I need a root canal. Two of them. But they only fill and pull teeth there. I'll have to go to a private dentist for a root canal. Which is fine, you know? But I can't afford a root canal right now, and I don't know if I want to–it will last five to seven years, they tell me IF it takes in the first place. No money-back guarantee if it doesn't. So my question is–why not just save myself thousands of dollars and get it pulled now? The dentist looks at me like I'm nuts. I have him pull one tooth and I live with the other for the last six years. I drink warm water and chew on the other side. Maybe I should call the ACLU.

"The failure of prison officials to adequately respond to the medical emergencies of prisoners, and to ensure proper access to critical medications, is inexplicable and could well result in prisoner deaths," Mr. Eber says.

Are you kidding me?

It isn't that I object to the humane treatment of prisoners. In an ideal world everyone, including the felons (would there be felons in an ideal world?) would have affordable access to timely, quality health and dental care. But this is AMERICA in the 21st century, people. Something like 47 million Americans haven't got any insurance at all, and we certainly don't have emergency call buttons next to our beds. When my father-in-law fell thirty feet onto icy cement, I can't even begin to tell you how long it took the ambulance to arrive. And how much it cost!! If I remember right, that ambulance ride to the hospital a few miles away cost more than his airlifted flight to Harborview on the other side of the state. 

On the same MSN page, another article, about Amber Joy Milbrodt–not a criminal, mind you–in a Texas hospital who waited 19 hours to be seen by a doctor before giving up, going home, and splinting her broken leg herself. (She had it x-rayed elsewhere and it actually was broken.) The hospital charged her $167 dollars for a nurse assessing her vitals while she waited.

A few days before Milbrodt's miserable visit, a 58 year old man died after waiting 19 hours at the same hospital without ever being seen.

Did the convicted felon, who complains of waiting three hours for a house call pay a dime for his healthcare? I highly doubt it! And he was actually seen by a doctor!

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Loving Lucinda

There is a poem by Edgar Lee Masters that reads in part, 

What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,

Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?

Degenerate sons and daughters,

Life is too strong for you–

It takes life to love Life.

"Life is too strong for you–" For fifteen years I didn't know where I'd read it. I searched all my old college poetry anthologies combed the internet, trying to remember enough of it to google an accurate phrase.

In the meanwhile, every time I stood over an overflowing sink or a crib in the night, exhausted, weary of loving and life, it was an accusation from ancestors who bent over icy streams to rub their dishes clean and struggled through endless miles of prairie with children on their backs and when they bent over the cradle it was not because a cry had summoned them but a terrible silence.  Life is too strong for you, degenerate daughter. Grow up. Stand up, muster up enough life in those bones we gave you to really love Life.

What does Lucinda, the woman speaking in the poem, mean, "It takes life to love Life"? What meaning of the word life are we talking here? 

I was something like twelve years old. Maybe ten. I don't know.  We were at the doctor's office for another consultation after a long battery of tests failed to determine the cause of my chronic nausea and upper abdominal pain.

Doc started asking me questions.  About school, friends, etc. I could tell my one word answers were not what he was after, but I didn't really see where he was going with them. Then he asked, "What are you looking forward to?"

My mother and this doctor were looking at me, and I started to panic. Kimber, of the straight-A's and ever ready answers couldn't think of anything to say.

He, of course, suspected some kind of psychosomatic disorder. I had four children before I shook that stigma and somebody noticed I had dozens of gallstones jammed throughout my biliary duct sytem. I was never overweight and no where near forty, so apparently even with textbook symptoms, this diagnosis didn't occur to anyone.

When I didn't respond right away, he rephrased the question, put it to me again. "Is there anything happening soon that you're excited about?" I kind of shrugged and let my mother make up an answer I could smile and nod in agreement with.

But you know it bothered me? For a long time. Not that I bought into the whole childhood depression manifesting itself as abdominal pain thing–I knew my pain was real. I knew it attacked without warning, without connection to how happy I was or was not feeling. But for years I puzzled over that question. What am I looking forward to? Why does that matter? Why that question?

I have six children now. I have been married for something like 46% of my mortal life. It's taken me this long to figure it out. I watch my children's attitude transform when they are looking forward to something–the Ipod in the mail, for example–or even just planning for something like the first day back at school. We are creatures of discontent, we humans, straining constantly at the stasis of our lives. 

This is life, Mr. Masters and stalwart Lucinda. The straining, yearning discontent and even drooping hopes.  We want change, we want better and more. Not out of greed or gross ingratitude mostly, I think, but from an abhorrence of stalled evolution.

"Life is too strong for you"–I beg to differ, today. I don't think that life is too strong for us–though sometimes that phrase seems to be so exactly right. I think that we are at a point in history where advances are coming so fast, looming so large that we can't help but want to see what's next–we can feel it in our very ancestral bones that we were born for this day; that there is greatness lying dormant in these bones, just waiting for a chance to test its strength– and when something gets in the way, we strain and yes, sometimes we whine, and we try to climb over one another to see what's up ahead. 

And when nothing is there, when the road starts resembling Highway 82 with nothing but sagebrush and brittle grass around the bend, bend after bend; maybe for a day or an hour we forget about the sweet little faces in the back of the car, the destination, and the reason for the journey in the first place. We weary of our own, self-serving, daily lives. But we keep driving. 

We love Life–the journey–with our anger and our discontent in place, spurring us on to more meaningful places in history and time. We sorrow and we are weary, and we feel in every fibre of our hearts the hand of God wrenching at the strings, and we are alive in the surest sense of the word.

As a child, sitting in that doctor's office, I don't think I had the words for that yearning. For the understanding that the things I looked forward to had nothing to do with today, tomorrow or a weekend at Grandma's. That they were expectations of being–and so I nodded, content to let my mother make up the answers. 

I'm just now recognizing that those answers were not wrong. They were not mine, but they were reasonable–and maybe should have been mine. I reach too far, yearn too much, and miss–if not the sometimes dull scenery–at very least the life roiling all around me, so intent am I on destinations. 

I may not love Lucinda-like. But I am not degenerate. Or depressed. I am different than you, and my answers are my own.   





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Coward in the Closet

We're driving around unfamiliar streets, trying to find a furniture store, when we pass five women standing on a corner surrounding a stroller, a baby, and a sixth woman on her knees.

Her eyes are closed, head bowed, and little puffs of breath ascend from her lips. Words we can't hear inside our snug little Odyssey. They dissipate into the October air before they reach her knitted cap. She is leaning on a sign that reads, "Pray to end Abortion". 

"Mom," asks my eleven-year-old. "Doesn't the Bible say you aren't supposed to pray on street corners?"


"It's better than a lot of other things they could be doing on a street corner," my husband says.

'Tis true.

We have a discussion about whether or not it's okay to pray on the street corner for a good cause. Maybe, says somebody in the back, they don't really think it's a street corner, since it's gravel, and hidden behind all the stores. More of an alley.

I don't know, I tell them. I do know that God hears your prayer no matter where you are.

Truthfully, I'm embarrassed for these women; I wonder if I would admire them more if there were six or sixty thousand women or maybe if they were on the steps of the Governor's mansion or the White House. Does might make right? Or at least more palatable? Would I join them there? 

My first thought, the moment I read the sign, was that praying on the street corner, is not the best cure for social ills.  Get up off your knees and do something.

But what can you do about social ills that rest so solidly on individual agency? What do I do about this war that takes more lives every year than both world wars took in terms of military fatalities combined? Read articles that make me say "Yes, that's exactly right," and hope lots of other people stumble across them? Slip a link into my blog on the sly and hope you are inspired to do something about it?  

Pretty much. I don't even like to recommend something off the menu at a restaurant new to you. I definitely don't want to explain to you my position on abortion. When I think it's okay, when I don't. Gay rights. The war in Iraq.  I don't answer my phone this month, just in case it's a pollster wanting my opinion. Helen got a call last week and they hung up on her the minute she uttered her choice for president.  I don't want to offend. I keep a low profile. I say and do nothing to arouse anyone's ire. I pray in my closet–not out of obedience to the biblical injunction, but maybe because I don't want to take a stand. Not where you can see me. 

Who am I to despise the women on the street corner?


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The Ipod

My daughter bought an Ipod. She found the lowest price on the Apple website and ordered it late on a Saturday afternoon–I don't know, sometime after four pm. Engraved with her name and address, no less. Free shipping, too. 

Within an hour she got a confirmation email saying her order had been shipped. I told her it was probably an automated reply.

It got to my door at 11 am Tuesday morning.


Granted, 2 American business days translates to like 9 slave labor days in China.

But still. It was American labor that shipped it through Alaska, Pennsylvania (no idea why it had to go there) then back up to Washington state and to my door in less than 24 hours. JC Penney, Sears, Target,–are you listening? 

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