Tuesday, January 17, 2017

7 still-pregnant takes



1

I did not think I would be writing a blog post today. Today is four days from my due date, that is, the longest I've ever been pregnant.  Miriam was (if I remember correctly) due on the 24th and born on the 20th.  So either I have the baby today, or I break my previous record.  I was kind of counting on it being more of an average for me (say, 38.5 or 39 weeks) and it's kind of maddening to still be pregnant at this point.

You see, you hit 37 weeks and it's like "I could go into labor at any time!  Oh no!"  You rush around getting ready.  Then you've got all the stuff done but you're not emotionally ready -- you still don't want to go into labor.  But as the days go by and you get more and more uncomfortable, it becomes clear that there's no way out but through.  Every day, you're a bit more open to the possibility that you could go into labor today.  And somehow in your head it feels like, if you are really mentally ready for labor, it will happen.

But nope.  It will not.  You fully accept that labor will happen.  You visualize it and manage to do it without fear.  You think about what having a baby will be like.  You actually look forward to all this!  And you don't go into labor.  Pretty soon, this wonderful state of acceptance passes and you start to psych yourself out again.  You can go through this cycle any number of times before the baby actually shows up.  Basically the only way to make labor happen, as far as I can see, is to infect the children with the flu or run out of groceries.  Because it really seems there is a rule that you can't ever go into labor when it's convenient.

This weekend would have been great.  We got groceries Saturday morning and had a whole three-day weekend with nothing going on.  But nope.  Not a thing.  Instead it's presumably going to happen while John is at work, and I'll have to have the anxiety of trying to figure out if I'm really in labor early enough for John to get home in time.

The last weeks of pregnancy are a head trip, is what I'm saying.  They suck.

2

I'm going to try to jam in some book reviews here, because I wanted to write whole posts for them and I just don't see how I'm going to do that at this point.

The first one is The Sensory Sensitive Child, which I got because I was thinking that sensory processing disorder might be the root of Marko's issues.  My conclusion, after reading the book, is that it really doesn't sound very much like him.  However ... it does sound a great deal like me.

It turns out that SPD is kind of a made-up diagnosis, because there isn't really a hard and fast definition of it, and we don't know what causes it.  Depending on how you define it, between two and twenty percent of kids have it.  It seems to me that if a diagnosis could apply to 20% of kids, it's not really a disorder -- it's just one way kids can be, and schools and parents should be adapting to it rather than considering it a problem with the child.  On the other hand, if 2% of kids have a really severe problem that goes beyond what other kids do, we really need to find solutions!

In short, SPD means that a child isn't processing sensory input as well as other kids do.  For any given sense (sight, hearing, touch, sound, taste, balance, and proprioception) a child may be oversensitive (finding normal amounts of stimulus excessive or painful), undersensitive (not even aware of a stimulus, which can result in the child seeking more intense stimulus), or having trouble discriminating (they may mistake a pat for a shove, one sound for another sound, or whatever).  And it won't always be the same for all senses -- a child might be extremely greedy for more vestibular input, which will come out in constantly trying to hang upside-down or bounce a trampoline or climb things, while being overwhelmed by too much noise.

Standard treatment is occupational therapy, which anecdotally is said to help. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of really solid evidence.  There are specific kinds of occupational therapy that have been studied a little, but it's still not clear that they help.  What most OT's will do is practice sensory activities with the child.  If they fear a certain kind of stimulus, like getting their hands wet, they might try to coax the child to try it a little bit with some water play.  Or if the child has been climbing all over everything because of sensory seeking, the OT can encourage them to swing or bounce.  And if the problem is sensory discrimination, specific games can be devised that give the child some practice at that.  In short, more sensory activities seem to be the cure for everything.

In addition to this, the author talks about looking at the child's life "through a sensory lens," considering how much and what kinds of sensory input we are expecting the child to cope with every day.  This can help the parents and teachers understand why a child is melting down or refusing to do certain activities, while at the same time planning better to forestall future conflicts.  My answer to this was basically, "DUH."  I mean, what kind of parent does not consider that a noisy environment is going to lead to tears, or that when a child says they don't want to wear that shirt, it might be itchy?  But I guess I've always been aware of these things because they bother me.  My kids do have sensory meltdowns sometimes, and I always know that's what they are, because it seems perfectly understandable to me.  If we've spent all day at the museum, naturally they'll cry.  And where possible, I always alternate very busy days with days with a lot of outdoor time or a lot of quiet.  It's what I would want, and it seems to help everything go more smoothly.

The author also recommends making sure a child's "sensory diet" includes a lot of outdoor time, and not too much screen time. That seems obvious to me -- even the most educational game does not provide the sensory aspect of playing, and that's a big part of why children play.  Outdoor time encourages lots of exercise and a mild sensory experience.  I know that when I go outside, it feels like a weight lifts off -- noise no longer reverberates off walls, there's so much space, everything just seems a bit more friendly.  I wonder how many kids wouldn't even be diagnosed with SPD if only they got enough time outside.

But the book did not offer hope that I would someday be okay with a very overstimulating home life.  It had interviews with teenage SPD sufferers that basically said, "It's still difficult for me, but I have ways of coping with it by avoiding some situations and recharging in these ways."  That's what I do, too -- I try to limit sensory overload and, if given half a chance, I can cool down from it by spending time in a low-input enviroment (read: time without the kids).  But there isn't a cure, in the sense that I would someday be okay with lots of noise and touching, because no one really knows what makes my brain so sensitive to these things while other brains aren't.  No one can even decide if the problem is my brain, or the overstimulating environment of the modern world!

I would like further research to be done which explores the physical angle -- are there vitamin deficiencies or hormonal states which can make a difference?  Because my experience has been that pregnancy definitely increases my sensitivity, as does breastfeeding to some degree.  I've had times where things spontaneously got better even though my life continued to be overstimulating, and it's been quite a puzzle trying to work out what it is.  I know that exercise helps a lot -- as if noise and chaos were pouring a jangly energy into my body which has to be worked out again.  I know that attempting to distract myself does not help.  I know that there is no sense I have that craves more stimuli -- they all want less, though it's hearing, touch, and proprioception that are the most oversensitive.  I know that I cope better if I minimize the unnecessary kinds of stimulation -- the wrong clothes, for instance, or hair on my neck.  But I knew all this before reading the book.  Basically, the main thing I got out of it was, "Boy, my childhood would have been a nightmare if my mom hadn't totally understood all this."  As it was, the years I went to school were inexplicably overwhelming, while homeschooling allowed me to find my own comfort level a lot more.

3

The other review is Hillbilly Elegy.  It's such a great book that I mostly just want you to go read it yourself.  It's a memoir of growing up "hillbilly," explaining the culture and problems of Appalachia as well as the Rust Belt (where the author's family relocated).  What really hit home to me was how extremely similar rural white poverty is to the stereotypes of urban black poverty: broken families, drugs, neglected children, alcohol abuse, unemployment.  It can be hard to disentangle the causes from the effects -- maybe this person is unemployed due to drug use, while this other one got on drugs to deal with the depression of being unemployed.  But once it's started, it's hard to stop -- the diseases of poverty get entrenched and then spread.

He certainly convinced me that some aspects of redneck culture aren't positive.  The tendency to start fights over insults, for instance, or to have very combative relationships with one's spouse or children.  In fact, I hardly want to talk about this, because a lot of what he said would have been really offensive if said by an outsider.  I kind of wonder how "real hillbillies" would feel, reading this book.  At first it felt like an anthropological study, classy city people being introduced to this strange subculture. But by the end, it started to sound like it really was intended for the hillbillies themselves -- showing the way you, personally, can pull yourself out of that culture.

The big question throughout was, "Are these people victims of circumstance, or do they create their own problems?"  And the answer, as usual, is both.  They do have a harder start than other people do, but in many cases they could overcome this if they tried. The trouble is that a lot of their circumstances teach them learned helplessness -- the belief that nothing they could do would really help, so why bother?  Why save money when you'll never actually get out of poverty that way?  Why go to rehab when nine times out of ten it doesn't work?  Why try to keep this job when it's a crappy job that will never go anywhere better?  Yet in the end, the author did "make it" -- not only graduating from college but getting a law degree from Yale!  He credits some extra advantages he had -- a supportive grandmother who rescued him from his abusive, drug-addicted mother, a biological father who gave him a stable second home to go to, a huge leg up from his time in the military -- but he also points out that it was still very difficult to succeed.  He wonders if other people from his hometown could have done the same, while still admitting that they would have been able to achieve a lot more than they did if they had put in more effort.

Here's a quote that seems to encapsulate a lot of this message:

"We can't trust the evening news. We can't trust our politicians.  Our universities, the gateway to a better life, are rigged against us.  We can't get jobs.  You can't believe these things and participate meaningfully in society.  Social psychologists have shown that group belief is a powerful motivator in performance.  When groups perceive that it's in their interest to work hard and achieve things, members of that group outperform other similarly situated individuals.  It's obvious why: if you believe that hard work pays off, then you work hard; if you think it's hard to get ahead even when you try, then why try at all?

Similarly, when people do fail, this mindset allows them to look outward. I once ran into an old acquaintance at a Middletown bar who told me he had quit his job because he was sick of waking up early.  I later saw him complaining on Facebook about the "Obama economy" and how it had affected his life.  I don't doubt that the Obama economy has affected many, but this man is assuredly not among them.  His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he's made, and his life will improve only through better decisions. But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself. There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.

Here is where the rhetoric of modern conservatives (and I say this as one of them) fails to meet the real challenges of their biggest constituents. Instead of encouraging engagement, conservatives increasingly foment the kind of detachment that has sapped the ambition of so many of my peers.  I have watched some friends blossom into successful adults and others fall victim to the worst of Middletown's temptations -- premature parenthood, drugs, incarceration. What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives.  Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It's not your fault that you're a loser, it's the government's fault."

While the author mentions a lot of causes of poverty in these depressed areas, his most important point is this: as long as people believe they can't rise above it, they won't.  That doesn't mean every poor person in Appalachia could be bootstrapping their way out of poverty -- but that they have to believe they can, or they surely can't regardless of how many legs up they get.  The rest of us might do better to think of it as an external problem, so that we don't forget to offer that leg up that might make a difference, but the poor person himself needs to believe that success is possible and dependent on his own effort.

4

This is something that I often wonder about myself, too.  So many times I've felt like I just couldn't get past some handicap of mine -- my exhaustion, for instance, or a spell of depression -- and then one day I make up my mind to just get over it, and I do. And I always wonder afterward -- if I'd just made up my mind to shake it off sooner, could I have done it?  And if that's true, does that mean the whole problem was of my own creation the whole time?  Or was it, perhaps, just the right moment, and no amount of resolve could have solved the problem until the moment I actually did?

Either way, the same thing is true: when you've had a problem for awhile, you can get used to it and assume it can't be changed after it can.  You say, "This is the amount of energy I have," and resign yourself to it, so that you don't necessarily notice when it starts to get better.  Only when you convince yourself that you can shake it off, and you put all your effort into trying, can you really do it.

5

Which reminds me that I did eventually think of a word for 2017. It's "rise," as in "rise to the occasion," or "rise above the circumstances."  I don't know if I will succeed at rising to all the occasions I need to this year -- but I'm resolved to do it.  I am trying to convince myself it's possible and just a matter of determination, because only with lots of determination do I even stand a chance.

What I can't do -- what will utterly destroy me -- is spend the whole dang year feeling like a victim.  Yeah, I'm mad that NFP was sold to me as something that would work, and it totally did not work.  I'm mad that I don't have more control over my life than I do.  But, good golly, I still have an awful lot of control over my life!  I can choose to let problems ride right over me, or I can choose to rise above them.  I can choose to be a good mom of four, or a bad one.  I have to spend the next 18 years with more responsibility than I wanted, but I'm sure as heck not going to spend the next 18 years whining about it.

6

The one nice thing about not having had the baby yet is that I have been trying out a lot of short projects to fill up my time.  I've been playing a lot on my spinning wheel (and actually wrote two posts on my spinning blog!).  I got some peanut oil and have done a little deep frying -- something that's always been a failure in the past because I didn't have a good thermometer and never had enough good oil.  In the past week, I've made french fries, chicken fingers, and donut holes, and they all turned out great!  I've done no end of coloring, in the coloring books I got for Christmas.  It isn't useful, but it's a good way to use up nervous energy when I mostly can't be on my feet. And the kids are usually very happy to sit next to me at the table with some coloring pages for quite awhile before they get bored and start throwing all the pencils on the floor where I can't reach them.  (In fairness, that would just be Miriam.)


These kaleidescopic designs are my favorite.

7

I have had just the worst time finding books that are on Marko's level.  If a book has too many words he can't sound out, he gets frustrated and refuses to try anymore.  And he also randomly decides he hates whatever books I do manage to find.  So finally I resigned myself to making some easy readers for him myself.  I just fold a paper into a 16-page booklet and write a sentence on each page.  That's just about the right size for him, and if I'm careful about the words I choose, everything is within his ability so that he can get in reading practice without feeling frustrated.

The topics?  Minecraft, of course.  It is very difficult to come up with a story about Minecraft that uses an "ai" or "ay" word on each page, but hey, I like a challenge, and he isn't picky about the plot being particularly interesting. So long as it's about Minecraft, it doesn't really matter.

This is the sort of thing I really enjoy.  I love teaching; I've waited and waited for six years to actually get to start some serious homeschooling and here we are at last. I love using my creativity to find the perfect way to get through to a student, and I love the thrill of the two of us actually learning something at last.  When Marko and I get through one of his little books, he and I are both ridiculously proud of ourselves.

The only downside is, each of these books is good for exactly one use, because he memorizes the whole thing.  This kid.  Very much too smart for his own good.

I doubt I'll be blogging again before the baby shows up, sooooooo ... see you on the flip side.

1 comment:

Cristina said...

Is the cheery thing to say here, "I hope you go into labor soon"? It seems a little . . . wrong. ;-)

I'm having trouble commenting on your spinning blog, so I'll just tell you here that your plaid scarf is gorgeous!

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