Monday, August 15, 2016

Fatal Forgetfulness

Question: What kind of person could ever forget their child in the car?

Answer: Me. You.  Anyone.

Already this year, 27 children have perished in hots cars, which is one more than died in all of last year. On average, there are 37 hot car deaths in the US per year. We usually only hear about the fatalities, or some of the very near misses. Many, many more times through fortunate circumstances or some last minute reminder, children are forgotten but recovered quickly and unharmed.

Every time one of these heartbreaking stories hits the news, the comments are overwhelmingly angry and accusatory, along the lines of: 

Someone should lock them in the car on a hot summer day!

Forgot? Yeah right! I bet they just wanted to get rid of the child.

I bet they didn't forget their cell phone.

Of course, such tragic loss comes as a shock to any parent. We all want to think WE could never do such a thing. By condemning the "guilty," we tell ourselves that great parents such as ourselves could NEVER forget their baby in a car. 

But the truth is, anyone is capable of forgetting their child in a car. Doctors, lawyers, and a rocket scientist have all made the same fatal mistake that the Wal-Mart employee made in Texas yesterday. Moms and dads, rich and poor, old and young of every race are equally likely to forget their child, because it has nothing to do with our parenting, but all to do with the human brain. 

Our brains are designed to operate largely by habit. By not having to waste much thought on familiar processes, our brains are freed up to respond more efficiently to unfamiliar issues that arise. This habit loop is a crucial aspect of how our brains work and process data without burning out. The part of the brain responsible for recall ("I have the baby with me today") is switched off, while we operate on the part of the brain that runs on habit (like a typical commute).

For instance, the first time you back out of your driveway in a new vehicle, it will take all of your concentration and focus. By the time you have done it for months, you never even give it a single thought. Your habit loop takes over the minute you start the engine, and you can back out of the driveway and go clear across town on a familiar drive (such as a commute) without having any recollection of it or any of the details surrounding it. This is the same reason why you might ask your husband to stop at the store on the way home from work, and he completely forgets until he walks in the front door and is reminded the moment he sees you. He knew he wanted to stop at the store, but habit took over and he followed his usual routine.

Tragedy strikes when there is a perfect storm - a change in routine (such as Dad taking the baby when he doesn't usually do so), while there are other stress factors that occupy the active part of his brain (an important business call, stress at work, etc.), and all reminders fall through. He KNOWS that he is supposed to drop the baby off at day care that day because mom can't do it, but the minute he sits down in the driver seat, his brain goes on autopilot. Unless the baby cries or in some other way reminds him that she is there, he might forget about her, and tragedy ensues. 

I have personally known and heard of great parents who have forgotten their child in a car briefly and thankfully without suffering harm. It seems that almost every time I talk about this topic with parents, they suddenly recall a time they almost forgot their child in the car. It has nothing to do with what kind of a parent they are. It's simply a terrible error stemming from the way the human brain works. An attitude of "That could never happen to me!" is a very dangerous one to have. 

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Some safety protocols that help prevent a tragedy are:

- Make a habit of visually checking every car seat, every time before closing the car doors. 

- Teach your older children to make a habit of checking for siblings in their rows before exiting the vehicle. Teach them to be extra vigilant when they are in the care of someone besides their main care giver.

- When traveling with just a baby, leave your purse/briefcase in the back by their car seat, and leave an item of the baby (like a blanket) in the spot you normally keep your purse. When you get to where you are going, this will jog your memory if necessary. It is not recommended to have a permanent reminder up front near the driver, such as a decal hanging from the mirror, because it will soon become so familiar that it will become part of the habit to see it, making it ineffective. 

- If your child goes to daycare, have a plan that they call you if your child does not show up on a day that they are expected. 

- Don't be afraid to call/text and check in with any non-regular care giver. 

Some other excellent resources are Kids and Cars and Their websites have a lot of great information and helpful articles. If you like their Facebook page, you will get plenty of reminders in your newsfeed to keep the safety of children around cars at the forefront of your mind. This article has some insightful stats. The book "The Power of Habit" has a whole chapter dedicated to this topic, and explains the underlying science well. It is a great read, I highly recommend it!

Parents whose children died in a hot car already have their lives destroyed by guilt. Let's not compound it, and let's not fool ourselves into thinking it could never happen to us. I doubt there is a parent who could honestly claim that in all their years of raising a child, there was never a situation that could have turned out far worse if it were not for the grace of God. Remember: There but for the grace of God go I (and you).

Friday, August 5, 2016

Chloe overload

Here, in no particular order, are entirely too many pictures of little Chloe. Unless you are me. In that case, this is far too few pictures of this beautiful young sweetie.

 This first one was one of many snapped by Miriam. She is getting really good at using my camera.

Miriam is also quite the little mommy. She LOVES her baby sister to pieces. All the kids are sweet on her - the two little boys and Anna (who are not allowed to pick Chloe up yet) are forever in her face and kissing her, and Becky is always competing with Miriam over getting to hold the baby. The big boys will take a turn with her every day. But Miriam is just ready all day, every day to pounce on any opportunity to grab her baby sister and play with her. It's a blessing, to be sure!

I don't have a pram, though I sure wish they were sold here. Miriam has one for her doll, and uses it for Chloe. They both love it!

 Doesn't she look like a doll??

Chloe just now tips the scale at 10 lbs, which is great growth considering she was born 6 lbs 15 oz just eleven weeks ago, but still puts her in the "small baby" category. She has been smiling off and on since birth, but now does it so reliably I can actually get pictures of it. 

 Isn't she beautiful? Her eyes match that dress perfectly.

  Chloe is a little thumb sucker, and is also one to take a pacifier. 


Our faithful sofa is like an old dog - scraggly, but precious because of the memories we have made together. Here it is getting more baby love.

 Miriam loves to dress herself and Chloe in color-coordinating clothes.  

My husband and I went on a date this week to buy a gift for a new baby in church, and I found a tiny dress in Chloe's size that is made of the exact blue floral fabric as the dress Miriam got for Easter. She was SO thrilled when she saw it, and can hardly wait to wear it this Sunday.

As the old proverb goes, "There is only one cute baby, and every mother has it." 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Homeschool Tips: The First Day of School

Yesterday marked our first day of school. This year, I added a new K4 student (Stephen), which makes for a total of 7 students in as many grades (11th, 9th, 7th, 5th, 3rd, 1st, K4). This is a new record for our family, and a landmark because it also means we have reached critical mass in our homeschooling. By the time our next youngest child is old enough to "start school," Solomon will (Lord willing) have graduated High School. Unless we have multiples in our future, I will never have more than 7 home educated students at one time. It's all downhill from here!

Our first day of school yesterday was mundane and lacking any special excitement or hubbub. This might sound terrible, but it was actually wonderfully relaxing and blissful, which is not how I would describe "First Day of School" in my early years of homeschooling. 

You see, at this point, home education has become a way of life for us that is woven into everyday life. While I do have each child in a set grade, and while I have lesson plans that outline how much work needs to be done by the end of any given week, I have learned not to be rigid when it comes to the nitty-gritty. A master schedule can quickly become just a master, which is frustrating and angering when there are so many things we juggle all day long that could cause an unscheduled interruption. Nobody needs to compound their work being needlessly frustrated by a self-appointed task master!

The easiest way I can illustrate this is with running errands. Every homemaker has a certain amount of errands that will take her out of the house. On average, I guess we all leave the home on as many days as we do not. This compares well to a school year of 180 days of instruction. None of us get up at the beginning of the year to celebrate the first day of running errands, which will be followed by 179 more days like it before the end of the year. We all understand that a certain amount of errands must and will get done every week, but just when they get done will have to follow a lose pattern (for example, buying produce from a co-op on Saturday mornings), while still allowing room for flexibility. If the baby is teething on the usual day for grocery shopping, maybe the trip can be put off until the next day, combined with another errand later in the week, or maybe Dad will run it instead. Getting things done, but being flexible. Being fluid and keeping the flow going, rather than derailing the train every time there is a major curve-ball.

In much the same way, we get our school work done each week. But if Monday is the first beautiful day in a while for playing outside, we might go to the zoo instead of doing bookwork. If I need help with chores or the baby or volunteer work for church, one of the older kids will be called in from his books to do so. We did not reject institutionalized learning for our kids to then have a "play school" at home that enforces a set time frame on us.

If we understand that learning  is not limited to ages 6-18, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and does not need to be blocked off from real life (which consists of mostly work and some play), and that rather than having a rigidly enforced time of homeschooling we instead learn while living our lives, when it best suits any given day and its circumstances, we are well on the way to raising life-long learners who are always developing new skills woven into everyday life. 

So yes, while we did officially start on our new books yesterday, the day was very much like every other day - we each did our work side by side, learning one set of new skills or facts versus other things on other days. We did not take special pictures because we take pictures year round when the opportunity arises. We did not start with any special fanfare because it was not advisable for us during this stage of life, which is very busy and in which I cannot afford to have high demands on myself and then get frustrated when I don't always throw a pinterest-worthy party, don't always take cool pictures, don't always play the perfect homemaker, teacher, wife, mother. 

I am not at all criticizing those who have the time and mental energy to make the first day of the school year extra special. I did the same for many years. I am simply encouraging moms to take the pressure off themselves, and to relax the demands they make on themselves if they are leading to frustration and burnout. Motherhood is a long-distance ultramarathon, not a sprint. Slow down and walk, it will help you do better in the long run. By relaxing and realizing things will get done if you we keep faithfully plugging away and doing our best, more will end up getting done because feeling overwhelmed and frustrated is a huge de-motivator. 

Happy (Don't Go) Back to School, everyone! :)

Click here for more Homeschooling Tips

Monday, August 1, 2016

Q & A: Young mom of many kids struggling with doing it all

Hi Zsuzsanna,

Could you please please please include in your homeschooling series how you schedule other things into your day? Like cooking and cleaning? What are your priorities? How do actually do all this? What kind of meals do you make or when in the day do you cook? 

I am pregnant with my fifth and will have five under five next year. I have started homeschooling and am overwhelmed.

Right now I have two children in nappies that need changing, one has spilled milk on their church clothes, breakfast plates are everywhere (they are eating as I type this), crumbs are everywhere, the dishwasher is unstacked, lunch hasn't been organised (God knows what we're eating after morning service, that's if I even get there since their church clothes need changing again), laundry hasn't been put away. My floors are grimy, the toilet needs cleaning etc.

My kindy student is getting an education alright, but at the expense of other things...e.g. meals made from scratch, porridge for dinner etc

The only reason why I'm online right now is so I can type this comment, and see if anyone else out there is struggling too.

If you have addressed this could you please provide a link?

Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Emmy,

I really feel for you as you go through this difficult season. When my oldest was five, I only had three kids, and that was plenty hard.

 My words of advice are:

- Don't do it all. Many things have to be neglected, the tricky part is knowing what to neglect. I read in a book that there are four categories of things competing for our attention: 
urgent and important, 
urgent but not important, 
not urgent but important, 
not urgent and not important. 
We are all great at tending to the urgent and important (like  a diaper blowout), but many of us tend to respond to urgent but unimportant (like a social phone call) before tending to the not urgent but important (like brushing your children's teeth). By doing so, the non-urgent but important issues pretty soon become urgent and important, but we could save ourselves a lot of time and trouble by addressing them before they become urgent. Always choose non-urgent but important over urgent but non-important. Does that make sense? Also, some chores are better neglected than others, because they don't compound while undone. For example, a floor that hasn't been mopped for two weeks still takes just as long to mop as if you did it every day. Laundry neglected for two weeks - not so much! Neglect the forgiving chores first.

- Simplify your life as much as you can. To simplify meal planning and cooking, make a list of the most common meals your family likes, and stick it to the fridge for when you are out of ideas. Have a list of simple meals that can be thrown together with staples you always keep on hand. Planning like this requires an initial investment of time, but it will pay off in the future (falling into the important but not urgent category). Use a slow cooker that you can get going in the morning and have dinner ready at night, freeing up your afternoon for errands or other outings. Cook a double batch for dinner and use the leftovers for lunch the next day (I have been doing this for years). Nothing wrong with simple meals. Porridge is fine for dinner for the kids, and if your husband minds you could just make a big meal a couple of times per week and serve that to him at dinnertime over several days. Have paper dishes and cups on hand for busy days, and use them. Other ways to simplify are to radically pare down the kids' toys (less messes and helps them be more creative with what they have), cut out outside obligations/voluteering, use the easiest possible curriculum that requires the least input from you, etc. At this stage of homeschooling, you could really just get by with teaching your oldest to read while sitting on the sofa feeding the baby, reading lots of books with him, involving him in the housework/cooking/childcare, and letting him observe and explore the natural world in the yard or a park. Basically, go into survival mode and become a minimalist. It is very freeing, and you'll find that you will get more done because you are not demotivated before your day even starts.

- Enlist the help of others. Maybe there is a single or childless lady in your church or social circle who would love to come over and help out (for free, but she'd gain much experience). Maybe an older lady might enjoy helping you with laundry or cleaning every week. Maybe your husband or a grandparent can make a set time each week when they take all the kids off your hands - my husband does this every Tuesday morning and it makes such a huge difference! Don't be shy about asking others for help. If your finances allow, you could hire someone to come and clean, but I realize this is not an option for most of us.

- Get a head start. Whenever possible, get up before your family does, get dressed, read your Bible, and plan the day ahead. Ever minute you can get on your own without interruptions is worth 10 minutes later in your day.  Life goes through stages and this is not always possible, especially when pregnant, but this is a great sanity saver when you can take advantage of it.

- Have a pattern for your day. I shy away from minute-by-minute schedules because they can quickly lead to frustration when something unexpected happens and you get behind. I have certain anchor points in my day, such as ready for the day by 9 a.m., lunch around noon and naps by 1 p.m., dinner at 5:30 and bed by 7 to 9 (depending on the ages). I have certain days set aside for errands and outings. but I generally avoid shopping after nap time or on the weekends because stores are busy and tempers run high, making everything take longer. To read my previous posts on scheduling, please click here.

- Enforce naps and bed times. Naps are moms' link to sanity. By having these times to count on and yes, look forward to, you will make it through the stickiest moments in your day. In our house, all kids age 5 and under take a midday nap. I learned this from my Grandma who raised six kids, and my mom who had five. Sure, there are those kids who will fight sleep, but remember, sleep begets sleep. And while you cannot force someone to fall asleep, they can be made to lie still, close their eyes, and not get up - which is just as good as sleep itself, and often makes them fall asleep in the process. The earlier they go to bed, the later they wake up the next day, no joke. If you have really early sunrises in the summer, hang a blanket over their window to block the light at 5 a.m. Never wake a sleeping child unless a foreign army is marching toward you, your house is about to be struck by a hurricane, or you are in some other deadly peril.

- Breastfeed. I say this with some reservations, as I certainly don't want to make anyone feel bad who cannot nurse their child, nor am I implying that your kids are not a blessing. My point is that by exclusively breastfeeding your children without a schedule and without stuffing them under a hot blanket, your hormones would prevent you from becoming pregnant so close together, which of course makes your workload a lot harder and is a major drain on your body.  On the flip side, remember that when your kids get old enough to really help out around the house, you will go from no help to having a whole team of helpers virtually overnight :)

- Take care of yourself and your marriage. I realize this can be hard to accomplish. Much of your down time will have to happen while you do other things, such as reading while feeding the baby, running errands without kids, browsing FB after the kids are in bed while you make breakfast for the next day, and such like. If everything hits the fan at once, secure the kids in a safe spot where they cannot hurt themselves or each other, and do what you need to do. Don't hold off on using the bathroom, brushing your teeth, taking your vitamins, or doing some other little thing that doesn't take long but will nag away at you subconsciously if neglected. Invest time and effort in your marriage, and realize the best gift you can give your children is happily married parents.

- Be realistic. This is just a phase. They are just kids. This too shall pass. Try to see the humor in things. Realize messes matter little in the scope of things, but how you react to obstacles will shape your little people for a lifetime. Do your best and leave God to take care of the rest.

Readers, if you have more advice, please share it in the comments below.