Sunday, 21 July 2013

So what's been happening?

So this is what happened last year during my blogging inactivity.

Sosi started going to kinder last year.
Casi was the most challenging child and he/we had a year of meltdowns.
I was badly depressed last year.

I see these 3 facts as intertwined...

Here's the tough thing about wanting to homeschool your children: the status quo. People aren't used to it, it's not a common thing, I think with the way the western world is changing (I mean the wealth of knowledge that can be easily accessed technologically) we will see more homeschooling families than we have in the past. But, at present, I still feel that most people's first thought at the mention of homeschooling is "hippy freaks" or "religious nutjobs". I am not saying that people are dismissive of homeschooling, I am just saying that this is a perception that we are still carrying from the past, I do think that (unless previously exposed to homeschooling) this would be the common man's first reaction.

So when you present the idea to your partner, and father of your children, that you feel that homeschooling would be a great viable option for the kids' education, and when you also have a long string of teachers on his side of the family, of course you do not get an immediate convert.
And for family peace, and because it's the two of you parenting and not you alone, you make some compromises, more on the lines of "let's see how we go with this and then we will reassess".

So that's how Sosi started kinder. She was going 2 days a week in a Steiner kinder, with lots of natural materials and respect for nature's rhythms and creations, lots of unorganised play (which fits in quite well with my child-led learning ideas), organic meals cooked on site (which the children would help prepare), and a wonderful respectful atmosphere throughout the whole kinder. So it wasn't all bad nor against my views, still had plenty of time at home to do her own thing.

Sosi loved it. And we started understanding her sensorial "quirks" a bit better and we started noticing new "quirks".
Remember her hearing "issues"? (here's a refresher). Well, after she passed a hearing test with flying colours, I was essentially told by the GP "she's young, it's a phase, she'll outgrow it". Well, guess what? It morphed. From simply covering her ears and freaking out with certain noises, we started noticing that auditory stimulation was causing her to find relief in overstimulating another sense, usually the sense of touch. So when too many things were happening around her (lots of kids playing, lots of noise, too many interesting things at once), she would start biting her knuckle as a stress release measure, usually to the point of making the knuckle bleed (at the end of the year she had a big callous on it). We also realised that she couldn't bear certain feelings on her skin (damp clothes, sticky hands, little things like that), and making bizarre sounds and motions when she's in her own little world and imagining stories (I really don't know how to describe it, it has to be seen...) . Which really wasn't a big deal, she had a fantastic kinder teacher and all these quirks were quite manageable.

But, on the other hand, Casi did not cope well with kinder. Despite it being only 2 days a week, he struggled with the separation from his much idolised big sister. And of course there's parent duty. I was often at kinder helping out, the program it was meant that parents were asked to chip in with cooking and washing dishes etc, since morning tea and lunch were cooked on site. And every time I helped out, and Casi was with me, he would soon meltdown: until just a few months ago, if things didn't happen in the order he was expecting or if he misinterpreted people's intentions (he often thought that people told him off), I was looking down the barrel of at least one hour of screaming and throwing himself to the ground unless I figured out what he wanted or the order in which he expected things to go. I was always so torn between my duties towards my high needs youngest child and the expectations to help out at kinder.

And then the year progresses and everyone keeps asking about school. And again, for family peace and because everybody expects us to be normal, we enrolled her in the nearby Steiner primary school which is closely affiliated with the kinder Sosi attended. Which meant many of the kids she knew from kinder (sixteen) would be attending that school.
Again, I did feel my role as an educator taken away from me, just for the convenience of not stirring the waters too much.

Then one day we were late for a friend's birthday party, and I cried and cried and cried and realised I was not ok and hadn't been in a while and I was not coping. But you push it down, deep down, trying to function and do what the world expects you to do. Until one day you wake up crying, because really you didn't want to wake up alive. You try to do stuff with the kids, but all there is is apathy. Nothing is fun any more. You stopped eating because you don't feel hunger any more. And you wake up crying the day after. And the day after that. And the one after. Waiting for bedtime. And one day you sit in an armchair and you have no will to get up. Your body is weighed down by your soul and you can't remember the last time you smiled, the last time you were really happy. Maybe it was before your friend's funeral.

After months in survival mode, and months of apathy and pretending, you realise it can't go on. The kids know things aren't good. They start pleading you to be happy. That's when you know you're in a downward spiral and you need help. But everything seems so overwhelming and you don't know where to start, who to call, what to say, what to do.

So this is what I did. On the 20th September, I stopped faking it. I got off the armchair, put a DVD on for the kids, and went to the computer to open up to my little world. And this was my fb status that day:

So, if anyone is wondering, I am not okay. 

When you see me smiling, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm happy. Maybe you caught me on one of those high days when I feel invincible, or maybe you are seeing me on one of the downslope days just before I get to the dark tunnel, when I pretend nothing is wrong, and nobody hears from me in weeks, or months, until I'm back out. Sometimes I isolate myself, because I'm going through a moment where, when people ask how I am, all I'm thinking is "I want to die", but I don't tell them because I know that I'll probably be better the day after and I don't want people to know. Because I've got this thing, where I want to always seem so strong and "with it". It's got something to do with the stupid arm not having been born with me.

I am not a bad person, I just struggle with things that seem easy to others.
Some days the ugly sides of humanity and life bring me down so much that I find it difficult to pull myself out of the ditch.
I struggle with expressing my true self in a language that isn't totally my own.
I struggle sending messages because I fear being misinterpreted.
I struggle calling people because I get anxiety attacks when I pick up the phone.
I struggle answering the phone because of the same reason. And also because of my hearing.
I struggle with being in groups of people because I get frazzled and confused by all the noise.
I also struggle in groups because of my chemical sensitivity and the fact that strong smells make me either depressed or raging, and there's no easy way to tell people that their choice in chemically scented cosmetics is what is making me behave so aloofly.
I often struggle finding the right words to tell people because my brain is on a different wavelength and it takes me a few seconds to process what people really meant and by the time I get it, the moment is gone and people must think I'm dumb, and that depresses even more because I'm not stupid, I am simply wired a little differently.
I understand these things more about me now, that I have kids, when I realise that in a couple of things they are wired differently too.
Sometimes I don't know straightaway what people mean when they say something and sometimes my brain is thinking about something else and the wrong words come out, and more often than not I am not quite sure what I am meant to say.

I mean well, but dealing with other humans does not always come easy to me. Sorry if I've ever hurt you or upset you or bothered, please know I didn't mean to, and sorry if I'm not the best of friends nor the most reliable.
If you have an issue with me, be honest, let me know, I am trying to do my best at this being human business.

I don't know really why I'm writing this, I'm just tired of pretending that I'm tough. Because tomorrow I'll probably be out of it and the world will be rosy again. But really, I haven't been coping in a while, I think it's time to be honest to everybody and let you know what's going on. I'm probably just trying to reach out, I just want others to understand that things aren't always as easy as they appear.


And I posted it. I was so desperate.

So there. It was liberating. I was so tired of faking it. I learnt who the real friends were, I got some real open arms of people I could tell "I'm not doing well today". Now it's in the open, I don't have to feign happiness or fake life. And finding my inner self and my strength has been easier without the oppression of "saving face". You cop so much criticism as a mum. You get little support in this fragmented insular "modern" society. You are stigmatised if you show your mental frailty.

Last year is gone. The Mayan calendar was right. It's a new era. I'm still not 100%.
I spent months picking up the pieces. This has been a limbo year. I still have to make some choices. I know that my life will be much different in a couple of months. I'll keep you informed :)

Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect. -And that isn't flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn't have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.”

 Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
See you soon Real Me, haven't seen you in a while...

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Pregnant daze - A preamble to my kids' birth stories

I didn't enjoy all of my pregnant days. The first 5 months of Sosi's were horrible.
I quit drinking and smoking when I found out I was pregnant, and had a demanding job. So even if physically the pregnancy was fine, what with withdrawals and the stress of work and the stress of starting a family (realisation of the magnitude of having a kid etc) and my pre-existing depression, mentally I was a mess.
So much that, when I started having passing thoughts about abortion and/or suicide, I realised I was not well and needed something to change. I wanted this baby. Work was going to be the thing to change. I sought help. And instead of handing in a maternity leave form, I handed in a resignation form accompanied by a doctor's certificate. It was tough, I really loved my admin job in a publishing company (organisation and books, two of my great loves...), but I had to think about my mental health.
It took me a bit over a month, but things did get better. I did lots of gardening and got lots of fresh air and ate when I was hungry and rested when I was tired, I read lots and pottered around lots and enjoyed lunches out.
I had a very leisurely last trimester and I could start my journey into motherhood happy and recharged and full of enthusiasm.

I got in tune with Sosi while she was still "on the inside", I had all the time in the world to pay attention to the baby in my tummy and I started to understand her then, before she was even born.
And when she was born, I looked at her and thought "there you are". I already felt like I knew her. Like I'd always known her.
baby Sosi is a couple of minutes old

When I was pregnant with Casi, I had Sosi to look after. She was a toddler. She was busy. She was stubborn. It wasn't always a smooth ride. Even if she was relatively easy, I was pregnant... tired, exhausted, emotional etc. So towards the last trimester, I was over it. The tummy was weighing down more than it did with the first pregnancy, I was tired beyond measure, couldn't keep up with Sosi etc etc. Any woman who's been pregnant while looking after a toddler knows exactly what I'm talking about!

I'd also had an "episode". Sosi was still waking up a couple of times at night (one day I'll elaborate more on that). One night I as a bit exasperated by the frequent wakings, and I said something to her. And as I was talking, I realised the words that were coming out of my mouth were not the same ones that were in my brain. All I could hear were jumbled sounds. I thought I was having a stroke. I cried out for Dan, and I tried talking frantically, I tried slowly saying "can you understand what I'm saying?", I was trying to tell him I thought I was having a stroke, but my brain had forgotten how to say the word "STROKE". I knew that I knew the word, I knew what the word was, but every time I tried saying it I could hear that I was not able to speak it clearly. I heard myself through the tears "I can't remember, I can't remember how to say it". Dan saying something like "it's ok if you can't remember, you can tell me in the morning". No, damn, I need to remember the word now, there might not be a morning.

It was terrifying, feeling trapped inside my brain and not being able to speak my thoughts. What a perspective that has given me now.
I was both very lucid and also very sleep deprived, I was scared for my life and scared that I wasn't able to communicate what was happening to me. It felt like I was trying to start up an old car and the engine is making noise but just won't start.
Then suddenly, I remember myself thinking "if it's a stroke, my face and arm will start going numb". The engine started.
So I started paying attention to my face, and started moving my arm. And slowly I managed to utter a full, albeit very slow, sentence "Dan, can. you. UN-DER-ST-AND me? It might be a stroke". And things slowly went back to normal. Slowly all my words came back. Slowly I could hear and understand the words that were coming out of my mouth. Slowly I started calming down. Little Sosi gave me a big cuddle.

During that state of confusion, I thought that was it, that I was going to die. But when things went back to normal, my full rationality came back, and I had to choose our next move. I thought there was no point going to the hospital at 3am, I was not having a stroke and probably wasn't going to die during the night, and I was sure I wouldn't be getting proper medical attention at that time. So I decided we should all try to sleep then see what to do in the morning.

Turns out Dan could actually understand my words, but that I was saying some things repeatedly. The word that was always clear was "UNDERSTAND", apparently I said it over and over and over again.

I spent the next day at the hospital, waiting and waiting and waiting and being examined and talking to doctors and nurses and more doctors and more nurses and doing more tests... Sosi and Dan were there, from 10am till 5pm, bless him, he managed to keep a 21 month old kid entertained in a hospital all day long! Lots of walks, lots of explorations, TV, toy room, cafeteria, they did it all.
In the end, it was established with the doctors that I should have a CT scan and possibly an MRI. I had the scan that evening and was given the all clear. They couldn't figure out what had happened to me, but excluded that it was life threatening.
But, if there was an embolus (free-floating blood clot), I could be at high risk for stroke during intense activities. Such as running. Or lifting weights. Or giving birth. So an appointment for the cranial MRI was set for a few weeks later (3 weeks before my due date).

I really didn't want to have the MRI, I read lots about it and was still unsure whether it was perfectly safe for the unborn baby. But I didn't want to run the risk of having a stroke during Casi's birth.
I had the MRI, and I was so anxious during the long scan, and I could feel Casi move inside me uncomfortably (it was loud), but was then given the all clear. Which also meant I could give birth at the Family Birth Centre as I had planned.

8 months pregnant. I don't have many photo of my growing belly in that last trimester
Life went back to normal. More or less. Something was changed in me. Or maybe that episode was the apex of the change that had been happening.
In brief, I couldn't bear being pregnant anymore. I was so busy with Sosi, and so tired, and I hardly ever felt Casi move inside me, and at every antenatal check up it was a relief hearing his heartbeat because he moved so little I wasn't sure he was still alive. I was so anxious. I was an emotional mess.

baby Casi is a few minutes old
So when Casi was born, I was elated the pregnancy was over. When he came out crying, I was happy he was alive, I was happy he was out, but I didn't have the surge of emotions I had with Sosi. I looked at him thinking "I don't know you, I don't understand you". I was almost detached, as if this wasn't my son and this was a baby who'd come out of someone else's body. Maybe that was Nature's way of helping me face some tough times that were to come. Because at 2 weeks of age, he had to be admitted to hospital. And that was the real test.
little Casi in neonatal intensive care 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

How Do I Love Thee? Playsets

Before this parenting journey started, I had no idea what playsets were. I didn't know what kids did in kindergartens, as I could only relate to the grim memories of my childhood kindergarten run by strict nuns.
Truth be told, I had no idea what kids did... I've never been a "clucky" person and I never really quite liked kids: quite simply my family was a little insular, we didn't have much extended family, and there weren't any younger children in my immediate circle of family and friends, so I could never get to know them and appreciate the beauty and marvel of childhood. I was, like many youth, very engrossed in myself and my own matters.

So when Sosi was born I changed. Suddenly everything was about doing the best I could for my child. Everything that pertained to children was suddenly interesting!
The best thing about not having prior children knowledge is, I am a blank slate. I am looking at all the possibilities with enthusiasm, all activities are exciting, anything new is amazing. No grown-up smugness.

So when I came across the concept of a playset, I was like "whoaa! way cool! gotta do that!".

Through following Sherry and Donna's Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning (here's their Facebook page and here's their blog), I stumbled across Homemade Rainbows. It is run by two stay at home mums, ex-kindegarten teachers, Janine and Michelle. They create playsets using natural and refurbished/recycled/repurposed/homemade etc materials. They are op-shop queens. They have a knack for eye-pleasing arrangements. They are amazingly talented. Here is their Facebook page. If I remember correctly, I was their 9th or 14th follower, something like that. Now there are over 2300!
If you have kids and like doing things with and for them, you MUST check out their playsets! They sell out REALLY fast (mostly to kindergarten teachers... and a couple of hyper-keen home educators...), and many are probably a bit too pricey for the budget-tight one-income family, but the array of themes and the number of ideas you can get from looking at the photos of their sets is humongous!

This is how my passion for making playsets really started. Sosi saw this (because we often look at nice things on the computer together):
from here 
And she said she wanted it. I thought, cool. Then looked at the price. 80 bucks? I'll see what I can do sweetie... the kid was so set on it. She even gave it a name. The Turtle Playset. I could see in her eyes that this thing that to me looked pretty, for her was heaven as far as making up stories with little figurines goes...
I decided to buy it. Too late, someone else had beaten me to it! So I thought, why not, sure I can go to a couple of op-shops and make the same playset, how hard can it be?
Oh boy, was it hard... I visited op-shops (hoping to find the right pieces), the $2 shop for bits (pebbles, stones, shiny beads etc, even found the treasure chest!), Toys r' Us for the turtles, Riot Art and Craft then Big W for seashells, Spotlight for shiny fabric, my kitchen cupboards for fancy bowls... It was a lot of work, but it was so worth it when I saw the look on the kid's face! Here's what I came up with:
my first playset... March 2011
Some elements are there, others I improvised a bit... Our love affair with playsets started then, I often prepare one at night for the kids to find as a Morning Activity, but they (mostly Sosi) like getting bits and creating their own.

Since following Homemade Rainbows' efforts I started regularly visiting op-shops. The kids and I have picked up so many interesting and useful items. Boxes, trinkets, gadgets, little wooden wheelbarrows, so many objects of dubious taste that your aunties and uncles might give you for Christmas end up in op-shops. And you know what? So many kitsch items are just so perfect to spur a child's imagination! And with a minuscule price tag! And so environmentally friendly :)

I am not even going to start on how many different sets can be made up. I think it is all about following your child's lead. We have lots of figurines (savannah animals, turtles, squishy reptiles and amphibians, dinosaurs, etc), so bit by bit everyone is getting their turn at having a playset purposely built for them. Even the My Littlest Pet Shop figurines! I used to really hate them (the concept of them) but Sosi always comes up with great imaginative play with them. 

Here are a few playsets I came up with. I think I'm getting better at them... ;) I will try to find more time to write more about each playset, and add lots more photos, let me know if you're interested! Also photos and lists of my "playset stash", all the bits and pieces that I've collected to make up cool playsets! I also bought one really big beautiful playset from Homemade Rainbows, with lots of great wooden bowls and scoops etc, which always find their way in my own playsets, lots of mix and match!
More parents should give it a go, they're really great fun for the kids, they tend to be quite cheap and quick to set up (once you've built your own stash) and are a great way to unleash your own parental creativity!

my 2nd playset, May 2011
marine playset, August 2011
snakes and frogs playset, October 2011
Little Pets (from My Littlest Pet Shop) playground
my father made the playground equipment a few months back,
with lots of popsticks and matchsticks and glue and creativity :)
dinosaur playset, February 2012
(with some references to the Ice Age movies, the kids' current obsession...)

I usually prepare them for the kids at night, so when they get in the morning they have an exciting Morning Activity they can keep playing throughout the day (we usually leave a playset on the yellow table a whole day before dismantling). Some nights I stay up way too late, just to make sure it all looks enticing, and that there are little elements of interest in each corner, like these: 
turtle cave (oil burner from $2 shop)

smooth sand for the turtles

nooks and crannies for the snakes to slither in and hide

Add caption

brontosaurus munching on a tree

and here's our version of Diego, Manfred and Sid from Ice Age
(this Schleich meerkat is pretending to be a sloth...)


I love this part of my job. It does take a bit of time to prepare them (but you get better with practice) and a few goes at figuring out what elements your kids will really love in their playset, but it really pays off: Casi is still little so the playset might only hold his attention for 10 minutes at a time, but Sosi will happily spend 2 hours or more over the course of the day playing with it! Now, to me that is totally worth the effort I put in it :)

Do you do playsets or similar activities for your kids? 
Any ideas you might like to share?