Sunday, February 21, 2010

Self-pity. Or not.

In the days since my girlie got her back brace, I've gotten some nice comments from people we know. "She doesn't seem embarrassed by it." "She has such a good attitude." "She doesn't seem to be feeling sorry for herself."

Well. That shouldn't be surprising. In the big picture of life and all the things that can go wrong, this is pretty minor. She shouldn't be embarrassed. She is not defined by her curvy spine or the brace she wears because of it. And she definitely shouldn't be feeling sorry for herself. It's a little disturbing that people are surprised by this. This should be the way it is: people should deal with relatively minor adversity with a good attitude. There is no reason for self-pity.

Of course it's possible that she does indeed feel sorry for herself, but is smart enough to know not to show it. I don't see that, but then I'm the mom; I want to see her as mature and well-adjusted. But we talk about it a lot - after all, at least 4 times a day she needs my help getting in or out of the thing. We're developing a very quick and entertaining method for encasing her. And she says things like this:

"It's not as bad as I thought it would be. I thought it would be horrible. I thought I wouldn't be able to sleep. But it's not so bad."

"No one really notices. If someone bumps me and wonders why I feel funny, I'll tell them it's my bullet-proof vest." (This generated a lecture on the properties of bullet-proof vests from the big brother. "They're not hard; they're soft. They don't deflect; they absorb." I am grateful that the "you idiot" at the end was merely implied and not spoken. Even if we knew it was there.

Yesterday at a Girl Scout event, her troop was demonstrating the Limbo dance. Her troop-mates urged her to do it. But she found she couldn't bend backward to do it right. They all cracked up laughing, together. And she good-naturedly went back to holding the limbo stick for everyone else.

So, she doesn't seem to be wallowing in self-pity. But then I am not sure why she would. I'm not one of those caring nurturing moms who exclaim over every bump and bruise. My kids say I'm not mean, but I'm not like some of the other moms they see. I don't have much patience with victimhood. Things happen, deal with it, move on. The Dad of the house is pretty much the same way.

Then I thought about our parents. I don't remember my mom letting me spend much time whining over minor hurts or injustices. I cannot imagine my father ever, ever, spending time feeling sorry for himself. (Actually, that's not quite true. During the last few weeks of his life he surprised me by getting very morose and saying "I guess I'll never go to England." I had never known he'd wanted to go to England. But now as I'm typing this I realize that's probably why the summer after he died I took my first on-my-own, traveling-as-an-adult vacation - to England.) I am sure he never had time or patience for victimhood, either. My mother- and father-in-law, as far as I can tell, are the same way.

I'm sure my girlie will go through some times of feeling sorry for herself. I remember some dark days in my teens, though I'd rather forget them. Still, we can't spend time sitting around thinking about how hard our lives are. For the most part, compared with others, they are not.

That's why my kids know I'm joking when I say "my life is so hard" when some minor problem comes up. Our lives are easy. Her life is easy. So it shouldn't be remarkable that she has a good attitude toward wearing a back brace. It should be remarkable if she didn't.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Book of Fires

Books never end the way I want them to. Well, rarely. Those darn authors don't always give me the perfect wrapup I want. But sometimes even when the ending isn't what I want, it is perfect. Or at least close.

The Book of Fires is Jane Borodale's first book, I understand. That's too bad, because I'd like to read something else of hers, now. I'd been rattling around trying to find something to read, here in this house of books. Nothing was right. I wanted something Dickensian but not Dickens. Something darkish but not too dark. Something suspenseful but not scary.

Then I found The Book of Fires. The blurb looked good: the time period was about right, the story sounded promising. I like fireworks.

Agnes is a young woman with a big problem: a pregnancy at age 17. So she leaves her poor country home and heads to London, where she serendipitously finds work as assistant to Mr. Blacklock, a pyrotechnist. She finds she enjoys and is skilled at the work, but her new life is shadowed by her pregnancy and her certainty that she will be dismissed when her disgrace is discovered.

This is not a bleak book, though it is dark. I knew I wasn't going to be completely pleased with the ending - I can't stand too much suspense and at one point flipped to the end of the book to see what was coming. I should never do that; it can be disappointing. But the author knew better than I. There were several surprises that wouldn't have been if the story had progressed as I wanted it to.

The book is told in the first person; a few reviews I read considered this a flaw. Certainly there were characters whose point of view I'd love to have heard, in particular Mr. Blacklock's. But it is Agnes's story anyway, so she should be the one telling it.

There are some colorful characters, drawn well. 18-century London is dark and dirty and sometimes ugly. But there is beauty too. And excitement, as Agnes and Mr. Blacklock seek to bring color to their fireworks. And frustration on my part, as Agnes doesn't see everything that I see and doesn't respond to people as I believe she ought.

All in all, a very satisfying novel. I can't wait to see Ms. Borodale's next.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The brace

Last Monday my girlie got her back brace for scoliosis. It's already become a fact of our everyday lives and not such a big deal. So far.

The brace is a plastic, foam, and velcro strap contraption, as my mom might have said, called a "Boston brace" for the company that makes it. She will wear it for 4 years or so, till her growth stops. Actually she'll wear several as we expect her to grow. The orthotist said we should be able to go 9 months to a year before needing a new one.

The fitting appointment was long and tedious. The orthotist put the brace on, did some measuring and marking, then took it off and away to cut some off. That happened two or three times. Once it fit properly he added the pads that will push on the spine. There is no real expectation that the spine will straighten; the object is to keep the curve from increasing. I suppose it's s possible that it will improve; I've heard stories of improvement but so far there is no medical reason to expect it.

The sound of the saw, and the smell of the glue was a little disconcerting. But soon it was all done and she was encased; I was instructed in how to strap her in (with marks on the velcro to show me when it's tight enough). Off we went, with instructions to get an x-ray in 1 month to be sure everything is pressing where it should be. This is a contradiction to the orthopaedist's instruction to have it in 6 months. I hate that: I want my healthcare professionals to be in agreement. And it make sense to me to check within 1 month rather than 6. We'll see what the doctor says in a few weeks. And the insurance company!

But for now we're working on getting adjusted. I was told that the first night of sleeping would be bad. Horrible. Impossible. But it was fine; she slept well. She is up to 21 hours a day in the brace; the recommendation is 23 hours with the admission that most kids get about 16. Obviously, the more the better.

Because we've had some bad weather and have been staying home, today was the first day she wore the brace around nonfamily members. Her good friend at church already knew about it so that was easy. So far no one has bumped her and noticed her hard shell, but she is prepped with what to say when that happens. Oh, all her current clothing fits fine over it. It's a lot slimmer than we expected it to be.

The worst part so far is also the hardest to describe on the internet. (One must be aware of possible google searches.) The special t-shirt to wear under the brace looks hot and uncomfortable and costs $40. Since it has to be changed at least twice a day, and laundered after each wearing... that's a considerable cost. We don't want to be cheap about this, of course. But it's hard to drop a couple hundred bucks on that type of garment. We're trying other off-the-shelf shirts but so far everything is inadequate, and all my research tells me that this is a common and unsolvable dilemma. There is no perfect solution. Hot, humid summers might be really hard.

She noticed something funny while wearing some slim jeans and looking at her back in the mirror. I don't want to publish the word she gave it but if you have any Playmobil figures around, go get one and bend it forward at the waist (which is, I guess, the only place you can bend a Playmobil figure) and look at it from behind. That approximates the look. Hilarity ensues whenever one of us notices it.

Which is the proper response, I guess: hilarity. Laughter. Making the best of it. It could be a lot worse.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

If I was a really good homeschool mom...

my kids would have made a snow gauge for our yard. It would be beautifully hand-painted, and show the snow depth to the 8th of an inch. It wouldn't need to show the metric measurements because, of course, my kids could do the conversion in the blink of an eye, barely thinking about it.

But, since I am not a really good homeschool mom, I can only say that we received about 18 inches of snow today, the biggest snow my kids have ever had in their own backyard.

Our lack of a snow gauge isn't stopping us from enjoying it.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

In defense of late-risin' homeschool mamas

Dumb homeschool mom question of the week: "What time do you get started in the morning?"

This question is almost always asked during a gathering of homeschooling moms, by someone who feels guilty for not getting up, or getting the day started, as early as she thinks she ought to. And it's a dumb question because there is always, always someone in the group ready to add to the guilt. (Though usually not intentionally.) Here's how it looks:

The kids are doing whatever they are supposed to be doing and the moms are hanging out chatting. There's a lull in the conversation and someone asks, "what time do you start school in the morning?"

There's a slight gasp from those of us who know what's coming (and knew better than to ask). Then a brief pause, because no one wants to go first. Somehow, it always seems to work out that the earliest riser with the most industrious kids speaks up (usually somewhat reluctantly):

"Well, we get up about 5 to go for our run, then we come home and get the chores done, and the kids are usually doing their schoolwork by about 7. "

Another pause. Who can top that? Who is going to say "we stumble out of bed around 8, grab some cereal, play some computer games and maybe start on the math about, say, 9:30, 10"?

But then the pause is filled in by someone who mentions body clocks, and doing their best work in the afternoon, and the admission that they don't get out of bed till 9. Another lull as everyone ponders the proper response to this. If you're in a group of Christian moms, you can almost see the Bible verses going around in their heads, and the physical restraint required not to shout out "Go to the ant, you sluggard!"

OK, that last is a bit of an exaggeration. But some people aren't very good at concealing their disdain for those of us who keep somewhat later hours than they think is proper. Most are gracious, though, and the conversation usually ends with a general agreement that each family has to find their own way. Still, there is always a little doubt remaining in the eyes of the late-rising moms. You just know they go home resolved to crack the whip and get everyone going early in the morning. Guess how I know that.

When I look at the homeschooling families I know, I can't really tell the early risers from the late risers. Some kids are obviously high achievers. Some aren't in ways that can readily be seen. Sometimes a child doesn't make a great impression, till I overhear a bit of conversation and realize the kid is brilliant in some area.

I'd like to be an early riser; I'd love to be up and productive by 6 am. (Some might say "that's way too early for me;" others might think about how lazy I am.) I tend to think my days are more productive when they start earlier. But, sometimes I'll be surprised by a day that seemed to start too late, and by the end of it I realize it's been really productive. Sometimes we really get into the swing of things about 11:00, when the chores have been done, the dog's been walked, piano has been practiced, and we have nowhere we need to be. Sometimes breakfast or dinner will last a long time because we're having a great and useful discussion. This isn't "doing school" but it's real education.

Of course a person can get up really early and still be unproductive, like the woman I knew who got up early every day - and made sure everyone knew it - yet still felt behind all the time and was always cranky and tired. Turns out she was spending the first couple of hours each day messing around on Facebook and other fun internet sites. She could have - and maybe should have - just slept those extra couple hours. Maybe getting enough sleep would have been more useful to her.

And some people just get up early and get to work. They don't brag about it and don't expect everyone to fall into their line. That's just the way they live. They are usually the ones who don't want to answer the question, because they don't believe they set the standard for anyone but themselves.

It's nice to have a group of people to talk these sorts of things over with, particularly for new homeschoolers. But we should walk away from these conversations inspired and, perhaps, challenged, not defeated and feeling guilty because we don't measure up. And we shouldn't think that someone else has a line on "doing it right" just because she's been at it longer, or can quote more scripture, or has kids who seem to shine.

I think the next most popular question is "What do you do for science?" Watch out for that one too.