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I arrive at the middle school at 7:30 a.m., a solid 45 minutes before first period. I need time to find the classroom, make sure it’s unlocked, read the teacher lesson plans, understand the lesson plans, and find any necessary materials. “I’m subbing for 6th grade Language Arts,” I tell the secretary.

She looks at the sub info on her desk. Her expression grows concerned. “No,” she says, “It’s art – can you handle that?”

“Of course,” I say. I have 2 years of experience teaching elementary and middle school, a year of student teaching, and a year of subbing at a high school. “I mean, if she has a lesson plan, I can follow it.”

“Hmmm. I think she uses lesson plans,” the secretary says unconvincingly.

I take my substitute teaching ID and find the classroom. The “lesson plan” is bare bones – in each class students are to use the period to work on finishing up their perspective drawings. The teacher desk is a mess, the floor littered with trash. I wander next door and introduce myself to the shop teacher, a friendly older gentleman who says I can send kids to him if there’s a problem. Even when I had my own private school classroom, I often sent kids to the teacher next door, so this comment doesn’t concern me.

First period comes along, a small group of mostly 8th grade boys. Though they mainly choose to goof off rather than work, this isn’t a concern for me. Some of them are working and some are doing other homework. No one is particularly causing a problem.

The 7th grade class is a different story. A large group of 35 or so, they are a mass of barely contained energy, spinning rulers around their pencils and throwing paper across the table at each other. One table catches my eye and I quickly identify the ringleader. His behavior is not the easygoing goofing off of the 8th grade class. I’ve visited several prisons and chatted with inmates, but never before seen the cold, casually hate-filled look that was in his eyes. I certainly wouldn’t expect it in a 13-year-old child. Great, I’ve entered the plot of Dangerous Minds. Here we go.

I remind this table a few times to get on task. I take away the rulers they won’t stop spinning in the air. I hear the ringleader speaking in a threatening way to another boy at his table. “Is there a problem?”

“No,” he says and smiles. “No problem here.”

As this table continues to show no pretense of doing the assignment despite my reminders, I take the ringleader aside and ask him to go work in the shop class next door. “Fuck that,” he says. “I’ll go to the SRC.” I hand him a referral slip, which he throws on the floor as he walks out.

The table continues not to work. This is surprising – I would expect some attempt at following instructions after this. A few minutes later I ask another boy to leave the class, this time escorting him to the shop class next door. Who do I find in the shop class? Ringleader. “You’re not supposed to be here,” I say.

“Bitch, you told me to come here.”

I do not respond, just walk to the shop teacher and ask him to give Ringleader a behavior referral and send him to SRC. When I get back to the classroom, a girl from The Table – a girl who also has cold, empty eyes – has wandered off to the other side of the room and is doing a cartwheel. At this point I no longer care about this class. I look at the clock. There are 20 minutes left and then I will have a lunch break. If I can make it through the day without quitting, I will have earned $150. I look back at the girl. The other students are looking at her and whispering, giggling. Clearly she wants to get sent out of the classroom, too, like her friends. Not going to happen. Now she’s doing something with scissors. That makes me nervous. Sharp scissors and disaffected, possibly gang-affiliated teenagers are not a good mix.

The 20 minutes pass with little incident. Students file out. I assess the area that Gang Girl had been in – damage left is a puddle of paint on the floor. It’s lunchtime now, and in a few hours I’ll be gone. I don’t have to come back to this school, or to any middle school ever if I don’t want to.

I’m sorry for these teachers, sure. But I’m more sorry for the kids.

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photo credit: Paint Job 2 via photopin (license)

Hello reader. It’s been awhile since I’ve updated. Tonight I’m tempted to write a rant about flame retardants, which are carcinogenic, linked to neurological disorders, and can be found in such items as children’s pajamas, changing pads, car seats, and strollers. You know, because babies often fall asleep while smoking in their strollers. Oh, and since we’ve all been exposed to them in mattresses and sofas since the 1970s, they’re stored in our body tissues and can even be found in our breastmilk. Ugh. (Still, and I think the medical community would back me up here, breastmilk is much preferable to formula if you’re able to breastfeed!).

But, I will take a tip from my preschooler – I will take a deep breath and count to four. There is not much point in getting too upset about things I can’t control – which covers pretty much everything in life. Whew! I’ve learned at this point that I can only control my own choices. I cannot control your choices, or my daughter’s choices, or the choices of those who put toxic chemicals in our furniture (and food, and air, and water).

Actually there is good news regarding flame retardants. As of 2014, they were no longer required to be in furniture in the state of California (the only place where they were ever actually required), and as a result flame-retardant-free furniture is becoming more widely available. Although my husband and I are certainly not in a position to discard all of our old furniture and buy all new furniture, we can and will phase it out over time, as it becomes more available and affordable. Also, flame-retardant-free crib mattresses are and have been widely available, and are not too expensive. We got ours at Target. And there are lots of kids jammies that don’t contain them – just check the label.

So when I get upset about this and other issues, I will remember to take a deep breath and count to four. Because I’m pretty sure that stress is carcinogenic, too.

Today I present to you my very own editorial endorsement for Oregon’s upcoming election. This measure is being fiercely battled, and with quite a lopsided amount of money (the No campaign is bringing in double the donations), so I thought I’d throw in my two cents. This measure is also important to me as a mom — as I’ll explain.

Yes on Measure 92, GMO Labeling. It’s hard to believe that this is such a battle. Why wouldn’t we want the right to know what’s in our food? However, with millions of dollars coming in from Monsanto for the No on 92 campaign, it’s become a David vs. Goliath situation. Money buys elections. In case you’re unfamiliar with Monsanto, it is a multi-billion dollar chemical company.  (Here’s an interesting article about them). They’re bent out of shape because if this measure passes then Oregon will be the first state in the U.S. to require GMO labeling. Some pertinent info about this ballet measure, pulled from the Yes on 92 website:

Who else labels? 64 countries around the world require labeling of all GMO food, including all of the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and China.

Will labeling raise the cost of food? Labeling will cost about $2.30 per consumer per year.

Why do I care if GMOs are in my food? Most GMO food is designed to be resistant to pesticides. Some even manufacture their own pesticides — in which case, no amount of washing your produce can remove that pesticide residue. We also don’t know the long-term health effects of eating genetically modified foods — we are the guinea pigs to discover if they cause cancer or other health problems.

As a mom, I want to avoid feeding my child GMO food as much as possible, because I’m wary of the long-term health repercussions. I don’t trust food that was made in a chemistry lab. And even if it is safe — we still have the right to know what’s in our food.

The wife of Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, didn't have many career options.

The wife of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, didn’t have many career options. Photo credit: Alice Evans

 

It seems that people in my generation, commonly known as Millennials, have some confusion over this issue of finding their “calling.” And really, can you blame us? We’ve grown up in an era of unprecedented opportunities. We’ve all been told since we were little that we could be anything we wanted when we grew up — if we just believed in ourselves and worked hard enough. Here, have some fairy dust to go along with that thought.

So, do you want to be a politician, a scientist, an artist, a lawyer, or a surgeon? An astronaut, a marine biologist, or a kindergarten teacher? The problem with too many choices is that it’s overwhelming. Our limited brains can’t handle an unlimited number of options. It can be hard enough to choose whether to make spaghetti or tacos for dinner.

It’s also unrealistic to say that we have unlimited career options. Professional athlete is out reach for most of us, I think. Yet many people are lucky enough to have a variety of options. My dad had a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and later decided to get his master’s in Computer Science and became a computer programmer. My friend Holly had a degree in Romance Languages and 6 years later is in the midst of physical therapy school. Her husband was a landscape architect and is now a middle school teacher. So we do have options, and we can even change career paths if we choose.

I’ve done a lot of praying, reading and general soul-searching about my calling over the years. I want to live a meaningful life — I believe there are specific reasons I’m alive and I don’t want to miss out on those reasons.  Here’s what I’ve come to believe about the topic of finding your calling.

Your calling is about more than paid work. Some important aspects of your life-calling involve your relationship to others. If you’re married, being a loving and supportive spouse is a significant part of your calling. Likewise, if you’re a parent, you’re called to be a great one. And we’re all called to be loving and supportive friends to different people at different times.

You have more than one right choice. If life were a test, it would be an essay test, and not a multiple choice one. I believe if you genuinely desire to do something meaningful with your life — then you will. It’s not really as complicated as we make it out to be.

Work is still work. Even if you are lucky enough to make a living pursuing your calling, it’s still work. There will still be moments when you won’t want to do it. You will still have to interact with difficult people, and complete boring tasks.

Examine your talents, passions, and opportunities. We all have specific talents and passions and I believe God wants us to use them to help others. My husband is a talented landscape designer, and he knew he wanted to pursue landscape architecture since he was a little boy. He hasn’t been able to work in the design field for the last 6 years because of the recession, but it’s my belief that he will get back to it — when the opportunity becomes available.

My soul-searching has led me to discover that  — as unfeminist as this sounds — being a great mother and wife is a huge part of my calling. Perhaps the most important part. But I also know that it’s not my entire calling, because I have a passion to do more. I know that writing is part of my calling because I just can’t stop writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 5-years-old. I’ve loved all my freelance writing and editing jobs even when I had to write about horribly boring topics.

Will writing turn out to be the bulk of my paid work, or more of a creative outlet? Or will I go back to being a classroom teacher? There are lots of things about teaching that I love, and some things that are challenging. We’ll have to wait and see what opportunities arise…

Have you found your calling? What is it?

Are doctors the best advocates for our wellbeing?

Are doctors always the best advocates for our wellbeing?

I’ve found that doctors generally don’t like to be questioned. And it would be easier if I could just unquestioningly follow their advice, but over the years I’ve discovered that I am the best advocate for my health and my child’s health. For example, a doctor once tried to prescribe me an anti-malaria medication that included psychosis as a potential side effect — and then belittled me when I asked him to instead prescribe me a different medication that had only minor side effects. Or, when I told my ob/gyn that I didn’t want to be induced (unless absolutely necessary) because Pitocin is known to cause more painful contractions — he blatantly lied to me and said that wasn’t true.

That being said, I would have gone ahead and vaccinated my daughter on the regular schedule, but my husband and I took a newborn care class where some parents were raising questions about vaccinations. For example, why is the Hep B vaccine given to all newborns? Babies need it if mom is Hep B positive, and it’s a good idea if any other close family is Hep B positive, but it’s a fairly rare, bloodborne disease. Our newborn care teacher recommended The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears for more information on vaccines.

I ended up following Dr. Sears suggested alternative vaccine schedule, with a few variations. I felt more comfortable with this than the recommended schedule because it spaces out the vaccines, so my daughter didn’t have to get as many shots at once. I was concerned that giving her so many shots at one time might be hard on her immune system. The official CDC schedule gives a 2-month-old 6 vaccines in one visit.

Here are the first few months of the Dr. Sears Alternative Schedule:

2 months (well-child visit)  DTaP, Rotavirus
3 months (shot-only visit)  Pc, HIB
4 months (well-child)  DTaP, Rotavirus
5 months (shot-only) Pc, HIB
6 months (well) DTaP, Rotavirus
7 months (shot) Pc, HIB

Some challenges I found with the alternative vaccination schedule are that:

It’s confusing. You will have to tell the pediatrician which shots you want at each visit. You have to know the schedule you are following and advocate for it. If you’re not paying close attention, your child may end up missing some vaccines for longer than you’d planned.

It’s time-consuming. Breaking the vaccine schedule up means more visits to the doctor. I took my daughter to the pediatrician once a month for shots for her first 7 months.

Some doctors really don’t like it. I chose a pediatrician who was comfortable with an alternative schedule, and he even suggested delaying MMR further until my daughter’s immune system was more mature. However some pediatricians are unwilling to deter from the official vaccine schedule.

So, will I follow an alternative vaccine schedule with our next child? Probably. Here’s why:

It feels safer to me.* I do realize that most children follow the official schedule without ramifications. I also think that if I were a doctor or public health official I would advocate for people to follow the official schedule. It’s in the best interest of public health for vaccination rates to be as high as possible — and the easiest way for that to happen is for people to follow the official vaccine schedule. But I don’t want to take risks with my child. So for me that means making sure she gets all the required vaccines, yet spacing them out. One of my reasons for being extra cautious is that I have a lot of allergies, some of them life-threatening, which means my daughter has a higher chance of developing allergies. She might be at a higher risk of having an allergic reaction to a vaccine, or perhaps too many vaccines at once might mess with her immune system and increase her risk of allergies. Who knows? I think the immune system is pretty complicated and we don’t understand it very well.

I also know that the vaccine-autism link is basically considered an urban legend by many. But after reading the Dr. Sears book, he says there have been court cases where families received settlements after evidence was found that a vaccination did trigger autism in their child. The catch? They were not allowed to use the word “autism.” I also have a close friend whose brother has autism — and the family has always been convinced that it was triggered by a vaccine.

If you want more information on alternative vaccine schedules, I recommend reading The Vaccine Book and talking with your child’s pediatrician. We did make some changes to Dr. Sears Alternative Schedule, such as delaying MMR further and giving Hep A much sooner.

*Please don’t sue me, this is just my opinion. The CDC and most pediatricians will tell you that the official vaccine schedule is perfectly safe.

Have you followed an alternative vaccine schedule with your child? Would you do the same again?

Photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

In an effort to get back into the practice of expressing gratitude, here are a few things I’m feeling thankful for this week.

Preschool. My daughter just started 2-year-old preschool last week, and it seems to be going well. It feels so good to have a few hours a week free to focus on housecleaning, errands, writing, etc. while she’s in school. Also I’m excited for us to get to know some other families since we still don’t know many people in town.

The trampoline gym. Cheap entertainment and exercise for the little one! A nice variation from visiting a park.

A whirlwind of motion at Bounce Trampoline Gym.

A whirlwind of motion at Bounce Trampoline Gym.

Fall. I love the change of seasons, the anticipation of fall holidays, and the general business of this season. I really enjoy being involved in lots of activities and many activities start up again in the fall.

Old friends. There’s something so wonderful and comforting about friendships that you’ve had for years. I’ve had the chance to connect with several long-term friends this week. That always makes me happy.

What are you grateful for today?

Ducks don't worry about the ideal time to start a family.

Ducks don’t worry about the ideal time to start a family. They just have lots of cute babies.

Having a child is, ahem, a major life change. Some times of life are obviously less-than-ideal for becoming a parent — like when you’re still in high school. But is there a best time to have a baby? And how do you know when that is?

My daughter was born when I was 28 and my husband was 29. We were among the first of our friends to become parents. Now that I’m approaching 31, parenting is becoming the new normal among our circle of acquaintances. That biological clock just becomes harder to resist, I guess.

We had several reasons for choosing to start our family when we did. We had already been married for 5 years when I became pregnant, so we felt like we’d had plenty of childless years together to develop our relationship. I also had finished my master’s degree and had several years of professional work experience, so I figured it would be possible to rebound from taking time off. I wanted to have my first child before age 30, because that reduces a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. We thought we might want 3 children, and I wanted 3 years between each child, so that would allow me to finish having babies before age 35 (at 35 you become an “elderly” pregnant woman — ability to conceive and sustain a pregnancy drops significantly). In many ways, 28 seemed like the perfect age to become a mom.

On the other hand, we hadn’t reached the financial goals I had expected to reach by 28. We didn’t own a house or have disposable income. In fact, we lived in a small 2-bedroom apartment with no dishwasher and one bedroom functionally unusable due to severe mold problems. So, that was not ideal. But we told ourselves: Our financial situation could change on a dime! God will provide! We’ll find a way!

So how did things turn out? Our finances have not improved. It’s been challenging. Still, we’ve managed to get by, remain debt-free, and even move to a new apartment with a dishwasher and 2 functional bedrooms.

In some ways, it definitely would have been easier to wait to have a child until we were older and (theoretically!) had more money. Or it might have been easier to have a child when I was 23 and had more energy. Don’t underestimate the enormous amount of energy required to care for a young child.

Really, there is no perfect time to have a child, and the best time will vary from couple to couple. If you’re considering whether now is a good time to start a family, you may want to ask yourself the following questions to help you evaluate the situation:

— Am I in a stable monogamous relationship? Would my partner make a good parent?

— Do I need more time to get to know my significant other before adding a baby to the mix?

— Do my partner or I have any addictions or serious emotional problems we should work on before becoming parents?

— Am I willing to sacrifice my waistline, sleep, personal life, career goals? (Yes, you can continue to have a successful career and be a parent, but often one parent’s career does go on the backburner for awhile…)

I asked my husband what he thought about this, and he said, “Don’t ask questions. If you want to have a baby you should. Nothing’s ever going to be perfect.” So there’s a perspective from someone who’s not a Type A personality.

If you’re a parent, how old were you when you had your first child? Would you have rather been older or younger if you could have done things differently?

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