Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Speedster in the snow

Our last two days in Colorado were warm, sunny ones -- perfect for playing in the snow. And Will shed his timid skin -- first on a big sledding hill near the Eagle airport, where Owen took mini saucer rides on our laps while Will took high-speed mega rides on an innertue wearing a flaming pink snow suit mom picked up at the ski daycare lost and found. He took at least 30 runs, caught some minor air on a jump and probably hiked a few miles getting himself back up to the top. And then he nearly threatened to stay by himself on the hill when we told him it was time to head for home.

Today Will had his first day of skiing, lift ticket and all. And while he didn't figure out how to stop until near the end of his final run, he definitely learned how to go. Rob and I wore ourselves out walking skiless down the hill positioning ourselves ahead of him so we could catch him before he lost all control. Between ski sessions, we let him rest and play for a couple hours with Grammy and Owen while we made a few runs too.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Snow, snow and more snow

Merry Christmas (a day late) from Colorado, where we definitely enjoyed a white Christmas. The snow drifts in my mom and dad’s back yard are about as tall as Will – so we’ve begun work on some snow caves for him and done some snail-paced sledding as we work to pack out a run while the snow keeps falling. Here’s Will in the igloo he worked on today with Rob.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Will gets us giving

Today's Ledger-Enquirer article includes an article about how Will's suggestion that we buy a house for a homeless man he noticed on the side of the road prompted us to do some direct giving to a couple area homeless and emergency shelters this year. If you live in the Columbus area and are interested in donating directly to a shelter, here's a list of shelters to consider giving to. Many of them happily accept anything from monetary donations to clothing, household items and toys -- new and used. But call ahead to see what a particular shelter needs and how you can deliver donations.

Damascus Way, 706-653-2061, 1200 11th Avenue, Columbus, GA 31901: Shelter for Women and Children
Hope Harbour, 706-324-3850, Battered women shelter, crisis hotline
House of Mercy, 706-322-6463, 1532 3rd Avenue, Columbus, GA 31901: Shelter for Men, Women, and Children
House of Restoration, 334-214-5522, 908 7th Avenue, Phenix City, AL 36867: Transitional Shelter for Men
House of T.I.M.E., 706-327-6836, 1721 13th Avenue, Columbus, GA 31901: Transitional Shelter for Chemically Dependent Women
Open Door Community House, 706-323-5518, 2405 2nd Avenue, Columbus, GA 31901: Transitional Shelter for Women
Russell County Shelter for Battered Women, 334-297-4401, Battered women shelter & rape response
Salvation Army, 706-327-0275, 1718 2nd Avenue, Columbus, GA 31901: Shelter for Men
Valley Interfaith Promise, 706-494-6348, 1214 3rd Avenue, Columbus, GA 31902: Shelter, Support & Services for Homeless Families
Valley Rescue Mission, 706-322-8267, 2903 2nd Avenue, Columbus, GA 31904: Shelter for Men
Source: http://www.homelessresourcenetwork.org/services.html

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Will quotables

First, from Friday, after his last day of school before Christmas break and before making a trip up to his Aunt Alicia's for an early Christmas celebration:

Will recounted something his friend had said to him at school:

"Mom, Creight said, 'I'll see you in January,' " Will said, chuckling at what Will obviously thought was a silly comment on Creight's part. "And I said, "I'm not going to January. I'm going to my Aunt Alicia's in Atlanta."

And then from today as we sat eating our early Christmas feast with Rob's sister, parents and grandmothers:

The phone rang and Alicia didn't answer it.

"No one has that number," she said. "It's just sales calls."

"Why's Santa Claus calling?" Will asked.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas crazed

I’m a procrastinator on all things Christmas and this past week the post-holiday madness has set in. I’ve been up until after midnight for 3 nights running and we still haven’t started addressing Christmas cards. Most of the time I kind of like the rushed run-up to the holidays anyway. It’s a fun kind of busy as long as Owen’s not tugging on my leg and crying while I’m trying to finish a task. On Saturday evening, we squeezed in a visit with Santa after Owen – who did wind up getting pink-eye -- had been on antibiotic drops long enough to not spread the illness to all other Santa lap sitters. Owen thought Santa was scary so we took a photo with daddy too. And when Will found the courage to sit solo on Santa’s lap his response to the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” was a baffled “I don’t know.”

On the way home from our Santa encounter, Will posed the question to us: “What do I want for Christmas?”

I reminded him of a few meager things he’d mentioned in his letter to Santa, and he took great relief in the fact that we’d mailed that message to the North Pole since he’d drawn a blank on the big man’s lap. In Will’s letter, after asking for a few action figures, he got chatty with Santa:

“I want a Christmas tree,” he told me to write. “That was a joke to make you laugh. I want to know how you’re doing. Are there anymore reindeer? If you want to write a letter to me you can so I can be Santa Claus.

“Owen might want a new little ducky, please,” he added after I suggested he might throw in a request for his little brother.

And he signed off with his own printed name and some funky looking stick figures.
We did our Santa sitting at the Landings, which earned Will a ride on their holiday carousel:
Who has fun Santa letter excerpts to share?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pink eye for you and I

We’ve kept Will sequestered at home for a few days with pink eye, which we only officially diagnosed and started treating with antibiotic drops late yesterday. On the drive to the doctor I noticed my eye itching, figured I was probably getting psychological pink eye just from thinking about the illness too much, but sure enough by the time we’d arrived in front of the nurse I had a clear case too. The upside of pink eye, in our case at least, has been that we’ve felt almost perfectly fine. And I enjoyed having Will and Owen together all day today and discovering just how much sustained time they could spend enjoying each other. I kept sneaking off into other rooms and keeping an ear out as they invented new things to do.

Occasionally Will would find me and register a complaint:

“I had the jack-in-the-box first and Owen took it,” he came to tell me once in a whiny voice.

“Hmmm,” I said. “I wonder how you could work that one out?”

“I guess just let him play with it,” he said, suddenly chipper, and he trotted back to play some more.

Tonight we passed our 24-hour on antibiotic drops mark, so we’ll get to return to the world. I’m still marveling at the fact that Owen hasn’t yet succumbed to pink eye himself since once of his favorite things to say of late is “eye, eye, eye” as he points to the eye of any nearby family member with such eagerness that he sometimes sticks his finger right in the eye he’s identified. We’ll see what he’s looking like in the morning.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cookie time

One thing I love about the holidays is the excuse to bake a lot of evil sweet things and then unload them on Will’s classmates and our coworkers – while sampling plenty ourselves. This year we’re making gingerbread cookies, sugar cookies, candy cane cookies (less for their taste and more because it’s fun to roll out little red and white snakes and twist them into candy cane shapes), chocolate covered pretzels and magic cookie bars. Will has played lead baker much of the time. I mastermind the cookie production but leave most of the pouring, stirring, cookie-cutting and icing and sprinkle-applying to Will.

Our main difficulty is managing Owen if he wakes up from a nap when we’re still prepping cookies. Generally he climbs up onto the chair Will’s standing on, squeezes behind his big brother and starts grabbing for various cookie making tools, at which point I swoop him up and attempt to find something more interesting than cookie dough to occupy him. No easy task. Play dough on the floor just isn’t the same. A couple times I've just let him stand on a chair at the kitchen sink, pouring water between containers (and of course onto the counter and floor), rubbing bar soap on his hands and generally making a grand mess. All in the name of buying a few minutes of peaceful cookie making for those of us who can be counted on not to stick our freshly washed hands in our mouths and noses before handling the cookie dough.

After we'd finished most of our cookie-making, I read this Cookie Swap article in the Food Section of the Ledger with links to some tasty looking cookie recipes. I'd like to try the Persimmon Oatmeal Cookies with Coconut for a start.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tree hunting and trimming

We made our annual trip out to Lakeside Christmas Tree Farm , near Phenix City, Ala., to cut a native Eastern Red Cedar. The next best thing to a trek in a snowy forest hunting for a Christmas tree (which I have fond memories of from my childhood in Colorado) is a wagon ride out to a Christmas tree plantation, where you can pick up a crude hand saw, let the kids run around in the maze of trees, and then cut your tree yourself. Here are some photos from this year’s excursion:

(Will took this one)
and one from our tree decorating celebration:

With Christmas music as background, Will sipped hot cocoa while Owen sobbed every time I removed a box of breakable ornaments from his reach. He tossed my offerings of soft teddy bear ornaments or cloth wreaths to the floor, unappeased. Finally a durable Georgia football ornament pacified him for a bit. Still we wound up doing most of the decorating during his nap time to keep the frustration to a minimum. Now I’m waiting for our little climber to take his first stab at tree climbing as he attempts to reach those tantalizingly shiny red Christmas balls.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bringing children to funerals

Today we made a day trip to Marietta to attend Rob’s grandfather’s funeral. We brought the boys, enjoyed a lunch at the church with family and close friends, and then I chased Owen around during the visitation – occasionally managing to speak more than a sentence to someone before I had to dart off to catch the kid, who was too squirrely to stay in my arms. We made it through 10 minutes of the funeral service, as I stuffed Cheerios one by one into Owen’s mouth to keep him quiet. He clapped after hymns and eventually was making enough happy exclamations that I made a swift exit and let him run around on the sidewalks outside the funeral home.

Toddlers and funerals don’t exactly mix, but still I was glad to have both Will and Owen there. We had wondered briefly about whether we should leave Will with a friend, wondered whether he wasn’t old enough to grasp a funeral and might be bothered by it. And of course, a 4-year-old can’t grasp death. Most of the reading we did suggests that kids see death as reversible until about age 6. (Here’s one article if you’re interested.) But that doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from being included in an important family ritual – and surely the rest of us benefit from the joyfulness of the youngest generations at a time when we adults are grieving.

Back at home tonight I asked Will if he’d enjoyed the funeral and having a special time to remember Grandpa. He said he did. I asked him if he’d liked the music and the things that the speakers had said about Grandpa.

“Yes,” Will said. “And now he lives with God and Jesus.”

“I remember one part of the prayer,” Will added. “It says we’re all going to heaven.”

So we had a little conversation about heaven that quickly led Will to say, “But we want to live forever.”

“People don’t live forever though,” I said. “After a long, long life our bodies stop working and then it’s time for us to go.”

“Yeah,” he said and went back to his supper. And we left it at that.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Goodbye Grandpa

Just after midnight last night, Rob’s grandfather passed away. He was born July 28, 1920, in Blairsville, Ga., and he had a long, rich life – 88 years in total. He stayed at home until Thanksgiving morning, when he was moved to a hospice where we got to visit him that afternoon. And so we spent Thanksgiving being grateful for his life and grateful for the fact that we got to see him one last time, on that day, and see that he recognized us, even watch him manage to get out the words “I love you” as he looked out on his grandchildren and great grandchildren and his wife. Grandpa was a soft-spoken, warm-hearted man. He gave the kind of firm prolonged hug that made you certain he was happy to see you and I often noticed that his eyes would get moist just looking at family members, especially when a goodbye was looming. He had a tender heart and a deep love for his family.

On Wednesday, we’ll take the boys up to Marietta, Georgia, for his funeral. First here’s a little tribute in photos – with a focus on Grandpa as a great grandfather (the only great grandpa Owen would ever meet).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Singing together

There is nothing I love more than to sing songs with Will and Owen. We’ve already dipped into our Christmas carol repertoire, which we’ll really let loose next week. But I realized, as we watched the Peanuts Thanksgiving special with Will Tuesday night, that I hadn’t been singing “Over the River and through the Woods” with him in anticipation of Thanksgiving. It’s a song I remember singing growing up – at least that opening verse.

I went here to find the full lyrics, and hit upon some accompaniment music too. Today we sang the song several times over in the living room as we galloped around acting it out too. Owen ran back and forth and then did his speak-and-sign combo for “more” every time we finished the tune.

There’s an even fuller, more original (it seems) version of the song, which was originally published as poem by Lydia Maria Child in 1844, here. But the first link seems a little more simple and singable.

And if you didn’t hear it already, take time to listen to British composer and artist Brian Eno’s “This I Believe” essay, which aired on NPR on Sunday. It’s entitled “Singing: The Key To A Long Life,” and in it Eno argues that we should all spend time singing together – whether or not we have kids. He recommends a capella. He also puts in a plug for making group singing a central ritual in each school day for children of all ages. And he provides a Group-Sing song list (aimed a bit more at adults than young kids).

I definitely feel the most joy and harmony in my preschool class when we are all singing a song together, especially one that we’ve repeated so many times that the lyrics roll off the children’s tongues with supreme confidence. We swing and sway and smile at each other, enjoying our togetherness.

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving! Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One little, two little, three little Indians

Today for the first time Will actually performed in a pre-school program. For him at least, 4 years old appears to be the just ripening age when it makes sense to both stand on a stage in front of a crowd full of strangers and sing songs with accompanying hand motions all at the same time. Even last spring, Will was too bewildered by the presence of the crowd and the newness of the stage to do much more than stand and look around as his peers sang around him.

Today he sang every song, pausing here and there to put his finger against the side of his head and roll his eyes up as he tried to remember what exactly he was supposed to be singing. Owen was mesmerized by it all and clapped enthusiastically for each song and poem.

Here’s Will, in Indian dress, having his Thanksgiving feast with his friends.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Local farmers find inspiration abroad

Today’s Leger-Enquirer includes a feature I wrote about Chris and Jenny Jackson, two young Pine Mountain Farmers who recently went to Italy for the biennial Terre Madre conference, which this year brought together 7,000 farmers, food producers, chefs and educators committed to promoting traditional foods, local farms and sustainable agriculture. You can watch a short video featuring Chris and Jenny and their farm, courtesy of Ledger-Enquirer videographer Joe Paull, by going to the Ledger-Enquirer home page, scrolling down and clicking on the organic farming video.

There wasn’t room in the story to include much detail about Chris and Jenny's experiences at Terra Madre, so here’s a few more details about their experience in Italy:

This year’s conference focused on young people, and about 1,000 of the participants were, like Chris and Jenny, under 30. Chris and Jenny said they were inspired by the stories of other young farmers they met from places ranging from Ethiopia to Australia. They sampled and savored cacao beans from Mexico, heirloom peaches from Sicily and a procession of other tasty rare and traditional food species from across the globe.

They listened to everyone from the Prince of Wales and the Italian Foreign Minister (albeit on pre-recorded broadcasts) to renowned American chef, author and local food advocate Alice Waters and Indian physicist, environmental activist and author Vandana Shiva, who offered, in Chris and Jenny’s opinion, one of the most the most eloquent and compelling arguments for the need to reform the global food system.
In October, to help raise funds for the 15 Slow Food Atlanta members who traveled to this year’s Terra Madre conference, Chris and Jenny held a benefit “Dinner on the Farm” and played host to some 200 guests who enjoyed a gourmet dinner with heritage hog and an array of side dishes made with produce fresh off the farm. The event was so well received that the Jacksons hope to make an annual tradition of it.

We went to this year's dinner with Will and Owen (who loved running around on the farm and enjoyed the delicious food too). And we'll hope to attend many dinners to come.

Chris and Jenny shared a couple photos from Italy.

Here they’re in Volterra, a small Tuscan town:

And here they are “enjoying an exceptional meal in Cortona” with a college friend and traveling companion:

Also, if you’re interested in reading more about how the local food movement might play into future U.S. food policy, Michael Pollan offers interesting insights in a pre-election letter (entitled “Farmer in Chief”) to whomever would become the president-elect that was published in the New York Times Magazine. As it turned out, Barack Obama read that letter and referenced it in an October interview with Time Magazine.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Experts say: Let them play

I was glad to see this article in Wednesday’s Ledger-Enquirer. It’s a report from the Wonderplay conference in New York, where early childhood educators gathered to discuss play and how to restore its prominence for children across the country.

Experts cited in the article say children on average spend 8 to 12 hours fewer engaged in free play than they did in the 1980s. It’s a good reminder to limit television and video games and to consider whether, when we haul our kids around to umpteen organized activities, we may actually be doing a lot of work and spending a lot of money in order that they can learn less and have fewer opportunities to be creative and independent.

Here are a few quotes in case you don’t make time for the article:

Among the speakers at last week's Wonderplay conference Y was Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a Temple University psychologist who contends that lack of play in early childhood education "could be the next global warming."

Without ample opportunity for forms of play that foster innovation and creative thinking, she argues, America's children will be at a disadvantage in the global economy.

"Play equals learning," she said. "For too long we have divorced the two."

Psychologist and author Michael Thompson contends that diminished time to play freely with other children is producing a generation of socially inept young people and is a factor behind high rates of youth obesity, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder and depression.

Many families turn to organized sports as a principal non-school activity, but Thompson noted that this option doesn't necessary breed creativity and can lead to burnout for good young athletes and frustration for the less skilled.

Vivian Paley, a former kindergarten teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and now an author and consultant, argues that the most vital form of play for young children involves fantasy and role-playing with their peers.

"They're inventing abstract thinking, before the world tells them what to think," Paley said in her speech to the conference. "It gets them thinking, 'I am intended to have my own ideas.'"

She worried that preschools, in the drive to prepare students for the academic challenges ahead, are reducing the opportunity for group fantasy play - and thus reducing children's chances to learn on their own about fairness, kindness and other social interactions.

Also in the article, Thompson cites some key factors that are robbing children of some of the playtime they once enjoyed:

-Parents' reluctance to let their kids play outside on their own, for fear of abduction or injury, and the companion trend of scheduling lessons, supervised sports and other structured activities that consume a large chunk of a child's non-school hours.

- More hours per week spent by kids watching TV, playing video games, using the Internet, communicating on cell phones.

- Shortening or eliminating recess at many schools - a trend so pronounced that the National PTA has launched a "Rescuing Recess" campaign.

- More emphasis on formal learning in preschool, more homework for elementary school students and more pressure from parents on young children to quickly acquire academic skills.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What to expect when you're not expecting

Yesterday, I got the question from an acquaintance as I stood holding Owen on my hip: “Are you expecting?” she asked, a glimmer of excitement in her eye.

“No!” I laughed. “We’re not having any more.”

I’m sure she was mortified. But I had it coming.

A couple years back, I asked someone I’d just met at the park who looked fairly obviously pregnant to me, when her due date was. Turned out it was nine months prior. I’ve made a habit ever since of not mentioning someone’s pregnancy until she’s eight months and bursting, unless she brings it up first.

Of course I regretted my comment at the park much more than my friend’s from yesterday. Heck, she kind of inspired me. I came home and started doing those crunches my midwife ordered immediately after Owen’s birth. (Actually she ordered a vast array of tummy exercises, all printed out on a handy leaflet I long ago misplaced and all of which I've forgotten by now.)

I also stood at a mirror, looked at myself in profile as my friend had seen me: hips jutting forward, pooch belly that I’ve never lost since Owen’s birth projecting out even further than usual, fairly low-on-the-hip jeans and overly long shirt making it all the more conspicuous…

And my unbiased assessment of me in that stance?: Obviously pregnant.

I swear I’m not. But I have had this sort of unnerving awareness of my little pooch belly for the past 30 hours or so – kind of like it’s a little third person I’m toting around.

I’m going to get down on the floor and do some more crunches now. (Actually I’ve read that aerobic exercise does more to tone tummies than sit-ups – but right now I’m too tired too jog. Here's one article with a regimen for losing belly fat that I have absolutely no plans to follow. Show me the mother who can spend 60 minutes a day alternating between weight training and aerobic exercise? It's not going to happen in this house... So I may just stay apparently pregnant for some time to come. There's also this mom-oriented beat-the-belly blog site . I have no plans to buy the video and no illusions that I'm about to get on a regular exercise regimen, but for a night or two I might try the crunch-free "bird-dog" and "medicine ball wood chop" exercises that Fit Yummy Mummy recommends. Mostly because I like their names. )

Monday, November 17, 2008

First hair cut

This weekend, we gave Owen a spur-of-the-moment first hair cut, before a bedtime shower with dad. I was still waiting for Owen to grow enough hair to make it worth cutting, but Rob persuaded me that it was time for the wispy bits behind the ear to go.

I ran for the camera and took a quick before and after shot, which could become a sort of vision test (Can you tell the difference between the boy’s hair in photo A versus photo B?). We were rushing bedtime too much to wait for a cute smile so we settled for these baby mug shots – featuring Owen with a deer-in-headlights look sporting just a smidgen of snot beneath the nose and drool beneath the mouth (Vision test 2: How many glistening spots of bodily fluid can you detect on this neglected baby's face?). No glamour here, just documentation.

Now that I have time to reflect on it, I'm feeling a bit sentimental about those little wisps (which have of course been safely stowed in an envelope to be inserted in Owen's baby book). I kind of miss them already.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Until now, playdates for Will have been mostly joint affairs – get-togethers for moms and kids all at once. I realized yesterday, when we had Will’s friend Creight come over by himself, how much I can accomplish around the house during a kids-only playdate and how much more I notice about the kids’ play when I’m not flapping my own mouth with another mom or two.

The highlight from yesterday afternoon was when I eavesdropped from the kitchen on this conversation that the boys were having in the next room. For over an hour, Will, wearing his spiderman costume, and Creight, dressed up as Batman, had been concocting various superhero adventures around the house. Their teacher had talked with them earlier in the day about how the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower from England after deciding they didn’t want to live under their king anymore, all of which managed to inspire this dialogue (which I quickly started transcribing):

Batman: I’m glad we’re here to protect each other.

Spiderman: Me too. And when we kill bad guys we protect the whole world too. So there’s no more bad guys except in England. Because the people want to do what they want to do, so that’s why they sailed to America, so they don’t have to live under the king.

Batman: I think we should go to England and kill the king with our guns.

Spiderman: Ok, let’s go!

And the boys gathered some plastic pegs, which they were using as guns, and ran into the next room.

For me, fresh off reading Vivian Paley’s “A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play” (which I recommend to early childhood teachers and parents alike), it was a fun scene to overhear.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Redshirt preschoolers

I’m preparing to get myself motivated to seek out school options for Will next year. Beyond having no clear sense of where he’ll go to elementary school, we’re also still wrestling just a bit with whether to have him repeat pre-K this year. Ever since he was born on his August 31 birthday, I’ve been leaning towards two years of pre-K. Even Rob, who was once a proponent of sending Will on if he seemed intellectually ready, is hesitant to send our not-at-all-tall son into the daunting world of kindergarten, where he would be about 2 years younger than some of his “redshirted” male peers who would doubtless look something like giants next to him.

Will’s got plenty of maturing to do, but at least so far, he’s kind of a do-gooder at school – focused during circle time, careful in executing written work, happy to sit very still for just about any book – all of which sort of complicates the issue. He’s not necessarily one of those jumping-off-the-walls-boys for whom school is a cruel punishment inflicted way too soon. Still I’ve heard many stories from mothers and educators who regretted sending their son too soon (some of whom didn’t come to regret the decision until their sons were in high school) but I have yet to hear from someone who regretted holding their son back. And there’s a good part of me that likes the idea of protecting Will from that grueling 8:00 to 3:00 day that is public school kindergarten for an extra year. I may wind up holding him back a year just to keep him playing creatively and moving around for several extra hours per week. In the end, maybe he’ll learn more?

We’re still mulling it over though. If you’ve got any advice on the matter or your own personal story, I’d love to hear it. Here’s an interesting article on the subject from Australian psychologist Steve Biddulph.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It’s a…… turkey??

So here’s a Thanksgiving edition of what I’m thinking should be a series entitled “What’s That????? Crafts.” (Go here for What’s That??? Halloween crafts.) This one was fun and simple – if slightly unrecognizable -- and part of a test run for an art project I’ll do with my preschool students later in the week.

Here Will, my guinea pig artist, displays his small-bodied turkey:

You can make a much-improved version with your kids at home:

Give your child a coffee filter and have them color away with Crayola markers. Let them know they’re coloring the feathers of a turkey. When they’re finished give them a tub of water and a small paint brush and let them paint over the marker with water for a watercolor effect. Then draw a body at least twice as big as the one I drew for Will (not sure where my turkey proportioning skills ran off to today) and let them attempt to cut the thing out. If it looks a little rectangular so be it. Let them draw on eyes, beak and wattles – or do more construction paper cutting for these features – and glue to the filter. And voila! -- it’s a tie-dye turkey.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Visiting Westville

We’ve been living in Columbus for five years now, and finally made our first trip to Historic Westville, “Georgia’s working 1850s town” yesterday – partly inspired by the fact that they were hosting a fall festival, complete with some bluegrass music by the Bibb City Ramblers. I wasn’t sure how much Will would appreciate a living history museum, but it turned out to be a perfect adventure for a 4-year-old.

Will and his friend Charlie enjoyed touring the historic homes, where they found the spinning wheels, the wells and the old fashioned cradles fascinating. “Can we go into another house?” they’d ask.

At one stop, we looked at a butter churn, which Will remembered learning about in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods.” I hadn’t considered how the Wilder books had prepared Will to think about what life must have been like “in the olden days.”

We also sampled some ginger bread, cornbread biscuits and cane syrup juice – all concocted by costumed “townspeople” in their various old fashioned ways.

The boys, Owen included, enjoyed playing with the crude wooden toys of a pre-plastic, pre-battery era...

and communing with the farm animals.

Here’s a final photo by photographer Will:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Watching history

Before the presidential race was called, the highlight of my election day was a trip I made a few hours before the polls closed here to an apartment building near our house. A few weeks ago I’d helped a handful of residents there register to vote and apply for absentee ballots because they were either elderly or had no transportation to the polls. One man was 87 and had hands too shaky to do much more than sign his name. I helped him fill out forms and promised to return to help him with his ballot. When I went back over a week ago I learned that he’d been hospitalized with pneumonia. I wondered if he might be dying.

On Tuesday I went to the apartment building once more to check on whether two of the other voters whose absentee ballots never came in the mail were able to make it to the polls. (One woman, in her 60s, had found a ride, and carted her oxygen tank along with her.) And there standing and smiling on his front porch was the 87-year-old-man, recovered from his pneumonia. He went into his apartment and found his ballot, and we sat down together as I read the ballot to him and bubbled in his selections, then watched as he labored to sign it with his shaky hand. As I drove the ballot to the elections office, I thought about just how much history this man had witnessed over his life and how it must feel to him to have traveled through the decades from a time when he was denied the right to vote to a time when he could watch a black man become the 44th president of the United States of America.

I wrote those first couple paragraphs as the election results were still coming in. And then when in his victory speech, Barack Obama spoke eloquently about the even longer journey through history of a 106-year-old Atlanta voter named Ann Nixon Cooper, I thought again about my 87-year-old neighbor and about how all of us saw our world change last night.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


We managed to squeeze in a brief stint of coastal trick-or-treating with Will, the knight, last Friday while sick Owen, who never donned his dragon costume, stayed at the cabin with my parents. We procrastinated about the whole affair and as we drove through the 7 p.m. dark toward the little town center at Seaside, an obviously nervous Will asked, “Mom, why can’t we go trick-or-treating in the morning?”

Note to self: Next year trick-or-treat before dinner. Some four-year-olds get spooked in the dark even when they're wearing protective armor.

We learned at Seaside that we’d missed the business-sponsored trick-or-treat session, which catered to more responsible parents who got their little ones out between 4 and 6. But a semi-nearby Methodist Church was hosting a trunk-or-treat, we learned, and tourist-stragglers like us were welcome.

So we drove through the dark up a highway to a church in the middle of nowhere, where the trunk hosts generously dropped handfuls of candy and Cliff bars and packs of gum into Will’s jackolantern pail. He was only brave enough to approach about four trunks and he still came away with a hefty load.

“What do you say?” I’d ask him as we approached a new car.

“You say it,” he'd say shyly, pointing to me.

So we compromised. I’d count to 3 and together we’d chant “Trick or Treat” with Will speaking in a barely audible whisper.

I was grateful to the church for saving Halloween for Will – but part of me felt like we were trick-or-cheating. I thought about the days when I had to work for each bit of candy in my pail, going door to door and earning one little piece at a time, until I’d covered the whole town, walked a mini-Halloween marathon, worked up a sweat and filled my bucket with candy that I would count and organize and then savor, one piece at a time, until about a month later when I’d finally finished the stuff off. Will has apparently inherited that penchant for counting and organizing candy rather than simply wolfing it all down. He’s held candy arranging sessions every day since Halloween.

Here he is working up the nerve to approach his first trunk.

And here are a couple shots of the boys enjoying the beach with Grammy on Halloween morning, the one day when neither of the boys was nauseated.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

If that's a vacation, I need a vacation from it

Our vacation to the beach over the past half week turned into a vacation from good health. In the middle of the night, maybe 6 hours after we arrived with my parents at the cabin at Grayton Beach State Park, Will came down with a nasty stomach bug, which lasted just 8 hours for him, but which Owen then managed to catch and keep for the rest of our stay. That left us one morning and afternoon with everyone happy on the beach -- and the rest of the time Owen and I, especially, were mostly in survival mode. Since Owen decided to get well just in time for our return trip, this is one vacation I’m pretty glad to be back from. I’ll post a couple photos from our happier moments when I recover my sanity.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More, more, more

Luckily for him, Owen perfected his “more” speaking-and-signing combo in time for my parents' visit to Columbus.

The boy thrives on repetition of the simplest things. In the car today, he spent a good 10 minutes saying “all done” back and forth to Grammy for no good reason, laughing with each new speaking of the phrase. He doesn’t appear to notice the irony in ceaselessly saying “all done”

After dinner Grammy, Grandpa and Will spoiled Owen more with about 50 renditions of patty cake. Every time he asked for “more,” he got it.

Once Grammy and Grandpa are gone I’m afraid Owen’s going to have to settle for “less.” Anyone know sign language for that one?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bringing in the leaves

Fall is my favorite season for nature art. Will and Owen both love to hunt for leaves. Will likes to collect them; Owen likes to hold them and crush them. We’ve glued leaves on paper, made crayon rubbings of leaves and this weekend Will and I put together a simple fall wreath.

We bought a $3 twig wreath at Michaels, then went outside collecting leaves, pinecones and acorns. Will helped me position the leaves, burying their stems in the wreath, while Owen added to the challenge, occasionally capturing one of Will's leaves and tearing it up beyond recognition. I tied on the pinecones with yarn and then secured things in place with a glue gun – and then I got lazy and tossed the acorns back outside when I noticed they would be almost imperceptible on the wreath.

We’ve already lost a few of the not-so-well-glued leaves to the wind, but we’re still enjoying our autumn wreath. We’ll discard the leaves whenever it’s time to transition toward Christmas wreaths and store the twiggy wreath frame for next year’s leaf collection.

What do your kids do with leaves?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Little climber and his big accomplice

Rob tends to encourage Owen’s climbing endeavors even more than I do. The other day as Rob was strumming his guitar in the kitchen he watched while Owen pushed a chair beside the kitchen counter, climbed atop the chair and stood reaching for a ceramic mug filled with pens, pencils and a big pair of scissors. That was the moment I came in and gave both boys a friendly scolding as I swooped Owen off his perch and returned him to the floor.

“Look how much he’s learning, though,” Rob said.
A few minutes later, I watched Owen push a chair next to the stove and touch one of the burner dials before I came swooping in warning him about the dangers of stoves.
“See how much he’s learning,” I said to Rob.
But that just inspired Rob set up a more precarious climbing for challenge for Owen. So he held this kid’s chair on top of the kitchen chair and spotted Owen as he scaled to the top of his father’s crazy contraption, which was of course designed primarily to either make me protest or make me laugh.
I did both, took a moment out for the photo, and then rescued Owen again.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Little climber

At 15 months, Owen has decided that his primary purpose in life is to climb stuff, and once having climbed it, to stand on the conquered object and grin with the fullest sense of his own glory. He climbs chairs of all sizes, rocking chairs included, coffee tables, concrete steps, slides designed for over-4-year-olds (although he usually only partially conquers these). And the minute you bring him down from any of these perches he climbs back up again. And again and again and again.

Yesterday, he climbed up on a chair that accompanies a desk, which is home to our fish tank. This time he didn’t waste time standing on the chair; he started to work climbing from the chair to the desk and he looked like he was preparing to ascend the fish tank after that.

He’s had a minor spill or two but nothing to scare the climber out of him.

As he stands, teetering on the edge of a chair in the kitchen, I'll say “Sit down on the chair, Owen.”

And he'll flash me a devilish grin and plop down so fast, it probably would be safer if he’d just stay standing.

Will at this age spent more time observing the world and less time climbing it. He’d enjoy watching other kids climb things at the park, while he stood wide-eyed, just taking it all in. Owen would rather run and climb himself. He’s also taken to hanging from low-lying bars like a little monkey and he loves to run from me laughing when I suggest we do something like put his shoes on. I’m just glad I got the avid runner-climber in round two, now that four years of parenting has sufficiently squelched most of my hover-mother instincts. If Will had climbed like this, I would have been pulling my hair out. As it is, I can’t help but enjoy watching Owen climb the world and look out upon it with unfettered joy -- as if no man before him had ever climbed a chair so tall.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Light reading for parents of strong-willed kids

A month and a half ago, Rob told me I needed to read this column on Salon.com. When I finally got around to it yesterday, it had me in tears I was laughing so hard. At one point I had to collect myself, take a deep breath and dab my eyes so that I could see to read to the end. The title, “Is my kid a jerk, or is he just 2?” is a hint at the contents. I’m not sure if it will seem funny to most parents, but for Rob and I, it hit home. Fortunately Will has mellowed out enormously since the peak of his tantruming days but occasionally when he’s short on sleep, we witness the return of the 2- and 3-year-old beast within.

If your children occasionally or frequently become irrational, irate, power-hungry little balls of fury, you deserve to take a quick empathetic journey into the home of a writer named Christopher Noxon, whose reflections were triggered when his two-year-old pooped on his foot and then looked up at him with satisfaction.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Scrappy decor

About a week ago, after some prodding from Will to get our Halloween decorating in gear, Rob retrieved a pathetic Halloween box from the attic. It contained nothing but a funky looking stuffed pumpkin, a twiggy fall wreath with fake orange berries, a clay jack-o-lantern candle holder and a plastic trick-or-treating pumpkin pail. So I decided to launch Will on a series of do-it-yourself-kid Halloween projects that have occupied Will’s time and creative abilities and produced some truly spooky decorations that have left Rob wondering why we don’t just go out and buy some polished looking décor.

My philosophy is if a kid’s playing artist/creator, he should do as much of the work as he possibly can himself. I’ll write bubble letters, for example, or cut out a shape that Will’s drawn. But the ideas and the execution are largely left to him. The result is some funky, scrappy, crude-looking décor that Will and I happen to like just fine.

There’s this Happy Halloween sign for example, colored by Will on the back of a strip of Cheerios box. (It’s hard to tell but there’s a few trick-or-treaters drawn between the letters. Will was glad when he realized this sign was facing toward one of our front windows. He imagined that folks driving by would enjoy viewing a sign that’s kind of hard to make out from just 12 inches away.)

And there’s this pumpkin, whose not so circular shape Will drew and then painted himself. Even the painted toilet paper tube stem didn’t stop Rob from asking me, “What is that?” -- out of earshot of Will.

There’s also this sock ghost, with a head stuffed with newspaper and sparse ghostly facial features drawn in marker.

When it came time to make a haunted house Will kind of lost track of its “hauntedness” as he began industriously working to cut out windows and doors (these he did cut himself) and then color them in cheery blues and purple. For a few days the cardboard-brown house sat on the dining room table awaiting its ultimate purpose. Rob called it clutter, but Will and I were just waiting to add some Halloween flair. Eventually Will gave the house a black paint job, and now we’re calling it scary. We’re planning to add some stretched-out-cottonball spider webs, which will no doubt only add to its beauty.

But my favorite piece of Halloween décor is this footprint ghost that Owen made with his teachers at school. I’ve decided to build on their idea by making a banner with a wide strip of black poster board and having the boys each add a footprint ghost to it each year. We’ll write the date below the ghosts and I’ll let Will write his name in white crayon. Then each year, we can pull out the banner and add two new ghosts to our footprint ghost parade.

Who has Halloween craft ideas to share?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Post-debate mom talk

I'm just back from a small debate-viewing party, and feeling pretty okay about not having to watch the presidential candidates do a round four of these head-to-head matches. Don't get me wrong. I'm a political junkie of sorts. But the candidates' talking points and the pundits' assessments of the candidates "offense" and "defense" gets wearisome for me pretty fast.

I'd rather read in-depth articles examining the candidates and the vice presidential candidates political records -- as well as their responses to journalists' questions in situations where the journalists have space to keep pressing for answers. I'd rather go to factcheck.org and politifact.com than swallow political deceptions and distortions at face value. (McClatchy newspapers also offers a good fact-checking overview of last night’s debate here as does NPR here.) I'd rather assess Sarah Palin as she shares some unscripted straight talk with Katie Couric than hear another stump speech.

It's easy to get weary of politics in a presidential election year, but as a mother I feel like there’s too much on the line. I'm looking forward to getting together next week with a politically diverse group of mothers (in a book club that's discussing politics instead of a book for this month). One of those mothers directed me to this page of The Economist web site for some fairly in-depth and yet reasonably succinct (and skeptical) analysis of the candidates' competing platforms. You can click on items in the blue box on the left to read analysis of the candidates positions on everything from health care and the economy to Iraq and Afghanistan. I haven’t found time to get through all of it, but I plan to keep reading it in spurts. And I’ll keep listening to all the political news and analysis on National Public Radio, through my computer, as I clean up the kitchen late at night.

Somehow I’m still interested. And yet I can’t wait to get November 4 behind us. As a busy mom, I could stand to be a bit less politically preoccupied.

Where are you turning for election information? Or are you tuning out?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Confessions of a Halloween slacker mom

Today’s Ledger-Enquirer includes a little pre-Halloween column about my quick descent from creative costume-making mom to sell-out, buy-it-at-the-dollar-store-and-be-done-with-it Halloween slacker mom.

I’m aspiring to get creative again next year – and I applaud you if you’ve got more ambitious plans. Here are a few web sites for the inspired costume creator in you.
(The last site with cardboard-box costume ideas has me scheming about making a sufficiently “cool” if totally cumbersome race car costume with Will next year. It probably won't happen.)


Homemade Halloween costumes


Here's a photo of Will and Owen during a trial run of their Halloween costumes. I discovered that the hand-me-down frog is already too small for Owen, so we found hand-me-down dragon costume in the attic, which will make a better partner for a knight anyway.

Friday, October 10, 2008

We love ourselves

After a day in which Will had been alternately playful, whiney, boisterous and joyful (especially while frolicking with Rob in the front yard at dusk) he decided to cap things off with some unusually sweet bedtime talk.

As he sat down for his nighttime reading with Rob, he said, “Daddy, we’re best buddies. We love ourselves. But you know who loves us more? Mommy.”

Rob apparently agreed, and Will decided to march into the bedroom, where I was reading a bedtime story to Owen.

“Mommy, he said, I love you even more than you love us.”

“No you don’t,” I told him, “I love you to the moon and back,” quoting Big Nutbrown Hare in Sam McBratney's Guess How Much I Love You.

“I love you to the butterflies!” he said.

And we got into a little who-loves-who more contest that I think we both won.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Hold the meds, endure the colds

My 15-month-old is muddling his way through the first of what I imagine will be many colds in this first year of three-day-a-week morning daycare. All he gets as help from me is a little sympathy, some occasional saline spray to the nostrils to help flush the gunk out, and as much fluid as he’ll put down. No Dimetapp, No Pediacare for Owen. I’m wary of medicine that’s not absolutely necessary anyway, especially for young kids. And now, when it comes to cold remedies anyway, pediatricians, the FDA and the drug industry itself are suggesting that avoiding over-the-counter drugs altogether is probably the best plan of attack as we help our under-4-year-olds battle colds.

In case you missed it, an Associated Press story in today’s Ledger-Enquirer reports about the decision by companies that make over-the-counter cold remedies to recommend against using those products in kids under 4. Pediatricians have supported a ban for children under 6, the story says. As one doctor explains, “There is no evidence that these products work in kids, and there is definitely evidence of serious side effects.” Read the full story here.

As a side note: We have occasionally used a children’s decongestant when Will has had a cold and we’re heading somewhere on an airplane – to keep his sinuses clear enough to avoid the excruciating pain of air pressure changes with congestion. I learned that lesson in college when I perforated an ear drum while flying with a cold.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Farm dining

Yesterday we enjoyed a “Dinner on the Farm” at Jenny-Jack Sun Farm in Harris County. As preamble to the meal, we took a farm tour and learned from Chris Jackson about the crops he and his wife Jenny grow along with some of their strategies for organic gardening. Chris had recently built this moveable “chicken tractor,” which, along with the wire fencing that stretches out from it, can be moved around the farm so that the chickens’ droppings will fertilize different sections of the soil.

Will and Owen loved running around the farm, observing the chickens and tasting appetizers.
And the home-grown meal -- prepared by Chefs Eric Arceneaux of the Big Eddy Club in Columbus, Shannon Klein of Food Blossoms Catering and the Rose Cottage, and Mike and Evie Akins of Evie’s Country Gardens and served to about 200 guests -- was perfect. The menu included slow-cooked heritage hog, split peas with honey-sweetened grilled eggplant, cornmeal dusted fried okra over arugula tossed in green goddess dressing; roasted butternut squash and turnips, creamy stone-ground grits, and for dessert an assortment of pies and the most delicious homemade honey-lavender ice cream I’ve ever tasted.

After dinner, storyteller Pam Avery entertained the crowd. During that portion of the festivities, I
took the ever-moving-always-talking Owen across the road, where we petted a friendly horse.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Magazines for little people

For their birthdays, both Will and Owen got a subscription to an age-appropriate magazine. Will has been thoroughly enjoying the stories, photos, facts and activities in ‘Your Big Backyard.” But I’m an even bigger fan of Owen's Babybug Magazine . Silly as it may seem to buy an under-2-year-old a “magazine” subscription, these magazines are really more like books – sturdier than books with tearable paper pages but more enticing than a board book because the pages are thin and much more akin to the books that big people read. Something about the short little two-four page “stories” of daily baby-and-toddler life -- mixed with the occasional nursery rhyme – have proved riveting for both Will and Owen from well before their first birthday through their second. (Our first subscription to Babybug for Will was a gift from a former preschool teacher who has a good sense of what will fascinate kids.)

And apparently Babybug stories resonate with me too. I’ll find myself walking down the street and reciting one of the little one-page rhymes in my head for no reason: “Zoey and Zack sat back to back, eating their crackers out of a sack. Mmm, mmmm, what a good snack.” Evidence that the boys have wanted me to read the books again and again. And that I often think like a 1-year-old. (That rhyme apparently stuck with Will too since he recently named two newly purchased guppies “Zoey” and “Zacky.”)

What magazines do your kids enjoy? Or do you stick with books for the little people in your house?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dinner on the Farm

With the U.S. economy in a tailspin, I’m going to focus tonight on something local and pleasant: our weekend plans to attend a “Dinner on the Farm” this Saturday. Local farmers and Slow Food Atlanta members Chris and Jenny Jackson were among 15 Georgia delegates selected to go to the Terre Madre conference in Turin, Italy, where more than 6,000 food producers, chefs and educators from 120 countries will convene. To help them cover expenses they’re hosting a benefit dinner, featuring local and traditional foods -- including heritage hog and seasonal produce grown straight off the farm and prepared by Chef Eric Arceneaux of The Big Eddy Club and Shannon Klein of Food Blossoms Catering.

Kids are welcome (and if they’re under 12, admission’s free for them) and the event will feature storyteller Pam Avery and cooking demos by Chef Arceneaux well as a tour of the farm. It’s $40 per person but kids under 12 are free, so the money you save on babysitting can help cover the difference for a pricier than average meal. Chris and Jenny sell their produce at the downtown market in Columbus on Saturdays (although they’ll be skipping this Saturday to prepare for the big event). I’m looking forward to the chance to explore their farm with Will and Owen and to talk with Will about where exactly the food we eat comes from (when we manage to get it locally, anyway). Not to mention the opportunity to savor what I expect will be an exceptionally tasty meal.

The reservation deadline has been extended to Thursday (Oct. 2) so there’s still time to make plans to attend:

Time: 4-8 p.m. Saturday Oct. 4
Location: Jenny-Jack Farm Pine Mountain
707 White Cemetery Road
Pine Mountain, GA 31822
Price: $40 per person; kids under 12 are free

For reservation information contact: dinneronthefarm@yahoo.com

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Document and demolish

We’ve had a couple stay-at-home days while Will’s been fighting off a mild stomach bug. He’s played peacefully with Owen, due in part to our demolition-man strategy for dealing with 4-year-old build-and-preserve-it instincts set beside 14-month-old snatch-it-and-knock-it-to-the-ground instincts.

This is our policy for brotherly peace: Much of the time Will and Owen choose to play together or in near proximity – but if Will wants to build something temporarily off limits to Owen he goes to work in our office, with the doors closing Owen out. When he’s finished, he calls in Rob and I to view his work and ask him questions about it. If Rob’s at work, Will takes a digital picture of his masterpiece, carefully framing the photo to include as much of the structure as possible so that he can document it while it’s still standing.

And then we bring in demolition man Owen to knock the structure to smithereens. Will never protests – he seems to welcome the ritual. Meanwhile we’re acquiring quite a stockpile of digital photos by architect/photographer Will that look something like this:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reactions to the Caesarean series

The publication of our series on the rising Caesarean rates in Columbus and across the nation has launched an interesting conversation.

First, I learned from Elaine Mills, chapter leader for the International Cesarean Awareness Network of Atlanta, that on the same day the story about VBACs ran, another Columbus mother had a successful VBAC birth with Dr. Jospeh Tate in Atlanta. She wrote: “One of the Columbus moms who was pregnant at the time of your article gave birth today with Dr Tate in Atlanta - a successful VBAC after THREE cesareans, 10 lb 2 oz baby!!”

I’ve enjoyed reading about the insights and experiences on this subject of everyone from doctors and mothers to husbands and fathers – both in comments left on the Ledger-Enquirer Web site and in e-mails I’ve received. I’m going to share excerpts from a few of those e-mails that haven’t yet been posted online. And I hope more of you will join the conversation – either with a comment here or after one of the online stories, or by posting your own birth story under “forums” on the mom2mom site.

First, though I have an important clarification to make. Val Staples, the Opelika doula interviewed for one of the Sunday stories, has not only attended hospital births as the story suggested (due to my miscommunication with Val). All of the VBACs she attended were hospital births, but she said 8 to 10 of the 85 total births she has attended were home births – and she herself birthed her last three children at home. It’s an important clarification to make, since Val found herself disagreeing with Dr. Joseph Eikelberry and Dr. Joseph Tate, who both mentioned their opposition to home birth in the story.

In an e-mail Val offered this rebuttal:

I believe that home birth is a safe choice for a majority of expectant mothers. It has only been within the last centuries that birth has become a hospitalized event. And maybe if the United States could boast superior health statistics as a result of our highly technologically-influenced interventions, I would agree that everyone should birth in the hospital, but we just can’t. There are women who have educated themselves and have come to the conclusion that home birth is the choice for them, and I think that we should be able to do so legally.

Val also sent me a copy of a letter she wrote to Dr. Phil, who is soliciting home birth “regret” stories on his website for a future show. Here are a few excerpts from her letter:

Dear Dr. Phil,

I know you are soliciting home birth horror stories, but I REALLY hope that you are planning to present a balanced view…

Terrible things can happen at ANY birth -- regardless of the location. But the majority of home births are wonderful experiences for the mother and her baby.
I birthed in the hospital, and after the abuse I received at the hands of hospital staff, I decided to birth my last three children at home. I had no complications, and I am very happy with my experience.

Home birth is not a choice for everyone for many reasons. Midwives are trained to carefully screen their patients and refer them to a specialist if there are reasons that home birth is not a safe choice for them.

If you want drama, maybe you should investigate how certain states are refusing to allow couples to have a safe home birth with a midwife if that is their choice. People are crossing state lines to be able to have the kind of birth environment they want because these states are trying to stop home birth….

Another interesting e-mail came from Terri Allen, who told her story of having a VBAC some 25 years ago with Dr. Thomas Malone (a doctor featured in the story because he continues to offer VBAC in Columbus). She wrote:

I read your article today in the Ledger-Enquirer regarding VBAC with great interest as I was in the position of making a decision regarding that option in l983. My first delivery in 1981 was a C-Section. It was necessary due to placenta previa and breech positioning of my baby. My OB recommended I consider VBAC for any future deliveries.

In 1983 I found myself once again expecting a baby. We had relocated to Columbus, Georgia, and I began the process of not just locating a new OB, but trying for one who would consider VBAC. I opened the phone book yellow pages and began calling and asking right off the bat whether the doctor would consider VBAC. The response was "absolutely not" and pretty much communicated incredulity that I would even ask. I finally landed on Dr. Thomas Malone. Thank God! Dr. Malone reviewed my medical history, my previous pregnancy and delivery records and agreed that I was a good candidate for VBAC. He furnished my husband and I with medical journal articles and other information that related to the pros and cons of VBAC. He did not try to push one way or the other and made sure we knew of the potential risks.

There was no question to my husband and I that we would attempt this "controversial" delivery option. I am happy to say it was a good decision. I went into labor (all back labor) shortly after midnight and delivered a beautiful baby girl at 8:30 a.m. I used no anesthesia, went home in 2 days and recovered quickly.

I appreciate so much that this doctor was willing to step out on a limb for us. We had no medical insurance at the time so he also took the risk of us having to pay him in installments should the need for a C-Section have occurred. Obviously, he and his son are still leading edge OB's and I applaud their continued concern for the best interest of the mothers in their care.

Finally, Dr. Frank Saucier wrote in to offer his personal experience with VBAC and some insights into the state of maternity care through a doctor’s lens:

I am a local FP trained physician who formerly delivered babies including doing C-sections. Our first child had significant failure to progress (including failed forceps & vacuum) due to his hard-headedness--he would not mold. We then had 3 other very healthy children via VBAC at TMC by Dr David Roberts (who is no longer in Columbus). It was years ago when malpractice was common but still much less common than now. Plus, we knew David personally, he knew us well, and we all knew that he would do his best, and that whatever the outcome, we would not sue.We lived in China for 7 years, and I delivered several expat children there because I was the only doctor they trusted. Since China has a "one child policy", their C-section rate was about 55%--obviously only first deliveries since no second child means no VBAC. They did this because "parents only get one child, and if something goes wrong during delivery, we are responsible for that child's infirmity". (This is their thinking, not a direct quote.)

This point leads into a letter to the editor I wrote today which might be published:

Regarding the explosion of C-sections in the US, it is quite simple to understand why, and the reasons are the same as those which raise the overall cost of healthcare.

1. Expectations. The US population now has an expectation that healthcare is a right; that we should have perfect health with no pain at all times; that medicine is an exact science with definite, objective, clear-cut solutions & cures; that “I can do whatever I want to my body”, and the doctor has to fix it. In reality, of course, medicine is an art based on science and statistics, and the best doctors know how to best play the statistics based on their experience and skill. Even the best doctors make mistakes, and even in the best circumstances without mistakes, bad outcomes occur unexpectedly.

When healthcare, including a laboring mother, does not clearly go “perfectly”, the patient often loses all sense of reality and risk and wants the most secure/lowest risk plan followed. While doctors often know that patient fears are not sound, perhaps even downright unreasonable, if something goes wrong, it leads to problem #2.

2. Legal liability. We have far too many lawyers in this country needing to make a living, and they, with good reason, want to find work to feed their family. Some will find any way they can, even by immoral means, to file a lawsuit they know is not malpractice but that will likely generate income. This happens every day and creates realistic fear among doctors, especially obstetricians whose patients can have life-long infirmities from a bad outcome. Should a patient with a bad outcome be even slightly upset with the doctor, a lawsuit is much more likely; this greatly influences a doctor’s decisions, thus increasing the level of care and cost of medicine.

He adds more in his e-mail to me:

I now work in the emergency department at The Medical Center, and we take care of everything that comes in--we have to as law tells us we must care for people without regard for payment. …

Everyday I see the attitudes: You must take care of me and do what I want because I am the patient and the patient is always right…. We see the above expectation that they are owed everything to get healthy, even if they smoke, drink too much, eat too much, don't take their medicines or follow doctor's orders--it is their right!

We will only get out of this mess--high healthcare costs and everything else--when we get common sense back in play, when folks realize that we live in an imperfect world, and that pain and disease happen; when we get real legal reform and a loser-pays system. When folks have realistic choices of health insurance options---everyone doesn't need a Ferrari of health insurance--most do fine with a Ford or Chevy...

And that’s just a few perspectives among many. Go here and here to read many more comments about the stories that ran Sunday and Monday – and join the conversation if you like.

Monday, September 22, 2008

VBACs on the decline

Today’s Ledger-Enquirer includes the third story in the series I wrote examining the rising Caesarean section rates here and across the country. Many experts agree that one of the biggest factors in the recent spike in Caesarean rates is the increasing reluctance of doctors to allow women to attempt VBAC – or vaginal birth after Caesarean. Today’s story looks at what’s driving that trend and how some determined women are managing to buck it.

Please consider sharing your own birth story on the mom2mom forum. To launch the discussion, Elaine Mills, chapter leader for the International Cesarean Awareness Network of Atlanta, shares her story of the “cascading interventions” that led to a Caesarean in her first pregnancy, along with the story of her most recent VBAC (or vaginal birth after Caesarean) with her third child after two prior Caesareans.

Here’s a list of the risks and benefits associated with VBAC, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists July 2004 Practice Bulletin:

Benefits of VBAC over repeat Caesarean

Generally, successful VBAC is associated with:
Shorter maternal hospitalizations
Less blood loss and fewer transfusions
Fewer infections
Fewer thromboembolic events
Can avoid risks of multiple Caesarean deliveries including an increased risk of placenta previa and accreta

Risks of VBAC
A failed trial of labor may be associated with major maternal complications such as:
Uterine rupture
Operative injury
Increased maternal infection and the need for transfusion
Neonatal morbidity also is increased with a trial of labor
Although the incidence of perinatal death is low (generally less than 1 percent), it is more likely to occur during a trial of labor than an elective Caesarean

ACOG also says that more research is needed to help assess the risks and benefits of VBAC: The bulletin says “Despite thousands of citations in the world’s literature, there are currently no randomized trials comparing maternal or neonatal outcomes for both repeat cesarean delivery and VBAC. Intead, VBAC recommendations have been based on data from large clinical series suggesting the benefits of VBAC outweigh the risks in most women with a previous low-transverse cesarean delivery. Most have been conducted in university or tertiary-level centers with full-time in-house obstetric and anesthesia coverage. Only a few studies have documented the relative safety of VBAC in smaller community hospitals or facilities where resources may be more limited.”

Any opinions on ACOG’s assessment of VBAC safety? Weigh in with a comment.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Examining our rising C-section rates

Today marks the launch of a 3-part story I wrote for the Ledger-Enquirer about the rising Caesarean rates in Columbus – and across the nation. Two of the three stories are in today’s paper. The first story is an overarching look at the many factors that have driven C-section rates way up over the past decade (nationally the Caesarean rate has climbed 50 percent over the past ten years). The second story is a look at what expectant mothers can do to decrease their odds of having a C-section. Local experts agree that women do have power to reduce their chances of needing a C-section, partly by being informed and prepared to meet the various challenges and complications of childbirth.

Several of the experts cited in the article offered their suggestions for mothers-to-be regarding good pregnancy and childbirth books and videos. Their suggestions follow. In addition, Columbus mother Katy McRae, who is expecting her second child any day now, shares her story of how she was pushed toward a Caesarean she now believes was probably unnecessary. This is an online feature only, so be sure to take a look. And then, if you have the time or inspiration, consider sharing your own birth story on the mom2mom forum. To launch the discussion, Elaine Mills, chapter leader for the International Cesarean Awareness Network of Atlanta, shares her story of the “cascading interventions” that led to a Caesarean in her first pregnancy, along with the story of her most recent VBAC (or vaginal birth after Caesarean) with her third child after two prior Caesareans. Go to the Ledger's mom2mom site, click on forums and scroll WAY down to "Labor and Delivery: birth stories" to read Elaine's story.

Then coming tomorrow, we’ll have a final story that looks specifically at the reasons VBAC is becoming a rare option in Columbus.

But first, four sets of reading suggestions (preceded by the person recommending them). Feel free to comment on these suggestions or offer some of your own.:

Melissa Terry Flynn, a certified nurse-midwife with Obstetric and Gynecologic Associates of Columbus:

“My favorite books are ‘Gentle Birth Choices’ by Barbara Harper and ‘Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth’ by Ina May Gaskin.
‘Gentle Birth’ has a DVD of the same name, and ‘The Business of Being Born’ ” is great.

Val Staples:
“I usually recommend ‘The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth’ by Henci Goer and ‘Active Birth: The New Approach to Giving Birth Naturally’ by Janet Balaskas. I’m currently reading ‘Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care’ by Jennifer Block and ‘Born in the USA: How a Broken Maternity System Must Be Fixed to Put Women and Children First’ by Marsden Wagner. As far as movies, I love ‘Gentle Birth Choices’ by Barbara Harper and the new Ricki Lake movie (The Business of Being Born) is really good too. Paulina Perez’s ‘Special Women’ is good for someone interested in doulas.”
Dr. Joseph Eikelberry, vice chief of staff at The Medical Center and an obstetrician and gynecologist with Obstetric and Gynecologic Associates of Columbus:
“The classic textbook for pregnant women is ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ but I really like ‘The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy.’ It has much of the same information as the more formal ‘What to Expect…’ but it presents the information in a more humorous way, from the perspective of someone who has gone through pregnancy rather than presenting information in a more factual and medical manner.”

Dr. Joseph Tate, a clinical assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine and an obstetrician and gynecologist in private practice in Norcross, Ga.:
“In general, ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ seems to be the standard.”

And here is the story of one Columbus woman’s regret over a Caesarean that might have been avoided:

Columbus mother Katy McRae says she learned the hard way that it’s important to investigate a provider’s track record when it comes to performing Caesareans vs. vaginal births.
Before the birth of their now 2-and-a-half-year-old son, Peyton, McRae and her husband, Michael, had taken The Bradley Method childbirth classes, had written a birth plan and were hoping for a natural birth. But at 36 weeks McRae’s doctor told her that her baby was too large –and that a Caesarean was the safest option.
When McRae initially resisted, her doctor asked her to have her husband come into the office. There, McRae said, the doctor delivered a verdict that scared them into compliance: “I cannot guarantee the lives of your wife and your unborn child without a C-section.”
So at 38 weeks, McRae went to the hospital for a scheduled Caesarean and delivered a healthy baby, Peyton, who weighed in at 8 pounds, 2 ounces.
“My son was a normal healthy weight and size,” McRae said. “In fact, family members and friends who work in the medical field were kind of like, ‘That's it? That's the ‘big baby?’ "
McRae believes now she may have been pushed toward Caesarean by a doctor who was either afraid of a lawsuit (since large babies can pose risks to a laboring mother) or perhaps drawn to the efficiency and convenience of a scheduled Caesarean – as opposed to a long-drawn out and unpredictable natural labor and birth.
For McRae the experience of Caesarean felt grueling and dehumanizing. She said her doctor never talked to her during the procedure. And Peyton was rushed off to an incubator after they had difficulty getting his temperature, so McRae didn’t get to see her newborn son for an hour and a half after his birth.
It would later take Peyton 8 weeks to learn to latch on while breastfeeding, and McRae wonders if the Caesarean birth, the epidural she was given before it, or the lack of instant bonding between her and Peyton had a role to play in his difficulties.
As the epidural wore off, and McRae– her skin itching all over and her body shaking and cold – began the long process of recovering from the surgery, she told her husband she never wanted to go through a Caesarean again. She said they contemplated having just one child.
When McRae did get pregnant for the second time she knew she wanted to attempt a VBAC. She went through the phone book for three days calling doctors in town to see if they would offer her a trial of labor.
She said, beyond her personal emotional and physical aversion to Caesarean, the reading she did convinced her that she faced more risks of a complication with a repeat Caesarean than with a VBAC attempt.
In the end she found only one practice in Columbus that would allow her to attempt VBAC – Thomas Nathan Malone and his son Thomas Michael Malone, in practice together -- said they would offer McRae a trial of labor provided her medical history suggested she would be a good VBAC candidate and provided she went into labor naturally.
Now she is set to deliver a daughter with them – via VBAC if all goes as planned – in late September. Her due date is Sept. 28.
McRae said the experience of working with doctors who “are on the same page” as her has been renewing. Now she says, even if she needs a Caesarean, she will feel confident it’s the right decision.
And she encourages other women to shop around for a doctor that truly fits their vision for birth. She thinks if she had asked more questions of other women in the community, she would have realized she was working with a doctor who was quick to opt for Caesarean.
“I wish I had asked more questions – not necessarily from doctors,” she said. “I wish I had taken the time to have gotten other women’s experiences with different doctors.”

*** One last note: The e-mail address listed by my byline in today's paper is no longer accurate. If you would like to e-mail me directly, please contact me at aaddington@hotmail.com. Of course you can also leave comments here for others to read as well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I'll buy from your attic

With our economy on the brink of collapse, I figure it’s a good week to give up all plans to buy things new and fancy this year and start buying stuff second-hand. Of course that’s kind of a life philosophy for me, regardless of Wall Street’s moods. Why not save money and recycle at the same time, especially when you’re buying for kids who will outgrow their clothes in a matter of months?

Last week I bought most of Will’s fall and winter wardrobe plus a bunch of books to use with my preschool kids at the Just4Kidz consignment sale , and this Saturday I’ll descend for a bit on the Junior League of Columbus Attic Sale, which runs from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2 p.m. in the Columbus Civic Center. Admission is $1. Proceeds go to charity.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Weekend sound bytes

Scene one:
I stand fully clothed preparing to hand Owen off for a shower with Daddy and Will takes one look at my stomach and says, “Mommy, I think you have a baby in there. Your tummy’s really big.”


While it’s true that I was arching my back and sticking the tummy forward a little to support Owen it is also true that I’ve never quite lost the last of my pregnancy pooch.

Time to fianlly start doing some crunches, 14 months after my midwife first prescribed them.

Scene two:
Luckily, Owen can’t make observations about my little pooch of a belly. But he is learning to name more and more people in his life. Still he is generally not quite willing to relinquish ownership of these names that don’t belong to him. Once upon a time he would point at Dad and say “dada” – now he’s decided to keep these names for himself.

Here's a little exercise we did at the dinner table tonight after Rob and I had made this observation about Owen to each other.

“Where’s mama?” I ask.

“Mama,” Owen says with a grin and points to himself.

“Where’s Dada?”

“Dada” Owen says and points to himself.

“Can you say Ms. Brooke?” I ask, naming one of his teachers at school, both of whom told me last week that Owen’s calling them by name.

“Ba,” he says and points to himself.

“Can you say Ms. Jenny?”

“Jjjjjuh,” he says and points to himself.

“Can you say brother?” I said, pointing to Will.

“Baba,” he says, and miracle of miracles, points out from his little egocentric 14-month-old self at Will.

(It probably helped that I pointed first.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Omnivore's Dilemma

If I could name a most fascinating book that I’ve read this year, I believe it would be Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” It is not a book about parenting – but since one big piece in the role we play as mothers involves how we feed our family (at least for those of us who don’t have a husband chef who makes the majority of the meals), it’s a great read for moms.

Pollan explores the history of four meals – beginning with a McDonald’s lunch he and his family eat while driving down the Interstate, progressing to a “big” organic meal, then a meal produced on a grass farm and ending with a meal made from ingredients grown, hunted and harvested by Pollan himself. Pollan, a journalism professor at UC-Berkeley has a way of making this anthropology of food just plain riveting and he does his research thoroughly and intimately (going so far as to purchase a steer that might have become his McDonald’s classic cheese burger and following it from the cattle ranch where it spent its first six months to the feed yard where it would be overstuffed with corn and antibiotics and then slaughtered). I finished the book and immediately read the sequel “In Defense of Food,” which is less literary and more practical and which makes the argument that we need to return to real foods and avoid “food-like products” (if you follow his standard of five or fewer ingredients in real food and start doing some label reading you’ll likely quickly realize that you’re not eating much real food, as defined by Michael Pollan).

And now both books live in me, as I stroll the grocery aisles – avoiding the highly processed foods and high-fructose corn syrups, and hydrogenated oils with a bit more commitment than I did in the past (although I’m no purist and still make my share of “food-like” purchases). I’m also dreaming of a bigger garden for next spring. And thinking more about what it is that the chicken or turkey we’re eating were themselves fed. (Pollan demonstrates that we are not only what we eat – we’re what the animals we eat eat – if that makes any sense.)

But the best thing is that the book doesn’t feel like a lecture – it’s just good storytelling that happens to be nonfiction.

And no, Pollan will not try to convince you to become a full-time hunter-gatherer, although Rob flirted with going wild hog hunting for the first time this fall after reading that section of the book. There’s no way to do justice to this book in a few paragraphs, but it’s definitely worth a read.