Friday, August 31, 2012

Keeping Up with Super Mom

Emma has an ear infection. This makes about one million and one for Emma, and five total ear infections between my younger three kids in the last three months. Our pediatrician confirmed today that her second set of ear tubes have fallen out and her left ear is infected. Actually, we first saw the infection when I took her in for her asthma three days ago. We decided to wait and see if it would resolve, but three days later it is no better and, with Emma's history of escalating infections, we now need to treat it. This means yet another dose of antibiotics.

Today I came home from taking five kids to the pediatrician, speech therapy, and the pharmacy to see that someone had posted something on facebook about why it's horrible to give kids antibiotics for ear infections, and I doubted myself. (If you are that person and you're reading this, believe me I love you, and I love all the helpful and intriguing things you post, that's why I read them--I'm about to describe a problem in me, not you.) Should I be giving Emma antibiotics again?

I do believe antibiotics are overused. I know they destroy the helpful intestinal flora. I believe that this harms the immune system. I know that all kinds of things we do in this day and age screw up our immune systems--from all the crap additives in our foods, to (possibly) the additives in vaccinations that over-accumulate due to our overly aggressive vaccination schedule, to constantly wiping out our intestinal flora with antibiotics. Two of my children already suffer from an autoimmune disease, celiac disease, possibly because of something I exposed them to or didn't expose them to when they were babies. But what am I to do?

I became defensive at this point, arguing at length in my mind with the imaginary people out there who might fault me for the constant rounds of antibiotics in this house.

"You don't know our history!" I yelled in my mind while I made dinner. "You don't know that I agreed with you and tried not to over treat Emma when she was a toddler. You don't know that she had constant ear infections and fluid in the ears for six months, that she cried every night for hours and banged her head on things, and that when we did try antibiotics it took round after round of different kinds to finally clear up the infection, only to have it return again. You don't know that I postponed the ear tube surgery because I didn't want to put her at risk for an unnecessary surgery. You don't know that when she exhibited severe speech delays the following year I blamed myself for not treating the infections sooner."

"Well," the imaginary better-than-me mother argues, "all of this could have been avoided if you had been feeding your daughter healthier food, practicing better hygiene, and giving her more vitamin D as well as doses of all of these natural antibiotics I know of. Don't you know garlic is a natural antibiotic?"

"Yes, I do!" I counter. "In fact, one winter when Matt and I suffered from a severe chest infection and had no health insurance we tried your little garlic cure. I chopped and chopped fresh, raw garlic and we choked down clove after clove of that pungent placebo! And we drank echinacea tea and took vitamins, and you know what? None of it helped! We hacked and coughed and suffered until we caved in and paid to see a doctor. Twenty-four hours on Amoxicillin and we were both cured! Garlic might be a natural antibiotic, but it doesn't compare to Amoxicillin, sorry."

"But have you organically farmed your own vegetables infused with probiotics?" Super Mom continues. "Do you home-culture your own kefir? You know, home-cultured kefir contains over fifty strains of beneficial bacteria that will restore your children's gut and immune systems! I also noticed that Emma's bedding wasn't washed in hot water using home-made laundry detergent in the last week, and your vacuum doesn't have a hepa filter on it... hmmmmm... overlooking these details will only exacerbate her asthma, which is sure to get worse with another round of antibiotics..."

And so it went in my mind, as it so often does. Am I right? Am I wrong? Should I be doing more? Will I look back on how I parented and regret it later? But, dejected, I conclude that I cannot do everything. I am raising five children, homeschooling three of them, juggling doctors and therapists, and spending hours every day on meeting my children's special dietary needs. What are these special needs?

Currently I cook:
--Gluten free--no products from wheat, barley, rye, or oats because two kids have celiac disease
--Dairy free--because it causes behavioral changes in Naomi
--No food dyes--because it causes major behavioral changes in Naomi
--Low soy--because I suspect that too much soy affects Naomi as well
--Low corn--because I suspect that Hannah may have a sensitivity to this
--Low nitrates/nitrites--because they cause behavioral changes in Naomi
--No tree nuts--Hannah is allergic to them
--Any fruits in the apple family (apples, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, cherries) need to be cooked first--Hannah is allergic to them unless they're cooked first (oral allergy syndrome)

Which leaves us with: meats (as long as they're not infused with broth that contains gluten), vegetables, fruits (as long as they're cooked first if they're in the apple family), rice, potatoes, and beans. These meals also need to be cheap--we're not made of money. This means I spend 2-5 hours a day on our meals (finding recipes, shopping, cooking from scratch, serving, cleaning up).

I have limited time and limited resources. Money does not grow in our backyard, and those vitamin supplements and natural antibiotics cost money I do not have. I live in a rental house where I can not organically farm my own food supply. I can only do so much. I am maxed out. And what good does it do for me to try to keep up with Super Mom if I am so stressed out that I snap in anger at every thing my kids do wrong? Is it worth it for my kids to have perfect immune systems if I have to give up the time to build real relationship with them, to train them in the things of God, to laugh with them and hug them? No, that is a sacrifice I will not make.

So I will measure out syringes of Amoxicillin for Emma and feed her yogurt. Some day maybe Emma will grow up and look with horror on the amount of antibiotics I pushed through her system. Some day maybe she will ask me why I didn't home culture my own kefir to naturally cure her every ailment. But I think I know what I will tell her now: "I did the best I could possibly do for you. I loved you with everything I had."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Emma's Asthma

Emma has wheezed since she was a tiny baby. Her first winter we lived at the pediatrician's office trying a regimen of nebulizer treatments and steroids. Finally, a different pediatrician told me that while the wheezing sounded alarming, her oxygen saturation wasn't really dropping, so I shouldn't be concerned. She called Emma a "happy winter wheezer." And that is what I've told people ever since, "Don't worry about that alarmingly loud wheezing sound coming from my daughter. Her doctor told me she's a happy winter wheezer."

But, while my other three kids outgrew this babyhood wheezing, Emma's has gotten progressively worse. When she had her ear tube surgery last year they almost didn't discharge her because she was wheezing and her oxygen saturations were in the upper 80's. This was the first time I realized that all the wheezing was actually hurting her. And it has continued to worsen. A cold virus sets her wheezing and coughing for weeks now. Exercise throws her into wheezing and coughing fits for an hour or more. More recently her allergies and even stress will set her off.

The past week Emma has wheezed and coughed around the clock. I have given her the rescue nebulizer treatments (like an inhaler, only breathed in a mist for 10 minutes) multiple times, and waited for it to pass, but it isn't passing. For three nights now Emma has slept propped up on the couch, and I have been woken up every few hours by her coughing fits and had to get up to give her another treatment. It was becoming obvious that were were dealing with much more than "happy winter wheezing." So today I finally broke down and took Emma back to the pediatrician's office. (Thankfully there are three different doctors at this practice and we've been making our way around all three of them in rotation. I'm hoping they don't compare notes and find out I have the world's sickest kids.)

Dr. A listened to the history I described and then listened to Emma, who happened to be coughing quite nicely at the moment. I asked her, "So would you call it asthma?"

She looked at me with a "do you really need to ask me that?" look, and said, "I would call it out-of-control asthma!"

Sigh. I'm the world's worst mom. I know every detail about every strange disease known to man and I've missed the most obvious kid malady ever: asthma. But really, having that one pediatrician tell me not to worry about it at all really trained me to overlook the obvious. Alas for poor Emma who probably should have been on asthma meds long ago.

Anyway, the treatment now is three days of oral steroids to dry up the secretions in Emma's lungs that she is drowning in. Also a daily dose of singulair, and nebulizers as needed. We may add inhaled steroids or other meds later if needed.

Here's hoping that makes this winter more bearable for her, and hey, it may just help her speech if she can finally breathe easier.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Naomi Rides

As the summer draws to a close, I have redoubled my commitment to teach Naomi and Hannah how to ride a bike this year. Our one-time session to the church parking lot in May for riding lessons had been such an effort that we had never repeated it, especially with the soaring temps this July. With temperatures cooling down and only a month or two left of suitable conditions I decided to try teaching the girls in our own yard a little each evening.

Last Thursday I took all four big kids outside after I put Elijah to bed. Hannah and Naomi took turns attempting to pedal through the grass while I steadied them by holding the seat. Again and again I ran behind them around the yard, but they failed to ever take control of the balancing, falling each time I tried letting go. Naomi grew only more and more tense, over correcting herself and balancing less. A couple different friends had suggested we teach her how to coast down a gentle slope first, but we don't own a coaster bike and the pedals kept tripping her up when she attempted to coast on her bike. She ended the night in tears. I was tired and we each had a few bruises.

Discouraged, and desperate for ideas, I came in and, while Matt was tucking the girls in bed, googled "how to teach a child to ride a bike." Almost immediately I came across the idea, which should have been obvious to me, of simply taking the pedals off of the bike so the child can learn to coast first. I ran downstairs and easily removed both pedals, then I ran upstairs to tell Naomi that our next trip out would certainly be better. We went to bed hopeful.

The weekend was busy, but tonight I finally had time to take Naomi out again. This time I left the other kids inside with Matt and just focused on Naomi. She was awkward and clumsy as she tried to push herself along the grass outside, not able to get up enough speed to balance. We tried coasting down the grassy slope to the mailboxes, but the slope is littered with walnuts, rocks, and divots. Then I saw the gently sloping drive that curves around the far side of the mobile home court. Perfect!

The drive was smooth and rarely used. We walked to the top and let Naomi coast down. The first few times down she barely dared to take her feet off the ground. But eventually she lifted her feet more and let the bike roll faster. By about the tenth trip she was coasting most of the 100 yard stretch with her feet up and an enormous smile on her face!

Best of all, I didn't have to run behind her and
coach her at all. I only had to stand by and tell her how proud I was. Even as it grew dark out I ran to get Matt and the other kids. Naomi beamed as she coasted down the hill in front of them, and we all clapped and cheered.

Hopefully she'll be riding and pedaling in a few more sessions, because I already have three more little ones signed up for my learn-to-bike program.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Off Schedule

In the interest of becoming the perfect homeschooling mom (ha!) I have succumbed to scheduling out most of our days now, and while the schedule has helped to get the school year off to a good start, there are going to have to be some adjustments, especially scheduling in more time for me to blog! I'm thankful that the last two weeks have been so productive, but I've also lost the chance to share and preserve memories. So I'm coming back now to preserve here what I can remember.

Two weeks ago I dedicated myself heart and soul to cleaning out our school/craft room and organizing the kids' curriculum for the year. After a week of mess, stress, and a couple of near mental-breakdowns, I stood in a clean room with a box of school curriculum for each girl and a schedule of each girl's school days posted on the wall. Naomi found the binder I had organized with math review worksheets for her to complete during our first several weeks of school, and she sat one afternoon for 5 1/2 hours completing it. I decided then that she was ready for school to begin. And with the hardest work behind us, we were all psyched to hit the ground running last Monday. We just had to stick to the schedules.

Elijah began running a fever shortly after midnight Monday morning. Ah yes, the joke was on me. Because his last ear infection hadn't looked one hundred percent resolved a week earlier, I had been told to bring him in if he began running a fever. So in to the doctor we went Monday morning, where Elijah was diagnosed with a double ear infection. Then to the park we went while we waited for the antibiotic to be prepared, then to the pharmacy, then home for lunch. When Hannah complained that she hadn't gotten the sticker she'd wanted at the doctor, I took the opportunity to explain how sometimes we "get what we get and we don't throw a fit," just as I hadn't gotten the start to our school year that I'd wanted, but we would just "go with the flow." After this convenient lesson in English idiom, we did manage to get a decent day of school in during the afternoon.

Tuesday morning I drug a sad, feverish Elijah to our home school art class, because I didn't want the girls to miss their chance to paint in the style of Eric Carle. When Elijah's fever stayed stubbornly over 104 for the third day, we spent Wednesday morning going back to the doctor to re-check his ears. The ears looked better, which led the doctor to believe Elijah's fever was viral, so we went home to wait it out. His fever broke Wednesday night and Thursday morning he was covered in the tell-tale rash of harmless Roseola. I breathed a sigh of relief then.

Despite this serious attempt to derail our schedule Naomi had done amazingly well at completing her work each day. I had forgotten how much she thrived on a schedule. Somehow that same routine that feels so restrictive to me seems to only empower her. She dove into her work each day, delighted in checking off each completed task, and felt fulfilled when evening came. She is eight years, three months old, and technically entering third grade. Yet she is reading on a fifth to sixth grade level and breezing through her fifth-grade reading for comprehension workbook. She is entering fourth-grade math, devouring fourth grade science, enjoying a fifth-grade vocabulary workbook, thrilled to write couplet poetry, and is refusing to put down her American History textbook--reading 3/4 of it in the first week of school. I flipped through the book yesterday and quizzed her with random questions like "Who was Blacksnake?" which she answered with no trouble at all. In some ways this makes her the easiest child in the world to home school, but in some ways it is very challenging to keep this girl challenged! Just when I think I have a year's worth of curriculum lined up, I find myself scrambling to find more for her to read.

Hannah, on the other hand, has a bright mind but is a little less focused. She wants so badly to help me with Elijah or help Emma with her reading, that she has a hard time sitting still with her own spelling words. She's doing just fine in school, but most of the time still has her head in the clouds. Today she said to me, "Mommy, sometimes I'm tired of just being Hannah all the time."

"You mean you'd like a different name?" I asked, "Which name would you choose?"

She smiled sheepishly and her eyes twinkled up at me, "There are a lot of good names. I think I would choose..." Here she paused dramatically and then whispered whimsically, "Rosie!"

"Rosie Eby?" I laughed.

"No, I can choose a different middle and last name too," she objected. "I would be Rosie Josephina Ruth."

Oh my. I think I need to read her Anne of Green Gables next. She's not Anne Shirley. She's Cordelia.

Unfortunately for Rosie Ruth, the soccer season has been delayed. This means another two weeks or torturous waiting for her. What she doesn't yet know is that a friend from church has decided to bring her to her "bring a friend to ballet class" on Tuesday evening. No, I am not telling Rosie about this until Tuesday afternoon, I've learned my lesson there!

Yes, that is a bow on Elijah's head. Not my fault.
Emma, who still prefers to be called Emma, continues to progress nicely with her speech and can't wait for the preschool year to begin. And Toby continues to amuse me with suggestions like (while looking at another potato-based dinner), "Maybe we could borrow some pizza from Applebees for dinner."

Tomorrow begins another week of learning, growing, and laughing at the Eby house--on schedule or off.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Waiting Mountain and Watching the Sisters

"How many more days until soccer?" Hannah asked with angst this morning, as she does at least daily.

"Good news, Hannah," I consoled her, "you've waited 1 1/2 weeks since we told you you would be playing soccer this fall, and you only have 1 1/2 weeks more to wait."

Matt added, "If you think of it like a mountain, you've already climbed up the whole mountain, and now all you have to do is climb back down, and you'll be in soccer valley."

Hannah threw her head back in a dramatic psuedo-faint, "But I could die coming down, you know. It's hard to come down too."

Tune in in 1 1/2 weeks to see if Hannah lives until soccer season.

In other news, I'm letting the cool fall-feeling air in the screen door today. Toby, noticing that it felt very inviting out there informed me, "We could go outside and play out there some time today. We could. Maybe later we could."

I smiled at him, feeling his longing, and said, "Maybe later, buddy, but I have to make lunch now."

He stood another moment, gazing out at the luscious green play place just beyond his reach, then added, "I'll have to keep an eye on the sisters, so they don't open that latch and go out there to play."

Good boy, Toby. Glad you're here to help. What would I do without him?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Videos of Emma's Home Speech Therapy

For those who are far away and would like to hear some of Emma's speech progress with your own ears, here are two videos of me and Emma going through some of our speech routines. The first is a video of Emma pairing the "T" sounds and "S" sounds with vowels. The second is Emma going through a stack of flashcards that highlight the "K" sound. Please excuse the amateur videography, Hannah was the only willing party. I hope you can hear and enjoy Emma's hard work and progress as much as I have.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hannah's Gold-medal Bedtime Stall

We had the kids tucked in bed at a respectable 9:30pm last night, and we were very proud. But the thing is, we had let them stay up past midnight three nights last week to watch the Olympics. Then Saturday night Matt decided they needed to watch "Chariots of Fire," which is a long movie to begin with, and much longer when it is paused every few minutes to try to explain to the girls what in the world is going on. So they didn't get to bed until after 11:00pm Saturday night. Not surprisingly, Hannah wasn't quite ready to drift to sleep at 9:30 last night.

She slunk down the stairs slowly, savoring each moment of her out-of-bed experience, used the bathroom, then came to Matt and I for another bed-time hug. After her hug she stood looking at me. "What is it, Hannah?" I asked, slightly annoyed.

"I've been thinking," she began, "Mommy, what is a cartwheel?"

"Something you can learn about tomorrow," I retorted.

But her sad little eyes drew Matt's sympathy. "Hannah, you are so...unique," he chuckled.

So I caved a little and sighed, "It's where your feet go up in the air while your arms and hands go down and you turn over sideways. Your arms and legs look like the spokes of a cart's wheel as they go around." Hannah furrowed her brow, but clearly couldn't picture what I was describing.

"Oh, just do one to show her," Matt goaded me, smiling.

Now, I haven't turned a cartwheel in at least 15 years, and my body has gone through a few changes in those years, like giving birth to five babies. It was also ridiculously late at night and indoors, three good reasons for me to have laughed at Matt and shooed Hannah off to bed. But Matt's playful goading, Hannah's twinkling blue eyes, and my own curiosity spurred me off the couch. "OK, Hannah," I laughed, "Mommy will show you just one cartwheel, and then you go to bed."

I cleared a runway on the living room carpet as Hannah giggled, threw my arms up in the air, and wondered just how this would turn out. But I had to prove to my nay-sayer husband, and my adoring six-year-old fan that Mommy could still cartwheel. So over I went. I felt a small protest from a few ligaments that haven't been stretched that way in 15 years, but I landed on my feet, to Hannah's delight, and I think Matt's surprise.

"Pretty good, pretty good, but you forgot to point your toes," Matt teased. Which was not nearly the approval I deserved for accomplishing such a feat.

"Wait, wait," I laughed. "I can do better than that. One more. Here we go." This time my feet flew a little higher, I attempted to point my toes, and I had only a small hop on the landing. I threw my hands up in my best Gabby Douglas impression and awaited my score.

"You hopped on the landing," Hannah said, feigning disappointment in me.

"That's going to be a big deduction," Matt agreed.

Laughing and just about breathless I collapsed on the couch as Matt sprang up. "Watch, Hannah," he called. "This is how you do a cartwheel." He glided much more smoothly than I had, but I was able to fault his landing.

"I'm the judge," Hannah asserted, "and I'm not sure. One more time, Daddy." Matt was glad to oblige, especially since he had been better than me. "OK, I've got that one in my mind now," Hannah said, "but, Mommy, I need to see yours again."

Of course I couldn't turn her down now, not with my pride on the line. So I turned two more cartwheels for the pint-sized judge, each better than before. After an agonizingly long wait, Hannah announced, "The gold medal goes to Daddy, because his was the best, but I'm still proud of you, Mommy."

Then the three of us were laughing together in our cozy living room, in the old farmhouse, under the great pines and the black summer sky. In my estimation, that was a 10.0 bedtime-stall performance for Hannah, and I enjoyed every moment of it. She deserves a gold medal of her own.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Olympic Hopefuls

The weeks of the Olympics are one of the few times that I miss having a TV in the house. In order to expose our kids to the culture and fun of the Olympic games we dedicated Monday and Tuesday evenings to going to Grandma and Grandpa Eby's house and gluing ourselves to their TV. Unfortunately, in the Eastern Time zone that meant letting the kids watch from 8pm until midnight! But hey, the Olympics only come every four years, and they were free to sleep in the next day.

All four kids sat riveted for an unprecedented amount of time watching synchronized diving, swimming, and gymnastics. The personal biographies and family stories woven throughout the competitions grabbed their hearts and made them cheer out loud for their favorite athletes. "Go Missy! Go Missy!" they yelled at the TV as Missy Franklin took her first swimming gold medal, as if they'd always known her. A few happy tears welled up in some eyes during the medals ceremony. They empathized with the athletes' failures, exulted in their successes, and just marveled at their abilities.

Toby watched closely, with eyebrows furrowed, as a male gymnast tumbled and flipped during and impressive floor routine. Quietly, to no one but himself, he noted, "I will try that later."

About 11:00 Tuesday evening Naomi's eyes were drooping closed. She tilted her head back to peer at the TV as the women's gymnastics team sealed their gold medal. "Are you ready to go home, Naomi?" I asked.

"No!" she answered definitively. "I still want to watch."

There's something wonderful about feeling a little awe at the athletes' impressive abilities, a little pride in your country's accomplishments, and a little fun in breaking the rules and staying up past bedtime at Grandma's house. I think my kids will always remember that winning combination.

While we don't expect any Olympic athletes to arise from our family (Toby may disagree), Matt and I have decided that some athletic competition would be good experience for our kids. Yesterday I signed Naomi and Hannah up for our town's park and rec fall soccer league. Naomi is excited. Hannah is beside herself with excitement, in typical Hannah fashion. "Oh, Mommy! Oh, MOMMY!" she crowed, "Oh, I can't WAIT!! Lots of times I've wanted to do something where, you know, you weren't RIGHT beside me, and I didn't know when I could. Oh, Mommy, I'm SO excited!"

In fact, yesterday her excitement turned to pure torture. "When does soccer start again, Mommy?" she asked at least three times. When I told her she'd have to wait about three weeks, she melted to the floor with,  "Oh, I CAN'T wait!" She spent her evening musing about whether her coach would be a boy or a girl, what color T-shirt her team would wear (she's pulling for blue or purple), and what she would say when she first met her other teammates. "I'm so excited it hurts," she whined as she followed me around, "It really hurts. I feel sick waiting. I hope when I wake up tomorrow I don't remember about soccer."

This morning she stumbled out of bed, peered up at me with forlorn eyes under messy bed-head hair and confided quietly, "I didn't forget." Fortunately, the soccer excitement has been overshadowed slightly by new projects and activities today. Hannah may just make it three more weeks, especially since I'm planning on letting them watch Gabby Douglas take the gold medal in the women's all-around tonight. Thanks goodness we have the Olympics to keep Hannah occupied for a few weeks. Next time I sign her up for a sport I'm not going to tell her until we're in the car on our way to practice.