Saturday, 29 June 2013

Exercising Moral Tolerance for Women's Rights

Amid all the excitement over the abortion debates currently going on in the US, a tribute to a child born too soon was posted on the blogosphere.  Please note that this is not an easy post to read, and the photographs (posted after the story) might disturb you. The author went into preterm labour at 19 weeks and 3 days, which gave her son no chance at survival. Had she gone into labour 4 days later, she still would have lost her baby, but she would have received a very different level of treatment, all because of hospital policy.

While the author of the post, Lexi, is open that she is against abortion and that's why she shared her story, that's not what this is about for me. In philosophy, I am also pro-life, but politically I am pro-choice, and that is because I cannot, in all conscience, push my morals on another person when it can have such potentially devastating consequences for their lives. I have posted on this before, relating to IVF and our freedom of choice within that procedure.

I could not imagine choosing to abort a pregnancy after implantation.  But I also can't imagine enduring the physical, emotional and financial burden of pregnancy, when I have good reason not to do so and when my ethics don't conflict with ending it.  And so I am happy, eager, for abortions to remain legal, although I wish there was as much attention paid to ways of reducing unwanted pregnancies from ever occurring (including education of the male sex) and of providing physical, emotional and financial support to women who need it through pregnancy and beyond.

That said, I urge everybody who is clamouring that abortions are a women's rights issue to remember that women's rights go further than one law can uphold, and Lexi's story is a good example of that. Forcing a woman through pregnancy is infringing on her rights. Denying that her child was alive, and denying her the proper consolation is also infringing on her rights.

Everybody has different beliefs about when life begins. If you believe it begins at conception, you might need to grieve for a lost embryo during IVF.  A woman who has experienced joy after a positive pregnancy test will experience bereavement with a miscarriage, however brief her pregnancy may have been. Women who deliver a stillborn child or one that dies shortly after birth are encouraged to hold their baby's body and have pictures, handprints and footprints taken, so that they have mementos of their son or daughter's existence, something to mark them always as part of their family.

Denying any of these women (and their families) these options to grieve is inhumane. Impairing their medical care (and with respect to the linked blog, we obviously don't know the full details or the hospital's side in that case) is unforgivable.

I don't know if we can really pass enough laws to cover every aspect of pregnancy ethics. However, as people, and especially as an internet (where it is so easy to charge our statements with politics), we can strive to be more aware. It's not as simple as cheering for the politically correct option or damning those who argue against our beliefs. If you're pro-life, bear in mind that pro-choicers love their unborn children too. If you're pro-choice, remember that abortion isn't the only way in which wombs get regulated. Blindly mandating that life doesn't begin until birth/viability is also going to cause trauma and ethical issues.

No woman should be left waiting in an ER because the child in danger is not yet at 20 weeks gestation; no woman should feel that the child she carried, dreamed of and lost is not a person to be remembered.

In an ideal world, laws would give us the freedom to follow our own moral standards. That might not be possible in reality, but we have the power to exercise that moral tolerance on an individual level. Let's remember to do so.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Pre-school Decisions

So as I stated in my last post, we've made the decision to change schools. This wasn't an easy decision, because there are many things we (and they!) love about their current school, but in the end, our reasons for leaving were non-negotiable.

However, I was adamant that we were staying in Montessori education, so I asked around and got a recommendation for another school from somebody who had worked there as part of their training. I visited it, loved it, and fortunately, that decision was a very easy one. It's twenty minutes away instead of two minutes away, but I always knew I wasn't going to find another school so close.  I'm just going to have to make that adjustment. (I am very unenthusiastic about the school run taking the better part of an hour instead of its current ten minutes.)

Complication number one was that they don't take toddlers.  They aren't licensed to change diapers or even help a child undress and clean themselves after an accident.  All children must be potty-trained with no more than two accidents per month. While it's possible that my daughter might be at that level by September (though I doubt it), I certainly don't think she's ready to tackle the full-blown children's house class yet (three to six year olds).

We pondered our options, of putting her in daycare or just taking her out of school altogether until January.  In the end however, we have decided to let her continue on at her current school, for one more term. Come January, though she won't quite be three, she'll have done a full year in the toddler class, and I expect she'll be fine for Children's House, though we can revise our options again when we get there. (I am fairly sure her current school would change her to the full year if we asked.)  Right now, she's perfectly happy where she is, and I don't see the need to change her routine for a single term.

Complication number two was an odd one. The new school wanted my son to start on their kindergarten programme.

To Push or not to Push

Just for background here, my son is four and a half. Going on the national standard, he would not have been expected to start kindergarten until the fall of 2014, so this is effectively skipping him a year. Kindergarten hadn't even been on our radar.

On the other hand, the Montessori system doesn't synch perfectly with the standard one--that's why it's a kindergarten programme, not a kindergarten class.  By morning, he will be in the same 3-6 year old mixed class that we intended to enroll him for.  The difference is that the older children stay through the afternoon as well and have a second, academic-focused, work cycle after lunch (plus some other opportunities).

Now, while I naturally think my son is extremely bright, I don't think he's any sort of child prodigy. The old school had not talked about starting him on kindergarten this early (although they tended to err later rather than sooner with such things). My initial reaction on hearing this news was that I did not want to push him. It wasn't that I thought he wasn't capable of handling the work so much as the load.

His prospective teacher admitted that he was younger than she had originally thought--probably because he was friends with one of the boys in her class. Said friend is only a few months older than my son, but he has an August birthday. I had never really appreciated before that, technically, they were in different school years, even if there's not a big difference between them academically. 

For Montessori purposes, they are in the same class and will be doing the same work--the friend is a little ahead of my son in most areas, but they could certainly work together on several materials. And when my son came in to work with the teacher, she felt he was where she expected her kindergarteners to be.

I did wonder if it would make more sense to start kindergarten in January, when my son would be five and would have completed two of the expected three years in the Children's House. This would let him settle in to the new school before making the switch to afternoons as well. However, when asked, my son (who was utterly dazzled by his new school) was quite excited at the prospect of staying at school through the afternoon. I think he's aware that this is a big kid thing, and is eager to be so grand.

The teacher said that he could start the extended day in January if I wished, but she thought he was ready now.  She also assured me that if she changed her mind after a few weeks, he would be able to switch back to mornings only. Finally, she told me that the school had a number of four year olds in the kindergarten programme, so he would be with his peers.

That last was what decided me.  I feared being a pushy parent, but even if he was exceptionally gifted, I would want him to stay with children his own age as much as possible. I was also a little wary that the school might just be trying to get him in the more expensive programme to get the extra tuition fees, and obviously I can't be sure that this isn't the case... but I don't think it is.

Finally, whenever we do go back to the UK, his education is going to be interrupted for a short while anyway, so I'm more than happy to have him a little ahead of the curve. It feels like we have a buffer against future problems.

I do feel a little ridiculous saying he's starting kindergarten in the fall, but I need to get over it. This is going to be nothing compared to university applications.

Logistics, Ahoy!

Having him stay at school until 3pm will completely change our daily routine though.  Up until now, our afternoon plans have hinged on when his sister wakes from her nap.  Now they'll start from when we pick him up and they'll have to be accessible from his school.  We're not going to be able to keep their gym class up, for a start, and I don't yet know if we'll change classes or change gyms. Fortunately, we don't do any other extra-curriculars.

Of course, this is only going to get worse in January when my daughter starts at the school as well.  It's going to be one thing driving ten blocks to pick her up from school at lunchtime and then going back out for her brother at three.  It's going to be quite another to spend forty minutes on the round trip to drop them off by 9, forty minutes to collect her at 12 and forty minutes to collect him at 3.

The most convenient option is to have her lunch and nap at school, so I'm picking them both up together, but that's a lot of extra fees for her to sleep through. Also, I don't think there's any alternative should she drop her nap. In other words, the nap will be enforced on her whether she needs it or not, which could create a different set of problems for us in the evenings.

Anyway, we are very much crossing that bridge when we come to it. Thankfully, it's going to be a relatively short term problem, but it's going to be a royal nuisance as long as it lasts.

Also a problem? Finding a week's worth of packed lunches for my son when peanut butter sandwiches are banned. It's not a huge surprise, since most schools don't allow peanut butter these days, but his current school doesn't have a problem with it, and they're just about his favourite thing to eat. I am going to need some serious research on packable meals before September rolls around.

But right now, I'm trying to deal with the thought that tomorrow is his last day at the old school--something which is giving me many more pangs than it is him. I really need to take a leaf out of his book and be excited about what's to come rather than mourning what will never be again.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Stay At Home Mum Revisited

This week will be the children's last at school, which means two and a half months of summer holiday--or the end of my mornings to myself!  Seems like a good excuse for a retrospective on being a stay at home Mum with school-age children.

Bear in mind that my intention for 2013 was to return to work although I should note that my hope was to be able to work at the same school as my children. and this did not pan out. I did have a brief stint covering for another teacher, but since February, my children have been going to school every morning while I stay at home. Initially, I was very much looking forward to the experience of having three hours to myself every day--it seemed so decadent and so full of opportunities to Do All The Things.

Children Get Sick

In fact, it started off with me acting as nursemaid as the whole family got sick with the round of winter bugs. The children (mostly my two year old daughter) continued to be sick off and on until the beginning of May, but certainly February and March were almost completely taken up with one child or another being off school. Meanwhile, I felt almost permanently under the weather as ear / eye / throat infections caused interrupted nights, and the stress of not getting other things done translated into insomnia.

Coming right after my month as a substitute teacher, this was something of a wake-up call, as it was starkly obvious just how difficult February and March would have been if I was working.  I could hardly have taken half the week off every week.

Obviously, in that situation, my husband could have taken days off as well--in a pinch, he could probably manage to work from home, although that wouldn't always be feasible.  Also, there were days when I erred on the side of keeping a weepy child home; if we were both working, I'd be more likely to send them into school and hope for the best.

Even so, it made me appreciate just how difficult it is logistically when both parents are working with no alternative childcare.  For that seven week period, there were at least two days of every week when somebody (usually my daughter, but we all suffered off and on) had to stay at home, which would have meant either my husband or myself (and a couple of times, both of us) would have had to take a day off work.

Millions of families manage it, so no doubt we could as well, but that doesn't mean it's easy, and I don't suppose anybody really succeeds in keeping all the plates spinning without dropping one from time to time.  We could afford a nanny, but considering where my interests lie, we don't personally gain much advantage from paying my salary to somebody else to look after our children.

Time Abhors a Vacuum

Once the children did start getting into reasonable stretches of wellness (and we weren't going on trips around the US), I finally got into a routine of free mornings. That has been wonderful.  It's a tremendous luxury after four years of infant and toddler-care, and I love it!

Still, it's interesting noting the disconnect between what I envisioned and reality. One of the things you learn as a parent is that you can get a phenomenal amount of things done if somebody takes the children away for just a couple of hours. Whenever I needed to completely reorganise a room or had some other grand housework job, I would get my husband to take the children out at the weekend while I got the job done.

Therefore, I vaguely assumed that five such opportunities every week would mean that my house would be eternally spotless, I could tackle all those projects I'd been meaning to do, and still have time to go out and just enjoy shopping or maybe take a weekly swimming class or something. Not to mention, with that daily break from childcare, I'd not only be able to stay patient with the children, but I'd have boundless enthusiasm for our afternoon activities.

The reality? Well, my personality is such that I get fixated on things. So if I decided to reorganise the filing cabinets or archive all the photos or write, I would do that. I would not do any housework. Moreover, when the children got home, assuming I had not finished my current project, I'd be thinking about it, twitchy to get back to it and... yes... irritable with the children for distracting me from my ongoing task.

It probably took me a few weeks to figure this out. Damnit, cognitive dissonance. While realising this means I can work around it a bit, it is always going to be a problem for me, it's something I will have to keep watching out for, and it will certainly always be one of the flaws in my parenting.

The truth is, of course, however much time we have, we expand our activities to fill it and thus constantly feel that we don't have enough time. I never did take up that swimming class, and I haven't done much shopping outside of necessities either--though, to be fair, I don't really like shopping that much, and right now, the novelty of being alone in the house hasn't worn off. I'd much rather treat myself to twenty minutes of watching How I Met Your Mother in peace than of looking at clothes on a rack.

Social Guilt

The irony here is that I've always been an advocate of the stay at home mother, yet personally, I felt that I could not justify my unemployment once both the children were at school.  It was always my intention to return to work at this point, so that I would be contributing to the household finances and so that I would be focusing on myself and my career plans--i.e. so that I wouldn't 'just' be a Mum.

Had things worked out and I'd been able to take up the job I originally wanted, this would probably be a post about getting to grips with parenting and career. Instead I've spent the past few months wondering if I should find a Plan B without actually starting the jobhunt.

Part of this has been because we have been finding a new school for the children (more on that in another post) and we agreed both that that should take priority and that there wasn't a lot of point in me finding a job until we had that settled and we knew what my time commitment to the children would be. Working at the same school would have solved a lot of logistical issues regarding hours and holidays; we've still got to account for those.

Yet a lot of my procrastination has been due to my own re-assessment of my value to this family. I appreciate more than I did before that having one parent who doesn't work is a huge asset (even if it does come with unfortunate housewife connotations). And while any family can benefit from a second salary, we're very very lucky that we can live so comfortably off my husband's current income.

It doesn't mean I'm giving up on my career, but I can still plan for it, research my options and prepare myself.  I fully intend to earn money again, but it's going to wait another year, maybe longer. (Around this point in reading the blog, my husband is probably having a great time devising snarky comments--I do it all for you, dear.) Again, I'm in a fortunate position here, in that I'm not looking to climb a lengthy career ladder. I've read plenty of blogposts from mothers who would like to stay at home longer, but whose job aspirations prevent them from putting their careers on hold.

Fortunately, the other lesson I've learned from the past few months (and indeed, the past few years) is that being a stay-at-home mum doesn't mean that I've lost my identity outside of the children.  The internet in particular has been a great outlet for that--thank heavens, I've always been a geek! Serendipitously, this assuages some of my income guilt because at least my hobbies come free.

The Long and the Short Term of It

And that, in a nutshell, is how I've learned to stop worrying and love being a Stay At Home Mum.  (Well, maybe I'm still a little defensive.) What I don't yet know is how long this situation will continue. Until both children are out of pre-school? Until my daughter's immune system kicks into gear? Until an unmissable job opportunity presents itself? Or perhaps until after we've left the US, which is another nebulous deadline we talk about occasionally.

I hope this doesn't become one of those things where I wait for a right moment that never comes, but certainly, here and now, it makes sense to keep ourselves adaptable. Perhaps I'll have new plans for 2014.

Right now, I've got a week left to relish my mornings, before I go back to being a full-time mother over the summer vacation.  I suspect I might be feeling quite jaded about that in another month or so, but for the time being, I'm excited about taking the children on days out so I'm going to capitalise on my enthusiasm while it lasts!