Thursday, February 27, 2014

My Miscarriage Story

A while back a blog post was circulating on Facebook.  It's an incredibly personal story that challenges pro-life people to reevaluate the way they handle women (and men) who experience loss through miscarriage differently than they do the loss of life from an abortion.  It's worth the read.  In fact, go read it now, then come back and read the rest of this post.  

I didn't click the link the first couple of times I saw this because I didn't think it would apply to me.  I am pro-life and I've had a miscarriage but I didn't know the direction the author was going to take with this post.  I just thought...I don't know what I thought, really, but I didn't feel compelled to read it.  And then today, I did.  And whoa.  I should have better prepared myself for the mental onslaught that ensued.  

After reading this blog from Mrs. Lewis, I sat in front of my computer just bawling my eyes out, filled with the pain of my own experience with miscarriage. 

Just a few days after Christmas 2008, we lost a baby, or at least the hope of a baby.  The doctor told me that I probably wasn't really pregnant, but body thought I was...there's some medical term for that happening that I don't remember. I've never known how to deal with that part of my experience. I was 12 weeks along. 

Because of some incredibly serious complications, I ended up in the ICU and nearly died. The single scariest moment of my life was when my heart rate dropped down into the 30-50 range for the fourth time in an hour and I knew I was going to have another seizure.  I remember looking at my husband and telling him to make sure the kids (we had three under age six at the time) knew that their mom had loved them.  I meant it and I really didn't think that I would get the chance to tell them myself. By the grace of God and the skills of the correct doctor that was finally called in, within a few very long days, I was able to come home and hold my babies in my own arms, to whisper my love to them in my own voice.

My parents were there.  My in-laws and my sister rushed to see me.  People from my church came.  In the days and weeks that followed, they brought us more food than we could even eat.  They loved on us and did all that they knew to do to make life easier for me as I recovered from a horrific ordeal.  They were amazing and wonderful and a blessing that I still treasure today.  So very many people prayed for me during that time and so many worked to meet our physical needs that I’m sure I don’t even know them all.  I have rarely felt so much love as I did during the weeks after my hospital stay.

People were taking care of and praying for ME, my 30 something self, but really most people barely acknowledged that we had lost a baby, a life, a person. There was one nurse in Topeka that I remember.  I was in over the New Year and the hospital was packed.  I'd been moved from the ICU to the PCU and she hadn't yet had time to read my chart.  When she asked me why I was there, I told her. She immediately stopped what she was doing and said, "I am so sorry.  Do you need anything?  Do you want me to get someone for you to talk to?"  She was the first and the last of the medical staff to do so.  That was my second day there.  No one else there spoke of the baby or my loss again.  The emotional aspects of the miscarriage didn't matter at all.  The only thing that mattered was my current physical condition.  And I understand why.  It was bad.  It was "I almost died" bad.  As horrible as that was, someone else did die.  Not just almost, but totally, even before drawing a first breath.  My baby died that day.

I had a dear friend who came to the hospital and brought with her a small statuette of an angel holding a baby. On the bottom she wrote, “Baby Crutchfield 2008.” 

At the time, I didn’t know what to do with it or how to respond.  I don’t remember what I did when she gave it to me.  But in the five years that have passed since then, I have more than once sat crying, holding that small figurine. It's the only tangible link I have to tie that pregnancy to the rest of my world.  Had I seen it in a store or at someone’s home, I wouldn’t have looked twice.  It isn’t the kind of thing I normally would go for but because of the circumstances surrounding my receiving it, it has become one of my most valued treasures.

There were others who acknowledged the loss, I'm sure, but I just don't remember. I was exhausted, not just physically but emotionally.  Overall, the extreme nature of my own medical problems allowed us to practically bypass the loss of our baby.

Even my husband and I grieved separately; alone. It was too hard to talk about and it was so busy, with three kids who were so little and me just trying to recover, that even I blocked out the thing that had landed me in the hospital to begin with. No one else talked about it, so I didn't either. If they tried, I just told them that I was fine and let myself believe that it was true.  I simply didn’t think about the baby we had lost. 

But every once in a while, when I read something like the story on The Lewis Note blog or hear someone's story of loss, it brings all of those suppressed feelings to the surface. And I sit and mourn the loss of a child I never held in my arms; a child whose face I never saw, a child to whom I never gave a name because that would have been too weird.

I never know how to count my children. Is my baby boy my fourth or fifth child?  When I talk about being pregnant, I know I was pregnant 5 times, but is it worth explaining to complete stranger or a new acquaintance why I only have four kids with me at the park? Is it horrible for me not to acknowledge that precious life that once dwelled in my womb simply because it is easier than explaining my loss? 

Adding another layer to those feelings is the fact that I honestly don't even know if my baby actually existed. The doctor told me that my body lied to itself and tricked me into thinking I was pregnant when I wasn’t.  This has always been a struggle for me to accept.  I don’t know if it is true. I know that I lost a lot of blood and tissue before I went to the hospital and that I was too afraid to look at it for fear of the worst.  I know that I felt sorry for the sonogram tech working the ER that cold December morning.  She didn’t want to tell me there was no baby but we both knew what we weren’t seeing on the screen.  I do know that the HOPE of that child was once very much ALIVE. And I know that the pain of losing that child, even if it was only the hope of a life, is real and long lasting.

Tonight as I watch my living children, I am reminded that if our miscarried baby had survived, our youngest child would not have been born.  He was conceived three months after our loss, over three months before our other baby would have been born.  There is no way that they could both exist.  But here he is, giggling with his big brothers, dancing with his big sister, snuggling with me in my chair and wrestling with his daddy.  He is here and he is loved.  No, he doesn’t make up for the child we lost and I don’t think of him as a replacement child.  He is an extra special blessing all his own.

As I write this, I know that there are hundreds, thousands of women who have felt the loss that I have.  Some of them once, some twice and some more times than I could probably handle.  To those women, I say this. I am so sorry, Sister.  I am sorry that you are going through this.  It is hard and it is painful and it is not, no matter what people tell you, God’s will.  He does not hate you nor is He punishing you.  The wages of sin is death.  Because of the sins of humans, death became a part of our world. We can’t change that.  But we can know that there is hope in Jesus.  I know that I will one day rest in His arms and if there was a life growing inside me, he will introduce us.  On that day, I will hold my unborn child close and whisper to him or her, “Momma loves you.  Momma has always loved you.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Unsolicited Advice: Books You Should Read

There are a lot of really great books out there.  So, so many things that are worth reading.  In my opinion, here is a list of fiction that is MOST worth reading.  These are my favorite books, in no particular order, except the first one.  It's my all time favorite book.  Everyone should read it at least twice.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I first read this while staying with my Aunt Jean for a few days in the summer.  It was the shortest of the classics on her shelf and the only one I thought I could finish in the allotted time.  I think I was in the eighth grade.  I stayed up all night reading and cried more than once.  I reread it in high school English class and again in college.  I've picked it up a few more times since then and it never fails to move something inside of me.  The old black and white movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch is very much worth seeing.  (*I wanted to name one of our boys Atticus, but Vance vetoed it every time.)

2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Vance recommended this to me when I was in college.  I remember that I literally laughed out loud and cried like a baby within a few pages.

3. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
My first introduction to the Enderverse was this book on CD.  I happened to pick it up at the library when I was looking for books to keep me entertained on my hour and a half commute.  I'm pretty sure I drove around extra and sat in the garage with the car off just to hear a few more minutes.  OSC had me from the first few lines.  There are about a million sequels, some of which I love and others that I couldn't make myself finish.  The best of them are the Shadow books, which are about Bean and Petra.

4. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Just fabulous.  A great read aloud for kids.  When you finish it, you should go ahead and read The Lord of the Rings.   Entire fandoms have been created around these great works.  Read them and find out why.  And no matter how great the movies are (and they really are amazing!) the books are better.

5. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (all of them)
These are also great read alouds.  They make for great discussion of sacrifice and the love Christ has for his people.

6. Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck
This one will make you laugh until you cry. I read it with fourth and fifth graders and my own kids when they were 8 and 10.  Grandma's antics will leave you with a stitch in your side from laughing so hard. Bonus, it gives kids an idea of what life was like during the Great Depression.

7. Charlotte's Web by EB White
It's a classic.  Kids love it.

8. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Ms. Ritter read this to my class in fifth grade.  I bawled like a baby.  So did all the other girls.  The boys tried to be tough, but I remember seeing many of them wiping their eyes as well.  The love story between the boy and his dogs and his family is well worth reading.

9. You Are Special by Max Lucado
Every kid should know that he is loved by his maker and that alone is enough to make him special.  We love this book so much that we named our oldest son after the woodcarver in it.

10.  Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
If you want to know just how much God would do to prove his love for his people, read this book.  There's a good chance that it will change your life.

11. The Mark of the Lion Series by Francine Rivers
My mom introduced me to these books.  Reading them was the first time I was able to really picture what the world looked like around the time of Christ.  The courage of the central characters makes this more than a romance, but an epic tale of adventure.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reasons We Love Homeschooling #1-9

There are a lot of reasons we love to homeschool.  A lot.  For this post, I even asked the kids and they were happy to share what they think are the best things about being educated at home. Some of our reasons are totally obvious but some of them may surprise you.  In no particular order, here are a few of our favorites.  

*Please know that I am in no way implying that families who don't homeschool cannot do some of these same things or that they must have horrible relationships with one another.  I do not think that for even one minute.  These are just some of the benefits that I see in our home, with our family.  

1. On days when we're just really sleepy or don't feel well, we get to sleep in.  There are no tardy slips to fill out.  We sleep until we're not tired and then we do our work when we're rested.  That may mean sleeping in until 10:00 or taking a nap at 2:00.  It also might mean doing school at 6:00 PM.

2. On a related note, we don't have to get up and out of the house in a presentable fashion by 8:00 AM.  In fact, most of the time, we're still in bed then.  And as you can see here, clothing is totally optional during school time. (Apparently, so is cleaning the carpet.  Eh, a girl can only do so much in a day.)

This means we get to stay up later, too.  Because of that, the kids get more time in with their daddy, who doesn't usually get home from work until around 5:30. If they go to bed at 10:00, they have the chance to get some time in with him that they would miss if they went to bed at 8:30.

3. EZ - "I get lots of breaks."

4. Truly differentiated instruction. If you're not in education, just know that it means this: Each kid gets to learn at his own level and own pace.  Or as my oldest said when I asked him what his favorite parts of homeschooling are, "I get to learn what I'm ready for."

5. Reading lessons = snuggle time.

6. Our kids like each other.  I mean, really, really like each other.  At this point, if my "school aged" kids left the house during the day, it would just be AJ at home.  He doesn't even want to think about how bored he would be with just Momma around to entertain him all day.  

Right now, they even like spending time with their parents!  All three of my big kids gave more family time as one of their top reasons they like homeschooling.

EZ - "I get to stay home with my family!"

Big E - "I get to see my family every day."

Baby Girl - "I get to see my family."

7. On snow days, we can ditch the books and go outside or stay warm and not get behind. Either way, we don't have to make up a day over spring break or in the summer!

8. Big E - "That it's AWESOME!" I would say that's a pretty great endorsement coming from a ten-year-old boy!

9. We get to take more field trips.  Once a month we take a class at the zoo.  We've been to museums, government buildings, planetariums, and nursing homes.  We don't go just once a year.  We go whenever there is an event we want to attend.  We also get to go places during the week and avoid the weekend crowds.  Recently we celebrated a birthday at Chuck-E-Cheese on a Friday afternoon.  There were less than two dozen people there.  So, so much better than fighting the crowd on a Saturday.

Big E - "I get to go places with my homeschool friends that I wouldn't get to go to otherwise." 

Baby Girl - "We get to go on field trips more often, like once a month.  I don't think we would do that as often in public school."

There are lots of other things we love about being able to educate our kids at home.  We'll try to share more of those with you soon.  For now, if you're a homeschooler, what do you love about it?  If you're not, what do you think you would love?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Unsolicited Advice: How to Make a Kid Hate Reading

This is a bit of a follow up to last week's post for teachers.  It was too long to include on that list, so here it is, getting a whole fancy-smancy page to itself.  
I've heard it over and over and over.  "My kid used to be an avid reader.  He loved to read...until ____ grade.  Then he absolutely hated it."  

For over a decade now, well before Common Core or even NCLB, all of these conversations included one common denominator; Accelerated Reader, commonly referred to in most schools as AR.  Commonly referred to in my mind as "How to Kill a Love of Reading." 

Properly used, AR can be an awesome tool for teachers. Along with it's companion STAR testing, it can help kids and teachers in many ways.  Before we get into that, let me give you a quick overview of how these two programs work.  Well, at least how they are supposed to work.

First, the kids take a STAR test.  This is a computer based test, made up of progressively harder multiple choice questions.  Kids who get questions right keep getting more questions, in less time, until they can no longer answer correctly in the allotted time.  Miss a few in a row or take too long to answer and the test ends.  If you want to get more info on this, you can look it up here.  Teachers generally give this test within the first few days of school, then depending on the school, again each quarter or semester, and once more at the very end of the year.

After the class tests, the teacher gets almost instant access to about a billion (or maybe more like 20) reports.  She can find out a ton of data about the kids in her class.  The report that I have seen most widely used is the ZPD, or as stated on the above linked website from the tests developer, the
Zone of Proximal Development:  The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is the reading level range from which (the student) should be selecting books for optimal growth in reading. It spans reading levels that are appropriately challenging for reading practice. This range is approximate. Success at any reading level depends on your child’s interest and prior knowledge of a book’s content.
So far, so good. There is some good data there that good teachers can use to differentiate instruction and to quickly identify students who may struggle or excel. Teachers and kids can go into a library and easily find books that the students can read independently.

Now let's go back to the ZPD.  Notice how it says, "This range is approximate.  Success at any reading level depends on your child's interest and prior knowledge of a book's content."  Yeah...that's the part teachers tend to forget about.  Instead of using it as the guideline it was developed to be, they turn it into hard and fast rules that no one can get around, no matter what.  I've known school librarians and teachers who would flat refuse to EVER let a kid check out or read a book in class that was outside of their ZPD.  

Let me give you an example.  The names are changed to protect the innocent but the stories are true.

Tom is in fourth grade.  He reads really well, like his ZPD at the beginning of the year is 11.6-12.8.  This means that as a nine year old, his reading level is equivalent to a junior or senior in high school.  This does NOT mean that his maturity level is equivalent to a 17 or 18 year old.  But his teacher doesn't care.  Nope.  That teacher says that he can ONLY read books in his ZPD.  Unfortunately for him, his elementary school library doesn't carry many of those.  Go figure.  So he reads through the few books they do have, is bored to death, and then his teacher tells him he has to get books from the high school library.  Because you know, fourth graders should be reading first hand accounts of the Bataan Death March, facts about abortion, fiction that depicts drug and alcohol abuse by minors and of course, sex.  After all, if he can score that on one multiple choice test, he must be ready for all that entails.  And if you've read any young adult fiction these days, you know that they are labeled that way because they are not for younger kids!  So, all year long, Tom reads books he's not interested in. He wants to read the books the other kids are reading; Harry Potter, Bailey School, Shiloh...but no, those are below his ZPD, so he's not allowed.  So Tom begins to hate reading. He doesn't get to read anything that he wants so reading is a chore that quickly becomes a bore as well.  By fifth grade, Tom is no longer a reader.  Mr. Smith and his unbending, set in concrete interpretation of the STAR test has killed Tom's interest in reading.  Now a senior, Tom no longer reads for pleasure.

Kimmie is in first grade.  She doesn't read very well yet because she's just getting started.  So her ZPD is somewhere around 1.1-1.6.  When she goes to the library to get books, the books on her level are short.  They are mostly pictures and may only have a few words in them.  AR tests have 5-10 questions on them.  Because Kimmie's books are so simple, there sometimes aren't 5-10 things to ask on the quizzes.  So the quiz authors ask things like "What color was the ball on page 3?" or "Does Jill have blue or green eyes?"  Neither of which were at all relevant to the story.  Kimmie has no idea and simply guesses at the answers.  Her teacher uses AR as a big part of her grade, so Kimmie's report card stinks.  Her parents are upset with her and Kimmie isn't able to put into words why she has done so poorly.  She now thinks she's a horrible reader and doesn't want to pick up any more books.  

Teachers, librarians, parents: listen up.  STAR testing and AR were not meant to be used this way.  They are not The Ten Commandments of Teaching Reading.  ZPD is not set in stone.  It is a guide, a tool.  Use it as such.  Don't suck the life out of young readers by making it more than it is.

I'm not saying you should abandon the test data altogether.  Just don't make kids stick to them so strictly, especially the advanced readers.  If you are teaching third grade and they score with a higher than that ZPD, make them read third grade and up books.  Encourage them to choose some harder books but let them read the occasional picture book that their friends are all talking about.  If a struggling reader really, really wants to read a book about baseball that is three grade levels above them, let them try it.  Not every time, but sometimes.  Chances are, if you give them the tools, they will, in time and with practice, learn to pick books they are ready for.  Let them fail if need be but give them the chance to exceed expectation as well.

Now let me tell you another story.  This one is also true but is about a little girl who has never taken a STAR or AR test in her life. She happens to be home educated but this could easily happen with a child in other types of schools as well if she had the right teacher.

Allie was at the end of second grade when her mom brought home a book for her older brother to read.  It was a book about time travelers that had a grade level equivalent of 5.0.  That means it should be good for middle fourth to middle fifth graders.  Allie was not reading anywhere near that level at the time, nor had she ever read a book with 366 pages and no pictures.  But she was interested.  She wanted to read it.  So her mom, who also happens to be her teacher, let her.  Mom gently quizzed her to see that she was comprehending, which Allie was, so she continued.  It took her almost two months to read the book.  It was Book 1 in a series that currently has six installments.  When she finished it, she practically ran to the library to get Book 2.  It didn't take her as long to read that one.  By November of third grade, Allie had read all six books and was eagerly awaiting Book 7.  Book 6 she read in just over a week.  She now frequently reads books that are written on fourth, fifth and sixth grade levels with ease.  And guess what.  She loves reading.  By taking on a challenge and succeeding, she became a better reader.  She even found a favorite author and is now inspired to become a better writer herself.  

If you're a school librarian or a classroom teacher who uses STAR and AR, please, please, please take a few minutes to evaluate how you are using these tools.  Are you building better readers or are you stifling them?  Are you facilitating a love for storytelling or squashing all desire to read for pleasure?  If you look honestly at your approach and realize it could be better, improve it.  Don't let one more day go by that kills a love of reading.  Don't let your class be the year that Tom starts hating books.  Instead, make it the year that Allie discovers the joy of reading and decides to become a writer.

If you're a parent whose kid's school uses these tools, please take a minute to talk to your child's teacher about their philosophy on this.  If you don't agree with her, make your case.  Make it strongly but respectfully. Advocate for your kid.  Don't let this year be the year he learns to hate reading.