The Anthropology of Anti-Vax

May 25, 2011

At She Thought, Anthropologist Underground kind of nailed it with this piece about how not immunizing becomes a mark of social status in some parenting communities:

Many women who can afford to stay home gave up careers to do so. Larger society undervalues stay-home moms (as well as teachers and other child care workers). So bright, educated women find themselves in clusters, isolated from prestige, and they bring the work ethic and focus that advanced them in careers to parenting. They must seek status and validation from other members of the stay-home community, and this requires separating themselves from the unwashed masses. (My friend calls this “competitive parenting.”)

My read is that challenging the authority of conventional medicine and MDs is one way of artificially ascribing status to oneself.

Thought provoking, and yet completely unsurprising, really.  Living in LA, I’m surrounded by status moms like this.  They were all over my mom support group listserv, to the extent that I finally had to unsubscribe.  I often posted on here and Rational Moms about these moms.  Reading their posts on the listserv was a great way to take the temperature of the anti-vax community in response to news about the Wakefield scandal or the whooping cough epidemic.  (Ultimately, it proved too frustrating for me to encounter their responses daily, so I left the board.)  I think Anthropologist Underground has pegged the way these people think, to a large extent.  And I wouldn’t confine it to moms.  There are plenty of stay-at-home dads who join the status parenting club as well.

I would add (and I did in my comment) that unfortunately, recent events in our country do lend credence to the idea that a web of financial interests can override public interest.  Just watch The Inside Job to have that sneaky suspicion confirmed.  So I don’t think it’s only a group status/power mentality at work here.  I believe anti-vax parents are egged on by a prevailing cultural suspicion of authority that has been intensified by the events of our time.

Responses to this idea?

How to Look for Preschools

May 21, 2011

We finally found a great school / daycare for Zack, and the relief is palpable in our home.  Zack is back to his happy self, we can now go to work without feeling horrible, and best of all, his behavior issues haven’t surfaced at all in the new place.

In case you don’t have the patience for this whole post, let me just cut right to the heart of it.  In my opinion, there’s only one question you really need to ask yourself when you visit a preschool, and it’s this:  Would you want to hang out with these people for hours and hours?  If so, you’re probably in a good place.  If not, keep looking.

The Montessori School we tried turned out not to be 100% genuine Montessori, but that’s not as important to me as what we discovered about the teachers.  The preschool duo were a couple of old biddies who didn’t have the patience for our son’s difficult transition.  When we spent enough time there to see them in action with kids, we weren’t impressed.

We kept Zack home with a nanny for a bit, which cost us a fortune but bought us peace of mind while we searched for a new place.  We were systematic, but I ended up stumbling across the school we chose by accident, and it’s the nearest one to our house.  I thought we had just about made our choice, and I only went to this one more place to be polite to the director I spoke to on the phone.  I ended up clicking with her instantly, and when I told her the story about Zack’s old daycare, she was upset for me.  Everything she said about the job and about kids seemed right to me.

My husband and I had learned our lesson, so we both went to the school and spent time there, observing the teachers, before we felt comfortable enough to decide.  The teachers speak very respectfully to the kids.  At the new school, you might hear, “Please don’t put those rocks on the slide, dear.  Thank you.  I appreciate that.”  By contrast, at the Montessori school, you might hear, “No running in the class!”  My husband and I speak politely to Zack, so we liked hearing the new teachers.

And the thing is, you can’t fake that attitude.  Not for long anyway.  If you think kids are worthy of respect, you’ll treat them respectfully.  If you don’t, you probably won’t think to put on a show for company.

There was one girl who was very tall, and the teacher asked me to listen to how she speaks.  She looked and sounded like she could be five years old.  ”She’s only three,” said the director, “So we have to remind ourselves that she is just repeating words.”  Since Zack has the same issue (big kid who can talk but is not even three), I felt comfortable that this woman would understand him.

We haven’t seen any aggression emerge in the new setting, but we’re still holding our breath a bit.  My brother’s second boy did have a problem with severe outbursts of anger, and because my brother has two other boys and could compare, it became clear that the middle kid was having genuine trouble.  He’s on Prozac, which has helped him a bit.  Having heard about that situation, I was prepared (and still am) to find out that we might have to get Zack some help.  But so far, his new teachers say he just doesn’t have an aggressive nature.  The problem was something about the environment in his old daycare.  Or maybe the problem was that the old daycare didn’t have room for him and forced him out however they could.  He couldn’t move up on their schedule because of the potty thing, so they started making it hard for us to keep him there.

By coincidence, another boy from the old center ended up in our new school, so Zack has one old friend at the new place, which helped him acclimate.

I was disappointed that we couldn’t get Zack into a Montessori school, but as it turns out, there are no good ones near us that would take him.  The most genuinely Montessori place I found had a toilet training requirement, which has been the root of all our troubles.  The best Montessori schools are a bit of a commute from here, and since we are already commuting to work, it just isn’t practical to head in the opposite direction for school.  I did find a couple schools that labeled themselves as Montessori but were absolute crap holes.  I was perplexed that anyone would leave a kid in those places.

So we’ll see if maybe when Zack turns four we want to try the best local Montessori for a year before he goes to kindergarten.  Until then, he is having a blast at his new school.

More About Montessori

May 9, 2011

Thanks to those who commented on my last Montessori post.  We are still struggling with Zack’s daycare situation, and it’s absolutely the most emotional and difficult thing I’ve dealt with as a parent to date.  So here’s an update.

Zack cried for three days straight, calling for me pretty much the entire time.  We kept thinking that surely he couldn’t persist for another day, and he would acclimate somewhat, but it was going very, very slowly.  Finally, on Wednesday night, he was a bit hoarse from crying, and it seemed like he was depressed.  He wanted to do nothing but lie around, and when asked, he said he was sad. 

So we came up with a plan.  My husband took Thursday off from work and went to Montessori with Zack.  I took off Friday.  My husband’s a freelancer, so he made up his hours on Saturday.  I’m a probationary employee at my new job, so I have no sick days or family leave yet.  So I just ate a day.  Whatever.  Totally worth it.

When I did my day, I got to see first hand how the school operates, and I found several troubling issues.  First, I’m embarrassed to say that I did not notice how dirty the school is until I was there for many hours.  The backs of the little chairs are covered with a layer of grime, left behind from years of grubby little hands.  There is no place for our son’s diapers or extra clothes, since his cubby is too small, so those things stayed in a bag on the floor.  The playground in the back has many trip areas due to old carpeting or mat edges not being tacked down.  The Montessori materials have the same grimy layer as the chairs.  When my son was playing with some little bears that he sorted into cups, he said, “There’s a tiny bug in the cup!”  And there was.  Okay, it was just a little gnat, which could happen even in a pristinely clean school, but bug in the cup didn’t add to my overall impression that the environment is a little gross.

The food isn’t the best, and I knew that when we signed up, but when I saw that Friday pizza day was Papa John’s, that kind of rubbed me the wrong way.  My son doesn’t like pizza, so he ate some lunch I brought from home.  If he starts to like pizza and has it once a week, I can’t see the harm in that.  But again, seeing delivery pizza on paper plates for lunch just kind of leant to the overall honky tonk vibe.

The teacher, Ms. S., is from Sri Lanka, and while she’s clearly very kind at heart, she has a sharp way of speaking to the children that bothered me.  Her assistant is from the Philippines and has a similar manner.  Both of them are somewhat older–over 60–which is certainly not a drawback in teaching or caretaking, but they did strike me as somewhat tired.  On the playground, they sat to the side.  I played chase with the kids.

I thought I smelled a poopy diaper outside, and no one took care of that for quite a while.  And that’s probably because no one smelled it, since the teachers were taking the outside time as rest time for themselves.  I also noticed no one changed Zack for quite a while.  I did it, but when I asked, I was told it would happen after lunch.  At our old daycare, diaper changing was every 2-3 hours, on a schedule.  Here, most likely because many of the kids are already potty trained, it’s pretty lax.  There’s no diaper changing table.  Changes happen standing up.  And that’s fine; we do that at home.  But the fact that there’s no area and no assigned time for changes tells me my kid will stay in the same diaper for four hours, and if he has a BM, no one will really notice.

One kid had a dirty face and a runny nose all morning, and I was always the one who pointed it out to the teachers, who simply instructed him to wipe his nose.  At our old daycare, the rule was the teachers would wipe the mucus and then wash their hands and the kid’s hands.  I’m sure they took shortcuts with the hand washing, but I never saw a kid walk around with green snot for longer than a minute.

After playing outside for a bit, which got Zack warmed up to the place a little, we went inside.  Anytime there’s a transition between areas, the kids have to line up with their hands behind their backs, and only when they get into this formation are they allowed to proceed.  While I found this strictness startling, I have to believe that ultimately, this kind of crowd control is positive and probably prevents many of the issues we had with Zack at the old school.  Still, it struck me funny, being the laid back sort of parent that I am.

Once they got inside, the kids had to sit in a line on a rug.  Again, they had to sit nicely before things got going.  Then Ms. S. brought out a little American flag, and they had to stand, put their hands on their hearts and sing the pledge of allegiance.  Then they sang My Country Tis of Thee.  I found this to be annoyingly retro and unnecessary.  On the other hand, I couldn’t see why it’s bad to learn these things, and I remember saying the pledge every morning in school.  Except for the obvious “under God” thing, this kind of indoctrination doesn’t bother me too much.

Well, I’m lying.  It bothers me overly much.  I hate it, actually.  But hey, is that the worst thing that could happen?  Not really.  Prayer would be worse.  I know friends who have their kids in religious preschool, and they overlook the prayer and the bible songs.  That I could not do.  The pledge?  Meh.  I hate it.  I think kids that young don’t need to say it for sure.  But this is the least of my worries at this school, and whatever.  Eventually they will learn the pledge, so why not now?  Who cares?

Okay, I care.  It bothers me, I will admit.  But enough about that.

After the brief patriotic brainwashing session was over, the kids sang some songs, said the months of the year, and then they separated into two groups.  The older group did some writing lessons, and occasionally, I could hear Ms. S. speaking to them in sharp tones:  “That is not a three.  How will you go to the next class if you write like that?”  Definitely not my style of speaking, and I didn’t like it.

But here’s the big question:  is it okay for teachers to be strict and a little negative, as long as my kid is getting unconditional love at home?  Ms. S. told kids to “Sit properly!” all day long.  When one girl fell off a bench at lunch, Ms. S. told her that it was because she didn’t sit properly.  Of course, she also made sure the girl was all right, but she definitely drove home the cause and effect of the situation first, whereas I would have covered all the emotional ground before the lesson, and it would not have been a scold.  “Were you scared?  Are you okay now?  So look, next time you know that when you lean back, you might fall.”  That’s the Julie style.  With Ms. S., it was straight to the point:  that’s what you get when you don’t sit right!  But hey, isn’t it true?  And isn’t school where you learn that you have to wake up and follow instructions?

The teachers were also all about:  “You have to listen to teacher.”  Boy, do I hate that.  But you know what?  You do kind of have to listen to the teacher.  I’m not sure about this, but maybe being strict in a school setting is appropriate, and these teachers are laying the groundwork for kids who know how to behave in a school setting.  It’s not my style, it rubs me wrong, and yet, I sense some kind of truth in it.  At a basic level, there is a way to behave in a group that must be respected.

While the older kids were writing, the younger kids sat in front of the assistant teacher, who used some flashcards to review numbers, letters, and shapes.

We were sitting with the younger group, and Zack was young even in this group.  Everyone else was over three.   But Zack shouted out the shapes and colors before all the other kids.  He zoned out a little during the numbers.  He can count, but he’s not completely clear on the relationship between numbers and objects, yet, which I always find interesting.  If you ask him, “Zack, how many eyes do you have?” he says, “One, two, three, four!”  He simply likes counting to four.  So that was probably the bit that challenged him the most.

At this point, I realized to some extent that my son probably doesn’t need preschool for things like numbers, shapes, letters, or months.  It seems to me that he’s a kid who will pick stuff up when he’s ready, and he’s got a mind like a steel trap.  It’s not a problem to memorize stuff like that for him.  This realization made me wonder just what preschool really should be doing for a kid like mine?  Should he be more involved in planting tulip bulbs, helping bake bread, or other more real life experiences?  Should he just be left alone to play all day?  What’s going to help him be happy and learn–or more importantly, just be happy?  I don’t see learning as an issue.  It looks to me–and a lot of this is my gut level feeling, or perhaps just my own projection and I’m putting a lot of my own baggage into this–like he’s going to learn no matter what.  It’s not a problem.  So what do we want to teach?  And is what we want to teach more about who he is and how to think than just this stuffing of various items into his head?  And also, wait, he’s not even three, so when do we care about learning more than just making him comfortable and ensuring that he’s okay emotionally, that he feels connected to those who are caring for him, and that he’s not going to cry all day and be hurting in ways he can’t describe yet?

My feeling is, we care about the emotions more now.  I’m not sold on this particular school as the answer for us.  I don’t think they are nurturing enough.  On my last post, a commenter said that Monstessori teachers from Sri Lanka tended to be a bit authoritarian.  I can’t quite make myself like it, although I see that there is some good to it.  But it’s not what I want for my son.

However, the Montessori technique itself turned out to be incredibly interesting.

When the groups broke up, and it was time to use the Montessori materials, I was suddenly very engaged, and so was Zack.  That stuff is amazing.  I didn’t understand how it all worked before I saw it in action, although I’d heard that kids pick their own activities and work on one thing at a time.  This was a mystery to me.

So here’s how it works, and I might end up posting some video later so you can really it.  Zack picked at first some little cups and little plastic bears.  (I’ve read that in some Montessori schools, the toys are never made of plastic, and in ours, the toys are mostly wood, but this activity was made out of the dreaded plastic.)

The cups were two different colors, and the little bears were the exact same two colors.  And Zack sorted the little bears into the two cups, and he did it over and over again.  And he was perfectly content to sit there and do that, and it absorbed him completely.

I was fascinated by this whole encounter.  As I said, he knows colors, so he wasn’t learning colors.  So what was he learning, if anything?  What he was emanating was calm, organization, and contentment.  Every time he sorted the bears, he looked up at me and said, “Good job, Zack!”  And he liked the way the bears felt in his hands (or so it seemed to me), and he liked to empty them from the cup back into the little tray.  And sometimes he put the “wrong” color bears into a cup, and then he would dump them all into the other cup, and it seemed to me that he enjoyed the sound they made.  Or maybe only I did.  Not sure.

This task required no intervention or instruction from anyone.  Zack selected the materials and intuitively understood how to use them.

He later chose some concentric plastic shapes–triangles, circles, and squares.  He sat and put them together and took them apart, triangles within triangles, squares within squares, again and again.  It seemed to provide him with a quiet satisfaction.

I was seriously entranced by all of this.  There were puzzles with magnets and little fishing poles, designed apparently to help with eye hand coordination.  There were puzzles with pegs and shapes, and you could put the pieces on different pegs and see the relationship between the shapes .  It was amazing.  So when I got home, I did some research and looked up another Montessori school’s website, which offered a more detailed explanation about what is happening when kids use these materials.  The idea is that they gain a sense of mastery, confidence, and concentration by doing these tasks that are specfically designed to be interesting to them at their particular developmental level.  They are able to work on their own and associate learning with a positive experience.

My skeptical bells go a-ringing when claims like this are made.  So…really?  These toys are better than any other old toy that kids find interesting and absorbing?  They’re better that say, a hose?  Or some dirt?  Really?

But I had to admit that watching my son work with these things, I certainly did feel like exactly what was described was actually happening.

Then it was lunch and nap time, and then the oddest thing of all happened.

When the kids were all asleep, Ms. S., a tiny woman to be sure, crawled onto the stack of toddler mats, which are encased in a little crib like structure.  She pulled a curtain around herself, and she zonked out in there.  She took a nap.  On a stack of toddler mats.

No, it’s not bad.  Hell, I’d probably do the same thing.  But I just found it weird is all.  And kind of funny.

During nap, I played Scrabble on my iphone and hung out.  The assistant talked to me about teaching.  She said she had taught in the Phillippines for many years.  Her husband is a surgeon.  She has two adult children, one of whom just graduated from medical school.  I found myself thinking, well, this lady knows how to bring up smart kids.  But watching her all day, I felt like she was not very involved or interested in these kids.

By the way, all the kids fell in love with me.  They wanted to sit next to me.  They called me “Teacher.”  Or “Mommy.”  I think I just paid more attention to them than their teachers.  And I was a novelty, of course.  But I was the popularity contest winner.  It made me want to go back to teaching little kids.  I taught four-year-0lds when I lived in Japan.

In fact, most of my feelings about how to deal with very young children were quite influenced by my year in Japan, where preschool lasts three years, and it’s mostly quite strict.  But home life is very permissive.  Mothers sleep with their kids (which we’ve adopted in our home) and indulge them, even while they send them to cram school in second grade.  I didn’t like the pushing of kids, but I definitely saw that they have more potential for learning than we take advantage of here, for the most part, in the US.  So I see the benefit of having Asian teachers who might be part of that tradition of school strictness alternated with home sweetness, if that makes sense.

I realize I’m making huge generalizations here, and that’s because I only spent enough time in Japan to get a whiff of what happens there in families with young children.  I taught at an English immersion kindergarten and grew quite close to families there.  I was invited on trips with them.  I spent holidays with them.  I saw family dynamics at work in a way most Westerners would not, but still, I was an outsider the entire time.  So if anyone wants to correct me on my assumptions, yes, I admit these are anecdotal observations layered with my own guesswork about how things work in Japan.

At one point during the day, Ms. S. invited me to observe some presentations the first graders were giving.  And that’s when my mind got truly blown.  These kids were doing science presentations.  Way to hook the skeptical mom, guys.  Well done.  A girl presented her diorama about whether salt or fresh water boiled faster.  She had a hypothosis, a method to test it, photos, and she explained in detail the molecular structure of water and the way salt lowered its boiling point.  Then she took questions from her peers.  She spoke like an adult.  Sure, one kid couldn’t get past the balloon on her diorama, which really had no purpose other than to be blue ( you know, like water).  But still, the whole scene was so sophisticated.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  Tell me, anyone with a first grader, is this normal?  Or is it really advanced?

So if this is where the strictness and the Montessori and everything else is headed, there’s definitely a value to it all.  If these folks would just clean their room better, I might be sold.  But in the end, I don’t think this is the school for us.

We had a near anxiety attack about the situation last night, and we finally called Zack’s infant careworker, who used to work at his old center, to check her availability, in case school is a no go this week.  But then we sent him in again today.  How can we tell if the work we put in, staying with him for two days, did any good, unless we send him back?  The school has instructions to call me if he cries too much, and I will go and get him.

So stay tuned.  I”ll let you know how it works out.  We are looking for another place, most likely another Montessori school with a more laid back teaching style and a cleaner environment.  In the meantime, if Zack can get used to this school, I think he will learn and not be in harm’s way there.  It’s just not an ideal place.  But since it’s obviously so hard to transition, if he can deal with it, it might be the place for now.

Zack’s New Montessori School

May 4, 2011

We had to make a tough decision recently to move our son out of his old daycare, and this week we’re dealing with a huge, emotional transition as he cries every day at his new place.

The old place had an infant care room, and Zack started going there just a few hours a day when he was three months old.  It was a brand new facility with wonderful caregivers.  Zack’s primary caregiver, Elsa, became one of his favorite people.  She still babysits for us.

When he was 17 months old, the place came under new management and let Elsa go.  We were frightened of the changes that would come, but all in all, the new management turned out to be good.  Zack was on his way up to the toddler room anyway, so he would not have beenwith Elsa too much longer.  At that point, he became the class biter, which was a frustrating situation, and every day we would get “ouch reports” in writing, letting us know that he had bitten one of his buddies.  The daycare folks figured he was frustrated and bored and moved him up to toddlers a bit early.  Problem solved.  We were so happy with that outcome that our trust in the place was renewed.

And Zack did great all through toddlers, until he turned two and a half, at which point he became the class hitter.  And again, the teachers suggested to us that he was too advanced for the toddler room and should move up to the preschool room.  But there was one big obstacle:  potty training.

I’ve read a lot about potty training, and I’ve talked to many parents about it.  In fact, as I was starting this post, one of the parents from my old daycare called to say she was sorry we had to leave.  And she said that she simply “forced” her son to potty train by three.  And he did it.

Color me flummoxed by this idea.  My kid is downright resistant to the potty right now.  He has had a few victories, which were hugely celebrated in our house.  And then he became a stealth pooper.  He just doesn’t want to use the potty, and if I’m interested and have the energy to try to catch him pooping, I’ve had to become faster and faster at it.  Gone are the signals he used to give.  The kid is smart.  Before you can say, “Are you poop–” it’s over.

So we backed off.  I get it.  Some folks can make this happen faster.  Apparently.  We’re not those folks.

And then we had to pick up our kid all the time from daycare.  We must have gotten five or six calls.  Come get him.  He’s being aggressive.  He knocked another kid off a platform in the playground.  Come pick him up.  You have thirty minutes.  He pulled a kid down by her hair and dragged her on the floor.  He hit a teacher in the face.  He head butted another teacher.  He hit someone and got scratched.

We saw none–absolutely none–of this kind of behavior at home.  I even went into the daycare one day and secretly observed my son through some blinds as he played outside.  He looked like he was having a blast.  Then later, one of the teachers said to me, “Did you see him hit that parent?”

And then I realized that these people were kind of nuts.  He had not hit a parent.  He had walked up to a parent and held his arms out, like for a hug, and then brought them together in a pat on her legs.  He was saying hello.  And that was interpreted as aggression by these teachers, who took him aside and urged him to be gentle.

I’m sure Zack did pull some hair.  He sure does love hair.  He is constantly playing with mine, and yeah, it gets annoying.  But knocking a kid down?  Dragging a kid by the hair?  I have to wonder now how much of this is true and how much of this is exaggeration.  It seems more likely that Zack’s obsession with hair caused a kid to fall down. 

And oh, by the way, Zack is huge.  He’s almost three now, and he’s easily the size of a four-year-old.  And he was stuck in the toddler room, with 18-month-olds who probably just fell over when he played with their hair. 

And he knows the shapes.  And the alphabet.  And the colors.  He was bored.  Again.  But this time, daycare could not move him into the appropriate room, because his brain is faster than his butt.  He was far from potty trained, but he was smart.  And enormous.  And frustrated and bored.

We were hoping June would solve everything.  Magically, we knew he’d get it by then, and then he’d be three, and potty trained, and we could move him to the preschool room, with the fish tank and the older kids, and the more challenging stuff.  We worked out a deal where he could visit the preschool room for an hour a day.  And we talked to the toddler teachers about splitting “circle time” so they could have an older kids time and a younger kids time, so they could challenge the older kids a little more.

But all those extras came to an end.  Not enough staff on hand to handle them.

And then we found out June was a no go.  Zack wouldn’t have a space in preschool until September.  He’d lost his space.  (I think the mom who just called me might have gotten it, actually.)  And honestly, we don’t know if he will even potty train in September.

By this time, it was getting discouraging to constantly hear so much negative feedback about our kid.  We believe he’s the most beautiful, smartest, cutest, and sweetest boy in the world.  But we were being told to come and pick him up from school because he was aggressive.  And we disagreed with that consequence.  Developmentally, how could that be right?  We asked the school about timeouts, and the director told us that kids Zack’s age don’t understand timeouts, because by the time the timeout is over, they’ve forgotten why they were in it.

So how could Zack understand being sent home?  That happened 45 minutes after the incident in question.  Why would he make that connection?  The director advised us to basically make the rest of the day suck for Zack to really drive home that he had been sent home for misbehavior.  Don’t read books to him, don’t do fun stuff.  That’ll show him.

So we realized, crap, we’re in a place that calls itself a “child development center.”  And we completely disagree with them on fundamental issues of child development.  Force potty training by three?  We believe that’s wrong.  Send a kid home as a consequence he doesn’t understand and then tell parents to make his whole day bad as further consequence he can’t possibly understand?  Wrong all around.  Have kids stuck in a room that’s too easy for them and then chide their behavior when they act out?  All terribly wrong.

But Zack loved his teacher, and he knew all the kids, and he’d been in that center since he was three months old.  We had only had to have him there part time, and I was starting a new full time job.  Fearing a change, we tried to stay for a few more months, and we kept getting worse and worse reports about him.

So we looked around, and I got it into my head that Montessori might be the way to go.  I visited a local Montessori school, learned a little about the methods and the philosophy, found out this school is accredited by one of the Montessori accrediting agencies, and I got a good feeling that this would be a better fit for Zack.  A few things bummed me out about the school, like the food is a little junky and there is some TV watching.  But overall, it seemed like it would be more challenging, get him with kids his own age, and not force him to potty train until he was ready.

I approached Montessori as a skeptic, but the more I learned about it, the less I could find any reason to protest it.  There have been a couple posts on here about Waldorf, so I was looking at Montessori as another cult like situation that proposed some untested, dogmatic theory about kids and just ran with it.  It seems quite the contrary.  The ideas are fairly sound, and studies show Montessori kids are often ahead of their peers when they get to regular public schools.  And the idea that Zack could choose his own activities was very appealing to me.  Watching “circle time” at our old school, I felt like the kids were a bit restricted.  Circle time seemed like a nice way to look like they were actually doing something of value, but I wasn’t sure what it was, besides teaching them to sit in a circle when asked to do so.

Mostly, I was impressed by the idea that there was a pedagogical, methodological approach for teaching young children that seemed to be based in actual observation of their abilities and tendencies.  Every other preschool I looked at gave blanket statements in their marketing literature about respecting the whole child, individual attention, encouraging social skills.  But I never saw any particular philosophy or method for getting there.  We all want to respect the child as an individual, but in practice, just how do you do that in a preschool setting?  What does that mean in terms of the instructional approach, the materials you use, the way you offer or do not offer help, the interaction you expect among children?   Montessori offers pragmatic guidelines for what that vague statement means on a moment to moment basis.

Interestingly enough, Maria Montessori actually advocated for the mixing of children of different ages, which was exactly one of the problems we had with our old daycare center.  We felt Zack was frustrated because he was with younger kids.  But perhaps he was frustrated because he was having to do the activities of younger kids.  It wasn’t the kids themselves.  It was that he wasn’t being challenged by the work he was doing.

We’ve been going to our new Montessori school since Monday, and here’s the result so far:  Zack cries for me all day and hates it.  He doesn’t do any of the Montessori “work” yet.  He is confused and sad about why he’s in a new place.  It’s heartbreaking.

At my new job, the first month was a downer.  I’ve been slightly depressed and disoriented, not sure if I made the right choice, and it took a while to just get used to the new surroundings and calm down about this huge life change.

So I can’t even imagine (or remember, since I know I went through it) how sad and difficult this kind of enormous life change must be when you’re under three.

The whole experience of seeing my kid this sad has made me question daycare altogether.  The transition has just been way too tough.  I could kick the old preschool director in the shins for forcing us out.  My rage that she put us in the position of making my kid have a hard time like this is fairly huge.

So we’ll see how it goes.  I hope to be posting in a couple weeks about how Montessori was the right choice for our family.  I hope to be posting that Zack loves his lessons and his friends.  For now, all I have to say is that I would like to win the lottery, quit my job, and home school.  Today is Wednesday, right?  I need to run and by myself a lottery ticket.  Thanks for reading.

Best Parents Ever

February 22, 2011

A few of us at SBP have caught Angry Birds Fever.  And this video is so awesome it kinda makes me a little weepy.  I mean, what is better than parents who do this much for a cake?  Nothing!  Nothing is better!

Julia Sweeney Gives the Sex Talk

February 22, 2011


Wow, this cracked me up!

New Hurt by Homebirth Blog

January 23, 2011

Amy Tutuer has started a new blog called Hurt by Homebirth in which women detail the deaths or injuries of their infants who could have been saved by hospital births:

Private websites run by homebirth advocates frequently and proudly delete comments unfavorable to homebirth, and there’s nothing more unfavorable than a homebirth story that ends in death.

Enough is enough. Hurt by Homebirth has been created as a safe place where women can tell the stories of the babies who died or who were left brain damaged or otherwise injured by homebirth. And though maternal death is far more rare, it is also a place where families can tell the story of mothers who have died at or in the aftermath of a homebirth.

It is an important site for women who might be considering homebirth, since so often homebirth advocates are not forthcoming about the risks involved.

Unfortunately, women contemplating homebirth don’t know the risks and homebirth advocates aren’t about to tell them. In fact, adding insult to injury, when a bereaved mother attempts to share her baby’s story with other homebirth advocates, the baby is figuratively erased out of existence. Homebirth websites delete homebirth tragedies. They don’t want women to know the truth.

Be warned.  The first story is tragic and very difficult to read.

My Fascination With the Duggars and Quiverfull

January 22, 2011

On episode 42 of our Parenting Within Reason podcast, we interview Vyckie Garrison, who is the editor and a contributing writer of  the blog No Longer Quivering.  Vyckie left the Quiverfull movement and writes about her experiences within it.  Quiverfull followers believe in letting God plan their families, and they often have ten or more children.  (Vyckie had seven.)  They also homeschool and instill the idea of submission among wives and daughters, who are brought up as domestic servants and “helpmeets” for their husbands.  Vyckie really gave us a wonderful interview.  She was very open about her life and her journey away from the Quiverfull movement.  Her blog is a fascinating read, especially because the women who write for it break up their posts into continuing episodes that draw the reader in.  The stories have completely hooked me.

The Duggars belong to this form of fundamentalist Christianity, and I have not been able to get enough of their show since I learned this.  I love watching 19 Kids and Counting, as much as it sort of freaks me out and scares me.  I find the kids and the parents totally charming, even when they’re talking about how the earth is 6000 years old.  While doing a little procrastinating from another writing project, I came across the video above.

The Quiverfull movement has become a topic of peculiar fascination for me.   I first heard about the Christian Patriarchy on Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist blog.  He posted several excerpts from Katherine Joyce’s book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.  Geek that I am, I asked for the book as a present, ironically enough, for Mother’s Day.

One of the aspects of Quiverfull that I find the most alarming is that some parents within it adhere to a strict philosophy of child rearing espoused by a couple named Michael and Debbie Pearl, who have published the book, To Train Up a Child.  Excerpts can be found here, and this is the passage that is most emblematic of the training method advised by this book:

There is much satisfaction in training up a child. It is easy and challenging. When my children were able to crawl (in the case of one, roll) around the room, I set up training sessions.

Try it yourself. Place an appealing object where they can reach it, maybe in a “No-no” corner or on an apple juice table (That’s where the coffee table once sat). When they spy it and make a dive for it, in a calm voice say, “No, don’t touch it.” They will already be familiar with the “No,” so they will pause, look at you in wonder and then turn around and grab it. Switch their hand once and simultaneously say, “No.” Remember, you are not disciplining, you are training. One spat with a little switch is enough. They will again pull back their hand and consider the relationship between the object, their desire, the command and the little reinforcing pain. It may take several times, but if you are consistent, they will learn to consistently obey, even in your absence.

That’s right.  Use a switch on the child when he or she reaches for a toy.  Specifically, the Pearls recommend a quarter inch plumbing supply line.

The idea here is that by teaching your child to obey you rather than follow his own natural inclinations, you will instill enough obedience for the child to forego his sinful nature.  Obedience is the most important trait according to this thought process.  If you can’t obey your parents, you won’t obey God, and you’ll end up in Hell.

Vyckie says she did not practice this particular form of discipline with her kids, but she did emphasize obedience as the highest virtue, and she tells us in the interview how it drained the spirit right out of her children.  Once liberated from this dogma, the kids began to flourish and grow as individuals.

Vyckie’s blog has a heartrending series of apologies from parents who feel now that the stress upon obedience wrought psychological damage upon their children.  In an especially moving post, one writer speaks of the intense love she felt for her baby and the gratitude she felt upon finding guidance to protect her child:

If I could sum up the message that this book spoke to a young mother who deeply loved her baby, it was this:

“Momma, your baby is a sinner. He/she will try to manipulate you. Things like a child not liking a diaper change and squirming to be free are an example of a sinful will attempting to dominate you. You may think this is a little thing, but it’s huge. Why? Because if you let the child dominate you, the child will win. If the child wins, the child will learn that rebellion pays. The child will then grow up to probably reject God and go to Hell, because a rebellious heart will not want to follow God. So, Momma, never ever let your child win. Your child’s exertion of will [which includes anything you deem unacceptable---grumpiness, for example] is an act of war, and parenting is about the parent winning any and all battles of wills.”

I loved my baby. How grateful, absolutely grateful I felt, that someone was there to show me the way.

The mother then expresses her regret:


I am so very very sorry. Everything I did, I did out of love. But that doesn’t excuse any of it, nor does it take it away. And I am sorry.

I suppose I find this so emotional, because I can relate so well to the ferocity of love that a new mother feels, along with the weight of responsibility for not only keeping this new being alive but somehow instilling virtue and life skills.  So many of us feel clueless and turn to books.  Who knows?  Maybe swaddling will turn out to be totally wrong and I’ll have to regret that one.  It’s easy to get misguided as a parent, and we all do the best we can.  Sleep training?  I’m still torn.  I’m sure I got that one wrong, if only because I never quite decided to do it one way or the other.  We’re all looking for answers, and the secular parents among us might find the wrong answers, too.

I hope you’ll give episode 42 a listen.  It’s a great interview.

Merry Xmas Tantrums

December 25, 2010

It didn’t go as planned.

Z woke up out of sorts, tripped on a blanket on the way to turn on his light switch, and he just never seemed to recover his usual cheerful mood.  My husband’s picture perfect under-tree presentation brought smiles, but they didn’t last.  The presents were a hit, until each one revealed some fatal flaw that doomed it for a round of screaming “No, no, no, no, no!”s.  The dumpster on the  Duplo garbage truck didn’t lift the way he wanted.  The awesome car carrier from Nana and Papa kept coming apart (the way it’s supposed to, but who can explain that to a 2-year-old in need of a nap?).  Finally, Jeff opened the side of the car carrier to display the amazing ramp that whooshes the cars down at the press of a button.  Z burst into tears:  he thought Daddy broke the toy and lost his cars.  That was probably the moment we realized the day was a lost cause.  If the coolest thing ever is gonna make your kid cry, it’s over, man.  Your new job is surviving until nap time.

The poor kid just could not pull it together for long at all.  He finally was feeling more upbeat, and then having to put his pants on to go to the park just made him come totally unglued.  I wrestled his new diaper on him, and that was weird.  I don’t have to ever physically hold him down to do that.  I should add here that we were blessed with a kid with a fairly sunny disposition.  I won’t say he doesn’t have his bad moments, but he recovers quickly.  We haven’t ever seen this kind of cumulative tantrum behavior before, so we were blindsided.  Getting the pants on?  Absolutely a no go.  Just not happening.  So I just kept saying that as soon as we got them on, we could go to the park.  Natural consequences, right?  Well, the natural consequence of that exchange was that Zack went into our upstairs hallway and yelled his head off.

At that point, I pulled out the AAP guide and quickly looked up tantrums in the index.  The AAP’s advice?

1.  Ignore.

2.  Ignore.

3.  Ignore.

Conveniently enough, by reading while Z carried on, I happened to be ignoring him.  I’d accidentally stumbled onto the way outta this mess.  He finally ran back into his room, still pants free, curled up beside me, and conked out in four seconds.  Clearly, his mood was the product of exhaustion.

We weren’t upset that our sugar plum vision of Z’s third Xmas didn’t run according to schedule.  If you have a toddler, you get pretty used to surprises like that.  But we were exhausted and humbled by the experience.

This has been a fun year for me, and recently I’ve gotten to be a regular host on the Parenting Within Reason Podcast related to our little blog here.  We’re always saying on the podcast and on this blog that we’re not scientists or doctors, just parents who are interested in science and reason.

Days like today remind me that I’m really just barely a parent.  I’m glad I got the tantrum thing right on about the tenth try today.  Hell, I’m glad I didn’t lose it and throw a tantrum myself.

I’m not really sure where to go with this post, so I’ll just end it here and say, if you are a parent reading this, Happy Holidays to you.  Give yourself a pat on the back, drink some eggnog, and try to relax today.  Cause this shit ain’t easy.

With a Side of Fava Beans

November 27, 2010

I hope you’ve had a great Thanksgiving and that the following will not entirely ruin your appetite for leftovers.

Yes, I know moms who have eaten their placentas, and recommendations about doing this have been flying around my mom support board lately.  For a few hundred bucks, Sara Pereira, a licensed massage therapist who has been featured in Time Magazine, will come over to your house, cut up, dry out, and encapsulate your placenta, so you can ingest it.

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