Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"Least of These, My Brethren"

I think there are times in each of our lives where we look at the world around us and wonder how in the world we got here. Lately, that feeling has been on the verge of overwhelming but I am taking each day as it comes.

My husband was gone for work for the better part of 6 months, with a few short weekends home here and there. During that time, I took a prep course for the Math Content PRAXIS exam, the final requirement I needed to complete my Virginia teaching license with the math endorsement.

The short version is that I passed, with a little room to spare! The long version involves the hours upon hours that I spent reviewing Calculus, taking practice exams, and commuting to and from the prep course.
My score showed up immediately when I hit the submit button.I started to shake, the kind of excited, emotion-filled tremors that only something you’ve worked so hard for, after putting off for over a decade, can cause.

Three days later, all the excitement was gone as I watched the election coverage. This particular election season was very hard on me. I didn’t have my husband to bounce issues off, to muddle through after the debates, or to distract me in the evenings from the other mundane aspects of life.

My husband’s absence magnified the inconceivable.

I am now fighting in ways I never thought I’d fight before. If you’re asking “why”, then please listen with an open mind because I know that many of my friends and family voted for Trump, as is your right. I am speaking to anyone who takes the time to read this, no matter when or how we may or may not know each other.

There are two truly core principles in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The first is that he is our Savior and Redeemer. He suffered in Gethsemane for all of our sins, no matter how big or small. The second is a principle that extends from before the earth was created and that “thing” is the reason Christ atoned for our sins in the first place: we each have been given our own agency. This means we get to choose how to think, how to act, how to react, in every aspect of our lives.

We fought a war in heaven so that we could all come here and choose for ourselves whether or not to live worthy of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. In Moses 4:1-4, we are taught that “Satan rebelled against me (God, the Father), and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down.”
Satan was cast out because he wanted to take that gift of agency away and have all the glory of God for himself.

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” 12th Article of Faith

What does it mean to honor and sustain the law? In light of some of the immediate aftermath of the election, let me share with a few thoughts with you.

I don’t know when life truly begins—when the spirit of a Child of God enters the body and stays there. I can only share that I have felt that life before 10 weeks’ gestation and I have felt it leave, for good, as well. We have knowledge that the spirit can leave the body while the heart is still beating, based on the experiences of others both within the LDS community and those of many other faiths as well; a beating heart does not mean the spirit is in the body. Even within church policies (which are subject to change), a child is not given a name of record unless he or she is born and takes a breath. My experiences with Jackson aren't unique, as women though all of history have lost babies before birth or during childbirth.

The discussion from here in light of recent events naturally turns to abortion. Is it murder or something less grievous, such as simply not accepting the consequences of using your agency poorly? If it is murder, then does that make God the biggest murdered of all, given the sheer number of pregnancies that end each and every day since the dawn of time?

I don’t know and I’d prefer err on the side of life. In contrast to that, abortion is legal, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, so what does it mean to “err on the side of life?”

To me, this means changing how American men and women of every political ideology views life. The new administration may seek to outlaw abortion, but that doesn’t mean that abortions won’t happen. Women have attempted to abort their pregnancies throughout history and for a variety of reasons (if you aren’t familiar with this, please do a little research). Those same reasons exist today.

So how do we, as a society, prevent abortions from happening if we believe abortion is wrong?

I see two distinctly different areas to fight.  The first is free, reliable birth control for anyone who wants it and proper, detailed reproductive education for all genders at an early age. The latter was never an issue prior to the modernization of the world and single family homes that kept children apart from their parents at night. 

To those who are argue regarding the law of chastity, remember that your values are not those of others. We each have our own agency. The biggest key to preventing abortions is to prevent pregnancy in the first place! Reliable birth control is not the pill, by the way. I’m talking about options that are intended for longer term use and also for technologies that aren’t quite there yet, such as temporary male sterilization.  If a woman doesn’t get pregnant, then she’s not going to be seeking an abortion. 

The second line of defense against abortion is support for mom’s who choose to carry their babies to term. This support can come in many ways, but one very serious area is the cost of childcare. In the US, the average cost of childcare for a year is higher than college tuition. Families who plan ahead can save for almost 20 years for college for their children, but what about daycare? Should a 12 year old start saving her babysitting money so that she can afford daycare for the child she might have in 18 years? 

Absurd? YES!

I run an in-home daycare, so I am keenly aware of what it costs to put an infant or toddler in a small, safe, loving daycare. Daycare providers struggle to balance the cost of tuition with the number of children they can watch both physically and in terms of their mental health as well.

I don’t particularly like pointing out problems without also making a few suggestions that I’ve spent time mulling over, so bear with me for just a moment while I go completely radical on you: Grant new families paid time off.

*Gasp*

What are the drawbacks? Higher taxes, obviously. That money doesn’t come from nowhere. Those taxes can come from a variety of places, but how does using the interest on federally paid student loans sound for a start? 

Or taxing luxury items up the wazoo so that only the wealthiest spenders are hurt? 

For those crying out “It’s MY money” trust me, if you’re reading this, it is unlikely that I’m talking about raising your taxes. I don’t know anyone in the top 5%! Also, it’s not an income tax, but a tax on truly optional purchases, so if any single person doesn’t want to pay it, they don’t have to.

Providing for paid family leave for men and women allows those families to spend time with their new child, establishing breastfeeding, reducing exposure to illnesses that could be harmful, and provides a chance for moms who suffer from postpartum disorders a chance to get help, something a new working mom may not be able to do.

Years ago, politicians fought hard to provide funding to educate each child in America. The idea that an educated public was advantageous won and continues to be important today. That same "Greater Good" mentality is one I believe in as far as providing for new families.

The inability to afford a child is one solid reason for abortion, no matter the age or marital status of the mother. Providing help, in terms of daycare costs, day-to-day living expenses, a real living wage . . . these are all options that anti-abortion Americans need to look at because like it or not, abortions will happen.

These issues all revolve around our agency—our right to choose how we live our lives and just because someone sins differently than I do doesn’t mean that I don’t love them or want to do everything I can to support them.

With those thoughts in mind, I participated with my oldest daughter, my mother-in-law, and two of my sisters-in-law in the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday. It was truly a remarkable day and gave me the opportunity to show my growing daughter that we do not need to be silent. The issues that surround abortion can be fought so that abortion stays safe and the rates can continue to decline.

I also marched for religious freedom. That particular issue was a little further down on the list for the organizers, but it was there and it is very personal to me. My ancestors were kicked out of their homes, multiple times, because of their religion. They fled to Utah, which was a territory at the time. Where to religious refugees have to flee now? The opportunities here are still great and I want that religious freedom to remain . . . for all religions.
For the few of you who think, “Meh, I have what I want” I have one question: The things you have, how did you get them? Did someone march on your behalf in decades past?

Lastly, I marched for those who couldn't march for themselves. We took the Metro into the city and the workers there were hollering and cheering us on. It seemed like they all had a bounce in their step as they watched over a million riders walk on through, marching for equality, marching for women's rights, marching against a man who doesn't believe America is already great and the policy changes he had already implemented to remove the rights of others.
To conclude this not-so-short post about a lot of random related topics I say this: I marched for the future of the world and I did so because I can. . . and I can because others did so for me. 

I owe my present rights and responsibilities to those of the past and am paying it forward now. I marched for "the least of these, my brethren" and I'll do it again. And again. . . because I have been given the privilege to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

One (Minor) Way Education is Screwing Itself

My time is limited for this rant, so let's get right to the meat of it!

The educational system is failing itself. There is a very strong push for qualified teachers and in the United States, 32 states (according to my prep course instructor) require the Math Content PRAXIS exam.

This exam is a 210 minute exam that is 60 questions long and covers everything from the definition of an integer to Calculus II level courses.

What's wrong with that, you ask? Well, let me tell you!

Doing some simple mathematics, 210 questions divided by 60 questions is 3.5 minutes per question. Not bad, right?

WRONG! Because there isn't actually 210 minutes of testing time.  That window includes the time to get logged in and go through the practice questions on screen. Other teachers in my prep course have all said that the whole "introduction" portion takes 30 minutes, really leaving the test taker with 180 minutes to take the test . . . 3 minutes per question.

Students around the country are given unlimited time on their standardized tests because it's well known that pressure leads to poor results.

So why are adults expected to test differently? Hhmm? Thoughts? 'Cause I got nothin'.

Secondly, if someone decides to be a teacher, in most of the other subject areas, they are licensed for a specific course.  For example, you wouldn't go and get a science license. Instead, you get a license to teach Physics (it has its own PRAXIS) or Chemistry (own PRAXIS) or Biology (own PRAXIS) but for math, NO! A teacher is expected to know everything in all of the math courses.

In the social sciences, World History is a different endorsement than Economics or Government or Psychology.

This leads to a problem because there are a great many teachers who are incredible Algebra or Geometry teachers but who have never taken Calculus. If this seems odd to you, research career switcher programs.  There are also amazing Calculus teachers who suuuuck at teaching Algebra I because they are think at a different level than their students do.  And yet, each of these are required to take the same test.

To add to that, the vast majority of the teachers in my prep course are either middle school teachers who are now expected to get the high school endorsement because the lovely state of Virginia now pushes Algebra I and Geometry in middle school or they are high school ESL or Special Ed teachers who will never teach Calculus but who need the endorsement because of state mandates for teachers to have endorsements in their content area.

If the great Commonwealth of Virginia wants to have better teachers, they need to work on specializing the math courses.  This can easily be done by splitting up the licensing so that teachers can have varied endorsements like those in the social sciences and physical sciences.

By allowing Algebra I to be a separate endorsement than Geometry or Trigonometry, or Advanced Functions, or Calculus, teachers can focus on the content in their classes.  This would also increase the number of teachers endorsed in those classes, thereby improving the statistics that each school reports to the state.

But what do I know? I'm just an unlicensed former-teacher who runs a daycare, tutors a couple hours a week, and is now taking this test so I can get back into "the system" . . . because I'm crazy.

Or, I know I'm a good teacher and really miss watching a classroom of students have that light-bulb moment day after day and move from hating math to either loving it or at least appreciating its quirks and consistencies.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Day 1 and The Rough Draft

I did it!

What did I do?  Well, I completed the first day of my PRAXIS prep course and I walked out of there a lot less afraid than I thought I'd be. I was the only student there who was not either currently teaching or a student enrolled at GMU.

The odd woman out, if you will . . . but interestingly enough, I felt like I knew the material we covered today better than the other students did. That comfort comes a little from my teaching experience, but mostly from my experience the last 9 years as a tutor. Those hundreds of hours, working one-on-one with students, has kept the material fresh in my mind.

That content comfort will likely not last more than another week or two, but for today, it boosted my confidence and I needed that.

The other thing that I did today is something I should have been keeping up with for years but it's a task I truly despise so I have procrastinated for almost a decade.

I completed the first draft of my resume! Wooooooo hoooooo!

It will need some work but I'm really excited that I have an actual draft done.

Early this week my husband made the comment, "You're really doing this, aren't you?" meaning that I'm really planning on going back to teaching.

Yes, Yes, Yes. I don't know when I'll be back in the classroom, but it will be as soon as I can manage.

Two months? Two years? I really have no idea but I am preparing now for that to happen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fearless

One of the unintended consequences I have experienced because of losing Jackson and the quick arrival of Dash caught me completely off guard.
When my husband and I were dating and for the first year of our marriage, he made it clear that he wanted to live overseas as a civil servant, to show any children we had the world outside of our country, and to enjoy the benefits of living as an American outside of America, and so many more hard-to-put-to-words experiences like those he had growing up. After our first year of marriage, he interned with the State Department and had an absolute blast, getting the overseas-bug even worse.
I was nervous. Scared. Petrified.  I don’t speak anything other than English and can follow the tiniest bit of conversational Spanish so how would I go grocery shopping? Make friends? How would my children learn the gospel if we attended a ward that was in a foreign language? What if my children could learn new languages easily but I couldn’t? Would I be taken advantage of?
What if I had to drive on the left?!?!??
Fear of the unknown ruled my decisions in those early years and because I was too scared, my husband gave up his dream and went to law school, a very expensive endeavor that caused our marriage a lot of strife because our stress levels were so high and our communication skills sucked and that decision continues to feel more like a financial burden than it ever should have.
Fast forward a few years and one economic collapse later and he’s working in the job he wanted all along.
And he’s happy. And I am happy.
The man that I fell in love with 16 years ago came back when he switched careers but he’s different. And while I am not comfortable talking about his personal changes in a public forum, I am comfortable saying that my fears almost ruined us because of the decisions that followed when he gave up on his dream 12 years ago.
Losing Jackson changed all that.
Everything.
I am no longer afraid of living outside my comfort zone
. . . of living in a foreign country
 . . . of learning a new language
. . . of cooking with new foods
. . . of attending church where I don’t understand what is being said
. . . of raising my children away from their peers
. . .of living in an area filled with poverty and civil unrest
. . .of being alone.

I am fearless.

Not only am I no longer afraid, but I am eager to leave the country I have known all my life in exchange for experiences that can continue to help me learn and grow and be a better me.
I want my children to grow up seeing the world through eyes that have seen and experienced differences in culture and to walk with feet that have trod near hallowed ground, and to use their hands to serve others.
I want them to walk and talk with children of God who look different than they do and to recognize that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the same world-wide, even though the words we use to express our feelings are different.
It used to horrify me just a little that my husband didn’t know most of the primary songs because he so rarely attended primary in English but he knows the tunes and can attest that the Spirit can and will testify of the truth whether you understand the words or not. I want my children to feel that and I want to experience that myself.
I want my preconceived notions about freedom, equality, and economic stability challenged because I believe that living in a world outside my own will make me a better person.
I am ready for it. I crave it.
When you’ve lost your only son, and God reassures you repeatedly that everything will be okay, and you begin to see those changes all around, then it’s time to embrace the path you should have walked over a decade before but were unprepared for.
Losing my son prepared me for change and growth and I hope and pray that when I look back a decade from now at the current lull in my life, I’ll be able to smile and say, “Wow. Living overseas was everything I thought it would be and more.”
From a practical standpoint, it will be almost two years at the bare minimum before we move but we’ll have the assignment in a couple of months as long as everything continues to move in the direction it’s currently headed. During that time, we’ll probably give ourselves one last chance at growing our family. That’s one thing that we have discussed often in recent months but haven’t prayed about. We both really want another chance at having a son but also know that conception is very difficult for me and that my pregnancy would be high risk because of my clotting/auto immune disease and now my age.
I am getting old and even though I don’t really feel it physically, there’s no denying that my fertility is on the downslide. I was diagnosed with borderline Diminished Ovarian Reserve over 3 years ago. DOR is a fancy way of saying your eggs are old and there aren’t very many of them left.
But again, I’m not afraid.

Is that weird? Because it seems like after all I have been through, I should be a lot more apprehensive about giving pregnancy another shot. Instead, I feel a steady calm. I know my Father in Heaven has heard my prayers and that the next few years of my life have been very carefully placed before me. Whether that will include a child or not is yet to be seen but I’m excited for the adventure either way!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Six Weeks Later

Where do I even begin?

I miss feeling obligated to update my little journal/blog every week with pregnancy or developmental updates for Dash. That time in the afternoon to sit and evaluate my little life is meaningful to me but I have been so busy trying to take care of everyone else that I haven't taken much time to take care of myself.
That little problem won't be going away anytime soon, either. When I look at my schedule, I have work or family commitments M, T, and Th from 6:30am, when my first daycare client arrives, until 9pm when I finish tutoring. Tutoring just got underway last night but I can already tell that it will take a decent chunk out of my "me" time in the evenings.
I love tutoring though, and the money is very helpful for paying off outstanding debts.
How else can I earn $50/hr and maintain my dignity? There aren't many options, that's for sure.
Tutoring is good for my mind, too. I intend to go back to teaching soon. "Soon" is, of course, a relative term. I filled out my request for updated information regarding licensure in Virginia. I had completed almost everything when I left teaching but one thing definitely remained incomplete: The Math PRAXIS.
If you have any friends in education, specifically for math, you can ask them about it. I was reminded again by the local math chair for our county that the math praxis is by and large the hardest content area test required of public school teachers. The content goes so far above what a math teacher will ever teach as to be ludicrous.
To give you an idea of just how nuts this test is, take a look at the passing rates here. For teachers who are just finishing their degrees, and so have the most recent experience with the material, the passing rate is roughly 60% but for those who have 3 or more years of experience, the pass rate is 17%.
SEVENTEEN. As in, fewer than 1 in 5 who take the test will pass it.
Those scores are about 10 years old though, so let's take a look at some that are newer and from a specific university.
From UC Denver, The PRAXIS pass rates in 2013 were:

English: 82.6%
Social Studies: 94.5%
School Psychology: 95.1%
General Science: 89.2%
Mathematics: 57.1%

Yes, you read that correctly. A full 25.5% lower passing rate than the next hardest test. Why UC Denver? Because they published this data and it showed up in my google search. That's not a very scientific way to go about this, but it adds to my point that the test I have to take is going to be HARD. Well, hard for me, that is, because it's been such a long time since I grappled with higher content mathematics. My last college math course that wasn't an education course was taken 15 years ago and although I've kept up with content through the trigonometry courses via tutoring, I haven't touched calculus or anything beyond since my time at BYU.
I'm nervous!
I suppose this is going to turn into a bit of a rant. You see, finding good math teachers is pretty hard if my experience with tutoring gives me any credibility in that sphere. I have this personal belief based on nothing more than observation that the majority of the teachers and professors who understand the ins and outs of higher level mathematics make really crappy teachers! Why??
Because they can't understand students when they don't grasp the material.
When a student comes to you and says, "But I don't get it," a good teacher can back up and figure out why and where.
What step in the mathematical chain is broken?
How far into the process does the student understand?
Can the teacher relate to the students' frustration and use a little bit of empathy as s/he works towards helping the students learn?
And yes, I think empathy is an important trait in a teacher but I don't feel like going into the why of that right now.
The vast majority of the teachers I know who really know their math beyond calculus lack the ability to do those things.
And that opinion is based on my experiences as a student in high school, with professors in college, and with a small group of colleges that I worked with as well.
It's time for me to be back in education in a formal classroom setting but making that shift is going to take a little time and quite a bit of preparation.
I have to pass that PRAXIS . . .

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sitting

Most nights as I sit nursing Dash, I relax and play a game on my phone, glancing down regularly to smile at my sweet toddler and to stroke her blonde curls.
Tonight I put the phone down.
I don't do that often enough and I know that.
As I sat in my small chair in her room, Dash took up my entire lap and her bum rested against the armrest. In a very short time, she'll no longer fit in my arms that way and we'll have to find a new position to nurse in before bedtime. . .

My business has been struggling. Circumstances completely out of my control have me actively looking for 3 new clients to fill vacancies.
I lost one adorable little boy to a custody dispute. He was removed from the home he had come to love, had thrived in, by his grandfather with the sheriff's officers and Child Protective Services in tow. His family is devastated and I miss him so much. He was the kind of boy that light up the room when he entered because of the joy that emanates from him. . .
Another little girl is moving to another part of the state to live with grandparents while her parents close on their first home. Her move is temporary and I hope to see them again, but I can't rely on it.
The third client will be attending school with her big brothers. Her home life has become complicated by that awful 6 letter word: cancer. So her mother needs to simplify their morning routine as much as possible and putting all 4 children in one location is what will allow them to do that.
When my life feels complicated, I always want to talk to my mom. She may not have always had the best advice, but she knew how to help me set my priorities straight and that's something I really miss.
So as I sat nursing my sweet girl tonight, I thought about Mom. And money, and career changes, and I cried. Gently and quietly the tears fell down my cheeks, landing on Dash.
She let go with a loud shlurp, sat up in my lap, and gave me a big kiss and hug. That little girl . . . Heavenly Father knew what he was doing when he gave her to us to raise. She could have gone to another family, but he picked us and I am so grateful for that.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Annual Physicals

All three of my daring girls were due for check-ups so 2 weeks ago, I took them all in.

Dash had her 18 month check-up and a couple vaccines, the Reader had her 10 year old check-up, and Spitfire had her 6 yr old physical as well.

I scheduled them for the same time and on a day where I only had one daycare client, knowing that it would be a longer-than-normal appointment.

A student nurse practitioner did the bulk of the appointment and my favorite nurse practitioner came to double check and ask/answer a few follow up questions.

All 3 girls are doing really well. The Reader has developed scoliosis and we'll start seeing Dr. Randy with Advanced Spinal Care for treatment in October. We'll need to come up with a long term plan for her but also for me, since I continue to have issues with my headaches.

The appointment, start to finish, was 2 hours long! It was definitely longer than I'd planned. Dash was awesome the entire time and even told me part way through that she needed to go to the bathroom, more or less showing off for the NPs. It absolutely put a big smile on my face!

Dash had xrays done the following morning on her hips and femurs, to check for any abnormalities because her feet overpronate quite a bit and it's causing some issues with clumsiness and has prevented her from learning how to run. At her age, she ought to be able to run already and she can't. She walks quickly, but it causing some significant stumbling and she's bloodied her face more than once because of falling.

The x-rays came back normal so at the advice of a friend, I'm trying something "out of the box".

Dash is walking around with her shoes on the wrong feet. It is changing her gait enough that her dad, who hadn't seen her in a week, commented on the change. We'll keep this up for a couple of weeks and watch for changes.

When the Reader and I begin chiropractic care again, we'll ask about Dash's feet. Because the rotation is all the way up through the knee and into the hip, I suspect there's some sort of sublaxation or a muscle that's too tight or too loose (a butt muscle or tendon?) that's causing it.

I could be totally wrong, but it's definitely something to ask about when we start seeing Dr. Randy.

Now for the fun part: Stats!

Each of the stats for the girls was a bit of a surprise for me because they've grown so much!

The Reader is 82.4 lbs, which is 70th percentile. She's also 5' 0.25" tall, which is 98th percentile.

Spitfire is 42 lbs, putting her in the 31st percentile for weight. She's always been tiny, so this wasn't really a surprise. Her height, however, was a bit of a shock. At 46" tall, she's 62nd percentile! She's pretty much never been above 50th percentile for anything other than intelligence, so she must have just finished a growth spurt of some kind.

Dash continues to grow nicely, too! She measured in at 27.4 lbs, 92nd percentile and 34" tall, which is 97th percentile. Now, how in the world did she grow that much?!?!??

If you recall, she's had some serious fluctuation in her growth percentiles since before birth. In her early appointment, I think the technique for measuring was the culprit. This time, unless their ruler is hung wrong, was an accurate reading. They use a pull-down tape measure that is suspended from the top of the wall and it rests on their head, parallel to the floor.

No marking the foot and head on a piece of paper then use a tape measure . . .

It is possible that when The Reader goes in for her 11 year old physical, she will be taller than me! Her feet are already bigger than mine, so I guess her height should follow that, right?!??