Author Archives: Lindsey

Beyond Sharing: 4 Ways to Develop Generosity in Children

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My kids are 4 and 3-years-old. And, for the most part, I feel like I’m a hitting a sweet spot in parenting. Everyone pees and poops in the toilet, they usually sleep through the night, and sometimes I can let them use real dishes. Today I even took a shower and no one died or cut anything with scissors. I rarely need a diaper bag. It’s pretty nice.

The flip side of the coin is that they have fully grown into their personalities and their wills, and so they’ve started fighting.

The battles are often quick but brutal. My daughter is fiercer than my son, in part because I think he knows he’ll hurt her, and so he backs down. Usually it’s over a toy or some object that is wanted by both parties.

When these fights first started, I heard the classic lines coming out of my mouth:

“You need to share.”

“Why don’t you take turns? Caleb can have it for 2 minutes and then Lily can have it for two minutes. I’ll set the timer.”

“Let your sister/brother/friend have a turn.”

I still say these things sometimes, and I don’t think they’re all bad. But, in general, I’ve come to think about sharing in different terms.

The problem with sharing isn’t that kids don’t know how and need to be instructed in the methods of giving someone else the toy. The problem is that they are selfish, as am I. I like my long hot showers, my solitude, my beer. And often, I don’t want to share either.

But the opposite of selfishness isn’t equal-parts-sharing. That’s really still just selfishness. I’ll give you your turn once I get mine, or only if mine is promised in return. The opposite of selfishness is generosity. Giving without expectation, without the promise of return. This is an attitude of the heart. I don’t expect that this will come naturally, but I can encourage it.

Here are a few strategies I’m trying. These aren’t gold; there is still a lot of fighting in my house. But I hope that over time our home will be filled with generous folks, people who are willing to do more than just begrudgingly give someone else their turn.

  1. 1. I’m changing my language.

Instead of saying things like, “Give your sister a turn”, I’m trying to say things like, “I want you to think about your sister’s needs and wants before yours. How can you be kind to her right now?” Or “I want you to share generously, not keep your toys selfishly.”

This language isn’t a magic wand; it doesn’t change my kids’ hearts. Hopefully, it just helps expose the real root of what’s going on.

  1. 2. Generosity is the standard.

Fort the most part, I try to expect generosity. In other words, if my daughter doesn’t want to share (which is most, if not all, of the time), I don’t give her the choice. If someone asks to use something, we give it right away. I use the timer very sparingly.

Having said this, I do try to be sensitive to one sibling just getting into an activity and another sibling demand it being handed over, especially since the little sister is usually the one interrupting the big brother. In these cases, I ask the big brother to figure out a way to invite his sister to play with him. I think the need for solitary play is an okay once-in-a-while desire. However, I want to be mindful of what I’m nurturing. I would rather develop an inviting spirit than a leave-me-alone attitude.

  1. 3. Guests are a special opportunity to practice generosity.

Before other kids come over to play, we talk about being generous and freely sharing all of our toys – putting our guests first. It’s easier with other kids than siblings, so I see playdates as a great chance to practice generosity. In our house, if a friend wants to play with something, we let them, especially when the guests are younger.

It’s a rare occasion that we have some sort of special toy that my kids are allowed to keep from their guests. In these instances, we put it away ahead of time so that my kids don’t get in the habit of withholding their best things from their friends.

I want the opposite for them, I want them to want to give their best to their friends. To care less about possessions and more about people. Certainly there is a place for maintaining the quality of a valuable item, but I want this to be a very rare exception.

  1. 4. Most of our stuff is shared, for all of us.

My kids have few of their own things. They’re still little, so this is easy, and don’t get me wrong – they have their special toys. Dolls, baseball gloves, gifts from grandparents. But these are few and still loosely held.

In general, we try not to refer to things as “Caleb’s blocks” or “Lily’s shopping cart”. Our Christmas gifts are mostly family gifts – a play tent, an indoor swing. We’ve given them each a few small things and obviously give them individual birthday gifts, but we don’t let gifts become the capital MINE.

Each of these strategies is tough at times, and, like I said, none of them “work” perfectly. I guess that’s the biggest strategy – I’m not trying to eliminate fights or just make things fair. I want my kids to be generous people. I believe that God is the only one who can change this in their hearts, but I can encourage it in our home.

Lindsey lives on and loves the west side of Chicago with her husband Mike and her kids – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 3. She works part time as a doula and childbirth educator and is fascinated by birth. In winter she likes to bake with sourdough, and in summer she likes everything. In all things, she is covered with God’s grace.

4 Key Questions to Ask Potential Care Providers For a Natural Birth

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You’re pregnant with your first and checking out all your options. Or it’s your second or third baby, and you’re wanting a different experience than the last time around.  Maybe no epidural, definitely not that awful Pitocin.

Where do you start, and how do you get the experience you’re looking for?

A lot of things about birth are out of our control, but one very important thing is not – your choice of provider. My number one piece of advice is to find a provider whom you trust implicitly and who is on the same page.

Based on your insurance situation and your state regulations (ex: Certified Nurse Midwives, CNMs, are illegal in my home state), you may be limited.  Regardless, I encourage you to interview prospective providers.  If you are a low-risk pregnant woman, here are some questions to ask and, maybe more importantly, answers to look for.

1.       What is your policy for induction in regards to late-term pregnancy (after 41 weeks), macrosomia (big baby), and PROM (premature rupture of membranes, or water breaking before contractions start)? 

In my experience, this is the most important question. Why?

Evidence.  We have evidence that says that “big” babies are not helped by being born early (and ACOG now says the same!), and we have evidence that says that induction is not necessarily helpful immediately after water breaks. And we the evidence we have for induction in the 41st week is so thin that the risks of inductions need to be weighed against the “risk” of waiting.

If your provider does these things routinely, absent of other indications, she/he is not practicing based on evidence. Over and over again, I have seen women scared into unnecessary inductions. If you really want a natural birth, find a provider whose induction protocol matches evidence.

The key is to really listen to the provider’s answer. Does she skirt the question? Does he just say, “Well, it all depends on your baby. After all, we want a healthy baby, health mom.” Honestly, this answer is insulting. Obviously, you want your baby to born healthy and safe.

When you’re asking your provider these questions, you’re looking for evidenced-based, information-filled answers. You want your provider to act as a member of the team (of which you are captain!) and welcome you into the process of informed-decision making. For any intervention, the provider should use evidence to describe to you the risks, the benefits, and the alternatives. If he shames you for asking such questions, move on to the next interview.

2.       Can you describe your philosophy of birth?

This is an open-ended question that might catch the provider off-guard, but the answer will be informing. Does he think that birth is a natural, physiological process, and he is a helper, almost a guide or a safe-keeper? Or does he think that birth is an accident waiting to happen? Something to be managed, almost like an illness.  Listen carefully.

3.       Do the other providers in your group share your philosophies and practice?

I’ve mentioned this before, but your provider’s group matters as much as the primary doctor or midwife herself. You never know who will show up when you’re in labor. Do the other doctors or midwives have the same philosophy of birth?’

4.       How do you help women laboring without medications achieve their goals?

A provider comfortable and experienced with natural birth should be able to describe the ways the staff and hospital are equipped to help you labor. Listen for the provider to feel totally comfortable and glad to offer you these options – things like walking around, using the shower and tub, eating and drinking as you want, being monitored intermittently, etc. If she seems hesitant or talks about “allowing” you to do these things, it’s probably a sign that it’s not the norm in her practice.

Bottom line – look for someone you can trust without reservation. You know that they believe in normal, physiological birth and are on your team, keeping watch over you as you experience one of life’s toughest and most transforming moments.

Ladies, would you add anything to this list?

Lindsey lives on and loves the west side of Chicago with her husband Mike and her kids – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 3. She works part time as a doula and childbirth educator and is fascinated by birth. In winter she likes to bake with sourdough, and in summer she likes everything. In all things, she is covered with God’s grace.

3 Guiding Principles For Choosing a Home School Curriculum

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My son turns five this August. This thought makes my hands a little clammy and my eyes sad. How did we get here so fast? Where is my baby?

School is coming – fast. For several reasons, we’ll most likely be homeschooling and part-time enrolling in a school in our neighborhood. This means I have been plunged down the dark rabbit hole of homeschool curriculum.

Phonics, literature-based, spiral math, sequential math, Entertainment Immersion Method Spanish, classical method, unschooling, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, and on and on and on.

Where do you start? I am a teacher by trade, but we’re talking High School English. I like to sit with students and discuss themes in Their Eyes Were Watching God or conference in-depth about their latest poetry. For all my training and experience, I honestly have no idea how to teach a child to read, and I really don’t care that much about spiral math vs. mastery math.

This is what makes my hands get clammy – what am I doing?

A few months ago, when I started to get obsessed with looking at curriculum, I realized I needed to slow down and take a step back. I needed to look at the big picture and articulate our values.  What do we want? The answers to that question would guide my curriculum choices.

I started to create a homeschool philosophy of education. If you’re thinking about homeschooling, I encourage you to do the same. The process has helped me immensely to sift through the overwhelming mess of curricula available.

I’ve put the ideas into three categories – Mission, Core Values, and Goals – Kindergarten. This strategy has helped me start big and narrow in. It’s also helped to get my husband more involved in the discussion. He’s a teacher too, but as the stay-at-home parent, the responsibility for school is falling more on my side. His input has been so great, and I’m seeing him own the details more as we talk through what matters to us.

I’ll share our philosophy here, but keep in mind that this is a working document. I fully expect some things to shift or get chopped as we actually start school. It’s also important to remember that any philosophy is just a statement of what’s important to you, to your family. In your context during your particular season. I offer our mission, values, and goals simply as helpful starting points or opportunities for reflection.

1. MISSION
This is the widest lens. Why are we homeschooling? What is the purpose of educating our children at home? At the end of 5, 8, or 12 years, what do we want to have accomplished? For our family, homeschool exists to bring God glory and spread Jesus’ fame by cultivating our children’s gifts and abilities, fueling a passion for lifelong learning, and equipping them for excellence and service.
 
2. CORE VALUES
What important ideas will contribute to accomplishing our mission? What academic philosophies do we hold dearly?

Our Core Values

  • Following Jesus will not be treated as a subject, but rather be woven into the fabric of our family rhythm and all academic content
  • Healthy, loving, grace-filled relationships with mom and dad are essential for thriving homeschool kids.
  • School routines and curriculum choices should reflect our values and goals rather than mimicking a traditional school day or classroom needs.
  • School routines should free our family to be flexible and open to serving our church family and our neighbors as much as we can.
  • Nurturing lifelong learners is more important than creating temporary students, so we seek to inspire more than require and to fan curiosity.
  • Developing good friendships with peers in our community is important.
  • We want to model and ignite a passion for reading.
  • We want to elevate the experience and study of visual and musical arts.
  • We want to spend ample time outside experiencing and studying creation.
  • We want to engage deeply in our city and its vast resources
  • Creative play and movement are important in human development.
  • We want to choose literature, curriculum and experiences that help develop a humble, global worldview, including engaging in a family-wide pursuit of a second language.
  • The general ethos of our home school environment should be fun, interesting, and peaceful.
  • We want to foster independence while cultivating close family bonds.
  •  As children grow into older students, excellence is expected.
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    3. GOALS
    These are year-to-year goals. What are we working toward, specifically? Academics, heart issues, teacher growth? I’m not quite finished with this section, but here’s what I have so far:

    Our goals for 2014/15 with 1 Kindergartener and 1 Preschooler
     
    We will all:

  • Approach school time with interest and positivity
  • Spend ½ day per week learning about nature, outside as much as possible
  • Begin learning Spanish together, trying to engage four days per week
  • Create according to our interests – making music, writing, collage-making, painting, drawing, etc.
  •  
    Kindergartener will:

  • Learn to read
  • Feel positive and successful about math
  • Demonstrate strong and confident grasp of mathematical concepts in accordance with a curriculum that will put him on track to take 8th grade Algebra, if appropriate
  • Begin a handwriting program when ready, possibly mid-fall
  • Grow in knowledge of geography, primarily through Montessori maps
  • Engage with Montessori materials
  •  
    Preschooler will:

  • Engage with reading program as she is interested
  • Play, work with Montessori materials, or craft during brother’s focused school time
  •  
    I will:

  • Find our daily and weekly school rhythm
  • Grow in patience
  • Learn to set aside homemaking tasks as needed
  • Focus on not multitasking during school time
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    If you’re starting on this homeschool journey – bless you. I feel a little overwhelmed already. I know things will settle down once I’m more confident and focused on my values and goals, but it’s definitely a daunting task.

    Whether you’re already schooling-at-home or just starting out, do you have any advice? I would love to hear how you go about deciding what’s important! 

    Lindsey lives on and loves the west side of Chicago with her husband Mike and her kids – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 3. She works part time as a doula and childbirth educator and is fascinated by birth. In winter she likes to bake with sourdough, and in summer she likes everything. In all things, she is covered with God’s grace.

    Baby Love: Lindsey, Caleb and Lily

    Lindsey is a new writer for Baby and Blog, specializing in natural birth. See her previous articles here, and look out for more content from her in the coming weeks ?

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    Tell us about yourself.
    L:
    I live in Chicago. I am a stay-at-home-mom who works a little bit. I’m a birth doula, and I teach childbirth classes.

    What are your life interests and passions?
    L:
    I’m passionate about Jesus and the Church. I like to cook and bake and have learned a lot in the past few years about nourishing food, my current favorite being chicken pho. I’m fascinated by the incredible nature of pregnancy and birth. As we’re gearing up to homeschool our kids, I’m digging back into education, which was my major in college.

    Tell us about your children.
    L:
    We have two kids – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 3. They are awesome – truly a joy and a blessing. Caleb is very curious and outgoing.  He loves knowing how things work and helping Daddy with projects. Caleb’s favorite place is outside anywhere.  Lily is sweet and sassy! She’s mostly a mama’s girl and loves being held.  She enjoys playing with dolls and Legos.

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    Tell us about your births.
    L:
    Caleb’s birth was a straightforward and textbook natural birth.  My water broke one day past my due date.  We walked at the mall, walked in our neighborhood, and walked in the waiting room.  Contractions slowly got stronger, and I was laboring pretty actively by the time I was admitted that night. My midwife was great and really helpful.  I was pretty free in my hospital room and spent lots of time in the shower.  I pushed for 2+ hours and he was born 23 hours after my water broke – 8 lbs 3 oz. It was hard but wonderful.

    With Lily, I was induced at 37 weeks because she was measuring small (technically IUGR – intrauterine growth restriction) and my fluid was decreasing significantly. I had just trained as a doula and was frustrated as I watched a med-free birth disappear. It was Valentines’ Day and the day before my birthday, so we dropped Caleb off and ate a fantastic dinner before checking in at the hospital.

    They started Pitocin in the late evening.  Mike slept some and I labored overnight. Pitocin contractions were really crappy and being tethered to the bed made me mad, so I had trouble staying focused. We hadn’t met with our doula yet, and I had asked her to hold off (HUGE MISTAKE!) since Mike didn’t know her. At 10 the next morning, I was dilated to 4 cm.  Totally exhausted, I opted for the epidural and slept until that afternoon when I felt tiny Lily literally slip into my birth canal.  She was born 25 minutes later – 5 lbs 7oz. My midwife said my placenta was indeed “funky”, and it was wise that we had induced. This was a huge relief to me.  The day was extra special because it was my 30th birthday!

    How did you manage breasfeeding?
    L:
    I nursed Caleb until 13 months and Lily until 15 months. I loved breastfeeding, though the first time around was extremely challenging. I don’t remember ever considering not breastfeeding. I think it was just a natural extension of the rest of my life.

    Interestingly, both kids were kind of weaned for the other one.  I had some early problems with Lily’s pregnancy (placenta previa) and decided to wean Caleb to avoid any possible worsening. Lily was still nursing in the morning when Caleb started potty training, and I just couldn’t do both – inevitably there was pee all over the floor.

    In the early days of breastfeeding Lily, I “managed” the household by sitting Caleb in front of the TV while nursing his sister.  Later, breastfeeding just amounted to some household chores taking a backseat.  My floors were dirty, laundry was rarely folded, I didn’t shower, etc.

    7. How do you balance work and motherhood? How do you carve out time for yourself?
    L:
    My work is pretty minimal, but I try to maintain boundaries to be able to be fully present in what I’m doing.  I leave the house one night a week and work at a local coffee shop for about 5 hours. I try to only spend one other time slot (usually a naptime) working.

    I try my hardest to get up early – between 5 and 5:30. (Ok, mostly 5:30, sometimes 6.) I use this time to read, pray and think through the day ahead.  I’ve found the biggest challenge with early waking is the discipline of going to bed the night before, but it’s always worth the peace that comes the next day. Our house is happier when I do this, but it’s definitely not all the time.

    Naptime is a staple. When my oldest doesn’t nap, he does a rest/play time alone. I use the time for chores/dinner prep/meaningless blog surfing/work/napping. This daily recharge is really helpful for me.  I know that as my kids get older I will try to maintain it in some form.

    What is your biggest parenting challenge right now?
    L:
    Just one? I struggle with staying patient. I deeply desire to parent with peace but often struggle to remain calm. 

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    Who is your child-rearing support group?
    L:
    My husband and I are a team, for sure. Our families are long distance but still involved and supportive.  Our church is our family, and we are loved well by many people there.

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    What is the most important value, ideal or philosophy that you want to impart to your children?
    L:
    I want them to know they are loved and rescued by God and that Jesus is the most incredible treasure, worth more than anything else the world has to offer.

    What advice would you give to a new mom?
    L:
    Sometimes, you have to take it an hour at a time.

    Lindsey is a new writer for Baby and Blog, specializing in natural birth. See her previous articles here, and look out for more content from her in the coming weeks ?

    5 Ways to Prepare Your Body for Natural Birth

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    “Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.”

    Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

    We birth with our bodies.  I know that sounds pretty obvious. But stop and think for a minute – is anything else as physical as birth?  Maybe sex, though I would say that in birth, our bodies drive the process more than our emotions.

    Women’s bodies are astounding. We house a human – literally growing a person from a seed. Then those same bodies stretch and tighten and stretch some more to ease the human into the world.

    I remember seeing my first birth. I was 23 and had brought food to a friend having her fourth baby. After her epidural was happily in place, she asked if I wanted to stay, presumably because it was her fourth baby, and the bigger the party, the better!

    Umm, sure. Yeah. I couldn’t believe I was going to witness such a thing.

    We hung out for a while, and then I will never forget seeing her legs start to shake – no, quake.

    She’s in transition, someone said. I had no idea what they were talking about and could only think of a video I’d seen in high school anatomy class that showed a horse in labor, its body covered with sweat and shuddering uncontrollably.

    I was in charge of the video camera, and as she saw my wide eyes, my birthing friend asked if I was sure I could keep the camera where she wanted it – shoulders and up.  I nodded, and then stared open-mouthed as the baby slipped earthside. I cried quietly as he was lifted up to his mama and shouted his birth cry.

    I’ll say it again – women’s bodies are astounding. And no matter how much we read or what we type into a birth plan, our body has to birth our baby.  Here are some ideas for investing in your amazing body as you prepare for birth.

    1.      Start by thinking positively about your body.

    I love what Ina May said above.  We must realize that our bodies were made for this. We are mammals, not machines.

    For many women – myself included – this is a tall order.  I’ve been overweight most of my life, and my body has not necessarily always been a happy place for me.  My mom has told me several times, sweetheart, our family has birthin hips. This was never a pleasant revelation for me.  Birthin hips are really just fat hips.

    But when we give birth, there is no way to escape those flabby bodies. So we must learn to love them. I know this applies for women who are in shape as well; most of us think negatively about our bodies.

    Whatever grievances you have with your physique, lay them aside and focus on your strength, your fortitude, your anatomy.  Your body was made for your baby.

     2.      Drink red raspberry leaf tea.

    There isn’t a body of research to support drinking raspberry leaf tea. It’s a commonly promoted idea in natural birth circles but doesn’t have much science to back it up. I’m okay with that. There are deeply embedded practices in many cultures that aren’t scientifically proven, but I don’t think that means that they aren’t helpful.

    Raspberry tea is made from the leaves of the raspberry plant, but unfortunately tastes nothing like raspberries. The tea is believed to tone the uterus and pelvic floor muscles and thereby make labor contractions stronger and more efficient.

    Because it tastes pretty unpleasant, I like to drink it iced.  I make a strong brew and add honey and fresh orange juice while it’s still hot. I cool it in the fridge for the next day. You can get it here or here.

    It’s usually recommended to drink as many cups per day as trimesters – so 1 cup per day in your 1st trimester, 2 in your 2nd, 3 in the last. As with any herb, talk to your doctor or midwife if you plan on using it.

    3.      Practice Relaxation and Pain-coping

    Lots of us live hurried lives. It’s rare to really relax and truly let go, but the ability to do this is essential for unmedicated labor.

    There are many ways to practice relaxing. I like to start with focused tension release.  Find a comfy position – sitting or laying down. Close your eyes and think through your body from your head to your toes.  Think about your forehead and release any tension that you’re unknowingly holding there. Feel the whole forehead relax, and then take a second and scrunch it up, then release it again. Do this with as many body parts/muscle groups as you can think of – mouth, neck, shoulders, butt, calves, feet, toes, etc.

    The Rainbow Relaxation cd from Hypnobirthing is a great resource for relaxation practice. Any time spent practicing slow, focused breathing will also be helpful.

    The only problem with practicing relaxation is that it’s just not that hard to relax in a quiet house with your favorite music, candles, and a pain-free body. I suggest adding elements to turn relaxation practice into pain-coping.  This idea comes from Pam England’s work in Birthing From Within, a favorite of mine.

    England recommends using ice cubes to induce pain that’s harmless but difficult.  You might try holding an ice cube tight in your hand for one minute and see how you deal with it. It’s not easy! The goal is to practice this often, and sometimes for several minute-sessions, with breaks in between. Please understand, this exercise is not about mimicking contractions. (If birth was like holding ice in your hand, I wouldn’t be writing this.)  Instead, the hope is to create pain-coping strategies and practice mindful relaxing amidst actual pain.

    4.      Practice labor positions

    A fundamental part of healthy, natural birth is laboring in lots of different positions. It works to move baby into a good position and also helps alleviate pain. During labor, I think it’s sometimes difficult for a woman to relax in a position she’s never experienced.  Here are just a few ideas – find what other positions feel good to you and practice those too!

    • Hands and knees – on your bed, the floor or a couch.  Practice arching your back and rocking your hips.
    • Slow dancing with your partner – Wrap your arms around his shoulders and let him support your weight. Sway back and forth.
    • Sitting on a birth ball next to your bed – Place a birth ball/physio ball next to your bed and stack pillows on the edge of the bed so you can sit on the ball, legs spread, arms and head resting on the pillows.
    • The Lunge – This is NOT a normal lunge! Side lunging can help turn a malpositioned baby and opens the pelvis. You can see pictures here.

     

    5.      Do Prenatal Yoga

    Beyond helping you be more flexible and strong enough to do all those great positions, research tells us that prenatal yoga significantly reduces certain negative birth outcomes, including low birth weight and preterm labor. We also have a study showing that prenatal yoga done in the last 10-12 weeks of pregnancy decreases labor time and increases comfort.

    Win, win, win. Blooma Yoga just came out with a great dvd that includes some birth videos and breathing practice.

    I hope these are helpful, mamas and mamas-to-be! Add your own thoughts in the comments – I’d love to know what positions and practices have been helpful to you.  And if you want to catch the other posts in this series, you can find them here and here.

    Lindsey lives on and loves the west side of Chicago with her husband Mike and her kids – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 3. She works part time as a doula and childbirth educator and is fascinated by birth. In winter she likes to bake with sourdough, and in summer she likes everything. In all things, she is covered with God’s grace.

    3 Things I Love About My Son’s Montessori Preschool Experience

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    I fought preschool.  When my son was three, we returned from Christmas vacation and I looked around and realized that every single one of his little friends, except one, was enrolled in preschool.

    I turned up my nose and crossed my arms. We don’t need preschoolLife is preschool.  We bake, we go to the Shedd Aquarium. He knows how to count to 10, usually.

    And I still believe a lot of that – when a home environment is rich with language and creative experiences, life is preschool.  I’m a huge believer in the power of independent, creative play in human development; I think I’m a bit of an unschooler at heart.

    But as the next fall came near, I found out I was expecting a baby and planning to start teaching childbirth classes.  I imagined how many hours of Wild Kratts or Curious George he would be watching and how little baking we would be doing, and I started to rethink my arrogant preschool aversion.

    Then I hit the jackpot.  I found a local Montessori Preschool Co-op at a church I knew and respected, and we could actually afford it.  (Chicago mamas – let me know if you want details.) At the time, I didn’t know that much about Montessori education, but I’ve come to love it.

    Montessori is different than typical school.  This is a good article outlining some basics. I’ve seen a lot of growth in my son – more respect for his environment, more attention to detail, a willingness to persevere when activities are challenging. I’ve learned a lot, too.

    1. I’ve come to embrace that development of ability is as, or more, important than skill development. My son can’t write his name and he doesn’t color in the lines.  Honestly, he hates coloring.  These things bothered me for a while.  Our culture, myself included, is so focused on outcomes and achievements, and I know that someday, test results will matter.  But at four-years-old, the process is more important.

    At school, he doesn’t practice writing or coloring.  He spends time spooning beans from one cup to another, practicing picking up tiny beads with a tong, and building a “tower of 10”. I’m pretty confident that he’ll be able to write his name one day; right now, refining those fine motor skills is the priority.

    2. A major emphasis in Montessori education is order in the environment, and I’m embracing this for our home.  Montessori classrooms are delightful and peaceful. While they are full of materials, there’s a place for everything, and everything is in its place.

    You can see the effect of this on the children.  My son is really a mini tornado – he’s usually running full speed and leaving a wake behind him.  At preschool, he’s still full of life, but calm and careful. He mirrors the peace and order of the environment. I’m trying my best to do this in our home.

    3. I’m also learning something I’ve felt in my gut since he was a little guy: choice is really important. My boy is a classic strong-willed child.  Potty training was a nightmare – really, teaching him anything directly has been tough.  He couldn’t count to ten for a long time because he refused to participate, no matter how sneaky I was.

    And then, one day (like two months ago), he started to enjoy counting and often wants to count whatever we’re doing – from bites at dinner to pieces of poop.  Last week we borrowed a hundred board from our classroom, and he completed 1-100 two days in a row. He even came into my room first thing in the morning (right about the time I was thinking how nice Curious George sounded), and asked to do the hundred board (called a “work” in Montessori) before breakfast. I never thought he would choose to do something like this, but he was ready, and his curiosity was sparked.

    There is a perception that children in Montessori classrooms do whatever they want all the time.  Not the case.  They have lots of choices and are free to work on whatever they desire, but they are also being guided and encouraged by the teacher as she learns the strengths and weaknesses of each student.

    I could go on for a while, so maybe I’ll write a Part Two. I’m thankful to have found a good fit for our family in Montessori education and am learning a lot in the process, including not to turn my nose up so easily.

    Do you have any experience with Montessori?  Any questions? Share your thoughts and experiences below.

    Lindsey lives on and loves the west side of Chicago with her husband Mike and her kids – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 3. She works part time as a doula and childbirth educator and is fascinated by birth. In winter she likes to bake with sourdough, and in summer she likes everything. In all things, she is covered with God’s grace.

    5 Ways to Prepare Your Partner for Natural Birth

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    My husband is pretty fantastic.  He’s super supportive of my doula work – making me breakfast-to-go in the middle of the night, listening to detailed birth stories, going with the flow of an on-call job.  He’s a Math teacher, but he knows what a Foley bulb is and how to try to turn a posterior baby.

    One morning, I came home after an all-day, all-night birth and handed him a bloody, plastic-wrapped bucket.

    “It’s a placenta, ” I said with half-open eyes. “Can you put it in the freezer?”

    He smiled, (At least I think so – I may have been asleep already.) and turned toward the kitchen, no questions asked. 

    But he’s come a long way.  I remember sitting on a birth ball when the contractions were starting to come on strong with our first baby.  We had been watching West Wing on our laptop in the early hours of labor when it was easy.  But now I was moaning, rocking, and slumping my head against the chair in front of me.  At the peak of a contraction I felt a half-hearted, distracted back rub.

    “Good job, baby. Good job, baby……..Baby, good job.”  I heaved myself up. His eyes were glued to the screen.

    Needless to say, I asked him to shut it off (politely and graciously, I’m sure), and we kept laboring until we had a baby.  And he was great.

    For dads, birth is a pretty mysterious event until they are in the thick of it.  Not only have most dads never witnessed a birth, but they have no way to relate personally.  The physical sensations of pregnancy and birth are completely outside their experience. 

    If you’re planning a natural birth, your partner will likely be an important, if not the most important, member of your team.  It’s important that they’re prepared for the intense reality of birth and ready to support you.  Here are some ideas for helping them.

    1. 1.       The obvious one – take a (great) birth class.

    Often, it’s helpful for dads to get information from someone other than you.  Especially if they’re new to the idea of natural, non-medical birth, hearing from an experienced teacher adds credibility and helps them make the paradigm shift.

    Good teachers also create their classes with learning styles in mind.  Men are often visual and kinesthetic learners, and taking an engaging class will help him (and you!) absorb more ideas and information.  I also see that dads are more likely to engage in discussion and ask questions when they see other dads doing the same thing.

    Birth classes can be a great platform for you and your partner to work through dynamics and personality conflicts that will come up during your birth.  Having this kind of prompting come from an objective source makes the discussion easier.

    What makes a good birth class?  I recommend taking an independent class – not one taught at the hospital.  While there are many good hospital teachers, these classes tend to center around hospital protocol, and often teachers are hesitant to present information that conflicts with policy, even when it’s backed by research.

    I recommend private classes from Lamaze, Birthing from Within, Informed Beginnings, or Bradley.  If you’re working with a doula, get her referrals – the caliber of teacher matters more than the method.

    1. 2.       Connect your partner with other men who’ve experienced natural childbirth. 

    If you have friends who’ve had a baby recently, have them over for dinner and ask them to share their story.  It’s always fun to hear both sides of the story, and it helps to demystify labor and birth.  You can also ask your partner to watch some birth videos with you.  The birth of Moonbeam is a new favorite of mine. Dad actually catches the baby!

    1. 3.       Watch The Business of Being Born.

    This 2007 documentary is a great eye-opening conversation starter. I’ve seen dads fired up (sometimes more than moms!) and excited to support their partners and advocate for the best birth possible.

    1. 4.       Have him do some reading.

    Ask him to read chapters of birth books that are helping you.  If he’s got the time, The Birth Partner is awesome.  I’ve known dads who bring it to the birth and use the index to help them.  It’s a great resource.

    1. 5.       Get a doula

    One of doula’s main roles is to help dad help mom.  Doulas possess skills earned at numerous births that no man (or woman!) can pick up from a book or video.  In my doula interviews, I like to talk about the power of a doula to free dad to be what only he can be.  For most women, their partner will be their closest friend and most intimate ally in the birth room.  A doula can focus on the details – acupressure, position change, etc. – so that your partner can whisper encouragement and give you hugs in a way that only he can.  Often times, I find myself behind mom doing the hip squeeze while she fully leans into her partner chest, her arms wrapped around his neck.

    A doula can also help dad relax.  Birth, especially the first time, is intense and can be scary.  If the doula is acting normal and calm, partners feel assured that everything is, in fact, normal.   I had a client whose husband was pretty freaked out by her blood loss immediately after birth.  Blood was gushing a bit, but just in the way it normally does.  He kept looking to me with huge eyes and mouthing, is she okay???  He felt assured by my happy smiles and nods.  His wife knew nothing of our exchanges, but he was put at ease.

    Doulas are available at every price range based on experience, and costs vary a lot by area. Doulas-in-training will often offer a complimentary package.  Here’s a good place to start a doula search.

    Dads can feel overwhelmed at the prospect of supporting their partners without the help of medication.  But when prepared, they’re empowered to offer a real backrub, arms to lean on, and maybe even hands to catch your baby.

    Lindsey lives on and loves the west side of Chicago with her husband Mike and her kids – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 2. She works part time as a doula and childbirth educator and is fascinated by all things birth. In winter she likes to bake with sourdough, and in summer she likes everything. In all things, she is covered with God’s grace.

    5 Easy and Healthy Sweet Snack Recipes

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    Before we talk snacks, let me clarify something – I’m not a healthy food expert.   In fact, for dinner last night, my kids ate re-heated fast food fries and a bruised banana.  For dinner. What can I say? It was a rough day, and I abandoned any real dinner plans early in the afternoon.  So if your kids are snacking on high fructose corn syrup straight from the bottle – no judgment here, friend.  We’re all doing the best we can.

    And I do try my best to provide wholesome, appealing snacks, but sometimes it’s tough. My kids usually snack once in the morning and then sometimes again in the afternoon, depending on what time we’re having dinner.  On days where I serve three meals and two snacks, my kitchen starts to feel a little more like a diner.

    So even though I aim to serve healthful snacks, as the cook/waitress/busboy, I tend to get in ruts. Those Veggie Straws at Costco are just too cheap and too easy.  I mean, they’re veggies, right?  Some of them are even green!

    Come mid-winter, I need some new snacks.  Though whole fruits and veggies (we love clementines, baby carrots, cucumbers, etc.) are always top choice, it’s nice, and sometimes cheaper, to switch it up.

    If you’re in a snack rut, here are 5, semi-easy ideas for sweet snacks that are hopefully a little more nutritious than reheated fries.  I’ll cover savory snacks in another post.

    1.       Oatmeal Energy Balls

    I tried these at a friend’s house and have made almost every week since.  Though I’m not sure about the “energy” claim, it’s a great recipe to make with kids, and there’s no baking time.  There are lots of versions online.  Here’s what I do:

    ½ cup honey

    Warm the honey in a small pan on the stove until it’s bubbling.  Turn off the heat and whisk in

    ½ cup peanut butter (preferably unsweetened)
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    Pinch of cinnamon

    In a mixing bowl, stir together

    1 cup oats
    ½ cup toasted almonds, chopped (or packaged roasted/salted almonds.  If using salted almonds, omit the salt.)
    ¼ cup ground flax seed
    ¼ cup cocoa powder
    ½ cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
    Pinch salt

    Pour honey mixture over dry ingredients and stir until well combined. Let it cool in the fridge for a bit (or not) and then shape into balls.  Or forget about it in the fridge and tell your kids you’re having spoonfuls of energy chunks instead.

    2.       Sweet Potatoes with Maple Cinnamon Yogurt

    I discovered this by accident when I had to bring snacks for my son’s preschool and had nothing snackish in my cupboards!  I wondered how it would go over, but the kiddos loved it!

    I simply cut up sweet potatoes into sticks and serve them with a yogurt dip.

    Yogurt Dip (serves 2)

    Stir together

    ½ cup plain, whole milk yogurt
    1 tsp real maple syrup or honey (use more or less based on your taste)
    pinch of cinnamon

    3.       Peanut Butter Popcorn

    This is an extra special snack for us – often on Friday afternoons. We love popping popcorn on the stove.  I use coconut oil but have used olive oil or even vegetable oil if I’m out.

    Here’s the recipe from Frugal Granola;

    1/3 Cup Honey
    scant 2/3 Cup natural Peanut Butter
    3/4 to 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
    1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
    2 quarts Popped Corn

    Heat honey in a small saucepan over medium heat just until it starts bubbling. Add peanut butter, vanilla, and cinnamon. Stir vigorously over heat until well blended and smooth. Be careful; mixture is hot and will stick to skin! Immediately pour honey mixture over popcorn and stir to coat. Let cool slightly before serving (if you can resist).

    My only tweak to her recipe is to turn the heat off when you stir in the peanut butter.   Otherwise it has a really stiff texture that’s hard to pour on the popcorn.  Also, I like to add some sea salt after the peanut butter mixture goes on the popcorn.  It hits that sweet/salty spot.  Watch out – this is addictive!

    4.       Pistachios

    This is obviously not a recipe, but I’ve just discovered that pistachios are an awesome kid snack.  1) They’re great for practicing fine motor skills.  2) They take forever to eat – always a bonus if the day is dragging a bit.

    The only drawback is that they’re not cheap, so these are a special treat for us.  Also, be sure to check the label carefully.  I bought some Salt and Pepper Pistachios that my kids looovvveed, but later I happened to glance at the label and realized, of course they like them, sugar is the number three ingredient!  More like Salt and Pepper and Sugar Pistachios.  Next time I’ll go for the plain old roasted and salted ones.

    5.       Homemade Green Smoothie Popsicles

    Who doesn’t love popsicles?  I got these molds a few years ago for my birthday, and we use them all the time.  But I don’t spend a lot of time making fancy orange creamsicles (although now that I think about it, that sounds awesome).  My secret – I throw any leftover green smoothie into a popsicle mold for a snack the next day.  My kids turn their noses up at some of my smoothies – especially the greener, less sweet ones, but they have never not gobbled down a popsicle.

    Ladies, what recipes would you add to the list? Share them below!

    Lindsey lives on and loves the west side of Chicago with her husband Mike and her kids – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 2. She works part time as a doula and childbirth educator and is fascinated by all things birth. In winter she likes to bake with sourdough, and in summer she likes everything. In all things, she is covered with God’s grace.

    Coping and Growing: How I Survived Two Miscarriages in 2013

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    By Lindsey Avink

    Late New Year’s Eve, my husband and I sat on the scratchy loveseat in my parents’ basement and clinked our wine glasses in the blue lights from the Christmas tree.

    We named blessings and funny moments – a great meal at Girl and the Goat, potty training our daughter for a ridiculous nine months.

    And then, lump in my throat, we toasted to miscarriage.

    We lost two babies in 2013: one in June, one in October. Two babies in five months. In some ways, it defined the year.

    One miscarriage brought me to my knees. The second one knocked me on my back. I ache for the women who have lost many babies.

    By God’s grace, I’m standing. Hopeful, though shaky at times. Our year of miscarriage was a time of deep pain and great growth.

    Coping with losing babies

    The thing that actually helped me the most through both through both miscarriages was having them at home. The first time, when I first started to bleed at 11 weeks, I knew what was happening. I hadn’t felt sick for a few weeks, and was kind of faking it when I would announce that I was sooo hungry. That Friday night, an ultrasound showed no heartbeat and a baby that didn’t look 11 weeks old. I wanted to jump off the table and run home. My midwife didn’t push a D&C, and promised support at any time if I needed it.

    It was tough to wait for the process to happen by itself. I actually saw a chiropractor on Monday to see if a pelvic alignment would help. It did, and the whole thing was over two days later. It was terrible, I won’t lie. But having to fully experience my womb purging itself set my heart in motion to do the same thing.

    Purge the expectations and hope, the dreams for our family. My due date was late December. I kept dreaming of a homebirth by the light of the Christmas tree.

    When the second miscarriage started, I knew I wanted to stay home again. Lay in my bed and let the new dreams fade away. Cry out to God. Hug my kids and hear their laughs. I was only seven weeks along, so the physical process was easier this time.

    Naturally at home was the right for choice for me, but I could imagine many scenarios where I might opt for a D&C. I have a friend who started miscarrying a few days before a vacation to Florida. Who wants to lose their baby and give up the beach?

    During both miscarriages and for a while afterward, I let my mind wonder. I imagined each child – how they looked like their older brother or sister or their daddy when he was little. I asked God some really tough questions, and even just the asking has brought me peace. I shared it all with my husband. Through both losses, I leaned hard on him.

    I leaned on my friends, too. One day, I was struggling to put one foot in front of the other – getting the kids out of their pjs seemed like too much. I felt listless and lethargic, and I had been that way for days. I texted my best friend and asked her to pray for me. She’s awesome, so she came over with her kids and hung out for the morning. We talked a little about my sadness, but mostly we were just normal together – making grilled cheese and breaking up sibling squabbles. Losing more than one pregnancy has made me feel really un-normal.

    Renewed creativity has helped. The month after my first miscarriage I started playing percussion for worship at our church after a long time away from music. Making music is soothing to me, and it’s alive. Since I’m a doula and childbirth educator, it’s also just nice to do something that has nothing to do with pregnancy or birth.

    As time went on, I started writing more. Mostly poetry for myself and a few short stories. Around my first due date, I wrote a piece for my husband for Christmas. It was the one sort of commemorative thing I did for that baby, and it helped.

    I also coped by watching too much TV (five seasons of anything really is overboard) and eating too much sugar. It felt good at the time, but in the long run was probably not helpful. But it happened.

    Growing from loss

    While I’m still the same mama, wife and friend, having consecutive miscarriages has changed me. A part of me is sobered, experiencing a corner of suffering while knowing many others suffer much more. I’ve grown in positive ways too.

    Most importantly, I’m learning to live in the now. After the second miscarriage, I realized that our house was still full of baby gear – a changing table, a crib. Bibs stashed close at hand, my pump at the front of the closet. I wasn’t storing it away because surely a new baby would need it soon.

    I’m not pregnant, and there’s no baby coming soon.

    So we packed it all away and turned the baby room into a play space – complete with an indoor swing! We decided to celebrate what’s going on with our living children and what is actually reality for our family. My kids love the swing, and it’s a happy reminder of the joy that lives in our home.

    I joined a basketball league at our local gym. (This is laughable.) I’m not pregnant; there’s no reason not to.

    I drank cheap wine and good beer over the holidays.

    I’m setting real fitness goals that don’t account for fatigue or nausea.

    I’ve stopped thinking about the future in nine-month chunks. I’m living in the now as best I can.

    And I’m learning to give up control. In my head, I know that this is at the core of childbearing and childrearing. No matter how much coffee I abstain from or hormone-balancing therapy I get, I have no control over what happens next.

    I’m simply putting one foot in front of the other, listening to my kids laugh, and trying to play basketball.

    Lindsey Avink lives in and loves the west side of Chicago with her husband Mike and her kiddos – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 2. She works part time as a doula and childbirth educator and is fascinated by all things birth. In winter she likes to bake with sourdough, and in summer she likes everything. In all things, she is covered with God’s grace.

    5 Ways to Prepare Your Mind and Soul for Natural Birth

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    By Lindsey Avink

    Birth is transformative.  Nails grow beautiful from prenatal vitamins.  Our bellies stretch wider than we believed they could and leave marks forever.  Later, we grow muscles from carrying carseats and wearing babies.  And the breasts – who knew!

    Yoga, squatting, breathing exercises, lotion on the tummy.  We focus a lot on our bodies, but really, our minds work just as hard during labor.  And birth will change our souls, just as it does our flesh.

    For women wanting a natural birth, preparing your mind and soul is as important as doing those squats. These are my top five ways to get ready inside, gathered from having my own two babies and helping other women birth.

    1. Provider, provider, provider

    Choosing the best care provider is absolutely the most important thing you can do for your mind and soul.  Research shows that women’s relationship with their provider is the number one factor in determining their level of satisfaction with their birth experience – regardless of outcome.

    Who is the best provider?  Whether you’re with a Midwife or Doctor, you need someone who has lots of experience supporting natural birth – not just someone who is “okay with it” or will “let you try”.  These are red flags.

    And there’s a catch.  Not only do you need the best provider, but their group has to be just as great.  It’s rare that physicians or midwives practice alone, and there’s no guaranteeing who will be on call on your baby’s birth day.

    Depending on the length of your birth, you may see two or even three providers during the whole experience.  I’ve seen a birth turn from mama about ready to be wheeled out for a c-section to a peaceful, vaginal birth – just because the new doctor’s shift started at 8 a.m.  And vice versa.

    Sometimes, this means having the courage and flexibility to switch providers late in pregnancy.  This is hard, but if you want to birth naturally, it might be necessary.  I once had a heroic third-time mama tell me, “I just need someone who believes I can do it.” Her first two births had been traumatic c-sections.  She switched doctors at 38 weeks and went into labor at 39 weeks. Even though the birth was still hard ended in a c-section, she later said she didn’t regret one moment.  Her providers believed in her and knew how to support her.

    If it’s hard to figure out which providers are genuinely supportive of natural birth, turn to the doulas in your community.  Doulas work all over and are willing to share their experiences and steer women toward the good midwives, doctors and hospitals.  They are almost always self-employed, so their advice is generally objective.

    2. Release expectations and embrace YOUR experience.

    My sister’s birth was only six hours.

    My first birth was only six hours.

    I really want to have the baby before ____________ .

    I really don’t want to have the baby until after ____________ .

    My childbirth teacher said that active labor is shorter than early labor.

    During birth, you can’t win the expectations game.  Every birth is unique – totally unique.  The experience, the timing, the feelings.

    In my childbirth classes, I’ve stopped teaching the “stages of labor” and instead talk about the flow of labor as a circle.  Some women move methodically around the circle – long early labor, shorter active labor, shortest pushing.  Some women stay in one part of the circle their whole labor.  Some women bounce all over the circle.  It’s helpful to know the origins of our “stages of labor” – it’s made me think twice about the terminology.  I’ve had clients look like they were in transition when they were very early on, and I’ve had clients smiling and chatting as they got ready to push.

    Every birth looks and feels different

    Due dates are another big battle.  When will you go into labor?

    The bottom line is there is no way to know.  Due dates themselves are really only an approximate time – that’s it!  40 weeks gestation is just the average – half of women birth before 40 and half after, and more first-time mamas are likely to birth later.  I’ve heard midwives say that 41 weeks and 3 days is a golden day for many first-time moms.

    All that to say, your baby comes when your baby is ready.  When we say that a baby is “late”, or “early”, it’s because we have a pretty small window of expectation for birthdays.  Holding loosely to your due date is helpful.  Maybe you can even refer to your due date as “sometime late May” or “early December”.

    Let go of expectations and embrace the ambiguity of birth.

    3. Find empowering birth stories

    Women love to tell their birth stories – and I love to hear them!  There’s even research that looks at birth satisfaction by the clarity with which old women recount their experiences.  I remember my 90-year-old grandma’s eyes coming alive as she described the details of my dad’s birth.

    But once you’re pregnant, it seems like everyone has a horror story.  “Oh – my friend tried a natural birth.  She wanted to die and said never again without the epidural.”   This is her friend’s experience, and it’s real and should be honored.

    But hear it with a grain of salt.   Usually, we don’t know the whole story.  Was her provider supportive?  Was she made to stay in bed?  Did she have the option of a birth tub or shower?  Did she have a doula? And on and on.  Don’t let negative stories become scary stories.

    Instead, seek out your friends who have had natural births and ply them for the details.  This is a great YouTube Channel with some beautiful birth videos.  Prepare your soul by hearing positive experiences and being careful with the negative ones.

    4. Read at least one (and maybe not more) good birth book.

    I believe that we instinctively know how to give birth, but I also think that those instincts are a bit buried by our current birth culture.  A good birth book can help you re-orient your thinking about pregnancy and labor.  But like all books, there are bad ones too, so choose wisely.  I’ll also say that sometimes we read too much, and start assuming that birth is an academic exercise.  Sure, we need knowledge, but we birth with our bodies and our souls too.

    Here are my favorites, in order.

  • Birthing From Within, by Pam England

  • Your Best Birth, by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein

  • Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin

  • The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, by Henci Goer

  • 5. Practice listening to your body

    Listening and responding to your body is really at the heart of birth.  I teach about our birth-pain actually being a guide for our labor.   Find what feels good, and do it!  As we respond to pain by moving into positions that relieve it, we’re helping open our pelvis and letting the baby work her way down.

    Practice this while you’re pregnant.  Listen to your instincts, and don’t hesitate to follow them.  Hydrate, be active, and rest as you feel the need.  Trusting your body’s cues and believing in the power of your instincts will serve you well during birth.

    Birth changes us; our children change us.  The work of preparing our minds and souls for birth is just the beginning of stretching ourselves to fit our growing family.

    What am I missing, mamas? How else can we get ready on the inside for the big task of birthing?

    Lindsey Avink lives in and loves the west side of Chicago with her husband Mike and her kiddos – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 2. She works part time as a doula and childbirth educator and is fascinated by all things birth. In winter she likes to bake with sourdough, and in summer she likes everything. In all things, she is covered with God’s grace.