Trying to raise my kids the best I can

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Moving Day

Today we move into our very own house. I'm so excited. Last night my husband and I couldn't sleep. It was like Christmas eve for us. This is one of the biggest moments of our life. After all we've been through... the four years he spent in jail, me homeless - moving back and forth between relatives, our young marriage and young family, plus the fact that I moved around all the time growing up... to buy a house is my fantasy come true.

Friday, June 24, 2005

School and MCAS exams

I am studying up on algebra once again for a college placement test so I can start taking classes towards becoming a nurse. This will be the third time I've taken a math placement test in the past ten years plus all the math classes I took in highschool. For the first time I see how algebra is applicable to real life. Did you know that algebra is applicable in real life? Here is an example:

Four pens and two pencils cost $3.50. Two pens and three pencils cost $2.25 What is the cost of six pens?

Answer: Translate the problem into 4x + 2y = 3.50
2x + 3y = 2.25

To eliminate x you have to multiply the second equation by -2 and combine

4x + 2y = 3.50
-4x - 6y = -4.50

-4y= -1.00

y=.25

So the pencils cost .25 each and the pens are .75 each.


So that is interesting. And I hate to be all negative about public schools but it is a little irritating to be figuring this out at the age of 26. I wish someone had told me this earlier.

This segways into another subject of my recent interest. As you know, I am putting my sons back in public school next year -3rd grade and kindergarten. So I was calling some friends to find out what the expectations are for my soon to be 3rd grader so I can be sure he is properly prepared. I asked some friends with children in this school system what grade they were taught cursive and I was stunned to find out that they weren't taught cursive. I was horrified. So I took a survey of all the people I know who were taught in the local school system. I found about half of them weren't taught cursive at all and the other half were taught in fourth grade. So the lesson here is that when you send your kids to the public school you are still responsible for their education. Do not just send them off and blindly assume that they are learning all the fundamentals.

MCAS-
Here in Massachusetts there is a standardized test that is required in 4th 8th and 10th grade called the MCAS. You need to pass it to graduate. Schools are rewarded and penalized based on their student's scores. Every year there is renewed debate over the rate of minorities who pass and don't pass. There is also huge debate over whether there should be MCAS exams at all.

My opinion is that I am in favor of standardized testing, but I would test different things than these kids are being tested on. For one thing the test takes far too long. My test would take less then a few hours. Obviously letter formation is not on this test. That is why half of the kids in my city can't write in cursive. It seems to me that, that is a pretty basic skill. And this is coming from someone with messy handwriting, but I still know how to write in cursive. Every kid should know that. And how to print as well. After that, my MCAS would include basic reading, writing, arithmatic skills. The rest is water under the bridge. If you can read and write you can pretty much learn anything else you want.

I saw a documentary about MCAS. It showed a board of people who were deciding what to put into the history portion of the test and what not to. Obviously this was a pretty important decision because it will shape the lessons taught in Massachusetts over the next couple of years. There were advocates for the ancient African Mali civilization and there were advocates for the Armenian Genocide. I was for the genocide one because the Armenian Genocide was the first genocide and a you can learn a lot about the many, many other genocides that followed by studying the first. The Mali Civilization won.

But really the whole history portion of the MCAS is an example of how it oversteps it's bounds of doing good. The main arguments against the MCAS is that the teachers are spending so much time teaching "to the test" that they don't have time to teach important things.



I think this is a very real problem and the solution is to have a test that really focus' in on basic skills. Isn't that the point? To ensure that we are teaching our children all the basic skills? That no child is left behind? If you are only testing basic skills you can set the standards very high. Either you can read/write/add; or you can't. So you have to score high or you don't pass/graduate. Of course you can retake the test as necessary, but there is NO excuse for not passing. None. I have no problems, whatsoever, holding the teachers responsible for the results. Right now, there is way too much fluff on the exam. I can assure you that the "cursive writing" problem is only going to get worse as teachers feel pressured to teach everything on the MCAS exam.


One of my close friends is a highschool English teacher. She's one of the best in the state, I'm sure. She is always bogged down with correcting homework because she makes a point to teach the kids how to write properly. As a result she has hundreds of papers to correct. She says that many of the other teachers just don't bother. It makes their life easier, but the kids are missing out on important skills. Teachers like her need to be rewarded. Teachers who aren't doing their job need to be weeded out.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Dyslexia

I'm wrapping up my second year homeschooling my young son. He is dyslexic and I've taught him to read and write which is an accomplishment I am proud of. I've learned a lot the past two years and I wanted to share what I've learned because I wish I could have read something like this two years ago.

There is no true "test" to determine if someone is dyslexic. I wish there were. It would make it so much easier to educate the masses if we could pick out the dyslexics from the get-go. My advice is that if your child doesn't have any reading skills by the end of kindergarten then keep your eyes on them very closely. Looking back on my son's (public school) kindergarten experience, the only words he learned to read were the ones on the list that the teacher sent home for me to go over with him.

There is a school of thought that children will learn to read when they are ready. As much as I'd like to agree with that, I have to say that it is not true for dyslexics and you don't have time to lose just waiting to see if they are going to pick it up or not. You really have to be pro-active.

There are lists of signs of dyslexia you can read on-line. I won't repeat them all here. Some of them include: trouble with rhyming words, trouble sounding out words, reversing letters and an interesting one that my son had- trouble tying his shoes and also reversing his shoes constantly. A dyslexic child CAN NOT sound out words phonetically. Their brain really struggles to make that connection. Since children in public schools are taught to read using phonics, obviously a dyslexic child isn't going to be helped in that situation.

Once you suspect your child is dyslexic you need to become an advocate for your child. Do not step down until he knows how to read and write. If they are in public school you should get them an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) which will ensure that YOUR CHILD'S educational goals are met. If possible, you should consider homeschooling them. Looking back, I'm really glad I homeschooled my son during this period. For one, I was able to give him the attention he required and tailor the lessons according to his needs. Also, he didn't have to endure the shame of being "slow" compared to his classmates. Individualized attention is the key to overcoming dyslexia. This gives homeschooling a huge advantage. Your child will rarely ever get individualized attention in public school. Even the special reading teachers work with small groups of students at a time. Be warned that you have to have a really thick skin to homeschool a dyslexic child because people are going to naturally assume that you don't know what you're doing and your child's slow progress will only seem like proof to them that that is true. If you're child is in public school and you're spending enormous amounts of time helping them with their school work, I would seriously consider homeschooling them because you practically already are.

I taught my son using some phonics, but as I mentioned, a dysexic child is really going to struggle with that method. What ended up working best was old-fashioned repetition. Just sitting with him and having him read to me EVERY DAY. The hard part here is that, at the beginning stages you can't find enough books with simple words that will keep your child's interst. Obviously the library is one good resource, and the book store is another. You need to get your hands on a ton of books at their level. The best books I found were the "Read with me" series. The child reads one page with simple words and then you read the next page with bigger words - it keeps the story line moving and holds their interest.
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-form/002-5472086-2852838

Be patient with them and don't let them struggle too long with a word because you don't want them to get frustrated or forget where the story is going. The other thing that is important is supporting any of their own interest in reading. For my son, what really helped was playing Yu-gi-oh cards with his friends. I am not a fan of Yu-gi-oh. I think it's awfully close to demonic. My son knows this. We talk about it. But playing Yu-gi-oh cards with his friends increased his reading skills dramatically. Here's an example of a typical Yu-gi-oh card: "Waboku Trap Card - Any damage inflicted by an opponent's monster is decreased to O during the turn this card is activated."

The constant feedback you give your child is invaluable. People may try to tell you that you are not qualified to handle this problem, but no one loves your child like you do and no one will be willing to spend as much time as you do with him. It is the one-on-one attention that will give him reading skills. There are no special programs or lessons that can do more for your child then just reading with him day in and day out. Also beware that there are TONS of online scams claiming to have cures for dyslexia. I assure you they do not work.

Now the second half of dyslexia: writing. This can include both handwriting and spelling. I had to teach my son how to print totally from scratch, despite a year in the public school. You don't need special books. Just go over the proper form for printing each letter. (Brush up online if you forget)http://www.handwritingforkids.com/handwrite/cursive/animation/lowercase.htm
Don't worry about how long it takes. Don't worry about how behind your child is. As long as he is practicing every day that is all that matters. Be sure to have loads of appropriately lined paper for you child.

As for spelling, I found that spelling tests and spelling rules didn't work very well with him. I find it best to have him write a page every day about a subject of his choosing and if he doesn't know what to write I read him a question from a book like "101 questions for kids". (This is also a good excuse to write lots of thank you notes). The key is to sit with your child and help him to spell out the words he doesn't know. I try to make him sound out as much as he can. With the consonants he often gets it. The vowels he usually doesn't. That's OK. He learns through repetition. Sometimes I make him look up words in a children's dictionary. Slowly he makes progress.

My son still reverses letters a lot. It's gotten better, but I still have to keep an alphabet around for him to check. He also reverses numbers in math a lot. Having a clock for him to look at helps with that.

One in five people are dyslexic. It is not just a disability. It is a gift. Dyslexics are often brilliant people. Once you get past the hurdle of learning to read and write the world is open to you. If your child is having trouble reading, jump in and help him. Good luck.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Abortion

If you live in America and you are old enough to procreate then you probably have your own story about how abortion touched your life - if not you personally, then a friend or relative. Abortion became legal twenty-six years ago, which is exactly how old I am. I sometimes wonder how many of my possible friends/mates were murdered. They are the ghost generation.

Anyway, here is my own abortion story, which thankfully has a happy ending. I can thank my parents for that; raising me to be pro-life. I think a lot of girls end up having abortions not knowing what the full impact will be. Enough dibble dabble. On with the story...

As I said, I was raised pro-life. You know: going to marches, forming human chains, writing multiple school papers on the topic, volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center. I had a file of pamphlets on the subject including graphic pictures. I was most proud of the paper I wrote in tenth grade called "How abortion hurts women". It won an honorable mention in a state-wide social studies competition here in liberal Massachusetts. That's the back-drop to the story.

When I went off to college I fell in love. Stereotypical "bad boy meets good girl". Almost a year later (at the young age of 17) I ended up pregnant. At this time in our relationship he was mentally abusive. I hesitate to even say that, but it's the truth, though things did get better. Anyway, he would play cruel games with me, pretending to break up with me, making me cry and beg him not to leave. Looking back it was so stupid. But I was in love. I couldn't live without him. So there I was pregnant and of course he wasn't ready for the responsibility.

He picked me up from work one day and took me out for a romantic picnic lunch; at which point he told me to have an abortion or he would break up with me. I'm sure he expected me to break down and cry and beg him not to leave, and of course, get an abortion. But he didn't realize he was dating one of the most pro-life girls in the state of Massachusetts. I knew everything about getting an abortion. I knew that girls who had abortions often couldn't love the man who made them do it, afterwards. I knew that I personally wouldn't be able to love him if I killed my baby for him. So I knew that abortion would definitely be the end to us. But if I kept the baby it might not be the end to us. I did offer to put the baby up for adoption if he didn't feel ready to raise a child. His reaction to that was comical: "I could never put my child up for adoption!" Me: "Oooooooooh Kaaaaaaaay. But you have no problem killing it?".

So he drops me back off at work and we hug goodbye, because he's still claiming to be breaking up with me. He cries. I leave. Inside I'm torn up. I'm pregnant and now alone too, but I know I'll make it. That night he calls back and makes up with me. So it was basically a bluff. Over the next few months his abusive ways come to an end. Maybe I can credit the baby for giving me a backbone. It was the first time I ever stood up to him... To make a long story short, we have the baby, we get married, we live happily ever after...

If only it were that simple. Now I'm twenty. We're married and living together and raising our beautiful two year old son. My husband works very hard to provide, but he's still hanging out with the wrong crowd and well, one thing lead to another and one day he is arrested for a pretty serious crime. He's facing twenty years in prison. All of a sudden my world crashes. I need to sequester a lawyer, visit my husband in jail, find a good paying job, move out of the apartment... oh and my bank account is overdrawn and I'm about to lose my husband and all my dreams for the next two decades. I'm angry, I'm scared, did I mention angry? Oh, and I'm pregnant. That's right. I got pregnant just hours before he was arrested. Actually it's a beautiful story. The cops came to arrest my husband but the address on our apartment door was mixed up with our neighbors. So they didn't find him and came back the next day. In that time we got pregnant. Looking back I can see God's plan. At the time it was just one more huge burden. When I told him I was pregnant he asked if I wanted an abortion. Of course he knew how I felt about them. I told him "no way". He never brought it up again. But he wasn't the only one to ask me that.

Over the next four years I worked miracles to keep my family together and to keep food on the table. I grew up a lot. And now my husband is home. You're probably wondering why I stayed with him. This story is a very one-sided view of him. Maybe the lesson here is that if men would act like men then abortion wouldn't be so much of an issue. When men act like little boys then women are left in difficult situations and abortion becomes an answer. I'm doing my part to fight abortion by raising three boys to be real men. But anyway, my husband is slowly growing up and he is really wonderful. He's the kind of guy that makes people say "How did she get him? She doesn't deserve him." But then, they don't know the whole story. My husband knows he's the lucky one to have me.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

An Ode to Breastfeeding

An Ode to Breastfeeding, by Deena Sao

Holding my baby close to my chest
He closes his eyes, in my arms he will rest

I admire his body, touch his soft skin
Fall in love with the soul that lies deep within

When he's in pain, my breast dulls the hurt
If in need of distraction, I lift up my shirt

I'm the last thing he sees when he closes his eyes
I'm the first thing he sees, when tomorrow he'll rise

He knows he is loved, it's the most important thing
With that he can face what the future may bring

When he is sick and won't drink or eat
He still comes to me for my milk that is sweet

I breastfeed him for hours each day
"God protect him", I utter and pray

I sleep with ease, knowing he is near
I'm his mother, I'm here, There's nothing to fear

Some day he will grow, my bosom he'll leave
when that day comes, I won't have to grieve

I've done my part, I've given him the best
He'll grow up in love and journey his quest

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Friday, June 10, 2005

My baby's birthday

My baby turned one! It was a wonderful birthday. I was afraid it wasn't going to be, because we have no money, because of buying the house this month. But my husband called me on the way home from work and said "Do you want me to pick up anything?" and I said "I want you to bring us to Walmart because Brandon (the 8 year old) wants to buy Dimitri (the baby) a present." So we all met at Walmart to buy this "Elefun" game that we've been planning on getting for his birthday. While we were at the store Dimitri saw this enormous Winnie the Pooh bear and he wanted it so I gave it to him and he loved it. He hugged it and rested his head on it. It was so cute.

So we got the presents and went home to prepare for a real party. I whipped together a cake. My husband cooked dinner. The boys wrapped the two presents. After dinner we did the long awaited for candle ceremony. I'd been practicing with Dimitri, for a while, how to blow out candles. I noticed that my other two boys learned to blow out candles just a few weeks after their first birthday and I thought maybe if they had been exposed to the candle blowing ceremony before their birthday they would know how to on their birthday. Alas, my practices were in vain. Dimitri stared blankly at the candle as usual and tried to grab the flame as usual. Ha Ha. I guess it's really just a developmental stage they have to reach. Unfortunately just a few weeks too late.

Then he "opened presents" (ie, his brothers ripped them in front of him). We ate cake. We played Elefun which was a hit with all three boys. We went to bed, taking turns hugging the Pooh Bear.

All in all, it was a wonderful family evening. Just like a birthday should be.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Mental illness stigma

There is still some stigma attached to mental illness; which is ridiculous. I am on medication for anxiety. I thank God for it. Before I got on the medication I would have crushing headaches that lasted for weeks. And of course the anxiety where I would become so afraid of certain situations it was really interfering with my life. And finally, it made me real b----y; if ya know what I mean. I can tell what a difference the medicine has made in my life. It has given me back my old self. It's definitely genetic. My mom and grandma have the same problem.

Whenever the opportunity arises, I share my experience with my friends. It's my way of breaking down the stigma a little bit. Two of my friends talked about the psychiatric medicines they are on. For some of my other friends it was an ice-breaker into their own mental/emotional problems, even though they aren't on medicine themselves.

Here are some interesting stats for you:
46% of Americans will suffer from some type of mental illness in their lifetime
Of those: 29% are anxiety disorders, 21% are mood disorders 25% are impulse-control 15% other
According to a federally funded study the younger you are when it starts, the more serious it gets, but the younger you are when it starts the less likely you are to get treatment.

The study suggest that we have a long way to go to combat mental illness, but I, being an eternal optimist, have to remember how the mentally ill were treated not long ago in America, when they were chained and imprisoned like criminals. We can thank Dorthea Dix for her compassion and influence to better the lives of many people with mental illness.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Today I went to my sister in law's graduation...

Today I went to my sister in law's graduation. I'm so proud of her. She is the fifth child (of six) and the first in the whole family to graduate from high-school. (Though I have to give props to my husband for getting his GED). I was a little sad that only three adults (and four kids) showed up to cheer her on. I also think it was significant that no men from the family showed up. Considering how big our family is, it was dissappointing, but it also represents to me they different values between the way my husband was raised and the way I was raised. Many of the men-folk were working at the time (a Wednesday evening).

Anyway, I cheered really loudly for her when they called her name and she waved back at us.

This graduation was different then the others I've been to. (And I've been to many, many). Since it is one of the biggest high schools in the state, the ceremony was held in a huge arena. In all the graduations I've ever been to the name is called, the crowd claps politely, the graduate walks the stage, gets the diploma, exits the stage, another name is called. Well that doesn't exactly work when you have to get through 700+ names. Ha Ha. So instead each name is called with about three seconds between them. At first I tried to politely clap for everyone, even though no one else was. Trust me, that got old real fast.

The other thing that was a little different is that, unlike normal graduations there was never really any times of silence. Even when people gave their speeches. The majority of the crowd were immigrants and it's just kind of amusing because they don't know that it's proper to be silent at certain times. I don't know if this applies to just Cambodians or other immigrants too. Anyway, it wasn't obnoxious or anything, just different. Actually, this happened at my wedding too which is even funnier, but thankfully I had an outdoor wedding so their voices just wafted away. (And you have to give them credit for even coming, because some of them didn't speak English).

The biggest applause went to the kids with perfect attendance... one year, two years, three, four... and are you ready for this? Thirteen years of perfect attendance. I want to meet that boy's mother!

One of the boys danced across the stage to get his diploma. That was amusing in and of itself; but then the big fat man who shakes his hand started dancing too. The crowd went wild!

I had to bring my baby (who turns one tomorrow!) because he's going through this separation anxiety stage where he'll scream bloody murder if I leave him. I thought I'd try the old airplane trick and give him some Benedryl first, so that he'd go to sleep. It didn't work. Not even a tiny bit. Maybe I didn't give him enough. I was afraid of overdosing him because I heard about a babysitter who did that and killed a kid.

Well, all in all, it was a good time. Congratulations to all you 2005 graduates!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Nursing Shortage

I did a 7th grade report about the Nursing Shortage in the US. I don't think I wrote much more than the fact that there is one. Now that I'm entrenched in this subject again I have come to a better conclusion about it.

As I look at my options in pursuing this career I am dismayed to find that the local LPN school is booked through next year, the local community college RN program is booked through the next two years and the local University BSN program is booked this year and it's difficult to get in next year too. In fact, each admissions offiice has told me that they have long lists of qualified candidates interested in future programs. This is an atrocity! There is still a nursing shortage and yet qualified candidates are being turned away from programs. According to the woman at Middlesex Community College, the same is true at all the other community colleges in the area.

I've also discovered that the government recently passed a bill funding advertising to encourage people to become nurses in response to the nursing shortage. You can see where I'm going with this... our taxes would be much better spent funding more nursing programs then advertising!!

As a conservative I always hesitate to endorse a new outlet for legislature spending, but I am all for preventative programs that work like WIC and Job Corp. I definitely think that nursing programs would be a good investment for government money. I am sure that it would pay for itself in the long run.

If you're wondering why I don't persue one of the progams listed in the advertising section of my blog (to the right) the answer is that all of those (online) programs are only for LPN's/RN's interested in advancing their degree's. The "hands-on" nursing classes are the ones that are in demand. The same is true for the local schools. According to University of Massachusetts admissions, if you want to enter the nursing program and you already have you're RN (associates) degree you'll have no problem getting a slot because you only need some non-nursing courses to get your bachelor's. There's plenty of room in the non-nursing classes.

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Sunday, June 05, 2005

The latest career plan

This was funny but sad. I called the Career Education Institute to find out about classes to become a medical assistant. The representative said they cost "12-9" and I thought she meant $1290; but it wasn't until later when I was talking to a friend who had also checked them out that she informed me that it costs 12,900. Ha Ha . What a rip-off!!! When you graduate you can only earn about $10 an hour. Ha Ha. But it's sad because the kind of girls who go to that school are generally poor, uneducated moms. Shame on them for taking advantage of them like that.

So instead I'll take a one month Certified Nurse Associate course for only $750, at which point I am qualified for a similar $10 an hour job. I'm also planning to take Anatomy and Physiology this year at UMASS Lowell and get that out of the way since I figure that's the hardest class of them all. Then next year I can start the two year RN program at Middlesex. Somehow I should fit a job in here. I don't know how or when. I'll keep you posted.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Self-sufficiency

I have made a really big decision to go back to school/work. For those of you who know me well you are probably shocked. You know how I feel about working with a young child at home. I came to this conclusion because I need a degree of security that I don't feel my husband is providing. So once again I am going to step up to the plate and do what I gotta do to. It's not that my husband doesn't provide. But he makes bad decisions. Financially and otherwise. I need more control for the sake of me and the children. So I'm looking into becoming a medical assistant as a foot in the door towards becoming a nurse. (All the nursing programs are already booked for this fall!) I was just looking at the job opportunities for medical assistants online and I was not impressed. So tomorrow when I go to the school for my appointment I am going to grill them on potential jobs. What is available, where, how much, etc. We'll see how it goes. Wish me luck/pray for me. :)
 
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