Life With Nine Kids

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Day Mrs. Cooley Lost Her Cool

I'm still processing something that happened today. This is me processing thoughts as I type.

Today was a beautiful day at the park. I spent four hours with my seven children having a tea party, feeding ducks, shooting off stomp rockets, hunting for robins with Sebastian(2) and playing on the playground. It ended on a really sad angry note for me though. My children won’t soon forget what they saw either. They have a raw (and not totally accurate) view at what public school could be like. Of course there are many wonderful teachers in the system and maybe this teacher is a good one just caught at a bad moment but what happened was completely inexcusable.

Hoards of kids invaded the playground for a field trip like field day looking event. I say invaded, but they were there before we got there. It was obvious they walked there and that there was many, many classrooms there. The supervision was seriously lacking and kids were going crazy. They were kicking soccer balls into the playground area, up the slides, over our heads. I was really worried about the safety of my kids so we had to hang out in a grassy area. (After Penelope (4) almost took a soccer ball to the face.) We took it in good stride; these kids should be able to have a good time and have a happy end of the school year day.

After a while teacher whistles started blowing and teachers started packing up ice coolers and gathering up trash. Soon we’d have the playground to ourselves! Teachers lined up their children and they started walking away. After about twenty minutes just one class remained. As that class was walking away I heard the teacher tell her class that was a fun day. As they got further I quit observing and started talking to my baby, Everett. I noticed a child run by me to catch up with his class. It appeared he wasn’t paying attention or something. Suddenly I was jolted by the sound of an adult yelling, “ARE YOU CRAZY? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?” over and over. It was a cross between a yell and a scream. The kind of yelling that is completely angry and out of control sounding. My kids and I watched as the school teacher belittled, screamed and got into the face of one of the school children. She walked in a circle around him yelling and screaming at him. I was so confused. My mouth dropped open as I tried to comprehend what was going on. My body was rigid and I looked at my children in disbelief. When I looked at my children I saw what I had expected to see… their innocent faces watching what was happening. I was still speechless. It was like everything was in slow motion and the teacher then waved a stick at the boy asking him if he’d like it if she hit him. She was in his face. She was screaming. She was threatening him and I thought she was going to hit him. Finally I said, “How can you scream at your children? How can you do this? STOP YELLING AT A CHILD! Look at you!” She then turned to me in rage and screamed and asked if I had seen what he did. I had not. She yelled at me in horror, “He was hitting a duck with a stick! YOU DID NOT SEE IT! He was hitting it!!!” I thought to myself that is really bad but the words that came out of me were, “You cannot teach children like that. You cannot scream at them. You just CAN’T. ” I was shaking with anger as I tried to imagine a boy, about 9 or 10, hitting a duck with a stick. As she walked away with her class my boys told me most the boys in her class were throwing things –balls, sticks, rocks- at the ducks. My boys said they had told them to stop it earlier. My boys said the one boy in particular who was being screamed at was throwing sticks at the duck as the class was leaving. He had a big stick/branch. He was hitting at the duck. He was not beating it like it was cornered as the lady made it sound; and even if he was… You cannot scream at a child like that. You should never, ever be allowed to be in charge of a room full of children with a temper like that. I’ve snapped at my kids, I’ve yelled, I’ve been out of line, I’ve been very sorry to them for it --but they are my kids. I can yell at them. I shouldn’t -and as a general rule I don’t. However I would NEVER EVER expect a teacher to behave that way. A teacher is a person of power and a person who chose a career of teaching children. That person is supposed to teach and portray a certain character and image to children. A teacher sees those children more waking hours than their own parents do. It always irks me when teachers say their responsibilities end with teaching. Like when a teacher mentions they aren’t babysitters. Our public school teachers actually play a very big role in children’s lives. Teachers do help raise our public schooled youth.

Today a whole classroom learned its ok to freak out and scream when confronted with a situation. That it’s ok to belittle and threaten someone, wave a stick in a violent manner and scream at him, “How about I hit you with a stick.”

I’m so ashamed of what I saw. My children are shocked and Charlotte was so taken back she said she wondered if we should call the police.

I know this child should know better, he is WAY old enough to know better. A teacher should know better too. Teachers and all adults should know at least a tiny bit about the psychology and brain function of children. How cause and effect, reaction time and consequence isn’t fully developed until after twenty years old! I’m not even saying she shouldn’t have yelled. I am saying she should not have exploded into an angry rage and threatened him. Period.

A strange thing happened when she left. Her class stopped down the sidewalk about 300 feet from us. I figured she was talking to her students or gathering herself. I was talking to my kids. Four of her students suddenly appeared in front of me and said, “We are supposed to give this to you.” On a piece of brown paper sack was the teacher’s name, school, principal's name and a phone number.

That is quite interesting of you to do that Mrs. Cooley. I haven’t decided why you gave that to me or what I even want to do with it yet. I just wish none of that would have happened today. I play over what happened a million times. Maybe I should have stepped in and calmly asked you to calm down and offered you help dealing with the situation. Maybe I should have grabbed my camera and videoed the whole thing and stuck it on you tube. Maybe I should mind my own business; those kids in all those classes were driving me nuts too. Maybe I should learn to keep my mouth shut and mind closed. Maybe I should go to the superintendent because the principal does not seem high enough. Maybe I could ruin your life. Maybe you are soaking in a bubble bath right now wishing you had not lost your cool and you are now crazy stressed out. Maybe you are sorry. Maybe you are still mad. Maybe that little boy learned a lesson, or maybe not. I’m glad I spoke up for him though. At the end of it all he is still a child that needs guidance and quality discipline instead of hatred --whether he meant to hurt an animal or not.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Penelope's First Ant Farm

Yesterday Penelope's ants came for her farm. Today she says, "Mommy, what kind are those ants that are all curled up?" I reply, "Those are sleeper ants." Charlotte is still laughing at my fast reply. Penelope skipped off happily repeating, "Yeah dem are sleeper ants!"

Being a kid is great fun.

Don't dare tell her they are dead. I heard the boys do it yesterday and she was MAD at them. LOL. It's not been a healthy farm so far. We lost a lot of good soldiers already. I'm sure it didn't help that Sebastian(2) threw the ant farm across the room as he said they were mean. Penelope bawled her head off. He apologized. Some ants may not have forgiven him (like the dead ones) but she did.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Will our children ever know how much we love them?


It is something that I accept as being a mother. It's heart wrenchingly beautiful. He will never know how much I love him and he will never love me more than he does right now.

Happy 7th month Everett... the light of my life, love of my world, smile to my heart

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wild and wonderful adventures in motherhood today...

Today I called 911 when Penelope choked on a chip and the fire department came. I also: had plenty of fun outside time with the kids, took a walk to see news horses down the street, played in the cemetery across the street, cleaned house, made chicken noodle soup, read books, did school work with kids, did laundry and nursed my baby during my dental exam. It was a full day.

So, Penelope didn’t actually choke. I was afraid she would because she was SCREAMING bloody murder and she had a huge chip stuck in her throat that I could feel and see poking out of her throat! I usually don’t think much of things but this seemed extra bad. Plus the screaming freaked me out. Since she couldn’t get it down I called 911 out of frustration more than anything. I totally knew she’d be fine because she was screaming and getting air. When I think back I wonder why I called 911. It was because I could see and feel the chip I think. It was freaky. The fire department is 10 houses away from us. They were here in 30 seconds. (good to know they will get here that fast in a real emergency!) They were super awesome too and made me feel good about calling for help just in case. They even assured to me it was ok to call them again if needed! I remember calling for Charlotte and telling her to make sure Sebastian (2) was looking out the window so he could see the fire truck. LOL. The firemen invited us down to the fire station anytime to visit and have a tour!

My dear husband had to “work late” tonight ...he got to go to a baseball game! Tough job huh? An investment manager invited him and some others. Since it’s his first week at this job he could hardly say no. (He would have if I would have asked him to but I wouldn’t do that. I was also hoping he could relax and have a little fun) So I had to take Everett to the dentist with me. I had an appointment at 6:30 pm specifically so he could help me with the kids. Don't you love when stuff like that happens. I could have just as well had a day time appointment that didn't involve a rushed dinner / clean up and night time outing! When it comes to me and plans they rarely work out right.

Anyway...Last month I nursed Everett during my chiropractic adjustment/massage, and this month during my dental exam I nursed him again. I have really awesome family oriented care providers. It’s really quite refreshing. He sat on my lap as I got my cleaning, played with toys and I lifted him up and garbled sounds at him and he laughed. Then I nursed him throughout my dental exam cause babies don't really wait to eat when they need to eat. My dentist is awesome and has a baby Everett's age too. She is also a nursing mom. Family friendly = awesome.

My darling husband got home before 9pm tonight. He left the ball game early… he wanted to get home to see me. I am so lucky to have such a great guy. Not many men rush home to a wild house of seven kids. And it was wild. LOL.

Penelope being happy

Ring Around The Rosie
helping with dinner

Playing hide in go seek. Sebastian is counting like this: 49, 8, 7, 2, 49, 3, 4, 6, 9, 49

I just had to include this picture my son, Sage, snapped the other day. Sebastian (2) locked me out of the house as I was returning home from picking up our raw milk from our milk co op. I'm at the door saying, "Sebastian don't lock yer mama outta the house, Sebastian I have milk...Sebatian let your mama in..." I felt like such a country mom. I love this picture. It's fun to have this as a memory. I can still feel the ice cold milk against my belly and see his ornery little cute face. :)

P.S. Now anytime my kids scream I tell them I'm going to call the fire department. Which is a pretty awesome thing to say in the midst of a fit.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tackling Distress Tantrums with Brain Research

I have many passions and a rapidly growing passion of mine is toddler research. It's fascinating. I am currently studying and learning about how toddlers and very young preschoolers process information as well as respond, feel and handle distress. After having several children every two years like clockwork I've learned a lot about young kids and pay close attention to why they cry, whine, throw fits and can't make decisions. I want to know what makes two year olds tick. They are not terrible at two like the saying implies. If you have a young child or if you will have a young child you should learn why toddlers aren't brats throwing fits. I highly, highly recommend reading this short link, it is so wonderful.
I also cut and pasted it below so I'd have it on my blog.

Finding this comes at a magically perfect time considering my previous blog post about peacefully parenting my two year old through the worst fit I'd ever, ever been through!

P.S.  Please never yell or hit a child because they are throwing a distress tantrum

Tackling Distress Tantrums with Brain Research
The following article is an excerpt from the excellent book, The Science of Parenting: How today's brain research can help you raise happy, emotionally balanced children by Margot Sunderland

The RAGE, FEAR, and SEPARATION distress systems are already set up at birth to support a baby's survival. They are designed to be so in order to save infants from being eaten by predators, and to keep them close to mom. The potential dangers in the modern world are very different, but nevertheless, everyday events can easily trigger one or more of these systems in your infant's brain. For example, his fear system may be triggered when a door slams, or his rage system when you try to dress him, or his separation distress system when you walk out of a room. Infants keep getting overwhelmed by the triggering of these brain systems beause there is so little higher rational brain functioning "on-line" yet to help them think, reason, and calm down.

This is important to understand when faced with a genuinely distressed or screaming baby or child. He needs your help to calm down. With consistently emotionally responsive parenting, your child's frontal lobes will start to develop essential brain pathways that will, over time, enable him to calm these alarm states in his lower brain.

A distress tantrum means that one or more of the three alarm systems (rage, fear and/or separation) in your child's lower brain has been very strongly activated. As a result, your child's arousal system will be way out of balance, with too-high levels of stress chemicals searing through his body and brain.

Distress tantrums happen because essential brain pathways between a child's higher brain and his lower brain haven't developed yet. These brain pathways are necessary to enable a child to manage his big feelings. As a parent, your role is to soothe your child while he experiences the huge hormonal storms in his brain and body. If you get angry with a child for having a distress tantrum, he may stop crying, but this may also mean that the fear system in his brain has triggered, over-riding his separation system. Or he may simply have shifted into silent crying, which means his level of the stress chemical cortisol will remain sky-high. As we have seen throughout brain research, uncomforted distress can leave a child with toxic levels of stress hormones washing over the brain.

Children can't talk or listen well when distressed.
The dramatic brain and body changes of a distress tantrum hijack your child's thinking functions and the verbal centers in his higher brain that control the comprehension and expression of speech. It is important to understand this because trying to talk to your child during a distress tantrum, or expecting him to talk about his feelings, is a waste of time. All he can do is discharge his emotions.

A distress tantrum needs sensitive handling.
It is important that you take a genuine distress tantrum seriously and meet your child's pain of loss, frustration, or acute disappointment with sympathy and understanding. When you do this, you will be helping your child to develop vital stress-regulating systems in his higher brain. Repeatedly getting angry with a child's genuine distress can mean that the child never develops effective inhibitory mechanisms in his higher brain. Picture a man who often loses his temper in a restaurant, or violently kicks a faulty vending machine -- in early life he may have missed out on the vital parenting that would have helped him manage rage. (1, 2, 3)

Regulating childhood distress is a key task for all parents, teachers, and other caregivers.
Receiving help to manage intense feelings of rage, frustration, or distress means that a child can develop the brain pathways that enable him to calm himself down when under stress. If we don't respond to a genuine distress tantrum and, instead, adopt a fixed approach to all tantrums, we lose a vital opportunity to sculpt a child's brain in a positive way. It is deeply reassuring to a child to know that an adult can calm and understand the volcanic storms that rip through his body and brain. It is most disturbing to a child that when he is in terrible emotional pain his Mommy or Daddy gets angry or just walks away from him.

How to handle distress tantrums:
Your role is to give your child a sense of safety, comfort, and reassurance when he is having a distress tantrum. These techniques can all help to calm your child.

1. Use simple, calm actions or provide a simple choice. For example, if your child is upset about getting dressed, ask him whether he wants to wear his blue or his brown pants.

2. Distraction is a wonderful, often underused technique. It activates the seeking system in your child's lower brain and makes him feel curious and interested in something. It can naturally override the brain's rage or distress systems. It also triggers a high level of dopamine, a great positive arousal chemical in the brain, which reduces stress and triggers interest and motivation. (4)

3. Hold your child tenderly. Sometimes it really helps to hold a distressed child, but you must feel calm and in control yourself. Being next to your calm body will bring his over aroused body and brain systems back into balance and release natural, calming oxytocin and opioids. Say simple words such as, "I know, I know." (Words alone, however, will not strongly release these wonderful chemicals.) If his rage system has been triggered, as well as his distress system, and he is throwing things around the room or hitting or biting, you will need to use a holding technique.

4. Sometimes a child will feel safe and contained just by you sitting down calmly next to him and talking gently. Some children find this preferable to being held, because it allows them the freedom to move.

5. Avoid using the time-out technique during a distress tantrum. You wouldn't walk away from your best friend or send her to a time-out room if she was writhing and sobbing on the floor, so this is certainly not appropriate for children, who have far fewer emotional resources than adults. Using time out for a child in distress would also mean missing a vital opportunity for rage and distress regulation and establishing effective stress-regulating systems in the brain.

6. Avoid putting a child in a room on his own during a distress tantrum. Although the child may stop vocal crying, he may continue to cry internally-something that research shows is more worrisome. (5, 6) Whereas vocal crying is a request for help, silent, internal crying is a sign that the child has lost faith that help will come (learned helplessness). In some people, this tragic loss of faith can stay for life.

7. Remind yourself that a child's distress is genuine. A two year-old who is screaming because his sibling has snatched a toy car is not just making a fuss. Research shows that a sense of loss activates the pain centers in the brain, causing an agonizing opioid withdrawal. (7) Because small children have been in the world for only a few years, they don't have a clear perspective on life. As adults, we have a backdrop of events and experiences that tell us that the loss of a toy car is a minor disappointment. But for a small child, this loss can mean everything. If a child is repeatedly punished for grief fueled tantrums (grief often includes rage), the lesson he learns is: "Mommy cannot manage or understand my grief." As a result, he is likely to switch off feelings of hurt because they are no longer safe to have. And this has consequences for how a child manages his feelings into adulthood.

Reference Notes:

1) Brody GH, et. al (1982). Contributions of parents and peers to children's moral socialization. Developmental Review 2:31-75.

2) Haley, DW, et. al (2003). Infant stress and parent responsiveness: regulation of physiology and behavior. Child Development 74(5):1534-46.

3) Barbas H, et. al (2003). Serial pathways from primate prefontal cortex to autonomic areas may influence emotional expression. Neuroscience 10(4):25.

4) Panksepp, J (1998). Affective Neuroscience. Oxford University Press, New York: 54.

5) Gunnar MR (1989). Studies of the human infant's adrenocortical response to potentially stressful events. New Directions for Child Development Fall (3-18).

6) Hertgaard, L, et al. (1995) Adrenocortical responses to the strange situation in infants with disorganized/disoriented attachment relationships. Child Development 66:1100-06.

7) Panksepp, J (2003). Neuroscience: Feeling the pain of social loss. Science 302(5643):237-39.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A day in the life with small kids: Peaceful Parenting through the worst of fits

Crazy day ends with a crazy bath time of Barbie Mermaids swimming in the toilet (thanks Sebastian age 2), lots of noise and much more than necessary splashing. At least Sebastian has decided baths are fun again, as long as I don't wash his hair. Sebastian was then clinging to my leg like a monkey as I tried to wash two little girl heads and give them haircuts (ages 4 and 6). This is all after a long day that included a trip to the dentist as well.

Sebastian threw the biggest fit of anger at the dentist’s office that I have ever seen! Boy does that kid hate his teeth cleaned. I knew that already because I clean them every day and this wasn't his first screaming dentist visit. In the end good reports for teeth though. It’s nice that my hard work of brushing, scraping and flossing kids’ teeth pays off.

Sebastian doesn't get a full cleaning at the dentist yet because we are working up to that level of cooperation with him, statements like that make our pediatric dentist worth driving long distances for. Our pediatric dentist is amazing and we love him so much. He's amazing with parents and kids and he's very respectful. So my little Sebastian gets an inspection and light tooth brushing on my lap which took all of maybe 45 seconds and does include me holding him down. After Sebastian's mini-exam was over he screamed HIS BLOODY HEAD OFF calling me a mean mom and hitting me with his fists. I sternly told him as I held his arm that I don't hit him and he can't hit me. He hit another time but I kept telling him I don't hit him. On the third time of me holding his arm and fist down he accused me of pinching him. He wailed his head off more. He stopped hitting but the crying and screaming continued. His head turned bright red and veins were popping out of his forehead and neck. I don't know how this kid manages to breathe during fits like this but he does. I have seen him get very angry and throw fits, heck it happens just about every day, he's two you know! But, I have never, ever seen any of my kids go on like this especially in public. I kept repeating that I understood he was angry with me and that it was okay to be mad about it. He continued to repeat, "MEAN MOMMY!" over and over.

Mean __insert name here____ is what he says to anyone who has wronged him. It used to hurt my feelings. Then I realized it's only him expressing himself. I tried to reason with Sebastian and told him that we were going home. I tried to explain to him that it was all over and that we should leave this place that made him upset. I couldn't drag him out.

Our dentist fetched me a drink of water in a dixie cup for his throat that was getting hoarser by the second. Sebastian paused and almost went for it. At home when his fits are nearing an end he gladly gulps down water and takes deep breaths signifying the fit-storm is subsiding. Then usually he collapses into my arms. He *almost* was ready to do that but.... another outburst. "No water, no no, YUCKY, no..." So I said it was for me and I started to drink it. Then he grabbed the cup squeezing it with all his might trying to spill it so I couldn't drink it. In a quick swoop I gulped a bunch down as he wrestled me for it like a brat. I knew he wasn't a brat he was just really mad and really sad he was held down against his will. I can't imagine how much that sucks for a child to be completely powerless. It must be really frustrating to be your own person but also be forced to do things you do not want to do.

Regardless I felt like everyone in that room thought he was a brat. There were a few drops of water left at the bottom of the dixie cup and I poured it into his mouth. He drank it like a baby bird. Now I thought to myself; now he'll want more water and he'll collapse into me. Now my sweet boy will let me soothe him and now the whole dentist’s office will smile when mom and son embrace and the bad situation will turn to good. Nope. "Bleah! Yuck, WATER YUCKY. WAHHHHHhhh water yucky! Yucky water. BLEAH!"

Seriously? At that point I knew we needed to flee and flee NOW.

I had tried to explain to our dentist just how bad his reaction was going to be at this visit beforehand (I didn't say so in front of Sebastian) but I'm sure the dentist didn't see this kind of a fit coming! Heck I didn't see it coming! As I stated previously even this fit was a record breaker of all time and I have seven kids!

As I tried to drag Sebastian out of their office a Dental Hygienist told me not to worry and that they've seen it all. Our dentist gave me a reassuring, "This happens, he's just mad at us." I appreciated that. As embarrassing and horrible as it might be for your child to melt down in public I was okay with the fact that this happened and accept it as part of Sebastian's growth as a small person but to have support is always nice. I hate when people look at me as the poor lady with lots of kids though! ;) When I'm at a grocery store or other public place I try and offer support like that to fellow parents as well. An "I understand I've been there" comment can really help parents calm down and do what they need to do to take control of the situation and STAY IN CONTROL of the situation. I think I've seen parents hit their children because they wanted to prove they were the boss and felt others were judging them by not having control over their child.

I carried Sebastian outside with less resistance this time. Once in the car he arched his back so I couldn't buckle him in his car seat. He threw his favorite toy, he screamed. After a few seconds I quit trying to shove him into his car set and just shut the door. I waited a minute as he got quieter and then suddenly he said, "Want out. Want out." I opened the door slowly and asked him if he was ok now. He came to me with open arms and said he was. After a few hugs I asked his sparkling blue but puffy eyes if he'd like to go back inside and pick out his prize from the prize box. He nodded with a quiet and thoughtful small smile. We went in and picked out a toy and then happy but exhausted went home with the other six kids. On the way in to get his toy he had a nice BIG drink of water from our sports bottle and he hugged me again.

 The happy Sebastian I know playing in spring mud.