Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Alternative Medicine

13 Reasons Controversy

It’s been a while since I’ve come across something in the homeschool world that makes me sit up and take notice, but this is one of those things that compelled me to write about it. There’s a new series on Netflix that you may have seen. It’s called 13 Reasons Why, and it’s based on a YA novel of the same name by Jay Asher. It’s about a high school girl who commits suicide, but leaves behind a series of audiotapes intended to be passed around to the people she holds responsible for her death.

**general spoiler warning** If you haven’t read the book or watched the series and don’t want details, you should probably stop reading this post until after you’re read/watched it. 

Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

Apparently, there are a lot of feelings about this series; A LOT of feelings. From the outset, I’ll say unequivocally that material that sparks discussion about mental health, depression, bullying and other issues that teens (and young adults) face has a place in the public eye, period. Even more-so if it engages teens, who tend to be most at-risk for suicide. Whether you agree, disagree, like it, hate it – whatever: discussion about topics that we, as a culture, tend to file under ‘taboo conversational topics: Do Not Engage!’ is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. And it’s about damn time.

Full disclosure, I’ve watched the series; I have not read the book. My children (13.5 and 15 at the time of this writing) have neither read the book or watched the series*, but both said that they ‘might’. I’ve told them that it’s fine if they do; to let me know if/when they do so we can talk about it. I also gave them a synopsis of what it’s about, gave a warning about graphic rape scenes and drug/alcohol use, and mentioned that there are things that Hannah (the main character) says, thinks and does as a result of disenfranchisement/bullying/potentially undiagnosed and untreated depression that aren’t ‘reality’; and that we need to talk about it during and after they watch it. We don’t generally censor what our kids watch; I’d rather know what they’re watching so we can decide if we need to intervene or talk about it than have them sneak around watching things behind our back. We’ve set standards for them that have gotten more permissive as they’ve gotten older; I don’t think we let them consume anything that isn’t age-appropriate. You may disagree, which is why if my kids come to your house, they’d have to follow your rules (or the lead set by your kids, which may be very different from your ‘rules’… but I digress). And before you lose your mind over that, we a) have developed trust with our kids based on communication and experience and will continue to base our decisions and permissions on that trust; and b) can still monitor when we feel the need to, because parental controls and history/system checks on media are a thing that exists and we reserve the right to record and check as needed. Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

In any case, my point is that we talk about mental health issues fairly often in our house. I was diagnosed with clinical depression (major depressive disorder) in 2006, and with severe generalized anxiety disorder in 2011. I take medications, supplements, use tools like apps, meditation practice, journaling and a focus on self-care as part of my management plan. They’ve seen me manage my own mental health issues and heard me talking about it with others a lot. Along with some of the other moms in our homeschool group, I went to a teen mental health first aid course and got certified as a ‘teen mental heath first aid practitioner’, and our teens are participating in a semester-long mental health course through our homeschool co-op, using curricula and resources from TeenMentalHealth.org and other similar sources. I say all of that to tell you this very scary fact: seeing and knowing and doing all that doesn’t make my kids suicide-proof. That’s hard to read; it’s hard to admit. But it’s the truth. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

The reason I started writing this post is because, like many homeschooling parents, I’m in quite a few internet support groups that focus on homeschooling. It’s generally helpful, and sometimes I learn new things there, or find tidbits of new information that I want to use in our school career. other times, I come across things like this:

 

Okay, fine. You don’t want to watch it, then fine. But let me tell you this: if your kids want to watch it, and their peers are watching it, then even if you think it’s ‘poison’, then you should damn well be watching it, too. If for no other reason than because you should be informed of what’s going on in and around your child’s world. Changes are, if your kids’ peers are recommending it, then your child is going to figure out how to watch it, with or without your approval.

And hear this: if your opinion is so strongly negatively stated, do you think that your kid is going to come to you to talk about what they saw if they watched it without your permission (or in spite of being explicitly told not to watch it)? Nope. So your precious snowflake is going to be left alone to figure it out, or have only the influence of his or her peers to guide how they process the show. Not only that, but as a parent, you’ll miss out on being able to clarify the points that need to be made throughout the series about how Hannah could have made different choices, or how her friends could have, or what your child’s options are in different scenarios.

And then there’s this, which makes my eyes want to roll right out of my head.

ARE YOU FRIKKIN’ KIDDING ME?? Also, it’s extremely bad form to tell a parent who literally has experience with this situation that it’s not reality when it is very much their reality. I can’t even imagine how awful it would be to have your child survive a suicide attempt. I can imagine it would be harrowing, and that you’d be on red-alert all the time. To have your child attempt it again? I can’t even imagine that kind of pain and stress and anger and hopelessness.

To their credit, the moderators of that group very quickly deleted that comment thread. The post itself is still up, with decent discussion both for and against allowing/encouraging/discouraging (and some outright forbidding) students to watch, and decent discussion about whether the series addresses teen suicide and bullying appropriately or not. The discussion was relatively civil and productive, with good points on all sides.

From the message thread, the article lists these reasons why ‘not’ to watch (edited for clarity):

  1. This show was overly graphic. …  These rapes are gritty, horrifying and not something your children need to actually witness just in case they need to deal with something like this. They did a good job of showing Hannah (the girl who committed suicide) and how she felt during the rape, but watching her body writhe with each “thrust” was completely unnecessary and not something we needed to watch in order to understand the gravity of the situation.

  2. The suicide toward the end of the series might as well have been a handy dandy how-to graphic for how to kill yourself.

  3. The other big problem I had with the suicide was the build up, the entire series lead up to Hannah killing herself. Which isn’t different than in the books, but for some reason, they made it feel like a big reveal, an event that you were waiting on. Something exciting. Suicide should never EVER be exciting. And I was disappointed that they depicted it as such.

  4. They glamorized Hannah, the girl who killed herself. They made her out to be this big amazing person that everyone remembered and was heartbroken about after she left. ….  the series made this about her, like she left some sort of legacy only a dead girl could leave behind. Why would you want kids to think their lives will only have meaning after they die?

So, obvious warnings are obvious; Netflix rates the show as TV-MA, and included content warnings on the episodes that have the most graphic content. The author of that post’s child is in 6th grade… so, not 17… but she may be mature enough to handle watching the series with her mother nearby; that’s a decision that each parent needs to make. I don’t necessarily disagree with the author’s assertions in the context of her particular child. But to give all parents a ruler by which to measure their own children is ridiculous.

But to take this one point at a time… first, I don’t think it was overly graphic for the audience intended. As mentioned previously, the rating is TV-MA. It’s more subject matter than content that garners the warning. There’s no nudity; they do a damn fine job of conveying the horror of one girl (Jessica) being raped while under the influence of alcohol, and of (Hannah) witnessing it but being unable to say or do anything to prevent it due to her own trauma without being, in my opinion, overly graphic. They didn’t rush through it; they didn’t gloss over it; they didn’t give you an out as a witness to what was happening, either visually or audibly. You, as the viewer, endured it with them. Not only that, but you were flashed back to it at different points – just moments or glimpses – but the trauma is revisited over and over again, unpredictably…. just like in real life. That, to me, is one of the biggest arguments FOR watching it – exactly because of how well-done this particular aspect of it was. Not only that, but in the production commentary (the last episode of the series), they specifically talk about how Hannah never said the words ‘no’, or ‘stop’ or anything, really, when she was raped. It was clear that she did not want to have sex, but she never said no. That makes a conversation about ‘victim blaming’ necessary. Talking about it is one thing. Seeing how it happens is another. Was it rape if she didn’t say no? After seeing it, it’s painfully obvious that she was, in fact, raped. In some religions, because she didn’t scream, or say no, she is considered guilty of fornication. That scene puts an entirely different face on that circumstance, and is fucking *necessary* if you’re a young woman growing up in a religion that teaches that.

Secondly, you don’t need to give kids a ‘how to’ guide to commit suicide. If it’s on their minds, then they’ve already thought of it or imagined it or planned how they’d do it. I was about 12 the first time I ever thought about killing myself, and by 14 I had a concrete plan. I was raised in a pretty strict household as far as what we were allowed to watch – nothing rated R, no horror movies, nothing overly sexual or violent. I never needed anyone else to tell me what to do. I never got as far as an actual attempt, but  I didn’t need to be ‘influenced’ by outside sources. All those thoughts and ideas came from right inside my own head. Showing it isn’t going to ‘give them ideas’ or convince them to ‘give it a try’. That’s a huge myth, and yet it persists because people – parents – don’t ever want to face the reality that kids have very real pressures in their life and may lack the tools to deal effectively with them. A further truth is that some teens have mental health issues that are undiagnosed.

Today’s kids, younger and younger every year, are under an enormous amount of pressure. Their brains do not work the same way that adult brains do; they process information and experiences differently than we do, and they lack both life experience and time to understand that what they feel today isn’t going to last forever. As an adult with depression, I can tell you that in the depths of a depressive episode, even with life experience and the clear understanding that those dark feelings don’t last forever, sometimes forget it. That’s why depression is an illness – because it messes with your brain. Not talking about suicide because you ‘don’t want to put ideas in their head’ is stupid and reckless. By the time I was 18, one classmate and 1 friend had committed suicide, with several others hospitalized after suicide attempts…. and this was back in the 90’s.  Now, there are things like cutting and other forms of self-harm. It’s a real thing. Real kids do it. Your kids might do it. My kid might do it. We might not necessarily know about it. Again – there’s that scary place to think about – that our child might be in pain and in harm’s way. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away; it makes it more dangerous.

Here’s something it’s important to understand about suicide: people don’t do it because they’re healthy and thinking clearly. People who commit suicide see death as the only way out. Out of suffering, of being a disappointment or a burden on others (friends and family), out of the confinement of struggling every day just to live. I also think it’s important to understand that unless you also struggle with depression or anxiety or another mental illness, you can’t know what it’s like to reach that point; to get to the point that thinking or feeling like ending your life is the only way to be free. This is probably one of the best images I’ve ever seen that illustrates that feeling – everything is so awful that death looks peaceful in comparison. But, because of the stigma that depression and mental illness carries, it’s incredibly hard to talk about. That’s okay; talk about that, too. Tell your kids that you’re scared for them. They need to know that.

The third point is an idiotic one, imo. You begin the series knowing that the girl killed herself; but one can hardly tell the story without flashbacks. As the viewer, you get multiple insights to the story – Hannah’s perception as she tells it on the tapes; the recollections of her friends and classmates; and a ‘narrator’ view, which features Hannah in a somewhat less than ‘perfect’ view. I disagree that Hanna’s suicide was built up to in order to sensationalize it; I think the flashbacks gave a fairly well-laid out progression of the deterioration of Hannah’s mental state and circumstances that led to her making the decision to kill herself. Starting off with the suicide scene, or downplaying it wouldn’t make sense. I think showing it the way that they did was appropriate; it was graphic and horrific and terrifying and lonely and sad – everything that suicide is. This feeds into the next point – they didn’t glamorize her; quite the opposite. I saw a bunch of people who gave lip service to mourning a girl they barely paid attention to when she was alive. That’s not glamorization; that’s tragedy. Her life didn’t have meaning after she died; her life ended. That’s what death means – you’re dead. No more life to live; no more chapters to your story.

Here’s what I saw, first and foremost: I saw a lot of kids with a LOT of problems, and mostly absent or distracted parents. I saw a lack of communication; a lack of courage (courage to speak up when you see something that you know is wrong, to defend someone else, to start a conversation, to say the thing you want to say, to have a voice at all); a lack of trust and confidence in the adults in the kids’ lives. I saw obvious warning signs (drinking, drug use, heavily tattooed under-aged teens – you don’t get those from hanging out with fine upstanding citizens… because it’s illegal) that no adult acted on. There are SO MANY things to talk with your kids about… for me to talk with my kids about.

I think Hannah is responsible for her own death. She kept things to herself when she could have talked – at any point – to the people around her. If not peers, then adults. She felt like she didn’t have options, and that’s where the adults in her life failed her. But it wasn’t a one-time thing; it was systematic. It was something that went on and on for a long period of time. Her parents were distracted by real problems, but they were distracted nonetheless. Her friends also had real problems, but each person in Hannah’s life that she sent the tapes to also had options. Not necessarily a responsibility towards Hannah, but options for how they handled their own situations that led them to whatever thing they said or did that Hannah ended up blaming them for. Hannah did a terrible thing… several, actually. Playing the ‘blame game’ helps no one; absolves no one; is fair to no one. Suicide is a tragedy, but ultimately, the person who ended their own life is the one responsible for that decision. There’s a discussion on ‘suicide revenge’ that should probably happen as well. This isn’t a new concept; Marilyn Manson’s Coma Black has the line ‘I kill myself to make everybody pay‘. Hannah left tapes to explain/punish those she held responsible, and ultimately let herself off the hook for her decision in both deed and via the tapes. That was a shitty thing to do.

As a parent: TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Tell them that you have issues; that you don’t understand them or their culture, but that you are trying. Let them teach you. Don’t play the disinterested parent-role; don’t let them think that you have all your shit worked out. If you haven’t learned shit-management techniques in your 30+ years on the planet, then you probably didn’t pass any down to your kids, so they’re likely in need of those tools anyway. Let them know that life doesn’t just magically work itself out when you turn 20 or 30 or 40. It’s still a struggle, BUT you learn coping mechanisms on the way that can make it easier. Be an example – take charge of your own issues. If your issues are affecting you kids, then for fuck’s sake, get help, and include them in the process. The other half of this is LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS. Trust them when they tell you that their life is horrible (instead of giving in to the righteous anger that we love to fall back on and list all their privileges and blessings so they’ll see how entitled they’re acting and shape up). Getting angry at them for being ‘ungrateful’ instead of listening to what they’re telling you can lead to a teenager who doesn’t feel like you’re a source of support. Trust that they’re using the best vocabulary that they can, and help them find better words to express what they’re feeling. Ask questions and LISTEN to the answers without giving in to the temptation to be all judgmental or looking for ways to punish them to opening up to you. You can’t have open, honest communication with a teenager and then censor how they talk, or try to shape their expression into your worldview. Listen to see where they are at and meet them there. Then cover new ground together. It’s okay to be lost, or not know what to say. Tell them that; they need to know that we don’t have everything all figured out either, and that it’s okay to learn new things (like how to handle intrusive or overwhelming negative thoughts). It’s also okay to seek outside, professional help. In fact, that’s something your kids should already have – access to suicide hotlines and a network of adults that they can trust to talk to.

In closing, I think people tend to forget that TV and book characters aren’t ‘real’ people; they’re amalgams of multiple people, or archetypes that real people don’t fit into exactly. Real people are so multi-faceted and multi-layered that no book or TV character could ever get it just right. No real person is as one-dimensional as a character; and no situations are quite as simply laid out as real life scenarios are. This book and series, and others like it, create discussion opportunities for parents to guide their teens., and I believe that’s what the series is intended to do. Whether you allow your child to watch it or not, there are some real-world things that today’s kids face. There are real-world situations brought up in that series that I believe it is entirely worthwhile to talk about with your kids. Whether you choose to use the series as a conversation starter, or some other method is up to you – but have the conversations with your kids. Please.

Warmly,
~h

* When I started this post, they had not. After I asked, I guess that brought it to their attention, and LBB (15) decided to watch it. At the time of this post being published, he’s about halfway through the series, and we’ve had multiple discussions about it – big ones, little ones, talks at the dinner table, talks in the car… sometimes just a comment here or there, sometimes more drawn out.

 

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Fidgets for ADHD Homeschool

One of the benefits of homeschooling a child with ADHD is that you have an almost unlimited amount of freedom to experiment with and utilize the many therapeutic tools that are out there to help such children maintain their concentration on the task at hand.

Fidgets are one of the tools that have been shown to be successful in helping ADHD children maintain focus when they’re doing mentally intense work. If you’re not familiar with them, fidgets are little toys or gadgets that provide children with attention disorders stimulation (tactile, oral, or gross motor, or a combination thereof) and/or an outlet for their excess energy during seat-work. Some fidgets are small, either handheld or for the desktop to keep hands busy while the child is thinking, writing or calculating. Others are larger and provide different types of stimulation and feedback over the whole body, like weighted or vibrating materials; or furniture that allows the child to move more freely than your average desk set-up, like swings, balance boards, mini-trampolines or exercise balls to sit on.

There are some stores/websites that sell fidgets and sensory materials, like the Therapy Shoppe (which separates their fidgets into categories like alert fidgetscalming fidgetssilent fidgets, and tactile fidgets), Fat Brain Toys, Sensory University, and Sensory Edge, and these are great if you can afford them.

But when homeschooling, you’re often on a budget and even inexpensive fidgets can seem out of reach when you’re not sure what things your child might like. Since I can relate to that, I thought I’d put together a list of fidgets that are easily ‘found’ or made at home.

Starting with small fidgets:

  • spring/spiral (plastic, taken from an old spiral bound book or notebook and cut into pieces. Those spiral shoelaces also work well as a fidget.)
  • Lego tree (round, though I’m sure the conical ones would work just as well – lovely for palming and twiddling)
  • velcro dots (sticky-backed ones can be applied to the underside of the desk)
  • clothespins (alone or can be used with clip-ins like a bundle of rubber bands, a few bent chenille sticks, yarn or other something to make a ‘brush’)
  • soft bristled paintbrushes or jumbo makeup brushes (feel nice on cheeks, over eyes and lips)
  • skinny balloons (stretchy and can go onto fingers – but don’t let them chew on them!)
  • foam stress ball (often given out free at conferences, fairs, doctor’s offices, the mall…)
  • filled stress ball (the dollar store often has squeeze balls; there’s one called a ‘blob ball’ with a net outside that lets the inner part bulge out of that is both disgusting and fascinating; or you can make them from big latex party balloons filled with sand, moon sand, powder, modeling clay, rice, beans, poly pellets, or a combination of things for long-term use (can double balloon and tie for a little extra protection). If you’re looking for other textures, you can fill them with peanut butter, pudding, tapioca, jell-o, etc (but these are, for obvious reasons, disposable after a day or two).
  • worry stones made from polymer clay (or air-dry glue/cornstarch clay, also called ‘cold porcelain clay’) or rocks
  • aluminum discs (made from the bottoms of coke cans – Use tin snips to cut the rounded bottoms of a coke can out, then put them together, convex sides out and seal the edges by gluing and then burnishing, or with tape on the outside. Use sandpaper to smooth and finish the edges. It makes a lovely palm-sized convex disc that feels good in your hand.)
  • butterfly/triangle paper clips (can put several together on a binder ring)
  • a long bolt with a rubber band on the open end and loose nut to twist up and down (metal or you can find plastic ones in the plumbing section of the hardware store)
  • put a rubber band on a pencil, slide on some metal hex-nuts towards the top end and add another rubber band. The pencil is weighted and the nuts are twistable. Also works on crayons and markers)
  • mini rain stick (toilet paper tube or even smaller diameter cardboard tube, nails and rice/beans and masking tape)
  • egg shaker (re-use those old plastic Easter eggs – fill with rice, beans, poly beads, BB’s or anything similar and seal with tape. You can papier-mache for extra security)
  • bean bag (scrap material and dry beans/lentils/rice/poly pellets)
  • poly pellet (single to roll between index finger and thumb)
  • teethers (especially gel-filled ones and ones with ‘nubbies’ on them; Sophie the giraffe is fun to chew on as well)
  • rubber bands (tie a bunch together, then snip all but one of the loops to make  a ‘koosh’ type ball
  • tape measure with a button re-winder
  • Rubik’s cube

For larger stimulation, we have used:

  • weighted lap blanket (I made them from a fat quarter of fabric and filled with poly pellets from the craft store)
  • noise cancelling earphones
  • foam ear plugs
  • vibrating neck pillow
  • yoga ball
  • rolling pin on the floor (under desk, for feet)
  • yoga
  • balance board (can be made from a 24″ long piece of 1″x 6″ scrap board with a 1″x 1″ half round piece of molding nailed to the underside. Sand the edges and let your child paint and decorate it. The child stands with feet on the outer edges and balances the board up on the round.)
  • weighted hula hoop (can be made by cutting open a regular hula hoop and adding steel ball bearings and taping back together)
  • sensory steps (in our version, I made a couple of sheets of 8.5 x 14 paper with eight 4″x3″ squares of sensory material – just enough to ‘toe’ and small enough to fit under the best. Ours include sandpaper, lentils, elbow macaroni, faux-fur fabric, shredded plastic, rubber bands, toothpicks, crinkled aluminum foil, yarn, Easter grass, egg shells, lego bricks, shredded newspaper, terry cloth, and pantyhose.
  • rice sock (tube sock filled with rice; can be knotted every few inches to provide more even distribution and/or a different ‘feel’; also can be filled with lavender or other herbs and rice, and heated to make a warm aromatherapy weight)
  • meditation/mind jar
  • 2lb hand weights (also works to roll with feet on the floor)
  • yoga block (for feet to manipulate)
  • weighted tube (a paper towel tube with a spent D cell battery in it. Close both ends of the tube with cotton balls (for cushion) and tape. Tilt back and forth gently to let the battery slide from one end to the other. It has a nice ‘thunk’ to it.)
  • sensory tubs (usually used for younger kids, but are very useful for older kids with SPD)
  • sensory bottle /science bottles
  • sound therapy: white noise;  thunderstormfireplace/thunderstorm are all amazing and vary in length.
  • alpha wave sound therapy on low volume over headphones. You can record this video/sound, then put it on an ipod and loop it for however long you need it for. Once is almost 10 minutes. Any sound therapy we use with headphones for maximum effect.

We use or have used most of these (not all at once, obviously). Different things seem to work at different times, and I’ve noticed that even my younger son (who is not ADHD) seems to focus better when allowed an outlet, so even though these types of tools and activities are ‘for’ kids with attention or sensory issues, they can definitely be of use to children without them as well.

What are some of your cheap/handmade sensory tools?

Warmly,
~h


Vaccine Free does NOT Mean Risk Free

There was a question on one of the pages that I keep up with on Facebook this weekend that dealt with vaccine ‘shedding’ (secondary transmission) and the risk that recently vaccinated children pose for non-vaccinated ones. As a non-vaxing parent, this topic is of interest to me, but it also made me realize that there are a large number of non-vaxing parents who might be doing it wrong.

By ‘wrong’, I mean that they’re mistakenly thinking that by avoiding vaccines and the risks associated with them, they’re in a ‘safe’ zone. Here’s my reply to the original thread (with parenthetical remarks to clarify in absence of the original thread):

I never worried about that (shedding and exposure/danger to my unvaxed kids). If your stance is that not vaxing is ‘safer’, then you understand, accept and are prepared to deal with the fact that your child MIGHT GET SICK. Non-vaxing is not an open door to safety. There ARE risks associated with not vaxing, and it’s our job as non-vaxing parents to educate ourselves on how to properly treat a child with polio or chicken pox or measles or any other disease that they might contract. My kids are unvaxed and healthy – and they have yet to get a so-called VPD. We never worried overmuch about exposure to a vaxed child – but if they got measles or something, we’d treat them according to the research we’ve done and trust that their immune system will be stronger, and that they’ll now have the benefit of long-term immunity to it. I believe that non-vaxing is safer for my kids – but I’m also not blind to the risks associated with that choice.

There were several recommendations to avoid recently vaccinated friends’ kids, and to avoid people whom you know to have recently had a live-virus vaccine (like flu-mist). I think that’s making it harder than necessary on new parents. Isolation is a factor in PPD, and advising mothers with young babies to isolate themselves in order to avoid exposure to shedding is not the best of plans in my opinion. Now, that’s not to say that I expose(d) my kids, willy-nilly, to germs – more that it is impossible to monitor everyone around you and be aware of their vaccination status. At the park, at the mall, at the grocery store – you can’t escape children without living in a bubble.

For one thing, your child is at no more risk by being at  a recently vaccinated friend’s house than being in the grocery store where they’re administering flu-mist vaccines. In fact, I’d say there is less risk of exposure because you’re talking about one vaccinated child (who may or may not be shedding) and a store FULL of recently vaccinated people whom you know to be shedding.

Several posters chimed in on that thread with variations of ‘I want to know about this, too”. Now, I understand that some may have and just want as many opinions on the subject as possible – I’m like that and can so totally dig it – but there’s a difference in gathering info and asking ‘what should I do’ on Facebook (or any internet forum) where the quality of the information you get may or may not be up to par. Please understand, I’m not knocking the wisdom of seeking like-minded support. What I am saying is, take what you hear (or read) with a grain of salt and do your own research so that you have a well-rounded pool of information from a variety of resources to draw from, and don’t underestimate the power if your own instinctive reasoning.

Something I want to make abundantly clear here is that avoiding vaccines and the risks that they pose is not the same thing as being risk-free. The decision to vax or not is about gathering information, assessing your personal ideals and lifestyle and doing some risk management. Essentially you’re choosing between, at its most basic:

a) Vaccinating possible benefits: reduced probability of contracting a particular disease or illness and/or shortened duration or severity of illness if contracted possible risks: adverse reactions as mild as a fever or pain at injection site or as severe as developmental delays, long-term/permanent disability; death

b) Not vaccinating possible benefits: less exposure to toxic compounds and heavy metals in infancy, possibility of exposure to a disease and acquiring natural immunity to it, no need for booster shots (and additional exposure to toxic compounds and heavy metals in the developmental years) possible risks: exposure to a disease could lead to a more severe or longer duration of a disease; long-term /permanent disability; death

The risks and benefits of both paths are shockingly similar, aren’t they? This is clearly not a subject to be taken lightly or to be made casually after cruising some blogs and forums online. The part that makes this decision so very personal is how your lifestyle and habits will affect those benefits and risks. Your level of research and personal experience are also going to affect how you’ll lean when it comes to decision-making time. Choosing to keep your kids vax-free comes with a set of responsibilities that all parents should be aware of and actively filling, but that are perhaps even more important when you’re choosing to go against the status-quo. Staying away from people who may inadvertently pose a risk to your child is one way to do that, but I think a far better strategy is to be pro-active with your lifestyle and child-care practices.

Lifestyle and parenting practices play an immeasurable role in your family’s health. If you’re a breastfeeding family, that’s a boost to the immune system for your breastfed kids (no matter how long you breastfed for). If you’re an exclusive and long-term breastfeeding family, that will have an even bigger and more lasting  impact on your child’s immune system and overall health. If your family’s nutrition is ‘better’ – more fresh foods and less processed, again, this will have an impact on your child’s health. If you use complimentary alternative and holistic preventative therapies, those will also play a role in your child’s overall health. There are so many factors go into the vaccine debate – but NEVER is your path ‘risk-free’.

As I said before, we don’t vaccinate, but that doesn’t mean that ‘not vaccinating’ is the end of our health management. I went into detail about how we choose to care for our family instead of vaccinating in a previous post. Even though right now Loverly Husband and I are pretty dead-set against the currently available vaccines, we’re not necessarily against the practice of vaccination (two separate issues, BTW). There is new information released every month and medical science is always making new breakthroughs. We keep up with current info, and should safe and effective (meaning reliable and reproducible research/evidence funded by non-biased parties over a reasonable period of time) vaccines come on the market then we will re-evaluate our decision. This is one of those decisions that isn’t made once – it’s one that frequently needs to be updated and revised according to the availability of information – which a contentious parent is always seeking.

Like so many other things associated with having a child, the work associated with this decision is deceiving. I’ve often seen pregnant women stress and worry and research labor and childbirth with the unconscious thought that it will all be over once the baby is here. Then the baby is born and they realize that labor and childbirth was only the tip of the iceberg. Parenting is a long and arduous process – one that is seemingly never-ending when it comes to making decisions or revising old ones. Being responsible for another life (or lives) is an awesome responsibility and not one that can ever afford to be taken lightly. The question of vaccination is one that should be carefully examined and weighed in terms of possible benefit and possible risk – what risks are you willing to assume for what potential benefit to your child and family?

Warmly,

~h


Instead of Vaccinations

There is a lot of info out there on ‘why you shouldn’t vaccinate’ and personal stories about ‘why we don’t vaccinate’. A little harder to find but still available is info on alternatives to vaccination, like homeopathic ‘vaccines’ and making your own. But there really isn’t much out there that is from a personal perspective that says  ‘this is what we do instead of vaccinating’, so I decided to share our secrets to health despite not following the recommended vaccination schedule.

To begin with, I think it must be said/reiterated that choosing not to vaccinate is in no way saying, “Now we are risk-free”.  Please don’t assume that just by not vaccinating, you’re now 100% safe, health-wise. we all know that there are no guarantees in life. By not vaccinating, you’re accepting the possibility that your child may come down with whooping-cough (pertussis), or polio, or diphtheria… of course, vaccinating is not a guarantee that your child won’t come down with the same, but that’s not really what this post is about. Choosing not to vaccinate merely means that you deem the risk of an adverse reaction to a vaccine more likely than being exposed to/contracting/dying from the disease it is supposed to prevent.

One of the main things that I feel is important when choosing not to vaccinate is to familiarize yourself with the illness that the vaccine is for and get a better idea of what the real risks associated with that disease are. First, you’ll want to evaluate what your chances of even being exposed to a  ‘vaccine preventable diseases’ . In many cases, it’s been decades since there was an ‘outbreak’, and in many of those cases, and outbreak consisted of less than 50 victims. Most VPDs are not instantly fatal as the propaganda would have you believe. Even dreaded polio is not the wheelchair-inevitable fate that media has made it appear. In fact, less than 1% of people who contract polio have the paralytic variety, and of those paralysis is not always permanent. Though polio is not one of them, many illnesses can be treated with simple antibiotics. If you’re choosing not to vaccinate, then be proactive – learn about treatment options for those illnesses and most importantly, learn what not to do. Though treating symptoms might be fine in some instances, in others it’s best to let nature run its course.

(1) Breastfeeding. This is a big one – possibly the single most beneficial thing that we did that helps protect our kids the most against many of the things that they might need a vaccine for.Colostrum is baby’s first vaccine. I cannot overstate how important breastfeeding is from a biological standpoint, especially when you’re talking about the immune system. There are so many components in human breast milk that scientists cannot even identify, much less figure out what their function is. So when formulas say they’re “more like breastmilk”, that only hold true in that they’re both matter in liquid form. Breastmilk is a LIVING ever-changing substance that is tailor-made to your child’s immediate and evolving needs. Formula is a (hopefully – when it’s not contaminated and recalled) sterile and inert substance that is created from a by-product of the dairy industry. If you want the down and dirty truth about the formula industry, check out Milk, Money and Madness by Naomi Baumslag.

I breastfed my kids for right at 3 years (slightly longer with LittleBoyBlue, slightly less than with PeaGreen). In total, I spent over 4 years continuously breastfeeding, which has a TON of benefits for ME, too. Breastfeeding has long-term benefits to the immune system that artificial formula feeding simply cannot replicate. Some people (doctors included) are mistaken in believing that the immunological benefits of breast milk start to decline or deteriorate after a certain point, however research does not back that claim.

(2) Don’t Panic. There is research that suggests that certain childhood diseases play a role in strengthening the immune system and lessening the likelihood of developing things like asthma and allergies as the child ages. So in light of that, we try to be realistic in dealing with illnesses and not panic just because they’re sick (which has been thankfully rare). Now, keep in mind that some things are genetic – I have severe environmental and some food allergies and asthma. Because of this, there is a strong probability that some or all of my offspring will have some type of allergy and/or respiratory issues, and they do. Both my boys have environmental allergies and PeaGreen takes a daily script in allergy season to keep the breathing treatments to a minimum. Because of MY genetics, no amount of breastfeeding, herbs or whatever is going to be proof against such things. I know that thanks to breastfeeding, my kids don’t have issues anywhere near as bad as they might have had we not breastfed. Ear infections were a non-issue until LittleBoyBlue started Kindergarten (though since they’ve been homeschooled, neither has been sick a single day – not so much as a cold; contrasted with the last 2 years and multiple sinus infections for LittleBoyBlue. Do I think homeschooling plays a role in my kids good health? ABSOLUTELY)…. which brings me to my next point:

(3) Homeschooling. After dealing with our first ear and sinus infections once my kids started school, not to mention the numerous coughs, colds and other various sniffles and ailments – I am convinced that schools are breeding grounds for infection. Not that it’s their fault, exactly. Anyone who has one will tell you that kids are nasty little creatures. Most have a near-impermeable outer shell of dirt and contagious bacteria that is next to impossible to crack. You get 20+ kids in a room all day for months on end and you’re going to have some unhealthy growths going on in there no matter how much hand-sanitizer you squirt on them. Plus, we teach our kids to share, so that’s also a big problem during flu season since they do, indeed, share… germs! It’s not necessarily the kids that are the issue (though they are carriers…). It’s that they’re all in ONE room most of the time, day in and day out. Homeschooling is obviously not going to expose your kids to a room full of pent-up and breeding germs (unless you’re the world’s worst housekeeper – but even then, they’re YOUR germ and your kids have a sort of natural immunity to germs that your family breeds… which brings me to my next point…).

(4) Home Birth. Now, I must point out that I did not have either of my kids at home, but if I were to have another, that would definitely be the plan. I had my first in the hospital with a midwife (a compromise with my husband, who was adamantly against home birth at the time) and we spent 3 days in the hospital (only 2 after he was born). We limited visitors, but there were always a ton of hospital personnel in and out, carrying various hospital germs with them. With my second, we looked more in-depth into planing a home birth but ultimately decided against it because our choice of attendant was severely limited. I had PeaGreen in a Houston hospital, again with a midwife, and we were home 24 hours after his birth. That was awesome! We had way less personnel in our room, and since it was farther away we had virtually no visitors, which was nice. The point of all that is that even with limited exposure, hospitals are truly for those who are injured, ill or dying. They’re breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria and super-microbes that your average bug only wishes to be. That’s one reason why they want to limit hospital stays for new moms and babes (the other being that insurance companies don’t want to continue footing the bill once you’ve popped that kid out). The germs that are in your home are yours. Your body and immune system, and hence, your baby’s, are already exposed to and used to the germs that belong to you and your family.

(5) See a Chiropractor. Chiropractic care can have positive benefits to the immune system. I really wish that I had learned about the benefits of chiropractic care during pregnancy and for babies. I’ve taken my kids both to the chiro, and after some initial apprehension, they both love going (in fact, we need to go again soon!). I am also an advocate of chiro care – after my births, I had some issues with my bones that didn’t move back into their proper positions, which caused some pain that I just dealt with for years. Once I started seeing a chiro and had a six-week therapy program, the pain was mostly gone. Now I am supposed to go in for maintenance every  6 weeks or so.

(6) Probiotics, herbs, nutrition and dietary supplements also play a big part in keeping my family healthy. There are tons of homeopathic blends that are designed to target specific areas of health. We take a cold and sinus blend during flu season, and an allergy blend during times when our allergies are not flaring up (when we use prescription meds – because breathing is always beneficial to your health). We also use various vitamin and probiotic supplements to keep healthy flora growing to offset the nasty stuff, especially when we’re done with a prescription. This kind of thing is super easy to add to smoothies or into plain water (the homeopathic liquids) since they have no taste. When my kiddos were babes, we delayed solid foods and I made their baby food – well, with LittleBoyBlue, I did. With PeaGreen, we didn’t do baby food at all; we went straight to table food. Naturally, that much attention to what they were eating carried over into our food, and I can happily say that we are much more conscious of what goes into our mouths since we’ve had children. Not that we don’t eat out, or eat fast food – because we do. We just try to limit it, and make sure that most of what we buy and prepare at home is truly good for us.

(7) Get Dirty. We also make sure that our kids get lots of time outside in the dirt. I mentioned before the outer coating of dirt and bacteria – since they get bathed fairly regularly (not daily – we’re not ultra-kleen-freeks here), it’s important to replace that grit and grime so that they stay healthy. We also try to limit our exposure to toxic chemicals in our home. We mostly use natural cleaning products (though I occasionally must bleach…) and vent well if we’re using something that has fumes.

So that’s about it. And thought I’m no scientist, I can say that based on preliminary results, this method is safe and effective. My kids have yet to come down with a single VPD, and are both quite healthy overall. They’re growing well and seem to be thriving in spite of the dire predictions from vaccine supporters.

What do you do?

Warmly,

~h


Cost Effective Eco-Consciousness

I’ve been trying to write this post about the dilemma that I, and I’m sure lots of moms on limited budgets, have. The issue is the high cost of organically and/or availability of locally grown produce, and the cost of ‘green’ or ‘natural’ cleaning, beauty and household products vs. mainstream ones. Thrown into this issue as well are the extremely high and un-covered by insurance alternative healthcare options like homeopathy, herbs and supplements, acupuncture/acupressure and other such things are. It seems that the things that are less chemically toxic, better for the environment and that promote overall health instead of merely masking symptoms are usually out of reach when you’re not in that top 10% of the financial bracket.

This post was prompted, in part, by this article over atPeaceful Parenting‘s blog. The point of the article being posted on that blog was absolutely valid – the question, “Are we really saving money on groceries today if we have a bigger health bill tomorrow?” is definitely one to ponder. The issue I have with this lies in the comments section. I was appalled and annoyed at the judgement and condemnation that I saw there. Only one person mentioned the financial straits that some parents are faced with that makes the grocery game (and learning to play it well) something that some families need to do in order to feed their families.

For me, personally, our situation is not that dire but learning to coupon better and keep track of what we have on-hand and what we need to add to that for specific recipes would stretch our grocery budget. In some cases, that would mean not choosing the ‘greener’ option but choosing to buy what I had a coupon for. That’s not to say that I don’t make better nutritional/less processed choices when possible, but I’m inclined to make my dollar go as far as it can, and if playing the grocery game can help with that then I’m willing to do that. The problem is that articles like that one, and the comments that accompany it make me feel like I’m spinning my wheels – instead of getting healthier by eating better, am I un-doing whatever the good stuff has done by picking something ‘less’?

Then the conspiracy theorist in me comes out to play… the part of me that says, “Sure, you can eat better foods, but you can’t avoid the toxins in literally every other aspect of your life. The air we breathe and the soil our local produce is grown in is tainted beyond redemption thanks to the oil and paper/logging industries that keep our local economy afloat.”  And let’s not forget about the insecticides that the county comes out with to keep the mosquito population from carrying us away (and the Off! that I spray my kids down with when they’re going to be outside for a long time – which we have to use because they’re allergic to the soy-based alternatives we’ve tried – and going bug-spray-less means lots of skeeter bites that itch, which means lots of lidocaine being slathered on because they’re allergic to bites, without which leads to infection and scarring – so, a little deet is the lesser of about four evils in that scenario).

It makes me wonder just how much of the organic/green buzz is pure propaganda. Does it make THAT much of a difference what you eat and what you clean your house with when so many other areas of your life are filled with toxins and chemical exposure that you cannot avoid? I just don’t know.

In the process of trying to write this post (this is the 3rd draft…), I kept getting distracted with the thought that a lot of my complaining when it comes to the cost factor sounds like excuses. Even though some of it is valid (like the probability that companies who make many of the greener products have caught on to the fact that people will simply pay more for those products and have no incentive to bring the cost down to a more comparable level), a lot of it comes down to choice. very time I start to say, “It costs too much”, I get conflicted with the fact that we spent $7 at Chick Fil A the other day. Granted, that’s the only time we’ll go to CFA until the week after next, but still… Then there’s the fact that if I worked, finances would be less of an issue (but then, not really, because at least during the summers, I’d only be working to pay for childcare; and the toll that working would take on my family would be prohibitive as well – so me working really isn’t an option).

What I’ve come to realize is that the good thing about being truly eco-conscious is that as long as you’re willing to forgo the flashy, showy, “Look how AWARE and INVOLVED in SAVING THE EARTH I am!!” stuff, keeping your home clean and eating with organic in mind is not all that hard to do. Frugality goes hand-in-hand with eco-consciousness, so thrift shopping and recycling clothing and household goods happily plays into this as well. Things like cleaning with vinegar, baking soda, borax, essential oils and castile soap – and making your own soaps and bath/beauty products. The fun thing about that is that it doubles as a hobby – so that’s more bang for your buck! Instead of buying re-usable shopping bags, make them from old sheets and clothing. Better yet, help the kids make and decorate them! Call it arts and crafts {smile}. Curtains, toys and decorating can also be liberated from old clothes and sheets. Art quilts, re-purposing old tee shirts and sweaters, even fabric scraps can be made into something awesome.

Let’s not forget about gardening and composting and vermicomposting! If you have boys, this is something they’ll dig most enthusiastically (girls, too – I’m not being sexist, lol). Growing your own little garden is (relatively) easy and requires less work than you might think. Now, I’m not talking about growing huge amounts of food or anything, esp. to start with. But you can grow a few tomatoes, onions and other fruits and veg fairly easily to supplement what you buy. We’ve been saving seeds from nearly everything lately – especially cherries! I have visions of a cherry tree-lined driveway in a few years…. We’re just getting started with the whole gardening/composting thing – but I’ll tell you what – going to visit and having your child finish up a banana and ask, “Hey Mom, where’s the compost bin?” at someone else’s house makes you smile.

I will say that some of the things that are most expensive to start with are good quality essential oils and herbs. Herbs, you can actually grow and dry yourself – and you can infuse them with intent as they’re growing, which is a nice touch, esp if you’re going to be using them for healing in your home. Oils – splurge. Buy from a reputable company and you’ll get more out of the product. Even if you just want to dabble, get the good stuff. Inferior quality oils don’t hold their fragrance and you won’t want to use the product you made. Also, if you’re using herbs and essential oils in a medicinal capacity you definitely want the best you can find. Some oils are more expensive than others. Start with more affordable oils and buy one at a time to build your collection. When you’re literally using drops at a time, they tend to last a while.

I guess what was really bugging me was the judgmental attitude from those who either aren’t faced with the same financial considerations, or just didn’t think before they wrote. It bugs me that most of those people probably have more than a couple of eco-consciousness contradictions in their lives – we all do. For some of us, diet is our main focus, for others, it may be household upgrades (like solar power, rain water collection or the like), for others it may be something else. There’s a fine line between taking advantage of modern conveniences and knowing which of those to forgo in favor of meeting whatever ideal is important at the moment. I think that every step we take with mindful intent, we’re improving the health and lives of our families, and that is what is important.

Warmly,

~h