Saturday, March 31, 2012

Speaking of zombies and homeschooling...

My friend T couldn't get blogger to let her leave a comment on my blog (weird. I'm looking into it, T, no worries). But she sent me a more direct message suggesting I take a look at someone's work on youtube, a guy calling himself CaptainValor, who evidently posts videos with both sound and signs, which is perfect for our summer school plans for learning sign language.

In particular, T recommended this video. ~happy sigh~ my friend knows me so well!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Zombies in the waiting room

pic found online - if you know who to credit it to, let me know, 'cause it's awesome!

Just as my back was starting to feel better, I picked up some kind of bug. Felt like strep throat or something similar (within an hour or so, I had halfway lost my voice), so I went to the walk-in clinic to get some antibiotics. 
I walk into the waiting room with my barely-there wheezy voice and my stilted, gimpy gait. Barely managed to stumble into a chair. This cute little girl came up to me and asked if I was turning into a zombie. I just looked at her, moaned "braaaaaains" and started to reach in her direction. She shrieked and took off. It was all I could do to keep a straight face.

Her father had no such compulsion. He was bent double laughing. 
Spent the rest of my few minutes in the waiting room surrounded by toddlers and preschoolers poking me with plastic baseball bats, golf clubs, and other long toys from the toy bin while I moaned and reached for them. The preschoolers loved poking me with the bats. I'd start to reach for them, saying "Braaaaaains" and they'd whack me, so it was more like "Braaaa - ouuch" "Braaaai...ouuch".
By the time the nurse called me back, the whole waiting room was laughing, even the 80 year old woman on oxygen. I did have some fun with the nurse who came to get me. She said "What's the problem today?" and I answered "Either strep throat, or I'm the index case for the coming zombie apocalypse." She barely managed to hide her smile.

Seriously, though, where is the video camera when you need one? This totally would have gone viral.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Public schools, homeschooling, and a request for help

I am unable to home school full time. Neither my ex (who is birth father to all three boys) nor my husband feel that it would be a wise idea for the boys. I do understand part of their reasoning - as children, all three of us (myself, ex, and hubby) were socially awkward kids, and by being pretty much forced into a social setting (i.e. public school) eventually taught us the basics of social behavior.

Now, I could set up with a local homeschooling group and have the children socialize with other home schooled kids. Sounds great, right? But there are a couple of drawbacks to this idea, the first being transportation. I don't drive, we don't own a second car, and with my back injury I am not confident that I can ride my bike all over town like I used to be capable of. Second, and perhaps more important, the only local homeschooling group I have found is based on a strong conservative and fundamentalist religious ideal, and that would be a horrible fit for our liberal, agnostic/atheistic family. In fact, I'm sure the kids would feel MORE like fish out of water in that situation than in public school!

So the boys attend the local schools, and I admit that they are better than the average school in our country. Not only are the boys taught the basics like reading, writing, math, science, and history, but they are also taught free thinking, acceptance, and of course, the basics of social interaction. Innovation and creativity are encouraged and praised. All of the teachers remain in close contact with me, the parent, and come to me immediately with questions, concerns, and praises. I feel included in their education, which is fantastic! I've had them enrolled in other school districts where my interest and participation in their education was treated as an oddity at best and disruptive at worst, so having a school district that respects and includes me is gratifying.

All that said, I still feel that the boys education is stifled. This is NOT the school's fault exactly. They have to follow the guidelines and lesson plans that are put out by the state, and they are not allowed to deviate from it, even if they really want to. So for the last several years, I have taken it upon myself to fill those gaps during summer break by focusing on one particular area and doing an in-depth study on it. I try to make the sessions fun and short - after all, it is summer, and I want to make sure they have time to run around and play with each other, with friends, and explore like little boys should.

I guess you could call me a summer home schooler.

Let me give you and example from two years ago, before we moved to this school district. I had gotten numerous complaints about all three boys, and all the complaints were the same - illegible handwriting and a poor sense of sentence and paragraph structure. Since my handwriting is flawless and I have always written beautifully, I was truly confused as to how my children could struggle with these issues. So I thought back on how I had learned in the hopes that I could teach the boys in the same manner I had learned.

I decided almost immediately that they would not learn handwriting the way I had. I used to be ambidextrous, and would alternate between left and right hand writing without thought. This really disturbed my stepfather, who was deeply religious in many ways and believed wholeheartedly that left-handed writing was a weakness that allowed the devil a handhold in my soul. He saw it as his responsibility to protect my soul, so every time he caught me using my left hand, he would smack it - hard. When I sat down to do homework, he would silently place a ruler by my left hand as a silent warning - "use that hand and I'm smacking it with this ruler" (the ruler would also be used if my handwriting wasn't readable or neat, so I very quickly learned to write in an obsessively neat script.).

I remember one day, he was sitting next to me doing a crossword while I did my homework My right hand got tired, and without thinking I switched my pencil from my right hand to my left. Of course, he hit my left hand immediately - it was a reflex for him at that point, I suspect. I honestly don't think he remembered he had a pencil in his hand when he smacked my own, but my cry of pain and the blood that flowed proved that he had inadvertently stabbed my hand with the sharp point of his own pencil. I jerked away and in the process, the lead point of his pencil broke off in my hand. He ended up having to cut the wound open a little bit more to remove the lead.

Remembering that made me shudder, and I unconsciously rubbed the small scar from the incident. No, I wouldn't teach my children good handwriting the way I had been taught! I decided I would just teach them the basics of good penmanship, and make them rewrite anything that was illegible.

Figuring out how to teach them sentence structure and paragraph formation was harder. I couldn't recall a single instance of being taught how to write. I did remember teachers harping on things like "a paragraph has a main sentence and supportive sentences", stuff like that, but I also remembered tuning them out because it seemed like such a "duh" thing to me. Of course the rest of a paragraph supported the main sentence. It was just natural. As a child I just couldn't comprehend why others in my grade couldn't get the concept. And I had no idea how to teach my children a skill that I had never struggled with.

It was my mother who shed light on the solution. I was talking to her on the phone and mentioned how I was at a total loss to teach my own children the skill of writing cohesively. I remember her laughing and saying "Of course you learned to write well. You read so much as a child that you picked up the skill instinctively. No one had to teach you, and that's why you were so bored in English classes."

It was like a light bulb went off. I learned how to write from reading - and my children love to read! At that moment, our summer schooling plan was set. I let the kids check out books they wanted from the library, and every day they had to write a paragraph or two about what they read that day. My husband joined in by finding a DVD of the old "School House Rocks" videos, as well as things like Between the Lions episodes and a few other shows that tended to focus on writing.

By the end of the summer, all three boys were churning out their paragraphs (and in some cases, multiple paragraphs) in record time, and their handwriting and sentence structure were improved enough that their new teachers found nothing to complain about.

Over the course of teaching my children, I've learned the truth of Frank Oppenheimer's quote:  "The best way to learn is to teach." So I decided the kids and I will learn something new together, and after researching subjects, talking with the kids about what they want to learn, and thinking about what I want to learn myself, I decided the subject of this summer's lessons will be sign language.

This is where you come in, my dear reader. Do you know of any online classes/videos/educational sites for learning sign language from scratch? Can you recommend any books or DVD series? An educational cartoon along the lines of Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer, only for older children? The more material I have to work with, the better I can create a lesson plan of sorts.

Let me know what you think on in my comments - and if you know anyone who blogs/home schools that knows sign language, please link me to their blogs.

Thanks a lot!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Earworm Wars

If you don't know what an earworm is, let me educate you. An earworm is a piece of music that sticks in one's mind so that one seems to hear it, even when it is not being played. I'm sure you've experienced this phenomenon, where a song seems to get stuck in your head and plays over and over, driving you nuts.

Our little earworm war started with an innocent text from my mother. "The phone...the phone is ringing!" (if you don't get that reference, lucky you. Here's a youtube clip to explain. Consider yourself already fairly warned about it being an earworm. You may not want to hit play.)

Now, for some reason, that innocent song became a total earworm for me, even to the point where I caught myself singing it when half asleep and in the shower. I found this particularly embarrassing, as the song came from a preschooler's show, and I don't have preschoolers.

Then my husband decided to play with me. He snuck away with my phone and recorded himself singing the stupid theme song, ending the song with maniacal laughter (and I should add that my husband is totally tone-deaf, so the song is completely off-key). He then set that recording as the ringtone on my phone, specifically to play only when he called me.

I didn't know about it until a couple days later, when he called me from the store to ask if he should pick up milk. Unfortunately, he called while I was in the same room with my younger boys.

"The phone...the phone is ringing. The phone is ringing! Mwahahahaha!"

James and Jacob fell over each other laughing, tears rolling down their faces. Every time they looked at me, they'd crack up again, and an hour later I heard them singing while they were doing their chores.

"The phone...the phone is ringing!"

This was all my mother's fault - she started it. So I decided it was time for some payback. There is one song that she cannot stand to listen to, even though she loves the song, because the chorus gets stuck in her head and becomes a horrible earworm, lasting for weeks.

So I called up her phone and recorded the chorus to this song onto her voice mail.

Payback, thy name is Bitch. And I am your devoted servant. Now, I just have to figure out how to get ahold of my husband's phone.....mwahahaha!

EDIT (from a couple days later):  Was outside trying (unsuccessfully) to weed the front garden. Trouble was watching from the living room via an open window, because he freaks out when anyone is outside and he's not. It's like he thinks he can't protect us or something. The more of his family that's outside, the more freaked out he gets.

Just then, the phone went off. In Sean's voice. Singing that stupid song.

And the 60 pound pit bull puppy went bounding through the screen, eager to greet and protect his "Daddy".


Friday, March 16, 2012

Diagnosis - Bleak

Ended up in ER last night as my doctor refused to provide any more pain pills until our Monday appointment (this despite the fact that she had only given me three days worth of pain meds and I'd already managed to stretch it out to cover five days).

Went the the same hospital that my MRI was done in, and they gave me the diagnosis. Looks like degenerative disc disease. Something in my MRI or in my current symptoms bothered them, so they put me in a trauma room and ran some more tests before sending me home with stronger pain medication and orders to see a specialist in spinal damage/injuries.

Still in shock. Still taking time to absorb the information, and the knowledge that I will have back issues for the rest of my life. Trying to buck up about it but it's hard.

EDIT: I posted the above blog post on my FB page, and followed it up with some results from research on degenerative disc disease. One of the recommendations are to do low-impact exercises, like water aerobics and stability ball exercises.

I have great friends on FB. Within a few minutes of that post, two of my friends informed me that they were sending me stability balls. I find myself crying again, but this time they are happy tears!

Also realized I'm a big busted woman who was just diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. Otherwise abbreviated as DDD.

Triple D. I'm cracking up. Oh, the irony!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Not the greatest ambassador to his breed....

It was so beautiful out today. The boys wanted to ride their bikes up and down the street. I agreed, and had one of them move a chair out to the front yard so I could keep an eye on them. Trouble cries if we go out to play without taking him with us, but I wasn't exactly in the physical condition to hold his leash, thanks to my back. So he got tied to a tree in the front yard, and I sat down next to him.

All was fine for a while - Trouble liked watching the boys on their bikes, and every time they rode past his tail would wag. Several other kids came out, and there was all sorts of activity - biking, jogging, skateboarding, babies in strollers - lots for a young dog to watch. A couple of boys remembered that he's a gentle dog, and brought him a few sticks to gnaw on.

A few boys decided to start a game of soccer about three houses down from us. Now, you should know that Trouble LOVES balls. When a ball is involved, there is no talking sense into that dog. So you can just imagine the whimpering and whining as he watched those boys kick around that lovely bi-colored toy. He actually started to drool with anticipation.

That's when it happened. One boy kicked the ball towards the goal, and missed. The ball rolled past the goal and came to a stop at the curb - right in front of Trouble. With a huge jerk, that silly canine snapped his harness into pieces and pounced on the ball. His entire body language was one of sheer joy - "It got it! I got it! Ball! Ball! Ball!"

I knew there was a very good chance that Trouble would puncture the toy in his exuberance, so I called for my sons (since again, my back injury prevented me from participating in anything). Jonathan managed to pin the silly pup, and James got the ball out of his slobbering maw. In the manner of little boys all over the world, he wiped the drool off the ball with his shirt and offered it to the ball's owner. Accepting this behavior as fair and just, the young man accepted his ball with dignity and headed back down the street to home.

The boy was three houses away when Jon somehow lost his grip on Trouble. Like a bullet, Trouble aimed at the ball and hit his fastest stride.  "HEADS UP!" I shouted in the kid's direction.

The boy turned around to see 60 pounds of jet black pit bull barreling towards him, teeth gleaming in the late afternoon sun. For a moment, he froze. I'm sure it must have looked terrifying - Trouble isn't a small dog, and since he's a pit bull, most people have an instinctive fear of the breed.  But everyone who was watching - from the youngest toddler to the oldest grandma - knew exactly what Trouble was aiming for. And it wasn't the kid.

A dozen voices shouted out in unison. "THROW THE BALL!"

And the kid snapped out of his paralysis and threw the ball when Trouble was about five feet from him. The result was utterly comical. Trouble put on the breaks so hard he somersaulted, and somehow ended the somersault with a springing leap in the direction of the ball. Within seconds, he had his jaws around the irresistible toy, and his tail was moving so fast his whole body was shaking to the rhythm.

This time, when Jon came to pin him, he involved everyone in a merry game of keep-away, letting kids get just close enough to touch him or the ball before springing back. About a dozen boys ended up circling him until he had no backwards direction left to jump, and then Jon pinned him down while the ball was once again muscled out of his jaws.

Fortunately for all, the ball wasn't damaged, nor was the dog. In fact, Trouble seemed mighty thrilled with how the evening turned out - his tail didn't stop wagging for nearly an hour. And he had the hugest doggy grin ever. Once we had him safely on a leash (attached to his collar, since his harness was hanging in shreds from his shoulders), he personally went around to each boy and gave them a happy lick on the hand, as though to thank them for the wonderful game.

~sigh~ I know he meant no harm, and I am very fortunate to live in a pit-friendly neighborhood (Trouble is one of a full dozen of pits on this street alone, and it seems more are arriving every day). But someday we will move, buy a place of our own, and I can't guarantee that our new neighbors will understand a soccer-loving pit bull racing down the street towards their children. It looks frightening and dangerous. In one way, it is VERY dangerous - to Trouble. All it would take is one call from a concerned parent and Trouble could be taken from us and euthanized.

He's GOT to learn that not all balls mean playtime. I want him to be a lovely ambassador to his breed - not one that frightens parents and children alike.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My kids were trying to be thoughtful.

The extra activity and pain from the MRI last night has made today miserable. Ironically, the MRI itself felt great - the scan caused a sensation of warmth to flow in the injured area, and it was frankly the most comfortable I have been since I was injured. That said, the process of getting undressed, then arranging myself on the MRI table, then getting off and re-dressed, was extremely painful and unpleasant.

Especially when the oh-so-helpful aide decided the best way to get me off the MRI table was to say "Ally-up!" in a cheerful voice and pull me into a straight sitting position by my arms. I think my scream was loud enough to wake the dead.

Since that little incident, I've been in more pain, and the pain pills just weren't cutting it. Around 11am, I decided to lay down for a couple hours. I took my pills first before laying down, with the thought that they would have fully kicked in by 1pm, and I could get up and be semi-productive while the kids read during quiet time.

My kids had other ideas. Really, they were trying to be thoughtful, I do understand that. They jointly decided to make their own lunch and let me sleep in. For seven and a half hours.

Did I mention the pain pills only last for five to six hours?

So by the time I finally woke up, my pain meds had already been worn off for about two hours, and I HURT. I barely managed to get up and hobble to the bathroom (with tears pouring down my face the entire time), and somehow made it to the computer chair before my back completely seized out.

I sat there for over an hour, sobbing and waiting for the pain meds to kick in. Nothing doing. I was still stuck in the same spot, unable to move more than an inch or two without crying out in pain. At this point my kids were freaking out because they feel responsible for me being in pain, and I'm trying to reassure them and muffle my cries because it's making them feel bad, and it's just a huge clusterf*ck.

Finally after ninety minutes of this, I call the pharmacy (thank goodness for 24 hour pharmacies), and explain the situation. I tell her what I've taken so far, and what I have on hand, and ask if there is anything I can take in addition to my pain pills to allow me to function at least partially normally.

She told me to take another Hydrocodone. I worried out loud that I was worried about possible addiction (I mean, it's a narcotic, after all!), but she pointed out that I haven't been taking as much as I could be anyway, so it should still be safe to do. So I took another pill, both reluctantly and hopefully. And you know what? It worked. I can move again. I haven't tried to get out of my chair yet (I'm waiting for a full hour to go by before I try), but I can lean forward and backward and to each side, and I can shift in the chair.

I HATE THIS. I hate being in pain. I'm kicking myself (metaphorically speaking) for not losing weight earlier in my life. This pain would be a lot less if I weighed less. I remember reading a story a year or so ago of a woman who had lost weight, and then a couple months after reaching her goal, she was in a horrible car accident. She ended up wedged in the twisted metal wreak of her vehicle, in a small area that was claustrophobic tiny.

Her doctor later looked at the pictures and told her "If you had been in that accident when you were heavier, you would have died."

So now I have to face the reality - if I had lost the weight before this, would I even be injured? Would my injury be as severe? Is it too late for me? Am I permanently disabled? Is it too late to lose weight? If not, how can I lose weight when half my body is incapacitated?

More than the pain, the uncertainty is killing me.

If you are out there and trying to lose weight, quit procrastinating. Start NOW. You never know what the future might bring. You could hurt your back tomorrow. You could be in a car accident. You could fall and not be able to get up. Don't give up. Don't be complacent.

I'm not giving up. I'm going to continue working on losing weight. Sure, walking is no longer an option until I figure out what exactly is wrong, and what to do to fix it. It might be surgery. It might me more pain meds. I don't know. I might have to be in a wheelchair for a while.

I actually look forward to being in a wheelchair. I can still go for "walks", just using my arms rather than my legs. My shoulders rather than my hips. I'm not giving up.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Not your typical Thursday

Woke up today in more pain than any other day this week (except Monday - no ambulance for me today). Took an hour to get to a standing position, and I couldn't wait for the kids to leave for school so I could get in a boiling hot shower and work off some of the stiffness.

This was my first day getting dressed without help. It took seven minutes to get my underwear and pants on, and about twenty minutes to get socks and shoes on, but I did it! I started to do a happy dance out of habit, but quickly realized that was a VERY BAD IDEA.

I knew it was going to be a busy day - all three of the children had dental appointments, and I had managed to get a doctor's appointment for myself at the same time. So Sean came home from work, and we went to pick up the younger boys.

The first person I saw in the school was the vice principal. "Oh, Mrs. Betts! I'm glad to see you - we need to talk." That's never a good thing. Turns out James had decided to sumersault down the aisles of the school bus this morning. It took me a few minutes to digest this information. Seriously? What the heck was he thinking? And when asked, he just shrugged and said "I was bored."

~groan~ He's suspended from the bus for 24 hours. This means Sean will have to drive him to and from school tomorrow, as I obviously am in no condition to walk him there.

At the dentist, we discovered the two younger children have multiple small cavities. When confronted, the they admitted they have been playing in the bathroom at night rather than brushing their teeth. One of Jacob's teeth has to be pulled, and that is scheduled for Thursday next week. I'm hoping that the experience will drive the dental care lesson home, and I hope he expresses just how very PAINFUL and ANNOYING it is to his brother, so it teaches him a lesson too. In the meantime, I am going to have to supervise their nightly brushing.

Jonathan's was a little better. He only has two small cavities that can be easily dealt with. However, he has a fragment of a baby tooth that is stubbornly hanging in there, so that will have to be extracted at the end of the month. He's a little nervous about that, but I suspect it will go fine.

After the kids saw the dentist, I went to see the doctor. I got lucky this time - the doctor I got took me seriously, didn't treat me like I was an idiot, and seemed to genuinely care about my health and well-being. She expressed amazement at how little of the pain pills I've been using, which went a long way towards convincing her I was seriously in pain as opposed to a drug-user who was just trying to get narcotics. She gave me a referral for an MRI and I scheduled it for tomorrow night.

She thinks I have a herniated disc. Fun. I'll know for sure after the MRI.

If I do have a herniated disc, this means a couple of things. First of all, long walks are going to be off the table for a while. Second, the expanded garden I was planning this year is not an option. I'm going to have to change my plans to allow for container gardening rather than in-the-ground gardening. It's a blow, but I'll work around it. Last but not least, it means surgery to fix the issue, and possibly being wheelchair bound for several weeks.

When I know more, I'll let everyone know. In the meantime, I'm just waiting for the MRI.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Worst Monday Morning EVER

Last night I did some roughhousing with Sean, nothing unusual or weird about it. Hip felt a little sore as I went to sleep, no big deal (my hips are deformed and thus always sore anyway). Didn't have any trouble getting comfortable and falling asleep.

Around 3 am I woke to use the bathroom. Noticed an increase in soreness as I sat up, but again, no big deal. I usually stiffen up at night and need to limber up anyway.

But then I tried to stand up.

And I realized something was very very wrong.

The pain hit out of nowhere, flashing across my left hip and lower back like flame on gasoline. The shock of it made me cry out and fall back to the bed, gasping. At first I thought this was just a more severe stiffness - maybe a cold front was moving in? But as I continued to try to get out of bed, it became clear that I was injured.

Walking the ten feet from the bed to the bathroom took twenty minutes. Getting back into bed was even harder. After struggling for over an hour to get comfortable, I finally fell into a light doze, punctuated by flashes of pain.

The alarm went off at 6 am - and by then, I couldn't even get out of bed. I tried to limber up, stretching as much against the pain as I dared. At one point I managed to swing my legs off the bed (while still in a lying position), and the pain was so bad at that point, darkness was starting to creep up in the edges of my vision. After an hour of struggling to even sit up, Sean called 911, and I was taken out of my bed on a backboard.

The ER didn't run a single test for my back or hips. They simply pumped me full of pain medication until I was able to sit up on my own and shuffle three feet to a wheelchair. I was told to take the pain medication for the next few days, and if there is still no improvement over my condition, to call my regular doctor and have some tests run then.

Best case scenario? I either sprained, strained, or pulled a muscle in my lower back/hips. Worst case scenario? A compression fracture, a slipped disk, or something equally nasty. I won't know for sure until it has time to heal.

There is never a good time to be injured, but this time period hit particularly hard. I have signed up for a 100 Mile March challenge this month, and thanks to the flu I had last week, plus this injury, I haven't been able to walk a single mile. I was looking forward to spring cleaning. I've really been getting more on top of housework, and now I fear it's all going to slid downhill while I am recovering.

So if you don't see me online much in the next couple weeks, it's because I am in too much pain to sit on our beat-up office chair to type. I'll try to regularly update, but I can't make any promises.

I just hope it's nothing serious.