All posts by Angela Harrison

Angela is a writer and poet from the backwoods of Texas. She's many other things as well, including a wife, mother, liberal, feminist, mostly straight, LGBTQ supporter, avid reader, outdoor lover, a grand multi-Para and a self proclaimed starfish flinger. She has thoughts and opinions that could be construed as many things, including being seen as a crunchy, tree hugging hippie. Religiously speaking, she’s more Pagan than Christian leaning but basically a secular type. She has been busy producing free range children since 1991 and is currently engaged in raising wild things. She has walked through fire; therefore she may occasionally leave sparkles in her wake. Early Childhood is her passion, as evidenced by the seven children that call her mommy. She considers herself to be a bit of an attachment parent, aka rebel, trouble maker and pot stirrer extraordinaire. Examples of her bucking the traditional system include co sleeping, extended breastfeeding, unschooling, engaging in gentle discipline (i.e., not spanking) and leaving kids intact. She would like to remind her readers that mommin ain’t easy! Professionally speaking, Angela is an early childhood professional, trainer, conference presenter and writer. She holds degrees in Psychology, Sociology and Business. She has worked in the field of Early Childhood Development since graduating from Texas A&M in 1998. She is certified as an Early Intervention Specialist and has worked as both a Specialized Skills Trainer and Family Service Coordinator for several Texas ECI (Early Childhood Intervention) programs. After obtaining her MBA from Texas Woman’s University, she decided to stay in the field of Early Childhood and move into management. She served as a Team Lead, Program Coordinator and Site Director at LaunchAbility (Previously Special Care and Career Services). She has presented on numerous child development issues, in a variety of venues, most notably at a conference given by the Brazelton Institute. She has been a certified Nurturing Program instructor and a trainer for the Child Care Champions program. She is a member of the honor societies of Phi Kappa Phi, Epsilon Omega Epsilon and Sigma Beta Delta. Past and current affiliations include National Organization of Women, National Association of Professional Women, North Texas Association of Early Intervention Specialists, Burleson County Community Resource Coordination Group (Vice President) and First3years (continuing education committee). She served as Vice President of fundraising for her son's PTO before branching out into homeschooling. She is the founder of the North Texas Home-school Gay Straight Alliance. She holds an endorsement as an Infant Mental Health Specialist from First3Years (formerly North Texas Association of Infant Mental Health).  She has published articles in the First3Years journal, written as the Early Childhood Examiner for Examiner.com and been a contributor to sites such as Liberal America, The Bump, Modern Mom, Global Post, and Live Strong. 

What Do You Expect?

I’d like to say a word about expectations and how they influence our lives, probably more than you even realize.

Expectations. We all have them. Of ourselves, of others. Of our children, our friends, our coworkers, our jobs, our lives. And how those expectations are, or are not, fulfilled, affect our attitudes and our actions.

 

I often spend the better part of my work day talking to parents about expectations of their children and keeping them realistic. Certainly if you know your child can say “doll” then it’s ok to expect her to say it in order to obtain the desired object. However, if you child wants to see the fish and you have never heard her utter the word fish before, expecting her to say it in order to be lifted up to see them is not only unrealistic, it’s cruel. I certainly wouldn’t want someone to tell me to quickly solve an advanced math problem or I can’t have my lunch. It’s unreasonable, I couldn’t do it.
Unrealistic expectations play a large role in the occurrence of child abuse. If you truly believe that all children are able and ready to potty train at age one and your one and half year old isn’t doing it, frustration is going to occur. Only instead of understanding that your child can’t, you see that child as defiant, stubborn, bad. Having a clear and realistic view of what your child is and isn’t capable of is crucial for maintaining realistic expectations.
It’s not just children we need to have realistic expectations for. I am always amazed at the relationships that end over expectations that just aren’t achievable. If you haven’t read the book, “Real Love” by Dr. Greg Baer, you should. It took me awhile to get through it because I kept exclaiming, “oh this is ridiculous!” and throwing it down only to spend the next day or two thinking it through and realizing it was right, just difficult to put into practice. This would send me back to pick it up and resume reading until the next time I exclaimed over it’s ridiculousness and threw it down. In this halting manner I finally not only understood but embraced what it was telling me. That to love someone unconditionally is to have NO expectations of them. My first response to that was, well, that’s ridiculous! But it’s actually not.
Unconditional means no matter what, therefore, to love unconditionally means just that. No matter what. Any time you are angry with another person, it is because they have failed to meet your expectations. Think about it. You expected your son to wipe his feet before walking across your clean floor, you expected your friend to pay for lunch this time, you expected your spouse to remember your anniversary. You are angry because they failed to meet that expectation.
If you love someone unconditionally then you love them even when they fail to meet your expectations. Not having any expectations in the first place keeps you from feeling angry when they aren’t met. The book does a great job of teaching you how to get and give unconditional love. I’m not going to try and recreate it here, this was a very bare, barely scratching the surface summary and I know I have not done it justice. I highly recommend you read it for yourself. Meanwhile, I feel like I’m making a short story long here! Back to my point!
I’m not sure it’s possible to truly be expectation free but we can have realistic expectations of our significant others. Don’t date a doctor then be surprised after the wedding when you get left alone in the middle of your anniversary party for a medical emergency. Don’t marry a woman who hates to cook the be surprised that she doesn’t cook for you. And don’t sweat the small stuff.
People often comment that my husband and I just got lucky or they want to know what our secret is. The only trick is that we just accept each other the way we are, we don’t try to change each other. We also don’t expect the other person to be a mind reader. If I want to do something specific for our anniversary, I say so and well in advance. Likewise, if he’s cooking and feels like he needs help, he asks for it rather than hinting and feeling resentful that he isn’t getting any. These are just simple examples, but hopefully they illustrate my point.
I think you will find that you are much happier in life when you don’t have an overabundance of expectations. If you bring me some dinner, I’m happy you thought about me at all and I won’t complain if something isn’t to my liking. This way, I simply enjoy the dinner and the fact that you thought of me. On the other hand, I could react by being disappointed because I expected you to remember all my likes and dislikes. In one scenario I just ignore the part of the meal I don’t like and enjoy the rest. In the other I may sulk and dwell on how thoughtless you are. Really the difference between me being happy or unhappy in this scenario is what I choose to focus on. See there? Happiness really is a choice!

The Internet Ate My LIfe

Today I’m wondering why I haven’t fully embraced this blog yet. Why I seldom write, though writing is one of my great passions. I think I have an answer. I’m still grieving the loss of my last blog. The website was pulled down and if they gave me any notice, I sure missed it somehow. Which means the documentation of my life is just……..gone.

My entire pregnancy with Troy, my fourth child, was documented there, the initial announcement, the sonogram when we found out it was another boy, the ultrasound showing an echogenic spot on his brain, the fetal MRI, the worry, the relief when they said he was probably ok, the little nagging bit of worry that hung around until well after he was born. The story of his birth, how they ignored me and told me I wasn’t in labor until he was born with no one ready to catch him, landing instead on the bed. Of how he was born blue and still had the membrane intact over his face. The fear when he wasn’t moving, when he came out blue, the resuscitation. My refusal to pay the hospital for “labor and delivery” when no one delivered him or paid one bit of attention to me during my labor, the charges for the IV and fluids that I repeatedly declined that were forced on me anyway, complete with pitocin even though I had just gone from zero to pushing a baby out in an hour and a half and the pitocin seemed redundant and possible damaging to me. A copy of the letter I sent to the hospital informing them that the 90% paid my insurance and the 5% I paid up front were, in my opinion, more than what they deserved. His first days home. All the cuteness and ups and downs of his first year, including his fluctuating muscle tone and really odd and atypical reflexes that may or may not have been caused by birth trauma, we shall never really know. The million funny stories as he began to talk.

Katies experience with preschool, the time she busted out the plate glass window at Jump N Land. Brandon’s junior, then senior prom. His high school graduation and all my mixed emotions about my oldest growing up. The wonderful long post about Todd’s potential ADHD and the list of his ridiculous messes. The announcement that I, at 44, was going to have baby number five after all.

My entire masters degree program was documented there from deciding to do it through the excitement, the hard work, the long hours, the induction into several honor societies and the pride as I graduated with a 4.0.

My grandmothers death, the grief over the loss of a friends child. Me, eleven years later, processing grief over my fathers death as my uncle was dying of cancer.

The frustrations of the state sponsored budget cuts to ECI services and the ensuing loss of services to families and benefits to employees. Being laid off after ten years with the same program.

Vacations and family trips, the kids first visit to the zoo, the museum, etc. In short, my life! All of it, just gone.

I have always been a journal writer, the transition to blogging wasn’t easy for me. For one, I enjoy the physical feel of putting pen to paper. For two, an inherent distrust in the internet not to eat my posts and three, the publicness of it all. Putting myself out there for the world to see. I thought for sure I would edit myself more knowing it was for public consumption. The more I wrote, the less I edited. I figured no one really read it but me anyway. But issue number two was valid and I should have backed my writing up. A few of my posts were copied and pasted over to Facebook or into a word document, but most of it was just lost, never to be recreated. Sure, I can tell you about Troy’s birth, but I will never be able to recreate the feeling and depth of the original post coming immediately after experiencing it.

However, I think I’ve learned from my mistake! What I ought to be doing, in addition to creating word documents (because hard drives crash) is printing. Although, nothing lasts forever. Looking back at my old hand written journals, many of the twenty or thirty year old pages are already filled with ink that has begun to fade. I don’t examine that too closely, because I’m sure it says something about the fragility of human existence and how time erodes everything and that’s another post entirely!

At any rate, I shall try to be a more faithful and entertaining blogger for you, my three readers!

I Unfriended Someone Today…….

I unfriended someone today. On Facebook that is.  In the words of Dr.Seuss, this may not seem important, but it is so I”m bothering telling you so.

This is only the third person I”ve ever unfriended and I have over 800 of them on Facebook (friends that is). But he will not be the last. It takes a lot for me unfriend someone because I do not believe in censorship. I believe in freedom of speech and I think we should be trying to understand each other.

However, it has finally dawned on me that protecting my own psychic “space” isn’t the same as censorship. That I can no longer be untrue to myself in the name of being PC and “nice”. Some people don’t deserve my time and attention. Sure, they have a right to speak, but I am not obligated to listen.

I have many friends from all walks of life. Look, I don’t care if you are a democrat, republican, independent, Libertarian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, gay, straight, bi, poly, trans, male, female, old, young, middle aged, blond, brunette, redhead, American, Canadian, European, Asian, African, childless, mother of 12, black, white, red, purple or orange……………we are all different and I respect and celebrate those differences. You can have opinions that differ from mine all day long and until he cows come home. BUT, there is never any reason to be less than respectful and kind to others. We can disagree respectfully. Most of us do. Some of us can’t. And some are too full of hatred, anger and fear to articulate anything approaching reason.

I will not tolerate hate and ignorance. I’m done.

I have scrolled past many posts in recent months that I didn’t really want to pass up. Either I really agreed with them but didn’t want the drama that re posting would bring (I don’t really like to fight with my friends) or they were so ridiculous I wanted to say so, but again, I don’t really like to fight, especially on someones status who has 400 like minded bigoted friends who will jump all over me in a free for all.

So to keep the peace, I scroll on. But I’m done. I am as entitled to my feelings/beliefs/opinions as anyone. And mostly, I have a wonderful group of friends that I can disagree with and it’s ok. We disagree, we are respectful to each other and we don’t make sweeping negative generalizations based on insulting stereotypes.

The first person I unfriended was posting a steady stream of homophobic vitriol that I just couldn’t stomach. The second referred to women who did things that were prohibited by HIS religion (and as interpreted by HIM) as whores. The third continuously posts a continuous stream of extreme conservative right wing propaganda, which in and of itself isn’t the issue, it’s the insults that generously pepper said posts.

Look, if you’re against universal health care or gun control, be against it, that’s fine. But those who support it aren’t automatically idiots, fools, government slaves or any other such labels. The poor are not automatically losers, leeches, takers, beggars, trash etc. And the poor are not all black, by the way. I won’t even go into racial slurs here, but anyone who knows me at all should know better. That is certainly not something that I tolerate. Hateful remarks flung at large groups of people only serves to show the SPEAKERS character, not the people being spoken about.

Most of you have nothing to worry about and I’m really just venting. I’m not going to delete you because we disagree politically. However, I am done overlooking ignorance and hateful behavior in the name of considering all points of view. Some points of view don’t deserve considering.

That is all.

Juggle, Juggle

I get asked a lot how I juggle everything. Sometimes I give a flip answer, like, I’m just ADHD and what most people call relaxing, I call having nothing to do and being bored! But today while I was juggling exceptionally well, it occurred to me that I do have some actual valid tips to offer, so here’s one of them:

Clean/organize the room you are in at the moment.

What am I talking about, exactly? I mean, often it feels like I never accomplish anything because I am jumping back and forth between this child’s needs and that child’s needs constantly. Thats a true and valid point. What I have learned over the years is that, when there’s so much to do that you have no idea where to start, you simply start where your kids are and follow them around.

For example, my six year old needed a bath and hair wash. He can wash himself, but needs help with his hair. So I washed his hair, turned him loose to bathe himself and popped his little sister in with him. She needed no bath because she had her bath and hair the night before, but having her to play with ensured they’d both be busy and occupied long enough for me to clean up the bathroom, since that’s where we were at. I also had time to run the dirty laundry from the bathroom to the washer right after they got out of the tub.

After bath we went into the kitchen where the two little ones wanted to eat, so I made them both a quick lunch. While they were otherwise distracted, I was able to clean up the kitchen, wash the dishes and wipe down counters. When they ran off to the living room to play I was able to pop the laundry in the dryer, clean up the highchair and pop a frozen lasagne in to feed the older kids and myself.

Right now I’m able to write this blog post because my six year old had to poop and he is afraid to stay in the bathroom alone, so here I sit, using time that would otherwise be spent staring at the wall doing something productive (well, that may be a matter of opinion!).

After this if over, I’ll feed the older kids, get the baby down for a nap (I’ll catch up on my reading while nursing her) then get around to feeding myself. While eating I will manage to do something else at the same time, even if it’s just catching up on General Hospital episodes on my DVR.

I’m sure I am by far not the first woman in the world to discover this method, but some reason I felt compelled to share it today. I guess for it to work you have to be ok with jumping from activity to activity even if you haven’t finished (the dishes and counters are cleaned but the kitchen floor still needs sweeping, but that will have to be done later). I’m ok with that, but maybe we are back to me being ADHD.

Oh look, a squirrel!

Homeschooling: A Word About Religion

One oft lobbed criticism of homeschooling is that it’s done to isolate and promote a narrow world view based on the family’s religion.

While this may be true of some homeschoolers, isolation is not the primary reason that most families choose to homeschool their children. Certainly, teaching your children your religious viewpoints, doctrines, values and beliefs is the parent’s responsibility and something that is going to occur with or without homeschooling.

If religious isolationism is the intent, homeschool isn’t needed. Parents can opt for a religiously based private school or even monitor closely who their public school children associate with outside of school hours.

Sure, some people choose homeschooling in part because it allows them more latitude and control in regards to what their child is exposed to. This, however, is not the sole purview of the religious. Many homeschoolers who would identify as non denominational, secular, atheist, agnostic etc, choose to homeschool, in part, to allow themselves this same latitude and control over what values their children learn and what they are  and are not being exposed to (drug use, violence, sex, foul language to name a few and sadly, this isn’t just at the highschool level).

In short, the reasons any given family chooses to homeschool their children are many and varied. This topic, like most, cannot be boiled down to one particular issue or another. To accuse homeschoolers of religious isolationism is incorrect. At any rate, any given family’s choices are really no one else’s business.

Breastfeeding in Public

Oh no, run for the hills, she’s gonna talk about boobs! Seriously, I do not understand our national discomfort, disdain and downright hostility towards breastfeeding and breastfeeding mothers. One of myFacebook friends posted a link to a blog where a mother posted her thoughts about breastfeeding, along with (gasp) pictures!

And now while I realize that a blog is posted publicly, you still don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. Seriously, if breastfeeding is so offensive to someone, then just avoid it I guess. But I truly don’t get it.

Breastfeeding is the best thing you can do to feed your baby. It is the most nutritious thing to give a baby, it is full of antibodies to help them stay well and healthy, it promotes the best oral motor development as well as developing the part of the brain that tells us when we are full/hungry. One could make the argument that a primary cause of overeating is being forced to finish the bottle or clean the plate when full or denied food when hungry due to some arbitrary schedule, we train babies not to trust themselves to know when to eat or not eat. And then there is bonding and attachment and comfort that all come from the breastfeeding bond. Where, in all of this, is there something wrong or bad to find?

Yet people find it. The evil, horrible dark side to breastfeeding (according the American public in general) is that someone might see a glimpse of a breast! Shocking I know. Forget that fact that every bathing suit at the beach or the pool, half the advertisements that you see and even just the day to day fashions that are in style now ALL show more breast than you generally can see during a feeding session. Somehow people are horrified, offended and outraged at the sight of a breastfeeding mother because a man or a child might see some breast. My response to that is pretty much, so what? If a child sees a mother breastfeeding her baby, what idea might they get? That breasts are for feeding babies?

There is truly nothing sexual about feeding babies and the only reason I can find that people get so uncomfortable about it, that they find it so offensive, is that, in their minds, they link the breast to sex and only sex. And that is their issue, not the issue of the infant or the mother. Why should mothers and babies be held hostage to someone elses misguided and wrongheaded thinking? Why should mothers be forced to hide what they doing, like it’s some dirty secret? Why should babies be deprived of something that is so good for them, to make some grown adult who should know better, more comfortable?

Babies are innocent, helpless and unable to add their voices to the debate and as seems to always be the case, the weak get run over by the strong. Might makes right. Babies have no voice and mothers can often be bullied and harassed into complying with what’ s “socially acceptable” at the expense of what is biologically appropriate for their child. Not all mothers can overcome such strong persecution and hostility. They need support, information, education and the knowledge that they are not the only ones.

Which brings me to the other upside of breastfeeding in public: letting the world see that this is normal, making it become a commonplace sight. Bringing widespread acceptance to it requires visibility and requires making some people uncomfortable. We all have times when we have to confront things that make us uncomfortable and question ourselves about WHY it makes it feel that way and hopefully be able to see all sides of the situation and overcome our own prejudices.

ADHD and So What?

My six year old is ridiculously loud! He screams at top volume for no apparent reason. His sister locked him out of her room last night for that exact reason. I’m on the other end of the house and it’s too loud for me!

He is my loud, active, rebellious, overly sensitive, always on the go child. My oldest was like this, but he is even more so. It’s like he needs noise and movement to focus, to think, to concentrate and maybe he does. I have often thought that, were I to pursue it, I could easily get a diagnosis of ADHD for him. Yet I don’t pursue it, top of his lungs screaming, constant messes and all, I don’t. Why not?

Well, I have no desire to put him on the medication, that’s why and unfortunately, that’s about as far as traditional medical treatment goes. Here are your pills, goodbye. I happen to know that there are other ways of helping him that won’t put his health and life at risk. I don’t think most people realize that those ADHD drugs are often not approved by the FDA for what they are being used for and even when they are, come with a long list of side effects. No thank you, we won’t be having any.

First of all, I’ve done this and my oldest turned out fine. Sure, he still has some sensory issues to this day, but he graduated high school with honors and has held down a job for the last year quite admirably. Second, he’s not the only one. Thomas Edison was kicked out of multiple schools and his mother was told he was unteachable and stupid. Yep, Thomas Edison (now believed to have had ADHD).

I’m not saying that the drugs are never useful, I know people who swear by them and I am not judging their decision. I just hate it when people judge mine. Sure, my kid can be annoying and loud and obnoxious and make a ridiculous mess. But he is also incredibly smart, creative, original, loving, caring, sweet etc. I have no desire to mute any of his qualities. They are ALL what makes him, him. Special and unique. So we take the loud messy child in constant motion because it comes hand in hand with his brilliant, creative joyous self.

We just don’t go out in public much.

Open Letter to Educators

I was just forwarded this video by my boss, along with her daughters written response to it and the whole thing really got me thinking.

What’s funny is…I was JUST thinking about that exact thing the other day. I was thinking, is it ironic to anyone that I feel the way I do about institutionalized education and yet have multiple college degrees? It may seem a bit hypocritical, but it’s not and I can tell you why.

I do agree with everything he said. I see with my unschooled children how much more organic learning is than schools want to make it. How artificial and irrelevant much institutionalized learning is. How it teaches you to memorize and regurgitate facts, not to think for yourself, much less outside the box, not to actually learn or be engaged with your subject. How my favorite teaches and professors were those who engaged us, encouraged dissent, nurtured debate, fueled classroom discussions. Unfortunately, those were the minority.

So why then bother with the whole thing at all? Precisely because our society demands it. You may be self taught and actually know more than someone with a degree, but society confers respect and authority on the person with the degree. Because we see the degree as a measurement of your knowledge.

My ex husband is a chef, learned on the job, and his biggest pet peeve is the culinary school graduates who are clueless and mess up his kitchen! Yet, they go on to positions he can’t get considered for, though it was HE and not the culinary school that actually taught them how to cook in practice, in real life. I use to tell him to just go get the degree, no matter if he already knows more than the instructors, that “piece of paper” is a foot in the door. Sure, you may get your foot in the door then not be able to keep the job because despite your education, you don’t really have the skills, that is true. But even if you have the skills, you may never get to put them to use without that foot in the door.

That being said, perhaps Dan Brown is the next Bill Gates (a very famous and very rich college drop out) but for most of us, we need both the skills and the credentials.

So, back to why I feel institutional education is a joke and yet I have multiple college degrees and keep going back for more? Because  I am a biologist who knows that survival equals your ability to secure your  share of the available resources. For humans, this no longer means hunting or grazing territory, money is what secures our basic resources like food and shelter. Because I’m a sociologist (specifically a structuralist) who understands that that structures and institutions of our society are what we have to work with, even when we want to change them and in the society we have, a college degree, certifications and other forms of validation are what let us access the money. And because combining those two things with the fact that I’m also a realist tells me that despite all its failings, I still need institutional education to secure validation (in the form of a degree) so that I can access my share of the resources (in the form of a good job that provides a higher income to purchase food, shelter, clothing and the like). So, I plug away at getting my degrees while I home school to try and give my children a competitive advantage when they reach this stage because I AM teaching them to think, not memorize.

And while we’re on the subject, I will be teaching them the metric system because the entire rest of the world uses it and if they want to go into any medical or scientific field, even here, they will have to know it and our public schools do not teach it. It is so much harder to learn at 41 I’m here to tell you! (Even though it is more intuitive and easier than our system). Change comes from within and you have to start somewhere. I believe that the huge surge in families pulling their children out of the system is a step in that direction. Colleges are now actively recruiting homeschoolers precisely because of their ability to think outside the box. Private and charter schools all over the country are piloting curriculum that more closely resemble homeschooling than institutionalized schooling. The fact that this movement is gaining momentum can be seen in the backlash against it. In many states legislatures are trying to move backwards and outlaw homeschooling but it isn’t working. Families are taking back their children’s education. The revolution is afoot!