Wednesday, December 28, 2011

a real dog

[This post submitted for Montessori Monday 9/17/12 on Living Montessori Now.]

I have written occasionally about our magnificent dog in the past.  My family of origin was a cat family.  I think there were some other pets that were a part of the family that existed before I was born (Mom Dad sister brother . . . that was for eight years before I came along!), but in the family I was a part of (Mom stepdad sister and brother for awhile until they went to college), it was cats all the way.  Their low maintenance attitudes and aloofness seemed to suit the general demeanor of our family members.

But then, three (astonishly) long years ago, we got a puppy.  Let me tell you about her background a little.  Puppy (formally named Pepper) is a mutt.  We know both of her parents, but aren't sure about their breeds, and it's certainly nothing pure!  Pepper's mom is a fighter of a dog named Topper.  Topper appeared one sweltering summer afternoon at the camp where I spent a huge and important part of my young adulthood.  The camp has a strict no-animals policy (health code violations etc), but this particular dog stole the heart of my co-worker Julie.  Topper was an excessively energetic jumper, and she looked like some kind of a hound - tight ears pulled back, sleek brown/black coat.  Julie took her into her home.  Topper became pregnant by the neighbor dog (a huge fluffy blonde lab-looking hunk . . . I might have fallen prey to him too, were I an unsuspecting young gal-dog) within six months, and had an unusually large litter of seven pups.  Pepper was the only girl.  Jeff prefers to have female pets, so when the offer was made for us to take one of these puppies, we went for that one.  Here she is on the ride home:

This camp is in an area of the country that is extremely rural and poor, and lacks animal control services.  We knew that not all of those puppies would have a fighting chance, and indeed, all of them but two perished within the first year.  Topper nearly lost her life as well, as the seven puppies taxed her beyond her ability to nurse them.  They were weaned early so that she wouldn't die. 

Pepper was not an easy pup to raise.  She refused to become housebroken and peed and pooped inside for nearly a year.  Jeff and I hosed off the plastic liner of her crate on a twice-daily basis for months.  You know the popular wisdom that proclaims that dogs won't play in their own feces?  Somehow Pepper missed that message.  She delighted in pooping, then stepping and rolling in it. 

Magically, when we moved from Nashville to Topeka, she stopped.  I guess she grew up or something.  But she was still our baby.  She slept tucked into bed right between us and needed our constant attention and presence to feel secure.

And then we had the baby.

Pepper was fairly well traumatized by the arrival of Vicki Jo.  She has never, ever been aggressive or angry toward her.  But she was clearly hurt and confused when we came home from the hospital.  There was a huge thunderstorm the night we arrived home, and she defecated in her crate for the first time in a year.  She could tell from the very beginning that she was being displaced.

She was kicked out of the bed when we decided that we would sleep together as a family.  She started chewing napkins and paper towels that we left out.  She became antsy and nervous, pacing often and skipping meals for days at a time.

She has slowly warmed toward Vicki Jo.  She likes to get as close as possible to the two of us, inserting herself between us if she can:

The baby loves the dog.  She loves touching and grabbing her silky ears.  She loves feeling her paw pads and claws.  She loves when the dog licks her face and mouth, giggling with delight.

And I love knowing that Vicki Jo will grow up with a loyal companion who cares about her happiness and security.  I love that she has a real dog.

See, Maria Montessori thought that children needed reality as opposed to fantasy.  They need real, tactile work to make them feel valued and necessary.  Therefore, representations are to be as lifelike as possible.  For instance, you would want this picture of a dog:

as opposed to this one:

The first one is real, while the second one is a kind of stylized interpretation of a dog.

But even better than a realistic picture is . . . a real dog!  Vicki Jo will have a flesh-and-blood understanding of what a dog is.  She will be able to help participate in the care and grooming of the dog, as she is ready.  This is an invaluable chance to learn skills, as well as developing a close relationship with an animal.

So, I hope Pup is in it for the long haul.  She has been warming up, although she still seems confused about the whole baby business.  I'm confident that she will love the endless energy and playfulness that the years to come hold for her and Vicki Jo.

Friday, December 23, 2011

the doctors

I was thinking this morning about the various doctors that have become very important to me in the last two years. 

Education has always been a paramount value in my family.  In many ways, it was the fundamental core principle around which we were raised.  If school was going well, all else was pretty much negotiable.  My brother and I both hold master's degrees, and my sister has two bachelors.  I'm considering a doctorate, but . . . another post, another time.  Seriously, though.  I was largely allowed to run amok in the neighborhood so long as I maintained excellent grades.

So I tend to trust those people with letters after their names.  Even though I went to a college where I saw firsthand that money tended to "create" a lot of intelligence in people who perhaps didn't have the full complement of skills for the positions they'd inherited.  Even though I know that education in our nation has been inflated such that the bachelor's degree is the new diploma.  Something about the sheer commitment it takes to finish a doctoral program speaks to me about a person's character.

And these particular four doctors came into my life around the advent of my daughter.  I cackle to myself when I think about my ignorance just a few short years ago.  Don't get me wrong - I am no parenting expert!  Far from it!  But I feel like, because of their research and knowledge (much of it casually dismissed when they were first producing it), I have a set of guidelines, or maybe ideals, to cling to when I'm tossed in the stormy sea of infant parentdom.

Dr. Bradley:  Revolutionized my understanding of pregnancy, labor, and childbirth.  And provided me with an excellent group of friends, to boot.  And created a common language around birth for my husband and myself. 

Dr. Brewer:  Although recent evidence suggests that pre-eclampsia is a disorder of the placenta that is present from the very first weeks of pregnancy, I have no doubt that Dr. Brewer's diet protected me from an even more dangerous situation for my child and myself.  Following his guidelines probably staved off the worst part of this disease for me, and kept symptoms at bay until the very end of my pregnancy.

Dr. Montessori:  Following my child through her planes of development, I have Maria Montessori to thank for introducing me to a community of parents who care so deeply about the world that they want their children to become contributors to their fullest potential.  My child is already capable of amazing things, simply because Montessori taught me to observe her and offer her opportunities to be independent.

Dr. Price:  If Montessori helped me understand the child's intellectual development, Dr. Price helped me understand the physical development of my child, even on a molecular level.  Thanks to his research, I don't feed my child cereal (she can't digest it), and I give her chicken broth to drink (it is a healing remedy for the gut).  Yes, it's odd.  But if you really commit and open yourself, his principles make a lot of sense.  Just not for vegans.

These whitecoats have all marked turning points in my relationship with my baby.  I am so thankful for coming into contact with their knowledge, even if sometimes they leave me despairing that I will never reach the full potential that their ideas can offer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

new materials for manipulation

[This post submitted to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now 9/24/12.]

My long-time friend and conspirator Lynn sent Vicki Jo some new toys.  These Montessori materials came at the perfect time for her.  She is sitting up so well, and she loves transferring items from hand to hand and examining them from her new position. 

She particularly loves the egg in a cup, the peg in a cup, and the interlocking discs. 

Here she is pulling the peg out of its cup and checking it out.  You also get a bit of the dog in the background, as she had to examine the new toys as well!  Vicki Jo very much understands the concept of "emptying" at this point.  She loves taking things out of baskets that I prepare for her.  She is not so much on the concept of replacing things into their receptacles at this point.  So the peg and egg in cups are perfect for working on this hand-eye coordination skill.

Here she is shaking the interlocking discs.  Shaking and banging items on the wood floor is another favorite activity at this point!  Also clapping.  Percussive activity of any kind, really.

You get a better look at the interlocking discs in this photo.

And, because I didn't get a great picture of the materials themselves, here is what they look like:

Peg in a cup is great for working on the pincer grasp, egg in cup is good for palmer.  I hope my photos with Vicki Jo above have made the scale more evident.  They look much larger in these photos here than they really are!

The interlocking discs are a great toy to have around from about three months or whenever hand-to-hand transfer starts.  They are also good for encouraging crawling or scooting, as they gently roll away from the child when pushed.

Monday, December 12, 2011

and if you should tire or cry . . .

I just finished one of my favorite moments of the day.  I crept out of the bedroom, turned the dimmer until the light clicked off, and pulled the door to gently behind me.  Tonight was a sleepy night - not a peep. 

Every night at six (that I'm home and not at church doing something), I start on the baby's dinner.  She sits in her Bumbo seat while I talk to her, explaining what I'm doing and giving her carrot and celery sticks to gum (this is the dog's favorite part because she gets a lot of healthy treats that are dropped from said Bumbo seat).  Whenever her supper is ready, we move into the dining room and I help her eat.  And whenever we get done there, we waltz into the bedroom and I change her diaper, wipe her mouth and hands, and put on her pajamas. 

Then I dim the lights, sit down in our rocker, pull her close to me, and sing.  I have always had a song in my soul (I am one of those people whistling or humming all day long), and one of my dreams was to have a baby to share my song someday.  And now I do!  I sing the same two songs every night.  One is a Billy Joel song that we sang in my junior high choir.  Somehow the lyrics and melody are still seared on my memory, and it came back to me the minute she was born.  It's just called "Lullabye." 

The second song is very special.  It was the song the congregation sang together at her baptism, and at the baptism of every baby.  I sing it to her to remind both of us about the promises we made on that day:

Vicki, Vicki, God claims you.
God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.

We this day do all agree
a child of God you'll always be.

Vicki, Vicki, God claims you.
God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.

We your family love you so,
we vow to help your faith to grow.

Vicki, Vicki, God claims you.
God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.

We are here to say this day
That we will help you on your way.

Vicki, Vicki, God claims you.
God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.

And if you should tire or cry,
Then we will sing this lullaby.

Vicki, Vicki, God claims you.
God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.

When I first started singing it, I thought it was a little strange that I would say "we," when it was just me and the baby there in the darkness.  But then I thought of all the other people who were there too, their presence heavy in the room:  my mom (her grandma, the original Vicki Jo), my Grandma Joy and Grandpa Bill, Jeff's dad, God's Holy Spirit (not a person, but still).  We are her family, all of us.

I hope this song is embedded so deeply in her memory that nothing can take it away.  No matter what her relationship with God and the church ends up looking like, I want her to know that God's love for her enveloped her from the moment she came earthside. 

Sometimes the children of clergy can end up very resentful of the church (and God, too), because it is a demanding profession.  People may be unhappy with your parent as a pastor, and it colors your whole perception of God.  The church, for better or worse, is a collection of people who are simultaneously saved and sinners.  We try the best we can, but it can get ugly.  I pray that this is never the case for our family (and we are so happy where we are now!), but I want to make sure my baby knows that God's love for her is bigger than any pastor or any church.  God loves her even if she ever chooses to say "no" to God. 

And really, the song is for me, too.  I need to be reminded, every night, that God loves me, protects me, and that, once upon a time, a family of faith covenanted to help me on my way.  And that has made all the difference.