Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Why Stay at Home

I'm inspired by Laura's discussion at 11D to write a little on my view of parenting. For me the decision to stay at home doesn't have much to do with research on child care. I stay home in part because I want to make a difference in how my kids grow intellectually and emotionally. I want to impart my own (liberal) values to them. Maybe I could do that if they were in daycare and I worked, but I'm not sure there are enough hours in the day.

This is a quote from Tim Burke's essay that Laura refers to:

. . . .our children will not be us. Modern middle-class Americans are more confused than most about this fact. We hope our children will be better than us. We hope that they will be us. We fear that they will be worse than us.
I don't feel guilty for wanting my kids to be better than me, and I am hopeful that my stay-at-home parenting can make a difference in that goal. I want them to be happier than I, more productive, better in relationships. I want them to make decisions that protect the earth - I want that to be second nature to them. I can identify the wrong decision, and then still choose it. My hope is that if I bring up my kids with enough connection to the earth, they will not be able to do that. I want my kids to be sensitive to issues of race and gender. I want my boys to grow up to be good boyfriends and husbands, and good fathers to both sons and daughters (even though they will grow up without a sister). I want them to be able to find as children and as adults the activities that are both fulfilling for them and useful to the world. I want them to be able to call on the feeling of being loved at any time, because it was internalized when they were small, and not ever feel as an adult so small and lousy that they are literally ready to crawl under a desk or into some other hole. I want them to be able to find answers to their questions in a reasonable amount of time - and I want their environment to be creating worthwhile questions in their heads about how the world is and how things work. I want them to be out in the world, learning about the world, and not inside all day in fluorescent light and a room that smells vaguely of pee and institutional food.

I also stay at home because my career as a technical writer can be done from home, part-time. I'm not doing much work right now, but as the kids get bigger I hope to ramp up a little. I do miss having my own money.

Staying at home is also a lifestyle choice. (I realize that we are lucky to have that choice since my husband makes enough to support the family). My husband can concentrate on his work, while I take care of the kids and the house during the week. If someone is sick (as long as it's not me - there's probably another post in that topic), then I stay home, just like always. I can shop and plan meals and run other errands. I think having one parent at home can ease the strains of everyday life, and as long as both partners are happy with the situation, increase the likelihood of a happy marriage.

Monday, December 13, 2004


I have on my list of topics to cover "Why I want to homeschool," but in the meantime, Dawn Friedman has a great post on it.

Update on Chickenpox

A small update on two fronts: the personal and the political.

On the personal front, it turned out that there is no chickenpox at preschool, and so Parker didn't have to be excluded and miss the Holiday party next week. Coincidentally, a women who I would love to spend time with had chickenpox at her house, and I literally stayed awake at night trying to decide if I should expose my kids to it. We've had a few chances now - the first time I didn't want to because I was nervous about it and because Parker would have been sick just as preschool started. The second time my kids were accidentally exposed by friends we invited to dinner (their youngest came down with it the next day). After that exposure I felt ready to deal with a chickenpox outbreak at my house, but they didn't get it. This last time I vacillated many times - I felt the coercion that the exclusion policy is intended to produce. I didn't feel pushed to vaccinate, however, I felt pressure to have my son get chickenpox so that he is no longer vulnerable to the exclusion regulation. In the end I decided to wait. My youngest is 8 months old, and my two-year old doesn't eat well, so I don't think that it is a good time to invite illness into the family. I hope to have a chance to expose them in two or more years, when they are 2, 4 and 7 years-old, or older.

On the policy front, I talked with a volunteer for a vaccination choice group in Massachusetts. He said that the exclusion rule is a new regulation as of August 2004, and it is being enforced. I asked about legal routes and he said he had talked to a mother who was considering that, but with the cost of a lawyer at $300 an hour, really couldn't afford it. Who could? There's another rant in that topic I'm afraid, on access to the legal system when the cost of challenging a discriminatory regulation is financially out of reach. This group has considered creating a legal assistance fund, but has been busy with other priorities. He said that the stated purpose of the regulation is to protect people who are immunocomprimised. I would think there were more common threats than chickenpox - like influenza. The intent is to exclude people who have had significant exposure. He also said that the final arbiter of the regulation is the school - usually the principal and the school nurse. So I have some bridges to mend!

Even the religious exemption is under attack in many states. It may be safe in Massachusetts because Christian Scientists, who are numerous, will work to retain it. Massachusetts has no philosophical exemption, so my family has claimed the religious exemption to avoid required vaccination to attend school. We were already considering homeschooling (or my preferred term, community-based learning), but these two roadblocks - the chickenpox exclusion and required vaccination - may tip the scale.

I strongly believe in informed consent for any medical procedure. Every treatment has benefits and risks, and I think it should be the right of each individual (or their guardian) to weigh the risks and benefits for their circumstances. But in the case of vaccination and many other procedures, informed consent means "we inform you of the risks, and you consent to the procedure." Why is that? Why even bother with the consent part if no one can say no?


Busy . . . with a little blogfright.

My comments as we lit the Advent candle yesterday:

The theme of this week of Advent is joy. Joy can be a challenge for me. I'm much better at lists and worry, and I tend to let those take over any potential moments of joy.

But to me this season is about the joy of a baby's birth; about joyful children and joy in children. It's our wish for you that in this season you can find that childlike joy. We wish you the joy of the season.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Getting in the mood

My five-year-old and I went to a performance of Odds Bodkin this evening It was a lovely way to get in the Christmas mood. He is indeed a fabulous storyteller, and he plays a guitar or a harp the whole time which adds so much to the mood. It was a small crowd, but in a beautiful and familiar space with perfect soft lighting and an audience full of friends. I felt cradled in warmth and goodwill, and the true spirit of Christmas. If you have the chance to see him, I highly recommend it. It was a bit old for my five-year-old, but he made it through the performance. It would be perfect for a slightly older child who enjoys tales of times past.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Christmas is coming

The tree went up at our house today. Christmas freaks me out -- not so that I can't function -- just in a normal, everyday, freaked out kind of way. I have trouble finding the joy. Fortunately, my husband and my two older sons (5 and 2) have no problems at all finding the joy. My five-year-old was happier today than I've seen him for a long time -- he was totally giggly at dinner. He spend the day getting and decorating the tree with Daddy, as well as putting up lights outside. The two-year-old doesn't quite get it, but he's enjoying things plenty.

I stress. I stress about getting the right gifts. I stress about not spending too much money. I stress because I want to live and spend according to my values, but I get the gimme bug just like most people do at Christmas. I want things for myself, but I really like shopping for my kids. But whatever comes into the house I will be picking up, possibly daily. And often I think we have just enough (and a cellar full of extras). Besides, the kids more often play with a box, some yarn, an empty laundry basket, and each other (and maybe the eggbeater) than they play with all our toys. But I want to get them magnetic building toys, a chiming roller toy, puzzles, hexagonal stacking blocks, hooded towels and other stuff too -- and I haven't even asked my husband what he has in mind for them.

Next week my family is lighting the Advent candle at church and we've been asked to say a few words about joy -- that must be the universe talking to me. So this year's holiday mission is: find the joy.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Unvaccinated in Massachusetts

I got a call from the school nurse at my son's preschool yesterday who called to tell me that I need to keep P out of school because he is unvaccinated and there has been a case of chickenpox at school.

It turns out the Massachusetts has a regulation that requires anyone who is susceptible to chickenpox to be excluded from work or school for day 10-21 after exposure. My son has supposedly been exposed (someone in another class at preschool has it) and as he is unvaccinated I've been told I need to keep him home. Here's the regulation:

I find this regulation to be discriminatory and punitive. The CDC estimates that the varicella vaccination is at most 85% effective. Some studies (such as one where infection at a New Hampshire preschool was followed) have found the effectiveness of the vaccine to be as low as 40%. Therefore, even a vaccinated child who is exposed to chickenpox may contract it and be contagious. Obviously, vaccinated children who have been exposed to chickenpox are not excluded from school for the contagious period. Students from the infected child’s class, whether vaccinated or not, are far more likely to contract chickenpox than my son, whose exposure was slight to nonexistent. Furthermore, the varicella vaccination is a live vaccine, and around 7% of people vaccinated develop a rash and may be contagious (there are documented cases of recently vaccinated individuals infecting others). Newly vaccinated children are also not excluded from school, despite their possibly contagious condition. My son is less likely to infect anyone with chickenpox than a child in the same class as the infected child or a child who has been recently vaccinated.

I spoke with an epidemiologist at the Department of Public Health and despite intending to calling only to get information, couldn't prevent myself from starting a debate. Of course, our views are so divergent that we could not agree on anything -- like I thought I could change her mind?! However, one of my arguments was that vaccinated people can pass on chickenpox too, and they aren't excluded from school. Her response was that they were at least trying not to pass it on. To which I concluded -- "See that's where it's punitive." I don't think I should be punished (or more precisely that my son should be punished) for drawing my own conclusions from the vaccine debate and deciding not to vaccinate. I'm certainly aware of the other point of view, that claims that I am endangering public health, and I don't agree with it. And I'm unwilling to expose my healthy children to the risks of vaccination.

I spent the evening writing a letter to the school nurse and trying to find out about legal resources.

At any rate, it has turned out that there was no chickenpox at preschool -- the child turned out just to have some spot, so my stress and my letters were for nothing -- except to prepare me for the next time. In the meantime, I'm looking to expose my preschooler to chickenpox!

Getting Started

I've had so many things in my head to write about that I thought it was finally time to start a blog. I'll write it, and maybe someone will read it.