Friday, August 31, 2012

Dr. Mom

So I started my continuing veterinary education the other day. 

Thirty true-false questions based on six articles from the August edition of the Australian Veterinary Journal.

The baby was asleep and I was eager to prove myself so I actually did okay on the first, Effect of diet on serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration on the short-beaked echidan (Tachyglossus aculeatus).  Feed those echidnas a proper diet, please, problem solved, thanks for sharing.

Although I did understand and appreciate the second, Comparative approach to understanding traumatic brain injury in the immature, postnatal brain of domestic animals, I admit to wanting to shake the baby when he woke up too early from his nap for me to finish all six articles.

It went downhill from there. 

I was genuinely interested in Kunjin flaviviral encephalomyelitis in an Arabian gelding in New South Wales, Australia and it did remind me about arboviruses and encephalitises  (I just like the way that sounds!  Maybe I DO have the making of a poet!  But oh hey, I digress from the medicine.  Again.)  Ross River Fever in Queensland and my daughter rides horses.  Mosquito vectors.  Get out the bug spray for summer.  Zoonotic diseases.  My favourite.

But then a rapid descent (hurry, the baby is stirring!) into Effects of intra-articular sodium pentosan polysulfate and glucosamine on the cytology, total protein concentration and viscosity of synovial fluid in horses.  Am I only reading these things to remind myself that I can understand big words?!

On to Resolution of life-threatening dysphagia caused by caudal occipital malformation sydrome following foramen magnum decompression surgery.  Really?!  When I could be typing up my Haiti story to send out to an Adventure Story Competition at the end of September?

Flow cytometric detection of alpha -1-glycoprotein on feline circulating leucocytes made the vomiting Cavalier Prince Charles Spaniel seem suddenly way more interesting.  Even with a crying baby on my hip by this time I felt bad for the authors, living in a publish or perish academia, who obviously wanted to come up with a definitive test for FIP and, coming up with nothing conclusive instead, still felt the need to tell us about it, in exhausting detail (honestly, I wouldn't have wanted to pay more attention to it even if the baby hadn't woken up in the middle of it!), 6 pages, with 6 charts and 32 references.

Let me know when you DO come up with something I can use in the clinic, will ya?

Until then, you got yours.  I didn't pass your section of the test.

All that reading and testing counts for quite a few continuing ed points so I wanted to be sure I did actually learn something. 

Mental self-test:

1.  Hypervitaminosis D is bad.  Not just in echidnas.
2.  Primary brain injury is when you hit your head against a post.  Secondary brain injury is the swelling that follows.  (Note to self:  ask veterinary friends, a bit sheepishly, do we still not just treat that with steroids?!  oooh oooh ooh - recalling something about Furosemide - maybe having kids hasn't totally destroyed all of my brain cells?!  Come to think of it, does having kids count as the primary brain injury or do the years that follow count as secondary brain injury?    Or does one need to have primary brain injury to even have kids?)
3.  Remind daughter to stay away from horses with neurologic signs.  (Hmm.  Zoonotic diseases are so cool.  Should I go back to uni?!)

4.  Stay away from racehorses.
5.  Remember to send out Haiti piece to writing competition.  Really, I just couldn't find anything interesting about that King Charles Spaniel.  Must be my fault.  My baby is way cuter.
6.  Good Lord, SOMEBODY just come up with a test for FIP.  Better yet, tell creepy next-door neighbours with passel of cats to keep the little shit-makers indoors.  (Oh dear, did I just say that, there will be hell to pay!)

1/20th of my yearly continuing education requirement down.  I feel responsible.  I feel smart.

I feel like maybe I should be writing a monthly comedy article for a veterinary journal.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Australia is For the Birds!

You know spring is just around the corner when the local papers start posting warnings about especially vicious magpie attacks in the area. 

Wear a hat, walk briskly but don't run, do not be threatening, they are only defending their nests, the poor buggers. 

Hawaiian Birds!  Aidan and Matthe with Sophia and Luca

Cleanse the affected area thoroughly with soap and water.  The area behind your left ear that's bleeding after the above advice did no good at all.

Another good strategy is to send the kids ahead on their bikes.  Although I think Matthew has cottoned on to that one!

If all else fails, avoid the area until the end of the nesting season in a few months.   The area the magpie lives in, this time.  After all, we are in his territory, he has the right to be there.

At the Gallery for Modern Art in Brisbane.  Indigenous Australian exhibit.

Shame someone didn't think about this 200 years ago when the indigenous people felt the same way.

You know you are playing baseball in Australia when right field is closed off because two particularly aggressive plovers have decided to defend their nest out there.

"Take a single, mate....we'll get the balls back at the end of the nesting season."

Large men with bats versus two tiny birds with stilts for legs. 

Cousin Ella feeding the rainbow lorikeets at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

To be fair, the men aren't allowed to use the bats on the birds.

You know your children are growing up Australian when they look up to see where all the noise is coming from and go, oh, it's just the birds.  (You know they are growing up multiculturally because they are playing Australian Rules Football with an American football!)

Yeah, an entire flock of cockatoos, carreening majestically through the cloudless sky, skimming palm trees and eucalypts.

Sorry mate, ask all you want, but Aidan ain't sharing!

You people are so spoiled.

You know that man on South Bank is a tourist because he is avidly taking shots of an ibis.  Ancient Egypt, Greece and Biblical references aside, in Oz the bird is as common - and as venerated - as the pigeon.

You will secretly admire the ibis yourself, but tell noone.

Brian in his natural habitat, behind a camera.

You know you are lucky to be living in a place where you have to stop for breeding pairs of Asian ducks crossing the road on your way home.  (Honestly, mate, these birds aren't very bright.  But I haven't hit one yet.)

You spotted a kangaroo only 1 km from your home last Thursday morning on the way home from the gym.

Sophia and friend at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

You still stop in timeless admiration when you see a koala in a tree above you.

And you still smile when the kookaburras wake you up at dawn.

Australia is for the birds, mates.  And you, strange bird, are so lucky to be here!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Row, Row, Row Your Boat....Leaving Lawnton

For twenty months, since we've been here,  I've been looking at P and C meetings as a way to be involved in my childrens' education, as a way to be active in the school, and a way to be part of a larger community trying to improve outcomes for its children.  That plus some fun social time involved in community activities.

After Germany, I felt I should take advantage of the fact that we have a right to be involved in our childrens' education here and are actively encouraged to become a part of it as parents.

I've left every meeting except for two thinking reminding myself of the Peace Corps mantra of not getting involved in fixing a problem until you learn the needs of the local community better and trying to take it as a personal growth experience .

"It's not about me."

"Don't take it personally."

"They've all known eachother longer than you have."

"The school was fine before you came and will be fine when you leave."

"They don't need you."

The thing about prayer is that you have to listen to your gut instincts as answers and I obviously DON'T LISTEN.  I kept going back even though I left miserable almost every time.

Sometimes it IS about you, it IS personal, and that feeling you have that you don't belong there is just one you choose to ignore because you are afraid you have nowhere else to go.

The school WAS fine before I came and WILL BE fine after I leave.  Well, it was what it was and will be what it is, anyway.  It will serve its purpose for those who need it.

In any case, not only do they not need me, this is not my battle to fight. 

The P and C - and the school - came into my life at the point it was meant to, has helped my family all they can, and has helped me in my quest to remember who I am, what I stand for, what I believe and where and who I want to be.

I don't belong here. 

I am so glad I couldn't see that twenty months ago.  Perhaps because I DID belong here then.

We were so broken.

And this school, and this community, picked us up, accepted us, welcomed us, embraced us even.  The school administrators and the P and C were my first friends.  They helped us through our first Christmas, when all we had was a roof over our heads and some mattresses on the floor.

We were so broken.

And they were the rock we clung to.

Clinging to that rock gave me the time to heal myself, the time to not be broken anymore.

Now that we are healed, it is time for us to move on.  While I feel like I am betraying the very people who helped us when we needed it most, it is my hope that, as educators, they will understand that they have done their job well.  They have given us the tools to move on.

I am so tired of rowing against the current.  I've put down my oars.  (This is the whole detachment and acceptance thing!)

I was exactly where I was meant to be twenty months ago.  The river brought me here.

And now, as the current of my life pushes me onward, rowing against it, fighting change, isn't going to help anyone.

I have to let go of the rock and let the current bring me to where I'm meant to go next.

Taking Play Too Seriously?!

Has anyone else noticed that Disney's 'The Lion King'  is a condemnation of the exploitation of Africa by greedy multinational conglomerates?  You know, the hyenas, in conspiracy with an evil self-serving African ruler, raping the land, destroying its natural resources.  The lesson being, perhaps, that it is up to the Africans themselves, the rightful owners of their lands, to stand up to the hyenas and take back their pride lands.


Well, then you probably wouldn't agree with the game the boys and I were playing outside last week either.

Aidan and Matthew wanted to be knights.  And Ian was just crawling around growling.  Since I just wanted to sit in a chair and watch, I got to be queen.  This worked in everyone's favour.

"Mommy, Mommy, you are the queen and we are the knights who have to do what you say,"

"Well all right then, protect me and keep an eye out on that little lion heading to the edge of the lawn, will ya?"

"But Mom, we want to go and invade Lava Land."

"Lava Land, huh?  Is that far?"

"No, no, Mom, it's right over there.  You can still see us."

"Well in that case, you just go right ahead and invade then.  Have a good time."

"But Mom.  We HAVE to really fight them.  We want their lava."

"Well, that's called imperialism but that's okay too.  You go and take their lava.  I'd like geothermal energy to heat my castle."

"Plus, they're the bad guys."

"Oh well yes, then, certainly invade.  If you can give me a moral imperative to steal their natural resources, that makes it all the better.  Way to go boys!"

They looked at me oddly.

"No, really, go invade them.  It's for their own good now."

I had a good chuckle, they happily depleted poor Lava Land of geothermal energy, and Ian stopped growling long enough to stick a piece of chalk in his mouth.

It reminded me of the good old days, back when Andrew was first starting to have his play figures kill eachother.   And I would make him go and get the ambulance and put them back together.

"Oh, but if people are hurt you want to help them, don't you?"  I'd insist.

He'd nod mutely.  (He was less than two!)

It's a wonder the boy has turned out half as well as he has!

And I do take things lighter now.

Light enough to let them watch "COPS" sometimes, as a lesson in how not to be idiots and what happens when you decide not to have an education.

Not light enough to let them watch Spider Man without a moral about great power and great responsibility though.

Or to read Narnia without discussing its Biblical allegories.

I mean, come on, you invade Lava Land, you wanna be sure Spider Man and God are on your side, right?!

Sigh.  Maybe I need to get out more with people my own age.

On Choice, Censorship and Change...

Change is hard.

I'd finally settled down here, have a reasonably decent home with access to Brisbane for me, to sports activities for the kids, the beach close enough, a gym and yoga and writers' group. 

I'd really been content to settle down.

But our school isn't working out for the kids, mostly for the older two, and it isn't really meeting my expectations anymore either. 

Let me be the first to say that I tried to fight it.  I did everything I could to make it work.  But I'd already committed to homeschooling Ryan by May/June and just recently decided to withdraw Andrew as well.  That was a long time coming; he hasn't had real peers at our school since we started there. 

The decision to withdraw Aidan and Matthew as well is breaking my heart, but in the end it will be the right one for us as a family.

The boys will all start at a new school - yet to be determined - at the start of the new school term in January 2013.

Our school was there for us when we first came to the area 20 months ago.  It was all we had.  And it was - and still is - so much better than what we had previously.  The adminstration is responsive.  The teachers are excellent.  The twins' first two teachers - last year in prep/kindergarten and this year in year one are absolutely phenomenal.  The twins are learning at a second grade level.  And they just turned six.   Ryan's teachers adore her and Andrew's (often the same) are doing everything they can to expand his learning.  This is our family we are leaving, our first friends and our only support when we first arrived.

My heart is breaking.

But the fact remains that we have outgrown this school.

The silences I get from people who aren't allowed to give us advice say more than anything.

For whatever reason, we landed smack dab in the middle of a low-income/welfare, high-risk neighbourhood when we first got here.  We looked on the internet and booked into a housing development that would have us for six months.

And quite honestly, we were pretty happy. (And still are for the most part.)  A little surprised sometimes at HOW casual Australians seemed to be about things like lack of an education, but hey, all in all a nice group of people and people we got - and still do - get along with.

And our school gave us what we needed; Ryan's self-confidence mostly and an awesome early education for the twins.  Andrew was underchallenged from the time he arrived; after finishing two years of school in Germany he could have (and did most days) gone straight into grade 5 at our school academically and still outshone most of the kids there.  This isn't bragging any more at this stage.  It is fact. 

Andrew flat out needs more than our current school can give him. 

Ryan needs something that she hasn't gotten from either of her previous schools.  She is too mature socially for most kids her age - her good friends are 3 years older (and ride horses) - but still not picking up concepts academically. 

And since the needs of the other kids at our school are so remedial Ryan is the top of her class.  And miserable.

Neither of my older two kids can understand why the other children their age are so immature, why they are behaving like animals, why they don't listen, why they don't complete work, why they can't read.  The why's are obvious.  These are "at-risk" children.  They have parents in prison, they have parents on drugs, they are sexually and physically abused and in foster care.  Or they have loving parents who just don't know how to behave and parent themselves.

My heart bleeds for these children.

But they aren't the ones that have been entrusted to me to raise.

Aidan and Matthew have been in a different cohort of peers since the school's behaviour program has improved learning and discipline at the school from what it was a few years ago.  They have been with TWO handfuls of kids who I'd consider peers.  And they are thriving.

Four weeks ago the school split up this group of kids - the year ones - to put one handful each into separate classes forming two 1/2 classes were formerly there was a 1 and a 2.  The academic advantages of composite classes are that the twins can - and are - learning at a grade two level.  But the reason for the split was behaviour.  The school needs to level out the well-behaved kids and spread them around.  And there goes our peer group.

Next year I have to worry about the monsters they will have with them in a 2/3 class. 

And the fact that there really are no children in the grades ahead of them to look up to.

And what the 8 year olds will be like as ten year olds.

The twins are doing just fine right now.  They adore their teacher.  They love learning.  They are happy. 

But they too are exposed daily to behaviours that they shouldn't need to see.  And they will only get worse with time.

Is our school a "bad" school?  No.  In fact, like most schools in at-risk areas, it has a lower student-teacher ratio than most, and the academics are being taught.  The teachers are amazing; the teaching is way better than what it was in our previous school in Germany.

It's just that there are too many kids - at least 1/3 to 1/2 the class, really easily 1/2 the class, that come to school with behaviour problems they get from home.  At least 1/3 of some of these classes can't even sit in a chair.  They don't listen to teachers and they don't have the basic life skills to be able to learn.

No program or school, no matter how excellent, is going to make up for the what most of these children are lacking at home.

I am a bleeding-heart liberal.  I was dying - searching, begging - for a reason to keep my kids at a school where I could proudly say I put my  kids where my values are.  I wanted to help these at risk kids too, to say that I was a woman of the people, someone who gets along with everyone, who isn't above those who haven't always made the best life choices, whose kids can do well AND help others to do well too.  But not when I see the program failing.  Not when it puts my kids at risk more than it helps those who were already at risk.  There are too many of them.

(If you are reading this, you will know who you are and I am so sorry.  I am so ashamed to see you in the parking lot and tell you that I am walking out on you and your foster son.  I wanted to be a bigger, better person than that.  I wanted to be the person you are.  But it's too big for me.  I am not strong enough.  Maybe it's not my fight, I don't know; I wanted it to be.)

The school's goal should have been to retain children who aren't at risk as well as help those that are.   Retaining my kids would have helped others.  But not at the expense to my own kids.
In the silences and pointed stares, I get the message that we don't belong there anymore, that we should take advantage of other opportunities elsewhere.  I owe it to my children to give them the opportunities I can, to place them with peers whose behavioural expectations at home are the same as ours, to show them role models of what they can achieve as adults.

The school owes it to all the children - mine and others - to keep standards of behaviour high enough to keep middle-income families there.  I hope they can achieve that in the future but it is too late for us.  Why are we expecting lower standards of behaviour from these kids?  Why are we praising them for things they they know they ought to be doing anyway?  These kids aren't stupid; they know when they are being condescended to.  These kids ARE just as good as mine; maybe we should start treating them the same way and expecting the same behaviours.

How can I tell my boys that pulling down their pants isn't acceptable when they see it at school?  And the child isn't suspended.  How will that child know?  How about that child's parents?  Should I tell my kids that some social classes of people do stuff like that but people from our socio-economic background don't?  Do I tell them that certain classes of people DO use words like "fuck" and "cunt" in everyday casual conversation and that is what differentiates them from people like us?

We're becoming snobs just by not condoning the everyday actions of the people my kids go to school with.

The twins are doing fine where they are now.  For now.  But fine shouldn't have to be good enough.

I haven't said this before - I haven't blogged at all because if I can't write the truth I have a hard time writing at all - out of respect for a staff I admire and friends I care about. 

But the truth is that we all have a choice.  This school has a better program, staff and academics than many others.  (I'd say most but I will let you know once I have visited more of them!)  It is everyone's individual choice - harder for some, admittedly, than for others - to take advantage and grow or to stay where they are, physically, intellectually, emotionally and in all other ways.

It's not a bad life.  It's just not one I have chosen or will choose for my kids.

And while being courteous and respectful, and grateful for what the school gave us when we needed it, I don't want to have to censor myself on how I feel.

We are leaving the school because the school-wide behaviour program isn't working for us.  The kids are still unruly and they still aren't learning.  My kids are getting conflicting signals on what is and isn't acceptable behaviour.   Too much positive reinforcement for behaviours that should be the norm. 

"Why is a ten year old being excessively praised for not throwing a chair this week, Mom?    Why does that kid still throw rocks at me even when I have asked him - courteously - not to?"

"Because they aren't as lucky as you are."  I reply.  But my kids still shouldn't have to put up with it.

If one or two children in a class of twenty has severe behavioural problems, that is acceptable. That is when those kids can learn from being in a classroom with other children.  My heart DOES bleed when I hear some of these stories.    But if half the class has them, if 1/3 of the class is having troubles, then there are just too many of them and it helps noone.

It's not the education system that's at fault.  It's life and the unrotten unfairness of it.

But that still doesn't help my kids.

In Australia, unlike the USA, we have a choice.  We can compare schools online and in person and choose to put our kids elsewhere.  We can go private.  We can apply for scholarships.  We can homeschool.  We can apply to schools outside our catchment area if our children have special talents in academics, the arts or sports.

Choice is the beauty of the system.

And censorship limits that choice.

I have a right, not to malign or criticise, but to give fair and objective comment based on our experience. 

If the school would like to change public perception, the school should change its outcomes, not ask parents to mind what they say in the local community.

Our school is a wonderful opportunity for the low-risk community it is situated in.  But it is not for my kids.  My kids don't need to hear how fantastic they are for sitting in a chair or for listening to directions the first time they are asked.  Or for not pushing on the way down the stairs.  My kids need to see other kids actually doing the same.  It's a behaviour program for at-risk kids. 

My kids need peers.

So that as I struggle with the thought of this huge change next year, I have to reluctantly acknowledge that it is the natural progression of things.

I will be forever grateful for what our little school has done for us. 

I will cry and I will be sad and I will second -guess myself (on the twins only) a thousand times.

Choice is hard too.  I have to choose to move on.  It would be easier to stay, to accept 'just fine' and 'isn't hurting anything REALLY' as an alternative.

But prayer...or tarot...or just the energy in the telling me that the easy way isn't my way, that good enough isn't good enough for me, that I'm not meant to settle, down or in any other way, that the point of my path is in the following of it, in the exertion, not in reaching any set point of contentment.

My balance might just be found in movement.

Change is hard.  But it'll do if for the kids.  And me.