Book and Product Reviews

Review Monday: “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

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This book is one of my absolute favorites. I remember reading this book years ago when my daughter, who is now a teenager, was a wee wild child on wheels. Despite extensive experience with children, my first was quite a challenge. I knew she was bright, but I had no idea how to deal with her sensitivity to clothing, her high level of activity, or her dramatic outbursts. Having been a calm, quiet child myself, I loved her dearly, but was often at a loss of how to pick up the pieces when the tornado blew through our previously quiet house.

Mary Sheedy Kurcinka is a talented writer, with years of experience helping parents learn to understand their spirited children. She helped me understand the concept of a spirited child –a child who is “more” than the average child in several ways-more sensitive, more dramatic, more moody. She taught me how to understand my daughter and gave me techniques that really work on how to handle her spiritedness.

In fact, I realized as I flipped through the book again how much her method is a mainstay of the system I use to counsel my clients. Having been blessed with several more spirited children, I came to realize how essential it is to understand the personality of your child before you jump into disciplining them.

Different children react differently to stress, to parenting methods, and to their environment. It is absolutely critical that a parent wishing to tighten up their disciplinary skills first consider the personality of their child before they use a generic discipline program with any child-spirited or not.

Kurcinka  not only helps you determine which of your child’s behaviors are due to their spiritedness, but even gives you very specific guidelines on how to prevent the behavior from occurring. She doesn’t make excuses for poor behavior, nor does she attribute all problem behavior to a child’s spiritedness. Still, her method is so thorough that the majority of things she suggests would work even with an average child and many  types of run-of-the mill behavior problems.

An extra plus of this book is the way it is written. As a workshop presenter for many years, she has a wealth of real-life experiences to draw from. Instead of raw theory, which can sometimes be confusing or just plain boring, she writes the book so that you feel you are sitting in on one of her workshops, right along with her group of parents, sharing, laughing, and learning how to appreciate your spirited child. In fact, when it was finally time for the group to meet for their last session, I was so sorry to see it end that I read the book a second time!

If you are parenting a child who is “more”- more sensitive, more energetic, more dramatic, more moody- you’ll find this book absolutely indispensable. Not only will you actually learn to appreciate your child’s antics (yes, it’s possible!), but you’ll come away with tools you can use for a lifetime that will help you help your child be the best they can be.

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On the Home Front

On the Home Front: An Early Mother’s Day

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Today my 12 year old dyslexic son taught me what it means to be a mother. No, there weren’t any Hallmark moments of mother and son bonding, where he thanked me for all the effort and time I’d invested in him over the last twelve years. In fact, it was just the opposite:  him arguing -bitterly if I might add- that he never got anything I promised him, that I always try and find a way out of getting him what he wants/needs. He finished up his tirade with a promise to do everything that I didn’t allow him to do as soon as he grows up.

Of course, in writing this it sounds laughable; this is teenage behavior at its best. Hardly unusual, perhaps not even remarkable, except in his usual maddeningly persistent fashion I merited hearing his ranting for the better part of an afternoon.

Very briefly I fell into the trap of explaining myself, since he appeared to so intensely want the real answer. Of course I realized quickly that would get me nowhere, and so I resorted to ignoring him. A half hour of that and I began to see why his grandmother, grandfather, aunt, and father, are all lawyers.

Somehow he has a way of mixing a huge slice of baloney with just enough truth, logic, and conviction to introduce just enough doubt into the case. When I began to wonder if I could qualify him for early admissions to law school, I finally decided the time had come to send him to his room. Permanently.

Okay, so he didn’t stay there permanently, but at least when he came out I heard no more of that argument. Of course he did pick up the remnants of a days-old discussion about whether or not I would let him put videos on his music player, but somehow I felt better equipped to deal with that (I confess, I told him to ask his father).

But while he seemingly went on to bigger and better things, I was left reviewing the effects of our little discussion. I didn’t feel guilty about his assertions of never getting what he needs or wants. I generally don’t fall for guilt trips, and don’t plan to start anytime soon. I didn’t even care that he wasn’t thankful for all the time, energy and effort expended on him. A child can never fully appreciate how much effort a parent puts in for them until they themselves are parents.

It bothered me I was seriously considering home-schooling him part-time. Where we live there is really no appropriate educational system for him. After intense discussion, my husband and I were finally at the point that we were able to accept that fact. Unwilling to condemn him to a life of mediocrity, we had finally looked at homeschooling as theoretically possible.

With this on the table, I imagined having arguments like today day after day, week after week. I knew he was fully capable of spending every available moment arguing his position. Having spent several months with him at home until he was accepted into an appropriate school, I knew exactly what he could do. It wasn’t a matter of discipline; since I knew he was reacting to years of failure in a school setting. He has trouble reading, he can’t write for beans-why should he enjoy anything that even remotely smacked of learning?

Of course if the greedy little teacher’s side of me had all the money I wanted at my disposal, I knew I could create a curriculum that would have him begging to get back to school work. But knowing that money is really tight, I knew this wouldn’t happen; I would again be trying to create a fantastic curriculum with very little funds and a lot of imagination.

So, I argued with myself: “Is it worth it to go to all that trouble, knowing from the beginning he would not only be unappreciative, but would actively fight me, at least in the beginning?” I honestly couldn’t see how it was. He not only wants to play all day; he is convinced he was entitled to doing what he wants when he wanted, for however long he wants. To me, that felt harder to be beat than the crowd at the Apollo theater.

It was the next morning , as I took two little ones to the school bus, that it finally hit me: if he had a terminal disease G-d forbid, wouldn’t I do whatever it took to save him? Even if he fought me every step of the way? I knew that even if I felt there was a reasonable chance the treatment would succeed, I would give it all I had.

I realized that this isn’t any different. I have a chance to help him progress in the world, to help him get to a better place than he would otherwise be. The effects of that choice, and the effort I would expend, could have an effect not only on him and his children, but even his children’s children. My great grandchildren. Even if I were no longer living, how could I not try?

That’s when it hit me: this is what motherhood is all about. Beyond the sweet kisses of a toddler and the bear hugs of a preschooler, over and above the moodiness and temporary insanity of the teenager, lies a mother. I was willing to undergo the intense, painful experience of labor and birth, since the benefits –and inevitability- of the process were obvious. Why should now be any different?

I pondered this as I kissed my littlest, waved good-bye and good luck to his older brother, and stood aside to let the bus pass. Turning aside, I headed home.

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Hands-On Learning Games: Teaching Your Kindergartner to Spell

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This hands-on learning game is great for teaching your kindergartner to spell. It’s also good for intermediate spellers who need help seeing how some words share the same spelling pattern.


  • Lined paper with space to draw a small picture above
  • Cardboard or sturdy paper

Make the Game:

  1. Write one letter pattern, such as “-at” on a cardboard square about 1inch by 1inches.
  2. Next write individual consonant sounds on cardboard squares, one consonant to a square.

How to Play:

  1. Say a word, such as “cat.” Say it slowly, drawing out the first consonant. Then repeat the word.
  2. As you say the sound “c,” take the “c” sound and place it in front of you. When you say “at” place the “at” square next to the c.
  3. Say the word a third time, pointing to each letter as you say it.
  4. Have your child watch you as you copy the word on lined paper, again sounding out the letters as you write them. Then draw a picture of a cat in the space above the word you have written.
  5. Continue the game, saying a word, then letting your child do the rest of the steps on her own, or helping her as needed.

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On the Home Front

On the Home Front: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back- How to Handle Setbacks

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Sometimes there are days in life when you feel like packing up camp and heading for the hills. Yesterday was one of those days. Just when I think my foster daughter has made so much progress-boom! she does something to remind me we still have some ways to go.

When she first came to us she had a lot of growing up to do, both intellectually and emotionally. One of the hardest things with both her and her sister is that they had no awareness of boundaries, and very little self-control. So if they felt like doing something, they did it. Whether it was a pack of chocolate bars in the store, or a sibling's favorite toy, if they wanted it, they took it.

Of course we vacillated between brief explanations of why they couldn't have that particular object, and convincing said sibling to share the favorite toy, but it was quite a battle. They wanted that toy, and they wanted it now-with a passion. Once, her 3 year old sister had such a hissy fit every single passerby stopped to watch. The other children have long since learned that kind of behavior will get them nowhere, but of course they had yet to learn.

Over time they learned to share, and to accept comfort from others. They realized that food came three times a day, with snacks, and so they didn't have to ask for thirds and fourths if they really weren't hungry. They even learned that sometimes it's more fun to give than take, and that some things are better if you wait for them.

All this progress must have given me a false sense of security, so I was astounded on Wednesday-referred from here on as Red Letter Day-to see the same sorts of behaviors I thought had pretty much been eliminated. Okay, not eliminated, but at least greatly reduced.

Suddenly C. was begging food from a sibling. Her sister was grabbing all the packets of tissue she could find and distributing it freely around the house; when I confiscated the tissue packets, I found her with several rolls of toilet paper instead. Then I turned around to see that her sister had ripped up the special holiday worksheets from kindergarten. To make it worse, no one was exhibiting any signs of remorse.

It's days like this that keep you humble. Had I thought I was Superwoman because C. knew all her colors, could count to 10, and was learning her letters? HAH! Did I think I was someone special because I toilet-trained two toddlers in one week? DOUBLE HAH!I felt like somewhere in some alternate dimension an evil little leprechaun was rolling around hysterically on the floor in a fit of laughter.

In between time-outs and other clever diversions, I took a call from a client. I stood in my room, one hand on the phone and the other on the door, trying to hold back the sounds of revolt on the other side. My client, who has a 7 -year old son who is learning disabled,was feeling kind of worn out from all the work having such a child entails. She was feeling discouraged, since all the progress made the previous year seemed to have dissipated over the summer.

I slipped easily into professional speak, explaining to her how often this occurs, even with typically developing children. I even managed to convince her how this period of disintegration was actually necessary in order for more growth to occur. I gave her some real-life examples from her son's history, and we ended the conversation on a positive note.

As I leaned against the door, preparing myself mentally for the onslaught to come. Suddenly I realized that everything I had said so easily applied to me as well. I too needed to remember that real progress is slow, and, as the saying goes, is two steps forward and one step back. I was so focused on the future that I had forgotten the past refuses to be forgotten so easily.

I needed to remember that setbacks are not a sign of failure, or of incompetency: they are simply quaint signposts on the road to the future, that remind us how far we've come. I took a deep breath, and opened the door, ready to set out on the road again.

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Special Education Inclusion: What is Memory?

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Memory plays a critical role in all areas of life. At home, school, and at play, a person’s ability to remember what they hear or see can dramatically affect their lives.

In order to understand why this is so, let’s take a look at the different types of memory and what role they play in learning. The first type of memory is called short-term memory, and is sometimes called "learning's front entrance." This is because anything that we hear or see must first pass through short-term memory. Then the mind has just a few seconds to decide what to do with the information. Can we use this information right now, or does it need to be filed away for later? Perhaps it is something we don’t need at all.

Short-term memory by necessity is very short, since it must process the torrent of data competing for space in our minds. Sometimes it happens that different types of material are processed less efficiently than others. Thus, a child may have a problem with information presented verbally, visually, or sequentially- or all of them combined.

A child can also have difficulty with recoding. Most information that comes into the brain cannot be remembered in its entirety. If a teacher tells his class what page in social studies they have to review for the next day, and also talks about what tomorrow's schedule will be, it would be very difficult (and inefficient) to remember every single word he says.

Children must therefore be able to extract the most important information out of what they hear or see. For some children, this ability to paraphrase is very difficult. However, being able to paraphrase information is a crucial skill in learning, so this could seriously hamper a child's success in school.

The next type of memory is active working memory. Active working memory is involved in four specific areas. Firstly, it provides the mind space for the combining or developing of ideas. An example of this would be remembering what is at the top of a page by the time you get to the bottom of the page. Secondly, it helps you hold together the parts of a task while engaged in that task. This helps you remember, for example, where you put the screwdriver down before you grabbed the hammer.

The third area that active working memory is involved in is similar to the notepad function on your computer: it acts as a meeting place where short-term memory can work together with long-term memory. Just as you can place a picture on your notepad and then paste it into a document, active working memory helps you remember the question asked by your best friend while searching for the answer.

The last area active working memory plays a role is in holding multiple immediate plans and intentions in one place. For example, it helps you remember to pick up more milk from the grocery on your way back from the hardware store.

A moderate weakness in short-term memory can make it difficult to remember basic math facts. It can also make registering procedures and sequences necessary for multistep processes (such as division) seem like an exercise in futility. Insufficient active-working memory is also at fault when a child loses track of what they were doing in the middle of a math problem.

The third type of memory, long-term memory, is also important. It is equivalent to the hard drive on a computer; all the information one has ever inputted is present- if you can remember how to access it. For some children, small chunk-size capacity can affect long-term memory specifically in expressive fluency. Expressive fluency is the ability to express oneself either in speech or in writing. It is critical for class participation, as well as being able to restate in more compact terms material presented by the teacher or read in a textbook.

When children first enter school, most of their energies are spent on mastering basic skills-reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, once children reach third grade, they are expected to have mastered these basic skills. Emphasis is now placed on using those skills to acquire increasingly larger volumes of material. In order to be successful, a child must learn how to take in and work with these steadily growing amounts of data.

Chunk size, or the amount of material that a child can take in at one time, has an effect on all types of memory: short-term, active-working memory, and long-term memory. When a child has difficulty with the amount of information he can hold in his memory it is known as small chunk-size capacity.

Small chunk-size capacity can be likened to a water pitcher: if the pitcher is one liter, then a lot more cups can be filled up. However a half-liter pitcher means that you would be stuck running to fill up the pitcher more often. Practically this means that it would be harder for a child to carry out the various other memory functions that depend on chunk-size capacity.

Most people assume that having a good memory is similar to musical genius: you either have it or you don’t. Research has shown, however, that this is not true. Although one person can be born with a better memory than another, memory (like other brain functions) is more akin to a muscle that gets the right kind of exercise.

The right kinds of exercises as well as supplements –often called “brain food” can improve your memory significantly. This is in fact the basis of many rehabilitation programs for patients with memory dysfunction due to brain injury or other causes. In short, if you are told that your child suffers from weak memory dysfunction, don’t accept that this is the way your child must remain. It is possible to boost his memory and make a significant difference in your child’s life.

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Expressive Language

Hands-on Learning Games: Improve Your Child’s Vocabulary

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improve your child's vocabulary

The ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important skills a child needs in order to succeed in school. Children who can persuade, defend, elaborate- or even   exaggerate - have a distinct advantage over their less fortunate peers.

A child who possesses a good command of language is better able to manipulate ideas in his head, examine the various shadings of word meaning, and connect ideas common to several seemingly unrelated topics.

The child who is unfortunate enough to suffer from weak language skills, on the other hand, is often misunderstood, maligned, and made fun of. He may be considered less intelligent than his peers or other family members, since his inability to express himself is often assumed to be due to a lack of intelligence.

If your child often has difficulty recalling words, describing his day at school, or explaining why he feels he should stay up later, then you already know how frustrating this can be.

Fortunately, it is possible to help your child improve his vocabulary within a relatively short period of time. The following hands-on learning game is easy to make and fun to play. It can be played with children as young as 3 years old, and is also good for ESL learners or for those wishing to teach their child a second language.


-index cards

-recipe box

-rubber bands

How to Make the Game:

-Choose 10 names of objects you would find around the house, and write them on the cards. Make sure that your child knows at least 8 of the 10 names. This is to ensure that he feels successful when he plays the game. No one wants to play a game where they don’t know the answers, and making sure he is at least 80% successful ensures that he is sufficiently challenged and motivated enough to play the game.

- If your child is a non-reader, show him the card, and tell him what it says. Ask him to look around and find the object. Readers can read the card on their own.

-When he finds the object, instruct him to lay the card on top of or next to the object.

-When your child doesn’t know one of the words, name the card, and show him where he object is. Instruct him to place the card next to it.

-Once your child masters a card he doesn’t know, add another card with the name of an unfamiliar object.


-       This game can be played with an endless amount of variations. Instead of writing a noun on the cards, you can write a verb or adjective. You can write short sentences, and ask your child to act them out: “Sit on the floor and kick the door.”

-       You can write a short paragraph for the reader, and ask them to act it out. This can help them understand the finer meanings of words that he might not otherwise understand.

An example might be: “The girl looked around her, eyes wide with fear. Clutching her sweater in one hand, she slowly turned around in a circle, peering at the shadows which shifted around her in the failing light.”

Acting it out will also allow her to demonstrate her understanding of the piece for you in a way that is less stressful than the “simple state and repeat the definition,” method.

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Happy Holidays: What Happiness Really Is

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The holidays are approaching, and all around the world people are braving prodigious crowds, forbidding price tags, and diminishing pocketbooks in order to make their loved ones happy. I wonder though; is there anyone out there who really believes that a $200 bigger-than-life doll that eats, drinks, talks and - as the box so prosaically states - poops, is going to truly make their loved one happy?

Maybe you do believe that a bunch of gifts will make your loved one happy. Perhaps you are one of the lucky few whose children engaged in an orgy of gift opening up that fateful holiday or days, and did NOT moan the very next day, “We’re bored-there’s nothing to do!” I personally chalk it up to human nature: we are simply incapable of being happy with what we’ve got. No matter what we already have, we still want something bigger, smaller, older, or newer. Just name it, and there will probably be someone out there who wants it.

I once had a friend that ate her heart out trying to get a promotion at her job. She was sure that once she got that promotion, and the subsequent pay raise, that things would be on the up and up. She spent hours of overtime at work, sacrificing time that she would have preferred to spend with her husband and family. Her boss made her crazy with an ever increasing litany of demands, often contradictory, but my friend kept at it.

Then one fine day, she called me up to tell me she finally got the promotion. I was thrilled for her; wasn’t this what she was working so hard for? But interestingly enough, she didn’t sound happy. I couldn’t figure it out. “How come you sound so let down?” I asked her, surprised. “Isn’t this what you wanted? Think how hard you worked for this!”

She sighed, and answered, “Yeah, but that pay raise is going to get eaten up in taxes anyway, and because of the extra responsibility I’ll have to add on extra hours. I don’t know if this is really what I wanted.” To be honest I was more than a little bit annoyed with her. She knew beforehand she would have to put in some overtime, and anyone who has been in line with Uncle Sam knows he likes to take his share. I had sat with her hours in person and on the phone, while she agonized over various trials and tribulations at The Job. How many times had she called me for advice, frantic to make a deadline? I felt cheated. She should be happy. She had to be. She had worked hard for something, and she got it.

She should have been happy, but she wasn’t.

I guess I shouldn’t fault her for how she felt, because her response is typical. How many times have we fooled ourselves into believing we’ll be happy if we can just make a little more money, buy a bigger house, or get out of that dead-end job? We concoct all sorts of excuses, literally putting our ability to be happy on hold until we get whatever is the flavor of the day.

Of course, millions of dollars in advertising are spent in order to make sure we always know what the flavor of the day is. Probably the only time the average person is free from advertising is when they close their eyes to go to sleep: dreams, (for the moment), are thankfully advertisement-free. All of those mega-companies have done such a great job that we are absolutely convinced us that the key to happiness lies in having more. Furthermore, more has somehow been transformed from a In reality we have only been tricked into confusing happiness with fun and pleasure.

Fun is something you can only have while the action lasts. You can enjoy it while it’s going on, but once it ends, it’s over. Pleasure, on the other hand, is an insidious little bugger. Since pleasure is all about having, we feel compelled to acquire some sort of thing in order to satisfy our desires. But the whole fun of pleasure is in the acquiring, not in the actual possession. Why do you think so many women feel so depressed after giving birth? Why else do runners feel let down after the big race, even though they’ve won?

Happiness, on the other hand, as someone famous once said, is a “state of mind.” It’s not about what you have, but who you are. Don’t kid yourself: all the toys in the world won’t make you happy if you’re not happy with what you see in the mirror each day.

Maybe the realization that your happiness lies in your own hands is a scary thought. After all, it means that if you’re unhappy, then it’s your responsibility to take care of it. You won’t be able to blame it on your boss, your girlfriend, or the man next door. On the other hand, perhaps after a thinking a bit, you’ll be relieved, maybe even excited by the possibilities. Instead of waiting around for someone to give you happiness, you can go ahead and grab that sucker right off the tree like a ripe red plum waiting to be plucked.

If you have decided you’d like to be proactive, then try this exercise: First, imagine you have died. Now imagine that all of your friends and family are gathered together at your funeral. Try and really picture everyone standing around solemnly around your grave. Some people are crying, some are thoughtful, and some may even be indifferent. Try and make it realistic by creating a real picture in your mind, complete with that annoying Uncle Jim wearing a pair of Hawaiian shorts in the rain.

Now imagine someone who knows you well getting up to eulogize you. Perhaps it’s a spouse, maybe a good friend. Visualize that person climbing up the stairs, making their way to the lectern, and standing before the group while the silence builds. Now for the hard part: listen to your eulogy. What are they saying? Is it something you’re proud of? Can you listen and feel really good about being remembered that way?

Next imagine your friends standing in line at the local Costco, or your coworkers stealing a break by the coffee maker -about six months later. What will they say about you when the blush is gone from the rose? Are you still happy with what you hear?

Think about this deeply; really invest some time and effort into imagining how you would want to be remembered. Write it down, and mull it over some more.

Take what you’ve got, and write for yourself just one goal. Then write down how you are going to make that happen. Be really specific, and break it down into manageable pieces. Organize each piece logically, so that one leads to the next as seamlessly as a well-knitted sweater, and give each one a deadline.

Now get to work.

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The Unpredictability of Life- Birth in a Taxi (Part 2)

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Now my husband began to look a little nervous. The driver, thought, was still calm. He pulled over, and after calling an ambulance, proceeded to call a friend - I guess you’ve got to take that friendship quality time whenever you can get it.

I on the other hand, was busy tending to more practical matters. It was winter, and fairly cool outside. I was wearing tights, expecting to change at the hospital. Now I faced a very formidable problem: How was I going to get them off? I literally couldn’t move – and no wonder, since I already felt the urge to push. This was almost as bad as the epidural I had that took away all feeling in my lower limbs, but didn’t touch the pain of the contractions. I had the joy of excruciating back labor but couldn’t even shift my body in order to ease the pain.

I glanced outside, hoping to enlist my husband. I don’t think even he realized how close we were to delivering. He stood outside, pacing next to the car, looking a little bit like the Road Runner before he falls off of the cliff. Even if I possessed the energy to call out for help, the back door was still closed, and the taxi driver was casually leaning against it.

There is only one thing worse than the idea of giving birth in a taxi, and that is trying to give birth in a taxi with your tights and underwear still on. It was that image that finally gave me the superhuman strength to bend forward (I was still sitting), rip off my tights, and lean back in the seat.

It was just in time too. Suddenly I felt a tremendous need to push. I suppose I must have shouted or screamed or something, but I truthfully don’t remember. The only thing I remember is that two men were walking by at the time; one turned his head to see what was going on while his friend casually redirected him away from the scene of the action. After that I felt a tremendous stretching, and bearing down, felt the head emerge.

Holding the baby’s head in my hands, I called out to my husband that the baby’s head was already out.

“What! The baby’s head is out?!!” Now my husband looked frantic. Grabbing the taxi driver, he shouted in his ear, trying to get his attention. “Where’s the ambulance? The baby’s head is already out!”

The taxi driver –still calm- probably realizing he might have to get his upholstery cleaned, finally got off the phone with his friend, and called the ambulance back. To this day I can’t figure out what took the ambulance so long to arrive, since we were less than 6 minutes away by car, and since it was the middle of the night there was literally no traffic.

My husband, face flushed but clearly determined that he must do something, opened up the back door. Sticking his head in the car, eyes wide and looking rather shell-shocked, he asked what he should do. The truth is that under calmer circumstances I could have told him exactly what to do. I’m a person who generally likes to be prepared for all types of emergency circumstances, so I had of course read up on what to do in such a situation.

But knowing what to do, and being able to say it are apparently two different things. I shouted out, “I can’t tell you what to do! Just figure it out!” and then went back to the task at hand.

Interestingly enough, I felt rather calm. The birth was nearly over. I was enjoying the rather weird experience of holding my baby’s head in my hands while I waited for the rest of the body to come out. In fact, I wasn’t in any pain at all. I knew however, that I would be in a lot more pain shortly, and I was not looking forward to it. I knew that it would take only one more heave to push the baby out, but I was enjoying that little break between storms.

Eventually I decided that there was really no choice about it. That baby had to come out, and it would only come out if I pushed it out. So as my husband watched anxiously wringing his hands, I gave one last push, and the baby slid out into my husband’s waiting hands.

There he stood, my life partner, a brand new, squalling baby in his hands, on the street corner of a major city at about 2:15 in the morning. Though awed and amazed, my husband is the practical sort, and so his next question was predictable: “What should I do with it?”

I held out my hands, and after checking to see if it was a boy or a girl, I tucked him into my coat. He instantly quieted down. Taking a deep breath, I leaned back with the baby in my arms, and waited for the ambulance.

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The Unpredictability of Life (Birth in a Taxi)

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Sometimes an event occurs that teaches you life is not about holding the reins, but about knowing what to do with them once you’ve got them in your hands. For me, the event that taught me that being in charge is not about having all the little pins lined up properly on the lane, but about knowing how to play the game, was the unanticipated birth of my fifth child – in a taxi.

After four children, I thought I had a handle on things. Certainly I knew what to expect, and I knew what I wanted. I was tired of being treated like just another uterus, and so I decided that I was entitled to a moderate amount of special treatment.

The problem is that after your second child, you’re such a pro that no one really truly cares what goes in that labor room, except for you. Your family has already gotten used to the idea of you giving birth, and while they’ll be thrilled when the baby is born, you probably won’t be a hot topic while they wait in line at the local Target. Your husband is more nervous than excited, since he’s already trying to juggle the 3 year old who refuses to wear the bear pajamas and the 5 year old who says dinner is icky. He’ll be excited once the baby is born, but in the meantime, reality rules.

Knowing this, I decided I wanted not just a good hospital, but a great hospital. The last hospital I gave birth in had a policy that it was healthy for new mothers to get lots of exercise right from the start. That meant getting up to get your food, getting up to find your nurse - getting up basically for anything you might have thought was standard service for a new mother just after birth. Feeling I was entitled to be treated like the royalty I was, at least for a day or two, I began the Search.

Initially the Search consisted of asking my close friends what they thought of the hospitals they had given birth in. Gradually though, the information net came to include neighbors, mothers in the park, and widened to include just about anybody who had ever had a positive pregnancy test. Still, I was somehow stymied by the choice of finding the (almost) perfect hospital.

It got to the point where the only hospital that looked halfway decent was a two hour ride away. My friends tried to convince me that if I really planned ahead I could probably make it, since everyone knows once you get to the hospital it’s usually too early anyway. In the end, after further procrastination, I chose the hospital closest to our home. It was still a good hour away, but being the closest (there is no hospital in the small city we live in), it won by default.

So there I was, exactly one week before my due date. Never having given birth early, except the one time I was induced, I had pretty much resigned myself to a week or more of miserableness. That whole weekend I felt lousy; I had been sleeping in a chair for the last two weeks because of a bad case of sinusitis, felt bigger than the Loch Ness monster, and on top of that was coming down with a bad case of the flu.

When I finally felt a few contractions Saturday night, I was more relieved than surprised: finally it would be over with. Timing the contractions I saw they were anywhere from 12 to 15 minutes apart. Knowing I probably had a long night ahead of me, I decided not to tell my husband, but to go to sleep. I figured that when the contractions got strong enough I’d wake up and mobilize the forces.

About an hour and a half later I woke up with contractions about five minutes apart. Having had back labor for every single child -including the last one where contractions were only 1 minute apart for hours- these were a breeze. Just to play it safe, I decided to call my labor coach:

“Hi, it’s me. I think I’m going to the hospital.”

“How far apart are your contractions?”

“Oh, about 5 minutes apart.”

“You don’t sound like you’re in a lot of pain. Maybe you should stay home a little longer.”

“No, I think I’ll go now.” I think somehow I unconsciously knew I needed to be on my way.

We agreed to meet at the hospital. My husband walked around gathering up things we would need for the hospital, while I took a quick peek at a few birth books for some last minute advice. I remember looking at the page for “emergency birth” and skipping past it, knowing I wouldn’t need it. Then we called the taxi, and I headed outside to wait for the taxi.

It was while I waited outside that I finally began to feel really strong contractions. Still, they felt bearable; it just meant that I had to stop and wait until the contraction was over before I could concentrate on anything. Finally the taxi came, and I slid inside the back of the taxi.

Sitting back with my eyes closed, it seemed like every furrow in the street rose up to meet us. Leaning back in the seat, I squeezed my eyes shut as the contractions intensified. Suddenly I noticed a sort of pressure, and calling out worriedly to my husband, asked him if he thought we’d make it. “Of course we’ll make it,” he replied, confident that we’d arrive in plenty of time. After all, it was now the middle of the night, traffic was light, and our driver was traveling at a decent speed.

I looked out of the window, and tried to concentrate on the passing night scenery instead of my increasingly more painful contractions. What had started out as a sort of whispered mantra was now somewhere between a chirpy cheerleader’s chant and a demented Little Engine That Could: “I HOPE we MAKE it, I hope WE make IT…”

Even though it was the dead of night, the taxi driver insisted on stopping at every light. My husband sat calmly in the driver’s seat, reassuring me from time to time that everything would be okay. Gripping the driver’s smooth leather headrest, I pulled myself forward closer to the driver. During a break in contractions I quickly exhaled, “Look, can’t you go a little faster?”

The driver glanced at the mirror, and gave what he thought of as a reassuring smile. “Nah, don’t worry about it lady. You’re not the first lady who’s given birth in my taxi.” Clearly the driver meant well, but this only served to fuel my anxiety. Gritting my teeth, I retorted, “You may not care if I give birth in this taxi but I do!” For some reason he still wasn’t fazed.

I closed my eyes, feeling another contraction come on. Suddenly I felt warm liquid gushing out on the seat of the car. For a moment I was in complete shock. How could this be? From experience I knew that my water never breaks until I’m ready to push. I sat up frantically and screamed to my husband, ”IT”S TOO LATE! My water just broke!”

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Auditory Memory

Hands-on Learning Games: The Ins and Outs of Auditory Memory

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What is Auditory Memory?

Auditory memory is simply the ability to remember what you hear. It can refer to speech, music, or any other sound that makes it’s way up to your eardrums and to the proper centers in your brain.

Auditory memory is critical to your child’s success both at home and at school. It is what allows him to remember that he has to feed the fish, take out the garbage, and wash his hands before he sits down to eat dinner.

He also exercises his auditory memory when his teacher asks the class to put away their math books, take out their science workbook, and sit with their hands folded on the desk until she calls them.

Auditory memory is made up of three parts: short-term memory, active working memory, and long-term memory. Short-term memory is, as the name implies, information that lasts for only a short period of time.

You might use it when you call information for a number, and then hanging up quickly, try to dial the number you heard before it slips out of your head.

Short-term memory can hold only a very small amount of information: 7 bits of information plus or minus 2. That means that the average person can hold anywhere from 5 to 9 bits of information in their heads at a time.

This is one reason why telephone numbers started out as 7 numbers.

If you would like to hold onto the information for longer than a few seconds, you’ll need to find some way to transfer it into your long-term memory. Long-term memory is like the hard drive on your computer. It is permanently stored in your brain, barring accident, infection, or other misfortune.

However, just as with your computer, you must be careful to file the information in a way that it can be easily retrieved. You would find it impossible to find a file if you stored all of your documents as individual folders.

Instead, you automatically file all of your vacation ideas in one folder, your plans for the upcoming Bar Mitzvah in another, and your ideas for a new project at work in another. This makes the information much easier to store and to find.

The last type of auditory memory is active-working memory. It allows you to hold a piece of information in your mind even if you are in the middle of doing something else.

Some children, for example, find it difficult to write a book report and remember how to spell properly, and remember the technicalities of grammar. If you have ever walked to a room to get something, and then forgotten what it is you wanted, then you too have experienced a blip in your active working memory.

Can I improve my child’s auditory memory?

Most people think possessing a good auditory memory is a lot like having auburn hair and green eyes; that’s just the package they were given, and other than some surface changes, there isn’t much to do about it if you’re stuck with mousy brown hair and dishwater brown eyes.

However, while someone can be born with a better auditory memory, it is really a skill that can be improved quite dramatically if you use the proper techniques.

Stay tuned for my next post on fun games you can use to help improve your child's auditory memory.



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