Failure to Thrive

It has been a rough couple of months at our house. We brought home a perfect and healthy baby boy and rejoiced in having him as part of our family. However, we were having some difficulties with baby number five. He was jaundiced and his billirubin levels continued to rise despite spending a week plugged in to the wall on a phototherapy light. He cried all the time and would not sleep without being held. Of course, everyone had a solution for us. Sleep him on a slant; put a ticking clock in his crib; feed him some sugar water; don’t eat anything with gluten; stay away from lactose; let him cry it out. All this advice, while offered by well-meaning friends and relatives, was not working. Finally, after weeks of crying, both mother and baby, we went back to the doctor. Upon weighing him, we discovered that this five week old baby had not gained a single ounce since birth. We were sent immediately to the hospital for some tests. The diagnosis on the lab order sheet read “failure to thrive”. I sobbed all the way to the hospital. I felt that I had completely failed my tiny little son.

As spring arrives, I reflect back on the last year of school and evaluate our progress. Are my children thriving? Is the curriculum I am using still meeting their educational needs? Generally, as we homeschool, we have no AYP to meet, no committee to write up our standards and benchmarks and convert those into learning goals for our classrooms. Many homeschooled students do not participate in standardized testing to measure their progress against other students across the nation. How do we know, then, that our students are thriving? Personally, I ask myself if my children are enjoying learning. Beyond the love of learning that I want to instill in them, there are a few other things that are important. Are they “becoming acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues and people” (D&C 90:15)? A huge responsibility rests upon our shoulders as the educators of our own children in a community where there may often be little accountability to anyone other than God and His spirits that we instruct. Are we instructing them “more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine…of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” that they may be prepared in all things (D&C 88:77-83)?

Aside from thriving academically, I want to also make sure that my children are thriving in other areas of their lives. Not necessarily thriving in the way the world might measure my success as an educator or their adaptation into the world around them. Rather, I wish for my children a success that makes them very different from the world. For example, socially my children are very behind their peers as the world might gauge their social adaptation. My kids own no iPods or smartphones. We don’t have an x-box or a PSP. They aren’t up on the latest movies and they don’t know the words to a single top 40 song. My kids are reading Little House on the Prairie, Chronicles of Narnia and Anne of Green Gables. In our house, a world still exists where Laura looks up to her Pa, Gilbert Blythe is the kind of guy girls dream of marrying (marrying!) and good bands together to rid the world of evil. There is not a vampire book among them. And I am thankful for that.

My teenage son doesn’t spend his afternoons trying to get to the next level in the latest multi-player virtual game, but he did teach his little brother how to ride his bike. Instead of practicing applying makeup in her bedroom mirror, my ten-year-old daughter is loving learning how to change her baby brother’s diaper and helping her little sister read. In a world that is forcing children to grow up way too fast, I am happy to hang on to every minute of snuggling in the sun for read-aloud time, even if the teenager has read the book five times already. I smile to myself as I listen to my two preschool children playing with action figures in the other room as the one toy says to the other, “You will be sorry that your father joined Hitler’s team!” I make myself remain patient and not be bugged when my daughter follows right at my heels all day, wanting to be a part of everything I am doing, whether it is cooking dinner, bathing the baby or sorting the mail. I am glad that it is me that she is following and wanting to be like and learning from. And I strengthen my resolve to be a better person because I know she is watching.

Spiritually, I want my children to thrive as they are “nourished from the good word of God.” So we contrast Hitler and what he was trying to do that led to World War II with the people living after Christ visited the Americas when “there was not any manner of –ites” among them. We write comparison/contrast essays about Abinadi and Martin Luther. We talk about the code of chivalry that the knights kept in medieval times and about what Christ taught in the Beatitudes.

I think of the opposite or antithesis of that diagnosis of “failure to thrive” and I think of abundance. A child fails to thrive because something vital and necessary is lacking in that child’s daily life. So as I evaluate the school experience of the past year, and years before, I look at the abundance that is being offered to my students. What I want my children to know, more importantly that anything else that they can be taught, is who they are and that they are loved – not because they are part of the “in” crowd or because they have the right label on their jeans, but because they are sons and daughters, literal spirit children, of the God of heaven and earth. Because of that, they have enormous potential and an unlimited inheritance. And they are here on this earth to learn all that they can to be ready to become heirs to that – an abundance that they cannot comprehend. It is through teaching and learning with my children that I feel abundance in my own life. An abundance of responsibility but also an abundance of joy.

As for my littlest guy? His problems stemmed from a lack of nourishment. For some reason, baby number five was just not getting enough to eat from breastfeeding. Like homeschooling, that can be a difficult thing to measure. It had always worked before. But you probably know from homeschooling that what has worked great for one child will not always be what another child needs. Also like homeschooling, everyone had some advice for me. There were lots of tears and lots of fervent prayers (just like homeschool). Thankfully, it was something that was able to be corrected. He was put on a high-calorie formula every two hours and, in only a weekend, he gained a whole pound! Now he is thriving in an abundance of love AND nourishment.

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- Kresta