Monday, February 25, 2002

February 25-March 1, 2002

FEBRUARY 25, 2002

Things I meant to do with my kids this past week while they were off for Winter Vacation: Read books. Play games. Go to a museum. Do art projects. Get ahead on schoolwork. Write stories. Practice book reports. Take walks. Read magazines. Go to a movie. Do puzzles. Invite friends over. Investigate some child-friendly Web sites. Clean rooms. Memorize chorus music. Take pictures. Celebrate bountiful together-time.

Things I did: Read a couple of books with my son. Read two chapters of a school-assigned novel with my daughter. Played one game of Trouble.

School vacations always seem like such vast fields of opportunity, endless days to be filled with enriching experiences and familial bonding. Yet in our house, they usually wind up being endless days filled with the Disney channel. This week, at least, my kids played on the computer a lot, and if I work hard I can probably paint that as an enrichment activity. My daughter and I did bond over the Olympics, falling asleep within minutes of each other on the sofa. And I did get them both started with an auditory training program that involves listening to classical music for 15 minutes twice a day, and that's gotta be enriching, right? (My pop-music-loving daughter begs to differ, that's for sure.) Still, if the beginning of vacation feels like a vast opportunity, the end always feels like opportunity wasted. But hey, there's another vacation in a couple of months. Spring Break! That's the ticket. Think of all the wonderful things I'll do with my kids that week!

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FEBRUARY 26, 2002

My daughter has now had a cough for over two weeks. It's not a constant cough; it's not a cough accompanied by fever or obvious sickness; it's not a cough that hurts, or brings up disgusting goop from the lower depths. It's a cough that comes and goes, in multiple-minute-long fits, and never quite goes away. We've been to the pediatrician, who couldn't find much of anything wrong but prescribed an antibiotic anyway. The antibiotic's gone now; the cough, not so much.

This kind of ongoing, disruptive but not serious illness presents a real quandary in terms of sending a child to school. When I was a kid, the rule was always: If you have a fever, you stay home; if you don't, get your butt out of bed. I've always accepted a fever as the certifiable seal of sickness, and have carried over this philosophy in my own parenting. But there are plenty of times when a child may not be feverish, but may still be a biohazard. I remember a couple of winters when my son had a sneezy, runny nose pretty much from November through February. The teacher suggested keeping him home, but for how long? I'm not looking to homeschool. With my daughter, I'm not so concerned with her being infectious as being distracting. Woe to the teacher who has to talk over ten minutes of hacking from my darling girl.

Sometimes I wonder what they must think of me, sending a kid with such a nasty sounding cough into the classroom each day. But I've felt a lot better since talking to another mom while we were volunteering in the library a couple of weeks ago. We were discussing the fact that there had been a lot of sickness in the school, and she mentioned that her boy, too, had been unwell for a while. Why, the very night before, he had thrown up three times between 3 and 5 a.m. But when it came time to go to school, he didn't have a fever, so he was in his seat. It's our rule, and we're sticking to it.

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FEBRUARY 27, 2002

Over the years, I've wondered what kind of job my son might find his way into as a grown-up. He likes to jump, always, all the time, so maybe he'll be a track star, or a circus performer. He can look at a key and tell which kind of car it goes to, so maybe he'll be a valet parking attendant, or a car thief. He can talk like Scooby Doo, so maybe he'll be an animation voice-over artist, or an entertainer at children's parties. In all my pondering, I've never thought about the legal profession for my definitely-not-desk-job-material guy. But after the story his teacher told me at a conference last night, I'm thinking again.

Apparently one of my son's classmates -- we'll call him Sam -- was trying the teacher's patience something fierce. She sent him to the time-out chair once and told him to come back when he had calmed down. She sent him there another time and told him to sit there for two minutes. Finally, a third time, she sent him there to sit indefinitely. Apparently, my son was watching the time, because at about three minutes he went up to the teacher and said, "Do you know that my friend Sam is still sitting in the time-out chair? He's my friend, and it hurts my heart to see him sitting there." At this point, the teacher felt about two inches tall, and gave Sam a reprieve. I don't know what kind of fee my boy charged for his services, but I'm told the plaintiff and his council did hug after the verdict.

If he can talk a kid out of time-out, maybe there's hope for him in the field of litigation. As long as the judge doesn't mind attorneys who jump all the time and suck their fingers.

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FEBRUARY 28, 2002

I saw half of a child-abuse-prevention program at my kids' school the other morning. I meant to see all of it, but it overlapped with my husband's tooth-extraction appointment and I needed to give him a ride. Felt bad sneaking out -- would people think that something the speaker said had caused me to bolt? I wound up missing the part in which they showed videotapes of the kind of workshop my kids will be taking part in sometime in the coming weeks. But the description I did hear was interesting, and I hope the information will sink in enough with my kiddos to keep them at least a little safer than they were before.

One of the interesting things that the speaker advocated was teaching kids that it's okay to say "no" to adults. And boy, isn't that just something from which parents instinctively recoil? From the time our kids learn to talk, we spend multiple developmental stages trying to get them to stop saying the "n" word. We teach them to respect grown-ups, be polite, do what you're told, don't talk back. We tell them to do what the teacher or the priest or the scoutmaster or the baby-sitter says or they'll be in big trouble. We let them know that adults know better than they do what's right, and that just because they don't feel like doing something is no excuse for not doing it. And this speaker suggested that in convincing them of all this, we're making our kids sitting ducks for pedophiles.

So in a week or two, she will be teaching my kids to say "no" to things that make them feel uncomfortable, things that seem wrong. Not peas for dinner or making their beds or doing their homework, but things that take away their right to be "safe, strong and free." That's a heck of a distinction for kids to make, though, isn't it? The sad thing is, in most situations, they are better off listening to adults. Most adults do want to keep them safe. But now we need to put them on their guard, question grown-ups' judgments, defend themselves verbally and physically. I wish we didn't live in a world where that was necessary. You only have to pick up a paper these days, though, to see how far we are from there.

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MARCH 1, 2002

Yesterday we added another activity to the list of things my almost-9-year-old son's still not ready for: Karate. He's been bugging me for months about wanting to try it, and I finally found a place that would take on kids with special needs. The teacher and I discussed his hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention problems, low muscle tone. I explained that he had FAE and that I didn't know if he would be able to follow along. The teacher had had one student with fetal alcohol exposure in the past and admitted that it was tough. But he said we were welcome to give it a try.

And so, last night, we did. And he didn't. Out of the hour class, he tried on and off for the first 20 minutes -- not getting the movements right, but at least moving -- then just laid on the floor for about ten minutes, then started going over to the door and playing with the wind chime, coming to where I was sitting and complaining about being hungry, and finally flat-out asking to go home. He liked the parts where the kids yell as they count their jumping jacks or karate chops or kicks. He did the yelling part really, really well. He liked when the class took turns running laps around the room. But the actual karate part? Not so much.

Still, he did better than he would have done a year ago. He didn't melt down or freak out. He followed along for a while, and that's big. And at the end, he made me laugh, which always earns consolation points. As his class concluded, the next class -- a group of older students -- filed into the room and lined up against the back wall, right behind my guy. They stood solemnly, seriously, as the little kids bowed to them and then to their teacher in the ritualistic ending to the earlier class. But my guy's not into ritual. He saw all those solemn, serious older kids and decided they needed a warm-up. "So," he said, "Who wants to kick? Who wants to hit? Who wants to chop? Who wants to scratch their butts?" By the end, at least half of the big kids were cracking up. A little blonde haired girl from the younger class wasn't impressed; she walked by my son on the way out and said, "You're not funny."

"Yes, I am," was my boy's reply. And frankly, I'd have to agree. But definitely not martial arts material.

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