Monday, October 21, 2002

October 21-25, 2002

OCTOBER 21, 2002

The other day I was helping with a fund-raiser at my kids' school (somebody has to pass out all that wrapping paper) when I noticed class after class filing onto the playground and boarding big yellow school buses. I hoped maybe they were practicing bus etiquette or the mechanics of really big engines, but of course, no: They were practicing for an evacuation, in case of bomb threat or other source of potential hysteria. I don't know if the whole exercise caused consternation among any of the students, but it sure freaked out this mom.

I can huff and puff a little and say my distress over evacuation drills is only because of the disruptiveness they visit upon my son, whose fetal-alcohol-affected brain does not deal with changes in routine well, much less changes in routine that involve being stuffed on a bus with bunches of other students. Fire drills are bad enough, lockdowns are a nightmare, and now this, too? Is the school trying to make him misbehave on purpose? Are his teachers taking the toll all this takes into account when they evaluate his comportment?

But really, you know, the whole idea of evacuations and lockdowns is probably far more traumatic to me than to him. And it's not even so much a sad sign of our times as it is a Mom thing. I remember atomic bomb drills in elementary school, and having my entire high school evacuate to the football field just to be sure we could do it, and there were probably disaster preparations I'm not even remembering -- because they just weren't that big a deal, except as a way to get out of a little work for a while. I'll bet my mom was freaking out, though.

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OCTOBER 22, 2002

I've been enjoying those new soups-in-a-microwavable-cup-you-can-sip-from-while-driving, and also enjoying the ads that show how deliberately they're being aimed at constantly on-the-go moms like myself. It's hard to always feel like you're rushing somewhere, but nice to know you're also a market share. I'm particularly amused by that moment in the commercial in which the soccer mom loads the kids back into the minivan after their game while sipping a little soup. You gotta wonder: Where did she heat that thing up? Does she have a microwave in the minivan? Did she drive home, nuke the soup, and drive back? And if she left her children's game for that, doesn't she lose points? This is why I personally have encouraged my daughter to pursue bowling, a sport civilized enough to be played indoors in a building with a snack bar. Who needs microwave soup when there are deep-fried mozzarella sticks?

As much as I find these soups not-bad, though, and as likely as I am to buy them again, I wish they'd stop pitching them as being for people who are "too busy to eat." I mean, how decadent is that -- "too busy to eat"? I imagine impoverished people around the globe bopping their heads V-8 style and saying, "Oh, silly me. I'm not starving. I'm just TOO BUSY TO EAT." Myself, I may be in a hurry, but I'm rarely too busy to eat. Too busy to eat something that has vegetables in it, maybe, but there's always time for candy or chips or non-microwave-requiring snacks of all sorts. And guess what: They really ARE ready to eat anytime, anywhere. If I were really too busy to eat, I'd be too busy to locate a microwave, too.

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OCTOBER 23, 2002

Cheerleading is getting out of hand.

If that wasn't true when I was in high school, when the cheerleaders merely got to be cuter and cooler and crueler than everybody else, it's sure true now, when girls as young as five start competing on cheerleading teams that involve hours of practice, miles of travel, and stunts that grow in height, complexity and danger with every year. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently reported that "Cheerleading causes more than half of the catastrophic injuries (those involving paralysis or death) suffered by all girls competing in sports in the United States."

It's hard to know what's more shocking about that statement -- that cheerleading is such hazardous activity, or that it's now considered a sport.

The AAP recommends better monitoring of cheerleading, better screening to make sure that cheerleaders are in appropriate physical condition for what they're trying to do, proper equipment and footwear -- in other words, if cheerleading's going to get so much more athletic, cheerleaders ought to start behaving like athletes. Could this ever lead to a time when the cheerleading crowns will go not to the most beautiful, tan, and pneumatic female students but to the most fit, talented, able-bodied ones? That would be great, I guess; surely a little bit of payback, anyway, for all of us who always envied those big-breasted bubbleheads. But you know where this is all leading, don't you? Ladies and gentlemen, look for it: Olympic Cheerleading. You know it's coming.

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OCTOBER 24, 2002

Well, I just could not have been prouder of my son yesterday. It was his first after-school chorus practice, and he did just fine. I honestly would not have thought it possible.

After all, there were so many reasons why he would fail: After-school is his meltdown time where he lets out everything he's been holding in all day; music overstimulates him, as do roomfuls of noisy children; the kids sit on the floor, which usually means he's lying down and rolling around the floor; the choir director, who's also his music teacher, was the only teacher to give him an "unsatisfactory" check on his progress report; his aide leaves before school's even over, so is unavailable for after-school activities; and the very day of the rehearsal, his class had a substitute teacher, which his classrom aide admitted made his behavior pretty rocky.

Oh, the deck seemed stacked against him. And in the days before the rehearsal, I did that thing I do -- identify situations in which my son is doomed to failure, and try to keep him away from them. But the choir director and the classroom aide both said, "Let him try it. Don't say no until you know there's a problem." And although I knew there would be, I followed their advice.

And surprise -- there wasn't one. The choir director had my son sit next to him on the piano bench, and reported that the boy did fine, and could read music pretty well. So score one for everybody but Mom. I'm certainly happy to be wrong, although somewhere deep inside that voice won't stop: It's just one time. It was a fluke. He'll flame out next time. He'll have trouble when the rehearsals move from once a month to once a week. How will he ever make it through a performance?

The voice may be right. But I'm going to stop listening to it for a while. I'm listening to my son's sweet singing voice instead.

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OCTOBER 25, 2002

Reader Stephanie M. wrote in to say that my dispatch of September 30 really struck a cord, and to share what she's figured out about being the emotional center for her own family:

"I really let all the therapists continually make me the responsible party for my child's behaviors at home. Not the greatest family therapy technique--right? Slowly, over the years, I learned to let go of the guilt and anger at myself because of the severely emotionally disturbed behaviors in our home. The best goal, I found, is the 'maypole attitude.' You become as stable as possible emotionally (consistently calm and cool) and let the children with disabilities attach to you and dance around you wildly. Keeping them sound, as they grow in the family security, as long as they hold that maypole ribbon. This becomes much more difficult when you are sick or exhausted from the 24-7 requirements of your role in their little lives. Containing your exasperation uses more energy than responding loudly to bad behaviors. But the payback is tremendous when they carry their maypole ribbon with them through the adult years... and it leads them home again and again."

A really useful way to look at it, I think. If only the maypole got to dance a little now and again...

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