Monday, October 28, 2002

October 28-November 1, 2002

OCTOBER 28, 2002

My kids don't know what they want to be for Halloween, which is scary since it means we'll have to do everything last-minute ... but on the other hand, gives me an opportunity to sneak in with costumes that don't require me to go to the overcrowded party store and pick through the gross costumes looking for something that fits them and doesn't give me fits. Since I'm no sewer, my home-made ideas this year are falling into the found-object category: My son can wear parts of his dad's work uniform and be Supermarket Produce Guy! My daughter can wear an old bowling shirt of mine, carry a bowling bag for her treats, and be Bowling Girl! I'm thisclose to convincing them that these ideas are actually good.

If that doesn't work, then we'll have to get desperate. My daughter's skeleton costume from last year is still hanging on the back of her grandma's door downstairs, and will probably fit if we cut off the feet. There's an ancient Oreo cookie costume in the attic that might fit my son, or else he can go as his favorite found object, a plastic shopping bag; there are certainly enough of them in his room to fashion a costume. Then of course, there's my favorite possibility: We just close the curtains, turn on the TV, ignore the doorbell, and pretend there is no such thing as Halloween. My chances of convincing the kids of the goodness of that idea are pretty slim, though. .

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OCTOBER 29, 2002

The other day a nice lady called from the Heart Association asking me to donate -- not my money, but my time to send letters to all my neighbors asking them to donate money. I trotted out my usual, somewhat cynical but nonetheless accurate excuse: Ma'am, I have two children with special needs, and I just can't spare the time to do anything but involve myself with their many pressing challenges. Hey, it's true! And it usually gets chastened telemarketers off the phone pronto.

But not this time. This time, the lady chirpily told me that she has two children with special needs in her family, the sons of her sister, one with Down Syndrome (but "high-functioning!" and "doing so well!"), the other with brain damage so severe that he "will never be normal." We traded nice words about how they all have their gifts and how rewarding it can be having special kids, yada yada yada, and then she finally did hang up.

And I guess I should have had a warm feeling about what a small world it is, and how you can find people touched by special children everywhere you look. But after our conversation, I realized that I had no idea what she meant by "will never be normal," and that that choice of words really got under my skin. What were we talking about here -- a kid who will never walk or talk, or a kid who will never go to Harvard? Why was a child who was "high-functioning" a source of such pride, and a child who "will never be normal" a source of such sorrow? Given the narrowness of the definition of "normal" in our society these days -- where a kid earning less than an A is presumed to have learning disabilities and a child acting like a child is presumed to need medication -- is that a state to which the parents of special needs children even want their offspring to aspire to?

Maybe so. Of course so. I guess I've just become so at home in Holland that it ticks me off when people keep prattling on about Italy. Some days I feel like the lead booster on the Holland Chamber of Commerce, for goodness sake. And on days like that, I want to call that Heart Association lady back and demand that she explain herself. Good thing even charitable telemarketers block their numbers.

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OCTOBER 30, 2002

Just got back from my daughter's IEP meeting, and I should be on Cloud 9. My requests to encourage independence for this no-longer-quite-so-helpless child were generally well-received; reports indicated great work and progress from my girl; and a major theme of the meeting seemed to be what a wonderful mother I am. Tra la, tra la.

Having heard so many horrific stories from others about IEP meetings in which "wonderful" was not the adjective anybody chose for the parents, and having been in an argumentative meeting or two myself, I am duly grateful for the surpassing pleasantness of this particular get-together. However, having many well-earned suspicious bones in my body, I can't help but worry that I'm just being yes-ed to death here. What folks say in a meeting or put down on a piece of paper is not, after all, the issue, although we often make it so; what matters is what goes on in the classroom. And that can be pretty hard to get a handle on, especially when you have a kid for whom communication is the major challenge.

So far this year, I have no reason to believe that anybody working with my child means any harm. I packed as much specific language about her aide's sphere of appropriate influence in the IEP as I could get, so there's a mechanism in place to make sure she gets the right help and nothing but the right help. There's a good team in place, and I'm inclined to trust. But I sure wish I could verify.

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OCTOBER 31, 2002

A supermarket chain near us is starting what I think may be a dangerous precedent: trick or treating in its aisles. I know this is an offshoot of the long developing trend in these parts to have kids do their candy collecting at shopping malls for maximum protection, going from store to store instead of door to door. But supermarkets are different. Supermarkets are a place you go every week. And yell at your kids to stop grabbing candy off the shelves. How ya going to do that now when, for one night anyway, they're handing it out for free?

I suppose this could be a problem with the mall, too, with kids tearing around the stores on non-Halloween days trying desperately to find that guy with the candy, but that doesn't worry me much because I never go to the mall. One fluorescent-light, jostling crowds, escalator dance, sensory overload meltdown from my son and you'd know why. The supermarket, though, is harder to avoid and easier to get through with my kiddos ... as long as it never occurs to them to trick or treat there. I imagine us arriving home and finding two produce bags full of cheese samples and kielbasa slices and loose candy from the candy bin and all the coupons the children could grab from those annoying little shelf-side dispensers. Hey, at the supermarket, every day is Halloween!

Door to door is looking better and better.

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NOVEMBER 1, 2002

October is over. October is my favorite month, not because of Halloween or the crisp fall air or the nearness to or distance from Christmas, but because of the fact that -- at least this year, at least in our school district -- it is the only month in which there are no days off from school. Five solid weeks of full-day school attendance for the little ones, twenty-five days interrupted only by weekends. No half days, no long weekends. Parental bliss.

But now it's gone, and November starts with a bang next week with a half-day off for Election Day and then Thursday and Friday off entirely due to a teacher's convention. And then from there, in short order, there's Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and winter break, and President's Day, and spring break, and snow days, and days off all over the darn place. Not another solid month of school attendance for the remainder of the academic year. And so, I mourn October. It's gone. But it was nice while it lasted.

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