Friday, March 31, 2000

Incensed about the Census

When filling out our Census (yes, that's right, I've filled mine out; have you?) I was a little surprised to see that my children's origins were an issue. Along with all the other relationship options--husband, wife, mother, mother-in-law--were "natural-born child" and "adopted child." Among the parents whose e-mails I read on an on-line support group for those who have adopted from Eastern Europe, those would be considered fighting words. First, to ask in the first place. Then, to ask in a way that implies our children are not natural.

Personally, I've always been very forthcoming about the fact that our children are adopted, and probably introduce that tidbit far too early in any conversation about them. I'm proud of how far they've come from that Russian orphanage, and I want people to understand why the journey has been, and continues to be, so hard for them. I've always felt that it's hard to advocate for adoption if you won't cop to it; people aren't going to ask you for information or be inspired by your example if they don't know you're setting one.

Other parents, though--protective of their children's adoption stories and their own privacy, wary of others' reactions in light of harsh stories about Russian adoptees on TV newsmagazines, resentful of having to be example-setters when all they want to be is parents--control that information tightly, zealously. Woe be unto the grandparent who refers to an adopted grandchild as an adopted grandchild; this is felt by many to indicate an inadequate level of affection and discretion, and to be grounds for banishment. The policy is don't ask, don't tell, and if someone does have the nerve to ask, they will be discussed in the most unflattering terms in a flurry of e-mail. Lists of possible icy comebacks circulate frequently.

For these folks, the requirement to check that "adopted" box on the Census form was a slap in the face. And then, to be asked with such adoption-incorrect terminology! Why "natural-born" as the alternative to adopted? Are adopted children unnatural? They were as natural-born as anyone, just to somebody else. Why is a child conceived in a test-tube natural-born, but a child conceived by a mother who couldn't care for him or her unnatural? The preferred term by the adoption PC police is "biological," but to my ear, that has the same problem--are our adopted children mechanical? Perhaps the bureau should simply phrase it "adopted" and "non-adopted."

In truth, the terminology doesn't particularly bother me. For the Census' purposes, having people understand what they're supposed to check is way more important than individual sensitivities (though tell that to the poor employee who's going to have to read all the complaining letters). "Natural-born" may be insensitive to some, but folks outside the adoption community know what it means; whereas "biological" would surely cause confusion. I once used the shorthand "bio child" to describe a non-adopted child to someone who does not obsessively follow adoption e-mail groups, and she looked at me like I had two heads. Then I had to explain that what I meant was that that child was not adopted, whereas my kids were, and then I sounded adoption-obsessed, and like I was drawing some kind of quality line between the two. Unless you're going to start putting footnotes on Census forms, you might as well go for clarity.

I do wonder, though, to what use the information will be put. My hope is that statistics will be released showing that adoption is commonplace these days, hardly worth getting into a linguistic snit over. Perhaps this could lead to more acceptance, not less, and to funding for services that adoptive families need. In which case, I could have used more adoption-related questions. International or domestic? Healthy or special-needs? Infant, toddler, or older child? Are you getting the proper services from the schools? Are you getting thorough services from physicians? Is your family using words that you have personally approved when referring to your children? As long as the government's asking, they might as well get us to tell all.

Monday, March 27, 2000

Don't give driving a second thought

Want to be a better driver? Don't think.

That's the conclusion of a recent study released by the American Psychological Association. People who think while they're driving tend to focus fixedly on one object, fail to check the rear-view mirrors sufficiently, and pay less attention to the road. I remember taking driver's training as a kid and being told to constantly check mirrors, one after the other, over and over, constantly, eyes here two seconds, there two seconds, back to here, back to there, and I always thought that would be more distracting than anything else I could do. Apparently I was thinking too much.

Thinking in this context does not simply refer to thinking about other things than driving. Even thinking about the route you're taking can be too distracting. Thinking about where the map might be. Thinking about whether that street you just passed because you were busy checking the rear-view mirror might be the street you needed to turn on. Thinking about where the next gas station might be. Thinking about the second mortgage you'll have to take out to buy gas. All these things can be as bad as talking on a cell phone while eating a donut. Seems its best to just go where the road takes you, with a good view of where you've been.

Music is okay; music seems to help drivers concentrate. Maybe it helps one fall into the proper mirror-checking rhythm. Don't want anything too peppy, don't want anything too sedate. A good waltz, perhaps. Books on tape would presumably be bad, unless its a good trashy romance that sort of knocks out the portion of your brain that's responsible for thinking. Presumably one of those in-minivan TVs tuned to, say, Jerry Springer would accomplish the same thing.

I don't have one of those. The music I listen to runs to Sesame Street when there are kids in the car, dinosaur rock when they're not. Perhaps these are not sufficiently soothing, because I can't help but think. Time behind the wheel always felt like a really good time to go over the events of the day, worry about them obsessively, argue in my head with whoever's got me ticked off today, formulate song lyrics, plan out my day, decide what to have for lunch, fantasize about the best possible outcomes of my kids' current trials, say prayers to prevent the worst possible outcomes. I guess in order to do that now, I'll have to take the bus.

It's something to think about, anyway.

Another one bites the dust

Many years ago, before I had kids, before I had a husband who hates award shows, and before I lived on the East Coast where everything's three hours later, I used to throw big Oscar Night parties. My friends and I would dress up in gowns, sip champagne, and dis the proceedings. We'd all seen all the films and so had actual opinions. The evening was a highlight of my year.

Fast-forward about 12 years. I never see any movies, much less award-nominated ones. I'm in New Jersey, where the ceremony starts at 8:30 p.m. and ends the next day. It's hard to have a party that ends in the wee hours of a work morning, so we've scaled down to having our two closest friends over. We sit around in our sweats, drink red wine out of a box, and dis the proceedings. This year, three out of four of us actually managed to stay awake, which may be a record.

Maybe it's just that everything seems funner when you're younger, but the ceremony seems similarly anticlimactic to me these days. There were some improvements this year--the presenter's banter, while not altogether eliminated, was at least reduced to one limp exchange. Liked the two music montages, dozed through the multiple movie montages, thought Billy Crystal's opening inserted-into-films montage was not as funny as previous ones, nor were his song parodies. Tell Bruce Vilanch to get working on some new schtick.

It's probably impossible to produce an Oscar show that everybody approves of. Last night's seems to be getting generally good morning-after reviews, but I found it somewhat airless. Possibly too well-produced. Even Robin Williams seemed reined-in, which is no mean feat considering he was singing a profanity-laced song from "South Park." There were no spectacularly awful dresses or makeup jobs (possibly because Helen Hunt did not appear to be in attendance), no spectacularly embarrassing acceptance speeches, no spectacularly nonsensical dance numbers, no spectacularly corny Begnini-esque behavior, no spectacle at all, come to think of it. The dry ice around Isaac Hayes was about as over-the-top as it got.

And if it had been a corny, spectacular, over-the-top kind of night, I probably would have complained about that, too. It's bad enough to see how old stars like Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty (and Crystal and Williams, for that matter) are looking. It's worse to feel like an old coot myself because dang it, the Oscars used to be more fun back when I used to watch movies.

Friday, March 24, 2000

Going undercover

Friday is my spy day at my kids' school. It's not easy to work my way in there; the principal guards the gates heavily, and doesn't allow parents much access to classrooms. Parent participation in parties is frowned on, parent observation is all but forbidden, parents volunteering as helpers in the classroom is unheard of. It's a tight ship, and there's no room for tourists.

I know that other schools are not this way. I hear of parents working in their children's classrooms, helping with reading or other activities, having plenty of time to observe their child in the context of other children. Some schools apparently require such contributions. Some parents undoubtedly resent that, but how I envy them the opportunity. I've been allowed in my daughter's classroom during school hours exactly once, to read a story as part of her teacher's "Mystery Reader" program. Every parent gets to do it. Once. You read, and then you leave.

Our principal would undoubtedly be horrified to hear me suggesting that she doesn't want parents to volunteer. There are plenty of opportunities--working at the big all-school parties (as opposed to the little in-class parties), being class parent and sending goodies in for little in-class parties (but just leave them by the office, please), helping at Book Fair or other fundraising activities, putting out the newsletter, calling other parents on snow days. But none of these involve actually being in your child's classroom, or observing him or her with classmates except in the most coincidental way. Parents aren't asked to be lunchroom aides or playground aides, as they are in other schools. It's virtually impossible to spy on your kids in their natural habitat.

Except, that is, in the library.

Being a library aide is the one loophole left at our school, and I merrily sneak through it. Using this opportunity for nefarious purposes takes a little planning--you have to be aware enough to know when your child goes, and lucky enough to find that slot untaken--but if you play your cards right, you can have 35 minutes of uninterrupted observation of the way your child behaves in school and how his or her classmates interact. You can also get to know the kids by name, chat them up when they check out their books, and get known as your child's Mama. It's unbelievably open access, and I can't believe the principal hasn't found some way to close it.

Don't tell her about this, okay? Or she'll find a way to switch me to Wednesdays, and I'll have to spy on someone else's kids.

Monday, March 20, 2000

I'd like to commiserate with the Academy

On Friday, my office sent me a package via Fed-Ex to arrive on Saturday. It still hasn't. The "when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight" folks report they've had some sort of silly delivery glitch, and I'll absolutely, positively get the package whenever they figure out where it is. Normally I'd be annoyed by this, but not now. Now, I feel just like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

You may have heard that the Oscar folks are having a little trouble on the delivery end, too. First, they mailed out the all-important Oscar ballots--the ones that, when filled out, are guarded so zealously by the Price Waterhouse accountants--and the ballots never arrived. Turns out they took a little detour to the bulk-mail bin in the back room of another post office. No harm done! Just extend the voting deadline. It's not like the U.S. Postal Service promises to absolutely, positively get anything anywhere anytime anyway.

But then there was the little incident with the trophies themselves. They disappeared from the warehouse of a Los Angeles-area delivery service (though not, I must report, Fed-Ex. So now that they've been found, I can't assume my package is with them.) It's suspected that one or more of the service's employees lifted the statuettes because--oh, who knows? They thought they'd make great gifts? The wisdom of stealing something so overwhelmingly recognizable is questionable, and the thieves must have questioned it too, because they ended up dumping the golden boys in a trash bin. The treasures were discovered by a salvage man, who stuffed them in his car to keep them safe, then asked his son to find out what the heck 55 Oscars were doing in the garbage.

Perhaps I should give him a call and ask him if he's seen any Fed-Ex envelopes. And perhaps the Academy should review the list of jilted potential nominees and figure out which one put a curse on this year's ceremony. What's next, now? Billy Crystal's limo driver takes a wrong turn and fails to deliver the host to the auditorium? Several female nominees' dresses are never delivered, and the stars are forced to wear something from their own meager closets? The Price Waterhouse accountants turn out to be imposters who deliver the completed ballots to the Wall Street Journal? An award presenter tears open the envelope, and it turns out to be my wayward Fed-Ex delivery?

Waiting for the next shoe to drop is almost as suspenseful as waiting to find out who wins.

America fifth

Bad news for those who like to see America come out on top of any contest: All fast-food evidence to the contrary, American children do not have the worst dietary habits in the world. Close, but no cigar (they don't smoke the most, either).

According to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), which clearly does not have enough to do, American schoolchildren rank a shocking fifth in most french fries eaten. Only 30 percent of U.S. 15-year-olds eat fries on a daily basis, earning the country a fat-fried fifth place behind Northern Ireland, Scotland, Israel, and England (though not, interestingly enough, France). Heck, they're probably still frying their chips in lard over there in the U.K., soundly kicking our nutritional butts. And who knew Israel was such a french-fry powerhouse?

Our young people are falling behind in other categories, too. Think we eat more sweets and drink more soda than anyone else? Wrong; we only make the top 3. Worried about teen smoking? A mere 12 percent of 15-year-olds 'fessed up to lighting up 24/7, rating us an ever-so-wispy 24th out of the 28 nations surveyed. Greenlanders blow the most smoke, with 56 percent of 15-year-old boys and 45 percent of 15-year-old girls puffing daily.

The study surveyed 120,000 kids in 28 countries, and found that the Austrians, Germans, and Slovak Republicans did the most exercising--80 percent of students worked out daily--and the Welsh, Greeks, and English did the most drinking--with 53, 52, and 47 percent, respectively, tipping one back at least weekly. Only two-thirds of American students exercise that much, while a measly 23 percent met the drink mark.

Now, this is all going to be a disappointment to those who like to feel that America always leads the way, even if it's to hell in a handbasket. But as a parent, I have to say, I'm relieved. Relieved because our kids aren't the world's worst. And relieved because this study--unlike all those that show American students to be lagging academically--offers parents goals that can realistically be attained. We may not be able to make our kids math whizzes or science savants, but we can sure take them to McDonalds' an extra time or two and knock those English out of the running.

Friday, March 17, 2000

The paper chase

When I was in my 20s, I wrote an article about magazines and the way they multiply in the dark so that eventually they have overrun your entire living room. (My mother probably still has a copy of it, which may explain some of what follows here.) When I was in my 30s, I speculated the same thing about mail-order catalogs. But now, on the north side of 40, I know that neither of these clutter-creatures can compare to the space-hogging master of the universe, children's school papers.

Every day they come, more numerous than junk mail, more pervasive than piled-up bills, more messy than 1,000 Matchbox cars. Test, worksheets, study sheets, art projects, storybooks, certificates, all adorable snapshots of my children's day at school, all irreplacable, all indisposable. They stack up on the floor by the bookbags. They stack up on the dining room table. They stack up on the coffee table. They stack up on my desk, in my file drawers, on my floor. They're everywhere, and if I could just take a shovel and gather them all up and throw them all out, my home would be about 77% neater.

But of course, I can't do that. They're my babies! This is their work! I must keep it, cherish it, gather it together in large haystacks of scholarship. I may need those papers someday to show their progress. I may need to look back on an earlier assignment later in the year. The kids might want to check back at something they did. I may want to remember how many essays my daughter devoted to the Backstreet Boys. Given his way, my husband would chuck these precious treasures the moment they came through the door, so I must swoop in and grab them out of the folders myself. And put them on the dining room table, where they will sit for several months, or until we actually need to dine, whichever comes first.

Every so often, I do winnow. When we moved last summer, I sorted through several years of preschool papers from both kids and kept only the cute artwork, which filled an entire large box. I've thrown out all but tests for about the first quarter of this school year, but it is so, so hard to see their work filling the wastebasket. I'll admit to being sentimental and a packrat, but I love this stuff.

Still, if you read about a New Jersey family suffocated by 5,000,000 individual math homework sheets, you'll know who they're talking about.

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

The slob who came to dinner

My 6-year-old eats like a pig. Which is to say, he eats a lot and he eats messy. There are all sorts of good reasons for this--sensory-integration difficulties that cause him not to know how full his mouth is, fine motor weakness that causes wielding a fork to be a major chore--but this does not make watching him any less unappetizing. It's gotten to the point where even the kids at school don't want to watch him eat.

His specialty is cramming his mouth so full of food that he can't chew, and has to sort of wait for everything to dissolve. While doing this, he tends to get up and walk around, shedding bits of rice and corn in his wake. He is a full body eater. He wipes his mouth on his shoulder, touches his hair and gets food in it, gets food tidbits all over the table and his shirt and his pants and his chair and the floor, and has a tendency to go into his hand-flapping habit right after eating with his hands, so that morsels are scattered to the four corners of the kitchen. He also enjoys pulling the fork or spoon (when he actually uses those utensils) out of his mouth with a grand flourish, which usually results in rice being flung in Papa's face. Mealtimes in our house are what you could call stressful.

Now, the only way I know to discipline a child into good table manners is to remove him from the table at the first infraction. Unfortunately, that's not an option with this little guy, simply because he is such a little guy. We're talking 37 pounds at age almost-seven. He's lost the "You can feed this starving child for 5 cents a day" look he had when we brought him home from a Russian orphanage five-and-a-half years ago, but he's still way wiry. His spring jacket is a size 2/3, and though the shortness of the sleeves indicate a new size is called for, there's no strain on the snaps down the front. Finding pants for him is an endless challenge--we need about a size 6 in length and a size 3 in the waist. So in the long run, having him pack in the food is significantly more important than packing it in prettily.

But in the short run--well, yuck. There are only so many times you can see a boy cram food into his mouth with both hands before you start to consider offering a liquid diet and a straw. With sensory-integration therapy, things have gotten slowly better--his days of stuffing an entire Taco Bell soft taco in his mouth at once are happily over. We're now trying doling out a few bites at a time, in a bowl with a rim for his left hand to hold on to, out of the action, while his right hand scoops the food up with a spoon. The theory is that he can push the food against the side of the bowl instead of the side of his hand, and maybe keep his mitts clean. The theory has flaws, but it's holding up. It's either this, or put a trough in the corner of the kitchen and let him just stick his face in and go at it. Honestly, there'd probably be less clean-up with that.

Monday, March 13, 2000

Get smart

A new study reports that children's brains continue gaining gray matter right up through the teen years. This is news because it had previously been believed that you pretty much had all the brain cells you were going to get by the age of five, and so lack of stimulation during those early years pretty much meant you'd lost your chance. The discovery that the brain keeps growing and changing and developing for so long after that is heartening indeed to those of us who've adopted children outside that magic early-development window. Where it once seemed impossible to ever make up that lost time, it now appears that the brain may still have a few tricks up its sleeve.

We adopted our daughter at age 4.5, and have been attempting to stuff her head full of knowledge ever since. She had some brain damage from birth, and the consensus has always been that even if the impairments could have been remediated in her first few years if she'd been in a stimulating family environment instead of an understimulating orphanage one, by the age of 5 her abilities were pretty much set. Yet she does seem to be making progress, slowly, but surprisingly to many people. Connections are being made that weren't made before. Information is being retained and interpreted in new ways every day. There's some major action going on in those little lobes. And it's nice to have scientific confirmation that anything's possible.

One of the first books I read after bringing our two neurologically challenged children home was Oliver Sacks' An Anthropologist on Mars, and I remember marveling at the many ways in which the brain could adapt itself to conditions that seemed on the surface to be so entirely unacceptable. It was an encouraging message to receive as I watched my two little organisms adapt to their new environment. This new study seems to be further proof that it's unwise ever to take that organ for granted, or to assume that it can't do anything more. The brain is always working, restructuring, reinventing itself, and I doubt that that really abruptly ends at any age.

Myself, for example, I know that my brain has recently entirely restructured itself in such a way that I can't remember a darn thing, and am in a constant state of panic and confusion. I can only hope that when this phase of construction is done, I will still be a little smarter than my rapidly brain-expanding kids.

Friday, March 10, 2000

You've got a friend in me

My son has no friends.

For a long time, this didn't bother him much. He was a self-contained little unit, perfectly happy to line up cars in his room for hours, all by himself. If kids were uncomfortable with him--because he stands to close, because he touches them or hugs them or kisses them according to his impulses, because his play is too inflexible--he didn't seem to notice. His large gallery of pretend friends liked him just fine.

But now, at almost 7, he's starting to notice. When his sister has friends over, he wonders where his friends are. I have to keep him from jumping all over her friends, but playing with Mom is not as fun when there are other kids in the house. He's in a special-ed class this year with older kids, and though at various times they find him funny, weird, or icky, he's mostly just a baby. Not much friend potential there.

I've tried finding an after-school activity for him, in the hope of finding a peer group, but his overactivity, heedlessness of adult wishes, and impulsivity make it hard for him to get with any programs. Already this year, we've been drummed out of a mother-and-child music class because he was trampling all the younger children in his wake. He's been asked to leave gym and swimming in the past because he just won't follow the leader. Many hyper kids seem to do well with karate, but I can conceive of no way that this boy will stand in a line and follow directions. He'd probably wander too close to someone else and get kicked in the head.

With conventional social activities out of the running, I've recently been trying to find him a group of kids with problems like his. His neurologist recommended a social-skills program, and goodness knows that social skills are something he could use. I talked to the child psychologist in charge, and it sounded like a good possibility: They work primarily with children on the autistic spectrum, and since my boy has autistic behaviors in his large grab-bag of problems, it seemed he might fit in.

But today, we went to the evaluation. It was at the house of a speech therapist who would be assessing him while the psychologist talked to me. The house had many lovely knickknacks. The house had a cat. The house had a lady waiting with her baby for her son to come out of speech therapy. The house had a psychologist who was willing to share his keys. My son was in his element, chatting up grown-ups, touching every breakable thing in sight, petting the baby, scaring the cat. He was talking, moving, bouncing, zooming, behaving as he always does in an unfamiliar place full of delightful stimulations. The speech therapist couldn't get him to do any of her little tests, and determined that his language skills were insufficient for admission to the program, and that he would run her ragged trying to constantly redirect him anyway.

Part of me is sad that even among special-needs kids, he doesn't fit. Part of me blames the therapist for not having sufficient tricks up her sleeve to get his attention; his wonderful school speech therapist can get him to pay attention for much longer than even I can. And part of me wonders at the wisdom of evaluating distractible children in such a distracting environment. It doesn't matter, though--another door slams.

My husband is unconcerned by all this. He's a loner, and thinks friends are somewhat overrated. Our son is not actively miserable, and with time and maturity he may become more appealing friend material to others. And there are signs of progress at school: Today his teacher told me that he has been asking another boy in class to play store with him, and they have been happily interacting. So maybe he'll find a way to make it without mom's help.

Until then, I'll just have to be his best friend myself.

Wednesday, March 08, 2000

Gym shoo

My husband is starting to make noises about me joining a gym. Not because of my weight--he values his body parts too highly to make a crack about my weight--but because lugging an iMac from one room to the next left me moaning and groaning and munching Advil for several days thereafter. Your muscles are out of shape, he says. You're losing strength, he says. You should join my gym, he says.

Now, this implies that my muscles were once in shape, I was once strong, and I might enjoy going to a gym. Patent falsehoods, all. I did go to his gym for a brief time while we were dating, but--oh, gee, you know, you do things when you're dating and trying to establish common ground with your beloved that you would never do in real life. He watched "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd," and I went to the gym. Now, going on 10 years of marriage, he can't say the name of that program without gagging. And I feel much the same about the gym.

I have many excellent reasons for not wanting to go there. I'm a busy woman. I work full-time, and even though I telecommute three days of the week, I'm supposed to be sitting at my desk watching soap work, not galivanting around, lifting weights and riding bikes that go nowhere. After work hours, there are the kids--homework to do, activities to attend, stories to read, computers to haul. Should I neglect them to sweat with strangers when I can perfectly well neglect them at home by checking my e-mail every 35 seconds? Then, of course, there is this Web site, which I must spend hours and hours procrastinating over before finally hammering some bit of blather out at 2 in the morning. Go to the gym? My life is overflowing as it is!

Of course, if I really wanted to go, I'd find the time. I don't really want to go. I really want not to go. I hate going to the gym. I hate everything about it. I hate exercising. I hate lifting weights. I hate climbing stairs. I hate looking at my lumpy self in large mirrors. I hate aerobics. I hate seeing skinny people in spandex. I hate seeing fat people in spandex. I hate spending money to do something I hate.

And besides, it's not like I don't have options. I could walk. Walking is free! Walking is something I don't actively hate! I could take my discman and walk while listening to tunes and have some nice time to myself. I won't, but I could. I could also work out to one of those TV exercise shows, although last time I did that, doing step aerobics in my basement, I blew out my knees. I could invest in some quality home equipment, maybe that contraption Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley feel so strongly about. That way, I could exercise anytime, day or night. I'm sure my mother-in-law, who lives downstairs, wouldn't mind hearing weights clanking up and down in the middle of the night.

Or I could let my gym-toned husband lift the computer next time, while I lie on the couch conserving my energy, watching old "Molly Dodd" tapes, and polishing off the truckload of candy we accumulated around Valentine's Day. Some of those chocolates are heavy.

Monday, March 06, 2000

Guinea-pig central

We've all seen those ads in the paper recruiting participants for studies of some homely ailment or other--wrinkles or spider veins or cellulite or bad breath. But now the government is getting in the act with an enormous Web site dedicated to nothing else but recruiting subjects for medical studies. Hypochondriacs, start your engines!

Congress ordered up the site-- help government and university researchers reach the thousands and thousands of human guinea pigs needed to try out cutting-edge procedures, treatments, and drugs. For some, participation could be lifesaving. Others will get nothing but a placebo for their troubles. And some may pay the ultimate price for their contribution to medical science: an Arizona teen died recently as a result of a University of Pennsylvania experiment-gone-wrong.

For those who are seriously ill and in need of a miracle, the site will no doubt be a godsend. For those who have nagging complaints and need some new ideas, it will be an inspiration. And for those who just want to marvel at the broad spectrum of human suffering and discomfort, it will be a compulsive browse. Surely somewhere in here is something that will do me some good.

You can surf through the studies by entering the name of your affliction, perusing the list alphabetically, or viewing "disease headings." Cancer has the most studies, at 1,901, while parasitic diseases merit a mere 31. Choosing "S" at random from the alphabetical list finds, among other things, 310 studies on sexually transmitted diseases, 40 on schizophrenia, 7 on smoking, 12 on stress, 4 on strabismus, and 1 on stiff-person syndrome, which sounds like the way I feel after hauling the kids' computer from one room to the next this weekend.

Perhaps I'm the only one fascinated by this. Perhaps you're all wondering where on earth I might be going here. Or perhaps you've already gone to the site and I'm talking to myself. There's just something about this searchable database of studies that gives me the same thrill as looking through the want ads when I'm perfectly happy with my job--just a look at all the opportunities out there, all the things to get involved in, even if there's not a chance on earth I'd go for it. But when they develop that study on the use of all-expense-paid spa holidays in reducing the stress of adoptive parents of post-institutionalized children, hey, I'm there.

Friday, March 03, 2000

Obsessed with OT

It's not unusual, these days, to be a compulsive catalog shopper. Some people order entire wardrobes from them. Some people decorate their home. Some order gifts, or books, or stationery, or knickknacks galore. There are catalogs for toys, for music, for address labels, for office supplies, for computers, for pantyhose. It's not at all unheard of for people to horde catalogs, pore over them obsessively, wait eagerly for the next one.

But I may be the first person to be addicted to occupational-therapy catalogs.

A year ago, I never even knew the things existed. I assumed that only schools could order the sort of equipment I saw in the room where my son gets his therapy for low muscle tone, poor fine motor skills, and sensory-integration disorder. I thought that the only way to find fidget toys was to scrounge through discount stores. When my son needed a weighted vest, I had to cobble one together from an L.L. Bean multipocketed number and a bunch of curtain weights. It can never be washed because there's no way on earth I'm yanking all those weights out and sewing them back in again.

Who knew I could buy a nifty pre-made weighted vest that you could slip the weights in and out of? And weights for his sneakers? And weights for his wrists? And a weighted crescent to put around his neck? And a weighted waistband? And a weighted hat? Why, it might be possible to weight him down enough that he wouldn't be able to do his constant jumping, jumping, jumping. It might be possible to weight him down enough that he'd have to stop all his running around. Perhaps we could make him completely immobile! Call UPS! I need this stuff now!

A sensory-integration e-mail list led me to Web sites that feature occupational-therapy goodies. The Web sites led me to order the catalogs. And the catalogs--they're just too fun. I don't think I'll be investing in trampolines or gliders or sling swings anytime soon, but I'm getting a little carried away with the smaller stuff. Seat cushions that let kids wiggle without actually getting up! Slantboards to write on! Makeshift portable study carrels! Pens that vibrate! Pencil grips! Squeeze balls! All-encompassing sacks for kids to break out of! Silent timers! Punching bags! I'll have one of everything, please, and make it snappy.

So far, my purchases have met with mixed success. The seat cushion was a big help in the classroom. The sneaker weights mostly work as a threat, because he hates them. He'd rather suck on the squeeze ball than use it to strengthen his hands, and he's chewed on the vibrating pen. The slantboard helps him write, but the clip at the top is powerfully distracting. He's broken bunches of fidget toys, and he mostly likes dropping the punching bag down the stairs. But hey--pushing and lifting heavy things is good for vestibular input, right?

It's sure not going to stop me from buying, buying again. If OT catalogs are like any other catalogs, I should be receiving about 100 of them in the next few weeks. I should be on the sucker list by now, and every fidget-toy maker in creation will be targeting me with their wares. Bring 'em on. I've got a sensory-impaired kid and a credit card, and there's no stopping me!

Wednesday, March 01, 2000

First-grade felony

Okay, that's it. My kids are never leaving the house again.

The news from Michigan yesterday was not the first tale of school violence, goodness knows. But I could always rationalize it before. They were always older children---high school, middle school. There always seemed to be time before my 1st grader and 2nd grader would have to deal with armed classmates, and maybe by then America would have seen the light and gotten rid of guns once and for all. Big kids might be disturbed enough to instigate violence, but little kids? Maybe someone might bring in a pocket knife for show and tell and be suspended for it, but that's about as dangerous as it gets, right?

Wrong. Now we have 6-year-olds killing 6-year-olds. The incident in Mount Morris Township started with a playground dispute, one child hitting another. The kind of thing that goes on every day, at your kids' school, at my kids' school. But at these kids' school, the animosity between the 1st-graders didn't end with somebody going to the principal, or somebody getting time out. It ended with a little boy bringing a gun to school and shooting a little girl in the neck.

How does a 6-year-old get a hold of a gun, anyway, much less one with bullets and no lock? As of this writing, authorities were still trying to figure that out. What they do know is that whoever put that firearm where a child could find it is in a heap of trouble. The boy is too young to even be held accountable for murder, but the adults in his life can be held accountable for giving him the murder weapon. I'd suggest that that accountability be extended to lawmakers and lobbyists who are more interested in protecting gun owners than protecting 6-year-olds, but that would probably be the ravings of a now-paranoid Mom with no perspective on the issue at all.

Has it come to this--that we need metal detectors at elementary schools? Do we need to teach gun safety like we teach fire safety? Does Sesame Street need to run through a few armed-gunman scenarios to show kids appropriate defensive maneuvers? Does Oshkosh need to add bulletproof vests to its clothing line? What does Mr. Rogers have to say about all this? Does Blue have a clue?

Surely some scrap of evidence will surface that will let me believe that it couldn't happen at my kids' school. But I'm not so sure. The boy is being described as a behavior problem--but my son has been described as a behavior problem, too. So have most of his classmates. So, I'd guess, have a goodly percentage of boys in any elementary school around. Must we consider them all potential gunslingers? How do you tell the ones who'll stop at hitting from the ones who'll stop at nothing?

It's a dangerous world, and in one way or another it always has been. But I didn't think it was going to turn out to be this dangerous, this soon. I know I can't protect my kids forever. But for now, homeschooling is starting to look mighty good.