Wednesday, May 31, 2000

When school shootings were just pretend

All the school shootings these days (and doesn't there seem to be a new one in the news every day?) puts me in mind of an incident from my own school days. It was sophomore year in high school, English class, and a hotheaded student had picked a fight with the teacher right there in the middle of second period. The argument became heated. We all wished the kid would just shut up and sit down, but he didn't. Finally, he headed for the door--at which point the teacher whipped a gun out of his desk and shot him.

The student fell, lay still. Was he dead? What just happened? In fact, it was a little act put on to spur us into a writing assignment in which our ability to grasp details would be tested. The slain student got up, brushed himself off, and took his seat. So intent was the teacher on taking us all by surprise that he only tried this little scenario every other year, so that word of it among students would have faded by the time it happened again. We were surprised, alright. And a little thrilled. Certainly not traumatized.

But boy, you sure couldn't pull something like that today. The teacher would be fired faster than you could say "Columbine," and our class would have been crawling with therapists. Ditto the legendary incident in my junior high school in which a teacher and a student got into a fight that ended with the teacher hanging the kid by his ankles over a balcony. No one actually saw it, but everybody knew someone who had. But if it had happened today, everyone would know: The kid would have had an Uzi, and he would have taken out half the class.

Hard to mourn that schools are no longer safe for mild and mock violence. That English class murder was a little out-there even by 1975 standards. But so many of today's school shootings seem like they should have been just such a set-up--kid shoots teacher on the last day of school, then the teacher jumps up to warn the students not to play with guns. How dearly the students who've witnessed such violence must have wished it was all pretend. Sadly, it's not an act anymore. And nobody's getting back up.

Friday, May 26, 2000

Toilet-training time

It's the toilet-training time of year. Or so it seems, from the number of e-mails from anxious moms turning up on the parenting e-mail lists I belong to. They're usually worried because snookums is 2 and showing no interest in the potty. And this makes me grouchy because my own personal snookums was 5 before he showed an interest in the potty. No one whose child is under 5 is allowed to obsess about this, in my book. It ain't exactly the end of the world.

Getting in a fight with your child over toileting is pointless anyway because the child holds all the cards, and anything else he feels like holding. You can scream, you can cry, you can threaten, you can cajole, but in this one area of life, your child has ultimate control. How empowering for the little one! Mama may be able to force food down her throat, but Mama can't force it down the other end. I did have an occupational therapist suggest at one point that I give my son suppositories to make him sit and deliver, but that seemed somewhat insane. On the other end of the laid back scale were plenty of people who assured me that he probably wouldn't go to college in diapers. Isn't that reassuring--you mean by the end of high school, he'll get with the program? Only 13 more years of diapers to go!

Most often, I suppose, toilet-training panic sets in when an artificial social deadline imposes: the preschool that won't change diapers. Thanks to special-ed preschool, that deadline took a long time to loom for my boy. The special-ed teacher wasn't thrilled about the diapers, but those nasty IDEA laws meant that developmentally delayed diaper wearers could not be turned away. This is what classroom aides are for, at any rate. But the time did come when I wanted my guy to be in an after-school program, and the after-school program, being private, could do whatever it pleased. Their no-five-year-olds-in-diapers policy necessitated a get-tough policy on our part.

What finally worked--better than yelling, better than reading Mister Rogers' Going to the Potty or the gender-specific Once upon a Potty, better than begging him to do it for Mama, better than leaving him on the toilet for hours, better than bribes and better than threats--was the guerilla tactic of just taking away his pants. No diapers, no pants, no nothing but a bare bottom for as many days as it took. To guard against mess, I followed him around with a crib liner and a porta-potty and made him sit on one or the other at all times. We cleared the schedule for a week so he could just stay home and be butt naked, but it turned out not to be necessary: He started using the toilet on day 1, and never looked back. I'd like to think it was my parenting brilliance that did the trick, but I know deep down that he was just ready. Thank goodness, because I can't even imagine how much icky cleaning up I'd have had to do if he wasn't.

I'm glad it's over. If I adopt again, I'm sorely tempted to do it past the age of diapers, 'cause doing this once was enough. I sympathize with moms who still have it to do. Unless their kiddos are under 5. Then, I don't want to hear about it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Tackle or talk

"Fight-or-flight" vs. "tend-and-befriend."

That's the difference in the way men and women handle stress, according to a recent report by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Studies have shown that females facing a predator, disaster or a particularly bad day at the office tend to respond by caring for their offspring and seeking contact and support from others, especially other females," says the Associated Press report on the report. While men tend to respond by punching someone or wordlessly watching televised sports.

This may explain why men don't ask for directions; they'd rather forge a previously unknown path to the destination or just go ahead and drive the wrong way for 100 miles or so. And why their wives spend that drive time stewing, leading the kids in road songs, and thinking about how they're going to tell their friends about this bonehead maneuver. Women are always thinking about how they're going to tell their friends things. That's what friends are for--to provide support and advice, sure, but also to be an audience to the incredible behavior to which we are subjected. At any given time on the all-mother e-mail support group I belong to, about 80% of posts are about stressful incidents and how to deal with them. About 75% of the incidents involve men. Hey, UCLA researchers, study that, why don'tcha.

My husband's pretty much a flight kinda guy. His way of dealing with stress is to pretend it's not there. If I just go about my business and put one foot in front of the other, he seems to think, that bothersome thing will just go away. That's all well and good if the problem does not involve me. But when the problem is, say, that I'm annoyed with him, his flight plan sends me ranting to my friends. And if the problem is that he's annoyed with me, his complete disinterest in confronting the situation drives me crazy. I finally asked him the other day to kindly let me know when he was done being angry, since it was somewhat hard to tell. I think he said okay, but then I never heard anymore about it. I don't think he's still angry; I think he just finally ran fast enough, then forgot. I never forget. And if I do, my friends remind me.

As for tending the kids in time of stress...well, gee, does yelling at them for minor infractions that I'd ordinarily ignore count? Usually, when I'm upset about something, I'm too busy befriending to tend. But when my husband and I disagree about a child-rearing situation, then I do tend to tend. Become Supermom, is what I do. All knowing, all caring, all powerful. If the kids know what's good for them, they go along. And Papa stomps into the bedroom to watch the ball game.

Leaving me free to call someone and complain.

Monday, May 22, 2000

Sensitive or stressed?

On my daughter's last report card, her teacher noted that she is a "very sensitive child." Now, this could mean she's particularly heedful of the feelings of her friends, a kind child who cares about others. It could mean she reacts badly to allergens in foodstuffs or the environment. It could mean that her sense of touch is highly developed. But it doesn't. I know what the teacher is really saying. "Sensitive" in this case is merely shorthand for "cries in class."

Now, to my way of thinking, a sensitive child would cry because somebody said something mean to her, or because somebody was leaving her out of something fun, or because somebody was doing something better than her, or because somebody looked at her funny. She would feel these things deeply, think about them often, and weep with frustration or despair. She would brood on them, and remain on the brink of tears for hours, even days. Not so my girl. She's mostly oblivious to the ways others treat her. If she mentions that someone's been picking on her, it's mostly because she can't understand why they're being so stupid. A brooder she ain't. She cries alright, but it's mostly when she doesn't know what to do--when a school assignment is confusing, when she's in an unfamiliar place, when she misunderstands someone's directions. I wouldn't call that "sensitive," myself. I'd call it..."in need of better stress-management skills," maybe. But what do I know. I'm just her mother.

No, the conventional school wisdom about my daughter is that she's "sensitive," and that label has been sticking to her since she was five years old. And since she's "sensitive," and learning disabled, and a poor little orphan to boot, she must be nurtured and protected and hugged and coddled. Last year, when I tried to wrest her out of a self-contained special-ed class and into a regular-ed inclusion class, I was told in no uncertain terms that it would "destroy her." And I wanted to say to these people, "This is a child who left the only home she had ever known and went off with strangers who spoke a strange language--went off on her first car ride and her first train ride and her first plane ride--to a place where everything was new and strange and foreign. If that experience did not destroy her, I doubt there's anything 2nd graders can throw at her that will."

In fact, she's done just fine in the inclusion class. But now and then they give her a worksheet that looks daunting to her, and she cries. The teacher or aide explains how to do it, and she stops. The aide describes it as an anxiety attack. The teacher describes it as "sensitive." And her speech therapist is worried that if she gets the wrong teacher next year, it will "destroy her." Her IEP specifies that she should have a caring and nurturing teacher. So all those careless and soul-crushing teachers on staff? Out of the question!

Ah, well. Sometimes I think what she really needs is a teacher who will say, "Hey! You're 10 years old. What's with the tears? Snap out of it!" No matter how sensitive you are, it's really not okay to be crying at school. Someone should be giving my girl that message, but they're all too sensitive to her sensitivity. If she was really all that sensitive, she would know that her peers think it's kind of weird to be teary, and she would be bothered by their disapproval. No such luck. She'll either have to grow out of it, or avoid stress altogether, or find some mean adult to give her what-for.

Won't be me, though. I'm much too sensitive.

Friday, May 19, 2000

Does soccer make you stupid?

I knew there was a reason I didn't like soccer. I've hated the sport since I was a kid, and our phys-ed time would be spent in a grassy area between classrooms, running back and forth, kicking at the ball and each other's shins. At the time, I developed the very excellent strategy of always guarding the part of the field where the ball wasn't. This was before soccer was every child's favorite after-school obsession; nobody really much knew how to play, and the ball stayed close to the ground. I don't recall anybody impacting the ball with anything but their feet, which appears to have been a good thing: We're a smarter generation for not hitting things with our heads.

Or so opines a researcher who has tested the impact of soaring soccer balls on the heads of crash test dummies and determined that being struck by a hard sphere will hurt you--maybe even to the point of losing IQ points. This is a revelation to some folks, and many researchers disagree on the degree to which it hurts and whether it warrants any concern. Now, if the discussion were about, say, throwing books at children's heads, or toys, or small appliances, I think we could all agree that that might cause a dead brain cell or two or two thousand. But a soccer ball--well, we like soccer! Soccer is good! Soccer builds strong bodies and tough skulls! We need our soccer! So a hard heavy soccer ball cannot possibly bruise the brain! Shins, on the other hand, we guard like crazy.

I am not a soccer mom. My kids play on no teams at present; we're spending so much time trying to build up their brains that we have no time left over to knock them around. My daughter, who shows serious jock potential, did go to a soccer camp last summer, though. The ad said over and over again that it was for kids of all skill levels, her skill level being zip, but when we got there, all the kids had their little uniforms and shin guards on and had clearly been playing the game for a while. My girl had fun, and learned some skills, though they did not alas include a grasp of which goal you're supposed to kick it into to make points for your team. I don't think they worked extensively on heading the ball, thank goodness--her brain has enough problems as it is.

Some would say they should have worked on it a lot; the trouble with heading comes when it's done wrong. Hit the ball with your forehead, knees bent, and no harm shall come to you. Hit it with your head any old way, or worse still get hit by surprise, and we make no promises. The likelihood of kids executing this maneuver with patience and skill every time when they could just be going gonzo and whacking the thing seems slim. After all, soccer is the one place where you can hit things with your head without your mother telling you to cut that out. In fact, she may be cheering from the bleachers. There seem to be two safe options: Making the kids wear helmets, or just stopping the soccer madness right now. Switch those young developing brains to a safe sport. Like football.

Wednesday, May 17, 2000

Everybody's a critic

Before there was a World Wide Web, or at least before everybody and their brother was on it, reviewers had to have some credentials to opine about somebody’s work. Now, sometimes those credentials were sketchy; I reviewed plays for a city paper in college, and my credentials were mostly that I could string words together with some accuracy and I was willing to do it for low pay, But generally, a publication will confer status on a personage that allows said personage to analyze and sometimes rip apart a work of art at will. And the fact that it’s printed and published gives readers a reason to believe.

But of course, now that the great democratizer, the Net, has gotten a hold of so many eyeballs, everybody’s a critic. Anyone can go on and say what they really think about a book, movie, or record, and they don’t even need to leave their name to do it. Over at the Internet Movie Database, a reference I use at least as often as my dogeared copy of Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide, any old surfer can write reviews, provide synopses, or vote on a film’s quality. Entertainment Weekly offers visitors to its Web site a chance to weigh in on the “Critical Mass” poll that appears in the magazine., like amazon, gives consumers the ability to sway their fellows at the point of purchase. Roger Ebert may influence what people choose to see in the theatres, but you might be able to influence what they buy on the Web.

Now, it’s a good feeling, to be able to praise a book you loved or dis a movie you hated, and see those words onscreen. But then amazon had to go and add another dimension to it by allowing people to critique its reviewers. Every review appears with the question: “Was this review helpful to you?” and the opportunity to check “Yes” or “No.” Helpful votes are tallied, reviewers are scored, and their rankings are posted. This should just give me a warm feeling, to know that my words are helpful, but what it does is make me insanely competitive. I’m currently ranked 2106. Who are these people above me, with their odd handles and know-it-all ways? Would it be wrong to recruit a bunch of people to just log on and give their reviews unhelpful ratings? Would it be wrong to recruit a bunch of people to log on and say my reviews are keen?

It’s better than the nasty letters that Ebert undoubtedly gets about his reviews--and it’s sure better than being called and argued with by an irate play producer, as I was in my college critic days--but it still makes me want to find those people who don’t like my reviews and ask them what their problem is. One of my contributions, which seems to me to be a wholehearted bit of praise for a book I liked very much, has been rated "not helpful" by nearly half of the people who have read it. I seem to have offended other fans of the book. But how can they disagree? I spent at least five minutes writing that review!

Democracy is good, but it’s not always pretty.

Monday, May 15, 2000

Motion-free Mother's Day

Yesterday morning, my son gave me the best Mother's Day present I could wish for. No, it wasn't a card or a plant from his school's plant sale, although he gave me those, too. It wasn't a piece of jewelry or breakfast in bed or a coupon book full of chores. No, it was something much simpler, and so much harder.

He was good in church.

This is a big deal for my little guy. Sitting still and staying silent are not his strong suits. Low muscle tone and sensory-integration disorder conspire to make him feel best when he's in motion--preferably jumping--and asking him to stop moving is like asking us to refrain from shaking our foot when it's asleep. We could probably do it, but it wouldn't be easy. And at some point we would probably say "Aw, to heck with it" and start a-shaking.

My son's "to heck with it" point has been coming later and later in the service, but come it always does, and then there's trouble. We've set up permanent camp in our church's "cry room," a glassed-in retreat at the back of the sanctuary meant for wailing babies but also convenient for impulsive, motion-driven seven-year-olds. On the plus side, a boy can walk around or lay on the floor lining up cars or talk a bit or even sing softly with the choir back there if he has to. (Singing loudly with the choir, or after the choir is done, is another story.) On the minus side, he doesn't have much of an incentive to behave properly.

And so it was that yesterday, on Mother's Day of all days, one day on which I want there to be peace in the kingdom, one day in which I do not want to have to yell at anybody, or discipline anybody, or pull anybody screaming from the building, on this day we decided to try sitting in the "big church." And darned if he didn't pull it off. He spent most of the time fully reclining on the pew, as if he might take a few winks (we should be so lucky). He asked to go to the bathroom once. He asked for keys to play with a couple of times. He asked if he was being good a little too loudly. But if church behavior can be measured in stern looks from fellow parishioners, his was well on the "good" side of the scale. He even got a smile or two.

So perhaps--dare I hope--we are moving into a phase where he can hold it together, against all odds, for at least 40 or so minutes at a time. We don't require it often, but when we do, it would be awfully nice to have. Just a little leeway. A little normal behavior. A little normal life. Too much to ask for Mother's Day? Probably. But the small installment I received was pretty keen nonetheless.

Friday, May 12, 2000

The Adoption Virus

Well, I guess nobody loves me. Or at least, nobody sent me the Love Bug virus. No "ILOVEYOU" messages in my in-box. It would have been okay, because I have a Mac, like you should too, and Macs laugh at viruses, ha ha! But as the foul contagion spread through Windows-equipped computers all over the world, messing up browsers, sending out e-mails, corrupting files, stealing passwords, I couldn't help but wonder: If there is such weakness in PCs that you can make so many changes with such little input, how come nobody has ever turned this power to the good?

I mean, if you can plant something obnoxious on people's computers, couldn't you also plant something nice? Or funny? Or silly? Why not a joke-of-the-day virus? A smiley-face virus that makes the little yellow suckers pop up all over your screen? A "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" virus that causes Regis Philbin's voice to ask "Is that your final answer?" every time you hit a command key? Why hasn't some politically savvy prankster used a virus to promote a cause? Collect all the names in your e-mail address book and, say, put them on a petition? The potential to capture eyeballs to promote an idea seems so awesome. And so, in case there are any sweaty little hackers out there looking for socially redeeming work, let me be the first to propose:


Warning! If you receive an e-mail with an attachment labeled HEYWHYDONTUADOPT, don't open it! It will infect your computer with unwanted content and infect your mind with ideas about adding needy children to your family. Your e-mail will be seized, your browser will be altered, your finances will be drained, your fingerprints will be checked, your house will be too small, your child-rearing capabilities will be pushed to the breaking point, and your heart will be enlarged. Some of the more dangerous features of this insidious virus:

* Places photos from waiting-children Web sites on your screen-saver.

* Makes the Wendy's Web site your default start page.

* Automatically subscribes you to adoptive-parent e-mail lists, which then propogate at the rate of about 150 messages a day.

* Plays a sound bite of Rosie O'Donnell promoting adoption on every computer start-up.

* Starts your computer up in the middle of the night to whisper subliminal suggestions that you can do this, you can do this, you can do this.

* Hacks into your bank account and adds about $20,000.

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Wednesday, May 10, 2000

Gambling for wimps

I've always been a lousy gambler. No nerve. I play the cheapest slot machines I can find in Las Vegas or Atlantic City--that used to mean nickel slots, but now there's just a few of those machines in the farthest hidden corners of the casino, and you have to fight deeply entrenched senior citizens to get to them. You'll never see me walking around with silver dollars, though. Too cheap. Even betting quarters makes me break out in a cold sweat.

Lottery tickets are out of the question, even when the jackpot is a bazillion dollars, as it's been in New Jersey these last few days. People are lining up around the corner to buy lottery tickets. People from other states are beseeching New Jersey-ites on e-mail lists to buy them lottery tickets. Story one on the news is lottery tickets--who's buying them, who's selling them, who's winning or not. Lottery fever--they've got it. They're in it to win it. And I'm thinking...I'm thinking, I'm going to buy a ticket, I'm going to lose, I'm going to feel stupid. No one anyone knows ever wins those things. I've got a dollar and a dream, but no guts.

Which is why I love Surely you've seen the commercials for this internet portal, which run approximately every two minutes on the TV network of your choice. The idea is that you can win money for doing just what you would ordinarily do--read the news, search the internet, check your stocks, look at your horoscope. You earn entries for each of these activities, and at the end of each day there's a drawing for a fabulous cash prize, and no one anyone knows ever wins those things, but at least you've held on to your silver dollars. It's like a daily lottery with no cash investment and no standing in lines involved. Well, of course, they probably do keep a record of your every internet move and sell the information to the highest bidder so that they can pelt you with spam, but isn't that a small price to pay?

As so rarely happens on the net, this site does actually have things I'm interested in. The search engine is surprisingly effective, almost as good as my favorite,, which doesn't pay squat. The news stories are pretty much the same as those on my personalized Yahoo page, which similarly offers no payoff. And there's sort of a cheap--a very cheap--thrill to seeing my entries piling up in the tallies at the top of the page. Too bad it cuts you off at 100 a day, though; I feel like a sucker to keep using the portal after that, and so I'm constantly saving something I want to do 'til tomorrow.

That's about as much gambling as I can handle, though. Oh, well, that, and adopting children with special needs from Russia and hoping that everything works out okay. That's about the biggest gamble I've made in my life, and it cost a heckuva lot more than a few silver dollars. Payoff's pretty great, though.

Monday, May 08, 2000

Rites of spring

We've just survived one of the rites of passage of elementary school: the Standardized Test. I can remember taking them in my distant youth--bubbles to fill in, multiple choices, story problems, a break from the routine. I don't remember them being as big a deal then as they seem to be now, but in truth I don't recall all that much from, um, thirty-some years ago. Maybe we really did drop everything for a month and do nothing but study for the test. Maybe it did last for a week. Maybe my teacher did mandate early bedtimes on test days, and maybe the school's budget and reputation were determined by how I did.

That's the way things are now, anyway. My daughter's class was told to "study like crazy," and so we brought the pages and pages and pages of worksheets with us on vacation and took a little time between the pool and the parks and the play to get ready for the Big Test. Bad luck for the school, the teacher, the district, all those entities who stand to lose, that the test dates were immediately after spring break. A week of no discipline, of trips and disrupted routines and jet lag. All that classroom prep slipping away.

But we survived. My daughter thought the test was kind of hard, but mostly easy. My son is in first grade, and so doesn't take the test, but the other kids in his self-contained special-ed class are second graders, and test-worthy. So he spent much of the week in a different classroom, with a group of hearing-impaired kids, and now he wants to learn to talk with his hands. So at least something educational transpired in those five days.

Now that that rite is out of the way comes another rite, this one for parents: the dreaded IEP meeting. There'll be no official results from the Big Test, but I'll find out how my kids have done on the countless little tests they've been subjectively subjected to over the year. Have they met their goals? Have they developed appropriately? Is their behavior worthy? Does the picture the professionals will paint of their abilities at all resemble the children I know and love? It's not a test--it shouldn't be a test--but I always feel as though I'm walking into an interrogation room, where my skill at getting my kids what they need will be sorely tested by tricky rhetoric, psychological manipulation, and gang warfare. There are no bubbles to color in, but plenty of i's to dot and t's to cross and ducks to line up in a row.

Fortunately, I've been studying like crazy.

Friday, May 05, 2000

Quit bugging me!

My son is delayed in just about everything. From his small size (way down there off the bottom of the charts) to his fine and gross motor skills to his language ability to his social and emotional development, he's running anywhere from a bit to a lot behind. Therapists, special-ed teachers, and his father and I work tirelessly to bring him along and catch him up. Yet when it comes to harrassing his sister, I must admit, the boy is right on schedule.

I was an only child growing up, and so I missed the sibing-rivalry experience. I always wanted a little brother or sister, but now that I see what that entails, I think there's a lot to be said for solitude. I had counted on a sibling as an in-house friend, an ever-present playmate, someone always available to bask in my wonderfulness and reflect it back at me. But at the same time, that little person sharing your home can be your enemy, seeking out your weaknesses and exploiting them, saying just that thing that will make you lose your temper, preferably in front of Mom and Dad.

My daughter, with neurological problems of her own, is certainly easy to bug. With her rigidly literal world view and inflexible sense of right and wrong, there's a hair-trigger quality to her outrage. And that's not lost on the boy. Among the things that he knows will tick her off are copying her in any way, from deliberately repeating her words to simply asking for the same kind of juice; hugging, pinching, or touching without filling out the appropriate paperwork first; making up funny stories instead of always telling the cold hard literal truth; and saying her name in a loud and sing-songy way he likes. This is a boy who has no skill for social cues, who cannot seem to read other people, and who has yet to develop much sophisticated emotion himself. But his ability to drive this one girl crazy is unerring.

So much of what he does is impulsive, obsessive, or compulsive that it's hard to believe he could be doing this on purpose. He repeats phrases in that sing-songy way all the time, and it seems to come from a part of his brain that has little to do with conscious thought. He's often in his own world, which can be seen from ours but does not run on the same rules. His preoccupation with his own needs and interests can make him hard to reach and hard to discipline. But with his sister--well, I've seen that gleam in his eye. There's deliberate manipulation going on there, and though I'm sorry for her unhappiness, I can only take that sort of involvement with another person's feelings and reactions as a positive step forward for him.

But he better not get any ideas about teasing me.

Wednesday, May 03, 2000

Buckle up before you ride off that cliff

Hey, moms, here's a surprise: A new survey says that television shows contain far too much unsafe behavior. And we're not even talking about Walker, Texas Ranger taking on multiple gun-wielding thugs with just his bare feet, or foolish women falling in love with maverick loner series regulars when they know they're just going to get killed off before the end of the hour, or cocky contestants on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" risking thousands on wild guesses while they still have lifelines.

No, the researchers were more concerned about the way characters leave their helmets off when bicycling or cross in the middle of the street, without even looking. Kids, don't try that at home! Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia checked out over 200 kiddie shows and found 47% showed at least one habit you don't want your youngsters picking up. More than 50% failed to show consequences for unsafe behavior. And more than 60% of cartoons showed safety violations. This is probably not even counting things like running in place when someone's chasing you or using Acme products without reading the instructions or picking up an anvil to drop on somebody's head without properly warming up your muscles first.

The one thing that really surprises me about the study is that kids who watched four hours of TV a day were found to be more than four times as likely to sustain injuries requiring hospitalization. But when did these children have time to injure themselves? Seems to me the safest thing would be to keep the younguns parked, semi-comatose, in front of the set, unable to act on all those unsafe impulses for lack of opportunity. Don't let them up! Don't let them out!

But of course, there will have to be changes in these TV programs, for all those kiddos out there who can't tell 'toons from the truth and believe that, say, swallowing explosives like their favorite animated character and getting that black-and-sizzled look would be cooler than cool. From now on, any Road Runner cartoon will have to include a scene in which Wile E. Coyote puts the defective Acme product back in its original packaging and delivers it to Ralph Nader; he and his little bird buddy can then slowly walk--because running fast along cliffs and in the vicinity of cactus is surely unsafe--to Mr. Rogers' place to resolve their differences in a calm and reasonable manner. Those Animorphs kids may no longer turn into animals without parental supervision, and they must remain on a leash at all times. No more broomstick-flying for Sabrina the Teenage Witch unless she's outfitted with helmet, kneepads, and a good working parachute. The children of America don't need anything left to chance.

Monday, May 01, 2000

Fun is where you find it

I must have missed the Disney press release about this, but there's an irresistible new attraction at the Epcot portion of Disney World in Orlando. It's not a ride, it's not a show, it's not an amazing computer simulation or brilliantly orchestrated animatronic display or IMAX movie. It has cars, but they're not moving. They're just sitting there, on display--eight GM vehicles, Saturns to Cadillacs, sportscars to minivans, doors open, welcoming all comers to sit behind the wheel and...well, sit behind the wheel.

Hey, it was my son's favorite attraction. He played there for hours. It was the red-hot E-ticket highlight of his visit to Florida, and he measured every moment of our Magic Kingdom visit two days later against it. Oh, sure, yeah, jungle cruises, teacups, It's a Small World, yada, yada, yada. Where was the GM display? Where were the cars? Don't tell him about the racecar track--those cars are fake, and loud. Give him a real live driving machine, albeit a stationary one, and he's a happy boy.

In truth, he would have been a happy boy if we'd just stayed by the pool at the timeshare. Parks and lines and crowds and noise and unpredictable movements aren't his 16-ounce cup of overpriced soda. He's a man of simple tastes. Give him water, sun, and a couple of pool toys and he's set. It's just his pesky parents who want to drag him off to be enchanted, dammit. Have fun! Feel the magic! Ride a ride already! This is what kids do!

My daughter's a little more appreciative of all the theme park folderol, but really, she'd be happy by the pool, too. We met some friends for lunch at Epcot, and their kids were also begging to just go play in the pool. Thank goodness for the Orlando economy and the health of the Walt Disney corporation that Boomer parents have an ingrained, biological need to bring their young to theme parks in order to recapture the wonder of their lost childhoods. Bad luck for us that all our kids are wondering is when they can get the heck out of there.

Next time, we'll just rent a bunch of cars, park them near the pool and let the kids go crazy. The way theme park prices are going, this will probably be a bargain.