Thursday, May 31, 2001

Wrong for rites

Last night, I went to a meeting at our church to register my son for First Communion. I did it with trepidation, because I was sure the religious education director would spy me from the front of the room, reach out with an enormous cane, and yank me outta there. "You? What are you doing here? What makes you think your noisy, jumpy little boy could be eligible for First Communion? He can't be in church for five minutes without screaming! He'll ruin it for everybody!"

Let's just say I'm feeling a little defensive about my son just now. He's been getting sad faces on his behavior chart at school, the special-needs summer camp he's gone to for two years is sounding a bit testy about dealing with his behavioral issues, and with summer religious education classes coming up, I know I'm going to be debating with the director about just how inclusive their inclusion of my little special-needs kid is going to be.

Plus, have I mentioned his behavior in church? It's hugely, hugely better than it used to be. But it's still awful.

My worrying, at least about last night, turned out to be for nothing. There were no enormous canes in evidence. My son's name was on the list of prospective communicants, just like everybody else's. If the director and her assistant thought, "Omigosh, not HIM!", they did not say it to my face. For one evening, at least, he was just another boy.

Which leaves for me, apparently, the job of discerning if he's really ready. And raises the uncomfortable possibility that the people responsible for turning him away from this spiritual rite of passage may be his very own mom and dad. It's so much easier when administrators do that sort of thing; it's so much easier to be a righteously indignant mother bear. I'm really good at that.

But not so good in examining my son's spiritual side. I'm not sure he has one. He may be able to cognitively grasp the facts associated with the Eucharist, but can he understand the significance and the solemnity of the act? Can he be trusted not to, say, taste the Host and then spit it out if he doesn't like it? Can he have any understanding of what taking the Host means, beyond just putting a wafer in your mouth? I have my doubts that most seven-year-olds can, but they will eventually; will my neurologically impaired guy ever?

Then there's the issue of First Reconciliation, which in less enlightened days we called confession, and penance. We are to prepare our children for this by discussing the things they do wrong and talking about the need to confess our sins and ask forgiveness. I don't even know how to consider the notion of sin with my son, who is impulsive not out of sinfulness but because of prenatal brain damage, and doesn't have a clue why he does what he does. All the reading I've done lately on fetal alcohol damage suggests that the worst thing you can do is make the child feel like he's "bad." I don't think the church is interested in doing that anymore, either, but you can't talk about sin without at least tiptoing in that direction. The religious education director indicated that, if a child is not ready for First Reconciliation, he can delay it for a couple of years and still make First Communion. Maybe we could delay it indefinitely? At this point, we suspect that our son would go into the confessional, ask the priest what kind of car he drives, and request to see his car keys.

In a way, it seems silly to be worrying about my boy's religious development when there are so many basic developmental issues in fret-worthy condition. It must seem silly to any readers out there for whom religion is not important. It is important to our family, and finding a way to help my son participate fully in the life of the church is an ongoing challenge. If anyone else out there is meeting that challenge with a special-needs child, drop me a note. Maybe God will grant us a little inspiration.

Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Oh, to be young and in New Hampshire

Where's the very best, tip-top place in the U.S. to spend your childhood? If you said New Hampshire, you're ... well, you're right, but you've probably already read about the new Kids Count report put out by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Or else you're the governor of New Hampshire.

The report tabulated looked at such child-well-being factors as infant, child, and teen deaths; child poverty; teenage motherhood; and high-school dropout rates. And the findings for the nation at large look pretty good. Improvement has been seen in all the above-mentioned areas, and the only negative trend was an increase in dangerously underweight babies. Otherwise, being an American child is looking pretty darn good.

Especially if you're in New Hampshire, which was ranked first for children's welfare among the fifty states. Rounding out the Top 10 were the great states of Minnesota, Utah, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Jersey, Nebraska, Washington and Maine. And the places where youth is most mispent? Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana and, coming in dead last, Mississippi.

A look at the U.S. Census Web site confirms that New Hampshire is a fine enough place grow up. It ranks 50th in infant mortality, 49th in violent crime, 49th in unemployment, 45th in motor vehicle deaths. Interestingly, it also ranks first in the nation in "retail sales per household." Which makes me think there are a lot of very happy teenage girls tipping the scale in the state's favor.

All joking aside, it's nothing but good news to read that infant mortality has fallen by 22 percent nationwide, deaths among kids 14 and under by 23 percent, teen deaths by 24 percent, teenage births by 19 percent, high school dropouts by 10 percent. May those trends continue. It's good news, too, to read that only 16.9 percent of American children live in poverty ... and appalling to think that any do. May the next Kids Count report find that statistic wiped out entirely.

Thursday, May 24, 2001

Fetal felony

I think we could all agree, especially those of us parenting children with fetal alcohol exposure, that the damage done to a developing fetus by a birthmother's substance abuse is a tragedy.

But should it be a felony too?

That's the question raised by a case in South Carolina in which a mother who used crack cocaine during her pregnancy was convicted of homicide after her baby was stillborn at 35 weeks. The prosecutor declared that her continuing to smoke as much crack as she could despite its effect on her child showed "extreme indifference to life." And, undoubtedly, to what that child's life would have been like had he or she lived.

Which leads one to wonder, with great trepidation, whether, if a person can be charged with murder for killing a fetus, should they be charged with assault for knowingly and deliberately causing grave damage to that developing child? FAS is a completely preventable birth defect, with lifelong implications for the child, the family, and for society. If you did the kind of brain damage to a child by shaking him or hitting him or beating him about the head with a stick that you do by drinking alcohol during pregnancy, you would be looking at some serious jail time. Ought there to be some culpability for that alcohol-induced damage? And would it make any difference?

Probably not. Probably it would just result in less prenatal care, less honesty about alcohol use and more secrecy for FAS/E. Given the amount of damage that can be done before a woman even knows she's pregnant -- and given the fact that many birthparents of FAS/E babies are FAS/E victims themselves -- that "knowingly and deliberately" gets a little hard to prove. All around, it's a tragedy. That much is beyond debate.

Friday, May 18, 2001

Maybe it's offensive

The jungle drums are beating in the adoption community about a new fall offering on The WB. This is probably the most attention a show on The WB has received from grown-ups in a long time, but the fact that the netlet caters to the young is one reason everybody's so concerned. Another is that people in the adoption community tend to be on sharp lookout for things to be offended by. Which doesn't mean they're not right to be offended. I'm just saying.

On the face of it, the show looks promising for a couple of reasons: Julia Sweeney and Fred Willard play the parents, and the executive producer is a "Frasier" veteran. And it looks not-so-promising for a couple of reasons: The main character is an adolescent, there are twins in the cast, and the plot sounds like yet another recycling of "Malcolm in the Middle." I could get offended that there's not more interesting work on the tube for Sweeney and Willard, or that we may be seeing the dawning of another set of Olsens, but that's not what all the other adoptive parents are getting offended about.

They're getting offended about the title, which is: "Maybe I'm Adopted."

An e-mail writing campaign has already started against the title, and The WB's online message board is predictably hopping. Some message titles, to indicate the depth of righteous indignation at play here:

• I am embarrassed for WB
• Tacky and offensive title
• Maybe......this is an offensive title!!!!
• Lose this TACKY title!
• Maybe I'm Adopted....PULEEZE!!!
• Maybe I'm Adopted...YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED WB
• Maybe I'm not Black; Maybe I'm in a wheelchair; MAYBE...
• OFFENSIVE to families formed by adoption!!!
• Absolutely Unacceptable!
• Does Rosie know about this show?
• Did you actually pay someone to come up with this title
• Adoption is nothing to joke about!
• Not a very thought out title
• Get RID of that OFFENSIVE title!!!!!!!
• The title is completly horrible....assuming that a crappy confused life must be like being adopted...

On that last point, I think that actually being adopted is positioned as preferable to having a crappy confused life, "Maybe I'm adopted" being wishful thinking for this young lady. But that's nitpicking. It's a foolish choice for a title, and makes me think that either the creators genuinely didn't know that the adoption community had a hair-trigger, or they did know and wanted to get some publicity for a show that sounds mediocre and unmemorable at best. Personally, I'd say the best policy is to ignore it, and given the fact that it is on The WB, it will most assuredly go away. But then, I'm not feeling particularly righteously indignant this morning.

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Juice rationing

The American Academy of Pediatrics, my new favorite whipping boy, recently issued guidelines on the drinking of juice. Now, if you're like me, at this point you're hoping that what the American Academy of Pediatrics said is: Juice is good! Let them drink juice! Juice in the morning! Juice in the evening! Juice any old time at all! Lots and lots of delicious juice for everybody!

But of course, they didn’t say that. They hate parents. What they said was that we have to limit our children's juice consumption to 4 to 6 ounces a day for kids up to 6, and 12 ounces a day for kids up to 18. By the time they reach 18, goodness knows, we’ve long stopped worrying about them drinking juice and started worrying about them drinking other things.

Four to 6 ounces. Twelve ounces. Think about those amounts for a moment. That’s less than a cup a day for the little ones, and a cup and a half for the big kids. Or, if you measure like I do, one-and-a-half small juiceboxes for the under-6 set and one big juicebox and most of a small one for the 7-and-ups.

Let's all enjoy a hearty laugh now, shall we?

There are days my daughter exceeds her limit at breakfast. She drinks juice like some people breathe. It's always been that way, since we adopted her at age 4.5; I think maybe "juice" was her second English word, after "cookie." She has an unlimited capacity. We have to ration the stuff at dinner to make sure she eats, but 12 ounces a day? There would be open warfare.

Now, I've fought the good fight on beverages before. I sharply restrict soda intake, I forbid flourescent Gatorade, and I stand firm against the ditzy drinks advertised on Nickelodeon (No, you may not have the Koolaid that changes colors. I don't care if it's cool. Because I'm the American Academy of Pediatrics, that's why).

When we serve juice, we generally serve 100% fruit juice, just like the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests. Although, I’ll admit, my husband does have a weakness for those wacky Tropicana Twister flavors (Kiwi strawberry! Guava grape! Raspberry Kumquat!) and brings that sugar-supplemented stuff home more often than I’d like. The American Academy of Pediatrics needs to go to the supermarket with him and slap his hand.

But even when it’s the good stuff ... one-and-a-half cups max? Puh-leese. Does the American Academy of Pediatrics have children itself? What are the kids supposed to drink instead? Water? Is that really safe and pure enough? We all know about tap water, and recent reports have said bottled water isn’t so hot either. Milk? I’ve recently upped my daughter’s milk to two glasses a day, at her pediatrician’s suggestion, even though a gentleman on one of my e-mail lists has recently suggested that Milk Is the Root of All Health and Nutritional Evil. So what exactly do they drink? My kids are a little young for coffee and diet soda, which is how I personally drink my way through the day.

The concern with juice seems to be that it 1) keeps kids from eating whole fruits, like they need an excuse; 2) provides too many sugary calories, thereby rotting their teeth and promoting obesity; and 3) all those carbs can cause diarrhea. It’s nice of the American Academy of Pediatrics to be concerned, but frankly, my kids eat fruit (well, okay, my son eats fruit), both of them have good teeth and slim builds, and we’re pooping just fine, thanks. Fruit juice appears to be doing us no harm. Limiting fruit juice, on the other hand, would increase our household stress rate by 566%, and that can’t be good. I think we’ll have to opt for family sanity over optimum nutrition.

That is, unless the American Academy of Pediatrics wants to come over and babysit.

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Field tripping

This is field trip week at my kids' school, apparently, because my daughter went on hers yesterday and my son has his on Thursday. That takes care of grades 1-3, so I'm guessing grades 4 and 5 are heading out today or tomorrow. The schools must just rent those buses by the week.

It took three buses -- not sweaty old schoolbuses but sleek, air-conditioned tour buses with videos in the front and bathrooms in the back -- to transport my daughter, her third grade classmates, and all the other third- and second-grade classes to the Bronx Zoo. There are closer zoos, but I suppose if you're going to spring for the fancy buses you might as well drive them somewhere.

I tried to find out whether my daughter liked the zoo, and what she did there, but of course that sort of information is top-secret from a third-grader, and distributed on a need-to-know basis. So I resorted to specific questions: Prettiest animal? Fish. Ugliest animal? Lion. Biggest animal? Elephant. Smallest animal? Fish. Love those fish.

Her least favorite place in the zoo was the World of Darkness display. Her favorite place was the gift shop. Ahhh ... she may be adopted, but she's my daughter, alright.

When my son takes his field trip, I won't have to pump him for info, because I get to go with. As Class Mother, it is my privilege to spend two hours each way to drive with a bunch of first grade kids and my son's special-ed class to some Crayola factory the next state over. Again, there must be fun places closer by. The buses better be good.

Endless bus rides with small children aside, I do enjoy going on my son's field trips, if only to see how he interacts with the kids and the staff. There's no way to really spy effectively in the classroom, but field trips are perfect for stealthy observation. If I'm lucky, the teacher will make his aide deal with my son's behavior and I'll get to know some of the other kiddos. Otherwise, if I'm having to wrangle Behavior Boy on a day when routine is out the window and chaos reigns, I'll worry that the other grown-ups are busy observing me.

And that's scarier than the World of Darkness any day.

Monday, May 14, 2001

Time for the kids

At last, miracle of miracles -- a report on the time children spend with their parents that doesn't beat up on working moms.

In fact, the study, conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, suggests that today's working mothers spend as much time with their kids as stay-at-home moms did 20 years ago.

Overall, parents are finding more time than ever: Kids studied in 1997 spent 31 hours a week with their moms, as opposed to 25 hours in 1981. Time spent with Dad increased more markedly, from 19 hours in 1981 to 23 in 1997. That average increase is impressive enough, but when you factor in that the number of working moms has increased, from 50 percent in 1981 to 63 percent in 1997, it's gratifying to note that far from their dragging down the average, the average has increased. Either those moms are making an effort to be there for their kids, or the 1997 stay-at-home moms were on top of their offspring every waking moment.

I'd guess the former, though many stay-at-home moms probably feel it's the latter. I've seen the debate flare up more times than I want to think about on e-mail lists, where either side can become wildly defensive at the merest turn of a phrase. I probably shouldn't even be bringing this up here. People are already probably preparing to write me mean e-mails for suggesting that working moms can spend the kind of time with their kids that stay-at-home moms can. Or vice versa.

The fact is, I feel like I have a foot in both camps. I've been lucky. When we adopted our kids back in 1994, I was able to work out a schedule with my employer by which I worked from home four days a week and went into the office only on my husband's day off. So although I was working, I was also a stay-at-home mom, able to interact with my developmentally delayed twosome and schlep them to early intervention and evaluations and doctors appointments and enrichment opportunities. What this mostly meant was that I wound up cramming my eight hours of work into the hours when they were sleeping and I should have been. But we spent time together.

My days in the office eventually expanded to two, necessitating a one-day-a-week in-home child-care person for my son one year and an after-school program the next; both of those, I think, were beneficial to him. Now that both kids are in school all day, I've taken a different job that lets me leave the office at 3 p.m. and finish my work at home. So as far as the kids are concerned, I might as well be a stay-at-home mom. I'm there before school and after school, and am usually available for things during school.
I'll admit, though, that while my kids have my time, they don't always have my mind. Work is undeniably a distraction. There are things I'd like to do for the kids that don't get done because I'm at work during the day, and because I can't really spend unterrupted alone time planning things out. Whether I'd actually do them if I had the opportunity is another matter entirely, but doesn't affect my capacity for guilt.

Actually, though, the more distracting thing about work is that I do it well. It's concrete, it's do-able, I know how to do it, and when it's done there is a feeling of satisfaction and competency. That is something that, day in and day out, it's very hard to get from parenting, especially special-needs parenting. With my kids, I'm constantly guessing and flailing for answers and worrying and wondering what I should be doing. Something that works one time is a disaster the next. Experts tell me different things, some of which I disagree with. There is nothing concrete. The outcome is a million times more important than anything I deal with at the office, and yet I don't feel competent to do the job at all.

And so, when the choice comes up between struggling through yet another homework assignment with my learning disabled daughter -- seeing again how impossible it is for her to do math word problems, or say what a story is about -- or gluing myself to the computer to do "my work," it's all too easy to slip into work mode. Work is so much easier.

Writing about my kids, in forums like this, is easier than dealing with them, too. So is reading books about kids that I'm sure will help me deal with them, but often give me an excuse not to deal with them. Does time spent thinking about your children count as quality time, or do you actually have to spend time with them?

Sometimes I feel guilty about all the distractions that come between me and my kids. And sometimes I feel those distractions are the things that let me keep my grip. Kids need parents to spend time with them, goodness knows, but everybody needs a time out now and again, some days more than others. I won’t judge your way of doing that, and I’ll try not to judge mine too harshly, either.

Friday, May 11, 2001

A visit to the doctor

My daughter had her 11-year-old visit with the pediatrician yesterday, and there's good news and bad news.

The good news is that she's growing like crazy, jumping nearly five inches this year, up to 5 feet tall and the 85th percentile on the height chart.

The bad news is that we now have official confirmation that she is two inches taller than me. And that when you're two years behind in school, being at the 85th percentile in height for your advanced age is probably not such a good thing.

The good news is that she is no longer shy with the doctor and answers questions, so that I don't have to provide running commentary throughout the visit.

The bad news is that she babbles. And giggles when the doctor examines her.

The good news is that the doctor thinks she's still six months to a year away from her first period, and goodness knows the later with that, the better.

The bad news is that even with the doctor's mom-suggested speech about how important it is to keep our bodies clean as we get older and start to smell bad, my girl still doesn't want to take a shower every day.

The good news is that she now sits still for shots and blood drawing, no longer requiring staff to come in from all over the building to hold her down.

The bad news is that instead of buying her some cheap little toy for being good during shots and blood drawing, I now have to buy her a $20 video.

The good news is that it was a good visit, with a clean bill of health at the end, and much less stressful than going through the same routine with my son.

And the better news is that we don't have to do it again for a year.

Thursday, May 10, 2001

Playing by the rules

I finally managed to sign my kids up for classes run by our town's Parks and Recreation department -- have always meant to in the past, and always missed the deadlines -- and after one session each, I can report that the kids are doing fine, and I'm feeling dumb.

My daughter is taking a baseball skills class, and did pretty well with catching and throwing. I frequently heard the coach say "Excellent!" when she did something, which is majorly gratifying. She's been saying that she doesn't do well with catching and throwing at recess, while I think she does pretty well with it at home; my theory that the other kids are really the ones who are bad seems to be supported now by her class performance. Good for her.

My son is taking a gardening class run by senior citizens, and as I'd hoped, some nice lady has taken him under her wing. A few of the women clearly wondered why I had inflicted this jumpy, distractable, impulsive, noncooperative little demon upon them, but his new friend just took him with her and worked with him one on one and unflappably waved me away when I tried to make him shape up a time or two. She later explained that she had a grandson with ADHD, who shares a name with my boy, and that she also worked for a nursery school. So it looks like he's going to be okay, and he sure liked digging in dirt.

So why am I feeling dumb, when things are working out so well? See, here's the thing: My daughter is the only girl in the baseball class, and my son is the only boy in gardening. I don't know if this makes them look like bold gender pioneers, or like kids whose mother doesn't know the gender rules.

I'll hope for the latter, though my daughter reports that her on-again, off-again best friend is mad at her for taking a baseball class because everybody knows girls play softball. Maybe she's just worried that my girl will find out that she's not the one who doesn't know how to throw.

Wednesday, May 09, 2001

Ranking motherhood

Hate to break it to you competitive types out there, but the U.S. is no longer among the Top 10 places to be a mother.

Now, considering the number of Hallmark stores per square mile, the frequency of florist commercials, and the constant flow of “I Love Mom” art projects that come home from my kids’ school on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day and any old day at all, you would think that this was a pretty darn fine country for mothers. But Save the Children would beg to differ. The foundation’s latest “Mother’s Index” ranks the U.S. as an also-ran 11, behind Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Austria, Australia and the United Kingdom but above 83 others, including bottom-dwellers Benin, Central African Republic, Mauritania, Burundi, Gambia, Yemen, Mali, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and, last and least, Guinea Bissau.

Clearly, the foundation is not making these assessments on the prevalance of lovely floral arrangements and handprint art. Their interest is health, and their ratings, according to an Intelihealth report, are based on “a mother's access to health care, use of contraception and family planning, literacy rate, and participation in government.” Which makes me wonder: Wouldn’t use of contraception and family planning lead to fewer mothers? Maybe happier ones, too, but still, it seems like a technicality.

The U.S. loses rank because, although its health care abilities are state of the art, good health care is inequitably distributed. That, I can’t argue with. It’s inequitably distributed along racial lines, as the foundation notes, but also geographically and among different abilities. Parents who may have been pleased with the health care their normally developing children received may find themselves battling and struggling and drowning in paperwork when trying to get appropriate services and coverage and even respectful attention for a child with special needs.

America sinks even lower on the “Girl’s Index,” largely because of the large number of teen pregnancies. That number is less large than it used to be, but apparently large enough to sink us to 22 out of 140 nations, on a par with Greece and Hungary. I guess the rationale that motherhood is so wonderful here that even the very young want to try it doesn’t hold much water with the Save the Children folks.

My daughter would no doubt agree that being a girl in the U.S. is not such a great thing, but her criteria would be: 1) We won’t let her drive at age 11; 2) We won’t let her have a dog, but we make her have a younger brother; and 3) We won’t get her a wheeled backpack even though EVERYONE ELSE at her school has one. I believe in her “Girl’s Index,” our household would rank dead last, way behind all those households where the mothers let the daughters do whatever they want.

I don’t know what those moms are thinking of, but they’re sure dragging down my personal “Mother’s Index.” Maybe we should move to Sweden. Do they have wheeled backpacks there?

Tuesday, May 08, 2001

Have a safe summer

It must be almost summer, because the weather hereabouts is getting hot, camp deadlines are approaching, both my kids IEPs have been planned for next year, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a set of summer safety tips.

We're going to print them here, in the interest of parent education and all that good stuff, but we also have to admit that safety tips like these assume a perfect world that we personally don't live in. A world where children stand still for sunscreen application. A world where adults have nothing to do but supervise their kids. A world where every decision made from dawn to dusk, is made with safety in mind, and not with, say, just GETTING THE KIDS TO SHUT UP.

So along with the AAP's suggestions, we're adding a few of our own. Stay cool, okay?


AAP says:
* Babies under 6 months of age should be kept out of the direct sunlight. Move your baby to the shade or under a tree, umbrella, or the stroller canopy.
* Dress babies in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs and use brimmed hats.
* Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside, and use sunscreen even on cloudy days. The sun protection factor (SPF) should be at least 15.
* Try to keep children out of the sun between 10 am and 4 pm - that's when the sun's rays are strongest.

MWA says:
Keep the kids out of that bad old sun altogether, locked in a dark room with the air-conditioner blasting, all the snack food they can eat and a 30-day supply of videos. They'll be fat and out of shape, but cancer-free.


AAP says:
* Never leave children alone in or near the pool, even for a moment.
* Make sure adults are trained in life-saving techniques and CPR so they can rescue a child if necessary.
* Surround your pool on all four sides with a sturdy five-foot fence.
* Make sure the gates self-close and self-latch at a height children can't reach.
* Keep rescue equipment (a shepherd's hook — a long pole with a hook on the end — and life preserver) and a portable telephone near the pool.
* Avoid inflatable swimming aids such as "floaties." They are not a substitute for approved life vests and can give children a false sense of security.
* Children are not developmentally ready for swim lessons until after their fourth birthday. Swim programs for children under 4 should not be seen as a way to decrease the risk of drowning.
* Whenever infants or toddlers are in or around water, an adult should be within arm's length, providing "touch supervision."

MWA says:
Pools are expensive, messy, hard to maintain, and dangerous to kids. Why bother, when they'll probably be just as happy running through the sprinklers? If they must have a body of water, let them play in the bathtub.


AAP says:
* Don't use scented soaps, perfumes or hair sprays on your child.
* Repellents appropriate for use on children should contain no more than 10 percent DEET because the chemical, which is absorbed through the skin, can cause harm. The concentration of DEET varies significantly from product to product, so read the label of any product you purchase.
* Avoid areas where insects nest or congregate, such as stagnant pools of water, uncovered foods and gardens where flowers are in bloom.
* Avoid dressing your child in clothing with bright colors or flowery prints.
* To remove a visible stinger from skin, gently scrape it off horizontally with a credit card or your fingernail. You can also remove a stinger by pinching it out with a pair of tweezers or your fingers.

MWA says:
Dressing your child in drab clothes, bearing only the scent of bug spray, does not sound like a recipe for a fun summer. Better to avoid those insect-intense areas by staying indoors, maybe in shopping malls or movie theaters or bowling alleys. Any place with air conditioning and no mosquitos.


AAP says:
* Carefully maintain all equipment.
* Swings should be made of soft materials such as rubber, plastic or canvas.
* Make sure children cannot reach any moving parts that might pinch or trap any body part.
* Make sure metal slides are cool to prevent childrens' legs from getting burned.
* Even in supervised training programs, the use of trampolines for children younger than 6 years of age should be prohibited.

MWA says:
No jumping on the bed, either.


* Buckle up car seats and seat belts.
* Keep supplies with you, such as snacks, water, a first aid kit and any medicines your child takes.
* Always use a car seat, starting with your baby's first ride home from the hospital. Help your child form a lifelong habit of buckling up.
* Read the manufacturer's instructions and always keep them with the car seat. Read your vehicle owner's manual for more information on how to install the car seat.
* Put your child in the back seat. It is the safest place in the car because it is farthest away from a head-on crash (the most common type of crash).
* The harness system holds your child in the car seat and the seat belts hold the seat in the car. Attach both snugly to protect your child.
* Children in rear-facing car seats should never be placed in a front seat equipped with an air bag.
* Children traveling alone to visit relatives or attend summer camp should have a copy of their medical information with them at all times.

MWA says:
Of course we know that there is no safe way to travel with kids. The very addition of kids makes the travel unsafe, if only because after hearing "Are we there yet?" 536 times adults may be rendered not responsible for their own actions. You want safe? Stay home, and have somebody from the American Academy of Pediatrics come over and watch your kids.

Monday, May 07, 2001

Hitting the heights

At his annual pediatric visit last month, my son approached a major milestone: He's brushing the bottom of the height and weight charts. For a boy who's been cruising along well beneath the lowest percentile all his life, this is big news. At age eight, he's thrillingly close now to being in that lowest percentile. Whoo-hoo, maybe next year he'll only be smaller than 99% of his peers, instead of 100%! We may have to have a party.

My daughter goes for her 11-year-old exam this week, and she's on the opposite end of the spectrum. I expect we'll find that her height exceeds five feet; her height certainly exceeds mine, which is only 4' 10". I'll be interested to see where that puts her on the growth chart, and if her height and weight are average or above.

Getting accurate measurements for our records and our amusement has always been one of the nicer things about these pediatric visits (as opposed to, say, shots). But now I read that it may all be an illusion. According to a recent report on the Intelihealth Web site, doctors aren't all that good at measuring children, and may in fact miss diagnosing a problem due to these mismeasurements.

The conclusion seems reasonable enough, mentioning kids with high hairdos and big sneakers and the wiggles and measuring devices with floppy arms as impediments to proper measurement. Goodness knows it's not easy to get my son to stand up straight and still, and my daughter's been known to add a bit of tiptoe height if no one's watching.

Then again, the study in question was sponsored by a company that manufactures growth hormones, and we imagine they're not too happy about kids looking taller than they are. How frustrating it must be to think that children are looking average when they’re really not! When they need a shot of growth hormone to be average, darn it! They’d love my son. They’d throw him that party for making 1%. Then they’d offer some of their fine pharmaceuticals and suggest he go for 20% ... 60% ... to the moon!

It’s kind of like Jenny Craig commissioning a study that says doctor’s scales weigh people too light. When in fact, we know that doctor’s scales are seriously, seriously off in terms of making people appear far heavier than they are. Who will commission that study for me? Give me conclusive proof that the weight you see at the doctor’s office is always 20 pounds more than your actual total, and I’ll throw a party for myself.

Friday, May 04, 2001

Amazon's parenting top 10

Since I became a parent, I seem to be unable to shop for myself. When I look in clothing stores, I gravitate to the children's section. When I cruise the mall, I'm drawn to the toy stores. When I buy videos, they're always from the kiddie section. And at the bookstore, if I'm not looking at children's books, I'm browsing the parenting shelves.

Checking the latest in parenting expertise is something I try to do regularly, if only to smile at how clueless people are or marvel at the ever-increasing numbers of ADHD guides. I haven't made it to the bookstore in a while, so this morning I decided to do the next best thing: surf over to Amazon and see what's selling. In case you're curious, too, here's Amazon's Top 10 for today, with their comments and ours.

1. Aging With Grace : What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives by DavidSnowdon.
About the author: Snowdon is a noted Alzheimer's researcher.
What Amazon says: "Both cutting-edge science and a personal prescription for hope. Aging With Grace shows how old age doesn't have to mean an inevitable slide into illness and disability; rather, it can be a time of promise and productivity, intellectual and spiritual vigor, and continuing freedom from disease."
What we say: May be interesting as all get-out, but one wonders what a book about nuns is doing at the top of the parenting list. To let us know that the way to reduce stress is by not having kids and men in your life?

2. I Only Say This Because I Love You : How the Way We Talk Can Make or Break Family Relationships Throughout Our Lives by Deborah Tannen.
About the author: Tannen previously authored "You Just Don't Understand," about male-female communications.
What Amazon says: "You won't find quick, easy answers for improving communication in your family, but you will discover another dimension of understanding what's really going on."
What we say: Hey, I'm short on time here. If you're not offering quick, easy answers, I'm not interested.

3. The Girlfriends' Guide to Getting Your Groove Back : Loving Your Family Without Losing Your Mind by Vicki Iovine.
About the author: Iovine has written many hip "Girlfriend's Guides" to various parenting stages, including pregnancy, infancy and toddlerhood.
What USA Today said: "With great humor and frankness, Iovine addresses the topics most women talk about only with their best friends."
What we say: Oops, we lost our minds already. Too late for us, Vicki, too late for us.

4. Little Bits of Wisdom : A Collection of Tips and Advice from Real Parents compiled by Josie Bissett.
About the author: Bissett played Jane Mancini on Melrose Place ... and she's giving advice?
What Amazon says: "Out of the mouths of real parents and grandparents come priceless tips for thriving and surviving the everyday adventures of raising your children."
What we say: Real parents, maybe, but ... oh my goodness, haven't we all had enough know-it-all tips from grandparents to last us a lifetime?

5. The Rules for Marriage : Time-Tested Secrets for Making Your Marriage Work by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider.
About the authors: They wrote The Rules for dating, too.
What Amazon says: "Ellen and Sherrie show you how to make that sometimes bumpy journey known as marriage as smooth as possible."
What we say: One secret I've found for making my marriage work is to not sit around reading self-help books all the time.

6. Baby Bargains 4 Ed: Secrets to Saving 20% to 50% on Baby Furniture, Equipment, Clothes, Toys, Maternity Wear, and Much, Much More! by Denise and Alan Fields.
About the authors: They've moved up from their first book, "Bridal Bargains."
What Amazon says: "Well researched and written in a witty and comfortable tone, Baby Bargains should be required reading for every safety- and money-conscious parent-to-be."
What we say: But at $12.26, can you really afford it?

7. Don't Make Me Stop This Car : Adventures in Fatherhood by Al Roker.
About the author: He's the Today show's weatherman.
What Amazon says: "Light and involving, 'Don't Make Me Stop This Car' talks frankly about fertility problems, parenting, divorce, adoption, and... 'toons. "
What we say: If we're going to read a humorous book about fertility problems, parenting and adoption, we'll write it ourselves.

8. The Pregnancy Journal; A Day-To-Day Guide to a Healthy and Happy Pregnancy by A. Christine Harris, Ph.D.
About the author: Harris has also written a book on child development, but it costs $73 and probably isn't as cute as this one.
What Amazon says: "Whether this is pregnancy number 1 or number 10, nothing makes it easier to connect with a growing baby than knowing exactly what magical development is happening every day."
What we say: If this is pregnancy number 10, what are the odds that you'll ever get a chance to sit down and read?

9. Real Boys Workbook by William S. Pollock, Ph.D.
About the author: Pollock has created a small cottage industry writing about real boys.
What Amazon says: "Designed to stand on its own, "Real Boys Workbook" revisits material covered in Pollack's other books: spot-on anecdotes about boys and their parents, boys suppressing emotions, boys and sports, plus a humbling dose of smart suggestions for using empathy, shared activities, and respect to nurture their loving qualities."
What we say: Would a real boy really stand for all this rigamarole?

10. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
About the authors: They also wrote "Siblings Without Rivalry" together.
What Amazon says: "... a step-by-step approach to improving relationships in your house."
What we say: The problem in our house is not getting kids to talk. It's getting them to stop.

Thursday, May 03, 2001

Drive a kid, go to jail

Heard something on the car radio yesterday about a law targeting "distracted drivers," and while I certainly support the supposed aim of getting people to stop gabbing on the phone while they drive, I have to wonder: Wouldn't such a law also effectively make it illegal to drive with children?

I mean, compared with managing unruly youngsters, a phone conversation is a minor distractional blip. Show me a parent who can drive without being distracted by offspring, and I'll show you a parent who left them at home. From adjudicating squabbles to providing appropriate musical accompaniment to monitoring seat belt and window usage to answering the question "Are we there yet?" 4,682 times, driving with young ones is one distraction after another. If we're now bound by law to concentrate on the road and nothing but the road, it looks like families are going to be doing a lot of walking.

And you know, that might not be so bad. We'll have to build more schools, of course, so everybody will be within walking distance (because, well, bus drivers? If they're not distracted, they're comatose). Sports programs will take a hit because there will be no way to get kids from one town to another to play, and in many cases no way to get kids to the field to practice, but I think we can all agree that a slowing down of the relentless pace of activities would be good for a lot of kids. Families will get a lot of good, positive together time. And though incidents of household injury may increase, roadside injury will doubtless plummet.

If parents do dare to drive with dependents, the police now have the power to get them off the road, given the Supreme Court's recent agreement that motorists can be jailed for even minor traffic offenses. The mere sight of children in a vehicle will be cause enough to pull the driver over and take Mom or Dad to the pokey. And if Mom and Dad has been listening to children's tapes for minutes on end, Mom and Dad will probably be grateful.

Of course, that's only if this distracted driver law passes. Like I said, I heard something about it on the car radio, but I didn't catch much actual information about it. I was distracted by trying to find my exit. Terrible when driving distracts you from more important things, like listening to the news.

Tuesday, May 01, 2001

The terrible tweens

When we adopted our daughter from Russia at age 4.5, we went through, as most parents do, a period of testing. Nothing bad, nothing scary--no fears of attachment or serious emotional problems. But certainly tearful protests at bedtime. Spirited debates on the palatibility of certain foods. Bouts of willfulness for no other reason than because she could. Maybe she was just enjoying the option of opposition, willfulness not being encouraged in an orphanage setting. Maybe she was frustrated by our lack of a common language. Maybe she was scared, and trying to control what she could. Or maybe, since she's always been about two years developmentally delayed, she was just going through the Terrible Twos.

Whatever it was, it faded, and she's mostly been a good girl since--my child who could be counted on to cheerfully do as she was told. In fact, she so liked doing what she was told that our main problem was that she had no idea what to do with herself if nobody was telling her. Far from being willful, she's sometimes seemed will-less. And so it's come as a surprise to her father and me to find her testing once again, at age 11, in a new-and-improved preteen way.

Still, she's not a bad girl. But we're starting to hear, when we ask her to do things, answers like "I'm not in the mood." "I'm not up for it." "Nooooooooooooooooo."

We're starting to hear a lot about what other mothers let their kids do. Have wheeled backpacks. Wear shorts when it's over 50 degrees. Do absolutely whatever they want.

We're starting to notice a reluctance to move just because we say to. It's almost to the point where I'm going to have to start counting for her like I do for her brother. But her brother has a laundry list of neurological reasons for his slowness to make transitions. She's just tuning us out. Because, you know, she's not in the mood to listen.

Now, in a way this is all good. It's developmentally appropriate, like her newfound obession with insipid pop music. Because of that, I'm willing to let her sit in her room and listen to CDs--she who until so recently was afraid to be in her room alone!--and do her homework to the soothing sounds of "Now That's What I Call Music 6." I'm willing to let her watch her little Nick and Disney Channel teen shows. And I'm happy that she's interested in what her peers are thinking and doing and watching. At the beginning of this school year, she was still loving Barney the dinosaur, so this is an improvement.

But when I say to something, missy, you snap to it. You're not a teenager yet. And no wheeled backpack. I don't care what the other mothers do. I'm not that other girl's mother, I'm your mother. No. I mean it.

It's going to be a very long decade.