Friday, November 30, 2001

Don't know much about history

I'm failing fourth-grade social studies.

My daughter managed to eke out a C on her report card, no help from me (though probably considerable help from her aide), but me -- let's just say it's good I'm not graded. These last two chapters in her social studies textbook have seemed beyond obtuse to me. It's as though the textbook authors did research to discover the most learning-preventive, confusing, counter-intuitive way to present material and then followed those techniques exactly. Man, I don't get it.

At least my daughter has an excuse, with her learning disabilities, for struggling here. I'm supposed to be the wise mom gently guiding her through the material. How can I do that when I'm getting lost myself? The two chapters she's done so far were on the Northeast, which should have been easy because we actually live there. We read a chapter on the geography of the Northeast, which included a lesson on Switzerland. We read a chapter on the history of the Northeast, which included a lesson on Buenos Aires. The Northeast is way bigger than I thought.

The history chapter, I gave up on completely. It included lessons on the Iroquois Confederacy, the Revolutionary War, and immigration in the early 1900s, each with its full complement of facts, figures, names and places. The flash cards my daughter's aide made up looked like the World Book Encyclopedia writ small. The very thought of going over them with her exhausted me. Helping her find the answers to her nightly homework exhausted me. Her, too. Is there such a thing as PSSSS -- Post-Social Studies Stress Syndrome?

The chapter she's starting now seems considerably less stressful -- it's on the relatively tiny subject of Our Country's Environment -- and I'm going to try a new technique recommended by a book on inclusion I've been reading. It suggests that, with subjects like science and social studies, if the child has anxiety about reading the textbook, then don't read it. Sounds good to me!

Actually, what they recommend is skimming, and calling it skimming, not reading. My daughter was pretty happy with the idea. I'm trying to train her to look at a) lesson titles; b) section headings; and c) the boldfaced vocabulary words as a way to get the main points of a chapter and also find where the answers to questions may lie. Using those elements, we mapped out the chapter on a graphic organizer, and it looks pretty good. Maybe this time, I won't be scared. At least, until we get to the chapter on the Southwest and its most famous region, Nigeria.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

The most wonderful time of the year. Or not.

December is almost here, and you know what that means. Trips to the mall. Holiday parties. Christmas concerts. Family gatherings. School vacations. Hustle and bustle. And 31 solid days of out-of-control behavior from any child with a less than sturdy neurological constitution. Oh yes, the end of the year is near. The end of our rope, too.

My son is starting to react to the upcoming disruptions like a tuning fork. It hasn't helped that the last few weeks have hardly been routine, with his grandmother in the hospital and his Papa running off to visit her when he would normally be home keeping things steady. Mama's been taking up some slack with extra-curricular transport, and has had less time for the boy. The boy does not like having less time. And so scooginess is already setting in.

The month ahead will only increase that, exponentially. He's had some good weeks in school recently, saving the out-of-control behavior for us at home, but yesterday his teacher brought him to the door with that wide-eyed, shell-shocked look I know so well. It's starting, all right. And they're not even doing routine-busting Christmas program rehearsals yet.

All a parent can do, really, is hang on and pray for January. It's like being in Santa's sleigh when the reindeer have had too much eggnog. We'll try to keep things as routine as routine can be. But oh, how we'll long for the dull days of mid-winter.

Monday, November 26, 2001

TV or not TV?

Alright, it's time for an MWA survey. The questions:

Does your child have a TV in his/her room?

Would you ever give a child a TV as a gift without asking his/her parents if it was okay?

Would you be shocked if they said no?

A close relative announced the other night that she was giving my daughter (11 years old, in 4th grade) a TV-VCR combo for Christmas. When I said we really did not want her to have any such thing, this relative declared that she'd never heard anything so ridiculous, that it's quite the normal thing for kids to have their own TVs, and that she hadn't asked before buying because it never occurred to her there could be a problem. She then insisted she was giving the item whether we liked it or not, but has since, mercifully though not without pouting, retreated from that position.

Maybe she realized that I was planning to give her daughter a puppy in retaliation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Thanksgiving facts

Today is the half-day before Thanksgiving, with school ending at 1 p.m. and an entire four days off stretching beyond that. This is the second four-day weekend in the last four weeks, and like an overstuffed eater at the Thanksgiving table, I say: Enough! How I look forward to those long weeks of late winter, early spring when children actually have to go all five days, come rain or shine (but not snow, because if there are three flakes in one place, our school board declares a snow day).

We've been getting the standard supply of Thanksgiving-themed take-home items this year, mostly from my son, who's in a self-contained second-grade-ish class. Apparently, fourth-graders don't go for coloring pages of pilgrims and glue-on-the-beans art projects, because my daughter hasn't brought home much more than the occasional holiday word search. I haven't quizzed her on Thanksgiving themes because at this point, I don't want to know what she doesn't know. Last night, while studying about patriots in colonial Massachusetts, she was able to tell me the name of the war they fought -- that is, the American Revolution -- but not the name of the country they were fighting to establish. At first she thought maybe it was Asia. Then she said North America, which is at least in the right vicinity. I'm pretty sure I'd get one of those patented blank looks if I asked her about the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock. Her aide wants to help so much, let her explain all that pilgrim stuff.

But my son, now, my son knows about the Mayflower. He told me all about it while doing his speech homework the other night. He had a grid of 12 Thanksgiving pictures, and was to describe four of them, using complete sentences. So we nicely got "The pilgrim wears a hat." "We eat turkey on Thanksgiving." "We eat corn on Thanksgiving."

And then we got to the picture of the ship, which he readily identified as the Mayflower. Here was his description: "That Mayflower was gross! It was really gross. People throwing up ..."

Sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Giving in, for now

They say you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Yesterday, at an IEP meeting for my daughter, I folded. I'm still not sure I did the right thing. I think I had the winning hand. But sometimes, keeping the other folks at the table from drawing their pistols is reason enough to back away.

In the month since my daughter's aide started work, I've tried hard to explain what I mean by "don't help her too much." I've given suggestions for help I thought might actually be helpful. And at some point, I've ticked off the teacher and the aide. The child study team leader advised that if I want what's best for my daughter, I should be quiet and listen to the teacher, who knows her. This would be the teacher who has had her in class for two months. As opposed to me, who has known her for seven of her eleven years. But is, after all, only a parent.

My last salvo was a long letter to the child study team leader explaining my observations and conclusions, just to get it off my chest and say where I'm coming from. The woman professed to "love it." But not agree with a word of it, judging by the amount of support I got when it came right down to putting plans on paper. I still feel strongly that my daughter is more capable and less in need of help than anybody else is willing to believe; and I still feel that sometimes getting Cs or even Ds (75 percent correct in our district) in subjects that are hard is a worthwhile goal. I still believe that constant help can be as bad for self-esteem as constant failure. Deep down, I wish everybody would just leave her alone and let her be a kid among kids. But the entire weight of special-service momentum is hard against me, and I'm getting tired of pushing.

So when the teacher and aide insisted that my daughter needs help on tests, even though I had specifically said I thought it was a bad idea, I gave in. And when the child study team leader said that she should be pulled to the back of the room to have tests read to her, even though she did just fine without that last year, I said okay. I made a lot of noise about doing this only so long as it improved her learning, and not just to improve her grade, but realistically, I have no way of knowing if this will be so. I've asked to meet at the next progress report time, and maybe then I'll be feeling a little less beat down and a little more feisty. Until then, well, at least looking through her test folder every week won't be so scary.

Monday, November 19, 2001

Compliments of my son

"Mama, do you know what I love about you?"

My sweet little blue-eyed boy was looking at me adoringly, and I fell for his line. "What, sweetie?"

"You ... have a lovely ... BUTT!"

Then followed five minutes of perseverating on the B word and giggling uncontrollably.

Loveliness of my hindquarters aside, it is clear to me that my developmentally delayed boy has finally hit the stage at which the word "butt" is a thing of immense and unending hilarity. Other words having to do with rude body parts and body functions are similarly sniggery, but there seems something special about butt. Just yesterday, I heard about how his stuffed Scooby Doo doll was going to have babies out his BUTT. I tried to go into a little detail about how boy dogs don't actually have babies, much less stuffed ones, but it was no good. He was too busy saying BUTT and giggling to listen to boring me.

My guy is in a self-contained special-ed class with kids who are pretty well-matched this year, so I'm guessing this celebration of "butt" is a class-wide thing. In which case, I feel for the teacher. Hope she's not going to start a phonics lesson by asking for words that start with B.

Monday, November 05, 2001

Born to run

This may be the first cold-and-flu season on record in which parents are happy when their kids get runny noses, and even appreciate sniffling themselves. Sure, nasal discharge is unsightly, and the sound of constant snortling is annoying, and it's certainly a sign that the snifflers are in some way unwell. But at least they don't have anthrax.

That's the word from doctors who are trying to sort out the difference between the symptoms of inhalation anthrax and the more common, less deadly flu. Most of the signs and symptoms are the same, except for this: Anthrax victims don't get runny noses. An incessant need for tissues indicates a likelihood of weeks of cold-and-flu misery, not sudden death.

We've been sniffling a lot around my house lately, and I was worried. You hear so much about people with a couple of cold symptoms and then -- poof! -- they're a headline. I wonder if the postman is delivering death to my house, and I wonder if our snuffy noses tell the tale. It's nice to put those worries to rest.

Now, if only medical science would reveal that the sort of perpetual sinus blockage I've had since approximately 1988 effectively bars any harmful spores or bacterium from entering my respiratory system, and I'll really rest easy.

Thursday, November 01, 2001

Play it again. And again. And again.

One disadvantage, I've found, to making a unlateral decision and choosing what instrument your child will learn how to play is that you can't blame them if they don't like it.

If my daughter decides, after five or six weeks of trombone playing, that what she'd really rather do is play the trumpet, I can't say, "No way, missy, you wanted to play the trombone, you begged me to get you a trombone, and now, by golly, you'll play the trombone." Because she never wanted to play the trombone. She'd never heard of the trombone before I picked it for her. And there are nights she never wants to hear of it again.

I still think I made the right decision. I chose the trombone not out of any undying love for "The Music Man," but because the instrumental music teacher suggested it was a generally under-attempted instrument that would make it easier for her to get into band in middle school and high school. Thirty kids in her school learning the flute, three learning the trombone, you do the math. I did, and we have the shiny brass tube-y thing in our house to prove it.

I'd say she's doing surprisingly well with it. After five or six weeks, the notes are starting to sound more like music and less like bleats. She doesn't put up too much of a fuss about practicing. But she thinks the trumpet would be smaller, lighter, easier. The trombone hurts her thumb. It's heavy and clumsy.

I tell her that every child hates the instrument they're practicing at the time, and there would be something about the trumpet she didn't like, too. I myself once threw a flute across the room. Hating practicing is normal, and in time she'll come to hate it less.

Is that the way to instill a deep and abiding love for music, or what?