Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Happy holidays

Well, of course, my kids' Christmas/ Hanukah/ Kwanzaa/ Miscellaneous Winter Holiday concert was absolutely adorable. My eyes were tearing up right from the beginning, when the kindergartners sang songs about Thanksgiving. And see, I didn't even know that Thanksgiving was a Miscellaneous Winter Holiday. The things you learn in school.

Other winter holidays nodded toward during the 90-minute program were Chinese New Year, Divali and Ramadan. The last two didn't get musical selections in their honor, apparently because Hindus and Muslims have been sadly lax in writing jolly carols celebrating their personal holy times. Surely, in this era of war and mistrust, a hearty chorus of a Ramadan song like, say, "Here we go a-fasting" would do much to bring cultures together. But no. Children lined up to explain the particulars of the observances instead, sans tuneful accompaniment.

Christmas of course got the largest share of the program, and amid all the songs about Santa and snowflakes and jingling bells, there was actually one about the Baby Jesus: "Silent Night," sung in two languages by third-graders in sombreros. They were wearing sombreros because their section of selections was entitled "Traditions of Mexico and Austria." Why Mexico and Austria would be grouped together, I have no idea. I blame it on the social studies textbook, which included lessons on Switzerland and Argentina in a unit on the Northeastern United States. I'm sure the intention was to give kids some sort of global consciousness; I'm equally certain that the majority of fourth-graders now believe that Buenos Aires is located somewhere to the north of New Jersey.

But we had a Chinese dragon, we had clog-dancing fifth-graders, and we had first-graders spinning like little dreidels. It was hard to remain sarcastic in the face of so much youthful determination. Best of all, my son made it through his second-grade segment of songs from Germany and Denmark (which at least are on the same continent) without mishap, a big feat for a jumpy, impulsive, loud little guy. He also was able to stay through the whole rest of the program; although his aide had been prepared to take him out at the earliest sign of ants in the pants, we saw him sitting on her lap through most of the show. A major accomplishment, that. My daughter performed well, too, and looked incredibly beautiful, if a head taller than everybody else, up there on the topmost riser.

I'm still not sure it was worth all the class time lost to put it together, but on a cold winter morning, it was pretty heart-warming anyhow.

Friday, December 14, 2001

Snippy sister

Someone's being mean to my son these days. Calling him weird, rolling eyes when he speaks, and frequently saying, with maximum contempt, "I'm SO glad I'm not like YOU."

If some kid on the school playground was doing this, and I got wind of it, I'd go ballistic. I'd demand apologies, ask for the kid to be disciplined, order the teacher to talk to the parents. Well, maybe I wouldn't really do all that, but I'd talk about doing it, and I'd come on here and rant and rave about what kind of lousy parents let their kids talk to special-needs children like that.

Unfortunately, in this case, I know the parents. I am the parents. The person being so mean to my son is my daughter. And since she's classified as a special-needs child too, it's additionally distressing. She allows as how she wouldn't feel very good if somebody said that to her; I pray that nobody ever will. But she says it to her brother without hesitation.

And yeah, some of it is ordinary sibling rivalry, and if they were ordinary siblings, I'd think nothing of it. They probably think nothing of it. Their respective statuses as children that other children might not want to be like probably provides more subtext for me than it does for them. My daughter has, at other times, wished she was like her brother because he has less homework, and doesn't need to work so hard. She recognizes that he struggles less with schoolwork, and wishes she was like that. She recognizes that he struggles with acceptable behavior, and she's so glad she doesn't. Can't really argue with that. I'm glad she doesn't, too.

But hearing "I'm SO glad I'm not like YOU" spat at my boy still scrunches my heart. I suppose I might as well get used to it, because the world is going to be less and less kind to him as he grows up. He might as well get used to it, too, and what better place than the otherwise loving confines of home. He's probably better able to disregard it coming from his sis than from a playground bully.

Maybe more than my son needs to be protected, though, my daughter needs to learn that some things are just mean to say, and it's never okay to be mean. It's not okay for people to be mean to you, and it's not okay for you to be mean to other people, even if it's just your weird little brother. For my Little Miss Literal, who says exactly what she thinks and doesn't think much more about it, that may be a hard lesson to learn. But like it or not, she doesn't have the kind of parents who will let their kids talk like that. To anyone.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Knowing the drill

First, there were fire drills. Then, there were bomb drills. Now, my kids are having lockdown drills. Can barbed wire be far behind?

Actually, the one bomb drill I know of was in response to an actual phoned-in bomb threat that emptied all the schools in a two-city area. Other security changes at the school have been in response to the general paranoia caused by Sept. 11. These include all the teachers and staff at the school wearing photo ID cards on very attractive burgundy-colored cords around their necks. It makes me feel even more conspicuous as a parent as I move through the halls on my way to meetings or library duty; ID-less, I half expect lights or sirens or big ugly dogs to impede my progress at any moment.

The lockdown is the latest, and it's in reaction to a relatively long-ago traumatic disaster, the shootings at Columbine. It started with the principal going from classroom to classroom explaining about school shootings, always a good way to help kids relax and concentrate on their work. He must have made an impression, because my daughter did at least bring home a fragment of the information, and my son screamed the word "Lockdown!" repeatedly for most of the rest of the day after his class got the talk.

The actual drill came last week, and as far as I was able to gather, it involved the locking of each individual classroom door and the hiding of children under tables. Takes me back to my own youth, when we got under our desks to hide from atomic bombs. Sadly, the likelihood of shooters in today's school is higher than bombs were in mine; happily, shooters are unlikely to remove our entire town and everything around it from the map.

So now, in addition to math facts and grammar rules and historical dates, kids have to learn and remember their drills. In case of fire, leave the building and line up outside. In case of bomb, leave the building and line up way, way outside, along the fence or on the sidewalk or across the street. In case of roving gunmen, lock the door and get under the table. And in case of roving parents, call security, quick!

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Offensive commercial?

We return now to that timeless adoption question: How easily offended are you?

Does your blood pressure rise when you see signs that say "Adopt a Highway"? Does your hair stand on end when a story differentiates between someone's adopted children and "children of their own"? Do you whip off a letter to the editor every time a cartoon makes a joke that could be construed as adoption-insensitive? Do you fail teachers who give family tree and baby picture assignments? Are you forever looking for trouble?

Personally, I'd have to say -- nah. My skin is thick and getting thicker, and I have to save up all my righteous indignation for child study teams and clueless professionals and relatives who want to give my children television sets. And anyway, my personal hope is that adoption will one day be such a normal and unexceptional way to form a family that it can be as buffeted about and ridiculed as any other type of family unit.

However, if you're offended by offhand and disrespectful treatments of adoption and disabilities, then here's your outrage du jour: an olive commercial showing a child in an orphanage who is told he can never be adopted because he has olives on all his fingertips. Some folks are irate at the implication that children with disabilities are less desirable for adoption. Some folks are pleased at the implication that, since a woman with olive fingertips turns up at the orphanage, there is somebody for every waiting child. And some folks think the whole thing is just too ridiculous to think deeply about. (Count me in categories 2 and 3.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2001

Just call him Popeye

A recent study showed that spinach and blueberries improve the mental abilities of rats.

And now, across the land, small children are screaming, "No! Not spinach! I'd rather be stupid!"

They'll be happy to know that the study had mostly to do with reversing the decline in mental abilities that comes with aging (and now adults across the land are screaming, "No! Not spinach! I'd rather be stupid!"). But there's one small boy -- my own -- who would be happy for any additional excuse to eat the green stuff. He already knows it makes him strong like Popeye. Smarter's okay, too.

My son has always had a taste for things you'd expect a kid to push away. Broccoli rabe. Green olives. Vegetables of all varieties, especially cauliflower and broccoli. Conversely, he pushes away the stuff most kids crave: Cake, ice cream, chocolate. Smart, indeed.

I'm not the only one who's noticed this. Recently, it's come to my attention that his classroom aide from last year has been giving him food at lunchtime. I thought it was odd that it always seemed to be vegetables or other unlikely things: pasta salad one day, two trays of corn the next. And then I realized -- she's giving him the hot lunch items that the kids in her group won't touch. That's my boy, school garbage disposal. I think she just gets a kick out of seeing a kid dig into that stuff.

I'd tell you more, but I have to go get him his breakfast. His new favorite morning meal is cottage cheese and spinach. Weird kid. But smart.