Monday, April 29, 2002

April 29-May 3, 2002

APRIL 29, 2002

When my kids were younger, it was easier to get blood from a stone than to get blood from them. How well I remember the team of nurses that had to be rushed into the examining room when my daughter needed to be stuck. I’d hold down her legs, somebody else would hold down her arms, somebody else would hold down her head, an extra person would be needed to keep her body from wriggling, and the doctor or nurse in charge of the needle would have to dart in and try to find some subdued flesh with a vein in it. I was pretty sure they called in extra personnel to work whenever we were on the schedule. My son, they didn’t even bother with -- he had to go to the lab, and be tied to a papoose board. This was not fun for him, or for me. I felt like both my son and the technicians must consider me the worst mother in the world, although for entirely different reasons.

This past week we went for blood again, and I have to say, it was better. Which does not, of course, necessarily mean that it was good.

Our pediatrician’s office no longer does blood-letting, and although I was pretty sure it was my daughter who had spoiled them for it, the doctor assures it’s just a matter of cutting back and specializing and everybody’s doing it. So we all went to the lab, and we all waited 45 minutes, and then the kids were called to the back. And honestly, I’m amazed, but my daughter did great. I turned her head toward me and we talked about how badly she was going to kick her papa’s butt in one-on-one basketball that afternoon, and before we both knew it, it was over. Easy as pie. No restraints, human or otherwise, required.

But my son ... He had been full of bravery going in, but that’s before he realized that giving blood involved having a needle plunged into your arm, and that realization caused him extremely loud consternation. He started screaming he didn’t want to do it while the nurse was still swabbing his skin, awkwardly pinning down his arm with hers (I coulda told her THAT wasn’t going to hold). I started counting, because counting often calms him, but he kept screaming as the needle went in, yanking his arm and nearly flinging said needle across the room. But the needle stayed in, and since he was crying for his Scooby Doo doll, unwisely left at home, I started counting in a Scooby voice. That got his attention; he looked at me with teary eyes, amazed either that I had come up with such a comforting idea, or that I was willing to make that much of a fool of myself. I don’t know what must have disturbed the people in the waiting room more: The sound of a screaming child, or the sound of a grown woman shouting “Rirty-run! Rirty-roo! Rirty-ree! Rirty-roar!”

But the lab got its blood, and we got out of there. My son has announced that he is never doing that again, so they better have got enough. In truth, I’m not so very eager to ever do that again myself.

+ + +

APRIL 30, 2002

My kids are in the throes of the annual standardized testing at our school, and notes have come home recommending lots of sleep and hearty breakfasts. Yeah, thanks, we usually keep them up all night and send them to school on a cup of strong coffee. I take a lot of this stuff with a grain of salt; it would take a lot more than a good night's sleep and a good breakfast to get my daughter successfully through one of these things, and my son's performance is more likely to be disrupted by the hoopla and messed-up routine surrounding the test than by a late bedtime.

So when my son brought his homework notebook home yesterday and one of the assignments read, "Go to bed at 8 p.m.," I had to laugh. And that's all I had to do. In our house, it's unusual if we even get dinner on the table by 8 p.m., much less homework done and baths taken and teeth brushed and sheets tucked in. At our house, going to bed at 8 p.m. would be the equivalent of being sent to bed without supper. I guess I could have heated up a can of Beefaroni for the kid at 7:30 and made sure he kept his curfew, but the fact is, I'm not ready to give him up at 8 p.m. The school gets him for six-and-a-half hours during the day; I want him for at least that many. Usually, we wrestle him into bed around 9:30, and that's about the time he got there last night. Didn't get that one piece of homework done, but had a nice evening nonetheless.

+ + +

MAY 1, 2002

My son broke a picture last night. He was goofing off, throwing a plastic inner tube around with great gusto, and wound up knocking a picture to the floor, where the glass shattered. I should have been mad, but here's the great thing: He was mad at himself. Genuinely remorseful. Able to see the connection between his fun and the unintended consequence of the broken picture. Concerned with the feelings of the person who gave us the picture, and whether she would be mad at him. He told his Scooby doll that maybe he would say it was all the doll's fault, but then decided to own up to his transgression. For a 9-year-old with FAE, this is pretty big stuff, and if I have to lose a picture to find out that he can make these connections and take this responsibility, it's a small price to pay.

Now if I can only get him to recognize his fault, feel remorse and sincerely apologize every time he calls his sister "stupid," I'll really be getting somewhere.

+ + +

MAY 2, 2002

I was scanning the special-needs parenting section at my local monster-mega-bookstore, as it is my hobby to do, and noticed that ADHD is still far and away the topic of choice for special-parenting self-help writers. For every book on, say, autism or hearing impairment or learning disabilities, there were easily three on attention deficit/hyperactivity. They ranged from pro-medication pep rallies to moderate behavior-’n’-meds solutions to virulent anti-medication screeds. One of the latter posited that the whole problem with ADHD-diagnosed kids was not their brain chemistry or their self control or bad schools or doctors overeager to medicate but thoroughly, solely and without debate their PARENTS, whose selfish lifestyles, neglect and demand for a quick fix are damaging their younguns. And I had to wonder: Who exactly is going to buy this book? Are there parents so self-loathing that they’ll pay $15 to have somebody flagellate them so severely? I scanned it for a few good behavior management tips and then left in on the shelf. Hah!

But if there are differences of opinion in parenting books as to whether Ritalin is a savior or a scourge, there seems to be no such doubt among children’s books. Well-meaning children’s book authors seem to be taking it upon themselves to explain to young people what it feels like to have ADHD, and what a good thing it is that medication can make it stop. One book I found stuck between the parenting tomes featured a turtle that looked very much like Franklin of Nick Jr. fame. This particular young turtle, the story explained, was not slow like other turtles but too, too fast. The story ended with the Mama turtle giving the little hyper turtle a little pill, and everybody lived happily ever after.

I figured that book might just be a one-of-a-kind item, but a few days later I noticed a novel in my kids’ Scholastic Book Club flyer about a boy who is happy to be taking medication for his ADHD -- but then he goes to visit his father and the dad, a medication non-believer and big hyper guy himself, flushes his Ritalin patches down the toilet. The book club blurb explains that the kid has to decide what’s more important -- spending time with his dad, or the nice in-control feeling he gets from the drug. And however we feel about Ritalin, is that really a message we want to give our pre-teens -- kids, if it’s a choice between a parent or feeling good, go with the drugs? I wonder what the parenting books in the Keep-Your-Kids-Off-Drugs section have to say about that.

+ + +

MAY 3, 2002

Still feeling in a bookish mood, I surfed over to this morning to see if I might be able to find special-needs books on something other than ADHD at a bookseller with an even greater selection than the monster-mega bookstore down the highway. I clicked my way to the parenting special needs section, and then considered the categories offered: “Hyperactivity” was, of course, full of ADHD books; “Disabilities” was ... full of ADHD books (not to deny that it’s a disability or anything, but if it has its own category, shouldn’t it be out of this one?); and, finally, “General,” which turns out to be the place to find books on special needs that are not ADHD (although a smattering of them crept in here, too).

I’m happy to report that, at least at the moment I checked in this morning, the top best-seller among general special-needs parenting books was The Out-of-Sync Child, supporting my hunch that within the next few years, sensory integration disorder will be the new ADHD. Of course, there’s only one SI book making much of an impact on bookshelves, as opposed to about 7,000 ADHD books, but surely that will change in time. Other books in the top 10 included two on Asperger syndrome, two on autism, one on explosive kids, one on defiant kids, two (natch) on ADHD, and one called The Child Whisperer, which claims to offer “a gentle approach to improving self-esteem and confidence.” If they make it into a movie with Robert Redford, then maybe I’ll give it a look.

Monday, April 22, 2002

April 22-26, 2002

APRIL 22, 2002

Should I be concerned that my daughter -- just turned 12, in the fourth grade at school -- loves "Clifford"?

I was feeling pretty happy about it last week, when on a shopping expedition she chose a "Clifford" video and a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen CD over the far racier fare someone her age might have turned to. But now ... over the weekend, we went on a birthday-gift-certificate shopping spree, and she wound up with another "Clifford" video, a "Clifford" CD-ROM (intended for ages 3-6) and an enormous stuffed "Clifford." Should I have been forcing her to buy Britney Spears CDs and Star Wars figurines instead?

I know that her peers -- even the two-years-younger kids that she shares a classroom with -- would likely tease her if they knew she gave her birthday money to the Big Red Dog. It's better than Barney, who she was teased for liking two years ago, but surely it is still considered little-kid stuff. Should I protect her from their derision of her taste in toys by deriding it myself? Should I tell her that it's stupid to like what she likes, and she should get something she likes less? "Clifford" comes from a perfectly respectable line of children's books, and the TV show plays on good themes of how to be a friend and a responsible citizen. If Emily Elizabeth was wearing halter tops and hiphuggers instead of that darned sweater, dress and kneesocks all the time, preteens might like it fine.

But what is it they like instead? Harry Potter, I guess -- but my daughter hated Harry Potter. Gross-out Nickeldeon shows -- but none of the Nick CD-roms works on our Macintosh. She does like boy bands, and did request a Backstreet Boys CD; she likes basketball, and begged for (and got) a net to play on for her birthday; she likes Mary Kate and Ashley, though probably more because her seven-year-old cousin likes them than anything (and maybe that means they're meant for seven-year-olds). And, she likes "Clifford." So, for that matter, do I. I'm certainly not the only adult who likes to watch things that are beneath my particular level of intelligence (how else to explain "The Bachelor"?) Why shouldn't 12-year-olds?

+ + +

APRIL 23, 2002

My kids are on school vacation this week, and my husband has the week off. Which means I get to go to work and leave him with the task of amusing the little ones, tra la, tra la. I did at least take them to Toys 'R' Us and load them up with birthday toys over the weekend, so they've been playing nicely together. But today the sun is shining and the weather is clear and they're going to be clamoring to go outside and ride their bikes all the livelong day. And for a change, the one who has to either go outside and watch them or say no and be whined to death is not me. Hooray for work!

Tomorrow, I have a day off, and my son has a playdate. Also this week, we have to wedge in an occupational therapy appointment, blood tests for both kids, finishing some bathroom improvements and finally putting together the rest of the basketball net my daughter got for her birthday last week. What fun putting those things together is, huh? Whoever writes out the instructions and puts them in those big boxes must just laugh and laugh. Which is what I'm going to do, this morning, as I head for my place of business. Ha, ha! Have fun with the kids, dear.

+ + +

APRIL 24, 2002

Has anybody else noticed how out-of-control toy packaging is getting these days? Big toys, little toys, expensive toys, cheapies, it doesn't matter -- they're secured in their boxes as though they were made of gold. My son bought a little tub toy the other day that was moored to its packaging with cardboard tabs, scotch tape and those little plastic wire thingies that look like they should just slide open but in fact require big fat sharp scissors to hack through them. I mean, you wouldn't want a mere child to be able to get to a little plastic tugboat without close parental supervision.

The Barbie Volkswagen Beetle both my kids got recently was even more tightly fastened. It might as well have had its own remote-operated garage, car alarm and electronic combination locks, for all the trouble it took to get it out and play with it. I've seen real Volkswagens with less security. You know, you can buy things for adults that are hugely more breakable, and you're lucky if you even get a box or a lousy piece of tissue paper. But buy a kids' toy more elaborate than a Matchbox car, and you'll need a tool set to get it out. It all must be part of a conspiracy to make us actually participate in our kids' play. Can't just toss a bag of toys at the kids and run -- we have to actually open the dang boxes.

+ + +

APRIL 25, 2002

I've been reading about the upcoming series "Frontier House" on PBS, for which three modern-day families struck up homesteads in Montana and tried living the 1883 way for six months. And of course my first reaction to this is: Don't these people have enough challenges in their normal lives? They have to go looking for ways to make their lives harder? "Well, sure, dear, this tub of margarine we can buy from the supermarket is nice, but what I'd really like to do is churn my own butter." My goodness -- please, give these people hobbies.

I mean, it's not like there's any money in it for these families -- they're participating just for the fun of living history. And it's not like there's any fame -- it's on PBS, so the ratings aren't exactly going to be at "Suvivor" levels. There's mostly just bugs and mud and cold and work and dirt. If grown-ups want to try that out for themselves, that's one thing, but to drag your kids along? I'm thinking those parents deserve every ounce of spoiled-brat whining they're going to get throughout that long half-year.

Though I have to say ... If I could ever be persuaded to do such a fool thing -- and I could not -- it might be to see whether my kids could function better in a simpler time. My daughter doesn't do so great in school by today's standards, but out on the frontier she'd probably be great at doing chores and helping out with the other kids. A one-room schoolhouse, with all ages learning together, would suit her fine. And my son -- would he do better with days full of physical labor than he does with days full of sitting in chairs? There might be some value to living on the prairie for six months if we could find that out.

But then we'd have to go back, and what good would it all be? I think I'd rather just muddle through in our material world. Books like "Sarah, Plain and Tall" inspire many things in me, but a desire to go back and live in those times sure ain't one of them.

+ + +

APRIL 26, 2002

They have special courses to train kids to take the SAT, and teachers spend a lot of time this time of year priming kids to do well on those horrible grammar school achievement tests (we have the ESPAs coming up in NJ next week). But does anybody pay much attention to training kids to do well on those boring day to day tests, the multiple choices and the fill-in-the-blanks and the short essay questions, the exams that torment them on a daily and weekly basis rather than yearly? I guess those are supposed to be self-explanatory. But I have a daughter for whom nothing is self-explanatory. And she could use some advice.

I guess that's not a normal thing to ask for, because nobody quite knows what I'm talking about when I ask about teaching test-taking skills. Early in the year I wondered if her aide couldn't advise her to, say, do all the easy test questions first, or cross off the multiple choices that were obviously wrong -- as opposed to just straight-out giving her the answers. This request sent everybody into a tizzy, because the aide just wasn't trained for that. Nobody, it seems, is trained for that, least of all the kiddies. So I went out and got me a book called, well, "Teaching Test-Taking Skills." And if it seems to make sense, I'll give it to the tutor I have lined up for the summer. And then maybe we can give my daughter the know-how to show what she knows -- and guess better about the things she doesn't.

Monday, April 15, 2002

April 15-19, 2002

APRIL 15, 2002

Thanks to all who thought of us on Sunday morning. My son's First Communion went -- okay. I had dreamed that he would magically find the self discipline to sit quietly through Mass and stand up at the altar with his peers, respectful and straight of spine, filled with spiritual peace and calmness. That didn't happen. But I had feared that he would appear possessed, jumping and shouting and twitching in his seat, such a bundle of disrespect and wilfull uncontrol that we'd have to drag him out of the sanctuary before his big moment came. And that didn't happen either (though there were a few minutes at the start of Mass that I'd like to try again). He was pretty much as he always is at church, unable to sit normally but able to make it through if he's lying down across a lap or two and allowing himself to be sleepy. That pretty much precluded the standing-at-the-altar part of the morning, but that was okay. He did his thing at communion time just fine, and that's what was important all along.

It's good, I guess, every now and then, to have these little check-ups as to where we're at. There was a time, certainly, where he would not even be able to do as well as he did. And there will be a time, I feel certain, when he will do better. As it was, the lady sitting in front of us told me afterward that she thought my son had done particularly well, and another mother mentioned that she'd had to correct her sixth-grader during the Mass more than I'd had to correct my guy. There may have been a few raised eyebrows amongst congregants who don't know him, wondering why we were letting that communion kid roll around in the pew in his nice suit. But people who knew him saw a difference, and were proud of him, and that's good, too. Maybe, really, better than admiration of behavioral perfection.

+ + +

APRIL 16, 2002

So I'm in a bit of a funk this morning because one of my favorite shows, "Once and Again," had its final episode last night, complete with crying and hugging cast members at the end. It's ridiculous to care about a TV show, I know, and hard to get too upset about this cancellation because television is a business first and foremost, and "O&A" is definitely not a show that appeals to everyone. I'd like to think that the little niche of fans to whom I belong could be valuable to a network; hey, I buy stuff. But apparently we're not as valuable as the people who watch "The Bachelor," or the communicating-with-the-dead show that's taking over the time slot. Those are niches that I'm really, really glad not to be part of, so I'll take my grief standing up.

Still ... it's been nice to have a little respite on Monday nights (or Friday nights, or Wednesday nights, or wherever ABC chose to bury the show that week). I think I'm getting late-onset ADD, because there are so few shows anymore that hold my attention. This one did, and now there's one fewer. Maybe this means I'll have more time to read the all those important books about learning disabilities and neurological problems that keep stacking up on me. Maybe it means I'll finally write those notes I've been meaning to, to teachers and child study team folks and special-ed dept. weasels. Maybe it means I'll get a jump on these columns, and not be writing them feverishly in the mornings while the kids eat their breakfasts. Or maybe it means I'll flop on the bed, flip through the channels, find nothing, and fall asleep in my clothes. Aw, you know, it's not the end of the world. Not even close. But I still feel sad.

+ + +

APRIL 17, 2002

Today is my daughter's birthday. She's 12. Which means this is the last birthday I can really celebrate, because after this she will be a teenager, and -- whoo boy. Not ready for that. Not with a girl who's already taller than me (in the 90th percentile for height at her check-up this week; I'm probably in about the 5th percentile for 42-year-olds). I need a few more years of pre-teen, and I'm not going to get it.

She's a sweet, healthy, happy girl, though, and maybe she'll be a sweet, healthy, happy teen. It could happen. There have been a few, right? At any rate, I'll enjoy these 12s, and take comfort in the fact that she'd still rather have a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen CD than a rap CD, a Clifford video than a PG-13 movie. And I'll try to forget that the pediatrician said I might want to have her start shaving her armpits. She may be big, well-developed and hairy, but she's still just a little girl. Just ignore those pimples, okay?

+ + +

APRIL 18, 2002

Capital One wants to give my son a platinum credit card.

He gets letters every week or two, urging him to call in immediately to claim his large and convenient line of credit. I'm sure the Capital One folks don't know they're offering that line to a developmentally delayed 9-year-old with fetal alcohol effect. I'd tell them, but the mailings offer no phone number or address to get off the list, only an automated call-in line to sign up. And so the come-ons keep on coming.

Now, I know how he got on this mailing list: We have a bank account in his name, and his grandmother set up a college fund for him, and computers don't know from 9-year-olds -- it's just another name in the bank's database. But here's the interesting thing: My daughter has, in her own name, all of those same accounts. Her name is right there next to his on all the same the databases. And yet -- she never receives credit offers. No junk mail for her. And while I'm not the sort that's quick to jump up with charges of sexism, I have to wonder -- why would that be? There is no list that he is on that she is not, and yet only the male name is worthy of a Capital One card. It's enough to make you go hmmm.

+ + +

APRIL 19, 2002

My kids' school called no snow days this year, but we did get a heat day this past Wednesday. It was my honor and privilege as a class mom to track people down at their places of business and let them know that, surprise! school was ending at 1 p.m. and they needed to prepare to receive their little hot and sweaty darlings home. While I can certainly sympathize with how difficult it is to learn in an un-air-conditioned classroom on a 90-degree day; and even more with how hard it is to teach; somehow calling school on account of heat seems like an awfully wimpy thing to do. Plus, it's hard to be a parent in an un-air-conditioned house or apartment on a 90-degree day, too, especially when you've had to ditch out of work to do it.

When I was a kid, of course, we went to school when it was 100 degrees and did science experiments involving frying eggs on the sidewalk and never thought a thing of it. Didn't even break a sweat while walking to and from school, uphill both ways. Why, we used to wear our warmest new fall clothes on the first day of school even if it was sweltering out, just because they were our new school clothes, darn it, and school was where we were going. These days, these kids, they wear their summer shorts from May to October. Their mothers drive them to the school entrance in air-conditioned vehicles. They tote water bottles to class and stay inside for recess if it's a little warm (or cold, or wet). Weaklings, the lot of them. And their school board, too.

Monday, April 08, 2002

April 8-12, 2002

APRIL 8, 2002

Watched the Disney Channel's "Tru Confessions" with my daughter on Friday, in the hope that she would see some parallel with her sibling relationship in the story of a girl who struggles with but finally comes to value her bond with her developmentally disabled brother. The family dynamics sure looked familiar to me: mother constantly excusing and protecting her son while expecting more from her daughter; father afraid to acknowledge his son's limitations and yelling too much when things inevitably go wrong; daughter resentful that her brother gets away with everything and she with nothing; son pretty happy in his own world, largely oblivious to the stress he's causing. My husband happened to walk through the room during a scene in which the son again created havoc during dinner (this time by spilling a beverage, which used to be a common occurence at our table), and I know he saw himself in the way the father leapt up and shouted, "Can't we ever just get through a meal?" I know he saw himself, because he laughed and shot me a sheepish look. If we had a dollar for every time he's said those words, it would cover the cost of getting the Disney Channel, for sure. And maybe a DVD player, too. And TV dinners for a year.

Did my daughter see herself in the on-screen sister? Less likely, I guess. The character was hyper-verbal and hyper-aware, and goodness knows my daughter is neither of those. She's never shown much of an ability to apply fictional situations to real-life ones. But she enjoyed the movie, and maybe a little bit of its message of tolerance for, as she describes her own, "crazy brothers" will seep in. And at any rate, it has me feeling all validated -- the mother's practically the hero of the movie; she turns out to be right about everything, and everybody who's picked on her throughout the 83 minutes makes note of that in the end. Now could we just have a little bit of THAT in real life, please?

+ + +

APRIL 9, 2002

I'm running late this morning, overslept again, rushing around with no time to write something funny or even lame, but I just gotta say ... This morning, while I was dashing through my shower, anticipating having to yell at my son who would undoubtedly still be in his pajamas, in bed, when I got out -- while I was worrying about rushing him through dressing and eating -- while I was being so very unorganized and late myself, imagining my daughter lounging on the sofa waiting to be served -- my beautiful girl was calmly microwaving omelets for her sibling and herself, and my son was actually getting himself dressed. I tore out of my room only to find them sitting at the table, peacefully munching away, togged and shod and ready for school. Miracles! If I can get my daughter to do this every morning, I can oversleep a good ten minutes more.

Of course, she's got to start making breakfast for me, too. A pot of coffee, at least. We'll work on that.

+ + +

APRIL 10, 2002

I'm off to an interview with the social worker on my son's child study team in a few minutes, and am trying to get into the appropriate positive, friendly but firm mind-set that comes in so handy during confrontations ... wait, I mean consultations ... conferences? ... meetings like these. I know there's some parents who go into these things breathing fire, and I generally admire them and wish I could do that, too; but catching flies with honey is definitely more my style. It doesn't mean I don't feel like a nervous wreck going in, though, and don't feel the need to gird myself for the job. Hold on a sec while I slip this armor on, okay? (Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.)

Today's get-together is just to give a social history for my son as part of his three-year review. He's had a heck of a good three years, so there should only be positive vibes in that office today. Right? Right? I'm a little more defensive than usual, because the social worker was the one person on the child study team who didn't think we needed to bother with this whole three-year review stuff for my guy. She proposed skipping it, I proposed not, and everybody else -- thank goodness -- agreed with me. I don't know if she's holding a grudge about that. Guess I'll find out in a few minutes. Oh, don'tcha just love IEP season?

+ + +

APRIL 11, 2002

It’s always something. Yesterday I completed my nervously anticipated interview with the social worker on my son’s child study team with flying colors, leaving her the impression of a great kid and a happy family, and when we were done I walked down the hall to drop off some paperwork with the child study team leader. I was surprised but happy to see my daughter’s aide in the office there with her, because I rarely get a chance to speak with the woman and had a couple of things I wanted to mention. But alas, the aide was in that office because she was unhappy with what was going on in the classroom, concerned about the directions the teacher was giving her for working with my daughter and unsure about things she was being asked to do. Plus, now, panicked that it might be perceived that she was taking a secret meeting with me. You know, me, the parent, the one that must by all means NOT be allowed free and open communication with people who work directly with my child. The horror!

We talked for a while, the three of us, with frequent nervous glances at the open door, and I heard things that annoyed me -- requests I thought I had communicated clearly being completely misinterpreted; things that concerned me -- the kind of excess help for my daughter that I had again and again and AGAIN asked that she not receive; and things that made me think that all of this really had more to do with classroom politics, personalities and the mismanaging of inclusion in our district and state than it did with my actual child and self. I’m clinging to that last one, because it’s late in the year and I really don’t want to have to start ticking people off again now. Can’t we just get through fourth grade? Please? I can only handle one set of stressful Child Study Team interactions at a time, and this year it’s my son’s turn. But as we know, in the land of special ed, Nothing Is Ever Easy.

+ + +

APRIL 12, 2002

Send prayers or good thoughts our way Sunday morning, 8:45 a.m., as my son receives his First Communion. The First Communion part -- the actual receiving of the Host -- I'm not worried about. I'm worried about him making it through Mass with people watching. I'm worried about him standing up at the altar with the other children all during the long, long Eucharistic prayer, as we found out at today's rehearsal he's going to have to do. I'm worried about him wearing a suit without dissolving in a mass of tactile hypersensitivity. It's going to be a long morning.

To their credit, nobody at the church, neither the administrator of the First Communion program nor the parents whose children will be sharing the spotlight, has said anything about my son's behavior being inappropriate for a First Communicant. There seems to be a good understanding among the people and priests that my child has a neurological impairment, and that he requires more than the usual amounts of understanding and tolerance. After the horrible rehearsal, during which he was whooping and hollering and jumping and running and proclaiming loudly from the altar that he had to go to the bathroom, at about the time when I imagined all the other moms demanding that my son be pulled from the First Communion line-up so as not to disturb their children's big day, a woman who remembered my son from a long-ago gymnastics class she taught stopped us to say how happy she was that her daughter was having her First Communion during the same Mass as my son, and that it really made the day for her. I wanted to hug her.

It's true, I think, that my husband and I are more mortified by his behavior under these circumstances than other folks are -- even though, under general circumstances, we are extremely understanding and tolerant of his challenges. We know that the thing that works best for him is to keep him from situations where he is going to be unsuccessful, and when such situations are unavoidable -- like making your First Communion in front of God and everybody -- I think we panic a little. Okay, we panic a lot.

I'd like to think that praying on this will lead God to bring a little calmness to my boy's wild spirit and help him to behave. But you never know about God -- He may just feel that having a small boy running up and down the aisles or prattling merrily at the altar in a Scooby Doo voice is a fine way to wake people up. Perhaps what we need to pray for is a little calmness for ourselves. At any rate -- 8:45 a.m., people. Send us a little support.

Monday, April 01, 2002

April 1-5, 2002

APRIL 1, 2002

Good news, I guess: I won't be able to use this space to shill for ABC's "Once and Again" much longer, because the network has finally said, "No more." There are three episodes of this often intriguing, sometimes annoying, usually emotionally honest drama to go, including tonight's, and now no incentive whatsoever for new viewers to take a look at it. But allow me to whine at least one more time, and pretend that anyone even still cares.

Tonight's episode continues and, most likely, resolves a long-simmering storyline about teenage daughter Grace's desperate infatuation with her English teacher (played by Eric Stoltz, for anybody who may have been infatuated with him when they were teenagers). That he returns the infatuation has been suggested but not stated outright; it's still possible that he's merely fond of her and deeply sympathetic to the numerous ways she has humiliated herself on his behalf. Anyone who was capable, at that age, of really mortifying behavior in the pursuit of something that seemed to be the most important thing in the world -- romantic, social, academic or whatever -- will feel a pang as this basically good but often heedlessly passionate girl does things that she will remember later in life with a wince.

One of this show's strengths has always been its ruthless, clear-eyed showing of the ways in which people embarrass themselves -- there have been times that I have had to dive for the mute button to stop characters from saying that desperately ill-advised thing they were obviously just about to. Thought it was sometimes painful viewing, I'll miss it. Too bad that too few of us will.

+ + +

APRIL 2, 2002

Lately, my son seems to be developing good manners. Not the kind of good manners that involve, say, eating with your fork or refraining from burping aloud at will, but some very nice little verbal habits nonetheless. He's always been good with "please," "thank you," and "excuse me," but now his repertoire has expanded. For example, during Easter dinner at a restaurant, he demonstrated his ability to interact politely with the waitress, whether to clearly give his order in turn or to wave her down and request more juice. Quite the fine diner was he.

When he went to the pediatrician last week, he sat down at a table of toys where a little girl was playing and nicely introduced himself, saying his name and asking for hers. And another afternoon, waiting outside for his sister to come out of school, he approached a girl who was piling up sticks, excused himself, and asked if she might like some help. Of course, she ignored him; mainstream-type kids often don't respond to his polite overtures. Children with special needs get a lot of help with and stress on social skills. Maybe some mainstream kids could use that, too.

+ + +

APRIL 3, 2002

I'm feeling all inconsistent about inclusion these days. On the one hand, last week I had to head off yet another attempt to pull my daughter out of her mainstream class and stick her in resource room for a good portion of the day. I had to again explain that that sort of remediation does not work for her, and that being in a classroom with everybody else does. Her teacher was just being concerned; I don't think it was an official child-study-team-mandated request, just an attempt to gently talk me into it. She didn't. My girl needs to be in the regular classroom, and I'll do everything short of crazy glue to keep her there.

So there, I'm the queen of inclusion. And in that spirit, I've also pulled the plug on my son's expensive, exclusive special needs camp and have found an in-town mainstream program that will take him on. We'll pay for him to have a one-on-one aide, but beyond that, he'll be just another kid, albeit a jumpy, noisy, busy, key-obsessed one. I'm feeling good about having him be part of the community this year, with kids he might actually see around town. Mainstream children have generally been kind to him, and I hope that will continue. For summer, anyway, inclusion's the ticket.

But during the school year, I can't work up any enthusiasm for that boy being in a mainstream class. He has a hard enough time staying focused in a small, structured, self-contained special-ed class; put him in a regular classroom with too many kids and too much going on, and he'd be at his hyperkinetic worst. It's even occured to me to wonder, as we approach his latest three-year review, whether he wouldn't be better off in a special school instead of just a special class. That's about as far from inclusion as you can get, and it's going to make some child-study-team heads spin that the mom who won't even allow her daughter to be pulled into resource room wants to send her son out of the home school, out of the community, and way out of the mainstream. But that's okay. It's good to keep them on their toes.

+ + +

APRIL 4, 2002

My kids really really really really really want a dog.

My husband really really really really really doesn't.

Me, I'm in the middle. We always had a dog when I was growing up, and I miss that. I can see where it might be good for my kids to have that sort of companionship and that sort of responsibility. But on the other hand: Mess. Disruption. Dog hair. Dog poop. Do I need that sort of responsibility? There are days we just barely have it together with our current roster of personnel.

At any rate, we would have to find a pretty exceptional dog to be able to survive this household. One energetic enough to play with the small hyperactive boy, but controlled enough to not hurt him in the process. One calm enough for my daughter, who adores dogs in about the same proportion that she is scared to death of them. One who will provide good company for my mother-in-law, who has custody of the downstairs rooms of our house that lead to the backyard, but not move in any way that may interfere with her already unsteady steps. And of course, one who will charm my husband, who really really really doesn't much care for critters.

Maybe one day the perfect dog will just follow us home, and we won't have to think about it. And then maybe somebody will leave a baby on our doorstep, and we'll be able to adopt again without any hassle. It's nice to dream. That's what I tell my kids, anyway.

+ + +

APRIL 5, 2002

Well, since I griped about "ER" last week, I have to acknowledge that this week, they did at least make some mention of FAS, and of drinking while pregnant as being a Bad Thing. Now, they did it in the context of a doctor yelling at a parent, which seems to be the general mode of address of doctors to parents on this show these days -- but it's good to at least have FAS acknowledged as something that causes developmental delays, since so many real-life doctors seem so reluctant to deal with it very much at all.

And although I'm happy for any mention at all, wouldn't it be good to have an older child on some show, demonstrating what FASD looks like once the child gets past alcohol-exposed-preemie stage? Maybe a parent would actually get a chance to yell at a doctor, as I yell at doctors and teachers who insist on overlooking the brain damage my child has suffered and see only the bad behavior. Well, in my head I yell at them. I yell at them when I get home. I yell at them on this Web site. In person I mostly just stew. And I suppose, to be fair, that's not really all that telegenic.