Saturday, November 30, 2002

Internet rage

If you've been noticing that people are quicker to anger lately, you're not alone. New to the Mothers with Attitude site this week is a Thinking It Over column called "Life Rage," writer April Cain's observation of people's increasing tendency to fly off the handle even when they're not on the road. Personally, I've been noticing plenty of unpleasant outbursts on the highway, but not the kind you drive on; the Information Superhighway seems particularly littered with scorched bodies these days as e-mail group members hit "send" while they're feelings are still incendiary. It's frightening how furious people can get at faceless strangers, how merciless they can be in expressing their displeasure, and how little regard they show for the size of their audience and the public nature of their forum. Now, see, I get upset by some e-mails too, but I never display that kind of in-your-face fury. Instead, I just rage at the computer screen, stomp around the house in a funk, yell at my kids, huff at my spouse, toss and turn all night in righteous indignation, and spend so many hours and days formulating the perfect fire-breathing response that by the time I finally sit down to post, the offending message has sunk so low in my e-mail queue that it no longer really seems worth all the trouble. If only other people were as healthy and well-adjusted as I!

(And speaking of being ticked off, I've been pretty annoyed with my internet service provider for cutting me off late this week and leaving me with no way to get on here and update my Weblog. If anybody's actually missed me these last few days, let me say that I sure woulda been here if I could. Hope you're not too mad about it... )

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

A fresh face on the culinary scene

We're trying out a new chef at our house tomorrow morning. He's young and inexperienced, but we have high hopes for his culinary flair. I happen to know that he's trained extensively with Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart. Of course, it's true that this training has been exclusively in the form of faithfully watching their Food Network shows. It's also true that this is his first time ever preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. And I can't deny the fact that he's only nine years old. But every great chef's gotta start somewhere, right?

Still, people seem shocked when I tell them I'm letting my son cook our family feast. Shortsighted ones! Putting the little guy in charge, with me as kitchen assistant, has three great advantages: It gives me an opportunity to lead him through good life-based lessons in math, science and nutrition; it encourages him to pursue an area in which he's recently shown enthusiasm; and it means that if any of the food turns out awful, I have someone to blame. Who can complain if the stuffing is dry or the sweet potatoes burnt if they're beeing served by a cherub-faced cook bursting with pride at doing it himself? As far as I'm concerned, having someone else take the heat in the kitchen -- even if I have to do most of the chopping and stovetop stirring dirty work -- is something to be truly thankful for.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

The Consumer Parents Sanity Commission

With holiday shopping panic and desperation season starting in just two short days, it seems a fitting time to check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Holiday Toy Recall Checklist of gifts unfit for giving. CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton is quoted as saying "Preventing needless tragedies and providing a safe environment are the best holiday gifts parents can provide their children," which is a big relief because I thought I was going to have to actually purchase some toys. Now I can just keep the tree and the gift wrap packed away and give my children the priceless gift of safety. Never mind that not getting the toys they've demanded and dreamed of will strike them as a needless tragedy indeed.

Included on the commission's list of naughty toys are pedal cars decked in lead paint, cotton candy machines that can heat up to the point of catching fire, toy planes that can burst apart in midair, and baby walkers that can fall down stairs. A lump of coal to those manufacturers, for sure. But why don't they ever recall any toys just for being so obnoxious that they can cause parents to burst apart, catch fire and fall down stairs? What's a little lead paint compared to obnoxious electronic noises or games with 500,000 tiny pieces or dolls that require more accessories than their human owners? I remember one year somebody gave my son an ice cream truck with an electronic jingle and repetitive "Ice cream! Ice cream!" voice so incessantly annoying that I had to "accidentally" break the battery compartment door so it could never be heard from again. Why doesn't anybody ever recall that?

Perhaps nobody's ever had the initiative. Until now. I hereby introduce the Consumer Parents Sanity Commission, dedicated to cataloging the nation's most dangerously nerve-grating toys and giving other parents fair warning. If your child's acquired a particularly perplexing plaything, send us the name of the item, the manufacturer's name, and your complaint, and we'll start making our own list of would-be recalls. Tell your kids the toy they're crying for's so unsafe, it's been written up by the CPSC. The real meaning of those initials can be our little secret.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Talk about your seasickness

Does the thought of being trapped on a cruise ship with your family and a bunch of perky Disney characters make you want to throw up? Then you know how it felt to be on a recent Disney Cruise when a stomach ailment sickened some 200 of the passengers during a weeklong sail to the Caribbean. That's just the respite from hell, isn't it? You book this cruise because they have activities that will keep your kids busy and let you relax, and instead you're all cooped up in a stateroom together enjoying severe gastrointestinal distress. The Associated Press story quotes a New Jersey man as saying the illness was no big deal, lasted only about 12 hours out of seven days, and didn't ruin his trip. I'm guessing he didn't have to clean up after the kids.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

A little low-tech assistance

My kids have been having some luck lately with some very primitive forms of "assistive technology" -- maybe assistive low-tech instead. For my daughter, the newly willing-to-reader, it's been a bookmark with strip of see-through yellow celophane along one edge to use as a reading guide. Her teacher gave her this gadget, called an EZC Reader and available from an aptly named site called Really Good Stuff, and whether the yellow color atop the type really does make the words more available to her eyes or the novelty of the thing just makes reading a little more fun, it seems to be an element in her recent non-hatred of reading. I take what encouragement I can get. Meanwhile, my son, who's hated writing (the fine motor part) about as much as his sister has hated reading, is showing a lot more willingness to write his spelling words and try his hand at cursive when using a gel pen instead of a pencil. The smooth-flowing utensils are messier and less correctable than their leaden counterparts, but if it gets us through homework without tantrums and meltdowns, I give it two thumbs up. Sometimes little things can mean a lot.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Hamburgers can be hazardous to your health

Worried about your kids' weight? Blame it on McDonald's. A class-action lawsuit has been filed in New York on behalf of children whose diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity has allegedly been caused by too much Mickey D's. According to an AP story on the InteliHealth: Health News site, "a lawyer alleged that the fast-food chain has created a national epidemic of obese children. Samuel Hirsch argued that the high fat, sugar and cholesterol content of McDonald's food is 'a very insipid, toxic kind of thing' when ingested regularly by young kids.'" Well. Then don't let your kids eat it?

As for my kids, the fattening qualities of Big Macs have been one of their major attractions. My son was a little scrawny thing when we adopted him at age 21 months, and had trouble gaining weight for years. But a few years ago he started scarfing down Big Macs, and now he's a good solid weight for his still-short frame. All those fat and calories in such a tasty package have done him a great service. Perhaps I should see if MacDonald's wants us to come testify in their behalf. Can you say, "Big Macs for life?"

Friday, November 22, 2002

Books for reluctant readers

Yesterday morning my daughter said something to me I never thought I'd hear: "I like to read." What wonderful news! This is a girl who, over the summer, when asked to define what reading meant to her, responded "staring at black marks on paper." Far from liking to read, she's usually expressed nothing but hatred for the activity. But now, at age 12, three months into 5th grade, she's starting to warm up to books. Who'd have thought it?

At our first meeting in September, her teacher told me that she gets kids reading novels in her class in the hope that reluctant readers will find the one book that will make them decide reading's not so bad after all. She may have a success story here. The assignment of a chapter a night in a reading-for-pleasure book has made books a habit for my girl, and the personalized selections the teacher's made have kept that assignment from being a chore. For others with book balkers out there, here are some of the titles my daughter's made it through so far this year, without fear and loathing: Two books by P.J. Petersen, I Hate Company and I Hate Camping; two from the Marvin Redpost series by Louis Sachar, Why Pick On Me? and Alone In His Teacher's House; The Candy Corn Contest by Patricia Reilly Giff; and a Bailey School Kids book by Debbie Dadey, Frankenstein Doesn't Plant Petunias.

To be honest, none of these would be my idea of literature to inspire a love of reading; I long to read "Sarah Plain and Tall" with her, and have her not hate Harry Potter so intensely. But these books are where she's at right now, and she's willing to be there. So I'll be beside her, reading along.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Around the Web

If your child has special health care needs, check out the emergency preparedness forms offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics. You can download a PDF version and make copies to keep at home, in the car, with your child and in other places so that health care workers will have all the information they need to take the right kind of care in an emergency. ... Just in time for the holidays comes a booklet of non-alcoholic drink and party recipes from Mo'Angels, a teen singing group dedicated to spreading the word about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. You can download a preview for free, then order them in batches of 25 for the perfect Christmas card insert. ... There's an interesting site on music therapy here which, among other things, sells books of songs designed to teach academic material and social concepts to children with special needs. I'm tempted to buy one, except that my son tends to scream when he hears me singing. Some sort of complicated sensory thing, I'm sure.

Picture this

Yesterday I did a dumb-sounding thing for my son, but it turned out okay. The kid is super-obsessed with cars -- not how they work, but what they look like, what brand they are, where they were purchased -- and when he found out that we had a workman coming over to look at a hole in our bathroom wall, he demanded that I take a picture of the man's truck. Usually he just asks me to make a note of the make and model and report back, but maybe my failures in this respect have made him move on to seeking photographic confirmation. Our whole walk to school, he was browbeating me: Promise to take the picture! With the guy standing next to the car! And a shot each for all four sides of the car! Do it!

He needed agreement or he'd go into school all disgruntled, so I said that if the guy was nice, I'd see if it was okay. And when it turned out that the workman was indeed nice, and talked about his kids, and seemed friendly, I kept my promise. And in truth, the man was happy to comply. "Nobody ever asks to take pictures of my truck!" he said with a smile, reminding me of the Mobile Intensive Care Unit paramedics who were similarly pleased when my son peppered them with questions about their vehicle. It turns out that taking an interest in what people do and what they drive isn't offensive after all.

The first thing my son asked me after school is whether I had taken the pictures, and I was so happy to be able to tell him that I had. They're taped up on the wall by his bed now, above the pictures of the minivan we had for our vacation this summer and next to the ones of the smashed-up car that was parked in front of the high school to remind kids not to drive drunk. He's full of questions about the tile-man's truck, and I think I'm going to have him write them down and mail them to the very helpful fellow who allowed himself to be photographed. I'll bet he gets some very nice answers back. Who knows, maybe one day he'll be a writer for "Car and Driver," and all of this will be good prep. He'll probably have a better photographer then, though.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Making the grades

My kids got their first report cards of the year on Monday, and we seem to have survived pretty well. My daughter got a C in reading, which is probably generous on the teacher's part, and Bs in all other subjects except spelling and penmanship, in which she got As. She's continuing on in her longstanding tradition of excellent work with anything that requires memorization (vocabulary words, the aforementioned spelling, math facts) and not-so-great work in things that require you to actually process and utilize memorized information (just about everything else). For this marking period, anyway, things seemed to have averaged out in her favor. And she now knows all the state capitals east of the Mississippi.

My son's grades were in the B range, too, with As in spelling (we're a dynasty, I tell you) and science. I was happy to see a "S" for satisfactory in physical education (where he's been unsatisfactory in past years) and music (where he had a warning check at progress report time). I was unhappy but not surprised to see check mark upon check mark in the "behavior needs work" section. Well, sure, he has trouble with "Follows Directions," "Shows Self Control," and "Demonstrates Appropriate Behavior Inside and Outside of Classroom." That's why he's in a special-ed self-contained classroom. He has Fetal Alcohol Effect; these are his issues. Seems kinda low to also mark it against him on his report card. But the comments are good, and the grades are acceptable, and the boy is happy, and the teacher and aides are cooperative, so I'll ignore a few checks. For another marking period, anyway.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Mother-daughter TV night

Tonight's my big TV night with my 12-year-old daughter. Most evenings she's busy watching her Disney Channel shows in the living room and I'm busy working on the computer or watching the Food Network in another room with my son; but on Tuesday nights this season, we come together to watch "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" (starring John Ritter, or, as he's known in my house, the voice of Clifford the big red dog) at 8 p.m. and, at 9 p.m., "Life with Bonnie" (starring most of the cast of "Return to Me," one of our favorite movies, of which we had another mother-daughter DVD viewing this weekend). The show in between, "According to Jim" (starring Jim Belushi, another "Return to Me" alum), we watch if there's no homework or trombone practicing or other last minute hurry to worry about. "8 Simple Rules" makes me smile because the way the two teenage girls torture their father reminds me of the way my daughter is starting to tweak her pop as she slips slowly and inexorably into teen-dom. But Bonnie's show is my fave -- not as much for the much-praised improvised scenes of Bonnie at work but for the scripted but awfully true-to-my-life scenes of at-home chaos and affection. I like the way the parents are comfortably in charge of the family, with neither playing the buffoon but both making mistakes and compromises. The kids are cute, but they're not comedians; the humor comes more from the circumstances and the relationships than from rim-shot-minded schtick. Which means that this is not exactly a laugh-a-minute show, and that takes some getting used to. Tune in tonight, and get started.

Monday, November 18, 2002

And one more thing

Since today seems to be the day when I'm writing about what other writers are writing rather than writing anything in particular myself, let me just add that one more new piece of prose not composed by me has been posted to the Mothers with Attitude site. It's a very moving challenge from the mother of a child with special needs to those who presume they could walk in his shoes. You'll want to print it out and wave it in front of every person in your child's life whose consciousness needs to be raised. Thanks to Dee O'Neill for venting so effectively for us all.

New on Mothers with Attitude

I'm happy to announce that my project of finally adding new titles to the MWA Bookstore is underway, with a passel of volumes placed on the virtual shelves of the adoption section. Most of the books that turn up in our bookstore are either my personal favorites or books that have been recommended by other parents on e-mail support lists, so shop with confidence. With any luck, the other sections of the bookstore -- on autism, fetal alcohol, other special needs and parenting special needs -- will be seeing new additions within the next few weeks. ... Another recent addition to the site is a new humor piece by Julie Donner Andersen, author of PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense!: Insights From One Woman's Journey as the Wife Of A Widower. If you enjoyed her views on why Fear Factor Is For Wimps, check out her take on clothes shopping. It made me feel a lot better about my new favorite outfit, which is an oversize L.L. Bean corduroy dress that a co-worker found at the Salvation Army; a pair of baggy tights purchased from a Banana Republic store over a decade ago, back when it was a funky little jungle catalog and not a Too Limited For You; and L.L. Bean sport slides so easy on the feet that I'm glad we don't have a full-length mirror in the house so I can't see how dorky they look. The ensemble brings to mind the words "broad side of a barn," but the older I get, the more I think there's a lot to be said for comfort. Julie's new column, "Therapeutic Laughing," will appear on MWA twice a month.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

The neighborhood grocer

A new supermarket has opened up in our neighborhood. Right on our very street. In fact, it's right in our very home -- in my son's closet, as a matter of fact. After months of wading through the plastic bags and empty food containers he regularly uses in his shopping games, I went ahead and emptied his small closet of clothes, set up some shelves and assorted the boxes and bottles thereon. It's the world's mini-est minimart, but it gets a surprising amount of business. Just last night, the contents were completely bought out two or three times, only to be returned to the shelves for the next (same) customer. If the cash register wasn't processing plastic coins, this would be one high-profit establishment. As it is, I'm hoping the profit will come in reduced room-cleanup time, as my guy focuses more and more on putting imitation foodstuffs in his shopping bags and less and less on filling them with every uprooted toy in his room. As long as he's happy shopping at an imitation supermarket instead of an imitation Toys 'R Us, we'll be fine.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Sprinkle on a little spinach

Now here's a cool company: One that helps parents by providing a product that actually tricks kids into eating their veggies, and then helps parents again by donating a portion of the proceeds to providing therapy for kids who need it. The company is Healthy Sprinkles, the product is freeze-dried vegetables and fruits ground to a powder so fine even a healthy-food-ophobe won't know it's there, and the charity is the Side by Side fund, through which money will "be given to some family with a special needs child who can't afford speech therapy, occupational therapy, doctor's care (that pesky insurance companies won't cover) and general necessities. We're also pretty keen on helping out single parents that have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Mental Retardation." Eating healthy foods isn't a big battleground issue in our house, but I almost feel like buying some of this stuff just to support what sounds like an entirely neat operation. Now if they could only come up with some sneaky way to make big smelly 12-year-old girls use deodorant, I'd take out stock.

Clotheshorses wanted

Do you have what it takes to be in a Gap ad? The clothing retailer is conducting a contest in which your photo and your definition of your own personal style may be enough to get you jetted off to a photo shoot. They're looking for babies, kids and grown-ups (do babies have a personal style? I suppose a witty-writing adult could make it so), and invite folks to enter at Gap stores or on-line (adults only). No pay, other than a free trip; but 15 minutes of fame, for sure. Wouldn't it be neat if one of these "general public" ads featured a child or adult with special needs? Given the idiosyncracy of a lot of the Gap photo ads, they seem like an outfit that might go for it. Ah, we can dream.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Show seeks stories

Yesterday I posted some stats on corporal punishment, and today it looks like the folks behind the syndicated John Walsh Show are looking to talk to some of those 72% of Americans who are against rod-wielding in school. Among the topics for which the show's producers are seeking stories is, "Has your son or daughter's teacher crossed the line (i.e. physically striking or threatening them) or abused them in some other non-sexual way?" If you've got a horror story to tell, you could get a trip to NYC and a seat on the show. Also on the search list for future episodes: Fathers who can't deal with their sweet little daughters turning into teen-agers; the daughters and wives thereof; folks with extreme fears and phobias; and "a mom who has gone above and beyond and done something extraordinary for a child or family." Well, goodness. Don't we all?

Ginger ale all around

It was just a quick few lines on The West Wing last night, but it was heartening for those who care about the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in that group who caught my breath and leaned forward during last night's episode when newly re-elected Congresswoman Andrea Wyatt, who is expecting twins, appeared to be drinking champagne at her victory party. Would they let that go uncommented upon? I wondered in horror. But no. Her ex-husband (and father of the twins, but it's a long story) ran across the room yelling for her not to drink alcohol because she was pregnant, and she told him it was only ginger ale. For a show that has featured a lot of casual alcohol use, in and outside of the workplace, it was nice to see a message, however fleeting, that no matter how big a landslide you win by, you don't drink when you're drinking for two (or, in this case, three).

What I'm reading

It's hard for me to believe, considering the direction my literary habits have drifted in recent years, that I am just about to finish reading my third book in a row that has absolutely nothing to do with parenting, special needs, special education, or anything remotely kid-related. Surely there's got to be some vital child development tome that I am missing to engage in this frivolous perusal of personally gratifying nonfiction. The three that have recently engaged me, and which I would recommend for anyone wishing to choose a little something from somewhere other than the parenting section, are: The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, a fascinating look at the evolutionary implications of apples, potatos, cannabis and tulips; The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand, a surprisingly engaging philosophical journey through the latter decades of the 19th century; and Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks, a portrait of the neurologist as a young chemist. Wait a minute, now... that's two books on science and one on history, curiously school-like subjects for non-child-involved reading. I should know by now -- nothing about my life is non-child-involved. Next on my reading stack is the enormous biography of John Adams my friend loaned me. Wonder if my daughter's studying the revolution this year?

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Spanking still a hit with parents

Do you spank your kids? If you do, you've got a lot of company. An ABC News poll found that half of Americans with minor children don't believe in sparing the rod, and 65% percent said they approved of spanking, even if they didn't do it themselves. But what's okay for Mom and Dad isn't necessarily okay for teachers and principals; 72% of respondents disapproved of corporal punishment in schools. Southerners were found most likely to spank their kids, at 62%; parents with college degrees were least likely to spank, at 38%. The greatest support for school-sponsored spankings was in the South, at 35%; the least was in the East, at 13%.

Frankly, I was stunned by these statistics -- but then, I'm an East Coast dwelling, college-degree-holding child spoiler, so what do you expect? Still, given the proliferation of books on psychologically correct methods of child-rearing, and our overriding societal sensitivity to even the appearance of child abuse, I thought spanking had generally fallen out of favor, and had certainly been driven out of schools for fear of lawsuits. Bring up the subject of spanking on many e-mail lists for parents, and you'll be flamed to a golden brown. So who knew it was still so popular? I don't think I'll take it up to get in with the majority, but this research does give me a new weapon when my kids step out of line: I can remind them of how lucky they are that they didn't get adopted by Southerners.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Music to my ears

I'm getting a kick out of the fact that my daughter's latest hot musical faves are mostly old enough to be her grandparents, or even worse, hot musical faves of her mother when she was teenish herself. (Yes. I was. Honestly, there was a time when I was not an old woman. No matter what my girl tells you.) When Little Miss Preteen shares how much she loves that new song by that guy James Taylor, or Rod Stewart, or Phil Collins, or Cher (okay, I had to straighten her out on that one), it's kind of fun to point out that they're all about three times older than another one of her recent idols, Avril Lavigne. To be honest, I don't think my daughter believes me. But it still makes me feel, oh, at least a little bit hip.

Now, my mom always made an effort to keep up with the music I liked when I was a pop-loving preteen. But she had to work at it. She had to learn the names and listen to the music and find a way to mesh it with her own much different musical tastes. These days, it's easy. Everything new is old. The artists I grew up on are still hanging around. My daughter and I listen to the same radio station, and she's impressed when I know the names of all the songs, many of which were recorded well before her birth. One day, perhaps, she'll decide that she likes rap or some other so-called music that will challenge me to stretch my musical boundaries. For now, though, we're carrying the same tune.

Weighing in on adoption

So Calista Flockhart, weighing about 57 pounds, can adopt with ease, but things are different when you're on the other end of the weight spectrum. That's what a Scottish woman is claiming, anyway, in a complaint to the Glasgow City Council. The 46-year-old, 308-pound nurse asserts that a social worker twice told her she was "too fat" to adopt. She and her partner, who are "desperate to have children," had answered a city-wide call for adoptive parents, attended a training course, and undergone medical exams, only to be told that her weight disqualified them. And you know, in solidarity with other adoptive parents, and in the understanding that there are children in Glasgow in as desperate need of homes as these prospective parents are of children, I guess I should be outraged right along with her. But fence-sitter that I am, I have to wonder: Don't you have to draw the line somewhere? Should a 500-pound person adopt? Does everybody have an inalienable right to parent? Does desperation to parent entitle you in some way to a child? Are social workers always wrong? Alright, I know we're all tempted to say yes to that last one, but maybe the social worker's biggest mistake here was not in turning this couple down, but in saying why quite so blatantly.

Monday, November 11, 2002

We love a parade

Normally, I never take my kids to things like parades. I try not to take my son places where, if he gets overstimulated, I can't make a quick getaway, and my daughter is sometimes spooked by crowds and noise. Plus, I'm lazy. So our city's Veteran's Day parade would never have gotten me out of the house yesterday if it wasn't for one thing: It was lining up in our backyard.

Well, actually, it was lining up in the parking lot of the high school right on the other side of our backyard fence, but we could still see the gathering, gathering, gathering marchers up close and personal from our rear window. One of my daughter's friends was marching with one of the bands, and he came over twice to use our bathroom (perhaps the authors of "Refrigerator Rights," below, should think about a sequel called "Potty Privileges"). After watching the bands warm up and the fire trucks pull up and the army vehicles line up and the big flag get unfurled, it was kind of irresistible to walk around the corner when they were finally ready to march and take in the show.

And of course, my kids loved it, making me feel guilty for not exposing them to things like this when they're not mere footsteps away. There was plenty room for my son to jump and dance to the band music and spin around in fevered excitement, and if anybody minded that he kept shouting "Ahoy! Ahoy!" whenever representatives of the Navy passed, they didn't say so. There were enough kids we recognized among the marchers to make it a little social exercise for my daughter, and I even recognized one of my co-workers playing drums. It was a real community-inspiring affair, and I was pleased that we got to try it without it being trying. Now if I could just get them to start the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from that same parking lot, then we'd really have something.

Help yourself

A new book entitled Refrigerator Rights posits that there is a level of intimacy at which friends and family members feel comfortable helping themselves to the contents of your refrigerator, and that too many of us have too few people at that degree of closeness in our lives. And furthermore, that this is a bad thing. Clearly, the authors' iceboxes must be in nicer shape than mine. I do have some friends who aren't afraid to raid my fridge, but they know to sniff the cottage cheese and inspect the strawberries. Mostly, they stick to soda.

But if having friends with refrigerator rights is a sign of social success, then my daughter is doing much better in that area than I thought, because her buddies think nothing of rooting through our refrigerator, our pantry, our drawers in their insatiable search for snacks. One young amigo forayed far enough back in our fridge to find an ancient Lunchable I had forgotten was even there. She argued with me when I insisted that, at this point in its lifespan, it was neither lunchable nor edible, and then huffed off to clean us out of Pop Tarts. At the time, I just thought she was being rude, but now I understand that I was violating her refrigerator rights. And rights must be respected, mold or no.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Hey, doctors know best, right?

I guess we're all feeling pretty relieved now that Danish researchers have declared, unequivocally and once and for all, that vaccines and autism have nothing to do with one another. Phew! What a load off our minds that is. Bring on the needles! Far be it for us to worry needlessly over our children's well-being when medical science gives us the final word. Because health researchers are never, ever wrong. Just ask anybody who's ever been on hormone replacement therapy...

You know, the thing is, I'm not really even all that sure myself that there's a connection between autism and vaccines. And I'm not all that sure that not vaccinating your child against potentially devastating diseases is a responsible course of action for parents to take when that connection is so uncertain. But I've heard enough anecdotal evidence to convince me that there's some smoke here, and somebody should be looking for the fire. And the medical profession's utter indifference to that just ticks me off. This latest research and the confident headlines that accompanied it reminded me of an "ER" episode a few seasons back in which a child died of measles because his mother had deliberately not had him vaccinated due to fears of autism. Dr. Carter was about as black-and-white convinced that she was wrong as the Danish researchers seem to be. And if answers in the real world were as easy to come by as they are on TV, we'd have no worries at all.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

News flash: Parenting emotionally challenged kids is hard!

A research report from Ohio State University finds that it's really hard to raise children with emotional disorders, and that it doesn't get any easier with time. That's not news to a lot of parents, but it's nice to have it recognized by somebody who's not actually doing it. The researchers note, as I often have, that the emotional state of the parent can have a huge effect on the emotional state of the child. But as time goes one, they also note, the emotional state of the child starts to have a more and more debilitating effect on the emotional state of the parent, so that living in a dysfunctional family is damaging to every family member, not just the young ones. The recommendation, thankfully, is for more services for families in this situation. Sure hope somebody listens.

A note about studies like this, though -- the findings in this one sound right, but having recently done an over-the-phone survey on raising a child with Fetal Alcohol Effects, I wonder if just asking questions about how a caregiver feels tends to make that caregiver feel worse. The OSU report states that "To measure the well-being of caregivers, the researchers asked them to rate the level of stress, pleasure and responsibility they were feeling with regard to different aspects of their lives including work, home, relationships and physical health." That's somewhat similar to the questions I was asked, and I have to admit, if you force me to sit down and quantify it, I am stressed, I am exhausted, I do sometimes just sit down and cry, I do feel overwhelmed. But is that my experience at every moment of every day, do I constantly move under the shroud of those feelings, is that the way I perceive myself? No. Some people do, no doubt. But I wonder if you can ever really get a sense of a family's daily reality through questionnaires like this.

Friday, November 08, 2002

Get your hands off my cupcakes!

Big to-do at one of our local elementary schools on Election Day this week. It wasn't in the interest of any candidate or ideology, and it didn't involve hanging chads or electoral improprieties of that nature. It involved parents, but didn't have anything to do with outrage over kids getting a half-day off school (I might have marched in that parade). At the most basic level, it was a dispute between two deeply cherished American rights: the right to vote, and the right to hold bake sales.

The Home and School Association at this particular palace of learning had chosen, as Home and School Associations will, to hold an Election Day fund-raiser. And, as is not uncommon in our town, they chose to hold it in the form of a bake sale in the school gym, right by the voting booths. Within 100 yards of the voting booths, apparently, because an election official decided their bake sale was in violation of voting laws and they had to vamoose. To which the Home and School president said something along the lines of, "You'll move these cookies only when you pry them from my cold, dead hands."

Things kind of mushroomed from there. Senior citizens, outraged by having their right to home-baked goods trampled upon, started paying $5 for 50-cent cupcakes in a show of support. (Why they can't be that generous when it comes time to vote for the school budget, who knows.) More election officials arrived, and so did some city councilmen, and finally those brave local politicians solved the problem, as local politicans will, by throwing money at it: They bought out the bake sale so that everybody could go home happy. Next time, the bake sale may be off; but this time the parents made about twice as much for their donuts and pastries as they've made in elections past.

And what do we learn from all this? I'm hoping we've learned that you can make a lot more money from fund-raisers if you let people pay you to stop having them. Heck, I'd pay top dollar to get out of hawking gift wrap and chocolates next year. Really, Home and School organizations, get with it. There's money to be made.

Another emergency

My mother-in-law, who lives in the downstairs portion of our house, got an ambulance ride to the emergency room this morning for the second time in as many months. Again, there wasn't anything so scarily wrong with her that the experience was traumatic for the kids; and again, I was struck by how incredibly nice emergency personnel are, when they could so well be excused for having no time and no patience. One of the paramedics had been to our house the last time and remembered my son by name, assigning him once again to guard the ambulance, which both made the boy feel important and got him out of the way. After the ambulance and police car left, my guy had a long conversation with the man and woman assigned to the Mobile Intensive Care Unit vehicle; they happily let him inspect their keys, and showed him all the nooks and crannies of their truck. "Nobody ever asks about this stuff!" said the man happily, while the woman rifled through the drawers in the back to find freebies they could give their young inquisitor. He wound up with an oxygen mask, some electrodes, a roll of tape and some gauze, and a pen. Not bad for a morning's work.

Field trip frenzy

I don't know if our school district is trying to make up for all the field trips cancelled last year in the wake of September 11 or what, but they seem to be field trip crazy this year. For my son's class, anyway -- all I can remember from past years is one lousy field trip somewhere in May or June, but now it's just November and they've already got their second outing scheduled. And I don't mean to seem ungrateful for the enrichment and all, but -- sheesh, can't the kids just stay in their classrooms and learn stuff? Please?

Maybe for "regular kids" (whatever that means), multiple expeditions are a magical source of hands-on education, or at least a break from boring predictability. But for a kid like my son -- with fetal alcohol effects, sensory integration problems and a general overreliance on order and routine -- well, with a kid like him, you're just asking for trouble. The first field trip was to an outdoor historical park, and though I worried like crazy, he came through okay. (My mother would say it's because I worried like crazy that he came through okay, but that's a different subject.) The second one, coming up in a few weeks, is to a play. A play. I hear all you moms of kids with sensory integration disorder laughing, or maybe gasping, at that one. I would never take him to a play, because the likelihood of him staying still and quiet for an hour is pretty slim, and the likelihood of him screaming and jumping and disrupting the theatrical experience for everybody is pretty high. But his teacher thinks he'll be fine. I told her to make sure he's sitting on an aisle.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Helping parents help kids

Here's an interesting sounding book idea from the latest issue of the Half the Planet Foundation newsletter: a collection of essays in which adults with disabilities or special health needs share the things they wish their parents had read or heard about when they were growing up. I've read plenty of books about what doctors and other "experts" think I should know, but not much from those who have actually struggled with my children's problems; Temple Grandin's books on autism are about it, I think. So this seems like just an exceptionally good idea. Any adults who would like to participate by submitting a 1,500 word essay and 150 word bio can contact for more information, or see the online version of Half the Planet's November newsletter.

Celestial nurturing

I was just reading the back of the Cheerios box while breakfasting with my son, and found a little parent-minded section on the back called "The Nurturing Corner." This helpful featurette contained "Five Great Ways to Show Your Kids You Care." Included among them were just the normal, child-mortifying tips like "Put a kind note in your child's lunchbox" and "Go for bike rides together." One suggested putting together a large puzzle, which in my house would take about a month to do and then about a month to clean up; and another involved setting up as many dominos as possible and letting them tumble, which in my house, well, ditto. But the one that really made me wonder just what sorts of households Cheerios copywriters live in was this one: "Buy a telescope and look at the stars together." Buy a telescope? This is what we have to do now to show our kids we care -- buy a telescope? And here I thought all we had to do was feed them Cheerios.

From the "What can their parents be thinking?" file

I happened to fall asleep in front of the TV a little later than usual and caught some of the commercials that play during "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. Two were for video games so horrifically violent I had to close my eyes. Do people really let their kids play with stuff like that? There's no way these could be taken for good healthy fun. Terrorist training is more like it. The videos were both rated "M" for mature, but I think that should be changed to "P" for "will turn your kid into a psycho killer." And then removed from sale. But then, I'm a wimp. ... Apparently it's not enough that kids are being given psychiatric drugs that have only been tested on adults -- now doctors are offering surgery to teenagers that is only questionably safe for grown-ups. According to recent news reports, obese kids as young as 13 have undergone gastric bypass surgery, in which the the upper part of the stomach is stitched closed and the intestine is re-routed so as to limit absorption of nutrients. It leaves you unable to eat more than a few cups of food a day, but maybe you'll look a little more like Britney Spears, so the trade-off's like totally worth it. It's hard to believe there's not a better solution for these kids. Or that parents would think this an acceptable one. Harumph.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

A cold or flu near you

If there's one thing you gotta love about the Web, it's the way it allows advertisers to reach out to consumers in a way that blends faux concern and blatant marketing in one snazzy package. Take the ever-so-helpful Cold and Flu Watch site from the folks at Vicks. Just enter your zip code, and you can find out the prevalence of colds and flu in your particular neck of the woods. In my town, happily, the risk of colds and flu is low; the most common symptoms in my area are cough, nasal congestion and chest congestion, which sure sounds like a cold to me, but what do I know. At least I'm lucky enough not to live in Manchester, Oklahoma City, Riverside, Nashville and Philadelphia, which the site lists as having the highest cold and flu risk. If you do live there, well, gezundheit.

This would seem to mean that my daughter, who has been coughing more or less constantly for the past week, has very little claim to the flu, or even much of one to a cold. But of course, I already knew that, because I have administered the time-honored Mom test: If you haven't got a fever, you're not sick. It's off to school for you, missy. If you don't have enough ingenuity to hold up the thermometer to a lightbulb, you need all the schooling you can get. Yes, ma'am. Because I say so, that's why. And so does Vicks.

Monday, November 04, 2002

November 4-6, 2002

NOVEMBER 4, 2002

Despite her pre-teen protestations about hating school and living for the weekend, I can always tell how much my daughter likes going to class when she's sick, and I suggest that she can't go. "No, really, I'm fine!" she's croaking this morning, the cough and the huge wad of Kleenex bunched in her hand notwithstanding. She's got a cold, alright. Maybe it's because she was jumping on an outdoor trampoline in 40-degree weather on Saturday with a good friend and an inadequate jacket. Maybe it's because I let her go out trick-or-treating on Thursday jacket-free. Maybe it's because her instructional aide at school had a cold last week, and this germ transfer is proof that she's still leaning over my girl too much. Or maybe it just is.

When I was growing up, I never wanted to stay home from school either; of course, I was an obnoxious Type A over-achiever and could not bear the thought that someone might learn something ahead of me. That's sure not the case with my daughter, but I know she enjoys the social aspects of school and the routine of it and the recess and the gym (the latter two were about the only reasons I'd WANT to stay home from school, but again, I was a way different kid), and staying home is boring. (Mama makes sure of that.) We still go by the "if you don't have a fever, you get your butt to school" rule here, which means that I send sniffling, sneezing, coughing, wheezing kids to school on a regular basis during the winter, which I'm sure endears me to the teachers. Hey, if they'd make the sick aides stay home, maybe we wouldn't have a problem.

+ + +

NOVEMBER 5, 2002

Peer pressure reared its ugly head and bit my daughter this month, and our local phone company tattled to Mama. Fortunately, it's not phone calls to China or to astronomically priced toll services that her friends urged her to make, just three-way phone calls to include an extra friend in conversations. I didn't even know you could make three-way calls from our phone until I got last month's phone bill, with its 75-cent charge for each one. I let my sweet little preteen know at that time that there'd better be no more such calls dialed from our phone. What her friends dial is their mothers' business, but if I saw more 75 cent charges on our phone bill, there would be trouble. She promised she wouldn't do it.

And so comes this month's bill. And five 75-cent charges.

Under mild cross-examination she admitted that, yes, a few times she had let her buddy talk her into dialing. Her friend just would not quit, and finally, to shut her up, she had done the thing that Mama had said not to. And she didn't really see what the big deal was until I took the $3.75 out of her compact-disc savings fund.

I explained that it wasn't so much the extra phone charges that worried me, but the fact that she would let her friend talk her into doing something that she knew she shouldn't do. She has to learn to speak up for herself, and here's a $3.75 lesson why. I lectured her, I lectured her friend, I made it very clear to everybody that my girl is not to make those calls, and now I sit back and hope and wait for next month's phone bill to tell me if I got through. This is a very small experiment in peer pressure resistance, and the consequences of failure are relatively cheap. As she heads into her teenage years, the tolls of giving in to your friends are liable to be much, much higher. I sure hope she gets the message while we're still just talking about phone bills.

+ + +

NOVEMBER 6, 2002

Well, election day has finally passed, and however you feel about the results, I think we all have to admit that our nation is significantly better this morning in one important way: NO MORE CAMPAIGN ADS. Yee-ha! At last, we can watch TV or listen to the radio without the risk of getting caught in a mudfight.

I don’t know if it was true across the nation, but this round of campaigning here in the northeast seemed to be especially unseemly. Every time I thought ads couldn’t stoop any lower, they did. Every time an ugly ad made me sympathize with one candidate, that candidate volleyed back with one even uglier. I’m long past the age of feeling idealistic about politicians, and I’ve almost made my peace with the notion of lessers among evils, but do they have to rub our face in it all quite so blatantly?

I mean, goodness. Wasn’t there ever a time when people running for office talked about themselves, and not about the other guy? Wasn’t there ever a time when candidates tried to sell voters on their own beliefs and intentions, rather than getting the electorate to believe the worst about the intentions of their opponent? Maybe not. Maybe it’s always been like this, and the technology’s just better now. But when the normal run of product-pushing commercials seem like a peaceful relief after endless election ads, I think someone may want to rethink a little strategy. Please?