Tuesday, December 31, 2002

New on Mothers with Attitude

Just posted Julie Donner Andersen's latest installment of her "Therapeutic Laughter" column. Titled PTO Hell, it tells of her travails in dealing with the Stepford Mom-filled Parent Teacher Organization at her children's school. I'm sure most of us have felt the wrath of the perfect at some time or other, although I have to report that the folks in charge of the Home School Association (as they call it here) at my kids' schools have been pretty charitable toward me and mine, maybe because my kids are in special ed and they don't expect (or often get) much from the moms of the so-classified, maybe because I've managed to do my share of volunteering, and maybe because I never go to meetings and hear what they really have to say about me. I'm taking Julie's experiences as a warning.

Also new to the site: a couple of additions to our long-dormant games page. Stop by to waste some time and you'll now find a daily trivia quiz and a mood indicator game, for your frittering pleasure. What, you got better things to do? Don't be a Stepford Mom.

Tops in 2002

What better day than New Year's Eve to take a little look back at what America's been searching for in 2002, courtesy of Google's 2002 Year-End Zeitgeist. In what might be called the Surfing People's Choice Awards, Google's year-end run-down lists the most popular search-engine queries in a variety of categories. It makes me feel very out-of-touch with the "zeitgeist" to see that, while I use Google frequently, I never made any of these "popular" searches -- not "Spiderman," not "Jennifer Lopez," not "Eminem" -- and that, in turn, the searches that were most frequently made by me -- "fetal alcohol," "sensory integration," "behavior management," say -- are nowhere to be found among the most common. People were apparently too busy searching for information on Ferraris and mp3s to put sites on adoption or special needs in the Top 10s. Ah, well. We all knew we were out of step, didn't we?

My site certainly wasn't the most searched-for by anybody, but I do note with amusement that, of the folks who found the "Mothers with Attitude" home page through a search engine, 71% got there by typing the word "attitude." A search with that term today found "Mothers with Attitude" on page 4 out of 91 pages of results. Not bad! Out of all the uses of "attitude" on the Web, I was in the top 40. With a site as tiny as mine, you take validation where you can get it.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Square peg finds success

Caught a nice bit of reassurance for those of us raising kids with learning and behavioral differences this morning in Slate's Today's Papers:
The financial section of the NYT honors a dozen people who had wildly successful years in 2002. At the top of the list is David Neeleman, founder and CEO of JetBlue. ... Neeleman doubled his company's profits in the nine months ending on Sept. 30—some of the worst months in airline history. He's a father of nine, he never finished college, and he suffers from attention-deficit disorder.
A google search on Neeleman turned up this USA Today article from October in which the CEO talks about his ADD and shares details from his life that will sound familiar to anyone with a child whose train of thought often seems to be running on a track in a different dimension. I was particularly interested to note that Neeleman, who diagnosed himself with ADD, refuses to take medication for it out of fear of losing all the magical things that seem to be working for him. I've often thought exactly the same thing about my own flighty son; but however you feel about medication, in a time when there's so much pressure to "fix" what's "wrong" with our kids, when we hear that they'll be failures if we don't get them under control or make them succeed in school or sand down their bad habits, it's helpful to hear stories of those whose high-flying success may have been a result of those very rough edges. Nice news for a Sunday morning, anyway.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Just limping back from my little Christmas 'net break. Our holidays were pretty peaceful; the only ones to melt down were adults, which means that my easily overstimulated boy is starting to learn to give his own self time outs when he needs them. Merry Christmas to that!

Santa was plenty generous to me. I got lots of good books to read, so I can pretend that I'm actually the kind of person who has time to sit down and do that. The tomes under the tree for me -- I'll list them for folks who like to compare reading lists, of whom I am one -- were The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform and the Future of the Church by George Weigel; Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution by Randal Keynes; American Studies by Louis Menand; Longitudes & Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11 by Thomas L. Friedman; and finally, shamefacedly, NOT because I asked for it but because my sister-in-law remembered I once said I had a crush on him as a preteen, Danny Bonaduce's autobiography, Random Acts of Badness: My Story.

Aside from that last one, it's exactly what I wanted. But all those good words weren't the best gift I got this Christmas. My kids gave me something infinitely more wonderful: They got along. They played together nice. They camped out in my daughter's room and played with the matching Barbie minivans their grandmother gave them and were just as friendly as you can imagine. My daughter even told me she'd told her brother she loves him, which is so far from her ordinary attitude as to be miraculous. And I know, it won't last. Four days post Christmas, the peace and unity is already slipping. But oh, it was nice while it lasted, going about my business on Thursday with the two of them happily occupied together, seeing enthusiasm and camaraderie in their relationship rather than hostility and spite. Probably hostility and spite is really a more natural big sister-little bro dynamic than peaceful playing, but Christmas is a time for dreams.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

You go, girls

Nice girl-power-y site here for preteen types whiling away the endless days before school starts up again in January (or for moms who want said preteens to get up off the couch and DO something already). It was clearly created with Hispanic teen-ish girls in mind, but the site is bilingual and offers plenty for muchachas from any cultural background to enjoy (though adoptive parents may want to be sensitive to the section called "Family History," which emphasizes how important one's family heritage is; I don't think it's entirely inappropriate to adopted children, but you might want to provide some guidance and talking points). On the games page, along with tic-tac-toe and word searches, are quizzes on drinking and driving, inhalants and poisons, values and self-esteem. It's all really rah-rah and upbeat and well-intentioned, which means it will probably be poison to kids, but that doesn't mean we can't plop those little preteen butts in front of the computer and insist they play. Along with "Know Yourself" and "Know Your Body," there should be a section called "Know When Your Mom Needs a Break."

No baby pictures? No problem.

Well, here's one way to tackle the dreaded "baby picture project." If you're tired of having to educate educators as to why asking for baby pictures from everyone might not be fair to adopted children (and any child who reasonably might not have such a snapshot, including children whose mothers are chronically disorganized and those who always forget the camera), tired of creating or executing alternate assignments, tired of torpedo-ing time-honored school traditions that everybody clings to but you -- if you've got a great kid but no baby pictures thereof, consider investing in the fine art of photo regression. Here's one artist with an Internet site who'll consider conceptualizing what your child looked like as a baby and, for a few hundred bucks, provide you with 8x10 glossies. Maybe this will give your child an awareness of having been a baby that he or she may be lacking. Maybe this will give him or her a privacy-preserving way of handling schoolmates' questions. Maybe it will just give you an easy out from discomfiting assignments.

And maybe it's all just a little bit creepy. Some people claim that their kids have real concerns and regrets about the lack of documentation of their younger years, and that may be. I can't really argue with anything that increases a child's sense of selfhood. But I wonder if it's emotionally sound to fake these things -- to use technology to pretend that missing pieces are really there. It may be a pretty picture, and it may be fun to imagine, but it's still a lie. And the fewer of those we tell our children -- and the fewer we tell as adoptive families -- the better we'll be in the long run, I think.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Get your hip 'n' happening interventions here

Looking for the "newest and hottest interventions"? The Youth Change Web site is offering them up, along with live on-line help for solving behavior problems; workshops, books and tapes; and newsletters on "ADD, Apathy & More." And of course, the first thing that comes to your mind when looking at a cheerful site like this, bedecked with cartoons of smiling children, is, "Folks, if my child's behavior problems could be solved NOW with a visit to one Web site, I would save so much money on therapy bills and medications that I could buy me the Brooklyn Bridge."

But I'm certainly not above casting about for interventions, and while I've never found a Web site that's Solved All My Problems, I've certainly visited many that have pointed me in the right direction. What tickles me here, and troubles me a little, too, is the fact that these interventions aren't just tried and true, or teacher recommended, or parent approved, but the "newest" and "hottest." Are we really to the point of marketing interventions the way we market cars, clothes and records? Maybe so. There do certainly seem to be trends in interventions, and waves of enthusiasm. ABA seems to be hot for autism intervention; sensory integration therapy could probably be characterized as new and hot, if you take a broad view of what "new" means in terms of recognized therapies; nutritional interventions are pretty hot at the moment, with advocates every bit as zealous as any pop star's fans. I'd say medication was a pretty hot intervention if I hadn't just visited the bookstore yesterday, and noticed that the "Ritalin is wrong" books now far outnumber the "medication is our friend" advisories. So maybe Ritalin is so five minutes ago, and blaming parents for having jobs or disagreements or divorces, as most of the new wave of ADHD books seem to do, is so very today.

Personally, I try to stay way ahead of the curve.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

What makes a successful family

Lots of interesting food for thought on this site about raising adopted children with special needs. I particularly liked the part about the qualities of successful and satisfied adoptive and special needs families, such as this: "The most satisfied parents are those who are process oriented rather than outcome driven. They enjoy the challenge of adapting to each new developmental stage and the changes that brings in the child. They thrive on finding creative ways to deal with their child's behaviors and problems. They thrive on the process of being an advocate for the child's needs, and integrating him into their family, school and society." This and a long list of similar observations are gratifying because they reflect the things that I have always felt we were doing right as a family; and also, because they validate my need to buy more and more parenting books. See, I'm not a spendthrift and a slave to each new theory -- I'm enjoying the challenge of adapting to each new develepmental stage and thriving on finding creative ways to deal with my child's behaviors and problems. Yeah, that's it.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

New on Mothers with Attitude

I'm feeling pretty calm this holiday season. The last UPS shipment from all my on-line gift-shopping arrived yesterday; most of our Christmas cards are mailed (save for the ones to people I've forgotten, to be mailed when I receive one from them); the dreaded holiday program at my kids' school is over and with it a world of stress for my son; presents are wrapped and waiting for our tree to go up this weekend; child-watching arrangements have been made for the week of no school; the menu is mostly planned for Christmas dinner; and I even managed to make it to my church's penance service on Tuesday, so I'm going into the holiday properly confessed (or improperly, depending on your feelings about communal penance, but I digress). The only major hurtle ahead is making it through Mass on Christmas eve, historically a near impossibility for my son. But other than that, I'm ready to say: Bring Christmas on! (Never mind that my kids have been saying that for a month and a half.)

If at this point in the season you're in need of a little spiritual uplift, read April Cain's latest installment in her "Thinking It Over" column, The Real Meaning of Christmas. It's so touching, it will have you casting the made-for-Hallmark TV movie in your head. Also new on the site this week are additional selections in the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome section of our bookstore, including some family stories that are pretty touching themselves. The rest of the bookstore will be updated with new offerings soon; it should be done by now, but hey! I've been getting ready for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Looking for a little brain research?

Here's a cool site at which to while away some time: the listing of hot topics on the brains.org site. Billed as a way to "stay informed with the latest research in neuropsychology and education," the page offers alphabetically sorted items on everything from Attention Deficit Disorder to Violence. A few that caught my eye (in quotes, with my comments after):

"A new study out on medicating ADHD, shows that the best results were obtained when using Ritalin (MPH) mixed with caffeine. The study showed that impulsivity and agression as well as planning skills were most effected by the combination of these two drugs. (When used separately, Ritalin is more effective than caffeine and amphetimines work about as well as Ritalin.) Leon, M. 2000. Journal of Attention Disorders, vol 4(1), 27-47." ... Does Starbucks know about this? Look for ADHD Blend, coming soon.

"Using fMRI techniques, Yale University has found an interesting brain abnormality in persons with autism and autism spectrum disorder. In most brains (yours and mine) we use one area to discriminate or identify objects and a different area to identify faces. In the brains of persons with autism, they use only the first region (inferior Temporal gyri) to identify both objects and faces. Schultz, et.al. (2000). Archives of General Psychiatry, vol 57(4), 331-340." ... Makes me think about Temple Grandin's book Thinking in Pictures and the entirely different way people with autism seem to experience the world and language.

"Homework or no homework? That's a difficult question. According to research, student achievement has little relationship to whether or not the class has assigned homework. In elementary grades, teacher assigned homework actually correlated to students' poor attitude toward school. Achievement DOES relate positively to how much time the parents spend assisting with homework - which should come as no surprise to anyone. Cooper, et.al. 2001. Journal of Experimental Education. vol 69(2) 181-199 and Journal of Educational Psychology (1998), vol 90(1),70-83." ... Now, I actually like homework, because it helps me keep track of what my kids are doing, and gives me a firsthand chance to evaluate what they can or cannot do. Where I have trouble, though, is that fine line between "assisting with homework" and "doing their homework for them." I seem to cross it often (though not as often as they'd like).

"According to a study out of New York's Columbia University, praise students more for their effort than for their intelligence. The study showed that in 5th graders, praising intelligence actually caused them to work less, experience less enjoyment and less persistance in tasks. Praising effort had just the opposite effect. Mueller & Dweck (1998). Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. Vol 75(1) 33-52."

"Indiana University completed a study of students with Learning Disabilities(LD) Half the LD students were included in the regular classroom for reading and math. Half the LD students received reading and math instruction in a resource classroom. The LD students in the regular classroom made significantly more progress in reading and comparable progress in math when compared to the students in resource classes." ... This item and the one above are EXACTLY along the lines of what I've been trying to convince my daughter's child study team of for years. Maybe I'm just ahead of my time? Gotta order up some of these studies in time for next year's IEP meeting. And you can bet I'll be trolling this site for more validation.

Defending the apostrophe

Having just finished signing and stuffing Christmas cards with my husband, who, when addressing envelopes, insisted on using an apostrophe to pluralize the last names of our friends and relatives even though I gave him my every assurance as a professional copy editor that it was grammatically incorrect and also annoying, I was tickled to stumble upon the site of the Apostrophe Protection Society -- dedicated, as am I, to the proper use of this essential piece of punctuation. You can stop by for a quick English lesson, see examples of egregious incorrectness on signs and storefronts, and share your personally outrageous finds on a message board. I haven't seen anything like it since I belonged to an e-mail list for copy editors that routinely engaged in flame wars over proper comma placement.

None of this has anything to do with parenting, I guess -- except that, next time your sloppy writing kid tells you nobody cares about grammar no more, no how, you can call up this site and prove that there are indeed folks whose obsession with punctuation far, far exceeds your own. See? Somebody does care.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Christmas concerts and other holiday hassles

The Christmas program at my children's school is this Wednesday, which is a relief because it means the end of the routine-destroying rehearsals that drive my son so batty during the month of December. As I've written before, I have my doubts as to whether the good things about these annual extravaganzas (musical enrichment, the discipline of working as a group and being onstage, the opportunity for parents to get together and go "Awwwww...") is worth the bad things (study time lost, kids without musical ability forced to spend lots of time proving it, kids without standing-still ability tested beyond the very limits of endurance). I know, at any rate, that they're not good for my boy. Judging by the comments I'm getting about his rehearsal demeanor, his teachers know it too, although whether they're placing the proper blame on the disruptiveness of pageant preparation, I don't know. After Wednesday, at any rate, it will all be over. I'm hoping he doesn't display a little disruptiveness of his own onstage.

Christmas rehearsals are my son's greatest source of holiday stress. If your personal stress producer is a child with RAD, check out the Christmas message from Nancy Thomas for tips on making it through to the 25th. If dealing with child study teams has got you down, the folks at Wrightslaw want you to remember to follow their survival tips at this time and throughout the year. The About.com Special Children site has a nice list of links to articles on dealing with everything from depression to family reunions (oh, wait -- aren't those the same thing?), and on Mothers with Attitude you can still find the article from a mom of 18 on establishing Christmas traditions for adopted children. And if all that doesn't help, just remember that all of this holiday frazzle and frenzy does eventually come to an end. Holiday stress will pass. Then we can move on to general winter stress, followed by spring stress, summer stress, and fall stress. Merry whatever, y'all.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

A vaccine kids can't get

I've been worrying off and on about whether I'll have my kids vaccinated for smallpox when the opportunity's offered, and here it turns out I've been worrying for nothing: according to an Associated Press report, there are currently no plans to provide the vaccine for children at all, unless there's an actual outbreak and all safety bets are off. Although testing a drug on children before prescribing it for them has hardly been considered a necessity in most other areas of medicine, it is apparently giving pause here -- and since a vaccine that has major health risks of its own can't ethically be tested on children, the tots will just have to go un-immune for now. Would that such caution extended to other vaccines as well.

If your unvaccinated little ones are nonetheless curious about the potential scourge of smallpox, there's a child-friendly FAQ on the KidsHealth site. Mom and Dad can get more details from a FAQ from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Adding to mom's balancing act

From the "Too Much of a Good Thing Is a Bad Thing" file comes research from the U.S. agriculture department and Cornell University that the antioxidants in dark grape juice, while good for your heart, are bad for your ability to absorb iron. That might not be a big deal for adults who are obsessed with cholesterol and looking for something other than red wine to lower it, but it's a big deal for kids, in whom iron deficiency can lead to anemia and, from there, to "mental, physical and behavioral impairment, particularly in infants and toddlers," according to the experts. Dark fruit juices in general appear to be iron-uptake-reducing, while lighter-colored juices have an opposite effect. The researchers stopped short of suggesting the witholding of dark grape juice for tots, but did recommend a balanced palette of beverage hues for maximum nutritional correctness. So there you go, moms: Now in addition to making sure your kids have a balanced diet that hits all the proper points on the food pyramid, and that their fruit juices don't contain corn syrup or aspertame or dyes or preservatives, you need to make sure that the colors of those juices assort themselves through the day in all shades from white grape juice to dark. So what if this means you have six or seven bottles open at all times -- you want to be drinking to their health, right?

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Calendar girl

'Tis the season to ... buy calendars, among other things. Such a fresh start a new calendar gives you! This year, I'll be heading into 2003 with Mom's Family Calendar, a great wall planner for getting every family member where they're supposed to be when; the Jeopardy! page-a-day calendar I get my husband every year so we can start our mornings sparring over trivia; and a new planning system from Franklin Covey, purveyors of motivational organizational products. This new system replaces the Palm Pilot I purchased last year, which replaced a nice spiral blank book I was going to personalize to be my perfect planner, which replaced a pricey leather-bound system from Levenger, which replaced... well, I forget now. About ten or twenty other system-to-end-all-systems. I require a new life-planning system every eleven months or so to maintain the illusion that I really could be an organized person if I just had the right tools -- my house would be neat, my work would be done during daytime hours and not at 2 a.m., my children would get to school on time and appropriately clothed (the school nurse gave my daughter a pair of gloves last week because I'd sent her to school with socks on her hands to keep them warm, so I'm heading into the new year with a lot to prove on this score). Deep down, I know that what really needs to be changed are my personal habits, and not my paperwork ... but the paperwork's easier.

If you're still calendar shopping, you might want to surf by the About adoption site, which has some recommendations of 2003 Wall & Desk Calendars with an adoption theme.

180 channels and everything's on

It's official: My family now has more television channels than it knows what to do with. Our cable provider's been peddling digital packages that offer in excess of 180 channels, not to mention movies on demand that you can order and watch over the course of 24 hours, pausing, fast-forwarding, rewinding and stopping like they were tapes from the video store. We've got two Disney channels, three or four Nickelodeon channels, multiple HBOs, Encores and Starz-es, video magazines, and about 45 channels that just play music. Oh, it's a veritable wealth of programming, and as soon as we figure out how to use the remote, we'll be in television heaven. Now, I know there are moms out there who think TV is evil, a terrible influence on children, a major cause of youthful violence and immorality and hyperactivity and bad posture. Well, I ain't them. TV is my respite, and 180 channels means that my babysitter just agreed to work overtime. Tune in, turn on and leave me the heck alone -- that's my motto. Just hope the kids will let me watch something I want to watch every now and again.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

A close family is a happy family

Despite what you may be feeling these upcoming holiday days, when the kids are home from school and underfoot and your relatives are over for dinner and bickering and your spouse is snappish from the stress of putting together toys with 3,467 pieces -- despite the feeling that your family is making you crazy, a close-knit family actually makes you much more happy. Really! They've done studies! Close families were found to "inoculate" children against despair, so when your kids whine that you're making their lives miserable, just chuckle and say, "That's not what they're saying at the University of North Carolina!" And a sociologist at the University of Chicago says that being married makes you happy, too, even if you think your marriage isn't the greatest. You're still as happy or happier than you would be alone. Really. Even without the inlaws. Sociologists wouldn't lie.

Monday, December 09, 2002

An adoption story, nice and not-so-

In my real, off-Web life I work for a Catholic newspaper. We wanted to do a nice story on adoption for National Adoption Month in November -- as, indeed, does every newspaper in the country, taking a brief break from all the scary adoption stories they run for the rest of the year -- and so the agency that handles adoption for our diocese set a reporter up with a family for a nice puffy piece about how great it is to adopt. I read the story eagerly when I finally got it to lay out and copy edit, and it seemed like pretty good news, a profile of a happy family who already had one adopted child and was now in the process of adopting another baby. The article hit all the right notes, about adoption being a wonderful way to form a family, about how there's no shame or secrecy to it anymore, and children should be informed and proud of how they came to be loved by their parents. Information on how to adopt was offered to anyone who wanted to follow in the successful footsteps of the family in the article. It was all set to run the last week of November ...

...except that the family got cold feet. The baby's adoption was not quite final, and they worried that his birthmother would see their names and pictures in the paper and cause trouble. They hadn't realized the article would feature them so prominently. They weren't comfortable with the exposure. Could we change their names, and not reveal where they live? Or maybe hold the article for awhile, until all the papers were safely signed? As the office adoption expert, I nixed the name-change scenario. Better no adoption feature for National Adoption Month than one that paints adoption as a situation where names need to be changed to protect the profiled. Yes, adoption's wonderful, we're proud of our family! -- just as long as you only use our initials, and on second thought, give us back that picture. We wound up holding onto the story in the hope that they'd okay it after the adoption was final, but their feet, once icy, never warmed back up. So much for promoting adoption.

I suppose I can't blame these parents too much. Domestic adoption is apparently fraught with peril for adoptive parents who can be cast aside at a birthparent's whim -- whether that's good or bad depends on your perspective in the process, I suppose -- and I don't know that I wouldn't keep a low profile to protect my family in similar circumstances. But at the same time, this whole thing points out a dichotomy that I see so often on e-mail lists for adoptive parents. Adoption is wonderful and the media should do more good stories ... but my child's adoption story is private to him or her and not appropriate for me to tell. Schools should be up on all the latest adoption language and should use sensitivity in dealing with family issues ... but there's no reason they need to know my child is adopted, or get any information from me. If people knew how many happy adoptive families there were, they wouldn't judge adoption so harshly ... but because they judge adoption so harshly, I'm not going to tell them about my happy adoptive family.

Is it any wonder, then, that the bad stories seem to be the only stories that get told? People with nothing to lose will always be more forthcoming than people with something to protect. Must the media forcibly "out" happy families -- as our paper could have done, and maybe would have if the editor didn't feel sorry for the priest in the middle -- in order to offer counterpoint? If adoptive parents are going to go to such lengths to hide their light beneath a bushel, they shouldn't be too surprised if all anybody sees is darkness.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Snow therapy

It snowed here in the Northeast last week, enough to put a substantive amount of snow on the ground, and I've been noticing how intensely my son enjoys playing in it. Not that it's unusual for a 9-year-old boy to like to play in the snow, but there seems to be an added sensory integration-related component to it for my guy -- something about the texture of the powder, soft and yet firm, and the sharp coldness intense enough to get through to even the hyposensitive. He's less interested in throwing snowballs than in throwing himself down into the stuff, or using his hands to dig through it or scrape at it. The kid is a full-body snow-man, and getting him to school or to church when we have to pass large pristine fields of white on our walking way has been near impossible. Nothing's more important than getting him some of that snow.

I admit that I'm enjoying the snow, too, particularly now that I have a vehicle with four-wheel drive. How great it felt tooling around in the thick of the storm, braving back roads to get to my kids' school when the front ones were parking lots, pulling up just in time! I grew up in California, and snow was never part of my childhood, so I still get kind of a kiddish thrill to see it, all crisp and sparkling and fluffy. But sadly for my son, the last thing I want to do at my advanced age is go out and play in the cold and damp. The sight of snowflakes makes me want to bundle up inside with a big bowl of popcorn and a mug of hot chocolate and watch "Casablanca," or maybe "Return to Me." My son thinks that's a waste of perfectly good snow-playing time, but hey -- we all have our own sensory needs, and mine is to not be wet and freezing.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

The shortest pediatrician visit in the world

If your child feels anxious about going to the doctor, the InteliHealth site has a nice coloring book to download and print out so that kids can scribble their way to an understanding of the things that go on in a pediatrician's office. It's a nice little five page book, with a picture to color for having height and weight checked; saying "aah"; getting checked with a stethoscope; having eyes examined; and getting stickers at the end. This is a nice little icebreaker for kids. It's also, as most moms know, a complete joke. Have you ever gotten through a pediatrician's visit in five pages? Not a chance. To be truly accurate, there'd need to be twenty or so pages on sitting in the waiting room, another twenty on waiting in the examining room in your underwear; we'd need a page on Mom filling out forms, Mom coughing up the co-pay, Mom digging through her purse for toys and her memory for games to keep everybody happy during the forty pages of waiting. And don't forget the one of the nurse coming in with a trayful of needles, and in my children's case the three or four extra staff members coming in to hold the patient down. Come to think of it, maybe it's better to let the kids think it's a cute little five page visit. Otherwise, we'd never get 'em in the door.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Making the holidays more meaningful, maybe

I'm proud to say that I have almost all my Christmas shopping done, perhaps the earliest I've ever been able to say that. Of course, I've done almost everything by mail order, which means I don't actually have the gifts in hand yet, and if things come late or fall out of stock I may have to be running to the mall with the throngs of last-minute shoppers on December 24 -- but hey, the intention is there, I did the on-line shopping, and I'm proud of myself. Cards, of course, are another story. They're already starting to come in from overachieving friends vying to put the first holiday greeting in my mailbox. I haven't even started thinking about getting my address list together, much less the holiday letter that must go with most of the missives. I do, however, have at least some of the cards I'll need. I've decided, in what will probably be perceived as a really tacky move, to use the Christmas cards that charities have been sending me as a come-on to contribute. I mean, really, why shouldn't I give my Christmas-card-buying dollars to, say, the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, or Save the Children, or Alzheimer's Disease Research, instead of Hallmark? The cards are mostly presentable, and doesn't the thought count for more if it does some good, too? That's my story and I'm sticking to it, even if others suspect that I'm really just too lazy to go card shopping.

If you're interested in something a little different for your holiday cards this year, check out the food allergy holiday cards from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network site; each card has a food allergy fact on the back. Elsewhere on the site you can sign up for free special allergy alerts on foods recalled because of surprise ingredients and get recipes suited to specific allergy needs. This month's offerings for careful cooks include Candy Cane Cookies that are milk, egg, peanut, soy and nut free. If Santa turns out to be lactose intolerant, you gotta know you'll be getting better presents for providing treats that are sensitive to his dietary needs.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Time out, time in

Interesting article in an area newspaper about a social skills workshop for parents of children with special needs. (The social skills in question were those of the children, not the parents, although I've certainly met some parents who could use some help in that area, too. Maybe even me.) I'd read about this workshop and even thought about going, then realized when I saw the follow-up in the paper today that I'd missed the chance. Nonetheless, the article did mention some good ideas from the event, including one that I think I might try: making a laminated "Time Out Pass" that everybody in the family could grab when they needed to cool off. My husband and I certainly give ourselves time outs from time to time, and my son sometimes sequesters himself in his room when he feels overwhelmed. Maybe formalizing that process with a pass would help the kids understand that it's okay to feel angry or sad or stressed, but not okay to act out those feelings on others. Take some time, calm down, then, if you need to, talk the problem out with a clearer head. See, if you read the newspaper and visit enough sites like this one and join enough e-mail parenting groups, you can get good ideas for your kids without ever actually having to leave the house at all.

New on Mothers with Attitude

It's been a while since I had to deal with potty training -- my son held out in diapers until he was five, but that was four years ago now -- yet the trauma is deep-seated enough that I can entirely relate to Julie Donner Andersen's latest entry in her "Therapeutic Laughter" column, The Christmas Potty. Her wee-wee-worded yuletide carols will give you a giggle even if your diaper days are long past. And for those dealing with toilet trauma now, I have three words: Wait Until Summer. Then you can utilize the method that finally worked on my guy, the much respected, much feared No Pants Method. It took about a day of t-shirts-only to help my son get with the program. But if you tried something like that now, with the kind of temperatures we're having in the Northeast, anyway, you'd have to thaw out their little butts with a blow dryer before sitting them down on the potty. Probably better to wait 'til it's warm...

Flu shots all around!

Have you gotten your flu shot? Has every member of your family? Everyone's due now, according to government recommendations, even babies as young as six months. The guidelines suggest that little ones get not one but two shots, four weeks apart, to make sure the immunity really took. And this should of course be repeated on a yearly basis, since there's a different bug to battle each year. This is all just a suggestion, mind you. Nobody's calling these essential vaccinations yet. And why is that? Is it because there's some doubt that they may be necessary? safe? effective? Nope -- it's just that there's really not quite enough for everybody. So those responsible enough to show up for their shot at their doctor's suggestion will be gloriously flu-free, and the rest of us hardheads who harbor hesitations about vaccines of any sort can fend for ourselves, for now. But if at some point this winter we find ourselves or our children confined to bed with all manner of major discomforts, well, they told us so.

Personally, I'll take my chances. The thought of my kids stricken with the flu fills me with dread (for their physical health, of course, and also for my mental health if they're confined at home for weeks). But the thought of bringing them to the doctor for more shots does the same (for the possible negative implications of vaccinations, of course, and also for the whining and screaming that accompanies any contact my kids need to have with needles). And I'll admit, I'm feeling less and less obliged to take the word of medical professionals that something is absolutely necessary -- a good so undeniable that it's silly even to have doubts about it. That's the way my gynecologist described hormone replacement therapy five years ago. And where are we now, hmmm? There's a pretty long list of things that doctors have found to be universally good right up until the time that they weren't after all, go figure, and when you think of some of the side effects that have prompted those revelations, the flu starts to look pretty good.

Aw, you know, it's all just a crapshoot anyway. It's a crapshoot for the doctors -- how to do the most good for the most patients with the knowledge available now -- and it's a crapshoot for the rest of us -- am I more likely to be caught in a terrorist smallpox attack or be the one in a million who dies from the vaccine? is my child more likely to have neurological complications from vaccines or die of the measles? As with most other things in life, and most other things in parenting, you assess your odds and take your best guess. It's nice that, for the moment, we're being allowed to choose our own chances with flu and smallpox vaccinations. It would be nicer still if at least a little wiggle room was allowed in other "we know what's good for you" medical proclamations, too.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

I resolve to make no resolutions

Do your children make New Year's resolutions? If you'd like them to, and you'd like them to say something other than, "I will lie around the house and be lazy. Every day, I will make my mom crazy," the American Academy of Pediatrics is offering 20 Healthy New Year's Resolutions for Kids that should last your little ones at least as long as the healthy New Year's resolutions you make for yourself. Some of them are actually pretty likely to last longer than that -- certainly "I will wear my seat belt every time I get in a car" will be pretty hard to slip up on since it's the law in many states, though most parents would probably prefer to add "without whining, complaining, or stalling" to the end of it. But I'm guessing items like "I will keep myself, and the places where I live and play, clean," on the list of resolutions for toddlers; "I will spend a couple of minutes every morning and afternoon applying sunscreen before I go outdoors" on the school-age kids list; and "I will eat at least one fruit and one vegetable every day, and I will limit the amount of soda I drink" for teens are mostly parent and pediatrician pipe dreams. And there's one school-age resolution that I find downright worrisome: "I will always ASK if there's a gun in the homes where I play." Do we really want our kids to be asking if there's a gun around? Wouldn't this encourage their playmate to go and get it? Personally, given the violence of the world today, I'd like my children to resolve never to go anywhere, do anything, or talk to anyone. That wouldn't exactly be a healthy resolution for any of us, but at least we wouldn't have to worry about seatbelts and sunscreen.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Wanna new drug?

So there's a new gun in the arsenal of weaponry aimed at wiping out ADHD: Strattera, recently approved by the FDA and already complete with its own website. The main marketing advantage of Strattera seems to be that it's not a stimulant, and therefore not a controlled substance, making niceties like phone-in prescription refills and free samples available to the hyperactive and their families for the first time. The drug apparently works by preventing the "reuptake" of norepinephrine, making more of that impulse-controlling neurotransmitter available to jittery little brains (and big ones, too; Strattera is the first drug tested for adult ADHD). However, even Strattera maker Eli Lilly admits in its FAQ on the drug that "the precise mechanism by which Strattera works on ADHD is not known." If that doesn't fill you with confidence, rest assured that six -- count 'em, six! -- studies have been done to prove Strattera safe, with a relatively long period of effectiveness and relatively mild side effects like nausea and tiredness. So the question becomes, do you want your kid to be the first on your block or in your school to try a brand spanking new drug? I have to admit that, although I've always been against medication for my own personal jumpy little guy, the thought of trying something before it has a whole bunch of scary anecdotes and glassy-eyed prescriptees attached to it has a certain appeal. It's on my mind, for sure. But how 'bout you have your kid try it first?