Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Not quite back yet

Okay, so I said I'd be back on Monday, but, um, maybe I meant Monday, January 5. That's Back to Normal day for me -- the day the kids go back to school, and I go back to a full week of work, and apparently start adding to this Weblog on a regular basis, too. I hadn't taken into account the degree of slothfulness that sets in when you're under house arrest with kids ... I mean, home spending tons of quality time with kids on vacation. We've successfully negotiated Christmas now, but in the days ahead we have a bowling party, a New Year's party, a birthday, a science report, a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen marathon, and lots and lots of "Mom, I'm BORED"s to get through. So it may well be Monday before I'm able to think clearly enough to write again. In the meantime, if you need a laugh, check out these New Year's Resolutions that the American Academy of Pediatrics thinks we can get our kids to agree to. Fruits and vegetables! Neat rooms! Twice-daily tooth-brushing! It's a scream.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Escape Claus

It's December the 24th, my office is closed until Monday, the kids are home from school until January 5, even the presents I bought over the internet at the last minute have arrived and been wrapped, the cards I never addressed have been blown off until after the holiday, the plans for the big day are set, and I'm finally feeling ready for Christmas. In an effort to spend more time with my kids over the next few days and less time with my nose pressed to a computer screen, I'm going to take a little break from this Weblog, probably only until Monday. Just need a little time to play and recharge my creative batteries ... BATTERIES! Oh, man, I've got all these electronics under the tree and I forgot to buy BATTERIES! Gotta run...

Monday, December 22, 2003

Pediatricians on adoption

Maybe somebody was looking for a nice project during National Adoption Month, or maybe doctors are starting to notice an increase in the number of adoptive kids in their practice, but the American Academy of Pediatrics delivers a nice Christmas gift to adoptive families with a clinical report called Families and Adoption: The Pediatrician's Role in Supporting Communication. It's about as nice an overview as you could find of the medical and psychological issues surrounding adoption, and since it's written in plain English and not doctor-ese it's suitable reading for parents and prospective adopters as well as their pediatricians. This paragraph, for example, tidily touches on an array of hot-button issues:
"During preschool and elementary school years, peer and school problems may or may not be the manifestation for underlying adoption issues. Behaviors commonly identified as characteristic of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may actually be signs of posttraumatic stress disorder, reactive attachment disorder, bipolar disorder, or sensory integration disorder. Some school assignments may be problematic for children who have joined their family through adoption. Children who have lived in foster care or in another country may not have pictures of themselves from birth or at an early age. Family tree assignments may be difficult, because children may be unsure of how to demonstrate their relationship to their biological family, adoptive family, and foster families. Information about biological ancestors also may be unavailable to the child for such a project. Tracing genetic traits through generations may be difficult even for children who have an ongoing relationship with their biological families. For children adopted by an extended family member, these simple learning assignments may create anxiety by highlighting family differences.1,13 Communication with educators about adoption issues at this age, as at other ages, may be necessary to help children deal with some of these difficult school assignments and insensitive comments about adoption, family circumstances, culture, race, and ethnicity."
I don't know that I'd want my kids' doctor to be tracing their every problem to the fact of their adoption, but it would be nice if I wasn't the only person considering that at all.

Friday, December 19, 2003

A good hair day

My son's school had its big Christmas program on Wednesday, and I was a little worried when my son said he had to wear "his holiday best" for the show. He was to bring something less than the best to change into afterward, and I didn't know how to tell him that his "holiday best" was pretty much the same thing he wore to school every day. So I put him in a heavy red sweater and tossed a thinner sweatshirt in his backpack to give him something to change into if everybody else was changing, and worried whether he would stand out as a slob amongst much schoolchild finery.

I needn't have worried. His schoolmates' attire ranged from shirts-and-ties to baggy sports-team t-shirts for the boys, velvet dresses to sweatsuits for the girls. He was somewhere in between, and that's good enough for me. The highest concentration of true "holiday best" was found amongst the kindergartners, who are still at an age when parents place a high priority on buying special Christmas clothes to show them off in. But what struck me more than the sartorial splendor was the degree of thought that had gone into the hairdos — of the boys. The kindergarten moms were hitting the gel pretty hard, I'll tell you.

I volunteered in the library that afternoon, after the show, and got to see the kindergarteners close up. Many had changed into casual clothes, but the hair was still splendid. One young fellow had his thick wavy hair coaxed up so high he looked like a little Lyle Lovett. On the other end of the spectrum was a tiny kid with wispy black hair gelled up into spikes. Man, he was proud of those spikes. He came up to me with a gleam in his eye and patted his springy head, just to make sure I noticed those sharp little points. It was like "Queer Eye for the Kindergarten Guy" had come through and gotten everybody styling. The only thing more impressive was the way the class's two identical twin girls in their identical dresses and identical hairstyles managed to get their hair mussed in identical ways. I marvel at this week after week, but if anything's going to distract me from it, it's going to be a five-year-old boy with mousse in his hair and a Mickey Mouse tie.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Making a list, checking it twice

Think you've got your holiday shopping done? If you're planning on placing a Toy Story doll, Little People farm, drumsticks or scooters under the tree, better check the list made by the Consumer Product Safety Commission of recalled holiday toys. Nothing spoils holiday cheer, after all, like a collapsing playpen or poisonous sidewalk chalk. To make obsessing over the safety of your purchases even easier, the government has now set up a whole new Web site at where you can search out hazardous merchandise by product name, product description, or company name; subscribe to a recall e-mail alert; or report unsafe products yourself. I'd personally like to find a place to report all those manufacturers who attach toys to packaging with so many fasteners that it takes half-an-hour of cutting and twisting and tearing and pulling and impatient child whining to set the playthings free. Is there a Consumer Product Packaging Commission? 'Cause I'd like their hotline, for sure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

New on Mothers with Attitude

1. A new Family Man column, this one on the indignity of having to hunt down the latest hard-to-find toy.

2. In addition to notes to share with teachers, our Parent's Porfolio has a new parent-to-parent section for sharing the things we've figured out about our kids. For starters, there are new essays on impulse control, lying and counting to three.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

You better watch out

Nothing sucks the ho-ho-ho out of the holidays like a list of all the potential safety hazards lurking in a time of eating, drinking and being merry. But KidsHealth has gone right ahead and posted one anyway. There are poisoning dangers from the holly and the ivy, the spray-on snow, the bad eggnog, the liquor-laced punch. There are choking hazards amid the ornaments, popcorn garlands, tree needles and angel hair. There are fire hazards from tree lights, menorah candles, fireplaces all aglow. And accident hazards abounding in the cooking, the sledding, the driving home after drinking the liquor-laced punch. It's good to be alert to the unsafeness of the season, I guess, but I can't help but think this is how Scrooge got started.

Besides, hazard-hunting round-ups like this never get to the real holiday health risks. Like panic attacks from the long lists of things to do, to buy, to plan, to execute. Stress-related heart palpitations at the prospect of spending an entire day with extended family members. Dangerously high blood-pressure levels when the same cranky relatives pick the same fights year after year. Migraines induced by toy instructions written in very very tiny print. Orthopedic problems precipitated by stepping on pieces of unassembled toys. Sleep deprivation from all-night wrapping sessions. None of these ailments are likely to strike children, which is probably why they don't make the "Look out!" lists. But most of them make eating a little poisonous poinsettia look like a mighty good trade-off.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Ready for the holiday, kinda sorta

Ten days 'til Christmas, and I'm miraculously close to being done with my holiday shopping. This may be a new record for me ... although, of course, I did say close. There are still mail-ordered items that may decide not to arrive in time, sending me into a last-minute shopping spree. Then, too, my husband's family perversely scheduled all their birthdays within a month-and-a-half of December 25th -- starting, as a matter of fact, with December 26th -- so the fact that the birthday presents are yet unbought is about as bad as the Christmas presents being so. But that doesn't phase me ... I'M SINGING CHRISTMAS CAROLS VERY LOUDLY SO THAT I CAN'T HEAR MYSELF TALK ABOUT BIRTHDAY PRESENTS, FA LA LA LA LA ... because my days of fighting mall traffic and searching endlessly online to do Santa's work for him are so very nearly done.

Of course, that brings us to the subject of Christmas cards, and ... well, maybe it's time to start CAROLING AGAIN.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Totalling toys for fun and profit

Do you have a kid who always seems to find a way to break even the most solidly made toy? Does he or she play so hard that the day after Christmas finds brand-new playthings cruelly dismembered, their parts and pieces scattered about? Have you wondered how your little sensory-seeking bull in a china shop will ever find a useful occupation when all he seems to be able to do is break things in a spectacular fashion? Well, cheer up -- HealthDay has an article that may make your terminator's future look less bleak. It's the story of a man whose job is, quite simply, to break toys. If he can do it, the toy's not safe, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission tells the toymaker to try again. I don't know about you, but I can see my son making a living trashing toys. It's something he's been training for all his life.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Little landmarks mean a lot

It's not the sort of milestone you'll find in a child development guide, but it feels like a landmark nonetheless: Today, for the first time, my son carried his own umbrella. He's 10, and no doubt long overdue for such a responsibility, but given his tendency toward impulsiveness and immature judgment, I've just never felt that giving him an item with which he could put someone's eye out, or at least get someone very wet, was a necessary risk. For years I walked him into the school building each morning and held the umbrella for the both of us on precipitative days; and when I started dropping him at the curb for the short walk down the driveway and through the school door, I'd just encourage him to move quickly during wet weather.

But this morning., I dug his sister's old Pokemon umbrella out of the closet, took him in the garage and showed him how to open and close it, and dropped him off for a sheltered walk beneath the raindrops. It may be a small thing, but it obviously made a big impression, judging by the look of jaunty pride he wore as he strode schoolward under the bright yellow face of Pikachu. And he managed not to maim anybody, or dawdle, or do a "Singing In the Rain" impression of any sort. Of course, one time he became so thrilled at carrying the thing that he had to hold it in front of him to get a better look, as rain doused his head. But then he put it back over himself, and as he disappeared through the school door I could see him closing it up. Such responsibility! The only drawback now is going to be getting him to leave his nifty new accessory home when the days are dry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Be safe, stay home and watch TV

Since researchers often engage in studies to prove that TV is the root of all health evil in children -- causing obesity, mental illness, poor nutritional habits (see Monday's entry, for example) -- it seems only fair to find a report revealing the dark side of going out to play. Sure, being a couch potato at an early age may lead to health problems eventually, but a new study indicates that engaging in athletics makes a teen twice as likely to drop dead. Underlying heart conditions worsened by the stress of exercise and competition are the real culprits in the sudden deaths of young athletes, not that good healthy physical activity itself, but I'm guessing the rate of children suddenly dying while watching snack food commercials is astoundingly low. The study was performed on Italian athletes, and researchers warn that it may not apply to Americans, but no matter; I'm taking it to personally validate my own childhood decision to refrain from organized sports. Of course, in my case there was an underlying clutziness condition that made idleness well-advised, but better safe than sorry.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

New on Mothers with Attitude

1. In our Contributor's Corner, an excerpt from Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes by Dan Kennedy, in which the dad of a dwarf tries to find some meaning in his little girl's differentness. Read it, and the book is likely to jump to the top of your Christmas "gimme!" list.

2. We may spend most of our time talking about special-needs and adoption issues, but there are always plenty of run-of-the-mill parenting challenges nipping at our heels as well. To the rescue comes "Mother Knows Best," a new section featuring parenting wisdom from ClubMom. Tell me I'm not the only one who goes right for the one called "When Mom Has a Temper Tantrum."

Monday, December 08, 2003

More bad news about TV

Ever wonder why kids hate eating fruits and vegetables? From observing my personal healthy food hater -- and from dim memories of hating healthy food in my own distant youth -- I'd guess the reasons might include something along the lines of ... they don't like the way the stuff tastes? But I'd be wrong, of course. The real reason children shun delicious fruits and vegetables is: They watch too much TV. Yes, indeed, TV is once again to blame for every bad habit of childhood.

According to a study appearing in this month's Pediatrics, kids who watch three hours of TV get a whopping .75 fewer servings of fruits and vegetables than is recommended by the FDA. Add another hour, and they're down a full two servings out of five. And why is that? The researchers suppose it's because you never see healthy food advertised on children's television. Or maybe because unhealthy food's easier to eat in front of the tube. But one way or another, watching TV affects our young ones' eating behavior, and not for the better.

The researchers are pretty clear on what should be done about it, and of course it all comes down to parents making hard choices. Among the appealing options suggested: "Parents might limit TV viewing, or ask their kids not to watch food commercials. Or, they could watch food commercials, with some parental input that the food advertised might not be the best snack choice." And you know, as much fun as it sounds to be stepping in front of the TV whenever potato chip commercials pop up, or preempting programming to explain why potato chips are ever so much less good for you than a plate of steamed broccoli, I'd personally much rather spend that time hiding in the kitchen, scarfing Pringles.

So here's my idea: Make those quiet produce manufacturers kick in for some lively, kid-friendly advertising. Talking cauliflower! Rapping apples! Cool celebs crunching carrots! If they can advertise Jello on PBS, why not kiwis? Start pushing those five-a-days with the proper zing, and we'll see if kids don't sit up and shout, "Peas, please!" And then they'll be lots more junk food left for me!

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Special needs books break through

Well, I guess this means something: I was looking over's listing of the Top 10 Customers' Favorites: Parenting & Families, and low and behold, a sensory integration book is #3: The Out-Of-Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids With Sensory Integration Dysfunction by Carol Stock Kranowitz. I always thought sensory integration had what it takes to be a hot kiddie-help trend, and it looks like maybe it's on its way. This year, the family Top 10; next year, the overall Hot 50!

Another special-needs-type topic making the Top 10 was dyslexia, with Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Overcoming Reading Problems at Any Level by Sally Shaywitz, M.D., holding the #9 spot in Top 10 Customers' Favorites: Health, Mind & Body. Of course, the first six books on the health Top 10 were diet books, and the top two parenting books were about raisin' babies, so there's no chance that the nation's reading list will start to look like my reading list any time soon. But it's still nice to see books I might actually read creeping into the mainstream. Makes me feel less self-contained.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Taking Their Business Elsewhere

I stole away on my lunch hour today to do a little Christmas shopping, and was surprised to see that the stores I stopped at were something close to crowded. Usually, this far before the holiday, I'd been able to shop at midday without fear of lines, but these establishments appeared to be doing a healthy business. Good for them? Not good enough, apparently, because the two outfits I made purchases from -- Kids 'R Us and Zany Brainy -- are closing their locations near me. What does it mean when the stores I frequent are the stores that are going under? That I'm hopelessly out of step with the general direction of retail? Or that I haven't personally done enough shopping to keep them afloat? See, this is where being fiscally responsible gets me.

I'll be sorry to see Kids 'R Us go because it's one of the few places that had pants to fit my too-tall-for-one-size, too-skinny-for-the-next son. Zany Brainy always seemed a little pricier than it needed to be, but they did have the Playmobil grocery store my son wanted and all the little side items that go with it, while Toys 'R Us's Playmobil supply was skimpy. Perhaps Toys 'R Us will eventually absorb every single brand in the universe and spread out into ever larger-sized stores until no one will ever need to shop anywhere else. But if they're not going to sell pants anymore, who needs 'em?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Flu report

Flu season has officially started at our house, with my son home the past three days with a fever and general upper respiratory yuckiness. He's probably been under the weather for about a week, which explains why he was so calm and subdued over the Thanksgiving break -- what looked to me like some newfound control and maturity was apparently only a pre-flu low-grade fever and head cold. There've been a fair amount of scary stories about this year's flu -- newspaper stories about children dying of the flu in Colorado, and word-of-mouth stories about the coughing and nasal nastiness stretching on for endless weeks. In some way, it's nice to have the suspense over and know we've survived at least the initial feverish burst of it, although I'm wondering if the rest of the family is in line for illness now that flu boy has sneezed and coughed and breathed all over us. If you're wondering if the flu's headed your way, too, check the map at or plug in your zip code to get the good or bad news.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Is it Christmas yet?

My daughter's already starting every day by saying, "I wish it was Christmas. I want it to be Christmas right now." Since she's 13 and not exactly brimming with ideas for what she wants to see under the tree, I'm guessing she's looking more forward to the week-and-a-half off from school than the day itself, but whatever, she's ready for it right now. And I'm ready for it to be months and months away. I'm certainly not ready for the 24-hour, round-the-clock Christmas music playing on a couple of local radio stations. It's bad enough that Christmas shopping season has to start before Thanksgiving -- why does Chrismas carol season have to start then, too? And Christmas front-yard decorating season? I saw a house the other day that was covered with enough lights to land an airplane by. Our across-the-street neighbors usually favor that mode of overkill, but this year they're going for the giant inflatable holiday figures, many of whom are already assembling on their lawn. And here it is the first week of December, and there's already a Christmas column on Mothers with Attitude -- Ken Swarner's admission that he'll never stop at 500 Christmas tree lights when 600 will do. Really, I couldn't care less how many lights he's got blazing; what gets to me is -- he's got his tree up already? Is he trying to make me look bad? We're lucky if we can get our puny little artificial tree with its strand or two of pathetic little lights propped up in time for our annual New Year's Day party.

There is one Christmas creation that has put a smile on my face today, though, and that's the clever interactive Advent calendar from Q Creative. Click on "Find today," then on today's date to reveal a picture, then on the picture to watch a funny little animation. As of now, you can view yesterday's gumdrop serenade or today's variation on "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" If I have to count the days until the Big Day anyway, might as well have a little fun with it. For something more spiritual, has a listing of religious online Advent calendars, most with reflections and bible verses for each day. But none, I'll wager, with a chicken laying Christmas ornaments instead of eggs.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Hang Two

Apparently, there is no game so simple that you can't do it better on a computer. My daughter has been enjoying the Hangman game on the Learning Vocabulary Can Be Fun site, which offers words in a wide variety of categories, from animals to world capitals. I mean, really -- why waste paper and wrack your brain to come up with words, and spend your time drawing little hanging guys, when a computer can do it for you? There's still vocab benefit to be gained from guessing the words, I suppose, and also from playing the word search, math and quiz games on this cute site. But back to Hangman -- if you're looking for a bigger challenge, or just a fun way to study science, a site called Characteristics Of Matter features a Hangman game entirely devoted to those characteristics, with hints provided for each set of blanks. It's like a really cerebral episode of "Wheel of Fortune." But make no mistake: If you guess wrong, that stick figure's gonna swing.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is finally here, which means in 24 hours it will finally be over and I will have my house back. I'll be spending the day serving as kitchen help for my 10-year-old son, the Food Network addict, who is ostensibly cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the second year. He looks awfully cute in his Emerial "Bam!" apron. If your kids are less involved with preparing the meal and more involved with getting in the way, park them in front of the computer and have them interact with Scholastic's The First Thanksgiving, which if nothing else should make them thankful they live in an era with computers and, like, ovens. also has some nice Thanksgiving links, craft, and gratitude ideas for kids, along with some suggestions for putting a little spirituality in the day. I'm sure a lot of us need prayer to get through a long large dinner with family. Good luck getting through yours.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

New on "Mothers with Attitude"

What's worse than one big overstuffed button-busting have-another-helping-dear dinner with family? Two in a row! That's the hard-won wisdom Ken Swarner shares in this week's Family Man entry. Dividing the holiday between two families isn't a problem my husband and I have had to deal with, but honestly, one family and one dinner is usually enough to put us seriously over capacity, both food-wise and stress-wise. So I'm looking pretty mightily forward to Friday -- that day when all you have to do is heat stuff up, and you can have a nice turkey sandwich on a paper plate in the kitchen instead of a big Turkey feast on china in the living room. And you can do it without in-laws.

Then again, Friday starts the Christmas shopping season, so when your sandwich is done there's a nice new shipment of stress waiting on your front doorstep. I've actually gotten a start on my gift gathering, thanks mostly to finding a really cute gift shop on our summer vacation, but there are still many impossible-to-shop-for relatives to deal with (including the elderly cousin who made a point of telling me last year that she didn't like our gift and hadn't liked them for several years previous, but wouldn't give a clue as to what she would prefer; I'm thinking a lump of coal). My kids usually have a long list of stuff they want, most of it things I know will end up sitting idly in their rooms or on their floors, waiting to be stepped on. If you're looking for good gifts for a child with special needs (or, more likely, looking for ideas to give out to the relatives who will start demanding lists about this time of year), the Parenting Special Needs guide at has some interesting suggestions.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Blessings and balderdash

Today was one of those days where you know you should stop and count your blessings, but you're too busy grumbling over all your petty little annoyances. My son's school is on one of our town's main streets, right across from a funeral parlor. This isn't usually a problem, but on a day like today -- when a local police officer killed in the line of duty was being laid to rest -- it becomes a logistical nightmare. Our first hint of trouble came last night, when the school activated its snow-day phone chain to warn parents to get their kids to school early, because the street would be closed at 8:45, right when school starts (and rush-rush parents like me come ripping up the street with their tardy offspring). My son and I drove up at 8:35 -- heroically early for us two sleepyheads -- and the street was already closed, with angry officers motioning us to keep it moving, keep it moving, keep it moving. I'd made a big point of telling my son that it's important to honor police officers, who put their lives on the line every day to protect our community, even if it means we have to change our routine a little to accommodate it, but -- MAN! Did they have to close the *&!%#@ street so early! Don't they know kids have school! How can they just inconvenience everybody like this! Mumble mumble grumble.

I finally found a parking place on a sidestreet and walked my guy to his building along with all the other mumbling, grumbling parents who'd thought they were promised another 10 minutes of right of way. We had it better than the driver and aide of the special-ed schoolbus that couldn't get through either, and had to herd their load of kiddos a lot farther than the usual up-the-steps-and-through-the-door. Didn't stop us from grumbling, though, especially when the crossing guard mentioned that there was a major accident on a nearby highway, and we noticed all the helicopters hovering and disaster-bound emergency vehicles adding their sirens to the funeral-bound ones.

It soon became apparent that getting into the neighborhood around my son's school, blocked streets and all, was going to be a lot easier than getting out. I work just up the street from the school, but of course that street was closed. And all the streets surrounding it led to streets that were clogged with funeral traffic or clogged with traffic avoiding the highway accident. Quiet residential streets were suddenly on full gridlock alert. One escape route after the other led to long lines of stopped cars. My less-than-five-minute ride to the office turned into 45 minutes of traffic jams. Plenty of time to grumble about the traffic and the lack of planning and the likelihood that my son would be unable to concentrate with several hundred flashing-lighted vehicles outside the window of his classroom. I did try to keep things in perspective: While waiting for the cars ahead of me to poke along, I took out a little rosary I keep in my purse and tried to say prayers for the soul and the family of the police officer and for anybody hurt in the accident, and to thank God that my own family was, after all, safe and healthy and intact. But then some side-street speedster would cut in front of me, and I'd get to grumbling again.

I wondered all day, with much righteous indignation, whether my son had managed to hold himself together with so much powerful distraction in his immediate environment, but his school behavior chart came home with its usual satisfactory mark just like any normal uneventful day. He told me how his class and a few others had stood on the front steps of the school to watch as the procession of official vehicles left the funeral home and headed toward a church across town. He told me that he had counted 303 motorcycles. And he showed me the way he and his classmates had held their hands over their hearts in honor of the fallen officer.

Maybe he's got this perspective thing down a little better than I do.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Me? A Bully?

Next time your children jump on your last nerve and you feel they're in need of aggressive correction, here's a new idea for disciplining them: Don't yell, don't scream, don't shout, just pick up a phone and call Murray Straus and Carolyn Field. They're the co-authors of a study in November's Journal of Marriage and Family that claims that most parents bully their kids, citing screaming, shouting and yelling as unacceptable forms of psychological aggression. No distinction is made in their censure for harshness of language or frequency of outbursts; raising your voice at all, ever, is just wrong, they conclude. HealthDay News quotes Straus as saying, "There is no empirical evidence to indicate occasional psychological abuse, such as the frustrated parent 'blowing off steam,' is harmless," though he doesn't explain how a frustrated parent holding in all that steam and eventually busting a blood vessel is preferable.

I'm convinced, though: No more yelling at kids for me. No more screaming when they're sibling rivalring, no more shouting when they start across the street before checking for cars. Nope; I'm no bully. The next time I feel like my kids need a good, loud scolding, I'm going to call ol' Murray Straus and have him come over and deal with them for a while. And then I'm going to go out, buy myself an expensive cup of coffee, browse through a bookstore or read a magazine, and allow my blood pressure slowly and delicately return to normal. My kiddos may not end up being better behaved, but I sure will be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Minor Leagues

So apparently it's not enough now for exceptional young atheletes to drop out of college to play professional sports, or even to go pro right out of high school. Now, they're coming for the 14-year-olds. That's the ripe old age of soccer prodigy Freddy Adu, who recently signed a six-year contract to play professionally for Major League Soccer. And it would be nice to think that this is some sort of exception, that this young man is just freakishly talented or that soccer is just different from other sports. But I wouldn't be surprised to see underclass sportspersons of all types suddenly catching more limelight, and Major League scouts frequenting Little League games. This way, the kids can become big stars, burn out, and still have time for a second career as something else.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

My daughter, the reader

As part of my mission to share books that my daughter likes in order to throw a life-preserver to other parents of highly reluctant readers, I'd like to announce that in one weekend, she read an entire 27-chapter mystery book -- a feat that included reading 12 chapters on Saturday and 11 on Sunday. The book was The Light on Hogback Hill by Cynthia DeFelice. It ain't exactly Agatha Christie, and it ain't exactly PC -- one character is a single mom so caught up in her anger and bitterness that she throws herself into work and leaves her 11-year-old daughter home alone for days, and another is the brother of a disabled woman who hides her away in a hilltop cabin rather than deal with her disability -- but man, you give me something that my daughter will agree to read, much less read in a rush, and I'll forgive a lot. If you're seeking something that will look like a proper book for a middle-schooler but be accessible to kids with much lower reading levels, you might want to give this one a try. My personal reading-hater gives it a thumbs up.

Monday, November 17, 2003

The timelines of our lives

The other day, my daughter came home from middle school worried about her latest assignment: to draw a timeline of her life, from birth to present, complete with photographs and major milestones. What would she do about baby pictures, she wondered? She was adopted at age 4.5, and we've got plenty of pictures past that point, but nothing prior. Should she put her adoption on the timeline? Her coming to America from Russia? The details of how she slipped two years behind her age peers in school? There are some milestones that just don't look so great on posterboard.

And for a minute, I got angry. I'd just had a meeting with her teachers and told them she was adopted, giving them some information about her difficult early years precisely to avoid situations like this. Yet here we were, confronting with tears and consternation the fact that her timeline was liable to look very different from anyone else's.

But then, as happens so often with language impaired kiddos, she started to remember other things the teacher had said, in little blips and bloops that eventually painted a bigger picture. The teacher had specified that they could use any milestones, important ones or minor ones. If they didn't have photos from early childhood, they could use symbols. There should be something for each year, but it could be anything. And so, my daughter and I sat down and had a talk. Do you want to put your adoption milestones? I asked her. Or do you want us to find things that are just the same as everybody else? She opted for bland normalcy, and I was happy to oblige. We were lucky to have info on her first word and step from her orphanage paperwork. The birth of her brother was a milestone; no need to mention that they were both in Russia at the time, and didn't know each other or us. Our great adoption journey got boiled down to "First train ride," with a photo of a train cut from a catalog. We used school photos from age 5 on, so she could say that the reason there were no earlier photos is because her mom wouldn't let her cut them up. And a very nice timeline it was, indistinguishable from her peers except for the fact that it started two years earlier.

And I guess I could have made a fuss about that. If timelines are bad for adopted kids, they're doubly bad for adopted kids who aren't in the proper grade for their age. But in the end, I wasn't sorry she had to do it. It was interesting to her to think about how far she's come, to look back at her old pictures and see the yearly progress, to go through news stories and pick out things that happened during the years she's been alive. It was, in many ways, a good assignment -- and more unfair, possibly, to kids whose parents aren't available to help them with big complicated projects than to anyone else.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

New on Mothers with Attitude

Ken Swarner's latest entry in his Family Man column muses on the futility of trying to settle sibling rivalries. I'll admit that animosity between siblings has been a challenging part of parenting for me. Although I have a half-sister, she left for college shortly after I was born and so I was essentially an only child growing up. I longed to have close-in-age playmates under my roof and imagined how wonderful it would be to have sisters and brothers to bond with. And there certainly are times when my two bond nicely, playing with video games or Barbie minivans together as peaceful as you please. And then there are times when my daughter is so disgusted by the sight of her male sibling that she's forced to put her hand in front of her eyes, and times said sibling teases and taunts his sis in ways that, if he were a random schoolchild and not my own personal son, I would have to haul him in front of the principal and scream "Zero tolerance! Zero tolerance!"

And so I try to enact truces. I talk a lot about peace, love and understanding. I make the girl put down her hand and the boy watch his mouth. But as the Family Man knows, resistance is futile. I was reminded of that again this morning when my kids were getting ready for school. My daughter was mumbling something derogatory about her slowpoke bro, and he responded by getting right in her face and yelling "Loser, loser, loser!" I sent him straight to time-out with admonishments about not using mean words, and when he was done he went right back to her and, with the same aggressive attitude and vocal volume, yelled, "You're a winner!" She stalked off, still mumbling. Siblings will be siblings.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Push a Pringle, go to jail

You know those really annoying ads during children's television? No, not the ones designed to make your kid crave the latest toy. Not the ones designed to make your kid desperate to see the latest flick. Not the ones designed to make your kid beg you to take him to a theme park. Not the ones designed to make her want to watch the same Disney Channel TV movie for the 555,226th time. No, no, no -- the ones designed to make your kids hungry for junk food. The one where the kid gets his room cleaned up by peers entranced by the notion of pizza rolls. The one where a cool Tiger talks to you when you eat Cheetos, or your head turns into a watermelon when you down fruit chews. Those are the ones the kind folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest want to wipe off the air. And we say, "Great! And when you're done with the Cheetos, could you do something about 'The Cheetah Girls'?"

Seriously, the CSPI (not to be confused with CSI, which is who you end up with when you put your mortal body between children and Doritos) believes that the marketing of junk food to children is responsible for the terrible state of child health -- the obesity, the incipient diabetes and heart disease, the healthy green-veggie-filled dinners left unfinished -- and wants advertisers to cut it the heck out. And while we think that's a fine idea, we also think that the CSPI is kidding itself if it thinks that just cutting the commercials is going to make kids stop desiring all things greasy, salty, sweet and cheesy. Some other suggestions they may want to put into practice if they're really serious about this:

* All colorful, fun, cartoon character-bedecked packaging for junk food to be replaced by brown paper wrappers labeled "Liver and Onions."

* Supermarkets to hide junk food in small pockets of shelf space in aisles otherwise devoted to such non-kid-friendly items as mouthwash, laxatives, and Depends undergarments.

* All vending machines legally required to carry nothing but carrot sticks, broccoli florets, and rice cakes.

* All children's movies and videos to be edited to alter or remove scenes of junk food consumption. Instead of Reese's Pieces, Eliot to now lure E.T. with Brussels sprouts.

It won't be easy to make kids renounce junk food, but that's not the hardest job. Nope -- the hardest job will be to get adults to stop buying the stuff "for their kids" because they really want to eat it themselves. What, you think kids are eating all that Halloween candy?

Monday, November 10, 2003

Mothers with Attitude, and Opinions

Authors Amy Baskin and Heather Fawcett are once again seeking the opinions of moms of children with special needs -- and hey, when's the last time somebody actually wanted to hear your opinion? The two, both mothers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, are writing a book on mothering kids with special needs, and have surveys posted at Baskin's Web site, In addition to an earlier questionnaire on personal and professional supports, there's now one on family and relationships. Stop by and chip in your personal two cents. Who knows when somebody might be all that happy to hear you whine again?

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Cute Adoption Column

There's a funny column by Betty Cuniberti in yesterday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch on adoption -- and, in particular, the dumb things people say about it. Like:
"Medal of Honor Dumb Thing. It is so nice of you to adopt children.

Logical response: And it is even nicer of YOU to raise those kids of YOURS. I don't know how you do it! Or why you do it. You're just a saint."
I've heard most of the dumb things Cuniberti mentions in her column, and her responses are very nearly the ones I've thought of about an hour later when it was too late for the appropriate zinger. Let's all read and study, then, so we'll be ready the next time.

Friday, November 07, 2003

A Good Read

On Wednesday, I started leading a reading group for the sixth-grade book club at my daughter's school, even though my own personal daughter wouldn't touch a reading group with a 10-foot volume of "Harry Potter." The first book the kids are reading is "Because of Winn-Dixie" by Kate DiCamillo, and I thought I'd mention it here because, while it is in no way specifically about adoption, it does deal with a child who knows nothing about one of her birthparents, and feels a sense of loss and loneliness over that, and as such might lead to some interesting discussions for adoptive parents and kids. The story is told by India Opal Buloni, a preacher's daughter newly settled into a Florida trailer park and feeling a bit alone in the world. She doesn't remember her mama, who left when she was little, and her daddy tends to withdraw like a turtle into its shell when conversations involving difficult emotions threaten. What makes the difference for this family is not a good therapist, but a great dog -- one who knows how to smile, freaks out during thunderstorms, and has an uncanny way of bringing people who need people together. It's one of those "children's" novels, like "Sarah, Plain and Tall," that I know I'll pick up every year or so and read again, just because it tells so much truth so simply. If you've got a late-elementary or middle-school reader, check it out.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Laughing in the Face of Death

My daughter and I watched the return of the new, post-John Ritter "8 Simple Rules..." tonight, and although I had a certain amount of trepidation going in about the laff riot potential of tragic death, I thought the writers mostly managed to mix grief and gentle humor with sufficient, but not excessive, dignity. Whether they'll be able to do it on a regular basis, of course, remains to be seen. Untimely demise isn't particularly savory sit-com fare, but single-parent families are sit-com bread-and-butter, so it seems possible that the Hennesseys might have a future. My daughter's certainly determined to keep watching; she's been eager for the program's return, and cried for a good five minutes when the episode was over. My husband, in standard women-overreact-to-art mode, sought to comfort her by saying, "It's not like anybody really died" ... then had to rethink his strategy. John Ritter may be gone, but at least in our household, his show's not dead yet.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Oh, Dear

Here I was worrying about the sex-ed video they were showing at my daughter's school, and it turns out that kids are really getting their contraceptive information from Friends. A recent survey concluded that teens who watched the episode in which a condom didn't keep Rachel from getting pregnant were more likely to be well-informed about that source of birth control, and many talked to their parents about it afterward just to be sure. And, well, good for them. The oversexed nature of sitcoms these days might as well be good for something, and if kids get the message that sex is only for fantastically adorable people with great teeth and muss-free hair, so much the better. But I'll tell you, I'm not altogether sorry that my daughter is more interested in watching our cable company's new 24-hour PBS kiddie show channel than anything else these days. I think I've got a while before Arthur and Francine have to deal with an unplanned pregnancy, or Emmy has to take a trip to Dragontales' Birth Control Forest. Then again, these days, you can't be too sure.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Happy Days

Four things that gave me a smile this weekend:

1. A catalog that came unbidden through the mail from Despair, Inc., featuring the sort of motivational posters you might expect to see in a Dilbert cartoon. Like, "MEETINGS: None of us is as dumb as all of us." Or, "GET TO WORK: You aren't being paid to believe in the power of your dreams." You've got to see the whole package -- classy inspirational photo and all -- so if you've ever worked in a soulless bureaucracy, check out the Despair, Inc. Web site and imagine which waste-of-oxygen co-worker you'd give one of these gems to.

2. Do you remember your first computer? Mine was a Kaypro, purchased in the mid-'80s after I'd sworn for years that I would not compute. I saw a fellow writer at a writer's conference toting around one of those blocky metal things with the keyboard that snapped over the screen and the cute little carrying handle, and suddenly the future didn't look so scary. This little walk down memory lane comes courtesy of, where you can visit your first digital love -- or, if you're a computer newbie, browse the museum and be amazed that anybody ever processed words without a giant screen and superfast chips and gigabytes of memory.

3. A nice story in our local paper this morning told of a teenage girl with autism who runs cross-country for her town's high school. I tend to look a bit skeptically at stories that try to wring inspiration from neurologically impaired people making like normal folks, but this story had enough little quirks in it -- like the fact that the girl needs a "shadow" running with her to keep her safe and directed, and that the faster and better she runs, the harder it is to find somebody to keep up with her -- that it hit me just right. You go, girl.

4. Our whole family attends a Sunday-night bowling league, my husband playing with our son, and me bowling with our high-scoring daughter. You'll understand my general skill level here when I tell you that my average is 84, and last week I didn't even make that. Sunday night bowling, for me, falls under the category of "Things you do for your kids." But tonight -- ah, tonight -- I bowled an astounding 112 in the first game. My daughter had a good game too, 148, including a turkey (three strikes in a row, for you non-bowlers). But then came the second game, in which three miraculous things happened:
a. I bowled a turkey! Me! And the fact that I followed it up with a gutter ball only momentarily dampened the excitement;

b. I bowled a 139, certainly the highest I ever bowled in my life and probably the highest I ever will; and

c. I beat my daughter, who merely made her average of 124.
And may I say, at the risk of being tagged a bad sport: WOO-HOO! Cyber-high-five me, y'all!

Friday, October 31, 2003

In the News

An IEP List of health stories that make you go "Hmmmm....":

1. Reading may be good for kids, but apparently, there are limits: Doctors are blaming the enormous new Harry Potter for causing headaches in children who've read it too voraciously.

2. Scientists say that it looks like it's probably perfectly okay to eat cloned animals. Okay, but you first.

3. Researchers are shocked and dismayed to find that children's bad eating habits sometimes start before the age of two, with even infants downing candy and soda and getting their vegetable allowance from french fries. I guess I shouldn't have such fond memories of driving my son home from early intervention while passing french fries over my shoulder to where he sat in his car seat. I thought I was just driving badly, not contributing to nutritional delinquency. He's my healthy eater now, though, while his sister, who was in a Russian orphanage until age 4.5 and presumably did not make a lot of McDonald's runs, never met a green vegetable she didn't loathe. Go figure.

4. There's a new ailment in town: Hurried Woman Syndrome. Among the symptoms of this syndrome are being tired, moody, and having problems controlling your weight. And here, I thought those things were just symptoms of being a woman with kids and, you know, a pulse.

5. A study shows that women who take care of their grandchildren at least nine hours a week have a 55 percent greater chance of having a heart attack. And also, presumably, of being tired, moody, and having problems controlling their weight. If there really is such a thing as "Hurried Woman Syndrome," you just know kids are carriers.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

National Adoption Day

Thanks to reader Christine S. for alerting me to the fact that November 22 is National Adoption Day, and sending me information on the Web site of the National Adoption Coalition, which is promoting events across the country, including the finalizing of the adoptions of more than 1,000 foster children on that day. November's a big adoption month in my house, since my husband and I spent that entire calendar month in 1994 rolling around Russia, waiting for our own adoption to be finalized. We left on Halloween, and returned home on December 1, and in between we met, wooed, and became parents of the two most important little people in our lives. Sometimes it's hard to imagine, looking at them now, at age 13 and 10, strong and healthy and settled in, that they ever lived anywhere else but with us. At other times, dealing with deep language delays and lingering anxiety and emotional immaturity and fetal alcohol effects, it's all too apparent that their difficult pasts will always be a part of them.

Nevertheless, it's impossible to overstate the value that being part of a family has for children, and so I thank God that He brought our family together, and that a whole lot of new families will be brought together on November 22. If you're planning any events for National Adoption Day, or just want to take the occasion to remember your children's adoption day, write and let me know, and I'll post your responses either in this blog or on the Mothers with Attitude site. Let's all celebrate thanksgiving a little early this year.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Too Cool for Ghoul

I guess it's some sort of milestone, the first year your child doesn't want to go trick or treating -- like when she figures out there's no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy, or starts requesting personal electronics instead of toys for Christmas. At any rate, my daughter seems to have hit the "Too Grown Up to Dress Up" mark this year, at the ripe old age of 13. I'm not sure whether she really is too grown up for Halloween, or whether she just can't think of a costume, but at least as of today she's planning a pleasant evening at home watching the Disney channel. And it's a little ironic, because according to Ken Swarner's latest Family Man column on Mothers with Attitude, she's already got the perfect costume, just by being her layabout teenage self. So maybe what I'll be seeing on Friday night isn't really newfound maturity, or old-fashioned sloth, or social insecurity, but a sophisticated piece of Halloween performance art. Spoooooky.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Rules of the Game

I've always wondered how it is that kids just seem to know how to play playground games. The same games and rhymes seem to get passed down from generation to generation without anybody particularly sitting down to teach them. There's some sort of cultural osmosis going on here, as if the need to hopscotch were part of our genetic code. Then again, it may just be that kids are quietly checking out Web sites like this one to get all those rules of the game down pat.

The site's called "Games Kids Play," and it made me wish that there were a site that gave the rules of all those other games kids get so good at -- games like, "Today you're my best friend, but tomorrow I won't talk to you, and then the day after that you can be my best friend again," or "We think you're funny sometimes, but sometimes you make us feel mad, and sometimes you make us feel mean, and it doesn't matter that you're always doing exactly the same thing." Because those games must be in a lot of kids' genetic codes, too, but my kiddos' special needs seem to include an inability to play them, or to understand why they must be played.

It would be nice to be able to make some flashcards to help my daughter survive in sixth-grade-girl society, or help my son -- he of the arrested emotional development and imperviousness to physical pain -- understand why people do the things they do. On that latter question, we might get some help from the do2learn site, which has a truly nifty interactive section called "The Feelings Game," complete with faces and scenarios designed to explain emotions to the emotion-impaired. When they develop "The Hurt Your Feelings Game" for explaining middle-school social politics, I'll be all set.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Type A Mom

So I took my kids to the neurologist last week, and for a change she didn't give me a hard time about my son. He wasn't spectacularly well-behaved, but he was a lot better than last year, when he spent the entire visit banging a toy truck against the wall, so good for him. This time, the doctor seemed to take my word for the fact that he doesn't act up as much at home or at school as he does at her office, and expressed satisfaction with his progress. She also mentioned how impressed she was by how nicely and quietly my daughter had sat through her brother's exam.

So far, so good.

I started my daughter's visit by asking her to tell the doctor about the headaches she's been having. I haven't been too worried about the headaches from a health point of view, since they're not strong enough for her to demand pain relief, but they've been great from a self-awareness and -expression point of view. I can speak for her in a lot of things, but not to describe personal discomfort, and so she had to try to describe her headaches to her pediatrician, and then keep a journal with an entry for each headache. And now again, she had to try to describe the headaches verbally, and it was about as good an illustration of how much her expressive language has improved and how much it still lags as you would want to give a pediatric neurologist. She struggled to find the right descriptive words, even cried a little out of frustration, and finally decided that the headaches felt squishy. The doctor and I agreed they were probably stress-related, and we moved on.

The doctor asked how her patient was doing in school, and I told about her starting middle school this year, in a mainstream class with inclusion teachers and an aide. The doctor asked what level she had been tested at, and I related that at her last evaluation she'd been found to have about a third-grade reading level, but that she was doing pretty much the same work as the other sixth-graders. And the doctor said, "Oh. So she's overacheiving."

You can guess where this is going to go.

I rattled on about her seeing a tutor once a week, and playing the trombone so well she made the all-city band, and bowling twice a week and getting good at it, and how hard she works on her homework, and how much she's been reading. I dug myself a pretty good hole. And when I was done, the doctor thought she had a pretty good picture of a quiet, inarticulate girl whose mother pushed her to work beyond her potential to the point of crippling headaches. She told me she would refer us to a psychologist if not for the fact that psychologists don't do too well with kids as inarticulate as mine, and that anti-anxiety meds might be able to help her a lot. And that she wanted to see my girl again in six months (instead of the usual year) to monitor the situation.

So in one hour, I'd gone from an overly permissive mom who would rather let her son run amok than medicate him, to an overly pushy mom who drives her daughter so hard she needs medication to make it through the day. I'll tell you, I was feeling a little whiplash on my way out.

The fact is, though, that I do push my daughter. I can't deny that I do. She needs pushing. She was happy as a clam in her self-contained special-ed class, and would have been exceedingly comfortable drifting along, learning little. I pushed her into the mainstream, and I push her to do extra work so that she can keep afloat. I've strived to be realistic about her abilities -- I always tell her that I don't care about what grade she gets as long as she tries her best -- but I've also always looked for ways to strengthen those abilities. I've certainly pushed her to play an instrument and pursue that through music camp and school band, feeling it was both good for her brain and good for her social life to be involved with music. I've pushed her to do plenty of activities that she was afraid of or worried about, and she's usually been glad after.

Does that make me a driven, overacheivement-demanding, childhood-destroying Type A mom? Or just a hardworking, involved, dedicated mom who wants her child to reach her full potential? Is there a line someplace? Have I crossed it?

Maybe. Sometimes. Maybe it's impossible not to. Maybe that's one of the biggest challenges of parenting a child with special needs -- knowing when to push, knowing when to stop. I've certainly tsked at other parents who expect too much of children who obviously have different gifts than the ones their parents push for. I've never felt a great need to push my son, who obviously will always need a lot of help and supervision throughout his life. I've been happy for him to take it slow, and follow his own developmental path. Maybe because his sister is not so obviously impaired, I've felt the need to strengthen her and give her skills she'll need for a "normal life," whatever that is. Is it giving her headaches? Why not? Goodness knows it's giving them to me.

That night, though, I had a brainstorm. During the exam, when my daughter was describing her headaches, she'd mentioned that sometimes her vision was a little blurry during them, and she had to squint. And later, when the doctor asked about her eyes, I'd mentioned that the opthalmologist had said that she didn't have to wear glasses if she didn't want to, but as she progressed in school and the work got harder, she might find she needs them. She'd had crossed eyes when we adopted her at age 4.5, and though surgery had straightened them, glasses could help relieve the strain of focusing them. I asked my daughter that evening whether she thought wearing her glasses might help her headaches, and to my surprise, she said, "Yes!" So we're going to see the eye doctor on Monday, and get new glasses, and see if that makes a difference.

Of course, I'll have to push her to wear them.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Volunteer in hiding

Well, I guess this serves me right for making the big effort to volunteer at my kids' school: I've got to hide from the both of them while I'm on the premises. My daughter's long made it clear that she'd just as soon not see me during school hours, and if we do happen to cross paths, I oughtn't to try anything flagrant and embarrassing like eye contact. But my son's always seemed happy enough to have me working the library desk when he came in with his class -- too happy, apparently. His teacher this year reports that he gets overexcited at the prospect of seeing me, and this causes him to engage in un-library-like behavior like pushing, hitting, talking out of turn, and generally bugging the heck out of everybody. He's not like that in class, she assures me -- just when he's seeing, or going to be seeing, Mom.

I'd like to believe that's not so, but here's where it gets tricky: I've made a big, big deal about behavior analysis, and from a behavior analysis point of view, if there's something that seems to raise the child's stress level to the point where he loses control -- and if you note a pattern of problems surrounding a particular set of circumstances -- you change the environment to eliminate that thing. I never thought that "that thing" would be me, but it's hard to argue against it and for anything else. If I didn't like the teacher so much, I'd suspect she was doing this to get back at me for coming on strong about behavior management; but as it is, I think it's certainly worth withdrawing and seeing if my absence makes his heart grow calmer.

So I'll do my library time when his class isn't, and if I hear his little piping voice coming down the hallway I'll go into lockdown mode and hide away from windows and doors, hoping not to be seen. I'll still be able to contribute to the well-being of the school, and I'll still be able to network with whichever educators I can ambush in a hallway. But as for actually spying on my own personal kids -- do you think the school would allow me to donate a few two-way mirrors?

Monday, October 20, 2003

New on Mothers with Attitude

Three -- count 'em, three -- new columns grace the virtual pages of Mothers with Attitude today: April Cain remembers her son's birthmother in the latest installment of Thinking It Over; Julie Donner Andersen grouses at crabby people in Therapeutic Laughing; and Ken Swarner laments yet another undisplayable set of school pictures in Family Man. And thanks to them, I don't have to actually write anything original today myself! Ah, it's good to be an editor.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Taking togetherness too far

They say that doing things together is what keeps families strong, but maybe they should have specified that this wisdom does not apply to felonies. That fine point was missed by the New Jersey family that, in an attempt to save the family home from foreclosure, armed twin 14-year-old girls with their little brother's BB gun (painted with silver nail polish to look more realistic) and sent them to rob a bank while their mom waited in the getaway car. They apparently didn't getaway good enough, because Mom's now facing a 15-year jail sentences while her daughters spend the rest of their teens in a juvenile facility.

And there's probably a lot to be tsked over here about child endangerment and morality and using kids to commit a crime, but all I can think of is -- doesn't this just sound like the cutest little Olson twins movie? Except in the made-for-kidvid version, the family would stay together, the home would be saved, and nobody would do any time. I mean, hey, the twins' mom stole lots of stuff in "To Grandmother's House We Go," and she wound up with a cute guy and a winning lottery ticket. Are the Olsons contributing to the delinquency of minors, too?

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Not quite wired enough

Our school district has gone into computers in a big way, raising property taxes to outfit schools with big old gobs of technology. The number of computers in the "media center" (formerly the library) at my son's school doubled over the summer, and the one at my daughter's middle school seems far more dedicated to screens than to books. What books there are have been cataloged on a computer system, and that system is set to trickle down to our elementary school this year; the low-tech paper card catalog has already been ditched. The weak point in all of this is that the media centers are under the administration of educators who used to be called librarians, and they didn't go into education to compute. Sometimes there seems to be more technology than anyone really knows what to do with. Fortunately, if the teachers can't figure things out, the kids usually can.

One use I'd love to see all those computers put to is setting up e-mail addresses or web pages for teachers that parents can access. Why don't any of my kids' teachers have sites like this one? A google search turns up a fair amount of web services set up to give teachers free 'net presences, but if our school's got any posted, nobody's telling me. Maybe I should volunteer to be webmaster for whoever'll have me? Or maybe they know what a headache free and open communication with me would be, and just aren't giving me their address.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Is A.D. P.C.?

I've been reading about the Supreme Court's upcoming consideration of whether saying the Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional, or whether the "under God" part is an unacceptable bringing of religion into schools. It seems impossible to imagine that schoolkids might not be putting their hands over their hearts every a.m., or will have to recite some sanitized, ACLU-okayed version instead. It's true that I would probably feel differently if I didn't believe in God, and in our nation being under Him; but it's also true that eliminating any reference to religious belief from our schools and our society is going to be a pretty daunting task.

For example: Tonight I was doing homework with my daughter, and her job was to find answers to questions in her textbook. The lesson was on dates -- why we need them, what a timeline's for, how we determine them. One question asked how we number years, and in reading the paragraphs on that subject, it was clear that the answer was "forward and backward from the birth of Jesus Christ." There's really not any more P.C. way to explain A.D. and B.C., and I suppose as long as they don't make any claims about Jesus Christ being anyone's savior it's not specifically religious, but if a kid's going to be disturbed by saying "under God" in the pledge, isn't he going to be upset by this, too? Are we going to be forced to switch to something nondenominational like "Common Era" to avoid lessons like this? I think the founding fathers would be against it, but I'm not so sure about the ACLU.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Child appreciation

I'm really running the gauntlet of child evaluations this week, and it's got me a little on edge. Yesterday was progress report day, and we got through that with relatively little shock and upset. Tomorrow, I have my first meeting with my daughter's teachers, the whole lot of them, regular-education and inclusion alike, and I hope I'll hear what the progress report indicates -- that she's basically doing well -- and not what I usually hear in meetings like this, which is that she's doing well considering. Most desperately, I'm hoping that there won't be a repeat of my meeting with her teacher and instructional aide last year -- the one where I asked the aide what she would be doing to help my daughter, and she looked at me like a deer caught in the headlights. Her inability to articulate what an instructional aide does, exactly, pretty much carried into a whole year of not doing much but hovering and making my girl nervous. This year, there are actual special education teachers in my daughter's classroom doing their inclusion thing, and if they can't explain to me what that is, I'm going to the Board of Ed.

Then, on Thursday, comes our annual visit with the pediatric neurologist. The appointment for my daughter is always a piece of cake, since she can sit through grown-ups talking and follow instructions and answer questions in a way that's pretty appropriate, considering. My son, on the other hand, has no consideration at all, and tends to display his most impulsive, most uncooperative, most out-of-control behavior for this particular doctor. And since she sees him once a year, and only at his absolute rock-bottom worst, I shouldn't be upset that she thinks I'm nuts not to medicate him into a stupor. But I always am anyway. Why can't she just take my word for it that he's doing fine? Or his father's word, or his teachers' word, or his therapists' word? And more importantly, if I have all those words, why do I need this doctor's word, anyway? I guess we all like to think that everybody looks at our kids in the same appreciative way we do. And if they don't, man, I'll tell you, they all deserve bad grades on their progress reports.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Pumpkins with purpose

I've never been a big one for Halloween decorations, much to my kids' chagrin. They're always lobbying for jack-o-lanterns on the steps and skeletons on the lawn, and I'm lucky if I can just manage to get their school Halloween artwork tacked up on the fridge. I'm not particularly proud of the fact that we've never carved a pumpkin together, but given the amount of mess I'm pretty sure my son could make of the seeds and such, I'd probably just go with my own parents' tradition of drawing a face on the thing with a Magic Marker and leaving it at that. This year, in a variation on that theme, my daughter has an extra credit assignment from middle school that involves turning a pumpkin in a globe, complete with latitude and longitude lines and cut-out drawings of the continents to paste on. That's a much better use for the big orange veggie than making a scary face, as far as I'm concerned, and I'm happy to see that her teachers are thinking in creative and hands-on ways. ... In other pumpkin-related news, Ken Swarner's newest Family Man column describes a far more ignoble end to put a pumpkin to than a bumpy, misshapen globe. Maybe next year, if he's serious about keeping his carving knives under of lock and key, he ought to consider turning jack-o-lantern season into an excuse for a good old-fashioned social studies lesson.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Something new

I'm trying a little something new this week: a Web log listing news articles that mention Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. There's been one or two a day so far, and all fairly interesting to me, anyway. (I'm particularly taken with the baton-twirling Washington Miss America wannabe who's taken FAS prevention as her platform.) If this is a topic that interests you, stop by every day or so and take a look. If it proves easily do-able, I'll probably switch Adoption Watch to blog format, too, since I'm the only one who ever seems to post on that message board; and possibly set up e-mail subscription lists to both. 'Cause, you know, with a full-time job and two time-and-a-half kids, I don't have enough to do.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Turn off that cough

Yahoo! Health News today features an article from on "Your Child's Cough," and not a moment too soon. I was poised to call my daughter's pediatrician today to ask about her two-week-old, shallow, barking, not-obviously-health-threatening-but highly-annoying cough, but now maybe I'll hold off. KidsHealth seems to advise that if your kid's not wheezing, feverish, or coughing up blood, you can wait a month or so before calling an M.D. And that, of course, follows my time-honored family wisdom that if you don't have a fever, you're not sick. But my daughter's already reporting that teachers are telling her she should see a doctor for that cough, and kids are teasing her for not seeing a doctor for that cough, and man, the peer pressure on a parent to run to the doctor and demand relief is fierce. If I can hold off 'til the weekend, maybe the dreaded throat tickle will disappear before I get my picture put up in the school nurse's Parent Hall of Shame.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

FAS makes the big time

My husband's a big "Law & Order" fan, but I've long shied away from the show for a couple of reasons -- the twists and turns and questionable justice of courtroom scenes make me nervous; and if I want to read something ripped from the headlines, I'll pick up a newspaper. But here's an episode I may have to make an exception for: one that has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome as part of its plotline. The Buffalo News has a nice article about a teen with FAS who was selected to appear in the episode, and it will be interesting to see what spin the show puts on the issue. Since it's tentatively scheduled for the first episode of sweeps, Nov. 4, you can be sure it'll be sensational. Maybe that's a good thing for this swept-under-the-rug syndrome.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Sad news, unreported

I was talking with the mother of one of my son's special-ed classmates the other day, and she asked me, since I'm involved in a lot of things at school and am presumably up on what's going on, whether I had heard anything about a student who was in our kids' class a few years ago. All three kids were still at the same school, but as the whims of self-contained classrooms would have it, all were in different rooms this year. Apparently my son's friend had heard from this girl's sister that the girl had passed away during the summer, and we wondered if it could be true, or maybe just a tall tale facilitated by the girl being transferred to another school. It's not that unusual, after all, for a special-ed child to be at a school one year and just not there the next, with no dire circumstances attached. As the whims of self-contained classrooms would have it.

I hadn't heard anything about it -- not from my son, not from his invisible dog (who is usually my best source for school gossip), and not from any of the mainstream moms through whose circles I pass, along the loop but not quite in it, as I pursue my little on-campus volunteer opportunities, library duty, class parent meetings, book fairs. And I'd like to think that if I hadn't heard, it couldn't be. Surely the death of a 10-year-old child who'd been at the school since first grade, and who had a surviving sibling at the school as well, would arouse some sort of comment among those chattering moms, even if it had happened over the summer. Surely there would be a memo, or a memorial. The death of a fifth-grader's father the year before had prompted a phone-chain effort to make sure her classmates didn't hear it through gossip on the grapevine; wouldn't at least my son and his classmates -- if not the whole student body -- deserve similar respectful information about their friend?

Apparently not. The next time I was at the school I asked around, and indeed, the girl had died over the summer, of causes nobody was quite sure of. The special-ed teachers had taken up a collection in her memory, and the Home and School Association had donated as well, and it was sad but over. And maybe it would have been the same for any student who passed quietly away due to unspecified health reasons during the long school-free summer months. But I tend to think not. I tend to think that you can bus children with special needs into schools, and you can take them to the assemblies and put them in the chorus and mainstream them for a couple of classes and pretend that they're part of the group, but in the long run, if they're not from the neighborhood and not represented in the cliques and the clubs and the coffee klatches and the committees, in some meaningful way they don't really exist.

It's not that unusual, after all, for a special-ed child to be at a school one year and just not there the next.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Survive this

An IEP List for a day off from school, on which I should be spending more time playing with my kids and less time writing about them.

1. I'm all for hands-on science, and anything that gets kids excited about art is a good thing, but really, I think Maggot Art may be going a little too far. We had a maggot problem in our garage a month or so ago, which a week later became a housefly problem of near-Biblical proportions, and I for one would not be that comfortable with hanging colorful maggot trails on my fridge.

2. Since I ranted a bit last week about my similar lack of comfort with my daughter's school's sex-ed video (not sure whether they're using the "birth control is for marriage" or "birth control is for lovers" version, but as a Catholic I'm not particularly comfortable with either one), my attention was immediately grabbed by an article in our local paper on abstinence-only education in a nearby urban school district. Apparently being realistic there has resulted in more teen mothers than they can handle, and so they're going to try being unrealistic for a while. Is it unrealistic for me to hope it spreads to the suburbs before my girl hits Grade 8?

3. While it doesn't specifically mention contraceptive education, the new Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Parenting does offer parents a quick spiel on the birds and the bees. I flipped through this little manual in the bookstore the other day and found it to be surprisingly level-headed for what is basically a humor book, offering sound advice on such tricky topics as disciplining an invisible friend, ridding a bedroom of monsters and bribing for good behavior. It's a pretty good gift for new parents, and more than a few old parents, too.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Social studies

I took my son with me yesterday to run some errands, and at one point we were walking down the sidewalk and passed an older gentleman coming the other way. My boy smiled broadly and said, "Hello, old man!" The man, to his credit, said "hello" back without much chagrin, and I giggled and apologized and loudly told my young man that he'd been rude. He proposed to say, "Hello, man!" in the future, and I suggested, "Hello, sir," and figured the possibility of him remembering that the next time the greeting impulse struck was slight.

We got back in the car and went to our next stop, which was my doctor's office to pick up a referral. My doctor happened to be between appointments and came out to chat, and having never met my son was introduced and said hello. And since he has gray hair, I was bracing myself for another "Hello, old man!" But my guy said "Hello," then paused for a moment, and actually came up with "sir!" The soul of politeness. I was feeling pretty proud of his capacity to master normal civility, but then he had to go and add, as he will, "You're the best man in the whole wide world!" So now we have to work on getting that pendulum to sit squarely between being rude and being absurdly friendly. But one lesson a day's not bad.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Thinking unrealistically

After squirming through a jokey depiction of sex education in school while watching "8 Simple Rules" with my daughter the other night, I got a little look at the real thing while working in her school's library yesterday. Among the videos I was to enter into the library's catalog was one called "Abstinence First!" — and despite the title, the video and its accompanying materials were mostly about alternatives to abstinence, offering information on a variety of birth control options for teens.

The librarian explained that the video had been pulled from the shelf because someone had objected to its depiction of how to put on a condom, and that after being edited for increased discretion it was now once again ready for check-out, albeit labeled FOR 8TH GRADE USE ONLY. So apparently the 11- and 12-year-olds can be spared the contraceptive demos for the moment. And I have a while before my personal 13-year-old sixth-grader will be bringing home questions.

I felt some small measure of relief in that — but should I? As the librarian explained, she doesn't approve of teens and pre-teens having sex, but "realistically, they're going to do it anyway, and they need this information." I huffed and mumbled something about wanting my kids to get that information from me and not from a video called "Abstinence First!" (and apparently subtitled, "And Then, Let's Get It On!"), and she just kept saying yes, but, realistically, the things kids are doing today, and realistically, the problems they're having, and realistically, the information they need to get. And realistically, I felt myself getting older and grayer and more fuddy-duddy-ish with every word she said, and more like an evangelical, right-wing, "take sex education out of the classroom and put prayer back in" zealot than I ever imagined I could.

There was a time — I can still remember it — when I would have applauded this "realistic" approach to giving children the information they needed to navigate the hormone-plagued teen years in a responsible, disease-free and pregnancy-free manner, and scoffed at anyone who unrealistically suggested that these frisky young things be taught to "just say no" to sex. Of course, this was before it was the sex education of my own personal child we were talking about. It's okay, I suppose, for all those other kids to be instructed about condom usage and Pill popping; but the only message I want my daughter to be getting is Thou Shalt Not.

And there will be those who will shake their heads and smile condescendingly and tell me I'm just not being realistic. They will have statistics about sex ed reducing rates of STDs and teen pregnancy, and good for them. But they'll never convince me that telling kids "We think you should abstain, but realistically, we know you won't, so here's lots of info about safe sex" doesn't make them think that teen sex is okay — even put a little pressure on to do this thing that realistically, everybody is expecting. Can't we ever just be black and white about this? I mean, realistically, a lot of kids are going to try drugs, but we don't set up programs in the schools to say, "We think you should just say no, but realistically, we know you'll try them, so here's the right way to shoot up."

But then, you know, I'm a parent. I gave up being realistic a long time ago.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Whatever happened to the "family hour"?

I was watching "8 Simple Rules..." with my daughter tonight, and one of the plotlines involved a dad taking his teen daughter to a foreign-language film only to sit mortified as a graphic sex scene unspooled. And I know just how that dad felt: Although we at home just heard the sound effects of the film tryst, it was still pretty awkward sitting through it with my 13-year-old. The episode's other plot involved the mom having to teach sex education in the other daughter's class, and hoo-boy, didn't that just open the door to lots of jokes about body parts and "urges."

My girl, thankfully, is still at the "ew, gross" stage when it comes to sex, and only a few times turned to ask me if the characters were talking about doing that thing, but man, for an 8 p.m. sitcom ... I hate to be a fuddy-duddy and mourn the demise of the "family hour," but do family shows have to be quite so risqué? I mean, it's not like I'm letting my kid watch "Sex in the City" and then complaining about them doing "that thing." Maybe I'm wrong, and nobody expects kids to be watching "8 Simple Rules..." -- or maybe everybody just expects kids to find sex jokes funny. But I'd sure be a lot happier if plotlines stayed out of the bedroom until my kids were safely sleeping in theirs.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Insecure security

I'm hearing a lot more talk at my kids' schools this year about heightened security and the screening of parent volunteers to guard against potential abuse of our little ones. And that's mostly all it is -- talk. At one school, my "interview" with an administrator prior to acceptance as a library volunteer amounted to a quick friendly chat over a book-fair table, and at the other the principal scanned a room of volunteers, ascertained that he knew us all, and signed off. Whereas teachers and other staff people at both schools have been required to wear photo ID at all times since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, volunteers still wander the halls undocumented -- although at my daughter's school, the librarian did whip us up some nice little non-photo nametags so we won't feel left out.

It appears that appearing to be doing something about security is more important to our school administrators at this point than actually doing something about it, and maybe that should be worrying me. Maybe I should be questioning the school board and attending seminars on abuse prevention and advocating for more rigorous protocols. Certainly we've heard enough stories lately about adults using positions of trust and proximity to harm children, and about terrorists blending in to wreak havoc. And while it's hard to imagine a parent planting a bomb at a book fair or fondling a child behind a library bookcase, unimaginable things have certainly happened before. At the same time, there's one thing I can imagine all too well: The day parents have to drive half an hour and pay $75 to be fingerprinted before volunteering, as was one school-board proposal this year, is the day most home-school activities grind to a halt.

Some of those activities might be banned as part of the look-safer agenda, anyway. It's happened at our church already, where youth group overnights are now a thing of the past. I wasn't looking forward to sending my kid to those overnights, you can be sure, but I'm still not quite so old that I can't remember how fun they sometimes were when I was their age. Lots of youth activities are going to get harder and harder to justify from a risk management perspective, and there may be a feeling that, since we can all agree that no price is too high to pay for our children's safety and that prevention is our primary focus, cutting losses and narrowing opportunities is a good and prudent course. But somehow, I can't help but feel that this is the adult equivalent of punishing the whole class just because a couple of kids made trouble.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Hands-on dads and wanna-be moms

An IEP List of things to read, hear and see:

1. New on Mothers with Attitude: Julie Donner Andersen celebrates the new, hands-on dad in her "Therapeutic Laughing" column, and one of those very dads, Ken Swarner, talks about the way experienced parents like to torture newbies in this week's "Family Man" column.

2. National Public Radio's series on Mental Illness in Children is available for listening on the Web.

3. I've been on the lookout for reviews of "Casa de Los Babys," John Sayles' new film about six prospective adoptive moms waiting for their babies-to-be in a South American country. Here's one from the New York Times, another from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Film and Broadcasting, and another from AP. If you've seen this film, stop by Adoption Watch and post your own review.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Back again

Back-to-School Night #2 is tonight, at my son's elementary school. It seems way too late in the school year to be going through this — I've already met with the teacher and worked through a few mini-crises with her, and I've already done enough volunteer work in the library to have spoken informally with most of the folks working with my son — but I guess it's always good to get the official welcome anyway. It's always sad to see how very few parents bother to show up for the big night, especially in special-ed classrooms; last year, we pretty much had a one-on-one conference with my son's teacher. Compared to the year when the classroom was packed with parents so irate that the teacher ended up in tears, that was something of a relief, I guess. But since I live for nights like this — anything to get in the building and talk to folks about my kid — it's hard to understand how parents could stay home, or leave early. They usually have to have the janitor sweep me out at the end of the night with the last of the bake-sale crumbs.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

More bloggin' moms

An IEP List to fill all that spare time you have on weekends (yeah, right):

1. A couple of Mom Blogs have come to my attention this week. I found out about "Mom in the Mirror" because it started rising fast on the list of sites who referred visitors to "Mothers with Attitude," and I'm thankful to have my link on such a nicely done and, apparently, well-visited site. Thanks, Julie. Meanwhile, "Parenting Isn't Pretty" reader Tammy Jata wrote to tell me she's started a blog of her own, Dishpan Dribble — and although I strongly and passionately disagree with her views on headlice, I'll go ahead and refer y'all there anyway. I ticked off a few people when I first started Weblogging, too.

2. It's not really a "Dad Blog," but Ken Swarner's "Family Man" column on "Mothers with Attitude" has a new entry, this one a letter from his child's fifth-grade teacher suggesting an ... exciting year ahead.

3. Wonder how your school or your neighborhood measures up? Get lots of nosy statistics from Great and the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council's Geocoding System.

4. There's an excellent documentary on older kids with FAS that can be watched on the Web on the Knowledge Network site. Good stuff.

5. If you subscribe to People or Child magazines, or ever make it out to a newstand to buy them, look for these articles: in People, on the very large family of Mary-Jo Jackson, whose recommendations on Christmas traditions you can read here on "Mothers with Attitude"; and in Child, on being an effective advocate for your kids, which, as a "Parenting Isn't Pretty" reader pointed out, is right up my alley. (Thanks, Christine.)

6. Reader Barbara Bonner's very nice review of "Mothers with Attitude" is finally appearing on our Alexa listing. (Thanks, Barbara.) If anybody else wants to add to it, that would be very nice indeed. The statistics on this listing are still kind of funky — my ranking in the past month has gone from the 80,000s to the 700,000s and back to the 80,000s, and I think my original ranking in the low 2,000,000s was probably the most accurate — but it's nice to pretend.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Officially back to school

Alright, maybe sixth grade isn't so hard. We went to our daughter's back-to-school night last night, and now that I've sat in her classrooms and met her teachers and heard about the work, I'm feeling somewhat less hysterical. Everyone seems to feel she's doing well, the inclusion teachers seem clear as to what their job is, and the questions from the other parents seemed to indicate that they were as clueless or more clueless than I was -- a good sign that my daughter's inability to give me information about what's going on was a sixth-grade thing, not a language-processing thing. When we left (with my husband a little embarrassed by how brazenly I had buttonholed anybody who had anything to do with our girl), I was almost feeling that maybe I didn't have to call meetings to talk with these people about my girl's particular needs. I'm pretty sure that feeling will pass.

And as if on cue, true to my word that any crisis with my son would have to wait until the crisis with his sister had passed, on the very day I woke up feeling good about her school situation, he had his first less-than-satisfactory behavior chart. Hate to think it's his turn now. Next Tuesday is his back-to-school night, and I hope it's as upbeat as the other one.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Why does sixth grade have to be so hard?

Every time I think my daughter has finally gotten this middle school thing down -- every time I'm lulled by the fact that she hasn't cried in a day or two and she's given me a smile and said I was right and it was no big deal -- something happens to put me on guard once more. This morning, she threw up again right before it was time to leave, and again showed no other signs of illness or flu, just of high anxiety. And again, I loaded her in the car right afterwards and delivered to school her anyway. She swore there was nothing really wrong, no teasing or dreadfully hard work or mean teachers or threatened consequences. She doesn't even know why she's feeling so nervous. But obviously, she is. And although I'm pretty sure I'm doing the right thing, that being overprotective and shielding her from all possibility of unpleasantness wouldn't be doing her any favors in the long run, it still breaks my heart.

The funny thing is, I'm spending all this time counseling her to stop worrying about everything and to just take every day as it comes and deal with problems when they occur and not before, and it's impossible for me to follow that advice myself, for either of my kids. I've always assumed that I inherited some sort of worry gene, since my mother was a world-class worrier who believed that if you could think of every possible bad thing that could happen and stew about it in advance, nothing bad would happen in actual fact. I figured I was genetically predisposed to this sort of thing, and that my daughter -- coming from different and hopefully less obsessive genetic stock -- would be immune; but now that I see her falling into the same stomach-churning patterns, I wonder if it's really more a matter of nurture than nature. Which means, as usual, it's all my fault. I'll be worrying on that one a while, you can bet.