Friday, January 31, 2003

For Mothers Who Read

The Web site used to have a section called "Mothers Who Think," and since it's been discontinued I've missed the thoughtful views on parenting that used to reside there. But recently, the Book Club feature on has reminded me of it -- sort of a "Mothers Who Read." Last week, as noted here, the discussion centered on a book dealing with infertility; this week, an adoptive parent and adoptee discuss "Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption" by Barbara Melosh. Since the parent doing the discussing is a dad, I guess it's more like A Dad Who Reads Makes Mothers with Attitude Think. But it's good reading, for sure.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Some enchanted IEP meeting

I attended the nicest IEP meeting yesterday. Honestly, it was unnatural. Even when I'm on good terms with the child study team members, and no matter how many wonderful reports I've had about the child in question during the year, the IEP meeting is usually everybody's opportunity to bombard me with all the problems they've been kindly concealing, and, in my daughter's case, all the evidence that points to her needing way, way more help than I am wanting to give her.

But not this time. This time, everybody thinks she's doing just great. The teacher said she's been getting 90s and 100s on tests. The speech therapist said she's making wonderful progress. The child study team leader agreed to do some non-mandated testing to see if we can quantify the improvements we're seeing in her reading comprehension, and thought my modification requests were quite reasonable and appropriate. Nobody disagreed with my plan to keep her in a regular-ed classroom next year in middle school; previously in IEPs, I had been told she should really, really, really go to resource room, but not this time. This time, the team couldn't be more agreeable.

It almost made me want to stand up and say, "No! She's doing awful! She needs more help! Put her in resource room! Put her back in self-contained! If things are this great, we just must not be paying attention!" And maybe that was their evil plan. But I remained calm, and basked in the universal praise for my child and my hard-working parenting self. I asked the child study team leader for a favor involving my son, and again -- although it involved extra work for her without a clear necessity for it -- she agreed. As I walked out of the building, one of my son's old teachers offered me an opportunity to participate with the staff in the buying of lottery tickets, and I felt lucky enough to do it. When my daughter came home, she brought a present for me from her teacher: the url for a Web site full of graphic organizers, which the teacher knows I like because I keep nagging people to use them with my daughter. So pleasant and civilized it all was. And if at some point I stepped through the looking glass into alterna-special-ed-world, I didn't notice.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Something new to worry about

We already knew that sitting too long in front of a computer could give you a backache, neckache, headache, blurry vision, and seriously annoyed family members. But who knew it could give you a blood clot, too? The condition, nicknamed "economy class syndrome" as it was previously mostly seen in people who spent too much time in cramped airplane seats, is brought on by going for long hours without standing up; a blood clot forms in those idle legs and travels to the lungs. And if I read anymore about this, I shall become convinced that such a thing is happening to me right at this very moment. Time to take a walk!

Monday, January 27, 2003

Touching an angel

April Cain's latest column on Mothers with Attitude, The Healing Power of Touch, reminds me strongly of how my son behaved when we first brought him home (and for quite some time after that), and gave me a much-valued opportunity to think about how far he's come. Like April's son, mine had a sensory system that went into high alert when someone tried to touch or hold him. Nearly two years in a Russian orphanage gave him no neural experience of sustained loving touch, and it took time, patience, and sensory integration therapy to turn him into the cuddle-bug he is today. He's cuddly well past the age at which boys stop wanting to snuggle with their moms, but his body now craves that which it once rejected. Amazing things, our nervous systems.

Reading April's column brought me back to those early days when I was trying so hard to figure out what it was with him, before I realized how neatly the diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Effects put the pieces together, before I could reflexively pick out signs of sensory integration dysfunction in so many children in addition to my own, when I was operating on an instinct which I had no particular reason to trust. My brain's undergone some changes, too.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Remembering recess

"Is Recess a Necessity or a Hindrance?" asks an article on the Bella Online site. When I was a kid, I'd have voted for hindrance, because I deeply hated anything that required physical coordination or exertion. Ladder bars were torture, games of catch invitations to display my klutziness before my disdainful peers, dodgeball resolutely un-dodgeable. I tried to just sit off to the side and read a book during recess, but teachers would push me back into the fray. Abolishment of recess? A dream come true for me, it would have been.

Maybe I lived too soon, because according to some reports, things like recess and physical education in primary grades are in danger of disappearing. They're still hanging in at our local elementary school, though, and my kids would undoubtedly vote recess a necessity. My daughter's coordinated in ways I could never dream of being, and she enjoys playing outside at any opportunity (reading books, not so much). And my son, hyper fellow that he is, needs a little time to let off steam in the middle of the day. The cruel irony of life in a northern climate is that, come winter, you may lose recess even if you still have it; sub-freezing weather, rain and snow all mean indoor confinement whether you find recess necessary or hindering or whatever. I'm hearing reports of movies and board games and moderate chaos for those 20-or-so midday minutes, which are mildly annoying for my girl and mildly disorganizing for my boy. They'll be glad when recess returns with the spring. And I'll be glad it's them, not me.

Valentine goodies

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the Mothers with Attitude Mall now features a Forever Family Store, with heart-bedecked items declaring "You Are Mine Forever" and "Love Makes a Family." A cute little teddy bear, too.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

New on Mothers with Attitude

Kathy Winters has graciously agreed to allow her poem "The Misunderstood Child," which made the rounds of some special-needs mailing lists yesterday, to be posted on Mothers with Attitude. It's an insightful look at the challenges of children with hidden disabilities. Read it and forward it to your own personal support groups.

My own personal misunderstood child is having a good week, even though yesterday saw him home sick from school with a fever and a cough. His behavior has been good since his very bad patch last week, and I'd like to believe it has something to do with the techniques I've been using from the book "Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach" (see Saturday's entry for more information). I'd like to believe it, and I'm almost scared to believe it, because transformation is not a bad word to use to describe the improvement in his attitude and willingness to cooperate, not every second and not without challenges, but in general and in surprising ways. Could it be this easy? Maybe not; he's been known to behave well when sick, so maybe it's some combination of fatigue and cough syrup that's making him more easygoing. It's a nice break, anyway.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Around the Web

There's an interesting book discussion on on "Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America" by anthropologist Linda L. Layne. Two editors who are currently pregnant but previously miscarried talk about the book and their personal experiences, and while I've never suffered a miscarriage (never even got as far as the conception part), I can certainly relate to envying pregnant women and feeling less interesting to OB-GYNs when the OB part of the picture drops out of focus. I don't know if any of this discussion makes me more likely to read the book -- less likely, maybe -- but the conversation's interesting reading all by itself. ... Adoptive parents with children from Russia or Ukraine may want to stop by this site to take a survey on the accuracy or in- of the preadoptive health information they received on their little ones. We were lucky to receive very accurate information -- maybe because we were specifically looking for special needs -- and so the language of this survey seems slanted to me in favor of blaming agencies. But since the blameworthy experience many parents have had with dishonest agencies is probably the impetus for surveys like this, that's probably unavoidable. ... The Sensory Integration Network Web site has had a facelift; stop by and check out the new design. I haven't browsed through it enough to see if all the good old information is there, but it sure looks organized.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Tiptoeing through the developmental levels

If you're a little obsessed with charting your child's rate of development -- and it's hard not to be, in a society that is so very fond of benchmarks -- here's a site that will feed your need to wonder and worry. Part of the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services' Web site for foster parents, the Child Development Guide allows parents to navigate through "normal characteristics" in yearly increments for the areas of physical, intellectual, social, emotional and moral development. You can start at your child's chronological age in any area and then work backward (or forward, I suppose, but not in my household) to pinpoint your young one's exact developmental level. The accompanying parenting strategies can then be used with confidence.

I've been saying for a while that my fetal-alcohol-affected nine-year-old is really more of a 4-year-old emotionally, without really knowing what that means. So I took a look at the emotional characteristics of four-to-five-year-olds and -- sure enough! -- there were the behaviors we've been so bothered by recently:
Exhibits a great deal of name calling; can be demanding and/or threatening. Often is bossy, belligerent; goes to extremes, bossy then shy; frequently whines, cries, and complains. Often tests people to see who can be controlled. Is boastful, especially about self and family. Is beginning to develop some feeling of insecurity.
So then I clicked forward to see what we might be expecting next, and ... well, the five-to-six-year-old description could pretty well have applied to him, too. And the six-to-seven. And really most of the levels I looked at. So it's not exactly a precision instrument. But you know you're going to go spend a few hours there anyway.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

The lonely little discussion board

Got a nice e-mail yesterday from someone thanking me for starting the Adoption Watch discussion board (noting, rightly at least in my research, that there was no similar forum for the examination of the way adoption is depicted in all manner of media). I was happy and somewhat surprised to get this appreciation, since the lack of interest in the board when I started it back in July was so resounding that I'd kind of abandoned the idea. Still, the board's there, and maybe it's time for me to mention it again and invite folks to stop by, post reviews, and argue. Surely there's something out there in media-land that somebody's up in arms about.

Accentuate the positive

After a lengthy foray into more general non-fiction, I'm back to reading parenting books. I'm galloping through "Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach" by Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley, because my difficult child could certainly use some transforming right now. I don't know that I buy all of the authors' assumptions, but the basic approach is right on, at least for my fetal-alcohol-affected boy: Give all your energy and big reactions to your child when he's doing something right, not something wrong. The book suggests following the pattern of a video game, in which all the rewards and successful experiences come with following the rules, and breaking the rules leads to a quick, unemotional, unarguable ending to the fun. The recommended method ends with a fairly involved system of credits and privileges, but starts with the simple act of noticing and commenting on the things kids do when they're not misbehaving. It's not so much a matter of catching them being good, but creating spontaneous opportunities for them to be good when none would have existed, and recognizing their acheivement. Or even just describing, in a neutral way, what you see them doing, so they know they're seen and appreciated. It sounds so simple it just might not work, but I have to admit, in the couple of days I've been trying this, my son does seem more relaxed and cooperative, and I certainly enjoy him a whole lot more. Maybe there's a little mind control to it on both sides.

I also picked up a copy of "The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Integration Dysfunction" by Carol Stock Kranowitz last time I was in the bookstore, mostly because I was so thrilled to see it prominently displayed. It looks to be a skimming book as opposed to a reading-cover-to-cover book, but I'll be checking it regularly for play and therapy ideas for my son. I was particularly interested to see that many of the ideas utilized plastic grocery store bags, of which my son has approximately 100 in his room at any one time (alright, it's a weird thing to collect, but hey, they're free), so we won't have to be buying any equipment.

Friday, January 17, 2003

New on Mothers with Attitude

Just posted is Julie Donner Andersen's latest column, You Think YOU Had a Hard Day, in which she opines that moms will always win any bad day contest, hands down. In our house, the most recent Big Bad Day was had by my son, who (as noted below) came home with not one but two "bad behavior" notes on Tuesday from his self-contained special-ed class. His teachers may have felt he wasn't listening and spurning their attempts at discipline, but in fact he was seriously rattled by all the yelling and disciplinary actions, to the point that he was determined not to go to school the next day. "I need a day off," he said, from the moment he got up until the moment we got into the school building.

Now I know I'm supposed to be tough about stuff like this -- I know, because the school principal told me so in no uncertain terms Thursday morning -- but the fact is, I told the school secretary he wasn't feeling well, and I took him home. There is a small kernel of truth to my sick-day plea: The last two times he has begged to stay home and I have made him go to school, he's thrown up during the course of the morning, and wound up coming home anyway. So it was, in some ways, a preemptive action.

But there was more to my decision than a concern for his digestive health, and that is: Sometimes we all just need a mental health day. My boss has been known to give me a day off after a particularly traumatic day at work; why shouldn't a child who's had a day when he spiraled further and further out of control get 24 hours to regain it? He had a relaxing day; we watched some TV, read a book, did some mental math problems and a science experiment. And the next day, he went back to class. I didn't get any notes, so he must have done okay. Or maybe they're just not going to send me notes anymore. Either way, my day's better.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Never too early to watch what you eat

As if the threat of zits, bad body image and hip-huggers weren't enough to encourage a girl to watch her diet, here's a report indicating that a low-fat diet for pre-teens may offer some protection against breast cancer in later years. The research is pretty speculative, based on the assumption that it would be good to lower blood levels in puberty of hormones that have been linked to breast cancer in adults. And as incentives go, telling your daughter that "if you eat that potato chip now, in twenty or thirty years you might be very, very sick" is pretty weak. But maybe it'll give us moms more rationale to push healthier diets. And eat all the snack food and chocolate before they can get to it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

FAS in the news

Well, how about that? Fetal Alcohol Syndrome made the Yahoo! Health News KidsHealth listings today, right there between "Heart Murmurs and Your Child" and "Common Childhood Orthopedic Conditions." The article's not a bad overview, and it's nice to see it get front-page play, if only for a day. Another interesting fetal-alcohol-related page to check out is this quiz to give you a feel for what it's like to have FASD. Sure rings true today, when my son came home with not one but two notes complaining about his behavior -- behavior pretty much exactly like that described in the aforementioned quiz. Aren't special educators supposed to know how to deal with this stuff?

Monday, January 13, 2003

Celebrity non-endorsement

Well, I guess the whole issue of medicating kids who have trouble in school is settled now: Tom Cruise has spoken. According to an AP report on a press conference in New Zealand, where he's preparing to shoot his next movie, Cruise "advised parents on Saturday to work hard to help children having problems at school and not immediately put them on medication." Well, thanks, Tom. We'll try.

The star went on to relate his own childhood academic struggles, which were remediated finally not with pharmaceuticals but with Scientology. You can hardly argue the fact that Cruise has grown up to be a successful adult despite his early difficulties. And as it happens, I'm in agreement with him on the wrongness of medication as a first resort. Still, I can't help but bristle when celebrities make proclamations about how ordinary folks ought to live their lives and raise their children. Look to your own house, y'all.

Support and fiery humor

If you're afraid your child's educators see you as the Mother from Hell -- or, more likely, if you're proud of that designation -- you should know that there's an organization just for you. Mothers from Hell 2 is, as their Web site proclaims, "a national group of parents, relatives, friends, and anyone who just plain 'gets it' fighting chipped tooth and broken press-on nail for the appropriate education, community acceptance, desperately needed services, rights of and entitlements for individuals with disabilities. ... MFH2 offers more support than a 44DD underwire and more empowerment than a tanker full of caffeine, chocolate & Viagra!" A $10 annual membership gets you a subscription to the quarterly Brimstone Bulletin, access to a members-only list serve, and 10% off MFH2 merchandise. Wear one of their T-shirts to your next IEP meeting and child study teams will cower at your feet. (Hey, bring one of our tote bags, too.)

Saturday, January 11, 2003

Lyrics to share and lyrics to squash

I have no clear idea why it's on a government Web page, much less under the umbrella of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, but there's a very nifty listing of song lyrics here nonetheless -- kiddie songs, songs from movies and musicals, patriotic ditties and popular favorites ranging from "Yes, We Have No Bananas" to the theme from "Friends." The NIEHS does present some lame attempt at connection by claiming that music is part of our environment; and the fact that it's part of the site's Kids' Pages (where you can also find games like "Toxic Waste Bug Bash") allows it a certain irrelevance; but I'll bet that there's really just some obsessed techie in the NIEHS Web site department with this endless list of song lyrics, and he or she just wanted a chance to show it off. Well, nice show, whoever! A useful service indeed.

Speaking of song lyrics, in the "this is what I've come to" category I must report that today I allowed my daughter to buy a CD that had been edited to remove offensive content. I carefully picked through the bin and looked for one without the Parental Advisory Sticker so I'd know it had been sanitized. I remember how apalled I was by the blatant censorship of those stickers back when I was young, childless and idealistic, and Tipper Gore, Frank Zappa and Dee Snider were battling it out; and I remember tsking when I heard that, since big chains like WalMart wouldn't carry advisory-stickered music, whitewashed versions of offensive CDs were being produced. But now, you know -- I just don't think my 12-year-old really needs to be exposed to the entire breadth and depth of Uncle Kracker's vocabulary, especially since she really just wants to hear "Follow Me." So I've become that thing which I used to hold in such contempt, a squasher of artistic expression. And really not all that ashamed of it, as it turns out.

Friday, January 10, 2003

Sarcasm has its limits

A recent study confirms what I have long suspected to be true about my daughter, and that is: Kids don't get sarcasm. The Canadian researchers found that until age 10 or so, children find no humor in sarcastic comments; the young ones take the comments at face value, the older ones recognize the insincerity of the remark but just think it's mean. Which fits with my observations of my girl, who although 12 chronologically is 10 or under linguistically. My husband, for whom sarcasm is often the conversational mode of choice when dealing with uncooperative kids, has always been annoyed when our daughter disregards the clearly intoned intent of his comments, and more annoyed when I point out that she might not realize he wasn't saying what he meant. Now -- joy! -- I have Canadian researchers to back me up. Yep, that'll sure settle the argument.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Middle school fears and hopes

My daughter is continuing in a minor panic about the impending doom of middle school, just eight months away. The current #1 fret is that she'll never be able to change her clothes fast enough for gym class. And granted, she does take her time with clothing transitions at home, sometimes disappearing into her room for tens of minutes just to put on her PJs. When I explained, though, that the locker room won't have music to listen to and hair accessories to play with and a mirror to pose in front of (and that she wouldn't want to pose anyway, with classmates looking on), she started to see how changing might be able to be accomplished at a faster-than-grass-growing pace. But she still doesn't get why she can't just wear her school clothes for gym. I've explained about body odor and having appropriate workout clothes and keeping school clothes clean, but I think she suspects what we all secretly know is true: It's just another example of school-induced torture. Let's wait until kids get to the most physically insecure period of their lives, and then make them change in front of one another! Heartless, is what it is.

But while the fifth-grader is facing the change of schools with dread, I have to say that I'm feeling kinda cautiously optimistic about the whole thing. In the past month I've spoken to two people who will be working with her next year -- learning consultant and guidance counselor -- and was impressed that they seemed open-minded and willing to help. Heck, I was impressed that they were even willing to take my phone calls. My daughter's transitional IEP meeting is at the end of this month, and I'm going into it with a suggestion from the learning consultant that we keep her in an inclusion class for the time being -- as opposed to adding resource room, which everyone on the Child Study Team but me has been pushing for. Could it be that, in middle school, I'll actually have an ally for keeping this girl in a regular classroom? Probably as likely as my daughter being able to change in under five minutes, but miracles could happen.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Free books!

Well, e-Books. As if there weren't already enough paper-based books on ADHD, now you can read or download an ADHD/ADD e-BOOK from The material seems to pull together some good basic information about attention disorders, and has the advantage of being free. The site also offers a Childhood Seizure e-BOOK -- of interest to me at the moment because there seems to be a very good chance that my son is now having absence seizures (it's always something, isn't it?) -- as well as articles on just about every other sort of pediatric neurology issue you can think of, from tics to tumors. I don't know about you, but I can never have too many things to worry about.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Bubble babies and dress codes for parents

Saw a couple of interesting parenting-related articles in the local paper recently. This one questions whether parents today are unreasonably overprotective of their children, to the point of raising a generation of "bubble babies." In our rush to guard them from every negative experience and even the slightest possibility of peril, various experts opine, we may be encouraging passivity, obesity and anxiety. And on the subject of too much protection being a bad thing, check out this article about a parent in St. Louis who volunteered to chaperone a school field trip but caused a stir when it turned out that what all the kids took to be just another mom was really a cross-dressing dad. Some parents were outraged when they heard of this -- allegedly protective of their little ones' knowledge that there's such a thing as a transgender adult -- but what you gotta love about this story is that THE KIDS DIDN'T NOTICE until their parents got all up in arms about it. If no one had made a fuss, it would have been a non-issue, and parents and children both would have been spared uncomfortable explanations. But where the ticked-off parents really lose me is in their proposed remedy for the situation:
"The parents have asked the district to let them know whenever the father in question visits Castlio Elementary School, so they can withdraw their children from class. And they are pleading for a dress code that would require all adults who interact with students to 'dress in what a 9- or 10-year-old perceives as normal clothes for a man or a woman.'
Oh, dear me. A dress code for parents? Legislated by 9- or 10-year-olds? What if they all get together and say that they perceive clown suits as normal clothes for a man or a woman? Or, worse, that they think all women should wear pumps and pearls? If men and women both wear jeans and t-shirts, is that going to be a problem? I guess there's a certain justice to the idea, since kids have to abide by dress codes that require them to wear what adults perceive as normal clothes for 9- or 10-year-olds. But still, I really don't think we want to go there.

Monday, January 06, 2003

Heavy backpack? Lift, don't fall.

What's the most common cause of backpack-related injuries among youngsters? You're probably thinking in terms of hideous spinal malformations caused by the weight of heavy books on developing shoulders, but guess what: according to a recent study, kids were more likely to get hurt falling over a backpack left carelessly on the floor than actually putting the thing on their backs. Now this news makes my day, because it both pokes a hole in my daughter's attempts to get out from under her allegedly back-breaking pack and into a wheeled model, and reassures me that other people's houses are every bit as messy as mine is. All I need is a study proving that wheeled backpacks cause dislocated shoulders from all that heavy pulling and bumping around, and I'll be a happy mom.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Last year's hottest health stories

InteliHealth lists the Top 10 Health/Medical Stories of 2002, at least as so judged by the Harvard Medical School faculty. The one that's most interesting to parents in particular is "6. Increasing Rate Of Type 2 Diabetes In Children." The one that was the biggest deal to me, personally, in 2002 was "1. The Limits Of Hormone-Replacement Therapy." And the one that I'm looking at as my big story for 2003 is "2. Walter Willett's Healthy Eating Pyramid," which mixes up the order of the standard USDA food pyramid to put red meat, butter, refined grains, starches and sweets at the tiny tip-top and whole grains and vegetable oils at the eat-a-lot bottom. It reflects a lot of what I've been thinking would be an improvement in my eating habits, and a lot of what I've heard would be best for the kiddos. It will probably go the way of most New Year's resolutions, but dietary backsliding is a Top 10 health story of mine now and forever.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Kids get Prozac, I get depressed

Here's happy news for those who are convinced that all childhood problems can be medicated away: The FDA has given its official OK for Prozac to be prescribed to depressed children. Not that it's never been prescribed for kids before -- doctors have been giving the adult-approved med to children for years -- but now everybody can just feel a little bit better about doing it. The drug was found to have about the same side effects in the young as in the older, with the added effect of slowed physical growth. That's seen as a small price to pay to help the up to 25 percent of U.S. children who suffer from depression.

Twenty-five percent! Can that be true? A quarter of kids today are diagnosed as depressed? And we think that's due to a massive coincidental chemical imbalance in their brains, and not a massively out-of-whack society that either makes kids depressed or makes their parents seek that diagnosis for them? I'm sure that the drug will be a life-saver for some families, and I feel like a Grinch being grouchy about it; but the fact is, I'm not one of those who are convinced that all childhood problems can, or even should, be medicated away, and this whole thing just makes my heart sink. Eli Lilly, Prozac's maker, says it has no intention of marketing its drug for children; but ah, come on, with a quarter of the pediatric population as potential clients, you just know it won't be long before Prozac ads are popping up in "Highlights," Chuckie Finster's endorsing the stuff on Nickelodeon, and the Prozac Web site features a whole special section for kiddies. The junior self-diagnosis quiz should be a whole lotta of fun.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Family trees in fiction

I was reading a beat-up paperback library book with my daughter over the Christmas break -- an entry in the "Babysitter's Little Sister" series -- and was surprised to find a really nice treatment of different families in general and adoption specifically. The book is "Karen's Twin," and although lists the paperback version as out-of-print, it's probably lurking in more school libraries than just ours.

The main character is proud to be a "two-two," with two of everything in the two households she lives in -- one she and her brother share with their mother and stepfather, and the other with their father, stepmother, stepsiblings, and a little sister just adopted from Vietnam. Part of the plot centers on paperwork problems surrounding the adoption, and I liked the fact that, while Karen sometimes thinks of the new family member as a pest, when she fears that the adoption may not go through, she springs to the tot's defense. Not to worry: the book ends with a "Happy Adoption Day" party.

A good deal of the story centers around an in-class "family tree" assignment -- the bugaboo of so many adoptive parents -- that is handled creatively by all the children; Karen, for example, makes a tree for each of her "families." When the class gets to invite members of their family for a special day, Karen invites her father and adopted sister, another brings the grandparents who are raising her, and another brings his foster parents.

The main plot -- in which one of Karen's classmates wants desperately to be her twin sister, and essentially stalks her for much of the book -- is interesting only in that the twin wannabe picks Karen because she's got the most interesting family in the class. As part of the "Babysitter's Club" sub-genre of grade-school fiction, "Karen's Twin" ain't exactly art, but it's amiable enough, and I much enjoyed the very matter-of-fact way in which family differences were treated. That's the way I try to treat them with my kids, too. If you're looking for ways to validate that point of view with your own personal pre-teen, this is a book worth checking garage sales for.

All juice or no juice

More to-do about juice on the InteliHealth site, this time reporting findings from the American Dietetic Association that "children and adolescents are drinking higher amounts of less nutritious fruit-flavored beverages and carbonated soft drinks than 100 percent juice." All-fruit fruit juice can provide kids with vitamins and make up their food-pyramid fruit servings for the day, but "juice drinks" and soda mostly just give them big ol' mouthfuls of sugar. The association's recommendation, naturally, is for parents to limit kids to juice and nothing but the juice. And I try, oh American Dietetic Association, I try. But the juice-ish beverages all have flashy labels and clever names and cool-looking bottles or foil pouches. The battles I have with my son at the supermarket, putting my foot down over Kool-Aid or Hi-C or Bombastic Berry Blast or some such. A nice bottle of pure apple juice just can't compete. But, you know, I'm sure that if I sit him down and explain the nutritional ins and outs of the situation, he'll eschew that sweet stuff in a second. Yeah, that'll happen.