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 Schools.net 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.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Out of the swim

The permission slip came home today for my son's school swimming lessons. They don't start for his class until December, but I'm being asked now to give the go-ahead. And I hate to tell him no, or to make decisions that set him apart as even more different. Hate, too, the thought of where they're going to find to stash him while the rest of his class buses it to the pool. But I just can't get past the conviction that he is not yet ready to be unsupervised in a locker room. His IEP specifies a one-on-one aide because, among other things, he needs constant supervision; removing that support for what will undoubtedly be the most stressful and overstimulating part of his week seems foolhardy at best. So I think I'll just have to be the big mean overprotective mom. A few things that are helping me do what needs to be done: a couple of articles by Theresa Kellerman on the FAS Community Resource Center, one on fetal alcohol affected kids' need for an external brain and another on "FAS and Inappropriate Sexual Behavior"; and an article by frequent reader Stephanie Mullins on the cost to her family of going along with an optimistic "try it and see how it does" policy. In this case, I don't think I need to try it to see.

On a happier note, I had my first volunteer experience at my daughter's middle school today, and it was interesting to settle in and take a look around. For one thing, I'm not going to be concerned anymore about following the letter of the dress code. I feel silly making my daughter give up her nice roomy T-shirts when so many kids are breaking the rules the other way and wearing tight cleavage-bearing tank tops. And never mind the kids -- look what the teachers are wearing. I'm pretty sure a couple of those cute young instructors were wearing skirts whose hems did not extend past their fingertips. I hope when they sit, they do it behind a desk.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Clifford, RIP

Well, here's a really sad way to start the day -- with the news that John Ritter collapsed on the set of his sitcom and died of an undiagnosed heart ailment. Ritter is best-known, of course, as the star of the old "Three's Company" and the new "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," but in our house he was best-loved as the voice of Clifford, the Big Red Dog on PBS. My daughter and I did enjoy watching "8 Simple Rules" together last season, and whether that show continues without its dad or goes out of production, I'm going to have some explaining to do -- and when Clifford's voice changes, too. I think this may actually be my kids' first celebrity death. Not a happy landmark.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

What our schools need now is ... butter?

Today's IEP List:

1. What's the biggest issue facing our schools today? Overcrowded buildings? Funding for special education? Test scores? Curriculum overhauls? Pennsylvania's secretary of agriculture thinks it's what students are spreading on their bread. On behalf of the state's dairy farmers, he's advocating a switch back to butter from margarine in the federal school lunch program, while a nutritionist meekly declares that really, if students would just pour olive oil on their food instead, they'd be ever so much healthier. Good to know this crucial question is getting the legislative attention it deserves.

2. Wonder why autism is more prevalent in males than females? This report fingers a faulty gene on the X chromosome that's linked to the inability to perceive fear, and presumed to be a factor in autism; since males only have one X chromosome, the mutation is more significant for them.

3. If your children are still asking questions or feeling anxiety about 9/11, ParentStages.com has some good stories about how the day has affected kids and how to discuss it as a family.

4. And if you want to feel about 108 years old, check out the Beloit College Mindset List, a pop-culture profile of kids starting college today. Or just talk to my daughter, who regularly asks me questions that indicate she believes I was born in the Stone Age. Some days, I feel like she's right.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

High anxiety

I'm having a rocky second week of school here — trying to calm my daughter down about middle school while at the same time trying to keep myself from jumping onto every possible problem with guns blazing and blood pressure skyrocketing. I think I've already established a reputation at two schools as an overreacting, overprotective mama, and the year's barely a week old. We'll all settle in.

My son seems to be doing that already, as a matter of fact. I had a meeting with his teacher, who shows every sign of being as wonderful as I've heard, and she reports that he's having no problems in class. The meeting was entirely heartening ... until we started talking about the swimming class that all 5th graders go to, and how there will be no aide or teacher with him in the locker room because there are no male aides or teachers and no male lifeguards at the pool, and I started going on and on about what a bad idea it is to leave him unsupervised in a room with a lot of boys, and banging locker doors, and the stress of getting dressed, and the overstimulation of having been in the water, and no adult guidance or adult witnesses, and so many more things that make the red lights go off in my head. The teacher and the child study team leader and the behaviorist were of the "try it once and see what happens" opinion -- but we're talking about a kid with FAE here, and once can be enough for major trouble. Or maybe I'm just hysterical. At any rate, the class isn't until December (traditionally the most stressful time of the school year for him, inconveniently enough), so I have time to calm myself down and plead my case again. Calm myself down. Yeah, I can do that. Maybe. Next week.

For a different kind of anxiety attack, check the latest installment of Ken Swarner's "Family Man" column on Mothers with Attitude, as he tells his kids to Just Say No to drugs, and just says "never mind" when they ask too many questions.

Monday, September 08, 2003

The IEP List: In the news

Recent news items of interest to Involved, Educated Parents:

1. Dr. Koop addresses one of the less heralded risks of international adoption: bringing an infectious disease into the family along with a new child.

2. Bad news: A judge says we can't blame McDonald's for making us fat anymore.

3. KidsHealth.org has some interesting special-needs-related articles — "Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy May Counteract Psychological Symptoms Caused by Exposure to Violence," "Earlier Rather Than Later Ear Tube Insertion May Not Improve Long-Term Cognitive Development," "Mainstreaming in Classrooms" — as well as one on "Getting Involved at Your Child's School." I need one on "What to Do When Everybody at Your Child's School Wishes You Were Less Involved, and Would Just Go Away and Stop Bugging Them."

4. Think laser eye surgery would reduce your kid's chance of having his glasses broken on the baseball field, or of being branded "four eyes"? You've probably got a while to wait. Although this HealthDay headline — "LASIK for Kids: An Option Whose Time May Be Near" — appears to hold promise for Coke-bottle-lensed children everywhere, the article explains that it's only being used on kids who can't be helped by ordinary means, and that its use as a cosmetic measure for goggled youngsters isn't really that near at all. So they can go back to begging you for contact lenses now.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Getting back in fighting shape

We've now successfully made it through the first week of school without major trauma. My daughter settled down after her first dreadful day of middle school and is now down to simply not liking it, from hating it with every fiber of her being. I've had enough contact with school personnel to feel that she'll probably be okay. My son's teacher has been conscientiously following through on every note I send her and every discussion we've had. She sent me the report that finally came through from the behaviorist who saw him last year, and it's pretty hilarious stuff -- apparently, among other things, my guy took off his shoes 21 times in the course of two hours of observation (and apparently was nagged to put them back on again 20 times by his aide, which may explain some of the problems he was having). Yesterday she reported that a behaviorist saw him again, and that we'd discuss it at our meeting on Tuesday at 8 a.m. I've got my IEP tote bag all loaded up and ready to go. And in the spirit of getting back to a school year of advocacy, here's an IEP List of serious sites that have been lurking around my e-mail inbox:

1. A page from the LDPride Web site that offers explanations of learning styles and multiple intelligences, including a quiz that can help you figure out your or your children's styles. I personally learn best in short intense bursts of concentration between long fitful bouts of procrastination. I wonder if that's an official style?

2. An article on "Explosive Outbursts in Children With Tourette's Disorder" from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

3. "Measuring the facial phenotype of individuals with prenatal alcohol exposure: correlations with brain dysfunction" looks interesting and very promising, but I was not able to get past the point where I'm supposed to measure all this stuff on my kid's face. He's supposed to sit still for this? For years, his head circumference would vary greatly from doctor visit to doctor visit because he put up such a fight, and these were professionals. I'm just as liable to prove he doesn't have FAS with all this measuring, and then we'll be back in "what the heck is wrong with this kid?" land again. Maybe I'll leave well-enough alone.

4. The Apraxia-Kids site, with lots of good information, publications, and message boards.

5. And, okay, one frivolous one, for when you're home from the child study team meeting and just want to crawl into your jammies, curl up in bed, and think about how simple life used to be — Kermitage.com is a site that gives complete rundowns of every episode of every season of "The Muppet Show." The amount of free time it must take to put something like this together astounds me, but I'm grateful just the same. Everything's better after a visit with Fozzie Bear.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

The day after

I'd like to report that my reassurances to my daughter all summer long that middle school would be fine were prophetic, and that everything was indeed okay. Alas, she came home crying and saying she didn't like middle school at all and dreading the fact that she ever had to go back again. I'd hoped that, since she's in an inclusion class and is supposed to have a special-ed teacher to help her, someone would be making sure throughout the day that she was okay and knew what to do. I'd hoped that, since her IEP specifies that she has auditory processing problems and needs visual aids and reinforcement, someone would understand that a day spent listening to rules and regulations and instructions of all sorts would be beyond stressful. And maybe they did -- once my girl gets panicky, she can't explain what's going on with her very well, to people at school or to me, either.

I spent the evening calming her down, setting up what routines I could with limited knowledge of the school day, getting her a notebook big enough to hold what she'd need to get through the day in case she couldn't figure her locker out, writing notes to teachers in the hope they'd give a little aid and comfort. It's not the way I'd like to start out; I spend a lot of time convincing people that my daughter doesn't need hand-holding, and that she should be given the opportunity to do anything the other kids are doing. I believe that's true, and that once she gets comfortable she will be fine in middle school. But for this first week? A little hand-holding would probably be good.

Meanwhile, back at elementary school, my son had a good first day. They did manage to scare up an aide for him, and his teacher did set up a meeting with me within the first week as promised, and all in all the prognosis is good. Just so there's no crisis with him until I settle the crisis with his sister. One disaster at a time, is all I ask.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

First day of school, minus one

Now, here's the kind of thing that drives me crazy: I called the principal at my son's school this morning, the day before the first day of school, to see if I could find out who would be my boy's individual aide this year. There were three aides at the school that were likely possibilities, one much hoped for, the other two problematic, and I thought if I could get a name, I could prepare my kid and maybe myself. And surprise! The principal reported that he had talked to the special ed office, and they claimed that my son's IEP indicated no need for an individual aide. So, never mind worrying about which aide it would be -- there was no aide for him at all.

I did a quick double-check of his IEP, and "individual aide" was listed there, big as life. I called the special ed office and was told by a secretary that she knew nothing, nobody who knew anything was available, and I had to talk to the child study team leader. Called the child study team -- nobody there, left a message. Fumed for a while. The child study team leader, I will say, called me back pretty promptly, having straightened things out as well as they can be straightened on less than 24 hours notice. There will be an aide. It will be someone entirely new. Perhaps someone just hired. Maybe the aide will be in place tomorrow. Maybe not. But soon. I've made it clear that if my boy gets in trouble before he gets his aide, I will blame the school district. It's not like this aide is a new thing -- he's had one for the past three years. Why does everything have to be so hard?

So now I'm trying to figure out if this is a bad omen -- the beginning of a chain of screw-ups -- or a good omen -- the one messed-up thing that always has to happen, gotten out of the way early. Tomorrow may tell. I'll report back.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Pushy doctors and murderous millionaires

An IEP List of recent items in the news.

1. Another case of doctors trying to take away parents' rights to decide on their child's treatment. I don't know if the parents are right or wrong here, but the idea of losing custody for trying to get a second opinion is pretty scary.

2. A health report suggests that too much inactivity, TV and sunscreen may be leaving teens deficient in Vitamin D.

3. I've worried a lot about what being the oldest kid in class, by a year or two, might be doing to my daughter, but according to this report, being the youngest isn't a bowl of cherries either.

4. Kid's Health News offers pointers on finding a doctor for your child, and although it's aimed at parents of new babies, it's just as applicable to new adoptive parents. In our case, with our kids with special needs and especially our hyperactive son, we found that the most important things were a) a practice in which you see the same doctor every time, so you don't have to go through the whole involved history again and again; and b) a practice where you don't have to spend an hour in the waiting room.

5. A fairly bizarre story about the questions being posed to potential jurors in the trial of Robert Durst, a millionaire in NYC who alledgedly shot his neighbor, indicates that, among other things, his defense may include a claim that he has Asberger's syndrome.