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!