Friday, December 31, 2004

Don't look now, it's almost 2005

Need some New Year's resolutions? Here are two to start with: Meet me at the Parenting Special Needs Forum at every Monday morning from 9 a.m. to noon for the Monday Morning Gripe Group; like a chat group but easier to follow for parents with too many distractions, it's a regular time and place to post messages about all our little complaints and annoyances and get some sympathy in something like real time. And visit my Realistic Resolutions page every day in January for a new resolution designed for parents of children with special needs -- and suggestions on how to actually keep it. (Hey, it could happen.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The most important meal of the day

Now here's a school dining idea I can really get behind: A middle school in Pennsylvania is offering kids a breakfast cart from which they can grab a nutritious breakfast, take it to their first class, and eat it there. The original idea was to help kids eligible for free school breakfasts avoid the stigma of being the only ones in the cafeteria, but it's become popular with those who have enough money for breakfast but not enough time. Time's not an issue with my daughter, who's an early riser and makes her own breakfast way before I'm ready to take her to school. But there are sure mornings where I'd love to be able to dash my son off to school without having to worry about feeding him first. If nothing else, it would mean that there were no food stains on his clothes until after he was already at class. Let's spread this program around the nation fast, okay?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Milk's back in bottles

Remember those waxed-paper individual milk cartons you used to get with school lunches? The ones that shredded when you tried to open them? The ones that exploded with a satisfactory pop when you crushed the empties under your shoe? Remember away, because we're not likely to have them with us for much longer. The trend in single-serving milk these days is toward plastic bottles. You may have seen them at McDonald's, all jazzy and colorful, and they're now coming toward a school near you. The powers-that-be say it's because kids are more likely to drink milk from those cool little bottles -- they fit better in little hands, they open easier, they look more like juice -- but I'll always suspect that a secret union of school janitors, sick of picking up squished cartons from cafeteria floors, has lobbied hard for this and won.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Not my kid!

Perhaps only people who routinely have behavior problems with their children can appreciate how delightful it can be when someone else's child is acting up. Oh, sure, the uncontrolled whining and crying of inappropriately disciplined children can be annoying, but running under it is a secret, delicious current of: It's not my kid this time! How sweet to be the disapproving one for a change. Parents who have known this guilty pleasure will appreciate the joy it gave my world when, at my in-law's house for Christmas dinner-and-gifts, it was my 5-year-old nephew throwing the constant, constant tantrums and not my own dear son, who was upset by his cousin's perpetual squalling but responded nicely to whatever remedy I came up with. It was particularly gratifying to note that Tantrum Boy was the only one of the four children present without special needs; I'm so acutely attuned to the behavioral needs of the neurologically challenged that it's nice to see that typically developing children can be a pain in the butt, too. Not a bad Christmas present, that.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Holiday traditions

The presents are opened, and some may already have been broken or discarded from disinterest, but it's hard for parents to forget all the stress that went before. If you're still reeling from the holiday rush, read Ken Swarner's latest Family Man column about his children's touching Christmas Eve tradition -- driving Dad mad, basically.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas!

It's 2:30 a.m., and my husband and I have just woken up from our short winter's nap to put presents under the tree, but already I've received a really wonderful Christmas gift: My son behaved all the way through Christmas Mass last night. No matter what improvements he'd made in getting through church during the year, Christmas Mass has always been a huge problem for him, and we've had many examples of his Worst Behavior Ever on those nights when I most want to hear the stories and sing the carols. But tonight, he held it together -- maybe because he's growing up, maybe because for once the "cry room" where we sit at the back of the church wasn't crowded, maybe because I'd told him he could open a present when he got home if he behaved -- and I am so grateful. Particularly because just yesterday I wrote an article for the Special Children site at about helping kids behave at church, and if he chose that night to really lose it I'd really feel like a fraud.

If you have some high (or low) points of Christmas 2004 you'd like to share, stop by the Parenting Special Needs or Reactive Attachment Disorder forums at and reflect, brag or vent.

Friday, December 24, 2004

You better watch out

It's Christmas Eve, and if you're like me, you want nothing more than to collapse on a couch somewhere, guzzle coffee, and recuperate from marathons of shopping and wrapping and baking as you await those last few deliveries that will probably fail to come, forcing you to dash out tonight for crummy last-minute replacements. If you need something to amuse the kiddies to keep them off your back and away from the presents you've hidden away, have them check out the somewhat bizarre website that NORAD, the missile defense system, sets up to track Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. In addition to tracking the jolly one, you can, among other odd things, listen to audio greetings from celebrities ranging from Ringo Starr to Richard Dean Anderson channeling his Stargate character to Clifford the Big Red Dog; hear a variety of Christmas music; download Christmas wallpaper for your computer; send Santa an e-mail; and find out how many cookies he's eaten. How many cookies have you eaten this year? No wonder we don't want to get off the couch!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Down among the Muggles

Predictably enough, excitement is already building for the next Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6), even though it's not due out for another six or seven months. No sooner had J.K. Rowling made the announcement that she'd finished writing the thing than offers started popping up in my e-mail box from Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Borders, imploring me to hurry now and reserve my copy. And we thought it was bad when people used to line up for movies days in advance. Now you have to buy a book in January that's not being delivered until July? Is there any actual danger that they're going to run out of this thing? I don't know, we're definitely not on the Harry bandwagon at our house; my daughter hated the first one, which she was forced to read in fourth grade, and hasn't gone near them since, and my son has expressed no interest when I've brought the subject up. The hot read at our house these days appears to be There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar. My son recently asked to read it with me for a third time, and that's being interrupted by my daughter's first time through. It's the kind of book that hurts my heart to read, highlighting as it does children's inhumanity to children -- but maybe for that same reason, it strikes a chord in my kids, who know from being misfits. It's short on wizards and spells and fantastical monsters, but sometimes the monsters you meet every day in the school halls are terrifying enough.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Pageant-free, that's me

So I finally attended my last elementary school Christmas pageant yesterday, and my son came through just fine, despite being placed in the middle of the group of singers (I'd have advised keeping him on an end) and despite the distraction of his costume falling apart a little during the performance (he played with it, but didn't wave it around and call out to his aide as he might have done in the past). I was awfully proud of him, and I can't deny that it's always cute to see the different grades do their little songs. But I'm also mighty relieved that there are no pageants in middle school. If he can just make it through the endless musical numbers at his elementary school graduation in June, I can stop worrying about his performance on stage and put my worry back on his performance in the classroom, where it belongs.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Flu shot update

In case you haven't been keeping track of the flu vaccine saga, it's now your responsibility again to get a flu shot. In past years, that responsibility has been trumpeted, and everyone has been urged to get shot. This year, of course, there was a shortage of the vaccine, and suddenly it became the responsibility of anybody but the sickly and elderly to abstain, and insisting on your right to that jab was cast as everything from inconsiderate to hysterical. But now, extra doses of the vaccine have finally turned up, and since everybody's kindly staying away, they're going to waste. So, you know, step up, everyone! It's now antisocial to abstain, and respectable to request your ounce of prevention. 'Cause if this stuff all goes bad in some doctor's refrigerator, you don't want to be the one responsible.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Aren't we done with "reality" TV yet?

You'd think that reality TV couldn't get more offensive, but you would of course be wrong. The latest howler is "Who's Your Daddy?" a Fox show on which an adopted women will try to guess which of an assortment of men is her birthfather. If she guesses right, she wins $100,000; if she guesses wrong, the man who fooled her does. I just hate to imagine the sort of brainstorming meetings that turn up ideas like this one, if this was the pick of the litter. Isn't it about time for the "reality" TV trend to give way to something, I don't know, less like a bad episode of "Jerry Springer"? If you want to take some action against "Who's Your Daddy?" and Fox, the guide to adoption has some information on who to contact.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The "Teen Gene"

In his latest Family Man column, Ken Swarner theorizes about a "teen gene" that is responsible for the unrepentant slovenliness of kids in that age group. I guess my daughter is one of those with an abnormal "teen gene," because she's about the neatest one in our house. This is a kid who decided she was tired waiting for her laundry to be done and asked if she could do it herself. She keeps her own little hamper and washes clothes unfailingly on Saturday morning, often offering to do ours as well. She can't seem to wash a dish to save her life, but she does regularly wipe down the bathroom counter, and although there's a heck of a lot of stuff on her dresser top, it's all very carefully arranged. This in comparison to her 11-year-old brother's garbage dump of a room, my inability to ever quite get all the clutter off the living room table, and my husband's tendency to let recyclable items pile up in the garage until there's barely room for the cars. She's a regular freak of nature, she is. And no, you can't borrow her for a week or two.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

What's new

April Cain's latest "Thinking It Over" essay offers some nice Christmas nostalgia. If what you're feeling is less Christmas nostalgia than Christmas panic, check out these helpful features from my site: a listing of cool gift ideas that benefit or advocate for special-needs causes; a guide to catalogs that offer sensory integration tools and toys; and an article on getting behaviorally challenged kiddos through the holidays in one piece. Ho, ho, ho!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

State of disgrace

Sibling rivalry at our house is getting a little surreal. My son has become fond of using the word "idiot" to describe his sister, and of course that regularly lands him in the doghouse. Perhaps that idle time in the time-out chair gave him some time to get creative, because over the past few days he's taken to saying to her, "You're an Indiana!" From the context and vocal inflection, I can pretty well tell what an "Indiana" is supposed to be, and have been applying appropriate disapproval -- but I had to admit, it was pretty cool of him to come up with that. Now that the cover on "Indiana" has been blown, it will be interesting to see what he comes up with to call her next. At least it's good to know he's learning a little geography at school.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Dancehall Deputy

Well, chaperoning my first middle school dance was really quite a trip. For one thing, I can now say, unequivocally and with two-and-a-half hours of listening experience, that techno music sucks. For another, I have been deputized into the fight against "dirty dancing," which mostly involves kids pretending to have sex in rhythm with said techno music. When the other chaperone-moms and I gathered in the school office for our instructions, the vice principal handed us a sheet about the kind of dancing we were looking for -- often identifiable by the large circle of curious kids who gather around the persons so dancing -- and instructions to break it up by walking right through the circle.

Now, I had some doubts as to my ability to disengage rutting preteens, since most of them are taller than I am and a darn sight more motivated to do what they're doing than I am to do what I'm doing ... but as it turned out, there were plenty of teachers on the dance floor who were not afraid to break up the party, and I had the awesome responsibility of guarding a door into an unused part of the gym, and far be it from me to abandon that post, although I did send out some grade-A Mom Disapproving Looks when I glimpsed any raunchy goings on. Most of what I saw, though, were girls practicing their pelvic thrusts without a partner; many were little girls I've known since they were in second or third grade with my daughter, and so my reaction was mixed between shock that they were moving like that and relief that they were doing it alone, like a kid putting on her mom's makeup just to see how it looks. The best part was the way they exploded into embarrassed giggles after just a few seconds.

Dancing may have gotten a lot raunchier than it was when I was in middle school (although really, isn't the purpose of most teen dancing to tick off grown-ups? How is it that each generation finds a new way to do that so well?), but many of the other routines of middle-school dances appear painfully unchanged. I observed many instances of the Happy-Hanger-On, the girl who stands next to a gaggle of popular girls, copying their facial expressions and following them around, hoping that it appears she's one of them. Then, too, there were many examples of the Purposeful Walk, in which a lone individual, usually a boy, walks determinedly across the room with an air that says "I'm not here alone, I'm looking for my friends. They're right over there." It's only when you have a lot of time for unwavering observation, like when you're guarding a door, that you can see that the Hanger-On is paying way more attention to the girl group than they are to her, or that the Purposeful Walker keeps walking back and forth without ever actually hooking up with anybody.

And while some kids were dancing way too close, others were doing that kind of side-by-side dance that maintains plausible deniability -- "maybe we were dancing together, or maybe we just happened to be standing in the same vicinity while we did dance moves completely independently of each other." At least they're not standing on opposite walls of the gym, like they did when I was in school. Although I suppose things were a lot safer then.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Party pooper? Me?

Bwa-ha-ha. I'm off tonight to chaperone a 7th- and 8th-grade dance at my daughter's middle school, and she's a little worried. Two months ago, when she went to her first dance, she fervently wished that I was going too, and I felt bad for not having made more of an effort to get on the chaperone list. So this time I asked the HSA president about it well in advance, and now I'm in the room, so to speak, and my lovely child wishes I'd just stay home, preferably under lock and key. She's got one dance under her belt now, don't you know, and she had a stupendous time, and wants to do so again, and can that ever really happen when your very own parent is in the room, regarding you watchfully, liable at any minute to speak in tongues or sing a showtune or otherwise make your future middle school existence, not to mention the remainder of the party, a thing of agony.

Personally, I don't think she has anything to worry about. I promise to behave. As long as she does, anyway.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Want grandchildren? Get a desktop!

We've long heard how obsessive computer use is damaging the current generation of children. But now, doctors are suggesting that it may be doing away with the next generation altogether. Apparently, men who use laptop computers and actually hold them in their laps are at risk of "scrotal hyperthermia" (which sounds like something Dave Barry would say was a good name for a rock band) as the heat generated by the computer raises the temperature in their ... well, laps. Males in their teens and 20s are being warned that frequent laptop use could impair their future fertility. How long before portable computers start coming equipped with some sort of macho looking heat shield? 'Cause what, real men don't use desks?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

It's not just kids who hassle substitute teachers

I had to go ballistic on a substitute teacher today during my volunteer time in the library. I have the utmost sympathy for substitutes, honestly I do -- they do a hard and necessary job, and they get no respect. But this woman ... She was subbing for a 4th-grade class that came into the library to do some work on the computers. A few boys had to sit at a table and wait their turn. And I guess this one little guy was talking too much or trying to grab his friend's bookmark or something, because the teacher and the aide started in on him and insisted he go sit at another table by himself. He resisted and they escalated until finally he stomped to the table and sat down, but kept up a commentary, complaining about the move and why did he have to sit there and it was just a bookmark and so on. Every so often the teacher or the aide would tell him to be quiet and mind his own business, and he'd go off some more. I'll admit, I have a soft spot for boys who can't keep their mouths shut when they need to, having one myself, and I shot him a sympathetic look or two and sent out some good thoughts to try to calm him so he wouldn't get into more trouble. The aide threatened to send him to the principal, she threatened to call his mom to take him home -- and then the substitute teacher, in a tone half-serious, half pleased-with-herself jokey, and not at all quietly, said, "Did you forget to take your medication this morning?"

It didn't seem to faze the kid at all, but it fazed me. She must not have noticed the degree to which my jaw had dropped, because she came over and started talking to me all conspiratorially about how he wouldn't act like that if he had his medication. I told her, patiently at first, sternly at second, passionately at third, fourth and fifth, that it was INAPPROPRIATE TO MAKE COMMENTS ABOUT A CHILD'S MEDICATION -- inappropriate to do it jokingly, inappropriate to do it in front of other children, inappropriate to do it in front of random adults. I mentioned that it was particularly inappropriate since she didn't even know if he was medicated, to which she merrily said that no, the aide had told her that he was. Whether or not it was inappropriate for the aide to tell you, I said through clenched teeth, it's inappropriate for you to tell me. But she just prattled on about a little girl she'd had in her class who was having trouble one day and suddenly said "Oh, I know what's wrong, I forgot to take my medication today!" and wasn't it smart of that little girl, and clever of the substitute to make that connection. Over and over I said, you shouldn't be discussing this with me, it's a privacy violation. And finally, she smiled and shrugged and moved away. I called the boy over to my desk and chatted with him for a while to keep him off her radar, and the librarian later sent him on an errand to another classroom, and he stayed blessedly out of trouble for the rest of the period.

I was feeling pretty good up there on my high horse, and so promptly threw myself off of it by telling the librarian -- who had been out of the room at the time -- about the teacher's comment and my response. And she said: "Oh, I didn't know he was medicated." So now I've violated his privacy, too. Whether he cares much about it, or his parents would care much about it, I don't know. But I care much about it. And I'll tell you, that kid's going to be in the very good graces of this library volunteer for the rest of the year. Whether he remembers to take his medication in the morning or not.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

PG games

When I saw that the American Academy of Pediatrics had advised not letting kids watch televised sports unless accompanied by an adult, I naturally assumed that we were in for another round of hand-wringing about Janet Jackson and Nicolette Sheridan. But no: It's not sex at all that's inspired the pediatrician's warning, but violence. And not even violence on the field or in the ring -- violence in the commercials. The doctors' research found that fully one in five ads broadcast during sporting events depicts some form of dangerous behavior. And as it turns out, watching three straight hours of come-ons for beer and shoot-'em-ups, broken up by the occasional bone-crunching bit of game-play, can be harmful for young viewers. Who knew?

It's all well and good, I suppose, to suggest a little parental guidance for kids watching the game on the tube. But I gotta ask: If the adult in question spends most of the time getting drunk and yelling at athletes to kill one another, is it still better for kids to watch with a grown-up than alone? The pediatricians of America might want to think on that for a bit.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Another one bites the dust

Is there some sort of law now that every teen actress has to be a rock star? I guess it was always that way -- there were certainly a fair amount of teen idols churning out records in my day (and yes, I do still have those Rick Springfield albums, and some of those songs weren't embarrassing at all!). But maybe because I'm a mom now, and a lot of those writhing, rag-clad, trashily-made-up young things dying to cross over from America's sweetheart to America's plaything are young enough to be my daughter, I mostly want to throw a coat over them and take them home. The latest, I see, is Lindsey Lohan, who I've admired since she played twins in "The Parent Trap." She seemed to be making a pretty healthy transition into decent teen movies, but now there she is on commercials for her new CD, all tarted up and ready to party. Girls, have we learned nothing from Britney Spears?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Starting shopping

Well, yee-haw. After deflecting questions all week as to whether I had started -- or, ha! had even finished -- my Christmas shopping, I can now say that I have made some holiday purchases. It's just a couple of things for my niece and nephew and a couple of things for my daughter (who even knows what my son wants? It's only December 5!), and I'm still completely ignoring the fact that I need a grab-bag gift for this Thursday, but hey, I've made a step, and isn't that what any long journey starts with? If you're flailing about for holiday gift ideas, check out this list of sensory integration catalogs suitable for squidgy-kid gift-getting. And if you're thinking of shopping at, please consider using our Mothers with Attitude-profiting link to get there. Kickbacks put the happy in holidays.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

On yesterday's "Today"

If you want to have yourself a good cry on a Saturday morning, read this transcript of Susan Saint James' interview on the Today show yesterday about the plane crash that killed her 14-year-old son, Teddy, and severely injured her husband, NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol. I saw her while I was flipping through the channels yesterday morning, looking for the weather, and while I had to hit the mute button because my morning schedule has no time at all for a good cry, I was impressed by how much she looked like a grieving mom and not like an actress (and indeed, in her interview she mentioned that she hasn't acted since she got pregnant with Teddy, so "mom" is the appropriate job title). I'm usually a little suspicious of celebrities who pop up on TV to discuss their personal tragedies, but her appearance and her words in the transcript are impressively genuine and moving. I can't imagine doing anything after the loss of one of my kids but sitting in a dark room and sobbing, but if I could speak and had a platform, I'd want to use it like this.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Standardized failure

Yesterday was a conference day at my daugther's school, and once again I made the rounds of her teachers and heard how much everybody loves her and how faithfully she does her homework and projects. A couple of the teachers mentioned that they're starting to see her comprehension problems — hey, and it only took an IEP and three months of school! — especially when she's called on to come up with an answer on the spot. Spontaneous exhibition of knowledge is a pretty big weakness for her, just as organization and dogged effort behind the scenes is a pretty big strength. I've been trying to push her teachers into an "All Kinds of Minds" sort of accommodation for my girl, whereby they give her extra work that plays to her strengths to make up for the things that don't, but "extra credit" seems to be an unpopular concept; I guess when you're a teacher who has so much trouble getting so many of your students to do even the basic work, you're loathe to set yourself up for more disappointment. They do count the work she struggles with for a little less of her grade, and the work she does well with for a little more, and as long as that adds up to passing I can live with it.

There's no room for that kind of understanding and adjustment when it comes to standardized testing, though, and that's something of a problem. My daughter is in a class this quarter called "Test Best," which focuses on teaching kids who struggle on standardized tests some techniques to improve their chances. She can certainly use that, and I'm happy she's getting it. But she's never going to do well on standardized tests, I don't care how many tricks we teach her. Standardized tests are all about "on the spot." She does well when she can study and think and consider and plan and anticipate — skills that are actually pretty useful in the real world — but ask her to read something cold and process it within a time limit, and her brain just stops cold. I had a good long talk with the "Test Best" teacher, who explained what happens to kids who keep failing the tests: their educational world becomes narrower and narrower, as the number of classes that focus on language arts and math increases and all electives and other areas of endeavor fall away. "No Child Left Behind" is all well and good, and I've certainly had my frustrations with special education that leads nowhere, but at some point don't we leave some children behind in the land of all testing, all the time, while their peers are moving on to broader knowledge and experience? And isn't there ever any room to acknowledge that there are valuable skill sets that just can't be measured by testing? I'm not sure there's a really good workable fix here, but I'm pretty sure something's broken.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Guilty pleasure

I guess, with our society's current facination with celebrities and their every move, it was inevitable that somebody would come up with this: the Celebrity Baby Blog, designed to keep you up to date on all the stars' great expectations. In addition to reporting on day-to-day blessed events, the site offers niceties like baby pictures, due dates, marriages, and of course -- this being celebrity-land -- denials of pregnancy rumors. It's the kind of website you can spend an indecent amount of time looking through and then realize you're never going to get those minutes back, and what did you do with them? Search for pictures of Gwynneth Paltrow's baby? You'll hang your head. But you'll bookmark it anyway.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Farewell to pageants

Tomorrow's the first day of December, and you know what that means: school Christmas pageant season is upon us. This is always a risky time for my son, who gets overstimulated by all the music rehearsals and acts out all over the place. One year I even had to yank him from the pageant to keep his behavior on some sort of reasonable level. But he's calmed down with time and now there's just a small spike in "unsatisfactory" markings on his daily behavior chart to let me know the pageant process is underway. I'm still not sure that the amount of charm generated by the sight of small children in makeshift costumes singing hokey holiday tunes is worth all the disruption preparing for it entails, but this is my last year to be the Grinch. Next year, my youngest goes off to middle school, and there they're not so much with the outfits and the carols.

I won't miss sitting on hard folding chairs in an overheated gym behind some bozo with a video camera, straining through class after class of endless musical endeavor for a glimpse of a child I know. But I will miss the way the powers behind our elementary school's Christmas programs always try to wedge in songs or poems for every possible ethnic group and religious celebration, giving rise to sections with names like "Traditions of Mexico and Austria." This year, my son's grade is learning Hannukah songs, one of which, I note with some amusement, is in Spanish for maximum multicultural effect. Yeah, I'm going to miss this stuff. But the month of pageant practice in place of class time and dress rehearsals replacing recess and Christmas spirit offset by out-of-control behavior from the small boy? Nope, not nostalgic at all.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Eating garbage, literally

What's the worst possible future you can imagine for your child? Those of us with children with special needs, especially diagnoses like fetal alcohol syndrome that render the future particularly uncertain, probably worry about incarceration or institutionalization most, but something like a life of homelessness, reduced to getting food out of dumpsters, would also rate high on the list. So I was ... amused? horrified? ... to read in the local paper today about a group of young people who dine out of trash bins as a political statement about the wasteful nature of America's consumer economy. Freegans, as they call themselves, even have their own website (do they sneak around gathering other people's unused Internet access minutes?), on which they recommend dumpster diving and squatting in abandoned buildings as ways of nobly rejecting consumerism and spotlighting wastefulness. And I don't know, maybe I'm just getting old and conservative and narrow-minded, but this sounds to me like the kind of thing that's fun and self-righteously satisfying only if you don't really need to do it — when you're more interested in irritating people than really changing the world. What I do know, though, is that if I were one of those kids' mothers, I'd be remembering every time they didn't clean their plates growing up, and mentioning it every chance I could. You want to talk about wasteful? Think how much spinach you threw away!

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Get it? Got it. Good!

We're having a major attack of the dreaded Teen Attitude at our house these days. What is it about the hormonal levels of puberty that causes kids — even basically nice, non-troublesome, good-hearted kids like my daughter — come out with the most outrageous and provocative declarations of disrespect? Like when we ask her not to, say, drip crumbs all over the floor or torment her brother, and she answers, in full sneer, "But I like to." Oh, you like to! Well, that's an entirely different thing. Walk all over us, won't you please? If we push the matter, of course, we get the scintillating reposte, "You just don't get it." Because, as parents of a teen-ager, we are, of course, idiots. And speaking of idiocy, why do kids in this age group think these are smart answers? The best way I've found to handle this is to make the same answers back. Why am I taking away her boom box and blocking her favorite TV channels? Because I like to! Don't you get it?

Saturday, November 27, 2004

That Cheerios ad

There's a Cheerio's commercial playing in movie theaters lately that's got adoptive parents talking. You can view it on the Cheerio's website here -- that is, if you're on a Windows computer, since it doesn't seem to work on my Mac. The ad apparently depicts the experience that many parents have had -- though many never wanted to see on the impersonal big screen -- of using Cheerios to break the ice with a newly internationally adopted child. Is this a good thing for adoption, an indication that it's now mainstream enough to be used to sell cereal? Or a bad thing for adoption, leading viewers to believe that international adoption is mostly a matter of Americans luring Russian children into cars with Cheerios? Watch the clip if you can and let Cheerios know what you think. Then click on "comments" below and tell us!

Friday, November 26, 2004

The early bird gets the buys

So did you get up at 5 a.m. and go shopping? Not me. Even if I had a clue about what I wanted to buy for Christmas presents this year, the likelihood of my being able to a) wake up early enough to go on a Black Friday expedition and b) have enough patience to stand in the exceedingly long lines of go-getting early risers to purchase my hard-fought goodies is pretty darn slim. I do, however, like the fact that online merchants are starting to get into the act and touting big sales on the day after Thanksgiving too. The prices probably aren't as cheap as they would be at Wal-Mart at sun-up, but you can shop in your jammies. When they come up with a way for me to shop in my sleep, then I'll really be ready to shop 'til I drop.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ten years ago today, after an extremely frustrating few week of bureaucratic wranging in Russia, my husband and I officially adopted our kids (never mind that at the time we were so frazzled and language-challenged that we thought we were just renewing our visas; it's a meaningful moment anyway, okay?) To illustrate my extreme thankfulness for that blessed event, I'm going to turn the computer off now and actually spend some time with said children. You do the same, and we'll meet up again tomorrow, okay? Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Adoption Day, to all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Can you ever be too organized?

My daughter's an organized girl, and that's a good thing. I appreciate how unusual that is for a kid with learning disabilities, and really for any kid in middle school. I've heard parents and teachers lament about students who wait to the last minute to complete projects or forget them altogether. So I don't want to sound like I'm looking a gift horse in the mouth here. Her conscientiousness and organization are the things that got her a good report card this quarter and will probably see her to more success in life than a perfect understanding of 7th grade grammar or mathematics. But I gotta say: Sometimes all that determination to get things done and get them done now drives me crazy. Like when she gets all stressed out over finishing something that's not due for a week. Or when she spends time on longterm assignments instead of ones that are due the next day, just because she's so nervous about leaving stuff for later. Part of organization is prioritization, of course, and that's an area she's still working on. Part of it also needs to be not bugging Mom to help you finish something when it can darn well wait for the weekend, missy. Of course, great organizational skills are something I can't exactly lay claim to, so maybe she's right to nag me. And when she's the mom, I'll listen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Are all teen parties like they look on TV?

My daughter came home from school yesterday all excited because a friend in her health class had invited her to a party. A boy friend (though not, I think at this point, a boyfriend). It's her first middle school party, and although it's not her first boy-girl party, because we've always invited boys to her birthdays, it's the first party a boy has invited her to. She's been mentioning this kid for the last few weeks -- she hung out with him and his pal at the school dance, he stuck up for her when girls teased her in gym -- but couldn't even tell me what his name was. Now, thanks to a party invitation, I at least know that.

And I know, because I read too much, that middle school is when you have to start worrying about parties, and making sure that parents realize there's a party planned, and figuring out just what kind of party it is. I know that these are the things a cautious and responsible parent does, which doesn't mean I didn't feel like an idiot doing them. The invitation had an RSVP date but no phone number, but I was able to use the address to track the number down on the Internet. My daughter was pretty sure she could just tell the boy at school that she was going, but I couldn't turn down such a good opportunity to embarrass her -- that's what a cautious and responsible parent does.

The person who answered the phone sounded like a mom, but in fact I think it may have been the party boy himself. He turned me over to his mother (and I couldn't help but feel a little rush of relief when he called her "mommy" -- aren't kids who still call their moms "mommy" too young to have dangerous parties?), and I babbled on about RSVPing and wondering if there were going to be adults at the party and was it a birthday party, and although she didn't seem to quite understand what I was going on about -- maybe because she didn't speak a lot of English, maybe because I didn't make a lot of sense -- we had a pleasant exchange that ended with me promising to bring my daughter by on Saturday. So then I can move on from pre-party worrying and "did I make such a fool of myself that this kid's going to stop liking my daughter" worrying to full-on party worrying. Ah, the full life of a cautious and responsible parent.

Monday, November 22, 2004

SI smackdown

My son has a classmate who lives nearby (at least, on the every-other-weekend the boy stays with his father), and although he's been over to our house a number of times, I haven't felt they've ever quite "clicked" in terms of being on the same level for satisfactory play. While they appear to be pretty similar in their special needs, and my son is probably ahead of him academically, the other boy is far more independent, and more advanced in motor skills. Part of that, of course, is because of me. I've written here before that I don't let my son out of my sight when he's out of the house, and while I still maintain that's the only responsible position for his health and safety, it does tend to cut down on independent thinking -- and since he can't run around or throw a ball or ride his bike without having to wait on my schedule, he's probably even more delayed in those areas than he would otherwise be. On the other hand, I see his classmate running around with no supervision, knocking on our door at various times of day with nobody seeming too concerned where he is, doing dangerous tricks on his bicycle without a helmet, and it seems a wonder to me that he hasn't been abducted or severely injured. It's good to be independent, but there are limits.

So there's been a certain dissonance in their interests and ability to play together. My son's not as good as sports as his classmate, and his mommy won't let him go riding off on his bike when it's cold or rainy or she has something else to do. I keep them inside playing video games, but even then the classmate is significantly more skillful and, frankly, interested. My guy will play for a while, but it's not entirely his thing. The games he'd be more interested in playing -- bingo, Connect 4, maybe a puzzle -- the other boy seems to consider beneath his level of maturity. But yesterday I found one thing they were both interested in doing, fairly well-matched in, and enthusiastic about: wrestling.

I'd set up an inflatable trampoline, one of those things with net walls around the sides, thinking they could jump for a while and blow off some steam (since I'd refused to let them go play soccer in the rain). After a few preliminary bounces, they started tussling with each other and kept it up until they were too hot and sweaty to go on. I kept hovering in fear that someone was being picked on, but they both assured me repeatedly that they were playing and having fun and not mad or hurt or upset. The way the fingers and the feet were flying, I thought sure someone would put an eye out. But they emerged calm and friendly, eager to try it again after a snack and some juice. I guess it's some form of Commando Sensory Integration Therapy, giving two hyposensitive proprioceptive systems the jolts and jogs they needed. Does homeowner's insurance cover mishaps with stuff like that?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Happy report card day

My kids got their report cards on Friday, and they were pretty impressive. My son got all A's except for a B in penmanship (astoundingly generous, since his writing is, by any objective standards, illegible) and a C in behavior (using "average" to describe his behavior is also, I suppose, generous indeed). My daughter got all A's and B's in her inclusion classes, and I'd suspect some generosity there, too, except that she tells me stories like this: Her reading teacher gave the class a series of book report assignments, due throughout the year, and reminded them frequently that one was due this past Monday. My daughter was one of only 13 kids, out of a class of 26, to actually turn it in that day. Later in the week, there was a short story due; 12 kids blew it off. If this sort of thing goes on in her other classes -- and I'll bet it does, although it really shocks me -- then my girl should be pretty far ahead of the curve. Whenever I go for conferences, the teachers always make a big deal of the fact that she does her homework and turns in her assignments. I always thought they were just grasping for something nice to say. But I'm beginning to see now the degree to which they might actually appreciate that.

Friday, November 19, 2004

New toys

I just got a bunch of new computer equipment yesterday, and I've been like a kid on Christmas day ever since. Well, maybe like a parent on Christmas Eve -- charged with putting a whole bunch of things together with limited time, patience and understanding. Mostly, I've figured things out. I actually installed an AirPort network card in my old laptop, something that requires lifting the keyboard off and mucking about with the wires; so far, nothing's blown up and the computer has found its wireless friends so I guess I didn't hurt anything. I set up a wireless network all by myself, and although I can't quite get the printer to cooperate, there are no problems I can't work around. I'm feeling dangerously computer savvy, which means I'm about due for a disasterous crash or other catastrophe that will send me screaming to tech support people who will charge $125 an hour to come fix it. But for now, I'm feeling powerfully nerdy myself.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

All About

Well, I guess it's official now, because they have my picture up: I'm taking over as Parenting Special Needs guide for I hope to be able to do that and this blog and the Mothers with Attitude site too, plus, like, be a mom and work and volunteer and, you know, sleep. We'll see how long it takes me to acheive complete collapse. In the meantime, check out the new site, and especially, at this pre-Thanksgiving time of dread, my holiday survival guide for parents of children with special needs. It explains why family gatherings so often find me sitting on the floor with a backpack full of toys.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Bah, humbug

I hate to even think about buying Christmas presents at this time of year, but already the catalogs are coming and the children are asking. It seems impossible that my kiddos could accommodate more things than they already have. My son's room looks like a garbage dump, with stuff crammed into every nook and cranny ... and we're supposed to put the new toys where, exactly? What this kid needs most for Christmas is a spare room. If you're one of those super-organized folks who get all their shopping done by Thanksgiving (and if you are, I don't want to talk to you), you may be interested in this list of top toys for children with ADHD, chosen by something called "The Oppenheim Toy Portfolio," which sounds way too serious to have anything to do with playthings, or children with ADHD for that matter. Or you may wish to peruse a list of toy picks for special needs children from ParentSoup, or a list of top 10 musical toys for autistic children from . Then again, if you're like me, you may want to ignore such lists for at least another three or four weeks, and then scurry about like a crazy person. Where's that list of top 10 last-minute toy purchases for procrastinating parents? That's what I want to know.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Going to the dogs

Weight Watchers isn't going to be happy about this: A recent study indicates that you don't need to go to pricey meetings to get the moral support needed to follow through on a diet. You just need to cut down with your kitty or canine. Putting pets and people together on diet and exercise programs resulted in slightly better weight loss for the human half of the team, and significantly better weight loss for the critter in question. Since the obesity epidemic in America has apparently spread to the littlest members of the household, finding a way for Fido and Fifi to trim down is no insignificant matter. But what would it do to your morale if your pooch made it to a size 6 before you did? Then again, maybe a little healthy competition is just what's called for.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Social gracelessness

I've been noticing lately how bad I am at public displays of camaraderie. Not of affection -- I'm always kissing on my kids in public, and my daughter will attest that I kiss my husband in at least her presence way too much. I hug close friends without a second thought. It's the expressions of fellowship with those outside my inner circle that I'm uncoordinated at. I noticed this during our funeral activities last week, when my inability to perform the conciliatory "cheek kiss" with various farflung in-laws resulted in more than a few awkward moments. It's hard to know which is worse: not offering a cheek when someone's expecting it, therefore seeming aloof; or going for a cheek-kiss when the other person is not, therefore seeming clumsy. I did both, I'm afraid, including one incident of air-kissing involving a very tall women who did not lean down when I leaned in. It was a good thing, in the long run, that I spent most of my time in a downstairs room watching the children. Once social contact gets beyond "Hello," I'm a hack.

I observed something similar last night when playing with my daughter in a parent-child bowling league. This being a friendly league, high-fives are common, even in celebration of mediocre balls and not-quite-strikes. I'm not even really all that comfortable with a hand-slap when I do something spectacular. And then there are the permutations -- am I supposed to slap hard, or just slide by, and if they high-five me at every turn, am I being unsportsmanlike if I don't offer a hand every time they knock down more than a few pins? I try my best to avoid eye contact and sneak past in the hopes of evading congratulatory situations, but I'm sure that just makes me seem sullen and sore loser-ish. Couldn't we all just smile at each other and say a kind word or two and let it go at that? Bowling shouldn't be a contact sport.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Reading matter

I had an awfully nice book club meeting with my little group of sixth-grade boys last Wednesday. The librarian was concerned about having a group of all boys -- worrying, I think, that they would mess around and not pay attention and swing from the light fixtures -- but these five settled down and discussed the book with a fair degree of interest and understanding. The book for this session Because of Winn-Dixie, and two of the guys didn't like it because it was a "girly book," but the other three liked it just fine. At the end of the meeting, each group had to share something they'd discussed, and while the "girl groups" all just talked about their favorite parts, my boys actually had some much more constructive comments to share. Even the librarian had to admit that they were a good group and seemed to be really into reading. (Of course, along with the most insights, I think we had the most spills per group; the kids eat their lunch during the meeting, and we had not one but two bottled-water mishaps.) The next session will focus on the book Among the Betrayed, which looks to have a lot more of the peril and action that characterize "guy books" (although the protagonist's still a female). I'm not all that sure that I want to read it. Not girly enough for me, don't you know.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Modest M.D.s?

Well now, here's a novel idea. There seems to be a bit of a push in the malpractice-reform arena for doctors to say two little words they've long been loathe to utter: "I'm sorry." The thought seems to be that an apology and a small settlement will prevent lawsuits and large settlements. The latter, apparently, are fueled as much by anger at a doctor's arrogance and obfuscation than by the actual wrongfulness of the death or damage. There may be something to that, but why stop there? If doctors are serious about looking for love instead of legal action, here are a few other things they might want to try saying:

* "I really want to hear your opinion."
* "Come right in! No waiting today."
* "Since you had to wait so long, we're waiving your co-pay. Your time is valuable, too!"
* "I could be wrong."
* "You know your child best."
* "Yours is the only appointment I have scheduled right now. I'm completely at your service."
* "There are pros and cons to everything. Let's discuss them."
* "House calls? Of course I make house calls!"

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

April Cain's latest Thinking It Over considers the clubs we find ourselves belonging to without ever having actually asked for membership (but membership does have its rewards). ... Also in our Contributor's Corner is an article with good advice for friends and family members on what you do and DO NOT say to an adopted child or family. Print it and pass it to the tactless and clueless among your loved ones -- it's a lot nicer than shouting, "Shut up, you insensitive clod!" (though maybe not as satisfying). ... And in our Parent's Portfolio, a list of warnings on what to expect when adopting older kids -- no, not attachment problems or post-traumatic stress, but kids flipping handles and pushing buttons and asking to eat every five minutes. Open your heart, but hide your jewelry.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The feel-good kid

My son can be such a little operator. Sometimes he's in his own world and not that interested in what other people think, and sometimes he can seem puzzled by the fact that other people have feelings at all. And then other times, he can say something so perfectly designed to make someone's heart turn to mush that you'd think he was an operative for Hallmark. Tonight, for example, I heard this exchange from the kitchen:

Son: Dad, what are you good at?

Dad: What am I good at? I don't know.

Son: Well, I know one thing you're good at. You're good at loving us.

If it had been a sitcom, the studio audience would have delivered a great big "Awwwwww."

With his encyclopedic knowledge of automobiles and keys, I've always thought my son might grow up to be a locksmith, or maybe a valet parking attendant. But on nights like tonight, hearing him turn on the sincerity, I'm thinking: Used car salesman for sure.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The routine resumes

Well, we survived our long weekend of funeral activities, and I'm amazed to say that both my kids made good impressions on the gathered family. My son was miraculously quiet during the funeral Mass, and although he could have been more decorous during the viewings, he wasn't the only kidlet acting up. It reminds me of how far the two of them have come that my daughter was chatting with relatives and planning out-of-town visits, and my son was able to get through such a disruptive few days without melting down. Their grandmother would have been proud of them both.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Difficult days ahead

Blogging may be light over the next few days because we've had a death in our family. My mother-in-law passed away yesterday morning at age 89, and in addition to our own feelings of loss we will be bearing the condolences of many, many, many Italian relatives. Three wakes, a church service and a funeral would be hard enough to get through without a sensory-integration-challenged child in tow. Maybe my guy will rise to the occasion. Grandma lived with us, and he was fond of her. Maybe he'll sense the seriousness of the event and sit solemn and quiet. Or maybe he'll just wait an extra five minutes or so before running around yelling. Even that would be a blessing, I suppose.

My daughter, who often helped Grandma and spent most of the morning with her before she went to the hospital last week, had a fairly low-key reaction when she first heard the news. "I'm not sad," she assured me. An hour later she was crying uncontrollably; she'd seen the morning paper on the lawn, and remembered how she always used to bring it downstairs to Grandma's room, and realized she'd never do that again. Later in the evening, she was just full of questions, and must have spent an hour at the dinner table asking my husband to tell her things about his mother. My son started with the questions early: After hearing the news, he was sad right away, but then wondered, Who will live in Grandma's room now? and What's going to happen to the food in her refrigerator? He'll probably be thinking up more of those questions, and asking them in a loud voice, in the middle of the funeral Mass.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Is Your Child Too Busy? asks a headline today, and I have to answer: Nope, not mine. My kids do have a few activities -- therapeutic riding for my son, bowling league and trombone lessons for my daughter, tutoring and speech therapy, family bowling on Sundays -- but compared to most kids their age, they're positively idle. Sometimes I worry that I'm depriving them by not booking them to within an inch of their lives, but then something happens to make me realize that our way is the sane way. This week, it was seeing a little girl at my daughter's music school taking her guitar lesson in her karate uniform. When the teacher suggested that his student could practice more, her mother said, "Well, that's hard, because she has karate, and soccer, and piano lessons, and dance lessons, and tutoring ..." and on and on and on. Talk about diminishing returns. My daughter has said to me a few times lately, "I'm glad our family is lazy," and although I might quibble with that particular terminology, I second her sentiment: Really, it's nice to come home from school some days and just hang out. We schedule a lot of hanging out. Our datebooks are full.

Monday, November 01, 2004

National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month, which is particularly appropriate for our family since November 1994 was our international adoption month. My husband and I left on Halloween of that year for what was supposed to be a two-week trip to Russia (cue "Gilligan's Island" music here), but turned out to be a month-long marathon of boredom and emotional stress, broken up only by visits to the orphanage to get to know our new little ones. Our adoption process lasted the entire month of November; we returned on December 1 as a family of four instead of a family of two. All's well that ends well, and any amount of doubt and uncertainty and misinformation and bad American TV dubbed into Russian was worth it to get these kids of ours home. We'll remember this all especially this month, as we celebrate 10 years together. The advertising slogan for this year's National Adoption Month is "You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent," and I'd sure say that's true. But it helps if you have perfect kids.

Sunday, October 31, 2004


I'm being constantly forced out of my seat by two kinds of demons tonight: cute cuddly ones that appear at my door demanding candy, and darned annoying ones ringing me up soliciting my vote. The former have been coming in larger numbers than in recent memory -- maybe because Halloween's a Sunday this year, maybe because it's a mild night, maybe because a gazillion new condos went in across the street. It's been kind of sad the past few years getting no little costumed ghouls ringing my doorbell, and so tonight I'm enjoying the relative onslaught, although it will mean less leftover candy for me. Not so enjoyable has been answering the phone and finding a recording of some important personage on the other end, ready to launch into a long story about why I should vote for a particular candidate. Unless ... you don't suppose that actually was Caroline Kennedy on the phone before? Maybe trick-or-treating is slow in her neighborhood.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Costume catch-up

My kids have been ambivalent this year about whether trick-or-treating was beneath their age and wisdom or still a fun thing to do. As of tonight, my daughter is still holding out but my son has decided to go trolling for candy after all. I was afraid he was going to have to wear his dad's work uniform and be a supermarket produce guy (again), but his aunt came through today with her Halloween costume from last year, and so he's now going as a giant ketchup bottle. I sure hope he brings home some good treats for me to steal.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Dance fever

My daughter went to her first middle school dance tonight. She's so brave! She has a lot of friendly acquaintances but not really any hard-and-fast friends, and so there was no insurance that she wouldn't just stand in a corner all night and feel left out. But she apparently found a series of different kids to hang out with, danced in various groups, and had a terrific time. I've become so averse to social risk in my old age that it's hard to imagine getting out there in a new situation and having fun, but she did it. That's a real good sign, I think, for her future social growth. Not such a good sign, maybe, is that she liked the sexy way some of the kids were dancing, and was jealous of the girls with long earrings and lots of makeup. Not jealous enough to copy them, yet. But this time, when she said, "It's not my style," she sounded more wistful than assertive.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Broken toe? Turns out, no.

Thanks to all those who commented, either below or by e-mail, about my daughter's injured toe. It was looking worse today -- bruise wrapped around the toe and spreading a little onto the foot -- and so my daughter and I finally decided to make the trip to the ER, if only so we could stop worrying about it. The nurse who looked at the toe thought it was broken, the medical student who looked at the toe thought it was broken, the attending physician who looked at the toe thought it was fractured, but the X-ray showed nothing. So after two hours and 40 minutes, we were basically told that she should just keep doing what she's been doing and if it still hurts in four weeks, call our pediatrician. But we did get a note to get her out of gym for a week, and that's something. (Of course, Miss Conscientious already made up her missed Tuesday gym lesson after school today, right after today's gym lesson, which probably explains why the toe was throbbing when she got home.)

My daughter and I agreed that, surprisingly, our time in the ER was not nearly as excruciating as we'd expected -- even, in a way, a little fun, as a sort of adventure. Two hours and 40 minutes represents a lot of waiting, but it was broken up into so many waiting bits that the time seemed to move along. There was the wait to check in, the wait to see a nurse, the wait to go to an ER room, the wait to present my insurance card which was broken up by my daughter getting called to an ER room, the wait for the med student, the wait for the doctor, the wait for the X-ray, the wait to make sure the X-ray really took, the wait to be told what the X-ray said, the wait to charge our co-pay, and the wait to get a receipt. Divide that many waits into 160 minutes, and no one of them was intolerable. My daughter got her first ride in a wheeled bed; I had my first experience of being sent out of the room so a doctor could ask my teen girl if she was having sex; and we got medical comfirmation for my theory that the young lady's recent bout of dizziness was related not to her toe injury but to the fact that she ate eight miniature KitKat bars in a row, sending her pancreas into insulin overdrive. Not such a bad way to spend an afternoon, really. And it's nice not to have to worry about that poor bruised little piggy anymore.

Reading with the guys

I went to the second meeting of the book club at my daughter's school today, and was assigned to the group I'll be leading in discussion. Once again, I got the group with the boys -- and seeing how quickly the other leaders staked their claim to girl groups, I guess that's considered a bad thing. Last year, my group had three out of the four boys in the club, along with two girls, and it was a constant battle to keep the guys interested when the girls were talking and the girls interested when the boys were. This year, my group is all boys -- five of them -- and although the librarian looked at me sympathetically and offered to break the group up and distribute them among the girls, I urged her to keep things as they were. Maybe it's not PC to be so segregated, but the boys wanted to be on their own, the girls wanted them to be on their own, and I'm really curious to see where the discussion goes when there's more mutual interest.

In our general discussion today, my group members were loud and boisterous but involved and enthusiastic about books. Since the boys in my group last year disliked a lot of the books chosen to read because they were "girl books," I asked this year's guys what they thought made a "boy's book" different from a "girl's book." Action, adventure, war, a male protagonist, and a lack of boring plotlines seemed to be the consensus, although one boy boldly asserted that he would read anything, even if it was about Hilary Duff. He has a twin sister, so I'm thinking there's some sort of prenatal influence going on there. He also admitted to liking "Magic Treehouse" books, which warmed my heart because my daughter likes them too, but I worried that they are so wildly age inappropriate. But another boy agreed that he liked reading them too, albeit a few at one sitting. Another boy wanted to talk about nothing other than "Harry Potter" and Eragon. Those won't be on the book club list; next week, we'll discuss "Because of Winn-Dixie" which has no action, adventure, war or male protagonist and a somewhat meandering plotline, but was one of the few books my boys last year really liked. I'll be interested to hear what this year's group has to say. If I can keep us from being disbanded due to loudness, it should be a good year.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Her aching foot

My daughter stubbed her little toe this morning on the way to the bathroom -- that'll teach her to spring out of bed bright and early, when it's still dark. She showed it to me before it was time to go to school, and it appeared to be a little bruised and a little swollen but not hugely impaired. She was limping around and complaining, but I figured that once she got to school and got her mind off it she'd be okay. But in fact it did bother her all day, and she sat out gym because of it, and so now in addition to a sore toe we have a day of gym to make up before the end of the marking period. The bruise on the toe looked bigger than it had in the morning, so I called her pediatrician for advice and was told to take her to the emergency room so we could have it x-rayed. Which would be fine if we had, like, nothing else to do for five or six hours, but our week is already pretty full without an ER endurance test. So now I'm walking that edge of "don't want to delay treatment if it's really something, don't want to waste a lot of time if it's really not." The injured girl herself is flip-flopping, feeling better one minute, feeling broken the next. We put it up this evening and put some ice on and will continue to hope that the pain and discomfort just go away already. But I know I'll have to forfeit that "Mother of the Year" award if it turns out she really did break it.

Monday, October 25, 2004


We're now coming up on that most horrifying time of year: the Months with Many Days Off from School. Today my kids were off for a teacher's in-service day. Next week, they're off on Tuesday for Election Day and Thursday and Friday for the state teachers' conference. From there it's only a few short weeks until Thanksgiving's four-day weekend, and a few weeks after that until Christmas week off. It's a difficult little period, with maximum juggling of jobs and schedules. You'd think they could spread things out a bit, and not, say, schedule a conference for the same week as Election Day or the same month as a national holiday, but I guess they figure that nothing makes you appreciate teachers like having your kids home a few school days in a row.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

I've written here a time or two about our family's half-hearted search for a dog -- every time we finally decide to go for a pooch from our shelter, it turns out someone's grabbed it while we were being all indecisive -- but we remain to this day petless. In his Family Man column, Ken Swarner reports that his family has had more luck, albeit expensive luck, in finding the perfect canine. ... Meanwhile, if you've ever stopped by the Mothers with Attitude Special Needs Store and liked the designs but felt unable to afford a sweatshirt or a totebag, stop by again and take a look at the recently added, sort-of-lower-priced buttons and magnets. Wear one of these pins to your next IEP meeting, and if the special educators are uncooperative, you'll have something sharp to stick them with.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Notes from the bleachers

I went to a high school football game last night for probably the first time since I myself was in high school. It was smaller and somewhat more pathetic than I remember from my younger days, but equally as chilly. We went because it was "band night," at which eighth-grade musicians tag along with the marching band to get a glimpse of their rigorous future, and my seventh-grade daughter wanted to check it out to get a preview of her own experience next year. A few observations:

• The efforts made in recent years to turn cheerleading into a sport of its own -- the loudspeaker repeatedly referred to the spirit squad as the "Competition Cheerleading Team" -- has had a negative effect on the ability of cheerleaders to, you know, lead cheers. Elaborate pyramids and tossing-a-member-in-the-air routines were done with lots of enthusiasm, while the "First and ten, do it again" part seemed like an afterthought. Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that the home team was getting trounced, and didn't actually make first and ten until about the fourth quarter.

• Band music has just gotten weird. Bad enough they were using "Light My Fire" as the interval ditty repeatedly played while the band moved into the next formation. But when they marched to a spirited version of "Let's Do the Time Warp" from the "Rocky Horror Picture Show," complete with a line-up of band members doing the dance, I knew I had finally reached that terrible stage of aging at which things that were cool and subversive in your youth become cute and harmless. Did people ever feel that way about "Stars and Stripes Forever"?

• I live in the northeast now, and the football games of my youth were in Southern California, and so it's silly of me to say that I remember feeling just as cold then as I did last night. My husband teases me all the time when I tell him I used to wear wool sweaters and down jackets when I was a kid, but the truth is, cold is relative. When you live in a balmy climate, you put on mittens when the temperature dips into the 60s. So I wore multiple layers and huddled beneath a blanket and sipped hot chocolate in my high school bleachers just like I did last night, although it was about 20 degrees colder, and I've moved up to coffee, and actually we forgot the blanket and so my knees were freezing. Music and styles of cheerleading may change, but the sensation of shivering on cold metal bleachers and wishing the game would be over already is one the body never forgets.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Teacher's pet

I had a sort of absurdly positive conference with my daughter's teachers yesterday, in which they were unanimous in their admiration for my girl and their happiness to have her in their class. Grade books revealed decent scores on tests and quizzes, and the closest we got to anything negative was one teacher's concern that she worries too much. A big point in her favor seems to be that she does all her homework, which leads me to believe that a great many middle-schoolers do not. Homework is something my daughter can do -- organization being her strong suit, so that the assignment is always written down and the materials needed are always brought home -- and since the teachers seem to give credit only on whether it's done, not how it's done, she excels. I told my daughter that her teachers love her and she should relax a little, and I'll tell her again every time she stresses about some new assignment or classroom project. If she could ever own that success, it might give her some much-needed confidence. We'll see whether the grades she gets in five more weeks will help that along, or whether today's encouragement was of the "she's doing so well for a kid with such obvious learning problems" variety.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

A brighter smile and healthier skin

It's a mouthwash! It's a cancer preventer! Into the large file of information on ingredients in normal everyday products that have surprising health benefits comes research that sanquinarine, an ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash, can help prevent skin cancer. Now, if it would do that while it was also cleaning your teeth, that would be something, but apparently you actually have to apply it to your skin. Does this mean we'll soon be heading to the beach with a fresh coating of Colgate on our noses instead of zinc oxide? At least we'll smell minty fresh.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Book report

I volunteered at the Scholastic Book Fair at my son's school today, and it's always an eye-opener to see what the youth of America choose to read when they're shopping for themselves. At my daughter's middle school, the mega-sellers are not the Harry Potter books or the Series of Unfortunate Events or one of the issue-oriented novels that Scholastic always seems to be pushing; it's the pens and pencils with stuff attached to the end, like feathers or goopy sticky things, that really move. Tchotchkes are big business at book fairs, but the woman in charge of the sale at my son's school refused to put them out today, preview day, insisting that the kids should look at books and nothing but books while compiling their wish lists for mom and dad. Now of course, you can make kids look at books, but you can't exactly guarantee they're going to flock to literary classics. The biggest items of interest this morning as far as I could see were an easy-reader adaptation of the current animated movie "Shark Tale"; a book of secret codes for Playstation 2, GameCube and XBox games; and a classy little volume called "Immature Pranks" that came with a whoopie cushion attached, which of course every boy entering the gym just had to try out. Honestly, just sell them the pens.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Non-stick stickers

I've been noticing these ribbons on the backs of all the cars picking kids up at school lately -- stuck on the painted part of the cars instead of the bumper, and bearing a message to "Support Our Troops" -- and I've been wondering why on earth people would apply the death-defying adhesive of a bumper sticker onto the actual body of their car. Today, finally, I learned the secret: they're magnets, not stickers, and therefore not damaging to paint jobs and not obligating the bearer to support our troops any longer than this particular fad actually lasts. Personally, although they lack the zeal and fervor of messages you have to believe in strongly enough to live with for the life of your vehicle, I think the idea of magnetized bumper stickers is a marvelous one, a real breakthrough in personal expression. No longer must our cars bear evidence of our support for losing political candidates. No longer must we brag of our child's academic excellence even though his or her career has since gone downhill. We can slap on a different witty saying or provocative comment every week if we want to, every day even. Different family members sharing the same car could even personalize their vehicular opinion, so that feuds like the one that erupted when I affixed a John Anderson sticker permanently to the bumper of my Reagan-lovin' dad's Buick need never have happened. Honk if you love magnets! It's not like you have to commit.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Half a quarter down, three-and-a-half to go

My kids got their first progress reports of the year yesterday, and very nice progress reports they were, too. My son had no checkmarks under "needs improvement," not even in behavior, and the teacher's note was very positive with no "buts" attached. My daughter's progress report is all made up of numbers that have to be referenced to the "Progress Code Key" at the bottom of the page, and hers were all 01s ("Excellent Progress"), 02s ("Participates in Class"), 03s ("Positive Attitude") and 04s ("Satisfactory"), with none of the more ominous entries like 06 ("Work is Consistent with Ability"), 08 ("Low Test/Quiz Scores"), 09 ("Unsatisfactory Progress") or 14 ("Possible Marking Period Failure.") Although, really now, I know for a fact that she's had some 08, and doesn't 02 very often or comfortably, and although she's not making 09, in some cases it's pretty undeniable that her work is more 06 than 01. But it's early in the year, and the teachers are charitable, and God love them. I think most of them are so happy that she's not 11 ("Frequenty Unprepared for Class") with 10 ("Assignments Incomplete or Missing") -- as appears to be a real problem with kids in her age group -- and so pleased with her 03 and organizational skills, that maybe all of that really does legitimately average into 04 work. Anyway, I'll take success any way I can spin it.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Proud to be ADHD

Looking for a gift for the hyperactive ... that is, creative, enthusiastic, high energy level child in your life? Or for the family members who have to live ... get to live with him or her? A nifty CafePress store called ADHD Pride has got you covered. Kathy O'Moore-Klopf, the wife, mother and daughter-in-law of ADHDers, has put together a collection of T-shirts, magnets, and other items celebrating the gifts of ADHD, and expressing pride in family members so gifted. There's even a T-shirt for the dog. With so much negativity associated with attention problems, it's nice to see someone taking a positive approach. (And hey, while you're shopping at CafePress, why not stop by the Mothers with Attitude store and gear up for your next IEP meeting?)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

On the spot

Do you remember the first chapter book you ever read? That's the question the librarian at my daughter's school lobbed at me yesterday, in front of a bored bunch of sixth-graders. I volunteered again this year to lead small-group discussions for the school's book club, and I stopped by for the opening organizational meeting. The librarian was chatting on about the book club rules, and how you should only be in the club if you really, really love books and they mean a whole lot to you. She talked about how she could still remember the first chapter book she ever read -- some Bobbsey Twins tale -- and then, with no warning, she pointed to me and said she was sure I could still remember my first chapter book, too, and why didn't I just tell the class? And you know, I had no idea. Books like "Charlotte's Web" and "Island of the Blue Dolphins" stick in my mind as childhood favorites, but surely they weren't my first chapter books. And even if they were, I'm not fast enough on my feet to just come out with them on the spot, with no prior consideration. I told the librarian afterward that if she's going to expect me to do any public speaking, even of the short-answer variety, she's got to give me some warning in advance. Time, at least, to make something up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Heart-healthy but obnoxious

So now, in addition to learning about the dangers of smoking, and drinking, and taking drugs, and trusting strangers, and engaging in unsafe sex, schoolchildren are about to start getting lessons on heart disease and the lazy, gluttonous behavior that brings it on. Which is all well and good, as far as it goes. Certainly, promoting healthy habits of eating and exercise among young people is a worthy goal. But I can see a couple of problems coming down the road here: One is that, whereas students may not know whether their teachers smoke or drink or do any of those other things they are instructing their students never to do, if a teacher is out of shape and overweight and otherwise clearly not respecting his or her own heart-health, it's kinda hard to miss. Will they be effective preachers of something they manifestly don't practice? And my other fear -- remembering only too vividly how zealous my kids can get, after receiving the appropriate instruction in school, about how nobody should ever drink or smoke, and how it's tolerable mostly because those are not my particular vices -- is that children will come home and start analyzing their parents' diet and workout regimes. Which is, of course, exactly what the health powers-that-be who are designing these programs are hoping for -- improved fitness for the whole family. But I'll tell you, if my kids are going to be lecturing me every time I eat a bite of cheesecake or sit in front of the TV instead of jogging around the block, I'm going to have to start thinking seriously about homeschooling.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Social studies

My son had an unusually social weekend, and it's left me with all kinds of mixed emotions. First, we found that a special-ed classmate lives just around the corner from us on the weekends he stays with his father (said the boy to me, "My mom and dad don't love each other anymore. They're divided.") and so he came over to play a few times. It was easy to see how far behind in terms of age-appropriate play skills my son is even from this fellow self-contained special-ed student, in ways both good (the boy was way too risky in his bicycle moves for my and my husband's comfort, especially since he wore no helmet) and bad (he could sink a basketball shot, and win at a PlayStation game, while my guy mostly just wanted to crash cars and kick the basketball). In the end, my son's friend was more happy playing with my daughter, and watching my son left out on the sidelines, complaining about how the boy was his friend, not hers, made my heart break. He's never really known how to play with other kids, but it's never really mattered to him; now that it does, I'm not sure how to make it happen. A lot of the problem involves motor skills that are coming along with therapy but nowhere near age-level; a lot of the problem involves emotional development that, given his FASD diagnosis, may not come along until he's in his 20s. Although it's a developmentally promising thing that he can now get his feelings hurt, it's hard as a loving mom not to think he was better off before.

On Sunday we attended a birthday party with a couple of special-ed classmates and a whole slew of little cousins of the birthday girl, and since there was more opportunity for independent-ish play -- swinging, sliding, running around -- he at least appeared to fit in. When he'd get overstimulated by the crush of kiddies, I'd take him out to the car for a little decompression time, and with that routine we made it through a few hours of party until I couldn't take it anymore. Again I felt like a freakishly overobservant mom -- watching kids play and fall and cry and climb to unsafe heights without a parental unit ever making an appearance, while my son couldn't so much as climb up a slide the wrong way or bang a swing against a shed without mommy making a comment -- but at least this time I had company. The mom of one of his classmates confessed that she, too, felt absurdly overprotective, and never let her daughter out of her sight, and marveled at parents who let their kids have so very much freedom. Just for good measure, we watched everybody else's kids, too.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Mother knows best

Here's some aid and comfort for those panicked about not being able to get their flu shot this year. Experts are recommending back-up strategies to help you avoid the flu in the absence of immunity, and they include: Eat well. Get plenty of rest. Wash your hands. Avoid sick people. Stay home if you don't feel well. If only they'd added "Wear a sweater when you go outside" and "Don't go out with wet hair," they'd pretty much have covered all my mother's greatest hits. This is all common sense, of course, and good advice for keeping us all healthy, wealthy and wise. But I gotta ask: If doing these things will help us avoid the flu, then we need a flu shot ... why?

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Fear this

My daughter's got something going on with reality TV, and I don't like it one bit. For a long time she's been interested in the kind of inspirational semi-staged stories on shows like "It's a Miracle" and "Real Kids, Real Adventures," and I could deal with that. Kiddie game shows on Nickelodeon GAS, kiddie decorating shows on ABC Family, OK. "America's Funniest Home Videos"? Not my taste, but it seemed harmless enough ... except that's how it starts, isn't it? Something innocent, then something less innocent, then bam! She's watching "Fear Factor" and refusing to turn it off when I say. Last night I told her she was not allowed to watch that disgusting show, and today her dad caught her sneaking it in the middle of the afternoon. It's true that my objection to "Fear Factor" is more of an aesthetic nature than out of any actual fear for her, but -- ew, I don't want that thing on my TV, thank you very much. Or "Exciting Police Chases," either. My daughter doesn't get why I say no, and so in her increasingly teenage mind that means she doesn't have to do what I say, and boy, I'm going to have to whip up a little Fear Factor here in our household to stop that particular behavior pattern in its tracks. Think about this, Miss Teenybopper: Every channel blocked except the 24-hour PBS children's show channel. Caillou. Barney. Teletubbies. Be very afraid.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Take my flu shot, please

Without in any way making light of the risk of flu season and the danger the shortage of vaccinations may pose in terms of serious and widespread illness, I'd just like to say that I'm a little ... well, bemused by the current flurry of flu vaccine rationing I've been reading about. I'll admit right from the start that I have never been on the flu vaccine bandwagon, and have chosen to take my and my children's chances with the bug rather than rely on a shot that always seems to cover every flu variety except the one that happens to cause havoc in our vicinity. In past years, so many news stories have made me feel like an irresponsible spreader of disease for not vaccinating my family and holding strong against potential unwellness. Public health officials have taken such a strong-arm tactic that people seem shocked and a little apprehensive if I admit to being unimmune. This year, of course, it would be irresponsible for a 40something like myself to get the vaccine, since I'd be stealing that in-short-supply shot from an infant or elderly person who really needs it. Those same health officials who've been browbeating me about getting a shot are now begging me not to, and I've gone from goat to hero for sitting this one out. This is what happens when you convince too many people that something is an absolute necessity: You'd better be able to produce it every year, or you're going to have riots at the pharmacies and supermarket clinics. The way people are fighting for shots, you'd think the unvaccinated masses were doomed to turn into zombies or something. But relax, people. I've never had a flu shot and I *cough, cough* feel just fine.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

We're a little busy, you know?

I got my copy of the "Brimstone Bulletin" from the Mothers from Hell the other day, and was proud to see one of my essays right on the front page. The newsletter is packed full of good links and stories of mothers fighting the good fight of special education advocacy. My favorite article, my own notwithstanding, was one entitled "Where are the Parents?" that was written in response to snippy administrators wondering why special-ed parents aren't more involved in their kids' schools. I've been lucky to be able to volunteer at our schools, thanks to an understanding boss who lets me take time off during the day to do library duty and attend meetings. It helps that my kids' special-ed program happens to be at our neighborhood school, so I don't have to drive cross-town or juggle events at schools with conflicting schedules as many special-ed parents do. But night meetings are sure a problem, since if my son doesn't get enough mom-time he demonstrates his displeasure in many small, disruptive ways. And I've certainly heard, while doing my volunteer duty, many regular-ed parents comment dismissively that special-ed parents never volunteer, or support fund-raisers, or go to Home and School meetings, or show what is considered to be an appropriate interest in their kids' schooling. I've had to step in and debate that point, but maybe now I'll just carry a copy of this essay in my purse and distribute it as needed. I don't know if it will change anybody's mind, but maybe it will shut them up a little. And it'll make me feel better, anyway.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

Two great new letters-to-the-teacher have been placed in our Parent's Portfolio today. One is in response to a school assignment that asks the question: "Imagine that you are an orphan. In five sentences, tell how you would feel." That's a disturbing enough assignment for any kid, but when the child in question actually is an orphan, and the teacher knew, well, a letter's certainly called for, don't you think? The other concerns a book my own daughter has been struggling through this school year -- "The Giver" by Lois Lowry. She's been struggling more in terms of getting much of any of the non-action-packed plot to stick in her head than with the difficult subject matter, so I've decided not to write to the teachers about the potential hazards of this material for adopted kids -- but if I needed to, I'd be happy to adapt this one.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Just wondering

A few things I'm wondering about tonight:

• Have the tourists who are setting up lawn chairs and portable barbecues and settling in for a good close viewing of the potential eruption of Mount St. Helens ever seen a disaster movie in their lives? Isn't it always those foolish or curious enough to get just a little tooclose who are the first to, I don't know, fall through a crack in the earth or get scorched by an unexpected burst of steam or buried by flying stones? Not to mention molten lava, people. How 'bout moving a little farther back, like, say, Oregon?

• I was helping out with a small-group discussion at our Catholic church's junior high religious education classes tonight, and out of a group of eight kids, not one admitted to going to weekly Mass. Or even monthly Mass. One remembered going most recently at Christmas, another at his sister's First Communion. Why, exactly, are these parents going to the expense and bother of giving their children religious training if they're not going to enable them to do anything with it? It's like hiring a coach to teach your kid how to hit a baseball but then never signing him up for a team. Or do they just figure, this way it's only the kids who have to be bored?

• Now that Billy Joel has married a woman who's 23, is there some way to prevent him, either legally or through, you know, some sort of public shaming, from ever singing the song "Just the Way You Are" again? 'Cause it was bad enough when he was married to Christie Brinkley, but now it's really just embarrassing.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

No shows

Have you watched any of the new TV offerings that have been debuting over the past month? I always start out with good intentions, reading reviews of the fledgling shows in Entertainment Weekly and the local newspaper and picking out the ones that sound like something I'd like, but then ... well, I can't watch much of anything before the kids go to bed, and after the kids go to bed, I tend to fall asleep where I sit. So here's what I've managed to watch of the new season: The debut of "Jack and Bobby" (but only because a free DVD of the first episode was glued into my copy of EW, and I could watch it on a Sunday afternoon while folding laundry), and about 20 minutes of "Clubhouse" (that's how long it took for my daughter and I to decide it was boring, despite the appeal to her of a couple of young actresses from the Disney channel, and the appeal to me of Mare Winningham, who I remember from back way before she was playing the mother of teens to when she was playing teenagers herself). My husband has watched a couple of episodes of "Lost," and was interested enough to watch more than one but not so interested that he'd admit to actually liking it. So here we are, not exactly your ideal TV family. But we sure are looking forward to the debut of "Postcards from Buster" on PBS next Monday, in which Arthur's best friend travels the country, video camera in hand. It may not have the flair of "Desperate Housewives" or "CSI:NY," but it's kid-friendly and on way, way before bedtime.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

I'll have the low-fat mystery meat

National School Lunch Week is coming up, October 11-15, and it sure does seem as though school lunches are much in the news these days. Hardly a day goes by that I don't see a news story on how nutritious those institutionalized meals are getting. Down with deep fat frying! Up with salads and fruit trays! Pizzas have whole-wheat crusts and ham is made with turkey and cheese is low-fat. Of course, if they really wanted to keep kids from eating too much and curb all that pesky childhood obesity, they might think about doing what the school cafeterias did when I was growing up: Make all the food taste really, really bad. Gray meat and limp veggies and lumpy potatoes seemed to do a pretty good job of keeping my classmates and I from over-indulging. My son mentioned today that he really likes his school lunches, and that's nothing you heard very often in my day. On the other hand, at this year's back-to-school night, the father of one of my son's classmates asked if it would be possible for his daughter to order two school lunches every day, because the servings were so small that she came home starving for snacks. So maybe today's school nutritionists do know a thing or two: Give the kids good food and not enough of it, so they'll do all their overeating when their parents can be blamed for it.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Escaping the exam

My daughter received kind of a hopeful assignment from her language arts class today. It gave the students an option for their quarterly exam grade -- they could either take the big, hairy test on "The Giver," or do a project instead. The projects were the sort of things I would have loved to do as a kid: write a three-page sequel to "The Giver," which ends in such an uncertain, unsatisfying way that most readers will have to make a sequel in their mind anyway; do a diorama depicting a scene from the book and write three paragraphs describing it; write a newsletter for the futuristic community described in the book; or do some sort of thing about bicycles that I couldn't quite figure out from looking over the paper. The chances of my daughter doing well on a test on this very low-plot, high-concept book are pretty slim, so I was excited that there were other options. She, of course, was so overwhelmed by the thought of all the writing and creating called for by the projects that she figured she'd maybe just take her chances with the test. I think I've got her talked into writing a sequel now; there are three weeks to do it, and lots of people to help her, and really no wrong answers. The biggest challenge will be not just writing the darn thing myself and dictating it to her. Bet I could get an A, too.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Send money

We're just about a month into the school year now, and already we're on our fourth fund-raiser. The first was a quickie, selling books filled with coupons. Then came the two gift-wrap catalogs, one from each school (how much gift wrap can one family use? We're about to find out) and now, today, material for selling pies to benefit my daughter's 7th-8th grade band. This is the first step into the world of band fund-raising for my daughter, and I'm already a bit put-off because she was pulled out of class for a whole period to sit in the auditorium and hear about the wonderfulness of selling these pies. They better be pretty wonderful, too, because man, are they expensive. Eighteen dollars for a cheesecake? We'll buy a few, of course, because that's what parents do, but it kind of dampens my enthusiasm for rounding up other people to raise funds from. Perhaps we could sell them by the slice. ... Speaking of raising funds, the Web site VOTE or NOT, in an apparent attempt to bribe people to register to vote, is hosting a sweepstakes with a prize of $100,000. If you follow my link to register for the contest (which you can do whether or not you've registered to vote) and wind up winning, I'll get $100,000, too. That'll buy a lot of pie.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

Ken Swarner must be reading my mind, or at least my blog. Like my entry from a couple of days ago, his latest Family Man column is about being overprotective of children. When, he wonders, do we stop fighting our kids' battles? At what age is the child too old for the parent to, say, go running onto the soccer field and berate the kids who are pushing him around? I would guess it's the age at which the child says, "Dad, don't ever embarrass me like that again!" But it probably wouldn't stop me, either.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Tanning the old-fashioned way

Pity the poor children of California. Their mean old governor has forbade them from using tanning booths until they're 14, and then they have to have a note from their parents. What a drag! Now if they want to court skin cancer and compete with the coolest golden-brown kids in class, they'll have to do it the old-fashioned way, in the back yard with a lawn chair and a bottle of baby oil. That's how I did it, anyway, when I was a California kid and tanning booths were either nonexistent or unknown to me. I remember the long, grueling hours lying in the sun, trying to look like the bronzed babes who ruled my school but winding up looking like a lobster instead. It's so hard to modulate these things, when you have nothing but Mother Nature at your disposal. If state officials really want to protect their young people from skin cancer, can't they do something a little more merciful, like legislate that only palefaces can be homecoming queens, cheerleaders, and members of the most popular cliques? As long as tan = popular, you're going to have kids sneaking into tanning booths with fake IDs and forged notes. Hang in there, kids -- when you're a grown-up, you can do all the unsafe tanning you like. Or you can do what I did: Move to the east coast, where pale, poorly tanning skin is not particularly a social liability.