Saturday, January 31, 2004

How Sick Is Too Sick for School?

That's the question asked by a HealthDay article in this morning's Yahoo!News, and one that's being asked by lots of parents this flu-riddled, cold-friendly, bone-chilling season. And it's on my mind after two days of having my sick niece at our house because the school nurse said she was too sick for school, but her parents had to work. If a kid's too sick to stay in school, is she too sick to hang out with my kids? With her elderly grandmother? To tell you the truth, I'm not feeling that good myself.

When I was a kid, back in the Stone Age, determining whether a kid was too sick for school was mostly a matter of telling the aching from the faking. In my family, the rule was: If you have a fever, you're sick. If you don't, get your butt to the breakfast table. Since I was a little overacheiver who wanted to go to school, it never occurred to me to try to rig a thermometer to reflect feverishness, though if sitcoms and mischievous-kiddy movies are to be believed, a lot of children did. These days, of course, the question is not so much, "Is she really sick?" but "Is she really that sick?" Two-career families and single parents juggling snow days and school vacations and teacher in-service days and half days and holidays may find a sniffly sneezy sore-throat day just too much to handle.

So when is a sickish child okay to suffer through a school day, and when do they absolutely, positively, have to stay in bed? Fever's still a reliable indicator, although to what degree is up for debate. I'd say if a kid's not running a fever in the morning, he or she is good to go, but our school nurse wants 24 hours of fever-freedom before kids come back to the classroom. If that means keeping a seemingly healthy child home, I'd say she's probably dreaming. Vomiting has always been a pretty quick ticket home -- I've had to pick up kids who have thrown up numerous times, even though their at-home demeanor indicates that whatever was sickening them got thrown-out with the throw-up -- but the HealthDay article claims that it's perfectly okay to send a kid with diarrhea to school, as long as they wash their hands. HealthDay also says head lice are no reason to deny a kid the right to learn, and although I personally agree, I don't think the school nurses of America have jumped on that particular bandwagon.

Most of the "keep them home?" quandaries I've had center on those long-term, season-spanning cough-and-cold combos that never involve fever or serious illness but turn kids into biohazards, spewing spit and snot, hacking and honking and generally appearing way sicker than they are. You can keep a kid home a day or two for that, but there have been school years where my two would have had to sit home a whole quarter, so tenacious was the upper respiratory nastiness. My niece, on the other hand, clearly had herself a little fever and some coughing and some listlessness going on Thursday, and her mom hoped she wasn't really that sick, and the school nurse begged to differ. What I wonder is: What happens when the school nurse's kids get sick?

Thursday, January 29, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

Three new websites grace our links pages:

1. Adoption Adventure Network: Sponsors 'American culture camps' at which children from Russian orphanages can meet prospective families; also offers translation services, seminars and the inspiring story of the Avilla family.

2. Special Needs Nurse: "... a place for professionals and parents to find?links on various developmental disabilities and continuing education ... a place to chat and exchange information regarding nursing problems of children and adults with special needs."

3. Multiple Sclerosis Sucks: MS with attitude.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Straight As, straight to your home

I started seeing ads today for a new service from Sylvan Learning Centers: eTutors. Instead of schlepping your kids across town to get learning assistance, you can just plop him or her in front of the computer and go on with your life, while a live person somewhere or other works online to get those grades going. It makes a lot of sense from a convenience standpoint, and maybe, for some kids, from an educational one, too -- say, if your child is more comfortable with a computer than a live person, or can concentrate better in your living room than in a room full of people, both of which are probably causes for concern all by their ownselves. For sure this additional Sylvan feature indicates that people are demanding that the kind of services we once went out for be brought in. Hey, we order books online, we go to Weight Watchers meetings online, we rent videos online, why should we drive somewhere just to help our kids learn better? The fact that the Sylvan office was right next door to a Dunkin' Donuts store was always reason enough for me, but maybe they'll find a way to deliver virtual donuts, too.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Special Needs in the News

1. A story in yesterday's New York Times ponders whether the seeming increase in the number of cases of autism is real, or just reflects increased awareness and diagnosis. Does it matter? Find a cure already!

2. The Times also has an editorial criticizing educators who think the new high standards of "No Child Left Behind" shouldn't apply to kids in special education. The editorialist's view is that kids with special needs need teachers who know how to teach them, not to be exempted from testing, and, well, who can argue with that? Yet somehow, I think it's not that simple. There's more discussion of No Child Left Behind and special-ed on's Education and Reading message board, and of the IDEA reauthorization on the Special Needs Children board. Come vent with us.

3. This Health Day news roundup includes a story on treating childhood phobias, and one on why parents with ADHD should also be treated (and no, not because your kid drives you crazy).

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Make your virtual voice heard

Sometimes, when you've sat through enough doctor visits in which the specialist seems annoyed that you have a viewpoint, and enough school meetings in which parents with ideas are seen as troublemakers, and enough family dinners where everybody thinks they know how to raise your child better than you, and enough child behavioral struggles in which your child wants you to take "No!" for an answer, it may seem that nobody, but nobody wants your opinion. So take a little empowerment break this weekend, and let the following folks have your say:

1. A parent organization has posted a petition asking Disney to consider reinstating its special passes for kids with "invisible disabilities" like ADHD, DSI and Bipolar. For a wonderful while, the parks would allow these kids to skip the wait in line, but they've since rescinded the privilege, and moms facing a long wait with a short attention span are beseeching them to give it back. Click here to add your name to the list.

2. If that leaves you feeling all enfranchised, you can scan this list of special-education petitions on PetitionOnline and register your concern about the IDEA reauthorization, Due Process regulations, recording IEP meetings and other hot topics.

3. And if you really want to make a difference for the next generation, or just one particular member of it, take this quick survey posted by the daughter of a friend of mine for her civics assignment. There are two demographic questions, which you can opt out of, and three opinion questions, and she'll have to interpret the results for her homework. A bigger sampling's always better than a smaller one, so click here and help the kid out. Then you can call up your mother-in-law, and she'll get you back to feeling like your opinion counts for squat in a hurry.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

Ken Swarner's latest Family Man column deals with the impossibility of getting kids out the door in any sort of timely fashion, and boy, do I hear that. Mornings here have just gotten more hectic since my daughter moved up to middle school while my son stayed in elementary. The girl's not the problem. She's a morning person. She's early to rise. She showers, dresses, makes her own breakfast, puts her things in the car, then wakes me up. She's a gem. Her brother, though ... well, her brother is a slugabed like his mom. We're a bad combination. He doesn't want to get moving in the morning, and I'm moving too slowly to make him.

When both kids went to the same school, my daughter's nagging usually got all of us into the car and to the schoolhouse on time. But now, her nagging only extends to the point at which we drop her off at the middle school. My son's dressed at that point -- his sister sees to it -- but unbreakfasted, and it's still too early to drop him at his school. So we go home ... where there's a TV. And a comfy couch. And a computer. And beds to make. And food to eat. And juice to drink. And shirts to change after the food and the drink get spilled. And toys to play with for just one more minute, Mom. And we just get tardier and tardier and tardier.

So this morning, as I told my guy again and again that we really need to move now, please, no, not one more minute, right now, NOW, really, I dozed off and now it's really really time to GO, I thought: "Yep, the Family Man's got it right, kids have no motivation to move it." But I know that if my daughter read that column, she'd say: "Kids? What about MOMS?"

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The doctor is in

If you've ever wandered into the maze of pediatric subspecialties, you may wonder: What do all these people do? And are they just making up job titles now to get extra referral money? The American Academy of Pediatrics wants you to know that each and every one of those pediatric variations is absolutely necessary to your child's health, and in the interest of sorting out the pediatric endocrinologists from the pediatric gastroenterologists, the organization has made a nifty bunch of fact sheets available on its website. Get the lowdown on everything from pediatric allergists to pediatric urologists. The AAP site has some other nice information for families, including a reading checkup guide and a medical library. Best of all, you don't even need a copay to get it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Clean and serene

My kids had a great visit with the dentist on Monday, and what are the odds of that? It was teeth-cleaning day, and there would have been a time when I'd have bet money we'd be escorted out of the place and told never to return. My daughter, the one who used to react with drama to every little pain, sitting quietly while her teeth were scraped and sprayed until her gums bled? My son, who used to flee from every touch, letting the dentist hang over him and put things in his mouth? My kids, who required the pediatrician to call in extra staff to hold them down when they needed shots, tolerating sharp objects? Nope, not likely. But there they were, both behaving like there was nothing to it and calmly emerging with their toothbrushes and their bright shiny smiles and everybody's nerves intact. Heck, I whined more about having my teeth cleaned than they did.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Dentist visits have always been a pretty low-stress experience for them, and I've been at a loss to figure out why. I'd decided it involved some sort of magical powers by our old dental practice, some sort of snake-charming ability of the dental hygeinist there to entrance my skittish little ones. When we switched to a practice closer to our home, I though -- well, this is it. The magic will be gone. The dentist won't know the tricks. The kids will react differently in a different office. The screams will be heard 'cross town. But again, no fuss, no muss, no stress, no worries. How lucky can you get?

Monday, January 19, 2004

Questions of the week

A couple of people have followed me from this weblog or its companion mailing list to the message boards I'm moderating at, and to those people I say, "Thanks!" And to the rest of you, I say, "Get moving! My boards are dead! Nobody's responding to my questions! Heeeeeeelp meeeeeee!" Pathetic enough for you? Good. This week's questions, for your posting pleasure, are, on the Education and Reading board, "Should all kids start kindergarten at age 5?" and on the Special Needs Children board, "Do you feel sad about your child? Just sad?" The latter springs off from a depressing seminar I attended a year or so ago, about which you can read more in the Parenting Isn't Pretty archives. Now move it! Go! Express an opinion! Please?

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Thank heaven for little girls

Do adopting parents prefer girls? A Slate story presents statistics to prove that they do -- by a lot -- and suggests some reasons for it. Maybe girls are perceived to be less troubled than boys? More unfortunate and in need of care? Easier to raise? Or maybe it's just that wives are more likely to be the ones directing the adoption project in a family, and they dream of having a little girl? Maybe. It's hard for me to believe that these statistics are right-on, because most of the adoptive families I know have adopted one of each, and the ones that don't have a boy and a girl have one or more boys. Something I'd like to know from the statistics that the Slate story doesn't mention is how many of those families who adopted girls already had boys -- maybe it's not so much that mom only wants a girl, but that mom's got enough sons already and would like a little female company.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Snow Day

My kids had a snow day off from school today. I'd like to say we did all sorts of sweet family things with our surprise day of togetherness -- made a snowman, designed art projects, baked cookies, watched a movie all snuggled under a blanket -- but mostly my daughter watched TV, my son played in his room, and I messed around on the computer. It was relaxing enough, and the day off didn't interfere with my work schedule in a significant way, so I really didn't mind it; the worst part of school being cancelled was that my child study team meeting for my daughter was cancelled, too. I'd been looking forward to that meeting for over a month, and was all ready with questions and suggestions and bees in my bonnet, and now I'll have to wait some more. It couldn't have snowed on Friday instead?

Some of what I did while I was tooling around the internet today was get started on my second moderating job at the Web site: In addition to the Education and Reading board, I'm now overseeing the board for Special Needs Children. Thanks to anyone who's stopped by to help me get the reading board going, and please join me in this new space, too. Don't wait for the next snow day -- waste more time on the Net now!

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Good grief

It's not every day that a fit of tears and upset is the cause for parental pride. But I have to say I was quite impressed today by my son's display of emotion when a leap-frog accident resulted in an injury to his little cousin. A heel came down a little too closely to an eye, and there was a little blood and a lot of tears as the little guy started wailing. That's not a surprise -- this particular child has always been pretty free with the waterworks, legitimate injury or no. But what did surprise me was how remorseful my son was. He hovered over his cousin with tears flowing down his own face, saying "I'm sorry" over and over. And I couldn't help but remember how he never cried when he was this cousin's age, and how hard it has been for him to acknowledge cause and effect, especially when the effect is bad. There have been times when he would have ignored such an incident, or ran from it, or blamed it on his invisible dog. And there have been times when he has obviously been near tears but shrank from it, refusing to let the tears flow. Taking full responsibility and expressing it in such an emotional way is fairly new territory, and I was impressed by his reaction even as I felt bad that he felt so bad. For some kids, crying is the same old, same old; for others, a revelation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Learning my lesson

It's a good thing, every now and then, for a parent -- particularly a parent who has had a somewhat, shall we say, demanding attitude toward school personnel -- to stand for a time in a teacher's shoes and say, "Yowch! Somebody get me outta these things! They pinch!" That's the experience I had the other night as I filled in as an emergency subsitute for a sixth-grade religious education class at our church. I'd assured the religious-ed director that I would be very bad at the job, but could serve as a warm body in the front of the room if that's what they needed. It was.

Sixth-graders, let me tell you, are a tough audience. They alternated between stony silence -- this would be when I asked a question and waited for a response -- and fits of uncontrollable giggles -- this would be anytime else. I suddenly had sympathy for teachers who yell and threaten and withdraw priveleges from even the students who are behaving; it's unfair, sure, but you get to a point where you really would like to feel you're in control of something. In this case, though, I had, on the one hand, no particular priveleges to withdraw, and on the other, no particular responsibility to do anything other than survive the evening and deliver the children to their parents in one piece. That, I could do. And so I made them read the boring passages from their booklets and do the boring exercises therein, and if at the end of the evening I wasn't responsible for them growing more deeply in their faith, I also wasn't responsible for the fact that one girl didn't know how to spell the word "dinner," and one boy didn't know whether Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were Old Testament books or New. I'm just passing through, folks. These aren't my students. And I'm not really their teacher.

Thank God for that. And thank God for teachers who really do have a talent and a passion for their work. Standing in their place, bathed in flop sweat, made me want to kneel down and kiss the feet of anyone who can do this sort of thing for a living. I probably should snap out of that before daughter's IEP meeting on Thursday. I may still have to be unreasonably demanding, but out of respect, I will try very hard not to giggle.

Monday, January 12, 2004

New on (and around) Mothers with Attitude

I've been a busy bee this weekend, prepping and posting articles on the site and buzzing around the message boards, moderating the Education and Reading board and shooting my mouth ... er, my keyboard off elsewhere. Here's what's new:

1. A new Family Man column from Ken Swarner, this one on the danger, the drama, the sheer white-knuckle adventure of entering an untidy child's room. As the parent of a boy who hoards shopping bags, freebie car-shopper magazines, and receipts, I can relate.

2. Three new entries in our Parent's Portfolio: perspectives on kindergarten readiness from a teacher and a pediatric nurse practitioner, and some tips on surviving the nightly ordeal that is homework.

3. And speaking of homework, the new question for this week on Child's Education and Reading board is: Homework — Love it or loathe it? I've expressed my opinion on the subject. What's yours?

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Atkins and epilepsy

Saw this article on Yahoo! News yesterday about how food companies are jumping aboard the Atkins diet bandwagon and pushing the low-carb nature of their offerings. Suddenly everything from fried chicken to beer is being repositioned as health food, and you don't need anymore evidence that this diet has caught the nation's imagination than that. Sure beats the endless supply of grapefruit and carefully planned out veggies I had to down during the Scarsdale diet craze (have I dated myself? does anybody else remember the Scarsdale diet? Really, it was a book, not etched on stone tablets or anything.)

But while it's amusing to read about how the food industry has figured out ways to make a buck from people's desire to get healthier, the most interesting thing I've read about the Atkins diet has been some preliminary research indicating that it might be useful in controlling epilepsy -- an easier, more socially do-able and less involved alternative to the ketogenic diet. My son's had enough seizures to get a diagnosis of epilepsy but not so many that we've needed to medicate him for it. Every time I research epilepsy medication, I think -- hmmm, maybe we could do the ketogenic diet instead. And every time I research the ketogenic diet, I think -- hmmm, maybe we could medicate instead. But if the Atkins diet does indeed fulfill this early promise of being effective for seizure control -- and especially if it keeps being America's no. 1 diet obsession, with restaurants coming up with approved offerings and food manufacturers marketing Atkins goodies galore -- it'll be a pretty darn exciting alternative. If nothing else, it's a diet I can join him on and maybe lose a little weight.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Get kids hooked on health

If you're raising a little hypochondriac, or just a kid with a healthy curiosity, a site called HealthyNJ offers lots of health-related links just for them. There's a section on sickness, a section on "wellness," and a section on New Jersey, which is apparently somewhere between sickness and wellness. Among the child-friendly sites listed are a virtual hospital where kids can learn about tests they may have to take; Infection Detection Protection, with fun info about the flu and other microbe-related nastiness; sites on feelings and fillings; and pages on bike safety, boat safety, farm safety, fire safety, skate safety, internet safety, water safety, even mine safety. Sure to give your kids something to think about, or something to obsess about, one way or the other.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Did Starbucks fund this?

One of the things you gotta love about medical research is that if you wait long enough, you'll find that just about anything is good for you, as long as you look at it the right way. For example, this week we learned that two excellent ways to stay healthy are to catch a common cold and drink enough coffee to give a horse the jitters: According to Australian researchers, that cold bug that drives you crazy can also cure you of skin cancer; meanwhile, some very wired scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health want us to know that drinking six or more cups of coffee a day will lower our risk of acquiring Type 2 diabetes.

Six or more cups? I can't help thinking that maybe those people drinking six or more cups are dying of something else before they get a chance at Type 2 diabetes. But hey, the scientists have spoken, and at least until the research study saying the exact opposite comes out in a week or two, it's double espressos all around. Now, let's have a study recommending some Krispy Kreme donuts to go with our java. And please, researchers, please -- can't you show that letting kids watch TV all day innoculates them against something nasty?

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

New for the new year

New on Mothers with Attitude: April Cain's Thinking It Over column reflects on those events that make a house a home; and Ken Swarner's Family Man column examines how a young man's first date turns his dad into an old man.

And new for me: I started yesterday as a moderator for one of the message boards at the Child magazine Web site. Come visit me in "Education and Reading." I've posted a question inviting surfers to share their worst school meeting ever, and I know a lot of you out there have PLENTY to add to that.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Soda-free zone

I remember earlier this school year, when my daughter was still having her new-to-middle-school jitters, we ran into an acquaintance from her old school at the supermarket. I asked him how he was liking life at middle school, and he responded with a huge smile that he LOVED it, just loved it. And why? "They have Snapple in the lunchroom!" he replied. His mom confirmed that the ability to down a couple of Snapples at midday was enough to make her boy a happy student.

I thought of that conversation when I read about the latest proclamation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (motto: "Fun? Not on our watch!") that schools should banish sodas from their lunchtime offerings, allowing only milk, water, and 100% fruit juice. Since Snapple's closer to 100% sugar water than 100% juice, it probably wouldn't make the cut, and I doubt my daughter's acquaintance is the only one who'd be seriously bummed. And you know, I realize that America's youth are getting fatter, and their teeth are rotting, and their nutrition stinks, and good food needs to be a high priority. But I also know how hard school is getting, and how much work these kids have to do, and how infrequently fun creeps into their day, and if they want to grab themselves a little sugar high to go with their institutional grub, I think it's kind of heartless to say no. Who knows for how many kids that's the highlight of the day?