Thursday, May 27, 2004

More school board treachery

The latest in our school district's desperate (even the newspaper headlines are calling them "desperate" now) attempt to find a place to plop a big ol' 8th and 9th grade school is a proposal to tear down a perfectly good elementary school and build the new monster mega school in its place. This sort of idea leads me to believe that the school board is so annoyed at all the objections they've been getting so far that now they're just deliberately trying to tick people off. We've moved from "We'd like to put a new school in your neighborhood" to "We're going to tear down your neighborhood school, send your little kids somewhere else, and bring a whole bunch of adolescents in to take their place." If that's not purposely provocative, I don't know what is.

So we're sure to have another big protest movement on our hands. I'm waiting for fighting between the different protest factions to start breaking out in the streets. Tempers are high. And all of it makes me realize how glad I am that I've never been the kind of person who feels a need to run for the school board or the city council. I mean, God bless folks who want to be public servants, but talk about a thankless job. Clearly, we need some sort of school overcrowding relief. They're about ready to start holding high school classes in the parking lot, the building's so packed (come to think of it, maybe that's why the marching band practices so much). But it's hard to imagine a place or a plan for building extra school space that's not going to make someone mad enough to bring a ton of fliers down on the head of any local politician who supports it. Let others lead; I'll just sit and whine.

The school due to be razed is actually one my kids have attended; it was never our neighborhood school, but it was the site of their particular special-ed programs for a number of years. It's a perfectly serviceable school, albeit a small building on a big piece of land. I would be sad to see it go, though, and sad to think of all those special-ed kids being disrupted. Not that they can't be moved around on the whim of a special-ed administrator anyway, but still. My kids had some happy years in pre-K in a cozy little trailer out back of the building, and I wonder where all those little ones will be booted off to now. Not that I really believe this proposal will fly any farther than any of the other ones have. But sooner or later, somebody's petition's bound to come up short.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Toothless insults

Don't ask me why, but the ultimate sibling insult in our house right now is "You have no teeth." My son lobs this one at my daughter at dinnertime with maximum gleeful gloating, and it does have the advantage of inviting no zippy comeback. "Yes, I do," lacks some zing. She tries to ignore it, I try to ignore it, but after a while even an absurd insult rankles. Tonight he moved on to "You have no gums," and I guess I should at least be impressed that his knowledge of dental body parts is growing. "You have no tongue" has been sneaking in, too. Where this comes from, I have not a clue. Usually I can figure out what cartoon introduced what meanness into his vocabulary -- he has an uncanny knack of picking up the one negative statement in even the most positive PBS offering -- but I don't remember ever hearing anyone picking on anyone else's dentition. Has anybody heard a similar phrase in a TV show, movie or video game? Or is this the beginning of some sort of dentistry fixation? Never a dull moment, hereabouts.

Monday, May 24, 2004

School fatigue

Is summer vacation here yet? I'm as eager for time off as any schoolkid. Mostly because I feel like a schoolkid with the amount of homework help I'm having to provide lately. My daughter's coming home with so much stuff to do each evening that I've abandoned the pretense of having her try it herself first and am just giving her answers, lest homework time stretch past midnight. It's starting to seem as though her teachers are realizing they didn't get quite far enough through the curriculum, and so they're going to do a few months' worth in the last weeks of school. And I say, enough! Bring on the break! Even though summer brings with it changes in routine that can make my son misbehave; changes in drop-offs and pick-ups that play havoc with my work schedule; costly camps and new people to indoctrinate into our behavior management schemes; even with all the upheaval, it's going to be better than having to lead a learning disabled girl through fifteen questions on three hard short stories in one evening. Plus studying for three tests. Plus filling out two study guides and a few worksheets for good measure. Enough, I say! I already graduated sixth grade once; it's time to be done with it again.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

My hero

I've been struck down by allergies over the past week or so, just feeling drippy and droopy and coughy and itchy and generally full of gunk. Today I lost my voice, which always makes a big impression on the kids, especially when I try to yell and wind up squeaking instead. My son, noble lad that he is, declared this morning that he would make the supreme sacrifice and stay home from school to take care of me. To my protestations he put up a hand and said, no no, I shouldn't try to talk him out of it, he wouldn't hear of it, he was happy to do this for me. I finally prevailed upon him to not give up his educational opportunities of the day just for poor old me, and he agreed to compromise: When he got home from school, he'd take care of me. No playing with his cousin, no doing his homework, no, not a thought of it -- he would be my nursemaid. Such a selfless guy. I'll have to schedule a nice long nap so that he can get that homework done after all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

School-free zones

The political hot potato in our town these days is the location of a new junior high school, which most folks seem to acknowledge is necessary as long as it's nowhere near them. I personally wouldn't mind having it in my backyard -- better than having to schlep my kids across town for grades 8-9 -- but my backyard already has a high school in it. The original proposal was to put it in the one part of town that didn't have a school already; there's a park the school board had specifically bought with the possibility of turning it into a school in mind. But folks in that neighborhood would rather have a park than a school, and they put up enough of a complaint that the plan changed to put it on the other end of town. But that neighborhood already had a middle school and an elementary school less than a mile apart on the same busy street, and the new school would be right in between. So their backyards are full also. And now there are rival angry citizen groups yelling at the school board and city council, demanding that those other angry citizens just shut up and put up.

Our town's really not that small -- it's really a decent-size city -- but at times like this it's sure got that small-town feel. Reading through the local giveway paper, seeing names I know in the lists of petition-signers and letter-writers, hearing of plans to storm the city council, catching impassioned discussions at school events ... people take this stuff so seriously. Probably I should be taking it seriously, too. Our schools are overcrowded, to be sure, and underfunded, and that doesn't help my service-needing kids. But on the other hand, I would be really happy to see this debate turn and turn and turn, argued endlessly without resolution, until the deadline for building the new school moves beyond the point at which my kids will be affected by it. Crowded schools may be bad for my two, but brand-new schools without solid routines and time-tested teachers and administrative policies are probably worse. It's bad enough that they have to switch from elementary to middle, and then middle to high school. I'm not nuts about adding an additional transition in there, especially if it's far from my backyard.

Maybe if it becomes impossible enough to find a place to build this big new school, they'll ditch the idea of having our kids go from a K-5 school to a 6-7 school to a 8-9 school to a 10-12 school and keep the configuration as is -- K-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Three schools during early adolescence, when we most want teachers and administrators to get to know our kids and keep an eye of them, seems kind of ridiculous. Which leads me to wonder: Are any other towns trotting their kids around that much? What's the grade configuration like in your schools? Post your answer on the Education and Reading message board, or use our comments feature below. With enough information about how other districts do it, maybe I'll be able to start a petition, write a letter to the editor, and rouse a little rabble.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Cicadas don't hurt people -- people hurt people

One of my most unpleasant memories from childhood involves cicadas, those noisy, absurdly large and generally sluggish insects that seem to have no other real function than to freak people out. They certainly gave me pause when I went off for my first really long session at sleepaway camp and found the campsite infested with them. The steady, unsettling sound of their chirping was the soundtrack for camp life, and swatting aside their heavy bodies or crunching them underfoot was a major activity. Not one I'd signed up for, alas, and so although I had ambitiously begged my parents to let me stay at camp for two whole weeks, I begged with equal desperation for them to let me come home after four days. The main reason may have been that I wanted to avoid a weekend hike with only egg salad sandwiches for sustenance, but the cicadas didn't help make me feel more like roughing it. Maybe my parents had been creeped out by the bugs, too, because they let me quit the place without too many "I told you so's."

So when I saw a headline on Yahoo! News that read Pediatrician Warns Parents About Cicadas, I felt somehow vindicated -- it wasn't just the unreasonable panic of a spoiled and sheltered camp-o-phobe that sent me running; those bugs really are dangerous! But no; what the headline should have said was, "Pediatricians Warn Parents That Their Children Are Stupid." Swarms of cicadas, as we may be seeing this summer, do up the number of emergency-room calls for little ones, but it's not the bugs that are doing the damage, it's panicked reactions to the bugs -- kids running away from them and into brick walls, kids trying to swat them while riding bikes and losing control, kids trying to stab the bugs and missing and hitting a friends' arm instead, or a head with a baseball bat. It's like "The Darwin Awards: Junior Edition." Parents, tell your children: Cicadas won't hurt you. Just ignore them. Go about your business. Don't try to hit them or stab them or shoot them. But if you want to come home from camp, honey, that's okay.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Church and children with special needs

A subject popped up on the message boards today that is a constant concern of mine: the challenges of church and religious education for kids with special needs. It's something I've written about a lot on Mothers with Attitude, and something I grapple with every Sunday morning. My son's gotten a lot better at tolerating Mass, but we're still a long way from him being able to sit quietly in the sanctuary like so many other kids I see. And although we've found ways to help him participate successfully in our church's elementary religious-ed program, I don't see a real clear path through the junior high, high school and confirmation programs. Like the poster, I'm curious to find out how others are dealing with these problems. If you've got a story, please post it on the Child board. And if you'd like to read more of our story, here are some links to articles I've written on the subject:
* (scroll down to August 16)
* (scroll down to March 19)
* (scroll down to April 12)

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

What, her worry?

We've had some real crash-bang-boom thunderstorms here the last couple of nights, and my daughter has not freaked out. This is a major accomplishment, because thunder has long been a major fear factor for her. She's become hysterical, crying and panicking, over much softer thunderclaps and lightening flashes in the past. But last night, when I suggested she come to my room to wait out the noise, she said she thought she could make it through on her own. And tonight, she said that just listening to music and being cozy in her bed had been enough to keep her calm, even though she was still afraid. I'm hoping this is the beginning of an overall mastery of fear and anxiety for her. That would be a major, major thing. We've been talking a lot about the "worry brain" and how it does not give reliable information, and what the "smart brain" can do to counteract those scary and undependable messages. Maybe some of it is sinking in.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Beat-Up Car Day

Today marks the annual observance of one of my son's big-three favorite events. You've got Christmas, you've got birthday, and you've got the day a tow truck brings a beat-up old car to the high school next door and dumps it on the grass by the parking lot. The purpose of this car is to show high-school kids what will happen if they drink and drive, but I doubt it has as much of an impact on those jaded teens as it does on my boy. He's beside himself with glee when that car turns up. He visits it two or three times a day. He gives it a name. He has conversations with it. He makes me take Polaroid pictures of him standing beside each side of the smashed up vehicle, and he tapes them to his wall. He waits and wonders which day he'll come home from school and find that the car has been painted over with graffiti messages like "Think, don't drink!" He worries about the car at night, and for good reason, because oftentimes a bunch of high school boys (probably drunk, ironically enough) come and flip the car over for fun. He can tell you what car has been on the lawn for every year we've lived next to the school. Last year, it was an Oldsmobile named "Fred." This year, it's a Lincoln Town Car christened "Linc." The car usually hangs out on the lawn for about a month, through prom season and on toward graduation, which beats the 12 days of Christmas for sure. You just have a happy Beat-Up Car Day, you hear?

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Book club's a blast

I've been moderating a sixth-grade book club group at my daughter's school this year (though not one with my daughter in it, of course; the only thing more traumatic for her than doing extra reading would be having to interact with her mother at school), and it's given me a really good perspective on the reading habits of girls vs. boys. Mine was one of the few groups in the club that was more or less even -- three boys and two girls, out of a club that had maybe five boys in it altogether -- and if you think that sixth-grade boys who would consent to be in a book club are somehow more sensitive or poetic or in touch with their feminine side than the normal run of rowdy preadolescents, well, think again.

Let me offer but one small illustration: When I asked the kids, in a recent discussion, what they would change about the classic "Black Beauty," the girls wished there had been a fairy godmother to sprinkle magic dust on the horse and free him from bad people. The boys wished there had been more bloodshed, preferably a person or two killed every chapter. They then proceeded to act out their plot changes with maximum booms and bangs. I think they ended up with The Terminator in there.

Said one boy, somewhat admiringly, of his friend, "He watches too many cartoons!"

Indeed. The boys were openly disdainful of most of the books chosen, which were in fact picked by women and not surprisingly appealed to girls. "Ella Enchanted," for example, while certainly a spirited read, is not a big draw for male readers. Ditto "Sing Down the Moon." All the kids liked "Because of Winn-Dixie" (amazingly, since it had a female narrator and low body count), and the boys tolerated "Skinnybones," which at least was about a boy. But although "Black Beauty" was intended as a change from girly fare, it was not sufficiently action packed for the cartoon fans. Perhaps it was because the author was a woman, and chose to make her points through gentle and reasoned dialog and not, say, the business end of a .45.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Kids' blood pressure is rising, but not mine

For a while there, my daughter was in the forefront of medical research. When I saw a news story titled "U.S. Kids Suffer Blood Pressure Rises, Study Finds," I thought, well, there you go. I'd been surprised when my daughter tested with high blood pressure, and when a second measure a week later had it even higher. But apparently it's not such a surprising thing. Of course, the rise the researchers are talking about is just a trend of a few points. But why shouldn't my girl be an overacheiver in something? It's just an extreme expression of an overall national health crisis. Trendy, that's us!

Or not. She went back to the doctor today for the third, if-it's-still-high-it's-off-to-the-cardiologist test, and darned if her blood pressure wasn't nice and beautifully normal. No need for specialists. No need for additional pumping up. No need to keep worrying. And thank God for that. Don't know what problem those other kids are having, but we're way healthy here. We're all about trend-busting, as it turns out.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Hating testing

My son has standardized testing at his school this week. I hate standardized testing -- it's needlessly disruptive to his calm special-ed routine, and isn't going to tell us anything we don't already know. I'm sure the teachers hate it, too; in fact, while I was volunteering in the library today, a teacher walked by, stopped in the door and announced, apropos of nothing, "I hate standardized testing." I've gotten notes the past couple of days that my guy's behavior was lacking in the afternoon, and although there could be a number of reasons, I'm pretty quick to lay it on the testing he endured in the morning. Oh, hated testing! Is so much of it really so necessary? I'm all for accountability and everything, and keeping up standards, and making sure our students are learning things they need to know. But I've also seen sample pages of some of these tests, and I'm not sure I could pass them. I fear we've come to the point at which these tests have undergone so much editing-by-committee that they've lost any particular connection to a useful body of student knowledge. Couldn't we just go by grades, and hope for the best? Seems the only people who don't hate testing are the ones who keep foisting it upon us.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Thank a teacher

Do you have anything nice to say about your kids' teachers? Those of us who spend so much time in armor, lance in hand, battling the forces of Special Education don't often feel we can let our guard down long enough to appreciate the good stuff, and some years there's not much good stuff to appreciate -- but when you get one of those educators that gets it, it's nice now and then to say so. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week (so let me get this straight -- they get a week, and moms only get a day?), and if there's a teacher you'd like to thank, whether one of yours or one of your kids', stop by the Child message boards and show your gratitude. And all you homeschooling moms? Come by and thank yourselves!

Monday, May 03, 2004

"Friends" and family

It's been interesting to watch all the hoopla over the last episode of "Friends" (did you hear? It's going off the air!) and realize that the show started just a couple of months before we went to Russia to adopt our kids. I can barely remember those heady days when I used to actually watch what I wanted when I wanted, and had shows I considered "appointment TV." I was enthusiastic over the first few episodes of "Friends" and another new show that season, "My So-Called Life" (equally worthy of a long run but sadly getting only a very very short one), and probably felt disappointed to think I was going to have to miss episodes while on our mission to Moscow. I may even have set the VCR to tape them, but it wouldn't have mattered because we wound up being overseas for nearly a month instead of two weeks, and by the time I got home with two kids and four weeks of backlogged sleep I was more eager to watch kiddie shows that would buy me a nap -- maybe "Sesame Street" or the dreaded "Barney" -- than something intended for adults. So I never really got into "Friends," and while I've followed the toothsome sixsome's antics through magazine articles and "TV Guide" listings, I can't say I have any particular emotional investment in how they all end up. Ironic, though, isn't it, that adoption is part of the final plotline?

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Spring cleaning

My big accomplishment this weekend was cleaning out my son's room -- and if you have a kid who's a packrat, you know what a challenge that can be. I'm a bit of a packrat myself, so I'm sympathetic to his desire to want to hang on to, for example, every piece of paper that passes through his hands, but when it gets to the point that you need snowshoes to make it from one end of his room to another, something's gotta give. My plan was to put each group of items -- toy cars, receipts, multi-piece activity sets, pajamas, car magazines, play food, miscellaneous unidentifiable pieces of "treasure" -- in its own box, so that end-of-day clean-up would be streamlined. And I mostly managed, although now instead of toy upon toy we have box upon box. To up the degree of difficulty, we decided to rearrange furniture as part of this particular clean-up, and though it's the same furniture in the same room, we seem to have ended up with less floor-space for piling things. At any rate, there's now a place for everything, and at least this evening, at the end of Day One of clean-room-time, everything went back to its place. Anybody want to make a bet as to how long that good habit will last? Guess low.