Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Beware of Spider-Man

Things have been crazy busy at work this month, which is why I've been such an inconsistent blogger (like I need an excuse), but I saw this tag on the New York Times' "Spider-Man 2" review and I just had to share it: After an excellent review which touted the film's emphasis on human relationships over whiz-bang special effects came the advisory "'Spider-Man 2' is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has some brutally violent scenes, and kissing." Like, "I'm okay with my pre-teen child seeing brutal violence, but kissing! Kissing is where I draw the line." How does kissing find itself on the same parental cautionary plane as not just violence, but brutal violence? Is Peter Parker just that bad a kisser?

Friday, June 25, 2004

Yours Till *&%^$

When I was a kid, back in the Stone Age, I had a small book of autograph verses called Yours Till Niagara Falls, which I note with amazement is still available from amazon.com. The sweet and silly declarations therein were a little too cutesy even back in the '70s when I was signing yearbooks, and I can't imagine kids today even having a clue what the point of those quaint little ditties could possibly be. But an article in this morning's paper makes me think that a copy of my old autograph companion should be issued with every new yearbook, and students should be made to memorize its contents: It seems that book-signers at a local high school used so many obscenities, suggestive come-ons and provocative statements in their yearbook messages that administrators had to seize the books and white-out inappropriate sentiments. There was a predictable amount of squawking about constitutional rights to self-expression and clucking over schools not allowing parents to do their jobs, but really -- if autographs now need to be censored, it's time to get back to "2 Good 2 Be 4 Gotten."

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Raiding the Parent's Portfolio

When I first started the Parent's Portfolio on Mothers with Attitude, it was with the hope that people would steal my stuff. I'd been frustrated with the lack of templates for the kinds of things I wanted to write for my kids -- instructions to teachers, additions to IEPs, behavior plans -- that I hoped to provide some for other moms by posting the documents I finally came up with. I'm happy to report that the first case of outright theft reported to me -- a behavior plan for a post-institutionalized child with hearing impairment, written by Marie Lowry and based heavily on my behavior plan for my FASD son -- is now posted to the portfolio as well, for further pilfering. If you've written something useful in advocating for your child and would like to pass it on to other parents, please e-mail it to me and I'll add it to the portfolio. And if you're needing a good list of accommodations or a way to explain your child's disabilities, please feel free to adapt anything in the portfolio to your own use. There's a copyright on most of the pages because I don't want them ending up uncredited on someone else's website, but they're entirely available -- and intended -- for the personal use of parents. Just share your rewrites, 'kay?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Putting words in our mouths

So yesterday I was at my son's school and the nurse came up to me, amused, and said she guessed we were expecting a cold summer this year. When I looked at her blankly, she related a little story my son had told her: "My dad said I could get a new computer when it snows in July." She chuckled and clearly seemed to think it was very clever of my husband to have found such a witty way to turn down our son's technology request.

Couple of problems, though: We already have three computers. My son rarely plays on them. He's never asked for a new one. And my husband has never turned him down, wittily or otherwise. The subject of snow in July has never arisen.

I suspected that this was once again a case of my guy picking up blocks of dialog from TV shows and delivering them with such sincerity, in such appropriate ways, that folks naturally assume he's telling a true tale from his own life. And sure enough, that night, when I was watching an "Arthur" re-run with him, what did Binky Barnes say but, "Are we expecting a cold summer? My dad said I could get a new computer when it snows in July."

Now, there's no real harm done if my son's telling anecdotes and school personnel are believing that his dad and I speak as though we have scriptwriters helping us. But it does make me worry a bit about what else he might be saying. Could he pick up a little block of dialog that would make us look cruel instead of clever? I'd better start screening his screen time more closely. And maybe I should start to doubt the anecdotes he tells me about his teachers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Famous for burping

I recently signed up with Statcounter to get some better and broader statistics on who's coming to my sites and why. Among the information I'm getting is a list of key words people use to find the site, and it is through that particular service that I am able to make this surprising declaration: If you do a Google search for "burping aloud," you'll find Mothers with Attitude among the top 10 entries, courtesy of an essay I wrote about my son and his table manners. We're number 5, as a matter of fact. Such a proud moment.

Dinner with Spidey

My family had dinner with Spiderman last night. The web-slinger came to our table, crawled atop it, affixed his web to my husband's shoulder, walked up my daughter's leg, and generally made himself at home. If he hadn't been five inches high, we would have had to call the waitress to throw him out.

But in fact, this particular Spidey was the plastic action figure variety, wielded by a four-year-old whose awfully laid-back parents were at a table across the aisle. Maybe because I talked nice to him when he first visited our table (after all, since I wasn't sitting on the aisle, I wasn't the one being crawled on), he visited again and again, becoming more and more full-contact. And because he was four, and cute, and fairly oblivious to anything but his cool toy, it was okay. But I marveled at how nonchalantly his parents took the sight of their small son working the room. I mean, in this day and age, don't we try to discourage our children from talking to strangers, much less touching them? The kid just kept affixing his Spiderman's web to my husband's shoulders and chest while Mom and Dad chatted amiably with the couple at the next table, whose own Spiderman-shirt-wearing three-year-old was at our table too, looking like he couldn't have been more excited if it was Spiderman in the flesh.

So maybe we give out some sort of friendly, child-tolerant vibe. And maybe the parents were just so relieved to have the kid no longer crawling Spiderman all over them that they were willing to overlook his relentlessly forward behavior. I certainly did recognize their tone when they, very periodically, called to their child to come back and not bother the nice people. It was that sort of, "We have to call him because people will think badly of us if we don't, but we really hope they'll keep entertaining him" tone. I may have used that tone a time or two. When my son was reaching into people's pockets to look at their keys, say. And when he was well past four years old. Yesterday, maybe.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Introducing the "So Much for Sainthood..." Award

I've been thinking a lot lately about how my conception of myself -- as a mom who's pretty on top of her children's needs and issues and tries hard to get them what they need -- and other people's conception of me -- too often, as some kind of saint who gives her all for these challenged children -- is often at odds with the nitty gritty of my daily life, which all too often involves losing my temper unecessarily, spending more time playing on the computer than playing with my kids, and choosing the most expedient path over the most enriching one. I think about this on mornings when I send my son to school in clothes stained with whatever he had for breakfast, because I don't have the time or energy or will to go through dressing him again; or when I do my daughter's homework for her because I don't have the smarts and the stamina to reteach and rehearse and remind her to learn it on her own.

I do my best, just as I tell my children to do, but for sure I'm no saint, and a lot of the time I'm barely competent. In the hope that other folks feel this same way, I hereby institute the "So Much for Sainthood..." Award, and invite anyone who wants to share their own embarrassing or silly stories to do so on the Mothers with Attitude Sounding Board. I haven't figured out what prize might be offered periodically to the saddest sack amongst us, but particularly amusing or mortifying examples of motherly bungling will, with the permission of the transgressors (and their names disguised), be featured on the Mothers with Attitude home page. Anyone game?

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

Ken Swarner's latest entry in his Family Man column deals with those summertime marauders, the "Pirates of the Cabinet." If your kids and their friends have ever moved through your kitchen like locusts, eating everything in their path, then you can relate. We've not had too much problem in this area yet, although my daughter did have one friend I had to keep an eye on. She would help herself to whatever was in the refrigerator, and a few times I had to convince her that really, those leftovers had been in there a long time, they probably were no longer good to eat. I will say, though, she was useful when it came to getting rid of Halloween candy that had overstayed its welcome. You could usually count on her to sneak into the living room and fill up her pockets when she thought nobody was looking. I finally started giving her a bag. If this was an episode of "Full House" or "7th Heaven," my daughter's favorite shows at the moment, this girl would turn out to have a family that was homeless or so poverty stricken they could not afford bad leftovers and Halloween candy themselves. I thought for a while that her parents had her on a diet and maybe I should be telling them that she was treating our home as her personal smorgasbord. But since we're not in a sensitive family sitcom or drama, I think she was probably just an omniverous growing girl. And we should invest in fridge locks.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Bad book behavior

My daughter did something today that absolutely stunned me. And I guess I should be glad that it didn't involve sex or drugs or violence or cheating on schoolwork or other typically adolescent forms of stunning behavior. In fact, I suppose in the greater scheme of things, it was positively un-stun-worthy. It was just this: She tore the cover off a book. A new paperback, one she had begged me to give her money for at her school's book fair last month. It's not like it was particularly pricey, but it was more expensive than most of the little novels -- a Ripley's almanac with a sort of spangly cover. I'd hemmed and hawed a little bit about giving her the money for that particular book because I figured it would just sit in her desk and she'd never look at it, which appears to have been the case, except that the cover got a little bit bent, and so -- well, why not? -- she ripped it off and threw it away.

And it's not that I'm some keeper of pristine books, carefully dustjacketed and bookcased, with no little fingers allowed to touch. I tote books around in my purse until the covers are frayed, I jam them onto shelves, I let sticky-fingered toddlers or finger-sucking boys turn the pages without wet-wiping first. We've worn through multiple copies of childhood favorites, and proud to do it. But you don't just tear the cover off of a book for no good reason, especially if that's about the only thing you're planning to do with it. I suppose it's a sign of how easy we have it with this particular child that this is all I have to get mad at her about. I'm happy about that. But dang, take care of your books, girl.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Broadway on a budget

My mother loved the theater. She started taking me to plays when I was a very small girl (well, okay, I was a very small girl pretty much right up to the time when I became a very small woman; let's say, a very young girl), and was always excited about seeing the new plays that made it from Broadway to theaters in Los Angeles. When I moved to the east coast, we always had to see a show when she visited; and in between, watching the Tony Awards was a way to keep tabs on what we wanted to see and what was probably not worth the skyrocketing ticket prices.

Those ticket prices eventually dampened my enthusiasm for trekking into NYC and catching a show. I think the breaking point for this was an evening in which play tickets, dinner, and the parking ticket we got for putting our car somewhere we shouldn't have ran my husband and I about $250. When we realized we could have bought a TV for the amount of money it had cost us for one evening out, we stopped wanting those sorts of evenings out very much. It's a lot to ask of a show to make you forget how much you had to pay to watch it. Very few shows can do it.

But I still love watching the Tony Awards, and will be in front of my TV tonight to see what I've been missing. I haven't been bringing my daughter to plays like my mom did for me, but I'll at least have her sit and watch some production numbers before bedtime. If anyone else out there is enjoying the theater vicariously through its annual awards, stop by the chat room at the Mothers with Attitude Sounding Board tonight during the show and let's pick the winners, mourn the losers, and say snippy things about what people are wearing.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Bad day, good year

I had a conference with my son's teacher yesterday, and she started with the fairly dreadful phrase, "What do you want first, the good news or the bad news?" Before I could panic much, she explained that the "good news" was that my son had had a great year, and the "bad news" was that he was having a difficult day. Alright, maybe a difficult week. Not the best month, either. But it's the end of the year, with a lot of disruptions and general overstimulation, and she was a lot happier about the great year than the bad ending. Me, too.

We agreed that my son has made a lot of progress this year, both behaviorally and academically; and we also agreed that we were each doing a wonderful job with him. All that mutual admiration is a good thing, because we're all due to be together again next year. It's the first time since preschool that my guy's had the same teacher two years in a row, and once again it's a cheerful and unflappable woman who works well with him and seems generally unfazed by his, shall we say, behavioral challenges. It's a relief to know that he'll be in good hands next year, that I won't have to go in and explain him to a stranger, that he won't have to get to know a new person with new expectations. They'll both be up to speed, first thing. Having the same teacher two years in a row is something I've been wanting for him since he started elementary school, and now we'll see whether it really makes a difference.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Funeral for a friend

This week, the excerpts-in-your-inbox book club I subscribe to is reading The Mourner's Dance: What We Do When People Die by Katherine Ashenburg. It's an appropriate choice for a week during which I actually attended a wake and a funeral. But the book's suggestion that the traditions surrounding death and grieving are passed down in ways we aren't always aware of, so that even members of society who seem unaware or uninterested find themselves observing the same rituals, put me in mind of a second "funeral," one I was the sole witness to last Friday.

I've mentioned here that it's a springtime tradition for the high school next door to us to place a crashed-up car on its lawn to warn kids against driving drunk on prom night; and that my son, who's car-obsessed, visits the car daily, names it, talks to it, gets his picture taken with it, and generally treats it like a bosom buddy. I should also mention that he goes into mourning on the day the tow truck finally hauls it away. That day came last Friday for this year's wreck, a Lincoln Town Car he christened "Linc." When all that was left of Linc was a muddy gash in the ground strewn with bits of broken glass, my son cried and yelled at me for not coming home earlier from work so he could have seen his friend one last time. We found a few plastic pieces from the turn signal light that weren't too sharp to keep as a souvenir, and started to walk back home ... but then my guy paused, and said, "We have to have a funeral."

He ran over to a little bed of flowers by the high school sign and picked up a small chunk of dirt, then walked back to the hole in the ground where the car had been and started to say a few words. You couldn't ask for a better eulogy than the one he gave (although I could have skipped the part about "If my mom had come home earlier I could have seen you again"), and when he had finished his kind words of remembrance he tossed the little chunk of dirt into the "grave." Then he ran back to the flower bed, got another chunk of dirt, and gave another eulogy in the voice of his imaginary dog. When Invisible Scooby was through, I picked a dandelion, said a few words myself, and put the flower beside the chunks of dirt. And we went home, feeling that our work was done and our grieving well-respected.

How did he know to do that? I think he's only been to one funeral, and I don't think we threw dirt in the grave. Surely he was too young to remember, anyway. Was there a funeral on "Arthur" or "Dragontales" or something? Or is it just some sort of human imperative, coded into our genes? Whatever it is, that Town Car got a nice send-off. Too bad I got home too late for a wake.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

Check out the latest entries from two of our columnists: Ken Swarner takes on tee ball in his Family Man column, and on a more serious note, April Cain tells a family's tale of abuse and healing in this month's Thinking It Over. And maybe this week, my daughter will have less homework and I'll have more time to think and there will be a few new entries in "Parenting Isn't Pretty," too. It's a nice dream.