Saturday, July 31, 2004

No fun in the sun

My kids have already gotten a couple of whopping sunburns this summer, and we haven't even gone on vacation yet. It always happens because Mom either forgot to put on the sunscreen or forgot one very sun-exposed spot. So my daughter came home from camp the other day with safely pale arms and legs but a face that looked like a stoplight. We've been slathering that poor red nose and cheeks with aloe and sunscreening it up now (after the horse is out of the barn, of course), and even bought her a new cap to wear (since none of the ones we had were cute enough), but even with all those relief efforts, there are glitches. When my husband went to pick her up later in the week, for example, he found that she was wearing the cap backward, thereby saving her hair from sunstroke but not doing much for her face. Although she huffs that we just don't understand, I do: She's a teen, she's required to do what every other idiot her age is doing. But if she doesn't get some shade on her face during those long days outdoors, she's going to be able to use her nose for a flashlight.

I think if I were a camp counselor, I would carry with me at all times a tube of extra-strong sunblock, and if I saw a kid starting to glow I'd go put some on them. But these are litigious times, and I suppose people who work with kids have been warned not to touch them or apply anything to them to which the little ones could be allergic, lest they be accused of doing harm. So they just watch as skin turns redder and redder, and probably pull their own caps a little further down their faces. Leaving the responsibility where it probably belongs, with old mom, rushing around in the morning trying to get kids to camp and at the same time slather them sufficiently to ward off peeling today and skin cancer tomorrow, grabbing at wiggly boys with slippery hands and then trying to wash the stuff off before making lunches or packing cars. And according to this quiz from the American Cancer Society, none of that is really going to help my kiddos unless I drive over to their camps every two hours and put on more sunscreen, make them wear sunglasses with their caps, and then insist that they sit in the shade through the middle of the day. So, I think we have some more sunburn in our future. But myself, I'm staying inside.

Friday, July 30, 2004

... and one more new thing

April Cain's latest entry in her Thinking It Over column looks at the years and the changes that have passed since she traveled to Russia to adopt her son. I've been thinking about that this summer, too; it's hard to ignore how much my son has grown, since over the past year he has really started to grow. I don't mean developmentally or intellectually, though there's certainly been some of that. I mean that my little peanut, who used to wear the same size in clothes for years on end, who hung off the bottom of the growth chart for most of his life, who could never keep his pants up, so nonexistent were his hips and belly ... that tiny guy, who I used to tuck under my arm, is suddenly almost as tall as me, and is busting out of the shorts I bought him just a couple of months ago. He's a peanut no more. I'm proud, of course, and relieved to seem him so sturdy and healthy, but ... it's hard to switch tracks from looking for smaller sizes and serving bigger portions of food to recognizing that he needs bigger and bigger clothes and maybe ought to stop at seconds at dinnertime. Do you suppose those parasites he brought home from our trip to Russia 10 years ago, the ones we had to battle the pediatrician to test for and were never sure we really defeated, finally just died out on their own?

Thursday, July 29, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

Julie Donner Andersen's Therapeutic Laughing column takes a turn for the inspirational with a lovely piece about appreciating the little things in life. Meanwhile, Family Man Ken Swarner doesn't appreciate the way the names of perfectly good clothing items get stolen and changed into something that embarrasses you in front of your preteen. Over on the message boards I moderate for, readers are talking about sensory integration and Asperger's Syndrome. If you have something to share about those diagnoses, come on over. I'd appreciate it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Trombone it is

I'm happy to report that, after a surprisingly brief struggle, the contest between the trumpet and the trombone for my daughter's musical attention has been resolved, and she's decided that she really does want to be a trombonist after all. This is pretty much what I suspected would happen -- the trumpet looked cool when somebody else was playing it, and those keys seemed so much easier than that darn slide, but when it came to actually reading notes in a different clef and learning fingerings and playing instead of noodling, the appeal dimmed. We both felt bad firing the cute young trumpet teacher after only three lessons, and we do still have a rented trumpet for three more months, but in the end, I'm glad the battle was brief, if only because the beginnings of learning an instrument are always fairly agonizing for the listeners, and she's tortured that poor horn enough. The best part of all this, I think, is that the trombone lessons she had to agree to to get the trumpet lessons are ongoing, missy, and will help her feel more confident and competent in her chosen instrument. Chosen as of now, anyway. Let's hope the onset of band in the fall doesn't find her coveting the clarinet, or the drums. At least if she'd fixate on the flute, she could use my old band instrument.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Creative motivation

Managing the behavior of a developmentally quirky kid like my son requires a gratifying degree of creativity. It becomes obvious pretty quickly that conventional parenting techniques don't work, but you're often surprised and charmed by the little things that do. My son doesn't like big consequences, either positive -- too much pressure -- or negative -- too much stress. Yet he'll often do our bidding just for a look at our keys, or to beat a count of 10. Recently, I've hit on another motivator for him that's entirely too silly to work, and yet it does: that old kiddie game of "Got your nose!" He's really old enough, both chronologically and developmentally, to know that that thumb tucked between my fingers is not his actual nose. You can see him thinking it over, sometimes touching his nose or whatever other external organ I've claimed to snatch, and knowing it's not real; and yet, he wants it back. He can't rest easy until I pretend to return what I've taken. And to get it, he'll do things he normally takes great pains to avoid, like telling me what he did in camp, or writing in his journal, or settling down to read, or even keeping his fingers out of his mouth for a short time. He'll do what I ask, if I'll just give him back his nose or his ear or his big toe. I'd love to tell his teacher about this in September, so she can add it to his list of motivators ... but I have a feeling she'd look at me funny. Besides, a mother's gotta have a few extra tricks up her sleeve. And maybe a nose or two, too.

Monday, July 26, 2004

She wants her MTV

And here's another sign that my little girl is growing up: Sometimes, when I think she's out there in the living room peacefully watching "Zoom" or "Arthur" or "Full House" or some other parent-approved TV show, she's actually sneaking over to MTV, checking it regularly to see if a song she likes is on. I caught her a time or two and sternly (and wishfully) said she was too young for that stuff; it didn't stop her, of course, but it did put her little brother on alert to squeal every time she surfed to that channel. I finally put a "parental block" on it, but told her that if she really wanted to watch, I would sit sometime and watch it with her. We did that for a while last night, and ... whew, I think I may be too young for that stuff.

I'm not an MTV newbie or anything. Back when the channel was just starting out, I was working from my apartment as a freelance writer and, needing some form of procrastination, took to watching videos on a pretty much constant basis. Videos were pretty new then (yes, dear, when mommy was a little girl, there was NO CABLE TV), and there was a lot of goofiness and a lot of over-the-top storytelling and a lot of what amounted to videotaped stage performances. I haven't watched videos regularly for a couple of decades now, though, and from what I'd heard and read about MTV, it was sounding less and less like something I want my middle-schooler to be watching. Knowing, however, that the best way to get kids interested in something is to forbid them to watch it -- and knowing, too, that we get some good conversations going based on what we watch together, good or bad -- I figured the best thing to do would be to let her watch it, but only if I'm there too.

As it happens, the MTV she wanted to watch was the "MTV Hits" channel, which is apparently for the younger end of the MTV demographic, with some teen hits, some rap and R&B, and no commercials. There was some of the same goofiness and storytelling I remembered, and a lot more nakedness and sexuality than I'm comfortable watching with my child. I took the opportunity to point out to her that, while the men in these videos are usually wearing shirts and jackets and long pants, the women are usually wearing as little as possible -- mini skirts, tiny tops, string bikinis. What did she think about that? Did she think that a girl had to dress like that and move like that to get a boy to like her? Her answer was "yes." Yikes. Lots to talk about there.

One other good thing to come from our mutual viewing: In Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers, I'd read about a type of dancing that's apparently popular amonst older middle-schoolers that I wanted to tell my daughter she was forbidden from doing ever, ever, ever. But how to describe it, exactly? Watching MTV, no problem -- there it was, demonstrated by an oversexed clump of dancers in a video for a song called, appropriately, "Turn Me On." My girl professed to love that song, particularly the voice of the singer, and to have no real idea what it was about, or why I'd want to turn that particular video off. So apparently, she's not that grown-up yet. And I aim to keep it that way.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Obsessing over OCD

As if we didn't have enough alphabet soup to contend with: A new study indicates that the disorder formerly known as OCD may in fact be three different syndromes, one each for hand-washing, checking and hoarding. That may be good news for researchers trying to find a cure, and to those who might benefit from such -- but to parents who have been given a fistful of diagnoses for their challenging children, finding out that some of those diagnoses have sub-diagnoses is sure to bring on HIPD (Had It with Professionals Disorder). Not to mention that the producers of "Monk" will have to develop three different commercials.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Middle school research

It was with some trepidation that I plucked "Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers" off the library shelf. Would it be like the movie "Thirteen," filled with possibilities that would terrify me for my daughter? Would it be like some of the nonfiction books on the cult of aggression in girls, causing me to think seriously about homeschooling? I'm eager to know what other kids in this stage of development are going through so I can reassure her when she's having scary but normal feelings. I've assured her that she could ask most any adult and they would agree that middle school was one of the worst times in their lives. But am I really up for reading about how that "worst" manifests itself now?

As it turns out, I am. The book is well-written and entertaining as well as insightful, and it has reassured me that much of what my daughter's dealing with is normal, so I can continue to reassure her. There are stages here she hasn't reached; she's not as hostile and withdrawn from her parents as some of the kids in the book, and if there's as much overt sexual aggression going on in her school as in the one in the book, she doesn't understand it as such yet. Although she's two years older than her classmates, her emotional and social (though not physical, alas) development still lags behind. But there are signs that she's starting to get with the adolescent agenda. For years, she was adament that baggy T-shirts and shorts or sweats were "her style," and refused to consider anything more stylish. But this summer, she's started commenting on the cute clothes the kids in Disney Channel movies wear, and admitting that she'd like to dress like that. She's starting to feel bad about looking different, which is kind of a sad transition but a -- that word again -- normal one. We've agreed that her new stylishness will not include bare midriffs, tight tops or low necklines -- still "not my style" -- but certainly a little more cuteness in her wardrobe would not be a bad idea. That she even wants to shop at all is a radical turn-around.

She's starting to be less interested in boys as buddies and more interested in boys as boys. She's starting to wish she had a friend, not just girls she's friendly with in class but a friend to walk with and talk with and bond with. She's starting to worry about what people think of her, and she's sure that she's the only one people stare at and talk about and reject. Yes indeed, we're in middle school now. And I need to study hard.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Can't remember? Ask your kid.

For a while now, I've realized that my children have better memories than I do. This is particularly unsettling because in so many ways their brains are uncooperative, exhibiting difficulties with learning and language and forms of memory that are useful in a classroom. But in the kind of memory that's useful in finding the car keys or remembering when we went somewhere? They're aces. My daughter, who can't repeat back more than seven words you say to her at any given time, knows the birthdays of everyone in our extended family. My son, who forgets what he's been told to do in the ten or so paces between the kitchen and his bedroom, can repeat whole grocery lists. Now, thanks to some researchers at Ohio State University, I find that this is a normal kid thing -- and that makes it even better, since "normal kid things" are in fairly short supply around here. The study found that small children have better memories than adults because their brains are less cluttered, and they're able to appreciate and retain details that grown-up brains can't be bothered with. Now, of course, my children are no longer so small; at ages 14 and 11, they're older than the kids in the study and should maybe have moved up to less-efficient adult reasoning by now. Maybe their learning problems with advanced work, to some degree, reflect their more childlike approach. But I gotta tell you, I kind of hope they remain immaturely observant a little while longer. 'Cause once they move on, we're going to miss some birthdays.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Oh, never mind

I figured out how to put the old comments back into the new blog design, so ... they're back! Trumpeters and trombonists, rejoice!

What's new?

Well, the design of this blog, for one thing. After years of laziness (and fear of all this Blogger coding), I finally changed the template to one that would accommodate a blogroll of sites that have been nice enough to link to me. The good thing is that we can now have archives on this page (I'm sorting them by month now, to avoid that ridiculously long list) and the color scheme's a little more pleasant. The bad thing is that I was too much of a wimp to try to get the enetation comment code back into the right place, and so I'm now using Blogger's comment system, and comments made before today have vaporized. It's not that I've had so very many comments, but within the last week or so there's been an interesting discussion of trombone and trumpet embrochures, and some sniping against stupid research studies, and I'm sorry to lose them. Thanks to all who've commented in the past and please, comment again -- if only to tell me what you think of the new design.

Meanwhile, over on Mothers with Attitude: There's a new Family Man essay by Ken Swarner, and a page I've set up to record all the books my kids are reading this summer. Everything still looks the same, though. Whether that's good or bad, I'll leave up to you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

My summer reading

I've been on a little bit of a reading jag lately. What started it, I think, was checking out three books from the "new nonfiction" section at our local library and realizing, once I had them home, that they were due in two weeks and not the customary four. So panicked was I about finishing three books in two weeks that I wound up finishing them in one. Two, of course, were books about children with special needs: The Best I Can Be: Living with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome-Effects by Liz Kulp, a teen with FAS, and her mother, Jodee; and Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World by Leah Hager Cohen, a fascinating peek into a deaf school and deaf culture. Then I took one summer respite book: The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt, an enjoyably meandering look at a Cape Cod summer house and the Boston family that has filled it for more than a century.

It was nice reading something non-child-related for a change, but now I'm back on the job, reading a book I bought before I checked out those others: Reflections from a Different Journey : What Adults with Disabilities Wish All Parents Knew, a collection of essays edited by Stanley D. Klein, Ph.D., and John D. Kemp. And, later this afternoon, I'm back to the library. Apparently, all I need to get some good serious reading done is a due date.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Jared to the rescue

Well, thank goodness! We parents have been struggling to teach our kids good nutrition, limit their TV watching, make them play outside, all to prevent them from joining the growing trend toward kiddie obesity -- and now, at last, we have an ally in that fight: Subway's sendin' in Jared. Yes, the sandwich chain spokesman known for limiting his diet to certain subs and losing 245 pounds has been dispatched to help the youth of America trim down. He'll meet tubby kids at speaking engagements and speak to them in commercials, and really, could we be any more relieved? Because when you're trying to get kids to make healthy food choices, the person you want to lead them is a guy who is famous for eating nothing but sandwiches. Locking onto one safe and trusted food to the exclusion of all others is something kids would never think to do on their own. Better make sure you leave those kids in front of the TV, Mom and Dad -- you wouldn't want them to miss their Subway commericals.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Worried? You should be!

Here's a sort of painfully ironic research finding: It turns out that pregnant women who worry a lot give birth to someone to worry about. According to Belgian psychologists, there was a strong correlation between mothers who experienced high levels of anxiety and stress during pregnancy and children with anxiety disorders and behavior problems. The thought is that the kids were "programmed" in the womb to be anxious, hyperactive or aggressive. So isn't that just a kick in the pants: The reason your kid is stressing you out now may be that you stressed him out then.

These findings are of particular interest to me because my mother was a great believer in the theory that the best way to prevent bad things from happening was to worry about them. She would often lay awake nights casting about for things to worry about, fearing that if she missed something it would inevitably happen. I'd always thought my own anxious nature was some sort of genetic hand-me-down from her, but maybe she worried so much on my behalf while she was pregnant with me that she made me a worryer then and there. Either way -- hey, not my fault! And not my fault if my adopted kids are anxious or hyper or aggressive, right? Birthmother stress did that, hon. And I'll cling to that until the study about adoptive moms worrying their kids into stress overload comes along. You Belgian psychologists, you just take your time, 'kay?

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Is there too much non-fiction in children's fiction?

There's an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times today about the extreme seriousness of so much of the required summer reading our kids are being assigned. And I'll admit, it's something I've been wondering about too, since for two years now my daughter's summer reading book has been about dealing with death. Not exactly beach reads here.

The author of the piece, Barbara Feinberg, writes:
"Here are some novels assigned this summer to American sixth-graders, all winners of the highest literary prizes: 'Walk Two Moons,' by Sharon Creech, chronicles a daughter's search for her missing mother, who fled, it turns out, because of a deep depression after a miscarriage and subsequent hysterectomy. At the end, the girl discovers that her mother was killed in a bus accident. In 'Belle Prater's Boy,' by Ruth White, a missing father is found to have died because he shot himself in the face; Belle Prater, the errant mother, is never found, although her son remembers her saying that she's in a straitjacket: 'Squeezed to death. I can't move. I can't breathe. I have to get out of here.' A far gentler book, 'Because of Winn-Dixie,' by Kate DiCamillo, is about a girl who finds a friendly dog who in turn helps her rebuild her life. But she must do that because her mother abandoned her; we are told also that the mother 'loved to drink.'"
And she's got a point; this is heavy, heavy stuff. On the other hand, "Because of Winn-Dixie" is a book I love dearly, and the way the girl's relationship with her father evolves as they both come to terms with the loss of her mother was more heart-warming than -chilling. Is "Sarah, Plain and Tall" a downer because the only reason the family needs Sarah is because they lost their mother? Is the "Shiloh" trilogy unnecessarily traumatic because the figure of Judd, a violent alcoholic who abuses dogs and was himself abused as a child, looms over it so menacingly? Maybe. Maybe not. But I do know that my son has felt more strongly about Shiloh than about any number of less threatening books we've passed his way.

I'm not sure that I buy this as something new in children's literature, either, a menacing sign that adults who should be protecting children are forcing them to face life's hardships instead. The books I remember most clearly from my childhood weren't exactly carefree: "Island of the Blue Dolphins" and "A Little Princess" are certainly books that smacked their young protagonists with harsh realities. I recently took a look at "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," a book I remember loving as a kid, and was reminded that it was about a girl who felt so neglected and ignored by her family that she ran away. That's a plot that would be pretty much at home in today's social-studies kid novels (which is probably why, come to think of it, it's still on reading lists).

It's nice to suppose that there was an easygoing time when children were only exposed to things that were innocent and enchanted and life-affirming and freed from the grittiness that may or may not constitute real adult life. But I don't know; am I the only kid who felt permanently scarred by the death of Bambi's mother? Or who still can't watch "The Wizard of Oz" after feeling so frightened as a child for Dorothy, stranded so far from home? A good scare has long been considered an acceptable part of children's entertainment. Maybe it's just that these days, the stuff of "real life" is scarier than any flying monkey.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Nothing's ever easy, part 5,672

This is why parents of special education students can never just relax over the summer.

On Thursday, we received the middle school's "dress code" letter, the one that sent my daughter into such a tizzy last summer when she realized she wasn't going to be able to wear her big baggy T-shirts to school. Getting it this year wasn't such a big deal. What was a big deal was that we also received one for my son, who is indeed the right age to start middle school but who, by unanimous and enthusiastic decision of his Child Study Team, was to be staying in elementary school for another year, with the same teacher. Because of that, he didn't go through his school's graduation ceremony, he didn't go to the orientation at the new school, he got a summer assignment from his teacher, everything's set. And yet, here comes this letter, addressing him as an incoming sixth-grader in need of proper dress.

I tried not to panic; it was probably a computer glitch. But the Special Ed office had messed me up before, and you can never just assume that these things will go away if you ignore them. So I called the middle school office and left a message. And then the next day, when I was at the middle school anyway for my daughter's band-camp concert, I stopped by the office and asked: What's up with this? Is he really in your computer to come here next year?

The secretary checked. And he's really in their computer.

I took it pretty calmly -- after all, I've turned up these sorts of glitches way closer to the start of school, and addressing them in July is kind of a luxury -- and went to listen to my daughter play. During intermission, I happened to see the elementary school principal, and asked him if he'd heard of any special-ed shakeup that would move my boy up against everyone's will; but no, the principal was expecting him, and recommended that I call the Special Ed office right away. It's not only parents, apparently, who realize how easily things can get messed up.

My cell phone was dead (as it always is when I need it), but there happened to be a pay phone by the auditorium, and I dropped my 50 cents and called the Special Ed office and sure enough, their paperwork all said he was staying in elementary school. The computer (oh, those dastardly computers!) had probably just assigned a grade based on his age, and the person who took my call said she would correct the error. A pleasant exchange, and all is well. But I'll tell you, I'm going to stop by the middle school office in a week or two and make sure the computer's right. If the last week of August comes and we get a middle-school class schedule for him, I'm not going to be so pleasant.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Tricking the tooth fairy

It's been said that kids with fetal alcohol exposure have kind of a communal approach to money -- they're as likely to steal from you as to give you everything in their pockets. My son's shown no tendency to petty theft, but he doesn't take very good care of what he's got, either. He has a box into which he's supposed to put the dollar bills he earns through our credit system, but he'll typically just throw them in a drawer or into the mess on his desk instead, sometimes never to be seen again. There are things he wants, and he likes having the money to buy them, but the connection in his brain between that and those little green pieces of paper is pretty frayed.

Recently, he lost a couple of teeth, and most kids would get dollar signs in their eyes at the thought of tooth-fairy bounty. In the past, he's been increasingly reluctant to part with the tooth, money or no, and with the first of these recent teeth he just refused to put anything under his pillow. But with the second one, he got a gleam in his eye. "I'm going to trick the tooth fairy!" he said. The reference was to an "Arthur" episode in which D.W. puts a fake tooth under her pillow to trick the tooth fairy, and Arthur puts money in its place so that the tooth fairy won't get mad and boycott their house. But my son, of course, had a different spin: He was going to put MONEY under his pillow instead of a tooth! Wouldn't that be a good trick! The tooth fairy would came for a tooth and find that somebody already took it! So under the pillow went $2 his grandmother had just given him for helping her, and he couldn't have been more delighted the next morning to find that same $2 under his pillow. He insisted on leaving it for another night, but it got knocked around during bed-making and his afternoon rocking and now he's got $1 crumpled up next to his boom box and $1 who knows where. Losing a tooth has effectively cost him a buck. But he's a happy guy.

We'll find some way to reimburse him for his tooth fairy adventure. And as long as he's not trying to manage a household, and all he's losing are dollar bills, being careless with money is not a disaster. But I think we can cross a couple more things off the list of jobs he can have when he grows up: Banker and Con Man.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

What are you reading right now?

I've been fooling around the past couple of days with a very cool Web site for book lovers called All Consuming. Its primary function is to scan Weblogs, find references to books and catalog them, so that if you're interested in a book you can look it up and see what bloggers have been saying about it. But it also allows individuals to sign up and keep online records of the books they're reading, have read or plan to read, and make comments about those books. You can go to my blog's page and see what's on my current reading list; I've also used their javascript feature to put the book I'm currently reading at any given time on this page. And if you have a Weblog on which you mention books, let me know so I can add you to my "friends" list -- All Consuming has automatically given me some friends that I've never heard of, and while friends are always good, it's better if they're not strangers.

Meanwhile, if you're a mean mom like me and have your child doing forced reading over the summer (or hit the jackpot and have a kid who loves to read, lucky you), stop by the Child message boards and tell us what's on your young person's reading list.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Girl with a horn

A recent news story suggests that learning music can increase a child's IQ. And that's good news for us this summer, because at least for the next few weeks, my daughter's playing not one but two instruments. After hearing her whine for months about how much she wishes she played the trumpet instead of the trombone, how much she hates the trombone, how she's really a trumpeter but has to play trombone because that's the instrument I picked out for her -- whining that reached a crescendo over the four weeks of summer music camp that end on Friday -- I finally found a local studio that offers rentals and lessons at reasonable rates, and called that girl's bluff. It took her about one lesson and a practice or two to realize that, gee, you can't pick up a new instrument and play it as well as the old instrument (something I told her, oh, 100 times?), and that she really is indeed a trombonist at heart. The lessons are prepaid until the end of the month, so she'll have a little time to live with that truth; but, just to hedge our bets, I signed her up for trombone lessons, too. Maybe, if nothing else, she'll get a little smarter.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Hot off the presses

Got a heavenly little surprise in my mailbox yesterday: the latest edition of the Brimstone Bulletin, newsletter of the Mothers From Hell, with a humor article from my Mothers with Attitude archives right there on the front page. The editor had asked me for some pieces a while ago, but I'd forgotten about it until the newsletter came blazing along yesterday, and now I'm basking in the glow of fame and slightly increased Web site traffic. To those who are visiting here after seeing my article in the newsletter, welcome! To those who are saying, "Mothers from where now?" check out the Mothers' Web site and enjoy their take-no-prisoners approach to getting education and services for children with special needs. And to those who have no brimstone in their mailbox but would like to read my front-page little essay, it's still in the MWA archives, right here (and my son still won't go near me in the morning until I've showered. If I were really a Mother from Hell, I probably wouldn't take that anymore.)

Monday, July 12, 2004

Does cough syrup help?

When I was a kid, I slept over one night at the home of a friend whose mother was a nurse. I woke up in the wee hours with a terrible cough, but rather than give me some over-the-counter medication, nurse-mom gave me a big spoonful of honey. She claimed that in her experience, honey and pancake syrup were as effective as medicine in quelling coughs, and sure enough, I was soon tucked in my sleeping bag, fast asleep. That same sort of parenting wisdom seems to be reflected in a recent study claiming that cough syrup is an entirely ineffective product; it doesn't stop coughing, it doesn't help a child sleep, and it doesn't help parents sleep. The research from Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine claims that OTC products were no more effective than placebos ... yet it seems to me that I've used cough syrup with my kids, and that it's bought us some no-cough time, and certainly allowed them and us to sleep. What's been your experience with cough medicine? If those placebos were as effective as my friend's mom's spoonful of honey, maybe this stuff all works very well indeed.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Super book for special-needs parents

Going to the Department of Motor Vehicles is good for something more than getting your driver's license, it turns out. The four hours I had to wait to renew my license last week (on the morning of my birthday, no less; do I know how to party, or what?) was plenty of time for me to finish reading Paul Collins' excellent "Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism." This is one of those books you read with a magical realization of : "So it wasn't just me! Other parents have felt this way, too!"

So many books turn the parenting of special-needs children into a tragedy and the parents themselves into saints. I don't have much use for those. But "Not Even Wrong" manages to be funny, true, educational and encouraging without ever being falsely inspirational. Good stuff, and not even a four-hour DMV line can dampen my enthusiasm for it. I found lots to relate to: the accounts of dealing with professionals who seem to spitefully overlook all that is unique and delightful about your child in favor of clucking over developmental milestones; the dawning realization that you have entered an alternate universe where your idea of normal parent-child experiences and others' are unreconcilable; even the research the author does into autism, although more journalistic than my own in the early days of trying to figure out what the heck was up with my son, touches on some of my favorites, paticularly the works of Temple Grandin and Oliver Sacks.

I was so excited about this book that I asked the publisher to allow me to post an excerpt on Mothers with Attitude, and am happy to say that that excerpt is now up and ready for viewing. The passage I chose describes young Morgan's first early intervention evaluation, and boy, have I been there, endured that. In my son's case, the video camera was hidden, but its very long, coiled extension cord was in plain sight, and way more interesting than any toys the evaluator could throw his way. Then there was the time a psychologist tried to evaluate him in a house that was packed with more knicknacks than I'd ever seen in one place -- plus a piano, a baby and a cat. The doctor was filled with dire predictions based on the fact that my son would rather look at all the stuff than interact with him, but honestly, he was by far the least interesting thing in the room. Collins' book made me look back on those days with ... well, not fondness, exactly, but certainly fellowship. Read and enjoy the excerpt, and then, I urge you, check out the book as well. We special-needs parents don't have that many opportunities to see our lives in print.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The name game

I remember when we brought our kids home from Russia almost ten years ago now, one of our biggest concerns was giving them "American" names. We imagined that having names outside the normal range of Jennifers and Michaels would cause them to suffer schoolyard ridicule and constant nagging mispronunciation. Fortunately, their Russian names were easy to Americanize -- dropping the first letter for one, changing a last letter for the other -- and so we didn't have to risk confusion by dropping completely new and different-sounding monikers on them.

At any rate, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But in the years since, as I've seen them go through school with children whose names diverged wildly from what I'd considered the norm -- ethnic names, made-up names, everyday names transformed into unique creations by aggressively idiosyncratic spelling -- I've often wondered if we shouldn't have let them keep their slightly exotic Russian names. American birthparents, it seems, are a lot less concerned with giving their offspring fit-in names than parents adopting from overseas.

And here's the perfect piece of evidence: According to recent news reports, not one, not two, but at least three families have named their baby sons ESPN, after the cable channel. (Alright: One family named their child ESPN, one Espn, and one Espen; they're all nuts in my book.) Now that sort of thing might be fine when your child's just a babe in arms, but you just know that when those boys get to be teenagers, they're going to moan to their parents: "Why couldn't you have named me MTV?"