Thursday, September 30, 2004

Send money

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

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Tanning the old-fashioned way

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

Monday, September 27, 2004

Mama's boy

I noticed something unsettling while watching my son play with a group of other kids at a family get-together the other night: I am some kind of ridiculously overprotective mother. The kids were running all around a big yard, front to back to front, riding bikes in the driveway, throwing balls, pushing scooters, carrying on until well after dark. None of the other moms or dads felt a need to do more than listen for screams while they sat and chatted; even my husband seemed content to let our son roam with the pack. But not me: I could barely keep my seat for 10 minutes before I was drawn to where he was, to watch, hawk-like. Poor kid can't even go out to play without his mommy hovering around.

And really, I'm okay with that. FASD means never having to say you're overprotective. I'm a believer in the theory that fetal alcohol exposed kids need an "external brain," and it's hard for me to be his when he's outside and I'm in. He'd probably be fine without the constant supervision a fairly large part of the time, but it only takes one ill-timed dart into traffic or ill-judged push of a peer to turn a fun evening into a tragic one. You don't have to read very much about FASD to notice that things like ill-timed darts into traffic are a major cause of death for these kiddos, or that hawk-eyed mamas are a major protective factor. Independence is not a major goal for an 11-year-old with fetal alcohol effects. Staying safe is. So I trail along, prompting and redirecting, advising and preventing, hovering and smothering, doing my job. But yes, sometimes I do feel a little silly.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Putting the trick in "trick or treat"

Here's another reason to be glad my kids aren't into dressing up for Halloween anymore: Apparently, one of the big trends in kiddie costumes this year is to dress the younguns up as pimps and "hos." Unlike the wholesome good old days when kids wanted to be ax murderers and witches, these days sex has supplanted violence and supernatural evil as the scare factor of choice. So girls as young as age 4 can wear fishnets and short skirts instead of princess dresses, and boys can wear fur bedecked hats and coats instead of pirate gear, and pundits such as myself can moan about how America's going to heck in a handbasket. Defenders of the racy costumes suggest that kids see pimps being glorified in rap videos and so naturally want to dress like those cool cats when costume time rolls around. I'd personally suggest that this sounds like an excellent reason to keep your kids from ever watching MTV, but then, as someone who once threw her kid into his father's supermarket uniform and said, "Hey! You're trick-or-treating as Mr. Produce Guy!" I have to admit I'm not really a costume-intensive mom. Judging by what some parents let their kids wear to school, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they let their kids trick-or-treat as workers in the sex trade. What I want to know is: How do you explain to that 4-year-old girl what exactly it is she's going as? If sending your kid out for candy necessitates that you first have "the talk," maybe it's time to rethink.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

On memory lane

We went this evening to a get-together for a few families who adopted from the same Russian orphanage as we did. A few of the boys there had been in my daughter's group at the orphanage 10 years ago, and they claimed to remember each other, although what they may really remember is seeing each other at the last get-together. Both my kids played nice with all the other kids, and the parents all discussed those days so long ago when we started our journeys to familyhood. It seems like a lifetime ago that my husband and I traveled to Petrozavodsk to claim our two little ones. As my daughter does with so many of the details of her life, I remember it more from the telling than from the living. But seeing all these kids together, growing tall and strong and healthy, it does all seem like a miracle. And one that keeps getting better.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Weighing in

Here's a somewhat mind-blowing little factoid my son brought home from school today: The nurse weighed him and his classmates, and within his self-contained special-ed class of seven students, there is a more than 120-pound weight spread. At the top of the scale is a very tall, very large boy who weighs in at 172 pounds -- and is, I think, also the youngest kid in class at 10 years old. At the smaller end is a little peanut of a guy who tips the scales at just 50 pounds. My son's probably about in the middle, at 82 pounds. He's still growing -- he's popping the snap on the pants I bought him just a couple of months ago -- but he's got a ways to go before he'll be throwing any weight around with this group.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Speak up!

We switched my daughter's speech therapy from school to private this year -- fewer classroom pull-outs, more control -- and her sessions are revolving much less around academic speech and articulation and more on social speech and expressiveness. That's a direction I'm happy with. Although her language delays still cause her trouble in school, she's making good solid progress and probably learns more from reading and doing than drilling. But all the little niceties of social speech -- expressions, tone of voice, body language -- don't often find their way into an IEP, and can make a big difference in how a child is perceived by her peers and teachers. Any increase in spontaneity and emotion in her language, whether it's to use a common cliche, give a wave, react visibly, or speak informally, will increase her comfort level with talking and other people's comfort level with her. That's the theory, anyway, and although she admits to being uncomfortable with some of the expressiveness we're impressing on her, she's agreed to try to find her way through it. It's interesting to note, though, that the one emotion she has no problem expressing, with full range of vocal tone, slang and gestures, is teenage frustration. "You just don't get it!" she'll huff with flung arms, stomping feet, rolled eyes, tossed head, and all manner of adolescent attitude. If she could be half that expressive in any other area of her life, we'd be on to something.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Volunteer stress

You know you're spending too much time and energy volunteering at your children's school when you come home and have no time and energy to spend with your actual children. I was pretty wiped today after a two-school library marathon, bopping back and forth, training people at the elementary school, running up to the middle school to put in a little time before the next trainees arrived. One volunteer never did arrive, forcing me to stay and check out books at library #1 while neglecting my duties at library #2. I couldn't believe someone would just not show up -- but then, the prospect of going to a Home and School Meeting tonight after racing around so much during the day was too much for me, so apparently I'm the kind of person who just doesn't show up too. I justified staying home by telling myself I needed to spend some time with my kids, but I was so tired and grouchy from a day of volunteer service that maybe they would have preferred me out of the house. I probably need to start taking all this stuff less seriously.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The perils of doing your homework on time

Now, here's the kind of thing that drives me crazy. When my daughter started 7th grade this year, she brought home an assignment from her language arts class for a reading log. The instructions firmly stated that students would be required to read 12 books in addition to whatever they were reading in class. For each book, they had to write a one page summary and turn it in with a cover page, for which there were specific instructions. And on the one hand, since neither reading comprehension nor composition are my girl's strong suits, it sounded like an awfully tall order. But on the other hand, since we have a routine of reading every night, 12 books was not out of the question; and since graphic organizers are plentiful on the Web, finding something to help her make a coherent summary was not out of the question, either. At Back to School Night, the teacher again went through the assignment, stated unequivocally that all the 7th grades were doing this, gave us a handout with the dates each book report was due, and announced that each one would be worth a test grade. And now you've got my attention, because although writing's not the easiest thing for her, something she can write at home with calm deliberation and assistance is indeed easier than taking a test in the classroom. Twelve test grades under those circumstances sounded pretty good to me. The first report was to be due tomorrow. She finished her first book last week and wrote the report over the weekend. I was so proud of her -- she did a great job on it. I suggested that since she was done early, she should show it to her inclusion teacher so if there was anything that wasn't right, she'd have time to fix it.

So when she came home yesterday, I asked if she'd shown the teacher her report. And her response dumbfounded me: She hadn't showed it because they were changing the reading log, nothing was due on Wednesday anymore, there was a whole different format, they only had to read eight books, and the first one was due on November 15.

And again -- on the one hand, the new format might be a little easier, and writing fewer and shorter reports will be easier ... and on the other hand, I want those four extra test grades, and I absolutely want her to get recognition and credit for the report she did as assigned, on time, and in good faith. How dare they make such sweeping changes in a project two days before it's due? Talk about penalizing kids for being conscientious and organized. I fired off a very grumpy note expressing astonishment and demanding extra credit for the now-uneeded report. I huffed and puffed around the house for a while. Then I threw that note away and wrote another one, kinder and gentler, asking for them to please consider giving her extra credit for it. Maybe it still wasn't kind and gentle enough, because my daughter reports that her inclusion teacher looked a little annoyed when she read it. Probably because she'd spent a week fielding complaints from parents who were astonished and upset about the original 12-book format of the project.

That's the only reason I can come up with for this sudden change in plans -- massive parental complaint. It ticks me off that they would make such a firm, "they're in 7th grade now, suck it up" presentation at Back to School night and then all of a sudden waffle. Just like it ticks me off that the summer reading journal that was supposed to be due the first week of school, and that my daughter did well in advance of that date and turned in promptly, is now suddenly due October 1 instead. If my child's particular learning problems caused her to be unable to do work in a timely fashion, I suppose I would be storming the gates demanding changes in policy, too. But as it happens, doing work in a timely fashion is my child's greatest strength. Coddle the others if you will, but give her credit when it's due.

Monday, September 20, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

Apparently I'm not the only one who's been annoyed and amazed by the bold ads for erectile dysfunction drugs on TV. April Cain has a funny essay in her "Thinking It Over" column this month on just that subject. It's called "He's Back ... but you might want to run for cover." Is a Viagra-stoked hubby really every middle-aged woman's dream? ... Meanwhile, in his "Family Man" column, Ken Swarner reveals that what his wife is afraid of is heights -- and when you have boys in the family, that's a weakness that's bound to be exploited. ... And keep checking our home page for a new quote of the day and site of the day, well, daily.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Ahoy there, matey!

So, did you celebrate "Talk Like a Pirate Day" today? My son and I did, but then, for us, every day is "Talk Like a Pirate Day." Playing "pirate" is one of my son's favorite games, although usually I'm the only one who's a pirate and he's my hapless captive. Sometimes he orders me to be the Tickling Pirate. Sometimes I'm the Singing Pirate (who sings a song about tickling, as it happens). Sometimes I'm the Sleeping Pirate (my personal favorite.) Sometimes I'm a nasty pirate who makes him walk the plank, until he's saved by his heroic dog companion, Invisible Scooby (also played by me, wouldn't you know). And sometimes I'm the pirate who steals his nose, ear or other body parts and won't give them back until he does his nightly reading, writes in his journal, answers questions about school, or some other such dastardly torture. Whatever the role, I be talking like a pirate on a daily basis, arrr. On a day like today, it was nice to be having me laddy talking like one too.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Good connections

I'm so excited. Yesterday, for maybe the first time in my children's academic careers, I got an e-mail from a teacher. Oh, sure, I'd had some correspondence a while back with the man who gave my daughter trombone lessons at my kids' elementary school, and with the behavioral therapist who observed my son, but correspondence with a teacher in an academic subject that actually tells me what my child should be studying and offers the possibility of asking for advice from time to time? It's a first. This teacher also told me she has a Web site on which she posts information, although she's yet to give me the url, and two other teachers have given me their e-mail addresses and asked for mine. It's a brave new educational world, I'll tell you, and a long way from the days when I couldn't even write a note to my daughter's teacher without the principal having to read it and sign off. On the other hand, I'm bumping into the limits of computer awareness in my job as coordinator of library volunteers at my son's school. I had big plans going into this that I could conduct all library business by e-mail, maybe setting up a Yahoo! group or giving a little bit of my Web site over to schedules and guidelines and other need-to-know information that often got lost in the bottom of bookbags when sent home via children. I eagerly asked for everyone's e-mail address when they volunteered ... and found out that less than a third even had one. No e-mail! How do they live?

Friday, September 17, 2004

Flying nonstop

I just had one of those days when I feel like YoYo Mom. I slept a little late and so only got about half my breakfast eaten before it was time to take Child #1 to middle school. Dropped her, came back home, ate the other half of my breakfast and dropped off Child #2 at elementary school. Parked the car, went back into the elementary school for my library volunteers meeting. After that, stayed to put bar codes on books so we can start the year with computerized checkouts. Was about to leave to go to work (finally) when Child #2 came bounding into the library with his aide and papier mache paste all over his shirt, elbows and hair. He asked me to bring him a new shirt, so instead of heading to the office I headed home, got the shirt, brought it to the school office, went back to the library so I could stick my head out the window and inform my son's classroom aide, on recess duty, that the shirt was delivered. Then another detour to a store to pick up a scrunchy pillow for my son just like the scrunchy pillow my daughter bought the day before and her brother just had to have. Picked up a taco for lunch and headed finally into the office, where I discovered that I'd left the disk with the work I'd done the night before in my computer at home. Busied myself with some alternate work for the hour or so until it was time to leave to pick up Child #1, stopping first in the library of her school to make the book fair purchases I'd intended to make on Wednesday before the bomb scare shooed us out of the building. Took Child #1 home, waited for my husband to get home with Child #2, then headed back to the office to do an hour or so of actual work. Then back home for a peaceful evening that included my son spilling sparkling apple cider all over his dinner plate, the dinner table, the kitchen floor and my shoes. The kids are in bed now, and although I have lots of work to make up and stacks of library volunteer applications to wrestle into a workable schedule and e-mail to answer and books to read, I think I'm just going to shut everything on down and get a good night's sleep. It will be nice to spend a few hours immobile.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

I'm a book person, not a people person

Tomorrow is my first meeting as chairperson of the library committee at my son's school. Tomorrow I make my speech to the volunteers and walk them through their duties and break it to the Luddite stalwarts that we are now completely computerized, or close to it. Tomorrow is also the day I have to hand down the librarian's edicts against eating, drinking, chatting, conferencing or reading on the job. The actual work that needs to be done in the library -- and there's a lot of it, making the transition from cards and due date stamps to bar codes and databases -- doesn't scare me, but having to be a leader of people does. When I was first approached about taking the committee over a year ago, the start of this school year seemed a long way away. Even in June, when the former chairperson turned over all her papers to me, it seemed a long way away. It's not so far away now. Couldn't I just hide out somewhere in the stacks and let someone bolder handle the politics?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Life on the street

Tuesday night, I got to see how my daughter made it through her middle school day. Wednesday morning, I got a live demonstration of how her school does fire drills. I was volunteering in the library when the alarm went off, and dutifully filed out with the kids and teachers and staff, expecting to return in a moment. Except we didn't return in a moment. They kept directing us further and further from the building, with one group of kids eventually walking all the way down to my son's elementary school, where they took up residence on the playground; one group walking up the street to a parking lot where they could spread out; and another taking a third route that I couldn't see. We were, at any rate, to be out of sight of the building, which didn't seem like a good sign, nor was the endless stream of police and fire and bomb squad vehicles turning into the school parking lots. At about the 30 minute mark, I bailed; since I had had the foresight to bring my purse, and our position at that point was right next to my car, I took my prerogative as a non-employee and split to the pizza place across the street -- where a steady stream of teachers and staff members running in to use the bathroom kept me apprised of the progress of the exodus. When I'd finished my lunch, the kids were still outside. When I got to my son's school for my afternoon library duty, the kids were still there. It turned out to be a 90 minute bomb scare instead of a three minute drill, but all was well that ended well and my daughter said she had a great time hanging out in the parking lot. They don't include 90 minutes on the street in the back-to-school-night presentation. But isn't that just why we volunteer?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Back to school

Tonight was back-to-school night at my daughter's middle school. I've now met all her teachers and inclusion teachers, found her classrooms and the pathways thereto, checked out her locker location. I made it through most of the questions she asked me to ask her teachers, so she didn't have to -- where to pick up homework when she's pulled out for band, how to find out what she missed in class, when to go to remedial. I've introduced myself all around, and probably left the impression of a pushy, overinvolved mom (and why not? it's what I am). I love these little moments of interaction I get with my kids' teachers -- the back-to-school nights, the conferences, the opportunities to run into them while volunteering in the school library or in the parking lot picking up kids. It gives me the illusion that I can actually have an impact on my child's school experience, when in fact on a day to day basis I know so very little. So far, anyway, she seems to be doing well.

Monday, September 13, 2004

A friend in need

My son, at age 11, still has an invisible friend, in this case a large dog named Scooby. Many people probably do not realize that Scooby is a big invisible dog, because my guy speaks of him as though he were a real canine. So when his therapeutic riding therapist today asked, while brushing a horse with him, whether he has a dog at home that sheds, my son replied firmly that oh yes, his dog Scooby sheds all the time. Thank goodness it's only invisible fur.

Probably there's some developmental timeline somewhere that tells me I should worry if my child is still talking to invisible dogs in his preteens. But developmental timelines have never meant much in our house. And you know, Scooby just comes in so handy sometimes. Like today, I had to go out with my daughter while my son was still finishing his homework. My husband was trying to nap after a very early morning at work, so I told my son I needed to talk to Scooby. "Scooby," I said, "I'm putting you in charge of making sure your boy does his homework. He needs to write his spelling words five times each, and color his math worksheet. Can you help him do that?" Scooby was up for the challenge. And sure enough, when I got back, the homework was done. There have been nights when he wouldn't even finish up that promptly for me. The invisible dog's got skills.

Still, I'm holding out against my son's suggestion that Invisible Scooby would make a good babysitter, and really, we don't have to have his grandma watch him when we got to his sister's Back to School Night this week. Certainly, we know how responsible Scooby is, but since my son also tends to blame the dog whenever something goes wrong, he's got a bit of a bad rep. Nor can I agree when my guy insists that his invisible pal would be a great one-on-one aide for him at school. I'm pretty sure the teacher would rather see his assistant, though frankly, we've had some aides who would probably be better if they had been invisible. Maybe Scooby should give the district a call just in case.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The kindness of strangers

I hate when this happens: I took my kids to breakfast at McDonald's this morning, and after I'd ordered and the behind-the-counter droids were already busily assembling our food, I realized that I didn't have enough money to cover the bill. I asked if we could take something off, but it was too late; of all the days for them to be prompt in order-gathering, it would be this one. The cash-register jockey asked how short I was, and when I said a quarter the line behind me exploded with offers of change. I was going to send my daughter out of the car to dig into our supply of toll quarters, but the man manning the cash register declared that he would put it in for me because he had to keep his line moving. Let's go, let's go!

When my order was complete, I noticed we were short a drink; apparently, instead of tallying in the extra coffee I'd ordered, he'd given me just enough drinks to go with our combo meals -- including the coffee, but excluding my son's drink. I started to complain, but remembered about moving the line along and sort of fled to our table. A check of the receipt showed that we indeed had not paid for the extra drink, so I headed for the car to get enough quarters to pay the clerk back and buy a small drink. But the counter man started waving a small cup to me as I walked by, and although I protested that we hadn't paid for it, he insisted I take it. Nor would he take the money I eventually brought back in from the car -- not $1 for the extra drink, and not the original quarter. "It's fine, it's fine," he said. "Don't worry about it, honey."

And probably I shouldn't. If I'd been standing in line behind someone like me, I'd have offered a quarter without thinking about it; and since we're regular customers at this McDonald's, it's likely they've left something off our order somewhere along the line to make up for the $1.25 they floated me this time. But it's weird feeling like a charity case. It's not like I don't have enough money to feed my kids -- just not enough brains to put sufficient funds in my wallet before leaving the house. I'll think twice next time; and maybe leave a quarter in the cash register's change dish, just to pass the charity along.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Projects projected

My daughter's been in 7th grade for a week-and-a-half, and she's just finishing her third project. I'm thinking that projects must be a big thing in the 7th grade. There was a project for language arts to write several paragraphs about your favorite things, find pictures to represent them and combine them into a collage. There was a project for science to write two paragraphs about some sort of science you observed during the summer and how it affected your life, and then combine them with photo illustrations to form a collage. And there was a project for math to list 25 everyday items that had some sort of connection to math, and then either make up a booklet with 10 pictures and 10 paragraph descriptions, or make a collage of the pictures and write a couple of paragraphs about it. I'm thinking collages must be a big thing in 7th grade, too. It's all okay with me, because take-home projects are something she can take her time on and get help with and tally up a decent grade, which is more than you can sometimes say for in-class assignments and tests, inclusion teacher or no. But if this pace keeps up, we're looking at about 30 projects per quarter, and even moms have their limits. At any rate, I invested in a big package of glue sticks today, so bring on the collages!

Friday, September 10, 2004

Just say no?

Putting a child on psychiatric medications is one of those topics it's dangerous to bring up in some parenting circles. I've seen flame wars erupt on e-mail lists within a couple of posts of someone tsking about overmedicating and someone else compare withholding Ritalin to withholding insulin. I've generally tried to steer away from too much preaching on the subject here, because although I have strong opinions, I also acknowledge that they may apply only to my particular kids and family and everyone's mileage may vary. But what, now, do we think about this: In the name of scientific research and building a better ADHD cure, a "pediatrics ethics subcommittee" of the FDA has given the thumbs-up to the idea of giving stimulants to healthy children with no particular need for them, just to compare their reaction to children who are suffering from hyperactivity. The upside is that the kids will be paid handsomely for the temporary use of their nervous systems -- $570 for 11 hours; the downside, the possibility that that nervous system might not be quite as healthy upon its return. Certainly, it's distressing that children are being prescribed medications for which no research has been done in terms of safety and effectiveness for little ones, and maybe that research needs an unaffected control group to work. But it's also distressing to use healthy kids as human guinea pigs. Would you sign your kid up for this? Would you ask other people to, if it would benefit your child? And is there any way in which this can be considered ethical?

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Endless night

Tonight was one of those nights where everything just seems hard. My son has been sailing through his homework this week, zipping through problems and completing pages without protest, but tonight he dawdled and whined his way through his work, stretching it out endlessly and needing constant prompting. My daughter has been working in an organized way on a project that's due on Monday, but tonight she suddenly decided she needed to finish it right now, to get it over with. As this would involve the writing of 10 paragraphs, with much effort from the girl and from the mom who must guide her through them, I said it was ridiculous to try and finish so quickly and we'd darn well take the whole weekend since we had it. I guess I said it loudly enough to rattle my son, who responds to stress like a tuning fork. That escalated his behavior, which escalated my stress so that when my husband nonchalantly suggested that our daughter do half her paragraphs tonight to get them out of the way, I snapped at him loudly enough to again panic tuning-fork boy, who started getting hysterical about his sister's assignment and completely abandoning his own. And all this was before my husband tried to help our daughter with her math homework, with increasingly loud exclamations each time she proved clueless. Oh, it was a long night. My son was more wired up at bedtime than I've seen him in a long while, my daughter more long-suffering. And I just wanted to curl up on my bed and cry; even moms need stress release, though not in front of easily rattled boys if they know what's good for them. But I sat down to write this blog entry instead, glad that it doesn't require 10 paragraphs. Tomorrow will be better. No homework for my son on Fridays, anyway.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Does size matter?

So maybe Randy Newman was wrong, and short people do have a reason to live. A research study appearing in this month's Pediatrics suggests that, contrary to the opinions of satirical songwriters and those who dispense growth hormones to too-little kids, there's nothing particularly wrong with being shorter than average. The report found that shorter students' peers were no more or less likely to describe their wee schoolmates as class clowns, bullies or bossy-boots based on their height. "Knowing a person's height by itself tells us virtually nothing about how well they're going to get along with their friends, how well they are accepted by their peer group," said the study's co-author, David E. Sandburg. And I could have told them that, having been the shortest kid in class from kindergarten right through high school. No one could miss that I was a shortie, and I got my fair share of teasing; but I had my fair share of success and popularity and peer acceptance, too.

The researchers hope that their findings will make doctors less quick to give growth hormones to kids who are just short, with no other medical problems, and I'm for that. But it's interesting that the study only measured how short kids' peers felt about them, and not how those kids felt about themselves. Whether their classmates perceive them as having a chip on their shoulder or a need to cut-up may not necessarily reflect their own level of self-confidence and coping skills. I personally think that being short added to my self-confidence and drive -- I knew I could measure up, and wanted everybody else to know it too. But I'm sure other shorties have taken a self-esteem blow from walking so low. I think there are ways to deal with that other than negating the height difference with hormones. But I don't think this kind of study is really going to convince much of anyone.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Science for the public good

Now, here's what I like to see: Medical science hard at work finding new and innovative ways to conquer one of the great scourges of humanity. I'm speaking, of course, of head lice, and in praise of a California dermatologist who's bumped the strategy of suffocating lice up a notch by creating a lotion that can be applied to hair to effectively "shrink-wrap" the head and choke the tiny vermin. The last time I tried to suffocate head lice, it involved great quantities of either petroleum jelly or salad oil slathered on the head, covered with a shower cap, and endured for many slimy hours, followed by endless degreasing shampoos. A lotion that would dry unslick and undetectable -- so much so that kids could go to school with the buggers trapped and no one would be the wiser -- sounds like an incredible boon to moms who have known the joy of picking nits. Dare we dream of a day when our hearts won't skip when we see a child scratching her skull? Keep that research coming.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Empty out that medicine cabinet

If you already have recycling bins in your home for paper, plastic, glass and aluminum, it may be time to add one more -- for unused pills. We've long been advised never to share prescriptions with other family members, and to safely dispose of unused medications when they've outlasted our need. But now, given the high cost of those little capsules and tablets, more thought is being given to the ones we flush away. According to a Reuters report, the FDA is recommending returning unneeded pills to your pharmacist; states are setting up swapping programs; and patients are surfing the 'net hoping to find someone with the needed meds rattling around somewhere in the back of their medicine cabinet. I guess it makes sense from a cost- and resource-effectiveness point of view, especially for those who need large quantities of costly cures. But somehow, the knowledge that I may someday pop open a pill bottle and not know how long ago or for whom my prescription was originally prescribed doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. Will prescription drug plans eventually require retreads? Will fresh pills be at a premium? Pretty soon you'll be able to get recycled pills in a recycled plastic bottle with instructions printed on recycled paper. Only your illness will be original to you -- and that's only if you didn't catch it from somebody else.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Maybe she's watching me right now

My daughter has some sort of Stealth Teen thing going on lately. I'll be sitting around minding my own business, maybe working on the computer or reading a book or grabbing a few extra minutes sleep, and all of sudden she'll just be there, her presence betrayed by only a quiet footfall or a hovering aura. She doesn't want anything except, apparently, to be in my presence, and I know it's because she's feeling needy and insecure with the start of school and gets some reassurance from seeing me, and it's great I guess from a bonding point of view, but man, it spooks me sometimes. I'd be happy to talk with her or answer questions or help with something, but just bearing a silent presence seems to be more than I can handle right now. By the time I get used to it, of course, she will have settled into her school routine and will be back in Teen Attitude Land, motto: "Mom? Who needs her?" And then I'll be the one silently hovering.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Where's censorship when you need it?

There's always much to-do about how violent or sexual programs on TV ought not to be viewed by children; and how musicians playing at sporting events must be required to keep their wardrobes from malfunctioning; and how offensive radio shows like Howard Stern's should be banned from the airwaves; and how pornographic magazines need to be kept out of the reach of minors; and whether you feel these restrictions are essential or essentially unconstitutional, it's certainly undeniable that there's a great deal of thought and debate and passion going into the examination of those issues. But there's a whole other level of potentially damaging media content sneaking through without anybody giving it a second glance, and I'm starting to think that it might be even worse for kids than the stuff everybody's always arguing over.

I've written here before about the difficulty of explaining those omnipresent ads for Viagra and Cialis and the like to curious kids who'll ask, "Mommy, what's erectile disfunction?" Lately I've also been noticing lots of really scary ads for horror films, both on TV and on the radio. If my kids are too young to see these films in theaters, do they really need to see clips that make their hearts skip? The radio ad for the new "Exorcist" film upset me when I was sitting at my desk in my office in the middle of the day; does my daughter really need to be hearing it at night when she's listening to the radio in bed? Guess that's not going to help her sleep. And even that old family friend, the local newspaper, isn't free of trauma. Like many people I was following the story of the school hostage situation in Russia with increasing dread, and certainly wanted to read about the tragic ending in this morning's news. But the large color photo that accompanied the story gave me pause -- it showed a Russian police officer carrying a young girl out of the building. The girl, maybe 8 or 9, had blood all over her face and was dressed only in underpants. The image was disturbing for any number of reasons, but what I found myself wondering most of all was, if my kids see this sitting on the coffee table, how on earth am I going to explain what happened to this girl, and why isn't she wearing any clothes? I tried to make sure that page was face down, with lots of glossy Saturday store ads on top.

The thing about all this is -- it's easy to keep our kids from watching specific shows, or listening to specific radio stations, or seeing specific magazines. But it's really hard to avoid commercials that can come on any time of the day or night, or news photos that turn a local paper -- which yesterday, for example, featured a picture of a particularly large zucchini grown by a local man -- into something terrifying. How's the FCC going to protect us from that?

Friday, September 03, 2004

The return of hot lunch

One of the nicest parts of sending the kids back to school after their various summertime programs is this: I don't have to make lunches for them anymore. Brown-bagging it at day camp has been a challenge for my son, who is generally a very good eater but doesn't seem to want to eat anything he can tote. Sandwiches would come home uneaten, apples browning with but a bite removed. Toward the end of the summer I gave up and started investing in those pricey but easily packed Lunchables, but even there we got leftovers: One day he took tacos and came back with the pouch of taco "meat" rattling around in his lunchbox.

I was at the end of my rope by the end of August, but now school's back and with it hot lunches. I sat with him last night as he went through the monthly offerings and made his picks. Most meals feature a protein and a fruit or vegetable, and the food service folks have given us some sort of folderol about the healthy way in which the meals are prepared, but really, it's not their nutritional soundness that most endears cafeteria food to me. It's the fact that they don't send leftovers home. Even if most of his balanced meal winds up in the trash, I can rest in blissful ignorance, believing he ate every bite. That's a good deal right there.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

From jawbreaker to budget-buster

Somewhere, P.T. Barnum is laughing: According to an Associated Press report, people are paying as much as $14,000 on eBay for gum prechewed by Britney Spears. It's hard to know what's more disturbing about this: that there are people who would pay good money for something you'd otherwise scrape off your shoe, or that there are people who follow Spears around with little baggies to pluck up the soggy wads. How exactly do you display this, the pride of your collection -- on a lighted shelf? under glass? or perhaps just stuck to your bedpost? Is an autograph just not personal enough anymore? For now, enterprising gum-scoopers are leading the way in these chaw auctions, but I don't know. That Britney's a pretty enterprising gal; how long before she cuts out the middleman and starts chewing gum to order? You could specify flavor or hue, and duration of chew. And if you throw in a little extra, she'll add some belly button lint and a few clipped toenails for good measure. (Although, come to think of it, if your navel's always bared, do you even get belly button lint?)

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

More P.E.? Not for me!

I read this and hear clumsy, sports-impaired boys and girls all over the country screaming "Nooooooo!": A recent study proposes that childhood obesity could be dramatically decreased by increasing the amount of time elementary school children spend in gym class. And sure, I guess there is some sense in figuring that more exercise leads to leaner kids. But I wonder if the researchers are taking into account the extreme self-esteem blows that can come to the uncoordinated with extra chances each week to demonstrate their lack of physical prowess. Double the amount of phys-ed time, and you double the amount of taunts and failures. And isn't that just going to lead to an increase in overeating, teen depression, and really unpleasant rock and roll? I have to believe that a lot of researchers were not themselves football player material; can't we have a study that proves that putting kids of mixed skills together in a gymnasium with a variety of projectiles and insufficient supervision can be more damaging than a supersized Big Mac meal? Krispy Kreme might want to offer a grant for that.