Sunday, October 31, 2004


I'm being constantly forced out of my seat by two kinds of demons tonight: cute cuddly ones that appear at my door demanding candy, and darned annoying ones ringing me up soliciting my vote. The former have been coming in larger numbers than in recent memory -- maybe because Halloween's a Sunday this year, maybe because it's a mild night, maybe because a gazillion new condos went in across the street. It's been kind of sad the past few years getting no little costumed ghouls ringing my doorbell, and so tonight I'm enjoying the relative onslaught, although it will mean less leftover candy for me. Not so enjoyable has been answering the phone and finding a recording of some important personage on the other end, ready to launch into a long story about why I should vote for a particular candidate. Unless ... you don't suppose that actually was Caroline Kennedy on the phone before? Maybe trick-or-treating is slow in her neighborhood.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Costume catch-up

My kids have been ambivalent this year about whether trick-or-treating was beneath their age and wisdom or still a fun thing to do. As of tonight, my daughter is still holding out but my son has decided to go trolling for candy after all. I was afraid he was going to have to wear his dad's work uniform and be a supermarket produce guy (again), but his aunt came through today with her Halloween costume from last year, and so he's now going as a giant ketchup bottle. I sure hope he brings home some good treats for me to steal.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Dance fever

My daughter went to her first middle school dance tonight. She's so brave! She has a lot of friendly acquaintances but not really any hard-and-fast friends, and so there was no insurance that she wouldn't just stand in a corner all night and feel left out. But she apparently found a series of different kids to hang out with, danced in various groups, and had a terrific time. I've become so averse to social risk in my old age that it's hard to imagine getting out there in a new situation and having fun, but she did it. That's a real good sign, I think, for her future social growth. Not such a good sign, maybe, is that she liked the sexy way some of the kids were dancing, and was jealous of the girls with long earrings and lots of makeup. Not jealous enough to copy them, yet. But this time, when she said, "It's not my style," she sounded more wistful than assertive.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Broken toe? Turns out, no.

Thanks to all those who commented, either below or by e-mail, about my daughter's injured toe. It was looking worse today -- bruise wrapped around the toe and spreading a little onto the foot -- and so my daughter and I finally decided to make the trip to the ER, if only so we could stop worrying about it. The nurse who looked at the toe thought it was broken, the medical student who looked at the toe thought it was broken, the attending physician who looked at the toe thought it was fractured, but the X-ray showed nothing. So after two hours and 40 minutes, we were basically told that she should just keep doing what she's been doing and if it still hurts in four weeks, call our pediatrician. But we did get a note to get her out of gym for a week, and that's something. (Of course, Miss Conscientious already made up her missed Tuesday gym lesson after school today, right after today's gym lesson, which probably explains why the toe was throbbing when she got home.)

My daughter and I agreed that, surprisingly, our time in the ER was not nearly as excruciating as we'd expected -- even, in a way, a little fun, as a sort of adventure. Two hours and 40 minutes represents a lot of waiting, but it was broken up into so many waiting bits that the time seemed to move along. There was the wait to check in, the wait to see a nurse, the wait to go to an ER room, the wait to present my insurance card which was broken up by my daughter getting called to an ER room, the wait for the med student, the wait for the doctor, the wait for the X-ray, the wait to make sure the X-ray really took, the wait to be told what the X-ray said, the wait to charge our co-pay, and the wait to get a receipt. Divide that many waits into 160 minutes, and no one of them was intolerable. My daughter got her first ride in a wheeled bed; I had my first experience of being sent out of the room so a doctor could ask my teen girl if she was having sex; and we got medical comfirmation for my theory that the young lady's recent bout of dizziness was related not to her toe injury but to the fact that she ate eight miniature KitKat bars in a row, sending her pancreas into insulin overdrive. Not such a bad way to spend an afternoon, really. And it's nice not to have to worry about that poor bruised little piggy anymore.

Reading with the guys

I went to the second meeting of the book club at my daughter's school today, and was assigned to the group I'll be leading in discussion. Once again, I got the group with the boys -- and seeing how quickly the other leaders staked their claim to girl groups, I guess that's considered a bad thing. Last year, my group had three out of the four boys in the club, along with two girls, and it was a constant battle to keep the guys interested when the girls were talking and the girls interested when the boys were. This year, my group is all boys -- five of them -- and although the librarian looked at me sympathetically and offered to break the group up and distribute them among the girls, I urged her to keep things as they were. Maybe it's not PC to be so segregated, but the boys wanted to be on their own, the girls wanted them to be on their own, and I'm really curious to see where the discussion goes when there's more mutual interest.

In our general discussion today, my group members were loud and boisterous but involved and enthusiastic about books. Since the boys in my group last year disliked a lot of the books chosen to read because they were "girl books," I asked this year's guys what they thought made a "boy's book" different from a "girl's book." Action, adventure, war, a male protagonist, and a lack of boring plotlines seemed to be the consensus, although one boy boldly asserted that he would read anything, even if it was about Hilary Duff. He has a twin sister, so I'm thinking there's some sort of prenatal influence going on there. He also admitted to liking "Magic Treehouse" books, which warmed my heart because my daughter likes them too, but I worried that they are so wildly age inappropriate. But another boy agreed that he liked reading them too, albeit a few at one sitting. Another boy wanted to talk about nothing other than "Harry Potter" and Eragon. Those won't be on the book club list; next week, we'll discuss "Because of Winn-Dixie" which has no action, adventure, war or male protagonist and a somewhat meandering plotline, but was one of the few books my boys last year really liked. I'll be interested to hear what this year's group has to say. If I can keep us from being disbanded due to loudness, it should be a good year.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Her aching foot

My daughter stubbed her little toe this morning on the way to the bathroom -- that'll teach her to spring out of bed bright and early, when it's still dark. She showed it to me before it was time to go to school, and it appeared to be a little bruised and a little swollen but not hugely impaired. She was limping around and complaining, but I figured that once she got to school and got her mind off it she'd be okay. But in fact it did bother her all day, and she sat out gym because of it, and so now in addition to a sore toe we have a day of gym to make up before the end of the marking period. The bruise on the toe looked bigger than it had in the morning, so I called her pediatrician for advice and was told to take her to the emergency room so we could have it x-rayed. Which would be fine if we had, like, nothing else to do for five or six hours, but our week is already pretty full without an ER endurance test. So now I'm walking that edge of "don't want to delay treatment if it's really something, don't want to waste a lot of time if it's really not." The injured girl herself is flip-flopping, feeling better one minute, feeling broken the next. We put it up this evening and put some ice on and will continue to hope that the pain and discomfort just go away already. But I know I'll have to forfeit that "Mother of the Year" award if it turns out she really did break it.

Monday, October 25, 2004


We're now coming up on that most horrifying time of year: the Months with Many Days Off from School. Today my kids were off for a teacher's in-service day. Next week, they're off on Tuesday for Election Day and Thursday and Friday for the state teachers' conference. From there it's only a few short weeks until Thanksgiving's four-day weekend, and a few weeks after that until Christmas week off. It's a difficult little period, with maximum juggling of jobs and schedules. You'd think they could spread things out a bit, and not, say, schedule a conference for the same week as Election Day or the same month as a national holiday, but I guess they figure that nothing makes you appreciate teachers like having your kids home a few school days in a row.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

I've written here a time or two about our family's half-hearted search for a dog -- every time we finally decide to go for a pooch from our shelter, it turns out someone's grabbed it while we were being all indecisive -- but we remain to this day petless. In his Family Man column, Ken Swarner reports that his family has had more luck, albeit expensive luck, in finding the perfect canine. ... Meanwhile, if you've ever stopped by the Mothers with Attitude Special Needs Store and liked the designs but felt unable to afford a sweatshirt or a totebag, stop by again and take a look at the recently added, sort-of-lower-priced buttons and magnets. Wear one of these pins to your next IEP meeting, and if the special educators are uncooperative, you'll have something sharp to stick them with.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Notes from the bleachers

I went to a high school football game last night for probably the first time since I myself was in high school. It was smaller and somewhat more pathetic than I remember from my younger days, but equally as chilly. We went because it was "band night," at which eighth-grade musicians tag along with the marching band to get a glimpse of their rigorous future, and my seventh-grade daughter wanted to check it out to get a preview of her own experience next year. A few observations:

• The efforts made in recent years to turn cheerleading into a sport of its own -- the loudspeaker repeatedly referred to the spirit squad as the "Competition Cheerleading Team" -- has had a negative effect on the ability of cheerleaders to, you know, lead cheers. Elaborate pyramids and tossing-a-member-in-the-air routines were done with lots of enthusiasm, while the "First and ten, do it again" part seemed like an afterthought. Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that the home team was getting trounced, and didn't actually make first and ten until about the fourth quarter.

• Band music has just gotten weird. Bad enough they were using "Light My Fire" as the interval ditty repeatedly played while the band moved into the next formation. But when they marched to a spirited version of "Let's Do the Time Warp" from the "Rocky Horror Picture Show," complete with a line-up of band members doing the dance, I knew I had finally reached that terrible stage of aging at which things that were cool and subversive in your youth become cute and harmless. Did people ever feel that way about "Stars and Stripes Forever"?

• I live in the northeast now, and the football games of my youth were in Southern California, and so it's silly of me to say that I remember feeling just as cold then as I did last night. My husband teases me all the time when I tell him I used to wear wool sweaters and down jackets when I was a kid, but the truth is, cold is relative. When you live in a balmy climate, you put on mittens when the temperature dips into the 60s. So I wore multiple layers and huddled beneath a blanket and sipped hot chocolate in my high school bleachers just like I did last night, although it was about 20 degrees colder, and I've moved up to coffee, and actually we forgot the blanket and so my knees were freezing. Music and styles of cheerleading may change, but the sensation of shivering on cold metal bleachers and wishing the game would be over already is one the body never forgets.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Teacher's pet

I had a sort of absurdly positive conference with my daughter's teachers yesterday, in which they were unanimous in their admiration for my girl and their happiness to have her in their class. Grade books revealed decent scores on tests and quizzes, and the closest we got to anything negative was one teacher's concern that she worries too much. A big point in her favor seems to be that she does all her homework, which leads me to believe that a great many middle-schoolers do not. Homework is something my daughter can do -- organization being her strong suit, so that the assignment is always written down and the materials needed are always brought home -- and since the teachers seem to give credit only on whether it's done, not how it's done, she excels. I told my daughter that her teachers love her and she should relax a little, and I'll tell her again every time she stresses about some new assignment or classroom project. If she could ever own that success, it might give her some much-needed confidence. We'll see whether the grades she gets in five more weeks will help that along, or whether today's encouragement was of the "she's doing so well for a kid with such obvious learning problems" variety.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

A brighter smile and healthier skin

It's a mouthwash! It's a cancer preventer! Into the large file of information on ingredients in normal everyday products that have surprising health benefits comes research that sanquinarine, an ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash, can help prevent skin cancer. Now, if it would do that while it was also cleaning your teeth, that would be something, but apparently you actually have to apply it to your skin. Does this mean we'll soon be heading to the beach with a fresh coating of Colgate on our noses instead of zinc oxide? At least we'll smell minty fresh.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Book report

I volunteered at the Scholastic Book Fair at my son's school today, and it's always an eye-opener to see what the youth of America choose to read when they're shopping for themselves. At my daughter's middle school, the mega-sellers are not the Harry Potter books or the Series of Unfortunate Events or one of the issue-oriented novels that Scholastic always seems to be pushing; it's the pens and pencils with stuff attached to the end, like feathers or goopy sticky things, that really move. Tchotchkes are big business at book fairs, but the woman in charge of the sale at my son's school refused to put them out today, preview day, insisting that the kids should look at books and nothing but books while compiling their wish lists for mom and dad. Now of course, you can make kids look at books, but you can't exactly guarantee they're going to flock to literary classics. The biggest items of interest this morning as far as I could see were an easy-reader adaptation of the current animated movie "Shark Tale"; a book of secret codes for Playstation 2, GameCube and XBox games; and a classy little volume called "Immature Pranks" that came with a whoopie cushion attached, which of course every boy entering the gym just had to try out. Honestly, just sell them the pens.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Non-stick stickers

I've been noticing these ribbons on the backs of all the cars picking kids up at school lately -- stuck on the painted part of the cars instead of the bumper, and bearing a message to "Support Our Troops" -- and I've been wondering why on earth people would apply the death-defying adhesive of a bumper sticker onto the actual body of their car. Today, finally, I learned the secret: they're magnets, not stickers, and therefore not damaging to paint jobs and not obligating the bearer to support our troops any longer than this particular fad actually lasts. Personally, although they lack the zeal and fervor of messages you have to believe in strongly enough to live with for the life of your vehicle, I think the idea of magnetized bumper stickers is a marvelous one, a real breakthrough in personal expression. No longer must our cars bear evidence of our support for losing political candidates. No longer must we brag of our child's academic excellence even though his or her career has since gone downhill. We can slap on a different witty saying or provocative comment every week if we want to, every day even. Different family members sharing the same car could even personalize their vehicular opinion, so that feuds like the one that erupted when I affixed a John Anderson sticker permanently to the bumper of my Reagan-lovin' dad's Buick need never have happened. Honk if you love magnets! It's not like you have to commit.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Half a quarter down, three-and-a-half to go

My kids got their first progress reports of the year yesterday, and very nice progress reports they were, too. My son had no checkmarks under "needs improvement," not even in behavior, and the teacher's note was very positive with no "buts" attached. My daughter's progress report is all made up of numbers that have to be referenced to the "Progress Code Key" at the bottom of the page, and hers were all 01s ("Excellent Progress"), 02s ("Participates in Class"), 03s ("Positive Attitude") and 04s ("Satisfactory"), with none of the more ominous entries like 06 ("Work is Consistent with Ability"), 08 ("Low Test/Quiz Scores"), 09 ("Unsatisfactory Progress") or 14 ("Possible Marking Period Failure.") Although, really now, I know for a fact that she's had some 08, and doesn't 02 very often or comfortably, and although she's not making 09, in some cases it's pretty undeniable that her work is more 06 than 01. But it's early in the year, and the teachers are charitable, and God love them. I think most of them are so happy that she's not 11 ("Frequenty Unprepared for Class") with 10 ("Assignments Incomplete or Missing") -- as appears to be a real problem with kids in her age group -- and so pleased with her 03 and organizational skills, that maybe all of that really does legitimately average into 04 work. Anyway, I'll take success any way I can spin it.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Proud to be ADHD

Looking for a gift for the hyperactive ... that is, creative, enthusiastic, high energy level child in your life? Or for the family members who have to live ... get to live with him or her? A nifty CafePress store called ADHD Pride has got you covered. Kathy O'Moore-Klopf, the wife, mother and daughter-in-law of ADHDers, has put together a collection of T-shirts, magnets, and other items celebrating the gifts of ADHD, and expressing pride in family members so gifted. There's even a T-shirt for the dog. With so much negativity associated with attention problems, it's nice to see someone taking a positive approach. (And hey, while you're shopping at CafePress, why not stop by the Mothers with Attitude store and gear up for your next IEP meeting?)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

On the spot

Do you remember the first chapter book you ever read? That's the question the librarian at my daughter's school lobbed at me yesterday, in front of a bored bunch of sixth-graders. I volunteered again this year to lead small-group discussions for the school's book club, and I stopped by for the opening organizational meeting. The librarian was chatting on about the book club rules, and how you should only be in the club if you really, really love books and they mean a whole lot to you. She talked about how she could still remember the first chapter book she ever read -- some Bobbsey Twins tale -- and then, with no warning, she pointed to me and said she was sure I could still remember my first chapter book, too, and why didn't I just tell the class? And you know, I had no idea. Books like "Charlotte's Web" and "Island of the Blue Dolphins" stick in my mind as childhood favorites, but surely they weren't my first chapter books. And even if they were, I'm not fast enough on my feet to just come out with them on the spot, with no prior consideration. I told the librarian afterward that if she's going to expect me to do any public speaking, even of the short-answer variety, she's got to give me some warning in advance. Time, at least, to make something up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Heart-healthy but obnoxious

So now, in addition to learning about the dangers of smoking, and drinking, and taking drugs, and trusting strangers, and engaging in unsafe sex, schoolchildren are about to start getting lessons on heart disease and the lazy, gluttonous behavior that brings it on. Which is all well and good, as far as it goes. Certainly, promoting healthy habits of eating and exercise among young people is a worthy goal. But I can see a couple of problems coming down the road here: One is that, whereas students may not know whether their teachers smoke or drink or do any of those other things they are instructing their students never to do, if a teacher is out of shape and overweight and otherwise clearly not respecting his or her own heart-health, it's kinda hard to miss. Will they be effective preachers of something they manifestly don't practice? And my other fear -- remembering only too vividly how zealous my kids can get, after receiving the appropriate instruction in school, about how nobody should ever drink or smoke, and how it's tolerable mostly because those are not my particular vices -- is that children will come home and start analyzing their parents' diet and workout regimes. Which is, of course, exactly what the health powers-that-be who are designing these programs are hoping for -- improved fitness for the whole family. But I'll tell you, if my kids are going to be lecturing me every time I eat a bite of cheesecake or sit in front of the TV instead of jogging around the block, I'm going to have to start thinking seriously about homeschooling.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Social studies

My son had an unusually social weekend, and it's left me with all kinds of mixed emotions. First, we found that a special-ed classmate lives just around the corner from us on the weekends he stays with his father (said the boy to me, "My mom and dad don't love each other anymore. They're divided.") and so he came over to play a few times. It was easy to see how far behind in terms of age-appropriate play skills my son is even from this fellow self-contained special-ed student, in ways both good (the boy was way too risky in his bicycle moves for my and my husband's comfort, especially since he wore no helmet) and bad (he could sink a basketball shot, and win at a PlayStation game, while my guy mostly just wanted to crash cars and kick the basketball). In the end, my son's friend was more happy playing with my daughter, and watching my son left out on the sidelines, complaining about how the boy was his friend, not hers, made my heart break. He's never really known how to play with other kids, but it's never really mattered to him; now that it does, I'm not sure how to make it happen. A lot of the problem involves motor skills that are coming along with therapy but nowhere near age-level; a lot of the problem involves emotional development that, given his FASD diagnosis, may not come along until he's in his 20s. Although it's a developmentally promising thing that he can now get his feelings hurt, it's hard as a loving mom not to think he was better off before.

On Sunday we attended a birthday party with a couple of special-ed classmates and a whole slew of little cousins of the birthday girl, and since there was more opportunity for independent-ish play -- swinging, sliding, running around -- he at least appeared to fit in. When he'd get overstimulated by the crush of kiddies, I'd take him out to the car for a little decompression time, and with that routine we made it through a few hours of party until I couldn't take it anymore. Again I felt like a freakishly overobservant mom -- watching kids play and fall and cry and climb to unsafe heights without a parental unit ever making an appearance, while my son couldn't so much as climb up a slide the wrong way or bang a swing against a shed without mommy making a comment -- but at least this time I had company. The mom of one of his classmates confessed that she, too, felt absurdly overprotective, and never let her daughter out of her sight, and marveled at parents who let their kids have so very much freedom. Just for good measure, we watched everybody else's kids, too.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Mother knows best

Here's some aid and comfort for those panicked about not being able to get their flu shot this year. Experts are recommending back-up strategies to help you avoid the flu in the absence of immunity, and they include: Eat well. Get plenty of rest. Wash your hands. Avoid sick people. Stay home if you don't feel well. If only they'd added "Wear a sweater when you go outside" and "Don't go out with wet hair," they'd pretty much have covered all my mother's greatest hits. This is all common sense, of course, and good advice for keeping us all healthy, wealthy and wise. But I gotta ask: If doing these things will help us avoid the flu, then we need a flu shot ... why?

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Fear this

My daughter's got something going on with reality TV, and I don't like it one bit. For a long time she's been interested in the kind of inspirational semi-staged stories on shows like "It's a Miracle" and "Real Kids, Real Adventures," and I could deal with that. Kiddie game shows on Nickelodeon GAS, kiddie decorating shows on ABC Family, OK. "America's Funniest Home Videos"? Not my taste, but it seemed harmless enough ... except that's how it starts, isn't it? Something innocent, then something less innocent, then bam! She's watching "Fear Factor" and refusing to turn it off when I say. Last night I told her she was not allowed to watch that disgusting show, and today her dad caught her sneaking it in the middle of the afternoon. It's true that my objection to "Fear Factor" is more of an aesthetic nature than out of any actual fear for her, but -- ew, I don't want that thing on my TV, thank you very much. Or "Exciting Police Chases," either. My daughter doesn't get why I say no, and so in her increasingly teenage mind that means she doesn't have to do what I say, and boy, I'm going to have to whip up a little Fear Factor here in our household to stop that particular behavior pattern in its tracks. Think about this, Miss Teenybopper: Every channel blocked except the 24-hour PBS children's show channel. Caillou. Barney. Teletubbies. Be very afraid.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Take my flu shot, please

Without in any way making light of the risk of flu season and the danger the shortage of vaccinations may pose in terms of serious and widespread illness, I'd just like to say that I'm a little ... well, bemused by the current flurry of flu vaccine rationing I've been reading about. I'll admit right from the start that I have never been on the flu vaccine bandwagon, and have chosen to take my and my children's chances with the bug rather than rely on a shot that always seems to cover every flu variety except the one that happens to cause havoc in our vicinity. In past years, so many news stories have made me feel like an irresponsible spreader of disease for not vaccinating my family and holding strong against potential unwellness. Public health officials have taken such a strong-arm tactic that people seem shocked and a little apprehensive if I admit to being unimmune. This year, of course, it would be irresponsible for a 40something like myself to get the vaccine, since I'd be stealing that in-short-supply shot from an infant or elderly person who really needs it. Those same health officials who've been browbeating me about getting a shot are now begging me not to, and I've gone from goat to hero for sitting this one out. This is what happens when you convince too many people that something is an absolute necessity: You'd better be able to produce it every year, or you're going to have riots at the pharmacies and supermarket clinics. The way people are fighting for shots, you'd think the unvaccinated masses were doomed to turn into zombies or something. But relax, people. I've never had a flu shot and I *cough, cough* feel just fine.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

We're a little busy, you know?

I got my copy of the "Brimstone Bulletin" from the Mothers from Hell the other day, and was proud to see one of my essays right on the front page. The newsletter is packed full of good links and stories of mothers fighting the good fight of special education advocacy. My favorite article, my own notwithstanding, was one entitled "Where are the Parents?" that was written in response to snippy administrators wondering why special-ed parents aren't more involved in their kids' schools. I've been lucky to be able to volunteer at our schools, thanks to an understanding boss who lets me take time off during the day to do library duty and attend meetings. It helps that my kids' special-ed program happens to be at our neighborhood school, so I don't have to drive cross-town or juggle events at schools with conflicting schedules as many special-ed parents do. But night meetings are sure a problem, since if my son doesn't get enough mom-time he demonstrates his displeasure in many small, disruptive ways. And I've certainly heard, while doing my volunteer duty, many regular-ed parents comment dismissively that special-ed parents never volunteer, or support fund-raisers, or go to Home and School meetings, or show what is considered to be an appropriate interest in their kids' schooling. I've had to step in and debate that point, but maybe now I'll just carry a copy of this essay in my purse and distribute it as needed. I don't know if it will change anybody's mind, but maybe it will shut them up a little. And it'll make me feel better, anyway.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

Two great new letters-to-the-teacher have been placed in our Parent's Portfolio today. One is in response to a school assignment that asks the question: "Imagine that you are an orphan. In five sentences, tell how you would feel." That's a disturbing enough assignment for any kid, but when the child in question actually is an orphan, and the teacher knew, well, a letter's certainly called for, don't you think? The other concerns a book my own daughter has been struggling through this school year -- "The Giver" by Lois Lowry. She's been struggling more in terms of getting much of any of the non-action-packed plot to stick in her head than with the difficult subject matter, so I've decided not to write to the teachers about the potential hazards of this material for adopted kids -- but if I needed to, I'd be happy to adapt this one.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Just wondering

A few things I'm wondering about tonight:

• Have the tourists who are setting up lawn chairs and portable barbecues and settling in for a good close viewing of the potential eruption of Mount St. Helens ever seen a disaster movie in their lives? Isn't it always those foolish or curious enough to get just a little tooclose who are the first to, I don't know, fall through a crack in the earth or get scorched by an unexpected burst of steam or buried by flying stones? Not to mention molten lava, people. How 'bout moving a little farther back, like, say, Oregon?

• I was helping out with a small-group discussion at our Catholic church's junior high religious education classes tonight, and out of a group of eight kids, not one admitted to going to weekly Mass. Or even monthly Mass. One remembered going most recently at Christmas, another at his sister's First Communion. Why, exactly, are these parents going to the expense and bother of giving their children religious training if they're not going to enable them to do anything with it? It's like hiring a coach to teach your kid how to hit a baseball but then never signing him up for a team. Or do they just figure, this way it's only the kids who have to be bored?

• Now that Billy Joel has married a woman who's 23, is there some way to prevent him, either legally or through, you know, some sort of public shaming, from ever singing the song "Just the Way You Are" again? 'Cause it was bad enough when he was married to Christie Brinkley, but now it's really just embarrassing.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

No shows

Have you watched any of the new TV offerings that have been debuting over the past month? I always start out with good intentions, reading reviews of the fledgling shows in Entertainment Weekly and the local newspaper and picking out the ones that sound like something I'd like, but then ... well, I can't watch much of anything before the kids go to bed, and after the kids go to bed, I tend to fall asleep where I sit. So here's what I've managed to watch of the new season: The debut of "Jack and Bobby" (but only because a free DVD of the first episode was glued into my copy of EW, and I could watch it on a Sunday afternoon while folding laundry), and about 20 minutes of "Clubhouse" (that's how long it took for my daughter and I to decide it was boring, despite the appeal to her of a couple of young actresses from the Disney channel, and the appeal to me of Mare Winningham, who I remember from back way before she was playing the mother of teens to when she was playing teenagers herself). My husband has watched a couple of episodes of "Lost," and was interested enough to watch more than one but not so interested that he'd admit to actually liking it. So here we are, not exactly your ideal TV family. But we sure are looking forward to the debut of "Postcards from Buster" on PBS next Monday, in which Arthur's best friend travels the country, video camera in hand. It may not have the flair of "Desperate Housewives" or "CSI:NY," but it's kid-friendly and on way, way before bedtime.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

I'll have the low-fat mystery meat

National School Lunch Week is coming up, October 11-15, and it sure does seem as though school lunches are much in the news these days. Hardly a day goes by that I don't see a news story on how nutritious those institutionalized meals are getting. Down with deep fat frying! Up with salads and fruit trays! Pizzas have whole-wheat crusts and ham is made with turkey and cheese is low-fat. Of course, if they really wanted to keep kids from eating too much and curb all that pesky childhood obesity, they might think about doing what the school cafeterias did when I was growing up: Make all the food taste really, really bad. Gray meat and limp veggies and lumpy potatoes seemed to do a pretty good job of keeping my classmates and I from over-indulging. My son mentioned today that he really likes his school lunches, and that's nothing you heard very often in my day. On the other hand, at this year's back-to-school night, the father of one of my son's classmates asked if it would be possible for his daughter to order two school lunches every day, because the servings were so small that she came home starving for snacks. So maybe today's school nutritionists do know a thing or two: Give the kids good food and not enough of it, so they'll do all their overeating when their parents can be blamed for it.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Escaping the exam

My daughter received kind of a hopeful assignment from her language arts class today. It gave the students an option for their quarterly exam grade -- they could either take the big, hairy test on "The Giver," or do a project instead. The projects were the sort of things I would have loved to do as a kid: write a three-page sequel to "The Giver," which ends in such an uncertain, unsatisfying way that most readers will have to make a sequel in their mind anyway; do a diorama depicting a scene from the book and write three paragraphs describing it; write a newsletter for the futuristic community described in the book; or do some sort of thing about bicycles that I couldn't quite figure out from looking over the paper. The chances of my daughter doing well on a test on this very low-plot, high-concept book are pretty slim, so I was excited that there were other options. She, of course, was so overwhelmed by the thought of all the writing and creating called for by the projects that she figured she'd maybe just take her chances with the test. I think I've got her talked into writing a sequel now; there are three weeks to do it, and lots of people to help her, and really no wrong answers. The biggest challenge will be not just writing the darn thing myself and dictating it to her. Bet I could get an A, too.