Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Farewell to pageants

Tomorrow's the first day of December, and you know what that means: school Christmas pageant season is upon us. This is always a risky time for my son, who gets overstimulated by all the music rehearsals and acts out all over the place. One year I even had to yank him from the pageant to keep his behavior on some sort of reasonable level. But he's calmed down with time and now there's just a small spike in "unsatisfactory" markings on his daily behavior chart to let me know the pageant process is underway. I'm still not sure that the amount of charm generated by the sight of small children in makeshift costumes singing hokey holiday tunes is worth all the disruption preparing for it entails, but this is my last year to be the Grinch. Next year, my youngest goes off to middle school, and there they're not so much with the outfits and the carols.

I won't miss sitting on hard folding chairs in an overheated gym behind some bozo with a video camera, straining through class after class of endless musical endeavor for a glimpse of a child I know. But I will miss the way the powers behind our elementary school's Christmas programs always try to wedge in songs or poems for every possible ethnic group and religious celebration, giving rise to sections with names like "Traditions of Mexico and Austria." This year, my son's grade is learning Hannukah songs, one of which, I note with some amusement, is in Spanish for maximum multicultural effect. Yeah, I'm going to miss this stuff. But the month of pageant practice in place of class time and dress rehearsals replacing recess and Christmas spirit offset by out-of-control behavior from the small boy? Nope, not nostalgic at all.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Eating garbage, literally

What's the worst possible future you can imagine for your child? Those of us with children with special needs, especially diagnoses like fetal alcohol syndrome that render the future particularly uncertain, probably worry about incarceration or institutionalization most, but something like a life of homelessness, reduced to getting food out of dumpsters, would also rate high on the list. So I was ... amused? horrified? ... to read in the local paper today about a group of young people who dine out of trash bins as a political statement about the wasteful nature of America's consumer economy. Freegans, as they call themselves, even have their own website (do they sneak around gathering other people's unused Internet access minutes?), on which they recommend dumpster diving and squatting in abandoned buildings as ways of nobly rejecting consumerism and spotlighting wastefulness. And I don't know, maybe I'm just getting old and conservative and narrow-minded, but this sounds to me like the kind of thing that's fun and self-righteously satisfying only if you don't really need to do it — when you're more interested in irritating people than really changing the world. What I do know, though, is that if I were one of those kids' mothers, I'd be remembering every time they didn't clean their plates growing up, and mentioning it every chance I could. You want to talk about wasteful? Think how much spinach you threw away!

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Get it? Got it. Good!

We're having a major attack of the dreaded Teen Attitude at our house these days. What is it about the hormonal levels of puberty that causes kids — even basically nice, non-troublesome, good-hearted kids like my daughter — come out with the most outrageous and provocative declarations of disrespect? Like when we ask her not to, say, drip crumbs all over the floor or torment her brother, and she answers, in full sneer, "But I like to." Oh, you like to! Well, that's an entirely different thing. Walk all over us, won't you please? If we push the matter, of course, we get the scintillating reposte, "You just don't get it." Because, as parents of a teen-ager, we are, of course, idiots. And speaking of idiocy, why do kids in this age group think these are smart answers? The best way I've found to handle this is to make the same answers back. Why am I taking away her boom box and blocking her favorite TV channels? Because I like to! Don't you get it?

Saturday, November 27, 2004

That Cheerios ad

There's a Cheerio's commercial playing in movie theaters lately that's got adoptive parents talking. You can view it on the Cheerio's website here -- that is, if you're on a Windows computer, since it doesn't seem to work on my Mac. The ad apparently depicts the experience that many parents have had -- though many never wanted to see on the impersonal big screen -- of using Cheerios to break the ice with a newly internationally adopted child. Is this a good thing for adoption, an indication that it's now mainstream enough to be used to sell cereal? Or a bad thing for adoption, leading viewers to believe that international adoption is mostly a matter of Americans luring Russian children into cars with Cheerios? Watch the clip if you can and let Cheerios know what you think. Then click on "comments" below and tell us!

Friday, November 26, 2004

The early bird gets the buys

So did you get up at 5 a.m. and go shopping? Not me. Even if I had a clue about what I wanted to buy for Christmas presents this year, the likelihood of my being able to a) wake up early enough to go on a Black Friday expedition and b) have enough patience to stand in the exceedingly long lines of go-getting early risers to purchase my hard-fought goodies is pretty darn slim. I do, however, like the fact that online merchants are starting to get into the act and touting big sales on the day after Thanksgiving too. The prices probably aren't as cheap as they would be at Wal-Mart at sun-up, but you can shop in your jammies. When they come up with a way for me to shop in my sleep, then I'll really be ready to shop 'til I drop.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ten years ago today, after an extremely frustrating few week of bureaucratic wranging in Russia, my husband and I officially adopted our kids (never mind that at the time we were so frazzled and language-challenged that we thought we were just renewing our visas; it's a meaningful moment anyway, okay?) To illustrate my extreme thankfulness for that blessed event, I'm going to turn the computer off now and actually spend some time with said children. You do the same, and we'll meet up again tomorrow, okay? Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Adoption Day, to all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Can you ever be too organized?

My daughter's an organized girl, and that's a good thing. I appreciate how unusual that is for a kid with learning disabilities, and really for any kid in middle school. I've heard parents and teachers lament about students who wait to the last minute to complete projects or forget them altogether. So I don't want to sound like I'm looking a gift horse in the mouth here. Her conscientiousness and organization are the things that got her a good report card this quarter and will probably see her to more success in life than a perfect understanding of 7th grade grammar or mathematics. But I gotta say: Sometimes all that determination to get things done and get them done now drives me crazy. Like when she gets all stressed out over finishing something that's not due for a week. Or when she spends time on longterm assignments instead of ones that are due the next day, just because she's so nervous about leaving stuff for later. Part of organization is prioritization, of course, and that's an area she's still working on. Part of it also needs to be not bugging Mom to help you finish something when it can darn well wait for the weekend, missy. Of course, great organizational skills are something I can't exactly lay claim to, so maybe she's right to nag me. And when she's the mom, I'll listen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Are all teen parties like they look on TV?

My daughter came home from school yesterday all excited because a friend in her health class had invited her to a party. A boy friend (though not, I think at this point, a boyfriend). It's her first middle school party, and although it's not her first boy-girl party, because we've always invited boys to her birthdays, it's the first party a boy has invited her to. She's been mentioning this kid for the last few weeks -- she hung out with him and his pal at the school dance, he stuck up for her when girls teased her in gym -- but couldn't even tell me what his name was. Now, thanks to a party invitation, I at least know that.

And I know, because I read too much, that middle school is when you have to start worrying about parties, and making sure that parents realize there's a party planned, and figuring out just what kind of party it is. I know that these are the things a cautious and responsible parent does, which doesn't mean I didn't feel like an idiot doing them. The invitation had an RSVP date but no phone number, but I was able to use the address to track the number down on the Internet. My daughter was pretty sure she could just tell the boy at school that she was going, but I couldn't turn down such a good opportunity to embarrass her -- that's what a cautious and responsible parent does.

The person who answered the phone sounded like a mom, but in fact I think it may have been the party boy himself. He turned me over to his mother (and I couldn't help but feel a little rush of relief when he called her "mommy" -- aren't kids who still call their moms "mommy" too young to have dangerous parties?), and I babbled on about RSVPing and wondering if there were going to be adults at the party and was it a birthday party, and although she didn't seem to quite understand what I was going on about -- maybe because she didn't speak a lot of English, maybe because I didn't make a lot of sense -- we had a pleasant exchange that ended with me promising to bring my daughter by on Saturday. So then I can move on from pre-party worrying and "did I make such a fool of myself that this kid's going to stop liking my daughter" worrying to full-on party worrying. Ah, the full life of a cautious and responsible parent.

Monday, November 22, 2004

SI smackdown

My son has a classmate who lives nearby (at least, on the every-other-weekend the boy stays with his father), and although he's been over to our house a number of times, I haven't felt they've ever quite "clicked" in terms of being on the same level for satisfactory play. While they appear to be pretty similar in their special needs, and my son is probably ahead of him academically, the other boy is far more independent, and more advanced in motor skills. Part of that, of course, is because of me. I've written here before that I don't let my son out of my sight when he's out of the house, and while I still maintain that's the only responsible position for his health and safety, it does tend to cut down on independent thinking -- and since he can't run around or throw a ball or ride his bike without having to wait on my schedule, he's probably even more delayed in those areas than he would otherwise be. On the other hand, I see his classmate running around with no supervision, knocking on our door at various times of day with nobody seeming too concerned where he is, doing dangerous tricks on his bicycle without a helmet, and it seems a wonder to me that he hasn't been abducted or severely injured. It's good to be independent, but there are limits.

So there's been a certain dissonance in their interests and ability to play together. My son's not as good as sports as his classmate, and his mommy won't let him go riding off on his bike when it's cold or rainy or she has something else to do. I keep them inside playing video games, but even then the classmate is significantly more skillful and, frankly, interested. My guy will play for a while, but it's not entirely his thing. The games he'd be more interested in playing -- bingo, Connect 4, maybe a puzzle -- the other boy seems to consider beneath his level of maturity. But yesterday I found one thing they were both interested in doing, fairly well-matched in, and enthusiastic about: wrestling.

I'd set up an inflatable trampoline, one of those things with net walls around the sides, thinking they could jump for a while and blow off some steam (since I'd refused to let them go play soccer in the rain). After a few preliminary bounces, they started tussling with each other and kept it up until they were too hot and sweaty to go on. I kept hovering in fear that someone was being picked on, but they both assured me repeatedly that they were playing and having fun and not mad or hurt or upset. The way the fingers and the feet were flying, I thought sure someone would put an eye out. But they emerged calm and friendly, eager to try it again after a snack and some juice. I guess it's some form of Commando Sensory Integration Therapy, giving two hyposensitive proprioceptive systems the jolts and jogs they needed. Does homeowner's insurance cover mishaps with stuff like that?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Happy report card day

My kids got their report cards on Friday, and they were pretty impressive. My son got all A's except for a B in penmanship (astoundingly generous, since his writing is, by any objective standards, illegible) and a C in behavior (using "average" to describe his behavior is also, I suppose, generous indeed). My daughter got all A's and B's in her inclusion classes, and I'd suspect some generosity there, too, except that she tells me stories like this: Her reading teacher gave the class a series of book report assignments, due throughout the year, and reminded them frequently that one was due this past Monday. My daughter was one of only 13 kids, out of a class of 26, to actually turn it in that day. Later in the week, there was a short story due; 12 kids blew it off. If this sort of thing goes on in her other classes -- and I'll bet it does, although it really shocks me -- then my girl should be pretty far ahead of the curve. Whenever I go for conferences, the teachers always make a big deal of the fact that she does her homework and turns in her assignments. I always thought they were just grasping for something nice to say. But I'm beginning to see now the degree to which they might actually appreciate that.

Friday, November 19, 2004

New toys

I just got a bunch of new computer equipment yesterday, and I've been like a kid on Christmas day ever since. Well, maybe like a parent on Christmas Eve -- charged with putting a whole bunch of things together with limited time, patience and understanding. Mostly, I've figured things out. I actually installed an AirPort network card in my old laptop, something that requires lifting the keyboard off and mucking about with the wires; so far, nothing's blown up and the computer has found its wireless friends so I guess I didn't hurt anything. I set up a wireless network all by myself, and although I can't quite get the printer to cooperate, there are no problems I can't work around. I'm feeling dangerously computer savvy, which means I'm about due for a disasterous crash or other catastrophe that will send me screaming to tech support people who will charge $125 an hour to come fix it. But for now, I'm feeling powerfully nerdy myself.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

All About About.com

Well, I guess it's official now, because they have my picture up: I'm taking over as Parenting Special Needs guide for About.com. I hope to be able to do that and this blog and the Mothers with Attitude site too, plus, like, be a mom and work and volunteer and, you know, sleep. We'll see how long it takes me to acheive complete collapse. In the meantime, check out the new site, and especially, at this pre-Thanksgiving time of dread, my holiday survival guide for parents of children with special needs. It explains why family gatherings so often find me sitting on the floor with a backpack full of toys.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Bah, humbug

I hate to even think about buying Christmas presents at this time of year, but already the catalogs are coming and the children are asking. It seems impossible that my kiddos could accommodate more things than they already have. My son's room looks like a garbage dump, with stuff crammed into every nook and cranny ... and we're supposed to put the new toys where, exactly? What this kid needs most for Christmas is a spare room. If you're one of those super-organized folks who get all their shopping done by Thanksgiving (and if you are, I don't want to talk to you), you may be interested in this list of top toys for children with ADHD, chosen by something called "The Oppenheim Toy Portfolio," which sounds way too serious to have anything to do with playthings, or children with ADHD for that matter. Or you may wish to peruse a list of toy picks for special needs children from ParentSoup, or a list of top 10 musical toys for autistic children from about.com . Then again, if you're like me, you may want to ignore such lists for at least another three or four weeks, and then scurry about like a crazy person. Where's that list of top 10 last-minute toy purchases for procrastinating parents? That's what I want to know.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Going to the dogs

Weight Watchers isn't going to be happy about this: A recent study indicates that you don't need to go to pricey meetings to get the moral support needed to follow through on a diet. You just need to cut down with your kitty or canine. Putting pets and people together on diet and exercise programs resulted in slightly better weight loss for the human half of the team, and significantly better weight loss for the critter in question. Since the obesity epidemic in America has apparently spread to the littlest members of the household, finding a way for Fido and Fifi to trim down is no insignificant matter. But what would it do to your morale if your pooch made it to a size 6 before you did? Then again, maybe a little healthy competition is just what's called for.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Social gracelessness

I've been noticing lately how bad I am at public displays of camaraderie. Not of affection -- I'm always kissing on my kids in public, and my daughter will attest that I kiss my husband in at least her presence way too much. I hug close friends without a second thought. It's the expressions of fellowship with those outside my inner circle that I'm uncoordinated at. I noticed this during our funeral activities last week, when my inability to perform the conciliatory "cheek kiss" with various farflung in-laws resulted in more than a few awkward moments. It's hard to know which is worse: not offering a cheek when someone's expecting it, therefore seeming aloof; or going for a cheek-kiss when the other person is not, therefore seeming clumsy. I did both, I'm afraid, including one incident of air-kissing involving a very tall women who did not lean down when I leaned in. It was a good thing, in the long run, that I spent most of my time in a downstairs room watching the children. Once social contact gets beyond "Hello," I'm a hack.

I observed something similar last night when playing with my daughter in a parent-child bowling league. This being a friendly league, high-fives are common, even in celebration of mediocre balls and not-quite-strikes. I'm not even really all that comfortable with a hand-slap when I do something spectacular. And then there are the permutations -- am I supposed to slap hard, or just slide by, and if they high-five me at every turn, am I being unsportsmanlike if I don't offer a hand every time they knock down more than a few pins? I try my best to avoid eye contact and sneak past in the hopes of evading congratulatory situations, but I'm sure that just makes me seem sullen and sore loser-ish. Couldn't we all just smile at each other and say a kind word or two and let it go at that? Bowling shouldn't be a contact sport.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Reading matter

I had an awfully nice book club meeting with my little group of sixth-grade boys last Wednesday. The librarian was concerned about having a group of all boys -- worrying, I think, that they would mess around and not pay attention and swing from the light fixtures -- but these five settled down and discussed the book with a fair degree of interest and understanding. The book for this session Because of Winn-Dixie, and two of the guys didn't like it because it was a "girly book," but the other three liked it just fine. At the end of the meeting, each group had to share something they'd discussed, and while the "girl groups" all just talked about their favorite parts, my boys actually had some much more constructive comments to share. Even the librarian had to admit that they were a good group and seemed to be really into reading. (Of course, along with the most insights, I think we had the most spills per group; the kids eat their lunch during the meeting, and we had not one but two bottled-water mishaps.) The next session will focus on the book Among the Betrayed, which looks to have a lot more of the peril and action that characterize "guy books" (although the protagonist's still a female). I'm not all that sure that I want to read it. Not girly enough for me, don't you know.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Modest M.D.s?

Well now, here's a novel idea. There seems to be a bit of a push in the malpractice-reform arena for doctors to say two little words they've long been loathe to utter: "I'm sorry." The thought seems to be that an apology and a small settlement will prevent lawsuits and large settlements. The latter, apparently, are fueled as much by anger at a doctor's arrogance and obfuscation than by the actual wrongfulness of the death or damage. There may be something to that, but why stop there? If doctors are serious about looking for love instead of legal action, here are a few other things they might want to try saying:

* "I really want to hear your opinion."
* "Come right in! No waiting today."
* "Since you had to wait so long, we're waiving your co-pay. Your time is valuable, too!"
* "I could be wrong."
* "You know your child best."
* "Yours is the only appointment I have scheduled right now. I'm completely at your service."
* "There are pros and cons to everything. Let's discuss them."
* "House calls? Of course I make house calls!"

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

April Cain's latest Thinking It Over considers the clubs we find ourselves belonging to without ever having actually asked for membership (but membership does have its rewards). ... Also in our Contributor's Corner is an article with good advice for friends and family members on what you do and DO NOT say to an adopted child or family. Print it and pass it to the tactless and clueless among your loved ones -- it's a lot nicer than shouting, "Shut up, you insensitive clod!" (though maybe not as satisfying). ... And in our Parent's Portfolio, a list of warnings on what to expect when adopting older kids -- no, not attachment problems or post-traumatic stress, but kids flipping handles and pushing buttons and asking to eat every five minutes. Open your heart, but hide your jewelry.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The feel-good kid

My son can be such a little operator. Sometimes he's in his own world and not that interested in what other people think, and sometimes he can seem puzzled by the fact that other people have feelings at all. And then other times, he can say something so perfectly designed to make someone's heart turn to mush that you'd think he was an operative for Hallmark. Tonight, for example, I heard this exchange from the kitchen:

Son: Dad, what are you good at?

Dad: What am I good at? I don't know.

Son: Well, I know one thing you're good at. You're good at loving us.

If it had been a sitcom, the studio audience would have delivered a great big "Awwwwww."

With his encyclopedic knowledge of automobiles and keys, I've always thought my son might grow up to be a locksmith, or maybe a valet parking attendant. But on nights like tonight, hearing him turn on the sincerity, I'm thinking: Used car salesman for sure.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The routine resumes

Well, we survived our long weekend of funeral activities, and I'm amazed to say that both my kids made good impressions on the gathered family. My son was miraculously quiet during the funeral Mass, and although he could have been more decorous during the viewings, he wasn't the only kidlet acting up. It reminds me of how far the two of them have come that my daughter was chatting with relatives and planning out-of-town visits, and my son was able to get through such a disruptive few days without melting down. Their grandmother would have been proud of them both.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Difficult days ahead

Blogging may be light over the next few days because we've had a death in our family. My mother-in-law passed away yesterday morning at age 89, and in addition to our own feelings of loss we will be bearing the condolences of many, many, many Italian relatives. Three wakes, a church service and a funeral would be hard enough to get through without a sensory-integration-challenged child in tow. Maybe my guy will rise to the occasion. Grandma lived with us, and he was fond of her. Maybe he'll sense the seriousness of the event and sit solemn and quiet. Or maybe he'll just wait an extra five minutes or so before running around yelling. Even that would be a blessing, I suppose.

My daughter, who often helped Grandma and spent most of the morning with her before she went to the hospital last week, had a fairly low-key reaction when she first heard the news. "I'm not sad," she assured me. An hour later she was crying uncontrollably; she'd seen the morning paper on the lawn, and remembered how she always used to bring it downstairs to Grandma's room, and realized she'd never do that again. Later in the evening, she was just full of questions, and must have spent an hour at the dinner table asking my husband to tell her things about his mother. My son started with the questions early: After hearing the news, he was sad right away, but then wondered, Who will live in Grandma's room now? and What's going to happen to the food in her refrigerator? He'll probably be thinking up more of those questions, and asking them in a loud voice, in the middle of the funeral Mass.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Is Your Child Too Busy? asks a KidsHealth.org headline today, and I have to answer: Nope, not mine. My kids do have a few activities -- therapeutic riding for my son, bowling league and trombone lessons for my daughter, tutoring and speech therapy, family bowling on Sundays -- but compared to most kids their age, they're positively idle. Sometimes I worry that I'm depriving them by not booking them to within an inch of their lives, but then something happens to make me realize that our way is the sane way. This week, it was seeing a little girl at my daughter's music school taking her guitar lesson in her karate uniform. When the teacher suggested that his student could practice more, her mother said, "Well, that's hard, because she has karate, and soccer, and piano lessons, and dance lessons, and tutoring ..." and on and on and on. Talk about diminishing returns. My daughter has said to me a few times lately, "I'm glad our family is lazy," and although I might quibble with that particular terminology, I second her sentiment: Really, it's nice to come home from school some days and just hang out. We schedule a lot of hanging out. Our datebooks are full.

Monday, November 01, 2004

National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month, which is particularly appropriate for our family since November 1994 was our international adoption month. My husband and I left on Halloween of that year for what was supposed to be a two-week trip to Russia (cue "Gilligan's Island" music here), but turned out to be a month-long marathon of boredom and emotional stress, broken up only by visits to the orphanage to get to know our new little ones. Our adoption process lasted the entire month of November; we returned on December 1 as a family of four instead of a family of two. All's well that ends well, and any amount of doubt and uncertainty and misinformation and bad American TV dubbed into Russian was worth it to get these kids of ours home. We'll remember this all especially this month, as we celebrate 10 years together. The advertising slogan for this year's National Adoption Month is "You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent," and I'd sure say that's true. But it helps if you have perfect kids.