Friday, March 25, 2005

Birthday boy

My son turned 12 last week, and I have been after him to have a birthday party. We've had one every year he's been in school, and it's been nice getting his special-ed classmates together outside of school for a little social contact. Last year he had a bowling party, and I thought that was pretty successful, and easy for me, and was really pushing for him to go for that again. But he was resistant; he said he was too old for parties. Finally, he decided that what he really wanted was for everybody to go to a local science museum -- a trip that is logistically much, much more complicated than bowling and pizza. This is what I get for pushing the issue. I'm not just hosting a party, I'm planning a field trip. Maybe I'm too old.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The king, and I, and the noisy people behind me

My daughter and I went to the spring musical at her middle school last night -- "The King and I," performed in a shortened version that left out some very familiar songs and added some really boring narration to cover up the plot gaps. But you gotta love little 11-, 12-, 13-year-old kids up there on stage belting out classic songs and pretending. The boy who played the king even shaved his head for the role. The girl who played Anna went to my daughter's elementary school and was in a writing enrichment class I taught there, so we were happy to cheer her on. The only really bad performance of the evening was given by the people sitting behind us, who just would not stop talking all through the performance. That was sad enough when it was a group of little gossiping girls who only broke from their whispered conversation to scream the names of actors when they'd successfully completed their numbers. But after a while a group of grown men sat in the row between us and the girls, and then they started talking, too. One of them was our district superintendent of schools (and the husband of one of my best library volunteers), so I could hardly give him the evil eye. But I thought about it, alright. Perhaps what we needed was for the King of Siam to stomp out into the audience with his bare feet and his bald head, clap his hands, and order, "Silence!" Hey, it worked for him onstage.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

It's not just our kids who are different

Most days I just amble along, being a parent, not thinking much about it, but some days something comes up to remind me that parents of kids with special needs just think differently. Chatting with a mom who was worried about her second-grader getting into Harvard was one of those days. Certainly any day that has an IEP meeting in it is one of those days. And tragedies like the school shooting in Minnesota brings on one of those days, too.

I imagine most parents react to stories like that with fear for their children's safety, worries that some crazy kid might bring violence to their own peaceful campuses, determination to weed out kids with mental health problems pronto. And sure, I worry about my kids' safety, too, and get that shiver of dread that one day they could go to school and never come home. But honestly, the first thing that went through my mind when I heard about the shooting at a high school on an Indian reservation was: I wonder if that kid had fetal alcohol syndrome? And hard upon that: If he did and that becomes part of the news story, will people look at my fetal-alcohol-affected kid as a threat, or a freak? How much teasing does it take to throw a kid over the edge, anyway?

I shudder to think about my child being hurt by a classmate, but in the back of my head, always, is the wondering whether someday, somehow, with poor administrative handling and IEP violations and abuse from teachers and other students, my kid could ever, in any way, be the one doing the hurting. It's unimaginable to me now, and I am beyond vigilant. But I'll bet I'm not the only mom of a behaviorally challenged kid who thinks that way. Who thinks differently.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Silver linings

It's funny sometimes how bad things make you notice good things so much more. I would never have wished for my son to hurt his arm, but in the aftermath of that accident I've become aware of some surprising little maturity leaps he's taken lately. How patient he was while waiting in the ER; how still he sat for the X-ray technician, how cooperative he was with her in learning how to place his arm on the table; how unconcerned he is about having a splint on his arm. It was only about two years ago, when he needed an MRI and an EEG for seizures, that we couldn't even imagine not knocking him out for those procedures. It was unthinkable that he would be able to understand that he had to lie still, much less get his neurological act together to do it. Yet there he was on Thursday, perfectly unmoving for the camera, perfectly understanding. I bet he could take that MRI now without meds, bet he could tolerate the EEG electrodes glued to his scalp. When did that happen? When did he become sensory un-defensive enough to tolerate a heavy binding itchy thing on his arm? I bet even he didn't know he could go for days without sucking his fingers; I suspect he believed just as hard as I did that it was essential to his emotional equilibrium. But he's been quite balanced these last few days. Who knew? Not me.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Sore subject

I had another little ER jaunt yesterday, this time with my son and a sore arm. He'd fallen at recess and scraped up his right palm pretty good, but what was really bothering him by the time he was leaving school was his left arm. Now, this is a kid who rarely feels pain, so when he's screaming "Ow! Ow! Ow!" when I try to move his arm, refusing to put his arm in the jacket sleeve, unable to buckle his seatbelt, and actually crying about it, I pay attention. My husband agreed that the arm looked a little swollen, so off we went to see a doctor and get some X-rays and wait and wait and wait.

He was not able to be very specific with the medical professionals about where it hurt; I tried to explain that he doesn't feel pain well and he's not really in tune with his body that way so he may not really know exactly where the pain is, and maybe they believed me. He did get the X-rays, which of course showed nothing, but the doctor said that since he was a "young main with open growth plates," she'd go ahead and put a splint on him for a few days, and if by Monday when we took it off the arm still hurt we could go to our pediatrician and get more X-rays and go on from there. I have a feeling this was an "appease the mom" device, and under normal circumstances would have felt full of doubt over whether I had made too much of his cries of pain. But during our long wait, something important occurred to me: He wasn't sucking his fingers. He always sucks his fingers. He will not allow himself to be dissuaded from sucking his fingers. But the fingers were on the hand attached to the sore arm. And he simply could not bend it to get them to his mouth. That arm hurt, alright. Of that, have no doubt.

Now, with the splint, he really can't bend it. Will three days be enough to break him of a habit he's had for 11 years? Maybe I should have asked the doctor if we could keep it on for a few weeks.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Pop star

I've certainly been bored enough to surf around the Web looking for something, anything to do, but I'm not sure I would stoop to this: there's a Web site devoted to a game that offers nothing more than the simulated popping of bubble wrap. There's certainly something therapeutic and maybe a little addictive about actually holding those puffy plastic bubbles between your fingers and pressing them 'til they pop, but doing the same with a mouse? The sound's nice, but the little tactile thrill is gone. Normal mode requires you to actually click a bubble to pop it, while "addictive" mode allows you to just run the arrow around the sheet and hear the pops with no additional input required. You'd have to be pretty bored to find that a worthy way to waste your time ... but maybe I'll bookmark it anyway, just in case.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Poor, deprived child

Ways in which I am ruining my 14-year-old daughter's life (as I have repeatedly been reminded this weekend):
1) I will not let her have a TV in her room like every single other teenager in America.
2) I will not let her watch MTV even though it's just for fun and she doesn't take any of that stuff seriously.
3) I will not let her download certain rap songs even though she does not understand what they mean and just likes the beat.
4) I will not buy a flat-screen TV for the living room.
5) I make her have a bedtime of 9:30 p.m. (still considered cruel and inhumane even though she often falls asleep at 9 p.m.)
6) I make her practice her trombone even though she hates her trombone.
7) I make her read even though she hates reading.
8) I make her be nice to her brother even though she hates her brother.
9) I will not let her have a phone in her room like every single other teenager in America.
10) I just laugh when she whines about #1-9.
Bad mom. Baaaaaaad mom.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


The city that we live in is sandwiched between two larger urban areas with embattled school systems, and there's a constant drive on to "catch" families from those other municipalities who are sneaking their kids into our schools. Rewards have been offered for turning out-of-town students in, whether they're using a false address or squeezing themselves into an illegal apartment. I'd never thought much about it -- if anything, considered it a sort of silly but probably fiscally necessary exercise. But yesterday, it hit close to home: A boy in my son's class was caught, and removed. The teacher told the kids he was moving, which is certainly preferable to explaining urban area vs. clinging-to-the-last-vestiges-of-suburbia politics to multiply disabled fifth-graders. But the truth was, he was in trouble for not having moved to the city he was being schooled in.

And yeah, I'm a taxpayer, and it's hard enough to meet our school budget without freeloaders barging in. The fact that this boy was a special-ed student I suppose adds to the financial burden he placed. But I also can't help feeling sorry for the boy, who is torn from his class just a few months shy of the end of school; disruptions are hard on any kid, but so much more so for kids with challenges. And I can't help feeling sorry for his family, who undoubtedly just wanted their child to be somewhere safe. We make hard choices as parents, and sometimes we make foolish ones, and ones that wind up hurting our children despite our best intentions. That's something I can empathize with for sure.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Letting the school down

Are Home and School Associations (or PTAs or PTOs or whatever the heck they're called where you're at) about to become things of the past? Some of you are cheering at that idea, I know, I can hear you. There's been a sort of HSA tyranny going on for years, making moms who don't volunteer feel inadequate, giving moms who do volunteer approximately the same status as cheerleaders when you were in high school. But now, even those cheerleader moms are starting to drop out, lost to a new job or some of the 5,000 other activities their kids are involved in, and the activities their organizations used to take responsibility for are in jeopardy. Certainly, I don't think anybody's going to cry if there are no more fund-raisers; how much gift wrap can we buy, really? But the stuff the fund-raisers paid for? There's liable to be a fuss when that stuff disappears.

My daughter brought home a letter today from her school principal and the president of the Home and School Association detailing all the things that won't happen if parents don't step up and volunteer to plan fund-raisers. It's written in exactly the same tone of ticked-off sarcasm I've heard teachers use with students: "Alright, fine. You don't want to do your work? Which should we cancel, the dances or the yearbook? We'll just take these nice honor society certificates right back to the store." I sympathize with the frustration the folks who are still trying to make things go must feel, and I also feel defensive as heck because, excuse me, I do volunteer. I volunteer plenty. Just because I don't want to stay out every night planning some sort of evening raffle extravaganza doesn't make me a bad parent. If the school really wants to bank some money, maybe they should take up the suggestion I made here a few years ago: Tell parents that if they donate a certain amount, they will never be bugged to buy cookies or plan events for the duration of the school year. I'd write them a check right now. Honor society certificates all around!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Something good about McDonald's

Well, I'm just the luckiest idiot in the world. For the second time, I left my wallet in McDonald's, and for the second time, I recovered it intact. I'm going to have to go this McDonald's now every week for the rest of my life out of gratitude. The first time I lost it there, a number of years ago, it was for exactly the same reason as yesterday: I was with the kids, I was distracted, and I was so busy making sure they left with their jackets and shoes and leftover food that I didn't notice I was missing my own belongings. The really embarrassing thing about this latest escapade is that I left the wallet there yesterday morning and didn't notice it was missing until tonight. Who does that? A very lucky idiot, I guess.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Every now and then it happens

Tonight I heard those words so sweet for a parent to hear from a teen: "Mom, you were right." My 14-year-old daughter was determined to watch the movie "Speed" on TV, despite the fact that it was rated R. She'd watched about half of it a few nights ago before I realized what the rating was, and wanted to watch the whole thing when it was repeated tonight. Now, it was on a basic cable station with commercials, so I was pretty sure they'd have to take all the hard R stuff out; and she swore nothing about it had bothered her during the previous viewing. But I also remembered that there were scary parts of that movie that just involved Dennis Hopper being one creepy dude; and remembered, too, that there have been other things on TV that didn't bother her right up until the point where they bothered her very, very much. So fuddy-duddy Mom was against the repeat viewing, and at the very least insisted that Dad be in the room watching with her (not Mom, you'll notice; things bother me, too.) So she watched the whole thing, and when I asked her how she liked it, she uttered those entirely gratifying words. And now, of course, I'll have to worry about whether I'm making her fearful by being afraid for her, and whether she was spooked by the movie this time because I was so sure she would be. But not tonight. Tonight, I'm just going to do the "you were right" dance and enjoy delightful vindication.

Friday, March 04, 2005

You are getting sleeeeeeeepy

I have fallen into this very bad habit of falling asleep the second the kids go to bed -- sometimes before -- and then waking up in the wee hours and doing all the things I should have done the previous evening, like, oh, say, writing this blog. (The date and time on this shows 8:54 p.m., which is the time I opened the template up, following which I sat down to watch cartoons with my son and woke up around 4 a.m. And now here I am. Good morning!) It's getting to the point where I sleep in my clothes more than I sleep in my PJs. My husband, who has to get up early for work, is stuck in the same pattern -- falls asleep on the couch watching TV, and is still there when the alarm goes off. It's like we're some sort of cliched feuding couple, with the husband sleeping on the couch. But really, we're just worn out. I'd attribute this to old age, but it's the sort of thing I used to do in college, using anything, even sleep, to put off doing work that needed to be done. You'd think I would have outgrown that kind of procrastination by age 45. You'd be wrong. The only difference is, instead of falling asleep after the Tonight Show goes off, I'm now falling asleep during "Jay Jay the Jet Plane."

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The secret to happiness

Like probably a lot of other parents of children with special needs, I'm often amazed at what some moms and dads worry about. I was talking to a mom the other day who was positioning her second-grader to attend an Ivy League college, and I realized how far off my radar screen anything even remotely of that nature is. I'm more worried about whether her inability to pass a standardized test will keep my daughter from getting a high school diploma, or whether my son will be able to make it through school in our district or will have to be sent somewhere special. Ivy League? Heck, I'm not even thinking as far as the local junior college. One day at a time, right? That's what I tell my daughter when she gets all anxious about every possible consequence of every possible action, and that's a pretty good motto for me as a parent, too, I think. And so I appreciated "Finding Happiness in Your Child," some insights from Stan Goldberg, Ph.D., a learning consultant and the author of "Ready To Learn: How To Help Your Preschooler Succeed." It's nice to get permission to just enjoy the present.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Harried Parent's Book Club

Throughout the month of March, I'll be posting a book review a day on the Parenting Special Children site as part of the Harried Parent's Book Club. Included will be parenting books and books about specific special needs. First up: Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach," a great behavior book on positive discipline.