Wednesday, August 31, 2005

School report

I finally got my kids' school schedules on Tuesday, and everything was in order. My son had the teacher he was supposed to have and the all-self-contained classes he was supposed to have. I was a bit surprised to see that my daughter has all male teachers this year except for one, which will be an interesting transition. Her music teachers have always been male, and her art teacher in elementary school, but to have one for every subject but science will be pretty different. Not sure whether it will work for her, but we'll see. Tomorrow, I'm going to the middle school with a couple of moms from my son's special-ed class to pester the vice principal with questions about what the day will be like for our little ones and what we should expect. The teacher should be there, too, and maybe after this I'll be able to just relax and anticipate the beginning of school without nagging doubts and nervousness. Naaah, probably not.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Getting old

I know I've been sort of ridiculously all-about-the-celebrities lately, and I'll knock it off soon, I promise. I've been procrastinating a lot instead of, say, writing insightful blog posts or buying school supplies, and if I wander the Web enough I always seem to wind up on the celeb gossip pages -- some sort of internet tractor beam, it must be. So this morning, I saw an item that said something to the effect of "Keanu Reeves, 40, is once again dating Diane Keaton, 59." And I know I was supposed to think something like, "Whoah, check out that age difference!" or "You go, Diane, getting a younger man!" or "'Bout time we reversed that old-guy-young-babe Hollywood double standard!" But all I could think of was: Keanu Reeves is 40? When the heck did that happen? Maybe it's just the fact that I'm sending my youngest to middle school that's making me feel so ancient.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Whine dining

When you're in a restaurant and somebody else's kids are misbehaving -- I mean really acting up, making noise, running around, getting in the waiter's way -- what is your first reaction? A) Annoyance that those parents just can't control their children; B) annoyance that the ruckus made by the out-of-control children of those parents might cause your own angel babies to fuss; or C) boundless relief and gratitude that it is somebody else's child this time, and not yours. God be with you, fellow traveler! Have mercy on me next time when it's my child who's a-fussin'.

I guess it's clear that I'm a C), and occasionally a B), but only very rarely an A). Which means I'm probably one of those parents, the kind that the restaurant mentioned in this Blogging Baby post would advise to make alternative dining plans. I don't like to think of myself as a spineless, child-whipped bad parent. I try to keep my kids quiet in restaurants, within reason. I don't bring them to restaurants where they're obviously not welcome. And I try to get them out when they've really met their limits. But you know, my son has fetal alcohol effects, and impulse control is really kind of a nice dream. I try to give him as much slack as I can without completely letting him run wild, but it's a fine line. From where I'm sitting, we're usually just on the OK side of it. From where you're sitting, right behind him when he's jumping on the seat or right in front of him when he's racing down the aisles to the salad bar yelling "Out of my way! Out of my way!" we might appear to be quite decidedly on the other side.

We've gotten glares from time to time, usually from elderly people who grew up in a time when they used to beat kids like mine, or single people who still have big dreams of what great parents they'll be. But people who are parents right now would understand, wouldn't they? Surely we've all been in a position in which our child was acting up in awkward circumstances and we couldn't easily stop it. Haven't we? Haven't we? Maybe not, judging from the comments to the post mentioned above, which tend toward "My child knows how to behave, and if those parents can't be bothered to properly train theirs, they should just never leave the house." Such a lack of camaraderie with one's fellow parents, such superiority, such assuredness! If there's one thing parenting has taught me, it's that assuredness goeth before a fall. I'd like to think that one day I'll see those parents in a restaurant, and their child will have hit a phase in which throwing crackers at other diners is the height of comedy, and they'll be all apologies and scolding, and I'll give them my smuggest, smuggest look. But you know, in the end, I'll probably be glad it's their kid throwing crackers and not mine. And I'll just wind up nodding and sending a little "Hey, thanks!" in their direction.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Baby bummers

Saw two thoroughly depressing news items on the Celebrity Baby Blog tonight:
1) Britney Spears has been spotted drinking multiple alcoholic beverages despite being very pregnant. Apparently the stress of being with child is causing her to need margaritas, but honey, let me tell you, you don't know stress until you're dealing with a child with fetal alcohol syndrome, okay? There seems to be some doubt as to whether the story is actually true, and let's just hope for the sake of Britney and her baby-to-be that it's not. But good judgment doesn't seem like one of this girl's strong suits, does it?

2) Donny Osmond is a grandpa. Okay, this is a lot less serious than drinking while pregnant. It's just that ... sigh ... I'm old now, aren't I? Very, very old.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sticks and stones

My daughter hates me. That's what she tells me on a regular basis, anyway. I don't let it bother me because I'm pretty sure she doesn't mean it -- she hates what I'm doing at that moment, not me -- but people who hear her say it tend to leap to my defense. I mostly just say, "I don't think that's true," and it's not, and it's our little joke. So the other day, when she really wanted to cut me down, she had to dig a little bit deeper into her bag of middle-school insults. And this is what she came up with: "Mom, you are not cool." Ooooh, burn. She kept saying it with ascending levels of scorn, waiting, I guess, for me to crumble into pieces over the public revelation of my uncoolness, but no; I just kept doing whatever geeky thing I was doing, making it worse by laughing at her insults. I'm a hard nut to crack, alright. She'll have to stock up on much worse stuff than that when she goes back to school to really ruffle my feathers.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Stalking celebrities

Alright, I'll admit, I followed a link to read this story, which I guess makes me part of the problem. But reading a story about Scarlett Johansson's call to 911 when she got into a fender bender while evading paparazzi is one thing. Actually listening to it is another, isn't it? After reading the story on People magazine's site about the way photographer's invaded the young actress's privacy, you can invade it your very own self by listening to an audio file of the actual call. Now, I don't waste a lot of time feeling sorry for celebrities. A certain amount of privacy loss goes with the territory of being successful and famous and fabulous, and stars need to acknowledge that with a certain amount of humility. But they should also be allowed to go about their daily lives without being constantly trailed by photographers. Some of this stuff crosses the line between aggressive coverage and stalking. And they should probably be allowed to call 911 without worrying that anyone with a computer is going to be able to download their most stressful and upsetting moments. (But if anyone does listen, hey, tell me if there's anything interesting!)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Information drought

I'm going into serious information withdrawal here, with two weeks until the start of school. Usually my kids' school schedules arrive somewhere in the middle of August, frequently on a week when we're on vacation and then I have to wait until we get home to see it. Bad enough. Bad enough I have to wait until August to be sure that they're in the right classes, at the right schools. Special education means never being entirely sure that things will be what you expect. But again, usually by mid-August I have either the comfort of knowing things are A-OK or the ammunition for fighting the good fight. This year, though -- this year, when my son is starting middle school and I am therefore particularly concerned about getting him in the right place with the right person -- there's some new computer program and personnel gaps screwing things up, and we won't be getting the schedules until next week. As in, one week before school starts. As in, almost the entire summer spent fretting and worrying with no solid info whatsoever. I am not a happy mom. I could probably make calls and knock heads and sneak into offices at night and search through files and find out whether things are as they should be, but that would be starting the year out on a pushy foot and I like to save that for when I really need it. Maybe I do really need it. And maybe I don't. I want to know NOW. It's going to be a long week.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The laughter police

I mentioned a few entries ago that I went a little crazy running interference for my son at a science museum, and wondered whether, if I had just let him be his own exuberant self, everything would have been okay. I was second-guessing myself big time, but today I read a news story that made me think I was probably right to be absurdly protective of the rights of other people not to be annoyed by him. I'm talking about the tale of the boy with autism and cerebral palsy who was ejected from a New York movie theater for laughing too loud. Now, this wasn't the case of a family bringing a child into a dialog-heavy adult picture and expecting everyone to just live with the distraction. This was a midday showing of "March of the Penguins," the popular kid-friendly nature documentary. The theater refunded the family's money, and has apologized now that a bit of a furor has been raised. On the one hand, I have a hard time imagining how this kid could have raised enough of a ruckus to deserve ejection from a kiddie show, and I think it's worth asking whether he was unfairly targeted because he was in a wheelchair. On the other hand, all the heartfelt comments people have made to the effect of "these poor little handicapped kids suffer so much they should be allowed to have these small chances at happiness" rub me the wrong way, too. A kid in a theater is a kid in a theater. If your kid's being disruptive, you should try to minimize it. If you're making an effort, the ushers should be understanding. At some point, you may just need to get your kid out of there, whether it's a crying baby or a chatty six-year-old or a child who can't control the exuberance of his laughter. I'm probably too quick to get to that point. And maybe the management at this theater was too quick to get there in this instance. But the point does exist, doesn't it? For everyone? Or should kids with disabilities get a free pass?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Back-to-school readiness

Are you ready for back-to-school? I know some districts have already started up again, but hereabouts we're three weeks and counting. My kids are finishing up their summer homework assignments, but I haven't quite gotten with the schoolclothes shopping and equipment checking. Regardless of where my family's at with this back-to-school thing, though, I did finally get my website act together. I've spent the last few weeks stalling and procrastinating and starting and starting over and starting again, but the whining is over now and I've finally got my index of 107 web pages with back-to-school-related content up and running on my site. They're all articles or links lists that I'd posted previously, gathered together here for your school-panicking pleasure. Reading through all this wonderful content will allow you to continue putting off getting your kids ready for school, and isn't that really what it's all about?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Call too late, visit too early

Now that my daughter is big into talking to her friends on the phone, we've had some conversations about how late it is acceptable to call someone you are not related to or who is not expecting your call. Before 10 p.m. is my rule, but even after 9 p.m. I feel awkward. (I don't even like hearing from family members much after 9 p.m., to tell the truth.) But something happened yesterday that made me think of another rule of polite communication that seems to need defining: What's the earliest time in the morning it's okay to show up at somebody's house? My son has a school friend who lives across the street from us on the alternate weekends he's living with his dad, and this kid (who roams the neighborhood way more freely than a control-freak mom like me can comfortably abide) showed up at our door at about 7:50 a.m. Sunday morning, just as we were rushing out the door to church. We told him to come back later, but that almost-playdate was enough to set my son on "I don't want to be in church" mode for the next hour. Who lets their kid go to a friend's house at 7:50 a.m.? On a Sunday? I'd say anytime before 10 a.m. on a weekend's pushing it, and then you should call first. But not before 9 a.m. (and even then, I'm liable to bark at you for waking me up). What are your time-and-communication rules?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The music mom

I'm walking on the knife-edge now of being the sort of mother who encourages her child to make the most of her talents vs. the sort of mother who pushes her child to follow paths in which the child has no interest. My daughter's been playing the trombone since 4th grade, and I've really kept the pressure on for her to keep at it and practice and take lessons and try out for things and take the instrument seriously. Sometimes she seems interested, sometimes she hates it, most of the time it's more my thing than hers. And philosophically, I believe that's bad: Parents shouldn't put their thing on their kids. The fact that music was a big help to me in getting through high school shouldn't mean that my children have to pursue music, too. Maybe she is meant to bloom in another direction. But then, down here at street level in the real world, I worry that if she's not cultivated with a heavy hand, she may not bloom at all. It's not like she's passionate about something else. She talks about joining sports teams but doesn't pursue it. Music is something she has some ability in, and learning it has increased her brainpower for reading as well. And darn it, I do worry about her getting through high school. It's a big school, and band is a tight community. Is it bad for me to push her in that direction? Hard? How do you know when you've crossed the line?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Museum manners

I spent the day with my son at a science museum yesterday, and although he had a good time it left me with an uneasy feeling. I was monitoring him fairly constantly, advising him to give other kids turns, telling him not to push, guiding him from crowded exhibits to less-occupied ones, and generally being the external brain I feel it's so important to be for a child with fetal alcohol effects. Some kids were nice to him, some completely ignored him, some gave him a weird look, some were fairly rude, and I wonder now if their reaction to him was not so much due to his particular disability as to the the fact that he had this mother hovering over him all the time. Dude, uncool! Maybe I was giving out signals that "There's something wrong with this boy! Back off! Let him through!" I don't know. There were other parents that seemed to be manners enforcers; but there was also sort of a free-for-all mentality -- maybe among camp kids especially -- that made it very hard to get a turn if you did not force your way into one. So while I would have my boy stand quiet and wait, kid after kid would just push right on ahead of him. I wound up yelling at a couple of little girls one time, dragging my son (who was offering a very conciliatory "That's okay! I don't care! I can wait!) away from the place where he'd been cut in line. Maybe I should have just left him to his own devices. It hurts to see him taking advantage of other kids, and it hurts to seem him taken advantage of. Do I have to just not look?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Sensory shopaholic

I've admitted before that I have a real obsession with sensory-integration and learning-aid catalogs, and tend to buy up lots of cool-looking stuff and throw it at my kids, hoping something sticks. Things usually prove useful for a short time, and then either the kiddos or I lose interest, leaving us with piles of unused therapy thingamajigs all around the house. At one time or another, I've purchased just about every item on this list of Special-Needs School Tools. We're still using the pencil toppers (although I probably enjoy twiddling with them more than my kids do); the Alphasmart gets some use now and then (though again, more likely because I want to do some writing while I'm out and about with the kids); and I personally enjoy the EZC Reader bookmarks with their easy-on-the-eyes colored cellophane. Maybe I should just stop pretending that I'm buying this stuff as a serious therapeutic option for my children and just admit that I like shiny fun stuff. Would that blow my "good mom" cover?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

If you give a kid a computer ...

It used to be that when kids got into trouble at school, their parents would punish them. As schools got more befuddled or parents got more weak-willed, depending on your point of view, parents started to protest the schools' actions, defending their offspring to newspaper reporters and blasting the school in public meetings. Now, of course, there's no reason to deal with the middleman: Don't like the way your school is treating your kids? Start a website!

Such is naturally the case with the computer-confrontation going on in Kutztown, Pa., where 13 students are accused of hacking the nice laptops the school district gave them, cracking administrative codes, monitoring administrators' computer use, and so on. Kid stuff, you know? What do you expect? These kids know all about computers! You can't stop them! You've got admire them, don't you? What little geniuses they are! What? Punish them? Suspend them? Call the police? What a bunch of no-talent killjoys! Where's the harm here? Why did you give them the computers in the first place if you didn't want them to mess around? That seems to be the opinion of the families of the so-called Kurtztown 13, as expressed in their site, (and the bumper stickers and T-shirts offered there).

It's hard to feel sorry for the school here. It's not a big secret that kids are good at this sort of thing, and have the patience and single-mindedness to go after it. If you're going to give kids computers, you really ought to be able to stay ahead of them on security. It sounds as if the whole thing was poorly handled from beginning to end. On the other hand ... now, you know, I can be a loudmouth mom and take schools to task as well as the next parent, but I wonder what it is you teach kids when you attack schools for enforcing rules. You can be amused by what your kid does, you can be impressed with it, you can secretly feel that sticking it to the man is a cool thing to do, but when you knowingly allow him or her to break school rules, encourage him or her to do it, defend him or her against any repercussions, what are you teaching that child? That rules don't apply to him or her? That they only apply if they make sense to you personally? That they only apply unless it's easy to break them, or fun? And where does that lead? No place good, I think.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Wired and tired

*!@#$?& technology! Science was not my friend yesterday. Some stupid little splitter piece connecting me to the internet frizzled, and I had to crawl around under furniture and into dusty nether regions of my living room to find the spot at which the cable enters the house, unhook the modem and router from their spot across the room and wire them up on the floor under the side table, and monkey around with wiring while a superior-sounding woman from the cable company assured me that yes, all this is really necessary. I was so sure that it was their problem and not mine, but of course, that tiny stupid widget was something I'm responsible for replacing. Unwiring and moving and rewiring tech stuff is high-stress work for me because, although I'm generally able through trial and error and swearing to get things going, I don't feel sure enough of myself to want to have to do it more than once. But I did, and it's fixed, and I'm wired, and I'm tired, and I've had my tantrum and am uneasily at peace with my machines once again. Why do you suppose it is, though, that I'm suddenly having problems with my cable connection just weeks after I finally let my old dial-up back-up service lapse?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Pod person

My son has been going crazy for his iPod Shuffle lately. Wearing it and listening to music at bone-rattling volumes seems to have a proprioceptive sort of calming effect on him. Of course, I make him turn it down, because he's got enough problems without hearing loss; and I try to make sure that he doesn't listen to it for long hours straight, although the peace and quiet this buys me are powerful incentives to the contrary. But I'm sort of fascinated by the therapeutic and behavior-management possibilities of this little plastic gadget, particularly since technological solutions like GameBoys and computers have never held much interest for him. We've already had some success with him listening calmly during a usually disruptive doctor's appointment, and I'm thinking hard on a way to use it appropriately during our last remaining frontier of untamed behavioral uncontrol: Church. Do you think if I loaded it up with Gregorian chants, he could wear it to Mass?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Can you ever have too much chocolate?

So on the one hand, we're reading news reports every day on how people are getting fatter, obesity is an epidemic, we need to cut the fat and calories, yada yada yada ... and on the other hand, they're making M&Ms bigger. Not the packages, mind you, but the actual candy-covered chocolates. Was this really necessary? Regular plain and peanut M&Ms seem to be of an adequate size to give us all sugar highs and fat thighs. We need 55% more with each bite? Maybe this is the only way people will cut down: "Hey," you can say, "I ate half as many M&Ms." Coupled with the news that Atkins is going under, I guess you could say this was a very good week for carbs.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sit! Stay!

I've written from time to time that a good way to handle the behavior of a child with neurological problems like my son's -- problems that place a child on the "can't" side of the "can't or won't" debate, problems that get worse in the face of emotion and anger and stress -- is to speak as you would to a dog. Sharp tones, but not angry ones. Straightforward commands. A bit of physical business, like a clap or a hand on the shoulder, to gain attention. These are good suggestions, they work on my son, they've kept things calm and uncomplicated.

That is, of course, until we actually got a dog.

What's become clear to me, after a month or so with Princess, our new family pooch, is that talking to your kid like you talk to your dog makes the dog pretty confused. She jumps up when I yell at him. When I tell him to stop, she stops. When I clap to get his attention, I get hers. And maybe as the result of my overlapping behavioral techniques, I think she thinks he's just a weird looking puppy.

Worst of all, it looks like I"m getting confused, too. More than once on recent walks, I've sharply called out a name when the dog had her nose buried in a bush, say, or was pulling to go after a rabbit, or was stuck sniffling the same spot for minutes on end. I've sharply called out a name and wondered why the dog didn't respond, until I realized ... the name I was calling was my son's. Egad! Am I so used to calling out his name in the face of stubborn behavior that I do it automatically? It's bad enough to be calling the dog by the boy's name, but now I'm worried that some day, in a public place, I'm going to call my son "Princess." Maybe it's time to rethink my disciplinary strategies.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Oh, and in other news, a bunch of people lived

I've really been in awe, since I first saw the news last night, of the story about the plane that crashed in Toronto, slid down a ravine, split apart, burst into flames ... and delivered all its passengers safely. What a miracle. Some minor injuries, a heck of a lot of lost luggage, no doubt some lawsuits in the offing about pain and suffering, but no fatalities. I was eager to read about it this morning in the paper, and shocked to find it relegated to the lower right corner of the front page, below a big feature on the upcoming shuttle spacewalk. Now, I'll give the editors the benefit of the doubt and say that the news came in late and they had to wedge it in. But I'm pretty sure that if everyone aboard that plane had died, the story would be above the fold. Why is good news such a ho-hum proposition? In terms of the actual "newsiness" of an event, a plane crash not killing everybody sure seems more unusual than one with the typical tragedy and violence.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

OnStar earns its keep

The minivan we bought a couple of months ago came with OnStar included, and although I was excited to have it at first, it's seemed to me in recent weeks like some fancy gewgaw we'll never use. But this morning, I began to see what an absolutely nifty device it can be. Whether it's worth the money we'll have to pay to keep it going after the first year remains to be seen. But I sure was glad to have it today.

And why was that, you ask? Did I run out of gas? Drive into a ditch? Have serious engine trouble? Get hopelessly lost? See my car stolen and recovered thanks to the tracking system? Use the included phone service in an emergency? No, no, no. Nothing like that. Nothing dramatic or important or exciting. It's just ... it's just ... there was this ding. It started when we got in the car after a brief errand on the way to take my daughter to day camp, and it continued ringing as we dropped her off, and continued as we drove home, and continued and continued and continued. Not loud enough to be the car alarm, not soft enough to be ignored, it hounded us as we made our way across town. This car has one of those fancy dashboards with computerized messages that tell you when something's open or unlocked or mislatched, not to mention the outside temperature and the amount of gas and your compass heading and pretty much everything short of your biorhythms and horoscope. But about the ding, it was mum. What could it be? And how would I ever find out?

The owner's manual was unhelpful. But then I remembered that OnStar was supposed to be able to diagnose car problems. I hit the button, and suddenly a guy with a friendly twangy voice was listening to the ding too and asking me questions about it. He finally said the ding wasn't the sort of thing he could diagnose, but he did remember hearing something like it once before and it turned out to be a bad door-closing. I hit the buttons that automatically open and shut the side doors, and -- blessed silence! The ding departed.

Maybe I would have figured it out myself, whether by design or by chance when we got out of the car. But how nice, how really nice, to have somebody right there, at the touch of a button, to listen in and give advice. And to refrain from saying, "You dingbat! Why didn't you check the doors in the first place!"