Monday, November 28, 2005

Unsatisfactory report cards

I try not to make a big deal of grades with my kids, but their new report cards are just screwy. Their middle school hasn't used letter grades on report cards for as long as I've had kids there; they get numbers for each class, and up until this quarter, the explanation has been "70-100: Passing. Under 70: Failing." That's at least to the point. Kids still talk in terms of letter grades, but since I encourage my kids to work hard and just worry about passing, I'm cool with the simple pass/fail designation. But now the school has switched to a new computer program with new explanation: "85-100: Honor Roll. 70-84: Good. Under 70: Unsatisfactory." Classifying any grade above 85 as "honor roll" is kind of misleading, since at least in the past, you've had to get every grade over 85 to make it. And then, that 70-84 "good" -- in other words, if you blow the honor roll, you might as well get a D, it's all the same. I guess that's nice for kids who have to try hard to get a D, but it kind of stinks for those who try hard to get a nice solid B. And now kids don't fail anymore, they're just "unsatisfactory"? Gentle's nice, but only if they're not still going to make you repeat the year if you're unsatisfactory in a whole lotta subjects. I don't know. Generally, terminology that rewards effort and softens failure is good for learning challenged kids like mine. But this stuff just sounds like it was made up by a committee, based on whatever the way the educational wind is blowing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Are you likely/unlikely to call again?

My daughter had her first experience with phone surveys last night, and although she claimed to have enjoyed it, I don't think she'll be quite as curious about who's on the phone when we hang up quickly from now on. The survey was on moviegoing habits, and although I usually refuse to participate in such things, the lady on the phone sounded nice and must have got me in a soft moment, because I volunteered to go along. Unfortunately, my demographic was filled (or more likely, she was just being nice, and they really don't care about what 46-year-olds think), so I offered up my 15-year-old daughter to answer some questions. This was partly to give her some telephone experience, and partly to get back at surveyors who call cold like this -- here, try asking your questions to a kid with language impairments! Ha! The questioning went on for 15 minutes, with the lady asking my girl if she'd heard of a movie, if based on description of it she'd be definitely likely/somewhat likely/might or might not/probably unlikely/or definitely unlikely to see it. She'd heard of a few of them, was completely stumped by a few others, and many of them had me, as I listened in secret, ready to say "We would never let her go see that!!!" I did finally speak up when they tried to enlist her into some sort of online movie reviewing group that might win her a trip to Hollywood and probably take personal information of unacceptable detail. All in all, I think it was interesting to her, and somewhat safe. And maybe after the experience of repeating things over and over for my sweet but not always comprehending daughter, these survey folk will spread the word not to call our house anymore.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Novel interlude

Thanks to a friend with a book club membership (thanks, Carolyn!), I just took a little break from my usual ceaseless parenting book reading and polished off an actual novel. Light from Heaven is the latest, and according to the book jacket, the last in the Mitford series of books by Jan Karon. These books are my reading equivalent of comfort food, something that goes down easy and is mildly meaningful without requiring a whole lot of work. I love being able to just sit down and lose myself in a tale of Father Tim now and then, the biggest problem being that I tend to read them cover to cover in a short time and then get sent back to the purgatory of parenting books yet again. Glad for the break, anyway, however brief.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Parental guidance in gift cards

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I really am an old fogey, despite my pathetic attempts to reassure myself that I'm still semi-hip. But I don't know. I went to Sam Goody with my daughter on Saturday to get a music gift-certificate for her friend's birthday party. A gift certificate. Seems harmless enough, right? The girl behind the counter started to pick up a gift card with a dog in a Santa hat, but then asked: "Is it for Christmas?" And I said, "No, a birthday." And she grabbed a different card, one that ... Well. The card was glued to a larger carboard piece that folds up to make a nice little gift card presentation. And on this larger piece was a black silhouette graphic of a young woman rocking out. She had her punky-haired head tilted to one side and her chest positively thrust out on the other, so that when you look at this item your eyes immediately go to that part of her anatomy. Making this more disconcerting is the fact that the fold in the cardboard piece hit right across this area, giving the ... chest a rather sharp tip that looked like a, well, let's just say she appeared to be either braless or clothesless.

By the time I had adequately taken this little piece of artwork in, the girl had already encoded the card with my purchase amount and handed it to me with a receipt. I examined it as we walked to the car, and I examined it again in the car, and I had my daughter examine it, and I asked if it would make her uncomfortable to give it to her (male) friend. She finally allowed that it did bother her, although maybe because I was bothering her so much, and so I walked back into the store and told the kids behind the counter that I had a teen-age girl giving this to a teen-age boy and the design was just too suggestive. They looked at me as if to ask if the caves were cold and the dinosaurs scary back when I was their age, but they exchanged it, and we got the dog in the Santa hat. It's bad enough that so much of the music being sold to kids these days has an X rating. Can't the gift cards at least be rated G?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I'm dreaming of a Christmas that is not here yet

I keep checking the calendar, and it keeps telling me that we're in mid-November. I'm pretty sure Thanksgiving is next week, not last week. It's still fall, isn't it? I'm just making sure, because the radio station my daughter listens to has already started playing all Christmas carols, all the time. A street I drove down last night already had its Christmas decorations hanging from its streetlights. A Hummer I saw at a stoplight had strings of green lights all over it. And I thought maybe I had been in a time warp of some sort and it was December 19, not November. What's that you say? No? They're all just jumping the gun? Well, alright. Now that you mention it, I do see that our neighbors, who usually put up enough Christmas lights to land planes by, have not yet started stringing. The holidays will be here before we know it. But they're not here yet. People, get a grip.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Getting in gear

I had a chat today with the child study team leader at my kids' middle school, and now have IEP meetings set on my calendar for next February and March. This is one of those rare years when I'm more worried about my daughter's meeting than my son's, because he has two more years at this same school, where they seem to be handling him pretty well, but my daughter's moving on to high school. I'm less worried about her actually doing okay in high school than I am about her initial transition; if it's as difficult as her into-middle-school transition was, it'll be a very tough time. I've got the phone number of the transition person at the high school and will try to touch base with her and find out what we can do to make things go as smoothly as possible. But hey, you know, it's adolescence. What are the odds of anything going smoothly at all?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Classic is in the eye of the beholder

If you've just been dying to watch old episodes of "Adventures of Brisco County Jr.," "Head of the Class" and "Kung Fu," good news: AOL will soon be offering these and other "classic" TV shows in streaming video for internet viewing. Some of the shows to be shown actually do have some cultural flashback value; I might be interested in watching "Alice" and "Eight Is Enough" again, and I'm sure there are people who'd feel the same about "The Fugitive," "Maverick," "Lois & Clark" and "Scarecrow and Mrs. King." But I have trouble believing there's really a big audience pining away for "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper" repeats. It makes me think about "The Hat Squad," a blink-and-you-missed-it series that got replayed endlessly on one of the few channels we had available while we were in Russia adopting our kids 11 years ago this month. I remember watching it with Russian dubbed over the voices and thinking: So this is where bad American TV goes when it dies. But now, I guess that distribution path is changing. Apparently, as with so much else, it goes on the internet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"Candyshop: A Literary Analysis"

Look for gunfire to be flaring up at a bookstore near you: Rapper 50 Cent, whose movie debut already has a fatality rate, is putting out a line of "G-Unit Books," novellas and graphic novels of "street fiction" using the same themes found in his raps. According to publisher Pocket/MTV Books, "These tales will tell the truth about The Life; the sex, guns and cash; the brutal highs and short lives of the players on the streets." Oh, middle school English teachers, you have my sympathies. You're going to be getting some way interesting book reports.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Shopping, or not

I almost got my Christmas shopping started this weekend, but no: the dinosaur book I got for my nephew was so perfect for him that his father had already gotten it. So now I step back from square two to square one, where I shall no doubt stay until well after Thanksgiving. Speaking of Thanksgiving, is it bad to really, truly, seriously want to have it catered by Boston Market? They'll even give you a whole turkey now, so you can, you know, take it out of the oven and pretend. Do you have to tell your family if you get it from a take-out place, or can you sneak things into dirty baking dishes and pieces of china and act like you slaved away all day. It's not like my son wouldn't out me in a minute, but it's a nice dream. Mmmmmmmm, pre-mashed potatoes!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Cleaning up after the packrat

Pfew! The room clean-up is done, or at least phase one. That phase was a two-day event of taking everything out of my son's room, every piece of torn paper, every ripped-up plastic bag, every destroyed toy car, every bit of the 5,000-piece grocery store set he got for Christmas a couple of years ago, every key, every old sock that he pretends is fish for his cooking games, every receipt in his receipt collection, every last thing. That was yesterday. Today was sorting through it and putting almost everything back, because even if it looks like trash to you and it looks like trash to me, it looks like a compulsively necessary treasure to the boy. I don't even fight. If it's put away and I don't have to look at it, it can stay. The room is reassembled now, in sightlier fashion, but that doesn't count the huge amount of junk on top of the unused bunkbed, and the piles of junk down by the garage where he enjoys packing up the car with clutter and unpacking it repeatedly. Those two spots are a job for another day. Or month. Or maybe, year. I'm beat.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Who made this big mess?

You may not be hearing from me for a while. Since my kids are home from school these two days, plus the weekend, I have set this time aside for cleaning my son's room. It may not be enough. I may wander too deep into the jungle of toys and car magazines and plastic shopping bags and never be heard from again. It's the kind of risk a mom has to take. I've tolerated my guy's space looking like the sort of thing a homeless person would set up under a highway overpass for quite some time now, but no more: Every so often, the place has to be completely cleared out and things put back in some semblance of order, and that time has come. So here I go. Once more into the breach. Talk among yourselves for a while, okay.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dinner dread

It looks like Thanksgiving's going to be at our house this year, so I have to dig up my recipes and start planning. Last time we did the dinner I put my son, the Food Network fan, in charge, and helped him put it all together. Hopefully, he'll be up for it again this year. My wish for the day is that I can keep from being over-the-top stressed and obnoxious about it. Maybe we could just order from Boston Market ... Speaking of recipes, if you've got some great Thanksgiving recipes for kids with food allergies, diabetes, or other dietary restrictions, come share them on the Parenting Special Needs forum. We can all use some new ideas now and then.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Why I hate November

November is the most ridiculous month for school in our district. The kids had a complete week of school last week, but this week they have a half-day off tomorrow for election day and then no school Thursday and Friday due to a teacher's conference. They have another complete week, then a half-day off for Thanksgiving eve and no school Thursday and Friday. Very nice job of keeping a routine going there, guys. At least in December, we get all five days off in a row.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Where are the parents?

More proof that I'm the most overprotective parent in the world: Friday night, my daughter played trombone at a football game with the high school band. It was "Eighth Grade Band Night," an annual event during which kids who will be in high school the following year get a little preview of what it's like to be marching on the field and playing rah-rah music in the stands. When it was over, my girl wanted to go somewhere for a snack, and we picked the nearby Burger King because it was, well, nearby. Big mistake. The parking lot of the fast food joint was filled with a giant mob of unchaperoned kids, who would have overflowed the inside of the restaurant, too, had an apoplectic manager not been stationed at the door to yell YOU HAVE TO BUY SOMETHING TO COME IN HERE. YOU CAN'T JUST HANG AROUND.

Now, I was a kid once, too, and I was in high school, and I hung out at a local eatery after football games and school programs with my friends, without parents, and I, you know, put salt shakers upside down and made messes and laughed at apoplectic managers and did the things kids do, or did back in the Stone Age. But that was high school, and that was a time when you did not open the paper every day to hear about kids being abducted or abused. My daughter saw plenty of her friends from middle school there, traveling in unaccompanied gangs, long after dark, looking young and vulnerable and in need of some parental supervision, okay? There's one boy we've known since he was in second grade, a kid I'd lay money on has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a kid who's pretty much had a "headed for trouble on the fast train" sign hung around his neck since he was in elementary school, and there he is running around Burger King, not a grown-up in sight. And you just know when these kids get in trouble, their parents are going to say, "We had no idea!" Well, folks, here's a good way to get an idea: Get your butt to Burger King. I could have used a little company over in the geriatric section.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Celebrate adoption

Apparently November is National Adoption Month, which is appropriate for my family since November was the month in 2004 that we spent in Russia adopting our kids. The entire month, although it was only supposed to be (cue "Gilligan's Island" theme) a two-week trip, a two-week trip. Whatever your reason for wanting to celebrate adoption this month, Carrie Craft at the adoption site has a calendar of 30 daily pro-adoption activities to fill up your month. Believe me, it's better than watching bad American TV dubbed into Russian 24/7.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The look of longing

Like I don't have enough to do trying to decipher the secret messages in the behaviors of my children, I'm spending a lot of time lately wondering just what on earth it is my dog wants. She looks at me with such purpose, with such clear intent to communicate, and yet ... well, who knows. I always seem to guess wrong. She's not cross with me, never seems to lose her patience that I will, in fact, figure it out, rather like the way I use my super sweet gentle voice when my son is out of control and just keep telling him telling him telling him what he needs to do. Maybe I'm as incomprehensible to him sometimes as Princess is to me. Oh, well. She's always happy to have a walk, and even though she goes back to her silent imploring afterwards, leading me to believe that the walk was not actually the thing, it at least occupies her for a bit. Maybe I'll go give her one now.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

November is novel month

Anyone out there participating in NaNoWriMo this year? National Novel Writing Month, for long, encourages prospective writers to put their fingers to the keyboard and write a 50,000+ word novel between November 1 and 30. I actually did sign up this year, although whether I'll really be able to follow through with all the other stuff I've got on my plate is questionable. Still, it's a nice, hopeful kind of thing to do. I have an idea for a young adult novel with a learning-disabled heroine that's working itself out in my mind. If you're noveling this month too and have anything online to show for it, comment or e-mail me and I'll link to you here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Halloween horrors

Here's my idea of a scary Halloween: Drop your teen child off in the dark of night in the middle of a street in a strange neighborhood to go trick-or-treating with friends, only one of whom you know and you don't even trust him that much. That's the shivery way I spent my October 31, and although everything worked out okay, I'm not sure I would do it again. First she was to be dropped off at her friend's house, which was okay, because I know where that is and I know his parents. At the last minute, the drop-off point changed to the friend's friend's house, which was less okay but at least I sort of knew where it was, and could walk her in and get the gist of things. But then we couldn't find the house -- wouldn't do to have like, house numbers that you could see in the dark, would it? -- and happened to see her friend walking on the street. My girl just kind of jumped out and ran off, although not before I had the cell phone number of her friend and had passed my cell phone on.

As I drove away, I thought of every possible worst-case scenario: Would she get lost? Would the kids be nice? Would she get hit by a car? Did she know how to dial my cell phone? But as it turned out, she called about an hour-and-a-half later from her friend's house, saying she was tired of trick-or-treating and wanted to be picked up. Her friend had continued on without her, and she was worried that he thought she was a baby, or just no fun. She's a little too old to be excited about trick-or-treating, and a little too young to be comfortable walking around at night with no adults. We both assumed that put her off the track with her merry trick-or-treating parent-free friends, but maybe not. I saw her friend this morning at school, and he mentioned that, well, he's a little too old to be excited about trick-or-treating, and a little to young to be comfortable walking around at night with no adults. Next year, I'm thinking we'll need to throw a Halloween party. At our house. With a spotlight on the address.