Thursday, December 14, 2006

A new four-eyes in the family

My son got glasses this week. It's something that's been coming for a long time; the doctor mentioned years ago that he has a short optic nerve due to his fetal alcohol effects, and that vision might eventually be a problem. And I'm very thankful that it didn't become a problem when he was younger and less able to keep something on his face. He's able to do that now. Absolutely able. Not very interested in doing it, you know, but able. I see lots of "where are your glasses, put them on" nagging in my future, but since he's not so vision-impaired that he needs the specs to function, I'll take it slow. It's a milestone, though -- my husband is now the only member of the family who doesn't wear glasses. And age may catch him up to us pretty soon.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Why does everything have to be a battle?

Kids starting a new school means mom starting with a new Child Study Team, and while my daughter's made a smooth transition into high school, I'm starting to feel like my transition to new CST personnel may not be such a glide. I have her IEP meeting coming up next week, along with a review of the triannual reports, and I'm dreading it more than usual. Her caseworker seems nice, and we've had some friendly conversations, but there's one issue that every time it comes up, the gate goes crashing down, and the discussion ends. And it's something that needs to be at least discussed -- I'm not saying I'm going to force anything, I just want to talk as a team. I think I'm caught in politics between this caseworker and a teacher, and I hate being caught in politics. I hate feeling I'm going to have to go to war to just have a discussion. I hate feeling like this person thinks she can make decisions all by herself; even though I may agree with her, that's not how it works. I've had these battles before, and I'll have them again, but I really don't want to have one now, over something that's only a big deal if she makes it one. Sigh. Where'd I put that armor, now?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Emergency First Aid

You know, most of the time, I feel like a pretty competent mom. I feel like my kids benefit from my knowledge and advocacy, and I think they're doing pretty well and making progress I'm proud of. But then sometimes, I'll be rushing my son to school -- why does it always seem to happen when I'm rushing my son to school -- and I'll notice something that makes me feel like a total negligent idiot parent. Like he'll be wearing two different shoes. Or he'll have a big breakfast-related stain on the front of his shirt. Or, like this morning, I'll notice the bandaid on his finger and realize that, despite the fact that the nurse called to tell me about the cut, and despite the fact that he came home full of talk about it, I never removed the bandaid and looked at the wound and cleaned it off and TLC'd it. He was still wearing the same grubby bandaid from school the previous day, looking much the worse for wear. Figuring it's better to be late than look uncaring, I pulled over on our to-school route, grabbed the factory-sealed First Aid kit that came with our minivan, put a little antibiotic goo on the boo-boo and applied a fresh bandaid. He was five minutes late, but well-tended. Except I just know he's going to give me up to the teacher with a story about exactly what we did on the way to school. Bad mom, yep, right over here.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A connoisseur of jewelry

For a long time, my son has been known as the kid who likes keys. People tend to remember when a child grabs their keys out of their hands and tells them what kind of car they drive. But over the past year, speech therapists have been working with him on conversation openers that do not involve seizing belongings or chattering about car dealers and mileage. And somewhere along the line, somebody must have said something like, "For example, if a woman is wearing earrings, you could compliment her on those." Because now, my son is becoming known as the boy who says, "Nice earrings!"

It's flattering to have one's earware noticed in a positive manner, and most women are tickled by it, especially coming from a teenager in a day when most teenagers don't even give you the time of day. But then, when he does it over and over, often in the same conversation, it becomes clear that he doesn't have any type of decent follow-up to that. Once it moves from charming to a little creepy, it's maybe time to move on to something new. Nice shoes? Nice purse? Time to confer with the speech therapists again. And maybe someone from the Style Channel.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Madonna fatigue

I'm sorry, I don't want to seem insensitive to the fragile ego of one of the most provocative and exhibitionistic celebrities of our time, but after reading headline after headline, day after day, I'd just like to ask: Could Madonna please just shut up now about her adoption? For goodness sakes, lady, stop holding press conferences and parent that child! Do you think you're the only adoptive parent who's had her motives questioned and her intentions insulted? Welcome to the club, babe! There are people in Russia who think I adopted my kids for their body parts, or slave labor. There are people in the U.S. who think I adopted kids in Russia because I'm racist and wanted a white baby. Most adoptive parents could tell you stories about comments made by family members that make the tabloids look like Emily Post. Criticism and second-guessing by the ignorant and annoying are part and parcel of being an adoptive family. Find yourself a nice online support group and whine about it there, like the rest of us.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Adoption watch

So now it looks like Madonna is going to adopt. And I have to ask, as I've asked about celebrity adoptions before: How do these people get home studies? I'm pretty sure that if I'd told our social worker that I hung out on stage tied to a cross, we would have had a hard time getting that paperwork done.

In other adoption entertainment news, I was a little disturbed watching the episode of Heroes in which the creepy adoptive dad of the indestructible cheerleader had the birthparents chat with her. Not because the content of the chat was wrong, just the opposite: It's pretty much word for word what I say to my own teen daughter, who is not indestructible. He seemed so reasonable and loving, and yet we kind of know, don't we, that he's evil incarnate? So even when adoption is presented in a reasonable light, it's messed up. Sigh.

It was a foster kid on Grey's Anatomy, not an adopted one, that caught my eye, but her bit about not feeling any pain sure sounded familiar. My son never stapled his arm, thank God, but he did often injure himself without seeming to care very much, and I really felt for the foster dad and his "We know what this looks like. We want you to know that we know what this looks like. But she just plays hard." Brought back memories of bringing my son to the ER, or even to school, after he'd, say, toddled too close to the swingset or walked right into the car's side-view mirror. Oh, that black eye? He slammed the door in his own face, really! At least he never begged people to punch him in the stomach.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

With their compliments

My daughter the newly minted high-school freshman tells me that boys are coming up to her in the cafeteria during lunchtime and telling her she's hot and sexy. And what am I supposed to do with this information, exactly? I mean, it's better than people coming up and telling her that she's cold and ugly. She's flattered, and doesn't wonder, like I do, whether they're making fun of her. (And worse -- what if they're not?) Already someone asked for her address and phone number, which she rather horrifyingly gave them, giving me nightmares of prank phone calls and kids driving by the house and stalkers and fake MySpace pages. And, you know, maybe it's all innocent, and they really can tell that under the baggy T-shirts she wears, she's hot and sexy, and the guys are just being appreciative. Maybe they're all just stupid overwhelmed freshmen together. But, yikes. This is what I do with this information. I worry.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Welcome back

Isn't this just the best time in the school year? That week or two after school has started, but before homework gets intense? It's a little honeymoon is what it is. My daughter has transitioned nicely and is really enjoying high school so much that I can't bear to point out that they haven't done any actual work yet. My son has had a few behavioral blips but nothing that can't be written off to new classroom jitters. Next week we have back-to-back back-to-school nights, and then I suppose the year will start in earnest, with big assignments and hard tests and unsatisfactory marks in the behavior column of progress reports and homework blow-ups and phone calls to Child Study Team members and special-ed administrators. But for now, for these few blessed optimistic days, it's nice to be back to school.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Making the band

Oh, I'm a mean mom this week. Ohhhhh, I'm a meanie. This is the week my daughter starts Band Camp, a boot-camp-like two-week ordeal designed to whip freshmen in shape for high-school marching band. And I've got to think that most of the kids showing up each day for this abuse, many of them the second or third sibling or even the second generation in their families doing band duty, are at least semi-excited about marching onto that football field in uniform. Okay, maybe a few of them are getting pushed by their parents to give it a try. My daughter is probably not the only one moaning and groaning and wishing she didn't have to go, probably not the only one whose mom keeps cooing "Just try it. Just do your best." But since she's the only one I"m personally pushing, she's the one I feel guilty over.

You gotta love the way kids think, though. She was complaining about the lap-running and calisthenics she had to do all day, and how it was too much work, and I told her, as I so often do, that if she doesn't have to be in band she has to pick something else to be involved with. "Cross-country," she suggested. Yeah, now there's a less strenuous solution.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

That's okay, I can see the snakes from here

I would never in a million years go to see a movie called "Snakes on a Plane," but I sure am enjoying the internet hype. It's sort of fun to be able to take in all the folderol around a cult film without actually having to see the film. I wonder, if I was younger, if I would actually feel a need to go and be part of the communal experience; I never have had a stomach for scary movies, but I did go to a theater to see "American Werewolf in London" and "Poltergeist" as a twentysomething just because they were cool. Maybe this is one of the nice things about growing older; you feel cool just knowing about what's cool, and so you don't have to actually go out and do it. You kids have fun with the snakes, now!

On a different level of horror, I almost spit out my pizza the other day when my daughter's friend was over for lunch and invited her to come out to his house next weekend and go see a movie -- "World Trade Center." My daughter said she hadn't heard about that and was really interested in it. Now, without making any judgments about the film or the need for teens to learn about and understand this subject matter ... man, you know, this is a girl who is shook up for days after seeing a particularly intense episode of "It's a Miracle," I really don't think she's up for Oliver Stone, even kinder gentler Oliver Stone. I diplomatically informed the kids that really, if my daughter wanted to see "World Trade Center" she should see it with us (ha!), and that seemed to satisfy her friend, who suggested "Zoom," the latest badly reviewed but presumably safe Tim Allen kiddie film, as a substitute. Whew! Guess I should be glad he didn't suggest "Snakes on a Plane."

Monday, August 07, 2006

My brain hurts

It seems clear that this blog is requiring more creativity from me than I have to spare these days -- every week I swear I'll write every day, and then the days go by. But blogging demands nowhere near the imagination my son is insisting I muster up for him on an hourly, if not minute-ly, basis. One fun thing about my guy is that he's really captivated by pretend play now, and that's great ... except guess who he's expecting to generate all that fun pretend?With him home so much now during the summer, our days are a constant stream of "Let's play pirate!" "Let's play baby gorilla!" "Let's play baby bear and Mama bear!" Followed by him waiting patiently for me to bring on the character goodness. The game of "Mama gets some work done while boy amuses his own self" is not high on his hit list.

Really, I'm delighted he wants to spend time with me. I'm happy that he likes the ideas I come up with. It's real flattering. But at the same time, oh goodness, sometimes I really do just run out of them. I can't think of what the other cars may be saying as we drive down the street, or what the dog might be saying, or what the car might be saying to the dog. My brain gets tired, guy. I'm old that way. I can't even come up with enough ideas to keep a decent blog going. But I do have a pretty good idea I can blame that on you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is that what I look like?

Eek! They just put up my new teeny-tiny picture on my site, and it's freaking me out. Who is that woman, and what is she so happy about? Can I have some of whatever she's having? Or maybe she's been driven insane by her special-needs children. Am I just being overly sensitive, or do I look like some character in a Saturday Night Live sketch?

My former teeny-tiny picture, taken at a one-hour photo studio, was no great shakes. I had a shadow on my lip that looked like a mustache, and my hair as always was a mess. I had high hopes for this new pic, since it was taken at an About guide event and involved a stylist styling me and dressing me and a professional photographer snapping me, but I guess they're only as good as what they have to work with. Still, I'd have liked something that reflected a little more of the reality of life with special-needs kids. 'Cause most days, I look more like this.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Why I'm limping

Being my son's mom is dangerous business. When he was very little, he'd regularly bonk me in the nose with his very hard head. I got the worst of his biting phase, and often seemed to be in the wrong place when he lunged unexpectedly and poked or scratched or jabbed me. He likes to play all rough-and-tumble with me, which was dangerous enough before he got to be five feet tall and 90 pounds. But earlier this week, it wasn't even anything deliberate or exclusive to his disability that got me injured. It was a garden variety toe-stubbing against his stopped sneaker. Not sure whether he stopped short or I wasn't looking where I was going, but -- yowch! That's what I get for wearing sandals, a very black-and-blue-and-pink-and-purple baby toe. Those are summer colors, right?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

No more backseat driver

Since each stage of a child's development brings with it new struggles, I've decided to abandon one of my old struggles with my now-teenage son: the struggle to keep him out of the front seat of the car. Oh, how he's begged me over the years to let him ride in front. How hallowed has that spot beside the driver and in front of the glove compartment been for him. How he has railed against the injustice of his sister and his friends and his cousins getting to ride in the front of cars while he has to sit in the lowly, babyish backseat. And over the years, I've held firmly, calmly, to "No." But now he's 13, so the "12 and under" admonitions on the airbags don't apply to him. And now he's taller than me, so it's hard to justify any sort of height requirement for the front. And so, because I know we will soon be struggling over deodorant and showers and acne medicine and all manner of teen traumas, I am giving in on this one. But just for short rides around town, for now. I have my dignity.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On the road again

Our speech problem has been resolved, with my son now seeing someone with whose level of English proficiency I am comfortable, and summer is finally settling in to a steady routine. And I notice now, maybe a little belatedly, that said routine has me getting into and out of cars on a pretty much hourly basis. On a light day, I have four pick-up or drop-off trips. If I went home during my son's speech it would be five, but for half an hour I'd rather just sit and read. My husband does the evening camp run, and we alternate picking our daughter up from work, depending on whether we're picking our niece and nephew up from camp. Then there are the days with music lessons, which necessitate at least one other out-and-in, and days when my son wants to go to Home Depot and look at keys. I think I was up to seven trips yesterday, and with the temperature pushing 100, that's no small feat. The kids are enjoying their summer activities and I don't miss the homework, but in some ways, it will be nice to get back to school with only one drop-off and one pick-up per day.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Yet another blog from me

Just for fun, and 'cause I apparently don't have enough to do, I've started a little link blog over on Bloglines to flag stories that amuse or amaze me. I'm always looking for things to write about, but sometimes I find something I'd like to share without adding more than, say, a snippy headline. If you also don't have enough to do, check it out. And for sure, take a look at those McDonald's commercials from Canada. Ha! 

Friday, July 14, 2006

We're doctors. We don't talk, we order.

It was interesting watching the TV series "House" the other night with this story and comment conversation ringing in my ears. There have certainly been a lot of stories lately about parents losing custody for disagreeing with doctors, and a surprising amount of opinion among parents that anyone who doesn't embrace conventional medical treatment is negliigent, and maybe I've become too cynical from repeated exposure to medical professionals, but I can't quite buy the "doctor is always right" line. So here I am watching "House," still a little stung by some of those blog comments, and darned if the plot doesn't revolve specifically around a mom who's resistant to the recommendations of House and his crew. Her son is brought to the hospital with seizures of a mysterious origin, and the medical detectives go right to work figuring it out. They come up with solution after solution to try, each time sure it's right, each time sure it's a matter of life and death that the boy gets the treatment, each time having to cajole or cudgel the mom into agreeing. House proposes legal action at one point, and at another tricks the mom into going along. Oh my goodness, what a pain it is to deal with these parents who don't immediately say yes! How thoughtless and child-injuring are they!

Except that ... um ... all but one of the times, the mom was right. Absolutely right, and the doctors were absolutely wrong. The doctors wasted time on a couple of wrong conclusions because they refused to listen to or believe her, and on one occasion only failed to give the kid a mistreatment that would have killed him because the mom dragged her feet long enough for new evidence to come in. She's treated with disrespect or something close to it throughout, yet it's the doctors who keep making bad decisions. And all along, I kept thinking: "You know, all they have to do is sit down with this woman, respectfully, and say, 'Your son has a really baffling condition. We don't know what's causing it. We're trying like crazy to find out. We're trying everything. We may make mistakes, but he'll die if we don't keep trying. We need you to understand that this is the only way we can help." But of course, they don't, because doctors are gods, right? Sheesh.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Don't speech therapists need to have good speech?

Be careful what you wish for. That phrase has been going through my mind as I've considered the speech services that have been set up for my son this summer. I've been fighting for these since January, when it became clear that the speech therapist at my son's school had fled and was never coming back, and that he and his classmates had been without speech since Thanksgiving. I had a lengthy series of conversations with the special-ed administration over a) getting a new therapist in there pronto and b) providing make-up therapy for my guy. And eventually, it was agreed that he would get services throughout the summer; I even got it officially noted in his IEP. It took a little more urging over the last month, but I finally got a place and time to bring him to receive these fought-for services. Hooray for me, right?

Well. It turns out that the therapists the district has lined up to provide these summer services -- how you say? -- don't actually speak English. Or if they speak it, they do so with such heavy accents that I can barely understand them. The ability to speak clearly and comprehensibly in the language of the child you are working with would seem to me to be a minimum requirement for a speech therapist, but apparently not. So now I'm fighting again, for an appropriate therapist, and I'm starting to wonder if I wouldn't be better off just working with him myself at home. Be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why schools don't enforce dress codes

Reading the paper this morning, I came across a story that just made me wonder about the priorities some people set. A high school with a policy against intolerant or racially offensive messages suspended a student for three days for wearing a "You might be a redneck sports fan if ..." T-shirt. And okay, that may be extreme. If I was his mom, I might be mad, and call the principal to complain. But I'd like to think that after that, I might say to my child, "You know, this is unfair, and I don't agree. But we'll take it, and from now on, I'll look a little more closely at what you're wearing when you leave the house." Wouldn't you? Would you go to war over a shirt? Would you sue the school? That's what this family did, and though the young man in question dropped the suit a few years later, the school has since been ordered to pay his legal fees to the tune of $500,000-plus. Would you rack up half a million in legal fees to defend the wearing of a T-shirt? I've often joked about suing if my son's school put him in a dangerous or unsafe position contrary to the provisions of his IEP, and I can see parents pursuing cases like that. But a T-shirt? I just don't get it. Free speech is nice and all, but I don't think it should extend to stupid jokes on T-shirts.

My husband suggests that every time this school district has a budget shortfall -- can't afford new computers or books or music classes or sports -- they tell people to go complain to the folks who got half a million of district money over a T-shirt. You might be a ticked-off taxpayer if ...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

High school horror

My daughter is getting her second high-school orientation today. The first, a few weeks ago, was just for special-education students, and was intended to give them a kinder, gentler look at how they'll find their way around the school and really enjoy being there. Today's visit, which includes all of her fellow eighth-graders, is the harsher, rougher version, designed to strike the fear of God in these prospective freshmen so they'll start the year ready to listen and obey. Considering the fact that my daughter was in tears even after the first low-key visit, this high-stress one should put her in major anxiety overload. I've been working hard on getting her a Perfect Attendance Award this year, but maybe I should have chucked all that and kept her home today. If there's one kid who doesn't need to be more scared of high school, it's her.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Whose ears are you calling old?

If it seems like your teenager can sense when the phone's going to ring before you even hear a thing, you may not be wrong. A new ring tone is available that can apparently be heard by children but not by adults. The technology for that started as a way to drive teens out of areas where they're not wanted by assaulting their ears with frequencies aging ears don't receive, but talk about your creative repurposing. The kids-only ringtone lets youngsters text-message without tipping off teachers with long musical ringtones. As infuriating as it is that kids are trying to sneak around, you've got to admire the ingenuity involved here. Now if only they could develop a ringtone that could only be heard by rude and inconsiderate people, going to concerts and movies and live events would be a lot more pleasant. Of course, then they'd still sit talking in their seats, or get up and disrupt things to walk out into the lobby. How 'bout a ringtone that renders them unconscious? Come to think of it, that would be handy for teens, too.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Do your homework

Homework is my daughter's specialty. She's super-conscientious about it. She's very organized. She writes assignments down in her assignment pad and on her wall calendar at home. She often completes the work well in advance of its due date. Whatever scores she gets on tests, her homework scores show a solid line of 100s. It's saved her grade average more than once, and also endeared her to teachers who are happy to see somebody, anybody, taking their assignments seriously.

In that, she appears to be in the minority. And I really don't get it. From what I overhear from teachers while volunteering in the school library and what my daughter reports from her classes, it appears that not doing the homework is the norm, and that a decisive majority of kids don't even bother. Now, I can understand kids with learning disabilities having trouble doing the homework (although my daughter manages despite that), and I can see kids with executive function problems or attention problems not doing the job, but surely that doesn't describe a majority of kids. Parents complain about too much homework, but are they really telling the kids to just blow it off? It seems so; or at the very least, they aren't going to the trouble of enforcing it.

If you're looking for a way to get your kid noticed in a good way by a teacher, though, or to give him or her a leg up on a passing grade, I'd sure reconsider that policy. The teachers I've seen are incredulous, too, at the fact that nobody takes assignments seriously, and fairly discouraged as well. Being the student who does, faithfully, complete that disrespected work has got to put a little plus in your child's column. It seems to have worked for my girl, anyway. We'll take academic excellence any way we can get it.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Three weeks and counting, fingers crossed

We're down to three weeks of school remaining, and though in past years I've dreaded the onset of summer with its disruptive changes of routine, this year I am eagerly counting down the days, hours and minutes until I can take a deep breath and say that, phew!, my son made it through his first year of middle school without incident. Surely he can make it through three more weeks, right? Or really, 11 days and four half-days. The half-days, inconvenient though they are, are especially wonderful because it means he doesn't have the one class that he could still get in trouble for. One of his friends, somebody my son imitates even though he couldn't pick a worse roll model, got sent to the principal from that class today. Please, please, little boy, dear son of mine, do not copy whatever particular behavior caused that to happen. Eleven days and four half-days, that's it, that's all, and we can call sixth grade a happy, successful memory. Counting down, man, I'm counting down.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Is it still inclusion if your child's in class remotely?

Now, see, yesterday I said I couldn't imagine any way my son could be productively involved in a mainstream classroom, and then I saw this item on Blogging Baby about robots that can take a child's place in a classroom, transmitting information between the teacher and classroom and wherever the student actually physically is. They're being used to allow bedridden students to still participate in their classrooms, but there's some thought that they could be helpful for autistic students who need a more controlled environment. And scoodgy boys! What about scoodgy boys whose behavior would be such a challenge in a regular class that unsupportable amounts of support would have to be dedicated to it, pretty much obliterating any actual learning? I could see my guy attending a regular class via robot. But he'd probably just find a way to make the robot suck its fingers, or make farting noises, or repeat the same phrase over and over and over ...

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Is inclusion always "appropriate"?

Saw this article in our local paper this morning, and I guess it should have made me mad at the bad, bad school district who allowed this girl to graduate without actually educating her, but you know what? Instead, it made me mad at the family that pushed so hard for inclusion. It just seems to bring up so many of the significant and hard-to-manage problems that come with the enthusiastic embrace of inclusion for severely disabled kids, most especially of all: What does "appropriate" mean? Insisting on FAPE -- a Free and Appropriate Public Education -- is all well and good, but who's going to judge what "appropriate" means? For me, an "appropriate" education for my son with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder can only take place in the controlled, regimented confines of a self-contained classroom; inclusion, I think, would be massively inappropriate for him. Clearly, the parents of the young woman in the story felt the only appropriate place for their daughter was an inclusion classroom, and is now complaining that the school district didn't make that work for her.

Throwing kids into inclusion programs without the necessary support is a huge problem. Figuring out how to provide the necessary support in a less-than-ideal setting is another. I can't even begin to imagine how our district could make inclusion work for my son -- it would for sure take a lot of money and time and personnel, and in the end I think he would not get as good an education as he would in that smaller environment. I wonder if the same is true of the girl in the story -- whether she could have gotten the assistance and education she needed in a dedicated class for people with disabilities, and benefited more from that than from the nominal inclusion she received. I know, this is anathema for a lot of people. But isn't it possible that for some students, what's "appropriate" is a specialized program? And that mainstream services are specifically not "appropriate"? And that spending millions to try to make something work that is not ideal for anybody is the most inappropriate thing of all?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Playing IEP games, in a good way

Yes, I know, we're all fierce advocates for our children and take their rights and our responsibilities very seriously ... but sheesh, that doesn't mean we can't have a little fun now and then, right? I pumped up the "fun" quotient on my About site last week with the addition of a couple of IEP-related goodies: an IEP Meeting Alert Levels chart for gauging your risk of deception and stonewalling, and an IEP Matching Game that recreates the feeling you get when everything you ask for gets an answer of NO! (The difference is, of course, that with the game, if you play long enough, you'll win.) These join the Love Notes Matching Game, Alphabet Soup Quiz and Weekly Quiz in bringing a little fun and games to the work of special-needs parenting. Go ahead, play along, we'll be all serious again later, I promise.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Kathy Griffin is on my Z-List

I'm not someone who usually gets up in arms about non-reverential treatments of adoption. I don't protest when people talk about adopting dogs or highways or whatnot. I'm not really offended by Cabbage Patch dolls and their adopton certificates. A little annoyed, maybe, but there are bigger battles to fight, and I try to keep my perspective. But honestly, I gotta tell you, Kathy Griffin is really getting on my nerves. I watch a lot of Bravo for West Wing re-runs, and every commercial break, there's another appeal by Griffin to help her get off the D-List. She's asking viewers to help her pick which of four celebrity-enhancing moves she should make, and one of them is "Adopt a baby from Namibia." If enough people vote for it, she'll do it! Honest!

And sure, celebrities who adopt are easy targets, and I've been guilty of wondering about their motivations and unlikely home study success, but is this what we've come to? Adoption as stunt? I know, I know, she's kidding, it's a joke, get a sense of humor, get a life. And yet, it rankles me. It is, at the very least, a bad joke, and not even a necessary one -- clearly, the way to make the A-list is not to adopt but to have a baby with an A-lister. Look what it's done for those girls from Dawson's Creek!

Monday, May 22, 2006

You don't get what you pay for

I've been mumbling and grumbling for some time over the increase in product packaging that makes it harder to open a product than it was to earn the money to buy it. Most of my wrath has been aimed at the cars and multi-part toys my son buys that are tied into their packaging with so many plastic loops and threads and screws that by the time I free the playthings, he's already lost interest in them. We're talking about, like, a $10 traffic set; does it need to be secured as though it was made out of gold ingots rather than cheap metal and plastic? An article in Wired News today takes on another packaging nightmare, those impenetrable plastic "clamshells" that enclose electronics -- mostly the cheaper stuff that hangs on bars at Best Buy or Target. People have gone to the emergency room for injuries sustained trying to bust open the darn things, the article reveals. Some injuries have required orthopedic surgery. That plastic certainly doesn't cut easily, and manufacturers are only now getting the idea that they ought to give the consumer some idea as to how to get the product they paid for out of the package. The idea behind the tough casing is to keep shoplifters from slipping the goodies out of the box and spiriting them away, but when your precautions to foil thieves end up injuring your paying customers, it might be time for a re-think. And record companies, those CD wrappers that open with great difficulty only to reveal that every openable surface on the box is taped shut? Totally drove me to iTunes, dudes.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Music night musings

A few notes on the middle-school music program concert I went to last night:

+ When did it become okay for parents to just show up for the part of the show their particular child is in and then leave, often going in and out as other groups are actually performing? The lights in the auditorium were on the whole time, and I'm not sure if that encourages people to roam around, or if school administrators did it because people were roaming around anyway. But seriously, parents: Having a child in the music program means you go to concerts and sit there and listen to everybody perform. It's good manners, at the very least. Isn't it? Maybe people were that rude back when I was in school, and I just didn't notice it because I was onstage. But I don't think so.

+ So sure, "Tequila" is a great band song, and the sixth-grade band sounded great playing it, but there's something kinda disturbing about hearing 11- and 12-year-olds shout out "Tequila!" with such great enthusiasm.

+ Likewise, "In the Mood." The Madrigals sang it very nicely, but yikes, the lyrics, they are a bit racy for middle-school kids, no? Yes, I know, I'm just old. Okay.

+ I know what she was getting at, but when the orchestra leader said something like "90 percent of the kids in the group are on the Honor Roll, so you know the kids involved in music are the best kids," I couldn't help but bristle. Yes, my daughter's in music, and I do think kids in the music program are good kids, but not because they're on the honor roll. What about kids like my daughter who work hard and are conscientious and miss the honor roll due to learning differences? Are they just bringing the average down? Are they in the music program on a "mediocre-kid scholarship"? Too much emphasis on honor-roll all around, I think.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Photo op

My son's special-needs baseball team is being honored tonight by our City Council. The whole team will be there in uniform to get certificates and probably a handshake from the council members during a locally televised meeting. And in a way, you know, it's really nice. These are kids who don't always get a chance at recognition in ways that other kids do. How cool is it for them to be applauded for ... for ...

Hmmm. For what now? They haven't won a tournament or anything -- this is an everybody-wins kind of league. They're not at the end of their season, or the beginning. I'm all for celebrating kids' different abilities, but I have the sinking feeling, especially since we're dealing with local politicians here, that they're being recognized for having special needs, and for making a nice photo op. Fortunately, my son's disabilities keep him from being cynical and jaded like his old lady. I just hope those politicians don't notice him sucking his fingers until they're shaking that very wet hand.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Missions and mottos

There's an interesting post in the Special Education Law Blog on the difference between the high-flying mission statements schools create to trumpet their commitment to regular-ed students and the shoddy "doesn't have to be the best, merely appropriate" standard they stake out for special education. Can you imagine a school board member trying to get elected on that platform? "We think our schools should be just okay, the very minimum the law allows!"

Thinking about the inequity in mission statements, though, makes me think of the peppy mottos many schools have, and that in turn makes me think about how nonsensical they usually are. At my kids' elementary school, every day I walked by a sign -- something nicely carved and paid for, obviously without aid of a proofreader -- that read, "Today's Children Are Tomorrow's Future." And every day, in my head, I said, "No, they're not!" They're tomorrow's adults, tomorrow's leaders, tomorrow's taxpayers, but they're not tomorrow's future, unless you're talking about tomorrow as the day after today, and then they're today's "future" just as much. Like a note from the teacher full of grammar and spelling mistakes, that sign reminded me every darn day that the people educating my child could not see the ridiculousness of the future's future before they paid money for a sign. Hey, maybe the regular-ed kids aren't actually getting "the best" either.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

How sad am I, mourning a TV show

I'm getting all weepy and nostalgic about the upcoming final episode of "The West Wing" on Sunday, going so far as to put a ticker on my computer to mark the passing days until the last idealistic politicians will float off my TV screen. I know, though, that while I will be mourning on Sunday, my family will be celebrating, because I will no longer be sequestering myself in my bedroom at 8 p.m. on Sundays, a time when we are usually just about to eat dinner. I've been eating alone in my room, with kids forbidden to enter or talk lest I miss these last few precious bon mots. Bad mom, I know. The least I could do is get a working VCR and watch it at a post-bedtime hour. But I'm kind of liking having one inviolable TV hour a week, just one, when once I had so very many. Maybe I'm mourning the end of that a little, too.

Of course, the end of a beloved series has been made a little less tragic these days by the fact that there are DVDs of past seasons to play over and over again. Don't suppose the family'd let me get away with watching them at 8 p.m. on Sundays, though. It's back to being family hour.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Products we never really asked for

This cracks me up. When I first saw a blog item on Play-Doh perfume, I thought it might be a joke -- but nope, there it is on Hasbro's Play-Doh site, part of the merchandising effort for the product's 50th birthday. Play-Doh perfume. Uh-huh. It's supposedly for "highly creative people who seek a whimsical scent reminiscent of their childhood." Now, I recognize those words, because I was once a copy-writer for marketing departments and had to find some cute way to sell whatever boneheaded product they'd come up with. I applaud the effort of whatever poor scribe got handed this project. But really ... Play-Doh perfume? We're to believe that creative types want to smell like Play-Doh? Oh, my.

So should we look forward to Eau de Baby-Poop for Pamper's corporate anniversary? They're discussing it in a board meeting somewhere right now, I promise you.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A mom can dream

What do you want for Mother's Day? I'm in a card-giving family, so I don't expect much more than Hallmark's finest. In the good old days, when my kids were in elementary school, I could at least count on some little artsy project coming home, but in middle school, now, not so much. It's not like I'm in significant need of jewelry or flowers or chocolates -- especially not chocolates, alas -- and my children will always be the best Mother's Day present I ever had. That doesn't mean I can 't dream a little about other perfect presents. Check out the sarcastic little wish list on my site.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Torn between two buddies

It stinks when your friends don't get along, doesn't it? That's the challenge my daughter faces every time she gets all her buddies together. It's not like she has a huge number of close pals, and although she can sometimes arrange separate get-togethers, for things like her birthday party, really, everybody just needs to come and get along. That's hard enough for adults, I guess, and pretty near impossible for teen guys.

My daughter has two good guy friends who just Do Not Like Each Other, whether due to temperamental differences or territorialism or the law of new friends vs. old. One guy she sees all the time, the other has moved away but visits when invited, and they can barely be in the same room with each other. Each has a "second" who sides with him, so there's a nice factional feel to the proceedings. One group always splits off, leaving my daughter to either neglect some of her guests or figure out how to split herself in two.

I've tried to talk some sense into the boys, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it just is. Makes me feel bad, though -- my girl has enough problem learning the rules of social game-playing with kids who aren't her friends. With her friends, shouldn't it be easier?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Only a phone call away

I'm not a big fan of cell phones for young teens, but I have to admit they came in fairly handy at my daughter's birthday party the other day. She and her friends wanted to walk around our neighborhood unescorted, and while I know that's a fairly reasonable request for a bunch of 8th-graders, it's hard for me to flip out of constant vigilance mode. To help, three of the party guests took out their cell phones, gave me their numbers, and assured me they'd all be within easy reach. I did tail them their first time out, pretending to walk the dog. But after that, as they went out again and again, I comforted myself with those phone numbers. I guess a little roaming doesn't hurt.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Home again

Just got back from a week's vacation, and must again report on the very special secret to traveling with scoodgy special-needs kids, whether you're going cross town, out of town, out of state, or out of the country: Bring Extra Adults. You can't beat tag-team parenting for making sure that everyone gets at least a little leisure out of their leisure time. Big thanks to our friends Carolyn and Brett for their co-child-wrangling efforts, which enabled me to spend almost the whole week off with my nose buried in a parenting book. Hmm, there's something wrong with that equation, but I'm so well-rested I'm not going to sweat it now.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The advocacy reflex

I think if you've been a special-needs parent for a long time, at some point you develop an advocacy reflex that goes off at the merest sight of injustice -- maybe the way a breastfeeding mother will automatically leak if she hears a baby, any baby, crying. Tell me I'm not the only one who goes around my child's school IDing kids who probably have fetal alcohol effects, or sensory integration problems, or learning disabilities, and wanting to tell off the teachers who seem to be dealing with them in such ineffective ways. There've even been a couple of incidents when that's gone against my need to advocate for my own kids; my daughter's had trouble with a couple of bullies over the years who seem to be to be so clearly driven by their own special needs that I can't even get properly outraged at them.

Recently, my advocacy reflex has been tripped by a boy I've been asked to tutor at the school. His learning disabilities are less profound than my daughter's, but she has it all over him in terms of organization and conscientiousness in completing assignments. My daughter lives in fear of failing one class; this kid has failed all his classes for seven consecutive quarters, and is about ready to fail sixth grade for the second time. There are supports and accommodations that seem obvious here, and I've been peppering the poor guidance counselor with questions about why teachers aren't doing this, and why teachers aren't doing that. With any luck, maybe I'll be able to make a difference for this boy -- but more likely, I'll just widen the circle of educators who think I'm all about making excuses for unacceptable behavior. Yep, that's my job, and I'm good at it, too.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I'm frustrated, no lie

My son got lunchtime detention today for lying. It's at least the second time this has happened. He told an aide he had a reading book with him and he didn't. And you know, he didn't seem to be too upset about the detention. It meant he sat at a table with just him and the teacher, and frankly, that's a much less trouble-prone place for him to be than his normal lunchtime seating. I should be glad to have him there. But man -- disciplining a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder for lying? What part of brain damage don't you understand? Punishing a fetal alcohol kid for lying is like punishing a blind kid for not being able to see. My personal philosophy with my son, and the philosophy of lots of experts on FASD, is that it's not lying if it does not involve deliberate intent to deceive. If a kid is telling an untruth because it's the first thing that pops out of his mouth or because he has no earthly idea what the truth is or why it's important, punishment is never going to be the best strategy. It doesn't prevent future fibs -- it makes them more likely, by stressing the child out.

This isn't rocket science, and it isn't news, and it isn't the first time I've said it. It's right there in his IEP behavior plan, which everybody assures me they've read. So why, in April, are they punishing him for lying? Why, why, oh why? Punishing a child for lying is as much a knee-jerk reaction for some adults as lying is for some kids, I guess. Perhaps I should do a functional behavioral assessment and institute some appropriate strategies like rewarding educators when they don't punish my child inappropriately. Do you think they'd like a sticker?

Monday, April 17, 2006

High School Musical: The Musical

As if there was any doubt that High School Musical, the oft-replayed Disney Channel movie turned chart-topping CD, was a juggernaut, be warned: It's coming next year to a school near you. I've already heard of kids performing dance numbers from the movie at talent shows, and now Disney's announced that the complete musical is ready to be licensed to schools for performance as early as next fall. My kids' middle school put on "Aladdin Jr." as their school play this year, so I knew that Disney was in the business of licensing its brands as junior theatricals, but this one's got to be setting some kind of record. I guess it's possible to lament the nature of, well, high school musicals to think they're going from time-honored classics to yesterday's Disney fodder. On the other hand, I'd be more comfortable watching 12-year-olds portray Troy and Gabriella than the characters in the musical they did the first year my daughter was in middle school, "Guys and Dolls." Something to be said for age-appropriateness, anyway. And the kids will totally already know the words and the moves.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Shot through the art

When I was a kid, the subject I could never do well in, no matter how hard I tried, was physical education. Just didn't have what it takes. The teachers were all sure I was just lazy or unmotivated or not trying hard enough, but my body could not do those push-ups and pull-ups. It always seemed unfair to me that classes like this got graded at all, when inborn talent gave such an advantage and inborn ineptness made effort inconsequential.

My daughter's having the same experience now, but for her the subject from hell is art. She's almost 16 years old and still drawing stick figures, and the teacher is sure she's just lazy or unmotivated or not trying hard enough. But she can't draw any better than I could climb a rope. The other day I fished an art journal out of the trash; she just barely got a C on it, and told me later she threw it away because her drawing was so bad. I looked through this thing, and yeah, the kid can't draw. But she did the entire assignment, which involved identifying traits in herself and illustrating them. Some of the words she came up with were, I thought, amazingly insightful, and it was no small thing for her to assemble these ideas and conceptualize an illustration and a sentence for each. For her, I thought it was an impressive and kind of touching achievement. And it ticked me off that she'd received the impression that it was something deserving of a spot in the trash bin.

Which is unfair, I guess. From an art point of view, a C was generous. Her drawings are kindergarten stuff. But it seems to me that cycle classes, of all places, ought to be more about effort and less about ability. As we put special education kids in inclusion classes for subjects like these, should there not be an awareness of where a student is at and what it takes for them to do something that might look lazy in other contexts? I'm not sure that's happening here, and I'm not sure these teachers are being made to understand what a self-esteem hit they're delivering. But at least she does great in gym.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Never tick off the aides

Well, I seem to be in some trouble at my children's school. Not with the administration, like that year when the principal forbade teachers and aides to talk with me and had me escorted off the premises at least once. Not with the teacher; I don't think I've ever really been in trouble with a teacher. This time, I've ticked off an aide, for reasons having partly to do with my tendency to overreact loudly when I think something's not being done right and partly to my son's tendency to pick up phrases he hears at home and parrot them, out of context, at school. So I might, say, in a moment of anger at something that happened in school, rage that a particular aide ought to do her job. And my son will then go to school the next day and, over and over, tell the aide to "Do your job! Do your job!" And really, even though I'd like everyone who works with my guy to understand that you can't take what he says seriously, I suppose that would hurt my feelings, too, and make me feel defensive toward that child's mom.

So it's unfortunate enough to be in bad with one aide. But aides talk, and they stand up for each other, and I'm beginning to get the feeling that I'm in bad with all the aides in the school, and that's a problem, because while teachers change each year, aides rotate. This morning, the aide who's supposed to watch my son before school officially starts was not where I expected her to be (that is, watching him) and when I asked her about it she said, quite curtly, "I know how to do my job." We've been friendly before, but clearly aren't now, and I can't help but feel it's because I've got bad aide buzz right now. (Although ... um ... must not say this where boy can hear ... but ... she actually wasn't doing her job.) And now I just don't know what to do. Should I force the issue and try to clear the air? Should I go above their heads and insist that my son's safety and protection hinges on these people's vision of their jobs being the same as my vision? Or should I just lie very low, try to ride out the year, and hope that nothing bad happens? Maybe send flowers? Cookies? Donuts? A picture of myself for their dartboard?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Some kids have all the fun

My kids are majorly bummed today because they don't get to go to a funeral. I wonder at what age you stop thinking of funerals as something you "get to go" to? Maybe about the age you start thinking that one day people will be going to yours. Personally, I'd rather go to school. But here was my daughter last night, after attending the wake for her great-uncle, saying to me in all solemnity, "I think going to the funeral is more important than school." Which, roughly translated from kid-speak, means, "How come my cousins get to go and I don't?"

Why? Because unless immediate family is involved, kids don't need to go to funerals. Because, unless there's a truly major family event, kids need to go to school. Because the disruption of routine that a day out of school entails would reverberate with my particular kids for weeks. And because my son has already asked every person in our extended family if he can see their keys, at least once, and after chasing after him all last night I really don't want to do it again this morning. If my sister- and brother-in-law want to keep their kids home and bring them along so they can chase after them all day, well, good for them. But my kids? My kids get to go to school.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Questions you don't want to hear at bedtime

As I've written here before, I'm pretty strict about what music I let my kids buy or download onto their iPods. I check the lyrics online and if I don't like what I see, that's the end of it. But I do let them listen to the radio -- my main concern being them listening to things over and over, not randomly -- and sometimes that comes back to bite me.

Like last night. I'd finally wrestled my son into bed -- not the easiest task, since at the end of a long day he's often so loose and out of control he's like a drunk after last call -- and here he comes popping into my room, full of energy, big smile on his face, with a question so piquing to his curiosity that he can't possibly wait until morning to ask: "Mom, what's a condom?"

Seems they were talking about condoms on the radio while he was trying to fall asleep, and golly, what was that all about? Thanks so much, Z100 DJs. It's not that I don't want to have "the talk" with my son, or that I haven't casually in small ways. It's just that I don't want to explain condoms to him when he's in a super hyped-up mood, or think about him repeating everything I say to his class the next day, in his "what goes in one ear comes right out my mouth" kind of way. I promised to tell him all about it in the morning if he'd go right to sleep, and by this morning he'd forgotten about it, and just as well.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to program his radio so it only plays lite tunes for old people. Of course, then he'll come in asking me about Viagra.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Meeting anxiety

I have a meeting with my son's teacher this afternoon to discuss some behavior problems, and I've been in a tizzy about it since the appointment was made. When do I get to the point where I'm no longer thrown into stress overload by these things? I've been having meetings like this for 10 years, since he started special-ed preschool at age 3. I've stated my case plenty. I've stood up to some pretty opinionated educators. I've gotten my way more often than not, and have generally had good and respectful relationships with his teachers. I even write articles telling other parents how to have meetings. Yet any time I'm called in to discuss things, I feel like I've been called to the principal's office. Am I going to get detention? Am I going to be expelled? My stomach's in knots.

And the thing is, I do want to have these discussions. I want to be called in to confer when there's a problem. I don't want teachers to feel that they can't talk to me because I overreact so badly. I just want my entire neurological makeup to change so that I don't seize up like this. And hey, while we're at it, we can just change my son's entire neurological makeup so there will never be a problem. Ha!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Take back what you said in my imaginary conversation!

Do you ever do that thing where you argue with people in your head, and then turn all sorts of hostility on the actual person when you see them, all the pent-up anger from that argument, and of course they have no idea why you're so steamed since they were not, technically, there inside your head? Bad habit, that, and one I have a hard time breaking.

It's easy to have that sort of inner wrestling match with someone on an internet e-mail list, because if you blow off steam at them inappropriately you never have to see them again. But I'm doing it lately with a couple of real-world combatants, particularly one woman who works with my son and has been pushing my buttons lately, and I'm starting to lose track of whether the hostility I'm feeling is based on actual behavior or virtual behavior. I think it's kind of a vicious circle: She seems a little snippy to me, and so I fight with her in my head, and then when I see her, I'm a little hostile, which makes her a little snippier.

It's bad for my son all around, and I should probably find an appropriate way to iron things out with this person so I can stop being vaguely mad, but then I might find out for sure that she dislikes me as much as I imagine, and hmmm, maybe I can do without that.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Don't do me any favors

Is there such a thing as party favor etiquette?

My son had a perfectly nice birthday party yesterday, everybody seemed to have a good time, there were no behavior problems from either the birthday boy or his friends, and I should be feeling all successful about the whole thing. But something keeps rankling me: When we handed out the party favors -- a little plastic car filled with candy, because my son loves cars, tied to a "road" of a flat pack of gum -- one of the moms came back to me, said her daughter didn't play with cars or eat candy, and since my son likes cars I should just give it to him.

And ... well ... okay. I know I'm taking this too seriously, and why should I care. It's not like I went to huge effort and expense on these favors, or that the mom did what she did in a particularly rude way. It's just ... you don't do that, do you? Give back a party favor? Maybe you take it home and throw it in the trash, or maybe you "accidentally" leave it behind at the party site, but to go up to the party-giver and specifically reject it? Am I oversensitive (YES!), or is that bad form? Hmph.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New-style birthday

It's my son's birthday today! Happy birthday, guy! You're a teenager now! And your mom won't be sleeping well for the next ten years or so. But today, we celebrate. Then we celebrate again on Sunday, when he has his birthday party with friends -- a dozen kids from his special education class descending on a bowling alley. Fun times, for them. For me, it's making sure that boys do not go into the men's room together, because they'll certainly do what my son is constantly crowing about as "the new-style flush," which involves hitting the handle with your foot. This is, of course, ever so much more fun when you have an audience and can show off your extreme prowess at kicking plumbing. Are teenagers supposed to find such things so overwhelmingly hilarious? He's thirteen in years, but still a kid at heart.

Monday, March 20, 2006

If you have a lot of it, it must be a collection, right?

My son has been loving keys since he was a teeny tiny little guy and still loves them now when he's a big heavy almost-teenager (tomorrow, yikes). You could call it a collection or you could call it a mess on the floor of his room, and I've done both. But for the purposes of the Collectibles site, which just ran a nice little article about my guy and his keys, we're calling it a collection. Does your child have a collection, or a mess of something that you could call that on a good day when you were trying to put the happiest possible face on things? Take this survey and let me know whether I'm the only one readying a pile of junk for the Smithsonian.

Friday, March 17, 2006

C is for cookie, that's good enough for me

I seem to be on a cookie kick with my kids these days. I got a nifty standing mixer for my birthday last June, and it's been sitting there on the counter looking all cute and underutilized, so all of a sudden I'm making cookies every weekend, and eating cookies every week, and wearing cookie-fat now and forever. It would be great if this was some sort of bonding exercise in which I helped my kids learn to bake, but I'm way too much of a control freak in the kitchen. What they mostly are learning is how to get things out of the closet for me. But the cookies are yummy. Mmmmmm, cookies.

This weekend, we're doing oatmeal raisin. Not the nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free, wheat-free recipe that was on my site this week, but if your kids need any of those -trees, you might give it a try. We'll be making the one printed under the lid of the Quaker Oats box, with vegetable oil subbing for shortening since I'm transfat-free. Let me know how yours turn out.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

What's scarier, the movie or who's watching it?

What's with young kids going to scary movies and playing scary video games? Lately I've had a few young classmates of my kids talk about their favorite R-rated movies like watching this stuff was the most normal thing in the world for a 12- or 13-year-old. When I say something unbearably fuddy-duddyish like, "Isn't that rated R? You shouldn't be watching that!" they seem genuinely bewildered. I can't quite decide if their parents don't know what they're watching or don't care, but man -- kids that young just do not need that stuff in their brains.

I was explaining this to a sixth-grader at my kids' school, a big fan of the movie "Training Day," who was appalled that I not only did not let my son play violent video games like "Grand Theft Auto," but that when a friend had brought it over, I made them stop playing and remove the offending game from the machine. "Wasn't your son embarrassed? Couldn't you have just waited until the kid went home?" No. And no. One viewing of that stuff is too much. And a boy like my son, who regularly sucks his fingers, jumps, and flaps, is probably beyond embarrassment. But it's true, too, that his friends know me, and know what Mama don't allow. Am I the last nay-saying mom around?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The miracle would be me staying awake

I tried to watch ABC's new reality show Miracle Workers last night, since it featured two stories that were right up my Parenting Special Needs alley: a child with scoliosis and a teen with Tourette syndrome. The show features two "host" teams, each with a doctor and a nurse, who find specialists to make miracles come true for people who need dramatic treatments. I made it about halfway through, to the point when the girl with Tourette's had had a hole drilled through her brain and some sort of probe inserted, and the boy had weathered an operating-room crisis that started with, "Oops! He's paralyzed for life!" and ended with, "No, wait, never mind." I really wanted to see what happened -- wanted to see footage of the boy walking straight and tall instead of leaning leftward, and the girl speaking freely without constantly hitting herself in the head. But I nodded off, as I tend to do whenever I sit still after 9 p.m. (Oddly, though, I was able to stay awake for the entire episode of "Grey's Anatomy" on Sunday night at 10 p.m. Maybe if "Miracle Workers" included some subplots about the complicated romantic lives of those doctors and nurses ... no, no, that would be wrong.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Uneasy rider

I was reading a lot of discussion today on a parenting e-mail list about riding bikes, and the terribleness of your child not being able to manage a two-wheeler, and it made me wonder if I'm deeply scarring my kids in some way by really not caring much about bike-riding one way or the other. I didn't ride a two-wheeler until I was 16 years old, my husband never learned, and so it's hard for us to feel real tragic about our son's failure to launch. Our daughter learned to ride fairly easily, but since we don't encourage constant and energetic bike riding, she doesn't get much practice. And the little guy just can't manage without training wheels, and we can't manage to get out there with him and work on it.

Is this bad parenting? Some sort of oblique child neglect? I don't know. When I was a kid, bikes were a major form of transportation. Kids rode bikes to school (me, too, on those training wheels, well past the age at which it was social suicide to do so), but today my kids' schools forbid that. I needed my bike badly for college transport, but I don't think that'll be an issue for my two. My son's friend needs his bike to do really dangerous stunts involving stairs, but we're not going there for gosh-darn sure. Exercise is important, and I'm trying to get both kids to walk more, but bikes? Seem like an accident waiting to happen, to me. But then, I'm not a biker. And passing that down, apparently.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sure it's dangerous work, but no IEP meetings

Pop quiz: What's tougher, leading the police force in a war-torn nation, or teaching special education in middle school? Beatrice Munah Sieh is in a position to say. She left a career in Liberian law enforcement when she fled the civil war in her native country and found work in the U.S. as a special-ed teacher in a Trenton, N.J. middle school. Liberia recently elected its first female leader, and she called on Sieh to come home and become the West African nation's first female police chief. Sieh's fellow teachers had no idea they were working with a trailblazer: "None of us knew she was involved with law enforcement in her country," one is quoted as saying. "We just thought we were all educators together."

This whole story just amazes me. Can you imagine your child's special education teacher all of a sudden, one day, announcing, "Sorry, can't finish out the year, I'm going to go back home to lead the police force." I mean, you have to be tough to deal with some of these kids, but that tough? 

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Does somebody really READ all this stuff?

My daughter has state standardized testing next week, and boy, it makes me long for the old days when standardized testing involved filling in bubbles with a Number 2 pencil and not much else. These days, the kids have to write essays, and long ones, too, if the amount of pages listed in the sample book is any indication. I don't think I had to face four blank lined pages in a test exam booklet until I was in college, and even then it sent cold shivers. Even if I didn't have kids with learning disabilities, I'd think the folks behind all this testing have gone a little nuts. As it is ... well, I'd laugh, if so much importance wasn't placed in this stuff.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

No gambling in my blood

I went to my first big-time Tricky Tray on Friday night, and boy, was that a trip. For those of you who've never been to a Tricky Tray -- and up until I moved to the Northeast, I'd never heard of them -- it's basically a super monster mega raffle for which you buy a lot of little tickets, drop them into containers in front of a variety of fabulous, semi-fabulous, and really-not-very-fabulous-at-all prizes, and then sit around for a few hours listening to people read numbers to see if you won anything. Some folks get heavily into this, spending hundreds of dollars to buy tickets to invest in winning what is mostly, essentially, junk. My husband and I just aren't in the spirit, though. We bought some tickets because it benefits the school, played them fairly half-heartedly, and lost everything. Not even the smallest basket of potpourri or paperbacks did we manage to bring home. I'm happy that the school made money, less happy that we spent one of our very rare evenings out together in such boring circumstances. As with so many fund-raisers, I'm left thinking: Can I just write you a check so that I don't have to participate?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Eye contact? Don't push it

Luke Jackson's "Freaks, Geeks and Asperger's Syndrome: A User's Guide to Adolescence" is one of my favorite first-person accounts of dealing with neurological impairments, told as it is by a kid dealing with the puzzlements and not a parent trying to solve them from the outside. There's a passage about eye contact that validates everything I've ever felt about not wanting to force my son to do it -- I'd rather he listen and not look than look but not listen -- and I'm excited to have gotten permission to post that excerpt on my site. You can also read my review of this entirely nifty book, and my own advice on eye contact.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Me and my big mouth

Yesterday, while we were in the car driving to Ash Wednesday services, my son popped his fingers out of his mouth and said "Oh, no! I broke my contract with Mrs. B!" What contract is that, I asked? "I'm not supposed to suck my fingers." You have a contract about that? said I, blood pressure rising. And he confirmed that he had indeed signed a contract with the classroom aide, and that the teacher knew about it. And I probably should have remained calm and kept my snark to myself and not immediately complained to my husband that people at school cannot just set up behavioral goals at whim and institute contracts and this is something we need to discuss as a team and I had just talked at the last IEP meeting about why finger-sucking was not a good behavior to target, and ... and ... I've been through this kind of thing before, you know. I've had aides take this kind of thing in their own hands before. And I gear up quick.

By the time we got home, though, I had calmed down, and I wrote the lightest-possible e-mail to his teacher, leaving the largest-possible margin for this being a misunderstanding, and hoping that I could get some information without stepping on toes. She called me shortly after, and we had a nice long conversation about the fact that the "contract" was a joke that my boy took seriously, and there was in fact no stealth behavior modification program being employed. And I felt all good and happy and skillful to have dealt with the situation without having to throw weight around or burn bridges. Just the way it should be, no?

Except that this morning, my son marched into his classroom, went right up to the aide, and said, "My mom said I don't have to do what you say! I don't have to listen to you!"

The teacher called to let me know, because I've asked to be notified when he says inappropriate things, and I declared that I never said any such thing, because I didn't, exactly, though sort of, but not to him, but in his earshot, but not in those words, but ... oh, man, if I'm going to live with this little parrot boy, I'm just going to have to get myself a soundproof room, or learn to speak in code. If I can't even rant in the privacy of my own home, wherever shall I rant?

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Inspiration and fun, in one

I'm like an old dog with a new trick: This weekend I put a Javascript game up on my site, and it is so cool! I'm unreasonably excited about the fact that, even though I have no idea what all that gobbledygook code does, I was able to place it correctly and tweak it a bit and get it to work in only, oh, I don't now, three or four hours! It's a memory game in which you click on hearts to find matching pairs of messages underneath. The messages are very upbeat and inspirational, so if anybody catches you playing, you can say you needed some self-help confidence building. Yeah, that'll work. Anyway, stop by and try it. I'm so proud!

Monday, February 27, 2006

The media didn't medal

So the Olympics are over, and even after hours of viewing, I still haven't figured out Curling. It's a surprisingly mesmerizing sport to watch, though. Bravo should get going with some sort of Celebrity Curling show, seriously. Wouldn't you just love to see your favorite TV stars frantically brushing the ice and yelling ... whatever it is curlers yell? Bring it on!

I've read all the wrap-up stories about these games, and apparently I'm supposed to have been disappointed in them. No big moments, the pundits say, performance below expectations. Maybe I'm just easy to please, but I found plenty to be inspired by. Ski jumps, both simple and twisting. Snowboarding, and the laid-back kids who practice it. Joey Cheek, giving his medal money to charity; seriously, put that boy on a Wheaties box. That Chinese pairs skater who picked herself up, dusted herself off, and kept on skating through what must have been unbearable pain. I don't think there was a day I watched the games that I didn't see something I didn't know humans could do (or, frankly, would want to). Are we only allowed to be inspired by winning -- and for that matter, only by winning gold?

If I'm disappointed by anything, it's by the media coverage that built huge mountains of hype, yammered about how much pressure that hype put on the athletes, and then pounced on anyone who didn't measure up. In sports where there are so many variables, from the weather to other athletes to the very unpredictability of the human body, how dare we put out those expectations -- especially knowing how much those expectations can affect the outcome by messing with people's heads. I'm willing to cut the athletes more slack than the journalists and the corporations. How 'bout next time, we don't hype anyone until they actually do something, 'kay?

Between the physical crashes and the PR crashes, I come away from these Olympics with a profound sense of gratitude that my children will likely never become serious sports competitors, and save us all the agony of having their mistakes analyzed by know-it-alls on national television. Would you want your child to compete in the Winter Olympics? Take the poll on my site and show your (lack of) spirit.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Inspirational Olympic moment

Oooh, I love this. This is my favorite Olympics quote of the day. I think it speaks beautifully to our wishes for kids to overcome their particular limitations and challenges, and find something they can really be passionate about. It's from a short news item about Helen Resor, a U.S. women's hockey team member, and her excitement about seeing Michelle Kwan in the athlete's village.
"I tried to say something to her, and I think it came out halfway coherent," said Resor, an aspiring figure skater herself before she grew to 5-feet-10 and discovered she loved hitting people.
Find your dream, kids, find your dream!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Olympic impressions

I've been watching a lot of the Olympics with my daughter, which is fun, because I used to watch a lot of the Olympics with my mother. My girl's favorite sport so far is luge, which makes sense; with her language problems, she has trouble with games that involve planning and strategy, and the luge just looks a lot like holding on while gravity pulls your idle body to the bottom of an icy hill at terrifying speeds. Yes, I know, there's more to it than that, there's steering in imperceptible small ways with a twitch of a shoulder or leg, and if you really just hold on and do nothing you will ride down the hill on your face. But for a kid who has trouble understanding rules and the sort of unspoken communication that goes on among teammates, a sport in which you just lie there must look pretty appealing.

I enjoyed the snowboarding a lot. One writer described it as the last sport that hasn't been Olympi-cized, so that the competitors are still really just going at it for the joy of doing a thing you love well, and not to jockey for endorsement deals or ego room. That's why I liked it, I think; they just looked like a bunch of kids in baggy pants having a cool time. I loved reading that, in between turns, a lot of the American snowboarders grabbed their boards, hopped a lift, and went snowboarding for fun. Can't quite imagine a figure skater saying, "Hey, I have a couple of hours before I'm on and I saw a frozen lake down the way -- let's just go skating."

Figure skating was the big viewing event for my mom and me years ago, but I've had a hard time watching it in recent years because the emphasis on bigger and badder jumps and throws has resulted in bigger and badder crashes, and at some point it just breaks your heart to see all that effort done in by a bad blade angle. I'm loving the new scoring, though, especially as it seems to allow skaters to crash spectacularly and still do okay. What I like most about it, though, is its inscrutability. Not even the commentators -- not even the athletes -- seem to know what those numbers mean, and that eliminates a lot of unhelpful second-guessing. I mean, you see a 5.8, and it's easy to go, "No way! That was totally a 5.9! Unfair! Lynch the judge!" But you see a 79.7, and just like a ski jump or snowboard stunt or other judged event, you kind of go ... "Oh, okay. It looked good to me, but, whatever. Good show!" All the layers of difficulty and different point allocations lend the whole thing an obscurity that makes the sport more enjoyable, I think. Works for me, anyway.

The crash of that Chinese pairs skater, as tragic and painful as it was for her, must just have the execs at NBC Sports doing quadruple salchows. They were in a human interest crisis with Michelle Kwan's departure, and now they can just rerun footage of Zhang Dan flying through the air, crashing to the ice, bashing into a wall, and rising to skate again, again and again. If some sort of dramatic injury like this hadn't happened, NBC would have had to send Dick Button down with a lead pipe to make it happen. Oh, the human drama! It was pretty impressive. I don't know if Chinese athletes do endorsement deals, but somebody needs to put that girl's face on a cereal box, or maybe a bottle of pain reliever.

The medal ceremony for that pairs competition was amazing -- I've never seen so many glum faces on the winner's platforms. People, you won! Look alive! Both Chinese couples had skated through significant injuries and pain, so I guess I can give them a pass for looking so desperately unhappy, but the gold-medal-winning Russians had no excuse. The woman looked so ticked off, and gave such an ungracious answer when asked about the Chinese skater who was injured, that you just wanted to ... where's that lead pipe, now? Talk about endorsement deals: Sign this one up for Emerald Nuts -- Eschewing Mercy, Elete Russian Athlete Lobs Disdainful, Negative Utterances at Tortured Skater. If you can learn how to do all those fancy jumps and twists and landings, you can learn how to smile and to win with grace.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dance fever

My son went to his first middle-school dance on Friday and it was, um, I don't know, a moderate success? My husband and I went as chaperones and basically tailed him the whole time he was there, grabbing him away when he was bugging kids and probably making him look even weirder then he looks all by himself, though, hmmm, maybe not. Anyway, 45 minutes into the 90 minute dance he was pretty overstimulated by the music and the noise and the lack of structure and it looked like a good time to end things on a semi-successful note instead of a note of disaster, so his dad took him to the store to get a couple of Matchbox cars and he went happily home. Half a dance -- better than none? I'd feel a lot more sure saying that if the music wasn't so oppressive, and ill-chosen for middle-schoolers (did they really have to play Candyshop?) and the dancing by the girls so provocative. Maybe next time, we could just take him to the toy store and skip the dance. No? That would be wrong? Okay. We'll shoot for an hour this time.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Be careful what you wish for

At the beginning of this school year, when every one of my daughter's teachers expressed a goal of bringing this sweet, quiet, sometimes timid girl out of her shell and getting her to talk and interact more, I told them sure, fine, good luck with that. But quietly, to myself, I said: Be careful what you wish for. Because, while the goal of making a language-challenged kid more social and outgoing is laudable, doing it in 8th grade when peer behavior is at its worst is a big gamble. And sure enough: The experiment has been so successful that she's had two detentions in the last three weeks. The first was a detention for the entire class, but the second was due to going to the bathroom to talk instead of tinkle, and being late for class as a result.

I'm not making a big deal about these detentions -- they're the milder after-school variety, not the serious Saturday ones. But when I see her English teacher at her IEP meeting next week, I'm going to mention that, hello, if a quiet kid wants to be more talkative, she's going to gravitate to the kids who talk all the time and get in trouble for it. Some of the conversations she's reported having, and some of the shiny new words she's picked up, make me think that perhaps sociability isn't the best goal at this point in time. Now that we've brought her out of her shell, can we stuff her back in a little, please?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Love Notes for Special Parents

I haven't posted much lately due to a book deadline and IEP meetings (one partially down, one to go). But I did manage to complete a little project over on my site that I'm pretty excited about. I took some inspirational sayings I wrote last February for Valentine's Day and did them up with nice lettering and posted them in a gallery. You can click on each design and get a larger version that's nice for printing and framing, giving, or tacking up on the refrigerator. There are 28 sayings in all. Check it out and give yourself a little early Valentine's present.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The secret to eternal friendship

My daughter was telling me this morning about a conversation she had with a friend she's known since her days in self-contained special-ed kindergarten, almost ten years ago. Apparently, the two were discussing what good friends they are, and enumerating the overwhelming number of things they have in common. Explained my daughter: "We both want BMWs when we grow up. We both like 'Suite Life.' We both like Raven. We both like 'High School Musical.' We're like sisters! We're twins!" (I refrained from pointing out that she had tried to watch "High School Musical" twice and had fallen asleep both times. If this is the worse that liking something because your friend does gets for her, I'll be happy.)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Starlet in distress

Just got back from taking my daughter and her friend to see "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" and I have to say, it was far less excruciating than I expected it to be. I'd even go so far as to say that I enjoyed it. But my goodness, what's happened to Hilary Duff? She looked like some leathery middle-aged socialite, with her hair updoed and her face too skinny and too tan. Whoever styled her for this movie -- ack! If it's true, as my daughter's friend merrily mentioned in the car, that she has an eating disorder "just like Lindsay," then whoever was responsible for her makeup seems to have been trying to do some sort of intervention, possibly to shock her by the horribleness of her skinny skinny face on the big big screen. She looked older than Bonnie Hunt, playing the mother. In fact, for my Mom money, Hunt looked better than any of them -- Duff, Piper Perabo as the other daughter, or Carmen Electra as the sexpot trophy wife of Eugene Levy's hyper-competitive character. She was just about the cutest thing on screen, and she's only two years younger than my ancient wrinkly self. Hilary, honey, look up whoever's doing that woman's makeup. Hurry!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Who cares about truth if you've got cash?

We've got a prime example of financial corruption of the political process going on in our city right now, and it doesn't even involve politicians. It involves a businessman throwing huge sums of money around to convince people to veto a plan to build a school near his business. This guy has already mired an early version of the plan in endless hearings to get permission to build in an industrial zone, paying experts and lawyers by the score to tangle the approval machinery. Now he's turned his focus on an election to expand that original project into a facility that will greatly relieve overcrowding in our high school and middle schools.

The result is one of those situations that, if this were two candidates running for office, the fairness of the financial imbalance would be called into question. On the one side, we have the school board, which has a few thousand dollars to spend and can't even legally urge people to vote one way or the other. And on the other side, we have Mr. Businessman, who is spending tens of thousands of dollars on glossy colorful mailers decrying the school plan; full-page ads in local papers; and commercials on networks like Lifetime and CNN to bring his message home.

It's a pretty crazy message, so he sure needs all the money he can get. He needs to convince people who live here that the street his business is on is so heavily trafficked, so beset by trucks traveling heedlessly upon it, that it presents a real and unacceptable danger to our fragile schoolchildren. This is, seriously, one of the quietest and least-busy streets our growing city has. We've got one school on a major highway, and many more on busy thoroughfares that serve as traffic arteries. By comparision, Mr. Businessman's setting is about as bucolic as it gets around here. But his brochures are sure authoritative looking, and dramatically copywritten, and his TV ads will probably be full of portent. Will city voters seek out the other side of the story by, like, driving to the street and noticing they're the only car on it? Most politicians would bet not. I'm hoping they're wrong.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

There's a bug going around, right?

Today was the first day of the two-week honeymoon-break my son's teacher is taking, and guess what? Every other woman who works in that multiply disabled self-contained classroom decided to take the day off, too! The classroom aide and the two one-on-ones were out, leaving the (non-special-ed) substitute teacher to go it alone. Even the aide who sometimes helps in the class and knows the kids well was absent. Halfway through the day an aide was pulled from another classroom to help out, but she wasn't any more familiar with this group than the sub. What a mess. I guess it could be just a massive coincidence that everyone was sick on the same day, but man. The timing could not be worse. I sympathize with how difficult it's going to be for the aides these weeks while the teacher is off, but I sympathize with the kids more. If they actually were all out on the same day deliberately or knowingly ... no. Not going to go there. Not going to think that. Going to give them the benefit of the doubt. But they better be back tomorrow, or I'm going to homeschool for two weeks.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Routine? We don't need no stinkin' routine!

Rough couple of weeks ahead for my son, I think, and for our family by extension. January's already a tough month with the transition back into school after the Christmas holiday. And now his teacher is leaving to get married and will be gone for a couple of weeks. I couldn't be happier for her, really; she's a nice woman and a good teacher and I wish her all the best. But yeesh, two weeks of disrupted routine for a multiply disabled class is asking for trouble. Already I'm hearing little rumblings about my son's disruptive behavior, and am not sure the proper interpretation is being put on things. Maybe he'll settle down and sail through, or maybe the rest of the class will act up, too, and he'll fit right in. I'm sure looking forward to the end of this little period of unrest, though, and wondering just how much I should make myself available to instruct and strategize in the fine art of handling the boy. Maybe I'll just succeed in making everybody hate meddling me, so they'll cut my kid some slack out of pity.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Worries come, worries go

I'm less worried today about my daughter going to high school, after a really good meeting about her transition and all the services that will be available to her there. I'm more worried today about our dog, the beautiful Princess, who went to the vet today for a regular check-up and was discovered to have a swollen lymph node. I'm taking the doctor's word for this; she had me rooting around in Princess's neck trying to find it, and I finally just said, "Oh, yes, I feel it" to give the poor animal a break. So now they're talking about the "C" word and shaving fur and taking a little bit of material from the node and running tests, and did I need something new to worry about? I didn't think so. She seems pretty healthy otherwise and I'm pretty sure this will turn out to be nothing, but, yikes. Dog ownership isn't pretty.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year, new worries

Alright, I'm back. Didja miss me? I took a little time off from double-blogging to, you know, play with kids and wrap presents and entertain guests and make a book deadline. I am now ready for a long winter's nap, but the book deadline was only a partial one and I still have more chapters to write than I want to think about just now, thanks. I'll sleep in February. Then again, today I'm going over to the high school to talk with a transition person about just exactly what I should be worrying about when my daughter starts there in the fall. So maybe by February I'll be too anxious to sleep.