Tuesday, December 31, 2002

New on Mothers with Attitude

Just posted Julie Donner Andersen's latest installment of her "Therapeutic Laughter" column. Titled PTO Hell, it tells of her travails in dealing with the Stepford Mom-filled Parent Teacher Organization at her children's school. I'm sure most of us have felt the wrath of the perfect at some time or other, although I have to report that the folks in charge of the Home School Association (as they call it here) at my kids' schools have been pretty charitable toward me and mine, maybe because my kids are in special ed and they don't expect (or often get) much from the moms of the so-classified, maybe because I've managed to do my share of volunteering, and maybe because I never go to meetings and hear what they really have to say about me. I'm taking Julie's experiences as a warning.

Also new to the site: a couple of additions to our long-dormant games page. Stop by to waste some time and you'll now find a daily trivia quiz and a mood indicator game, for your frittering pleasure. What, you got better things to do? Don't be a Stepford Mom.

Tops in 2002

What better day than New Year's Eve to take a little look back at what America's been searching for in 2002, courtesy of Google's 2002 Year-End Zeitgeist. In what might be called the Surfing People's Choice Awards, Google's year-end run-down lists the most popular search-engine queries in a variety of categories. It makes me feel very out-of-touch with the "zeitgeist" to see that, while I use Google frequently, I never made any of these "popular" searches -- not "Spiderman," not "Jennifer Lopez," not "Eminem" -- and that, in turn, the searches that were most frequently made by me -- "fetal alcohol," "sensory integration," "behavior management," say -- are nowhere to be found among the most common. People were apparently too busy searching for information on Ferraris and mp3s to put sites on adoption or special needs in the Top 10s. Ah, well. We all knew we were out of step, didn't we?

My site certainly wasn't the most searched-for by anybody, but I do note with amusement that, of the folks who found the "Mothers with Attitude" home page through a search engine, 71% got there by typing the word "attitude." A search with that term today found "Mothers with Attitude" on page 4 out of 91 pages of results. Not bad! Out of all the uses of "attitude" on the Web, I was in the top 40. With a site as tiny as mine, you take validation where you can get it.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Square peg finds success

Caught a nice bit of reassurance for those of us raising kids with learning and behavioral differences this morning in Slate's Today's Papers:
The financial section of the NYT honors a dozen people who had wildly successful years in 2002. At the top of the list is David Neeleman, founder and CEO of JetBlue. ... Neeleman doubled his company's profits in the nine months ending on Sept. 30—some of the worst months in airline history. He's a father of nine, he never finished college, and he suffers from attention-deficit disorder.
A google search on Neeleman turned up this USA Today article from October in which the CEO talks about his ADD and shares details from his life that will sound familiar to anyone with a child whose train of thought often seems to be running on a track in a different dimension. I was particularly interested to note that Neeleman, who diagnosed himself with ADD, refuses to take medication for it out of fear of losing all the magical things that seem to be working for him. I've often thought exactly the same thing about my own flighty son; but however you feel about medication, in a time when there's so much pressure to "fix" what's "wrong" with our kids, when we hear that they'll be failures if we don't get them under control or make them succeed in school or sand down their bad habits, it's helpful to hear stories of those whose high-flying success may have been a result of those very rough edges. Nice news for a Sunday morning, anyway.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Just limping back from my little Christmas 'net break. Our holidays were pretty peaceful; the only ones to melt down were adults, which means that my easily overstimulated boy is starting to learn to give his own self time outs when he needs them. Merry Christmas to that!

Santa was plenty generous to me. I got lots of good books to read, so I can pretend that I'm actually the kind of person who has time to sit down and do that. The tomes under the tree for me -- I'll list them for folks who like to compare reading lists, of whom I am one -- were The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform and the Future of the Church by George Weigel; Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution by Randal Keynes; American Studies by Louis Menand; Longitudes & Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11 by Thomas L. Friedman; and finally, shamefacedly, NOT because I asked for it but because my sister-in-law remembered I once said I had a crush on him as a preteen, Danny Bonaduce's autobiography, Random Acts of Badness: My Story.

Aside from that last one, it's exactly what I wanted. But all those good words weren't the best gift I got this Christmas. My kids gave me something infinitely more wonderful: They got along. They played together nice. They camped out in my daughter's room and played with the matching Barbie minivans their grandmother gave them and were just as friendly as you can imagine. My daughter even told me she'd told her brother she loves him, which is so far from her ordinary attitude as to be miraculous. And I know, it won't last. Four days post Christmas, the peace and unity is already slipping. But oh, it was nice while it lasted, going about my business on Thursday with the two of them happily occupied together, seeing enthusiasm and camaraderie in their relationship rather than hostility and spite. Probably hostility and spite is really a more natural big sister-little bro dynamic than peaceful playing, but Christmas is a time for dreams.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

You go, girls

Nice girl-power-y site here for preteen types whiling away the endless days before school starts up again in January (or for moms who want said preteens to get up off the couch and DO something already). It was clearly created with Hispanic teen-ish girls in mind, but the site is bilingual and offers plenty for muchachas from any cultural background to enjoy (though adoptive parents may want to be sensitive to the section called "Family History," which emphasizes how important one's family heritage is; I don't think it's entirely inappropriate to adopted children, but you might want to provide some guidance and talking points). On the games page, along with tic-tac-toe and word searches, are quizzes on drinking and driving, inhalants and poisons, values and self-esteem. It's all really rah-rah and upbeat and well-intentioned, which means it will probably be poison to kids, but that doesn't mean we can't plop those little preteen butts in front of the computer and insist they play. Along with "Know Yourself" and "Know Your Body," there should be a section called "Know When Your Mom Needs a Break."

No baby pictures? No problem.

Well, here's one way to tackle the dreaded "baby picture project." If you're tired of having to educate educators as to why asking for baby pictures from everyone might not be fair to adopted children (and any child who reasonably might not have such a snapshot, including children whose mothers are chronically disorganized and those who always forget the camera), tired of creating or executing alternate assignments, tired of torpedo-ing time-honored school traditions that everybody clings to but you -- if you've got a great kid but no baby pictures thereof, consider investing in the fine art of photo regression. Here's one artist with an Internet site who'll consider conceptualizing what your child looked like as a baby and, for a few hundred bucks, provide you with 8x10 glossies. Maybe this will give your child an awareness of having been a baby that he or she may be lacking. Maybe this will give him or her a privacy-preserving way of handling schoolmates' questions. Maybe it will just give you an easy out from discomfiting assignments.

And maybe it's all just a little bit creepy. Some people claim that their kids have real concerns and regrets about the lack of documentation of their younger years, and that may be. I can't really argue with anything that increases a child's sense of selfhood. But I wonder if it's emotionally sound to fake these things -- to use technology to pretend that missing pieces are really there. It may be a pretty picture, and it may be fun to imagine, but it's still a lie. And the fewer of those we tell our children -- and the fewer we tell as adoptive families -- the better we'll be in the long run, I think.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Get your hip 'n' happening interventions here

Looking for the "newest and hottest interventions"? The Youth Change Web site is offering them up, along with live on-line help for solving behavior problems; workshops, books and tapes; and newsletters on "ADD, Apathy & More." And of course, the first thing that comes to your mind when looking at a cheerful site like this, bedecked with cartoons of smiling children, is, "Folks, if my child's behavior problems could be solved NOW with a visit to one Web site, I would save so much money on therapy bills and medications that I could buy me the Brooklyn Bridge."

But I'm certainly not above casting about for interventions, and while I've never found a Web site that's Solved All My Problems, I've certainly visited many that have pointed me in the right direction. What tickles me here, and troubles me a little, too, is the fact that these interventions aren't just tried and true, or teacher recommended, or parent approved, but the "newest" and "hottest." Are we really to the point of marketing interventions the way we market cars, clothes and records? Maybe so. There do certainly seem to be trends in interventions, and waves of enthusiasm. ABA seems to be hot for autism intervention; sensory integration therapy could probably be characterized as new and hot, if you take a broad view of what "new" means in terms of recognized therapies; nutritional interventions are pretty hot at the moment, with advocates every bit as zealous as any pop star's fans. I'd say medication was a pretty hot intervention if I hadn't just visited the bookstore yesterday, and noticed that the "Ritalin is wrong" books now far outnumber the "medication is our friend" advisories. So maybe Ritalin is so five minutes ago, and blaming parents for having jobs or disagreements or divorces, as most of the new wave of ADHD books seem to do, is so very today.

Personally, I try to stay way ahead of the curve.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

What makes a successful family

Lots of interesting food for thought on this site about raising adopted children with special needs. I particularly liked the part about the qualities of successful and satisfied adoptive and special needs families, such as this: "The most satisfied parents are those who are process oriented rather than outcome driven. They enjoy the challenge of adapting to each new developmental stage and the changes that brings in the child. They thrive on finding creative ways to deal with their child's behaviors and problems. They thrive on the process of being an advocate for the child's needs, and integrating him into their family, school and society." This and a long list of similar observations are gratifying because they reflect the things that I have always felt we were doing right as a family; and also, because they validate my need to buy more and more parenting books. See, I'm not a spendthrift and a slave to each new theory -- I'm enjoying the challenge of adapting to each new develepmental stage and thriving on finding creative ways to deal with my child's behaviors and problems. Yeah, that's it.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

New on Mothers with Attitude

I'm feeling pretty calm this holiday season. The last UPS shipment from all my on-line gift-shopping arrived yesterday; most of our Christmas cards are mailed (save for the ones to people I've forgotten, to be mailed when I receive one from them); the dreaded holiday program at my kids' school is over and with it a world of stress for my son; presents are wrapped and waiting for our tree to go up this weekend; child-watching arrangements have been made for the week of no school; the menu is mostly planned for Christmas dinner; and I even managed to make it to my church's penance service on Tuesday, so I'm going into the holiday properly confessed (or improperly, depending on your feelings about communal penance, but I digress). The only major hurtle ahead is making it through Mass on Christmas eve, historically a near impossibility for my son. But other than that, I'm ready to say: Bring Christmas on! (Never mind that my kids have been saying that for a month and a half.)

If at this point in the season you're in need of a little spiritual uplift, read April Cain's latest installment in her "Thinking It Over" column, The Real Meaning of Christmas. It's so touching, it will have you casting the made-for-Hallmark TV movie in your head. Also new on the site this week are additional selections in the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome section of our bookstore, including some family stories that are pretty touching themselves. The rest of the bookstore will be updated with new offerings soon; it should be done by now, but hey! I've been getting ready for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Looking for a little brain research?

Here's a cool site at which to while away some time: the listing of hot topics on the brains.org site. Billed as a way to "stay informed with the latest research in neuropsychology and education," the page offers alphabetically sorted items on everything from Attention Deficit Disorder to Violence. A few that caught my eye (in quotes, with my comments after):

"A new study out on medicating ADHD, shows that the best results were obtained when using Ritalin (MPH) mixed with caffeine. The study showed that impulsivity and agression as well as planning skills were most effected by the combination of these two drugs. (When used separately, Ritalin is more effective than caffeine and amphetimines work about as well as Ritalin.) Leon, M. 2000. Journal of Attention Disorders, vol 4(1), 27-47." ... Does Starbucks know about this? Look for ADHD Blend, coming soon.

"Using fMRI techniques, Yale University has found an interesting brain abnormality in persons with autism and autism spectrum disorder. In most brains (yours and mine) we use one area to discriminate or identify objects and a different area to identify faces. In the brains of persons with autism, they use only the first region (inferior Temporal gyri) to identify both objects and faces. Schultz, et.al. (2000). Archives of General Psychiatry, vol 57(4), 331-340." ... Makes me think about Temple Grandin's book Thinking in Pictures and the entirely different way people with autism seem to experience the world and language.

"Homework or no homework? That's a difficult question. According to research, student achievement has little relationship to whether or not the class has assigned homework. In elementary grades, teacher assigned homework actually correlated to students' poor attitude toward school. Achievement DOES relate positively to how much time the parents spend assisting with homework - which should come as no surprise to anyone. Cooper, et.al. 2001. Journal of Experimental Education. vol 69(2) 181-199 and Journal of Educational Psychology (1998), vol 90(1),70-83." ... Now, I actually like homework, because it helps me keep track of what my kids are doing, and gives me a firsthand chance to evaluate what they can or cannot do. Where I have trouble, though, is that fine line between "assisting with homework" and "doing their homework for them." I seem to cross it often (though not as often as they'd like).

"According to a study out of New York's Columbia University, praise students more for their effort than for their intelligence. The study showed that in 5th graders, praising intelligence actually caused them to work less, experience less enjoyment and less persistance in tasks. Praising effort had just the opposite effect. Mueller & Dweck (1998). Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. Vol 75(1) 33-52."

"Indiana University completed a study of students with Learning Disabilities(LD) Half the LD students were included in the regular classroom for reading and math. Half the LD students received reading and math instruction in a resource classroom. The LD students in the regular classroom made significantly more progress in reading and comparable progress in math when compared to the students in resource classes." ... This item and the one above are EXACTLY along the lines of what I've been trying to convince my daughter's child study team of for years. Maybe I'm just ahead of my time? Gotta order up some of these studies in time for next year's IEP meeting. And you can bet I'll be trolling this site for more validation.

Defending the apostrophe

Having just finished signing and stuffing Christmas cards with my husband, who, when addressing envelopes, insisted on using an apostrophe to pluralize the last names of our friends and relatives even though I gave him my every assurance as a professional copy editor that it was grammatically incorrect and also annoying, I was tickled to stumble upon the site of the Apostrophe Protection Society -- dedicated, as am I, to the proper use of this essential piece of punctuation. You can stop by for a quick English lesson, see examples of egregious incorrectness on signs and storefronts, and share your personally outrageous finds on a message board. I haven't seen anything like it since I belonged to an e-mail list for copy editors that routinely engaged in flame wars over proper comma placement.

None of this has anything to do with parenting, I guess -- except that, next time your sloppy writing kid tells you nobody cares about grammar no more, no how, you can call up this site and prove that there are indeed folks whose obsession with punctuation far, far exceeds your own. See? Somebody does care.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Christmas concerts and other holiday hassles

The Christmas program at my children's school is this Wednesday, which is a relief because it means the end of the routine-destroying rehearsals that drive my son so batty during the month of December. As I've written before, I have my doubts as to whether the good things about these annual extravaganzas (musical enrichment, the discipline of working as a group and being onstage, the opportunity for parents to get together and go "Awwwww...") is worth the bad things (study time lost, kids without musical ability forced to spend lots of time proving it, kids without standing-still ability tested beyond the very limits of endurance). I know, at any rate, that they're not good for my boy. Judging by the comments I'm getting about his rehearsal demeanor, his teachers know it too, although whether they're placing the proper blame on the disruptiveness of pageant preparation, I don't know. After Wednesday, at any rate, it will all be over. I'm hoping he doesn't display a little disruptiveness of his own onstage.

Christmas rehearsals are my son's greatest source of holiday stress. If your personal stress producer is a child with RAD, check out the Christmas message from Nancy Thomas for tips on making it through to the 25th. If dealing with child study teams has got you down, the folks at Wrightslaw want you to remember to follow their survival tips at this time and throughout the year. The About.com Special Children site has a nice list of links to articles on dealing with everything from depression to family reunions (oh, wait -- aren't those the same thing?), and on Mothers with Attitude you can still find the article from a mom of 18 on establishing Christmas traditions for adopted children. And if all that doesn't help, just remember that all of this holiday frazzle and frenzy does eventually come to an end. Holiday stress will pass. Then we can move on to general winter stress, followed by spring stress, summer stress, and fall stress. Merry whatever, y'all.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

A vaccine kids can't get

I've been worrying off and on about whether I'll have my kids vaccinated for smallpox when the opportunity's offered, and here it turns out I've been worrying for nothing: according to an Associated Press report, there are currently no plans to provide the vaccine for children at all, unless there's an actual outbreak and all safety bets are off. Although testing a drug on children before prescribing it for them has hardly been considered a necessity in most other areas of medicine, it is apparently giving pause here -- and since a vaccine that has major health risks of its own can't ethically be tested on children, the tots will just have to go un-immune for now. Would that such caution extended to other vaccines as well.

If your unvaccinated little ones are nonetheless curious about the potential scourge of smallpox, there's a child-friendly FAQ on the KidsHealth site. Mom and Dad can get more details from a FAQ from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Adding to mom's balancing act

From the "Too Much of a Good Thing Is a Bad Thing" file comes research from the U.S. agriculture department and Cornell University that the antioxidants in dark grape juice, while good for your heart, are bad for your ability to absorb iron. That might not be a big deal for adults who are obsessed with cholesterol and looking for something other than red wine to lower it, but it's a big deal for kids, in whom iron deficiency can lead to anemia and, from there, to "mental, physical and behavioral impairment, particularly in infants and toddlers," according to the experts. Dark fruit juices in general appear to be iron-uptake-reducing, while lighter-colored juices have an opposite effect. The researchers stopped short of suggesting the witholding of dark grape juice for tots, but did recommend a balanced palette of beverage hues for maximum nutritional correctness. So there you go, moms: Now in addition to making sure your kids have a balanced diet that hits all the proper points on the food pyramid, and that their fruit juices don't contain corn syrup or aspertame or dyes or preservatives, you need to make sure that the colors of those juices assort themselves through the day in all shades from white grape juice to dark. So what if this means you have six or seven bottles open at all times -- you want to be drinking to their health, right?

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Calendar girl

'Tis the season to ... buy calendars, among other things. Such a fresh start a new calendar gives you! This year, I'll be heading into 2003 with Mom's Family Calendar, a great wall planner for getting every family member where they're supposed to be when; the Jeopardy! page-a-day calendar I get my husband every year so we can start our mornings sparring over trivia; and a new planning system from Franklin Covey, purveyors of motivational organizational products. This new system replaces the Palm Pilot I purchased last year, which replaced a nice spiral blank book I was going to personalize to be my perfect planner, which replaced a pricey leather-bound system from Levenger, which replaced... well, I forget now. About ten or twenty other system-to-end-all-systems. I require a new life-planning system every eleven months or so to maintain the illusion that I really could be an organized person if I just had the right tools -- my house would be neat, my work would be done during daytime hours and not at 2 a.m., my children would get to school on time and appropriately clothed (the school nurse gave my daughter a pair of gloves last week because I'd sent her to school with socks on her hands to keep them warm, so I'm heading into the new year with a lot to prove on this score). Deep down, I know that what really needs to be changed are my personal habits, and not my paperwork ... but the paperwork's easier.

If you're still calendar shopping, you might want to surf by the About adoption site, which has some recommendations of 2003 Wall & Desk Calendars with an adoption theme.

180 channels and everything's on

It's official: My family now has more television channels than it knows what to do with. Our cable provider's been peddling digital packages that offer in excess of 180 channels, not to mention movies on demand that you can order and watch over the course of 24 hours, pausing, fast-forwarding, rewinding and stopping like they were tapes from the video store. We've got two Disney channels, three or four Nickelodeon channels, multiple HBOs, Encores and Starz-es, video magazines, and about 45 channels that just play music. Oh, it's a veritable wealth of programming, and as soon as we figure out how to use the remote, we'll be in television heaven. Now, I know there are moms out there who think TV is evil, a terrible influence on children, a major cause of youthful violence and immorality and hyperactivity and bad posture. Well, I ain't them. TV is my respite, and 180 channels means that my babysitter just agreed to work overtime. Tune in, turn on and leave me the heck alone -- that's my motto. Just hope the kids will let me watch something I want to watch every now and again.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

A close family is a happy family

Despite what you may be feeling these upcoming holiday days, when the kids are home from school and underfoot and your relatives are over for dinner and bickering and your spouse is snappish from the stress of putting together toys with 3,467 pieces -- despite the feeling that your family is making you crazy, a close-knit family actually makes you much more happy. Really! They've done studies! Close families were found to "inoculate" children against despair, so when your kids whine that you're making their lives miserable, just chuckle and say, "That's not what they're saying at the University of North Carolina!" And a sociologist at the University of Chicago says that being married makes you happy, too, even if you think your marriage isn't the greatest. You're still as happy or happier than you would be alone. Really. Even without the inlaws. Sociologists wouldn't lie.

Monday, December 09, 2002

An adoption story, nice and not-so-

In my real, off-Web life I work for a Catholic newspaper. We wanted to do a nice story on adoption for National Adoption Month in November -- as, indeed, does every newspaper in the country, taking a brief break from all the scary adoption stories they run for the rest of the year -- and so the agency that handles adoption for our diocese set a reporter up with a family for a nice puffy piece about how great it is to adopt. I read the story eagerly when I finally got it to lay out and copy edit, and it seemed like pretty good news, a profile of a happy family who already had one adopted child and was now in the process of adopting another baby. The article hit all the right notes, about adoption being a wonderful way to form a family, about how there's no shame or secrecy to it anymore, and children should be informed and proud of how they came to be loved by their parents. Information on how to adopt was offered to anyone who wanted to follow in the successful footsteps of the family in the article. It was all set to run the last week of November ...

...except that the family got cold feet. The baby's adoption was not quite final, and they worried that his birthmother would see their names and pictures in the paper and cause trouble. They hadn't realized the article would feature them so prominently. They weren't comfortable with the exposure. Could we change their names, and not reveal where they live? Or maybe hold the article for awhile, until all the papers were safely signed? As the office adoption expert, I nixed the name-change scenario. Better no adoption feature for National Adoption Month than one that paints adoption as a situation where names need to be changed to protect the profiled. Yes, adoption's wonderful, we're proud of our family! -- just as long as you only use our initials, and on second thought, give us back that picture. We wound up holding onto the story in the hope that they'd okay it after the adoption was final, but their feet, once icy, never warmed back up. So much for promoting adoption.

I suppose I can't blame these parents too much. Domestic adoption is apparently fraught with peril for adoptive parents who can be cast aside at a birthparent's whim -- whether that's good or bad depends on your perspective in the process, I suppose -- and I don't know that I wouldn't keep a low profile to protect my family in similar circumstances. But at the same time, this whole thing points out a dichotomy that I see so often on e-mail lists for adoptive parents. Adoption is wonderful and the media should do more good stories ... but my child's adoption story is private to him or her and not appropriate for me to tell. Schools should be up on all the latest adoption language and should use sensitivity in dealing with family issues ... but there's no reason they need to know my child is adopted, or get any information from me. If people knew how many happy adoptive families there were, they wouldn't judge adoption so harshly ... but because they judge adoption so harshly, I'm not going to tell them about my happy adoptive family.

Is it any wonder, then, that the bad stories seem to be the only stories that get told? People with nothing to lose will always be more forthcoming than people with something to protect. Must the media forcibly "out" happy families -- as our paper could have done, and maybe would have if the editor didn't feel sorry for the priest in the middle -- in order to offer counterpoint? If adoptive parents are going to go to such lengths to hide their light beneath a bushel, they shouldn't be too surprised if all anybody sees is darkness.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Snow therapy

It snowed here in the Northeast last week, enough to put a substantive amount of snow on the ground, and I've been noticing how intensely my son enjoys playing in it. Not that it's unusual for a 9-year-old boy to like to play in the snow, but there seems to be an added sensory integration-related component to it for my guy -- something about the texture of the powder, soft and yet firm, and the sharp coldness intense enough to get through to even the hyposensitive. He's less interested in throwing snowballs than in throwing himself down into the stuff, or using his hands to dig through it or scrape at it. The kid is a full-body snow-man, and getting him to school or to church when we have to pass large pristine fields of white on our walking way has been near impossible. Nothing's more important than getting him some of that snow.

I admit that I'm enjoying the snow, too, particularly now that I have a vehicle with four-wheel drive. How great it felt tooling around in the thick of the storm, braving back roads to get to my kids' school when the front ones were parking lots, pulling up just in time! I grew up in California, and snow was never part of my childhood, so I still get kind of a kiddish thrill to see it, all crisp and sparkling and fluffy. But sadly for my son, the last thing I want to do at my advanced age is go out and play in the cold and damp. The sight of snowflakes makes me want to bundle up inside with a big bowl of popcorn and a mug of hot chocolate and watch "Casablanca," or maybe "Return to Me." My son thinks that's a waste of perfectly good snow-playing time, but hey -- we all have our own sensory needs, and mine is to not be wet and freezing.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

The shortest pediatrician visit in the world

If your child feels anxious about going to the doctor, the InteliHealth site has a nice coloring book to download and print out so that kids can scribble their way to an understanding of the things that go on in a pediatrician's office. It's a nice little five page book, with a picture to color for having height and weight checked; saying "aah"; getting checked with a stethoscope; having eyes examined; and getting stickers at the end. This is a nice little icebreaker for kids. It's also, as most moms know, a complete joke. Have you ever gotten through a pediatrician's visit in five pages? Not a chance. To be truly accurate, there'd need to be twenty or so pages on sitting in the waiting room, another twenty on waiting in the examining room in your underwear; we'd need a page on Mom filling out forms, Mom coughing up the co-pay, Mom digging through her purse for toys and her memory for games to keep everybody happy during the forty pages of waiting. And don't forget the one of the nurse coming in with a trayful of needles, and in my children's case the three or four extra staff members coming in to hold the patient down. Come to think of it, maybe it's better to let the kids think it's a cute little five page visit. Otherwise, we'd never get 'em in the door.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Making the holidays more meaningful, maybe

I'm proud to say that I have almost all my Christmas shopping done, perhaps the earliest I've ever been able to say that. Of course, I've done almost everything by mail order, which means I don't actually have the gifts in hand yet, and if things come late or fall out of stock I may have to be running to the mall with the throngs of last-minute shoppers on December 24 -- but hey, the intention is there, I did the on-line shopping, and I'm proud of myself. Cards, of course, are another story. They're already starting to come in from overachieving friends vying to put the first holiday greeting in my mailbox. I haven't even started thinking about getting my address list together, much less the holiday letter that must go with most of the missives. I do, however, have at least some of the cards I'll need. I've decided, in what will probably be perceived as a really tacky move, to use the Christmas cards that charities have been sending me as a come-on to contribute. I mean, really, why shouldn't I give my Christmas-card-buying dollars to, say, the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, or Save the Children, or Alzheimer's Disease Research, instead of Hallmark? The cards are mostly presentable, and doesn't the thought count for more if it does some good, too? That's my story and I'm sticking to it, even if others suspect that I'm really just too lazy to go card shopping.

If you're interested in something a little different for your holiday cards this year, check out the food allergy holiday cards from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network site; each card has a food allergy fact on the back. Elsewhere on the site you can sign up for free special allergy alerts on foods recalled because of surprise ingredients and get recipes suited to specific allergy needs. This month's offerings for careful cooks include Candy Cane Cookies that are milk, egg, peanut, soy and nut free. If Santa turns out to be lactose intolerant, you gotta know you'll be getting better presents for providing treats that are sensitive to his dietary needs.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Time out, time in

Interesting article in an area newspaper about a social skills workshop for parents of children with special needs. (The social skills in question were those of the children, not the parents, although I've certainly met some parents who could use some help in that area, too. Maybe even me.) I'd read about this workshop and even thought about going, then realized when I saw the follow-up in the paper today that I'd missed the chance. Nonetheless, the article did mention some good ideas from the event, including one that I think I might try: making a laminated "Time Out Pass" that everybody in the family could grab when they needed to cool off. My husband and I certainly give ourselves time outs from time to time, and my son sometimes sequesters himself in his room when he feels overwhelmed. Maybe formalizing that process with a pass would help the kids understand that it's okay to feel angry or sad or stressed, but not okay to act out those feelings on others. Take some time, calm down, then, if you need to, talk the problem out with a clearer head. See, if you read the newspaper and visit enough sites like this one and join enough e-mail parenting groups, you can get good ideas for your kids without ever actually having to leave the house at all.

New on Mothers with Attitude

It's been a while since I had to deal with potty training -- my son held out in diapers until he was five, but that was four years ago now -- yet the trauma is deep-seated enough that I can entirely relate to Julie Donner Andersen's latest entry in her "Therapeutic Laughter" column, The Christmas Potty. Her wee-wee-worded yuletide carols will give you a giggle even if your diaper days are long past. And for those dealing with toilet trauma now, I have three words: Wait Until Summer. Then you can utilize the method that finally worked on my guy, the much respected, much feared No Pants Method. It took about a day of t-shirts-only to help my son get with the program. But if you tried something like that now, with the kind of temperatures we're having in the Northeast, anyway, you'd have to thaw out their little butts with a blow dryer before sitting them down on the potty. Probably better to wait 'til it's warm...

Flu shots all around!

Have you gotten your flu shot? Has every member of your family? Everyone's due now, according to government recommendations, even babies as young as six months. The guidelines suggest that little ones get not one but two shots, four weeks apart, to make sure the immunity really took. And this should of course be repeated on a yearly basis, since there's a different bug to battle each year. This is all just a suggestion, mind you. Nobody's calling these essential vaccinations yet. And why is that? Is it because there's some doubt that they may be necessary? safe? effective? Nope -- it's just that there's really not quite enough for everybody. So those responsible enough to show up for their shot at their doctor's suggestion will be gloriously flu-free, and the rest of us hardheads who harbor hesitations about vaccines of any sort can fend for ourselves, for now. But if at some point this winter we find ourselves or our children confined to bed with all manner of major discomforts, well, they told us so.

Personally, I'll take my chances. The thought of my kids stricken with the flu fills me with dread (for their physical health, of course, and also for my mental health if they're confined at home for weeks). But the thought of bringing them to the doctor for more shots does the same (for the possible negative implications of vaccinations, of course, and also for the whining and screaming that accompanies any contact my kids need to have with needles). And I'll admit, I'm feeling less and less obliged to take the word of medical professionals that something is absolutely necessary -- a good so undeniable that it's silly even to have doubts about it. That's the way my gynecologist described hormone replacement therapy five years ago. And where are we now, hmmm? There's a pretty long list of things that doctors have found to be universally good right up until the time that they weren't after all, go figure, and when you think of some of the side effects that have prompted those revelations, the flu starts to look pretty good.

Aw, you know, it's all just a crapshoot anyway. It's a crapshoot for the doctors -- how to do the most good for the most patients with the knowledge available now -- and it's a crapshoot for the rest of us -- am I more likely to be caught in a terrorist smallpox attack or be the one in a million who dies from the vaccine? is my child more likely to have neurological complications from vaccines or die of the measles? As with most other things in life, and most other things in parenting, you assess your odds and take your best guess. It's nice that, for the moment, we're being allowed to choose our own chances with flu and smallpox vaccinations. It would be nicer still if at least a little wiggle room was allowed in other "we know what's good for you" medical proclamations, too.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

I resolve to make no resolutions

Do your children make New Year's resolutions? If you'd like them to, and you'd like them to say something other than, "I will lie around the house and be lazy. Every day, I will make my mom crazy," the American Academy of Pediatrics is offering 20 Healthy New Year's Resolutions for Kids that should last your little ones at least as long as the healthy New Year's resolutions you make for yourself. Some of them are actually pretty likely to last longer than that -- certainly "I will wear my seat belt every time I get in a car" will be pretty hard to slip up on since it's the law in many states, though most parents would probably prefer to add "without whining, complaining, or stalling" to the end of it. But I'm guessing items like "I will keep myself, and the places where I live and play, clean," on the list of resolutions for toddlers; "I will spend a couple of minutes every morning and afternoon applying sunscreen before I go outdoors" on the school-age kids list; and "I will eat at least one fruit and one vegetable every day, and I will limit the amount of soda I drink" for teens are mostly parent and pediatrician pipe dreams. And there's one school-age resolution that I find downright worrisome: "I will always ASK if there's a gun in the homes where I play." Do we really want our kids to be asking if there's a gun around? Wouldn't this encourage their playmate to go and get it? Personally, given the violence of the world today, I'd like my children to resolve never to go anywhere, do anything, or talk to anyone. That wouldn't exactly be a healthy resolution for any of us, but at least we wouldn't have to worry about seatbelts and sunscreen.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Wanna new drug?

So there's a new gun in the arsenal of weaponry aimed at wiping out ADHD: Strattera, recently approved by the FDA and already complete with its own website. The main marketing advantage of Strattera seems to be that it's not a stimulant, and therefore not a controlled substance, making niceties like phone-in prescription refills and free samples available to the hyperactive and their families for the first time. The drug apparently works by preventing the "reuptake" of norepinephrine, making more of that impulse-controlling neurotransmitter available to jittery little brains (and big ones, too; Strattera is the first drug tested for adult ADHD). However, even Strattera maker Eli Lilly admits in its FAQ on the drug that "the precise mechanism by which Strattera works on ADHD is not known." If that doesn't fill you with confidence, rest assured that six -- count 'em, six! -- studies have been done to prove Strattera safe, with a relatively long period of effectiveness and relatively mild side effects like nausea and tiredness. So the question becomes, do you want your kid to be the first on your block or in your school to try a brand spanking new drug? I have to admit that, although I've always been against medication for my own personal jumpy little guy, the thought of trying something before it has a whole bunch of scary anecdotes and glassy-eyed prescriptees attached to it has a certain appeal. It's on my mind, for sure. But how 'bout you have your kid try it first?

Saturday, November 30, 2002

Internet rage

If you've been noticing that people are quicker to anger lately, you're not alone. New to the Mothers with Attitude site this week is a Thinking It Over column called "Life Rage," writer April Cain's observation of people's increasing tendency to fly off the handle even when they're not on the road. Personally, I've been noticing plenty of unpleasant outbursts on the highway, but not the kind you drive on; the Information Superhighway seems particularly littered with scorched bodies these days as e-mail group members hit "send" while they're feelings are still incendiary. It's frightening how furious people can get at faceless strangers, how merciless they can be in expressing their displeasure, and how little regard they show for the size of their audience and the public nature of their forum. Now, see, I get upset by some e-mails too, but I never display that kind of in-your-face fury. Instead, I just rage at the computer screen, stomp around the house in a funk, yell at my kids, huff at my spouse, toss and turn all night in righteous indignation, and spend so many hours and days formulating the perfect fire-breathing response that by the time I finally sit down to post, the offending message has sunk so low in my e-mail queue that it no longer really seems worth all the trouble. If only other people were as healthy and well-adjusted as I!

(And speaking of being ticked off, I've been pretty annoyed with my internet service provider for cutting me off late this week and leaving me with no way to get on here and update my Weblog. If anybody's actually missed me these last few days, let me say that I sure woulda been here if I could. Hope you're not too mad about it... )

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

A fresh face on the culinary scene

We're trying out a new chef at our house tomorrow morning. He's young and inexperienced, but we have high hopes for his culinary flair. I happen to know that he's trained extensively with Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart. Of course, it's true that this training has been exclusively in the form of faithfully watching their Food Network shows. It's also true that this is his first time ever preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. And I can't deny the fact that he's only nine years old. But every great chef's gotta start somewhere, right?

Still, people seem shocked when I tell them I'm letting my son cook our family feast. Shortsighted ones! Putting the little guy in charge, with me as kitchen assistant, has three great advantages: It gives me an opportunity to lead him through good life-based lessons in math, science and nutrition; it encourages him to pursue an area in which he's recently shown enthusiasm; and it means that if any of the food turns out awful, I have someone to blame. Who can complain if the stuffing is dry or the sweet potatoes burnt if they're beeing served by a cherub-faced cook bursting with pride at doing it himself? As far as I'm concerned, having someone else take the heat in the kitchen -- even if I have to do most of the chopping and stovetop stirring dirty work -- is something to be truly thankful for.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

The Consumer Parents Sanity Commission

With holiday shopping panic and desperation season starting in just two short days, it seems a fitting time to check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Holiday Toy Recall Checklist of gifts unfit for giving. CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton is quoted as saying "Preventing needless tragedies and providing a safe environment are the best holiday gifts parents can provide their children," which is a big relief because I thought I was going to have to actually purchase some toys. Now I can just keep the tree and the gift wrap packed away and give my children the priceless gift of safety. Never mind that not getting the toys they've demanded and dreamed of will strike them as a needless tragedy indeed.

Included on the commission's list of naughty toys are pedal cars decked in lead paint, cotton candy machines that can heat up to the point of catching fire, toy planes that can burst apart in midair, and baby walkers that can fall down stairs. A lump of coal to those manufacturers, for sure. But why don't they ever recall any toys just for being so obnoxious that they can cause parents to burst apart, catch fire and fall down stairs? What's a little lead paint compared to obnoxious electronic noises or games with 500,000 tiny pieces or dolls that require more accessories than their human owners? I remember one year somebody gave my son an ice cream truck with an electronic jingle and repetitive "Ice cream! Ice cream!" voice so incessantly annoying that I had to "accidentally" break the battery compartment door so it could never be heard from again. Why doesn't anybody ever recall that?

Perhaps nobody's ever had the initiative. Until now. I hereby introduce the Consumer Parents Sanity Commission, dedicated to cataloging the nation's most dangerously nerve-grating toys and giving other parents fair warning. If your child's acquired a particularly perplexing plaything, send us the name of the item, the manufacturer's name, and your complaint, and we'll start making our own list of would-be recalls. Tell your kids the toy they're crying for's so unsafe, it's been written up by the CPSC. The real meaning of those initials can be our little secret.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Talk about your seasickness

Does the thought of being trapped on a cruise ship with your family and a bunch of perky Disney characters make you want to throw up? Then you know how it felt to be on a recent Disney Cruise when a stomach ailment sickened some 200 of the passengers during a weeklong sail to the Caribbean. That's just the respite from hell, isn't it? You book this cruise because they have activities that will keep your kids busy and let you relax, and instead you're all cooped up in a stateroom together enjoying severe gastrointestinal distress. The Associated Press story quotes a New Jersey man as saying the illness was no big deal, lasted only about 12 hours out of seven days, and didn't ruin his trip. I'm guessing he didn't have to clean up after the kids.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

A little low-tech assistance

My kids have been having some luck lately with some very primitive forms of "assistive technology" -- maybe assistive low-tech instead. For my daughter, the newly willing-to-reader, it's been a bookmark with strip of see-through yellow celophane along one edge to use as a reading guide. Her teacher gave her this gadget, called an EZC Reader and available from an aptly named site called Really Good Stuff, and whether the yellow color atop the type really does make the words more available to her eyes or the novelty of the thing just makes reading a little more fun, it seems to be an element in her recent non-hatred of reading. I take what encouragement I can get. Meanwhile, my son, who's hated writing (the fine motor part) about as much as his sister has hated reading, is showing a lot more willingness to write his spelling words and try his hand at cursive when using a gel pen instead of a pencil. The smooth-flowing utensils are messier and less correctable than their leaden counterparts, but if it gets us through homework without tantrums and meltdowns, I give it two thumbs up. Sometimes little things can mean a lot.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Hamburgers can be hazardous to your health

Worried about your kids' weight? Blame it on McDonald's. A class-action lawsuit has been filed in New York on behalf of children whose diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity has allegedly been caused by too much Mickey D's. According to an AP story on the InteliHealth: Health News site, "a lawyer alleged that the fast-food chain has created a national epidemic of obese children. Samuel Hirsch argued that the high fat, sugar and cholesterol content of McDonald's food is 'a very insipid, toxic kind of thing' when ingested regularly by young kids.'" Well. Then don't let your kids eat it?

As for my kids, the fattening qualities of Big Macs have been one of their major attractions. My son was a little scrawny thing when we adopted him at age 21 months, and had trouble gaining weight for years. But a few years ago he started scarfing down Big Macs, and now he's a good solid weight for his still-short frame. All those fat and calories in such a tasty package have done him a great service. Perhaps I should see if MacDonald's wants us to come testify in their behalf. Can you say, "Big Macs for life?"

Friday, November 22, 2002

Books for reluctant readers

Yesterday morning my daughter said something to me I never thought I'd hear: "I like to read." What wonderful news! This is a girl who, over the summer, when asked to define what reading meant to her, responded "staring at black marks on paper." Far from liking to read, she's usually expressed nothing but hatred for the activity. But now, at age 12, three months into 5th grade, she's starting to warm up to books. Who'd have thought it?

At our first meeting in September, her teacher told me that she gets kids reading novels in her class in the hope that reluctant readers will find the one book that will make them decide reading's not so bad after all. She may have a success story here. The assignment of a chapter a night in a reading-for-pleasure book has made books a habit for my girl, and the personalized selections the teacher's made have kept that assignment from being a chore. For others with book balkers out there, here are some of the titles my daughter's made it through so far this year, without fear and loathing: Two books by P.J. Petersen, I Hate Company and I Hate Camping; two from the Marvin Redpost series by Louis Sachar, Why Pick On Me? and Alone In His Teacher's House; The Candy Corn Contest by Patricia Reilly Giff; and a Bailey School Kids book by Debbie Dadey, Frankenstein Doesn't Plant Petunias.

To be honest, none of these would be my idea of literature to inspire a love of reading; I long to read "Sarah Plain and Tall" with her, and have her not hate Harry Potter so intensely. But these books are where she's at right now, and she's willing to be there. So I'll be beside her, reading along.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Around the Web

If your child has special health care needs, check out the emergency preparedness forms offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics. You can download a PDF version and make copies to keep at home, in the car, with your child and in other places so that health care workers will have all the information they need to take the right kind of care in an emergency. ... Just in time for the holidays comes a booklet of non-alcoholic drink and party recipes from Mo'Angels, a teen singing group dedicated to spreading the word about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. You can download a preview for free, then order them in batches of 25 for the perfect Christmas card insert. ... There's an interesting site on music therapy here which, among other things, sells books of songs designed to teach academic material and social concepts to children with special needs. I'm tempted to buy one, except that my son tends to scream when he hears me singing. Some sort of complicated sensory thing, I'm sure.

Picture this

Yesterday I did a dumb-sounding thing for my son, but it turned out okay. The kid is super-obsessed with cars -- not how they work, but what they look like, what brand they are, where they were purchased -- and when he found out that we had a workman coming over to look at a hole in our bathroom wall, he demanded that I take a picture of the man's truck. Usually he just asks me to make a note of the make and model and report back, but maybe my failures in this respect have made him move on to seeking photographic confirmation. Our whole walk to school, he was browbeating me: Promise to take the picture! With the guy standing next to the car! And a shot each for all four sides of the car! Do it!

He needed agreement or he'd go into school all disgruntled, so I said that if the guy was nice, I'd see if it was okay. And when it turned out that the workman was indeed nice, and talked about his kids, and seemed friendly, I kept my promise. And in truth, the man was happy to comply. "Nobody ever asks to take pictures of my truck!" he said with a smile, reminding me of the Mobile Intensive Care Unit paramedics who were similarly pleased when my son peppered them with questions about their vehicle. It turns out that taking an interest in what people do and what they drive isn't offensive after all.

The first thing my son asked me after school is whether I had taken the pictures, and I was so happy to be able to tell him that I had. They're taped up on the wall by his bed now, above the pictures of the minivan we had for our vacation this summer and next to the ones of the smashed-up car that was parked in front of the high school to remind kids not to drive drunk. He's full of questions about the tile-man's truck, and I think I'm going to have him write them down and mail them to the very helpful fellow who allowed himself to be photographed. I'll bet he gets some very nice answers back. Who knows, maybe one day he'll be a writer for "Car and Driver," and all of this will be good prep. He'll probably have a better photographer then, though.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Making the grades

My kids got their first report cards of the year on Monday, and we seem to have survived pretty well. My daughter got a C in reading, which is probably generous on the teacher's part, and Bs in all other subjects except spelling and penmanship, in which she got As. She's continuing on in her longstanding tradition of excellent work with anything that requires memorization (vocabulary words, the aforementioned spelling, math facts) and not-so-great work in things that require you to actually process and utilize memorized information (just about everything else). For this marking period, anyway, things seemed to have averaged out in her favor. And she now knows all the state capitals east of the Mississippi.

My son's grades were in the B range, too, with As in spelling (we're a dynasty, I tell you) and science. I was happy to see a "S" for satisfactory in physical education (where he's been unsatisfactory in past years) and music (where he had a warning check at progress report time). I was unhappy but not surprised to see check mark upon check mark in the "behavior needs work" section. Well, sure, he has trouble with "Follows Directions," "Shows Self Control," and "Demonstrates Appropriate Behavior Inside and Outside of Classroom." That's why he's in a special-ed self-contained classroom. He has Fetal Alcohol Effect; these are his issues. Seems kinda low to also mark it against him on his report card. But the comments are good, and the grades are acceptable, and the boy is happy, and the teacher and aides are cooperative, so I'll ignore a few checks. For another marking period, anyway.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Mother-daughter TV night

Tonight's my big TV night with my 12-year-old daughter. Most evenings she's busy watching her Disney Channel shows in the living room and I'm busy working on the computer or watching the Food Network in another room with my son; but on Tuesday nights this season, we come together to watch "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" (starring John Ritter, or, as he's known in my house, the voice of Clifford the big red dog) at 8 p.m. and, at 9 p.m., "Life with Bonnie" (starring most of the cast of "Return to Me," one of our favorite movies, of which we had another mother-daughter DVD viewing this weekend). The show in between, "According to Jim" (starring Jim Belushi, another "Return to Me" alum), we watch if there's no homework or trombone practicing or other last minute hurry to worry about. "8 Simple Rules" makes me smile because the way the two teenage girls torture their father reminds me of the way my daughter is starting to tweak her pop as she slips slowly and inexorably into teen-dom. But Bonnie's show is my fave -- not as much for the much-praised improvised scenes of Bonnie at work but for the scripted but awfully true-to-my-life scenes of at-home chaos and affection. I like the way the parents are comfortably in charge of the family, with neither playing the buffoon but both making mistakes and compromises. The kids are cute, but they're not comedians; the humor comes more from the circumstances and the relationships than from rim-shot-minded schtick. Which means that this is not exactly a laugh-a-minute show, and that takes some getting used to. Tune in tonight, and get started.

Monday, November 18, 2002

And one more thing

Since today seems to be the day when I'm writing about what other writers are writing rather than writing anything in particular myself, let me just add that one more new piece of prose not composed by me has been posted to the Mothers with Attitude site. It's a very moving challenge from the mother of a child with special needs to those who presume they could walk in his shoes. You'll want to print it out and wave it in front of every person in your child's life whose consciousness needs to be raised. Thanks to Dee O'Neill for venting so effectively for us all.

New on Mothers with Attitude

I'm happy to announce that my project of finally adding new titles to the MWA Bookstore is underway, with a passel of volumes placed on the virtual shelves of the adoption section. Most of the books that turn up in our bookstore are either my personal favorites or books that have been recommended by other parents on e-mail support lists, so shop with confidence. With any luck, the other sections of the bookstore -- on autism, fetal alcohol, other special needs and parenting special needs -- will be seeing new additions within the next few weeks. ... Another recent addition to the site is a new humor piece by Julie Donner Andersen, author of PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense!: Insights From One Woman's Journey as the Wife Of A Widower. If you enjoyed her views on why Fear Factor Is For Wimps, check out her take on clothes shopping. It made me feel a lot better about my new favorite outfit, which is an oversize L.L. Bean corduroy dress that a co-worker found at the Salvation Army; a pair of baggy tights purchased from a Banana Republic store over a decade ago, back when it was a funky little jungle catalog and not a Too Limited For You; and L.L. Bean sport slides so easy on the feet that I'm glad we don't have a full-length mirror in the house so I can't see how dorky they look. The ensemble brings to mind the words "broad side of a barn," but the older I get, the more I think there's a lot to be said for comfort. Julie's new column, "Therapeutic Laughing," will appear on MWA twice a month.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

The neighborhood grocer

A new supermarket has opened up in our neighborhood. Right on our very street. In fact, it's right in our very home -- in my son's closet, as a matter of fact. After months of wading through the plastic bags and empty food containers he regularly uses in his shopping games, I went ahead and emptied his small closet of clothes, set up some shelves and assorted the boxes and bottles thereon. It's the world's mini-est minimart, but it gets a surprising amount of business. Just last night, the contents were completely bought out two or three times, only to be returned to the shelves for the next (same) customer. If the cash register wasn't processing plastic coins, this would be one high-profit establishment. As it is, I'm hoping the profit will come in reduced room-cleanup time, as my guy focuses more and more on putting imitation foodstuffs in his shopping bags and less and less on filling them with every uprooted toy in his room. As long as he's happy shopping at an imitation supermarket instead of an imitation Toys 'R Us, we'll be fine.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Sprinkle on a little spinach

Now here's a cool company: One that helps parents by providing a product that actually tricks kids into eating their veggies, and then helps parents again by donating a portion of the proceeds to providing therapy for kids who need it. The company is Healthy Sprinkles, the product is freeze-dried vegetables and fruits ground to a powder so fine even a healthy-food-ophobe won't know it's there, and the charity is the Side by Side fund, through which money will "be given to some family with a special needs child who can't afford speech therapy, occupational therapy, doctor's care (that pesky insurance companies won't cover) and general necessities. We're also pretty keen on helping out single parents that have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Mental Retardation." Eating healthy foods isn't a big battleground issue in our house, but I almost feel like buying some of this stuff just to support what sounds like an entirely neat operation. Now if they could only come up with some sneaky way to make big smelly 12-year-old girls use deodorant, I'd take out stock.

Clotheshorses wanted

Do you have what it takes to be in a Gap ad? The clothing retailer is conducting a contest in which your photo and your definition of your own personal style may be enough to get you jetted off to a photo shoot. They're looking for babies, kids and grown-ups (do babies have a personal style? I suppose a witty-writing adult could make it so), and invite folks to enter at Gap stores or on-line (adults only). No pay, other than a free trip; but 15 minutes of fame, for sure. Wouldn't it be neat if one of these "general public" ads featured a child or adult with special needs? Given the idiosyncracy of a lot of the Gap photo ads, they seem like an outfit that might go for it. Ah, we can dream.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Show seeks stories

Yesterday I posted some stats on corporal punishment, and today it looks like the folks behind the syndicated John Walsh Show are looking to talk to some of those 72% of Americans who are against rod-wielding in school. Among the topics for which the show's producers are seeking stories is, "Has your son or daughter's teacher crossed the line (i.e. physically striking or threatening them) or abused them in some other non-sexual way?" If you've got a horror story to tell, you could get a trip to NYC and a seat on the show. Also on the search list for future episodes: Fathers who can't deal with their sweet little daughters turning into teen-agers; the daughters and wives thereof; folks with extreme fears and phobias; and "a mom who has gone above and beyond and done something extraordinary for a child or family." Well, goodness. Don't we all?

Ginger ale all around

It was just a quick few lines on The West Wing last night, but it was heartening for those who care about the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in that group who caught my breath and leaned forward during last night's episode when newly re-elected Congresswoman Andrea Wyatt, who is expecting twins, appeared to be drinking champagne at her victory party. Would they let that go uncommented upon? I wondered in horror. But no. Her ex-husband (and father of the twins, but it's a long story) ran across the room yelling for her not to drink alcohol because she was pregnant, and she told him it was only ginger ale. For a show that has featured a lot of casual alcohol use, in and outside of the workplace, it was nice to see a message, however fleeting, that no matter how big a landslide you win by, you don't drink when you're drinking for two (or, in this case, three).

What I'm reading

It's hard for me to believe, considering the direction my literary habits have drifted in recent years, that I am just about to finish reading my third book in a row that has absolutely nothing to do with parenting, special needs, special education, or anything remotely kid-related. Surely there's got to be some vital child development tome that I am missing to engage in this frivolous perusal of personally gratifying nonfiction. The three that have recently engaged me, and which I would recommend for anyone wishing to choose a little something from somewhere other than the amazon.com parenting section, are: The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, a fascinating look at the evolutionary implications of apples, potatos, cannabis and tulips; The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand, a surprisingly engaging philosophical journey through the latter decades of the 19th century; and Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks, a portrait of the neurologist as a young chemist. Wait a minute, now... that's two books on science and one on history, curiously school-like subjects for non-child-involved reading. I should know by now -- nothing about my life is non-child-involved. Next on my reading stack is the enormous biography of John Adams my friend loaned me. Wonder if my daughter's studying the revolution this year?

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Spanking still a hit with parents

Do you spank your kids? If you do, you've got a lot of company. An ABC News poll found that half of Americans with minor children don't believe in sparing the rod, and 65% percent said they approved of spanking, even if they didn't do it themselves. But what's okay for Mom and Dad isn't necessarily okay for teachers and principals; 72% of respondents disapproved of corporal punishment in schools. Southerners were found most likely to spank their kids, at 62%; parents with college degrees were least likely to spank, at 38%. The greatest support for school-sponsored spankings was in the South, at 35%; the least was in the East, at 13%.

Frankly, I was stunned by these statistics -- but then, I'm an East Coast dwelling, college-degree-holding child spoiler, so what do you expect? Still, given the proliferation of books on psychologically correct methods of child-rearing, and our overriding societal sensitivity to even the appearance of child abuse, I thought spanking had generally fallen out of favor, and had certainly been driven out of schools for fear of lawsuits. Bring up the subject of spanking on many e-mail lists for parents, and you'll be flamed to a golden brown. So who knew it was still so popular? I don't think I'll take it up to get in with the majority, but this research does give me a new weapon when my kids step out of line: I can remind them of how lucky they are that they didn't get adopted by Southerners.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Music to my ears

I'm getting a kick out of the fact that my daughter's latest hot musical faves are mostly old enough to be her grandparents, or even worse, hot musical faves of her mother when she was teenish herself. (Yes. I was. Honestly, there was a time when I was not an old woman. No matter what my girl tells you.) When Little Miss Preteen shares how much she loves that new song by that guy James Taylor, or Rod Stewart, or Phil Collins, or Cher (okay, I had to straighten her out on that one), it's kind of fun to point out that they're all about three times older than another one of her recent idols, Avril Lavigne. To be honest, I don't think my daughter believes me. But it still makes me feel, oh, at least a little bit hip.

Now, my mom always made an effort to keep up with the music I liked when I was a pop-loving preteen. But she had to work at it. She had to learn the names and listen to the music and find a way to mesh it with her own much different musical tastes. These days, it's easy. Everything new is old. The artists I grew up on are still hanging around. My daughter and I listen to the same radio station, and she's impressed when I know the names of all the songs, many of which were recorded well before her birth. One day, perhaps, she'll decide that she likes rap or some other so-called music that will challenge me to stretch my musical boundaries. For now, though, we're carrying the same tune.

Weighing in on adoption

So Calista Flockhart, weighing about 57 pounds, can adopt with ease, but things are different when you're on the other end of the weight spectrum. That's what a Scottish woman is claiming, anyway, in a complaint to the Glasgow City Council. The 46-year-old, 308-pound nurse asserts that a social worker twice told her she was "too fat" to adopt. She and her partner, who are "desperate to have children," had answered a city-wide call for adoptive parents, attended a training course, and undergone medical exams, only to be told that her weight disqualified them. And you know, in solidarity with other adoptive parents, and in the understanding that there are children in Glasgow in as desperate need of homes as these prospective parents are of children, I guess I should be outraged right along with her. But fence-sitter that I am, I have to wonder: Don't you have to draw the line somewhere? Should a 500-pound person adopt? Does everybody have an inalienable right to parent? Does desperation to parent entitle you in some way to a child? Are social workers always wrong? Alright, I know we're all tempted to say yes to that last one, but maybe the social worker's biggest mistake here was not in turning this couple down, but in saying why quite so blatantly.

Monday, November 11, 2002

We love a parade

Normally, I never take my kids to things like parades. I try not to take my son places where, if he gets overstimulated, I can't make a quick getaway, and my daughter is sometimes spooked by crowds and noise. Plus, I'm lazy. So our city's Veteran's Day parade would never have gotten me out of the house yesterday if it wasn't for one thing: It was lining up in our backyard.

Well, actually, it was lining up in the parking lot of the high school right on the other side of our backyard fence, but we could still see the gathering, gathering, gathering marchers up close and personal from our rear window. One of my daughter's friends was marching with one of the bands, and he came over twice to use our bathroom (perhaps the authors of "Refrigerator Rights," below, should think about a sequel called "Potty Privileges"). After watching the bands warm up and the fire trucks pull up and the army vehicles line up and the big flag get unfurled, it was kind of irresistible to walk around the corner when they were finally ready to march and take in the show.

And of course, my kids loved it, making me feel guilty for not exposing them to things like this when they're not mere footsteps away. There was plenty room for my son to jump and dance to the band music and spin around in fevered excitement, and if anybody minded that he kept shouting "Ahoy! Ahoy!" whenever representatives of the Navy passed, they didn't say so. There were enough kids we recognized among the marchers to make it a little social exercise for my daughter, and I even recognized one of my co-workers playing drums. It was a real community-inspiring affair, and I was pleased that we got to try it without it being trying. Now if I could just get them to start the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from that same parking lot, then we'd really have something.

Help yourself

A new book entitled Refrigerator Rights posits that there is a level of intimacy at which friends and family members feel comfortable helping themselves to the contents of your refrigerator, and that too many of us have too few people at that degree of closeness in our lives. And furthermore, that this is a bad thing. Clearly, the authors' iceboxes must be in nicer shape than mine. I do have some friends who aren't afraid to raid my fridge, but they know to sniff the cottage cheese and inspect the strawberries. Mostly, they stick to soda.

But if having friends with refrigerator rights is a sign of social success, then my daughter is doing much better in that area than I thought, because her buddies think nothing of rooting through our refrigerator, our pantry, our drawers in their insatiable search for snacks. One young amigo forayed far enough back in our fridge to find an ancient Lunchable I had forgotten was even there. She argued with me when I insisted that, at this point in its lifespan, it was neither lunchable nor edible, and then huffed off to clean us out of Pop Tarts. At the time, I just thought she was being rude, but now I understand that I was violating her refrigerator rights. And rights must be respected, mold or no.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Hey, doctors know best, right?

I guess we're all feeling pretty relieved now that Danish researchers have declared, unequivocally and once and for all, that vaccines and autism have nothing to do with one another. Phew! What a load off our minds that is. Bring on the needles! Far be it for us to worry needlessly over our children's well-being when medical science gives us the final word. Because health researchers are never, ever wrong. Just ask anybody who's ever been on hormone replacement therapy...

You know, the thing is, I'm not really even all that sure myself that there's a connection between autism and vaccines. And I'm not all that sure that not vaccinating your child against potentially devastating diseases is a responsible course of action for parents to take when that connection is so uncertain. But I've heard enough anecdotal evidence to convince me that there's some smoke here, and somebody should be looking for the fire. And the medical profession's utter indifference to that just ticks me off. This latest research and the confident headlines that accompanied it reminded me of an "ER" episode a few seasons back in which a child died of measles because his mother had deliberately not had him vaccinated due to fears of autism. Dr. Carter was about as black-and-white convinced that she was wrong as the Danish researchers seem to be. And if answers in the real world were as easy to come by as they are on TV, we'd have no worries at all.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

News flash: Parenting emotionally challenged kids is hard!

A research report from Ohio State University finds that it's really hard to raise children with emotional disorders, and that it doesn't get any easier with time. That's not news to a lot of parents, but it's nice to have it recognized by somebody who's not actually doing it. The researchers note, as I often have, that the emotional state of the parent can have a huge effect on the emotional state of the child. But as time goes one, they also note, the emotional state of the child starts to have a more and more debilitating effect on the emotional state of the parent, so that living in a dysfunctional family is damaging to every family member, not just the young ones. The recommendation, thankfully, is for more services for families in this situation. Sure hope somebody listens.

A note about studies like this, though -- the findings in this one sound right, but having recently done an over-the-phone survey on raising a child with Fetal Alcohol Effects, I wonder if just asking questions about how a caregiver feels tends to make that caregiver feel worse. The OSU report states that "To measure the well-being of caregivers, the researchers asked them to rate the level of stress, pleasure and responsibility they were feeling with regard to different aspects of their lives including work, home, relationships and physical health." That's somewhat similar to the questions I was asked, and I have to admit, if you force me to sit down and quantify it, I am stressed, I am exhausted, I do sometimes just sit down and cry, I do feel overwhelmed. But is that my experience at every moment of every day, do I constantly move under the shroud of those feelings, is that the way I perceive myself? No. Some people do, no doubt. But I wonder if you can ever really get a sense of a family's daily reality through questionnaires like this.

Friday, November 08, 2002

Get your hands off my cupcakes!

Big to-do at one of our local elementary schools on Election Day this week. It wasn't in the interest of any candidate or ideology, and it didn't involve hanging chads or electoral improprieties of that nature. It involved parents, but didn't have anything to do with outrage over kids getting a half-day off school (I might have marched in that parade). At the most basic level, it was a dispute between two deeply cherished American rights: the right to vote, and the right to hold bake sales.

The Home and School Association at this particular palace of learning had chosen, as Home and School Associations will, to hold an Election Day fund-raiser. And, as is not uncommon in our town, they chose to hold it in the form of a bake sale in the school gym, right by the voting booths. Within 100 yards of the voting booths, apparently, because an election official decided their bake sale was in violation of voting laws and they had to vamoose. To which the Home and School president said something along the lines of, "You'll move these cookies only when you pry them from my cold, dead hands."

Things kind of mushroomed from there. Senior citizens, outraged by having their right to home-baked goods trampled upon, started paying $5 for 50-cent cupcakes in a show of support. (Why they can't be that generous when it comes time to vote for the school budget, who knows.) More election officials arrived, and so did some city councilmen, and finally those brave local politicians solved the problem, as local politicans will, by throwing money at it: They bought out the bake sale so that everybody could go home happy. Next time, the bake sale may be off; but this time the parents made about twice as much for their donuts and pastries as they've made in elections past.

And what do we learn from all this? I'm hoping we've learned that you can make a lot more money from fund-raisers if you let people pay you to stop having them. Heck, I'd pay top dollar to get out of hawking gift wrap and chocolates next year. Really, Home and School organizations, get with it. There's money to be made.

Another emergency

My mother-in-law, who lives in the downstairs portion of our house, got an ambulance ride to the emergency room this morning for the second time in as many months. Again, there wasn't anything so scarily wrong with her that the experience was traumatic for the kids; and again, I was struck by how incredibly nice emergency personnel are, when they could so well be excused for having no time and no patience. One of the paramedics had been to our house the last time and remembered my son by name, assigning him once again to guard the ambulance, which both made the boy feel important and got him out of the way. After the ambulance and police car left, my guy had a long conversation with the man and woman assigned to the Mobile Intensive Care Unit vehicle; they happily let him inspect their keys, and showed him all the nooks and crannies of their truck. "Nobody ever asks about this stuff!" said the man happily, while the woman rifled through the drawers in the back to find freebies they could give their young inquisitor. He wound up with an oxygen mask, some electrodes, a roll of tape and some gauze, and a pen. Not bad for a morning's work.

Field trip frenzy

I don't know if our school district is trying to make up for all the field trips cancelled last year in the wake of September 11 or what, but they seem to be field trip crazy this year. For my son's class, anyway -- all I can remember from past years is one lousy field trip somewhere in May or June, but now it's just November and they've already got their second outing scheduled. And I don't mean to seem ungrateful for the enrichment and all, but -- sheesh, can't the kids just stay in their classrooms and learn stuff? Please?

Maybe for "regular kids" (whatever that means), multiple expeditions are a magical source of hands-on education, or at least a break from boring predictability. But for a kid like my son -- with fetal alcohol effects, sensory integration problems and a general overreliance on order and routine -- well, with a kid like him, you're just asking for trouble. The first field trip was to an outdoor historical park, and though I worried like crazy, he came through okay. (My mother would say it's because I worried like crazy that he came through okay, but that's a different subject.) The second one, coming up in a few weeks, is to a play. A play. I hear all you moms of kids with sensory integration disorder laughing, or maybe gasping, at that one. I would never take him to a play, because the likelihood of him staying still and quiet for an hour is pretty slim, and the likelihood of him screaming and jumping and disrupting the theatrical experience for everybody is pretty high. But his teacher thinks he'll be fine. I told her to make sure he's sitting on an aisle.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Helping parents help kids

Here's an interesting sounding book idea from the latest issue of the Half the Planet Foundation newsletter: a collection of essays in which adults with disabilities or special health needs share the things they wish their parents had read or heard about when they were growing up. I've read plenty of books about what doctors and other "experts" think I should know, but not much from those who have actually struggled with my children's problems; Temple Grandin's books on autism are about it, I think. So this seems like just an exceptionally good idea. Any adults who would like to participate by submitting a 1,500 word essay and 150 word bio can contact stan@disabilitiesbooks.com for more information, or see the online version of Half the Planet's November newsletter.

Celestial nurturing

I was just reading the back of the Cheerios box while breakfasting with my son, and found a little parent-minded section on the back called "The Nurturing Corner." This helpful featurette contained "Five Great Ways to Show Your Kids You Care." Included among them were just the normal, child-mortifying tips like "Put a kind note in your child's lunchbox" and "Go for bike rides together." One suggested putting together a large puzzle, which in my house would take about a month to do and then about a month to clean up; and another involved setting up as many dominos as possible and letting them tumble, which in my house, well, ditto. But the one that really made me wonder just what sorts of households Cheerios copywriters live in was this one: "Buy a telescope and look at the stars together." Buy a telescope? This is what we have to do now to show our kids we care -- buy a telescope? And here I thought all we had to do was feed them Cheerios.

From the "What can their parents be thinking?" file

I happened to fall asleep in front of the TV a little later than usual and caught some of the commercials that play during "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. Two were for video games so horrifically violent I had to close my eyes. Do people really let their kids play with stuff like that? There's no way these could be taken for good healthy fun. Terrorist training is more like it. The videos were both rated "M" for mature, but I think that should be changed to "P" for "will turn your kid into a psycho killer." And then removed from sale. But then, I'm a wimp. ... Apparently it's not enough that kids are being given psychiatric drugs that have only been tested on adults -- now doctors are offering surgery to teenagers that is only questionably safe for grown-ups. According to recent news reports, obese kids as young as 13 have undergone gastric bypass surgery, in which the the upper part of the stomach is stitched closed and the intestine is re-routed so as to limit absorption of nutrients. It leaves you unable to eat more than a few cups of food a day, but maybe you'll look a little more like Britney Spears, so the trade-off's like totally worth it. It's hard to believe there's not a better solution for these kids. Or that parents would think this an acceptable one. Harumph.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

A cold or flu near you

If there's one thing you gotta love about the Web, it's the way it allows advertisers to reach out to consumers in a way that blends faux concern and blatant marketing in one snazzy package. Take the ever-so-helpful Cold and Flu Watch site from the folks at Vicks. Just enter your zip code, and you can find out the prevalence of colds and flu in your particular neck of the woods. In my town, happily, the risk of colds and flu is low; the most common symptoms in my area are cough, nasal congestion and chest congestion, which sure sounds like a cold to me, but what do I know. At least I'm lucky enough not to live in Manchester, Oklahoma City, Riverside, Nashville and Philadelphia, which the site lists as having the highest cold and flu risk. If you do live there, well, gezundheit.

This would seem to mean that my daughter, who has been coughing more or less constantly for the past week, has very little claim to the flu, or even much of one to a cold. But of course, I already knew that, because I have administered the time-honored Mom test: If you haven't got a fever, you're not sick. It's off to school for you, missy. If you don't have enough ingenuity to hold up the thermometer to a lightbulb, you need all the schooling you can get. Yes, ma'am. Because I say so, that's why. And so does Vicks.

Monday, November 04, 2002

November 4-6, 2002

NOVEMBER 4, 2002

Despite her pre-teen protestations about hating school and living for the weekend, I can always tell how much my daughter likes going to class when she's sick, and I suggest that she can't go. "No, really, I'm fine!" she's croaking this morning, the cough and the huge wad of Kleenex bunched in her hand notwithstanding. She's got a cold, alright. Maybe it's because she was jumping on an outdoor trampoline in 40-degree weather on Saturday with a good friend and an inadequate jacket. Maybe it's because I let her go out trick-or-treating on Thursday jacket-free. Maybe it's because her instructional aide at school had a cold last week, and this germ transfer is proof that she's still leaning over my girl too much. Or maybe it just is.

When I was growing up, I never wanted to stay home from school either; of course, I was an obnoxious Type A over-achiever and could not bear the thought that someone might learn something ahead of me. That's sure not the case with my daughter, but I know she enjoys the social aspects of school and the routine of it and the recess and the gym (the latter two were about the only reasons I'd WANT to stay home from school, but again, I was a way different kid), and staying home is boring. (Mama makes sure of that.) We still go by the "if you don't have a fever, you get your butt to school" rule here, which means that I send sniffling, sneezing, coughing, wheezing kids to school on a regular basis during the winter, which I'm sure endears me to the teachers. Hey, if they'd make the sick aides stay home, maybe we wouldn't have a problem.

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NOVEMBER 5, 2002

Peer pressure reared its ugly head and bit my daughter this month, and our local phone company tattled to Mama. Fortunately, it's not phone calls to China or to astronomically priced toll services that her friends urged her to make, just three-way phone calls to include an extra friend in conversations. I didn't even know you could make three-way calls from our phone until I got last month's phone bill, with its 75-cent charge for each one. I let my sweet little preteen know at that time that there'd better be no more such calls dialed from our phone. What her friends dial is their mothers' business, but if I saw more 75 cent charges on our phone bill, there would be trouble. She promised she wouldn't do it.

And so comes this month's bill. And five 75-cent charges.

Under mild cross-examination she admitted that, yes, a few times she had let her buddy talk her into dialing. Her friend just would not quit, and finally, to shut her up, she had done the thing that Mama had said not to. And she didn't really see what the big deal was until I took the $3.75 out of her compact-disc savings fund.

I explained that it wasn't so much the extra phone charges that worried me, but the fact that she would let her friend talk her into doing something that she knew she shouldn't do. She has to learn to speak up for herself, and here's a $3.75 lesson why. I lectured her, I lectured her friend, I made it very clear to everybody that my girl is not to make those calls, and now I sit back and hope and wait for next month's phone bill to tell me if I got through. This is a very small experiment in peer pressure resistance, and the consequences of failure are relatively cheap. As she heads into her teenage years, the tolls of giving in to your friends are liable to be much, much higher. I sure hope she gets the message while we're still just talking about phone bills.

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NOVEMBER 6, 2002

Well, election day has finally passed, and however you feel about the results, I think we all have to admit that our nation is significantly better this morning in one important way: NO MORE CAMPAIGN ADS. Yee-ha! At last, we can watch TV or listen to the radio without the risk of getting caught in a mudfight.

I don’t know if it was true across the nation, but this round of campaigning here in the northeast seemed to be especially unseemly. Every time I thought ads couldn’t stoop any lower, they did. Every time an ugly ad made me sympathize with one candidate, that candidate volleyed back with one even uglier. I’m long past the age of feeling idealistic about politicians, and I’ve almost made my peace with the notion of lessers among evils, but do they have to rub our face in it all quite so blatantly?

I mean, goodness. Wasn’t there ever a time when people running for office talked about themselves, and not about the other guy? Wasn’t there ever a time when candidates tried to sell voters on their own beliefs and intentions, rather than getting the electorate to believe the worst about the intentions of their opponent? Maybe not. Maybe it’s always been like this, and the technology’s just better now. But when the normal run of product-pushing commercials seem like a peaceful relief after endless election ads, I think someone may want to rethink a little strategy. Please?

Monday, October 28, 2002

October 28-November 1, 2002

OCTOBER 28, 2002

My kids don't know what they want to be for Halloween, which is scary since it means we'll have to do everything last-minute ... but on the other hand, gives me an opportunity to sneak in with costumes that don't require me to go to the overcrowded party store and pick through the gross costumes looking for something that fits them and doesn't give me fits. Since I'm no sewer, my home-made ideas this year are falling into the found-object category: My son can wear parts of his dad's work uniform and be Supermarket Produce Guy! My daughter can wear an old bowling shirt of mine, carry a bowling bag for her treats, and be Bowling Girl! I'm thisclose to convincing them that these ideas are actually good.

If that doesn't work, then we'll have to get desperate. My daughter's skeleton costume from last year is still hanging on the back of her grandma's door downstairs, and will probably fit if we cut off the feet. There's an ancient Oreo cookie costume in the attic that might fit my son, or else he can go as his favorite found object, a plastic shopping bag; there are certainly enough of them in his room to fashion a costume. Then of course, there's my favorite possibility: We just close the curtains, turn on the TV, ignore the doorbell, and pretend there is no such thing as Halloween. My chances of convincing the kids of the goodness of that idea are pretty slim, though. .

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OCTOBER 29, 2002

The other day a nice lady called from the Heart Association asking me to donate -- not my money, but my time to send letters to all my neighbors asking them to donate money. I trotted out my usual, somewhat cynical but nonetheless accurate excuse: Ma'am, I have two children with special needs, and I just can't spare the time to do anything but involve myself with their many pressing challenges. Hey, it's true! And it usually gets chastened telemarketers off the phone pronto.

But not this time. This time, the lady chirpily told me that she has two children with special needs in her family, the sons of her sister, one with Down Syndrome (but "high-functioning!" and "doing so well!"), the other with brain damage so severe that he "will never be normal." We traded nice words about how they all have their gifts and how rewarding it can be having special kids, yada yada yada, and then she finally did hang up.

And I guess I should have had a warm feeling about what a small world it is, and how you can find people touched by special children everywhere you look. But after our conversation, I realized that I had no idea what she meant by "will never be normal," and that that choice of words really got under my skin. What were we talking about here -- a kid who will never walk or talk, or a kid who will never go to Harvard? Why was a child who was "high-functioning" a source of such pride, and a child who "will never be normal" a source of such sorrow? Given the narrowness of the definition of "normal" in our society these days -- where a kid earning less than an A is presumed to have learning disabilities and a child acting like a child is presumed to need medication -- is that a state to which the parents of special needs children even want their offspring to aspire to?

Maybe so. Of course so. I guess I've just become so at home in Holland that it ticks me off when people keep prattling on about Italy. Some days I feel like the lead booster on the Holland Chamber of Commerce, for goodness sake. And on days like that, I want to call that Heart Association lady back and demand that she explain herself. Good thing even charitable telemarketers block their numbers.

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OCTOBER 30, 2002

Just got back from my daughter's IEP meeting, and I should be on Cloud 9. My requests to encourage independence for this no-longer-quite-so-helpless child were generally well-received; reports indicated great work and progress from my girl; and a major theme of the meeting seemed to be what a wonderful mother I am. Tra la, tra la.

Having heard so many horrific stories from others about IEP meetings in which "wonderful" was not the adjective anybody chose for the parents, and having been in an argumentative meeting or two myself, I am duly grateful for the surpassing pleasantness of this particular get-together. However, having many well-earned suspicious bones in my body, I can't help but worry that I'm just being yes-ed to death here. What folks say in a meeting or put down on a piece of paper is not, after all, the issue, although we often make it so; what matters is what goes on in the classroom. And that can be pretty hard to get a handle on, especially when you have a kid for whom communication is the major challenge.

So far this year, I have no reason to believe that anybody working with my child means any harm. I packed as much specific language about her aide's sphere of appropriate influence in the IEP as I could get, so there's a mechanism in place to make sure she gets the right help and nothing but the right help. There's a good team in place, and I'm inclined to trust. But I sure wish I could verify.

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OCTOBER 31, 2002

A supermarket chain near us is starting what I think may be a dangerous precedent: trick or treating in its aisles. I know this is an offshoot of the long developing trend in these parts to have kids do their candy collecting at shopping malls for maximum protection, going from store to store instead of door to door. But supermarkets are different. Supermarkets are a place you go every week. And yell at your kids to stop grabbing candy off the shelves. How ya going to do that now when, for one night anyway, they're handing it out for free?

I suppose this could be a problem with the mall, too, with kids tearing around the stores on non-Halloween days trying desperately to find that guy with the candy, but that doesn't worry me much because I never go to the mall. One fluorescent-light, jostling crowds, escalator dance, sensory overload meltdown from my son and you'd know why. The supermarket, though, is harder to avoid and easier to get through with my kiddos ... as long as it never occurs to them to trick or treat there. I imagine us arriving home and finding two produce bags full of cheese samples and kielbasa slices and loose candy from the candy bin and all the coupons the children could grab from those annoying little shelf-side dispensers. Hey, at the supermarket, every day is Halloween!

Door to door is looking better and better.

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NOVEMBER 1, 2002

October is over. October is my favorite month, not because of Halloween or the crisp fall air or the nearness to or distance from Christmas, but because of the fact that -- at least this year, at least in our school district -- it is the only month in which there are no days off from school. Five solid weeks of full-day school attendance for the little ones, twenty-five days interrupted only by weekends. No half days, no long weekends. Parental bliss.

But now it's gone, and November starts with a bang next week with a half-day off for Election Day and then Thursday and Friday off entirely due to a teacher's convention. And then from there, in short order, there's Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and winter break, and President's Day, and spring break, and snow days, and days off all over the darn place. Not another solid month of school attendance for the remainder of the academic year. And so, I mourn October. It's gone. But it was nice while it lasted.