Friday, February 27, 2004

The latest stupid youth trend

One of my favorite movies to watch with my kids is The Parent Trap -- the 1994 version, with Lindsay Lohan and Lindsay Lohan as the conniving twins -- but there's one part where I always have to close my eyes: the scene in which one Lindsay pierces the other Lindsay's ears using a needle, a match and a piece of apple. Yowch! That scene came to mind when I saw this story about the hottest new trend amongst idiotic young people: piercing and tattooing each other at so-called "poke and stick" parties. I guess it's not the worst thing a kid could do with a needle, but it certainly gives parents another thing to worry about.

I'd like to think that neither of my kiddos would be interested in having their buddies stick needles into their skin -- I still remember how they used to scream in abject horror when their pediatrician tried to give them a shot, and how extra nurses had to be called in to hold them down -- but the truth is I've been working steadily through the years to try to get them to sit calmly in the presence of a needle, and what if I've succeeded too well? Clearly, fear of needles isn't such a bad trait for a child to have. Hey, the pediatrician's getting paid. Why shouldn't she have to chase the kids around a little?

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Help for parents, for a fee

Information on three web-based business of interest has crossed my computer screen in the past week or so, and although I can't vouch for any of them, I thought I'd pass them along. If anybody reading this has had experience with any of these sites, please comment below.

* The Reading Bee is a children's book-of-the-month club with a twist: Each month brings not only an "age/ability appropriate book" but educational research on how to encourage reading, suggestions for making reading a stimulating experience for your child, and stickers or gifts to use as incentives for reading. You can join a "pre-reader" (infants and toddlers), "early reader" (kindergarten-grade 1) or "ready reader" (grades 2-4) group, and the monthly cost is $19.95. I suspect this is a service more for people who are excited about giving their kids a leg up on reading than on those who are desperate to help a struggling reader succeed -- it's hard to imagine either of my kids fitting into an ability category set by their age -- but there's certainly nothing wrong with that. Maybe one day they'll come up with a "reluctant reader" category, too, although the incentive items will have to be a lot slicker than stickers.

* Ideal Lives Advocacy & Inclusion Center sounds like a dream come true: a service that promises to do all the special education footwork for you and give you concrete and practical suggestions for getting your child precisely the help he or she needs. With a paid membership, subscribers get access to research, an "ask an expert" directory, help in finding local resources, ideas for specific diagnoses, a weekly newsletter, support forums and a personal mentor. If Ideal Lives can really deliver results, it's the sort of service that could be invaluable to parents who are overwhelmed with all the emotions and paperwork and rigamarole and double-talk inherent in the IEP process and need a cool head to tie all the threads together. If not, well, it's a nice dream.

* Ready to answer your child's adoption-related questions is EMK Press Adoption Publishing Company, which creates and sells "books and resources to empower children and families." Most of the books are specifically for families who have adopted children from China, but a few, including two on lifebooks, are more generally applicable. There are also downloadable resources on adoption, and information on featured charities. Many of the books come with user's guides and are autographed, with a child's name if provided. Personally, I've never found a better adoption answer book than the gentle, matter-of-fact Let's Talk About It: Adoption by the late Mr. Rogers, but this stuff looks pretty good too.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

And for the kids, heart attack on a plate

I got all excited when I saw the headline "Study: Kids Don't Fare Well Eating Out" and thought -- so my son's not the only one who falls apart in restaurants! They've actually done a study on terrible restaurant behavior! But alas, the story was really about the nutritional unsoundness of most sit-down restaurant kiddie menus. And you know, I probably didn't need a study to tell me that menu items like chicken fingers and french fries are high in fat, although the calorie counts and saturated fat tallies the Center for Science in the Public Interest has come up with for some of this stuff is pretty horrific. On the other hand, in the restaurants' defense, I'm guessing that the Kiddie Steamed Vegetable Plate would not be a big mover.

While I'd rather not give my kids clogged arteries along with their entrees, I think the scientists may be overlooking a few factors: Like the fact that not that many kids are in the clean-the-plate club, and often just play with that expensive, nutritionless plateful until their parents whisk them out of the joint in a huff. Then, too, given the rate of service in so many sit-down spots, the kids have blasted off into too-wired-to-eat land long before the main meal arrives, and so it's stuffed into a take-out container where it sits at home, getting soggy and uneatable, until Mom eats it just to get it out of there. And is my son the only one who reaches out grubby paws to grab pieces of his parents' more interesting-looking meals, leaving himself too stuffed for his personal trans-fat basket? Maybe so. But someone ought to do a study.

Monday, February 23, 2004

You call this exercise?

Maybe I'm just prudish, or insufficiently in touch with some womanly part of myself, but I can't help but feel there's something deeply wrong about this: The latest trend in aerobic exercise involves pole dancing and stripping. As if working out wasn't already humiliating enough.

I guess there's supposed to be something liberating about making like a go-go dancer. But personally, it just reinforces my passionate desire never to set foot in a gym. As if the thought of gyrating in front of strangers wasn't horrifying enough, there's the vision of strangers gyrating in front of me. Let's get bodily exposure, sexual suggestiveness and prurient displays out of health clubs and back where they belong -- in Super Bowl halftime shows.

Friday, February 20, 2004

All Disney, all the time

There's getting to be something a little scary about all the teen performer synergy going on at the Disney Channel. The stars of the TV shows meet up in different combinations in the TV movies, sing together in the TV videos, appear in or sing theme songs for Disney movies, provide the voices for animated sitcoms, appear in inspirational ads, pop up on ABC Saturday mornings, and for all I know serve lunch and park cars on the Disney Studio lot. These kids are multi-taskers. As Disney Youth go, they make Mousketeers past like Britney, Christina and Justin look like pikers.

Now it appears that plans are afoot to move those fresh young overworked faces from the Disney Channel to Disney's Broadway: Christy Carlson Romano -- better known to parents forced to endure hours of Disney Channel broadcasting as Ren on "Even Stevens," Jennifer in "Cadet Kelly," and the voice of "Kim Possible" -- is taking on the role of Belle in Disney's long-running, oft-stunt-casted musical "Beauty and the Beast." Ms. Romano is being heard in radio ads in the greater NYC area gushing about how being a Broadway baby is a dream come true, and while I'm happy for her, I can't help but imagine this is opening the floodgates to a casting blitz of Disney Channel chattel in Disney Channel Musicals on the Disney Channel Way ... I mean, the Great White Way.

I guess it's all just a wonderful way to get a new generation hooked on theater, and that can't be bad, but there's got to be an end to this somewhere, doesn't there? When I see the ads for Raven in "Aida," I'm really going to start worrying.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

In favor of fever

Here's the kind of health research that makes conscientious parenting such a no-win proposition. You go along, keeping your infant healthy, bundling him up when it's cold and shielding her from germ-breathing friends and family members, proud that your little one has successfully resisted illness and must therefore have a remarkably strong constitution -- and then you're hit in the face with evidence that two or more fevers in the first year of life is linked to a lower chance of allergies and asthma down the road. It's all part of a general feeling among researchers -- a "hygeine hypothesis" -- that the more germs our kids are exposed to, the stronger they become. And as much as I like that idea, because it changes me from a lousy housekeeper to a careful cultivator of child-protective microbes, I can't help but cringe for those parents who have been changed from the strong guardians of their children's health to careless compromisers thereof. You bad parents, you! Keeping that baby healthy! What could you have been thinking?

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Get back

A recent survey for the National Safety Council's Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign confirms what I've known for some time: Large numbers of parents are allowing their under-12 children to sit in the front seat of the car, despite danger from air bags and in spite of the fact that kids are always safer in the back, air bag or no. I could have saved the NSC some serious dough and all that survey effort if they'd just asked me: I get more proof that parents are letting little kids ride shotgun every time my son whines about another of his friends, "But his mom lets him ride in the front seat!"

Because I am a mean cheerless mom who doesn't let my kids do things that every other kid in the world gets to do, I do indeed insist that my 10-year-old ride in the back seat. I also insist that he sit in a booster seat, which is about as popular. He's taken to sneaking in the back seat now and buckling up without the booster and hoping I don't notice. But the NSC says he'll need that boost until he's 4'9" -- which, I can't help but reflect, is only one inch shorter than my own short self. Personally, I'd be more than happy to sit in the back seat, far away from airbags that are no more made for diminutive 44-year-olds than for children under 12. If they can create all these fancy schmancy airbags and make all this big to-do about safety, surely they could make a car that drives from the rear? It'd bring a whole new meaning to back-seat driver.

Monday, February 16, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

1. In a new Family Man column, Ken Swarner reflects on how playing favorites is a game a parent can't win.

2. Our Parent's Portfolio entry on lying now has added information on how faulty processing can be behind some kids' untruths.

3. Add your opinion to the message boards on two new questions: What are your favorite special-needs parenting books? and Does IQ matter?

Friday, February 13, 2004

Offense of the Week

Boy, I saw this one coming a mile away. CBS made a big deal over keeping its Grammy show inoffensive, with a tape delay and a Justin Timberlake apology and no wardrobe malfunctions allowed, but oops, they did it again. Although Janet Jackson (or any parts thereof) was nowhere to be seen, the closing production number of the Grammy show has aroused the ire of Native American groups, who see no reason why OutKast's performance needed to feature a teepee, feathered headdresses, war paint, and chorus girls in fringed leather miniskirts and feathers in their braided hair. Frankly, I think they have a point -- I could see no reason for it, either. It was a monumentally goofy piece of work, and if you're offended by the irreverent treatment of another's ethnic heritage, well, this is the sort of thing you'd be offended by.

One wonders, though, what impact this latest round of outrage will have on the upcoming Academy Awards. Jackson's overexposure led to a striking demureness of couture at the Grammys, with probably more fabric per female than has been seen at an awards show in years. If an offensive costume mishap can change the way celebrities dress, could an offensive prodution number change they way they put on award shows? 'Cause I'm telling you, if it means no big flashy production numbers at the Oscars, I think OutKast just did us all a tremendous favor.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Is there such a thing as too many choices?

There's something a little obscene about a big, fully stocked, gleaming American supermarket, isn't there? My husband and I visited the new Super Acme in our town yesterday (supermarket isn't grand enough anymore, we now have Super supermarkets), and I came away both impressed and uncomfortable. There's something about walking past aisle after aisle of appealingly arranged abundance that forces me to think of those less fortunate. There are people starving in the world, and I have 105 varieties of frozen dinner at my fingertips. Also a deli. And a bakery. Gourmet hors d'oeuvres ready to heat and eat on Aisle 1. More produce than humans should be allowed to have. And a Starbucks coffee stand.

That last one's pretty amusing, because a few years ago Starbucks dissed our town by refusing to grant us a store for our downtown. Frustrated coffe-philes had to travel to a Barnes & Noble on the outskirts of town for their lattes, and now I guess we can grab one to sip while shopping. Since our only other Starbucks outlet is in a monster megaplex movie theater, I'm sensing a pattern: They'll let us pay $2 for a cup of coffee just as long as we don't mingle with their regular clientele. No coffehouse atmosphere for us. The Super Acme coffee stand has two tiny tables placed more or less in the line of traffic coming through the Super front doors. So the message is clear: Drink up, now.

It's certainly in the supermarket's interest to keep people moving on into the store, anyway. They've got an awful lot of stuff to sell. Strolling past the shelves yesterday, a week or so after Opening Day, it was hard to tell whether they were so neatly stocked because they were constantly looked after, or because nobody had bought anything. Maybe Starbucks was right about us: Maybe we're not the kind of town that can support a coffehouse or a store with a whole foods aisle and every kind of ethnic delicacy. Maybe we're only super, not Super. Time will tell, I guess, if we really need 70 kinds of soup or can make do with 32. Though I'll tell you, the big Krispy Kreme display by the checkstands made a good impression on me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Good carbs, bad carbs

News flash: Oranges are good for you. Potatoes? Health food! Those are messages you don't hear much in these topsy-turvy days of Atkins mania and low-carb living -- when you can have all the sour cream you want as long as you don't put it on a baked potato -- but according to a story from Reuters, carbs are looking to make a comeback. Produce purveyors, faced with flagging sales and stuck with the fact that, unlike the makers of snack foods and beer, they can't make low-carb versions of fruits and veggies, are putting their efforts into the only avenue they have for attracting dieters to their wares: Marketing. So look for campaigns touting the good side of carbohydrates, and positioning citrus fruits and spuds as containing good carbohydrates -- complex carbohydrates your body needs. Really. It does. Put down that protein and step slowly away!

Though it may seem kind of pathetic to have to position regular, wholesome food this way, the genius of the "good carbohydrate" plan is that it will eventually make avoiding carbs so complicated that people will just give up. It could happen. I remember when I started on a low-fat diet to lower my cholesterol, the instructions were simple: No fats. But then, when that didn't get the desired results, the nutritionist started making qualifications -- I needed more of this kind of fat and less of that kind of fat. "No fat" wasn't as good as some of the right fats. And I discovered that a flat-out "no" was a lot easier to work up will-power and stick to than a wobbly maybe. Inject enough confusion about carbs into the low-carb debate, and people may decide to throw it all in and eat like a normal person again. Although I hate to tell the produce pros, I doubt oranges will be the first carb they load up on. The ultimate beneficiary of all this hype may be Hershey.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Don't take Mom's word for it

We almost had a milestone today -- my daughter's first sick day of middle school -- but she rallied and went in to school late and managed to make it through the day. Good thing, too; she must have known how hard it would be for me to wait another day for her report card. The whole experience made me realize, though, how different middle school is from elementary school. In elementary school, a kid's a little under the weather, you keep them home for a day, give them a little bedrest, see what happens. You send them back with a note from Mom, and all's well.

But when I called to report the middle school absence, the secretary started describing the doctor's note I'd have to get for when she returns to school. A doctor's note! My daughter was dizzy and nauseated and had thrown up her breakfast, but didn't have a fever or anything I'd take to the doctor on Day 1 of illness. I'd keep her home for a day, give her a little bedrest, see what happens. A doctor's note seemed excessive, as if any illness that doesn't keep you home for a week and require a prescription was somehow suspect. No doctor? We knew you were faking it.

I called her counselor to clarify this policy and it turns out that you only need a doctor's note if you want it to be an excused absence. If all you have is a note from Mom, that's cool; it's just an unexcused absence, of which you're allowed 11. Now right there, I'm feeling defensive: Why is a doctor's word better than mine? Am I being accused of aiding and abetting truant behavior? And if I wanted to do that, do they think I couldn't get a doctor to give me a note? A million TV commercials confer upon me the right to be Dr. Mom and administer over-the-counter meds at will; but to the middle school it's not excused unless an MD's involved? Nuts to that.

But maybe they have a point, because it was probably the fear of having the word "unexcused" anywhere on her records that got my daughter's butt up off the couch and into the car for a slightly shaky but otherwise survivable school day. And that's what we want, isn't it? Lots of semi-sick kids forcing themselves to go to school, because school is where kids should be, unless a doctor says no. Sure hope her late arrival doesn't go down as "unexcused." 'Cause next time I'll have to get our pediatrician to bring her back to campus.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Stupid snow day

My kids had a snow day yesterday, the third in four weeks. And I'm all for public safety and everything, but really, at least two of those days could just as well have been a delayed opening -- and if this particular weather had been occuring in the midwest instead of the northeast, it wouldn't have been cause for closure at all. A fat lot of weather wimps we are out here. And I've got kids just sittin' around because of it.

But really, I've made my peace with that. Disruptions in routine aren't as big a deal to my son as they once were, and days off from the middle-school shuffle are sort of a relief to my daughter, and I honestly don't mind missing our morning commute. Yesterday, though -- yesterday was a disappointing day to miss. Among the things that didn't happen because school didn't happen:

* Report card delivery. I've been checking the calendar for weeks, waiting for February 6, February 6, February 6 so I could see how my kiddos were doing in school, and now I have to wait three more days. Yeah, so okay, I have no life. What's your point?

* Announcement of who made All-City Band. I'm hoping my daughter's name is on that list, and she's hoping it's not, but that's a different story.

* Delivery of notes-to-the-teacher that I'd stayed up late Thursday night to write. I'd been putting them off for days, and was so proud to have gotten them done in time to get a response before the weekend. Ha! Foiled again.

* Library duty. Those afternoons working in my son's school library are prime spy time for me. I hate missing an opportunity to infiltrate.

* Bowling league. My daughter might not mind missing school, but what do you mean I can't go bowling? Not only did I have to listen to an evening's worth of whining, but now I have to spend my Saturday morning taking her out for consolation bowling. So why isn't it snowing today?

* First sixth-grade dance. My daughter had already decided not to go, but now with the event being rescheduled, I'll have two things to worry about: that she'll stick with her "I'm too scared of new things to try this" decision -- or that she won't, and she'll actually go to a dance with boys.

So alright, it's not as bad as the year when Valentine's Day was on a Friday before a week of vacation, and Friday was a snow day, and I was stuck with two dozen pink cupcakes and a bag-full of kiddie cards; and it's not as inconvenient as the snow day a few weeks ago that took a long-awaited IEP meeting with it; but it's frustrating. And really, why should my daughter be the only one who gets to whine?

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Too good to be true?

There must be some kind of disturbance in the universe lately, some fundamental disruption in the ordinary order of things. I say this not because of the nasty winter we've been having in the Northeast, or because of wanton nudity at the Super Bowl -- but because this year, the seemingly impossible happened: I had two excellent IEP meetings for my kids. In a row! A week apart! I'm feeling pretty flabbergasted about it. Delighted, but flabbergasted.

Honestly, it was unreal. For once, all the team members seemed to be on the same wavelength, and it was my wavelength. The questions I asked were answered the way I hoped. The support I needed for my kids was freely offered. My ideas were listened to. I was told that my kids were doing great, and after years of hearing "great" throughout the year and "not so great" at IEP meetings, that alone made me pretty happy. Things are going well. Too well? Maybe, but I'm going to hold off worrying for a week or two and just bathe in all these good vibes.

Maybe it's just my turn for good news. I know several other families in our district that are having mighty IEP struggles just now, and it makes me feel a little guilty to listen to them go through the same sort of trials we have in the past and think, "Me? This year? Oh, no trouble at all." I'd like to believe we've finally got everything figured out, and school from here on in will be smooth sailing. I'd like to believe it for a little while longer, anyway.

IEPs and IDEA and NCLB are among the educational acronyms under discussion on the board right now -- stop in and vent a little. I also see where Yahoo! Health has a little item on IEPs today, too. Which reminds me, I haven't seen any actual written documents for my kids yet. Maybe I should hold off on my feelings of extreme relief until I see all that gleeful agreement in black and white on something legally binding.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Half-dressed at half-time

We missed the Super Bowl on Sunday -- I only ever watch it for the commercials, anyway -- and therefore my kids were spared the sight of Janet Jackson's overexposure. I've only seen replays of it with the bared body part blurred by computer, but she can't have showed very much more than half the actresses at the Golden Globes were in their chest-baring frocks. It's the Year of the Breast, apparently, and it's a good thing I'm not a famous person because I would either have to get some major implants or sit the year out.

I'm sure all the people who think TV is evil will use this as an excuse to bemoan the perversion of a beloved family tradition into an MTV freak show. And I'll agree that if the folks at CBS arranged for MTV to do the halftime show and didn't expect it to be provocative and risque, they really haven't been watching enough music videos. But I guess I have trouble seeing an event in which men plow into each other with injury-causing force, interspersed with ads for alcohol, as wholesome family viewing in and of itself. Of the three things that disturb me there -- the violence of sports, the marketing of alcohol when kids will be watching, and the fleeting nudity of a pop star -- the latter bothers me the least. But I'm sure the youth of our nation will learn an important lesson from all this outrage, and that is: If you want to get your name in the paper, take your clothes off.

Monday, February 02, 2004

And more new stuff

Columns, we got columns. New on Mothers with Attitude today are entries from our three regular columnists:

1. Ken Swarner reflects on the relative impossibility of forming a coherent thought when children are around in his latest Family Man entry.

2. Julie Donner Andersen regrets the relative impossibility of getting an appropriate gift from her husband in her new Therapeutic Laughing installment.

3. And April Cain reacts to the relative impossibility of keeping her son from being teased by insensitive peers by remembering a long-ago friend whose kindness helped her survive schoolyard taunting in this month's Thinking It Over.