Friday, December 31, 2004

Don't look now, it's almost 2005

Need some New Year's resolutions? Here are two to start with: Meet me at the Parenting Special Needs Forum at every Monday morning from 9 a.m. to noon for the Monday Morning Gripe Group; like a chat group but easier to follow for parents with too many distractions, it's a regular time and place to post messages about all our little complaints and annoyances and get some sympathy in something like real time. And visit my Realistic Resolutions page every day in January for a new resolution designed for parents of children with special needs -- and suggestions on how to actually keep it. (Hey, it could happen.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The most important meal of the day

Now here's a school dining idea I can really get behind: A middle school in Pennsylvania is offering kids a breakfast cart from which they can grab a nutritious breakfast, take it to their first class, and eat it there. The original idea was to help kids eligible for free school breakfasts avoid the stigma of being the only ones in the cafeteria, but it's become popular with those who have enough money for breakfast but not enough time. Time's not an issue with my daughter, who's an early riser and makes her own breakfast way before I'm ready to take her to school. But there are sure mornings where I'd love to be able to dash my son off to school without having to worry about feeding him first. If nothing else, it would mean that there were no food stains on his clothes until after he was already at class. Let's spread this program around the nation fast, okay?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Milk's back in bottles

Remember those waxed-paper individual milk cartons you used to get with school lunches? The ones that shredded when you tried to open them? The ones that exploded with a satisfactory pop when you crushed the empties under your shoe? Remember away, because we're not likely to have them with us for much longer. The trend in single-serving milk these days is toward plastic bottles. You may have seen them at McDonald's, all jazzy and colorful, and they're now coming toward a school near you. The powers-that-be say it's because kids are more likely to drink milk from those cool little bottles -- they fit better in little hands, they open easier, they look more like juice -- but I'll always suspect that a secret union of school janitors, sick of picking up squished cartons from cafeteria floors, has lobbied hard for this and won.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Not my kid!

Perhaps only people who routinely have behavior problems with their children can appreciate how delightful it can be when someone else's child is acting up. Oh, sure, the uncontrolled whining and crying of inappropriately disciplined children can be annoying, but running under it is a secret, delicious current of: It's not my kid this time! How sweet to be the disapproving one for a change. Parents who have known this guilty pleasure will appreciate the joy it gave my world when, at my in-law's house for Christmas dinner-and-gifts, it was my 5-year-old nephew throwing the constant, constant tantrums and not my own dear son, who was upset by his cousin's perpetual squalling but responded nicely to whatever remedy I came up with. It was particularly gratifying to note that Tantrum Boy was the only one of the four children present without special needs; I'm so acutely attuned to the behavioral needs of the neurologically challenged that it's nice to see that typically developing children can be a pain in the butt, too. Not a bad Christmas present, that.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Holiday traditions

The presents are opened, and some may already have been broken or discarded from disinterest, but it's hard for parents to forget all the stress that went before. If you're still reeling from the holiday rush, read Ken Swarner's latest Family Man column about his children's touching Christmas Eve tradition -- driving Dad mad, basically.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas!

It's 2:30 a.m., and my husband and I have just woken up from our short winter's nap to put presents under the tree, but already I've received a really wonderful Christmas gift: My son behaved all the way through Christmas Mass last night. No matter what improvements he'd made in getting through church during the year, Christmas Mass has always been a huge problem for him, and we've had many examples of his Worst Behavior Ever on those nights when I most want to hear the stories and sing the carols. But tonight, he held it together -- maybe because he's growing up, maybe because for once the "cry room" where we sit at the back of the church wasn't crowded, maybe because I'd told him he could open a present when he got home if he behaved -- and I am so grateful. Particularly because just yesterday I wrote an article for the Special Children site at about helping kids behave at church, and if he chose that night to really lose it I'd really feel like a fraud.

If you have some high (or low) points of Christmas 2004 you'd like to share, stop by the Parenting Special Needs or Reactive Attachment Disorder forums at and reflect, brag or vent.

Friday, December 24, 2004

You better watch out

It's Christmas Eve, and if you're like me, you want nothing more than to collapse on a couch somewhere, guzzle coffee, and recuperate from marathons of shopping and wrapping and baking as you await those last few deliveries that will probably fail to come, forcing you to dash out tonight for crummy last-minute replacements. If you need something to amuse the kiddies to keep them off your back and away from the presents you've hidden away, have them check out the somewhat bizarre website that NORAD, the missile defense system, sets up to track Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. In addition to tracking the jolly one, you can, among other odd things, listen to audio greetings from celebrities ranging from Ringo Starr to Richard Dean Anderson channeling his Stargate character to Clifford the Big Red Dog; hear a variety of Christmas music; download Christmas wallpaper for your computer; send Santa an e-mail; and find out how many cookies he's eaten. How many cookies have you eaten this year? No wonder we don't want to get off the couch!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Down among the Muggles

Predictably enough, excitement is already building for the next Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6), even though it's not due out for another six or seven months. No sooner had J.K. Rowling made the announcement that she'd finished writing the thing than offers started popping up in my e-mail box from Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Borders, imploring me to hurry now and reserve my copy. And we thought it was bad when people used to line up for movies days in advance. Now you have to buy a book in January that's not being delivered until July? Is there any actual danger that they're going to run out of this thing? I don't know, we're definitely not on the Harry bandwagon at our house; my daughter hated the first one, which she was forced to read in fourth grade, and hasn't gone near them since, and my son has expressed no interest when I've brought the subject up. The hot read at our house these days appears to be There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar. My son recently asked to read it with me for a third time, and that's being interrupted by my daughter's first time through. It's the kind of book that hurts my heart to read, highlighting as it does children's inhumanity to children -- but maybe for that same reason, it strikes a chord in my kids, who know from being misfits. It's short on wizards and spells and fantastical monsters, but sometimes the monsters you meet every day in the school halls are terrifying enough.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Pageant-free, that's me

So I finally attended my last elementary school Christmas pageant yesterday, and my son came through just fine, despite being placed in the middle of the group of singers (I'd have advised keeping him on an end) and despite the distraction of his costume falling apart a little during the performance (he played with it, but didn't wave it around and call out to his aide as he might have done in the past). I was awfully proud of him, and I can't deny that it's always cute to see the different grades do their little songs. But I'm also mighty relieved that there are no pageants in middle school. If he can just make it through the endless musical numbers at his elementary school graduation in June, I can stop worrying about his performance on stage and put my worry back on his performance in the classroom, where it belongs.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Flu shot update

In case you haven't been keeping track of the flu vaccine saga, it's now your responsibility again to get a flu shot. In past years, that responsibility has been trumpeted, and everyone has been urged to get shot. This year, of course, there was a shortage of the vaccine, and suddenly it became the responsibility of anybody but the sickly and elderly to abstain, and insisting on your right to that jab was cast as everything from inconsiderate to hysterical. But now, extra doses of the vaccine have finally turned up, and since everybody's kindly staying away, they're going to waste. So, you know, step up, everyone! It's now antisocial to abstain, and respectable to request your ounce of prevention. 'Cause if this stuff all goes bad in some doctor's refrigerator, you don't want to be the one responsible.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Aren't we done with "reality" TV yet?

You'd think that reality TV couldn't get more offensive, but you would of course be wrong. The latest howler is "Who's Your Daddy?" a Fox show on which an adopted women will try to guess which of an assortment of men is her birthfather. If she guesses right, she wins $100,000; if she guesses wrong, the man who fooled her does. I just hate to imagine the sort of brainstorming meetings that turn up ideas like this one, if this was the pick of the litter. Isn't it about time for the "reality" TV trend to give way to something, I don't know, less like a bad episode of "Jerry Springer"? If you want to take some action against "Who's Your Daddy?" and Fox, the guide to adoption has some information on who to contact.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The "Teen Gene"

In his latest Family Man column, Ken Swarner theorizes about a "teen gene" that is responsible for the unrepentant slovenliness of kids in that age group. I guess my daughter is one of those with an abnormal "teen gene," because she's about the neatest one in our house. This is a kid who decided she was tired waiting for her laundry to be done and asked if she could do it herself. She keeps her own little hamper and washes clothes unfailingly on Saturday morning, often offering to do ours as well. She can't seem to wash a dish to save her life, but she does regularly wipe down the bathroom counter, and although there's a heck of a lot of stuff on her dresser top, it's all very carefully arranged. This in comparison to her 11-year-old brother's garbage dump of a room, my inability to ever quite get all the clutter off the living room table, and my husband's tendency to let recyclable items pile up in the garage until there's barely room for the cars. She's a regular freak of nature, she is. And no, you can't borrow her for a week or two.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

What's new

April Cain's latest "Thinking It Over" essay offers some nice Christmas nostalgia. If what you're feeling is less Christmas nostalgia than Christmas panic, check out these helpful features from my site: a listing of cool gift ideas that benefit or advocate for special-needs causes; a guide to catalogs that offer sensory integration tools and toys; and an article on getting behaviorally challenged kiddos through the holidays in one piece. Ho, ho, ho!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

State of disgrace

Sibling rivalry at our house is getting a little surreal. My son has become fond of using the word "idiot" to describe his sister, and of course that regularly lands him in the doghouse. Perhaps that idle time in the time-out chair gave him some time to get creative, because over the past few days he's taken to saying to her, "You're an Indiana!" From the context and vocal inflection, I can pretty well tell what an "Indiana" is supposed to be, and have been applying appropriate disapproval -- but I had to admit, it was pretty cool of him to come up with that. Now that the cover on "Indiana" has been blown, it will be interesting to see what he comes up with to call her next. At least it's good to know he's learning a little geography at school.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Dancehall Deputy

Well, chaperoning my first middle school dance was really quite a trip. For one thing, I can now say, unequivocally and with two-and-a-half hours of listening experience, that techno music sucks. For another, I have been deputized into the fight against "dirty dancing," which mostly involves kids pretending to have sex in rhythm with said techno music. When the other chaperone-moms and I gathered in the school office for our instructions, the vice principal handed us a sheet about the kind of dancing we were looking for -- often identifiable by the large circle of curious kids who gather around the persons so dancing -- and instructions to break it up by walking right through the circle.

Now, I had some doubts as to my ability to disengage rutting preteens, since most of them are taller than I am and a darn sight more motivated to do what they're doing than I am to do what I'm doing ... but as it turned out, there were plenty of teachers on the dance floor who were not afraid to break up the party, and I had the awesome responsibility of guarding a door into an unused part of the gym, and far be it from me to abandon that post, although I did send out some grade-A Mom Disapproving Looks when I glimpsed any raunchy goings on. Most of what I saw, though, were girls practicing their pelvic thrusts without a partner; many were little girls I've known since they were in second or third grade with my daughter, and so my reaction was mixed between shock that they were moving like that and relief that they were doing it alone, like a kid putting on her mom's makeup just to see how it looks. The best part was the way they exploded into embarrassed giggles after just a few seconds.

Dancing may have gotten a lot raunchier than it was when I was in middle school (although really, isn't the purpose of most teen dancing to tick off grown-ups? How is it that each generation finds a new way to do that so well?), but many of the other routines of middle-school dances appear painfully unchanged. I observed many instances of the Happy-Hanger-On, the girl who stands next to a gaggle of popular girls, copying their facial expressions and following them around, hoping that it appears she's one of them. Then, too, there were many examples of the Purposeful Walk, in which a lone individual, usually a boy, walks determinedly across the room with an air that says "I'm not here alone, I'm looking for my friends. They're right over there." It's only when you have a lot of time for unwavering observation, like when you're guarding a door, that you can see that the Hanger-On is paying way more attention to the girl group than they are to her, or that the Purposeful Walker keeps walking back and forth without ever actually hooking up with anybody.

And while some kids were dancing way too close, others were doing that kind of side-by-side dance that maintains plausible deniability -- "maybe we were dancing together, or maybe we just happened to be standing in the same vicinity while we did dance moves completely independently of each other." At least they're not standing on opposite walls of the gym, like they did when I was in school. Although I suppose things were a lot safer then.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Party pooper? Me?

Bwa-ha-ha. I'm off tonight to chaperone a 7th- and 8th-grade dance at my daughter's middle school, and she's a little worried. Two months ago, when she went to her first dance, she fervently wished that I was going too, and I felt bad for not having made more of an effort to get on the chaperone list. So this time I asked the HSA president about it well in advance, and now I'm in the room, so to speak, and my lovely child wishes I'd just stay home, preferably under lock and key. She's got one dance under her belt now, don't you know, and she had a stupendous time, and wants to do so again, and can that ever really happen when your very own parent is in the room, regarding you watchfully, liable at any minute to speak in tongues or sing a showtune or otherwise make your future middle school existence, not to mention the remainder of the party, a thing of agony.

Personally, I don't think she has anything to worry about. I promise to behave. As long as she does, anyway.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Want grandchildren? Get a desktop!

We've long heard how obsessive computer use is damaging the current generation of children. But now, doctors are suggesting that it may be doing away with the next generation altogether. Apparently, men who use laptop computers and actually hold them in their laps are at risk of "scrotal hyperthermia" (which sounds like something Dave Barry would say was a good name for a rock band) as the heat generated by the computer raises the temperature in their ... well, laps. Males in their teens and 20s are being warned that frequent laptop use could impair their future fertility. How long before portable computers start coming equipped with some sort of macho looking heat shield? 'Cause what, real men don't use desks?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

It's not just kids who hassle substitute teachers

I had to go ballistic on a substitute teacher today during my volunteer time in the library. I have the utmost sympathy for substitutes, honestly I do -- they do a hard and necessary job, and they get no respect. But this woman ... She was subbing for a 4th-grade class that came into the library to do some work on the computers. A few boys had to sit at a table and wait their turn. And I guess this one little guy was talking too much or trying to grab his friend's bookmark or something, because the teacher and the aide started in on him and insisted he go sit at another table by himself. He resisted and they escalated until finally he stomped to the table and sat down, but kept up a commentary, complaining about the move and why did he have to sit there and it was just a bookmark and so on. Every so often the teacher or the aide would tell him to be quiet and mind his own business, and he'd go off some more. I'll admit, I have a soft spot for boys who can't keep their mouths shut when they need to, having one myself, and I shot him a sympathetic look or two and sent out some good thoughts to try to calm him so he wouldn't get into more trouble. The aide threatened to send him to the principal, she threatened to call his mom to take him home -- and then the substitute teacher, in a tone half-serious, half pleased-with-herself jokey, and not at all quietly, said, "Did you forget to take your medication this morning?"

It didn't seem to faze the kid at all, but it fazed me. She must not have noticed the degree to which my jaw had dropped, because she came over and started talking to me all conspiratorially about how he wouldn't act like that if he had his medication. I told her, patiently at first, sternly at second, passionately at third, fourth and fifth, that it was INAPPROPRIATE TO MAKE COMMENTS ABOUT A CHILD'S MEDICATION -- inappropriate to do it jokingly, inappropriate to do it in front of other children, inappropriate to do it in front of random adults. I mentioned that it was particularly inappropriate since she didn't even know if he was medicated, to which she merrily said that no, the aide had told her that he was. Whether or not it was inappropriate for the aide to tell you, I said through clenched teeth, it's inappropriate for you to tell me. But she just prattled on about a little girl she'd had in her class who was having trouble one day and suddenly said "Oh, I know what's wrong, I forgot to take my medication today!" and wasn't it smart of that little girl, and clever of the substitute to make that connection. Over and over I said, you shouldn't be discussing this with me, it's a privacy violation. And finally, she smiled and shrugged and moved away. I called the boy over to my desk and chatted with him for a while to keep him off her radar, and the librarian later sent him on an errand to another classroom, and he stayed blessedly out of trouble for the rest of the period.

I was feeling pretty good up there on my high horse, and so promptly threw myself off of it by telling the librarian -- who had been out of the room at the time -- about the teacher's comment and my response. And she said: "Oh, I didn't know he was medicated." So now I've violated his privacy, too. Whether he cares much about it, or his parents would care much about it, I don't know. But I care much about it. And I'll tell you, that kid's going to be in the very good graces of this library volunteer for the rest of the year. Whether he remembers to take his medication in the morning or not.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

PG games

When I saw that the American Academy of Pediatrics had advised not letting kids watch televised sports unless accompanied by an adult, I naturally assumed that we were in for another round of hand-wringing about Janet Jackson and Nicolette Sheridan. But no: It's not sex at all that's inspired the pediatrician's warning, but violence. And not even violence on the field or in the ring -- violence in the commercials. The doctors' research found that fully one in five ads broadcast during sporting events depicts some form of dangerous behavior. And as it turns out, watching three straight hours of come-ons for beer and shoot-'em-ups, broken up by the occasional bone-crunching bit of game-play, can be harmful for young viewers. Who knew?

It's all well and good, I suppose, to suggest a little parental guidance for kids watching the game on the tube. But I gotta ask: If the adult in question spends most of the time getting drunk and yelling at athletes to kill one another, is it still better for kids to watch with a grown-up than alone? The pediatricians of America might want to think on that for a bit.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Another one bites the dust

Is there some sort of law now that every teen actress has to be a rock star? I guess it was always that way -- there were certainly a fair amount of teen idols churning out records in my day (and yes, I do still have those Rick Springfield albums, and some of those songs weren't embarrassing at all!). But maybe because I'm a mom now, and a lot of those writhing, rag-clad, trashily-made-up young things dying to cross over from America's sweetheart to America's plaything are young enough to be my daughter, I mostly want to throw a coat over them and take them home. The latest, I see, is Lindsey Lohan, who I've admired since she played twins in "The Parent Trap." She seemed to be making a pretty healthy transition into decent teen movies, but now there she is on commercials for her new CD, all tarted up and ready to party. Girls, have we learned nothing from Britney Spears?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Starting shopping

Well, yee-haw. After deflecting questions all week as to whether I had started -- or, ha! had even finished -- my Christmas shopping, I can now say that I have made some holiday purchases. It's just a couple of things for my niece and nephew and a couple of things for my daughter (who even knows what my son wants? It's only December 5!), and I'm still completely ignoring the fact that I need a grab-bag gift for this Thursday, but hey, I've made a step, and isn't that what any long journey starts with? If you're flailing about for holiday gift ideas, check out this list of sensory integration catalogs suitable for squidgy-kid gift-getting. And if you're thinking of shopping at, please consider using our Mothers with Attitude-profiting link to get there. Kickbacks put the happy in holidays.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

On yesterday's "Today"

If you want to have yourself a good cry on a Saturday morning, read this transcript of Susan Saint James' interview on the Today show yesterday about the plane crash that killed her 14-year-old son, Teddy, and severely injured her husband, NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol. I saw her while I was flipping through the channels yesterday morning, looking for the weather, and while I had to hit the mute button because my morning schedule has no time at all for a good cry, I was impressed by how much she looked like a grieving mom and not like an actress (and indeed, in her interview she mentioned that she hasn't acted since she got pregnant with Teddy, so "mom" is the appropriate job title). I'm usually a little suspicious of celebrities who pop up on TV to discuss their personal tragedies, but her appearance and her words in the transcript are impressively genuine and moving. I can't imagine doing anything after the loss of one of my kids but sitting in a dark room and sobbing, but if I could speak and had a platform, I'd want to use it like this.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Standardized failure

Yesterday was a conference day at my daugther's school, and once again I made the rounds of her teachers and heard how much everybody loves her and how faithfully she does her homework and projects. A couple of the teachers mentioned that they're starting to see her comprehension problems — hey, and it only took an IEP and three months of school! — especially when she's called on to come up with an answer on the spot. Spontaneous exhibition of knowledge is a pretty big weakness for her, just as organization and dogged effort behind the scenes is a pretty big strength. I've been trying to push her teachers into an "All Kinds of Minds" sort of accommodation for my girl, whereby they give her extra work that plays to her strengths to make up for the things that don't, but "extra credit" seems to be an unpopular concept; I guess when you're a teacher who has so much trouble getting so many of your students to do even the basic work, you're loathe to set yourself up for more disappointment. They do count the work she struggles with for a little less of her grade, and the work she does well with for a little more, and as long as that adds up to passing I can live with it.

There's no room for that kind of understanding and adjustment when it comes to standardized testing, though, and that's something of a problem. My daughter is in a class this quarter called "Test Best," which focuses on teaching kids who struggle on standardized tests some techniques to improve their chances. She can certainly use that, and I'm happy she's getting it. But she's never going to do well on standardized tests, I don't care how many tricks we teach her. Standardized tests are all about "on the spot." She does well when she can study and think and consider and plan and anticipate — skills that are actually pretty useful in the real world — but ask her to read something cold and process it within a time limit, and her brain just stops cold. I had a good long talk with the "Test Best" teacher, who explained what happens to kids who keep failing the tests: their educational world becomes narrower and narrower, as the number of classes that focus on language arts and math increases and all electives and other areas of endeavor fall away. "No Child Left Behind" is all well and good, and I've certainly had my frustrations with special education that leads nowhere, but at some point don't we leave some children behind in the land of all testing, all the time, while their peers are moving on to broader knowledge and experience? And isn't there ever any room to acknowledge that there are valuable skill sets that just can't be measured by testing? I'm not sure there's a really good workable fix here, but I'm pretty sure something's broken.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Guilty pleasure

I guess, with our society's current facination with celebrities and their every move, it was inevitable that somebody would come up with this: the Celebrity Baby Blog, designed to keep you up to date on all the stars' great expectations. In addition to reporting on day-to-day blessed events, the site offers niceties like baby pictures, due dates, marriages, and of course -- this being celebrity-land -- denials of pregnancy rumors. It's the kind of website you can spend an indecent amount of time looking through and then realize you're never going to get those minutes back, and what did you do with them? Search for pictures of Gwynneth Paltrow's baby? You'll hang your head. But you'll bookmark it anyway.