Thursday, April 21, 2005

In great shape for the shape you're in

This just in: It's okay to be fat! Or, if not okay, at least less "not okay" than it had appeared to be. Estimates of the number of deaths supposed to be caused by obesity have recently been revised down, making it seem as though all the hysteria over the overweight was misplaced and maybe more about selling health services and diet plans than actual medical fact. But not so fast: Others are interpreting the statistics to say that it's only okay to be fat if you're fit, "lack of fitness" being the real danger sign rather than a high scale reading. Fit and fat! Fat and fit! It just sounds like a marketing slogan, doesn't it?

Monday, April 18, 2005

How unsuperficial of them!

When you hear a Hollywood couple is breaking up, it's natural to assume that the cause is something seedy or career-related or otherwise removed from the realm of mere mortal relationships. Certainly, when Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards announced their breakup, the stories popped up pretty quick that he'd returned to his prostitute-friendly ways. But recently, while researching the topic of vaccines and autism for my site, I turned up a fairly bizarre bunch of articles from British gossip sites and a few other sources indicating that the reason for the breakup is far more mundane: They fought over whether their toddler should have the MMR vaccine. Apparently, the difference of parenting opinion between Richards, who wanted to vaccinate the youngster, and Sheen, who feared it might cause autism, grew so heated that she decided to pack the marriage in, despite the fact that she was pregnant with the couple's second (and clearly soon-to-be-vaccinated) child. I've done enough research to know that the topic of whether vaccines cause autism is heated and divisive, but do couples really break up over it? Hollywood couples?

Friday, April 15, 2005

Opting for exclusion

My daughter just finished her first week in resource room for reading and math. That's something I've been fighting against for a long time, pretty much since she was in fourth grade, but in the end I'm the one who suggested the switch. She was doing great in seventh-grade inclusion, getting decent grades, liked by her teachers, keeping up to the best of her ability. It seemed like my theory of putting her in the most challenging environment possible was working. But of course, I wasn't the one having to live through the most challenging environment possible all day, every day. I've had jobs that were the most challenging environment, and I've quit them. My daughter can't quit; she's a good girl, she does what I say, and she tries to believe me when I tell her she can do it. But her feelings of anxiety and overwhelm-ment kept popping out in headaches and stomachaches and crying jags and teeth grinding and a raging case of negative self-talk. I could tell her she was doing fine until I was blue in the face, but if she couldn't own that feeling herself, pushing her was some kind of torture.

So I asked at her IEP meeting, "Do you think she'd be better off in resource?" I sort of hoped everyone would say, "No! Why would you think that! She's doing so well!" Instead, the response was something along the lines of, "Well, duh!" The decision was made to switch her for the last quarter of this year for some immediate stress relief and to ease her anxiety about next year's classes. She's never been one to enjoy changes in routine, but she jumped at this chance to switch and has been beaming about it most days this week. For the first time in a long time -- maybe ever -- she's noticing that she understands things a little better than some of her classmates. I'll always fear that this means she's in a class that's too easy and without a challenge she'll get lazy and fall back; but I also can't deny that leading the pack instead of struggling along behind it is an empowering feeling she could darn well use. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Innovations in eyewear

I remember when I was a teenager, way longer ago than I care to admit, one of my great battles with my dad was over getting contact lenses. I wanted them, and he thought they were awful. Of course, he didn't wear glasses himself, so he had no idea what it was like to have your nose and ears pinched, how uncomfortable it was to have spectacles sliding down your nose in sweaty weather -- not to mention how much they messed up your makeup or clashed with your outfit. I eventually got what I wanted, as I usually did, mostly in this case because my mom (a glasses wearer herself) wanted me to have contacts even more than I did. My eyes never did adjust to them very well, though, and after years of tears and redness and crawling around on the floor looking for popped-out lenses, I went back to glasses and never looked back.

Contacts have come a long way since my teen years, and I'll bet there aren't many parents anymore who object to their kids getting them. No, kids who are looking to establish their independence by demanding things their parents are discomfited by have to be a little more creative nowadays than popping pieces of plastic on their eyeballs. They have to do things like this: sticking a rod through the bridge of their pierced nose and perching little eyeglass lenses on top. That's just the sort of extreme idea that makes parents shudder and talk about their dead bodies. But maybe because I've been wearing glasses most of my life, and feeling the weight on my poor little ears, I have to ask: Just how painful is piercing the bridge of your nose, anyway? Worse than facing the sunlight with scratchy contacts?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Who needs an Evil Genius when you've got a mom?

I went to see the movie "Ice Princess" with my daughter the other night. It was pretty standard Disney Channel fare, blown up for the big screen, with that timeless theme of Following Your Dream and having the courage to stand up and tell grown-ups they Just Don't Get It. I was able to enjoy the plot enough to suspend my motherly disbelief at the time, but the more I think about the film, the more it ticks me off. Let's just say it's not something you want your kids to take you to for Mother's Day, no matter how much you may love ice skating.

While the film is certainly formulaic, it does away with two of those staples of teen and Disney flicks: the nasty Alpha Girl who makes the less cool but nonetheless scrappy heroine's life a misery, and the Evil Villain whose diabolical plot the heroine somehow stands in the way of. It's hard to imagine a teen movie without an Alpha Girl, or a Disney movie without an Evil Villain. And yet, in "Ice Princess," the Alpha Girl becomes an ally pretty early on, and there is no Evil Villain bent on world domination or puppycide. Instead, as the perpetrators of cutting comments, confidence busters, dirty tricks and dire consequences, we have ... moms. And not even evil stepmoms. Just plain old striving smothering over-loving single moms who commit that unforgiveable teen movie offense of wanting things for their daughters. The nerve!

Joan Cusack, who either allowed herself to be filmed entirely without makeup or was wearing some sort of harried middle-aged mom spackle that made her look exactly like I do most days, plays the mom of a bright honor student, the kind who spouts complicated scientific formulas when she's flustered and does math sums in her head to such a degree that it makes other kids uncomfortable. The girl seems to be on a fast track to Harvard, and happy about it, until a summer science project turns into a fascination with figure skating. Because it's a Disney movie, she has such enormous natural talent that she's suddenly besting skaters who've been working at it since before they could lace up their own boots. It's not long before she's letting her grades slip, ditching college interviews, and squeezing into little sequined outfits. And a mom's not supposed to have her reservations about that? If it were drugs or drinking or bad boyfriends that were luring this good girl from the straight and narrow, we'd be slapping that mom silly for letting her out of the house. But figure skating? That's Following Her Dream, Mom! Back off and get your own!

Of course, the mom who wants her daughter to be a figure skater -- played by Kim Cattrall, who must have had it in her contract that under no circumstances would she be wearing the harried middle-aged mom spackle -- is also an evil dream-squishing killjoy. Because her beautiful blond child, who has devoted most of her young life to leaps and lutzes, just wants to do better in math! Please, Mom, don't make me cut class, she pleads. All this ice princess wants is to go to the homecoming dance and maybe get into college and marry her stupid football-playing boyfriend and drop out and have babies and a miserable life in a trailer somewhere and ... whoops, I'm letting my essential mom-ness get in the way of a girl and her dream again. Skating Mom was herself a skater who never fulfilled her promise, and so it must therefore be true that she's living through her child; the fact that she's the one who does the dirty tricks against a rival pretty much seals her deal as a Bad Mom Who Has Lost Perspective. And again, I say: If this was a movie about a promising athlete who was distracted by drugs or drink or bad boyfriends, we would be cheering as the mom fought those bad influences with a baseball bat and the fire of motherly love. But going to class? Doing homework? Being a normal kid? Well, why would you want to get in the way of that? Because we all know that being happy in high school is what really sets you up for success in life.

Yeah, I know, I'm touchy. I'm reading too much into a little piece of you-go-girl fluff. We moms, you know, we Take Everything So Seriously! The movie hits me at a time when I've just deviated from one dream for my daughter in order to maybe make her a little happier, and so watching the geek girl land her triple leaps and the Alpha girl hug her math tutor should fill me with reassurance that the path we set is not always the right one for our children to follow. But it doesn't. I still wonder. It's still such guesswork. You can tack a weepy, feel-good ending on it, but I'm not convinced that a few years down the road, those daughters and those moms aren't going to be second-guessing their decisions. Sometimes pushing our children is a bad idea, but sometimes it's the only way to get them where they're going. That's something you just can't skate around.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Busy girl

I've been a bad little blogger this week, but have pity: I had my son home from school on Monday with an Easter-onset illness, IEP meeting for my daughter on Wednesday during which I reversed my own policy so quickly I got whiplash, son home again on Thursday and also Friday morning with an eye infection, an annual pediatrician visit Thursday night, and a birthday party tomorrow involving taking a dozen kids to a science museum. Plus, have I mentioned I work for a Catholic newspaper, and there's this little story you may have heard about that's going to be making our deadline schedule very tight for the next few days? I'm keeping up with my article-a-day duties on my site, but here, not so much. I'll have more on all this stuff next week. But maybe not until the paper goes out on Tuesday.