Monday, October 31, 2005

Conference call

If you get a call from your child's teacher with some unsettling news, like classroom misbehavior or academic struggles, where do you imagine that teacher being as he or she has this conversation? Some private office, a conference room, a teacher lounge? I never think of my kids' teachers as speaking in a big group of people, with a voice loud enough to be heard, but I know of course that they usually are. At my kids' elementary school, I frequently heard teachers standing in the middle of the busy office arguing with some parent or other, and now, of course, I hear more than my fair share of confidences simply by virtue of standing near the phone when I volunteer at the library. That's the way it is, but it's not the way it should be, is it? Aren't there issues of privacy and confidentiality being violated? The other day, I was in the library when a teacher actually trooped a student to the phone, made him stand there as he called the parent, and then spoke loudly and theatrically about how bad the kid was doing. Bad enough I was an audience to this, but there was a group of students sitting at computers quite nearby who got an earful as well. I know the kid only slightly, and don't know how much he cares about being onstage or what the teacher has put up with to get him there, but still. I hate when teachers belittle a child in public, and even though that wasn't the intent of this call, given the setting it was certainly the effect. When you get a call from your child's teacher, do you assume it's private? And how bothered would you be if it's not?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I blame 50 Cent

Apparently, child's play isn't what it used to be. Today, between frames in the parent-child bowling league I'm in with my son, I was invited to play a little challenge match of rock-paper-scissors with teeny little guy from another team, maybe four years old. He made the universal pounding fist motion at me, and we played peacefully for a little while, scissors beating paper, paper beating rock, rock beating scissors. Then, one round, I did scissors and he did one pointing finger. I asked him what that was supposed to be, figuring it was a scissors gone awry in the heat of the moment, but no. "A GUN!" he answered proudly, reveling in his triumph. I guess a gun does beat all, but somehow it just ain't sportsmanlike.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Caillou's dad: Public Parenting Enemy #1

I've limited my son to watching only the mildest of TV kiddie fare because fun flashy Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network stuff makes him jumpier than SpongeBob on speed, but while the likes of "Arthur" and "Zoboomafoo" and "Little Bear" do keep him calm, there are always complications. Right now, for example, Caillou's dad has become the exemplar of all that parents should be and all that I am not. 'Cause see, Caillou's dad says yes to everything. No matter what Caillou wants to do, his dad finds a way to make it fun and safe and cool and cartooneriffic. Why, my son would like to know, can't I be more like Caillou's dad? Why can't I say yes all the time? I try to explain that we only see a tiny part of Caillou's day, and maybe his dad says no all the time in between; I try to explain that good parents have to say no sometimes; I try to explain that it's easy to say yes when you're a cartoon character; I try to explain that Caillou never asks his dad if he can listen to 50 Cent. But it's no use. Caillou's dad is cool, and I'm a killjoy. You've got to ask yourself, though: What did Caillou's dad say yes to that caused all his kid's hair to fall out?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Dance fever

The good thing about chaperoning middle school dances is that if something happens and your child wants to leave, you're right there on the spot and able to come to the rescue. And the bad thing about chaperoning middle school dances is that if something happens and your child wants to leave, you're right there on the spot and able to come to the rescue. When my daughter came out of the dance crying last night and insisting on going home, I could hardly march her back in there. She claimed there was something about the volume of the music that was making her sick, and surely the music was loud, and she's been sickened by heavy bass before. But she's also been to dances before with loud music and loved them. Was it really the music, or the fact that her friend wasn't there and she couldn't find anyone to hang with? Had someone said something that hurt her feelings? Was her musical discomfort overridden in the past by the fact that she was having a good time with her friend, and now it wasn't? She insisted it was just the music, and I took her home. But if I wasn't there, she'd have had to stick it out, and maybe she'd have found some way to have fun. Mom on hand for rescue: Good or bad? A little bit of both, I think.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Testing a hypothesis

We're going to have an interesting child behavior experiment with my son this holiday season. In the past, his school behavior has always taken a sharp downturn around the end of November or beginning of December, whenever they start practicing in earnest for the dreaded holiday program. It's been my theory that the rehearsals, with their disruptions of routine, extended exposure to mainstream classmates, and expectations to stand or sit quietly, are major stressors for him, and leave him with fewer resources for self-control and restraint through the rest of the day. One year, I even had him pulled from the program because it wasn't worth all the agony.

But this year, he's in middle school. No school-wide holiday programs there. If you're not in the band or in the chorus, you're off the hook. So now we'll see. Is it really the rehearsals that give him the crazies? I wonder if I can get some sort of research grant for this stuff.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bad news Tuesday

I volunteer at the library at my kids' school, and do most of my work at a counter near the phone that teachers use to call parents for reasons that are seldom celebratory. I've heard my fair share of calls regarding missed homework, failed tests, needed conferences and other areas of concern. But yesterday was particularly sad, as I listened to one poor teacher call seven parents to let them know their kids were acting up, dropping out, and generally failing her class. For one kid, constantly being the class clown was the source of the trouble; for another, rampant disrespect; for another, no work being done at all. I don't think it was easy for the teacher to make those calls, and undoubtedly it wasn't easy for the parents to hear them. Kind of ironic that she ended each conversation with, "Have a nice day." Not much chance of that, anymore.

What struck me most while listening to these calls was the vast relief I felt at never getting one of them. I've never been more grateful for special education. If my son were forced to be in a mainstream class, he could easily fit many of the descriptions I heard the teacher making. But in the structure of a small self-contained class, he's able to function acceptably. Later that afternoon, I went for conferences with my daughter's teachers and heard how great she was doing, either despite of her learning problems or because of the help she's getting for them. At least they all know that if they ever have to talk to me, I'm already by the phone.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Depression fiction

Books for older children and young teens are just a minefield, aren't they? There's a stretch there when every book seems to just be about misery and despair. It's the kind of thing that gets satirized in the "Series of Unfortunate Events" books, and debated when the misery and despair are because of social issues that some parents don't want their kids reading about, but even in the little innocent paperbacks about run-of-the-mill school problems, the unhappiness runs so darn deep it's hard for me to read them. I remember reading some Marvin Redpost books with my daughter a few years ago and finding them semi-sadistic, with the amount of problems piled upon the young protagonist, chapter after chapter after chapter. False friends. Uncaring teachers. Inattentive parents. At every turn, no one to see things his way. At every turn, blame and shame. As a mom, it just made me want to scream, and knock some heads together. I'm getting those same feelings from the latest book I'm reading with my daughter, "Best Friends Forever?" We're maybe six chapters in, and if I didn't know better I'd think it might be a book about teen suicide, because man, the author is hard on her young narrator. And I know from reading the back cover that there's more unhappiness to come before -- oh, usually it's the last chapter or so -- everything works out happily. It's said that kids are so miserable in these years of their lives, so into the drama of their days, that they want to read about other kids having jackhammer-like problems so they can relate. Maybe. But man, couldn't we just lighten up a little bit? Some kids need their moms reading along, and this stuff's bringing me down.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Desperately worried about "Housewives"

I've started to get into "Lost" a little this season, but last year's other big passed-me-by hit, "Desperate Housewives," is still passing me by. But today there's been a little rumble about it on one of the special-needs lists I subscribe to, because apparently a character who's been chained up in a basement has been revealed to be mentally challenged and possibly violent. This is the sort of thing that special-needs moms suit up for. Misrepresentations of our children's disabilities. Implications that the developmentally disabled are dangerous and should be locked away. Suggestions that the lock-away spot could just as well be in your basement. Maybe the recent news story about special-needs kids being kept in cages by an adoptive family makes this subject a little sorer. And I know that some folks are going to think it's ridiculous to take a storyline on "DH" with any degree of seriousness, but hey, "It's just a TV show" has never stopped special interest groups from griping before. I'm just saying, from what I've been hearing about the direction the ratings have been going for this once hot number, the writers might not want to be making any enemies just now.

If you're concerned about this or are organizing a protest or merely want to go somewhere publicly and say, "Oh, lighten up," I've set up a topic on's Parenting Special Needs Forum on this very subject. Stop by and sound off.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Making doll ownership more like adoption

Blogging Baby, a weblog I'm quickly becoming addicted to, has an item about baby dolls being sold in some sort of elaborate hospital adoption scenario, and the outrage expressed by adoption advocates over this insult to adoptive children and families. I'm not usually one to get riled about the casual use of the word "adoption" to describe the caretaking of animals or portions of highway, but I have to admit this ploy by Lee Middleton Orginal Dolls to increase the perceived value of high-priced playthings by pretending that going into a store with a hundred bucks in your pocket and picking out a dolly you fancy is anything like the process of adoption is offputting to say the least. Will it make people believe that adoption is buying babies? Will it make children think that if a child they know was adopted, that they were at one time in a display case at Saks? Maybe, maybe not.

Still, if the Middleton company feels strongly that pretending its dolls are adopted is a big selling point, then why not take it all the way? Give the children who will be "adopting" its dolls a true adoption experience. Send social workers to their home to make sure their toys are well cared-for and that they know what will be involved in having an additional doll in the household. Make them pay for a homestudy before they can even be considered for getting a doll. Make them get certified letters from their teacher and scout leader and best friend declaring their suitability for doll ownership. Make them take classes on doll care and repair. Make them wait months or years, and then call them in the middle of the night and tell them they've got to get to the store right now. To give some kids an international adoption experience, lock them in the store for a couple of weeks or months before they get to leave with their new doll. Definitely send some more social workers afterward to make sure everything's going okay, and the doll's not tucked in a toychest or missing limbs or sitting somewhere naked. And don't forget to advise the new doll owner's friends to ask her from time to time, "Is that your real doll?"

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Kids and horses

It's two movies in two weekends for me, a kind of unbelievable record for recent days. This time, it was a family flick, "Dreamer," and I went with my husband and kids. Just the experience of sitting with my son while he calmly and quietly watches a movie with no talking, no jumping around, no needing to leave partway through, is worth the admission price. He's gotten so good at being good at the movies. When did that happen? I was pretty surprised when the person in front of him asked him to stop kicking the seat, because he totally wasn't, just crossing his legs and bumping the seat along the way. Fortunately, we were able to move him to a seat with nobody in front of him, before I had to stick up for him in a way that would probably have made things worse. He was so good! Don't dis him when he's being good.

The movie, you say? What about the movie? Well, the movie was charming. If you've seen the trailer, you know pretty much every plot point and every emotional beat in the movie, but who cares, it's a beautiful little girl and a beautiful horse and a happy ending and who can resist? I particularly enjoyed the fact that the mother was always right. The story would have you believe it was the child who orchestrated this triumph for her dad but really, if Mom hadn't been setting things up and pushing her husband to do the right thing, the kid never would have met the horse in the first place and the story wouldn't have happend. That mom was a hero, I'll tell you. I bet she would have told my boy that he shouldn't care what other people say, he should just go ahead and kick that seat if he needed to. Hey, it's all about living your dreams.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

CSI: New Jersey

It was like a scene from CSI around our house this evening. My husband noticed it first: There was a trail of blood all around our room. The trail continued with blood on the hallway carpet and blood on the living room floor. We checked ourselves for open wounds, and then checked the kids, but it appeared that we were all in tact. And so finally, our forensic expertise turned to ... the dog. Who had her nails clipped earlier in the day. And had apparently scuffed them up enough on a couple of walks during the day that one had started to bleed. That's as best we could figure, anyway, since there was a little blood on her paw but no apparent wounds there, either. Maybe Gil Grissom could have come up with a better solution. But we just washed her paw, stuck a sock over it, wiped up the crime scene, and went on with our evening.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Stealth lyrics

My daughter often begs to be allowed to download songs that I've forbidden because of racy lyrics. She swears that she doesn't understand the words and just likes the music, and while I'm pretty sure she's right, I still put my foot down. But you know, songs sneak up on you. I've been enjoying Ryan Adams' "Come Pick Me Up" ever since I got the Elizabethtown soundtrack. I kind of hummed along with the lovely melody and didn't pay much attention to the words ... until I was watching the movie, and heard the song blasted at me in seriously overamplified stereo. Suddenly, it sounded like the singer was saying some of those words you can't say on my children's iPods. I thought I must be imagining it, because the song is so pretty and affecting, but sure enough, I googled the lyrics, and, well, hmm. I guess if I wanted to be absolutely consistent, I'd have to ditch this song out of my iTunes player and iPod, but part of my argument is that some music is for adults, and so I reserve the right to keep it from my kids. This song, too. I'll keep listening to it, and enjoying it. But I probably won't be able to keep my eyebrows from popping up every time he hits that chorus. And I'll think about Paula Dean's character in the movie, carefully covering the ears of the young person near her when the talk gets too salty.

Traveling companions

I watched the new "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" DVD with my daughter over the weekend, and was reconfirmed in my impression that it was a great movie for mother-daughter viewing, sweet but not too sweet, with good performances and a brisk pace that takes us through four girls' summer without a lot of time wasted. Many of the movies my daughter likes I just can't suspend disbelief enough to enjoy, but with these spirited young actresses and a story that doesn't condescend to them too much, I'm willing to travel along. It helped that we had just completed the book, which was quite a feat for my daughter. She doesn't often read big, long, jumpily plotted books that are popular with her peers, but seeing the movie made her want to read the book, and reading the book made her want to see the movie again. To mothers with daughters of reluctant readers, I say, look to the pants!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Covers that need covering up

What makes a great magazine cover? Nudity, apparently. A naked John Lennon kissing Yoko Ono on the cover of Rolling Stone and a naked Demi Moore cradling her pregnant belly on the cover of Vanity Fair took the top two places in the American Association of Magazine Editors' list of the Top 40 Magazine Covers of the Last 40 Years. A shirtless Mohammed Ali is #3, but at least he's wearing boxing shorts. Also on the list, at #27, are nude Dixie Chicks on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. These sorts of lists exist mostly so people can disagree with them, but I'm not really enough of a student of cover art to be able to say one way or the other whether these are the tops (and bottoms) or not. I'm glad to see that classic New Yorker drawing of the world as seen from Manhattan make the top 5, though. If it was the Naked City, it might have hit #1.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Me vs. all that is cool

What would you do about this? I've written here before that there are artists I won't let my kids listen to, because I don't think their songs are appropriate for kids. Not to say they should be censored or banned or forced to write about the moon in June, just that children and young teens don't need to be listening to that stuff, at least not in my house. So now: My son has been reporting that in his middle-school art class, which is a self-contained cycle class but is led by an art teacher who is not a special educator, the teacher plays Green Day CDs. That's bothered me some; I'm sure she's a Green Day fan, and I like their music too, but I've looked up their lyrics and a lot of them are -- as befits an adult act -- political or provocative or worded in a way that, again, isn't appropriate for kids. And then: The last couple of days, my son has reported that they get to use the computer to do whatever they want in art class, and they've been going to (home to another artist I've nixed) which, his friend promptly added, has pictures of barely-dressed women. Now, I went to the site, and I couldn't find the women (probably because I don't have the same motivation as some of the boys in his class), but I did see right off the bat more guns than I want my kid looking at in art class, I'll tell you.

But what do I do? Can I really storm into that art class like Tipper Gore and tell this woman to stop polluting the mind of my boy with her mature music and her dangerous websites? I'll feel like a bat out of the '50s. I know I can't control everything my kids see and hear, but should they be hearing and seeing this stuff in school, in class? Do I have a legitimate beef? I fear I'm going to be taking on the "cool teacher" here. There's a reason it's called "Parenting Isn't Pretty."

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Catch it while you can

Just went to see the new Cameron Crowe movie, Elizabethtown, a rare cinema outing for me and an entirely worthwhile one. I've been a fan of Crowe's since "Say Anything" and most especially since "Almost Famous," and since the reviews for this particular personal outing by the director have been, shall we say, less than kind, I wanted to get out there and see it a) while there was still a chance that a good first weekend could save it and b) before it disappeared. And while I won't disagree with the critics that the movie is meandering and formless and anecdotal and features a silly tap dance by Susan Sarandon, I will heartily disagree that those are bad things. And let's face it, who cares what's happening in the rest of the film, just looking at Orlando Bloom for two hours ain't a bad deal right there.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Wonder what your mother-in-law thinks? Turn on the news!

Recent reports in the media about Katie Holmes' dad complaining publicly about his daughter and fiance Tom Cruise getting pregnant before getting hitched have got me thinking ... man, whatever your feelings about this particular couple, can you just imagine what a joy it would be to have everything your parents or your in-laws have to say about the way you're conducting your relationship or managing your family turned into a press release? Most of us don't even want to hear that kind of thing when it's lobbed at us across the dinner table, much less blaring out from every newstand and Web browser. Would you wish that even on your worst enemy? I don't know; maybe you would. As for me, I'm thinking that, like Disneyland, the gym and L.A. freeways, dissing by the elders ought to be a celebrity privacy zone.

School pictures, again

My kids have school picture day today. I used to get really excited about that, but now I'm an old veteran parent with a drawerful of unused photo packages and, I don't know, the thrill is gone somehow. Last year was kind of a mixed bag; my son, for once, didn't turn on the cheesy smile for his school picture and actually looked okay, but my daughter's picture apparently got lost somewhere along the line, after we viewed a sample and paid and had our check cashed but before we got the packet, and so we have nothing, not even the stupid sample with the word "sample" stamped across it. So this year, you know, I hope they smile nice and keep their clothes clean and actually deliver the goods. But it will all probably wind up right back in the drawer with the rest of them. Do you order school pictures? And do you actually do anything with 'em?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Love that technology

I have no plans to buy a big expensive video iPod -- my old iPod mini is working just fine for me -- but I'm way excited over the fact that the iTunes store is now selling episodes of TV shows that can be watched on the computer, too. Talk about filling a niche I didn't even know existed! For now, the only shows available are a few ABC shows (including hot tickets "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives") and a couple of Disney Channel sit-coms (which my daughter's going to be bugging me for), but surely it won't be long before other networks jump on, and I'll be able to, say, do something else on Sunday night at 8 p.m. knowing I'll have a $1.99 episode of "The West Wing" waiting for me the next day. Sure, I could tape it, but history shows that I'd probably forget (even if I did have a working VCR). How cool to have backup.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Having "the talk"

I've been trying for some time to think about how, when, and whether to talk to my son, now 12, about sex. On the one hand, he's probably past the age at which he should know the nuts and bolts about the birds and the bees. On the other hand, giving his impulsivity and tendency to perseverate on words and phrases, I'm afraid he might share any information given to every stranger he meets, or maybe shout it out in the cafeteria. Is no news good news? The authors of Sexuality: Your Sons and Daughters with Intellectual Disabilities say no: You've got to tell, and you've got to tell now. Children with special needs are extremely vulnerable to abuse, and all the more so if they're ignorant of the way things are supposed to work. The book spends a lot of time dealing with the need to give intellectually challenged kids satisfying, full lives, and not as much dealing with problems like my cafeteria nightmare, but it's still interesting reading for parents who are trying to figure out how our kids will fit in the real world, and how we can best get them there.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Somebody put some clothes on this girl

Here's yet another story to make me feel ancient: Esquire magazine has named Jessica Biel as its "Sexiest Woman Alive." Now, I'll acknowledge that I'm not exactly Esquire's target audience, and so its selections will always be somewhat inscrutable to me, but ... Jessica Biel? My daughter watches DVDs of early "7th Heaven" seasons on a more or less constant basis, so it's hard enough for me to think of the actress who plays tomboy Mary as a woman, much less the sexiest one alive. I know she's 23 now and all, and has spent a lot of time and effort and publicist dollars to be seen as anybody but tomboy Mary, but sheesh. The sexiest woman alive? Really? Hmmm.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Another view of autism

I've been reading a lot about autism lately -- whether it's a disorder or a difference, and whether curing or even treating it is approriate. Those seem like bizarre questions to parents who devote so much of their lives to finding ways to help their children fit in and succeed, but a lot of people with autism are starting to stand up and say, "Don't cure me!" There's a very effective portrayal of that point of view at Getting the Truth Out, but although some of it may be difficult reading you have to keep going all the way through, because it starts out saying something very different than what it actually means.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Middle school torture

Reasons why I'm glad I'm not in middle school #1,565,823: My daughter has to do something in her social studies class involving current events. She has to find a story in the newspaper, write a summary of it, pick three vocabulary words and find definitions for them, and then present the whole thing in a mini-oral report to the class. The prep work is hard enough for a reading- and writing-challenged kid, but it's do-able. But standing up and saying it in front of everyone! Talk about torture at a time in a kids' life when what they most want to do is be either a) cool or b) unnoticed. I was worried about whether my girl would be able to pull it off, but she went today and got a 90 on her presentation, and whether that's a mercy grade or a true reflection of her ability, at least it's over. She won't have to do it again until everyone else in the class has had their first turn, and since the teacher gives kids who aren't ready one day the chance to do it the next, that could take a while. My daughter didn't believe me when I told her that it was good to be one of the first people to go because then you can spend a long stress-free time of not having to worry about it and watching others squirm, but she's learning. More about that than about current events, I'm thinking.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What does RAD mean to you?

Here's a headline in our local paper that caught my eye ... and made my jaw drop: "Children learn it's good to be RAD." Of course, as it turned out, the subject of the article was not Reactive Attachment Disorder, which was what I automatically assumed and something I think we can all agree it is not good for children to be. It was for some dopey-sounding self-defense program called "Resisting Aggression Defensively" that trains kids to assault strangers who may be trying to abduct them. I think they might want to consider changing that acronym, but maybe this is just one of those things that separates those who read and think too much about special needs from those who don't know their RAD from their ADD, and don't much care.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


We're singing the squandered-our-homework-time blues tonight. The kids had a day off from school today, so last night getting the homework done was no big deal, and this morning they still had all day, and this afternoon there was still plenty of time, then all of a sudden -- hoo-boy, where did all this work come from! Big page of hard math problems for my daughter, lots of pages of words to write for my son, lots of stress and nagging for their Mama and Papa. Looks like time management isn't much of a strong suit for any of us this week, is it?