Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Inspiration and fun, in one

I'm like an old dog with a new trick: This weekend I put a Javascript game up on my About.com site, and it is so cool! I'm unreasonably excited about the fact that, even though I have no idea what all that gobbledygook code does, I was able to place it correctly and tweak it a bit and get it to work in only, oh, I don't now, three or four hours! It's a memory game in which you click on hearts to find matching pairs of messages underneath. The messages are very upbeat and inspirational, so if anybody catches you playing, you can say you needed some self-help confidence building. Yeah, that'll work. Anyway, stop by and try it. I'm so proud!

Monday, February 27, 2006

The media didn't medal

So the Olympics are over, and even after hours of viewing, I still haven't figured out Curling. It's a surprisingly mesmerizing sport to watch, though. Bravo should get going with some sort of Celebrity Curling show, seriously. Wouldn't you just love to see your favorite TV stars frantically brushing the ice and yelling ... whatever it is curlers yell? Bring it on!

I've read all the wrap-up stories about these games, and apparently I'm supposed to have been disappointed in them. No big moments, the pundits say, performance below expectations. Maybe I'm just easy to please, but I found plenty to be inspired by. Ski jumps, both simple and twisting. Snowboarding, and the laid-back kids who practice it. Joey Cheek, giving his medal money to charity; seriously, put that boy on a Wheaties box. That Chinese pairs skater who picked herself up, dusted herself off, and kept on skating through what must have been unbearable pain. I don't think there was a day I watched the games that I didn't see something I didn't know humans could do (or, frankly, would want to). Are we only allowed to be inspired by winning -- and for that matter, only by winning gold?

If I'm disappointed by anything, it's by the media coverage that built huge mountains of hype, yammered about how much pressure that hype put on the athletes, and then pounced on anyone who didn't measure up. In sports where there are so many variables, from the weather to other athletes to the very unpredictability of the human body, how dare we put out those expectations -- especially knowing how much those expectations can affect the outcome by messing with people's heads. I'm willing to cut the athletes more slack than the journalists and the corporations. How 'bout next time, we don't hype anyone until they actually do something, 'kay?

Between the physical crashes and the PR crashes, I come away from these Olympics with a profound sense of gratitude that my children will likely never become serious sports competitors, and save us all the agony of having their mistakes analyzed by know-it-alls on national television. Would you want your child to compete in the Winter Olympics? Take the poll on my About.com site and show your (lack of) spirit.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Inspirational Olympic moment

Oooh, I love this. This is my favorite Olympics quote of the day. I think it speaks beautifully to our wishes for kids to overcome their particular limitations and challenges, and find something they can really be passionate about. It's from a short news item about Helen Resor, a U.S. women's hockey team member, and her excitement about seeing Michelle Kwan in the athlete's village.
"I tried to say something to her, and I think it came out halfway coherent," said Resor, an aspiring figure skater herself before she grew to 5-feet-10 and discovered she loved hitting people.
Find your dream, kids, find your dream!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Olympic impressions

I've been watching a lot of the Olympics with my daughter, which is fun, because I used to watch a lot of the Olympics with my mother. My girl's favorite sport so far is luge, which makes sense; with her language problems, she has trouble with games that involve planning and strategy, and the luge just looks a lot like holding on while gravity pulls your idle body to the bottom of an icy hill at terrifying speeds. Yes, I know, there's more to it than that, there's steering in imperceptible small ways with a twitch of a shoulder or leg, and if you really just hold on and do nothing you will ride down the hill on your face. But for a kid who has trouble understanding rules and the sort of unspoken communication that goes on among teammates, a sport in which you just lie there must look pretty appealing.

I enjoyed the snowboarding a lot. One writer described it as the last sport that hasn't been Olympi-cized, so that the competitors are still really just going at it for the joy of doing a thing you love well, and not to jockey for endorsement deals or ego room. That's why I liked it, I think; they just looked like a bunch of kids in baggy pants having a cool time. I loved reading that, in between turns, a lot of the American snowboarders grabbed their boards, hopped a lift, and went snowboarding for fun. Can't quite imagine a figure skater saying, "Hey, I have a couple of hours before I'm on and I saw a frozen lake down the way -- let's just go skating."

Figure skating was the big viewing event for my mom and me years ago, but I've had a hard time watching it in recent years because the emphasis on bigger and badder jumps and throws has resulted in bigger and badder crashes, and at some point it just breaks your heart to see all that effort done in by a bad blade angle. I'm loving the new scoring, though, especially as it seems to allow skaters to crash spectacularly and still do okay. What I like most about it, though, is its inscrutability. Not even the commentators -- not even the athletes -- seem to know what those numbers mean, and that eliminates a lot of unhelpful second-guessing. I mean, you see a 5.8, and it's easy to go, "No way! That was totally a 5.9! Unfair! Lynch the judge!" But you see a 79.7, and just like a ski jump or snowboard stunt or other judged event, you kind of go ... "Oh, okay. It looked good to me, but, whatever. Good show!" All the layers of difficulty and different point allocations lend the whole thing an obscurity that makes the sport more enjoyable, I think. Works for me, anyway.

The crash of that Chinese pairs skater, as tragic and painful as it was for her, must just have the execs at NBC Sports doing quadruple salchows. They were in a human interest crisis with Michelle Kwan's departure, and now they can just rerun footage of Zhang Dan flying through the air, crashing to the ice, bashing into a wall, and rising to skate again, again and again. If some sort of dramatic injury like this hadn't happened, NBC would have had to send Dick Button down with a lead pipe to make it happen. Oh, the human drama! It was pretty impressive. I don't know if Chinese athletes do endorsement deals, but somebody needs to put that girl's face on a cereal box, or maybe a bottle of pain reliever.

The medal ceremony for that pairs competition was amazing -- I've never seen so many glum faces on the winner's platforms. People, you won! Look alive! Both Chinese couples had skated through significant injuries and pain, so I guess I can give them a pass for looking so desperately unhappy, but the gold-medal-winning Russians had no excuse. The woman looked so ticked off, and gave such an ungracious answer when asked about the Chinese skater who was injured, that you just wanted to ... where's that lead pipe, now? Talk about endorsement deals: Sign this one up for Emerald Nuts -- Eschewing Mercy, Elete Russian Athlete Lobs Disdainful, Negative Utterances at Tortured Skater. If you can learn how to do all those fancy jumps and twists and landings, you can learn how to smile and to win with grace.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dance fever

My son went to his first middle-school dance on Friday and it was, um, I don't know, a moderate success? My husband and I went as chaperones and basically tailed him the whole time he was there, grabbing him away when he was bugging kids and probably making him look even weirder then he looks all by himself, though, hmmm, maybe not. Anyway, 45 minutes into the 90 minute dance he was pretty overstimulated by the music and the noise and the lack of structure and it looked like a good time to end things on a semi-successful note instead of a note of disaster, so his dad took him to the store to get a couple of Matchbox cars and he went happily home. Half a dance -- better than none? I'd feel a lot more sure saying that if the music wasn't so oppressive, and ill-chosen for middle-schoolers (did they really have to play Candyshop?) and the dancing by the girls so provocative. Maybe next time, we could just take him to the toy store and skip the dance. No? That would be wrong? Okay. We'll shoot for an hour this time.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Be careful what you wish for

At the beginning of this school year, when every one of my daughter's teachers expressed a goal of bringing this sweet, quiet, sometimes timid girl out of her shell and getting her to talk and interact more, I told them sure, fine, good luck with that. But quietly, to myself, I said: Be careful what you wish for. Because, while the goal of making a language-challenged kid more social and outgoing is laudable, doing it in 8th grade when peer behavior is at its worst is a big gamble. And sure enough: The experiment has been so successful that she's had two detentions in the last three weeks. The first was a detention for the entire class, but the second was due to going to the bathroom to talk instead of tinkle, and being late for class as a result.

I'm not making a big deal about these detentions -- they're the milder after-school variety, not the serious Saturday ones. But when I see her English teacher at her IEP meeting next week, I'm going to mention that, hello, if a quiet kid wants to be more talkative, she's going to gravitate to the kids who talk all the time and get in trouble for it. Some of the conversations she's reported having, and some of the shiny new words she's picked up, make me think that perhaps sociability isn't the best goal at this point in time. Now that we've brought her out of her shell, can we stuff her back in a little, please?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Love Notes for Special Parents

I haven't posted much lately due to a book deadline and IEP meetings (one partially down, one to go). But I did manage to complete a little project over on my About.com site that I'm pretty excited about. I took some inspirational sayings I wrote last February for Valentine's Day and did them up with nice lettering and posted them in a gallery. You can click on each design and get a larger version that's nice for printing and framing, giving, or tacking up on the refrigerator. There are 28 sayings in all. Check it out and give yourself a little early Valentine's present.