Monday, June 24, 2002

June 24-26, 2002

JUNE 24, 2002

Regular visitors to this site have read more than once about my son's struggles to be good in church, be quiet, be still, be respectful, be anything but the demon-possessed imp he seems to turn into when he enters that hallowed hall. I may have mentioned the way he starts singing the hymns full-voice immediately after everybody stops singing; lays down on the pews and then pushes off with his sneakers to slide down, down, down as far as he can until Mama grabs his ankles; pokes and pinches his sister whenever he's in range; talks and wiggles at will. I do believe he tries to be calm; but for a boy who needs to move to stay alert, and for whom impulsivity is a given, an hour of enforced stillness and quietness may still be beyond his capacity.

And so I was all the more amused when he represented himself yesterday at Mass as a model of rectitude for other children to emulate.

We were sitting in our church's "Cry Room," a glassed in area at the back of the sanctuary where families with small noisy children can see but not be heard. We've been hanging out back their lately because it takes a lot of the pressure off for perfect behavior, and lessening of pressure often makes his behavior better. The downside, though, is that if there are enough kids back there, it can be a horribly noisy place, and horribly noisy places often make his behavior worse.

Yesterday was one of those horribly noisy days. There were two very little boys playing together, chasing, shouting, stacking hymnals. Every now and then their moms would yell at them to be quiet, and they would just keep going. My guy was laying stretched out on a small pew, trying to take a nap or quietly read one of his car magazines, two of the ways we've developed for him to keep it together, and finally he got up, walked over to one of the moms, pointed to the noisy boys and said: "I listen to my mother. They don't."

The mom smiled, thank goodness, and said that the boys were younger, and it was good that he listened to his mom, and (as I rushed over to grab him) didn't that make me feel good to hear him say that. And it sure did, though I know how far that will take me. This week, he's the soul of churchly decorum. Next week, he'll be back to not listening. But I'm happy to thank God for small favors just the same.

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JUNE 25, 2002

One of the nicer side effects of having a child with special needs is that it teaches you to see the bright side of anything. We become conditioned to be so encouraged by such small things that, while we can certainly worry and obsess like champs, we also tend to try to interpret things for the good whenever possible.

That's my explanation, anyway, for my utter lack of concern over my son's recent behavioral downswings. There have been some complaints from school (although those mercifully will end when school does tomorrow), an extra wildness to his demeanor, more yelling of inappropriate words, more tic-like behaviors, more instances of out-of-control silliness. And maybe I should be worrying that this is the beginning of bad times, that our ability to manage his behavior may be slipping, that drastic measures need to be taken pronto. But I'm not. I'm thinking: You know, he always falls apart like this before he makes a big developmental leap. I think he's growing, too. We're going to have a hard few months, but he's going to come out of it really great. I'm so excited to see what my little butterfly will look like when he comes out of that bad-behavior coccoon.

Maybe I'm dreaming, I don't know. But I'll tell you: Worrying about how the special education department is going to screw up my kids' programs for next year takes up so much of my mental energy that I have no time left over for this. For this, I'm willing to be an optimist. And I've been right before.

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JUNE 26, 2002

My husband had one of those nightmare experiences yesterday, where you're late to pick up your child and they're nowhere to be found. This time, he got to the kids' school well after pick-up time, and while our son -- who waits at the door with an aide until we come to get him -- was hanging out by the office with his teacher, our daughter -- who walks out with all the other children onto the street in front of the school and then has to fend for herself -- was not. Not in the office. Not in the classroom. Not on the lawn or sidewalk in front of the school. No one in the school had seen her since her teacher led the line out of the building.

Where was she? Had she tried to walk home? Gone to a friend's house? Wandered far away, upset and confused? Been picked up by a dangerous kidnaper? We were always there waiting for her when she came out of the school, and she's a girl who doesn't do well with unexpected situations. Where would she go?

As it turns out, she had walked to the sidestreet where we usually parked our car, stood on the corner waiting and worrying with a couple of kids from her class, spoken to a few concerned moms driving by, and finally agreed to get in the air-conditioned car of one of them, the mother of a classmate and one of her "class moms." That's where her dad finally found her; he was running panicked up the street, dragging our son behind, and saw some strange woman waving frantically at him. All was, in the end, well. And we've now drilled our daughter on what she should do in the unlikely event that we're ever late again: Go to the office. Wait there.

And I know we shoud also be drilling her on the fact that she should never, ever get in the car of somebody who is not an immediate family member or close family friend. We're supposed to be teaching our kids that anybody you don't know really well is essentially a stranger, and strangers are dangerous. She admitted she felt unsure about getting into her classmate's mom's car, so the message they're presented with relentlessly at school is getting through.

But although I know it's for the best, I hate it. Surely the percentage of strangers who are truly dangerous is tiny compared to the percentage of strangers who are good-willed and want to help. I like the idea of moms looking out for each other's kids -- I would certainly have done the same as that mom if I had seen her daughter standing, hot and confused, on a street corner -- and I hate to make my child afraid of that. The world may be too dangerous these days to allow our children any shades of gray, but there's certainly something lost when we feel wrong if we don't rebuff the kindness of strangers.

Monday, June 17, 2002

June 17-21, 2002

JUNE 17, 2002

I've been excited about my son's growth spurt -- how he finally made it onto the bottom of the height charts this year, and lately how additional inches may explain his recent scoodgy behavior. Yesterday, though, we saw the down side of that additional height: At our church's carnival, he can no longer ride all the kiddie rides he loves. He's inches above the limit now for the little car ride that goes around and around, and the man wouldn't let him on. Ditto the little boat ride and the junior roller coaster. About the only rides his height allows him now are rides I'm too chicken to put him on. And so we did a lot of walking around, and some eating, and some game-playing, but not much riding.

I guess that's the way child development goes -- with every step forward, there's something left behind. He's way too old chronologically to still want to go on the little cars, and I guess it's a blessing that his lag in linear growth has bought him some extra time with those smaller-child pursuits. He's got no choice though, now, but to look down on those activities. Maybe by next year his mother's nerves will have caught up to his new big-kid-ride status.

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JUNE 18, 2002

From the "Did they really need to do a survey to find this out?" department comes the results of a study by the Center for a New American Dream that finds -- shockingly! -- that kids like to nag their parents for stuff. Researchers questioned 750 young people ages 12 to 17 and found that 60 percent keep nagging after the parent said "no," that 10 percent will ask more than 150 times, and that 55 percent eventually turn that "no" to a "yes." The researchers draw the conclusion that the youth of today is obsessed with getting the latest licensed thing, and parents are to blame for eventually giving it to them.

Clearly, these researchers have no children of their own.

If they did, they'd understand what it means to hear a child ask for the same toy 150 times. They would understand that it doesn't have to be a toy a child wants or will play with at all; nagging just gives some children something to do. They would understand that if you ask a pre-teen or teen if they bother their parents a lot and if their parents are to blame for that, they will invariably say yes. And they would understand that, if you asked parents how many times they have to nag their children to do simple household tasks, the number 150 would likely come up again.

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JUNE 19, 2002

We're going through crazy weather shifts here in the Northeast, the kind that guarantee that whatever clothing your mother suggests you wear in the morning will be way uncomfortable by the afternoon. I endured a long morning and afternoon on Saturday of being glared at by a 12-year-old in sweatpants who knew she was going to be SO HOT because her horrible, mean mama wouldn't let her wear shorts. And in the morning, darn it, it was too cool to wear shorts. But then, somewhere along the line, and depending on where you were standing and whether there was a breeze, it did indeed become too warm to wear sweatpants. And did I ever get the "I told you so's." I had to keep stopping and shaking her and saying "DON'T BE A TEEN-AGER YET."

She's already got the idea down that since I'm old, I'm always cold, and have no connection to her own youthful sense of temperature. And she's probably right. It's something every kid has noticed, certainly, at one time or another, that her mother's sense of temperature is out of whack. Mom makes you wear sweaters when you don't need them, jackets when it's positively temperate, wool caps when you'd rather let your hair swing free in the snow. Moms are such a bother. Kids must suspect that sometimes, we do it just because we can. They might be right there, too.

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JUNE 21, 2002

I've been occupying myself with filling my daughter's summer with things she doesn't want to do. Ever since we decided against camp and for hanging out in front of the TV with grandma, I've been in a little frenzy of coming up with worthwhile activities to save her from total spud-dom. One of those things she likes -- tennis lessons, twice a week. Most of those things she doesn't -- swimming and trombone lessons once a week, tutor twice, filling in at my office whenever the office manager has envelopes to stuff. It makes me tired just thinking about keeping all that straight. It mostly just makes her annoyed. But ah, moms, don't we just live for annoying our kids?

Her school, as it turns out, is helping with this endeavor by sending home a packet of math worksheets that must be completed and turned in at the beginning of the year, at which time the students will be graded and tested on the material. And she thought homework over the weekends was bad. A colleague reports that her fifth-grade daughter, in addition to the math package, has received a reading package that involves reading a book and writing about it in a journal; those notes will then be the basis of her first middle-school paper in the fall. Homework that goes from one school to the next! It's just too horrifying. Looks like schools just live for annoying our kids, too.

Monday, June 10, 2002

June 10-14, 2002

JUNE 10, 2002

Do you ever just think your head is going to explode sometimes from all the questions and worries and quandaries circling within? It seems lately that I can't make a decision without it either having to be re-decided soon after, or opening up a whole range of secondary decisions to be chewed over. My head is full to overflowing with decisions, decisions, decisions. Yesterday, just the added stress of having to decide what to order for my kids at Burger King made me burst into tears, so I may be reaching Critical Mass.

Sometimes I think reading e-mail support group lists makes it worse, because then you have to debate everybody else's decisions in your head as well. Maybe it helps you see that other people have it worse; but more often, for me anyway, it sets up debates in my poor overstuffed head over how I would do something differently than the original poster or her respondents. I suppose I could post my own problems to get other people's help in decision-making, but I'm afraid that new perspectives might only prolong my indecision -- or that everybody would disagree with what I'd almost decided. I do a good enough job of disagreeing with myself, thank you very much.

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JUNE 11, 2002

We've been talking a lot at school about the developmental level of my son -- or rather, developmental levels, because while he's up to nine-year-old speed in expressive language and close to it in academics, the path from there through motor skills and down to his emotional level of about four is a slippery slope. I don't know what level the rest of his class is at emotionally and behaviorally, but on their class field trip yesterday I got a clue: They're at whatever stage it is that involves constantly reporting even the minor indiscretions of your playmates to the nearest adult and seeking immediate redress.

"He pushed me!" "He scratched me!" "He touched my head!" "He made a bad noise!" All day I heard it, usually complaining about my son because I was his mother, but sometimes directed at other classmates or bus companions as well. I know we're in an era when we're supposed to validate children's concerns and encourage them to come to us with anything -- after all, maybe this time when that whiny kid comes out of the bathroom he'll be saying that a bad man tried to touch him and not that his classmate got a little water on his arm at the sink, like the last five or six times. We should always be ready to listen with sympathy and open ears. But honestly, after three or four hours of this, what I mostly wanted to say was, "Oh, mind your own business and shut up." I don't know if I was comforted or disturbed that the teachers and aides took pretty much the same attitude. After all, they deal with this all day, every day. I just have to deal with it on field trips ... and, of course, every night at home here in sibling-rivalry-ville.

Will my daughter finally get the kind of classroom she was supposed to get three years ago? Will accommodations agreed upon in June actually materialize in September? What precisely does "instructional aide" mean? Will our district ever really get how to do inclusion? Stay tuned for another episode of ... "The IEP Zone."

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JUNE 12, 2002

When last we left my daughter's IEP, it included provisions for an instructional aide for all subjects, which Mom interpreted as meaning a person with special education training in the classroom to do reteaching and provide support, and the school district interpreted as meaning an untrained person to act as a one-on-one aide unable to do reteaching or educational support but really good at hand-holding.

This continues a trend that started three years ago when she was first mainstreamed. That year, "instructional aide" was first interpreted as a special education teacher to be in the classroom for several children who needed support; however, when that teacher interpreted her role as co-teaching and the regular-ed teacher interpreted that as a pain in her butt, the special-ed teacher disappeared and was replaced by an aide who interpreted her role as making copies for the teacher and keeping the special-ed kids out of her hair.

The following year, an instructional aide was promised but never appeared. We made a deal with the principal to have the Basic Skills teacher help my daughter out, and that seemed to work out alright. But at IEP time last year, I was assured that an instructional aide was essential, and that my daughter would be put in a class with other students who needed an aide and that a person with special education training would be in place to help them.

Come this year -- no other special-ed kids in her class, no person with special education training to help. After a month, the very nice but untrained one-on-one aide turned up, and has been helping my girl ever since. What this help consists of, I'm not sure; I've been told she can't make graphic organizers for her, can't coach in test-taking skills, can't do any of the things in the "Inclusion" book I sent in, can't actually talk to me without the teacher present. She does make nice flashcards for vocabulary words, though.

So now, again with the IEP, and again with the "we'll put another child who needs an aide in the same class and give them a trained person to help." It would be really interesting to see if the actual right sort of support would make a difference for my daughter; she's learned about the same whether she's been in a self-contained class or on her own in the mainstream, so I'm skeptical at this point that anything much is going to help or hurt. And skeptical doesn't even begin to describe my feelings about the right sort of support ever actually being provided. Still, it's a nice dream.

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JUNE 14, 2002

One week and three half-days of school left, and then we're cut loose for summer. My daughter has gone from hating fourth grade to being nostalgic for it; she wishes it were September and she was just starting the year again, instead of facing fifth grade just two months down the road. Next year at this time, she'll be graduating fifth grade and facing middle school, and the both of us will be dreading it. Fifth grade, I can handle.

Summer, too, although it's always a disruptive time, with its good points (can you say "no homework," ladies and gentlemen?) and its bad points (new routines, new drop-off and pick-up times, kids with too much time on their hands). This year should be a little more leisurely than last, since my son isn't going to the Super Expensive Special Needs Camp an hour round-trip away but a smaller regular-ed program just five minutes from home. Of course, now I have to worry about whether he'll fit in there or whether he'll get kicked out. But at least I'll be out of the car while I'm worrying.

Monday, June 03, 2002

June 3-7, 2002

JUNE 3, 2002

Yesterday, I took my daughter to a record store to buy a "Kidz Bop" CD -- children singing sanitized versions of contemporary pop songs -- and as we sorted through the kiddie discs, the Barney CDs and the Nick Jr. soundtracks and lullabies, our ears were assaulted by music that I can only call ugly. Ugly in the sound of it, ugly in the words, ugly in the attitude. Yet unavoidably attention-grabbing, in the same fashion as a jackhammer outside your window. The genre was rap, the CD displayed all over the store was by Eminem, and a quick question to the salesgirl confirmed that it was indeed that much debated-over "artist" we were listening to. It sure the heck wasn't the "Kidz Bop" version.

I try to keep a pretty open mind about music. My own mother always tried to respect and embrace the music I enjoyed, and I appreciated that a great deal. I'd like to do the same for my own daughter, and so far it hasn't been hard; the worst of it is listening to things like "Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen's Greatest Hits," and as long as she's shopping in the "Kidz Bop" aisle, I don't have to worry too much about parent advisory stickers. On this particular record-store outing, I was happy to see that she was wincing at Eminem's aural assault as much as I was. As we walked out, she agreed with me that it was awful ... until I referred to it as rap. Then she snapped to: "That was rap? I like rap! I liked that." So apparently, the youthful imperative to enjoy things your parents hate has made it through to her psyche, if not yet her pocketbook.

If I ever have reason to believe that she really does like that stuff, so help me, I'll have to find a way to like it with her. Maybe I can grow my hair a little longer so she won't notice the earplugs.

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JUNE 4, 2002

This is what comes of my plotting to find the perfect class for my kids. I've been in a tizzy since my son's IEP meeting due to his teacher's suggestion that he skip the next class on his current self-contained track and go to the one above. I've been wrestling with various aspects of this decision, and particularly with the idea of whether Teacher B (the one he'd skip a class for) would be a better match for him than Teacher A (the next one down the road). I was a little more familiar with Teacher B than A, had seen her interact favorably with my guy, and had just about decided that she would be the smartest choice for him.

And so, of course, today comes the word that she's resigned.

So now, instead of Teacher B to reckon with, I have Teacher X. Maybe somebody brand new to teaching, maybe somebody brand new to this particular school and its politics, maybe somebody new to handling boys who are real handfuls. My son's class has taken apart a couple of substitutes this year, and although he would be with an older and presumably more sedate crowd in the skipped-up class, I do think that he benefits from teachers with a lot of experience and a full bag of tricks. So now the scale tips back to Teacher A, who at least is a known quantity.

This is why I should never try to make or manipulate these sorts of placement decisions. It always backfires. At least this time, I know in June. The last time something like this happened, the teacher changed only days before school started. Really, I'm much better off letting the bureaucrats in the special-ed office make the final decision on which classroom my boy will be in. That way, I at least have the right to whine and complain.

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JUNE 5, 2002

My kids' school holds a field day every year in early June, ostensibly to give the students a nice healthy day outside where they can be active and loud without annoying their teachers, but also to give parents a chance to volunteer and participate and feel like part of the school community. And that's just what I did yesterday at this year's event. I manned the water table, I helped with the Hippity Hop game, I picknicked with my son's class, I watched my daughter from afar (where she's most comfortable having me be when she's at school, thank you very much), and I even learned a few things myself. Such as:

* If I look a big ol' fifth grade boy in the eye and tell him to get off the Hippity Hop ball right now and get in line, he'll actually do it! Wasn't sure about that when I started.

* When you replace the bottle atop a water cooler, you need to actually poke a hole through the plastic at the top of the new bottle, or no water will come out, leaving you with 25 thirsty kindergartners and a lot of empty cups.

* Most of the kids on my son's special-ed track take everything a grown-up says at face value, making gentle silly teasing pretty difficult. His teacher laughed, though.

* My son's best friend likes to hug, often way past the point at which the hug-ee would like some oxygen please.

* Athletic games that I would have hated participating in as a kid are a lot more fun now that I'm an adult on the sidelines watching other poor children have to do them. C'mon kids, you can do it, it's fun!

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JUNE 6, 2002

I’d like to write something right about now concerning the Hallmark adoption series that started last weekend -- about how it did or didn’t take an appropriate tone toward adoption, whether its language was correct, whether it hit that line between sensational and boring, how it did or didn’t foster discussion between my children and myself about the special way we’ve formed our family. I’d like to, but as it turns out, we don’t get the Hallmark channel. I settled everybody down in front of the channel it was supposed to be on Saturday night, but instead of heartwarming stories of parents and children coming together, we got a priest talking about art. I’m sure he was very interesting, but we didn’t stick around to find out.

The next night, on what should have been the first regular night of the series, we got static on that channel. So apparently I have to make some special deal with my cable operator to get all Hallmark, all the time. And here I thought I already had more channels than I knew what to do with.

In the meantime, the kids and I made do watching our tapes of “Sarah, Plain and Tall” and “The Parent Trap,” movies that, while not specifically about adoption, certainly involve families coming together in nontraditional ways. And hey, “Sarah” is a Hallmark Hall of Fame production. Maybe one day they’ll sell us tapes of their adoption series, too.

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JUNE 7, 2002

Is it just me, or is the Internet obsessed with weight? More and more lately, it seems the annoying ads that pop up as I work my way around, say, Yahoo's world o' pages are weight-loss oriented. Weight Watchers is everywhere; another company offers to let me input my weight (fat chance of that) and let them tailor a program for me; even Avon is hawking some sort of weight loss powder. If I was the least bit paranoid, I'd suspect that these ads were being individualized for me, and someone had a secret camera primed to record my every added pound. But it probably just means that Yahoo customers spend so much time at the computer that they're bound to be on the hefty side.

Maybe I'll have to spend time in other domains to improve my self-esteem. There's one that always serves gambling ads, so I can be fat and poor, too, and another that's pushing an extremely creepy hidden camera (maybe the one they're using to record my weight gain). I seem to see a lot of debt-consolidation ads, maybe for the people who've lost it all gambling and been sued for secret-camera peeping. Come to think of it, maybe I'm better off with the weight loss ads. Just the sight of them reduces my appetite.