Wednesday, March 31, 2004

TV keeps kids up

I read an eyebrow-raising report tonight on children's sleep habits, which concludes that kids aren't getting enough sleep and they're keeping their parents up in the process. It wasn't the sleep statistics that got me, though; it was this little tidbit in a section on how having a TV in kids' rooms contributed to their wakefulness:
School-aged children are the most likely to have a television in their bedroom (43%), although parents/caregivers report nearly one-third of preschoolers and even 20 percent of infants and toddlers have a television in the bedroom.
Nearly half of school-aged children have a TV in their bedrooms? Please, please, please please please don't let my daughter get wind of that. She's already convinced that I never let her do what everybody else gets to do. She doesn't need research to back her up.

I've been resisting the idea of a TV in her room for a while now, ever since my sister-in-law announced she'd bought my daughter a little TV/VCR for Christmas and I made her take it back. It seems like a bad idea on so many levels -- harder to monitor what she's watching, harder to get her to spend time with the family, harder to pay for more cable -- and even on those days when I'd do anything not to have to watch what she's watching and spending time with the family means nonstop sibling squabbling, I've remained firm. Now I guess I have more research on my side, too; the girl needs her sleep. If half her classmates are staying up late to catch Letterman, she'll have a little alertness advantage at school, and she can use all the advantages she can get.

Concerted effort

Well, we survived another All City band concert. My daughter looked beautiful in her white shirt and black pants -- a welcome departure from her usual baggy sweats -- and her band didn't sound too bad. Whoever organizes these things had mercifully combined all the 7th and 8th grade bands and cut down on the windbag speeches by administrative types, so the event was less of a marathon than last year's. The biggest news of the evening for our family, though, is that my son, never one for sitting still and quiet in auditoriums, actually made it through a couple of bands' worth of music.

My husband brought him in late, just in time for his sister's performance, and he made it through that one fine. He asked to stay for more, and listened peaceably to two more songs. We should have quit while we were ahead then, but he asked to stay for the next group and since he was still being pretty quiet, we acquiesced. Unfortunately, he ran out of self-control halfway through their second song and uttered those dreaded words: "I need to go home. Now." We made him wait until the next break, feeling that stepping over people during a song would be unacceptably disruptive, but maybe it would have been less disruptive than when he started singing along. Loudly. And poking his shoeless foot at the head of the lady in front of him.

So the evening ended less than successfully, especially since, when my son runs out of control, that's it for the night, he's off into orbit, and wrestling him into bed was no treat. But I'm thrilled that he tried, and thrilled that he made it as long as he did, and thrilled that he so wanted to. It's even good that he was able to articulate that he needed to leave rather than just demonstrating it with his behavior. Now if we could just get that articulation about 10 minutes before he actually implodes, we'd really be getting somewhere.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Amateur Musician Week

This is turning out to be Amateur Musician Week for me. Last night my daughter and I attended a production of "Guys and Dolls" at her middle school ("Guys and Dolls" would not have sprung to mind as a play to put kids in, but I hear there's a high school in our area putting on Sondheim's "Company," so I guess school plays have come a long way since my schoolmates and I dosey-doed through "Oklahoma"). The acting was passable, the singing good when not being drowned out by the blastingly loud taped orchestration. I noticed the kids all had those little black clip-on mikes, complete with units strapped to their backs, just like the pros use (well, probably a lot cheaper and lower-tech than the pros use, but still). Whoever used to make money teaching actors how to project is soon going to be out of business if even 8th-graders are being miked now.

I enjoyed the show a lot, but then, I'm a sucker for musical comedy, and had the advantage of having seen the show on Broadway with professional actors who could more often than not be heard over the orchestration. My daughter, who has trouble following stories when she can hear every word, had very little idea what was going on and wished the music was rock and roll. Nonetheless, I thought her wanting to go at all showed a certain amount of school spirit, and maybe next I can drag her to New York to see "Beauty and the Beast" with the girl from "Even Stevens" in it. My mom started making me go to musicals when I was 5 or 6, so I'm running behind.

Amateur Musician Week continues on Tuesday when my daughter makes her second appearance in our town's "All City Band" concert. She made the cut again this year and will be playing with the cream of the 6th-grade crop. Last year's concert was sort of an endurance test for doting parents, with more different permutations of inexperienced young musicians than you can possibly imagine taking the stage, playing somewhere between passably and painfully. At the very, very end, after we had given up most hope that our district's music program would ever produce anything uncringeworthy, the high school marching band stormed in and played a rousing, inspiring set. Now, those kids could play -- seemingly much better than the kids just a year or two behind them in school. I can think of only three explanations: a group of musical prodigies has just hit high-school age; the high school band leader has some sort of fantastical teaching power; or they're secretly using that same taped-in orchestration as the middle school uses for their musicals. This year, I'll have to see if those kids' lips are really blowing.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

More to fight about

Well, here's a nice little bomb dropping into the middle of the circumcision debate: Recent research suggests that circumcized men are less likely to contract HIV. The researchers have ruled out difference in lifestyle as the culprit and have now determined that HIV receptors in the foreskin are to blame for the discrepancy. As someone who's witnessed numerous fiery arguments over circumcision on adoptive parent e-mail lists -- and who mostly just never got around to circumcizing her own son, adopted at age 24 months and now 11 -- I really hate to see new research or thoughts of any sort coming down on this ever volatile topic. But if this is a decision your family is still wrestling with, well, wrestle some more.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

You Are What You Eat

Are you a hard-driving, type-A potato-chip lover? An introspective snack-cracker snarfer? Maybe the outgoing meat-snack type, or peppy with a pretzel preference? Does your bleeding heart beat for tortilla chips, or do you conscientiously long for cheese curls? Ridiculous as it may seem (and we agree, it seems pretty ridiculous), the Smell & Taste Treatment Research Foundation has conducted a study that proves that your favorite snack food has a meaningful connection to your personality type. If that's not enough farcical food research for you, check out the Foundation's deep-thinking study on the connection between garlic bread and positive family interactions. See, here you thought that your dinnertime was a disaster because of your children's behavioral problems or your own parenting weakness, little suspecting that all you had to do was pop a Pepperidge Farm loaf in the oven and wait for the garlic aroma to work its magic. What would we do without research?

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

New on Mothers with Attitude

April Cain's latest entry in her Thinking It Over column deals with parents who think their child can do no wrong — and yours can do nothing but. I've been pretty lucky, I guess, not to run into too many moms who are ready to blame my guy for anything and everything that goes wrong. For that, I have his sister. Sibling rivalry in our house is getting more intense as the girl becomes more of a teen-ager and the boy becomes more of a tease. They bicker before school, they bicker in the car on the way to school, they bicker in the car going home, they bicker around the TV, they bicker around the dinner table, they bicker at bedtime. I know they're just trying to bug each other, but what they really end up doing is bugging the heck out of me. Too bad they don't have a friend or two I could blame it on.

Monday, March 22, 2004

And you thought Tupperware parties were bad

I've heard of Botox parties and piercing parties, but this one really brings things to a new level: a nurse in Texas has been inviting her friends to colonoscopy parties -- and amazingly, they're still her friends. What could be more fun, after all, than getting together with the girls for an uncomfortable and invasive medical procedure? The "hostess" decorates the medical facility with signs like "I'm proud to be a party pooper" and hands out silly awards like "the worst prep," then the guests all cheer each other on as they're wheeled off for the procedure. One shudders to think what might be next if this sort of medical merriment catches on. Mammography parties? X-ray adventures? Surgical sleep-overs? I suppose if I really think about it, I've been to parties that may have been somewhat less fun than a colonoscopy, but all the same, I think I prefer to undergo my medical procedures when nobody I know is anywhere in the vicinity, much less throwing confetti.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Forget the SATs, first you have to pass third grade

Anyone who's ever uttered the words "My child doesn't test well" has to be a little taken aback by stories on the new policy in New York City by which third-graders who fail on standardized tests will be forced to repeat the year. I've seen how crazed teachers and administrators at my kids' schools get when it's standardized test time, and the stakes aren't anywhere near that high. One test to determine whether you move on or get held back seems like an awful lot of pressure to put on young shoulders -- not to mention the older shoulders of the teachers responsible for shepherding them through it. To some degree, it's not the kids who are failing these tests but the schools. Talk about a tough performance review.

The state of NYC schools, with kids getting held back in large numbers in high school, certainly indicates that something needs to be done. And it apparently falls on third graders to bear the burden of improving the educational system. Mayor Bloomberg feels their pain, and offers this advice: Suck it up. In an interview quoted in the Miami Herald, he states: "Yes, they may cry a little bit. But children in the third grade cry a lot, and it's part of the growing-up process." Lucky for him they're still too young to vote.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Cross about crossing

I have a fair amount of respect for people who work as school crossing guards. The idea of putting oneself in charge of the safety of other people's children is a daunting one, as is the idea of stepping confidently into an intersection in the path of cell-phone weilding, coffee sipping, child scolding, gas-pedal slamming drivers who feel that crosswalk lines don't apply to them. I've been a good crosswalk citizen, stopping in time to give the guard and his or her hordes of kiddos free space to cross; I've been a bad crosswalk citizen, horning into the passageway to get a head start on a right turn and then feeling sheepish as kids flow around my car; and I've been a judgmental crosswalk citizen, tsking at those who barge through when little ones have clearly left the sidewalk.

So I value a good crossing guard, I really do, and I wish them luck in a stressful job. But I gotta say, the old fellow who's crossing kids at the corner between my children's schools is really starting to get on my nerves. It's a busy intersection, and about the only hope a left-turner has of getting through in this lifetime is to turn on the green arrow -- which the city has thoughtfully provided, presumably in the realization that it's an absolute necessity. Apparently, though, they forgot to tell this crossing guard, who refuses to wait for the light to actually turn green and instead insists on crossing kids during that little sliver of green-arrow time, effectively blocking left-turning traffic for minutes or maybe hours, the way it feels sometimes. I don't understand why he thinks this okay -- the "walk/don't walk" sign still says "don't" when he's doing it -- but he's sure of himself, alright, to the point of yelling at drivers and banging on their cars as though they were trying to run a red light. I'm about ready to call the city and lodge a complaint about this -- because he's clogging an already congested street, because it's dangerous to cross kids when cars have a reasonable expectation of having the right of way, because his attitude ticks me off -- but I don't want to fall afoul of any sort of crossing guard union. Every now and then I need to cross the street, too.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Read this and you'll be 30 seconds older

Want to feel old? Here are a couple of sites sure to make you feel life is passing you by:

1. Things Other People Accomplished When They Were Your Age is a somewhat sadistic little program that allows you to plug in your age and see what historical figures much more organized than yourself had already acheived by that point in their lives. For example, when George Washington was 44, like me, he crossed the Delaware and captured Trenton, New Jersey. Lucky thing they didn't have the internet back then, 'cause old George would probably have just stayed home and started a patriotic blog.

2. Math Cats, a cute site designed to convince kids that math is fun, has a horrifying little gadget called the "age calculator" that will determine your age in years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and ever-moving seconds. Never has it been so easy to watch yourself get older and older and older. Kids will indeed think that's fun. Adults, not so much.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Playing favorites

Take a look at the book and Web site listings on Mothers with Attitude and you'll find a little surprise: I've added cute little flashing doohickies on many of the pages to indicate the books that have been my personal favorites and the Web sites I rely on regularly. Do my fave raves match up with yours? Post about the special needs books you find particularly indispensible on the message board and maybe I'll add them to my list.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Bad news

Three news stories that freaked me out this week:

1. Losing a Child Increases MS Risk. The Danish study that released that finding sees it as an indication that extreme psychological stress -- and certainly the death of a child, especially an unexpected death, falls into that category -- is a risk factor for multiple sclerosis. But the whole thing just makes my head spin. Did they follow a bunch of families who had suffered the tragic loss of a child just to see if any other bad stuff would happen to them? It seems sort of macabre, doesn't it? And since so many studies are aimed at prevention, it's hard to see that headline among ones that say eating too much or smoking too much or not exercising enough is bad for you. Like -- want to avoid MS? Make sure your kids don't die!

2. Drivers Spot X-Rated Films in Other Cars. On a lighter but similarly unsettling note, it appears that folks who buy cars and minivans tricked out with DVD players are not universally using them to watch Disney movies. Who would have imagined? And if we pass a law that makes watching offensive DVDs in your car a moving violation, can we also pass one about blasting offensive "music" from one's stereo? And most importantly, would this prevent me from singing along to old Barry Manilow tapes?

3. Toilet Seats Are Cleaner than Keyboards or Telephone Dials. And some minivans, apparently.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The cheeseburger diet

McDonald's Salad Has More Fat Than Cheeseburger! screamed the headline yesterday on Yahoo! news, and I imagine that anybody who ever felt guilty about eating a burger when there was more allegedly healthful fare on the menu let out a whoop and pumped a fist in the air. What suckers, those salad eaters! They could have had something much more yummy and been healthier for it! McDonald's may pretend to offer choices, but it's all one big crock of McNuggets! That's sure the impression the headline gave, and the impression the story gave. But it's a cheap shot, and as one of those suckers ... um, that is, one of those salad eaters, I feel compelled to offer a rebuttal. As with anything that tries to tell you cheeseburgers are good for you, there's more to the story.

For one thing, the cheeseburger they're using for comparison is not a Big Mac with cheese (33 grams of fat) or a Quarter Pounder with Cheese (29 grams of fat) or a succulent Double Cheeseburger (26 grams of fat), it's the compact little number served with kiddie meals. Now I've eaten them for lunch, and I've been satisfied with that and a few fistfuls of french fries, but I don't think it's what people have in mind when they hear "cheeseburger." The nutrition index on the McDonald's USA Web site lists this cheeseburger as having 14 grams of fat. A small order of fries -- and certainly, we all want fries with that -- adds 10 more grams of fat. And since overall fat grams aren't as important as the type of fat we're talking about, it should be noted that the cheeseburger has 6 grams of saturated fat and the fries 1.5.

On the salad side, there are indeed salads that have more grams of fat, even without the dressing, than a cheeseburger and fries combined -- but they're the salads topped with deep-fried chicken, and anybody who's ordering that with the thought that it's healthful has probably been watching those KFC commercials raving about how low-carb the stuff is. If you order the highest-fat salad -- in the U.S. it's the Crispy Chicken California Cobb, at 21 -- and smother it with an entire two-ounce pouch of the highest-fat dressing -- Newman's Own Ranch, at 30 -- you could indeed put together an artery-busting feast with 51 fat grams, 10.5 of them saturated. That's way more than the simple cheeseburger, but not far off from a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, with 47 fat grams, 20 of them saturated.

But it's probably as unfair to choose the Crispy Chicken California Cobb slathered with Ranch Dressing as indicative of McDonald's salad fare as it is to choose the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese as indicative of its hamburgers. What if you actually do have a reasonable idea of what's good for you, and choose a salad with grilled chicken instead? The Grilled Chicken Cobb has 11 fat grams (5 saturated), the Grilled Chicken Caesar 6 (3 saturated) and the Grilled Chicken Bacon Ranch 10 (4.5 saturated). The Cobb dressing has 9 grams of fat for the whole pouch (1.5 saturated), the Caesar 18 (3.5), and a low-fat balsamic vinaigrette 3 (0). Personally, I usually use only about half a pouch of dressing at most, so my favored meal of a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad with Caesar dressing comes out to about 15 grams of fat, 6.5 of it saturated -- a little more than the littlest cheeseburger, but less than that cheeseburger with fries, and a lot less than a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder.

The thing is, I'm skeptical as to the degree the general public really wants a place like McDonald's to offer truly healthy stuff. We like the idea; we expect them to do it and we're critical when it's apparently not healthy enough, but do we really want to sit at a table smelling hamburgers and french fries and eat nothing but vegetables and low-cal dressing? If we do, they'll accommodate us; all the salads are available without chidken, and the side salad has no fat at all. But we don't. We want to be able to eat a salad loaded with fried chicken and cheese and croutons and thick creamy dressing and pretend it's low-fat because it has the word "salad" in the name. Just like we want to believe that a big fat juicy cheeseburger is health food, too.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Something's fishy

Back when you were a kid and the cafeteria lady used to serve up some highly suspicious grub, did you ever imagine that she was pouring cod liver oil on your mashed potatoes or slipping sardine shards into your mac 'n' cheese? Well, your nightmare is coming true today in Texas. In an effort to make school lunches more nutritious without removing deep-fried kid favorites from the menu, lunch ladies in South Texas will be quietly injecting the goodies with fish oil. The thought is that the dangerous fat content of, say, a breakfast taco with bacon and cheese will be knocked out by the omega-3 fatty acids in the herring derivative.

Other nutritionists, who never met a fried food they liked and would probably actually enjoy eating fish oil, think this is all a bad idea, and that what Texas schools should really be doing is teaching kids how to select healthy foods like fruits and vegetables and lean non-fried meats. And that's all well and good, I guess. But I think the point that everybody's missing here is, THEY'RE PUTTING FISH OIL IN THE FOOD. If this gets out, the nutritionists won't have to worry about kids eating those unhealthy deep-fried treats, because no child in his right mind would even go near the cafeteria. Better start sending notices home telling parents how to prepare healthy sack lunches.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Family-safe ads

If the FCC is so concerned about cleaning up the airwaves, maybe it should start paying as much attention to the ads as it does to the programming. Radio commercials are bad enough -- there have been some spots for horror movies, crime-time TV shows and politicians that have been at least as disturbing to my daughter as Howard Stern would be -- but it's the TV commercials for pharmaceuticals that have really been making me squirm lately. People rant and rave about how MTV can show Britney Spears before bedtime, and networks impose five-second delays on award shows lest a celebrity use any of those words you can't say on television, but is anybody keeping track of the placement of ads for Viagra-type drugs amid shows kids might be watching?

I know they're not exactly showing them on Nickelodeon or anything, but my son loves the Food Network, and so apparently do lots of people with erectile dysfunction, and every time that Cialis ad plays with its warning about what to do if its product works too well, I wince in anticipation of the day when one of my kids is going to ask me what that's all about. Not to mention the ads for an antidepressant that have been on heavy rotation lately, in which a chirpy female voice mentions that there are "no sexual side effects," not once, not twice, but at least three times. I'm telling you, it would be far easier and more comfortable for me to explain to my kids what Janet Jackson's breast was doing outside her costume than it would be for me to explain what "sexual side effects" might be. Shouldn't promotion of this merchandise be restricted to programming after 11 p.m.? The target audience for this stuff is probably up late anyway.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Drink your milk, it's good for you

Want your kids to lose weight? Make sure they're eating enough fat and dairy! That somewhat counterintuitive advice comes from a study by Boston University researchers who found that too little fat in the diet can be as much of a problem as too much fat, and that cutting down on dairy products can lead to obesity in children. Dairy seems to be the main issue -- the problem with low fat diets being that they cut the dairy out -- although nobody knows quite why. There may be some intracellular magic worked by dairy products, or dairy products may make kids feel full so they do less grazing of junk food throughout the day. Junk food is still a dietary mainstay that nobody has anything good to say about, by the way. If only Cheetos, Cheez-its and Ritz Bitz Cheese Sandwiches counted as dairy, we'd have the healthiest kids in the world.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

New on "Mothers with Attitude"

1. The latest entry in Ken Swarner's Family Man column deals with his daughter's utter lack of confidence that he knows what he's doing. Now that's a feeling with which most of us with preteens and teens are all to familiar.

2. A new question on our little corner of the message boards: What's your child reading now? If your kid's hooked on an author, series or genre (or if you've read the same picture book to a little one 50,000 times), stop by and share.

3. Did you catch the adoption "joke" on the TV show "8 Simple Rules" last week? Read about it on Adoption Watch.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Miss Independent

My daughter is starting to call my bluff.

She's always been a particularly fearful girl, and I've always been the one encouraging her to transcend her fears and try new things. Sometimes the new things are non-negotiable -- she had to leave elementary school and go on to middle school whether it terrified her or not -- and some things might be -- she doesn't really have to play in the school band or go to camp, although I may make it seem that way. Since she's been the one worrying and hesitating and panicking, I've been the one reasoning and pushing and comforting. I haven't wanted her to limit herself, or turn down opportunities she's gained through her hard work and conscientiousness. I haven't wanted her to miss important experiences. And things have always turned out well for her -- she's almost always been glad she did them. That's made me pretty secure in my strategy.

So yesterday, when she came home with a notice about a band trip that involved a long bus ride to another state and a day at a theme park, I was all ready to talk her into it. I was sure she'd be nervous about being so far away from home without me, and going around to rides and amusements without any kids that she knew well along. I'll be a chaperone, I was going to tell her; I'll make sure the director assigns you a buddy; we'll talk through every problem moment and figure out what you'll do. But she was way ahead of me -- she was excited about going. She thought it sounded like a wonderful day. And as for me chaperoning, she would just as soon I didn't. She thought she was ready to try this alone.

And that's an enormous breakthrough for her. It's an amazing step forward, and I'm proud as can be. Except ... now I'm not so sure she's ready to try this alone. I can think of a million scary things that could go wrong. How can I let her go through this without me? I'm worrying and hesitating and panicking. But better me than her.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Movies: R. Awards show: PG.

Such a nice, family-values kind of evening that Academy Awards was the other night. Everybody was so clean and well-behaved. Stars brought their children and their parents. Actresses kept their cleavage under control. Sofia Coppola represented the third generation in her family to win an Oscar, and presented an award with her dad. Speeches were boring but well-mannered, no one forgot to thank his or her spouse, and the evening ended on the early side so the folks at home could get a good night's sleep. It was all family-friendly enough to make you forget that every one of the winning performances came in an R-rated film noted for violent content, and that a lot of the whiz-bang technical wizardry "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" got awarded for was in the service of really cool looking battle scenes and frightening imagery. But hey, none of that at the awards! Sean Penn didn't hit anybody! Charlize Theron was back to looking beautiful! Our movies may be filled with violence and sexual content, but we're really nice folks with families like anybody else!

Maybe the PG vibe was an intentional reaction to the firestorm ignited by Janet Jackson's Super Bowl exposure, or just an amazing coincidence. The show got better ratings this year than last, probably more on the weight of "Lord of the Rings" fans tuning in than anything else, but there's sure to be a certain amount of crowing that a well-run, scandal-free show brought viewers back to the tube. I'm not so sure, though -- maybe the producers ought to think again about just how much attention the Super Bowl glitch got. I'm thinking that if they really want Oscar ceremony ratings to soar, they ought to guarantee that sometime during the show, some starlet's going to have a wardrobe malfunction. We may have to tuck the kids in early, but we'll be glued to our sets.