Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine, and a little rant

I finally caught up with the movie Little Miss Sunshine last night on DVD, and found it to be every bit as funny and enjoyable as I'd heard. What's really amazing is that my husband, who's not a big fan of little comedies or independent films, watched it and laughed right along with me. Whether that broadness of appeal will serve it well on Oscar night remains to be seen. I don't know if it's really substantial enough to bear the Best Picture mantle, but it would be kind of a kick to see something sweet and light and fun beat out all the grim and violent and super-serious fare that usually triumphs. Speaking of all those grim and violent films -- one thing that really struck me about Little Miss Sunshine is that it's like a case study for why the movie rating system needs to be overhauled. I'm not saying it's a great movie for kids; they'd be bored, if nothing else. But to give this confection the same rating as, say, an over-the-top violent film like The Departed seems kinda nuts. Little Miss Sunshine's "R" seems to be mostly for its language, and it's true that the grandfather's patter is extremely salty and sexual. The other characters call him on it, though, and aside from his spiels there are only a few random "F-words" used in times of extreme frustration and anger by the parents and teen brother. The grandfather is also seen snorting heroin once, and the covers of some pornographic magazines are shown. Compared to the language load you'd get in most R-rated films, or drug use or sex or graphic violence, it's pristine. The ratings are supposed to guide parents, and I'll tell you, if they're putting the same rating on this movie and, say, "Saw III," they're not helping me distinguish very well things that will give my teens a naughty laugh versus things that will make them unable to sleep, ever. I'm just saying, there needs to be a better system, and there needs to be people setting the ratings who are more shocked by violence than they are by bad language and a chubby little girl doing a fake strip-tease fully clothed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mother in waiting

My daughter is hanging out at the mall today. That's something she hasn't done much of, partly because she's not a big one for shopping, partly because she doesn't have that many friends to hang out with, partly because I am smothering and overprotective. I'm trying to suppress those latter impulses today; she's old enough to hang out, and maybe probably has enough good sense to do so safely, despite my worst fears. She's out with a boy she's been friends with for a few years, friends but not friends friends, if you know what I mean, and although I'm not crazy about the prospects of him having good sense, his mother is with them at least in a transportational sense and it will probably be okay. Right? Right? She's a freshman in high school and I'm supposed to be giving her space. Not enough space to get lost in, but enough to maybe have a soda at the food court. I'll be glad when she's home, though.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The fine points of diagnosis

Here's how most moms know that their child is sick: The child is slow in the morning, won't get out of bed, and is whiny and clingy all day. Here's how I know my son is sick: He pops out of bed early and gets completely dressed, then sits quietly all through his sick day home from school. Why does perfect conduct have to mean illness for this guy? Normally, I have to remove him from bed with a crowbar, but Friday morning he was awake and clad before I was, and sure enough, he had a fever. Sigh. It's nice for a bit, to have this quiet calm boy, but after a while I do miss his spirit. He'll be back to talking and questioning and jumping and wrestling and burying himself under the bedcovers soon enough, and I'll be glad. But couldn't I get just a little of that good behavior without bad health?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Traffic trauma

Today was like, "Snow Day 2: The Aftermath." It didn't really even snow all that blasted much here, not by a normal winter's standards. But it hasn't been a normal winter, and I guess everybody was all discombobulated by it, because traffic this morning on the pretty-well-plowed streets was unbelievable. About 20 minutes in to the normally 10-minute drive to my son's school, I could still see an endless line of stop-and-go traffic stretching out ahead of me, and figured I could find better ways to spend the next 20 minutes than creeping along, so we headed back home. I had my guy do some homework he'd forgotten about, and when I could see out my window that the streets were clear we tried the commute again, and made it in no time. He'll probably get tagged with a tardy, but at least he passed the time productively and got a less frustrating start to the day. I mean, considering how much muttering and grumbling and yelling at cars I would have done if we'd stayed in the endless line-up, he'd have been a pretty tense teen by the time I dropped him off.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Working in a winter wonderland

We're having our first snow day of a warm and snowless winter today. This was already kind of a disruptive week of school, with half days for both kids (though on different days for different schools), my son's teacher on jury duty, and next week being Winter Break. Not a lot of learning going to be going on this week, I think. But also not a lot of homework, and one fewer drop-off-pick-up routine today, and those both have their charms. My kids got iTunes gifts for Valentine's Day and have been peacefully listening to/watching them all morning, letting me get a little work done. It's days like this I really realize how much they've grown up, and how able they've become to amuse themselves, something I wasn't sure I'd ever see. Will I one day wish that they needed me more constantly, for old time's sake? Maybe. But not today.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Test whiplash

My daughter recently had her three year evaluation by the special education team, and then about a month later got her second report card from her first year in high school. And you know, you could get whiplash from looking at these two items side by side. Because the evaluation gives every indication that this is a young person with very limited potential, skills down at elementary school level, low IQ, poor communication abilities. You'd just cry, reading this, and want to give her a hug and teach her how to weave baskets. And then you'd look at the report card, for a slate of classes that include two resource room, two inclusion, and three mainstream, and you'd see ... four As, two Bs and one C. She's a sweet kid who tries hard and I'm willing to buy that there's a little bit of mercy grading going on, but this much? To this degree? How is it that her skills test so abysmally, yet she's able to pull decent marks in grade-level classes? Clearly she has functional and compensatory abilities that aren't measured on tests. It makes me wonder if the evaluations have any value at all for a student like her, other than to keep her in services. I don't feel like we learn anything at all useful from them. And she comes out of them feeling stupid, to the degree that she can't quite own the greatness of having a good report card. The kind of standardized tests the government places so much stress on don't measure her strengths very well, either. So maybe the report card's the aberration here, I don't know. But I'm putting it on my refrigerator anyway.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Grey's Anatomy is more powerful than I thought

I knew Grey's Anatomy was a big powerful TV hit, able to survive time-slot changes and win awards and stir controversies, but I didn't realize quite how powerful it was until last Thursday night. I had to go to a meeting that the superintendent of our school district holds periodically to communicate to designated members of each school's parent organization what's going on in education and educational politics. There's been a lot to say on the matter in our town lately, with a couple of school budgets and construction projects going down in flames for reasons too complex and infuriating to go into here. There's been a lot to say, and this particular superintendent says it and says it and says it, at legendary length. He's actually an engaging speaker, and I think he's done as good a job for our schoolchildren as he's been allowed to, but meetings of which he is in charge are notoriously long and talky. So when one fell on a Thursday, I mourned for my ability to watch Grey's, instructed my husband to tape it if I wasn't home, and secretly plotted to have a family emergency that required me to duck out at 8:45. But, shockingly, no such contingencies were necessary -- the superintendent announced at the outset that several people had requested that the meeting be over in time for Grey's Anatomy, and at 8:30, after an hour-and-a-half of talking, he indeed announced that he would wrap up the formal portion of the meeting so that anybody who had a show to catch could leave. Unbelievable! This, my friends, is the power of the Seattle Grace crew: They can make an education bureaucrat stop talking. I wonder if Bailey would come to my next IEP meeting?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Staying up late for Lost

So Lostis finally, finally back, and how happy am I that it's on at 10 p.m. now? I know some viewers have lamented that the show isn't still on at 9 p.m. or even 8 p.m., but as for me, I'm entirely loving the ability to hunker down and watch the show without either a) hopping up during commercials to get kids into bed, or b) delaying bedtime and risking that one of my kids will wander into the room to see someone getting hit by a bus, or creamed by a smoke monster or something. My kids have enough trouble getting to sleep without all of that. So hooray for Lost on late! But they better keep the action coming if I'm going to stay awake.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Watching his mouth

My son tends to get stuck on certain phrases and repeat them over and over. Most of the time they're just mildly annoying; lately variations on "I'm old," with "ooold" getting a stretched out rolling sort of sound, have fallen firmly into this category, and "I'm not in the mood" was around for a long while but is now phasing out. Every now and then, though, he gets stuck on something that's not so okay to say -- never a bad word, thankfully, but something like, "I'm going to pound you! Are you going to pound me?" Last night, when we went to pick up a new pair of glasses for him (never having found the lost ones), he came out with "Don't lose these or I'll beat you!" The words "I'll beat you!" were heard any number of times during our visit to the optometrist, and I can't honestly say whether folks were looking at us with concern because I was so busy trying to get him to stop saying that, or to explain to all and sundry that it was his invisible friend Scooby who was threatening to beat him, and not his gentle loving Mom and Dad. He hasn't said anything like that since we left the eye doctor, so I have hopes "I'll beat you!" isn't going into heavy repetitive rotation. Getting ooold doesn't seem so bad compared to that.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sleep research

I'm reading a book right now called Sleepless in America: Is Your Child Misbehaving or Missing Sleep? by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, who also wrote Raising Your Spirited Child, an earlier parenting book favorite of mine. I'm just a little way in, but Kurcinka is making a decent case for the idea that a lot of bad behavior is caused by fatigue, or rather, by the wired-upping that kids need to do to stay alert when they're fatigued. And while I try not to get swept up in each new parenting theory, especially one posited by someone who was selling a different parenting theory not that long ago, I have to say that to some extent, this seems applicable to my son's behavior. Not the sole reason for it, certainly, but a factor. Even he sees it: The kid saw the book on my desk, pointed to the subtitle, and said, "That's like me, mom!" So I have to give the notion some credence. I haven't gotten to the part in the book yet where Kurcinka gives instructions on how to re-make your family's sleep patterns, but I've taken some preliminary steps and will see over the next couple of weeks if they make a difference. Like making my son go to bed at 9 p.m. when his older sister, the sleepyhead, goes down; he may still lay in bed for an hour or more talking to himself, but when sleep does come it should be earlier. I'm also making an effort to get myself into bed at 11 p.m. every night, rather than falling asleep in my clothes at 10:30, with the lights on because I'm planning to still do more work, and waking up at 2:30 a.m. to finally "go to bed" and then lay awake for a while. I don't know how much sleep deprivation contributes to my son's bad behavior, but I know it contributes to mine.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Social success, of sorts

Well, here's another landmark for my son: He's finally found a social-skills group that will have him for a member. For years, I'd try to get him into groups like this one only to have the gatekeepers evaluate him and tell me, noooo, no no, no, he's not for us, leaving me to wonder what kind of social skills the kids in the group must possess that would still be needful of a group but would be so very superior to my distractible and impulsive but basically good-natured guy's. I guess he's grown into acceptability with time, because this weekend he participated in a group and the folks evaluating him felt he fit in fine. I could hear his voice wafting out to the waiting room from time to time, sounding perfectly friendly and comfortable. So now I have to wonder: Does the fact that his social skills are now good enough to allow him to be in a social-skills group mean that he no longer needs to be in one?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A little early-morning justice

This morning, while driving to school, my son and I saw a familiar sight: a special-education bus with its lights flashing and stop-sign outstretched. This bus, I'll admit, is kind of a nuisance; it blocks a busy road by a middle school each morning just a few minutes before school starts, catching those of us who leave too late and count on shaving seconds on the route in a long, slow wait as a child is wheeled from the house, loaded aboard, and given a few last good words from Mom. It's a nuisance, but a necessary one, and as someone who has in the past loaded her own child into such a bus, I don't begrudge it. But this morning, someone sure did: We saw one, then two cars cut around the bus and accelerate away. Except -- oh, joy! -- the second car was actually a police car, and it immediately pulled over the person who just could not wait for that bus to load. Ha! That's the kind of thing you almost never see happen, a police car right in place to nab someone driving unsafely. The rest of us sat very politely and waited for that loading to completely take place, and for those lights to go off and that stop sign to fold in. All the time in the world, yes sir, officer. No hurry here. Although, you know, did the mom really need to chat up the bus driver at such length? Did I used to do that, too?