Friday, May 30, 2003

New on "Mothers with Attitude"

Yesterday marked the debut of a new columnist on Mothers with Attitude -- this one a Father with Attitude, Ken Swarner, whose "Family Man" column will appear every week or two on the site. This week's entry involves his wife's need to save every last memento of their children's academic careers, and his tolerance thereof. He's more tolerant than my husband, anyway. I have to grab things and hide them in a box under the bed to keep him from throwing out all those precious papers and projects. Of course, our bed's about an inch from the ceiling now, so maybe he's getting suspicious.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Chorus lines

Well, the big spring concert is over. That's one good thing you can say about it.

A school year's worth of wondering if my boy would manage to stay in chorus all the way to the big spring concert is over, too. Another good thing.

My daughter played the trombone during the band portion of the concert in a way that sounded pretty good when you could hear the brass section over the shreiky flutes and squeaky reeds.

My daughter's friend didn't throw up during the chorus performance the way he did at the dress rehearsal, and I'm sure there's a long line of people who think that's a pretty darn good thing.

My son's own performance at the dress rehearsal was by several accounts a thing of wonder, with him singing all the words clear and true and impressing the three aides who mentioned it.

And the concert, you ask? How did he do at the concert?


I guess you could say he did better than I feared and worse than I'd hoped. He spent about half the time singing (and we could hear his piping voice, right on pitch) and half the time standing in a daze sucking on his shirt cuff. In between those two phases were periodic little bouts of movement -- raising his hands over his head, turning around, leaning over, causing the girls on either side of him to inch further and further away. It wasn't terrible. Probably I was the only one who was watching his behavior with such eagle eyes. If he'd been in the back, nobody would have likely noticed him at all. Unfortunately, he was right front and center, and all I could think of was all the chorus parents making videos of the big night and how he was going to be twitching around in the front of ever frame.

But that's wrong thinking. I need to think about what a triumph this was for him to make it through the year and through the evening. He told me he was glad he took chorus and that he had fun, and I need to be happy about that. I need to smile when people tell me how cute he was up there and take it as acceptance, not condescencion. I need to be glad he's a part of the community, participating in ways I would never have imagined he could. And I need to be every bit as proud of him as the parents of the shrill flautists and bleating clarinetists are of their little musicians -- more proud of the effort than of the result.

I'm tryin'. Really, I'm tryin'. And I'll get there. Sometime before next year's concert, anyway.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

A little night music

Say a prayer tonight, those of you who are so inclined, for my son, who will against all odds be performing in his school's chorus concert. That is, if he makes it through the rehearsal today without ticking off the music teacher sufficiently to earn an ouster from the group. I've been expecting that to happen since the idea arose for my guy to join the chorus in the first place. After all, this is a teacher who has consistently given him bad report-card marks for behavior in music class. When the note came home saying my boy had been accepted in chorus -- not that they asked me first whether I though it would be a good idea to even mention it to him -- I approached the teacher and asked: Are you sure about this? Do we really think asking a kid who can't make it through music class without a meltdown to stay after school, at which point he's usually used up all his resources for control, and behave himself in a large group of mainstream kids with no aide is a good idea? But the teacher suggested we give it a try and reassess on a weekly basis, and the child was enthusiastic about participating, and so the mom gave a wary okay. And who knew? Here we are in May, with a concert to attend.

Honestly, I still can't believe it. If he really gets up on that stage tonight and sings and stands there nicely without drawing attention to himself, I will watch in shock and awe. Heck, I'll be shocked and awed if he just stands there nicely. It seems to be such a bad idea through and through, such an unlikely situation, such high odds for him to find success, that part of me is still sure I'll find a note in his bookbag today saying, "Please keep this little hellion as far away from the auditorium tonight as you possibly can." If he makes it and does okay, does this mean I really don't know anything? Naaah, can't be. If he gets on that stage, folks, he'll need prayers. Lots and lots of prayers. And maybe a few for the mom having a nervous attack in the audience, too.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Smile and say "Ritalin!"

No longer content to merely "share moments, share life," the folks at Kodak are now apparently intent on sharing our neurological infirmities as well. While conducting experiments as to whether photographic images could relieve stress and depression, Kodak researchers noticed that certain subjects had an unexpected reaction to stress — an atypical oscillation of temperatures as measured by monitors attached to their pinkies — and that these subjects turned out with notable frequency to have been previously diagnosed with ADHD. Could this be the cut-and-dried, scientific, unbiased test for ADHD that parents have long been longing for? Maybe, say researchers. Maybe not. But I sure hope Polaroid's already working on a version that lets you do it all at home and skip the doctor entirely.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Getting into the Memorial Day spirit

I'm worried that there may be some sort of military exercises going on at my kids' school today. I saw a little boy walking into the building today wearing a complete camouflage ensemble -- not just pants, but shirt, cap, boots, even a camouflage backpack. He was ready for anything, that kid. Now, maybe his family believes in supporting the troops, and encourages their son to make sartorial choices that conform to their strong pro-military leanings. Or maybe they're rolling their eyes when he self-assembles the G.I. Joe look; maybe he's going through a phase. But really -- a camouflage backpack? Maybe school's more of a jungle than I thought.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Dr. Mom and Mr. Infectious

I was feeling pretty good about my child-health-care ability this morning. I kept my son home from school yesterday, having guessed just on the basis of a slight fever and exposure to a sick cousin that he had strep throat. His climbing temperature throughout the day and careful swallowing strengthened my belief, and the doctor this morning confirmed it: positive for strep. I have to do so much through observation and instinct with this kid, since he doesn't feel pain much and makes no big deal when something hurts, that it's a major self-esteem boost when I get such a positive sign that I was right. I've learned to believe him when he says he's sick and doesn't feel like going to school; to believe his body language as much as verbal complaints when he's ailing; and to not feel silly about calling the doctor when it might all turn out to be nothing. And this time, anyway, it paid off.

So as I say, I was feeling pretty good about myself, pretty secure in my mom-ness, and then I went and made a bush-league mistake. I forgot the rule about never saying "Don't do it" to my son, because the "don't" falls off somewhere between his ear and his brain and all that gets to his trigger-happy impulse center is "Do it!" So, for example, when we were walking out through the doctor's crowded waiting room, and I said, lightly, "Okay, let's get out of here. Don't breathe on anybody," my boy immediately turned to a nearby child and exhaled strep germs right in his face. The mother looked appalled, and for a moment dire consequences flashed before me: Is there such a thing as "assault with intent to infect"? Is it written up in the Homeland Security Act somewhere in the "biological warfare" section? They're executing people in China for spreading SARS; what do we do here for deliberate strep spreaders? Can we be sued for loss of school days? What if this kid was visiting the doctor because he's medically fragile or immune deficient? Can germs be considered a deadly weapon?

But the other mom, God bless her, finally shrugged and asked, wearily, what my son had. When I mentioned strep, she said her son would probably be getting antibiotics anyway, because she thought he had an ear infection. Sure hope her guess was as good as mine.

Teachers can't prescribe

Schools won't be able to force medication on their students anymore -- or even recommend it -- if a bill recently passed by the House has anything to say about it. Representatives passed H.R. 1170, the Child Medication Safety Act, despite complaints from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology that the legislation is both unnecessary, since no one knows the extent to which schools are actually pushing psychotropic meds in the first place, and a bad idea, since it would cause teachers to hesitate in expressing concern to a parent about a child's mental health. The weight of anecdotal evidence fell in favor of getting schools out of the business of prescribing medication, and the bill passed 425-1.

Now, the extent to which dealing with schools and child study teams can affect parents' mental health, and force them to consider medication for themselves -- this, the legislators let go unregulated. Go figure.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Shameless pleas for traffic

I've been suffering from chronic procrastination lately, and part of it is due to some new toys I'm playing around with on the Web. One of them is Alexa, which purports to offer information about Web sites such as overall rank, sites linked to and from, reviews, ownership, and related book suggestions. It's hard to resist checking Mothers with Attitude's ranking 50 or 60 times a day (repeat after me: "We're number 2,081,768! We're number 2,081,768!"). The information doesn't seem to be entirely accurate -- for example, it lists only one site as linking to MWA, and there's lots more than that -- but they have a customer service department that actually writes you back when you ask for something to be fixed, and that makes them my new best Web friends.

If you'd like to join the effort to move Mothers with Attitude into the high 2,070,000s, there are a couple of ways you can help. One is to download our customized version of the Alexa toolbar -- a nifty little doohickey for Windows browsers that helps you get site information as you surf -- and visit Mothers with Attitude a whole lot, giving us the illusion of actual traffic. Another is to go to the site's page on Alexa and write a nice review. Make us number 2,081,768 with a bullet!

Speaking of book suggestions, I've also been playing around with a fancy-schmancy bookshop set-up offered to affiliates, making like a kid in a candy store and setting up lots of pages of best-selling search results for all your adoption and special-needs needs. It's still a work in progress, but open for shopping nonetheless. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

The bowling dynasty begins

Woo-hoo, my daughter's a local celebrity. As the fifth-grade girls winner in our town's Youth Week bowling tournament (with a score of 165 no less, her highest yet), she was honored at tonight's City Council meeting. Well, that is, if you consider "honored" to mean getting to shake hands with a bunch of local politicians and get your face on public access TV. She doesn't think too much of any of that, I know; she was nervous and bored and unsure, since she'd already gotten her award ribbon and certificate, what the point of this whole exercise was, anyway. But she went, and she walked up to the front when her name was called, and she pressed the flesh, and she even almost smiled when all the winners were lined up for final applause. When it was all over, she admitted that she'd been scared but was glad she'd done it. A mom can't ask for more than that.

Monday, May 19, 2003

To operate or not to operate?

I've been following the case of the Michigan parents whose treatment of their daughter's brain tumor was challenged by the state with a great deal of dread. The parents had chosen homeopathic remedies for the child's condition, but doctors argued she would die without surgery; of course, there was a pretty good chance she would die from the surgery, or be severely impaired. The parents were charged with neglect for not subjecting their child to the surgery, and for a while it looked as though the girl would be seized and operated upon against their will. But according to recent reports, the brain tumor is now considered to be inoperable, and so the prosecutor is backing off and just insisting on conventional medical care and keeping the child comfortable.

Now, I have to confess, I have my doubts about homeopathic treatments. And I'm not sure I wouldn't go to any medical lengths to save my child's life if it came to that. But in this case, the parents appeared to have gathered medical opinions and decided that surgery was too risky, and to have turned to something that might not save their daughter's life, but wouldn't put a prompt end to it, either. And the thought of disagreeing with professionals, or making decisions based on their opinion that may be seen as less than traditional, bringing on a charge of negligent parenting is sure something that strikes a little fear in me. I second-guess my decisions all the time, but wouldn't want prosecutors and child-welfare workers doing it for me. Especially if it involved something as serious as potentially fatal surgery.

So I'm glad that, for now, this case has been resolved. But you can sure 'nough look for it to be argued again on "ER" and "Law and Order" for seasons to come.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

New on "Mothers with Attitude"

April Cain shares a sweet little springtime story of letting go of your gardening plans and just enjoying the flowers in the latest installment of her "Thinking It Over" column. Like April's boys, my son likes to pick flowers and present them to me, although in his case it's usually dandelions plucked from our overgrown lawn that wilt almost immediately upon presentation. Doesn't matter, though, 'cause he insists that I wear the poor things and carry them around and put them in water and cherish them until they completely biodegrade. As we all know, it's the wonderful loving childish thought that counts, and as long as there's enough of that there will always be plenty of dandelions. This is why I never plant a garden.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

News flash: Autism on the rise

A new report indicates that the rate of autism among kids in California has doubled in recent years. If you missed the headlines about this a day or two ago, check out the Google News listing for 40-some different places to read all about it. Or, download the report directly from the state's Department of Developmental Services. For once, the powers that be seem to be acknowledging that there's really something going on with this increase, not just an improvement in diagnosis and public awareness. That's a step in the right direction, anyway, if only a teeny-tiny baby one.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Revelation, eight months too late

It occurs to me now, at the end of the school year, when it's too late to do anything about it, that the "instructional aide" in my daughter's class -- the one whom I have been assured over and over again works with other students as well as my girl, the one I was assured had the ability to modify assignments, the one I was promised would not be a one-on-one aide -- is ...well, a one-on-one aide. I've been feeling annoyed with her all year for expending so much attention and smothering care on my daughter when she supposedly had other kids to work with; and now it's finally clicked: Her behavior (up to and including asking my daughter if she's going to move up to the middle school with her) makes sense if she's a one-on-one who occasionally helps other kids, as opposed to a classroom aide who helps a bunch. This is so thoroughly exactly what I have been asking and pleading and begging NOT to have that the realization has kind of knocked the wind out of me.

I don't know if people have been willfully lying to me or conveniently misunderstanding me or doing what they think is right in spite of me or just doing what they can with the personnel available, but MAN, I just want to scream. It's not the end of the world, I know -- that would be needing an aide desperately and not being able to get one -- but it's just beyond frustrating to keep feeling like I have all my kids' ducks in a row and then finding that it's the wrong row, and they're really geese.

And here I was feeling all good because I'd had a great meeting with the counselor at the middle school who agreed with everything I said and talked a perfect program for my daughter. You know, I used to think I was in the "say yes to whatever this mom wants, she knows what she's talking about" file; but now I realize it's probably the "say yes to whatever this mom wants, then do whatever you were going to do anyway" one. If I homeschooled my kids, would I have to weasel myself this way?

Saturday, May 10, 2003

The adoptee did it

Kind of a mixed bag on the "Murder, She Wrote" movie last night for those interested in adoption and special needs. On the one hand, I was thrilled when a point was made of a pregnant woman specifically not drinking alcohol. Jessica Fletcher and I both picked up on the clue when the woman's friend expressed surprise that she was choosing orange juice over whiskey, and a scene or two later, sure enough, Jessica got her to confess she was expecting. Nice that abstaining under those circumstances is thought to be so telling as to serve as a clue.

Not so thrilling, on the other hand, was the fact that the murderer turned out to be a bitter adoptee. His sad story, told in the form of clues along the way and a final angry confession, included: a birthfather forced by his family to abandon his pregnant girlfriend; a birthmother who hanged herself after putting her baby up for adoption; an abusive adoptive father; a cold and unloving adoptive mother; and a plot of revenge against the birthfamily. Sheesh! Lucky thing the boyfriend of that whiskey-denying expectant mom has no family to whisk him away from her. Wouldn't want to be passing any of this horrifying scary adoption stuff into the next generation.

Friday, May 09, 2003

New on Mothers with Attitude

7,300 diapers. 42,150 baby wipes. 1,825 bedtime stories. 32 IEP meetings. Chrystal Ziliotto counted up all the little and big things that have happened to her family in the five years since bringing her daughter home from Russia, and quantifies it all in a cute contributor piece called What Happens in Five Years. My kids are going on nine years home now and I've long lost count of all our personal tabulatables, but it was fun to go over Chrystal's list and think about earlier years and lower numbers. Give it a look.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Gifts for all new additions

Anybody who's ever flailed around looking for a good baby gift for an adoptive or special needs family -- rejecting items that are too infant-centric, or too white-baby-centric, or too healthy-baby-centric -- will enjoy clicking through the site for Seedling & Pip, a baby-gift enterprise from actress Susan Saint James and her sister, Mercedes Dewey, who has a child adopted from Korea. Among the offerings are pretty gift baskets filled with books on adoption or special-needs themes and various appropriate accessories. When I think of the bookstore time I put in trying to gather a gaggle of storybooks for a new Chinese adoptee some years ago, it makes these nicely assembled gifties look pretty good -- thought I have a feeling the tab from Borders was a lot cheaper than these bundles of joy will run you. Fun surfing, anyway.

Monday, May 05, 2003

In the news

The New York Times has a story about how SARS is affecting families who are planning to adopt children from China. In some cases, American agencies are postponing adoptions, in others China is saying "Don't come." In no cases mentioned in the story are parents wanting to stay away. But a few of those coming home in recent weeks are showing SARS-like symptoms. ... The Bergen Record has a story about how children in special education in New Jersey are failing the state's new pre-high-school-graduation test at an alarming rate. As a parent of two children in special-ed in NJ, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I can't see my kids ever doing well on a test like this, and I'd hate to think that's going to cost them any hope of a high school diploma. On the other hand, I have to laugh at all the hand-wringing and wondering why kids with special needs aren't measuring up, because it reminds me of Child Study Team meetings when my daughter was still in self-contained in which nobody could tell me what grade level she was working at, or even imagine why I would want to know. You can't drift along with no particular urgency or connection to the normal curriculum and then be surprised when the kids don't know as much as their peers. Things have improved in our district in recent years -- the special-ed kids are at least using the same textbooks as the rest of the school -- but there's sure room for improvement ... And finally, when I feel all whiny about something for the next little while, I'm going to think about this guy, and stop.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

Aw, never mind

Alright, so I'm feeling kind of guilty about yesterday's diatribe about my son's gym participation, since I had a nice meeting with the gym teacher in the p.m. and got the scoop on the previous day's activities. Issues were discussed amicably, requests for better communication were accepted, and I found out that my son can balance a peacock feather stem-down on his opened hand. That was the gym activity on Wednesday -- "circus skills," the teacher called it, and I'm just hoping that word of this never gets out around school-budget-voting time -- and I can totally see why my guy'd want to give it a try. It apparently got him all good and focused, and that focus spilled over into the rest of the day, and who can really argue with that. Me, I'm going to let this one go and concentrate all my anxiety on the meeting I have next Wednesday with the counselor at the middle school my daughter will be attending next year. Maybe if I go in with a peacock feather balanced on my nose, he'll just decide I'm crazy and do whatever I say.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Do I have to write a MEMO?

Work on Mothers with Attitude's new "Parent's Porfolio," as introduced last Thursday, are moving along, with more of my dusty file archives posted and an index growing. There are also plans for a message board on which parents can share shorter, occasion-specific notes to teacher and commiserate about all those silly little school bloopers that cause steam to come out of our ears.

Like this one: My son is not supposed to participate in gym. It's in his IEP. The Child Study Team agrees it's inappropriate for him at this time. At the beginning of the year, it was arranged for him to have his physical therapy during gym time, but then the PT changed her schedule and he wound up sitting on the bleachers for one of the weekly gym periods, being entertained by his one-on-one aide and the classroom aide but not participating in the activities. I had every reason to believe that everybody was on board with this plan. Except that yesterday morning, when I asked my son what he was going to be doing during his gym period that day, he said he was going to do gym with the other kids. He and the gym teacher had talked about it, and he was going to try something they were doing today. He said he wanted to, and was it okay, and far be it from me to discourage him when he wants to be included in an activity. But why the *&1%# should I be put in the position of doing that? Why should I be hearing about this from him, on the morning of? Why did nobody think this was something to mention? Or did they not mention it on purpose because this child's evil mother is trying to keep him from good healthy physical activity?

I let my blood boil off for a little bit and then calmly called the gym teacher, who not surprisingly never called me back. I thought about calling the Child Study Team leader, who had assured me often that he wouldn't do gym, wouldn't do gym, wouldn't do gym. I thought about calling the school nurse, who's agreed with me on the anti-gym edict in the past. I thought about calling the classroom teacher and yelling at her for a little bit. But instead, I did nothing, on the theory that a) I might have misinterpreted my son, since he was actually talking as his imaginary dog when he spilled the phys-ed plan beans; and b) if he did indeed participate and if it was the disaster I suspected it would be, I'd be able to use this transgression to knock heads and get sworm promises to never let it happen again.

So of course, he did participate, and everything went fine. When I picked him up and asked the classroom aide about his gym participation, she merrily told me how well he had done. And when I mentioned that, well, he's not supposed to participate in gym, she seemed genuinely surprised. While admitting that he usually doesn't participate (and why the heck would that be, does she suppose?), she was happy that he wanted to and did okay, and had no problems for the rest of the afternoon, and the whole thing was no big deal.

And so, fine, I'm happy that my guy felt like he wanted to do something, tried it, and was successful. But how is it possible for people who work directly with him not to know it's against his IEP? How is it possible for nobody to think, "We should run this by someone." How hard would it be to send me a note about it? I've made every attempt, at great personal stress, not to be a mad fire-breathing mama. Why do I have to hear about this from the bleepin' imaginary dog? Do I have to put out a weekly memo for these people spelling out everything that's supposed to happen and not supposed to happen? At least now, if I do, I'll know where to post it afterward.