Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Happy holidays

Well, of course, my kids' Christmas/ Hanukah/ Kwanzaa/ Miscellaneous Winter Holiday concert was absolutely adorable. My eyes were tearing up right from the beginning, when the kindergartners sang songs about Thanksgiving. And see, I didn't even know that Thanksgiving was a Miscellaneous Winter Holiday. The things you learn in school.

Other winter holidays nodded toward during the 90-minute program were Chinese New Year, Divali and Ramadan. The last two didn't get musical selections in their honor, apparently because Hindus and Muslims have been sadly lax in writing jolly carols celebrating their personal holy times. Surely, in this era of war and mistrust, a hearty chorus of a Ramadan song like, say, "Here we go a-fasting" would do much to bring cultures together. But no. Children lined up to explain the particulars of the observances instead, sans tuneful accompaniment.

Christmas of course got the largest share of the program, and amid all the songs about Santa and snowflakes and jingling bells, there was actually one about the Baby Jesus: "Silent Night," sung in two languages by third-graders in sombreros. They were wearing sombreros because their section of selections was entitled "Traditions of Mexico and Austria." Why Mexico and Austria would be grouped together, I have no idea. I blame it on the social studies textbook, which included lessons on Switzerland and Argentina in a unit on the Northeastern United States. I'm sure the intention was to give kids some sort of global consciousness; I'm equally certain that the majority of fourth-graders now believe that Buenos Aires is located somewhere to the north of New Jersey.

But we had a Chinese dragon, we had clog-dancing fifth-graders, and we had first-graders spinning like little dreidels. It was hard to remain sarcastic in the face of so much youthful determination. Best of all, my son made it through his second-grade segment of songs from Germany and Denmark (which at least are on the same continent) without mishap, a big feat for a jumpy, impulsive, loud little guy. He also was able to stay through the whole rest of the program; although his aide had been prepared to take him out at the earliest sign of ants in the pants, we saw him sitting on her lap through most of the show. A major accomplishment, that. My daughter performed well, too, and looked incredibly beautiful, if a head taller than everybody else, up there on the topmost riser.

I'm still not sure it was worth all the class time lost to put it together, but on a cold winter morning, it was pretty heart-warming anyhow.

Friday, December 14, 2001

Snippy sister

Someone's being mean to my son these days. Calling him weird, rolling eyes when he speaks, and frequently saying, with maximum contempt, "I'm SO glad I'm not like YOU."

If some kid on the school playground was doing this, and I got wind of it, I'd go ballistic. I'd demand apologies, ask for the kid to be disciplined, order the teacher to talk to the parents. Well, maybe I wouldn't really do all that, but I'd talk about doing it, and I'd come on here and rant and rave about what kind of lousy parents let their kids talk to special-needs children like that.

Unfortunately, in this case, I know the parents. I am the parents. The person being so mean to my son is my daughter. And since she's classified as a special-needs child too, it's additionally distressing. She allows as how she wouldn't feel very good if somebody said that to her; I pray that nobody ever will. But she says it to her brother without hesitation.

And yeah, some of it is ordinary sibling rivalry, and if they were ordinary siblings, I'd think nothing of it. They probably think nothing of it. Their respective statuses as children that other children might not want to be like probably provides more subtext for me than it does for them. My daughter has, at other times, wished she was like her brother because he has less homework, and doesn't need to work so hard. She recognizes that he struggles less with schoolwork, and wishes she was like that. She recognizes that he struggles with acceptable behavior, and she's so glad she doesn't. Can't really argue with that. I'm glad she doesn't, too.

But hearing "I'm SO glad I'm not like YOU" spat at my boy still scrunches my heart. I suppose I might as well get used to it, because the world is going to be less and less kind to him as he grows up. He might as well get used to it, too, and what better place than the otherwise loving confines of home. He's probably better able to disregard it coming from his sis than from a playground bully.

Maybe more than my son needs to be protected, though, my daughter needs to learn that some things are just mean to say, and it's never okay to be mean. It's not okay for people to be mean to you, and it's not okay for you to be mean to other people, even if it's just your weird little brother. For my Little Miss Literal, who says exactly what she thinks and doesn't think much more about it, that may be a hard lesson to learn. But like it or not, she doesn't have the kind of parents who will let their kids talk like that. To anyone.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Knowing the drill

First, there were fire drills. Then, there were bomb drills. Now, my kids are having lockdown drills. Can barbed wire be far behind?

Actually, the one bomb drill I know of was in response to an actual phoned-in bomb threat that emptied all the schools in a two-city area. Other security changes at the school have been in response to the general paranoia caused by Sept. 11. These include all the teachers and staff at the school wearing photo ID cards on very attractive burgundy-colored cords around their necks. It makes me feel even more conspicuous as a parent as I move through the halls on my way to meetings or library duty; ID-less, I half expect lights or sirens or big ugly dogs to impede my progress at any moment.

The lockdown is the latest, and it's in reaction to a relatively long-ago traumatic disaster, the shootings at Columbine. It started with the principal going from classroom to classroom explaining about school shootings, always a good way to help kids relax and concentrate on their work. He must have made an impression, because my daughter did at least bring home a fragment of the information, and my son screamed the word "Lockdown!" repeatedly for most of the rest of the day after his class got the talk.

The actual drill came last week, and as far as I was able to gather, it involved the locking of each individual classroom door and the hiding of children under tables. Takes me back to my own youth, when we got under our desks to hide from atomic bombs. Sadly, the likelihood of shooters in today's school is higher than bombs were in mine; happily, shooters are unlikely to remove our entire town and everything around it from the map.

So now, in addition to math facts and grammar rules and historical dates, kids have to learn and remember their drills. In case of fire, leave the building and line up outside. In case of bomb, leave the building and line up way, way outside, along the fence or on the sidewalk or across the street. In case of roving gunmen, lock the door and get under the table. And in case of roving parents, call security, quick!

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Offensive commercial?

We return now to that timeless adoption question: How easily offended are you?

Does your blood pressure rise when you see signs that say "Adopt a Highway"? Does your hair stand on end when a story differentiates between someone's adopted children and "children of their own"? Do you whip off a letter to the editor every time a cartoon makes a joke that could be construed as adoption-insensitive? Do you fail teachers who give family tree and baby picture assignments? Are you forever looking for trouble?

Personally, I'd have to say -- nah. My skin is thick and getting thicker, and I have to save up all my righteous indignation for child study teams and clueless professionals and relatives who want to give my children television sets. And anyway, my personal hope is that adoption will one day be such a normal and unexceptional way to form a family that it can be as buffeted about and ridiculed as any other type of family unit.

However, if you're offended by offhand and disrespectful treatments of adoption and disabilities, then here's your outrage du jour: an olive commercial showing a child in an orphanage who is told he can never be adopted because he has olives on all his fingertips. Some folks are irate at the implication that children with disabilities are less desirable for adoption. Some folks are pleased at the implication that, since a woman with olive fingertips turns up at the orphanage, there is somebody for every waiting child. And some folks think the whole thing is just too ridiculous to think deeply about. (Count me in categories 2 and 3.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2001

Just call him Popeye

A recent study showed that spinach and blueberries improve the mental abilities of rats.

And now, across the land, small children are screaming, "No! Not spinach! I'd rather be stupid!"

They'll be happy to know that the study had mostly to do with reversing the decline in mental abilities that comes with aging (and now adults across the land are screaming, "No! Not spinach! I'd rather be stupid!"). But there's one small boy -- my own -- who would be happy for any additional excuse to eat the green stuff. He already knows it makes him strong like Popeye. Smarter's okay, too.

My son has always had a taste for things you'd expect a kid to push away. Broccoli rabe. Green olives. Vegetables of all varieties, especially cauliflower and broccoli. Conversely, he pushes away the stuff most kids crave: Cake, ice cream, chocolate. Smart, indeed.

I'm not the only one who's noticed this. Recently, it's come to my attention that his classroom aide from last year has been giving him food at lunchtime. I thought it was odd that it always seemed to be vegetables or other unlikely things: pasta salad one day, two trays of corn the next. And then I realized -- she's giving him the hot lunch items that the kids in her group won't touch. That's my boy, school garbage disposal. I think she just gets a kick out of seeing a kid dig into that stuff.

I'd tell you more, but I have to go get him his breakfast. His new favorite morning meal is cottage cheese and spinach. Weird kid. But smart.

Friday, November 30, 2001

Don't know much about history

I'm failing fourth-grade social studies.

My daughter managed to eke out a C on her report card, no help from me (though probably considerable help from her aide), but me -- let's just say it's good I'm not graded. These last two chapters in her social studies textbook have seemed beyond obtuse to me. It's as though the textbook authors did research to discover the most learning-preventive, confusing, counter-intuitive way to present material and then followed those techniques exactly. Man, I don't get it.

At least my daughter has an excuse, with her learning disabilities, for struggling here. I'm supposed to be the wise mom gently guiding her through the material. How can I do that when I'm getting lost myself? The two chapters she's done so far were on the Northeast, which should have been easy because we actually live there. We read a chapter on the geography of the Northeast, which included a lesson on Switzerland. We read a chapter on the history of the Northeast, which included a lesson on Buenos Aires. The Northeast is way bigger than I thought.

The history chapter, I gave up on completely. It included lessons on the Iroquois Confederacy, the Revolutionary War, and immigration in the early 1900s, each with its full complement of facts, figures, names and places. The flash cards my daughter's aide made up looked like the World Book Encyclopedia writ small. The very thought of going over them with her exhausted me. Helping her find the answers to her nightly homework exhausted me. Her, too. Is there such a thing as PSSSS -- Post-Social Studies Stress Syndrome?

The chapter she's starting now seems considerably less stressful -- it's on the relatively tiny subject of Our Country's Environment -- and I'm going to try a new technique recommended by a book on inclusion I've been reading. It suggests that, with subjects like science and social studies, if the child has anxiety about reading the textbook, then don't read it. Sounds good to me!

Actually, what they recommend is skimming, and calling it skimming, not reading. My daughter was pretty happy with the idea. I'm trying to train her to look at a) lesson titles; b) section headings; and c) the boldfaced vocabulary words as a way to get the main points of a chapter and also find where the answers to questions may lie. Using those elements, we mapped out the chapter on a graphic organizer, and it looks pretty good. Maybe this time, I won't be scared. At least, until we get to the chapter on the Southwest and its most famous region, Nigeria.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

The most wonderful time of the year. Or not.

December is almost here, and you know what that means. Trips to the mall. Holiday parties. Christmas concerts. Family gatherings. School vacations. Hustle and bustle. And 31 solid days of out-of-control behavior from any child with a less than sturdy neurological constitution. Oh yes, the end of the year is near. The end of our rope, too.

My son is starting to react to the upcoming disruptions like a tuning fork. It hasn't helped that the last few weeks have hardly been routine, with his grandmother in the hospital and his Papa running off to visit her when he would normally be home keeping things steady. Mama's been taking up some slack with extra-curricular transport, and has had less time for the boy. The boy does not like having less time. And so scooginess is already setting in.

The month ahead will only increase that, exponentially. He's had some good weeks in school recently, saving the out-of-control behavior for us at home, but yesterday his teacher brought him to the door with that wide-eyed, shell-shocked look I know so well. It's starting, all right. And they're not even doing routine-busting Christmas program rehearsals yet.

All a parent can do, really, is hang on and pray for January. It's like being in Santa's sleigh when the reindeer have had too much eggnog. We'll try to keep things as routine as routine can be. But oh, how we'll long for the dull days of mid-winter.

Monday, November 26, 2001

TV or not TV?

Alright, it's time for an MWA survey. The questions:

Does your child have a TV in his/her room?

Would you ever give a child a TV as a gift without asking his/her parents if it was okay?

Would you be shocked if they said no?

A close relative announced the other night that she was giving my daughter (11 years old, in 4th grade) a TV-VCR combo for Christmas. When I said we really did not want her to have any such thing, this relative declared that she'd never heard anything so ridiculous, that it's quite the normal thing for kids to have their own TVs, and that she hadn't asked before buying because it never occurred to her there could be a problem. She then insisted she was giving the item whether we liked it or not, but has since, mercifully though not without pouting, retreated from that position.

Maybe she realized that I was planning to give her daughter a puppy in retaliation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Thanksgiving facts

Today is the half-day before Thanksgiving, with school ending at 1 p.m. and an entire four days off stretching beyond that. This is the second four-day weekend in the last four weeks, and like an overstuffed eater at the Thanksgiving table, I say: Enough! How I look forward to those long weeks of late winter, early spring when children actually have to go all five days, come rain or shine (but not snow, because if there are three flakes in one place, our school board declares a snow day).

We've been getting the standard supply of Thanksgiving-themed take-home items this year, mostly from my son, who's in a self-contained second-grade-ish class. Apparently, fourth-graders don't go for coloring pages of pilgrims and glue-on-the-beans art projects, because my daughter hasn't brought home much more than the occasional holiday word search. I haven't quizzed her on Thanksgiving themes because at this point, I don't want to know what she doesn't know. Last night, while studying about patriots in colonial Massachusetts, she was able to tell me the name of the war they fought -- that is, the American Revolution -- but not the name of the country they were fighting to establish. At first she thought maybe it was Asia. Then she said North America, which is at least in the right vicinity. I'm pretty sure I'd get one of those patented blank looks if I asked her about the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock. Her aide wants to help so much, let her explain all that pilgrim stuff.

But my son, now, my son knows about the Mayflower. He told me all about it while doing his speech homework the other night. He had a grid of 12 Thanksgiving pictures, and was to describe four of them, using complete sentences. So we nicely got "The pilgrim wears a hat." "We eat turkey on Thanksgiving." "We eat corn on Thanksgiving."

And then we got to the picture of the ship, which he readily identified as the Mayflower. Here was his description: "That Mayflower was gross! It was really gross. People throwing up ..."

Sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Giving in, for now

They say you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Yesterday, at an IEP meeting for my daughter, I folded. I'm still not sure I did the right thing. I think I had the winning hand. But sometimes, keeping the other folks at the table from drawing their pistols is reason enough to back away.

In the month since my daughter's aide started work, I've tried hard to explain what I mean by "don't help her too much." I've given suggestions for help I thought might actually be helpful. And at some point, I've ticked off the teacher and the aide. The child study team leader advised that if I want what's best for my daughter, I should be quiet and listen to the teacher, who knows her. This would be the teacher who has had her in class for two months. As opposed to me, who has known her for seven of her eleven years. But is, after all, only a parent.

My last salvo was a long letter to the child study team leader explaining my observations and conclusions, just to get it off my chest and say where I'm coming from. The woman professed to "love it." But not agree with a word of it, judging by the amount of support I got when it came right down to putting plans on paper. I still feel strongly that my daughter is more capable and less in need of help than anybody else is willing to believe; and I still feel that sometimes getting Cs or even Ds (75 percent correct in our district) in subjects that are hard is a worthwhile goal. I still believe that constant help can be as bad for self-esteem as constant failure. Deep down, I wish everybody would just leave her alone and let her be a kid among kids. But the entire weight of special-service momentum is hard against me, and I'm getting tired of pushing.

So when the teacher and aide insisted that my daughter needs help on tests, even though I had specifically said I thought it was a bad idea, I gave in. And when the child study team leader said that she should be pulled to the back of the room to have tests read to her, even though she did just fine without that last year, I said okay. I made a lot of noise about doing this only so long as it improved her learning, and not just to improve her grade, but realistically, I have no way of knowing if this will be so. I've asked to meet at the next progress report time, and maybe then I'll be feeling a little less beat down and a little more feisty. Until then, well, at least looking through her test folder every week won't be so scary.

Monday, November 19, 2001

Compliments of my son

"Mama, do you know what I love about you?"

My sweet little blue-eyed boy was looking at me adoringly, and I fell for his line. "What, sweetie?"

"You ... have a lovely ... BUTT!"

Then followed five minutes of perseverating on the B word and giggling uncontrollably.

Loveliness of my hindquarters aside, it is clear to me that my developmentally delayed boy has finally hit the stage at which the word "butt" is a thing of immense and unending hilarity. Other words having to do with rude body parts and body functions are similarly sniggery, but there seems something special about butt. Just yesterday, I heard about how his stuffed Scooby Doo doll was going to have babies out his BUTT. I tried to go into a little detail about how boy dogs don't actually have babies, much less stuffed ones, but it was no good. He was too busy saying BUTT and giggling to listen to boring me.

My guy is in a self-contained special-ed class with kids who are pretty well-matched this year, so I'm guessing this celebration of "butt" is a class-wide thing. In which case, I feel for the teacher. Hope she's not going to start a phonics lesson by asking for words that start with B.

Monday, November 05, 2001

Born to run

This may be the first cold-and-flu season on record in which parents are happy when their kids get runny noses, and even appreciate sniffling themselves. Sure, nasal discharge is unsightly, and the sound of constant snortling is annoying, and it's certainly a sign that the snifflers are in some way unwell. But at least they don't have anthrax.

That's the word from doctors who are trying to sort out the difference between the symptoms of inhalation anthrax and the more common, less deadly flu. Most of the signs and symptoms are the same, except for this: Anthrax victims don't get runny noses. An incessant need for tissues indicates a likelihood of weeks of cold-and-flu misery, not sudden death.

We've been sniffling a lot around my house lately, and I was worried. You hear so much about people with a couple of cold symptoms and then -- poof! -- they're a headline. I wonder if the postman is delivering death to my house, and I wonder if our snuffy noses tell the tale. It's nice to put those worries to rest.

Now, if only medical science would reveal that the sort of perpetual sinus blockage I've had since approximately 1988 effectively bars any harmful spores or bacterium from entering my respiratory system, and I'll really rest easy.

Thursday, November 01, 2001

Play it again. And again. And again.

One disadvantage, I've found, to making a unlateral decision and choosing what instrument your child will learn how to play is that you can't blame them if they don't like it.

If my daughter decides, after five or six weeks of trombone playing, that what she'd really rather do is play the trumpet, I can't say, "No way, missy, you wanted to play the trombone, you begged me to get you a trombone, and now, by golly, you'll play the trombone." Because she never wanted to play the trombone. She'd never heard of the trombone before I picked it for her. And there are nights she never wants to hear of it again.

I still think I made the right decision. I chose the trombone not out of any undying love for "The Music Man," but because the instrumental music teacher suggested it was a generally under-attempted instrument that would make it easier for her to get into band in middle school and high school. Thirty kids in her school learning the flute, three learning the trombone, you do the math. I did, and we have the shiny brass tube-y thing in our house to prove it.

I'd say she's doing surprisingly well with it. After five or six weeks, the notes are starting to sound more like music and less like bleats. She doesn't put up too much of a fuss about practicing. But she thinks the trumpet would be smaller, lighter, easier. The trombone hurts her thumb. It's heavy and clumsy.

I tell her that every child hates the instrument they're practicing at the time, and there would be something about the trumpet she didn't like, too. I myself once threw a flute across the room. Hating practicing is normal, and in time she'll come to hate it less.

Is that the way to instill a deep and abiding love for music, or what?

Wednesday, October 31, 2001


We’re going trick-or-treating tonight, my children and I.

My son will be dressed as Shrek. My daughter will be a green skeleton, complete with bony gloves and spats. She won’t be wearing the mask, because she can’t see through the eye-holes and she’s had enough with visually impaired Halloweens (don’t talk to me about the ghost costume with the roving eyeholes), but she’ll be a sight nonetheless.

We’re going trick or treating, and normally there would be nothing remarkable about that. This year, of course, the conventional wisdom has decided against it. Many folks have told me that they’re not letting their kids go door to door, and we shouldn’t, either. My son’s teacher is letting her class trick-or-treat, sans costume, from one special-ed class to another so that they’ll get it out of their systems and won’t need to go at night. If we do let them get candy from strangers, she suggests we buy each piece back from them and turn it into a math lesson. Certainly, we’re not to let them eat it. Bad things might happen.

Bad things happening has always been a concern on Halloween, in the post-razor-blades-in-apples era. But now, in the post-Sept.-11 era, bad things happening are a major national obsession. Stories of people buying thousands of dollars worth of candy to poison it and sell it back to stores, and stories of bad things planned for malls, circulate wildly on the internet (although the urban legend folks call them hoaxes). My son’s teacher, after telling me we shouldn’t go out tonight, mentioned that many people are keeping their kids home from school this Oct. 31, because bad things might happen there, too. They want everybody home and together, morning, noon and night.

But once you start thinking that way, where on earth are you safe? My house is next to a gas line and a high school; if they blew up either of those, we’d be safer at school or work. If someone poisons the water, your kids would probably be safer at school than at home. If shadowy forces are putting poisoned candy in stores, then you can’t even buy sweets for those parties you’re planning to substitute for trick-or-treating. And who’s to say the other food in the store is safe? Shall we all just starve?

What’s really the bottom line for me, though, is: If you decide not to trick-or-treat, and not to “do” Halloween in the way you always have, what exactly do you tell your children? This is not a matter of a parent not being able to say no; or a circumstance in which a child should just take “no” for an answer. It’s a tradition that has always been okay, that has been followed in busy times and inclement weather and even when the child was too young to really appreciate it. Why, all of a sudden, are we not doing it now? The only explanation we can give is this: “Honey, there are bad people out there, and we’re afraid they’re going to try to kill you.” And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to say that to my children. It may be true, but they don’t have to know it with quite that level of stark certainty now. I like for them to sleep sometimes.

So we’re going trick-or-treating tonight, my children and I. Shrek, a skeleton and a scaredy cat, venturing into the night in search of candy and the kindness of strangers. It’s a risk, but I take comfort in knowing this: This year, when I eat all their candy, I will be doing it as a self-sacrificing mother protecting her children from possible harm. Calories don’t count then, right?

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Inclusion confusion

I had another one of those Child Study Team meetings yesterday where afterward, I thought of all the things I should have said and realized all the things that were wrong. How come that never happens when I can easily do something about it?

It wasn't even a combative meeting. No IEP to be decided, no services to be argued over. In fact, I had called the meeting to discuss a service we had and I wasn't sure I wanted: an individual instructional aide for my daughter. When I agreed to this aide, last year at IEP time, it was only for language arts, only to avoid resource room, and with the understanding that other kids in need of aide would be in the same class.

So of course, when the aide finally arrived, two months into the school year, she was assigned to the class for the entire day, and for no one but my girl. I am a firm believer that there is such a thing as too much help, and this is what it looks like.

She wasn't doing terrible with no help at all. But she wasn't doing great, either. I'm willing to admit there's room for improvement. There's that line, though -- the line between helping children succeed by improving their skills so they can, and helping children succeed by giving them the answers. I'm not sure this aide knows where that line is.

I'm not sure I know where that line is, either. Certainly I help her too much on her homework. It's ever so hard, as she flounders around with no hope of finding the answer, to say, "Here! Here it is! Right here! Copy this down." But I'm not an education professional. Surely there are better tactics than that.

Yet has anybody taught the aide what that might be? The problem with inclusion in our school district is that although it has been embraced quickly and thorougly, it has not been planned well. Nobody knows how to do it. They're learning as they go along, at the expense of the very students they're trying to serve. I have seen a great deal of blundering over the past few years, and it's inexplicable to me -- surely there are materials available to professionals on how to go about this. Why does no one seem to have them?

So I'll tell them what I want. They'll do what I say, whether it's the right thing or not. I will be in charge of this service, even though I am probably the least qualified to do so. I remember what it was like when I thought everybody who worked with my children knew what they were doing. It was so comforting and peaceful. My daughter didn't learn, but I never had to worry about hard homework or bad grades.

We won't have so many bad grades this year as we did before the aide came. I hope that will be because my girl is learning better. I fear it will be because the aide is spoon-feeding her answers. I wish I had told her to be less helpful with multiple-choice tests and math problems and more helpful with writing assignments, where my daughter truly has no clue how to proceed. I don't mind bad grades if they're a true reflection of my child's understanding. 75 percent may be a D in these parts, but learning three-quarters of anything is a terrific achievement for her. More than anything, I want her to learn tactics that will keep her from being clueless. The specific information being taught -- not so important.

I just wish I knew that the educators knew just exactly how to do that.

Monday, October 29, 2001

Hop to it

I'd like to announce with pride that my son, at age 8.5, has finally mastered a major gross-motor developmental milestone:

He can hop.

He can't do it gracefully. He flaps his arms and hunches his body over and generally looks like he's doing some variation on the Funky Chicken. But one foot's on the floor and one foot's in the air and there's a little loft, and I call that hopping.

He can only do it once or twice without having to hold on to something, but that's a major improvement over past performances. Previously, when his pediatric neurologist would ask him to hop, he would oh-so-casually reach out and touch something, in the hope that she wouldn't notice he needed a little concrete support. She always did. Maybe, by the time we visit her next year, he'll be able to do three or four without grabbing hold. Maybe five. The sky's the limit here. Can skipping be far behind?

We have to focus so much, as special-needs parents, on the milestones missed, the distance from the bottom of the chart, the lags and delays. But that only makes it so much sweeter when one of those long-empty boxes gets checked. Hopping means way more at 8 than it would have at a developmentally appropriate age.

It's nice, every now and then, to be reminded of that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Attitude adjustment

We never went through the terrible twos with my daughter, since we adopted her when she was four-and-a-half. She was an eager-to-please sweetie through most of her childhood. But now we've hit the Painful Preteens, and at age 11, she's starting to enjoy eye-rolling, sarcasm, and sloth. Dislikes: Doing what Mama and Papa say, taking showers, making beds, brushing teeth. And speaking of teeth, getting her to do these simple tasks is like pulling them.

It doesn't help that, on top of all this, she can now lay claim to PMS. It also doesn't help that I know that none of this is going to get any better as she heads into her Terrible Teens. If she's delayed in cognitive ability, in language, in social and emotional development, why oh why can't she be delayed in attitude development, too?

Another thing that doesn't help in all this is our new paranoia about terrorism. It's added yet another "Do what I say and don't make me explain" level to my interactions with my daughter, and she's not taking it. She wants to know why she can't ride her bike in the high school parking lot like I promised; I don't want to tell her that there's a strange car parked in an odd spot and I'm afraid it might explode. I don't want her to have to think about exploding cars, or anthrax, or airplanes falling out of the sky. I just want her to do what I say. And that, of course, is anathema to your average Painful Preteen.

In the end, she still does do it. She's still, way down under there somewhere, my eager-to-please girl. I just wish she was a little quicker and quieter about it.

Thursday, October 18, 2001

Making progress

Progress reports came out for my kiddos yesterday, and all in all the school year is progressing about as I would have guessed.

My daughter's report indicates budding problems with math, reading and English, no surprises there. Her instructional aide, who was supposed to be in place on Day One, finally showed up this Monday, so maybe she can make the difference in those problem areas. In the comments section, the teacher wrote that my daughter "has been working very hard," which is boilerplate for this child, kind of like the way they always say a person who's not that attractive has a great personality. But the teacher's right: My girl does work hard. And her parents work hard. And now her aide is going to have to work hard, too.

My son's report indicates that he's doing passing work in academic subjects, and needs improvement only in behavior and work habits. Again -- no surprise. If his behavior and work habits were perfect, he wouldn't be in a self-contained special-ed class in the first place. Still, you gotta love the comments: the teacher wrote that my son "is impulsive and compulsive, but they continue to be overshadowed by his charm, wit and hard work. He is a delightful student who is making steady progress in all areas."

I knew I liked that teacher.

Friday, October 12, 2001

How far would you go?

How far would you go to help your special-needs child?

Most of us, I suspect, feel that we would go very far indeed. We fight hard for our children’s rights. We battle recalcitrant child study teams, inflexible specialists, balky insurance companies, insensitive people. We demand research, treatment, accommodation, understanding. We try out new treatments and ideas. We are zealous, and we are unwavering. We may feel there is nothing we wouldn’t do to save our children.

But would you create a new child specifically to save the child you have?

A British couple is in the news now for trying to do just that. Their son has a rare blood disease and needs a bone marrow transplant. Neither the parents nor their other children is a match, and so they wish to use in vitro fertilization techniques to create a number of embryos, screen each until a match is found, and then bear that child. The new baby’s umbilical cord would provide the bone marrow his or her older brother so desperately needs.

I can understand why, emotionally, people would want to do this. I know such things have been done before. And I do think you can love a child conceived under such circumstances just as well and as individually as you would any other. But the idea of engineering a child as yet another form of medical treatment is nonetheless troubling to me. And, as one who believes that life begins at conception, the thought of destroying those embryos that do not match breaks my heart -- is it alright to start and end many lives in order to save one? I imagine that may be a hearbreaking choice for the parents who have to make it, too.

Monday, October 08, 2001

In need of aide?

My daughter brought home her first big packet of tests from fourth grade last week. Her teacher sends them home on Thursdays, and through a conspiracy of no-school Thursdays last month, we wound up with about three weeks of work at once.

The good news is that most of the grades were fine. Spelling tests were all As, quizzes in math and science and social studies were Bs. So most of the day, she's holding her own.

The bad news is that she failed both of the reading comprehension tests with big, fat Fs.

This is bad news for a couple of reasons.

For one, she's supposed to have an instructional aide in her mainstream classroom for reading. The special-ed folks were sure she'd struggle without it. They feel strongly about the importance of self-esteem, and not waiting for a child to fail before giving help. They feel strongly about this, but not strongly enough to actually get somebody hired in time for the start of the school year. More than a month in, now, I'm still having trouble getting my phone calls returned when I call just to ask about the status of this phantom aide -- will we have her next week? Next month? Next year? While we wait, she piles up Fs.

It's also bad news because, truth be told, I never wanted her to have the aide in the first place. It was a compromise to avoid long hours in resource room. I was humoring the child study team, thinking: But she can do this without help. Why don't we let her try first? And here, now, the absence of the aide gives us the perfect chance to do that. I was all ready to cancel that phantom aide request and insist that, despite all their best instincts, we do wait and see if this student is going to fail before we assume that she is.

But before I can even draw that line in the sand, she's already failing. Just can't wait.

Now, my one hope here is that she's not failing alone. Oh, happy day, if the whole class is doing lousy! How fervently I wish failure on her peers. The reading series is a new one for the kids, the teachers, the district. The tests are wildly different than they have been in years past. No one is quite sure yet what to do with them. So maybe this is the fallout period, and there are many Fs, and my girl's mean no more than the next kid's. I'm waiting to get confirmation on that from the teacher, but she's not returning my notes.

I don't know about reading, but I'm going to have to be giving some folks Fs on communication.

Thursday, October 04, 2001

Bedtime boon

Bedtime just got a half-hour earlier at our house, and I couldn’t be more excited.

I know, as the kids get older, bedtime should be getting later; but by a stroke of great good fortune, we’ve been able to go backward instead. The catalyst for the change was my daughter’s endless whining about taking a bath or shower at night, when she was sooooo tiiiiiiired, don’t you know. So we made a deal: She could get up half an hour earlier and bathe in the morning, but in return she’d have to go to bed a half an hour earlier at night. So eager is she to put off washing as long as possible that she readily agreed.

Tasting an extra half-hour of evening freedom, I told my son that because it was so hard to wake him up in the morning, he had to go to bed earlier, too. He whined a little, but not much, and voila! -- bedtime was 9 p.m.

It’s only a half-hour, but what a difference it makes. I can watch “The West Wing” now. I have time to read the paper or make lunches or surf the Web for a while before settling down for a 10 p.m. show. I can fall asleep on the couch so much earlier than usual. And we all get going a little earlier in the morning, too. If my daughter gets her shower done quickly, she can start practicing her trombone at just the time her brother should be getting his butt out of bed. Wakes him right up, you bet.

Of course, the earlier bedtime does mean that we have to get homework done before 9 p.m., which has often been a struggle in the past. It also means that we have to get dinner on the table well before 9 p.m., which has often been a struggle, too. But with the right incentive, anything is possible. And I’m what you’d call motivated.

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

Red alert

Yesterday, there was a fire drill at my kids' school.

Now, straightaway, I'll say that I'm not nuts about fire drills. I want my kids to be safe, sure, and to know what to do in a crisis. But I also know that the mere sound of a fire drill creates a crisis right then and there for my sensory-integration-disordered boy. He doesn't have sensory defensiveness issues about much anymore, he can be near a working vacuum without melting down, he can go to a mall without being overwhelmed, he can be held without panicking -- but fire alarms and car alarms and ambulance sirens still put him on full hysteria alert. He covers his ears, his face screws up into pre-tear position, and he begs to get out of there.

Of course, at school, what follows a fire alarm is indeed getting out of there, but that hasty leaving of the classroom, standing outside for an indefinite period of time, then going back in and being expected to pick up right where you left off is also not tops in his emotional repertoire. In past years, a fire drill has been enough to launch him into disruptive behavior for the rest of the day. These days, I know his behavior's in better control, but this sort of thing still raises his stress level to the point of affecting his ability to focus and function.

Still, I suppose fire drills are a necessary evil, and as long as his teachers know to expect some repercussions, there's probably no major harm done.

But yesterday's fire drill was different.

For one thing, it involved every school in our city and the neighboring one -- elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, private and public schools alike.

For another thing, it lasted an hour and a half.

Driving past one of our middle schools while this was going on, I noticed K-9 Unit trucks from a neighboring county, and an officer with a dog heading toward the building. I immediately jumped to conclusions, and sure enough, the note that came home from the principal at the end of the day confirmed that there had been a bomb threat. Students had had to wait outside, further from the building than usual, while each building was checked and cleared. An individual had been apprehended for making the threats. I hope someone makes him just sit around and be bored for a long, long time.

I didn't get a chance to talk to my son's teacher yesterday to see how he weathered the most disruptive fire drill ever. He was a little jangled when he got home, but he's been worse. Maybe he is getting mature enough, or is in a special-ed class secure enough, that he can weather these storms without losing his way.

However, if they have many more emergency drills like this, I'm going to be in full hysteria alert.

Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Asthma inducers

Just in case we parents aren't feeling guilty enough, researchers have found something new to blame us for.

According to a new study from the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, as reported in October's Pediatrics, poor parenting skills in early infancy can lead to asthma as the child gets older.

Now, of course, the child has to be susceptible to asthma in the first place. But apprently the stress of being poorly parented is enough to tip the scales for many kids. The study followed 150 children who were at risk for asthma and found that those whose parents weren't coping well when they were three weeks old were more than twice as likely to develop asthma six or eight years later than babies whose parents parented perfectly.

Poor parenting was described as "inability to offer proper emotional care to children, due to inadequate support from a spouse, depression or other problems." Not to mention the pressure of a researcher looking over your shoulder and going, "Hmmm," and writing disapproving things on a notepad.

Personally, I think babies whose parents have it flawlessly together after only three weeks are at risk of being micromanaged throughout their childhood to such a painful degree that they will be glassy-eyed overachieving type-A Stepford Children by the time they're six or eight. But they'll be breathing freely.

At least the researchers have given us mothers a lifeline in all this. Gotta love that "inadequate support from a spouse." Forget blaming the parents: Clearly, it's all dad's fault.

Monday, October 01, 2001

What is war?

We were reading my daughter's story-of-the-week for school the other night, when the subject of war came up. The story made a fairly veiled reference to World War II, and my daughter wanted to know what a war was, and why it was, and were we going to have one now.

It was so much easier when she didn't actually pay attention to what she read.

It would have been nice if she had focused instead on the resonance the story had with her own personal life -- it was about a man who left his homeland of Japan and settled in the United States, just as she left her homeland of Russia -- but no, what she wanted to talk about was war. And so, like parents everywhere these days, I tried to answer her questions as honestly but as soothingly as possible, without transmitting my own doubt and fear and worry.

She didn't think that countries fighting each other was such a great idea, and didn't want something bad to happen now. I told her that our country tried to keep from fighting, but that the recent attacks were so bad that we had to do something. I told her the smartest people in our country were hard at work trying to figure out what to do. I hoped that was true.

I also told her that worrying didn't do much good; it couldn't change what would happen, and could only make us unhappy. Besides, worrying is my job. I don't know if that put her mind at ease. But I expect the immediate worries of fourth-grade life are a much more ever-present anxiety provoker than the very abstract concepts of war or terrorism.

I hope so, anyway. Fourth grade is scary enough.

Thursday, September 27, 2001

Distracting reading

Is Ritalin falling out of favor?

On the one hand, judging from some of the e-mail lists I'm on for adoptive and special-needs parents, medication for kids with attentional problems is as popular as ever. Detailed discussions take place on the amount and the timing and the transitions involved in various medications, and while admitting that the medication of children is not an exact science, many parents seem pretty committed to it.

Then, too, my kids both brought home memos from the school nurse announcing general guidelines regarding the distributing of medication at school, and I don't think she was talking about allergy pills and aspirin. There must be a sufficient number of Ritalin-taking kids to make a schoolwide announcement more practical than individual notification.

But then, on the other hand... Looking at the best-sellers in the category of Parenting Special-Needs: Hyperactivity on, I can't help but notice that of the top 10 books, six are specifically anti-medication, and two more stress behavior modification. Signs of change? A turning of the tide? Or is it just in the nature of self-help books to offer something different from the norm, and in the nature of self-help-book buyers to seek that something? Take a look at these titles and judge for yourself (quotes are from publisher's descriptions unless otherwise noted):

1. Talking Back to Ritalin: What Doctors Aren't Telling You About Stimulants and ADHD by Peter Roger Breggin.
"Millions of children take Ritalin for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The drug's manufacturer, Novartis, claims that Ritalin is the "solution" to this widespread problem. But hidden behind the well-oiled public-relations machine is a potentially devastating reality: children are being given a drug that can cause the same bad effects as amphetamine and cocaine, including behavioral disorders, growth suppression, neurological tics, agitation, addiction, and psychosis. Talking Back to Ritalin uncovers these and other startling facts and translates the research findings for parents and doctors alike."

2. Without Ritalin by Samuel A. Berne.
"We spent 373 million on Ritalin and its generic counterparts in 1996; today, some 4 million children are taking the drug daily. Is it any wonder that parents are searching for safe, nontoxic, drug-free alternatives? In Without Ritalin, Dr. Samuel Berne explains the approach with which he has successfully treated more than 3,000 ADD/ADHD-diagnosed patients, including information on detoxification, nutrition, and developmental learning programs and activities."

3. Taking Charge of ADHD by Russell A. Barkley.
From Book News Inc.: "Empowers parents of children with ADHD by giving them a step-by-step plan for behavior management, hard data on diagnosis and treatment, strategies for helping children succeed at school and in social situations, and information on advances in genetic and neurological research that enhance understanding of the causes of ADHD. Includes an annotated list of books, organizations, and Internet resources."

4. Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach by Howard Glasser and Jennifer Eastley
"Children are fascinated by bigger reactions and children who are a bit more needy or sensitive or intense are particularly drawn to bigger reactions. Some children literally feel invisable unless they are doing the things they know will get their parent or teacher going. ... The secret is in strategically energizing successes instead of accidentally energizing failures. The good news is that this is extremely easy to turn around. Instead of trying to make the child's intensity go away through expensive treatments and the use of medications, the intensity becomes an asset. Children very quickly begin to use their intensity in beautiful ways. It's truly amazing. ADHD children are actually the easiest to 'transform' completely to a new and fully successful way of life."

5. Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents by Ronald M. Rapee (editor).
"All kids get scared, but some fears can escalate into paranoias with long-term ramifications. This step-by-step guide tackles the why, how, and what now of anxiety disorders. Written in everyday language, it describes in detail strategies and techniques parents can combine into a comprehensive self-help program for managing a child's worry while building confidence and self-control." (No, I don't know why this is on the hyperactivity list either.)

6. Women with Attention Deficit Disorder: Embracing Disorganization at Home and In the Workplace by Sari Solden.
From the author: "Many women experience great shame when they are unable to conform to our society's degrading 'job description for women.' With exercises, self-talk and stories I help women dismantle their self-images as "slobs" or "space cadets" and enjoy a new cycle of success on their own."

7. Ritalin Is Not the Answer: A Drug-Free, Practical Program for Childrena Diagnosed with ADD or ADHD by David B. Stein, Ph.D.
"How parents, teachers, friends and family can rescue their children from the widespread and extremely dangerous use of an amphetamine (speed) called Ritalin to control 'normal but inconvenient' behavior."
8. The Care and Feeding of Indigo Children by Doreen Virtue, Ph.D.
"Doreen explores the psyche of these special kids and offers alternative solutions to Ritalin based on her extensive research and interviews with child-care experts, teachers, parents, and the Indigo Children themselves. Read the accounts of these remarkable children as they explain why they act-out, are aggressive or withdrawn; and what they want from the adults in their lives."

9. The Difficult Child by Stanley Turecki, M.D.
"Temperamentally difficult children can confuse and upset even experienced parents and teachers. They often act defiant, stubborn, loud, aggressive, or hyperactive. They can also be clingy, shy, whiny, picky, and impossible at bedtime, mealtimes, and in public places. This landmark book has been completely revised to include the latest information on ADHD, medications, and a reassuring approach to all aspects of childhood behavioral disorders."

10. The ADD Nutrition Solution: A Drug-Free Thirty-Day Plan by Marcia Zimmerman.
"The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution provides groundbreaking information on the nutritional deficits, food allergies, and hereditary and environmental factors that can cause attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), a condition that afflicts more than 17 million people in this country today. Drawing from her 10 years of research, counseling, and lecturing on nutrition and AD/HD, certified nutritionist Marcia Zimmerman clearly explains why what we eat affects how we think and outlines an easy-to-follow 30-day dietary and supplement plan shown to decrease or end AD/HD symptoms completely."

Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Tattoos for tots

My son's got a thing about tattoos.

I don't know when it started, I don't know why, I don't know what about the things fascinates him so greatly, but it's entered the top 10 of his conversational repertoire, with a bullet.

It's bad enough when he asks me if he can get a tattoo. What I want to do, of course, is scream "over my dead body!" but we enlightened parents of the '00s don't want to prejudice our kidlets against the personal choices of others. So I just tell him no, kids can't get tattoos. I don't know if this is true. It had better be.

I try to deter him with the explanation that getting a tattoo involves being stuck with a needle, a lot, and if he doesn't like getting a shot he won't like getting a tattoo. He ain't buying it. He wants to know: Is it good to have a tattoo? Why do people have tattoos? When can he get a tattoo, too?

Never, never, never.

What's worse, though, is when he sees someone with a tattoo and feels compelled to point that out. Loudly. Like in church this weekend, in the quiet of prayer time, suddenly pipes a little voice saying: "Look, Mama, that man in front of us has a tattoo! Why does he have a tattoo? Is it good to have a tattoo?"

So far, the tattoo-bearers so pointed out have not turned to listen to my answers to those questions, and have taken no notice of the small boy asking them. Perhaps tattooing imparts some sort of hearing impairment, and for that I am grateful.

In the meantime, I suppose I'll have to look into some of those rub-on tattoos to distract the little guy from the real thing.

Do they do that heart with the word "Mom" on it design in the temporary variety?

Monday, September 24, 2001

Trauma deficient

Everywhere you turn these days, there are articles and supplements and TV shows to help you talk to your kids about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The impression one gets is of a nation of hurting children, frightened, drawing pictures, talking to school-provided counselors, imploring their parents for insight. It makes sense that the most vulnerable among us would feel most vulnerable after such a disaster.

So what does it mean that my own personal kids couldn't care less about it?

Is it because of their neurological impairments? I wonder. Certainly, they have enough work to do just to get through each school day without raising their eyes to take in disasters unrelated to their own personal universe. Abstractions are pretty impossible for my daughter to grasp, and unless I take her to ground zero, it's unlikely that planes crashing into buildings is going to be anything but. Most adults have trouble grasping the reality of it.

Maybe they would have more awareness of this terrible event if I had let them watch it on TV more. I specifically didn't, because the images were so upsetting. But that has rendered this mostly a word-of-mouth phenomenon for them, and language processing being the iffy thing it is in our house, that may have put it out into the never-never land of book plots and math story problems. Neither of them is exactly up to speed in the emotional development department, either; they have taken the death of extended family members with relative stoicism, so it may be unrealistic for them to have any response to the deaths of strangers, even thousands of them at once.

At any rate, I find myself in the awkward position of feeling that they should know more about this and feel more about this, but unsure how to make that happen without actually browbeating them. How many times can I sit down and explain it? When everybody is working to keep their kids from being upset, should I be working to upset them? Perhaps I should just shut up and count my blessings.

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Tragic Tuesday

I remember a few days ago, looking at pictures of Catholic schoolchildren in Northern Ireland walking to school under protection of riot police and feeling embarrassed at all the fuss I make over little things at my kids’ schools, instructional aides not in place, IEPs not sent out, teachers not informed, forms not delivered. I make of these things a disaster, when in other parts of the world children are facing violence and terror.

Now, of course, I don’t even have to look to other parts of the world to put these things into perspective. I just have to look out the window.

We live close enough to New York City to see the cloud of smoke rising where the World Trade Center used to be, close enough that some of my children’s classmates will likely have lost loved ones in the tragedy. As of Tuesday afternoon, the attack was still a thing of rumors and mishearings. My daughter had heard from a girl in the lunchroom that there had been a plane accident; my son’s special-ed teacher had told his class only that there was a fire in New York. The teacher told me that she felt it was the parents’ job to explain the situation. Thanks. How do we do that exactly?

We said that bad people had driven planes into buildings. We said that many, many people had been killed. We said that the people who are trying to find out why think that the bad people hate our country, and wanted to hurt us. I don’t know if we said the right things, but we tried to say them calmly. We tried to keep the TV off. How many pictures of collapsing buildings, falling bodies and bloodied survivors do children need to see? Zero would be good, I think.

Today, life is going on. I have a meeting with my daughter’s teacher this afternoon to request the necessary accommodations, and with my son’s teacher tomorrow to gather information for his twice-yearly neurological appointment next week. The school principal still owes us a promised spare set of textbooks to keep at home. My son’s IEP is still MIA. The message I left at the special-ed office about the errant instructional aide has still not been answered. There’s homework to be done, tests to study for, after-school programs to look into, administrators to harrass. But it’s hard to muster my usual sense of outrage over these minor hassles. It’s not, as they say, the end of the world. The end of the world is across the Hudson.

Thursday, September 06, 2001

Committed to memory

My daughter is the flash-card queen. If you can put it on a flash-card, she can learn it. Math facts, vocabulary words, the continents of the world or the planets in the solar system, rote memorization is the name of her game.

Spontaneous thinking and comprehension, not so much.

We’ve given her a fair amount of remediation for reading comprehension and abstract thinking, which she has taken amiably enough but not acheived any blazingly successful results at. She just plods on, getting what she can, not getting what she can’t.

I’m coming to feel that, rather than throwing more time and money and effort at her weaknesses, we should be helping her use her strengths to compensate for them. But how? There are tons of books and classes and resources for improving your reading comprehension, but nothing to tell you how to effectively pretend like you understand. Maybe an acting class?

Maybe, if she rote memorizes the whole book, word for word, she’d have something to say about it?

Maybe not. She can memorize addition facts but stand slack-jawed in the face of a story problem. If she memorized the book and was then asked a question about it, she’d be stuck spouting lines, and they’d likely be the wrong ones.

There should be a way, though, shouldn’t there? Many people go through life without a proven ability to think on their feet; shouldn’t you be able to go through elementary school?

Flash cards. What we need here are more flash cards.

Tuesday, September 04, 2001

Age ain't nothin' but a number

It's probably not a common practice, but it's certainly not unheard of for parents adopting children from Eastern Europe to legally change their child's age, generally to make them younger. There are all sorts of noble reasons for doing this, ranging from contradictory paperwork putting the original age in doubt; to bone age and other tests indicating that the original age is impossible; to a conviction that the child's small size or developmental delays would be less noticeable and traumatic if his or her age was in closer accord.

We did not choose this path for our kids, although our son's size and behavior are still substantially delayed, and our daughter is now in a class two years behind her age level, and different ages would certainly appear to fit them better in some ways. I always worried about this idea of age-shifting, though: What happens when the kid finds out? What happens if the kid has a growth spurt that makes the new age ludicrous (as indeed, my daughter did -- if we had adjusted her age down, she would now be freakishly tall; as it is, she's on the big side for an 11-year-old)? What happens if the developmental delays catch up more quickly than the parent had anticipated, and the child is trapped in a much lower age group and school class than his abilities warrant? What if, on the other hand, the delays get worse, and the child can't get help because, although she is severely delayed for her original age, she's not bad enough at her adjusted one? And of course, what happens if the child grows up to work in a field where the tabloid revelation of his or her older original age could be highly embarrassing?

Now, of course, I have another worry to add: What if the child's Little League team wins big, and Sports Illustrated starts digging through Russian birth records?

I don't mean to imply that the motives of adoptive parents and the motives of the father of Danny Almonte -- who pitched a perfect game in the Little League World Series and led his Bronx team to a third-place finish only to be revealed to be 14, not 12 as falsified documents had asserted, and too old to play -- are the same, but on some level all are trying to give their child the best possible chance. Unlike Almonte's father, adoptive parents aren't lying to give their child a specific advantage in a specific situation; they likely see it as giving their child an age that's closer to the truth. But folks, the truth is slippery. Tests are fallible, and sometimes contradictory. Children develop in ways and at rates we can't predict. And they often develop unevenly, with emotions at one level and cognitive functions at another and physical attributes at another. The original date may be wrong in some cases; but any attempt to adjust it is going to be the roughest guesswork.

It seems to me that what age-changing parents hope to do is eliminate all future problems their children may have with one simple bureaucratic act. The humiliation of being too short for your age, the embarrassment of acting immature, the pain of not fitting in -- gone! with a minor adjustment. But does anybody believe it's going to be that easy? A mom can hope, that's true. She can be a mama bear and do what she can, even if there's risk, even if snotty Web site writers disapprove. And she can call Little League headquarters and make sure that changing a child's age at the time of adoption for physician-approved reasons is not a violation of some developmental-difference-unfriendly rule or regulation.

Giving the rest of us hope that the Danny Almonte of tomorrow won't be named Sergei or Sasha.

Friday, August 31, 2001

Book 'em

I'm generally a sucker for parenting books. But the ones I'm drawn to are the ones for parenting kids with special needs, books with names like "The Challenging Child" or "The Explosive Child" or "The Out-of-Sync Child" or "Raising Your Spirited Child." With one child who is significantly learning and language delayed but very well-behaved, and one child who has FAS/E, I don't have much of a need for the general, run-of-the-mill books on raising your boring, normal child. I need the heavy artillery.

Every so often, though, I like to see how the other half lives, and so I check out the bestsellers of the week in Parenting & Family on . I was going to share the results of that search today, but frankly, the first four books on this week's tally were pregnancy books, and a majority of the rest are about obsessing over your perfect infant, and who needs that? So I decided to go back over to my half, and see what parents who read books about special needs are reading. A nice, familiar chart, that.

Here, then, for your browsing pleasure, are the Top 10 special-needs-parenting bestsellers on this week, with our comments and/or theirs. Note that, if pregnancy and infancy are the current obsessions among the non-special-needs set, ADHD remains the book-topic of choice for challenged parents, occupying half the spots. Read on:

1. The Out-Of-Sync Child : Recognizing and Coping With Sensory Integration Dysfunction by Carol Stock Kranowitz.
The perfect, reader-friendly introduction to sensory integration. I'd tell you to go buy it now, but you probably have it already.

2. Sign With Your Baby Complete Learning Kit (Book, Training Video & Quick Reference Guide combination) by Joseph Garcia.
"Shows how simple gestures can communicate ideas."

3. Maybe You Know My Teen : A Parent's Guide to Helping Your Adolescent With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder by Mary Fowler.
By the author of "Maybe You Know My Kid."

4. The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D.
Excellent, excellent book! It's one of the ones I keep close at hand. Useful for any kids who have trouble dealing with frustration and change, whether they explode as a result or not.

5. When Love is Not Enough : A Guide to Parenting Children with RAD - Reactive Attachment Disorder by Nancy L. Thomas.
Required reading on RAD.

6. Attention Deficit Disorder : A Different Perception by Thom Hartmann.
"ADDers aren't abnormal, they are uniquely gifted individuals in their own right."

7. Taking Charge of ADHD, Revised Edition by Russell A. Barkley.
I'd probably rather read this than "Taking Charge of Your Fertility," No. 2 on the general parenting best-seller chart. Perhaps ADHD will take orders better.

8. Without Ritalin by Samuel A. Berne.
"Safe and effective holistic treatments proven successful for more than 3,000 patients." (Is that a lot?)

9. Eating an Artichoke : A Mother's Perspective on Asperger Syndrome by Echo R. Fling.
"Author is president of ASPEN of America, Inc. (Asperger Syndrome Education Network.)"

10. Women With Attention Deficit Disorder : Embracing Disorganization at Home and in the Workplace by Sari Solden.
I don't know that I have ADD, but I'll embrace disorganization wherever I can find it.

Thursday, August 30, 2001

Counting down

Six days and counting to the start of school. Can I get a "Whoo-hoo!"

My kids are not as excited about this as I am, which is a good sign, really: There was a time when my daughter would much rather be in school, which was so much like the orphanage she'd spent her first 4.5 years in and therefore so familiar, than have to be home with this unfamiliar thing called a family. I'm delighted that she now sees home as the place to be, and school as the scary, less-than-comfy spot. Delighted. But she still has to go.

She shared her back-to-school worries with me last night, and they are three: 1) she will have to write reports; 2) we will have to pick her up after chorus; and 3) when she gets to middle school, she will have to change her clothes in front of other people at gym, and in only five minutes.

If she were an 11-year-old among 11-year-olds, she would have reason to worry about the horrors of being naked among your middle-school peers; however, she's an 11-year-old among 9-year-olds and, as a fourth-grader, has two elementary years to go before she has to obsess about that. I told her to hold her worrying for a while. Worrying ineffectually about a future that can't be controlled is, of course, a mother's job.

I don't know if she believed me when I said that the chorus director would let us know what time to pick her up and that we would really, truly be there -- just like we're there at the end of school and just like we were there last year when she got out of her after-school remedial sessions -- but she at least appeared to be reassured. Now, if she'd worried about singing off-key or learning the music or performing in front of an audience or getting from her classroom to the rehearsal room, I'd have had a little more trouble jumping quickly to assurance. But pick-ups are a piece of cake.

Worry #1 is not. Reports are a way legitimate concern. I'm worried that she will have to write reports, too, because it means I will have to help her write reports and, hoo-boy, that is not a pleasant thought at all. Helping her write simple paragraphs has added gray hairs to my head and holes to my stomach. She is no more ready to write reports than she is ready to pole vault in the Olympics. But at least with the pole vault, she could probably get off the ground a little faster.

Still, I put a good face on it and explained that she will have a language-arts aide this year, helping her a few hours a day, and that person will certainly have as part of her job helping with reports. (She will, won't she? Won't she?) And the teacher will help. And if necessary, we'll hire a tutor to help. I'll help. Papa will help. Everybody will help! Now, if only my daughter would help, by not being completely and utterly clueless. I know, I know, that observation is not helpful. I couldn't help it.

My son has shared only one school-starting anxiety, and that is: "I hope the teacher doesn't give homework on the first day." He says this exactly the way Buster Baxter says it on his first day of third grade on the "Arthur" cartoons on PBS. So I don't think he's really worrying; I think he's just rehearsing his lines. Besides, the only homework that's likely to come home that first day is homework for me, all those forms and cards to fill out with the exact same addressses and phone numbers and emergency contacts I gave them last year. Couldn't they have this stuff computerized by now?

Six days. Six days and counting. Let the games begin.

Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Back to school with a vengeance

If a new report from the CDC is to be believed, some kids are slipping more into their back-to-school backpacks than notebooks, pens, folders and lunchboxes. Some are slipping guns, knives and weapons of small-scale destruction. The return from summer break is one of the heaviest times of year for both school-related stress and school-related killings. Maybe instead of shopping for cute school clothes for our returning kiddos, we should be shopping for cute bulletproof vests.

Although the report specifies that school violence is extremely rare, it's not so rare that it can't be quantified. On average, there's about one school-related killing in the U.S. for every seven school days, one suicide for every 31 school days. But that's just the average.

Looked at month by month, you can start to see where the trouble spots are. In February, the rate rises to one killing every four days -- is Valentine's Day really that traumatic? September comes in second, with one every six days. Holiday spirit kicks in to keep December relatively trouble-free, with one killing every 15 days. But watch out when those kids come back from winter break.

The CDC is helpfully releasing this information just in time for the start of school, to give parents something else to be paranoid about ... er, that is, to help parents be vigilant to the stresses of school life and to help schools use their anti-violence resources most effectively.

And that's all well and good. But what I'd be curious to know is: How many IEP-related homicides are there? How many parents go postal when they find that the plans that were so meticulously made have not been implemented, the personnel and programs required are not in place, and the new teacher has not even read the IEP? I would guess the fall is second in plotted mayhem only to the spring, when those plans are made, when those IEP meetings where everybody looks at you like perhaps you need some intensive language and learning therapy before you can dare to parry with the professionals take place. Surely there is one parent every seven days who has at least fantasized about bringing small arms to the meeting, along with their tape recorders and advocates and reports that will never be read.

Hopefully there are no statistics, because those thoughts stay just thoughts. But just to be safe, Child Study Teams ought to be vigilant and implement some anti-stress programs for special-needs parents. This would involve just going ahead and giving us everything we want; or, if that's impossible, at least everything you've promised. Come on--try it. It wouldn't kill you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

My concert report

Two tickets for lawn seats for Aaron Carter concert: $48.30

Bucket of KFC to eat in the parking lot: $9.99

Bottle of water at the concession stand: $3.50

Aaron Carter T-shirt: $30

Having your normally hug-averse 11-year-old so shook up by the extremely loud music and the crush of people and the endless succession of no-name opening acts that she actually insists on sitting on your lap and putting your arms around her: Priceless

Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Wrongful birth

"Hey, isn't that that boy who played softball with your daughter?"

When my friend pointed out the pictures on the front page of the paper, I was delighted to see this smiling child, who did indeed play on the special-needs softball team my girl was on one year. In fact, he had his Challenger League cap on in that Page One picture. Photos of him filled three pages of the paper, a smiling, happy kid doing the things kids do. The fact that he was doing them in a wheelchair didn't dim his smile one bit.

We've seen this boy and his parents on numerous occasions since that softball season. They go to our church, and they're there at Mass every Saturday night, their son wheeling his way to the back of the church to go to the children's liturgy. I remember seeing them at the church carnival, the parents picking their son up and putting him on the rides, and being impressed by the effort they made to keep him involved in everything. The boy has, at various times, had the same occupational therapist and the same therapeutic riding instructor as my son, and by all accounts he is a terrific kid with a devoted family. So when I saw the pictures spread out through the paper, I assumed this would be an inspirational piece on overcoming disabilities and familial dedication.

It wasn't.

It was a story about a wrongful birth suit.

The text that ran around the photos of that cheerful child had to do with the fact that his mother had brought suit against the OB/GYN who had failed to diagnose his spina bifida in the womb, so that she could have terminated the pregnancy. It discusses her hatred for this man who did her the unspeakable injury of allowing her son to be born, and her willingness to go to court and swear she would have had an abortion. It mentions that the case settled out of court, and that the parents don't plan to tell their son where the money came from; which makes it a bad idea, I'd think, to submit to a page-one newspaper story about it.

I've read stories of wrongful birth suits before, and always found them chilling for the notion that kids with disabilities would be better off dead. I understand that the costs associated with caring for a disabled child can be astronomical, and that parents would want to ensure their financial future; and I understand that the work involved with caring for a disabled child can be heartbreaking, and that parents would want to make somebody pay for that, too. But to go to court and swear under oath that you would not have allowed this child to be born--I don't know how you could do that and then go home and give that child the sort of all-consuming, all-defending, Mama Bear love you need to feel to be a good advocate and a good parent. If you felt so strongly that you had been wronged by the fact of this child's birth, I don't know how you could stop crying long enough to do all the very difficult things that needed to be done.

I've read the stories before, but to read it again, in the context of these people whom I had considered to be such a poster family for special needs, made me heartsick. Now, I certainly don't wish to imply that this family has a responsibility to be an inspiration to me. I don't really know anything about them or what they've been through. My children have significant challenges, but they are not physical, and so I don't at all know what that is like. I try not to judge the decisions that any parent makes, especially parents of children with special needs, who have so very many factors weighing on every difficult choice.

I try not to judge, but it's hard. Isn't it bad enough for society to devalue the disabled, without the people who love them doing the same? As science improves its ability to diagnose disabilities in the womb, do we really want to weed out any children with any chance of coming out imperfect? Is the image of special-needs families as poor souls saddled with a burden because a doctor didn't give them a chance to get out while they could an image we want to embrace? Isn't every child precious, no matter how his or her gifts are wrapped?

Those are eminently unfair questions, but they're the ones that sprung to my heart as I read the story of this family. When I was finished, I went to my own children, hugged them and told them I loved them just the way they are. I'm lucky--I adopted these kids knowing of their special needs. I had a choice. I'm glad their birthmothers didn't.

Friday, August 17, 2001

Specialist roulette

One of the side effects of reading too much about your children's neurological problems is that you start diagnosing everyone else's children as well.

It's hard to resist, filled as you are with knowledge and perception. I remember working at the school library a couple of years ago and picking out the kids with sensory integration disorder. They were usually the ones who were in trouble for not keeping their seats, or for jostling other kids. One little girl kept slipping out of her shoes, and that seemed to me such incontravertable evidence of tactile hypersensitivity that I bristled when the librarian yelled at her, which she did a lot. Nothing I could do about any of this, of course. As a library parent, I was supposed to notice nothing. But boy, I felt smart.

Of course, what I see in other kids are the things I know best. Other parents see other things entirely. I've notice this numerous times on e-mail lists for adoptive parents, when somebody will describe their child's behavior problems, and everybody will chip in with a theory. Invariably, the parents of RAD children will see RAD, the parents of kids with ADHD will see ADHD, and all the while I'll be clucking that it is so obviously FAS/E or SI. We see what we're trained to see.

Which is why I suppose I have to give doctors a pass when they do the same thing. I was a little irate recently when somebody shared the story of taking her child to a doctor who had diagnosed thousands of cases of a certain disorder and, what a surprise!, he diagnosed her child with it, too. And I thought, what I want to know is, not how many cases he's diagnosed, but how many patients he has not diagnosed that in. It seems the problem with specialists is by the time you get to them, you're pretty much guaranteed that they're going to find the thing they find. RAD specialists will find RAD. International adoption specialists will find problems related to international adoption. ADHD experts will see ADHD.

Part of that is probably statistical; you don’t go to those specialists unless there’s already a good suspicion that something in their area of expertise is wrong. And part of that is probably due to the extreme nebulousness of some of these disorders, in which so many symptoms and behaviors overlap. There will always be interpretation involved. And to interpret things in a way you understand is only human nature.

But none of that is much comfort to people seeking definitive answers, or to the people second-guessing them. Perhaps we should consider specialist doctors, and specialist parents, as a sort of diagnostic salad bar. Check each one out, try out a little of each, and put something together that looks right to you.

Then write me, and tell me what you figured out. And I’ll explain why it’s really sensory integration disorder or fetal alcohol effects. I see it all the time.

Tuesday, August 07, 2001

Get back!

There's a commercial for a restaurant chain that's been running constantly on the radio station I listen to lately, and it involves children squabbling to see who gets to sit in the front seat. And I have to tell those advertisers, this never makes me want to run to that restaurant. What it makes me do is think: Are they nuts? Who lets children sit in the front seat anymore?

Apparently, a lot of people. I was shocked to read of a recent study that found a third of kids in cars riding shotgun. I thought the advent of airbags had put an end to that sort of thing. I thought everybody stowed their rugrats in the backseat, further away from a front-end collision. I thought wrong.

Now, of course, I certainly did sit in the front seat when I was a kid. This was way, way, waaaaaaaaaay before airbags, and before cars that were built like soup cans. And even much more recently, when we first adopted our kids, I remember having my littlest one's carseat in front, because how would I get to him if he started crying and he was behind me? I'm not sure when we made the switch, but I certainly do remember him being behind me, and how I would hand french fries over my shoulder one by one to give him a snack on the way home from his Early Intervention sessions. Seemed like a pretty good way to have an accident right there, but at least my guy would be properly seated for it.

I guess I'm just a conformist, doing what the Powers that Be tell me, ignoring my children's pleas for front-seatage. I thought those labels on the visors of front seats, with the warnings to seat kids in back and the drawing of a car-seated baby being knocked about by an airbag, were convincing enough for anyone. I didn't believe my daughter when she swore that every other kid her age gets to sit in the front, and only mean moms make them ride with their little brothers. Who knew?

I'll keep my kids in the back anyway, of course, because then, if I roll down the windows and turn the stereo up real loud, I can't hear them fight. But when I really think about it, it does strike me that since my daughter, at age 11, is now a good three inches taller than me, she can probably sit in front of an airbag more safely than I can. Perhaps she should be sitting in front, and I should be sitting in back. She'd love that, alright.

But no matter how many studies she shows me, I'm not letting her drive.

Friday, August 03, 2001

Look back and say ouch

My kids have been in their respective camp situations for four weeks now, and the minor injuries are starting to show. My daughter has various new scratches and scrapes appearing on her legs on a daily basis, and dodgeball-related bruises as well. My son took a Frisbee to the face, giving him a nice big scab beside his right eye, and has at least one bruise on his leg from where boys allegedly pinched him. Childhood is a full-contact sport, and injury is inevitable.

Still, I suppose we're ahead of past summers in the injury-and-trauma department. There was the year my daughter dropped a bowling ball on her toe during a camp outing. The camp nurse swore there was no relation between the fact that my daughter's toe was bruised and swollen and the fact that she had dropped a bowling ball on it; mere coincidence, declared the nurse. Our pediatrician, on the other hand, looked at the toe and said it looked like someone had dropped a bowling ball on it.

Then there was the summer my son started with a seizure, after one overheated morning watching his sister cavort at soccer camp. That necessitated an emergency trip to the hospital, another visit for an EEG, much panic and anguish for Mom and Dad, and a delayed start to his own camp that year. When all was said and done, he was perfectly fine. Two years later, I'm still a little shaky.

My daughter's sprouting a fair amount of pimples on her sunburned little face this year, but nothing like the bizarre growth she had on her thumb one summer. It was big and puffy and green and filled with something that, if we were in a science fiction movie, would burst open and pour forth with little alien spawn. I think even the pediatrician was a little taken aback by it. Blecccch.

Thankfully, we've never had any broken bones. We have had head lice, a near drowning, various stitches, a small boy being kicked in the face by his swinging sister, and a scabbed knee picked at so relentlessly that there is now a scar to remember the injury by. We've been lucky, all in all.

Let's hope the luck holds for four more weeks until they're safely back in school.

Thursday, August 02, 2001

Internet ready

What did we do before the Internet?

I don't mean for getting information, although certainly, it's unimaginable to me what I would have done to help my adopted special-needs children without this limitless resource on my desk. Everything I've learned about them and found to do for them has come in one way or another from an e-mail group or a Web site. I don't believe I'd have made it with just trips to the library or a single support group.

What I'm thinking of this morning, though, as I check my e-mail for the fourteenth time this hour and look up the latest headlines on Yahoo! and read new posts on the Mighty Big TV forums and scan the site traffic statistics for Mothers with Attitude and monitor my site's status on Sites for Parents and see what's new in Salon and check my e-mail again, is: What did we do to waste time?

I'm a procrastinator from way back, and it's hard to believe I once had to make time pass --with the illusion but not the fact of productivity -- without this interactive screen. Whatever did I do? I watched TV, maybe, or did crossword puzzles, or sang along to the stereo, or typed nonsense words on my typewriter. (Typewriters! Do you remember typewriters?) It was such work, not working. And all the more so at the office, where you had to look like you were doing something even when there was nothing you wanted to do. I remember jobs where my chief occupations some afternoons was watching my hair grow. Oh, for a computer screen and unlimited Web access!

Those didn't exist then, but they do now, and I am grateful. I've mastered the have-real-work-open-in-the-background-and-click-to-it-in-a-flash-when-boss-or-husband-appears maneuver, and I spend way more time aimlessly surfing than I have any right to. Isn't it wonderful? If not for the Internet, I'd have to clean my house, parent my children, do my work, stay in touch with my friends, pay attention to life as it passes. But who has time for that, when there's so much time to waste?

Sure hope they keep that "Code Red" worm at bay. I'd hate to be cut off for even a wasted minute.

Thursday, July 26, 2001

Just say no to drugstores

My town is being overrun by drugstores.

They’re popping up everywhere, in every new mini-mall, on every street corner. And not just petite mom-and-pop pharmacies, but super-mega-drugstores, the kind where you can get your cold medicine and makeup and school supplies and toys and birthday presents and gardening gear and weekly groceries all in one handy spot.

One of these in close driving distance is nifty. Two of these in close driving distance is way convenient. Fifty-five of these in close driving distance is overkill. I figure our town is going on about eighty.

The latest is the jewel in the crown of our downtown redevelopment. It replaces a movie theater, because goodness knows we don’t want teenagers and other moviegoing riff-raff hanging around our downtown. It pre-empts a fast-food restaurant; town fathers have been firm in forbidding the likes of Wendy’s and Burger King from the site, because goodness knows we don’t want families with young children and other fast-food-loving riff-raff hanging around our downtown. What we want hanging around our downtown are senior citizens in big, slow cars who must have constant access to their 33 individual prescriptions. This is the face we want to present as a community: A Town On Medication.

Personally, I would like to know when the No Fast Food Ever referendum passed, because what I would have liked to see more than anything in that prime downtown space is a big old McDonald’s with a vast playspace, one where I could leave my kids to wander for hours while I guzzle Diet Coke (my personal drug of choice) and read magazines. A Chuck E. Cheese would have been fine, too. I suppose I could always bring my kids to the big shiny new drugstore and let them run up and down the aisles, but my son always seems to find the condom counter, and I haven’t figured out yet how to explain to him what they are.

So downtown won’t be drawing us. We’re so backward, we still drive to a drugstore way ‘cross town, passing others all along the way. It’s our little way of commenting on the fact that there should be far fewer pharmacies hereabouts. And, maybe, more gas stations.

Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Stay strong

My daughter will never be a waif. She'll never be one of those wide-eyed, slim-hipped, fine-boned creatures you see slithering through magazine layouts and rock videos and episodes of Ally McBeal. Her body type tends more toward the sturdy. The solid. The, dare I say it, big-boned. She's slender but strong, proud for now of her muscles and her ever-increasing height and weight. She enjoys eating, as long as it doesn't involve vegetables, and revels in how the food will make her bigger.

She doesn't worry about being fat. Yet.

She's brought it up a couple of times, and I've told her she's not, and that's been the end of it. She's asked me why I'm so fat, usually after she's heard me obsessing about it, and I tell her something depending on my mood that is generally the end of that. Weight, and the perceived undesirability thereof, is not among her concerns. But how long is that going to last?

Forever, I hope. But our culture doesn't suggest that. According to a recent Intelihealth report, experts are now seeing girls as young as 5 who are worried that they're too fat, and adjusting their diets accordingly. My girl is 11, and still showing no interest in decreasing her chocolate-chip cookie intake one whit. I worry, when I tell her to stop snacking already -- am I sending a message that she's getting fat? Or that she will get fat? Or that I'd care if she did?

In truth, it's probably less what I think and say and more what her peers do that will cause the problems. The fact that she's in a grade two years below her age level won't help. For most of her school career, she'll be classmates with girls whose bodies are less mature and whose clothing sizes are smaller than hers. It's hard to believe that won't become an issue at some point. As of right now, between third and fourth grade, she seems to have a healthy range of body types among her friends, from skinny to chubby, tall to short, more to less developed. And it doesn't sound as if any of them are dieting, either -- whenever my daughter points out something in the supermarket that all the kids are eating and she just has to have, it's invariably fried, fast, sugar-pumped and loaded with empty calories.

That's the ironic thing, of course -- as America craves and glorifies thinness, we're all eating worse and getting fatter. Adults are more overweight. Kids are more overweight. It's appropriate, to a degree, to guard against excess weight in ourselves and our children. But it seems that the pendulum can so easily swing from one sort of unhealthiness to another. So far, my daughter is solidly in the middle, slim but not skinny, eating but not overeating, aware of her body but not preoccupied by it, happy to wear jeans and T-shirts instead of hiphuggers and bikini tops.

I just hope she can hang onto that when she's a big, sturdy teen amidst a sea of skinny, sexed-up pop-star wannabes. At any rate, she'll be able to beat any one of those malnourished stick-figure girls at basketball.

Monday, July 09, 2001

Bug free

Today, my kids start their respective summer programs and I start figuring out how to get them to two different places 20 minutes apart at the same time. It's going to be a long six weeks.

I also get all sorts of new things to worry about, like: Will my son's camp counselors be able to handle him? Will he be safe in the pool? Will he come home with the same towel and bathing suit he left with? Will my daughter be safe in her drop-in-at-the-park program? Will her friends be there? Will they want to play with her? Will I forget to pick her up?

But one thing I'm not going to worry about this year are head lice. And why is that? Have I found some new miracle chemical shield? Have head lice been wiped out in my area? Are my kids' heads hermetically sealed? No. I'm not going to worry because Harvard entomologist Richard J. Pollack, Ph.D., says I shouldn't. He says all the folderol about excluding kids and treating kids and bagging up the entire house for bugs is ridiculous. Head lice are harmless. They don't spread that easily, and if they do, big whoop.

Harvard entomologist Richard J. Pollack, Ph.D., is my hero.

We've only had one lice infestation here, but it was a doozy. My daughter had live lice crawling around on her head (Richard J. Pollack says unless you see live lice, do nothing -- and be sure they're lice, not spiders or ants. These were lice, they were live, and they had an attitude.) Because I was a good citizen and had not yet read about Richard J. Pollack, I called her very expensive camp and told them she had lice, and was of course told not to bring her back until she was nit-free. I washed her twice with the insecticide shampoo, I combed, I combed, I combed, I covered her head with mayonnaise, I combed, I covered her head with olive oil, I combed, I sprayed the house, I combed, I bagged the bedding, I combed, I combed, I combed. The camp nurse found nits and commented that Mom wasn't trying hard enough. I combed, and I imagined the camp nurse crawling with lice. Ha!

It was so hard to get rid of those buggers and their every trace that I have been in a complete panic about lice ever since. I've had my family shampooing with tea tree oil long after any last bugs had breathed their last. I left the bedding in bags for over a year. I examine my kids' hair with every little scratch. And I dread the thought of them being sent home from school for as long as it takes me to do this again.

But now, no worries. Richard J. Pollack -- and indeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics with him -- say heck no, the kids shouldn't go. They shouldn't be kicked out of school or camp, they shouldn't be stigmatized in front of their peers, and the peers parents should not be notified of an outbreak. Because, you know, it's no biggie. Some cultures even value head lice as a sign that you've got friends.

Now, if only we can sell that to the camp and school nurses of this nation, I'll really be able to breathe easy.