Monday, January 28, 2002

January 28-February 1, 2002

JANUARY 28, 2002

Hoo-boy, Harry Potter. My daughter's class is finally finishing up with this contemporary classic, and although I know it's enchanted and enthralled many a young reader, my girl is most definitely not one of them. She hated the book. Hated it because it was make-believe and not nice concrete real life; hated it because it was long; hated it because it was wordy; hated it because it flew higher over her head than Harry on a broomstick. She didn't get it. And that made helping her with her end-of-book homework a pretty darn impossible quest.

The work that came home to be finished this weekend included long lists of vocabulary words for each chapter, to be matched with their meanings. My personal feeling on vocabulary for my very language-delayed girl is that if it's not in our Children's Dictionary, she shouldn't have to know it; of the Harry Potter words listed, at least half weren't in the dictionary at all, and often the ones that were weren't listed with the particular usage the author employed. The Harry Potter books use great creativity of language, and that's great. Maybe they get kids interested in those unusual words, and that's great, too. But getting my girl to figure out meanings of things like "oddment" and "treacle" and "quaver" for an assignment? Hey, at least they could have sent home a magic wand to help.

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JANUARY 29, 2002

It is with the pride of the mother of a genius that I take this opportunity to publish my son's very first book report. His teacher was awfully proud of it, especially since he started out saying "I can't do it" and then settled into writing (by fine-motor-delayed hand) three pages of insightful summary and critique. She said he read it to most of the other special-ed classes, and he's read it to various members of his family, so why should you miss out? The author is 8 years old and in a 2nd-grade-ish self-contained special-ed class. (And alright, I have a cold and don't feel like writing anything today. If it's good enough for that "Family Circus" guy, it's good enough for me.)

The Great Ball Game

I read "The Great Ball Game" by Joseph Bruchac. The story takes place in a field. The characters are the deer, the fox, the bird, the hawk, bat, bear, and crane. I love all the characters.

The story took place in a field. The problem was that crane and hawk were at war. Crane and hawk stole the ball from the animals. The animals said "Let's play ball." The bat solved the problem by getting in the game. He could see in the dark to get the ball. The bat got the ball and won. The animals made the birds go south.

I liked this story. I liked how the story ended.

Sheer brilliance, don'tcha think?

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JANUARY 30, 2002

Well, now, here's an embarrassing thing: Here I am, the big library volunteer mom, checking in those books, making a list of transgressors who haven't turned theirs in and turning it over to the school librarian. I'm the enforcer of the overdues, and yet, here I am, the night before my son goes to the library with me behind the desk, and I can't find his book. I know I've seen it around here recently -- "Curious George Takes the Cake," it is -- but I don't see it around here now. I've checked all the big sloppy piles o' junk where I usually put the library books, but there are no library books to be found. No school library books, anyway; there's a bunch of city library books on the end table in the living room, and actually there is a school library book that I checked out as a volunteer buried in a box in my room, but Curious George? I'm curious as to where he might be.

The problem here is that we cleaned off the dining room table on Saturday, and that's always a fatal thing to do in terms of finding what needs finding. Something always disappears into limbo when all the sloppy piles on that table are put into orderly places. Last time it was a $100 gift certificate. This time, it's a library book. Or maybe not. Maybe I took the book off the dining room table and put it in my son's backpack, and maybe he brought it to school on Monday two days early. Maybe the teacher's lost it! Yes, that must be it. And if not, at least my library mom status gives me a few minutes to pay for the book before my boy comes in so he can still check something out. Volunteering has its priveleges.

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JANUARY 31, 2002

The cold that has so far made its way through my daughter and me seems today to have settled on my son. I'm feeling much better, just as my girl felt much better as soon as I was stricken, but the little guy feels feverish and is coughing and acting subdued, at least for him. He was able to work himself up into a little bit of a frenzy around bedtime, but it was a pale imitation of his usual 9:30 wild boy act. He's a sickie, and if he's still under the weather tomorrow, we both get to take a sick day. I am not necessarily hoping for an overnight recovery.

Illness has been blowing through our town these past weeks, probably due at least in part to the fact that the weather has been snowing one day, 60 degrees the next. You hear whispers of various viruses settling in at the different elementary schools around town. Judging from what I heard in the halls while working at the library this week, our school has the "coughing like a seal" cold running rampant. This is loud and a little scary but preferable to the "throwing up" virus at my co-worker's kids' school. Let's hope that one keeps to its own campus.

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FEBRUARY 1, 2002

I had a meeting with my son's teacher the other day, and she told me this story: My boy had been reading a story in his reading book about brothers and sisters, and it included a passage about adoption -- something about siblings who did not have the same birthparents but nonetheless shared a forever bond. And my son looked up at his teacher with his big blue eyes, and said that was like him and his sister -- "We have different mommies and daddies, but she's my sister and I'll love her forever." Major aww moment there. My son's good at those. He's a regular walking Hallmark commercial.

Even so, I was particularly impressed by this piece of sentiment, because he and his sister are usually at each other's throats. He enjoys hitting her, hugging her when she clearly does not wish to be hugged, and making rude noises in her direction. She enjoys making sarcastic remarks in his direction, pushing him away, and putting a cereal box between them during breakfast so that she does not have to see his face. It's impressive that he would nonetheless declare his love for her in such a spontaneous manner. It's more impressive that he's actually been listening when I've talked about adoption, and about the fact that the two of them have different birthparents. I'm actually stunned that he's picked that up. It's further evidence that he hears and processes everything, whether he shows any signs of being in the same dimension when you're talking or not.

Because I enjoy pushing my luck, I told my daughter about what her brother had said. She rolled her eyes at that, and said, as she so often does. "But he's crazy!" Then, she thought about it for a moment, and said in a most exasperated fashion, "I mean, I love him. But he's crazy!" I tell you, it's these tender emotional moments that keep a mom going.

Monday, January 21, 2002

January 21-25, 2002

JANUARY 21, 2002

We're doing a lot of worrying in advance at our house these days about middle school. My daughter still has half of 4th and all of 5th grade to go before she moves to the big scary school up the street, but she can't stop thinking about it. What's it like to have a locker? How do you remember the combination? How do you know which rooms to go to? How much time is there to switch classes? Are you required to chat in the hallways like on "Lizzie McGuire"? Is there swimming involved?

I've been chastising her for worrying too soon, but then the other day I realized: If middle school starts half an hour earlier than elementary school, and she wants to get there at least 10 minutes early, I'm going to be dropping her off 40 minutes before my son will need to be at his school, and since we're less than 5 minutes from either school, there'll be too much time in between to do it in one trip. How am I going to manage two? Will my son be old enough to be left alone in a year and a half? Will I need to yank him out of bed to help drop his sister off, then bring him home, then take him out again? Do we know someone who can give her a ride? Should I set it up this far in advance?

Now, I still think it's too soon for my girl to be worrying about anything middle-school related. Clearly, that's my job, and I don't like to share.

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JANUARY 22, 2002

Apparently, my husband and I are among those responsible for the decline of the American family. I wouldn't have thought so, but I was laying out an article for the Catholic newspaper I work for, and a psychiatrist was quoted as describing how the disrepair of the family unit was causing societal woe, and she mentioned, as one damaging factor, that ever fewer children are living with their "biological, married parents." Certainly the rise in single-parent families is something that has been debated before, and will be again. Though I may or may not agree with her assessment there, I can at least see where she's coming from. But biological? Is she theorizing that adoptive parents are contributing to the breakdown of American civilization? I had to say "What the ..." Well, I was working on a Catholic paper, so I suppose I had to say "What the heck." But it certainly took me aback.

I like to think I'm pretty thick-skinned about the treatment of adoption in the media. I don't get all huffy about commericals or greeting cards or highway signs that are thought to be less than sensitive. And in this case, I suppose, the speaker in question was referring to the number of children floating in foster care, and not to those integrated into adoptive family units. All the same, I deleted that sentence from the article for our publication. Every now and then, I claim the right to get defensive.

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JANUARY 23, 2002

Ah, luxury. After a couple of extra-specially stress-filled days at work, my boss told me to take today off. A whole day, with the kids at school! They're always home when I'm home on the weekends, and whenever my office is closed for some reason the school always seems to be closed as well. But not today! Today is mine. Whatever shall I do?

There are so many possibilities. I could clean the house in peace. (Ha!) I could catch up on reading all those magazines that have been piling up. I could start in on that big ol' book about the brain I bought over the weekend (Synaptic Self : How Our Brains Become Who We Are by Joseph LeDoux. Looks interesting. Feels heavy.) I could finally start on that project to write an outline for a booklet on PI issues that I promised people on an e-mail list would be done a few weeks ago. I could watch a DVD or go shopping or throw out all the torn plastic bags on the floor of my son's room while he's not looking (he likes collecting and tearing plastic shopping bags, okay? It's a hobby.) But I know what will probably happen: I'll just sit here at my desk all day, drinking coffee and surfing aimlessly around the 'net, checking my e-mail every 20 seconds and waiting for something interesting to come by.

Kind of like I do on days off when the kids are home.

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JANUARY 24, 2002

My daughter seems to be doing better now in fourth grade. She needs less help with her homework. She seems to be able to find answers in the textbook with more skill than in past months. The math they're doing now is easier for her (unless there's a page on money. Arghhh, money -- let's not go there). She's said numerous times that fourth grade is easy now. She often comes home an announces that a test or quiz was "piece of cake, Mom, piece of cake." Have I mentioned that she's now using lots of new expressions?

I've been feeling good about the progress and confidence I'm seeing. So of course, when I saw my daughter's aide at school the other day, she had to tell me how concerned she was, my daughter was struggling so much with the work, she was so frustrated by some of the assignments, she thought everybody was doing better than her, and so on. Why doesn't anybody at school ever see the same girl I see? I see confidence, happiness, progress. They see faltering, frustration, failure. I don't see her in the classroom, but it's hard to believe that she's that severely different. I think it's just another symptom of the basic dichotomy that's followed us all through school: They look at her with sympathy, and I look at her with hope. Maybe we all need to get new glasses.

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JANUARY 25, 2002

When my son's teacher brought him to the door yesterday, she announced that the bad news was this big (small space between fingers) and the good news was this big (large space between hands). Which did I want first? I went for the tiny bad news. It came in two parts: One, he has used the "d-word" in class. (At which point my boy, standing nearby, helpfully chimed in with which "d-word" that was.) Two, he had wandered away from the classroom at lunchtime and gotten in the line for another class, causing a certain amount of panic until he was found. I think he's giving the classroom aide a run for her money this year. I promised to talk to him about how important it is to stay with his class, but talking with my son about events that are in the past or in the future, but not happening right now, is usually an iffy proposition. Heck, sometimes talking to him about things that are happening right now is iffy, too.

Then on to the good news: That day, in class, he had written a book report. A book report! His very first. For a jumpy guy with poor fine motor skills, this was big good news indeed. The teacher reported with amazement that after his standard opening of, "It's too hard. I can't do it," he had delved into it and wound up with something that had multiple paragraphs, went into the text at some depth, and ended up with a little analysis at the end. Too cool. Of course, after baiting me with that, the teacher said I couldn't see it for a few days because now he had to rewrite and polish it, and even then she'd only give me a copy because she was going to put it up on the board. Man, how I hate to wait! It almost makes me want to say the "d-word."

Monday, January 14, 2002

January 14-18, 2002

JANUARY 14, 2002

My daughter's teacher paid me a compliment when we met after school last week. At least, I think it was meant as a compliment. We were talking about how my daughter was doing, and I was telling her about the things I was doing to help her at home, showing her books I was reading, going on a little about theories of teaching reading comprehension, and she asked if I had ever thought of going into teaching myself. Since I seemed so interested in it and all. She thought it might be one of those cases where one's hobby and one's career might be one and the same.

I told her what I tell myself whenever I get thoughts of being a teacher, which is: Honey, I just don't have the patience. She demurred that nobody has that patience with their own kids, but with other people's kids, you do. I'm not so sure. I taught an extra-curricular enrichment class at my children's school on four weekends last year, and there were some kids I could barely make it through 50 minutes with before wanting to send them to the principal, permanently. I don't think I have it in me to deal with 25 kids for six hours a day and actually be expected to make them learn. And if I did -- if I did have that kind of patience and fortitude and tenacious will to teach -- I'd probably use it to homeschool my own kids. I'm in awe of people who do that, just as I'm in awe of teachers who do it in an actual school building. I do a lot of things well, but I'm pretty sure this wouldn't be one of them.

Still, it's always nice to be asked.

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JANUARY 15, 2002

I got a nice compact package of the best and worst of my cute, jumpy, FAE 8-year-old yesterday, all in the space of an after-school hour. When I picked him up from school he was, as usual, at the very edge of self-control and about to leap joyfully over. He had six hours of pent-up impulsiveness and shouting to let out, and as usual there was no time like the present. No sooner had he told a brief story about his speech therapist and a radio than he decided that screaming the word "radio" at the top of his lungs over and over was the way he was going to let off steam on this particular day. As we stood waiting for my daughter to come out, people gave me that look, the one that said: "Can't you make that kid shut up?" And the answer, of course, is: No. I can shush him and threaten him and beg him and cajole him, or I can ignore him. Either way, he's going to keep screaming that word. Once he gets on a echolalic jag like this, he'll keep doing it until he's good and well done. I'm not sure he actually knows that he's doing it. Everybody in a mile radius does, though.

As it happened, I needed to bring the kids back to my office for a little while to finish up some work. Screaming "radio" in an outdoor schoolyard is one thing, screaming it in a busy office is another; would he get over it in time? As it turned out, he was perfectly fine. In fact, he was at his most charming. He watered a plant on my desk, then wandered off to find the office manager, who gave him a big box of keys that she'd forgotten where they fit. He found the lock that went with one of them, then enjoyed looking through a big book of formica colors. He went downstairs with her, met our new employee, checked out the man's nifty keychain and told him what kind of cars he drove. Then he came back up, in a pretty fine mood, just in time to grab some copies off the printer for me and get ready to go. The perfect office boy was he. Now why couldn't all those judging eyes from the schoolyard have been watching him then?

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JANUARY 16, 2002

My son brought home a little book today he'd made at school. "My VIP Family," it said on the front, and inside were phrases like "cooks me good food" and "reads me stories," with blanks to fill in the name of the family member who does so. I've learned not to expect too much with these "parent affirmation projects" -- wherein the teachers give kids an opportunity to write things that will make their parents feel all proud and loved. When my son's class did a project before Christmas on what they'd like to give a family member for the holiday, most of the kids wrote about giving Mom jewelry or Dad a new car. My boy wrote about giving his stuffed Scooby Doo dog some Scooby snacks. Then again, the first time my daughter said "I love you" to me, years after we'd adopted her at age 4.5, it was because of a Valentine's project of her speech therapist's. She was doing it because she was supposed to, not because she had a clue what it meant, but it sounded good all the same.

At any rate, I paged through the book with some trepidation, but my son managed to give everybody in his life their due. We got "Mom and dad tuck me in bed at night," with "tuck" here standing in for the more accurate "wrestle, wrangle and forcibly subdue." He filled in "Dad cooks me good food to eat," which will allow all his teachers to know the truth about how truly useless Mama is. He charitably put his sister's name for "plays games with me," entered that his teacher "reads me stories" (hey, I do that too! What am I, chopped liver?), and that his school aide "helps me" (and that she certainly does). So far, so good. The next to last page reads "Mom and dad love me," and darn it, that warm appreciated feeling does creep up on me. Then there's the end: "I love my family, too." To which my boy added "Scooby Doo." Can't get through a parental appreciation assignment without the Scoobster. But he's a pretty lovable pup.

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JANUARY 17, 2002

I love volunteering at the library at my kids's school, because it's a great way to spy. Sitting there in a roomful of books, blending in to the general school background, you sometimes get to hear and see things the administration probably wishes parents wouldn't. I've heard teachers yelling at students, and discussing certain ones in a most snippy manner. Today, though, I saw something that sent a chill down my spine: There was a fire drill, and the kids had to leave the building with such haste that they were not allowed to put on their jackets. And so I watched a school-full of kids line up in shirtsleeves in 40something degree weather. At least one child was wearing a T-shirt. My daughter, of course, had picked this day to wear a long-sleeved T instead of a sweatshirt. She'll be bundling up from now on, for sure.

Today the drill was very short, and the weather not bitter cold, windy or snowy. And sure, I see the logic of not going for the jackets: If the building is burning around you, there's not a moment to spare to pile up by the coat rack and find your personal covering. But at the same time -- brrr! What if it really was a fire, and they were outside for hours? What if it was 20 instead of 40? Would they really have them all out there jacketless? That, of course, is the problem with spying: Sometimes you find out things you'd really rather be blissfully ignorant of.

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JANUARY 18, 2002

I can remember when I used to have so much time for television. I remember having lots of shows I never missed, line-ups figured out for each night, "TV Guide" marked up with daily preferences, VCR set up for nights when I couldn't decide between a pair of programs. So much time, so much energy for entertainment. Before we were married, my husband and I pretended to like each other's favorite programs; after, the truth came out and we watched separately. Then came the kids, and little by little they have sucked up all that time and all that energy until now I can barely muster the interest to watch three little hour-long dramas, and I'm secretly happy when they're re-runs because that means I can fall asleep where I sit a little bit earlier that night.

One of the few shows I stay up for is "Once and Again," and I've pretty much managed to follow it through all its schedule changes and moves. Now it looks like I'll have one more night free, because the prognosis for ABC renewing it for another season, or even finishing out this one, is looking mighty bad. It's never exactly burned up the ratings, and whether that's due to the aforementioned schedule changes, or ABC's lackluster promotion of the show, or the viewing public's general lack of interest in a sensitive, meandering drama from the creators of "thirtysomething" on divorce, dating, and blended families (sadly, I rather think it's the latter), the network is in enough of a decline to want to cut its losses. Fans with a lot of time on their hands have launched a letter-writing campaign, and are waxing hot-under-the-collar on Mighty Big TV forums. And I can remember when I'd feel all up in arms about something like this, too. But now, I save all my outraged letter writing for child study teams, and the loss of a treasured program strikes me mostly as an opportunity for a little extra snooze time. Having kids changes you, don't they say?

Monday, January 07, 2002

January 7-11, 2012

JANUARY 7, 2002

We had a fairly piddly showing of snow here last night, which faded off to rain much too quickly to suggest the possibility of a snow day off from school. The kids had been rather hoping for one -- the teachers, too, since they appear to have played up the likelihood on Friday in a monumental case of wishful thinking. My son was looking forward to playing in the snow, but there's barely enough form a single snowball, much less a snowman. And my daughter was looking forward, cheerfully, desperately, to not having to go to class and do the dreaded work.

It does my heart good to hear her whine about going to school, because it is such a normal kid response. There was a time, for years really after she came to us from a Russian orphanage, when school was her favorite place to be. Much more comfortable and familiar than home, for goodness sake. Probably a lot of it was the coziness of her self-contained special-ed classroom, and maybe leaving that for the draftier confines of a mainstream class has been part of her change in attitude. Maturity has certainly played a part, too. And I'd like to think that it's a sign of good bonding with our family. Whatever the reason, I'm sure glad she'd rather stay home. But tough luck, babe -- it's off to school for you.

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JANUARY 8, 2002

Do they make Cliff's Notes for children's literature? Because if I'm going to help my daughter be a good reader, ask good questions, draw conclusions from text, and figure out content, I should sure as heck make sure I'm telling her the right things, shouldn't I? It's been easy so far, with nice straightforward stories, but her 4th grade reading book threw me a curve ball this week, a mystery story in which I confidently led her down a path that turned out to be the wrong one. And now I have to teach her that good readers sometimes have to say "What the heck?" and go back to the beginning.

The story was "The Stranger" by Chris Van Allsburg, with whom I was familiar from "The Polar Express," one of hundreds of books my daughter doesn't remember ever having had read to her. In this one, a farmer takes a stranger into his home and... well... strange things happen. Not "Friday the 13th" strange, but maybe "Twilight Zone" strange. Or, if you're a preteen addicted to the Disney channel like my daughter, "So Weird" strange. One strategy of good readers that my daughter is starting to do well is bringing in knowledge from other material and applying it to a new story. In this case, the other material was the TV show "It's a Miracle," in which, like the stranger in this story, somebody got hit by a car. But it's a start. Now if I could only figure out definitively who this stranger is supposed to be (is it Jack Frost? A more generic personification of winter? George Clooney, king of cool?), we'll have an end.

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JANUARY 9, 2002

At the Wendy's our family sometimes goes to -- probably at any Wendy's -- there's a giant photo of the restaurant's founder and pitchman, Dave Thomas, on the wall by the door. As we leave, I tell the kids to say goodbye to Dave, and they respond with a cheerful, overloud "Goodbye, Dave!" It's a bittersweet memory now that we have to say goodbye to Dave for good, as the news comes that the jovial hamburger cook and adoption advocate has died of liver cancer at age 69.

Other pictures we look at when we're chowing down on our chili are the posters of waiting children that deck Wendy's walls and sometimes its placemats. I've taken my kids to look at all those little faces and tried to explain that, just as they waited for a Mama and Papa in the orphanage, these children were waiting for Mamas and Papas now. I don't know how much my kids get it -- their developmental delays still preclude, at this point, a working understanding of adoption -- but looking at all those smiles and statistics usually gets me teary. When my husband and I first started down the road to adoption, we did it by calling the National Adoption Center number on a Wendy's placemat. Our efforts to adopt a child from foster care were unsuccessful, and we wound up adopting from Russia instead. But I don't think Dave would have minded.

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JANUARY 10, 2002

My son thinks the second funniest sound he's heard in his life is the sound he makes when he blows a raspberry against his arm. Man, what a hoot! He giggles uncontrollably and does it again and again and again. The funniest sound he's ever heard is when his one particular classmate does it. All behavioral rules are off when his friend makes that sound. He got into trouble at the library today because his friend made that sound, then he made that sound, then the librarian took their books away. To me, it's among the most annoying sounds in the world. But I'm not an 8-year-old boy.

My son has had a real increase in camaraderie with the boys in his special-ed class this year, and that's good. His emotional development is so very delayed, and this seems a step up to a new plateau. At the same time, though, there's been an increase in poorly thought out copying of other's misbehavior, and that's bad. I've read about that so many times in literature on fetal alcohol impairment, and I know that the lack of awareness of consequences that has him blowing raspberries now may having him commiting much more serious mayhem in the future. It's not uncommon, to be sure, for "normal" boys to misbehave together; but most don't start after they can see their friend is already in trouble. My son says he just didn't want his buddy to be lonely in time-out.

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JANUARY 11, 2002

Well, this is just great. Eleven days into 2002, and I've already blown the Mother of the Year Award. When I went to pick up my son from school yesterday, his teacher suggested I take a look at the shoes he had put on that morning. Not only was he wearing one each from two different pairs, but one of them was on the wrong foot. The teacher said they figured I had been working hard with him on self care and dressing himself, and didn't want to discourage him by making him change his footwear. Or maybe she just said that to help me save face. The sad truth is: I just flat-out didn't notice. What kind of mom am I?

Not a morning mom, that's for sure. It seems, whatever I do, we're always racing. My son and I both have trouble getting out of bed, which means that as I'm hastily jumping into the shower I'm screaming for him to get dressed. He races through breakfast, and apparently through shoe-donning as well. My daughter's much more organized; it's not unusual for her to be the one to wake me up. So is it any surprise that I can't be trusted to ensure that all garments are appropriately matched and placed? Heck, I'm feeling pretty lucky that he had shoes on at all.

Wednesday, January 02, 2002

January 2-4, 2002

JANUARY 2, 2002

Whew! Made it through another holiday season intact. Against all odds, my son actually behaved pretty darn well. Made me feel guilty to read of all the folks on the various e-mail support lists I belong to whose children made the holidays so hellish, when in fact my kids were pretty heavenly. Got to remember to thank God for these blessings -- the blessing of unexpected good behavior, the blessing of serene and boring days, the blessing of toys unbroken and spirits uncrushed. It was the best of times.

And now they're back at school, and the new year begins in earnest. I have taken my resolution this year from the TV show "Once and Again," and from the most unlikely character thereon: Tiffany, the airheaded former girlfriend of the ex-husband of Sela Ward's character. On a recent episode, when faced with the fellow's endless negativity, Tiffany declared: "You can't bum me out. I'm unbummable." And so I shall resolve to be in 2002 -- unbummable. Child study teams, learning disabilities, behavioral glitches, know-it-all relatives, stupid social studies textbooks -- to them shall I say, "You can't bum me out." I shall test the powers of positive self-talk. And maybe, for a change, I'll be a mother with a good attitude. (But what fun would that be?)

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JANUARY 3, 2002

The gymnastics school my kids go to has a little glassed-in room off the main floor for parents to watch their offspring flip and fly, and I have been enjoying my time there mainly because it gives me an uninterrupted hour-ish segment to actually sit and read a book. Today, though, as I was desperately trying to finish the very excellent "Mosaic of Thought" (about the techniques used by good readers and how to teach them to struggling readers), my attention kept being hijacked by a conversation a couple of rows away. A dad was talking to a mom about vaccinations, and how his family's refusal to give them to their younger children had caused his daughter to be rejected by a private school. I tried to tune them out, but I wondered if their reason for the vaccination ban was the supposed link between vaccinations and autism, and sure enough at some point he mentioned that his oldest child was autistic.

Part of me wanted to chime in, and part of me wanted to go to another part of the building to get away. There was something irritating about the whole conversation, and I think I know what it was: It was the man's tone, his "let me explain everything about vaccinations to you" tone. Although I agreed with some of what he was saying (certainly any possibility of a connection between vaccines and autism needs to be explored, and not blatantly disregarded by doctors as it mostly seems to have been), and disagreed with some (flat-out not vaccinating your children seems extreme, and if you choose that route you need to accept that there are places your kids will not be welcome), it was really the tone that rubbed me the wrong way. And I know why: It's the kind of tone I would use if I were talking to a stranger about one of my kids' hot-button issues, and I don't want to think about myself sounding like such a know-it-all. Because I don't. Know it all. Nobody does. But it's easy to let yourself think that, and easy to write like that, and easy to talk like that. Embarrassing, later, to think about, when you realize you misspoke or hear somebody else expounding so.

In the end, I didn't leave the room. But I did put my fingers over my ears.

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JANUARY 4, 2002

I got my daughter a very cute pair of Sketchers sneakers for Christmas. After she squealed and slipped them on, she hesitantly informed me that although she loved them, she would not be able to wear them for gym because the gym teacher said "No Sketchers." Now, I'm pretty sure she meant "no" to the funky Sketchers with high heels or other fashion accoutrements, and not to these sporty Sketchers that were indistinguishable from the shoes she'd been wearing since September save for the brand name, but my daughter was uncomfortable nonetheless. And since I believe in teaching kids to follow school rules even when I personally think they're stupid, we bought another pair of sneaks for gym days.

While we were there, we bought another pair for my son, too, in case the rubber-soled but decidedly loafer-like shoes I'd picked out for him were insufficiently sneaker-like for gym wear. And sure enough, the gym teacher spoke to me after school today about the fact that what he was wearing would clearly be classified as a "shoe," and therefore not acceptable for sports action. He'll go to school on gym day tomorrow more athletically shod, but for goodness sake, if there are going to be all these sneaker rules, couldn't she put out a memo? Tack those shoe specs to the school dress code, at the very least, so parents don't innocently shop for something unsportsmanlike.