Monday, July 29, 2002

July 29-August 2

JULY 29, 2002

My daughter was disco dancing in the supermarket yesterday. It was fascinating and terrifying. The way her hips moved! The arm motions! The confidence! The attitude! All it takes is some old '70s tune like "Car Wash" to hit the PA system and my little girl turns into Britney Spears. I think she may have been a little confused when I told her that was wonderful and she should never, ever do it again.

Later that night she watched "Gotta Kick It Up," the new Disney Channel movie (debuted: Friday; watched so far: 3 times) about a high school dance team that goes from inept to inspired in a little under two hours, and sure enough, as she was getting ready for bed, there she was with the moves again, shimmying around her room, shaking those hips, cocking that head, throwing back those shoulders, thrusting out that chest, smiling that smile, all in a way that makes me want to put a padlock on the door and homeschool her until she's 20. How do 12-year-olds learn to move like that? How do you make them stop?

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JULY 30, 2002

Rarely do I have cause to thank or praise any facet of the fashion industry, but I have to say that the newest trend in athletic shoes is an absolute boon and blessing to parents of kids with special needs, and makes me inclined to forgive all manner of platform sandals and stiletto pumps. The trend I'm talking about is the laceless sneaker; be it velcro-ed, zippered or slip-on, it represents freedom from shoe-tying and a chance at self-reliance for my fine-motor-challenged son. With the current variety and hipness of this fasten-friendly footwear, kids who can't tie aren't stigmatized by having to wear lace-up alternatives -- they're positively happening.

Now, theoretically, my son does know how to tie his shoes. His teacher assures me it's so, and sent home the classroom commendation to prove it. But I've never seen it, and frankly, with the clock ticking and time to leave in the mornings fast approaching, I'm not about to take the patient time needed to walk him through it. If the laceless trend holds, I may never have to. Tying your shoes is, like, so five minutes ago. Lace-free is the future.

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JULY 31, 2002

Parents of kids with sensory integration problems -- and I'm sure I'm not the only one -- are always searching for that magical tool that will help us connect with our kiddos and bring great therapeutic advantages. Whether it's a surgical scrub brush, a trampoline, a chewy tube, a massager, a pencil grip, a squeeze toy, a seat cushion, a weighted vest ... we know there's something out there that will make all the difference, and we're going to find it, alright. And when we do, it's a complete triumph of parenting perseverence, and all our investigative hours are justified.

But then... has anybody else had the experience of being TOO successful in this area? Finding something the child likes or needs so much that it begins to take over everything? I'm guessing brushing may fall into this category for some; if it helps your child, you can't not do it, but every two hours? Forever? Yeesh. In our case, the Tool of Magical Effect has been a body sock, a purple Lycra bag about the size of my son with a Velcro-sealed slit down the front so that he can crawl in, close up, and have some nice sensory deprivation, some nice pushing his joints against a resistive surface, some nice games with Mama.

Games with Mama... he's great at coming up with purple bag games for Mama to play. Mama is a pirate who sneaks up on him with the purple bag, captures him and threatens to throw him in the brig; Mama is a mama bird leaning some weight on her little egg until it hatches (though Lycra bags, unlike eggshells, allow the little bird to come out and go back in again repeated times, to mama bird's chagrin); Mama is a mama bear using a boy-stuffed purple bag as a pillow; Mama has to find the boy who is completely invisible once he's in his purple bag. And it's wonderful -- wonderful that he's found an interactive activity, wonderful that he understands that the purple bag helps him get his janglies out, wonderful that he is using words to say what he needs, and wonderful that what he needs is me. A little less wonderful that he seems to want and need these things all the livelong day.

You see, the terrible, shameful truth is, I DON'T WANT TO PLAY PURPLE BAG EVERY GOSH-DARN WAKING MINUTE! There it is: I'm the kind of mom who would rather, I don't know, sit and take a breath than help my son with vital therapeutic activities. But sometimes, you know, enough is just enough, therapy or no therapy. Maybe what I really need is my own purple bag to hid in when he comes asking.

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AUGUST 2, 2002

You know, I try really hard to be patient with the Special Education administrators in my district. I would not want their jobs for any amount of money. Any decision they make is bound to make somebody unhappy. Often the right -- or, to use appropriate lingo, the most appropriate -- thing to do is blocked by budget constraints, or personnel constraints, or political constraints. I have never felt that decisions with which I disagreed were made out of malice, or hidden agendas, or power-tripping (which, I guess, makes our district a particularly good one); I think they have been made out of disorganization, lack of vision, and a desperate attempt to please whoever is complaining the loudest at the moment.

Which means that, if I’m the one complaining the loudest, I generally get what I want. But man, can complaining become a full-time job. I’ve been calling the Special Ed director on almost a daily basis for most of the last six months, trying to get simple questions answered, and mostly what I get is, “Not available, call back tomorrow.” And often, when I call back tomorrow, it’s to find he’s gone on vacation. After a while, even the most patient person starts to lose it.

The particular questions I’m trying to get answered are not my right to know by law, so I’m limited in my ability to go ballistic from here. There’s no reason they shouldn’t tell me, but no reason they have to, either. So maybe they’re just stonewalling in the hope I’ll go away. Maybe, too, they just don’t have the answers yet, and figure if I want to call every day until they do, that’s my time to waste. But it all seems of a piece with the way the department is run in so many respects: Don’t deal with problems head on. Say anything to get people off your back, whether it’s true in the long run or not. Run around like crazy plugging leaks instead of designing a whole new dam. Tell parents you value their input, but make them call 43 times before they get a chance to give some.

On the few occasions I have actually spoken to the new Special Ed director, he seemed to indicate that he saw the same problems I did and was going to do something about them. Perhaps a new person with vision can snap what is in many ways a pretty good department into shape. I’ll be waiting. By the phone.

Monday, July 22, 2002

July 22-26, 2002

JULY 22, 2002

My daughter is becoming a bowling fanatic. She’s been playing fitfully for a few years, in a youth league here, a father-daughter one there, but this summer it’s about all she wants to do with her lazy summer days. Her skills are improving slowly but steadily, and although her dad can always find some glitch in her technique to nag about, I’m pretty impressed by her ability. Then again, I personally have such trouble staying out of the gutter that I’m impressed by anybody who can hit pins on a regular basis.

I’ve always felt that this child could get some important validation from sports, but actually implementing that has been problematic. Specific skills she can pick up fine -- hitting a baseball, putting a basketball in a basket -- but integrating them into a strategy of play that incorporates teamwork and the anticipating of your opponents’ moves? Those are things that have been and may always be beyond her. Severe language delays not only impact every conceivable area of schoolwork, they can also make team sports entirely incomprehensible.

Since she refuses, on the basis of these insecurities, to go out for community softball or basketball teams, I’ve been trying to aim her toward more individual sports. There don’t seem to be a lot of track-and-field opportunities for elementary schoolers, but I did manage to get her set up for tennis lessons, which she enjoys, and swimming lessons, which she doesn’t. And then there’s bowling, which she has self-selected as her current activity of choice. She went to the alleys four times last week for a total of 13 games, in four of which she went over 100. Today, I’m taking her on my lunch break.

If she keeps up this way, she should be getting pretty good by the end of the summer. And that’s great with me -- I’m just happy for her to be excited about something. If it’s something that’s played in air-conditioned rooms, so much the better.

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JULY 23, 2002

I'll admit I haven't been checking over the fiction shelves a lot lately, but in a little perusal of's offerings this weekend I'm finding that international adoption seems to be the mystery/thriller plot-line du jour. And why not? Our visit to Russia seven-and-a-half years ago was filled with mystery and suspense -- what were they talking about? where was our translator? why is this taking so long? when will we ever get out of here? who knew that all bad American TV shows came to Russia to be dubbed? how long until "Santa Barbara" comes on again? -- but while it was thrilling and scary for us personally, I have it on good authority from people who have heard our tale time and again that, really, it's not so thrilling for the populace at large. So I suppose these authors should be forgiven for pumping up the volume on the experience, but I'm not sure I can. Read these amazon descriptions, and see if you're able to. [Comments in brackets are mine.]

China Run: A Novel by David W. Ball
"When the Chinese government, citing 'clerical error,' demands that six American families waiting for the adoption papers they need to take their promised babies back to America surrender their precious charges, Allison Turk refuses. With her young stepson, three other adults and three infants, she defies the powerful forces arrayed against them--including her own husband--to flee halfway across China and make a run for the American consulate in Shanghai. This courageous but foolhardy attempt seems doomed to fail; escape seems impossible, especially in a country whose language, law, and customs they can't begin to comprehend. One by one, all the fugitives except Allison and her little family are picked off, captured, or killed, including their unlikely allies--a tour guide, a fisherman, a gangster, a country doctor--all of whom are as vividly rendered as China itself. Driving this riveting, compelling adventure story to its heart-stopping conclusion, Ball turns in one of the most exciting thrillers of the season!" [This is allegedly based on a true story, but I hope in real life it was less intriguing. Do Americans have a right to break laws and risk death to defend their "precious charges" if those precious charges aren't legally theirs? If this story really happened as told, it's hard to believe China would still be allowing adoptions.]

White Male Infant by Barbara d'Amato
"What began as an uncomplicated adoption of a Russian infant by wealthy American parents, New York surgeon Dooley McSweeney and his lawyer wife, Claudia, turns out to be anything but simple. After a bone marrow biopsy on four-year-old Teddy and some additional medical tests, Dooley realizes that his beautiful red-haired, green-eyed son is not the Russian baby they thought they'd legally adopted three years earlier, but an unknown child, kidnapped from God-knows-where. A man of great integrity, Dooley decides the real parents must be found. He refrains from telling Claudia of his fears, as he's sure she would run away with Teddy, leaving him sans child and wife. Meanwhile, an American journalist, Gabrielle Coulter, and her videographer, Justin Craig, are in Moscow working on a documentary on orphans around the world. The two plots coalesce when Justin is brutally murdered at the Hotel Metropol and 'Go Home!' is spray-painted on a nearby wall. Hooligans wreck all their video equipment, except three tapes that Gabrielle has secreted in her handbag. Keep Kleenex ready as you near novel's end, for Dooley and Gabrielle's search for Teddy's true identity inevitably leads to heartbreak." [I've heard of parents doing bone scans to see if their child is really the age they were told, but gleaning a false identity from a bone marrow biopsy? Parents, just say no.]

Crimson Angels by Susan Turner
"Crimson Angels is a touching story of a small town couple going through the adoption process. However, somewhere along the line something went terribly wrong. Crimson Angels is a must-read for anyone interested in international adoption. The story will take the reader along the process. However, the ending may surprise you. Sometimes, things don't always happen the way they should." [A must-read for anyone interested in international adoption? Would you say a book about a pregnancy that went terribly wrong was a must-read for those who wish to give birth? Doesn't matter, though; anybody who's getting their pre-adoptive information from thrillers should probably think twice about adopting anyway.]

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JULY 24, 2002

For a brief moment last night, it appeared that my daughter might be a mermaid. Fortunately, she was only a slob.

She had just finished watching the adoption-related tale "The Thirteenth Year" on the Disney channel for about the 47th time. The movie relates the story of an adopted boy who discovers that his birthmother was a mermaid when he hits puberty and starts sprouting scales. When it was over, my daughter went to change into her pajamas, and then screamed for me to come into her room. I did, and she pointed in horror at a green patch on her leg. "What's that?" she asked me, terrified. I examined the spot and had to conclude that it was not mermaid scales, but in fact a drop of mint chocolate chip ice cream, which she had been eating in front of the TV.

She was immensely relieved, since she had assumed that since she was adopted like the boy in the movie, she might turn into a fish like he did. I assured her that her birthmother was a normal land-dwelling woman, and that the story on the TV was just pretend anyway. I was delighted that she understood enough of the plot of the movie to apply it to herself, apprehensive that she had taken the fantasy aspects at such face value. And a little wistful, too ... because if she was really a mer-girl, that would make her swimming lessons so much easier.

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JULY 25, 2002

Boy, nothing makes you feel older than going to a museum and seeing your childhood playthings preserved under plexiglass.

That's what happened to me yesterday at the Liberty Science Center, a big discovery-minded place within view of the Statue of Liberty that had among its exhibits one on toys from the past fifty years. "Great Toys from Our Childhood," it was called, and were they indeed. Not only did I recognize the toys and remember playing with them, but the packaging and style were the ones I remembered. Yes, I could tell the awe-struck kiddies in my presence, I could recall back in the olden days when you played Mr. Potato Head with an actual potato! Actually, the kiddies weren't awe-struck at all; they were too busy playing with flat magnetic Mr. Potato Head pieces to be very interested in my nostalgic ramblings. But still.

I will say that my childhood playthings have stood the test of time. Most of the items on display were still on the market, though many have lost their gee-whiz charm. My son certainly plays with Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars not significantly different than the ones on display; products as diverse as Twister and crayons and Nerf balls are still as close as your local Toys R Us. You can still even buy an Easy Bake Oven (at least at the science center gift shop), although I would have thought that the microwave precluded the need for that toy.

Other pasttimes seem to have passed away. I haven't seen Magic Rocks or Mexican Jumping Beans turning up at birthday parties lately. And I don't know if they still make the Magic 8 Ball, but I did have to show several confused children of the '00s what you do with it. But these modern kids, they catch on quick: After I explained to one little girl that you ask a question, turn the ball over and read the answer, she said "Is my sister a brat?," turned the ball over and, with barely a look at the murky window, declared the answer "Yes!"

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JULY 26, 2002

Our summer vacation is almost half over (the kiddos go back to school Sept. 4), and so far I'd have to say it's going well. My son made it through two weeks of church CCD camp wtih flying colors, and now seems to be doing just fine at the neighborhood mainstream day camp we picked this year as an alternative to the super-duper special needs camp he'd gone to previously. The camp director mentioned to me that he was doing so well, next year we may not even have to pay for an aide to shadow him. Personally, I'd rather the aide was there and not needed than the opposite, but it was a nice vote of confidence. My daughter is attending "Camp Grandma," staying home and keeping her grandmother company during the day. Still, we've managed to find things for her to do; her dad and I have been taking her bowling on lunch hours and days off, and she has a higher average and a sore arm to show for it. Afternoon tutoring and lessons are going well, although she still hates swimming; my son is being amazingly cooperative at his in-home piano lessons, although not so much during the week when we want him to practice. And those worksheet-a-day books I bought to bridge the summer? Unlike past years, both kids are actually, remarkably, doing a worksheet a day. Bully for us.

On the downside, of course, those books I bought to teach my son cursive over the summer are looking pretty dusty. My hopes that the kids would learn keyboarding have been dashed by the fact that, after an early summer flurry of interest, neither one of them wants to go near the computers right now. I'd hoped to keep my daughter busy with playdates with her schoolfriends, but they're all busy (of course, last summer, when my daughter was in camp, they were all free). And while I'd hoped to have my mind pretty much settled about the upcoming school arrangements for both kids by this time of the summer, I still can't get the special ed director on the phone. But hey -- there's still one more month. The summer's only half over. Miracles can still happen!

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

July 16-20, 2002

JULY 16, 2002

My husband and son were taking a walk round a nearby park last week when they came upon two or three boys and their dads. Without hesitation, the kids and one of the men said hello to my son, calling him by name. My boy looked puzzled and said, "Do I know you?" And, cheerfully, they all said no. But they sure enough knew him. So did the woman at the playground, who hadn't seen us in years but remembered my son by name from seeing him in the cry room of the church we used to attend.

Everyone knows my guy, it seems. Kids shout hello, adults reach for their keys as they see him coming, knowing he'll want to examine them and ask about their cars. He's a memorable fellow, well-known in his community, and warmly regarded by most. Different, certainly, but in a friendly, talkative, engaging way.

I don't know if this will last, if he'll be as enchanting when he's not such a little elf, but for now I'm going to enjoy it. Certainly I feel enough mortification when he misbehaves in public and I feel like every condemning eye is on us. It's nice to know that the memories folks are forming of him are generally good ones after all. Apparently, it's me they're not sure about.

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JULY 17, 2002

My daughter has always been clear with her fears. In this she differs from her brother, who is so wrapped up in his own complex world view that you have to guess from his reactions what he might be feeling; jumpiness, perseveration, silliness, refusal to cooperate, absorption in a different activity, rocking, misbehavior guaranteed to result in time out -- all can be his way of telling us he's afraid of something in the environment or in our demands. You have to be a regular detective to figure out what's at the bottom of his behavior. But my daughter will tell you: I Don't Like That. I'm Afraid. I Don't Want to Do That. Don't Make Me. Please.

And it's hard not to feel all protective. One of the most difficult things to do as a parent is to make your kids face their fears. Sometimes, I suppose, it's not so important. My daughter is terrified of thunder to the point of cowering behind me last week when we were caught outside in an approaching storm, and although I wish she'd outgrow her fear and trembling, it's kind of nice to be needed and able to comfort. She likes me around when it's thundering outside, while at other times she's just as glad for me to leave her alone.

But in other situations, the fear has to be conquered. And the one we're dealing with right now is swimming. I've never thought of her as afraid of the water; she's cavorted in the kiddie pool plenty of times on vacations, and used to go in our above-ground pool as a little girl without much hesitation. But she was young then, and supported by a wide variety of flotation devicess and loving grown-ups. Now, as a very large 12-year-old, she has to learn to go it alone. And she's terrified. She started one-on-one lessons at a local pool a couple of weeks ago, and after one lesson announced that she knew how to swim and didn't need to go anymore. She regularly panics in the pool, even though she can stand with head and shoulders well out of the water in the shallow end, and flat-out refuses to jump in, even holding the teacher's hand. She doesn't like it. She's afraid. She doesn't want to do that. Don't make her. Please.

But learning how to swim is a safety issue, at her age more than ever, and also a social issue, since her class will be getting swimming lessons next year in fifth grade and she doesn't want everyone to see her trembling at the thought of going into the water. So I have to force the issue. She has to learn. It's hard to explain to her without saying things like "You could drown if you don't learn how to swim," which, of course, only makes matters worse. She's afraid to learn to swim, but I'm afraid of what will happen if she doesn't. And I'm not easily turned from my own fears either.

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JULY 19, 2002

It's sort of ironic, in a stomach-churning way, that during the same week that sees the debut of "Refrigerator Mothers" -- a PBS documentary detailing the effects and the deep wrongness of the long-repudiated theory that autism was caused by cold, unloving mothers -- comes news on a study blaming moms for their children's learning problems. Somehow or other, it's always about mom, isn't it?

The study found that three-year-olds whose mothers went back to work before they were nine months old were less likely to be found school-ready than three-year-olds who had mom hanging around for anything over that. To quote the Intelihealth report: "Children whose mothers worked by the time the babies were 9 months old, and had insensitive mothers and poor-quality child care, had scores in the 37th percentile. The 3-year-olds who did best on the test, scoring at the 56th percentile, were those who had sensitive mothers who were not employed by the ninth month, and good-quality child care."

And there it is: insensitive mothers vs. sensitive mothers. What, one wonders, qualifies someone as an insensitive mother in this case? Does going back to work and dumping your kid in bad day care alone qualify as insensitivity? Did they follow these women around and gauge their sensitivity to their offspring, or calculate it out from a questionnaire? And, come to think of it, exactly how "school ready" does a three-year-old have to be? Maybe it's those kids with oversensitive mothers who've left their high-powered big business careers to stay home and stuff them full of Baby Mozart CDs are the ones who will have the harder time in the long run.

It's hard not to feel sarcastic and defensive about reports like this. Both my kids were in the ultimate day care -- a Russian orphanage -- from birth until well past their ninth month, and I can't deny that group care did nothing for their school readiness skills. Having good, loving, one-on-one parent involvement throughout one's growing up period is obviously the best option for child development in all areas. But unless our society is willing to make changes to deliver that option to all children -- longer maternity leaves, more telecommuting and split shifts, quality child care available to everybody, subsidies for stay-at-home moms -- all studies like this are good for is making moms feel guilty. Well, sensitive moms, anyway.

Monday, July 08, 2002

July 8-12, 2002

JULY 8, 2002

It's high dudgeon time for a lot of adoptive parents these days, with several perceived offenses to the honor of adoption turning up in the media. Specifically causing mouths to foam at the moment are a Disney commercial in which a father asks a mother if their bratty son might actually be adopted; a commercial for the upcoming Disney film "The Country Bears" in which a bear boy looks around at his human family and asks, "Mom, am I adopted?" (Mom replies, "No, of course not!"); and the movie "Lilo and Stitch," which apparently touts the advantages of living in a neglectful home with a birthfamily member over having a (shudder) social worker find you a loving adoptive family. Many are also still rattled by an episode of the sitcom "My Adventures in Television" that depicted the adoptive mother of a Chinese baby as shallow and shady.

Of all these offensive depictions, I've only seen the "Country Bears" ad, and while it certainly pricked up my ears, I didn't find it particularly offensive. Honestly, I felt more bristly about an "It's a Miracle" episode I watched with my daughter that depicted a woman's search for her birthparents while barely mentioning her adoptive ones. I hissed under my breath every time host Richard Thomas referred to the birthfather as "her dad." When my daughter asked questions about who exactly they were talking about at any given time, I carefully supplied the proper terminology. Even so, I can't say I was actively offended. The show was certainly positive about adoption, with emphasis put on the birthparents making a plan for their daughter and everyone being pleased with how things had worked out.

Maybe I just spend so much time being worked up about school issues with my kids that it sucks up all my potential for offendedness, but I really can't see too much reason to seethe in all these allegedly incorrect adoption references. I suppose I'm of the "There's no such thing as bad publicity" school, but my dream is that one day adoption will become so commonplace and unspectacular that we will be allowed to laugh about it. Apparently we're not there yet. But at the very least, depictions that we perceive as unperceptive can open doors to talking with our children and presenting our own more enlightened views, and giving them language to use when they're challenged by uncharitable attitudes off the TV and movie screen. That’s not such a bad thing, is it?

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JULY 9, 2002

I’ve written here before about what a conversational stopper childbirth stories are for me, and how I wish women with graphic tales of such would stop to consider, when launching, whether infertile or childless women in their company will be entirely happy to listen to how darn hard it is to birth a baby. I’ve learned to tune those out pretty well now, but at a party recently I found another topic I am now unable to gracefully accept: and that is, “Aren’t parents today just awful!”

You’d think that people would hesitate to bring this topic up in front of people who are, as a matter of fact, parents today. You’d be wrong. There’s a “present company accepted” understanding that we’re not talking about parents today who are of our acquaintance, but that big pool of parents today that we do not personally know, but know with certainty are driving the country to hell in a handbasket. Not teaching their kids manners. Not supporting their schools. Standing up for cheaters. Blaming the teacher for misbehavior. Can you believe how misguided some people are?

Well. Ahem. On that misbehaving thing. I’ve, um, sorta done that. I’ve sorta done that a lot. And, you know, standing up for cheaters? I have to wonder, in situations like that, whether the parents might know something we don’t. Most parents I know support their schools, but schools don’t do a heck of a good job supporting parents; one school my kids attended pretty much shoved them out the door if they tried to set foot beyond the threshhold. And about manners, and the general way “kids today” don’t measure up to the glorious specimens of youthful decorum we once were? Check back with me, folks, when you have school-age kids of your own.

I floated some of these opinions during party conversation, and I’m afraid I was a bit of a blowhard about it. But you know, most of the folks with whom I was conversing have no children or very young ones; it will be interesting to check into these same topics eight or nine years down the road, when I’m not the only one with school-system-fighting, behavior-managing, older-child-nagging experience under my belt. It’s interesting how efficiently life changes your perspective.

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JULY 10, 2002

I'm rushing off to a meeting this morning with the new director of special education in our district. I don't expect anything much to come of it, but it will be a pleasant change to be stonewalled in person instead of over the phone. I'm still waiting for an answer to the question I started asking about my son's aide in March, so answers on any new business would be very unexpected indeed. But my campaign to be a constant, politely nagging presence continues.

I've spoken to this new director on the phone a couple of times, and he's expressed the opinion that the parents are the consumers of special education and so if they're not happy, he's not happy. Wouldn't it be wonderful if that were true -- if special ed was a product and we were the consumers and somebody actually cared very much about what we wanted? Focus groups would beg our opinions and manufacturers would jump to get as many different flavors out there as possible. And, of course, we could always switch to another brand if we didn't like what we had.

Not so easy in the special-ed universe, I'm afraid. Not so easy for us, and not so easy for those in charge, who have to listen not only to the "consumers," but to teachers and principals and local politicians and all manner of discontented opinion-holders. So really, I'll be happy just to get an answer to my five-month-old question. But I'm not counting on it.

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JULY 11, 2002

Nobody told me that when I became a parent, I'd have to be an impressionist. But that seems to be the case these days, as my ever-imaginative son presses me constantly into roles of cartoon characters and imaginary adversaries as a requisite of play participation and even as a tool of behavior management. I'm not half bad at it, I think, but sometimes I wonder what eavesdroppers must think.

I've been having to be Scooby Doo (Rooby Roo!) for quite some time, both to provide voice for his stuffed-animal versions and to hold conversations as "invisible Scooby." I do a pirate that sounds very much like the crab from "SpongeBob SquarePants," and lately, I have been called upon to be DeeDee to his Stu in "Rugrats" recreations. Best of all has been his demand that I come on like Big Bob Pataki from "Hey Arnold"; ever since we saw the "Hey Arnold" movie a week or so ago, the bossy voice of Big Bob has been able to order him around in the way the voice of mama often can't. I need help getting the small boy to do as he's told, I call in Big Bob. Works like a charm.

That's actually one of the really interesting and fun things about parenting this particular fetal-alcohol-effected boy, and that is: humor almost always works to distract him and change his behavior. Humor as a disciplinary tool! You gotta love it. When I find something funny or imaginative or surprising to grab his attention away from unproductive behavior, I get such a look of admiration from the little guy that it makes all the silly voices and cartoon reenactments worthwhile. But I'll admit: I'm getting tired of having to think up answers when he asks Scooby where the gang's at tonight. He never lets me go with a simple, "Ri ron't row!"

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JULY 12, 2002

Rushing off again this morning, this time to help set up for and attend the final ceremony for my kids' religious-ed camp, finishing up today after two weeks of half-days. My son made it through just fine -- hiring a grown-up aide for him rather than relying on the program's teen-age volunteers seems to be the ticket for getting him to sit acceptably through hours of lessons. His aide reports that he knows the answers to questions when asked, that his behavior has been fine, and that there are in fact two other boys in the class who have been acting far scoodgier than he.

Of course, they don't have aides gently nudging them into focus; if my son was aide-free, he would be the Scoodge King. But as it is, the only time he displayed his full repertoire of wild, tic-y, out-of-control activities was when his class had a Mass and I made the mistake of sitting next to him. He saves all the good stuff for me, the dear. Today, for that closing ceremony, I'll be hiding out in the hall.

Monday, July 01, 2002

July 1-5, 2002

JULY 1, 2002

I don’t know how many times, while struggling with my son at Mass or at a restaurant, I’ve thought about how hard and endless these things can be with him there, and how peaceful and stress-free they would be if his dad and I were doing them alone. Not for a minute that I’d wish him away -- he’s a charming boy with many wonderful qualities, but calm, patient and controlled behavior during outings isn’t one of them.

So it was appropriately instructional to see, when my husband and I attended a wedding yesterday, how completely bored we were without the constant distraction of the jumpy small boy. Mass dragged now that we didn’t have to be using our wits every moment to keep the kid quiet; every time I stood up -- actually stood up! which I rarely get to do when we attend church as a family, because I’m busy holding my son down -- I reached back as if to quiet the boy who wasn’t there. And I missed him.

And at the reception -- well, I guess I always knew that all those walks we have to take with the little guy to keep him from melting down out of boredom relieved our boredom, too, but again, it’s good to be reminded. Oh, what we wouldn’t have given for some reason to stop just sitting there. My boy never just sits there. I alternated between missing his action and worrying about whether he was giving his babysitter too much of it.

Family outings are looking better and better.

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JULY 2, 2002

The other night at dinner -- the one time when my language-challenged daughter can be counted on to be chatty, because it keeps her from having to eat her vegetables -- she asked, apropos of nothing, whether her birthmother drank alcohol the way her brother's did, and if that's why she has so much trouble understanding things sometimes. It completely floored me, because it showed that, signs of disinterest at the time notwithstanding, she had absorbed all the adoption language I'd been giving her, and all the information about her brother's fetal alcohol effects. Comprehension of abstractions is her weakest suit, but somehow, over time, she'd come up with this thought. If there's a developmental milestone for "processing serious talks from parents," maybe she's finally made it.

It's pretty gratifying to me, anyway, because most of my "serious talks" are met with probing follow-up questions like "What's for dinner" (from my daughter) and stray snippets of dialog from Sponge-Bob or Scooby-Doo (from my son). I talk because talking's what you're supposed to do, and I want things like adoption and learning challenges and neurological differences of all sorts to be pretty normal and easily explored topics 'round here. And maybe it's paying off now, just a little. Maybe after years of absorbing, they'll finally start having things to say about the major facts of their lives, and maybe they'll be comfortable enough to say them. At least when there's spinach on the menu.

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JULY 3, 2002

A wonderful thing is happening at our house in these early days of summer vacation: We're seeing a temporary cease-fire in the ongoing Sibling Rivalry Wars. Against all odds, my daughter and son are acting downright friendly, playing on the computers together, playing with cars in my daughter's room, agreeing on which cartoons to watch, asking to sleep over in each other's rooms. The last two mornings, my daughter has woken her brother up, made sure he got dressed, made his breakfast, and generally genially run the morning for me. And lest I fear there's been coercion or bossing involved, I've heard him ask her to do it again tomorrow. It's altogether too good to be true.

And it is, I know it is. The peace will pass, as it has in the past. They'll be back to pushing and making faces and calling names and feuding in no time. But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the truces whenever they come along. It's a nice way to start the summer, anyway.

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JULY 4, 2002

Can't write much today, because we're having a party at noon, and it's going to be about 100 degress outside so everybody will have to stay in, and I have to figure out what to do with seven kids, at least one of whom enjoys finding things to mess up around the house and messing them up. (No, see, I mess up things around the house all the time, but it's not deliberate.) Do you suppose setting them all up in the laundry room with papers and markers and glue and then locking the door would be a bad thing? They'd probably find a way to get glitter into every nook and cranny of the washing machine.

It will be an appropriately international gathering for Independence Day, anyway. Out of seven kids, we have two from Russia, one from China, one just arrived from Guatemala, and three homegrowns. I never appreciated my country so much as when I came back from adopting abroad, and having all these little adopted Americans around is a good reminder of how very lucky we are to live in our one nation, under God. Happy Fourth of July to all!

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JULY 5, 2002

This is the time of year when most people are piling up fluffy novels for beach readings, but parents of children with special needs -- please, tell me I'm not the only one -- tend to be bogged down with weightier fare. Here's what's on my list of hot summer reading:

* A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine. I'm about halfway through this relatively easy reader now, and the man makes sense. I'll admit, though, that I'm always a little leery about case studies in which every learning-challenged child is Really Brilliant, once you compensate for his or her weaknesses. Isn't anybody just average anymore?

* Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are by Joseph Ledoux. After months and months of dipping into this one I'm only about a third of the way through. What a slog! I started reading it to gain an understanding of brain chemistry, since everybody's always going on about that, but the material activates whatever chemical in my brain is responsible for putting me to sleep. It's engagingly written for hard science, but perhaps Dr. Levine would say that, with all kinds of minds, mine isn't the kind that can easily take in stuff like this.

* Should I Medicate My Child? by Lawrence Diller, author of Running on Ritalin. I haven't started this one yet, but have skimmed a bit. His discipline suggestions (and this seems to be the new tack on ADHD: It's all the parents' fault) aren't really appropriate for my fetal alcohol effected guy, but the listing of psychiatric drugs and their intended and unintended effects should be helpful whenever doctors start telling me that giving these meds to my son is no more dangerous than popping a Tylenol myself.

* Strategies that Work: Teaching Comprehension to Enhance Understanding by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. I started this one only to find that it's remarkably similar to another book I recently enjoyed, Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman. It comes well-recommended, so I'll wait a bit until the earlier book is significantly faded in my memory and come to it fresh. I'm reading it for my daughter, but maybe I could use a little extra comprehension work too.