Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Not quite back yet

Okay, so I said I'd be back on Monday, but, um, maybe I meant Monday, January 5. That's Back to Normal day for me -- the day the kids go back to school, and I go back to a full week of work, and apparently start adding to this Weblog on a regular basis, too. I hadn't taken into account the degree of slothfulness that sets in when you're under house arrest with kids ... I mean, home spending tons of quality time with kids on vacation. We've successfully negotiated Christmas now, but in the days ahead we have a bowling party, a New Year's party, a birthday, a science report, a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen marathon, and lots and lots of "Mom, I'm BORED"s to get through. So it may well be Monday before I'm able to think clearly enough to write again. In the meantime, if you need a laugh, check out these New Year's Resolutions that the American Academy of Pediatrics thinks we can get our kids to agree to. Fruits and vegetables! Neat rooms! Twice-daily tooth-brushing! It's a scream.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Escape Claus

It's December the 24th, my office is closed until Monday, the kids are home from school until January 5, even the presents I bought over the internet at the last minute have arrived and been wrapped, the cards I never addressed have been blown off until after the holiday, the plans for the big day are set, and I'm finally feeling ready for Christmas. In an effort to spend more time with my kids over the next few days and less time with my nose pressed to a computer screen, I'm going to take a little break from this Weblog, probably only until Monday. Just need a little time to play and recharge my creative batteries ... BATTERIES! Oh, man, I've got all these electronics under the tree and I forgot to buy BATTERIES! Gotta run...

Monday, December 22, 2003

Pediatricians on adoption

Maybe somebody was looking for a nice project during National Adoption Month, or maybe doctors are starting to notice an increase in the number of adoptive kids in their practice, but the American Academy of Pediatrics delivers a nice Christmas gift to adoptive families with a clinical report called Families and Adoption: The Pediatrician's Role in Supporting Communication. It's about as nice an overview as you could find of the medical and psychological issues surrounding adoption, and since it's written in plain English and not doctor-ese it's suitable reading for parents and prospective adopters as well as their pediatricians. This paragraph, for example, tidily touches on an array of hot-button issues:
"During preschool and elementary school years, peer and school problems may or may not be the manifestation for underlying adoption issues. Behaviors commonly identified as characteristic of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may actually be signs of posttraumatic stress disorder, reactive attachment disorder, bipolar disorder, or sensory integration disorder. Some school assignments may be problematic for children who have joined their family through adoption. Children who have lived in foster care or in another country may not have pictures of themselves from birth or at an early age. Family tree assignments may be difficult, because children may be unsure of how to demonstrate their relationship to their biological family, adoptive family, and foster families. Information about biological ancestors also may be unavailable to the child for such a project. Tracing genetic traits through generations may be difficult even for children who have an ongoing relationship with their biological families. For children adopted by an extended family member, these simple learning assignments may create anxiety by highlighting family differences.1,13 Communication with educators about adoption issues at this age, as at other ages, may be necessary to help children deal with some of these difficult school assignments and insensitive comments about adoption, family circumstances, culture, race, and ethnicity."
I don't know that I'd want my kids' doctor to be tracing their every problem to the fact of their adoption, but it would be nice if I wasn't the only person considering that at all.

Friday, December 19, 2003

A good hair day

My son's school had its big Christmas program on Wednesday, and I was a little worried when my son said he had to wear "his holiday best" for the show. He was to bring something less than the best to change into afterward, and I didn't know how to tell him that his "holiday best" was pretty much the same thing he wore to school every day. So I put him in a heavy red sweater and tossed a thinner sweatshirt in his backpack to give him something to change into if everybody else was changing, and worried whether he would stand out as a slob amongst much schoolchild finery.

I needn't have worried. His schoolmates' attire ranged from shirts-and-ties to baggy sports-team t-shirts for the boys, velvet dresses to sweatsuits for the girls. He was somewhere in between, and that's good enough for me. The highest concentration of true "holiday best" was found amongst the kindergartners, who are still at an age when parents place a high priority on buying special Christmas clothes to show them off in. But what struck me more than the sartorial splendor was the degree of thought that had gone into the hairdos — of the boys. The kindergarten moms were hitting the gel pretty hard, I'll tell you.

I volunteered in the library that afternoon, after the show, and got to see the kindergarteners close up. Many had changed into casual clothes, but the hair was still splendid. One young fellow had his thick wavy hair coaxed up so high he looked like a little Lyle Lovett. On the other end of the spectrum was a tiny kid with wispy black hair gelled up into spikes. Man, he was proud of those spikes. He came up to me with a gleam in his eye and patted his springy head, just to make sure I noticed those sharp little points. It was like "Queer Eye for the Kindergarten Guy" had come through and gotten everybody styling. The only thing more impressive was the way the class's two identical twin girls in their identical dresses and identical hairstyles managed to get their hair mussed in identical ways. I marvel at this week after week, but if anything's going to distract me from it, it's going to be a five-year-old boy with mousse in his hair and a Mickey Mouse tie.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Making a list, checking it twice

Think you've got your holiday shopping done? If you're planning on placing a Toy Story doll, Little People farm, drumsticks or scooters under the tree, better check the list made by the Consumer Product Safety Commission of recalled holiday toys. Nothing spoils holiday cheer, after all, like a collapsing playpen or poisonous sidewalk chalk. To make obsessing over the safety of your purchases even easier, the government has now set up a whole new Web site at where you can search out hazardous merchandise by product name, product description, or company name; subscribe to a recall e-mail alert; or report unsafe products yourself. I'd personally like to find a place to report all those manufacturers who attach toys to packaging with so many fasteners that it takes half-an-hour of cutting and twisting and tearing and pulling and impatient child whining to set the playthings free. Is there a Consumer Product Packaging Commission? 'Cause I'd like their hotline, for sure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

New on Mothers with Attitude

1. A new Family Man column, this one on the indignity of having to hunt down the latest hard-to-find toy.

2. In addition to notes to share with teachers, our Parent's Porfolio has a new parent-to-parent section for sharing the things we've figured out about our kids. For starters, there are new essays on impulse control, lying and counting to three.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

You better watch out

Nothing sucks the ho-ho-ho out of the holidays like a list of all the potential safety hazards lurking in a time of eating, drinking and being merry. But KidsHealth has gone right ahead and posted one anyway. There are poisoning dangers from the holly and the ivy, the spray-on snow, the bad eggnog, the liquor-laced punch. There are choking hazards amid the ornaments, popcorn garlands, tree needles and angel hair. There are fire hazards from tree lights, menorah candles, fireplaces all aglow. And accident hazards abounding in the cooking, the sledding, the driving home after drinking the liquor-laced punch. It's good to be alert to the unsafeness of the season, I guess, but I can't help but think this is how Scrooge got started.

Besides, hazard-hunting round-ups like this never get to the real holiday health risks. Like panic attacks from the long lists of things to do, to buy, to plan, to execute. Stress-related heart palpitations at the prospect of spending an entire day with extended family members. Dangerously high blood-pressure levels when the same cranky relatives pick the same fights year after year. Migraines induced by toy instructions written in very very tiny print. Orthopedic problems precipitated by stepping on pieces of unassembled toys. Sleep deprivation from all-night wrapping sessions. None of these ailments are likely to strike children, which is probably why they don't make the "Look out!" lists. But most of them make eating a little poisonous poinsettia look like a mighty good trade-off.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Ready for the holiday, kinda sorta

Ten days 'til Christmas, and I'm miraculously close to being done with my holiday shopping. This may be a new record for me ... although, of course, I did say close. There are still mail-ordered items that may decide not to arrive in time, sending me into a last-minute shopping spree. Then, too, my husband's family perversely scheduled all their birthdays within a month-and-a-half of December 25th -- starting, as a matter of fact, with December 26th -- so the fact that the birthday presents are yet unbought is about as bad as the Christmas presents being so. But that doesn't phase me ... I'M SINGING CHRISTMAS CAROLS VERY LOUDLY SO THAT I CAN'T HEAR MYSELF TALK ABOUT BIRTHDAY PRESENTS, FA LA LA LA LA ... because my days of fighting mall traffic and searching endlessly online to do Santa's work for him are so very nearly done.

Of course, that brings us to the subject of Christmas cards, and ... well, maybe it's time to start CAROLING AGAIN.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Totalling toys for fun and profit

Do you have a kid who always seems to find a way to break even the most solidly made toy? Does he or she play so hard that the day after Christmas finds brand-new playthings cruelly dismembered, their parts and pieces scattered about? Have you wondered how your little sensory-seeking bull in a china shop will ever find a useful occupation when all he seems to be able to do is break things in a spectacular fashion? Well, cheer up -- HealthDay has an article that may make your terminator's future look less bleak. It's the story of a man whose job is, quite simply, to break toys. If he can do it, the toy's not safe, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission tells the toymaker to try again. I don't know about you, but I can see my son making a living trashing toys. It's something he's been training for all his life.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Little landmarks mean a lot

It's not the sort of milestone you'll find in a child development guide, but it feels like a landmark nonetheless: Today, for the first time, my son carried his own umbrella. He's 10, and no doubt long overdue for such a responsibility, but given his tendency toward impulsiveness and immature judgment, I've just never felt that giving him an item with which he could put someone's eye out, or at least get someone very wet, was a necessary risk. For years I walked him into the school building each morning and held the umbrella for the both of us on precipitative days; and when I started dropping him at the curb for the short walk down the driveway and through the school door, I'd just encourage him to move quickly during wet weather.

But this morning., I dug his sister's old Pokemon umbrella out of the closet, took him in the garage and showed him how to open and close it, and dropped him off for a sheltered walk beneath the raindrops. It may be a small thing, but it obviously made a big impression, judging by the look of jaunty pride he wore as he strode schoolward under the bright yellow face of Pikachu. And he managed not to maim anybody, or dawdle, or do a "Singing In the Rain" impression of any sort. Of course, one time he became so thrilled at carrying the thing that he had to hold it in front of him to get a better look, as rain doused his head. But then he put it back over himself, and as he disappeared through the school door I could see him closing it up. Such responsibility! The only drawback now is going to be getting him to leave his nifty new accessory home when the days are dry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Be safe, stay home and watch TV

Since researchers often engage in studies to prove that TV is the root of all health evil in children -- causing obesity, mental illness, poor nutritional habits (see Monday's entry, for example) -- it seems only fair to find a report revealing the dark side of going out to play. Sure, being a couch potato at an early age may lead to health problems eventually, but a new study indicates that engaging in athletics makes a teen twice as likely to drop dead. Underlying heart conditions worsened by the stress of exercise and competition are the real culprits in the sudden deaths of young athletes, not that good healthy physical activity itself, but I'm guessing the rate of children suddenly dying while watching snack food commercials is astoundingly low. The study was performed on Italian athletes, and researchers warn that it may not apply to Americans, but no matter; I'm taking it to personally validate my own childhood decision to refrain from organized sports. Of course, in my case there was an underlying clutziness condition that made idleness well-advised, but better safe than sorry.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

New on Mothers with Attitude

1. In our Contributor's Corner, an excerpt from Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes by Dan Kennedy, in which the dad of a dwarf tries to find some meaning in his little girl's differentness. Read it, and the book is likely to jump to the top of your Christmas "gimme!" list.

2. We may spend most of our time talking about special-needs and adoption issues, but there are always plenty of run-of-the-mill parenting challenges nipping at our heels as well. To the rescue comes "Mother Knows Best," a new section featuring parenting wisdom from ClubMom. Tell me I'm not the only one who goes right for the one called "When Mom Has a Temper Tantrum."

Monday, December 08, 2003

More bad news about TV

Ever wonder why kids hate eating fruits and vegetables? From observing my personal healthy food hater -- and from dim memories of hating healthy food in my own distant youth -- I'd guess the reasons might include something along the lines of ... they don't like the way the stuff tastes? But I'd be wrong, of course. The real reason children shun delicious fruits and vegetables is: They watch too much TV. Yes, indeed, TV is once again to blame for every bad habit of childhood.

According to a study appearing in this month's Pediatrics, kids who watch three hours of TV get a whopping .75 fewer servings of fruits and vegetables than is recommended by the FDA. Add another hour, and they're down a full two servings out of five. And why is that? The researchers suppose it's because you never see healthy food advertised on children's television. Or maybe because unhealthy food's easier to eat in front of the tube. But one way or another, watching TV affects our young ones' eating behavior, and not for the better.

The researchers are pretty clear on what should be done about it, and of course it all comes down to parents making hard choices. Among the appealing options suggested: "Parents might limit TV viewing, or ask their kids not to watch food commercials. Or, they could watch food commercials, with some parental input that the food advertised might not be the best snack choice." And you know, as much fun as it sounds to be stepping in front of the TV whenever potato chip commercials pop up, or preempting programming to explain why potato chips are ever so much less good for you than a plate of steamed broccoli, I'd personally much rather spend that time hiding in the kitchen, scarfing Pringles.

So here's my idea: Make those quiet produce manufacturers kick in for some lively, kid-friendly advertising. Talking cauliflower! Rapping apples! Cool celebs crunching carrots! If they can advertise Jello on PBS, why not kiwis? Start pushing those five-a-days with the proper zing, and we'll see if kids don't sit up and shout, "Peas, please!" And then they'll be lots more junk food left for me!

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Special needs books break through

Well, I guess this means something: I was looking over's listing of the Top 10 Customers' Favorites: Parenting & Families, and low and behold, a sensory integration book is #3: The Out-Of-Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids With Sensory Integration Dysfunction by Carol Stock Kranowitz. I always thought sensory integration had what it takes to be a hot kiddie-help trend, and it looks like maybe it's on its way. This year, the family Top 10; next year, the overall Hot 50!

Another special-needs-type topic making the Top 10 was dyslexia, with Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Overcoming Reading Problems at Any Level by Sally Shaywitz, M.D., holding the #9 spot in Top 10 Customers' Favorites: Health, Mind & Body. Of course, the first six books on the health Top 10 were diet books, and the top two parenting books were about raisin' babies, so there's no chance that the nation's reading list will start to look like my reading list any time soon. But it's still nice to see books I might actually read creeping into the mainstream. Makes me feel less self-contained.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Taking Their Business Elsewhere

I stole away on my lunch hour today to do a little Christmas shopping, and was surprised to see that the stores I stopped at were something close to crowded. Usually, this far before the holiday, I'd been able to shop at midday without fear of lines, but these establishments appeared to be doing a healthy business. Good for them? Not good enough, apparently, because the two outfits I made purchases from -- Kids 'R Us and Zany Brainy -- are closing their locations near me. What does it mean when the stores I frequent are the stores that are going under? That I'm hopelessly out of step with the general direction of retail? Or that I haven't personally done enough shopping to keep them afloat? See, this is where being fiscally responsible gets me.

I'll be sorry to see Kids 'R Us go because it's one of the few places that had pants to fit my too-tall-for-one-size, too-skinny-for-the-next son. Zany Brainy always seemed a little pricier than it needed to be, but they did have the Playmobil grocery store my son wanted and all the little side items that go with it, while Toys 'R Us's Playmobil supply was skimpy. Perhaps Toys 'R Us will eventually absorb every single brand in the universe and spread out into ever larger-sized stores until no one will ever need to shop anywhere else. But if they're not going to sell pants anymore, who needs 'em?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Flu report

Flu season has officially started at our house, with my son home the past three days with a fever and general upper respiratory yuckiness. He's probably been under the weather for about a week, which explains why he was so calm and subdued over the Thanksgiving break -- what looked to me like some newfound control and maturity was apparently only a pre-flu low-grade fever and head cold. There've been a fair amount of scary stories about this year's flu -- newspaper stories about children dying of the flu in Colorado, and word-of-mouth stories about the coughing and nasal nastiness stretching on for endless weeks. In some way, it's nice to have the suspense over and know we've survived at least the initial feverish burst of it, although I'm wondering if the rest of the family is in line for illness now that flu boy has sneezed and coughed and breathed all over us. If you're wondering if the flu's headed your way, too, check the map at or plug in your zip code to get the good or bad news.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Is it Christmas yet?

My daughter's already starting every day by saying, "I wish it was Christmas. I want it to be Christmas right now." Since she's 13 and not exactly brimming with ideas for what she wants to see under the tree, I'm guessing she's looking more forward to the week-and-a-half off from school than the day itself, but whatever, she's ready for it right now. And I'm ready for it to be months and months away. I'm certainly not ready for the 24-hour, round-the-clock Christmas music playing on a couple of local radio stations. It's bad enough that Christmas shopping season has to start before Thanksgiving -- why does Chrismas carol season have to start then, too? And Christmas front-yard decorating season? I saw a house the other day that was covered with enough lights to land an airplane by. Our across-the-street neighbors usually favor that mode of overkill, but this year they're going for the giant inflatable holiday figures, many of whom are already assembling on their lawn. And here it is the first week of December, and there's already a Christmas column on Mothers with Attitude -- Ken Swarner's admission that he'll never stop at 500 Christmas tree lights when 600 will do. Really, I couldn't care less how many lights he's got blazing; what gets to me is -- he's got his tree up already? Is he trying to make me look bad? We're lucky if we can get our puny little artificial tree with its strand or two of pathetic little lights propped up in time for our annual New Year's Day party.

There is one Christmas creation that has put a smile on my face today, though, and that's the clever interactive Advent calendar from Q Creative. Click on "Find today," then on today's date to reveal a picture, then on the picture to watch a funny little animation. As of now, you can view yesterday's gumdrop serenade or today's variation on "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" If I have to count the days until the Big Day anyway, might as well have a little fun with it. For something more spiritual, has a listing of religious online Advent calendars, most with reflections and bible verses for each day. But none, I'll wager, with a chicken laying Christmas ornaments instead of eggs.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Hang Two

Apparently, there is no game so simple that you can't do it better on a computer. My daughter has been enjoying the Hangman game on the Learning Vocabulary Can Be Fun site, which offers words in a wide variety of categories, from animals to world capitals. I mean, really -- why waste paper and wrack your brain to come up with words, and spend your time drawing little hanging guys, when a computer can do it for you? There's still vocab benefit to be gained from guessing the words, I suppose, and also from playing the word search, math and quiz games on this cute site. But back to Hangman -- if you're looking for a bigger challenge, or just a fun way to study science, a site called Characteristics Of Matter features a Hangman game entirely devoted to those characteristics, with hints provided for each set of blanks. It's like a really cerebral episode of "Wheel of Fortune." But make no mistake: If you guess wrong, that stick figure's gonna swing.