Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Play it safe -- don't play

Spring is here and summer's coming, and with it all manner of dangers from which we're called to protect our young ones. What are the top-five greatest perils for children in the warm-weather months? Sunburn? Heat stroke? Dehydration? Mosquitos? Ticks? Nope. According to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, it's bicycling, basketball, football, baseball/softball and soccer. These sports account for the most injuries that bring children ages 5-14 into emergency rooms. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends things like abiding by the rules, wearing the right equipment, and warming up as ways to play and stay out of the ER, but personally, I know the best way to keep my family safe: Keep them inside the air-conditioned house, watching TV and staying out of harm's way. That'll give me a happy lazy summer, anyway.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Perfect kids for $14.95

I've always been a sucker for new and innovative parenting techniques, as my drawers full of magnetic behavior chart bits and bookshelves piled with parenting primers will tell you. Right at the moment, we're having good luck with the Nurtured Heart approach, so I'm temporarily out of the market. But if I weren't, I'd be buying one of these babies: the Wheel of Dreaded Consequences. It's creators swear that this gadget, which allows transgressing young ones to spin for their punishment, will eliminate all disciplinary problems, make your children perfect ladies and gentlemen, and cause you to become the envy of all the parents in the neighborhood. I'm suspicious of anything that promises all that for under $20 -- but come to think of it, that's never stopped me before. I'm bookmarking this site for when my daughter grows into the entire breadth and depth of her teen attitude. For her, of course, a dreaded consequence would be having to read a book, or accept a kiss or hug from mom. With any luck, I'll have enough time to make a real good list.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

The doctor's Web site will see you now

Ever wonder what the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry would have to say about your child problem du jour -- "Children Who Won't Go to School," maybe, or "Children and Lying," or "Fighting and Biting"? Happily, you can now look those answers up without making an appointment or paying through the nose. The academy's "Facts for Families" pages offer information on everything from "adoption" to "violence on television," "music videos" to "talking about sex" (alright, maybe those last two aren't that far apart). You can look them up by keyword or run down a numerical list, and the information is provided in English, Spanish, German, French, Polish and even Icelandic. EVERYTHING you'd ever want to know about childhood psychiatric problems, and you don't even have to set foot in a waiting room. Gotta love the Web.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Putting together a parent's portfolio

Here's an idea I've been playing with. You know all those notes we write to teachers, full of wisdom about what works for our kids and what doesn't, background on their special needs, advice on handling them most effectively, pleas for helping them reach their greatest potential? You know how we compose them so carefully, send them off to school in all their magnificent wordiness, and then wonder if anybody ever bothers to read them? Well, how about this: How about we share them with each other? Maybe as parents we can learn things from one another, or at least get good ideas and templates for writing our own school-bound tomes. I've posted a few preliminary entries in a prospective "parent's portfolio" -- a behavior plan, an introduction, some observations on a particular child's learning tendencies -- on the Mothers with Attitude site, and invite other parents to submit similar items that may be of help, or that you'd just be happy to see live somewhere other than a Child Study Team file cabinet, for posting on the site. E-mail your masterpieces to, and be sure to include your name and some information about the child for whom it was written. I promise to read and respond -- which is probably more than you can say for the folks you wrote this stuff for in the first place.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Baby teeth for science

Looks like the tooth fairy may have competition for all those baby teeth she collects. Researchers at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research have found that stem cells can be extracted from the pulp inside the little choppers. The discovery was made when a researcher's six-year-old lost a tooth, and Dad noticed there was still some living pulp inside it. Subsequent lost teeth went straight to the lab, and the discovery of the stem cells within may lead to advances in the repair of damaged teeth, regeneration of bone and the curing of neurological diseases. And of course, while applauding this great scientific breakthrough, as a mom I have to wonder: Did this scientist-father convince his daughter and various little friends to give up their teeth for the good of the public health, or did he sneak in their bedrooms at night and snatch them from under their pillows? Did he give better than tooth-fairy rates, since the teeth were being put to work and not, say, into a drawer? And, most importantly, is there a place that other parents can go to cash in their own offspring's tiny teeth? My daughter's got a complete set of the adult version, but my son's still got a bunch to lose. We'll see if the tooth fairy wants to negotiate.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Why the new IDEA's a bad idea

If you've been wondering what you should be doing about the reauthorization of IDEA, Wrightslaw has your marching orders. The special-ed advocacy site details plans for deluging our legislators with complaints over the proposed changes -- including optional 3-year IEPs and elimination of short-term objectives and discipline protections -- on April 29, and tells you just how to call or write for maximum effectiveness. There's also an in-depth analysis of the proposed changes to get you sufficiently hot and bothered. Personally, considering what a dither I get into over IEP meetings, going a few years between doesn't sound like such a bad idea; but some of the other changes do sound pretty scary. If you've been putting off panicking about the reauthorization, now's probably the time to start.

Friday, April 18, 2003


In these troubled times, when there seem to be so many things to protest and so many folks exhorting you to write your legislator for one thing or another, it's good to see someone using the postal service for some really important social work: the banning and total de-proliferation of AOL CDs. At No More AOL, you can find out where to mail your unwanted AOL CDs -- you know, the ones that fill your mailbox and your magazines, whether you want them to or, most likely, not -- to contribute to the noble effort of collecting a million of the darn things and dumping them on AOL's doorstep. At the site, which I see has been visited by hundreds of thousands more people than Mothers with Attitude has ever come close to attracting, you can also find fascinating bits of trivia (did you know that a million AOL CDs stacked would be higher than three Empire State Buildings? and don't you think you've received about that many in the past month?), AOL CD-inspired haikus, and clever photographic renditions of possible uses for the round plastic thingamabobs. It may not be as important as the IDEA re-authorization, or cloning, or vaccinations, or the plight of the poor, or the future of Iraq, but at least getting involved with this particular movement will help you get rid of some clutter. And that's a good cause, right?

Speaking of clutter, Julie Donner Andersen addresses the endlessness of housework and of her family's efforts to make it so in her latest "Therapeutic Laughing" column. She doesn't specifically mention AOL CDs, but you just know Teen Girl has about 50 of them under her bed.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Happy birthday to her

Pray for me: Today, I am the parent of a teenager. My daughter's 13, and plans to remind me of that fact every darn morning for a year. So now that I'm the mother of a teen with attitude, I thought I'd take a bit of a surf around the Web to see what advice is out there for parenting past the tweens.

I started by calling up the Google directory listing for "parenting teenagers." Interestingly, the top category was "Treatment Options"; who knew that being a teenager was a treatable condition? I clicked on the link for the teen parenting pages of, but one look at that site's menu -- the "Teen Health Hub" featured acne, braces, masturbation, puberty, STDs and teen sexuality, and the top ad was for "A Parent's Guide to Boarding Schools" -- made me feel not quite mature enough to deal with any of that stuff. I moved on to a site called Parenting Adolescents, but made the mistake of starting with a look at the site's advice column. My question would be something like, "How can I get my 13-year-old to wear a dress to her 5th-grade graduation"; but the first question here was "I am a mother of a 14 year old daughter. She had been having sex with her boyfriend....," and the number of the national suicide hotline was prominently displayed. Yikes to that. I liked the approach of the Teens Are Not a Disease site, but there was an advice column there, too, and frankly, I was afraid to go near it.

By that time, I was hoping that the reason all these teen parenting sites seemed to be so far over my head was that my daughter was just such a brand-spanking-new teen, with no time yet to have become immersed in big-time teen issues. So I did a Google search on "thirteen year olds." And instantly regretted it when I saw some of the site titles and information that came up: "Thirteen year olds are having sex." "Most thirteen year olds desperately want to be able to talk with their parents, but they do not know how to start the conversation." "Thirteen-year-olds accused of armed robbery." My daughter often doesn't know how to start a conversation, it's true, but it's more a matter of language delays than emotional reservations. As for the other two -- I've only been the parent of a teen for less than 24 hours. Don't make me go there.

You can almost always make me go to the bookstore, because my collection of parenting books requires constant additions to stay up-to-date. But books on parenting teenagers sure don't look like real fun reads. Lots of stuff about communicating with your kids, helping girls keep a good body image and survive bad peer behavior, and helping teens pass through "the turbulent passage to adulthood." Amongst the top choices are a book on teens and alcohol, a book on teens and sex, a book on teens and jobs, a book on teens and violence ... but no books on teens who are happy and well-adjusted and give their parents no trouble at all and require no special handling whatsoever. Where do I buy that book?

Ah, well. The years ahead are sure to hold challenges I can't even imagine now -- and with luck, they won't be the ones all these teen-minded doomsayers are imagining, either. My mother was a strong believer in the theory that if you worry about all the bad things that could possibly happen, they won't; and maybe it works, because my own teen years were relatively uneventful. Now that I'm a mom, though -- I'll tell you, I'm thinking a lot about the decision my husband and I made, when we adopted our girl at age 4.5, not to adjust her age backward to make it more in keeping with her delayed development. I thought at the time that, whatever benefits might be found in that sort of birthdate fiddling, it was dishonest and dangerous to essentially lie about a child's age. But now -- I don't know, today I'm kind of wondering if it's too late to reconsider. Do you think she'd mind being 11 again?

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Party animal

My daughter is having her 13th birthday party on Saturday, and I'm afraid it's turning her into a social monster. She's never been one of those Alpha girls, able to make fellow students quiver at her every whim. Frankly, since she's two years older than her classmates and less than facile in the areas of language and popular culture, I've always been afraid that the Alpha girls would eat her for lunch. For whatever reason -- maybe because she's too easy a target, maybe because she doesn't understand subtleties of the spoken word enough to be hurt by cleverly concealed digs -- she's not been teased or tormented to any dramatic degree. And I've counted us all lucky not to have to deal with the ramifications of outright peer rejection.

But now comes this birthday party. Her fifth-grade teacher has forbidden the handing out of invitations in the classroom unless you're inviting everyone, which my daughter does not wish to do. So we had to scurry around getting addresses and mailing cards to the chosen invitees. Unfortunately, though, the teacher hasn't put a moratorium on birthday-party discussion, and so every day for a week or so my daughter was coming home and announcing that so-and-so had asked to come to her birthday party. And since the guest list at that point was expandable, I told her that of course we could send out extra invitations. It's nice to be in demand, even for a moment. Maybe these party wanna-comes don't really like my girl and are just taking advantage of her for free bowling and cake; maybe they're stringing her along and won't really come; maybe they'll bring really bad presents; but I can handle all of that. What I'm having trouble handling is the fact that she so ruthlessly told some people NO.

A girl who my daughter claims has teased her and been mean, for example, asked to come to the party and got a public no. Now, surely, I would never insist that the birthday girl invite somebody who's been cruel to her. But isn't it a little mean, too, to say "Alright, you can come, and you, and you, and you, but not YOU"? Another time, my daughter mentioned telling an aspiring partygoer who was teasing her a little that she would uninvite her if it didn't stop. And the girl stopped. There's some sort of Disney Channel-like "revenge of the less popular" scenario going on here, and part of me wants to applaud it, but at the same time -- when the party's over, and my daughter has no more leverage, is some of this going to come back to haunt her? I'm thinking maybe she was safer when she was beneath notice.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

To each his clutter

Spring cleaning has hit our house, but amazingly (all right, all right -- not so amazingly) it's not me who's doing the tidying up. The bringer of order to chaos is, of all people, my son, who out of the blue has decided to bag up the enormous pile of freebie car magazines that's taken over a corner of his room and move them out for recycling. He's been collecting these magazines for years -- from the supermarket racks, from the place we get bagels on Sunday, from the outdoor plastic receptacles by the fast-food joint we go to sometimes, from kind-hearted grown-ups who know he loves the things -- and any suggestion on my part that he move some old ones out before moving some new ones in has met with general hysteria. They're his treasures! He knows and loves each and every one! Even the ones at the very bottom of the pile that he hasn't looked at in months! He couldn't bear to part with them!

Except today, he did. Out of the blue, he started emerging from his room with bags of mags, instructing his dad to take them to the recycling pile at once. When I gushed with pride over this hard thing he was doing, he told me he'd decided that he should clear them out once a year. Are you spring cleaning? I asked. Yes! he replied, and let's hope that such a worthwhile activity will now extend to the bunches of bunches of shopping bags he's collected, and the bags and bags of receipts, and all those millions of tiny items that make it impossible to walk across his room in the dark. Just as long as he doesn't get any ideas about going after my personal clutter. Those catalogs teetering in a stack by the window, the three-hundred or so read or half-read parenting books piled precariously atop my bookcase, the shoes that never quite make it to the closet, the crates of children's school papers crammed under the bed -- hey, they're my treasures! I couldn't bear to part with them!

Monday, April 14, 2003

Desperate times... for desperate measures, so in order to pull myself out of the attention-deficit-like tailspin I've been in over the past week, I've finally joined the FlyLady mailing list to take advantage of the endless supply of organizational, housekeeping and de-cluttering advice offered thereon. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to get with the program of cleaning the sink every night until it shines, or wearing shoes every day even when I'm just loafing around the house, but I do like the idea of attacking clutter in short ruthless increments, and focusing on one part of the house each month. So I'll give the FlyLady's methods a try, and see if she can get me soaring out of the rut I seem to be in. I'm due for an emotional crash landing in a couple of weeks when we finally have the behavioral portion of my son's IEP meeting, but at least my sink will look good.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Creative whining

So I'm still floundering around through this limbo-like week during which I muddle around feeling overwhelmingly busy but have nothing to show for it except a mild case of GameBoy wrist, and I get an e-mail from a longtime reader sharing that she and three friends with small children have gotten together and, oh, you know, in their spare time, written a play, which they are now performing around San Francisco. I can't even squeeze out a couple of hundred measly words a day for this blog, and here other mothers are blithely running around creating works of art. Now, maybe they don't have daughters who can have a word spelled out loud for them twenty times in a row and still repeat it back wrong; and maybe they don't have sons who run merrily through the church after taking Communion yelling "I love you! I love you!" at prayerfully taken aback Mass attendees; and so maybe they have vast stores of mental and creative energy that I have long depleted. But still; sheesh, now I have to add writing a play to the long list of the things I'd do if I were a really good creative energetic organized Mama, along with getting my kids decent IEPs and teaching my son to tie his shoes. Man, I've got a lot of catching up to do.

Friday, April 11, 2003

What, me procrastinate?

Boy, have I been a bad little blogger this week. No entries since Tuesday! Surely I must have some sort of excuse, beyond simple procrastination, and a tendency to fall asleep immediately after my children's heads hit the pillow. Hmmm. Well, there was the fact that my son's IEP meeting was yesterday, and all week I felt the need to put together checklists and recommendations and all manner of paperwork with which to deluge the Child Study Team. Not that I ever actually DID put them together, mind you; it's just that it didn't seem right to work on anything else until that was done.

Let's see, what else? I did waste some time on my day off Wednesday doing things like buying birthday presents and gathering what I needed to get my taxes done, leaving little time for idle typing. Then, too, the fact that I begged my son's teacher to assign him chapter books we could read together and do extra-credit book reports on means that I have to sit down and wrestle him through a reading selection every evening -- that on top of reading my daughter's free-reading book with her, and reading her much-too-hard classroom assigned book TO her (it's "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry; anybody want to try explaining the Holocaust to an extremely learning and language-delayed 12-year-old fifth-grader?).

But I think, rather than relying on these excuses, I'll place all the blame for my lack of journal entries on my friend who gave me her old color GameBoy last weekend; my daughter quickly appropriated it, but gave me HER old color GameBoy, and the charms of slightly technicolor "Dr. Mario" have been tough to resist. Let's see, strategize IEP goals, or play Dr. Mario? Sort through tax records, or play Dr. Mario? Come up with something thoughtful and entertaining to write, or play Dr. Mario? Pretty soon, my eyes will rebel at staring at that tiny screen, and I'll be back to the somewhat bigger computer one at a more faithful pace. Of course, my daughter's getting a GameCube for her birthday next week, and if they make Dr. Mario for the big screen, you may never hear from me again.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Music to our ears

It was a proud moment tonight when my daughter performed as a fifth-grade trombone player in her first All-City Band Concert. Unfortunately, it was a proud moment out of a concert made up of several million moments. Band after band after band after band after band took the stage after my daughter's group was done, with fifth-grade parents trapped in the room by the promise that their players would be out later for a finale. I've now seen the future for my girl in instrumental music -- the sixth-grade band, the seventh-and-eighth-grade band, the high school band, and various jazz bands and orchestral combinations in between. Having stayed to the very end and listened to every note, I can report that the playing does improve as the kids get older, though maybe not as much as the conducters who chose the music thought; that the district's recently added string program still has a long way to go; and that the high school marching band rocks.

The good thing about all this is that our district has managed, in a time of tight budgets and property tax wrangling, to maintain a thriving music program. The possibly less good thing is that, if my daughter keeps working hard and practicing, we will be sitting through many, many endless concerts like this one in the years to come. Perhaps music fosters discipline and perseverance in parents as well as students. But I saw an awful lot of high school parents sneaking in late.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

It's a miracle

I've written on Mothers with Attitude a time or two about my son and the impossibility of him sitting still and quietly during Mass on Sundays. And so I'm happy to report here that we seem to at last have found something that works, and that something is the Nurtured Heart approach to behavior management. Not only has it made him easier to deal with all through the week, but the grace it's granted his wild nature has even extended to Sunday mornings. Recently he's been sitting calmly through the service, and has even gone up for Communion without saying "Get out of my way!" to the others in line or "Thank you" instead of "Amen" upon receiving the Host. Last Sunday was quite possibly his best Mass outing ever. This morning was not so successful, since he lost control as we headed from the Cry Room to the sanctuary for Communion and started shouting "Co-moooooo-nion! Co-moooooo-nion!" and had to be taken to the car, but he was so quiet and peaceful during most of the Mass that I can't hold that against him much. Dare I hope that we are headed toward a time when he might actually kneel and pray and participate in the Mass, rather than just lie still and focus all his meager powers of concentration on staying in control? Maybe in another 10 years.

If there are any other Catholic moms out there reading this, I'd like to share a couple of resources I've been enjoying this Lent: a Web site called that offers everything from faith-based parenting advice to Gospel-themed coloring sheets for kids; and "Magnificat," a magazine that's like a cross between a missalette and a prayer book and allows you to have little prayer services and even a Mass of your own every day of the week. Tuck it and a kid's word search from in your purse when you head off to Mass, and if your children don't make it all the way through and you have to camp out with them in the car, you'll be all set to make it a spiritual experience.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Adoption on film

I finally caught up with the movie Lovely & Amazing the other day on cable. I'd been curious about it because one of its several subplots involved adoption, and of course the question then always becomes: Is it good for adoption, or bad for adoption? As I posted on Adoption Watch back when the movie first appeared on my radar screen, the characters include an African American 8-year-old who has been adopted by a white woman with two grown daughters. And since the relationship between the mother and daughter is portrayed as warm and loving; and the relationship between the older biological sisters and their adoptive little sis generally tolerant and caring, at least as much as it would be between any self-absorbed women and a much younger sibling; and the child not oversentimentalized, overly wise or tough, I'd have to say it was good for adoption. For the image of females as something other than neurotics obsessed with appearances, not so much.

One thing that particularly caught my attention about the adoption storyline was how the girl -- while certainly shown to have her own mind and her own take on things, including the quirks of her elders -- starts to take on some of those quirks herself, in her own style. This is something I watch for in my own kids, with some trepidation; are my own personal fears and neuroses, many of which I inherited from my own mom, a matter of nature or nurture? and will I find a way, in spite of myself, to inflict them on a generation not genetically linked? or will they be different -- "in a good way," as one big sister says to the youngster -- due to their different biological makeup? At the end of the film, when the girl prepares to welcome her adoptive mom home from the hospital by fussing over the elaborate arrangement of pillows the older woman had somewhat obsessively arranged on her bed, it's hard to know whether to feel heartwarmed that the child is so intent on doing something to make her mother happy, or chilled that she's taken on the family trait of preoccupation with silly little things like pillows. I was secretly rooting for her to just throw the darn things on the floor.

In other adoption-related movie news, Daughter from Danang, an Academy Award-nominated documentary about a Vietnamese adoptee reuniting with her birth family, will be shown on PBS Monday at 9 p.m. Is it good for adoption or bad for adoption? Watch and report.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Government appreciation

My husband and I have kept the war pretty much out of our conversation with the kids at home -- details only when they ask, which is hardly ever, and least of all the politics of war support and dissent. But I guess not everyone's taking that tack. This afternoon, when our 7-year-old niece came to stay with us after school, almost the first words out of her mouth were a very cheerful, "I hate George Bush!" When I asked her where she got that, she said, "My mommy! I hate George Bush because he got us into a war!" She then started to rattle off what she'd heard about the war lately, but I cut her off. War analysis is pretty much inescapable for grown-ups these days; I don't need to get it from second-graders.

Free speech is a glorious thing, but although I may have had my reservations about this war and this president, it bugged me to have a child so blithely dissing our leader. (And shouldn't she at least be hating Saddam Hussein, too?) If you'd like to build up your own personal child's respect for at least some aspect of the federal government, the Federal Government Kids' Page lists youngsters' pages for many government agencies, from usual suspects like NASA and the Forest Service to such unlikely entries as the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the CIA (check out the decoder game!). And of course, there's always If they can't stand the commander in chief, they can take the tour hosted by his dog instead.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

30th percentile, here he comes!

My son had his 10-year-old check-up with the pediatrician yesterday, and the big exciting news was that he's in the 25th percentile on the growth chart for weight, and the 10th percentile for height. This is a big deal because for years and years and years he was way off the bottom of the chart, with no apparent ambition to hop onto it, and only last year skimmed the lowest regions thereon, at 7 percent for weight and 5 percent for height. And now he's hit the one-quarter mark for weight! Not bad for a scrawny kid with FAE who's always eaten like a pig but for so long resembled one of those children you can feed with a contribution of 20 cents a day. He's a growing boy, he is.

If you're wondering how your own personal kiddo measures up, this Google Search will link you up with oodles of height and weight charts, including this one for children with Down Syndrome and this one for children from China.