Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Damn the Anonymity!

If the Big Wide World weren't such a scary place, with stalkers and child molesters and whatnot, I would TOTALLY put up my pictures from today, of--and I say this without any partiality, of course--The World's Cutest Kids. OK, maybe a little partiality. But still. They're definitely in the top three.

N is SuperN! Complete with N-bedecked cape my mom sewed for him a couple years back, a t-shirt I created with puffy paints that has a SuperN logo on it, and spiked, blue-sprayed hair. I might try to get him to let me stuff his shirt with foam 'muscles' tonight, but that might be too much 'stuff' for him. He's thrilled with the costume.

Em is Hermione (and if I have to say, "from Harry Potter," then you should be ashamed of yourself). Her costume came out PERFECTLY. What kills me is that there were all these little Harrys and Hermiones running around with store-bought costumes, and we threw ours together from stuff around the house (made an academic robe out of an old, most-eaten woolen shawl of mine, for instance, and a Gryffindor tie out of a piece of scrap maroon fabric onto which I glued yellowish-gold stripes from another piece of scrap fabric), and people at school were all coming up to me going on and on about how AUTHENTIC she looked. The key? We washed her hair yesterday and put it into a dozen or more braids, so that today it came out all crimped looking, like Emma Watson in the original movie. Plus, she just sort of LOOKS right for the part.

Me, I'm just thrilled that we managed to get through another year without spending more than $15 total on both costumes. Do I know how to get into the spirit of things, or WHAT?

Monday, October 29, 2007


After the sleepover on Saturday night, I drove the kids to religious school in the morning. Zach and N took a few books about firefighters and fire engines into the car with them, and Zach read them to N.

Moment one: Zach is about six months younger than N, but is reading at a level WAY above most 6-year-olds. To wit, he read sentences that said, "The fire engine speeds through the intersection," and "The firefighters prepare their equipment," without hesitation. N, listening, suddenly says to me, "Mama, Zach is a much better reader than me."

"Yes, he is, sweetie," I replied, still driving. "But soon, with some practice, you'll be able to read those words, too."

"Oh, I know," he replied, and he and Zach bent their heads together to continue the story. "I was just telling you."

Moment two: N points to a picture in the book. "That firefire is climbing a HUGE ladder!"

"It's a fireFIGHTER," Zach replies, emphasizing the t sound in the second half of the word.

"I said firefire," N says, slightly irritated.

I intervene. "Zach, sometimes N has a little trouble with some words, but he was trying to say firefighter."

For several minutes after, N keeps trying the word out, trying to get that pesky T to stay where it's supposed to. It was clearly hard work.

Me, I was sitting there thinking simply, "That's one of the first times ever that someone his own age has corrected his speech," and trying to figure out if that was a good thing, or a bad thing, or...

Moment three: I'll tell you what was an unqualified first and a Very Good Thing, though. Later on Sunday, after I'd driven both boys back to our house (where Zach's mom and dad and a couple of other families from temple joined us for a late lunch and birthday celebration for one of the other kids), N and Zach were on the front porch, and N saw his friend B from across the street and called to him to come over. And then N, Zach, and B went into our backyard and played together for a while--three first-grade boys, connected through N. N, with two different friends, having fun. Thank you, god.

We finally got the assessment plan from the school district on Friday, and as I suspected, it had only speech and OT listed. I'm on a deadline right now (which is why I'm blogging, of course), but as soon as that's done, later today, I'm going to sit down and write a draft letter in response to the plan. My basic idea is that it will say that I do indeed want these assessments to be done and that I give my permission for them, but that I also believe a social/emotional assessment is essential to the process, and to N's success in school. I will then likely add that by diagnosing and suggesting medication for my son in the team meeting last week--before ever meeting him--the school psychologist has removed himself as the person who should be allowed to do that assessment. I will then ask the district to recommend who *they would like to pay* to do such an assessment, since the school psychologist's suggestion in the meeting that I should have him assessed myself (since, you know, I have private insurance) was equally inappropriate.

I am so over these people, I can not even begin to tell you. But I do hope to begin to tell THEM.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I don't know why this made us laugh so hard

N has a friend from Hebrew school staying over tonight. As N was taking Zach on a tour of the house ("so he'll know how to find things, Mama," N explained to me, gravely serious), Zach suddenly exclaimed in a loud and joyful voice, "I can't believe it! We're both Jewish...and we're both having a sleepover!"

Baroy and I caught one another's eye, burst into giggles, and simultaneously turned to our computers, Baroy to relay the quote to his brothers, I to email Zach's mother. (The Confused Family Motto: Let no cute comment go unforwarded. Or, apparently, unblogged.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I suppose it's a rite of passage for all mommy bloggers

Em was telling me something quite personal yesterday when all of a sudden she stopped and said, "Don't tell this to your friends, though. I know you always tell your friends these things, and it's embarrassing, and I don't want you to tell them this."

"OK," I said...perhaps a little too quickly, because she looked at me again, narrowed her eyes, and said:

"And that goes for your blog, too."

Damn. Busted.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Warning: Not funny, interesting, OR entertaining

There's a question at the bottom of this for anyone who's been there done this. Feel free to skip down to it.

I spent the day today looking for an advocate, and now have a list of about four or five people to call. Of course, since nothing is ever easy--since there is never a single "yes this is the right thing to do" path--I got an email from the woman who's been my on-the-ground support regarding all of this saying that I was panicking and that it would do me no good to get an advocate involved yet, but instead, what I need to do is BECOME N's advocate--or, rather, continue getting better and better at beind his advocate. (What she said was, "Right now you are probably afraid of making wrong choices but retaining an advocate when you as a parent are still unprepared or ill informed is not much smarter. You will then be at the advocate's mercy in addition to the IEP team. I strongly feel an advocate is the part of the arsenal you reserve for further along in the process.") I hate when people make sense on both sides of an argument. Can't just one single thing be black and white?

The 'good' news: The assessment plan did not come home with N today, so I've got a slight respite from worrying about how to respond to it.

Instead, I'll respond to a few of your comments. (And thank you for them, and for the ones sent privately to my email address.)

Po: The info about the stand-alone OT stuff is something I am now trying to look in to. I have been using the "if I can get them to qualify him in just one area, then all is not lost, because I can then just marshall forces and work on adding to his IEP." But if OT is his most likely area of need (or at least the needs they're willing to admit to) and it won't stand alone...Then that plan's not going to work.

Green: To quote the school secretary when I asked a question very much like that: "I am not a babysitter. You need to hire a babysitter if you both want to be in on this meeting. That's not our job. School is out." And believe it or not, this is a woman who LIKES me. You should hear her talk to the people she actively DISlikes. Also, I agree that he could probably use a kiddie shrink. It's just more money and more resources I don't have. More moving parts. Too many parts are moving. But it is very much on the list...for after the IEP is done and after the hernia and testicle surgeries are done and after I'm back from my extended stay in a mental institution. Finally, that idea for signing 'under duress'? Is very much along the lines of what I'm hoping to get someone to help me draft appropriately; a response that says something like, "This is a good start, but I believe it does not completely address the issues that are making it difficult or N to get a fair and appropriate eduction." Except in more legalese.

Tamar: Yes. Always.

Ambre: I love it when you curse like a sailor (for you, at least). Two asses in just one comment!

And now for THE QUESTION I MENTIONED AT THE TOP: I'm going to call a couple of area advocates in the next couple of days. But they cost, I'm fairly certain, and my financial resources are somewhat tapped out. (Somewhat = completely and then some. I'm just trying to sound less desolate. How's that workin' for me?) I've already decided I'd rather shoot my wad getting him a professional SLP evaluation than, say, an IQ test or a full developmental exam (especially considering that my last eval from a developmental pediatrician ended with a recommendation to take him to a speech therapist--THIS speech therapist). IF it comes down to having to decide between a good, thorough speech evaluation that I can take into the meeting and shove in their faces (and finally--for myself--getting some kind of ANSWER about what is and isn't going on with my son, which is EXTREMELY attractive to me) and a professional special ed advocate who I can take into the meeting and shove in their faces in a very physical sense...Which should I choose? There's always the chance that I can afford both, but that chance is slimslimslim. And I'm just wondering...How would YOU prioritize, assuming they do turn out to be mutually exclusive in my world?

Monday, October 22, 2007


Em still likes for me to lay down with her at night as she falls asleep. Because N likes this, too, I alternate nights with them. Tonight was Em's night. As she started to drift off, I felt her hand search around under the covers for mine, and then, when she found it, she wrapped her big-girl fingers around my pointer finger and my heart positively splintered with happiness as I was lurched suddenly backwards ten years to when she was a newborn and would hold onto my finger as she breastfed, as she screamed, as she drifted off to sleep, as she began to explore the world.

Today was part one of N's IEP process--the part wherein we discussed what kinds of evaluations need to be done before we can begin to discuss what services he needs in the classroom.

Bottom line: I'm not sure it went well. Actually, I'm half certain that I got fucked. But I don't know for sure, because I was alone, and I can only take so many notes while trying to watch out for the multitude of barriers--however camouflaged--being thrown up in my path with every word I said. (I had to go alone. There was no one other than Baroy available to watch N while we met--at 2:15 in the afternoon, there aren't a lot of babysitters available, and unfortunately, since one of the main points was his SOCIAL ISSUES, I didn't really have the option of sending him home with a friend, you know?)

I'll see tomorrow, when I'm supposed to get the written assessment plan, but I think the only assessments will be for OT and speech...with the latter being given quite reluctantly, to be honest, after the speech therapist talked about having 'chatted informally' with him and seeing issues, but nothing that would likely qualify him for services. That tune changed a bit when I announced (thank GOD things worked out this way...literally two hours before the meeting) that I had made an appointment with one of the top private SLPs in the area for a private assessment in mid-November. There was a bit of frowning around the room after that, and a relatively ham-handed attempt by the school psychologist to totally undermine me. [Him: Do you maybe want to put that assessment off until after you see what our testing has to say? Me (in my head): Why? So you can deny services and then force me to wait another six months or a year before you have to consider the assessment I get? Me (out loud): Oh, she's so booked up, I'm not giving up this appointment! We'll just see if anything she has to say adds to the mix. Can't hurt, right? Him: (Forced laugh.) Speech therapist: Well, then, I'll just make sure to cover everything that might be addressed by your evaluation! It'll save us all time. (What she was planning to cover if I *didn't* have such an eval planned is anyone's guess.)]

[An aside: $400 for a speech assessment, of which POSSIBLY half will be covered by insurance. Or maybe none. Would it be too obvious a pun to say that I'm speechless?]

It's funny, because on one level it SEEMED like it was a very positive meeting, and that everyone in the room was concerned about him and agreed that there were issues. But then there were all these red flag moments. Most red flaggish was the psychologist's immediate determination--without ever setting eyes on my kid--that he has social anxiety disorder and needs medication. "You have private insurance?" he kept asking me, over and over. "Because social anxiety falls under a MEDICAL issue, not an academic one..." He did mention once or twice ways in which he could help me navigate that part of the issue once/if N is 'in the special ed system,' which sounded like he thought he'd qualify SOMEWHERE. But he also said things that he clearly thought were going to be reassuring but were actually just obnoxious and condescending, such as, "We'll definitely be keeping an eye on N over the next couple of years to see how he's progressing." [Um, DAMNED STRAIGHT you will be. Because I'm going to be on your asses from here on out.] To me, statements like that are echoes of the preschool assessment, and are saying nothing more than, "We're going to deny you services again, but don't worry...We'll keep an eye on him, and when things are really messed up, THEN we'll step in. It may be too late by then, but we'll be there for ya!"

In the end, when I asked the psychologist point-blank if he was going to actually assess my kid he said no. "Again, these are really medical issues, which you need to address outside the district. You said you have private insurance?" In retrospect, I know that that's bullshit, and I'm thinking that what I might do is to sign the assessment plan (after all, I do want the OT and speech assessments, and I want them done NOW) but attach a note that says that I believe that the lack of social/emotional assessment will be detrimental to my child's overall progress and that not considering those issues will be setting him up for academic failure. (I have a huge book on special-ed law that a special-ed maven/friend of mine from the school loaned me, and it will only take a short while for me to be able to cite chapter and verse from it with regards to their responsibilities in this arena. We'll see how I feel when I get the official version of the plan from the school.)

There was also a lot of commenting about how smart N is. Which, again...Sounds nice until you remember that these people tend to base--or try to base--their decisions on academics. And if he's doing OK in class...then what's the big worry? Luckily, his teacher was fairly vocal on the ways in which his emotional issues (she called them self-esteem problems, which breaks my heart, but again...I'm not going to complain about the verbiage. I just want results) are affecting him in the classroom. So you'd think that's good, but...I don't see where this assessment is going to deal with that. Unless the district OT program is a good, broad one that goes well beyond working with him to cut a straight line and draw a recognizable human figure. Which, if you know school districts, is so unlikely as to be freaking hilarious to even consider.

Like I said, I got a feeling that everyone (except maybe the psychologist) thinks there are problems, and thinks he needs help. I got this feeling especially from the speech therapist, who I just...I don't know. She seems really smart, and she seems to get what I'm talking about--she was the one who had referred him to the preschool assessment team back in 1995 because she thought he needed to be evaluated for an ASD (autism spectrum disorder). But at the same time, she seems desperate to NOT be the one to help me. So she did a lot of telling me how she didn't think he was going to qualify for speech, but at the same time kept making clucking noises about how he seems to have sensory integration issues ("Make sure he gets an OT assessment," she kept saying to the special ed teacher who was leading the meeting) and how the fine motor delays he seems to have ("See why he needs that OT assessment?" she said again) fall into the same sort of category with the sensory issues, and how that could affect speech...BUT that she thinks his articulation falls within reasonable levels. Which...she might as well have just said, "Look, I think he needs help, but I'm swamped as the only speech therapist for like three or four area schools, and I'm doing whatever I can to avoid having new kids assigned to me unless they're mute." At least then I would have known where I stood, right?

My favorite moment (and by favorite I mean the moment I most felt like hurting someone but was glad I held off when I watched their faces as I spoke) was when the special ed teacher, noting my not-so-positive response to the idea of getting N into the care of psychiatrist for social anxiety, said to me, "I know how you feel about medicating a child; many of us would feel the same way. But, really, if you think about it, if he had diabetes..."

I didn't even let her get CLOSE to finishing that sentence before I cut her off. Now, mind you, I was smiling through this whole meeting, from start to finish--friendly and eager to please and almost physically incapable of being truly contentious, even knowing that what I really want is for them to fear me. (Shit, I actually volunteered to edit the school's reapplication for California Distinguished School status--I worked on the original, successful app four years ago--while we were waiting for the speech therapist and N's teacher to arrive. Eager to be liked, much?) So what I said probably didn't sound as harsh in person as it does here. Or maybe it does. "Listen," I said. "I've written about mental health...I've written a *book* on mental health, on bipolar disorder, and I USED that EXACT example. I WROTE that exact example. I get it. But I'm not putting my kid on drugs until I'm absolutely certain that I've exhausted all the other avenues--and until I'm certain that that's the problem. And I'm not certain of either." And I smiled sweetly. And she shut up.

But it was a small victory in a day of what felt like much larger...non victories? I don't know. I think that's the worst part of this process. Being new to it all, I don't know where the traps are. I don't know what victory looks like. I don't know what failure looks like. I don't know what I did or did not achieve today, and I don't know how what I did or did not do, said or did not say, is going to affect what happens in two months from now, when we have our actual IEP meeting. I've gotten tons of fabulous advice about dealing with special ed, much of it from people reading this blog, but almost none of it was able to help me make heads or tails of the subtle undercurrents of what was going on in that room today between the five of them and the one of me--the only one focused solely on the needs of the little boy watching Spongebob and waiting for Mommy to come home and help him do his homework on odd and even numbers and quiz him for his spelling test on Friday.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

They're *her* feelings

Before taking the kids to see Grease this summer on Broadway, my broher-in-law FedExed a note to Max Crumm, the guy who was chosen to play Danny through the not-really-based-in-reality show, You're the One That I Want. He told Max that he was bringing his niece to see him in the show while it was in previews, and that it was her tenth birthday, and it would be great if he could...actually, I'm not sure what he wanted from Max. Some kind of recognition for Em, who had been rooting for him all through the show. (Sort of. Most of the time. But Max didn't need to know that.) Max never responded, and while he signed both kids' playbills along with all the other fans waiting outside the theater that night, that wasn't nearly enough to satisfy my brother-in-law's somewhat inflated (by which I mean, GINORMOUS) sense of entitlement. Since then, he's made Max's rejection of HIS NIECE into a half-joke, half-vendetta that makes us all roll our eyes.

That's the first thing you need to know.

The second thing you need to know is that Em has become very environmentally aware. I bought her a book about things kids can do to help the environment, and she's now insisting on having only compact fluorescent light bulbs in her room, and is on a campaign to get us to put them throughout the house. (We already have them in our office, but I find the quality of light to be...uncomfortable. So I'm resisting putting them EVERYwhere.) I mentioned to her recently that Governor Schwarzenegger has been considering a ban on incandescent lightbulbs [wish I could find a more recent version of that story, but I'm too damned lazy], and she decided that she would write him an email to tell him she thinks that's a great idea. And so, yesterday, she did, and then wrote about it on the little private blog she keeps, which my brother-in-law then read.

OK. Now you're ready for the exchange of emails from yesterday between Em and my brother-in-law, S. S originally emailed Baroy and me, but copied Em, and we decided to let her take care of the responses:

From: S
To: TC, Baroy
cc: Em

If Emmy gets an e-mail back from Schwarzenegger, I want to send a copy of it to that idiot Max Crumm and show him how a human being is SUPPOSED to respond to a 10-year-old.

From: Em
To: S
cc: TC, Baroy

OH JUST GET OVER IT ALREADY!!!!!!!!!!! I'm not upset so why are you.

From: S
To: Em
cc: TC, Baroy

Because he's a horrible human being who deserves a time out for abusing the tender feelings of children!

From: Em
To: S
cc: TC, Baroy


He may have hurt yours but not mine.

From: S
To: Em
cc: TC, Baroy

Trust me. He hurt your feelings. And I'll NEVER forgive him for that!

From: Em
To: S
cc: TC, Baroy


And hence Em begins to learn the hard, hard lesson of dealing with someone who you simultaneously adore and want desperately to kill, if only so that he will JUST SHUT UP.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The One Who Said Hi

We are having coffee and cookies after Friday night services, the first half of my friend's son's Bar Mitzvah. I am talking to Lily, one of my favorite older ladies at the synagogue, about her knitting, and how I haven't picked mine up since the day she sat so patiently and tried to teach me how to purl.

Just listening to her talk in her still-somewhat-Germanic accent makes me remember something I've been wanting to ask her for a while. "Lily," I say, "do you still speak fluent German?"

"I wouldn't say I'm fluent any more," she replies slowly, sipping at a cup of coffee. "I can read it fine, and I have no trouble understanding it when it's spoken, but I always end up putting English words in when I try to speak it."

She puts the cup down on a nearby table; her hands shake a lot these days. But she doesn't really pause before saying, "You know, there's this woman who looked me up just recently. And we've been writing back and forth, but I write to her in English and her husband reads it for her, and of course she writes to me in German. She still lives in the town I grew up in, and we went to school together. Well, until 1938, of course. After that I wasn't allowed to go to school any more, because God forbid the German children should have to sit next to a Jew."

She says this all in the same conversational, smiling, wry voice she uses for almost any topic. This is, apparently, almost any topic.

I knew that Lily grew up in Nazi Germany. As part of a 'living history' project the synagogue's been doing, the bnai mitzvah classes have been interviewing all the older members of the congregation. I remember watching Lily's interview before I knew her well at all, and having tears run down my cheeks the entire time as she talked into the camera about being part of the kindertransport. I'd even spoken with her before about her time in England, where she lived for a number of years before coming to the United States, since I myself had a spent a year in Scotland. Under vastly different circumstances, of course.

Still, there is something about this offhanded comment, made over chocolate-chips and a cup of decaf, that feels more devastating even than that interview. And then, without much of a pause, she adds, "I always remembered her, though, because she was the only German girl who would still say hi to me after that, if she saw me on the street." This, too, is said calmly, smilingly, and I am completely incapable of doing anything more than nodding to indicate that I've understood the words, even if I still cannot really comprehend them.

And she continues telling me about how this woman tracked her down, and how there are other people she's hoping to get in touch with, and, "Oh, will you be here tomorrow for morning services? We need someone with steadier hands than mine to hold the trays of wine for the bar mitzvah guests."

And then the rabbi comes up to wish us a good Sabbath, and the conversation shifts again, and I have two more cookies and another half-cup of coffee and talk with another friend about a fundraiser we have coming up and then gather my family and go home, even as I'm wondering how I'm ever going to live with the image of a teenaged Lily walking in her home town, suddenly invisible, and the gratitude she must have felt for a single raised hand, and a simple, "Hi."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

WHAT is up everyone's butt today?

I swear that I have spent at least four hours today dealing with a series of completely unrelated nasty email exchanges, and I am just FED UP with everyone. Done. Finis.

Let's see: There's been a chain of trying-to-apportion-blame emails going around about a temple-related thing. On it's own, that would only be mildly annoying. But there's also been a particularly ugly and ongoing PTA board dustup at the elementary school--and tonight is a big event that the board put together and we all have to stand together and try to stop girl-on-girl fistfights from breaking out during the telescope-gazing and whole-school viewing of The Cat From Outer Space. (I was really looking forward to this event, too. Now, not so much.) And, of course, I had to throw my two cents into this dustup, after swearing I'd keep quiet. Yeah, I was quiet all right...unless you count an email of approximately 4 bajillion words, during which I think I managed to insult people on both sides of the issue, one of whom is actually one of my favorite parents at the school. But I just couldn't let it go. Just. Couldn't. Good times!

And, finally, there was what seemed to me to be an especially nasty note on one of my supposed 'support' groups for writers in which it was suggested that if we really cared about putting food on our family's tables, we could always go work at McDonalds. I'm certain it was meant as a semi-joke, but...It just hit me the wrong way at the end of a long day, and so before doing what I should have done in the first place--quietly just hit unsubscribe and let it go--I wrote what was probably an inappropriately vehement note to the list. And THEN I hit unsubscribe. And I'm pissed at myself, because I actually HATE people who do that...lob a nasty-bomb into an already contentious conversation, and then scamper away. It's so much more dignified to just remove yourself from the situation. But also so much less satisfying. (Plus, by immediately unsubbing, I'll never know if everyone just thinks I'm an ass or if there were any of those ever-so-gratifying "you said it, sister!" types of responses. I know that one of the ladies from this list actually reads here sometimes, but since she's the one I threw the bomb at, I'm guessing she won't...Oh, hi...[Waves weakly]...Sorry 'bout that. I get a little testy sometimes, and...Oh, never mind.)

Hey, good thing I'm so CALM and CLEAR-HEADED, eh? And that whole standing up for what I believe in is especially effective when I run away afterward. I don't back down...I unsubscribe!

Ech. That's all. Just...ech.

EDITED TO ADD: Yeah. Nevermind that last bit. I've asked Heather to resub me (now who didn't see THAT coming?), and I intend to apologize for flying off the handle like that. Forty-three is way too old to be throwing online temper tantrums. God, I feel like a first-class idiot tonight.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Who, Me?

After a board meeting tonight at my temple, a woman pulled me aside to ask me a question about an issue she's dealing with. "I'm coming to you because you're always so calm and cool-headed," she said. It took everything I have not to swivel my head around 270 degrees to make sure she wasn't talking to someone else. (Not that I'm able to swivel my head 270 degrees, mind you. But it would be cool, wouldn't it?)

I would say that I can't think of a single other thing that someone could say about me that would be *less* true...except no more than three minutes later another woman came over and said, "I really appreciated your comments about XYZ situation earlier. You're a great addition to our board because you're not afraid to state your opinion, and you don't back down when you're challenged."

And THAT, my friends, is the official winner in the There Is Nothing You Could Say About Me That Would Be Less True contest.

Is it just that people see what they want to see? At 43, I am easily one of the youngest members of the board, and it's clear that the older folk definitely tend to think of me as energetic and full of new ideas. I guess--if you squint your eyes tight and tilt your head sideways--that could translate into me seeming calm and cool-headed. I guess. Maybe. So long as you never watch me deal with my kids when they're being difficult. Or so long as you never watch me deal with my kids even when they're NOT being difficult, but I'm on my last nerve. Which is about 80 percent of the time.

But that other stuff? If there's one thing that has always, always, ALWAYS defined me, it is a pure and unadulterated hatred of confrontation. I don't back down when challenged? WTF? I'm queen of "Well, I can see your point...but on the other hand, I can see how...and yet, on the other hand, I think that...but on the other hand..." There are OCTOPI that don't have as many "other hand"s as I do when I'm trying to backpedal my way out of a confrontation.

I guess it doesn't really matter how you act, or what you really are inside. Someone's always going to try to interpret you, and half the time, they're going to get it dead wrong. I'd fret about it more, but really, there are way worse things I could be called than calm, cool-headed, and able to stand up for what I believe in. Like harried, irritable, and terrified of confrontation. In other words, me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Me, All Over

They're still not officially Ready for Prime Time at ParentsConnect, but because I'm sort of all over the place there today, I thought I'd throw a couple of links atcha. Here's an essay of mine (cut a whole bunch, sadly...for me; you all got saved from my extraneous babbling) that some of you might vaguely remember from a couple of years back at Tiny Coconut. And here's a picture of me, multitasking away, which might ring a bell for some of you.

Me! Me! Me!

You may now return to your not-me-related lives.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I feel like I should update on my conference with N's teacher, and on the whole IEP thing. And I should. But it's almost impossible to do so in any real depth. I took a walk with a friend while the kids were in Hebrew school this morning, and kept interrupting myself every 12 seconds with, "Oh, and I forgot to mention that..." and "Oh, but you have to realize that..." And then she did what every well-meaning, interested-but-doesn't-really-know-the-whole-sotry person does, which is to offer "I think you should"s, which are both really useful and really annoying, since they just add another 73 options to the list of things I could/should be doing, but can't possibly do without a full-time staff of seven helping me out.

[The real take-home lesson of having a kid with any kind of special need: There is always something else, and often MANY something elses, you should be doing for him. And the lack of each of those something elses is potentially catastrophic. Because WHAT IF that child psychologist, or that other speech pathologist, or that pediatric geneticist is the one who has THE ANSWER...and you don't take your kid to him or her? Put even more simply...You can not win. And any deficit he has is all fault, because you didn't do X. Or Y. Or Z. Or some combination thereof. Any or all of which might have been THE THING that solved the problem. Not that anyone will say that to you, because most people are nice and supportive and think that you're doing a great job--or at least say so to your face. But you'll still know it to be true, in your heart of hearts. Someone else could do better by your kid, would have fixed this ages ago. He's just unlucky in that he got stuck with you.]

Phew. Where did THAT come from? Let's all cough embarrassedly, shuffle our feet, think about how I really need to find the money to get back into therapy, and move on, shall we?

So. The teacher conference went fine. She's more concerned about him academically than need be--or, rather, concerned about him in academic areas she need not be concerned about. After telling me how she didn't understand how he'd been passed on to first grade from kindergarten at first, she then told me that he'd gotten one wrong on his math test and 100 percent on his spelling. I then pointed out that this is because he's quite good in math, and quite smart--can memorize things fairly easily--and that the ways his issues were going to affect him academically were only going to show when he has to express himself in writing or aloud. I'm not sure she understood. But, whatever. This raised Baroy's protective hackles, but for me, I see it as All Good. The 'worse' she thinks he is, the more she'll support me in fighting for services. And that's the goal.

Speaking of which, I handed her a copy of the letter I wrote, and she was thrilled that I was taking this seriously. (I think she still believed she was going to have to drag me kicking and screaming into getting my kid evaluated. If only she knew.) Instead, here I was handing her an already-submitted IEP request, and then asking *her*, "If the principal comes to you to ask about the areas in which he needs to be evaluated..." Before I could finish the question, she waved me off. "Everything. I want him to be evaluated in everything."

"Perfect," I said. "Then we're on the same page." And we shook hands and did a lot of "No, thank YOU"ing to one another, and I was off.

That was Wednesday. On Friday, I ran into the principal on the playground after dismissal and asked her if she'd gotten my note.

"Oh, yes," she said. "Mrs. R [the special ed teacher] will be officially contacting you, but I have a tentative date of the 22nd for us to sit down with special ed, the school psychologist, the speech therapist, and his teacher to talk about what testing needs to be done going forward, so we can get this taken care of."

I know that it's not going to be that easy, and that the "we're here for you, rushing to get this together right away" is mostly just legalities and ass-covering. But each time I don't have to push and remind and insist takes just the teensiest bit of pressure off.

Until I think about how this means I really need to get that independent speech assessment scheduled...and maybe think about having a psych eval...and shouldn't I have an outside OT take a look at him...and maybe this would all be easier if I had an IQ test done on him...

Winning = Can Not.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I am a strong writer

Kristen tagged me for this meme, which is pretty simple in theory: I am to identify five writing strengths. In reality, not quite so easy. That whole ego-or-lack-thereof thing gets in the way oftener than I'd like.

Still I do think I have a talent for writing (and editing--see my minor 'cheat' below), which makes it possible to follow through on this meme. The hard part, I found, wasn't so much in coming up with five strengths, but in not then talking about my various weaknesses. It almost seems like false advertising to go on and on about how great I am without saying...Ah-hah! See? I was about to fall into the trap again. I will have to save my writing weaknesses for another time, I guess! I am being FORCED to be solely and utterly positive. What a weird feeling.

1. Writing comes naturally to me. It is more a matter of simple dictation; of me writing down what is already in my head. I 'hear' what I want to say, and then I just have to type it. Often, if you watch me write, you'll see my mouth moving slightly. It's hard not to say the words out loud, frankly.

2. I have an innate sense of grammar. (Those of you who think that this is only a minor sort of strength have clearly never been an editor.) I cannot tell you what a preposition is, or point to a dangling participle and call it by name. Instead, I will simply know that there is something wrong in a sentence. I hear it; more to the point, I feel it. It's a feeling of discomfort that emanates from my stomach, as well as from an area both behind my knees and in front of my thighs. I know I've fixed the problem when both areas relax. (I find spelling errors the same way. It's like I was born with a physiological spell-check.)

3. If I think something is cool, I think everyone should hear about it. And I think a lot of stuff is cool. This is what makes me an especially good nonfiction writer: a passion for my subject matter. It is almost impossible for me to write engagingly about a topic I find dull. But get me excited about the work you're doing, and I will tell the world about it. (Cool new theory about the purpose of the appendix, anyone?)

4. I'm quite good at finding ways to make technical stuff understandable to "the lay person"--a term I've always found vaguely condescending, but is what scientists and science writers use reflexively when we talk about the audience for much of this type of writing. It's always seemed like a pretty simple thing to do, to me--you look at a story, think "what about this makes it interesting?" and then you just put it into language that points out the interesting core of the study. It's very rare that you can't find a way to do that sort of translation without using jargon. (The real challenge is to try to keep jargon from creeping into your everyday vocabulary...When you talk to scientists and doctors a lot, you can find yourself unable to differentiate between jargon and accessible language, and that's when you get into trouble.)

5. (Here's where I'm going to cheat, because this one's not about writing, but about editing, which was not the original question) I'm a good writer, for all the reasons I talked about above, but I'm an excellent editor. This is where my real talent lies. All that stuff about hearing the voice and innately feeling when the grammar is off also includes an ability to feel or see where the structure of a story is off. What I'm especially good at doing is taking the work of someone who might have significantly more style and flair than I do, and adding all that background/backbone stuff: moving sentences around so that they make more innate sense, picking up on a cadence or a theme and enhancing it in the piece, cutting excess verbiage, seeing where the hole is in an argument and giving the writer the direction he or she needs to fill it. I can see the big picture of a piece, and can find the problems in it, whereas a writer may be too close to the thing to ever see them without my assistance. I used to think I would hate giving up the spotlight of being the creative person in the process--the writer is, deservedly most of the time, the star--but instead, I love knowing that I've been able to take a really good piece of work and help to make it great. That's what makes it all worthwhile to me.

Now I'm supposed to tag five other people to do this meme. I tag Po, Jo(e), The Writing Mother, Mir, and Jess. (And I don't want to hear from you about how you're not a writer, because you are, you-who-knows-who-you-are. So shut up and do the meme. And I mean that in the most loving way possible, of course.)

Monday, October 8, 2007

So much less

The other night, I was telling my mom about how surprised and pleased I'd been while doing math homework with N, watching him not only 'getting' some of the math concepts (whizzing through "show the number 20 in tally marks" without any help from me), but clearly having listened in class to a math lesson and then having brought that lesson home with him ('skip counting' to 20 by twos, which he did by writing the odd numbers below the line and then "eating" them with the eraser to get to the next even number...something I couldn't have told him to do, since I had never seen it done that way). My mom listened and was appropriately proud, but then said something very interesting, in response to my babbling about how it had just blindsided me to see him chugging along like that, and how exciting it was. "I wonder," she said mildly, clearly not judging, but just asking, "why it is that we all expect so much less from him."

And we do. So much less. Even in those areas in which there is no reason to think he couldn't measure up to just about any expectation thrown his way.

It makes sense to cut this kid some slack in those areas that scream (or even whisper) of deficiency. Expecting him to have four playdates a week and to have to pick between sleepover invitations on weekends just because that was his sister's lot in life at the age of nearly seven...that would be just cruel. But there is no reason I SHOULDN'T expect him to be able to pick up some of the tricks of addition or the concept of counting by fives fairly easily. There's never been the slightest indication that he's not smart enough; in fact, there have been a number of suggestions that we might one day be talking about challenging him, not helping him keep up. And yet, when he does these things, I am almost shocked. Where did that come from? I think.

Now, there's nothing wrong with being proud of a kid, especially one who does have other challenges. There's nothing wrong with pointing out how well he's writing his number 4s, especially since he's had trouble with them to date. There's nothing wrong with telling him how proud I am of him for finishing up the last five "write the time on the clock" problems on his own. (Oh, don't look at me that way, Alfie. I don't entire buy your whole praise hatred thing...though I do like your tirades about standardized testing. We'll hash this out some other time, OK?) There's nothing wrong with it at long as he doesn't begin to think that he doesn't ever need to push or stretch himself. There's nothing wrong with it as long as he keeps on keeping on, keeps on trying.

But if he starts to believe that any effort he makes, however half-hearted, will be enough? Then there will be something wrong with it. There will be something very much wrong with it if he starts to expect--and to give--so much less. And that will be on me, unless I start doing something about it. And now.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Science-Geeky Goodness

I have never really "understood" art; music doesn't move me the way I know it should. It's all too abstract for me. But when a scientific finding like this one comes out, I suddenly think to myself, "This is what artists and musicians mean when they say that you either get it, or you don't."

To me, this sort of finding is simply...beautiful. On so many levels. I can't explain it except to say that when I read this report, I grinned. It makes perfect, elegant sense. Bravo.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

24 Hours' Worth of Letters, Essentially Verbatim

Dear Client I Really Enjoy Writing For:

I am not sending you my September invoice right now, because I have not yet submitted the work you'd asked me for. I have, however, written it--and will be happy to send it to you as soon as I receive the checks for my July and/or August invoices.

Temporarily Confused


Dear Editor of Freelance Gig for Which I've Been Auditioning Without Pay:

Let me first thank you for all your prompt responses to my questions over this past not-quite-a-week; you've been most helpful. Nonetheless, I think that I need to withdraw my name from consideration for Freelance Gig. This is, I believe, mostly my issue, and it's one of not realizing that the whole 'this is something you can easily do in your own time, in concert with a full-time job even' vibe does not really apply to this audition period.

Simply put, I can't do this job well, and if I can't do it well, I might as well not do it at all. I don't think it will do any of us any good if a writer-to-be spontaneously combusts in the middle of the night. And I KNOW it won't do me any good to lose my almost-full-time job with its almost-full-time paycheck in the pursuit of a very interesting, but ultimately not-at-all-full-time gig with you guys. Not to mention having to juggle kids and volunteer activities and other freelance work...I should have known better. I apologize.

I wish you good luck in finding the right person for the job.

Thanks again,
Temporarily Confused


Dear Elementary School To Which I Send My Kids:

I am requesting a full assessment of my child, N Confused, in all areas of his suspected disabilities for the purposes of determining whether or not my child qualifies for special education services. I understand that i am to be given an assessment plan authorizing this assessment within 15 days of your receipt of this request.

I am also requesting that an IEP meeting be set within the time required by law so that we may discuss the results of the assessment and the type of educational program my child requires.

Mrs. Temporarily Confused

[For what it's worth, this last letter? Copied almost word-for-word from the handout The World's Greatest Pediatrician gave me just for this purpose after hearing me kvetch about how hard it is to know what to say to get the job done. I love her.]

Friday, October 5, 2007


Just a quick post to ask: Can anyone out there explain to me why I just stuttered like crazy through a two-minute message left on a speech therapist's voice mail...even though I DON'T NORMALLY STUTTER...?

Well, maybe he'll think there's a strong family history of speech issues and get back to me more quickly, right?

(This guy's a referral from our pediatrician, who saw Em yesterday--lump on her jaw...don't's OK now--and got RIGHT ON IT when I told her I was floundering in trying to find a good--i.e., not just from the phone book--SLP who deals with kids over the age of 5 and has an office less than an hour from my house. We'll see what happens.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Burst bubble

[N, putting, at the gorgeous-beyond-belief children's golf academy where he takes lessons]

I was doing my Thursday-in-the-first-grade-classroom activity--distributing the week's marked-up work into folders for each individual child--when I noticed that almost all of N's work from class, especially anything involving language arts, had a "with help" written on it. I decided it was probably time to ask the teacher for a sit-down, just to check in on how N is really doing. I've been buoyed by watching him really 'get stuff' when he does his homework, and by watching what seem to be his blossoming social skills in a variety of different social situations, like his golf class and at Hebrew school, etc., but I still wanted to check in to make sure this wasn't a real issue, and to maybe ask the teacher about how she thinks his speech is.

By the time I was done with my 'job', the class was outside having recess. As I approached, N came over from the bench where he was still working on his snack. All the other kids were on the playground. Suddenly, his teacher appeared:

"Mrs. Confused! Thanks for all your help today. I do have a favor to ask of you, though...N, would you please go clean up your snack so I can talk to Mommy?"

Uh-oh. "Yes?"

"Um, could you maybe work with N on getting him to join the other children to play during recess? This is my first time on yard duty this year, and I hadn't realized, but he doesn't play with the other kids. And when I ask him to go play, he sometimes refuses. I can insist he go out there, and I do, but then he just stands on the sidelines as a bystander, sucking his thumb, and..."

I hold up my hand. "Funny you should bring this up. I was coming out here to ask if we could set up a time..."

"...for a conference? Oh, good. I was hoping we would get to talk before the end of the first marking period."

"Yes. I was wanting to talk to you about his classwork, but also to get your input on some other things. For instance, I'm planning to take him to get a speech..."

"Oh, I've already asked several times for the speech therapist to do an assessment on him, and she says he's already on her list, but she hasn't gotten to him yet."

This was followed by a not-worth-recording conversation about how to make that happen more quickly, and another on how she (teacher) should not for a second think that I (mother) am not aware of any of these issues, etc. And then I left. And even though I was the one who was going out there to talk to HER...I felt totally deflated. I guess I was hoping that we would just talk about how he's having trouble following directions, but otherwise he's just fine! Totally normally! All the kids love him! Nothing to see here, you over-involved, worry-wart mom!

But, instead, I got: He has really obvious social issues. I got: I told the speech therapist I thought it was important for him to get help RIGHT AWAY! I got: I'm so glad you want to talk about this because I think it's important to work on these issues RIGHT AWAY! Time's a'wastin'! This kid isn't going to get any better just because you wish it away, you know! (OK. Maybe that last one wasn't so much verbatim, but it was clearly her point.)

What it really comes down to is that instead of, "Yeah, I see what you're saying, and you're right, but I hadn't really been thinking about it much because it's just not that big of a deal," I got, "I've clearly been thinking about this a lot, and acting on it, too, and I just wasn't sure yet how and when to bring it up to you, but it's big and it's obvious, and he may be looking better to you these days, but to me, meeting him for the first time, I see deficits, and they're glaring, and you really do need to do deal with them." And that's depressing.

I've been down this road a minimum of 76 times before, of course. Most of you have read it; most of you are doubtless tired of reading it and having it go nowhere. You know those times...where I get all het up to do xyz to help N, where I recognize that there's a problem, but then I start to see progress and start to wonder if I'm overreacting, only to have The World slap me in the face and say, "No! You're not overreacting! Progress does not mean over and done with. How many times do I have to tell you? GET HIM HELP." You'd think that by now...

Once the letter to the school district--the one I just finished writing--is received, they have two weeks to do the assessment. But (I know, I know) that likely won't be enough, so I'll get an outside SLP appointment set up, too. I was hoping to wait until after the likely-to-be-combined hernia-and-testicle surgery to do it, but that may not work out, since he still needs to be seen by a general surgeon before we can even schedule that. And that may take more time than, it turns out, I should let slip past. Already, it's been nearly 7 years...or, to be fair to myself, between 4 and 5 years since I first noticed a problem. Perhaps it's time to stop waiting for 'the right time.'

BTW, on a completely unrelated note, today is Baroy's birthday. 52. He's so OLD! But I love him anyway. Happy birthday, hubby mine.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


"How's this sound for the first line of my book report?" Em asks, reading aloud. "A Dog's Life is a heartwarming story about a dog named Squirrel and her adventures through her life as a stray and a companion."

"Nice," I say. "You didn't copy that off the back of the book, though, did you?"

"No!" Em exclaims, affronted. "I don't even have it in front of me! Why would you think that?"

"It's actually a good thing," I see, feeling badly that I brought it up at all. "See, it sounds like the sort of thing they might have written on the back of the book. You just have a very mature style of writing. I just hope that your teacher realizes that that's all you when you hand it in, that's all."

The truth is, Em writes the way she speaks--with a voice that is, often, mature beyond its just-turned-10 years. And sometimes just a little...quirky. I love reading her stories and her essays for her fifth grade class, but sometimes I think I ought to say something to her teacher, to ask him not to focus on her horrendous spelling and her unusual grammar, and to ask him not to question her ability to have thought of and written what she writes. (You know, the way I did in the example above. Because I'm an idiot mother--or, rather, just a plain idiot, whose editor side beats the snot out of her mom side every time she reads something her kid hands to her--and I want the teacher to be better and more nurturing than I.) I think sometimes that I should do this because I feel like maybe this is where her real gifts lie (and no, I don't mean that as in "my child is the smartest and best writer EVAH" but as in "there are ways in which she is special, like most kids; this is probably primary among them"). And, more importantly, I feel like those gifts are fragile. And if she's told to spend too much time focusing on whether she spelled "organisms" correctly or whether the sentence she's written is a fragment or not, the spirit of her writing will shrivel up and die. And I don't want that to happen. For her, but also for me. Because, best I can figure it, reading a story that my child wrote engenders in me a sense of pride that will probably only be beaten by watching her raise my grandchildren. Indeed, for a writer--like myself, like my kid--creating a work of fiction (or even nonfiction, for that matter) is very much like creating new life.

Really, though. It's not her teacher I need to speak with on this topic. It's me, and that damned bully of an internal editor. The fact that I just figured that out in the process of writing this blog entry pretty much reinforces everything I just said above about the importance of writing. It also pretty much defines the word irony.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

More about money and self worth

Let me be clearer, since I really wasn't on Friday when I first wrote about this: I know what I need to do to make more money. What I need to do to make more money is to trade in on job satisfaction. I can go back to an office; I can take a job in an office doing corporate PR. I don't want to do the first one, though I will if I have to; I *really* don't want to do the second one, though I will if there's a gun pointing to my head. (Sometimes, a gun is shaped like a mortgage payment for which you do not have the amount of money needed. Luckily, we're not there yet.)

The thing is, I thought that there were ways I could make more money withOUT trading in on job least not in a big way. As a long-time science and medical writer, I know that having such a specialty can up your per-hour/per-word/per-whatever fees. I like writing about science and medicine, and while I was kindasorta hoping that when I went to my current job I'd be moving into parenting writing for more-or-less good, if that's not to be, that won't kill me.

Except that those jobs that I'm looking at now, the ones that are paying less than I made 20 years ago? They ARE science and medical writing jobs. I think that's where my deep, dark mood of these past few days is coming from...the discouragement of realizing that my fallback may not be there to catch me, that Plan B needs a Plan C. Or, rather, that Plan B isn't going to be enough on its own, and I might have to institute multiple Plan Bs...a surefire recipe for mental make it work.

Nothing is dire, and nothing is set in stone, and there are exceptions galore to this rule, I know. I know people who are making very nice freelance salaries in my field. I know people who don't have to work 60 hours a week to make that happen. I know people who are very happy with the way their careers are going. But there ARE fewer and fewer of those people, and I just don't happen to be one of them. And because, in the past, I *was* one of those people, I'm feeling really...lost right now. Twenty-plus years into a fairly successful and seemingly well-planned career, and I'm not really where I assumed I was. I think I only paid mental lip service (try to untangle THAT metaphor, why don'tcha?) to the idea that taking my work home--i.e., giving up an office job--might put me back a few steps on my career path. In reality, I thought I would be different. I always had been in the past. People knew who I was; they knew my work, and my track record. They thought me talented. They wanted me on their team. When push came to shove, surely they'd still be there for me.

And maybe they are, but I'm not finding them right now. Right now I'm only finding people who are interested in me...if I will work for $5 to $10 an hour less than what I'm currently making, and a good $20-plus an hour less than what the going rate for such work was in 1990. And that's one of the LESS offensive options in front of me right now.

Stop me if I've told you this story before, but...Back when I was an associate editor at ABigScienceMagazine, I was once talking with an assistant editor/fact-checker--i.e., someone who was below me on the masthead for the magazine. Inadvertently, she revealed her salary to me, and I realized that she was making the same amount of money as me...with a good three to four fewer years in the business, in a job below mine, and with an hourly salary that meant she was eligible for overtime, whereas I was not. I blew a gasket, ranted and raved to friends and family for days, and finally decided that I had to say something to my boss. Whose response was something along the lines of, "You shouldn't measure your self-worth in terms of the money you make."

I was caught off guard at first, because this seemed to be true, and rather deep as well. And then I woke up and realized that that was complete and utter bullshit. I pointed out to my boss that if he thought that way about the magazine ("We shouldn't measure our worth in terms of how many copies we sell, or ad dollars we take in") he'd be out the door by the end of week with his Rolodex in his pocket and his future in publishing fairly well over. He had the good grace to blush, give me an immediate $5K raise, and then to promote me just a few months later, to the tune of another $15K. Which, I might point out, put me at a salary--in 1993--that I am now having to fight to get back to.

And that's why I'm cranky. And I think I have a right to be. Even if I really don't.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Planning ahead

Em came home with a permission slip for a field trip the fifth grade will be taking...AT THE END OF MAY.

I know that I have a tendency to be last-minute about things, but come ON. I can't be the only one who finds having to think about what I'll be doing in seven-and-a-half months from now to be rushing things just a leeeeeeeetle bit too much, right?