Friday, March 23, 2007

Nice to Know I'm Not the Only One . . .

I just opened the March 30 issue of The Week to a nice surprise: seems that music reviewers from The Washington Post, The New York Times and Los Angeles Daily News all gave high marks to Amy Winehouse's Back to Black. I beat them to it by a month and a half, but I think they have a slightly OK, astronomically) larger readership. That and they have to write actual reviews instead of just a "I LOVE this!"

If you still haven't checked it out, you can find it on Amazon for a ridiculously low $9.99.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Time to Get Dirty

Haha, made you look!

Thanks to my friend Christy for sending this:

"In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."

--Margaret Atwood

Monday, March 19, 2007

Unity '08 Anyone?

Just a few short months ago, those of us who lean a bit more to the left were yelling about the Republican-controlled Congress for stuffing funding bills with pet projects and lots of other extras that had nothing to do with the original bill (anyone remember the 300 million dollar Bridge to Nowhere, which even the conservative Heritage Foundation called a "national embarrassment?"). We called it pork. We called it earmarks. We also called it "wrong."

And now we get to call the Democrats hypocrites for doing exactly the same thing.

In order to pass a funding bill that would end the war in Iraq in 2008, the Democrats have stuffed the bill with billions of dollars in domestic spending--otherwise know as "large carrots" or "bribes." Republicans and conservative Democrats who would have voted "No" on the funding bill are having to rethink the issue since this is money that, in some cases, is badly needed in their districts. This isn't "bridge to nowhere" kind of money either. It's about 21 billion dollars split among projects that include rebuilding the Gulf Coast; drought relief for some southern and western states; help for California's farmers hit by the E. coli outbreak; as well as various other agricultural disasters. All in need of funding, but maybe this isn't the way to go about it.

When you use tactics like this you cannot call the outcome a "bipartisan victory," or tout it as a bipartisan declaration that the war must end. Because it's pretty much a few people holding a gun to the collective head of the rest of the House and denying them the right to vote their conscience, or that of their constituents. (Forgive me while I play Pollyanna here.)

Bill Number One should be the war funding bill. You all know how I feel about that debacle (if not, you do now!), but this bill should be about the US military already in Iraq, when to get them out and how. Not to mention how to clean up the mess we're leaving behind. [Lest anyone think that I am a peace-at-all-costs kind of girl: I thought we were right to bomb the hell out of the Taliban--a little "thanks for your hospitality to BL and his cohorts." It was a bonus that these were the same people who executed anyone who dared to teach a girl or employ a woman. But I digress once again.] So that's Bill Number One: Funding for the War in Iraq.

Bills Number Two through However-Many-it-Takes should cover the domestic issues mentioned above. But let's stop playing this little game of "hide the pork" because, 1) it sounds disgusting, 2) it's BS. And it's just one more reason that Unity '08 is starting to look so appealing.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Why Yes, it IS a Vodka Tonic!

So I'm trying to figure out where to draw the line between giving Hannah her privacy and ending up with my arm plunged into the toilet trying to stop an entire roll of paper before it gets sucked down the way-too-small drain.

If anyone has any tips, I'm happy to hear them.

In the meantime, yes, it is a vodka tonic.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Newberry Madness

In 1922, Frederic G. Melcher and the American Library Association launched the first-ever award for children's literature, reasoning that the genre deserved as much "notice and encouragement" as others. The original agreement stated that the award was "To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children's reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field."

Through the years, the Newberry has gone to works that include A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brienas, The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli, Daniel Boone by James Daugherty, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, and Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan, to mention just a few.

The 2007 Newberry Medal winner is The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, and is described on Simon & Schuster's web site thusly:

"Lucky, age ten, can't wait another day. The meanness gland in her heart and the crevices full of questions in her brain make running away from Hard Pan, California (population 43), the rock-bottom only choice she has.

It's all Brigitte's fault -- for wanting to go back to France. Guardians are supposed to stay put and look after girls in their care! Instead Lucky is sure that she'll be abandoned to some orphanage in Los Angeles where her beloved dog, HMS Beagle, won't be allowed. She'll have to lose her friends Miles, who lives on cookies, and Lincoln, future U.S. president (maybe) and member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. Just as bad, she'll have to give up eavesdropping on twelve-step anonymous programs where the interesting talk is all about Higher Powers. Lucky needs her own -- and quick.

But she hadn't planned on a dust storm.

Or needing to lug the world's heaviest survival-kit backpack into the desert."

Sounds good, right? A book about a girl who wants to take charge of her own destiny, find her place in the world and who, in the process, learns to trust people--particularly her guardian, Brigitte. But apparently even a Newberry book can cause an uproar in libraries, especially school libraries, across America, and it takes just one little word. Wanna know what that word is?

It's right there, on the first page: "Scrotum."

That's it--that's what the uproar is all about. Not an actual scrotum, but the word. The author decided (I think rightly) that using the proper anatomical name was a better fit for her story than, say, hoo-ha or winkey or peepee. And the word choice was germane to the story: Lucky overhears it and spends the entire book learning to trust someone enough to ask what it means.

Here's the thing: Words are just that--words. The only power they have is that which we give them. There is nothing wrong with using the proper names for body parts like scrotum, penis, vagina, breasts, labia, vulva. But there is great harm in NOT using the proper name, as there is in just not talking about "those things" at all. Sure, don't talk about it, don't tell kids what "it" is. They're going to find out anyway--it's human nature. Think they're going to tell you?

Two weeks ago, I did this web search: "is amoxicillyn still good if not refrigerated." I never would have guessed that one of the results would be "Can I still get pregnant if I refrigerate semen to drink later?" I think it's a safe bet that this girl's parents thought that telling her about "the facts of life," or "the birds and the bees" or, better yet, "SEX," would make her promiscuous. That's bullshit, not to mention irresponsible.

You don't have to give them the gory details but, at a minimum, kids need to know the basics--much of which they will have already heard from friends, so be prepared to correct a few misconceptions. Mention, if you like, that it's an expression of love. Talk about the consequences--STDs and pregnancy come to mind. Sure that discussion might be uncomfortable for both parent and kid, but it beats the hell out of the alternative. After all, how many more times do we want to read about girls who thought they couldn't get pregnant the first time? Or standing up? Or any of the other ridiculous things that kids tell each other to fill the information vacuum?

Armed with accurate information, teens might just be more likely to delay sex and to be more careful about protecting themselves when they do have sex. So put the damn book on the shelves, call a scrotum a scrotum and stop treating kids like idiots.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Charlotte Update

Over the past few months Charlotte has been making amazing progress. She has also seen her first (and hopefully last) neurologist and had her second and third visits to pediatric opthamologists-one doctor checked to make sure all of the eye muscles were normal, the second checked her retinas to make sure there was no damage left from her being premature.

So her progress report:

1) In November when Charlotte had her evaluation at C-A-R, she still rated pretty young in gross and fine motor skills. Her gross motor skills were solid to about 9-15 months, mostly because she didn't walk and wasn't able to maintain her balance. As of today, she can walk and run--still with a stiff gait but it's getting better every day. We're still working with the PT to get her left side stronger; Hannah likes to help with the "super girl" and the wheel barrow exercises, which is great, because Charlotte wants to do whatever Hannah does.

Her fine motor skills have improved enough for her to hold a crayon/pen/pencil with a mature grasp (4-5 year old rather than that of a 2 year old) and she can even draw small circles, which her OT tells me is very impressive for her age. She can stack 7 blocks, put tiny objects into a container held out in front of her and then dump them out (instead of trying to reach in), as well as many other things that I never thought about a little kid needing to learn how to do.

2) The November evaluation also showed below-average cognition as well as below-average receptive and expressive language skills, meaning that she didn't understand everything we were saying--in fact at times it seemed as though she wasn't aware that the noises we were making constituted communication (Hannah doesn't get this either, but I think that's normal for a four-year old) and she wasn't able to communicate with us much, either. At that time, her total vocabulary--signed and verbal--was about 15 words.

The receptive language delay seems to have been most of the problem with her cognition because today, just over three months later, Charlotte has a signed and verbal vocabulary of 60+ words, and trust me when I say that she understands everything that we say. It only takes a couple of times showing her a new sign before she gets--and uses--it. (The one she learned on the first try was "MM" for "M&Ms." She knows where they are and won't take "no" for an answer--which is why we have to go to Target again tomorrow.)

She is also signing phrases, including "more bear please," unprompted, and creating her own compound signs--combining "more" and "cookie," for example. The first time she did it, I tried to show her the two signs separately since I didn't understand her. She corrected me, signing it a little more emphatically the second time then clapping her hands at me as if to say "good job!" when I asked if that meant "more cookie." Ok, ok, I get it! I was so proud of her that I didn't even make her say please!

For basic cognition, she matches shape to shape, picture to picture and object to picture. She is also pretty good at the basic shape puzzles. (Tip from her teachers: when teaching kids to use shape puzzles, you should put in any shape other than a square, circle, triangle or rectangle--these are the shapes they see every day and are most familiar with.) She is also good at recognizing people and things and no longer signs "dog" at any animal she hasn't seen before.

She's also good at problem solving, for example: we put cheerios into ice cube trays so that she would have to use a pincer grasp to get them out. She did this twice, looked at the tray, picked it up, dumped all of the Cheerios on to the table and tossed the ice cube tray aside. So basically, she's pretty much at (or above) age-level. We just have to figure out how to help her get the words out.

3) The neurologist thinks that Charlotte will have caught up in gross and fine motor skills as well as expressive language by her third birthday. Yay! We follow up in six months just to make sure that she is still on track.

4) The opthamologist reports no damage to the retinas (as expected) but that she does have a slight astigmatism in her left eye and is a bit near-sighted in her right. The doctor offered to write a weak prescription for glasses, but changed his mind after I told him that little miss destruct-o would snap them in 20 minutes, tops. Another 6-month follow-up.

Next Steps:
I'm trying to get Charlotte into a hippo-therapy program (you're forgiven for not knowing what that is. It's horses, not hippos.:). Both the PT and the OT recommended it to help relax her trunk and open up her shoulder girdle. This will help alleviate the stiffness in her midsection, get a full range of motion in her arms and shoulders, improve her balance, etc. Fortunately, insurance should cover the sessions--the upkeep on horses isn't cheap, I think. That and the fee for the OT and/or the PT who run the session--most of whom are worth their weight in gold.

We're still doing 1 hour a week each of PT, OT and speech therapies, as well as a 2.5 hour class once a week with other developmentally delayed kids. At home, we do at least 20 minutes a day each of the PT, OT and speech--but usually it ends up being much more. A lot of the PT work Charlotte doesn't like because she figures out pretty quickly that it's actually work. Believe it or not, the speech is the most difficult--Hannah won't let either of us get a word in edgewise!

I am so incredibly proud of Charlotte and would like to say that I'm handling all of this gracefully, but there are days when I just want to go and hide in corner while I cry. When I look at her goal sheet and the gap between how far she's come and how far she still has to go, I can't help but feel unequal to the task.

Because Hannah hit all of her marks early, my biggest concerns with her were teaching her right from wrong, to clean up after herself and not to sass mommy. But with Charlotte, I have to make sure she watches me say every word, emphasizing the first letter sound. I have to look up new signs every day so that she can tell me what she wants. I have to remember that the calf muscles need to shorten and lengthen and that there are two different types of exercises for each. We have to take walks, making sure to go uphill and down. I have to remember to hold her shoulder back and down while she works; to make sure she turns and stretches from the hips while sticking color forms on the mirror; to get her to spend time stacking things up--preferably above her head--before she knocks them over; to stand on her left leg; to walk on her toes; to ask her to fix her legs when she sits in a "w" and to adjust her pelvis when she sits with her legs stretched out in front. I also have to remember that, when she's tired, Charlotte will quite often just fall over. If she lands on her left side, she will sort of get stuck for a minute or two, shaking, while her muscles work to pull her up again.

There's more, of course, but I feel like an ass for crying about it when I am able to stay home and take her to her appointments and do her homework. There are parents in our class who work full-time and deal with all of the same issues and more.

One other mom from the class and I agreed that one of the hardest aspects of all of this is that, as the primary caregiver, it feels as though it's all on us. If our daughters don't progress, we didn't work hard enough. When they succeed, we just cross off those goals, write in new ones and start all over again. And of course, the older and smarter the girls get, the more stubborn they get. But . . .

We were playing in the garden today and Charlotte came up behind me and kissed me on the head. It seems like such a little thing, but I didn't ask her for a kiss. She walked up to me and did it on her own. I was stunned, amazed and delighted. I can't wait until the day when she kisses me and whispers "I love you mommy." You always know that it's worth it, but moments like that really let you see what a great job you're BOTH doing.

When she was a baby people would always remark on what a good baby she was and how sweet she was. Thomas and I would alway assure them that yes, she was and that we thought that we'd keep her. If I were younger, I'd take 10 more just like her.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hannah on Working Moms (well, one mom, anyway)

Late yesterday afternoon I was sneaking in a few minutes of writing time while Hannah was watching a movie. Once she realized what I was doing, the movie was no longer interesting:

"Do you want a sticker? I love stickers. Let's play a game!"

"Can I just finish up this one section? I'm almost done . . ."

Hannah (with world's largest pout):
"I'm really frustrated with you for working.

It's not meant for you.

Only boys, not Mommys.

Mommys don't go anywhere or do anything."

Um, not good. I don't want Hannah and Charlotte growing up thinking they just have to know how to be a good wife, how to cook, do laundry and keep the house clean. Which is basically what my mother told me, and probably my sisters, too.

Mom later apologized for it, but in some ways the damage had been done. After all, when you spend most of your early years doing all of the household chores (don't leave a dish dirty or you'll have to wash every one in the house. Every last one. Good times!), not being allowed to play sports, and not being encouraged in math and science, you sort of get it set in your mind that you can't do those things. Not just "not allowed" but actually "incapable." It's a hard lesson to overcome and most emphatically not one I want my daughters to learn.

Today, my sister Sarah told me that my eight year old niece, who has been playing soccer since she was three--the last couple of years in an all-girl league--had her first practice with her new, co-ed league. Inexplicably, she decided to pretend to the boys that she didn't know how to play. She then stood back and let them do everything.

Fortunately, Sarah was having none of that. After practice, she pulled her daughter aside and asked her what that was all about. When there was no satisfactory answer, my niece was told that this was not to happen again. That she knew how to play--probably better than most of the other kids there, including the boys. That, next practice, she was to go out there and be aggressive and do her best or there would be no soccer.

All three of Sarah's girls have been told, basically from birth, just how lucky they are to be girls: they can do anything that the boys can do and then go home and put on a pretty dress if they want to. Something that most boys don't get to do.

Amen to that.

She is my younger sister, but I want to be just like Sarah when I grow up.