Wednesday, December 23, 2009


My daughter cracks me up. Tonight I took the dog to obedience training and was out past her bedtime. When I got home, I found this:

So I turned it on and found this:

Merry Happy, everyone!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Student of the Week

My daughter's classroom has "student of the week," which is a totally random/non-merit-based thing, fwiw. But my daughter has to go in front of the class and talk about herself. I'm proud that she is so comfortable about talking in front of others. I was never that confident. I'm also thrilled with what she's talking about:
1. Her love of Legos
2. How we've traveled a lot in recent years
3. Our Xmas cards
4. Her favorite animal being koalas and how we foster a koala in Australia.
Interestingly, she refuses to tell anyone in school that she dances competitively.

I've had massive computer problems this weekend, and we've been maniacally doing XMas stuff.

Here's a bad pic featuring our Xmas tree and a menorah, which we've been lighting all week. We happened to not be Jewish, but my husband got a menorah for a photo shoot idea, and we decided to light it. I feel like I'm back in New York again.

Here are some of our ornaments:

All of our ornaments are fairly unique and represent trips we've taken and places we've visited, or special interests of ours.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Flu Shot Moms Part Deux

I believe it's a special kind of irony when one of the Flu Shot Moms gets the swine flu herself. My poor friend R! She just called to see if I could cover for her tomorrow. Unfortunately, I am probably going to be out because my son is sick with a virus of some sort that's making him cough and have stomach issues.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Key Hacks

E-mail from my sister:

"[Her husband] wants to go to [my town] so we can leave "strange things" in your fridge Wendy. LOL."

Yeah, I left a bag of yogurts in her fridge. We were there for a birthday party yesterday, and I had bought the yogurts for my kids, who eat nothing anyone else provides for them. I stuck them in her fridge when we got there then forgot them.

I forgot one of the best "hacks" I ever read: when you're visiting someone else's house and have something you need to remember to bring home with you, leave your keys next to the item you need to remember to bring home.


My son, writing on the following prompt:

Pretend you are a turkey and write a list of reasons why you should not be on the menu for Thanksgiving dinner.

He wrote:

1. I wouldn't want to be tryed and puked out by little children that haven't had turkey before because that would be waisting my flesh.
2. There is an increasing number of people that like turkey so then all of my turkey friends will be very sad. But it would be worse because the turkeys that are related to me would die too.
3. If there are left-overs and everybody was full (even the pets) then I would be thrown in the trash can. So that would be waisting my flesh (again (see on Reason #1)).
4. It would be very painful being roasted and toasted by the hot and steamy grill. I would hate it so much; and so much that I would really, really want to be a human.

All errors are his.

He also had to write about what he was thankful for. He wrote:

"I am thankful for my family because my family brings me toys that I want. The stuff that I mostly want is lego. I even save up for lego! Right now, I am saving up for the recycle truck and the tow truck. They might sound boring but I know they aren't."

It's accompanied by a picture he drew of him asking me "Mom, can I have 9 dollars?" and me answering "No." Four times. In other words, a true representation of reality. :) However, it doesn't illustrate his point!

His teacher wrote on the side of the page: "Please stick to one topic: your family or legos!"

Monday, November 23, 2009


Yesterday we took a day trip to Hartford to attend the Lego Kidsfest:

The kids and husband got a chance to see the new sets for 2010, which include a Prince of Persia tie-in as well as a new Toy Story set. (Toy Story 2 is one of my top movies ever.)

The Kidsfest was exceedingly crowded. We'd bought our tickets online and were able to go right in, but the line to buy tickets at the box office was 3 hours long. A fire marshal was counting ins and outs to make sure the convention center didn't exceed capacity (apparently it reached capacity on Saturday).

But we found ourselves done by about 1 pm (we'd arrived at 10), so we decided to check out the Mark Twain House. As a student of 19th century American lit, I am always ready to go to the house of a famous 19th century author. I would have preferred Harriet Beecher Stowe, but I felt Twain would have more general appeal to my initially recalcitrant* kids. It helped that when we arrived a petting zoo was set up outside. The kids had fun petting the alpaca, sheep, and bunnies. The pot-bellied pig was also adorable. Inside there was a penny machine--always a big hit! And there was a display of toys and toy trains in a Christmas theme, and that was also interesting.

*Sophie just asked me what this word means. I told her she didn't want to do it at first. She says that she didn't want to do it the whole time.

The house itself is wonderful. I love old houses to begin with, but Twain was such an interesting person and his house befits him. The tour guide was good, and she told us the house will be featured on Ghost Hunters on SyFy on Dec. 2!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's A Very Dylan Christmas

The video I have been waiting for all my life. Bob Dylan. Christmas.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Flu Shot Moms

I can't say I'm emerging from grading hell. I spent 2 hours tonight grading. A weird series of quirks of fate gave me a fairly light schedule this term. I have one final tomorrow, 15 students, and then I'm done.

The past few weeks I've spent in frequent consultation with the Flu Shot Moms. They're a bunch of colleagues, all moms, obviously. We all have kids with respiratory issues, considered high risk if they contract H1N1. And so we've all been invested heavily in finding flu shots for our respiratorily challenged boys--and they're all boys, for some reason.

However, one of the boys of the Flu Shot Moms got H1N1 last week. He started showing symptoms about 4 days after he got the shot. He didn't have enough time to develop the antibodies. But he is fine now--has been through the first run of it and the secondary relapse. So the Flu Shot Moms are feeling a bit relieved, though I'm sure we all think to ourselves "Oh, my son's issues are worse than their sons' issues!" It's part and parcel of being a Flu Shot Mom.

My son got his shot today. A week or two ago, the school district gave a round of shots to 60 kids who were hand-picked by the school nurses as those at highest risk in the district. After several consultations with the Flu Shot Moms, I got huffy and vented on a public bulletin board for my town. Who was making these decisions? How could a child with asthma not be considered among the highest risk children in the district? How could there be 60 other kids in the district worse off than my son? I had a good rant going.

Not two hours later, the phone rang. It was the school, telling me that my son was eligible for the next round of shots. Woohoo! I became Smug Flu Shot Mom!

And then I got to the clinic today (held in the auditorium--how incredibly awkward a waiting room!) and I looked around and saw every kid that sits with mine at the nut-free/dairy-free table. :) E was uncharacteristically recognizing other kids right and left. You get to know the other highly allergic kids, I guess! They seemed to have more than 100 doses this time; we were number 94.

And in a month, we do this all over again. *sigh*

Monday, November 16, 2009


Via Ginmar:

Hassan's faith was incidental to the fact that for all intents and purposes he was just another single white loser who couldn't get a date and as he stewed in his own bitterness he got more and more mad and blamed others for it. Classic. Add to this the anti-Muslim prejudice he apparently experienced, and you got yourself another single white loser shooting, like school shootings, mall shootings, post office shootings, Amish school house shootings, etc. etc., ad nauseum, the end. Add bombs in there and you get Timothy McVeigh. I'm not saying precisely that exposure to feminism would have kicked these guys' asses out into the world and given them coping skills, but the absence of women in their lives was notable, and seems fairly typical of guys who turn violent.

My thoughts exactly.

ETA: I was just interrupted by a student who brought me a gift and told me I was one of her favorite professors here. The gift is a necklace from Tibet. Beautiful!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Lisa Belkin pegs it on what it means to be a working mother. I am sure some working dads are like this*, but I am fairly positive that the rate of working moms who are like this is much higher.

*I have always been bemused by a story that a friend told me about her post-9/11 experience. She and her family lived in Tribeca. She worked a few blocks from home and her husband worked in midtown, and the kids were home with a nanny. When the planes hit the towers, she stayed at work until the towers fell, then she headed toward home to evacuate the kids. When she got there, her husband had already left work, gotten home, and evacuated with the kids. I would have done exactly what her husband did, and my husband would have stayed at work like she did.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What's On My Mind

Can't seem to get up the mental energy for a whole post, so I'll go the numbered-list route:

1. Amy, I'll do Chapter 7 of Different Minds. Eventually.

2. Google Reader: I think I am oversubscribed because I can't quite keep up. So much interesting stuff to read out there, and I blame Prof Hacker for being especially interesting, useful and prolific.

3. Sitcoms: When did they become so awesome again? I haven't been watching more than 1 or 2 a season, but now I have 7 must-see sitcoms: HIMYM, BBT, The Office, 30 Rock, relative newcomer Parks and Rec, and 2 brand new sitcoms, Community and The Middle. At least 3 of these sitcoms feature characters who probably have Asperger's: BBT, Community, and The Middle.

4. Holidays: They're really a mess this year in my family circle, and now everything is further complicated because my nephew's birthday is December 23 (his first birthday is coming up). Not to mention the additional complications that my dad can't travel very far.

5. H1N1: We're in the middle of a clusterf*** because we live in MA but our pediatrician is in RI. But the end result is that Asthma Boy was just invited to get the H1N1 vaccine on Tuesday via the school district. I am guessing he has been identified as high risk, which makes sense because he is Asthma Boy. He's also undergoing sublingual immunotherapy, and who knows what that's doing to his immune system, plus he has an awful case of molluscum that his body isn't getting around to fighting off.

6. My ankle: It is pretty much better now, and I'm left with soreness (arthritis?) in the knees. I'm going up and downstairs pretty well now, and the crutch has long been put aside.

7. Hot air balloons: As I left the house one morning (at 6:45 am!), I glanced to the right and saw one flying over the kids' school.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Different Minds: Chapter 5

Chapter 5 is "Finding Flow: The Wellspring of Creative Endeavor."

What is creativity?

Lovecky looks at different understandings of creativity. Is it original thinking? Problem solving? Problem finding? Is it mental flexibility, the ability to imagine alternatives? Is it building on and elaborating upon the already known? Is is being able to make analogies, seeing that the process by which one thing works could be applied to other areas? Is it divergent thinking ability (fluency of ideas)? (She is less sure about this last one.)

Development of creativity

Young gifted children engage in a lot of imaginative dramatic play, as well as fantasy play (which may lead to an interest in role-playing games as an adult). They also often lead this kind of play, involving friends and/or family. They are more interested in the process of creative play, not the products they can create.
Older gifted children start to become more interested in the products, but not always. They still value the process of playing creatively.
Adolescents take creativity to a further extent, becoming mature enough to work with adults as mentors. They can also accumulate a lot of knowledge, negotiate between the known and the unknown and form /test hypotheses, and use analogy to extend their knowledge.
Unfortunately, asynchrony comes into play here. Asynchrony is when the child's ability to conceive an idea does not match up with the ability to express it. They lack technical skills to give their ideas concrete shape (via words, music, art, science, etc.).
Some researchers speculate that high-achieving students may also be less creative, as if they are making a choice between creativity and achievement. They spend their time achieving success according to the rules of the educational system, but they do not have the kind of time needed to generate creative thinking. Also, some blame the media for pre-programming children to think in certain ways, thus stifling creativity.
Creative gifted children are often very different from the norm; they see things from different perspectives and are less likely to go with the flow. They tend to have unconventional beliefs and ideas. Sometimes the child's creativity can isolate him or her from peers.

Creativity and attention deficits

Gifted kids with ADHD can be highly creative. They tolerate chaos well, they have hyperreactive and flexible minds, and they're willing to go along with unusual ideas and see where they lead. They may have some executive functioning deficits that can make expressing their creativity a challenge. They cannot always recombine parts of a whole into new wholes, and they are primarily holistic thinkers who struggle with details.
It can be challenging for professionals to identify the balance of characteristics of ADHD, creativity and giftedness. Children who have strong ADHD symptoms will be very difficult to manage, but those with milder symptoms may find that their attention deficits have minimal/low impact on their lives. That said, they may need accommodations to help them compensate and thus maximize their creativity.

Gifted kids with AS can lack or seem to lack imagination, but they can be very creative. Demonstrating imagination can involve shifting attention and planning, executive functioning skills that AS kids tend to lack.
Gifted kids with AS tend to be deficient in language when it comes to imagining or predicting social or people-related events. However, they do very well with imagination in other non-social circumstances. Gifted kids with AS can be creative thinkers, but they need to work from already existing knowledge, not be urged to invent something wholly new.

Cognitive and affective aspects of creativity

"Creative people need a combination of six resources...: divergent thinking, problem solving and insight knowledge within a domain; styles of thinking that focus on making one's own rules and working independently; personality traits such as tolerance of ambiguity, moderate risk-taking, and willingness to persevere; intrinsic and extrinsic motivation; and a supportive environment."

Divergent thinking is looking at things from multiple, unusual perspectives. GK (gifted kids) with ADHD are good at this, but they can be easily sidetracked into non-productive, ineffective ways of thinking. AS kids can be good at divergent thinking but can also fail to see the big picture or how the ideas they're having can be put together into a whole. They also don't really understand what the "usual" responses should be because they lack pragmatic language skills.

GK with ADHD are good at problem solving and problem finding (being able to see that there is a questionbut can easily end up with ineffective solutions or, if they lack the ability to work independently, cannot focus enough. GK with AS are good at problem solving and problem finding in their areas of interest. They may lack the ability to explain the problem effectively because they focus on only one part of it.

Visualization is something GK with ADHD and AS are good at. ADHD kids can spend a lot of time visualizing fantasy worlds; AS kids can use visualization effectively to be productive creatively. Lovecky notes Temple Grandin's work on how visualization was so important to her inventions.

GK with ADHD tolerate ambiguity very well, but GL with AS are less able to. Lovecky notes that ADHD kids can sometimes be too open to ambiguity, and they may not be able to critically distinguish among worthwhile ideas. AS kids are more into finding the "right" answers that they have a harder time with ambiguity. They do bettwe with ambiguity with language, enjoying word play and punning.

GK with ADHD work well mainly with intrinsic motivation but may also require short-term extrinsic motivators to help them keep on task and focus. Kids with AS are much more intrinsically motivated when it comes to areas of interest and rarely respond to extrinsic motivators. However, they are hard to motivate at all (intrinsic or extrinsic) when it comes to areas that do not interest them.

Suggestions for developing creativity

*Provide quiet places and unstructured time
*Teach convergent thinking as well as divergent thinking skills
*Understanding the different processes. For example, AS kids will have difficulty with open-ended prompts and need more structuring/scaffolding of a creative assignment
*Use tragic stuff to inspire creativity. (I'm not to thrilled with this suggestion--Wendy)
*Creative work can help students get over bumps in the learning process. (Example: E has some trouble with some things, and Lovecky found that asking him to draw was a way of opening him up and drawing him out. E loves to draw.)
*Control time spent on special interests. As should be obvious, some areas of interest can impede creativity (too much time on video games, for example).
*Some areas of interest are really open-ended, so you have to give kids with these interests more time to develop them.
*Read books to kids that are above their reading level so they can develop more complex language.
*Model your own experiences with creativity with your kids.
*Help kids get started, and work with them to develop a structure for completing tasks when they have a hard time completing them. Offer extrinsic rewards when necessary.

Whew, done! :)

Thursday, October 15, 2009


A week ago, the orthopedist removed my cast and declined to put any additional boot or device on my ankle and pronounced me ready to drive (yay!) and walk on crutches.

What this meant was that my family figured I was ready to 1. go to NY and 2. resume my everyday activities and 3. take care of them.

Today my ankle is rebelling from all the extra activity, so I decided to bang in today. However much I need the rest, though, I know I will end up working on cleaning/organizing.

One of the problems that AS/ADHD kids have is "executive functioning." This means that E will bring his homework folder into the bedroom to show me his spelling words aren't in it, leave it there, go with me into the living room to look for his spelling words then, when his spelling words are found, he will say "Where's my homework folder?" And really not know where to look.

And my husband isn't really strong in this area, either. Yet I keep meeting resistance when I try to get everyone organized. *sigh* My husband made it very clear that while I was in the cast, cleaning was *not* going to be his priority. And now my house is a mess. Now that we have the dog, we have dog hair mixed in with the usual dust, detritus and scraps of paper.

I've been researching books on "executive functioning" as right now that seems to be the major area of concern for E. I have Late, Lost and Unprepared and Smart But Scattered on hold at the library, plus I ordered a copy of Tools of the Mind, the curriculum featured recently in the NY Times and also in Nurtureshock.

Socially, things seem to be improving a little. E now has Cub Scouts every week, which he seems to enjoy (though he's had only one den meeting so far). I still need to work on the social networking with the other parents at school, but I'm starting the process 6 weeks late, and I have to remember it takes some time.

His latest favorite activity is making potholders. I'd bought one of these once upon a time, and a few weeks ago I brought it out for some reason, and he has really taken to it. In fact, we bought a large bag of more loops. He follows the directions beautifully and makes gorgeous designs. He's very good at seeing the patterns and keeping track of everything. But now I have way more too-small potholders than I need. :)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


I'm halfway through this book and it just showed up an hour and a half ago. Fast read.

OK, what I've learned:

1. Don't overpraise.
2. Kids don't get enough sleep.
3. White parents need to acknowledge racial difference instead of refusing to talk about it.
4. Kids lie a lot. They do it to avoid punishment/disapproval. They will tell the truth more if there is no threat of punishment/disapproval.
5. IQ tests are not predictive. NYC schools make decisions on gifted and talented placement for kids based on one single IQ test administered at the age of 5. This sucks for the late bloomers.
6. Siblings fight not because they resent the other taking away a parent's attention. They fight over toys. Fighting is ok so long as they have more net positive interactions.
7. Teenagers lie because they don't want to disappoint their parents and because they're practically programmed to. When teens argue with you, it's a good thing. They're negotiating, and when they negotiate, they feel that rules exist but that their parents are being reasonably flexible, and they are less likely to lie.

It's all very interesting to read, but I don't feel like there's a huge lot of there there. However, the endnotes are extensive and probably full of supporting info/evidence.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Different Minds: Meta

AmyP has said that Different Minds by Deirdre Lovecky feels like 3 books in one. She's so right! I'm currently struggling with summarizing Chapter 4, which is about Cognitive Differences in Gifted Kids with Attention Deficits.

There is the book that explains the learning deficits and all the previous research on these disorders.
There is the book that describes kids who are gifted and have one or more of these learning deficits.
There is the book that gives suggestions, like a how-to manual, for dealing with these kids.

It's a huge amount of information.

The funny thing is that specific as this book is, I still have questions about where my son fits in. Is he visual-spatial? Or is he auditory-sequential? I was convinced he was the former, then I read the latter and was convinced he was that. He doesn't hear very well, doesn't process information that way very effectively. So how could he be auditory-sequential? Could he be visual-sequential? Spatial-sequential?

We're having a lot of difficulty getting him to follow directions. My kids are so different. My daughter will follow directions the first or sometimes second time, but she'll bitch the whole time about it. E will put it off and put it off and put it off until you're screaming at him, then he'll do it with a smile on his face, like he can't think of anything better to do than put the yogurt lid in the trash can.

OK, I've put off tackling the rest of Chapter 4 long enough.

Different Minds: Chapter 4

I'm totally doing this the opposite of the way I told AmyP I would. Now I'm working on Chapter 4 of Different Minds, on "Cognitive Issues: How Those with a Different Mind Think."

My summary:
Gifted kids with AS or ADHD have less flexible learning styles, inefficient executive functioning, some troubles with central coherence, and most importantly outputs of learning, i.e., being able to demonstrate their knowledge.

Lovecky uses a computer analogy to explain cognitive functioning. Abstract reasoning is like telling how many things the computer (child) can do. Learning styles of children are like the different computer OSes (Windows, Mac, Linux). Executive functioning is like the efficiency of the computer--how fast can it be done/how fast can the child accomplish these tasks?

She breaks down this chapter into 4 areas:

1. Abstract reasoning and concept formation

Gifted children are generally good at abstract reasoning. They see things and ask questions about, make conclusions about, classify, categorize, and analyze these things.
(An example using my son: I'd bought a package of little plastic animals to decorate a cake. He opened the package and divided them into 4 categories--animals that came in pairs and animals that were single, then he broke both those groups up into animals that could stand by themselves and those that couldn't. Then he ripped a piece of paper in 4 and wrote down each category and put the animals on top of each category.) he did all of this while his sister and I were talking about my plans for decorating the cake.)
Gifted children ask complex questions and need complex responses, especially by the time they reach an intellectual age of 12 or 13, which some gifted children do as early as 5.
Gifted kids with ADHD will make hypotheses to explain their observations, but kids with AS do not do so as often.
Gifted kids can recognize patterns and algorithms, and some may create mathematical knowledge themselves rather than being taught it.
Asynchrony is when there is a range of these cognitive abilities in the same child based on interest levels, the kinds of tasks the kids do, and the kids' personalities/temperaments. They might be intellectually advanced in one area yet not in another, even if it's closely related. The example Lovecky gives is of a child who uses Hawking's theories to explain how Santa can travel to so many different houses and get down chimneys, but didn't question Santa's existence.

2. Learning Styles
Lovecky talks about two main learning styles: visual-spatial and auditory-sequential. Lovecky links this to left brain (auditory, verbal, analytical, sequential) and right brain (visual, pictorial, holistic, intuitive).Gifted children often excel in both areas, but some do not and need evaluation. Interestingly, studies show that mathematically adept students tend to have deficits in verbal areas, but verbally adept students tend to be more balanced.

Visual spatial learners "like to picture things. Asked to think about a problem they will use a picture or spatial schema or find a mental pattern.... [They] can be very creative, quick to grasp concepts and find patterns. They excel at tasks that require inductive reasoning, holistic thinking, and seeing complex relationships among parts." Visual-spatial learners can be weak in sequential thinking, planning, organization and details. Research has shown some connection to dyslexia. Also, there are difficulties of visual-spatial thinkers with central auditory processing disorders, who have trouble following directions, seeing the main point, prioritizing details, and interpreting qualifiers.
ADHD kids tend to be visual-spatial learners. Gifted kids with ADHD can have difficulty expressing their visual-spatial ideas on paper and sharing them with others. Others have problems with impulsivity that prevent them form seeing the "big picture." However, gifted children with ADHD can be intuitive and creative and think outside the box, from new perspectives.

Lovecky suggests the following strategies:
*Emphasise visualization in tasks (i.e., color coding)
*Emphasize inductive reasoning, allowing kids to use intuition to find the answer, then support it with data.
*Use visual models and diagrams to help with sequencing.
*Big picture first, then smaller steps.
*Use graphic organizers to teach organization; use categories.
*Work on listening skills by having the child watch the speaker's mouth and repeat the directions.

Gifted kids with ADHD who are slow to process info can have trouble because they "form partial wholes, or wholes based on erroneous info." These students need to have teaching slowed down for them and have the "big picture" presented to them first.
Gifted kids with AS have a lot of trouble with holistic thinking and cannot create a "whole" form the parts very easily. (This goes back to weak "central coherence.")
This is why people with AS also have trouble with facial recognition (hard to put the parts into a whole to recognize a person) and with social situations (reading body language and facial expression and hearing words in order to understand the full social situation).

Lovecky has the following suggestions for visual/non-holistic learners:
*Similar to other visual-spatial learners. Need more time to complete tasks and more space, as well as compensatory tools such as computers, calculators, etc.
*Teach these kids by starting with the big picture, breaking it down into parts, then reiterating the big picture again.
*Build a "repertoire of parts" so they can construct wholes.
*Provide models of what a completed task looks like.

Auditory-sequential learners tend to thrive in traditional school settings, which are geared towards auditory-sequential learners. Whereas visual-spatial thinkers learn with pictures, auditory-sequential learn with words.

Auditory-sequential learners learn with facts and words.. They can work on smaller parts without needing the big picture. They are good at deductive reasoning and developing hypotheses. They can pick out main points. They're usually early readers and good at spelling.

It's harder to see auditory-sequential learners' weaknesses because they are easily compensated for. They may have some difficulty with putting together parts to see the whole, and they may have some weakness in spatial organization.

Lovecky suggests the following strategies for auditory-sequential learners:
*Encourage use of words (speaking and listening)
*Encourage debate, seeing both sides of an issue
*Use verbal skills to compensate for visual and spatial weaknesses
*Make lists of steps/rules to help overcome weaknesses in visual-spatial thinking
*Use auditory-based strategies for studying
*Encourage them to play games that require visual-spatial skills to develop in these areas.

Gifted ADHD kids may be strong auditory learners but lack sequential skills. They have a harder time putting it all together into a big picture and rely too much on the smaller parts they can see.
Lovecky brings up NVLD (Non-Verbal Learning Disorder) here. These kids have great difficulty with organizing their learning. They have difficulty writing because they don't know where to begin. They would benefit from very specific steps given to approach a writing or other similar assignment.
These kids can forget and lose things very often. They may hyperfocus on details. Sometimes they have OCD tendencies.

Gifted kids with AS are similar, specifically in determining what parts are most important and focusing on those. They are good when it comes to memorizing, but weaker when it comes to organizing material. They are prone to rigid thinking, specifically, thinking that because something happened one way once, it will happen the same way forever. They have limited perspectives and can't see that there are solutions that haven't occurred to them. They can be "overwhelmed by complexiy" very easily.

Lovecky suggests the following for Auditory Learners with NVLD:
*Encourage reading/listening to learn new content.
*Use logic and deduction for problem-solving.
*Teach brainstorming and looking for multiple alternative solutions
*Encourage them to memorize facts/info then show how they relate to a larger concept.
*Start with the big picture, teach the steps, then go back and look at the big picture again.
*Explain the "why" of an action, not just the steps
*Reduce "visual overload" and distractions.
*Build on existing verbal skills whenever possible.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Different Minds

Xantippe's Blog is having a book club on Different Minds: Gifted Children with ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, and Other Learning Deficits. I think I pointed her to this book; in full disclosure, the author, Deirdre Lovecky, was the one who evaluated my son. Dr. Lovecky hasn't mentioned the book to me at all; I found it when I was researching her before I called to arrange an evaluation for my son. And for the record, my son tested as highly gifted (IQ over 145) and having Asperger Syndrome.

I'll summarize Chapter 3, "Attention Deficits: Asperger Syndrome."

Lovecky explains that gifted children with AS have "difficulties with communication and social development." They want to have friends, but they don't really have interest in other children. They see the world as revolving around them. They're really kind of self-centered. Lovecky breaks the chapter down into 5 sections.

1. Development and types of AS

Once upon a time, AS was seen as HFA (high functioning autism). It was Hans Asperger who started to notice some differences. AS kids usually are fairly normal in language and social development but start to show deficits when they enter formalized school settings. They tend to rely more on rote memorization in interacting with the world than in processing new information and applying it in new ways to adapt to the situation. They prefer routines and order, and the lack of such leads to anxiety and depression. They lack pragmatic language skills (knowing what to say and when to say it) and they often have motor clumsiness. (My apologies for the too-close paraphrase.)
Lovecky goes into the difficulties of diagnosing AS; clinicians don't usually follow the DSM criteria. There does seem to be a genetic component, as AS seems to cluster in families.

AS co-exists with a lot of conditions, especially ADHD. Here are some ways to tell them apart:

* AS kids have more developmental delays than ADHD kids. AS kids are also especially
* AS kids have deficits in social reciprocity, two-sided relationships. AS kids have idiosyncratic behaviors that make it hard to connect with other kids. AS kids like rules and will obey them as long as the rules make sense to them.
* AS kids are more anxious about changes inroutine.
* AS kids have trouble seeing the big picture and get caught up in details.
* Both AS and ADHD kids have impulsive behaviors, lack structure/organization, and can't control or modulate their behavior very well.

Lovecky then explores co-existence with other issues such as OCD, Tourette, and other anxiety/depressive disorders.

2. Symptoms of AS
* Kids with AS have social deficits. They don't understand reciprocity and turn-taking, and they don't know how to negotiate activities. They also can be teased for being different; gifted kids have extra trouble because they're teased for their academic success. AS kids have trouble sharing interests with others; they are too one-sided. They have trouble with empathy and understanding how others feel and what others need. Their obsessive interests make it hard for them to connect with others who don't share that interest. They often have stereotypies (repetitive behaviors) as well.
* Kids with AS have difficulties communicating. They mostly have trouble with nonverbal communication, such as reading body language. Their pragmatic (social use of) language is weak. Prosody (sound of speech) can be flat and lack emotional inflection. They also talk "too much and too long" on their favorite subjects, as if they were lecturing their audience. Thus, conversational skills are weak. Since they have trouble making a coherent whole out of information (as opposed to focusing on details), they can't really follow the thread of a conversation for a long time. They don't remember things about other people that can help them make a connection. They can also lack the ability to identify irony or sarcasm.
*It's unclear whether AS kids have higher IQs on average, though there seems to be some connection. AS kids do have executive function deficits, meaning a difficulty in organizing, planning, and being mentally flexible.
*Empathy is impaired in AS kids. They also can't control their feelings/responses and they have no "language of feelings." They can also develop emotional obsessions.
*AS kids have motor functioning deficits, a lack of manual dexterity, awkward gait and balance, and "dyspraxia" (planning/controlling movement).
*Sensory functioning issues are not part of DSM criteria but are observed in AS kids. These issues involve touch (needing or avoiding it), overarousal, and mixed sensory perceptions (synaesthesia).

3. Understanding AS
There are three areas of cognitive difference that Lovecky focuses on: Theory of Mind, central coherence, and executive function.
*Theory of Mind involves the ability to understand that other people have other perspectives and apply that knowledge in social interactions.
*Central coherence involves AS kids' inability to see the "big picture." Most people can take in information and see the main points, how the information works together to form a whole. AS kids have difficulty with this because all pieces of information seem equally important.
*Executive function refers to tasks involving organizing, planning, transitioning and handling these effectively. When AS kids hyperfocus on an activity they prefer, they tend to have difficulty moving on to another activity. If they are not interested in an activity, they do not focus on it. They find it difficult to follow directions because they can't see the big picture and get bogged down in minor details. They can't be flexible and transfer information from one area to another very easily.

4. Gifted Children with AS as compared to Typical AS Kids
Now Lovecky gets into the meat of it: the characteristics of gifted children who have AS. As AS kids have many similarities with gifted kids, it can be hard to distinguish among the 3 groups: AS gifted kids, gifted non-AS kids, and AS non-gifted kids.
There has been some research on gifted children with AS, but not much.
* Gifted children with AS have more "passion to learn," a wider variety of interests they are passionate about, and more ability to make connections among the different areas of interest.
* Gifted children with AS can be imaginative and creative and involve others in their play. They also can use their visual skills to solve problems. (Note from Wendy: Temple Grandin's work comes to mind.)
* Gifted children with AS seem to develop vocabulary and reading skills more quickly.

Gifted Children with AS as compared to Typical Gifted Kids
* Gifted kids with AS may have a more difficult time making connections than Typical Gifted Kids (TGK). They may have a perfectionist approach that leads them to persevere in their field of interest. They have more difficulty communicating their imaginative and creative ideas to others. Gifted kids with AS have difficulty with *output*. They have the understanding but cannot communicate it effectively. Gifted students with AS also have trouble with interpreting literature. They also show the ability to adhere to moral rules/values but less ability to be flexible in applying them. TGK are better able to socialize than gifted kids with AS, who act immaturely in most social situations.

5. Positive Aspects of AS
Social: loyalty, dependability, freedom from sexism or prejudice, being upfront with what they think, determination and disinclination to be swayed by doubters, ability to follow patterns/rules and/or notice trends, avoidance of small talk, sincerity, truth-telling.
Cognitive: Interest in words, good verbal skills, visual thinking skills, detail-oriented, sometimes photographic memory, encyclopedic knowledge of topics of interest.
Personal/emotional: Sensory sensitivity leading to interesting perspectives, trusting of others, compassionate and caretaking nature.

Lovecky: "In helping gifted children with AS, it is important to work on the areas of deficits to encourage as much growth as possible. At the same time, it is vital that these gifted children be afforded the chance to develop areas of strength and interest. Their interests are the key to adult success."


My thoughts:
My favorite part was the section on Positive Aspects of AS because these are exactly the things I find so charming about my son. :) The more I can get into his mind, the happier I am because I love seeing the world from his perspective, and he and I share interest in words/language.

My concern is that in a (school) world where rote memorization is emphasized and the basic skills are the focus of testing, my son will be overlooked because he is already good at those things. He longs for people who share his interests, and I want for him to be able to talk with those children/people as much as possible. In those kinds of arenas, he will perhaps best be able to build some of the social skills he needs.

Another important section here was the section on Theory of Mind, cognitive coherence, and executive functioning. It's these abilities to make connections that are so crucially absent in many AS kids. Gifted kids with AS are better at that, but my experience is that I'll run across huge gaps in my son's understanding that stand out like holes in Swiss cheese.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Disability has been on my mind lately. It's so true that you have to have experienced a disability in order to truly understand how stacked the world is against people with disabilities, even those who are temporarily disabled, like myself.

My building has two elevators. One goes to the courtyard entrance, which is wheelchair/disability-friendly. The other doesn't. I can take only the one elevator to go meet my drivers. It's amazing how long it takes.

I've found that the door to the handicapped stall in the bathroom opens towards me. When I am outside of the door, I have to pull it towards me (standing precariously on crutches). When I'm in the stall, I have to pull it towards me. Not easy. I've started using the non-handicapped stall because it's easier to close the door.

Speaking of doors, I never noticed how many of them are heavy. It's pretty awkward to use the crutches I am using for balance and propulsion as door stops. I'm surprised I haven't fallen yet.

I'm also considering my son's disability and more and more convinced of my own. How can I teach a boy social skills that I found so difficult to master? None of it comes easy to me. I lack patience as much as he does; I just hide it better. I hear myself respond to him and it's as if I am hearing my parents again, 35 years later, talking to me. I can't ask E a question without getting a guessing game in return. ("Why can't you just answer the question?" I hear my father's voice say.) He has become the master at finding the loophole. ("Eric, don't play soccer in the house!" "I'm not *playing* soccer. I have no one to play with. I'm not on a soccer field playing a game." Grrrr.) This weekend he wanted to know what perpendicular meant. He couldn't understand that perpendicular is about a relationship of two things. He wanted to say that the hammer was perpendicular. We tried to tell him the *parts* of the hammer were perpendicular.

He is also bored at school already. I can't decide what to do. I'm not sure a "gifted" school would work for him. I'm not sure an Asperger's-only school would work for him. Maybe a Montessori school would be good as it would allow him to explore his individual passions. But I don't want to experiment with all different schools, because he doesn't like transitions. It's easiest to keep him where he is and just try to get his work made more challenging. He shouldn't have to deal with spelling words like "if" and "mitt" and "fish" when he can spell most of his sister's 5th grade spelling words. He wants the challenge. His brain is craving it. Were his social skills any better, I'd insist on skipping him a grade (I skipped 2nd grade, myself).

Both E's disability and my own broken ankle also remind me about how hard it is to ask for help. We have help for both our disabilities required by law, but that doesn't make it any easier to ask for it.

One last thing: I have spoken often about how wonderful my husband's and my workplaces are, how family friendly they are. We can now add a new level of support: my dean is arranging for her administrative assistant to drive me home two days a week (the AA doesn't mind at all--it's nice to get out of the office for a half hour). I cannot imagine any other boss in the world arranging such a thing. I am very lucky.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Food for Thought

In our textbook is an essay by Susan Brady Konig, "They've Got To Be Carefully Taught." In it, Konig decries the insistence of schools on instilling ideas about racial difference in children. It is better, she feels, for children not to be taught about racial difference:

So now these sweet, innocent babies who thought they were all the same are becoming culturally aware. Two little girls are touching each other's hair and saying, ``Your hair is blonde, just like mine.'' Off to one side a little dark-haired girl stands alone, excluded. She looks confused as to what to do next. She knows she's not blonde. Sure, all children notice these things eventually, but, thanks to the concerted efforts of their teachers, these two- and three-year-olds are talking about things that separate rather than connect.

Apparently, Konig is wrong to think that such attempts to instill multiculturalism are damaging to kids. In fact, Konig's strategy of denying racial difference actually backfires, according to a new study. The Newsweek article discussing the study asks:

We all want our children to be unintimidated by differences and have the social skills necessary for a diverse world. The question is, do we make it worse, or do we make it better, by calling attention to race?

The researchers think that we make a mistake in believing children have no ideas about racial difference until they are taught that there are. Remember Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God: "Aw, aw, I'm colored!" she says after seeing herself in a photograph. Until then, she had thought she looked like everyone else.

That moment is interpreted by scholars as evidence that children do not understand racial difference until it is pointed out to them, but that may be a gross misinterpretation of the moment. The point is not that children do not understand racial difference. The children understand that Janie is of a different race; they can recognize her in the photo. It is Janie herself who lacks self-knowledge. Until that moment, she cannot associate herself and her identity with that of others who are deemed "colored" and thus treated differently.

That is a digression, but it goes to show how badly we have wanted to see people as born blind to racial difference, and it might explain why the problem of the color-line, what DuBois called the most important problem of the 20th century, might also be the most important one of the 21st, and probably was of the 18th and 19th centuries as well.

Omi and Winant have a famous definition of racial formation as "a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies." The work of the researchers mentioned in this article seem to support that:

We might imagine we're creating color-blind environments for children, but differences in skin color or hair or weight are like differences in gender—they're plainly visible. Even if no teacher or parent mentions race, kids will use skin color on their own, the same way they use T-shirt colors. Bigler contends that children extend their shared appearances much further—believing that those who look similar to them enjoy the same things they do. Anything a child doesn't like thus belongs to those who look the least similar to him. The spontaneous tendency to assume your group shares characteristics—such as niceness, or smarts—is called essentialism.

It is race's apparentness, its obviousness, that makes it the organizing principle of difference. We can see the difference, and we ascribe meanings to that difference.

It's all very fascinating, and I'm looking forward to responses to the article on other blogs.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Insane People

Yglesia writes:

Probably the biggest moral of the story is that the contemporary conservative movement is run by crazy people with no scruples, who’ll turn anything into a pretext to level wild accusations.

Thanks to Lexis Nexis, I found an article written by Thomas Ferraro of the AP in 1991 on Bush's speech to school children. Probably in violation of copyright law, I repost it here:

With reports showing American students lagging behind, President Bush challenged them in a televised address Tuesday to take responsibility for their own fate and hit the books.

''Education means the differences between a good future and a lousy one,'' said Bush, sitting before a camera in an eighth grade classroom at Alice Deal Junior High in the nation's capital.

The self-proclaimed ''Education President,'' criticized for paying inadequate attention to schools himself, delivered his pep talk a day after release of the latest in a series of studies on the grim state of American education.

The report found that the nation has a long way to go to reach president's education goals, which include making students No. 1 in the world in math and science by the year 2000.

The report by Bush's National Education Goals Panel showed that five of six eighth graders don't know enough math to move up to the ninth grade, and most have difficulty reading a newspaper.

Bush's address was beamed nationwide and the White House expressed hope that it was shown at virtually all of the country's 110,000 schools, which have a combined enrollment of 46.8 million.

Although students at Alice Deal Junior High, a magnet school in the city's fashionable northwest, gave Bush a big hand when he arrived, many were fidgeting by the time he finished his 12-minute speech.

The president spoke frankly.

''I can't understand for the life of me what's so great about being stupid,'' Bush said. He implored youngsters to ''block out the kids who think it's not cool to be smart'' and ''work harder, learn more.''

He said, ''Let's put it on the line. You've got the brains. Now put them to work. Not for me, but for you.''

Among Bush's six education goals for year 2000 is making schools safe and drug free. On Monday, for the fourth time in a month, there was a shooting at a Washington area high school.

''As a student, you have the right to be physically safe at school,'' Bush told students. ''Demand discipline. If good people chicken out, bad people take control.''

Bush has been accused by Democrats of focusing most of his attention on foreign policy at the expense of domestic concerns, including education.

Although the president's top education goal is making all children ''ready to learn'' by the time they start school, he has yet to seek full funding of the Head Start program.

Other education goals include: raising the high school graduation rate from 83 percent to 90 percent; obtaining 100 percent literacy among adults, and making students competent in all the basics.

Bush closed his address by saying, ''Let me leave you with a simple message: Every time you walk through that door, make it your mission to get a good education.''

He also asked students ''let me know how you are doing. Write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals.''

Lucas Fleirscher, president of the school's 9th grade class, presented Bush with a sweatshirt inscribed with the message: ''A Child is a Terrible Thing to Waste.''

Please note that Bush asked kids to "Write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals."

Monday, August 31, 2009


I was always a voracious reader as a child. Reading that was required for school barely pinged my radar; I read it and moved on to something else, like the Narnia Chronicles or Madeline L'Engle or Alcott or Hardy. I liked doing well in school, so I liked doing the reading and getting a good grade on the test. I remember not liking Silas Marner and hating Great Expectations. I was meh on MacBeth but really *liked* Hamlet.

There's a mini-debate going on in the blogosphere over English classes that no longer center around required reading but instead are run as reading workshops in which students choose their own books. The NY Times reports, Meg Cabot responds and points to an essay on the Accelerated Reader program and Smart Bitches responds to Cabot as does Linda Holmes of NPR. Joanne Jacobs wants to see both required common reading and reading choice.

A lot of this comes down to effective teaching, I think. I've gained a bit of a rep in my college for teaching "The Office" in my lit survey class. But I taught it alongside "Bartleby the Scrivener" and "Death of a Salesman," two texts I usually find difficult to engage students in. I throw in "Dirge" by Kenneth Fearing, too, and it makes a nice little cohesive unit about work, consumerism, capitalism, and masculinity. I recently watched "Office Space" for the first time (yeah, I know--in my defense it came out while I was 6 months pregnant with my first child) and Peter is a kind of Bartleby-esque figure.

I think Cabot misses the boat totally, though. It seems to me we have a series of challenges when it comes to reading. We have to:
*get students to see value in reading (Cabot would argue therefore we have to let them read what they want)
*continually challenge students to read more complex language (one of the arguments for developmentally contructed reading lists--increase the challenge bit by bit)
*teach students about how language works.

This latter aspect is where Cabot misses the boat, but I have heard her complaint echoed again and again, by students and by friends who complain about their days in high school. She writes:

I don’t think there should be mandatory reading lists in school. I cannot think of a single book I enjoyed that I was required to read in school….

…with the exceptions of books I had read before they were assigned to me in school, like To Kill A Mockingbird, and Catcher in the Rye, which were then ruined by someone going on and on about all the “symbolism” in them, and what the authors really meant, which, as an author myself, I can tell you–THE PEOPLE WRITING ABOUT THESE BOOKS DO NOT KNOW. Seriously. THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT THE AUTHOR REALLY MEANT AT ALL, AND ARE MORE THAN LIKELY WRONG. THIS IS WHY THESE AUTHORS ARE IN HIDING.

How is it that understanding symbolism can *ruin* a book for someone?

Furthermore, isn't understanding symbolism (and metaphor and tone) a crucial lifelong learning skill? Isn't it essential to understand how writers can influence us with their words? Doesn't symbolism, metaphor and tone exist outside of fictional writing?

When I'm teaching writing, I often use a passage from this essay, written by Mona Charen:

On Dec. 10, 2003, freedom took two body blows. The first was the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to permit the limitation of political speech. This is not exotic dancing or flag burning. This is "Vote for Sam Smith" -- the beating heart of our democracy. The Supreme Court has just tied a gag around our mouths, and most of the intellectual class is delighted....

Liberals have howled for three solid years now that in 2000, the conservatives on the court stampeded over the law to place their preferred candidate in the White House. (The truth is that the Democrats had successfully suborned the Florida Supreme Court to flout the law and the U.S. Supreme Court merely stopped them from hijacking the election.) But look carefully at McConnell vs. Federal Election Commission, and what do you find? The conservatives on the court were vehemently opposed to this assault on speech despite the fact that these restrictions will undoubtedly favor incumbents.

When my students are done reading it, I ask them if they know what Charen is talking about. They have no clue. I say, well, is it good or bad? They know it's bad. In this case, it's so obvious that Charen is deliberately using imagery of violence to describe McCain-Feingold.

It's important that they learn those skills, and richly written literature can help them learn. They need to understand how word choice contributes to tone because they need to be able to interpret tone in an age where most communication is done online in written language. They may not want to read "Bartleby the Scrivener," but they need to understand precisely how pompous and self-serving the narrator is, and how Melville is crafting the story to mock the narrator.

Scholarship of popular culture can help draw out the ways that seemingly unserious writers also use the elements of literature, patterns of imagery, meaningful symbols, in order to craft a particular response from readers. Plot is one element, but use of language is another.

I am never one who believes in the One True Way of teaching something. My feeling is that you have to use what works with that group of students and adapt accordingly. This is why I would find it hard to teach anywhere with a standardized curriculum, and I'll be honest that I chafe a bit against having a required textbook. The problem is there is so much at stake--or so much perceived to be at stake--with K-12 education that it's difficult to be that adaptable.

I think if we had less high stakes testing, we could see more experimenting from teachers trying to increase the challenge of the reading selections while still promoting the joy of reading.

Friday, August 28, 2009

I'd like to think that any officer would have noticed something weird, but I suspect it was a good thing that the officers who first met Philip Garrido and his two daughters at UCBerkeley were women. (This link doesn't mention one officer's name, but I'm pretty sure from a different article that both officers were women.)

I'm telling you--that area of CA is weird. Tracy (where Melissa Huckaby allegedly murdered Sandra Cantu and where the Schumachers kept a teenage boy imprisoned) is about an hour away.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I understand that what I am about to write has absolutely no basis in what anyone would consider acceptable evidence. It's just a hunch.

But my gd, Katie Roiphe must be miserable.

My general experience is that conservatives and people who make really really stupid arguments (note: these two groups usually consist of the same people) usually are projecting their own feelings on others. The more bizarre and out-there the accusation, the more likely it is that they're masking their own feelings.

"Why won't feminists admit the pleasure of infants?" the subhead to Roiphe's article reads. She is amazed that her favorite feminist authors never had children or had only one. She sees feminist writers as minimizing the pleasures of motherhood:

Historically, feminists have emphasized the difficulty, the drudgery of new motherhood. They have tried to analogize childcare to the work of men; and so for a long time, women have called motherhood a "vocation." The act of caring for a baby is demanding, and arduous, of course, but it is wilder and more narcotic than any kind of work I have ever done.

I think Roiphe has mixed up cause and effect. The only women writers that men would take seriously were childless and.or who wrote about how motherhood was a vocation. If they started writing about the pleasures of motherhood, they would be taken far less seriously. Many writers have pushed through those barriers and written about motherhood. Tillie Olsen wrote about the pleasures and pains of motherhood in "Mother to Daughter, Daughter to Mother: A Daybook." From "Tell Me a Riddle," when Eva visits her daughter and brand new granddaughter:

"A new baby. How many warm seductive babies."

From "I Stand Here Ironing":

"She was a beautiful baby. She blew shining bubbles of sound. She loved motion, loved light, loved color and music and textures. She would lie on the floor in her blue overalls patting the surface so hard in ecstasy her hands and feet would blur."

Roiphe's argument only makes sense if you ignore the many feminist writers who did write about the pleasures of motherhood. Or it makes sense as the ravings of a woman who is trying to persuade herself and those who know her of her devotion to her child.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cape Cod or Bust? Bust.

My friend Ernie used to always say "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it."

I wished for some quiet time to read and enjoy sitting by the pond at the house we're renting on Cape Cod.

Well, I got it. Tuesday night we were biking back from an ice cream place when a biking clusterfuck happened, I tipped over and couldn't get my right foot out of the pedal clip in time. Broke my ankle: spiral fracture of the distal fibula. I'd post a pic of the beautiful wishbone-shaped fracture as seen on my x-ray, but I don't have a scanner, and the CD they gave me with my images works only on Windoze, and I haven't set up my Macbook to run Windoze yet.

I am still amazed that apparently I did not let lose any "unacceptable" language in front of the kids when I fell because it hurt so badly I thought I was going to throw up.

Yesterday I spent most of the day getting it cared for. First thing was to get an in-network doctor to look at it. That was a bitch and a half. I spoke to a "find a physician outside of RI" rep (she was located in Minnesota) and a customer service rep, and then my husband spoke to a CS rep because he had a different question about the deductible. It ends up we have 3 kinds of deductibles! A deductible for out of network care, a deductible for an individual's uncovered expenses and a deductible for the family's uncovered expenses. Wow.

Anyway, what no one at BCBS could tell me was that the walk-in center in Harwich was part of Cape COd Hospital which WAS covered under BCBS. However, the provider directory says no such thing. It also says there are no orthopedists in my plan within 50 miles of my zip code.

Fuck this health insurance/health care system. Just fuck it. Anyway, $125 later ($25 for the walk-in center to x-ray my foot and send me to CCH, which was $100 for ER care) and $8 for the crutches, which could be purchased only from a place in Yarmouth, apparently, I made it home, exhausted. We were all exhausted--kids, husband, me.

Now I have to contemplate the difficulties of what happens when a parent is incapacitated. I have crutches, but I can barely get around in them today. My body is still adjusting to having to use different muscles, and I'm sore all over. It doesn't feel bad enough to use pain meds, but maybe I should.

The other issue is that apparently the mom is not allowed to get sick/incapacitated. My kids are so nonplussed they don't know what to do. They're all starting to realize, I think, how much they depend on me keeping everything running smoothly. Right now they're in annoying stage. "Pick the crap up off the floor so I don't trip over it getting around on my crutches" is met with blank stares or annoyed sighs. Asking them to get me something so Ken doesn't have to run around to do it is met with resistance. Asperger's boy is actually a bit better than his older and supposedly more mature sister, who seems personally offended by my injury.

I think today is emotional angst day, though, so I'm willing to give it a little longer. Ken is going to talk to them while they're out on their outing. Meanwhile, my goal is to accomplish the following:
1. Bathe somehow. I stink. I swear, I needed a shower before the accident. It's way worse now.
2. Read my book (Hot Pursuit by Suzanne Brockmann).
3. Watch Monday's ep of The Closer.

I also have to work through a whole lot of other problems. I broke my right ankle, so I can't drive. How I am supposed to parent when I can't drive, I don't know. Also, we have 2 cars here on the Cape, and I have to figure out how to get two cars home when we have one driver. I also have to find an orthopedist to get me a cast, and I have to find out how long it's going to be so I can figure out how I'm going to get to and from work when it starts for me on September 2.

Some vacation! And it started so nicely. :(

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vacation at the Cape

The family and I have arrived at our rental house on Cape Cod. The goal for the next week: Read lots of books, rest, relax, recharge, and ride my bike on the Cape's famous Rail Trail.

My son digs into the sand on our first night here:

Saturday, August 01, 2009

More Summer Camp

Via DoubleX (which I almost never read), I found this article on a Berkeley mom's guilt over sending her 6 year old to day camp 3 out of 12 weeks of summer.

I really do think that what we need is to have more *longer-lasting* camps, not these one-week things. The longer camps give kids the time to build relationships and friendships. For the self-employed who have a little more flexibility, like the author of this article, the kids could go to camp for a shorter day, not 9 to 5 or 8:30 to 3:30.

I'm also interested in how so many of these articles are written by urban-ish moms from Berkeley or the NYC area. How about moms in Birmingham, Alabama? What do they do? Moms in Fargo, ND? Moms in Greene, NY? Why is it always Berkeley-area moms or NYC-area moms?

Friday, July 31, 2009


No wonder this country is so fucked up.

Mom lies and teaches her kids to lie in order to save money.. Via Consumerist.

I'm with Ben: "Can't wait to hear what this girl starts lying about to her mother when she's 16."


My kids have been attending camp at the local zoo this week. First, we love the zoo, though we know it so well by now that there are few to no surprises. So I think we thought ZooCamp would give us a peek inside at something we've never seen before. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. It's just a camp that happens to take place at the zoo. They don't really get an inside look behind the scenes, or learn to be zookeepers or anything like that.

My 10 year old daughter is doing fine, but my 7 year old son is not as happy. I think he expected more. Right now, he's at his tennis class, which he prefers to ZooCamp. I'll pick him up in 15 minutes and bring him to camp for the last day.

So I am a bit underwhelmed by ZooCamp and happy as usual with the camp the kids have been attending the rest of the summer. Maybe it's my cautious/transition-disliking kids, but I am happier with a camp where there is more continuity. The camp run at the school across the street offers my kids a familiar set of friends and counselors and activities. There are new people every summer, but not the constant barrage of change.

I know many parents during the summer ferry kids from soccer camp to baseball camp to art camp to zoo camp--a different camp every week or two. Obviously, this works best for the parents/kids or they wouldn't do it, but in my pessimistic, half-empty-glass sort of way, I can't help wondering what is lost when we send kids to a different camp every week. They learn to make friends in one-week increments, then move on. There's no community. What is the chance that we will have playdates with the friend S made in ZooCamp? She lives in TownofCorruption, a good 20-30 minute drive away. I've never met her parents. On the other hand, at the camp across the street, S has made friends with H. H is not in her school (she's in the other elementary school in our town) but they girls will see each other again in middle school in a year. We might even set up a playdate or two; I can meet her parents more easily. S worked diligently for days on a birthday present (a friendship bracelet/necklace thing) for H. She can't build that kind of connection with someone from ZooCamp.

Exposing kids to new things is nice, but I guess I lean more toward deepening and building on what's already there. Maybe it's because I lack deep relationships in this community because I didn't grow up here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


So, I was at the dentist yesterday for my semi-annual cleaning, and the hygienist was late getting to me, which is unusual. When she came out, she told me why she was late. She had left her 13 and 9 year old sons home alone today and they had just called her because some guy drove up in a truck and started taking pics of their house, even walking around on their deck. The kids didn't call the police first because they were worried that they'd get their parents in trouble for leaving them home alone. First, I have the urge to submit this story to Free Range Kids. I was surprised to hear another hygienist she was telling complain about how the kids' concern showed that "the government" was interfering too much in our lives. I find it interesting how sometimes the police are the "government" and sometimes they are just citizens doing their jobs to protect us from people yelling in their own homes.

Second, I was talking with her a bit to calm her down and reassure her, and we got on the subject of parents leaving their kids alone, and we started talking about this story. To sum up, a bunch of kids from a neighboring town were drinking and boating, and one of the kids deliberately ran over another kid with the boat. He was recently convicted, and this story tells the most complete story of what happened that day.

Anyway, she was telling me that she hangs out with families from this town because of hockey, and one thing she noticed is that the kids' parents DRINK so much. Their idea of any good time is to drink till they're drunk. If they have a spare hour while the kids are at practice, they go out for a drink. So it's no wonder drinking is such a horrible problem in that town. I mean, sure, kids will probably drink as part of growing up and experimentation, etc., but the culture of drinking is really crazy. And you can see from that article that the day of the accident, those kids had been drinking since lunchtime.

So it was interesting for me to run across this post via Atrios today. We recognize binge drinking as a problem, but do we understand how we contribute to it? Do we show our kids how to have fun without beer or wine?

Whether to change the drinking age is a popular topic for my student writers (I've pretty much banned it for a while because I'm so tired of it). I find that students tend to break down 50-50 on whether to lower the drinking age to 18. Many observe that we will just lower the age when students start to drink. I think they're onto something. The reason why kids will simply start drinking sooner is because they equate drinking with fun. And why shouldn't they? We adults do.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I am by nature fairly cautious. As a child I didn't go to a lot of new and different places on my own, and even as an adult I like to do new things, but I plan/anticipate them very carefully.

So to send my kids to Zoo Camp for one week (instead of their usual summer camp where we know all the counselors and it's right across the street) is a major stressor for me. I became one of *those* parents. The hovering one telling the counselors 20 different things about E that they will likely (and rightfully) ignore. I walked away totally embarrassed by myself.

If I'm this way for a one-week Zoo Camp, what will I be like when they go to college? Or does it get better?

Friday, July 24, 2009


Once again, I am amazed at how different departmental culture is in different academic institutions.

Dr. Crazy asserted her right (now that she is tenured) not to have to be a team player and pick up the slack for other faculty who have child care commitments. I understand on one level, but on another, I'm pretty concerned about her attitude.

My context is that I work in a department where we all look out for each other and help each other out. Some of us have child care commitments, some of us have elderly parents, some of us have classes (we have a few faculty currently in PhD programs). We have a 2-week teaching opportunity in Asia, and we don't control the schedule. If the opportunity happens during the term, we pitch in and sub for the other faculty so they can go. I've taken on last minute schedule changes so that I could accommodate another faculty member for a non-child-related reason.

Furthermore, there are opportunities that I as a parent of young children can NOT take. I just learned that my colleague is going to Europe to teach in one of our programs next spring. I have been DYING to have that opportunity. I can't take it because I have young children, and I would have to leave them behind for 3 months. I would take them with me, but I am not allowed to teach in the program with my children there. How fair is that? Only the childless or those with older children get that opportunity. I hate it. I don't want to wait 10 more years (my son is 7) to teach there. But that's the way it is.

I think part of the solution to this problem is that a chair/dean has to create the culture of support and reinforce the idea that everyone is sacrificing. One term, we had 3 faculty in my college (of Arts and Sciences) who were severely ill, enough to take significant time off. The 11 faculty who helped out during that time were honored at our end of the year awards ceremony. They got nothing really, except they got the thanks of everyone and the acknowledgement that what they had done was above and beyond. That's the kind of thing departments can do. People usually don't mind making sacrifices if they feel that people appreciate them and do not take their work for granted.

I understand that Dr. Crazy lives in a particular university/department culture where she had to assert her rights or be given the less desirable teaching times. But what I would suggest to Dr. Crazy is that now that she has tenure, she could use her new-found power not to simply assert only *her* rights in a Randian way, but also to change the culture of her department. I hope she doesn't just sit back in her office with her books and her computer and pat herself on the back for asserting herself. Some day she may need consideration for a struggle to balance life and work, and I hope she would have helped to change her department culture by then instead of simply saying "now it's my turn" and victimizing some other untenured faculty member in her department the same way she was.

Gates and Police Power

I had an epiphany last night while thinking about responses to the Gates case.

To preface, I've been talking about it on an online forum with several male Republicans in my town. All of them have in the past shown extreme concern about abuses of state power (IOW, they frequently complain about Obama being a fascist or a socialist).

This concern is reflected in the posts of older white male Republicans across the country. You can read their comments on blog posts and online articles, and you know what their political views are.

What strikes me is that these men normally come across as libertarian and anti-state. Via Alicublog I found this entry by Jonah Goldberg:

conservatives, like Americans generally, are of two views when it comes to cops. One side is inclined to distrust them, see them as potential abusers of authority — mere men with badges and guns. Another side is deferential to police. That is not to say they condone abuse or sanction cops being above the law. But they give cops the benefit of the doubt for a host of reasons.

Here's my epiphany: I look at those conservatives who distrust cops, and I see their anger at Gates. And I realize what the deal is.

They're angry because Gates did what they WISH they could do but are too afraid to: he challenged the police for invading his home. Older conservative men bluster all the time about "the state" abusing its power, coming into our homes. I had an argument yesterday with a fire fighter who was complaining that Obama's health care reform would be a "violation of the 4th Amendment"! LOL! I'm still trying to figure out that one.

This is just another version of the Yellow Elephants. These are the men who define manhood a certain way, assert their support for this construction of manhood, then fail to live up to it themselves.

It has to gall the crap out of them that an older physically disabled black man asserted the very rights they demand on a regular basis. They dream of exerting their power as citizens, the right to control their territory (their homes). But they defer to police authority because they fear the consequences.

And here's Gates, who talked back, demanded badge numbers, asserted his civil rights to be in his own house, expressed anger--all the things they wish they could have done in a similar situation.

But to assert that he acted legitimately, that he acted the way they wish they could? That would mean that a black man was a better man than they could ever be.

And we can't have that, can we?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Skip Gates

I find myself continuing to be enraged and outraged and every kind of raged over the arrest of Skip Gates and the surrounding commentary. I had written a long post, but then I found that much of what I was saying had been said elsewhere.

I'll point out this post by a lawyer writing about the police officer's actions. Henry at CT already made a similar point.

I find that what I am most interested in is the issue of the officer's abuse of power, which I believe is inflected by racism, but which is endemic in way too many police departments these days. We watch the news from Iran and shudder in horror over the police violence against protesters there, but we hardly blink when a police officer in our own backyard abuses his power because he's pissed off that someone has yelled at him. I'm interested in how immune, how numb we have become to police abuse of power and violations of our civil rights in the name of "safety."

Full disclosure: Gates was my professor as an undergrad and grad student. I wouldn't be in academia if it weren't for him. He's the person who told me to go to grad school and get a PhD in English.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Driving While Talking/Texting

Via Yglesias, I read this article.

I can't say I have never talked on the phone while driving, though I can't remember the last time I did it. I can say I have never texted while driving. I rarely talk on my cell and text even less often. Cellphones are not part of my lifestyle.

I do change songs on my iPod a lot, and often I have to look at the iPod screen to do so. Even then it's a major distraction.

Over at 11D we were talking about kids and unstructured time and the fears of letting kids bike or walk around the neighborhood. The real danger, as I see it, isn't the possibility that my kids will be kidnapped or molested. It's that they'll be hit by cars.

Last summer, a mother was walking with her daughter (on a bike) down one of our local streets. A car careened towards them. The mother pushed her daughter out of the way and was hit herself - and killed. They found her teeth in the grill of the car. That street is not precisely the one that is the direct route to my daughter's best friend's house, but it is a parallel/similar street, very windy, no sidewalks.

I am sorely tempted to have a sign next to me on the car seat, and whenever I see someone on a cell phone, I will put up the sign, which will read "Get off your fucking cell before you kill someone." Unfortunately for my desire for confrontation, I do recognize that such a sign would probably lead to more distraction and disruption on the road and put people's lives in danger.

I wish police would more frequently enforce restrictions on driving while on the cell. Of course, they themselves are on their cells a lot; a couple of days ago, a squad car turned its lights on next to me, and when I looked over to see if the officer wanted me to pull over, I saw he was on a cell phone talking.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Mush for brains

No, not Sarah Palin. ;) Me!

Today is my son's 7th birthday, which followed his sister's 10th birthday by 12 days. It's amazing how much work it is to prepare for children's birthdays when you're not even giving them a party.

I made another one of my famous cakes. I'm not *good* at it, but I enjoy creating cakes for the kids' birthdays. Today's cake was a jungle safari cake, and we brought it to his summer camp this morning for them to enjoy later.

The past few weeks have been overwhelmingly busy. For six months, I had been on a waiting list for my son to see a psychologist who specializes in "twice exceptional" children, children who are gifted and are neuro-atypical in some way (ADD, Aspergers, etc). For three months I had been trying to adopt a dog. We were looking at Brittany spaniels in need of rescue, but the process was difficult. And then for a month, the new pool I'd bought was sitting on my patio still in the box getting rained on as we endured one of the rainiest Junes on record.

In the space of 3 days, we 1. had our first psych appt, 2. got a dog, and 3. put up the pool. I needed a Valium IV by the end of the weekend. I settled for a beer or two. :)

In the meantime I'm teaching a course on Mondays and Wednesdays through July 22, which I probably need to get ready for now.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Unions and salaries and overtime pay

A commenter at 11D contended that academic K-12 teachers resent/have resented in the past, PE teachers for having less work to do. I disagreed and mentioned that my father had never complained about PE teachers. Well, when I saw him this weekend, I asked him, and he said yes, he and the other teachers resented the PE teachers for doing less work and making the same money.

That led to a discussion that is kind of interesting to me. My dad obsreved that teaching is the only job where you get paid *less* for overtime. As we had just spent the previous evening talking with my NYPD brother-in-law about his desire to work as much overtime as possible so he can get the biggest pension possible when he retires next month (at age 41, may I add), I realized how true that is! Even my overloads as a professor aren't really as much as my full-time salary.

I also just ran across this article in my RSS feed. People always blame teachers for refusing to do extra, for, as Mathews puts it, "It is, [critics of teacher unions] contend, a sign of how unions dumb down public education by focusing on salaries, not learning."

I cannot even imagine expecting a police officer agreeing to work an extra hour a week for no money. And they have people's safety in their hands.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I've had a rough week, with the dance recital trauma of last weekend, then being on my own with the kids for 2 days while my husband was at a conference, and of course the usual end-of-year stuff. Not to mention that my daughter's birthday is Friday and I'm trying to not be a failure. It's hard for me not to take so much responsibility for this, but I am not working now, and my husband is pretty busy at work. I just work better when I'm bouncing off someone else.

But today was the last day of school. I went in to volunteer for the ice cream party at my daughter's class only to find that they started 15 minutes early and were done by 1:30. So I sauntered through the halls, walked past my son's classroom, and realized pretty much every teacher was showing the kids a movie. Unfortunately, that's the consequence of the miserable weather we've been having. It's been 64 degrees and damp/drizzly for the past week.

The school is now having a kind of moving-up day routine/ritual. All students are told who their teacher will be next year and are brought to the classroom to meet (her) (all the teachers are female here). So my kids found out who their teacher would be and who would be in their class.

We're all kind of disappointed. My daughter is not in a class with either of her two best friends. My son is apparently in a class with none of the boys from his current class. I couldn't get him to identify anyone who is in his new class. He's not the most observant, so this may mean little, but I asked about all the kids I knew from kindergarten to see if they were in his class. He only could name one kid I knew.

This will be great for his social skills development. Not.

When it comes to teacher assignment, I always feel so powerless. I'm powerless in part because I lack information. I simply don't know these teachers! I am totally ignorant about the 5th grade teachers, and though I should have some knowledge of 2nd grade because my daughter's already been through it, I don't. Several second grade teachers retired after she moved up.

But I also feel powerless because the teachers work out all the classes based on what they know of the students. It's a reminder that my kid's needs aren't paramount. It's quite possible that his needs will be at odds with those of the majority of students. I may want my son to be in a class with Z, but maybe it's not the best thing for Z or for other kids.

The only thing I put my foot down about is that I found out that one of the second grade teachers would be on maternity leave for the first month of the school year, and I requested my son not go into that class. Why? Well, it takes E a while to warm up and become comfortable with someone. I didn't want him to have to go through it twice.

He is not feeling anxious about next year yet; his summer vacation has just begun, and he has 2 months of fun ahead of him. But for me, the dread is already creeping in. It's the dread of wondering whether I've done the right thing. Have I advocated for him enough? Should I have known more about how to help him succeed in school?

I don't think I can wait 2 months to find out.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Scourge of Humanity

We must now discuss the true enemy of common sense and rationality and all that is good in the world.

The dance recital.

Why are dance recitals so long? Is there any reason why they should last from 5:30 to almost 9 pm on a Friday night?

And why don't they serve wine, beer and hard liquor at these events?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Elementary and Middle School

I attended a School Committee meeting recently and learned of a few changes.

First, the elementary school is going to start using standards-based grading. This will not be ABCDF or 100-pt grading. Instead, a 1-4 scale will be used, with the numbers referring to whether the child has met the standards. The goal would be to have all students with 3 or 4 by the end of the year, and parents should not be surprised if their kids have 1 or 2 early in the year. It means we will have to rethink how we respond to grades.

The good news is that the standards will be pretty clearly spelled out, so we will know what to work on with our kids at home. "Can count to 100"--well, I can help with that. "Can add fractions." Yep, I can help with that, too.

Second, the middle school is eliminating tracking. I'm ambivalent about this. On one hand, I was tracked myself and I seem to have benefited. That's the system of education I knew, I was familiar with. On the other hand, Stamford public schools have eliminated tracking in middle schools and seen benefits for the lower-performing students, and they've resisted un-tracking the longest. The article says:

These mixed-ability classes have reported fewer behavior problems and better grades for struggling students, but have also drawn complaints of boredom from some high-performing students who say they are not learning as much.

I'd be concerned except that I remember being bored even in my classes, which were "advanced."

Back in the 90s I used to post about these kinds of issues on, taking on many conservative critics of public education, teacher unions, and "outcomes-based education." Back then the bogeyman was "whole language" reading curricula, which was denounced in favor of phonics. Parents were also Deeply Concerned that eliminating tracking would make it harder for their gifted children to learn.

And now I have my own kids. One thrives in school and does very well. The other does very well, and damned if I can tell if he's thriving. His grades are good. He's got "quirks," mainly in the social skills area, though I feel like he's a little bit quirky in terms of attention, sensory processing, and receptive communication skills as well. I wish they were teaching him more social skills and less academics, to be honest, because I can co-teach academics, but I apparently lack social skills and/or the ability to teach them.

My kids may be gifted. But day after day, what I keep coming back to is not worrying about whether they should be learning algebra tomorrow, but about their social skills, their emotional intelligence. My daughter is progressing pretty well, though we're about to start one of the most difficult phases for a girl, the 5th to 9th grade years. My son can recite the capitals of little-known countries and can recognize and draw the flag of Nepal. But he can't seem to make a friend at recess (I guess the other boys and girls have little interest in knowing where Burundi is).