December 12, 2007

Bah, Humbug!

I do not feel particularly festive this year. In fact, I feel downright surly and uncharitable. I am all for a modest, "heimish" Hanukah celebration, but does the entire burden of supplying eight little treats fall solely on me? My job, year-round, is supplying toys, clothes, ice skates, vacations, summer camp and unconditional love to two less-than-grateful recipients!

The week prior to Hanukah, I drove back and forth daily to the hospital. Nothing puts a damper on holiday shopping like frequents trips to the psych ward. Now we are all back together, back to the usual high jinks, but with some new jinks thrown in. Hart and Jeff have always been extremely hyperactive, impulsive and socially inept, but now they are extremely hyperactive, impulsive and socially inept, aggressive and argumentative, too.

I had two gifts from relatives to present on Days One and Two. On the third night of Hanukah, I presented two items I'd gotten for them--a toy car Hart has been pining for, a new lunchbox for Jeff--thus exhausting my entire stock of presents. "Mom bought that for you at a rummage sale," Hart sneered. "Hart, you were with me at the shop when I bought it. And even if that were true, you can see that it's brand-new with the tags still on it." "Mom got that at a rummage sale." Two minutes later, "Mom got that at a rummage sale." Hart was so thrilled with the car he has been begging for that he traded it to Jeff, who smashed it the next day.

The next day, our mailbox still empty, I went out to buy some edible treats for the evening. As a preface, I said, "I bought something fun to eat tonight." The boys were not about to take that lying down. "I know it's something healthy," declared Hart. "Healthy, healthy, healthy!" "Who's the healthiest mom? You are!" chimes in another voice. This went on for a while, until I said, "This is something new for me. I never heard anyone complain about a gift BEFORE he got it." Then I asked the respite caregiver to handle both boys, so I could go upstairs and sulk.

On the following day, still empty-handed, I had to concede that this was the lamest Hanukah ever. "You guys have been pretty disrespectful to me lately," I said. "Not only does that make me feel bad, it just doesn't put me in the mood to buy presents for you, either."

I used to feel that I understood the underlying causes of Hart's frequent complaining. But now, at age fourteen, it just feels like a familiar habit. Incessant talking, all of it negative. Jeff is preparing for high school next year by working on his 'tude. "Jeff, Jeff, did you hear my question? Please answer." "Shut up, dork." Not the response I was waiting for.

Luckily, we are Jewish. Otherwise, Santa would bring lumps of coal this year.

December 8, 2007

Kvell Korner

I am so impressed, too. It's amazing what can happen with a bit of review before the test.

December 6, 2007

Happy Hanukah! (photo)

Inky got a new cat tree for Hanukah.

Dreidel face-off.

December 4, 2007


While waiting for the ladies' room recently, I started talking to another woman in line. As these things happen, it turns out that she also has adopted twins. Come to our table and meet everyone, she encouraged. Grandma, Grandpa, Dad, Mom, adorable four-year-old twins and their new baby brother, also adopted, were enjoying a (loud) sushi dinner.

We chatted a bit. Her twins also have had language delays and they are very attached to each other."The first eight months were hellish," she told me, "How about you?" "The second decade seems to be going more smoothly than the first," I mused.

On the drive home, I thought about that family. That's what MY life was supposed to be. Intact marriage, a third child, perhaps a girl, after the twins. A nice family outing now and then. We were warned about developmental delays; I expected a few rough months with the boys.

On the glossy pages of the adoption agency are photos of families like this one. There is no mention of dealing with the local police, DCFS, special educators and therapists.

Two days later, I made a late-night drive with one of the boys to the psychiatric hospital. Without even looking in the rearview mirror, I could feel the usual tight grimace of resigned determination. But inside my head, a voice was screaming, "I did not sign on for this!" Pediatric psych wards are not in adoption promotional literature either.

What did I expect? That woman in the restaurant! I anticipated her life for myself.

November 25, 2007


This past summer, friends of ours took their biological daughter, their ten-year-old adopted daughter and one Chinese-speaking grandmother on a trip to China. They brought gifts to their daughter's orphanage and met with the young woman who had found the abandoned baby who is now their daughter. I could only marvel. "How was it?" I asked. "Very emotional and very rewarding."

Suddenly the media is rife with stories of families who track down the birthmothers of their international adopted children in Russia or China. The jury is still out on this trend. Both our agency and the Russian government frown upon this practice, unless there has been a drastic reversal in the past decade.

When we got the boys, I was philosophical. If they ask about their birth family or want to contact them when they are adults, I will not discourage it, I thought. But things are certainly more complex than that. Do children feel attachment to a culture and country that could not provide a stable home environment? Are they interested in visiting the orphanage where they spent endless hours lying unattended in cribs? What circumstances caused their birthmother to give them up?

After hearing about the Smith's trip, I asked Hart if he is interested in going back to Russia. That was clearly the wrong choice of words, as his eyes widened in alarm. "No, no, not to stay, for a visit." He was visibly relieved, but clearly not enthusiastic about the idea.

Once upon a time, the boys occasionally told me they thought about their birthmother in Russia. I confessed to them that I did, too. Often. However, I do not share their sunny fantasies. She IS younger than I am, and possibly more beautiful, as Jeff asserts. She is not a princess, though. I wonder about darker issues What is she doing now? Does she have more children? What does she think of me . . . a nameless, faceless foreigner taking care of her children?

I would not encourage such a quest. I am curious about her, too. But I have had quite enough adoption surprises for one lifetime, thank you.

November 12, 2007

The plot is so familiar . . .

First there was a truck that was going to the potion store. On the way to the store the truck stopped suddenly because there was a bunny rabbit. A barrel of potions fell out of the truck and rolled to a swamp near a shed with spiders.

Next the potion spread around the spider cages. Next the spiders got bigger and they broke out of their cages. Then the spiders took some people out of their cars and ate their lungs, their brains and guts. Then some people shot the spiders in their hearts. Last they killed some of them. The other ones escaped and went underground. They found a gas leak so one of them touched it and it exploded of flames so the spiders died in the flames but they were not dead.

The king spider escaped out of the cave before the flames got him, then he left. When he left the cave he went to the village. Then he ate the people that were left and then he ran away because there was a bomb. The people tricked the spider by using the a bomb and the spider died the next day.

Jeff November 2007

November 7, 2007

The Writing on the Wall

Good penmanship is more than just a quaint skill. A new study shows that it's a key part of learning.

________________NEWSWEEK, November 12, 2007

I know a number of adults with beautiful handwriting, all my age or older, and an equal number of adults who either never learned cursive or are more comfortable "printing." All of those are younger than I am. We who were in 2nd and 3rd grade in the mid-60s were the last ones to be taught penmanship rigorously.

I learned cursive with the Peterson Direct Instruction.* The letters themselves are the same as the familiar Palmer cursive alphabet which hangs above most classroom blackboards today. Peterson was revolutionary at the time because of the method of teaching it. In 2nd grade we learned "slant print," to prepare us for the exact approved angle of Peterson cursive. In 3rd grade, we spent one half-hour daily learning the strokes. I have vivid recollections of pages covered with eggs and sticks and the chant, "Round, round, ready write!" as we made ovals in the air. We continued the exercises and were graded on "penmanship" until leaving for 7th grade and junior high.

I confess to some resentment about this. Peterson was a fascist regime. It was not a matter of writing legibly or beautifully or fluidly. The only acceptable handwriting was the exact Peterson model. Woe betide any left-handed student or anyone whose writing did not slant to the exact prescribed angle!

The rigor of this training and my art background have left me with an appreciation of attractive, readable handwriting. Although my own writing slopes unacceptably to the left and the descenders in the f, y, g and p have gotten inappropriately wide over the years, my lower-case letters are still unmistakably Peterson.

Newsweek's article supports something I have known intuitively since elementary school: speed and fluidity are the key skills. Legibility is just a bonus. Or more practically, handwriting needs to be an automatic (left-brain) skill, freeing the mind (right-brain) to compose or take notes.

I have thought about this issue as both my boys struggled through the early years of elementary school. Jeff learned both manuscript and cursive using "Handwriting Without Tears." This method has gained popularity, rightfully, since it uses a simplified alphabet and the curriculum is based on the difficulty of the strokes. The first lesson is the "magic c," moving on to related letters such as o, a and g. Also, HWT cursive is straight up and down, not slanted, which is a great blessing for lefties like Jeff.

Hart was busy misbehaving during most of his elementary years. As a result, he never really had any handwriting training, and it shows. Watching him print his name is agonizing. Two years ago, I suggested that his occupational therapist focus solely on keyboarding skills, since it hardly pays to invest time in handwriting now.

Keyboard skills are recognized now as a basic, necessary skill, but frankly, everyone needs to know how to handwrite, too. Like a foreign language, it is easily learned before age ten, but beyond that, penmanship is a lost cause (and lost art).

*Interestingly enough, Peterson is now the handwriting curriculum of choice among Christian homeschoolers.

November 1, 2007

Feeling Icy

Click the title to see the photos!

"I have to skate with a RETARD!" At last Sunday's speed skating meet, three categories of skaters were combined to race together; three boys, one girl and one special needs skater (namely Jeffrey). Evidently, not everyone was delighted with the arrangement.

I happened to overhear this because we were sitting right next to the competitors. Jeff was unaware of the minor drama occuring within earshot: Jeff is generally oblivious to all conversation that isn't about cars or Pokemon. However, I felt compelled to gently tap the dad on the shoulder and say, "This is my son, Jeff. He is a special needs skater." The kids didn't hear and Jeff didn't hear, so what does it matter?

It matters to me. That kid's ignorance is a vindication of my anxieties for the boys. Their entire education, including high school, will have taken place in the cozy cocoon of special education and its cousin services, special recreation and inclusion. Beyond those enlightened walls the world is a much less tolerant place.

With the boys in 8th grade, I have been deluged by new information. Our school district supervisor will soon hand us off to the district high school supervisor in charge of out-placed students. Jeff will stay in the same school building, but will participate in a number of "transition" activities to prepare him for high school. I carefully noted the dates of a dizzying number of presentations by schools, vocational programs, work apprenticeship plans for high school students. Hart's job training placement and supervision begins in earnest in 9th grade. Whew.

This is the question that haunts me: what are Hart and Jeff and other kids like them going to do in a few years once public education is finished? I do not know.

In the meantime, it was a small, but welcome victory when Jeff creamed the competition with gold medal win and personal best lap time.

October 29, 2007

Cryptic XV

J: What does "for lease" mean?
H: Same as "for sale," only leaser.

October 14, 2007


Last year at this time, Hart and Jeff were still sweet-faced little boys, eligible for trick-or-treating. In the past twelve months, they have morphed into sinewy young men with broad shoulders, six-pack abs and bass voices. Hardly candy-begging material. The question is: do they feel they have outgrown Halloween?

Can they go cold turkey on the candy? Will they be happy doing a "big-kid" job of being treater, instead of treatee? In my youth, sixth grade was the trick-or-treat cut-off. A few fifth graders foreswore the practice a year early, but that was tantamount to being a show-off. Junior high kids going begging? I have had high school students come to the door for candy!

In past years, the boys have been pleased to wear whatever homemade costumes I put together for them. But I can't get excited about outfitting 14-year-olds. They haven't mentioned costumes yet, but they have talked about candy. Maybe I will be a witch this year, and just tell them that they are too old to go trick-or-treating.

Halloween 2006

October 6, 2007

New friends (photos)

The TJS Design kittens, Chloe and Sweetheart

October 2, 2007

History with Jeff

Jimmy Carter helped bring about peace between Egypt and slaves.

September 23, 2007

Theology with Hart

H: What's with the T?
L: The T? I don't understand.
H: The T? You know, how Christians pray to the T?

September 21, 2007

September 18, 2007

You Look Just Fine! mailbag

Dear YLJF,

I have really missed your column. It's September and I have a related question. I grew up with the rule that white shoes could only be worn between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but now the fashion press says that is passé. Can I really wear my white shoes year-round?

______________________________________ Bright White

Pssssst, BW,

The fashion mavens and magazines do not care how you look or whether your clothes are comfortable or flattering. They exist solely to sell you more stuff! Hence, the constant revision of the "fashion rules."

There is a rule about when to wear white shoes. With three exceptions--working as a hospital nurse, as a bride at your own wedding, playing tennis--the time to wear white shoes is NEVER. They are hideous.

September 17, 2007

Theology with Jeff

"The dinosaurs lived before God was invented."

Inky the Cat (Hart's journal entry)

Inky is a claver cat. She plays with her toys. She is a beautiful cat! Her fur is orang and white and black. She is a princess.

I AM a princess!

September 15, 2007

September 8, 2007

Cryptic XIV

H: Sheree's phone is migrating.

I hope she does not incur roaming charges.

September 6, 2007

Would you buy a pencil from this man?

As an 8th grader, Jeff has applied to work in his school store. His work resumé consists of an afternoon helping his uncle in the New England Cranberry warehouse, (Reason for leaving: "went home") but his letter of interest is concise and to-the-point.
I would like to work at the store for fun. I would be good for the people who buy stuff. I'll be polite and not steal money.

September 4, 2007

The Fairy and the Pixies

nce upon a time, there was a kind fairy who lived with two pixies. Every month the fairy and the pixies would journey to the town square for market day. It was a long and arduous trip, especially accompanied by the pixies, who stopped to chase every butterfly and admire every unusual pebble along the way. However, it was well worth the journey as magic folk gathered from far and wide to buy, sell, barter and trade.

After a day's labor, all would congregate in the adjoining meadow for a picnic supper, a glass of mead and a chance to share news and gossip with old friends. The fairy looked forward to these monthly forays: it was lonely with only two mischievous pixies for company and she enjoyed seeing old schoolmates and other fairies who had known her in her youth . . . long before the pixies had arrived.

From the adult toadstool circle in the glen, the gentle fairy could see the elders holding forth from their down chairs, and the baby fairies dashing in and out of the throng. Beyond the groaning food tables, she could see the young fairies: they were making daisy chains, teasing each other good-naturedly, and sharing nectar served in acorn cups.

The fairy often gazed wistfully at the young fairies. She remembered being one of their number years ago, wearing a dandelion crown in the center of a laughing knot of friends. And what of the pixies? They might be seen perched on a low limb of a great tree, hurling acorns with astonishing accuracy at the elders' conference or off a-ways, absently plucking petals off wildflowers.

The fairy fancied excusing herself from the adults to ask the youngsters if her pixies could join them. But she never actually did. She could imagine the laughter abruptly ceasing, the daisy chains hastily put aside, nectar cups immediately set down. "Of course, they can come," the young fairies would answer. "They are welcome here," she knew they would say. But the magic spell of spontaneous friendships, of budding romances, of childhood games, would be broken.

The pixies might now have run out of acorns and be searching for other ammunition or already laying waste to an entire copse of flowers. "Come, children," the fairy would beckon. "My marketing is done and we have a long journey home."

The End

August 28, 2007


I am, by now, familiar with all the signs of teenagerdom: the ennui, the eye-rolling, the sassy answers to basic questions, the polysyllabic "No-ooo-oh." What took me by surprise was the abruptness, the almost-instant change from chubby-cheeked boys to angular, broad-shouldered young men.

End-of-summer shopping has borne this phenomenon out. No more brightly-colored school supplies for us. I didn't realize I was so fond of swim trunks with adorable shark, dolphin or palm tree motifs, until I became conscious of the fact that those don't come in "big boy" sizes. The Gymboree-type clothing that makes any mother's heart beat faster; dress shirts with puppies over the pocket, matching socks and shorts with race car appliqués, anything in primary colors (all of them at the same time). Alas, long outgrown.

Jeff has declared T-shirts in yellow, orange or purple to be “clownish.” Heather gray is the new preference. Dinosaur PJ’s? Forget it.

This summer, both boys' feet grew suddenly from size 6 to a men's size 8. It was a transition from the colorful world of the children's department to the monochromatic adult aisles. From Oz, back to Kansas. Rows of navy blue, brown and black shoes. Oh well, we had a decade of the colorblock sneakers. Jeff's object of desire was a pair of black skateboard slip-ons with skulls and crossbones. Trés cool for eighth grade.

August 12, 2007

Campfire tales

On the long, long drive home from Michigan, Jeff was chatty and forthcoming about his week away. The veracity of his account is highly suspect but, like his mom, Jeff knows that a good story is all in the telling.

He was eager to tell me all about his amazing constructions. Using a glue gun, Popsicle sticks, sea shells and found objects, Jeff created a ship, a wishing well and an airplane, which by all accounts, were quite the hit at camp. Carefully packed in a computer box, they took up nearly the entire back seat.

L: Where did you get all the shells?
J: From the ocean. (That must be the Sea of Kalamazoo?)
L: Were they lying on the beach and you collected them?
J: No, I swam in and gathered them up. This one came from a crab!

Later, when describing the delights of the camp tuck shop, Jeff told me, "I bought a bag of shells. It was the very last bag they had."

Who knew that Jeff was quite the fisherman? He had the certificate to prove it. He caught a fish that was (show of hands apart) THIS BIG. "Do you throw them back in after you catch them?" Eyes roll. "No! I ate it." "Really? But you have to get the guts and the bones out first." Nods, does Ginsu-knife-chopping gesture. "Easy, then you fry it up." Mimes chef flipping crepes.

There was a field trip to a farm and each camper got to hold a piglet. "It was pink and furry. When I picked it up, there was a lot of squealing." I assume he meant from the piggy, but I might be mistaken.

Of course, there were nature hikes. "We picked blueberries. I made mine into a smoothie." (Thank goodness I packed the solar-powered blender.) I surmise that there was an opportunity for boating, evidenced by several choruses of "Rock the boat, don't tip the boat over. Rock the boat."

But the best news yet, whether exactly accurate or not, was Jeff's final announcement. "My cabin didn't need an extra counselor because I was so WELL-BEHAVED."

Jeff returns from camp (photos)

August 5, 2007

Somewhere in rural Michigan

Back in January, I sat down with a number of program brochures, summer calendar and school schedules to figure out how to keep both boys amused and out of trouble during the summer. Since Jeff has loved his previous one-week overnight camp experiences, I foolishly assumed that it was a sure thing: All I had to do was send the check. Wrong.

Jeff was suddenly coy when I mentioned it. "I don't want to go this year. It was too long away from home." That was such a transparent lie that I wondered what was really behind this pronouncement. "Six days is not very long," I offered. "You classmate Amy's camp is four weeks, but I think there is a two-week session." "Two weeks is fine." Pause. "Four weeks is fine, too." A few days later, I ventured my hypothesis on Jeff's change of heart. "I know a lot of the campers there use wheelchairs or don't speak or run very well. Is that it? Would you rather go to a camp with 'regular' kids?" Bingo.

So I looked at web sites and talked to other parents. It turns out Amy's experience last summer was not great--it's hard enough being a teenager, much less one with special issues--so her mother was camp shopping, too.

All four of us trekked to the outer 'burbs on snowy Sunday to attend a Camp and Summer Adventure Fair. Was that an eye-opener! The Fair was set up like any other trade fair and the presenters were just as subtle. I have had more success fending off perfume-wielding women in shopping malls. Girls-Only camps! "No, just boys here!" I announced without breaking my stride. Christian camp? Get thee behind me. Summer programs with computers, chess, foreign languages. Don't make me laugh.

Jeff was completely sold on a Wisconsin YMCA camp whose representative brought along a live rabbit. Amy was quite taken at a booth whose camp program includes a field trip to BUILD-A-BEAR Workshop. But her mother and I were listening skeptically. We were waiting for the code words, "diversity," "inclusion," "accommodation." While there are many camps for disabled kids only, it appears that regular camps who are proactive in providing staff and welcoming kids like ours . . . well, not so much.

We mothers had a visit to the twilight zone at one booth. I had phoned ahead of time to describe Jeff and the director had offered to meet with us at the Fair. Amy got the full treatment of the delights of this particular camp, her mom got the sales pitch, while I, simultaneously was told that they would not take Jeff. Yes, I think that was what the director said. It was hard to tell, because every time I tried to extricate myself with a polite, "I won't take up any more of your time then," he wouldn't release me since he had Amy, a live one, on the line.

Strolling down the last aisle, I stopped at another YMCA camp booth. While Amy admired the photo display, I asked directly, "Do you accommodate children with special needs?" The rep’s eyes lit up. "Yes, we do. We have a behavioral specialist on staff and we provide a one-on-one if the camper requires it. Our camp is committed to integrating these kids and making their camp experience successful." Oh, really? I tried to sound interested, yet non-committal. "May I have your card, your address, your email and an application? Would you like a check now?

Jeff left today. He joined a cabin of 'regular' teenaged boys somewhere in the wilderness of Michigan. I want this week to be a success, but there isn't anything I can do. I was under strict orders from Jeff to "just drop him off." That's normal, right?

August 3, 2007

My library card, a passport to . . . revenge

I have been an eBay member since 1998, back when people still said things to me like, "You send money to strangers?" or "How do you know a personal check is legit?" This was years before PayPal was invented.

So it was a surprise to be swindled on eBay when I recently purchased a flash drive/digital voice recorder. Having difficulty getting that shoddy piece of crap to work, I showed it to a techie friend, who said he suspected it was a bootleg item made with pirated software. To my further annoyance, I paid $10.95 for postage and the thing came in a tiny padded envelope with .92 cents' imprinted.

I dutifully tried to contact the seller. "Try to resolve trading disputes by communication." That's the eBay way. The seller's phone number eBay gave me was an unlisted private landline in Louisiana and unanswered, of course.

Enter SUPER REFERENCE LIBRARIAN, Bruce, who traced the domain holder's name, email and home address to someone in England within five minutes. I emailed "John" directly and asked for a refund. Right. So I forwarded Bruce's email to eBay and my short version of the sordid tale.

Guess what! John (if that IS your real name) is not a registered eBay user ANYMORE!

That will teach him to tangle with SUPER REFERENCE LIBRARIAN. Thanks, Bruce. My hero.

July 27, 2007

ChicagoMomsBloggers . . .par-tay! (photo)

Yahoo! BlogHer party at Viand, July 26. I think that's me near the back, a few faces from the right.

And the goodie bag! Wow! Jeff claimed the adorable mini colored pencil set from Yahoo! Hart got the Vox t-shirt. He presented his baby-walking charge Emily with all the cool baby-related items. Her mom was pleased. I gave sitter Tahra a t-shirt of her choice . . . .

July 24, 2007


It was dangerous, very dangerous, she knew. Death Eaters everywhere. Newspapers filled with harrowing news about "the Boy Who Lived" and " Undesirable Number One." A mere glance at the newspaper showed numerous photos of him and his supporters. She dared not even look closer.

New security measures were put in place hourly. No newspapers, magazines, television, computer. Except for necessities, it felt too risky to leave the safety of the house. An incautious word, an accidentally over-heard conversation certainly would spell doom.

She realized she had no choice but to carry on alone. In stolen daylight moments and under the cover of darkness, she persisted . . . reading, reading, reading.

July 19, 2007

Cryptic XIII-Harry Potter for $200

H: Is this Polyjuice potion?
L: It's actually nail polish.

July 16, 2007

Condoleezza Rice, the real-life Dolores Umbridge?

One is a fictional character (we think). Dr. Rice favors royal blue and Professor Umbridge clearly has a preference for pink, but do the dissimilarities stop there? You judge.

July 12, 2007

Toy Swindling, Advanced Course

Jeff, A.K.A the Swindler, was too quick for all of us. I understand he charmed you school folks into opening the store especially so he could buy that Dragon Beanie Baby. Therein lies a long tale of deceit and treachery.

Maybe I need to send a school-wide memo that Jeff is not to have money or buy anything without written permission from me.

I instituted a home policy in January. However, Jeff and his brother have gone to extraordinary lengths to weasel new toys and prizes out of unsuspecting teachers, relatives and friends. Constant vigilance!

Update from a friend: I've seen firsthand how the boys can charm toys from strangers. They must have some quality that inspires that.

July 5, 2007

Auto-Motive II

"I've brought some friends over to play," Jeff announced as he returned from the Port-a-Potties, at last night's 4th of July festivities. Two little blond boys eagerly grabbed a few of the three dozen Hot Wheels that Jeff always has on hand.

I was slightly taken aback. "Does your mom know you are over here on our blanket?" I asked. Moments later, a tall blond man squatted down beside our encampment.
"Jeff, did you ask the dad if these guys could come over and play?" Evidently not.
This hardly qualifies as public mortification that I am used to with my boys. Still, I know that a teenager making overtures to a 3- and a 5-year-old is odd. If the dad was alarmed by his preschoolers being shanghaied by a much older boy, he did not show it.

Without formal preliminaries, the four kids dug into the cars. "How did you know these boys were interested in cars?" "We brought a few ourselves," the dad told me. How to explain that Jeff easily can smell out toy cars in a dense crowd of 12,000 people?
We adults made general small talk while the kids played. And then Jeff summarily dismissed them, "It's getting dark. You have to go now."

June 27, 2007

Harry Potter and the Unfortunate Delay

Last year, I started a post called HARRY POTTER AND THE WISDOM OF TORAH. I decided to wait until the final book came out to rework the entry before posting it. My intent was to offer a rebuttal to any of the religious carping about the Harry Potter books. Those of you who know me know that no one insults Harry in my presence and gets away with it!

Well, someone beat me to the punch . . . there is a new book out called HARRY POTTER AND TORAH. (I think my title is better though.)

I have to read HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS first, then read Dov Krulwich's book to see if he has additional ideas I can "borrow."

It now appears that this is hardly an original idea. (Great minds . . . ?) Here's another article on the same idea.

Thanks to Dov Krulwich's book, I learned that "AbraCadabra" means "I create as I speak" in Hebrew. We all know that the Avada Kedavra curse is J.K. Rowling's play on AbraCadabra . . . . however, I didn't know that Avada Kedavra is Hebrew, too. It means, "I destroy as I speak."

Nifty, huh?

June 23, 2007

We Miss Inky! (photo)

J. Inky is going to come to us again this winter.
L: I don't know. It depends if her owners travel.
J: They have to. They have to hibernate.

June 17, 2007

The Fairy and the Pixies

nce upon a time, there lived a kind fairy. As generous as she was beautiful, the fairy invited two orphan pixies to come and live with her. True to their nature, the pixies were mischievous, disrespectful, and a general nuisance to the good fairy-folk of the glen.

The kind fairy endured all manner of mischief with great patience and forbearance, because she truly believed that with love, discipline and a noble example, the pixies would eventually grow up and take their places among the fine fairy-folk.

Except for one thing: The pixies would not stay in their beds at night. The fairy provided cozy milkweed pod beds, counterpanes of finest fairy silk, and fluffy, down pillows. But as soon as the lights were out in the fairy glen, the pixies would rise for a gay romp.

One day the fairy summoned the naughty pixies. She showed them an ornate oaken casket, which when opened, was revealed to be full of gold. The pixies' eyes widened, for they were as greedy as they were mischievous. "This is fairy gold," she told them. "Whosoever has a piece of this gold has the power to purchase his hearts' delight. If you both will stay in bed once a week, until the last star leaves the sky and the sun peeps over the eastern hill, I shall give each of you a piece of this enchanted gold."

Sadly, the gold remained untouched. The wise fairy understood: as much as the pixies loved the promise of the magic gold, they loved their nightly capers more. The fairy was true to her word, though. Once a week, she would present the ornate chest and repeat her promise. The next morning when the last star had left the sky and the sun peeped over the eastern hill, the fairy would rise and gather the pixies. (They had been cavorting about for hours). With graceful wave of her hand, the chest would disappear
. . . until the next week.

June 14, 2007


Three sheepish eighth grade graduates were honored, and the additional ten or so Yeshiva students in Hart's program each were recognized for their accomplishments this year. This will be the last such ceremony for us here. Hart's therapists, teachers and I have been preparing him for his transfer to a new school this fall. (Of course, Hart is unaware that we adults have been working on the transfer for months.)

But, five years in one school with the same group of classmates and teachers is a long time in the life of a 13-year-old. As I looked around the gym at the usual gathering of staff, pupils, and parents, I realized that five years has been a long time for me, too. Over the years, I have attended weekly meetings, formal staffings, numerous assemblies, a number of Bar Mitzvahs, social events and holiday programs, with this same cadre. I have grown to know these kids and their parents, and to appreciate the tireless staff beyond measure.

The principal made a short speech. The graduates got diplomas, handshakes, and made their remarks. Classroom teachers handed out certificates for "improvement in reading," "love of mathematics," "excellence in science." For Hart, an award for "art and creativity."

Hart's academic growth these past few years has been minimal, despite everyone's Herculean efforts. This has been a subject of endless frustration. I can only wish that he will make greater progress in the new school.

Rabbi, who teaches religious studies to these young scholars, also distributed awards. Each was accompanied by a short d'var.* "Lamp of learning." Not Hart. "Listening attentively." No way. "Asking insightful questions." Hardly. "Excellence in Hebrew." Hah. And on through the alphabet. Until, "Lev Tov*--Being Good-Natured." [You are] sensitive to the well-being of God's creatures, you are friendly and good-hearted. You are willing to help out with a minyan* and fair in play.

I feel much despair over Hart's academic limitations of course, but suddenly I realized that a lev tov is an extraordinary achievement. It cannot be taught.

* Religious explanation.
* Literally, a good heart
* Having become Bar Mitzvah, Hart can be counted in a prayer quorum, which requires ten people.

June 12, 2007


Adult: Jeff, I haven't seen you in a while. What grade did you just finish?
J: 7th
A: So you are 13 and going into 8th grade?
J: Next year I'll be 14.
A: Next year? Your birthday is in August, right? That's in two months.
J: Wow. I'm not ready for that.

June 5, 2007

Summer visitor (photo)

There's a mess of cottontails out here. ______________________ Jeff

(or what is left of them)

Now I can add a gray fox to the list of wildlife visitors to my house. This beauty has been lounging around in the backyard (in broad daylight) for a few hours daily this past week. We have grown quite fond of "Foxy-Loxy" in the week since he moved in. His first visit, I thought, was an anomaly, but he seems to like our backyard with its supply of fresh, ripe bunny babies, and the next door neighbor's koi pond. I suspect he is not a stranger to our neighborhood, since he appears to be wearing a handsome tracking collar.

June 4, 2007

Pet Peeves

Y'know the little things that get ya down?
______________ Cell Block Tango, CHICAGO

My mother has so many pet peeves that she could fill a blog of her own with nothing else. A few:
sportswear worn outside of the gym, such as track suits,
sweatpants, football jerseys
two-piece bathing suits on girls younger than 14
long hair on women older than 50
weird, unpronounceable first names and the parents who give them
car commercials
It was bewildering keeping track of the endless list.

Today at the pool, a women gave me an earful about her pet peeve--people who swim wearing street clothes. She has a point, I guess. I never really thought about it before. What it made me think of is my own pet peeves. I have a few, but none so earth-shaking that I would corner a stranger to tell her about it. (Hence an optional-reading blog entry.)
two-liter pop bottles on the dinner table

the trend of WASP-y names of archaic occupations for boys--Hunter, Carter, Porter, Mason. I haven't yet met a Cobbler or Wheelwright, but maybe it's only a matter of
However, is there a word for the nuisances above "pet peeves" on the Richter scale? I have tons of those, and Hart and Jeff keep inventing new ones and persisting in the old ones.

farting is not funny to me multiple times a day

someone in the room trying to carry on a conversation with me while I am on the phone with someone else. (To be fair to Hart and Jeff, there are scores of adults who do this, too.)

being woken up at strange hours of the night

being summoned to hear someone fart, belch or tell an unfunny joke for the 27th time.

I could live without the constant odd indoor noises made by humans, chirps, buzzing, humming, teeth-sucking, squealing, growling.

I would like other humans to turn and answer if they hear me speak their names.

Everyone over the age of ten should change clothes or dance naked in the privacy of their own bedroom or the bathroom.

June 1, 2007

Rabbitting on Redux

H: Look, the baby bunny is out. I want to adore him.

Cryptic XII

H: I have to wash my hands, I stepped in mud.

May 31, 2007

School Daze

Hart's school career thus far has hardly been stellar, but now nearing the end of 7th grade, we are entering the home stretch, ready or not. Both Hart and Jeff started out in our local public school district, in the “pre-primary diagnostic room,” which is special educationese for “give these delayed kids a head start.” He continued at the same school in the special ed classroom for two years of kindergarten (August birthday), and two more years in the primary special ed classroom.

Nearing the end of 2nd grade, his sixth year of public education, his teacher took me aside and said earnestly, “I don’t know if we are doing Hart a favor, allowing him to limp along in this setting. I think he might do better in a more structured classroom of behavior and emotionally disordered kids.”

It was a nice theory. Hart washed out of third grade so spectacularly, the administrators all but threw a party when he was asked to leave. Off he went to a specialized private school.

While it has been a very nurturing and loving environment, which is just what Hart needed after the debacle of six weeks of public school psycho third grade, he hasn’t made much academic progress in his five years there. Sad to say, Hart just isn’t a very motivated learner. In fact, he is not much of a learner at all. I often wonder if around first grade, he had some revelation. “I know the alphabet and I can count. My work is done.”

Today we made an orientation visit to yet another school. This is the last stop for Hart. Next fall he will be there, a private school for developmentally disabled students. While I dare not set my expectations too high, I am reassured that the next few years are taken care of. Through eighth grade, the students share the building with a larger population of “regular” kids. Grades nine though twelve are at a Jewish high school in the city, one block from his current school. Then come vocational services, job placement and job supervision. I don’t expect Hart to make up for lost time, but at least I can see the trajectory of the next few years, and as is the watchword in special education, it looks APPROPRIATE.

May 30, 2007

Constitution Test review

L: Under the Constitution, can you be President?*
J: No.
L: Why not?
J: I am too young.

*I remember that the President had to be born in the U.S., but apparently, this is not true anymore.

May 24, 2007

An Old-Fashioned Girl

My elderly aunt still refers to Memorial Day as Decoration Day, and to the Museum of Science and Industry as "ze Rosenvald Museum," as if a member of the founding Rosenwald family might actually greet visitors at the entrance.

I don't say "filling station" and "five-and-dime," but I do catch myself saying, "record" and "album" when referring to music. The gesture I know for "dial a phone" is making a clockwise circle with a forefinger.

My Chicago references are archaic, dating from my arrival here in the early 80s. I know the "el" lines by their terminus stations, not by their colors. The Bishop-Ford Expressway, what's that? Marshall Field's had long ceased to "give the lady what she wants," but calling that building Macy's sounds foreign, if not pretentious.

I astonish the boys with tales of the "olden days," before cell phones, videos, email. We watched black and white TV. (No!) There were only three channels. (The horror!) If you were out and you needed to make a phone call, you had to find a pay phone booth. (Huh?)

A few years ago, I inherited my dad's 1947 portable Corona, a relic from college. I was eager to show it to Hart and Jeff.

Me: Can you guess what this is?
H & J: No.
Me: It belonged to Grandpa. It's an old typewriter.
H: What is it for?
Me: Before there were computers,
if you wanted to write a letter or a report, you used this.
No games?

May 18, 2007


I read an interview with noted animal behaviorist and autistic, Temple Grandin, where she described herself as feeling like "an anthropologist on Mars." A common theme in writings of autistic adults is the stress and anxiety they feel trying to fit in to "our world."

I understand and sympathize. I have spent too much time in Jeffworld and Hartworld not to. But that does not mean I like it there.

I prefer the "neurologically typical" world, where people make eye contact, speak to me in English words and sentences, and modulate their voices depending on the distance between themselves and the listener. In this world, some experiences are interesting and exciting, and some are boring or mundane.

I have no choice but to navigate in the boys' world--where life is loud, fast, daring, unpredictable and thrilling all the time. Social conventions are irrelevant. Impulsivity reigns supreme.

However--true confession here--the bizarre worlds of other impaired kids are just too much for me. I have tremendous appreciation and respect for adults who choose to work with these children: There isn't enough money in the world to pay me to do it.

Since both boys are in specialized private schools, I am frequently called upon for volunteer duties. Of course I participate, but that doesn't mean I like it.

I used to carpool another boy after school. Bright and gregarious, he had a sole passion in life: oceans. To communicate with him, you had to talk about oceanography, and if you didn't feel like it, it did not matter. He carried on a nonstop monologue for the entire ride. When it got too distracting, I would say, "Jason, stop talking now." After making a left turn or merging into highway traffic, I would say, "Go on," and he would pick up mid-sentence where he left off. Once, when all three boys were talking loudly at once, I bellowed, "Everyone, be quiet now!" A moment later, a voice piped up, "You can't stop me from talking about oceans." True enough, but that does not make it any less annoying.

At dinner with another family, their daughter told she me she was thinking of a song she knew, which she proceeded to sing throughout the entire meal, until her dad gently said, "Please sing in your head. I am having trouble hearing the conversation."

To the classmate who was screaming and jostling Jeff at a school function, I barked, "Our family rule is no touching other people. And if you can't use your inside voice, you can't sit with us!"

Although I am impatient, I understand, really I do, how difficult it is for these kids. I have two aliens of my own.

May 16, 2007


Since I have planned an exciting vacation this summer, Hart and I need passports. I dutifully appeared at our township clerk's office, laden with folders of documents.
As it happened, the passport clerk was training an apprentice, presumably for the summer passport rush. "Have at it," I said. "This one should be more complicated and unusual that most."

Dutifully, I produced:

A notarized affidavit from the absentee parent to permit to get Hart a passport.

Proof of citizenship--immigration and naturalization papers. (I also have a congratulatory letter from President Bill Clinton, although I wasn't asked to show it.)

Certificate of Foreign Birth, in lieu of a U.S. birth certificate

Adoption Decree, in Russian, with signed and notarized English translation.
Even so, there were plenty of questions:

What's this name? That's his given Russian last name.

Who is Howard? His father.

I thought his name was Alexander. No, that is his middle name

Do we need his Russian passport? No, it has been invalid since
1996. It’s a souvenir.

Who is Jeffrey? His twin brother.

Who is Anatoly? That is his brother's Russian

Where does it say "twin birth?" Dunno, I can't read

Your last name is different from his. Yes.
As for my passport, I needed only my birth certificate and my driver’s license.

Four checks later, and swearing that the information we had given was true to the best of our knowledge, we were done.

It made me wonder how adoptive parents in a less-enlightened time handled this. If you were keeping the adoption secret from the child, surely teachers, doctors, government officials and family members would have to be complicit in the charade. I can’t imagine how (or why) people tried to pull it off.

I tried to entertain Hart while we waited by showing him his old Russian passport, his green card photo and documents hand-written in Russian. He was not interested in the least.

May 14, 2007