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

May 12, 2007

Dragon (art)

Dragon, Jeff

Dear Russell,

I had a dream last night about you. I have dreamed about you before but this one was unusual: you were alive, and I saw you and W.

I know this is just a manifestation of my subconscious desire, but it really felt like a visit. A delightful, unbidden, welcome visit.

I hugged you and I told you that I had published your letters, as I once said I would. I asked if you wanted to resume our correspondence. I was a bit disappointed that you declined, but I understand; postal service and Internet connection being what they are between the realms of the living and the dead.

I wish we had had more time. I have so much to tell you: I earned my MBA. I am divorced now. I have twin teen aged boys. I am a "homemaker."

I would love to discuss current events with you. The world has changed in the past twelve years: Gay rights and gay marriage are no longer a fantasy. Our president sucks. The U.S. is in another senseless war.

Although my grief over losing you has lessened in recent years, my love for you clearly hasn't. Thanks so much for your brief visit.

Love, L

May 7, 2007

Dear Aunty (letter)

I love paper, I love lollipops; nice to see you. I love you so much. Are you going to New York?

I just have to sneeze. I sneeze a lot. Too many times. Are you coming here? I have a cold and I sneeze a lot.

I love coloring, and I like Animal Planet.