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.