Friday, June 30, 2006


Nicknames are an overlooked yet fascinating phenomenon. I am talking about nom de plumes, pseudonyms, those "endearing" pet names we saddle on our friends. Most of us have had at least one of them assigned to us, but I have had many given to me. All of them are nicknames I want to forget, but the cruel connection they had to one of my visible traits branded them into my brain forever. In some cases, the nicknames came from a chance rhyming scheme dreamt up by some devious, knuckleheaded, prepubescent boy. I never had a cool nickname like A.J., Duke, or T-Bone (the nickname George Costanza tried to get everyone to call him). No, not me. I had nicknames like Itch, Red, Fart Face, Mr. Shiny, and Pink Honky. I hated them all.

I have been on the dispensing end of nicknames. What a tragedy that is.........well, at least for someone else: Dinky, Booty, Caboosie, Meat, Bittle-Battle, Noodles, Jackal, Spasmo, and my personal favorite, Crutch Butt. I also handed out some good ones, ones that the recipients were proud of: Jimbo, Rosie, Double O Seven, Captain, and my personal favorite, Smoothie.

I also have nicknames for kids. Now I am not so cruel as to have nicknames for the individual children in my life. I am talking about nicknames for children in general, or more specifically, those kids who run through restaurants screaming and bumping into diners' chairs, leave boogers and other leakage on shopping baskets and everything else I come in contact with, or stare at my head and then ask, "Say Mister, what happened to your hair?" I know I should be ashamed, but I have nicknames for those kids in our society. Many are obvious and everyone has heard them. Others are new and created by myself. These nicknames are: Rugrats, Imps, Brats, Tots, Urchins, Chits, Mess Masters, Toy Trashers, Booger Eaters, and my personal favorite, Hornets, as in, "Uh-oh! Hornets at three o'clock!" Some are more affectionate, such as Pizza Eaters, Chilluns, and Muffins.

Do you have any nicknames for kids in general? Do you have any nicknames for yourself or nicknames you "dished out" to a friend when you were a kid? Please share them by writing them down in the comment spot below this blog for all to read. No comment is necessary. Just write down a nickname. We'd all love to read it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Buying Toys for Two

As I have told you before, Jake's relationship with Olivia provides me with an elation that easily helps me ride out the bottle washing, poo wiping, and the very idea of going through the alphabet again at age 43. His playing with her is genuine, and I have been blessed with a son who seemingly, at age ten, actually shares in her delight as Oscar the Grouch jumps out of his trash can singing a garbage ditty.

The other day I purchased her a new toy, as she was tired of the three I had previously purchased and the two that were gifts (I am a toy-tightwad). It wasn't even on sale, but it was the cutest Little People's Noah's Ark set. Jake opened it for her (battling those laborious anti-theft, anti-pleasure twist-ties), and a mere hour later they were loading the animals on the boat. By loading I mean Jake was catapulting the animals with a paddle, and Olivia was gnawing Noah's bald head.

Together they made a pleasant, if unlikely, playdate. I was able to send a few emails (if you were not one of the recipients I apologize; I will buy a new toy in a month so keep lookout), wash a couple of bottles, and fold some underwear. And I became so immersed in my joy of getting "ahead" by tackling the to-do list on page April 17th of my daybook that I stopped paying attention to their party altogether.

But as I checked in, the predictable had happened. Olivia had crawled away and was chewing on an old toy at the opposite corner of the rug. Jake had not noticed and was now really into the ark scene: checking animals off Noah's list, and pretending the torrent was moments away.

"Jake," I laughingly pointed out. "I guess Olivia got bored."

"No," he sheepishly admitted. "She didn't. I moved her; she kept picking up the animals and messing up the game."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Tough School

I taught at a tough elementary school. No one can ever say, “You don’t know what it’s like to deal with kids facing tough, modern, social issues.

Picture this: fifth graders. Cute little eleven year olds. However, one of the girls in my class had an older sister who was in a local girls’ gang and my student joined this gang. Her initiation? To have her tongue pierced. She came to school one Monday with her eyes bugged out, her lips sealed yet her mouth acting as if there was a red-hot charcoal briquette inside, and she never spoke. Her best friend explains to me, “Mr. R., Maria has joined Las Malas and so she had her tongue pierced.” I ask Maria if it hurt, and she vigorously nodded her head. I watched Maria frozen in pain and shock for a few days, and then she came to school on Friday with a diamond stud in her tongue. She spent the rest of the year playing with it in her mouth. I am serious. She never paid attention to anything in the classroom again. All she did was twirl that stud on her tongue.

While this is going on, Manny brought a firearm to school and got caught. It turned out to be a small caliber revolver with one bullet, a blank, but it sure got Manny expelled. He was taught at home by a school district tutor for the rest of the year.

The last day of school, Maria “pants” one of the boys at the school during recess on the playground. That means she yanked everything, and I mean everything, down to the ground. Poor Antonio was a nice, respectable, polite, intelligent, hard working young boy with good grades. That was probably why he was singled out by Las Malas. Respectability and responsibility isn’t desired in a good-sized portion of that community, so Antonio paid the price……exposure of the most embarrassing sort. Maria? She wasn’t even sent home. There were only three more hours of school left for the year, and no one answered the phone at her house to come get her. The office sent her back to my room, and I refused to put Antonio through the humiliation of having her in the same room. I sent her back, and she stayed in the office for three hours.

I have heard things have gotten worse at that school.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Greatest Phone Answerer

Phone manners are easy to teach to kids. Nowadays school classrooms have phones, or at least ours do. Kids sitting near the phone are expected to answer it for me and write down the message on a pad. I have better things to do than to stop instructional time to answer the telephone, and kids love picking up the phone and saying distinctly and properly, “Good morning. This is Mr. R’s classroom. How may I help you?” Then there’s this pause as they listen to the person who called and then they reply, “Yes ma’am, I’ll give him the message. And thank you very much for calling.”

Then the kid comes to me and says, “Mr. R., There was a problem on the playground during recess, and Amber is supposed to go to another teacher’s room so they can find out what happened.”

I then ask, “Who was the teacher that called?”

That’s when the kid grimaces and says, “I don’t know.”

“Did they give their name?”

I feel for their embarrassment as I see the blank look on their face and the hardest reply of all, “I think so but I forgot.”

“The next time, make sure you know who it is you are talking to. Ask for their name again if you forget. I can’t send Amber because I don’t know which teacher called me and they will be waiting for me to send Amber but Amber will never arrive at their room. The teacher will think I am rude for not sending her. Remember to get all the information you need. Write it down on the pad next to the phone.”


I always make sure they get more chances to get it right. In a month or two, I have the best phone manners in the school.

The Best Phone Answerer in our classroom last year was Gabriella. I think she may be the Greatest Phone Answerer ever. Her diction is impeccable, and she embellishes my simplistic, recommended speech with some words of her own. “Good morning. This is Mr. R’s classroom. My name is Gabriella and I will be assisting you this morning. How may I be of service?”

I get a kick out of it, and sometimes the kids look up and listen just to hear her do her thing. It’s a short but amazing performance.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Let Me Know If You See It...It's Wearing Those Funky Checked Pants

I have a friend who feels that he has lost his Mojo. And in that act of solidarity that is unique to long-time friendships, I have tossed mine by the wayside as well. At least my Dinner Time Mojo.

I came, about seven months ago, into my own--if you will--with cooking. I am a daydreaming chef, a foodie, who has always been a decent, if tentative, cook. But a while back everything just clicked. I was purchasing any cut of meat, any strange vegetable, without thought, confidently knowing exactly what to do with them before I had even left the market, without looking up internet recipes.

What brought it on? I had no idea at the time. I merely knew I relished the abandon with which I was plating veal chops and a sophisticated yet thrown-together-at-the-last-minute mushroom/thyme gravy. Simple scallops in the fridge? Not ordinary tonight, my friend, as I use the last couple of Sicilian blood oranges to make a delicious reduction to drizzle them with. The peculiar thing about it was that my kitchen confidence appeared overnight, performing like I had always cooked so freely. I thought nothing about it, felt no need to dissect it, knew it was a permanent part of me.

But that was not to be. The other day I stopped by the meat market and longlingly surveyed the expensive cuts of meat, wondering what would I fix, and more importantly, how? I eyed the veal chops, cut two inches thick and thought back to try to remember how to cook them. I had no idea, and felt nervous, unsure. I knew then I had lost it as easily as it had appeared. After purchasing "cheat" meals (enchilada kits, chicken breasts, salmon filets) for the week, and depositing them into the fridge, I drove to Starbucks with an uneasy sense that I needed to regroup. Olivia sat in her carrier, napping, while I nursed a cappucino and my cooking ego. I tried to retrace my culinary steps and pinpoint the exact moment that my confidence slipped. And I figured it out.

My cooking muse came, migraine tucked under one arm, nausea under the other, with the sleep deprivation. It apparently was compensation from the gods for those sleepless nights. Or maybe it was those sleepless nights themselves that gave me a slight insanity that had no room for insecurity about what to do with a few miscellaneous food items and an iron skillet. Whether it was cause or effect, who would know? All I could see was that with sleep, my cooking ability had taken a seemingly permanent nap.

With Olivia's maturing and developing an ability to sleep (almost) straight through (she is never going to be a solid snoozer like Jake was), I have seriously regressed in the kitchen. So now I purchase brownie mixes, Stouffer's, and steaks to pair with a humble baked potato. I miss my relationship with my inner-Jamie Oliver. I don't want to not sleep at night, but I sure would like my Mojo back. Everything with children has a trade-off.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Feeling Old

I mentor one of my old piano students. He never knew his Dad except for the times when his dad would come home drunk and physically abuse him and his mother. I taught him fourth and fifth grade, and then his grandparents hired me to teach him piano. When he dropped the piano and took up cars and girls I started mentoring him. We hang out, go to the dollar movie theatre, watch videos, shop for cars, talk about girls (kind of), and in general I keep in touch with him.

Lately I have been dragging the truth out of him because he trashed the automatic transmission in his car. He INSISTED that he never abused it. I INSISTED that when we bought that car used for $3200 it was a little gem and worth the time and work we put in to find it. There was nothing wrong with the transmission. Finally, I got him to admit it. I was able to get specifics on what he did, and if you were to hear them, mechanic or not you would know they were automobile no-nos. Then he realized he made a mistake confessing to me and I could and would spill the beans to his grandparents so that he couldn't lie his way into another used/new car. He went back to lying. "I never said that! I didn't hurt that transmission!" he insists. That's the kind of guidance I give, and it is basically assurance that I love him but will not tolerate deceptions and lies that are meant to keep me from finding out the truth. When he messes up or doesn't meet some inner minimum requirements of being worthy, he lies and deceives so everyone will still love him, or at least not nag him and remind him of his failings, failings that are inside of himself. He doesn't love himself. Fortunately, there are no drugs at all in his life. Lies? Yes. Denial? Yes. Drugs and alcohol? No.

He made me feel real old yesterday. He said, "Let's arm wrestle, Mr. R." I replied, "No thanks. Let's just sit down here on the couch." I plopped down and felt old. I used to jump up and arm wrestle. That was fun! Lordy I felt old yesterday.

A huge part of the problem is that he and I are going to perform at his grandfather's funeral service on Monday. His grandfather died of another heart attack a few days ago. The boy gave his grandfather CPR during the first heart attack and saved his life, but this last one was at a nursing home and the hospital he was taken to just couldn't save him. His death is draining for me emotionally, and his death means more responsibility for me to guide his grandchild.

During the funeral service the young man is willing to play one song on the piano, and then he will sing two songs with me as his accompanist. Today I realized that performing music is physically draining and I am getting almost too old for such nonsense, especially when it is going to be such an emotional performance. My hats off to Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones and Arthur Rubinstein and anyone who keeps performing after sixty. That'll make you feel old. I felt old today.


I also edited this blog the next day and want to add something. What a difference a good night's sleep and a new day can bring to your outlook on life! I am feeling much better! At least for now. But I still don't want to arm wrestle.

Melissa Says the Darndest Things Part II

Melissa is one of my piano students and a remarkably clever girl. I have written about her before because she says the darndest things. Yesterday was her piano lesson and she was verbally "on a roll."

I had an itch in my ear so I stuck my mechanical pencil in my ear while she was watching. I could tell by the expression on her face that she was repulsed, so I pulled the pencil out of my ear, apologized, and without thinking, stuck my finger in my ear to scratch the itch. She looked at my finger and sharply announced, "Well that isn't much better!"

She informed me that she had gone camping last week. I asked if it was real camping or pretend camping in a huge mobile home. With a very disgusted look on her face she replied, "Let's just say when I got back, I REEKED! I had to go from Friday to Sunday afternoon without a shower! Do you know how hard that was?"

Melissa is getting older and nearing puberty. I mention that because a minute later she also said, and I quote, "I had a tough day yesterday. I left my cell phone at the salon."

Oh the havoc that hormones wreak on our sweet children!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What Do You Mean This Is the FIRST Day of Summer???


You probably don't feel especially sorry for me. You're either in the midst of this yourself, or you have already been through it, or more wisely, have had your tubes tied so you figure my hell is my own problem. And poor Eric is having to learn the age-old dilemma of the father's true role: to listen to an exhausted wife, who upon his return from work mindlessly enumerates the low points of the day. Just as he is in agreement and ready to pack the children off to that sleepaway camp in the Poconos that will require his cheerfully procuring a second night job at the Food Spot, I find that my two angels are now blissfully sleep and sigh, "God, this is just the greatest."

I see his face: WTF????? But he has lived with me long enough to know that Death Cometh to the man that points out that this is a conflicting attitude from the one you were comandeering a mere hour and a half ago.

But as you know, some days are better than others. Days like this, where finally, my sweet little ten-month-old daughter, decides to crawl.

And just to remind us all that parenting has probably a say, oh twenty-percent success rate, here is a picture of one of my couches on which Simon is forbidden to lay:

He's not allowed on this one either:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Kyle's Emails

I am willing to invest some of my time during the summer working with my students on their writing, so I gave my email address to all my students and encouraged them to correspond by email. I have four students that are regularly sending me emails. One of them is Kyle. Kyle is very quiet and serious in class, but he can get get rambunctious during parties and recess.

Here is one of Kyle's emails to me:

"Hello mr. R. how are you? I am fine. Here is a picture of my little brother.

Write me back.

I didn't expect soliloquies on summer heat, essays on missed friendships, or fictional accounts of adventures at the swimming pool, but I never expected this from Kyle.

I think I will email him back and see if I can get him involved in captioning. What would this baby be saying?

"Give me the remote control to the television. I am the Remote Master!!"


"Help! Pull my finger out of the electrical socket!"


"Bring me Kyle! I must speak to him NOW!"

Monday, June 19, 2006

I Could Have Never Predicted

Jake is madly in love with Olivia. It is the most wonderful gift in my life, the fact this little girl came into my life and turned out to be the most amazing gift for Jake. I have never pushed his attachment to his sister. It has formed on its own, and I nurture it only to the extent that I let him be free with her, not overly-monitoring like I do on everything else he does that I hawk-eye.

This morning I longed for a shower, and she was unwilling to nap, a new deadly habit she is perfecting. Jake was more than willing to sit on the floor in her room, surrounding by approved toys, and play while I took a 28-second shower.

The monitor was in the bath with me, and I loved the sounds that were coming from it. Gurgles of joy from Olivia, Jake being such a loving brother. After I had soaped up my hair, however, Olivia gave out one of those small wimpers that she does when she'd just rather be doing something else. I could hear Jake on the monitor too, saying, "Oh, come on like it. It's fun."

I raced out of the shower, half-clean, and barely dried as I ran in the room where they were playfully laying on the floor looking at books. I will never know exactly what Olivia was enjoying so much, because I am not going to ask, but I know Jake. And it probably was some strange toy on her head, because this was his fun activity of Saturday:

You may find me cavalier: not grilling Jake on every activity that passed while I misted clean in my allotted time. But I grill him on everything, and I have watched him for almost ten months around Olivia. I will tell you, loving/taking care of his pride-and-joy sister is an area where he is excelling. I could never have told you that that one part of adding a new baby to the family would be where I get the most joy.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Growing Up

Danny, my childhood friend from Texas and longtime buddy, sent me a recent photo of himself. Danny and I knew each other when we pooped in our diapers, and a few years later we spent most of our time playing Cowboys and Indians with cap pistols. Back in those days a play cap pistol was made out of real metal, had loadable shells that were placed in an operable, real, spinning chamber, and a top quality one would have two plastic covers that simulated pearl handled grips. And of course, a real leather holster.

Danny is now a grown man whose hobby is shooting guns, and in the photo he is dressed up in full Texas cowboy regalia: a cowboy hat, a belt that holds real bullets, a holster holdin’ a revolver on his hip, and he is about to aim a rifle at a bad hombre who’s been messin’ with someone else’s steers. I find the photo to be a howlin’ hoot. I started laughing and couldn’t quit. My wife, Peggy, came to the computer to see what was so funny, and she said Danny looked like Wilfred Brimley the actor. “Buy Quaker Oatmeal. It’s what’s good fer ya’…...........and leave dem steers alone or else I’ll shoot yer ass full o’ buckshot.”

It’s amazing how kids in some ways never really change; they evolve into adults, keeping many of their childhood qualities. To you adults blessed with children, I am suggesting that you already know your children for part of who they will become. When I see my old buddy’s photo I realize Danny grew up, but in some ways he grew up like a tree. He became larger but still that same ol’ sapling in many ways. When I see him strappin’ on a holster, totin’ a revolver, and aimin' a rifle, I realize Danny is still pretending to be Roy Rogers and when he finishes his rounds of target practice, he’s headin’ home to the DJ Bar Ranch to hug his sweetheart, Dale. I am especially proud of Danny because he has kept his heart and soul on the side of the law. He’s no cattle rustler; he’s the sheriff.

I, on the other hand, went in a different direction, but I’m still Dukeing it out with the bad guys.

That is a terrible quality photo, but I am very proud of it because it is the Double Sabre Form with Ray behind me. We were performing for over a thousand people. My form was better than Ray's, and at that precise moment it is obvious, but Ray was always flashier and more exciting to watch. Learning that form was about as hard as getting my Masters degree, but it took about two months less time.

What children become is one of the fascinations of life.

Idiot Clown on Aisle Seven

I once found myself in charge of a three year old child. I don't have any children of my own so I’m not familiar with three year olds, but I did ask the little girl’s mother what to do, how to be responsible, and how to take care of this little girl for six hours. She assured me that I would do fine, and she asked me to also pick up a few items at a nearby supermarket.

Everything was going swell and we were having a fun day. We headed to the supermarket and the little girl and I were laughing and talking and I was pushin’ her around the grocery store when I encountered a lady near the meat counter peddling sausage. She had an electric skillet and was frying up some spicy hot chunks of flavorful, free food. I believe in making those grocery peddlers feel like they’re selling lots of their product. I know they can leave the store and use a computer to find out if they've increased sales that day and the week after, but by that time I’ve already made my getaway with the free samples. I’ll never actually buy the stuff, but I’ll make yummy noises and nod my head. Now this sausage was especially good, and the lady was quite generous. The first, big bite she gave me was yummy! I decided to go back for more, so I spun the shopping basket around and started acting interested in buying sausage. You know, breakfast is THE most important meal! Sure enough, she figured I’m worth another free sample so she gave me another great big ol’ bite sized hunk. My readers can see this one comin’ a mile away, right?

I shared a bite of this spicy hot sausage with the little girl. I knew by the look on her face that she didn’t like it, but when she started spitting it out I knew I had made a mistake. Then she started whimpering and crying and that’s when the sausage lady looked at me and asked, “You aren’t stupid enough to give that little bitty girl a bite of that Cajun-spiced, flamin’ hot, fire breathin’ sausage are you?” I hate rhetorical questions like that, especially when the answer to the question is, “Yes, I’m stupid. Duh! Can’t you see for yourself that I did something dumb? Do you have to make me verbalize it? Yes, I’m stupid! Let’s put it on the store public address system. ‘We have a special idiot clown on aisle seven.’ Now I feel even worse.” Instead of all that I said, “Yep.”

The poor little girl really had difficulty with that flamin’ hot sausage. She attracted a lot of sympathetic looks from grocery shoppers, and some women got involved with saving this little girl’s tongue with water and juice they had on them! and sometimes, in my mind, I see CPR being given by the store manager. However, it wasn’t really that bad; it was that embarrassing, though. The little girl forgot about it, I hope. I know I didn't.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Money Saving Smile

Laura's latest blog, "Here We Go Again," amazed me. What on earth would cause her to spend that kind of money on braces to straighten her teeth? Of course I think like that because I am a tightwad at heart, a skinflint, and a schoolteacher with a small income to boot. And then again Laura hasn't had to deal with an unsightly appearance for decades like I have. Worrying about physical abnormalities and unusual facial oddities is old hat to me.

I was the only child in my family to not get braces. My sister's and brothers' teeth are lined up like little soldiers compared to mine, and sure enough, my bottom teeth are pell mell. However, I have been blessed with fine uppers so instead of having lower braces installed, I have developed a special little smile that has saved me the expense of an orthodontist. Here is a self-photo taken on my handy little palm pilot this morning.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Here We Go Again

I have decided to join the world of pre-teens and Tom Cruise and get braces. Yecch.

Why? Because clearly, after managing to actually receive in the mail a savings account bank statement that has a comma, what else do you do? I was so hoping to buy something fun: like a rug, a handyman to put up the inevitable hurricane shutters some time over the next couple of months, some new breasts, or some landscaping to replace this:

But nooooooooo, I had to visit my very good friend Elaine (who is a top-notch dentist) this weekend, and as she showed me the invisalign plans of various actual cases, I pointed out my own smile.

She looked closer, and noted that my midline is off, my bite is completely askew, and a couple of teeth are jutting out. Additionally, my childhood orthodontist--certainly now retired--overcorrected my teeth originally and I have two black "triangles", Bermuda-ish, on the side of my smile. Which, we all know, is very unattractive and very un-Julia Roberts.

The good news is that after my savings account is re-depleted, I will have straight teeth for life*, and possibly less-to-no headaches. I can then, of course, oh-so-easily resave some dollars so that Jake can have the inevitable turn at the metal.

The best support my family can offer came from Jake. After hearing my decision a horrified expression spread across his face. "Well when you take me to things," he compromised, "just please don't smile."

*As I googled to find out if truly this was a last-time-straightening, or sadly did now 20 years refer to life as I am over 40, I came across this site. Are you kidding me????

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Some Change Stinks!

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, “Looping,” I will have the same class, the same students, in the fifth grade next year that I had in the fourth grade this year. However, one of the really great kids in our class will be moving to Ohio this summer. Her name is Aubrey. Aubrey was the best writer in the class, was in all the advanced groups that I formed, and she was in the local school district’s “Enriched (Gifted) Program.” I know that change is inevitable. I just wish that some of it wouldn’t happen. I would have enjoyed teaching Aubrey one more year. She is an intelligent, headstrong, creative, observant, popular, pretty blond girl that everyone in our class is going to miss. She responds so maturely to criticism and suggestions. Maybe that is why her grades are so excellent.

We had a going away party for her, and presented her with a goodbye card. Lucky Ohio. Dadburn it!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Opening Up: A Dark Secret

Laura struck a nerve in her latest blog, “Oh I Knew You When…”

She claims I put “…everyone through an adolescent ring of fire.” True. I won’t deny it. And I did a number on a few cats too, especially to poor Billy.

I have matured and wouldn’t do anything like that to kids, although around Halloween I do like to close the classroom window blinds, turn off the lights, and tell frightening stories. A year never goes by that some kid doesn’t need to go out in the hall to escape the fear that my stories generate. I was mature enough by the time I became a teacher that I always tell them ahead of story time that they can freely leave without being kidded, teased, or embarrassed. I can scare the heck out o’ them with some of my “true” stories.

Laura also commented that “…he recognizes himself in every one of those little kids.”
Kapow! You hit the target dead center on that one. However, some of the recognition has to be pointed out to me. For example, I once came home complaining about some kid in my class. I told my wife, Peggy, “Alexandra will NOT shut up. All she wants to do is talk and yak.” Peggy cocked an eyebrow and said, “Well I wonder why THAT child is in YOUR class?!”

So far I have joked about the nerve Laura’s blog struck in me. It is time to reveal a more personal, serious part of me. It is time to open up my heart.

The real reason that I seem to be a Mr. Holland and inspire children the way my blogs suggest I do is that I have a deep seated need to be loved and admired, so that’s the way I write my blogs. In most of the blogs I put my best foot forward and try to get you, my reader, to like me, and this isn’t easy to admit. Have I ever messed up with students? Yes, but not often. Not often as the great jobs I have done, but yes. Parents all the time at my school are expressing a real hope their children will be in my class. I have an outstanding reputation at the school I am at, and I treasure my reputation for it is more valuable to me than great riches.

The secret as to why I have this need to be liked and respected by my readers is the same secret as to where I believe I get my inspiration for being the best teacher I can be. They come from the same source, and here it is. My wanting to be a great teacher doesn’t come from only heavenly-inspired, high-minded, lofty, celestial wisdom; it also comes from the knowledge of the cold, dark dungeon of despair and rejection.

I love my parents, even my father, but as a child, I didn’t get the love and self-confidence building attention that a kid needs. I know what it is like to be a child, try your best in activities that are of great importance to you, do a good job, and get a put down from your own parents. I know what it is like to express your career hopes to your parents only to be told hundreds of times that you will fail miserably and literally starve to death if you try such a foolish endeavor. I know what it is like to be told you are expected to go to college, make great grades in school (well, except for physics), only to be chided for your choice of colleges and possible majors, receive rebukes and criticism, a refusal of financial help, and then to be thrown out of the house because you wouldn’t eat what was on your dinner plate. I know what it is like to be a child and fear your father most of the time. To be afraid even when you hear his car pulling into the driveway.

I also know what it is like to try with all your heart and mind to be better at something that your father was miserable at, and that is to encourage and uplift children. That’s what I try to do. I became a teacher late in my life when I had matured and reconciled what a man really should be compared to the poor example I had been provided. I think this secret of mine is the same inspiration my brother Jack has to be the greatest father he can be.

I can empathize with kids and what they are going through, especially if they feel unworthy, small, inept, bothersome, irritating, unloved, and desperately seeking elusive approval, acceptance, and even love. These are things I didn’t give to my niece, Laura, because when she was young I hadn’t recognized, much less accepted, the truth of my own upbringing.

I know no other way of finishing this blog, and it might not make sense.

I was then. I am now.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Oh, I Knew You When...

I admit it. I read Walter's blogs and my eyes tear up. Every story leaves me lamenting the fact that I didn't have someone like that in my corner, that I wasn't presented the confidence-building encouragements he doles out like I do Warheads to my kid, that I didn't know someone just like Walter...hey, stop the presses! Gadzooks, Walter was my uncle.

You see, I knew Walter before he was Mr. Holland, I knew him when he was Uncle Walter. And Uncle Walter used to chase me mercilessly around the house with a Frankenstein mask, arms menacingly outstretched and moving terrifyingly slowly, relentlessly. He, William, and Jack were not so much older than I (though now, miraculously, they are way older than I am) and it was a little like having torturous siblings. And Walter: a lot more tortuous than some. Ask Jack about being roused in the morning with water droplets on his forehead, a la Chinese interrogator. Ask my mother if she recognizes Mr. Holland in little bubba Walter at the dinner table, who crammed his peas in the hollow frames of the dining chairs. Ask me if he complimented me carefully, nurturing my development into the fabulous, confident woman I have become today.

No, I think Walter is paying penance for past transgressions! I think he is the perfect teacher now because all of us went through his experimental adolescent ring of fire. And I think probably his wife has shaped him up a bit, as well. Quite simply, Walter is the teacher he is today because he recognizes himself in every one of those little kids. Something that I could learn to do more with Jake: recognize my ten-year old self.

Life, time, business, excuses, distance...Jake has never met Uncle Walter, and we should be ashamed. But Jake is meeting him now, in less than a month. And I sincerely hope that when we pull up, except for the loss of fiery red hair, and probably no longer sporting the ability to let me punch him in the stomach as hard as I can, that he is unchanged from my memories, from the stories with which I amuse my son. Because as great as Mr. Holland is for all these strangers, I imagine that Jake could use a little Uncle Walter. But if he teaches him to belch the alphabet....

Friday, June 09, 2006

Pratfall Patty

Have you ever seen old movies of Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin taking a pratfall? They slip on a piece of ice or turn a corner too fast, and BAM! down they go. I like to use the remote to slow motion the action to study how they do it. It’s similar to Judo. Arms and hands are used to absorb the blow, a suppleness to the spine is added, and the Bam! is really not so bad after all.

The first time I met Pratfall Patty was her first day in the fifth grade, and her family accompanied her to school. Her uncle was a dwarf, her brother was a stark white albino, and her mother was extremely short and highly stocky. Kids wear their heart on their sleeve, and I could see she was mortified to have her family there. I paid no attention to her feelings and welcomed her family like all the others, but I could see she was embarrassed and I don’t judge her for that.

I call her Pratfall Patty because that was her way of getting attention. It started on trips to the chalkboard. There would be an imaginary chair leg or a desk or a foot in her way and down she’d go. She’d give a big, long, embarrassing laugh, and everyone would laugh too. A person falling down is hilarious to kids. Broken bones? That’s for old people. A good fall is funnier than a Seinfeld episode to a fifth grader. Pratfall Patty started slowly, and at first I would go along with it and make a joke. I’d yell out, “We have a kid down!” or “We need a cleanup on aisle 6. We have a kid down!” But as her pratfalls grew in frequency, they became a tired, wearisome attention getting device. To stop her, I didn’t want to talk about her pratfalls. That’s too obvious. I am more devious.

I started complimenting Patty on her looks. It would either be her shoes, or her hair, something real, not made up. Then, when she’d take a nosedive for a good laugh, I’d say, “That sure wasn’t pretty. Yuk!” It took longer than I thought. A couple of months. I’d compliment her more and more but tell her how ugly her falls were. There was one problem to my “solution.” I decided to tell the principal what I was doing to “keep things on the up and up,” and we both agreed that I should never ever be alone with Patty. I complimented her appearance frequently, and I would say how her fall didn’t look very pretty. Her pratfalls slowly died away.

On the last day of school, I was at a computer and shutting it down for storage. I remember one of the parents was in the room taking sentimental photos and she had a camera. Patty was talking to me about her summer plans and right in the middle of some sentence about the new middle school she would be attending, Patty stopped talking, hugged me, and started crying. I was surprised, especially because I was always on guard with Patty about contact. I looked at the parent who was touched by the expression of love Patty was showing me. It was obvious Patty did not want to talk about her summer. She wanted to tell me she was going to miss me, but with Patty, many things were sublimated and unconscious. The parent started to take a picture of Patty hugging me, so I hugged Patty back and told her for the last time, “Patty, you’re beautiful. Then I whispered in her ear, “You’re the prettiest girl in the school.” She must have hugged me for a whole minute.

I hope there is somebody out there that keeps her on her feet, who keeps her from taking a header into the floor for attention. All it takes is some confidence building compliments.

...Or a Teletubby

Oh, yeah, sure, go ahead. You sit there and think you won't. But I'm telling you: try to raise a child today without owning one Elmo.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Learning is Not an Emergency

Teachers have success stories.
“Yeah, James came into my fourth grade class hating to read. He comprehended at the first grade level. The first thing I did was to encourage him to read, and then I inspired him to love reading. He became consumed with fiction books, read voraciously, and he took my suggestions for comprehending with contextual cues, predicting, and analyzing character motives. He then moved onto non-fiction material, flew through the classics, is now reading Aristotle’s “On Man and the Universe” and finishing up an essay titled “Principles of Post Nicomachean Ethics” that some publishing company in New York is interested in, and he’s reading at the twelfth grade level.”

Teachers have other stories.
“Yeah, it’s not going so well with Jimmy. He started my class absorbed in books and reading at the sixth grade level. Now he is reading at the middle of the first grade level, is on a school district required AIP and is going to qualify for summer school for the first time in his life, hates to read, has forgotten his adding subtracting facts, no longer knows his times tables, and his parents have given me the nickname ‘Mr. Hoover’ because I am sucking the brains out of their boy like a “Wind Tunnel Supreme” upright.”

The second scenario happens to every teacher, sometime. Most of those teachers get all worked about it, put a proverbial monkey on their back, and then start jumping around like they really are a Shop Vac sucking the kid’s cerebrum out of their skulls through the ear canal. I have learned that there are many inexplicable reasons why the learning process slows. Yes, sometimes a student and a teacher just don’t jive. Something could be going on at home. Maybe the student is sitting next to their first love and can’t keep their mind on their work and the fifth grade becomes a blur because all you can think about is Marjorie and the way her black curls flowed down her head to her shoulders and when she smiled you heard yourself moan something like, “oh um yeah uh uh oh,” and your parents can’t quite figure out what is going on and neither can your teacher. But I digress.

Nobody should panic. I don’t. Learning is not an emergency.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Growing Up in Boca, All of Us

Living in Boca Raton the past two years has been quite the learning experience for me, at least in the oh-my-god-I'm-back-in-high-school-department.

We excitedly joined a bee-yootiful synagogue after buying a small Boca abode. It has a wonderful children's program, a committed and seemingly sincere Rabbi, and it's teeming with Cardiologists in case you have a heart attack midservice. Everything you want in a Temple.

After The Pregnancy, which most of you know was the most terrifyingly sick I have ever been in my life, I decided to get really involved, because I could, you know, now lift my head off the bathroom floor. I had not previously had a very comfortable feeling from the temple, but I was quick to self-assign the blame; I mean how friendly could I have been the past nine months? But I just felt thwarted at every turn. I kept finding the administration so rude, unwarm, sometimes downright terrifying. Their New Yorkish Jewish accents held such contempt and irritation, and I sounded utterly Texan as I talked to them. And then I had an unacceptable conversation with a mother that I met. One who rapidly found a way to let me know that her husband is a surgeon, and oh, what does your husband do?

That question, when you ask it within four minutes of being introduced, just rattles me. I have enough of a problem being defined by what I do, but by what my husband does for a living? How is that me? How does that give you info on anything about me that just outright asking my zip code wouldn't do? (On which Jake has been grilled, by the way, in an oh-so-90210-way.)

"Uh, he's a pharm rep," I answered.

"Oh my God," she laughed, "How do you make it?"

How do I make it? My expression must have been quite remarkable, because she nervously explained herself, like she'd merely been joking. "I mean, it's so expensive here."

I don't need to tell you the rest, do I? That we are no longer members there, that I am trying out synagogues in neighboring "poor" cities: Delray Beach, Boynton Beach? That Jake will get some private Bar Mitzvah instruction in the meantime? And you're probably wondering how do I make it? Well, I get out of bed, make breakfast, slather daily sunscreen on my child, sometimes I worry about money a little, I get on with my day, and I shop sales and occasionally at consignment stores.

Oh, and as I fired back at the mother at the Temple: the food stamps help.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Final Step

The last blog I wrote, “It’s War, Baby!” involved my premeditated decision to handle a child’s abusive behavior with tough actions and a harsh attitude, and then finishing with, hopefully, an uplifting moment. Sometimes I wish I could circumvent the war step and go straight to the uplifting part. When I reflect on my actions as a teacher, that means I ponder if I could have eliminated the tough talk and gone straight for making Eric my Assistant Guardian, and then, most importantly, gotten the same short and long-range results. I am trying to think of some of those moments when I skipped the war step and first responded with wisdom and foresight, and the child, inspired by my very utterances and gentle demeanor, was renewed and uplifted, not only as a student, but as a human being.

I can’t think of many, or rather, I can’t think of any, at least when the child pushed buttons the way Eric did. However, I have tried to emulate the reactions, examples, and guidance of a few teachers who impacted me. Here is one of those stories.

When I was in the third grade, one of the fourth grade teachers in our school let me know in every casual hello or passing by that she thought I was special. That lady even looked at me like I was wonderful, and I knew there was someone in this world that would vouch for my greatness before God and man.

A fourth grade buddy of mine and I started fooling around with matches. We even took the bold step of bringing matches to school! Today, of course, it would be grounds for suspension and possible expulsion. Our matches fixation was forbidden excitement. Then, my slipshod friend got caught with his matches and told his teacher that I was also involved. She sent him to my class to “fetch” me in order to punish the other firebug, whoever he was. On the way to his classroom, my friend told me that his teacher had found out about our matches, that she was furious, and that we were dead boys walking. I was terrified. However, the terror was pleasant compared to my next emotion. My terror turned to shame when I saw that his teacher was the fourth grade teacher that thought I was the cutest kid in the world, and the look on her face ripped my heart out. She was shocked, then her face turned to disappointment, then she almost looked sad, and she said nothing to me. I had disappointed her. I had ruined my perfect reputation, at least in one person’s eye, and she sent me out of her room after saying nothing. Nothing at all. There was no punishment, except for the greatest punishment of all, the loss of my reputation to someone who thought so highly of me.

I ran from her sight for months to avoid seeing her. Then one day there she was and I couldn’t avoid her. Yet she spoke to me like nothing had happened. I was still the wonderful little kid in her eye. She looked at me and spoke to me the same way, but something had changed in me. I knew she knew I wasn’t perfect anymore, but to get her enthusiastic respect and love back, that was the gift she gave me again.

That gift, that uplifting gift of acceptance, of respect, of even admiration, and then forgiving love, is the final, perfect step. That last step is always my goal as a teacher, the ultimate power I have as a teacher.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Moment of Gratitude

One more time. That was Jake's mantra, as we visited Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure this weekend. Jake had scored big this report card, and we were all celebrating by staying at a Universal Hotel which buys you front of the line passes. Which means that you have absolutely no reason to say no to twenty-five Dueling Dragon rides in a row.

Jake is at a great age for the park now. He has zero interest in shopping and asking for those inane, fifteen-dollar-moving-
dinosaur-head-pinchers-on-a-stick; nor does he wish to engage in any fun-halting activity such as going to the bathroom or eating. Nice for us, because nothing comes back worse on you after Hulk to the thirteenth than a hot-dog, unless it is an eight-dollar hotdog.

There was, of course, the occasional pre-teen tone at my ludicrous suggestions (like getting off the the large dinosaur structure laden with Do Not Climb signs, or to please walk with us so that we didn't have to meet back at the Lost Child area), and the requisite whining at leaving at the park's closing (a mere eleven hours after our arrival), but one non-self-indulgent moment deserves mention. We were preparing for a last round of brain damage on the roller coaster, and he wanted to ride this small, mild (but fun) prep coaster next to it. The line is always less than five minutes (even without front-of-the-line passes), but we were standing there, motionless, with no sign of coaster activity.

Jake was irritated. You get used to star treatment really quickly, and your patience wears thin at having to make idle conversation with your unhip, out-of-touch mother for more than two minutes. "What's the holdup?" he demanded.

I craned my neck to see a young girl, a quadrapalegic, being lifted by several people into one of the seats. I pointed this out to Jake, hoping he wouldn't comment on the emotional lump in my throat--partly inspired by this young girl's determination, and partly by her lack of mortification, a prevailing emotion that directed my life from about seven years old until forty. "What's she doing?" he asked, still slightly perturbed we were not boarding.

After I explained, he uttered a barely audible "Oh." Smiling, he watched her family gathered around her, loading her in and shining with excitement over how fun the next thirty seconds were going to be for her. Then, just under his breath, he whispered, "Take all the time you need."

It's WAR, Baby!

There was a first grade student in our elementary school named Eric who quickly became infamous for his impulsive outbursts of violence. Eric punched kids. He’d double up a fist and pop some kid right in the kisser. By the time he was in the second grade, he had cold-cocked little girls and boys alike. By the time he was in the third grade, his mother decided that Tae Kwon Do would teach him discipline and get his aggressions under control. The only results I heard about was that the kids he’d sock were now getting decked, hitting the dirt, and going to the nurse with more serious injuries. I had very little contact with Eric except the time I saw him running scared through the courtyard and heard that he had just punched another child. I stopped him from running away, talked to him until his teacher came, and in the conversation discovered that Eric was not angry or mad; he was scared, frightened, and unable to explain why he had hit his friend. A small disagreement had turned into a serious issue, and he was suspended from school….again. I heard that Eric always ran in fear after losing his temper and hitting someone. He was never expelled, but he was often suspended from school.

I wound up with Eric in my fourth grade class, naturally. At that time, I had studied eleven years of a combination of Northern and Southern Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu from Chong Wei Lin, a man who knew traditional Shaolin Kung Fu because his family fled China to Taiwan. China lost much of its traditional Shaolin Kung Fu because of Chairman Mao, but it morphed into a formidable and more acrobatic Wu Shu.

I never gave a single, real demonstration of my martial arts skills to any of my students, ever, but I gave one to Eric. I kept him in during the first recess of school. I stretched my body and told him about Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu, and then, in that classroom, I gave a powerful demonstration. I exploded with all the energy I had in me and combined the most exciting, thrilling, and impressive moves of three or four forms, and it included jumping over desks. Then I gave him a speech about the tradition of my teacher, and my teacher’s teacher, and my teacher’s teacher’s teacher. Then I told Eric that I considered him a loose cannon, a failure as a martial artist, and the school bully. Recess ended.

Class went on as usual. When the next recess came, I introduced Eric to every single child in my class, one at a time. It took three recesses each day for three days, and during each of those recesses I stood by Eric’s classmate and told him if he ever hit this student, I’d consider it an attack on me, and I would fight back. I would look Eric right in the eye, and with my best Darth Vader voice would growl, “Don’t you ever hurt any of the children at this school. I am guarding them.”

After I had “introduced” Eric to all his classmates, all with the same speech, I then took Eric out for recesses with me, He wasn’t allowed to play; he had to stay beside me. We walked around the playground and I tried to get him to describe scenarios when he would lose control in the past. I discovered he always felt like he was being attacked. He would feel challenged, threatened, and get a little scared. Then he’d come unglued and give somebody a taste of his fist sandwich. I pointed out to him that he was scared. Fear was getting him into trouble and turning him into the school bully. I told him it wasn’t my job to know why he was scared, but he was not to be scared anymore. We’d walk around the playground and I’d point out how vulnerable and small the other little kids were, how they were all under our watch, how he and I were stronger than everyone else because of our martial arts skills, and we should never ever fear anyone, no matter what they would say or do.

Then I got some of Eric’s classmates to say outrageous things to him.
Things like, “Get off that swing you idiot.”
“What are you doing here? I was here first!”
“Get away from the drinking fountain!”
“You’re a stupid idiot and I am going to tell the teacher because you stole my ball!”

Then Eric and I would walk off and we’d say things like, “That kid’s got a problem.”
“I wonder what his problem is?”
“He can have that ol’ swing.”
“I’m going to this other drinking fountain where the kids aren’t nuts.”

I told Eric that I was a duty teacher, and that meant I had a duty to protect all the kids in the school. I then made him my Assistant Guardian. We were on guard at all times to protect the little children at our school. To be a Guardian, you had to have no fear.

No fear. Never fear. Always protect.

Eric never got into a fight that whole year. He sometimes didn’t pay attention in class and would have trouble accepting responsibility for his own actions, but it was never for striking another child. I was considered the miracle worker by everyone except Mr. K., who said he would have done the same thing, and I know he would have, because he had done it with a boy named Mario. Or he had done something similar.

Mr. K. and I know it’s war, baby. To hell with the costs.

Sometimes you worry about “being under fire” from crazed parents, but I had talked to Eric’s mom, and I told her I was going to use some strong measures that would involve Eric’s losing the first two weeks of recesses, if she’d allow it. She didn’t ask what I would do; I think she just trusted me, or maybe she just hoped and prayed.

All those recesses I gave up, all those breaks? Well worth it. It’s war, baby.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Kid's Hearing

Teachers and students get pretty worked up about tests these days. Many of you don’t know, but “No Child Left Behind” means that a kid who doesn’t do well on a single test may face summer school, shame, and an academic stigma. Any test taking strategies a teacher can give a child are a good idea. My favorite, besides preparing them academically, is to encourage children to get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy breakfast. Many kids come to school sleepy and with empty stomachs or worse yet, upset stomachs due to a hasty, lousy breakfast. About three years ago I give my fifth grade class a pep talk:

“Everybody listen up. How many of you have heard about ‘home field advantage’ in sports? Do you know what that means?” (pause for answers) “Yes, you’re right. The team that is at home has an advantage. But that doesn’t mean that the field is better. It means that the players that are at home get to sleep in their own bed. They go to bed early and are rested. The other team is traveling, and so they wind up sleeping in a strange bed in a motel room and not getting enough sleep. Your homework tonight is to go to bed early. Get a good night’s sleep, and come to school rested and ready to test.” (Score one for the Teach!)

“Now, I also want you to eat a healthy breakfast. I don’t want anybody snacking on last night’s pizza. Don’t eat a few bites of some sugary cereal. I want you to drink some orange juice, apple juice, or even better, milk. Have a bowl of oatmeal with a little fruit on it, or maybe some bacon and eggs. Yogurt is a healthy breakfast. Don’t get to breakfast late and race to eat a bite of a burnt piece of toast. Have some pancakes or waffles with fruit and syrup. Eat healthy!” (Score another one for the Teach!)

Well I was pretty satisfied with that speech. The next day, about a half hour into the all omnipotent government mandated test, Danny raised his hand. As I head over to him, I can see by the pallor of his skin that we had a problem.

“Mr. R., I feel funny. I think I’m gonna throw up.”

That would be a distracting catastrophe for the other test takers and would leave the test taking environment in nauseating condition, so I calmly yet rapidly took Danny out to the hall and told him to go to the restroom. Danny didn’t take two steps before he started blowin’ chunks. Poor Danny was spewing vomit with each step as he stumbled down the hall. I used another classroom’s phone to call for a custodian to clean up the long, wide line of earp that trailed from our classroom door all the way down the hall to the boys’ restroom, and as I go back to the hallway to check if Danny has returned, I glance down at his vomit. It is then I notice pieces of bacon, milk, oatmeal, raisins, and scrambled eggs. My curiosity is aroused and I continue down the hall examining Danny’s discharges: bits of pizza, bananas, apples, sausage, more chunks of fried eggs, toast, and what is definitely pieces of waffle, and probably the frozen kind. I find myself fascinated by the smorgasbord on the floor AND that I can distinguish what it is. It’s like Danny just ingested this stuff and it is still in pristine, undigested condition.

Here comes Danny oozin’ slowly back to the classroom, and I ask him, “Danny, what did you have for breakfast?” Danny queasily responds, “Mr. R., I ate what you told me to eat.” I asked him, “What did I ask you to eat, Danny?” He looks up at me and says, “You know, bacon and sausage, eggs, cereal, pizza, fruit, oatmeal, waffles, and orange juice and raisins with toast and jelly, and cereal with milk, but we didn’t have any yogurt so I ate some ice cream.”

I now phrase my speeches more carefully.

Friday, June 02, 2006


I am officially “looping” with my class. That means that I taught them fourth grade and will take the exact same class/students through fifth grade next year and teach them again. Then I go back to fourth grade, thus the term “looping.”

I enjoy looping because the class gets off to an immediate academic start because procedures and expectations are already in place, I am already familiar with the students and their behaviors, the kids are already friends, the curriculum is new and different, I will be teaching a different age and grade level, and I like this group of kids.

Because of looping, the last day of school was not as emotional. There were no kids that were glad to be rid of me, but only because they are not rid of me…………....…...yet. Kids that were sad to say goodbye and might cry, didn’t cry, because I'll be their teacher again in August when school rears its ugly head again. Except Kara. She cried a little.

One more year of me……………….that’ll toughen you up.

Because it’s summer time and my daily interactions with kids has mostly disappeared, I will be writing blogs based on past experiences. Have a great summer, Moms!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

They're A Lot of Work, Especially When You're on the Run From Blood-Drinking Aliens

So much changes after you give birth. Things like your knowledge of the hottest clubs, your selling of the two-seater sports car, your once-recreational-model breasts, your considering that a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes is a reasonable purchase.

Last night Jake cajoled me into allowing him watch War of the Worlds. He had already seen it, courtesy of his father, and since we all know that two wrong parenting decisions ultimately make a right one, I relented and viewed it with him. It was appropriate training anyway, for the inevitable arrival of August's 16-hour-a-day marathon television watching.

The imaginary planning began. With every scene, I eyed the correct direction that I would have run with my children. When they got to a (momentarily) safe spot, I thought, hey, that would be a good time to fix them a hot meal because God knows when they would be able to eat again, then spent the next few minutes zoned out picturing the most healthy "last meal for a while" that I could coordinate. I then chastised Tom Cruise for taking them on the ferry--Good Lord, clearly a horrible decision when aliens are mucking about--triumphing "I was right" when the ferry predictably was turned over by a nasty, water-soaked Martian. I had to make it a learning session for Jake as well, pointing out the several times that Dakota Fanning LISTENED to her onscreen parent and THAT is what ended up saving her life.

If I have spoiled the suspenseful moments of the movie for you in this post, I'm sorry. It won't matter then that I now divulge the ending to you. That without any anti-depressants, Tom manages to save his children from the torturous death-spree of the aliens, and learns that eternal lesson: Children Change Your Life Forever.

And I learn that I cannot even enjoy escaping into a suspenseful movie without an Alien-Arriving-Contingency Plan that now includes packing enough formula and a big jar of bird flu.