Sunday, July 30, 2006

Walter Loves His Great-Nephew and Great-Niece

My Mother Lesson No. 2,754: Drop the Preconceived Notions

You have a mental vision of what your child is going to be, don't you? Or was it just me? Maybe me worse than others, as poor Eric probably has to live up to what my mental vision of a husband is supposed to be. And my dreaming about a girl...well, let's just say the fates are gonna be guffawing.

She started out, as you all have known by now, a little slower and smaller than other babies. She is still significantly smaller. Yesterday we visited the mall with the dual purpose of some sale shopping and allowing strangers to admire Olivia, her favorite pasttime. We found Olivia some shoes and my little girl--one year old in less than a month--barely fit the six-month sized shoes I purchased.

Diminutive? Yes. Little sweet docile pumpkin that she started out as? Not so much. Olivia's favorite thing to do is now treat our bed like a mosh pit and dive head first everywhere. Her little legs will not even sit still while eating, vibrating like a little humingbird. Her favorite words are duck, table
(because of this table in her room that I made: can you absolutely believe it Debbie?) and, accompanied by a vehement shaking of the head, "NO."

"Olivia, come here." "NO."
"Olivia, want a kiss?" "NO."
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. (As I typed this she just looked down at her terrier-clad feet and said "shoe". Then, "NO", head-shaking, and attempting shoe-removal.)

Olivia is turning out to be exceedingly verbal and observant. She touches an object and looks at me quizzically and lifts her arms to say, "What is this?" An answer of the object's name produces a sophisticated chuckle and you can see her load the information away. She is rougher than Jake was as an infant. She doesn't like to cuddle, has never ever tolerated being cradled in your arms, prefering from as little as two months old to be held facing outward, observing the world and avoiding that smothering affection.

Who would have thought Jake would turn out to be my sweet little cuddle monster?

I am reminded yet again that children are who they are, not who you expect them to be. I am surprised that I am actually having to relearn this: I already have a child (and friends, and family, and co-workers, all who have their own personalities) so there is no excuse of naivete. And at the same time, I am being educated on exactly how much Jake was exactly what I pictured in an infant and toddler.

Jake comes home tonight from his ten days away, and I think I'll share my new insight with him. As he demands that I snuggle with him before bed tonight, I am going to of course oblige. And tell him that he is everything a mother could want in a little boy. I think he'd like to know. He'd probably appreciate my spending more time thinking about that than about all the ways he isn't what I'd like him to be.

And if you already know this lesson, I'm glad for you. I don't mind admitting I'm behind.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"Kids! Why Can't They Be Like We Were, Perfect in Every Way?"

Do you remember the song. "Kids!" from the musical "Bye Bye Birdie"? Click on the highlighted words in this blog. It will take you to a song lyrics website that has the very clever lyrics to a great song. The chorus that I founded sings that song every few years because I find it so amusing. Here's one reason why.

Recently I was visiting my elderly parents in Houston, Texas, and I found myself in an automobile travelling south on the Gulf Freeway towards Galveston. I started laughing and my mother asked what me was so funny. I told her that it was nothing and just forget it. That was the end of that.

I will tell you what it was, though. I will tell you what I was laughing at.

When I was ten years old, I went to spend the night at David's house. David was a friend of mine from school who lived on soda pop and therefore had weak little bones that snapped like twigs. I say that because he fell out of a tree in my front yard that he had not even gotten into yet, fell a very short distance, and yet broke his arm. As an adult, I am sure that it was because David lived on soda pop and never drank milk. David also slept on his back constantly as a baby. Now I'm not so sure this is true, but that was my theory as a ten year old boy because the back of David's head was flat as a pancake cooked on a level stove in the Texas panhandle. Anyway, I digress.

Driving down the Gulf Freeway as a mature, grown man with my wonderful mother and sister, I saw the billboard that reminded me of that night at David's house. We slept in a tent in his backyard, and after some difficulty falling asleep, we started "messin' around." We were probably having trouble sleeping because it was summer time and Houston gets mighty hot, humid, and sticky. It could also have been the mosquitos that are so humongous that their proboscis will wake you up when they penetrate your epidermis. Or it could have been our conversation.

"Want do you want to do?
"I don't know. What do you want to do?"
"I don't know."
"I know! We could go climb the billboard."
"What billboard?"
"There's a billboard down the street that's right on the freeway. It's all lit up with big floodlights and we can go climb it and stand right in front of the sign."
"Neat-O! Let's go."

We walked down the street from his house to the big freeway, and David showed me how to climb up on the huge, lighted billboard. I found myself ("I found myself" is an appropriate expression, as if I fell off a turnip truck and there I was) standing in front of a giant picture of a cold, sweating bottle of beer, and beside me, my flat headed friend.

"Can anyone see us?"
"If they're looking they can."
"Well let's wave so they'll see us."

That became tiresome rather quickly.

"What if they do see us? So what? All they'll see is a couple o' kids wavin' at 'em. We need to do something that'll really shock 'em.
"What can we do?"
"I don't know."
"I know! We could strip down to our underwear and then stand here and wave. If anyone sees us then they'll say, "Oh My God! Look at those two kids there!"
"Yeah! And then the other person in the car will say, 'What kids? I didn't see any kids.' "
"Yeah! And then the first person will say, 'Those two kids on that billboard. They were in their underwear!' "
'Yeah! Let's do it!"

So off came our pants. There we stood, two fourth grade boys in our underwear standing in front of a giant bottle of Schlitz waving at people driving down the Gulf Freeway at midnight.

I know firsthand that boys will do stupid stuff. So when your kid does something stupid, don't be surprised. Don't even act surprised. But you might want to wonder what other stuff he has done that he hasn't gotten caught doing. And then you can worry about how the little demon will turn out! That ought to keep you up at night. And this'll scare you out of your wits: David became a lawyer! And as for me? I became an elementary school teacher and spend my spare time writing blogs like this that serve no purpose whatsoever!

That's why I love the lyrics to that song so much.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Kid Learning About Putting Your Foot in Your Mouth

Everyone learns about the dangers of "putting your foot in your mouth." I learned about "putting your foot in your mouth" around the age of ten, and I learned that it can almost be sensed. Instinct can almost warn you of its coming. But not quite.

Every time my father took his three sons on a vacation, his youngest son, my little brother Jack, would get car sick. Jack would roll the window down and vomit, upchuck, throw up, blow chunks.

A new trip was planned. We were going to Colorado! And I started up on Jack. "Jack, I don't want you throwing up in the car. You are going to have to get your mind and your body in sync. I am tired of your rollin' that window down and spewin' yer lunch all over the back o' the car. One time some o' yer vomit travelled around the back windshield and came into my window. Now I have to roll my window up when you roll yours down, and I have to listen to that vomiting sound and smell that stink and I'm tired of it. You are going to have to git yourself under control. It's all in your mind. You have to start thinking of the car's motions as soothing. You're jus' gonna have to control yourself and I don't wanna see you sprayin' out the window all over the highway. It's ridiculous for this to happen every time we go on a gall-durned vacation. This car sickness is in your mind! Your little bitty mind. Your stupid little mind. You gotta git control! Do like I do. Git control of your life, of your stomach, of your insides. Keep it down! Don't let it come back up. I'm tired of your gettin' car sick every time we head out for a good time in the car. Are you plannin' on sprayin' all over Colorado, fer cryin' out loud? What's the matter with you? You gotta quit gettin' car sink and vomiting all over the place and blah blah blah blah blah."

I went on and on and on for weeks before the trip. I should have felt it coming.

We traveled to Colorado. Dad bought some peaches. I ate one. The flavor of that peach started repeating. Soon I sensed what was going to happen. I fought it. I fought it with all of my heart. I fought it with all my mind and with all my my strength. But that peach came back. I rolled my window down and blew peach chunks all over Highway 285 and the back o' my Dad's '55 Chevy. When I was finished, I rolled the window back up and glanced over at little Jack. He never said a word. He just had a most satisfying grin on his face. And he never threw up that whole trip.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Ten Commandments: Cecil B. DeMille vs. Holy Scripture

I teach Sunday School. That means I am a Protestant, a United Methodist to be exact. I was raised to remain a Catholic because Protestants were heretics. I didn't know what that meant when I was a kid, but it had something to do with taking a wide berth around the Lutheran and Methodist church buildings on the way to Mass.

I was doing a lesson on Exodus and we hit the part about the Ten Commandments. I thought it would be a great idea to compare the Bible's version to the Cecil B. DeMille, Hollywood version. So we went through the Bible all the way to the Hebrew's entering the land of Canaan, which is where the movie ends. Then, I brought in the video and we watched The Ten Commandments.

At the end of the movie I asked my students what the difference was between the movie and Scriptures. John said, "The movie had more kissing."

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Monday, July 24, 2006

Lost in a Ten Year Old

Emergency surgery aside, the family vacation was fun for all. I promise to post pictures of our visit with Walter, and it was a never-ending laugh fest just as we expected. Olivia adapted to time changes, plane travel, and different sleeping arrangements with aplomb. Eric and I attempted to feel like adults on vacation once in a while, and Jake did his best to let us know that he is fully in the throws of ten-year old angst and that we were solidly, as parents, to blame.

I know Walter hinted to you that Jake was a charming challenge, all solveable by John Rosemond-educated, non-wavering, nerves-o-steele Mom and Dad. Oh, he's stronger than that, my friends! He is currently in a bit of warfare with us right now, and as it is my job to make his life miserable, I am actively lobbing missiles right back at him.

When he is not with me, which is the case right now for the next ten days, I get a very clear mental picture of how to raise my son. Emotionless, consistent discipline is the key, I know it is. But then real life throws in things like times of the month for Mom, Dad just wanting to watch the game dammit, and mandatory household staples running out like toilet paper, milk, and bourbon. Real world has bills that you didn't expect, or a small car accident, and yes, I admit it, all these things affect my parenting. I am not the coolest head on the planet, and while I won't bother you right now by listing all the thousands of positive attributes that come with that type of personality, I will admit that it fails to provide Jake with the kind of unflappable mother you admire on tv.

I also am willing to lay out my mothering skills (and lack thereofs) on the table. I am the idiot who will yell at her kid right smack out in front of anyone, so I'm sure people assume I lose it even worse in private. Not so. Although in private I probably am in a housedress and holding a martini/cigarette while doing so--kidding, kidding.

When I check with parents, Jake isn't doing anything so much better or worse than other children. And I don't want to paint the picture that he is not a ton of fun (which he is) or loving (very). Rather a lot of it is based on my expectations of him, which if you are anyone in any kind of relationship with me, you know can be quite high and demanding; ask say, my drycleaner. Either one day he will appreciate it, or you will find my lifeless body, petrified and attic bound, while he runs some cute but fatal bed and breakfast.

My resolve the next week before Jake's return is to recover from surgery and reprioritize what expectations I have of Jake, and not in that order. My problem as I look over the list is that it is difficult to put them in order as I want them all, of him and for him.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Pass Me a Percoset

After my hospital stint in Atlanta, I feel optimistic for the future: I really have very few internal organs left. Well, I've got about an inch and a half of colon, and my reproductive organs, and a gallbladder (that the doctor noted had stones). So I figure that I am actually ready for entering the very healthy portion of my life. One where I can eat and drink all I want and it merely just falls out the bottom.

I am thinking of writing a book about various hospitals to visit around the world. There's a nice one in Nice, France; Atlanta's experience was satisfying; and I have been in one in New York City that Geraldo Rivera escorted me to after he bumped into me, wandering the streets with pneumonia and a 103.5 temperature. Me + travel = hospital visit.

People think I am sickly. I am not, I protest. I feel I am like a Volvo. Little things fall off (lights, doorhandles), or stick (like electronic windows, or right-turn signals), but the engine keeps running forever. Look for me one day in the nursing home, filled with straw certainly, but still moving.

But what I don't get is why they couldn't have given me a itty bitty tummy tuck as they removed my appendix....


Sometimes a child begins a long, downward cycle of repetitious, improper behavior, and the child drags an adult into their circle of negativity by not responding to criticism or punishment. The child misbehaves again, for the thousandth time. The adult disciplines again, and due to an excess of practice, tries to raise their voice a little differently, maybe even try a little calmness. They might as well fuss at the kid with a Scottish brogue for all the good it'll do.

This downward spiral reminds me of World War II Air Force movies where the pilot is pulling desperately back on the stick hoping to avoid a crash landing as the plane heads straight for the rapidly approaching ground. As an adult, you feel desperate, and hoping at the last minute that the plane will come out of its dive and all will end well. However, kids are not P-51 Mustangs that finally pull out of their dive, not because the pilot is tugging at the stick with all his might, but because the air gets thicker at sea level. Kids won't finally respond when the nose diving plane of life gets to thick air at sea level. You are in a nose dive with your child, and you, the pilot, better change your flight tactics.

Here comes the hardest part of all to swallow. Adults are in charge. We have the experience and the wisdom to realize that we are in their plane, and we are spiraling downwards with them. It is up to us, the adult, the pilot, to pull that kid out of his nosedive. This is our responsibility, our task. But how?

If you are a parent, I'm not the one to help you. I have been trying to help a friend with his daughter for years, but when I make a suggestion for consequences for rude treatment his wife and he receive from her but do not deserve, he responds, "That won't work. She just refuses to do it. I can't MAKE her go to her room or clean her room or talk politely to me or not cause the family problems."

Just because I can't help my friend or my readers doesn't mean I can't recommend experts who can. I highly recommend reading John Rosemond who is one of the first of an increasing number of family psychologists who help parents deal with the failure of American children to respond to expectations and discipline. Super Nanny , a popular television show, shows parents how to raise their expectations, stick to the consequences they mandate for their children, and make time for quality family activities. I strongly recommend Dr. Phil who is popular on television and has written numerous books. He has taken a similar stance as John Rosemond. Dr. Phil emphasizes finding a child's currency, what the child considers highly valuable, then taking that currency away when the child fails to follow the parents' instructions. None of these experts encourage spanking. They do encourage American parents to raise their expectations for their children's behavior, to lay down common sense rules, to firmly yet calmly punish unwanted behavior, and to stand up for themselves.

I won't dwell on this issue anymore, but I will encourage all parents to expect their children to heed discipline and not avoid correction. Take the advice of the experts. Here comes the catch: Listening to advice is easy; following advice is difficult and goes against the grain of human nature. To quote Katherine Hepburn's character in the classic film, "The African Queen", "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Keeping Your Feet on the Ground

I had a fifth grade student six years ago named Kevin. Kevin is a wonderful boy with leadership ability and a soft-spoken demeanor.

I saw Kevin at the supermarket this week. I asked him how he was doing, how was school, how was the family, etc. Then, as we were saying goodbye, I gave him my little speech about continuing to work hard in school and blah blah blah. The last thing I said was, "Kevin, keep your feet on the ground."

Kevin's face lit up. He reached into his wallet, took out a piece of paper, gave it to me, and said, "I will, Mr. R., but sometimes it's hard." Then he turned around and left. I looked down at the piece of paper and it was a photo...........a photo of Kevin flying thorugh the air on a BMX motorcross bike, and he must have been thirty feet in the air.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An Insider Joke Outed, Part 2

Teachers crack jokes that are other teachers, but we wouldn't want parents to hear them. Here is one of those jokes. Please, please, try not to take this too seriously. It's a joke. Just try to remember that you can only get INSIDER JOKES right here at lostinkids.

The fourth and fifth grade staff at my school were in a meeting discussing placement of next year's fifth graders with teachers. Placement is a sensitive and important issue. Which teacher would be best for each student? A good question, right? All of you parents want to hand pick your child's teacher, but there is a tragic consequence of such a policy. One of the many problems is you will chase away many of the male teachers. I was at a school where parents could pick their teacher. If you read some of my previous blogs, you will remember that I left that school. Here's one of the reasons why. All single mothers with a troubled son wanted their child in my class because I was a male teacher. I also developed a reputation for being strict, despite the fact that there were female teachers AT EACH GRADE LEVEL that all the teachers agreed were more stern than I was. A male sternness is different, and I had been typecast. That means every year I received the toughest, most troubled kids, especially boys. One year I did not have a single, traditional family containing a father, mother, and children in my class. All the students in my class were being raised by grandmothers or single moms, yet this wasn't typical of the school community. It was typical of who I was expected to teach. I also taught very few girls. "My child needs a male father figure" was a mantra that caused me consternation, and many female teachers would say to me, "I'm sure glad I don't have that boy in my class." I'd reply, "He fits right in with all the other troubled kids." All staff members agreed with me that I was getting tough classes evry year, but that was the system.

I transferred to another school in a much nicer community. Not only was this community more stable and supportive, the staff and administration did not let parents choose the teacher for their child. The parents were, however, given a survey to fill out and suggestions could be taken from the surveys to accomodate their child's wants and needs. No specific teacher could be requested, but suggestions could be made. However, does anyone out there realize the immense job it would take to read over 745 surveys that would be carefully scrutinized and used as placement? It is an almost impossible task. Remember, every second grade teacher would have to read every first grade student survey, and there are 140 surveys.

So this year, the fourth and fifth grade teachers took it upon themselves to discuss the possibility of advising the administration of dropping the idea of the survey. It was a waste of time for the parents because actually using them to place students with next year's teacher was a formidable and daunting task that could take several weeks of the summer to properly accomplish. In the middle of this discussion, one of the other teachers whose name will be kept anonymous said, "I think we should keep the survey. It serves an important purpose for our school community. It gives the parents a false sense of input."

I roared with laughter, and that pretty much ended our idea of eliminating the survey. I bet there isn't a single parent out there that laughed.

Maybe the Supreme Court said the same thing after the 2000 election. "Let's keep the voting system intact. It gives the voters a false sense of input." Is that funnier? Probably not.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Laura's Luck

The late breaking news is that Laura had an appendectomy and will be released from the Atlanta hospital on Wednesday, July 19th if her recovery goes as expected.

Eric and her two kids are staying in a Ronald McDonald House next door to the hospital and all is well. The only complaint Laura has is that she has not eaten anything except a small cup of beef broth for three days, and yet her circumference is increasing due to post-surgical swelling. Well, she actually has some other complaints, but they might make a good blog so I'll not mention them.

Soon everything should be back to normal, at least after adding in our family's Normalcy Supplementary Adjustment Allowance. I'll be glad to have her back.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Regarding Laura

As our frequent readers can surmise, I have been carrying the biggest share of the blogging load while Laura is on vacation. I have been anxiously anticipating her return because:

1. My writing ideas are running dry as a really dry thing.
2. The pressure of doing all the writing weighs on my mind like a
really heavy weight thing.
3. The ideas for all the writing are really hard to think of because
they are like not there.

Nevertheless,I will have to continue to plug ahead. Laura is in Atlanta after having an attack of abdominal pain on her return plane flight home from San Francisco. She is in the hospital as I write, waiting for a berium milkshake to arrive at 4:30 on Tuesday morning.

I asked Laura how she was doing and she replied, "This sucks, although it could be worse. I am losing weight because the doctors will not let me eat anything except berium, I have cable TV, and I have all the pain meds I need delivered to my bed."

I will let everyone know how she is doing as soon as I know.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Simon, Mouth Farting King

The first week of school is usually tough for some kids. Last year poor little Simon was one of them. All he did for a week was nervously fiddle with his bangs, which were well tended and well handled. However, one of the other boys "shared" with the class that Simon was famous for his mouth farts, which were the best in the school.

Now, first of all, I am not your regular, normal human being. I studied and practiced belching, for cryin' out loud. If someone says a kid is a great mouth farter, I won't even ask what that means. I want to hear. Give me the noise. Now! So I asked Simon to mouth fart for me. I don't know what I was expecting, but this normally shy and reclusive little bang handler reared back and let go with one of the best farting noises I ever heard, and it was all done with his mouth. It was realistic, rudely loud, and may I go so far as to say, magnificent. I cracked up laughing and applauded Simon. He went back to bang handling later, but for a brief moment, he had his shining moment of glory. I also saw one of the girls, Melissa, roll her eyes and shake her head in disgust at both Simon, for his gross noise making ability, and me, for encouraging and enjoying such vulgarity.

I want to thank Tracy for her comment in an earlier blog which reminded me of Simon's talent. I had almost forgotten. I shall see Simon in about a month when school starts, and I will have a better chance of remembering to ask if he is still the Mouth Farting King. And as one of his fans, I would appreciate hearing another Grade A, Major League, First Class Mouth Fart.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Boston Baked Beans for Dinner

As many of you readers already know, dinner time was not a pleasant experience for me as a child. However, out of this tragedy comes melancholy comedy. Here is a tragic little tale from my past.

When I was a child, one of my favorite candies was Boston Baked Beans. My younger brother, Jack, loved them too. They are tasty little candy coated peanuts in a box, and we ate them often. When you were finished with the candy, you could use the box to make sound effects by blowing into the open end of the box. After doing that to twenty boxes, you'd think a kid would grow weary of the noise, but no, not me and Jack.

One Saturday my Mom announced to the family that we were going to have Boston Baked Beans for dinner. Now remember, my Mom's cooking was seasoned with a sense of duty, flavored with deep-seated regret over some of the more stupid decisions in her life, and fortified with a lack of cooking experience because her mother's idea of dinner was a pot of coffee and crackers. Dinner time was a rough situation for us kids, with liver being served for a solid week because it was on sale, no doubt because no other family in the metropolitan area would eat the stuff. I suspect all the meat departments in our city shipped all their liver to the supermarket down the street from my mother. Jack and I hated the stuff. I remember later as an adult a chef friend of mine told me his liver and onions was really good and I needed to try it. I can't believe I fell for that trick. His liver was just a tad less nasty than my Mom's. But I digress.

Jack and I believed our mother. "Kids, we are having Boston Baked Beans tonight." As far as we were concerned, it was a reprieve, a moment of joy, a candy meal, and we ran around the house excited as could be. However, I was older than Jack, and I became suspicious of the oven. Inside was a brown crock pot with aromas that did not smell like Boston Baked Beans candy. I told Jack of my concerns, but he was too ecstatic to think clearly. All he could see was Boston Baked Beans candy in his little genius brain. Jack was focused!

Dinner time approached. Because my mother had invested in a crock pot and was cooking a unique meal, which means no liver, she was making a big deal of it. Special place mats were put out. We set the table with the better plates. That meant something, didn't it? It was really going to be a candy meal!! Then we all sat down at the table. I can still see my brother Jack's little happy face. I can still the joy in his countenance as Mom gently bore the crock pot to the table. I can still see his face drop as she lifted the lid. I can still see his tears start to form as he realized that this wasn't a candy meal. It was a bean meal! Drats! I was disappointed, and deep in my heart I was aware that our mother, bless her heart, had not contacted the Ferrara Candy Company. She had not used their recipe to cook Boston Baked Beans. Somehow, inexpicably, in one of life's cruel twists of fate, Boston Baked Beans were beans.

I thought they tasted better than the lima beans she normally cooked. These beans had real seasoning and spices and salt. Our mother had a real recipe this time. But Jack? He took it so hard, and his bottom lip trembled during the entire meal.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Lesson in Paleontology

I was reading a great blog titled, "Lost in Kids: My Dinner with Raphael" and remembered a lesson I taught to second graders. It was a great idea that I let fall by the wayside.

I went to the meat market of my favorite supermarket and asked the butcher to save me some big bones. He said he had some and brought some little bones from the back. I told him I was a school teacher and wanted big bones that would look like dinosaur bones. Did he have any dinosaur sized bones? He said he'd get some later when he cut around the hip joints and asked me to come back later. Sure enough, a week later I had some cow hip bones that were pretty sizeable, at least to a second grader. I let them dry in the back yard and bleach in the sun for a while, then I took them to the schoolyard and dug a hole and buried them when no one was watching.

Weeks later my class did a study of dinosuars and how paleontologists dig up dinosaur bones. I told my students that dinosuars roamed the earth long ago right here in our area of the country. When one of them finally suggested we go looking for some bones, we went on a dig. I was very fortunate. I was able to direct the kids right to the spot where we found some huge bones. We used little brushes and whisk brooms and dug up some neat looking bones. The kids were pretty excited, and the bones were impressive looking.

I have been teaching fourth and fifth graders and haven't used that lesson on them. I figure somebody would think of the possibilty that I might be tricking them and that would take away all the fun , enjoyment, and learning out of the lesson. However, I am sure there are some young adults right now who remember that second grade paleontogy lesson and wonder why I would trick little kids like that. Shame on me!

Thursday, July 13, 2006


I have so many great vacation highlights to share with you all, but as I am apparently smack dab in the Sylvia Plath period of my life, I will share with you my meltdown. I only rue that I did not have an entourage filming it; it would have provided you with some comic relief.

You know me: I am anal. I live with ADD and it is okay because it only requires me to live a structured regimine that would seem a bit confining to say, Patton. And the challenges of leaving Seattle Albuquerque (my God did it rain there) for San Francisco (new time zone, new week, new hotel) were very alleviated and very managed by me because Walter and Peggy allowed me to use their home for two days before departure as an all-u-can-eat-and-laugh laundromat.

I had every bit of clothing washed, impeccably folded, and packed away. All ready to be opened, shiny and new, at the hotel in San Francisco. Granted, it would be at 11:00 at night, cranky baby and all, and freezing cold, but BY GOD THE CLOTHES WERE CLEAN.

I opened suitcase number one (mine and Olivia's clothing) to find that formula had exploded from the baggage handlers suitcase-flamenco dancing. Suitcase number two, opened by Jake, showed that Eric's tin of Poppycock had blown apart as they threw that suitcase on the plane after they had put it through the vice, a la Three Stooges.

I don't know if you have ever actually seen a woman systematically throw every piece of clothing in a hotel room, accusing God of persecuting her and her alone (because He does that sort of thing using glazed popcorn and Enfamil as His Equipment) then dumping out a suitcase in the hall while her husband calmly calls housekeeping. And if you have witnessed such a meltdown, then you know that the next day, her family is happy to have her sane again, even if that means they are cruising around San Francisco in clothing that has dried formula and nuts encrusted into the design.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Don't Ask Me

One of these two choices applies to me at some time or other, depending on how I feel:
a) I don't get to be a parent.
b) I don't have to be a parent.

At this time in my life, it's definitely b). I watched my niece and her husband struggle with problems with my great nephew, Jake, and I can't really help them with the problems they have. I could tell them to watch "Super Nanny" to get an idea of what I think, but I am too close as a family member to tell them exactly what to do or teach them what I do in the classroom. And to tell you the truth, I'm not sure what I do in the classroom would work in the real world.

Behavioral problems are different for teachers. In general, you have less problems with the kids than the parents have with the same kids. Teachers and their students don't have a powerful psychological relationship or an emotional attachment that dominates interactions and interferes with discipline. Teachers know that kids behave better in the classroom than at home. We always marvel (that isn't exactly the word) at how kids' behavior degenerates when the parents are around. All of a sudden the same kid who never is a bother needs hugs and love from their parent. Then they start crying for some minor reason. Sometimes they misbehave. It makes you wonder. What is going on in that kid's head? What are they thinking?

I'm not sure what kids are thinking, but I can tell you that sometimes a child psychologist like John Rosemond, who seems so stern and unloving, can make real sense when you have a discipline problem with your kid. Doctor Phil is also of that no nonsense breed who helps parents find their child's currency (what is valuable to them) and how to take the currency away if the kid doesn't respond to correction.

I can run a classroom with twenty-four kids. It takes 360 degree, full focus, radar attention. Keep an eye on all of them at once, even when you are talking one-on-one to one of them. Just don't ask me how to raise a family. That's a whole 'nother ballgame.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Quick Transformation: From Intellectual to Goofball

I was introduced to my great niece, Olivia, about one week ago. I immediately noticed a change in my demeanor. What in tarnation comes over a mature, intelligent, sophisticated macho dude like myself when I hold a ten month old girl in my arms?

All of a sudden it's, "Helllllllllllloooooooo OOOOOllliviiiiiiiiaaaah" OOOOOOOHHHH! You are sooooooooo cuuuuuuuuuuuteie poo poo hello0 cutie boo boo bee bee OOOoooo. You dee bay bay bay bay baby!"

Then I stuck my tongue out just a smidgen and cast aside decades of maturity, sagacity, mental profundity, and a seasoned cerebrum capable of brilliance and started making a raspberry noise that lasted as long as my breath would hold out, and after ten times of repeating that gross noise that a sage like myself would never, ever considering making, I realized I may have taught my great niece how to make a raspberry sound because she started doing it too, unless her wise and erudite parents beat me to it.

I love Olivia. And she brings out the sound effects genius in me.

Fetish Cops

Kids can misunderstand adult conversations in a way that causes a good laugh.

I was riding down the highway with Laura, Eric, Olivia, and my great nephew Jake. I told Eric, "We are on Indian land. Make sure you follow the posted fifty mile per hour speed limit because they'll pull you over and ticket you,"

My ten year old nephew, Jake, inquires, "Who is it that tickles you?"

I'd rather be tickled than ticketed, but I don't think the Tribal Police are really into that sort of thing.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Just Trying to Make Him Happy

I was just trying to make my great nephew happy. Laura brings Jake to visit and I have a ten year old to entertain.

It all started on July 4th by letting Jake play with our two cats, Holly and Bonzai, my dog Wookie, and our dove Gracie. Jake really gets excited over animals, especially birds. He got pretty wound up playing with Gracie.

Then he opened a present of a stack of books and I read aloud two chapters of a great classic. After that we went on a hike up the escarpment and saw jackrabbits and a view of the city. Then we ate lunch which was, in my opinion, a really great bar-b-qued brisket meal with goosebery pie and peanut butter cookies for dessert. Then Jake opened his present of a model rocket. We assembled it, drove to a launching field, shot it up in the air with the little engines the manufacturer supplied, then I pulled out the BIG engines and we shot it out of sight but thanks to Eagle Eye Eric we didn't lose it. By then it was dusk, and we came back to the house and fired up a huge box of fireworks.

Afterwards we came back in the house and Jake said, "My stomach is sick from all this excitement."

I did good.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

How I Got Lost in Kids

I appreciate all of you who read our blog site. I also think that I should open up a little more to our readers. This is secret stuff that will probably surprise some of my family members when they read this.

I know why I became an elementary school teacher, but sometimes I am amazed at how it all happened and why it took so long. In the back of my mind I knew what career I wanted, but I spend most of my time in the front of my mind so I didn’t do it.

When I was a boy I wanted to be a jet pilot. By the time I started making money as a young man, I went down to Hobby Airport in Houston, drove up to a flight school, and told them I wanted to learn how to fly. My very first flight in an airplane was wonderful because I got to pre-flight the plane, start the engine, taxi it to the runway, and do the takeoff myself by pulling back on the stick. I remember getting about fifty feet in the air and leveling the plane off. The instructor yelled, “Pull back on the stick! Keep going up! You’ll hit a tree!” I went up another fifty feet, started to level it off, and he yells again, “Keep going up! Higher! This is an airplane!” Climb to five thousand feet.” I remember replying, “Oh yeah. I was just thinking about getting it off the ground. We have to go really high, don’t we?” By the time I had logged about fifteen flight hours, I became increasingly concerned about landings. The air traffic controller, usually an expert speed talker who could easily rip off four thousand words per minute, would mouth machine gun something that sounded like, “Cessna one niner relocate to 3500 on a 230 and come in 18 over.” I’d reply, “Huh? Are you talkin’ to me? Wha’ you talkin’ ‘bout Willis?” The instructor would tell me to reply, “Roger. Over and out.” Then he’d explain what in tarnation the air traffic controller meant. Then there’d be a cross wind spring up and the plane would start drifting all over the sky. I kept imagining the front page of the local newspaper with a photo of a demolished Cessna on the runway with the headline, “Local Man Dies During Solo Landing.” I realized I loved to fly, especially if someone else with some natural flying capability was at the stick. I gave up on my hopes to be a pilot and probably saved my life making that decision.

I also dreamed of being a major league baseball player. However, I was a tiny little kid. I have a photo of me in my Little League uniform and I am wearing my glove. The glove was regular sized, but on me it looked like a leather turkey platter. When I got older I realized that "Pee Wee" Reese, the great Brooklyn Dodgers' shortstop, was listed as 5' 9 1/2" tall. I met "Little Joe" Morgan at a Houston Astros tryout camp, and he was way bigger than me. He must have been 5' 10". He walked by me and said, "You got a major league throwing arm, but you're scared of the fastball." Then the giant walked off. I knew I would probably be lucky to hit 5' 6", which I never did, so I decided that my height was too big a disadvantage. Chuck that dream, too.

I started job hopping. I have worked as an order clerk for a tool and die firm, a copy clerk for a newspaper, a floral delivery man, a forklift operator, a lab technician, a convenience store clerk and manager, retail lumber sales, wholesale millwork sales, window manufacturing sales, a truck driver, a route salesman for various wholesale food companies, and the list goes on. I disliked most of the jobs, and the two I did like the companies closed up due to a lack of business.

By the time I was twenty-six, I was a frustrated truck driver, and even worse, a very reluctant bachelor. I wanted a wife and kids. All my friends had gotten married, and there I was, not even dating anyone. Then I had a medical condition arise that I will not go into, but the doctor told me that I was going to have difficulty having children. It could be done, but when I got married, I was going to have to come see him and he’d send me to a specialist to assist my wife and me in having a child. A couple of years later a cure for an earlier, separate medical condition that was somewhat painful was invented, but the doctor warned me that the medication had a side effect that was going to further inhibit my ability to have children. Taking the medication would eliminate the chronic pain, but I needed to seriously consider the repercussions of the side effects.

By this time I had come to grips with the fact that I wasn’t exactly the charming, debonair ladies’ man. The first thing most women did when they saw me was glance at my receding red hair line and grimace. All my bachelor buddies had gotten married, even Gary. Gary was on a double date with another friend and his wife, and my friend told me that right in the middle of the date, Gary took his full set of dentures out and showed them to the girl who then asked to hold them. Four minutes later they were makin' out, and three months later they were married and she was pregnant. I hadn’t been on a date in over a year and so I took the medication.

When I was thirty I met and married my wonderful Peggy knowing that she wasn’t interested in having children, and she knew it was unlikely that I would be able to father them. I love her immensely, and I am very happily married.

A month into our marriage, Peggy realized that I was unhappy with my job and encouraged me to keep looking for something I enjoyed. I started job hopping again. It was a few years later that I finally discovered what I wanted to do for a living. I volunteered to teach a Sunday school class at our church and realized that I looked forward to teaching that class more than anything. At the age of forty I returned to college, got my teaching certificate, went on to obtain a Masters Degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis on the learning-to-read process, and found that I didn’t job hop anymore. I have found my niche.

Peggy and I have no children, but I love my job. I don’t even call it work. I tell Peggy, “Well, I’m off to school. See you later!”

I have lots of children in my life…… students. But I don’t kid myself. I am not their father nor their friend. I am their teacher, and they come into my life and then leave. But I love being an elementary school teacher.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Well He SURE Didn't Get It From Me

Jake has been spending a lot of time with Mr. Holland this week, and I have learned so much from watching them about how I grew up and what influences my uncles had on my life. I come from a family that is very funny, peculiar, self-depricating, and self-confident. But we're brave, and Jake is not. Jake is struggling with accountability.

I have observed Walter's and Jake's exchanges, whether it be during flying rockets, or blowing up ridiculously expensive boxes of fireworks, or Walter reading beloved children's books to him. What struck me, fiercely, is that visiting Uncle Walter once-in-a-great-while is not often enough. I see that Jake cannot bear to be wrong, or to have made a mistake. And I see that he cannot, will not, accept accountability and stand up tall and proud by owning his error--no matter how small the error or bad decision is.

The trip has been a great time, and I have so many stories to tell you. But, in true mother form, I am dwelling on the negative moments that I have with my ten year old. To be fair, those moments are magnified by the fact that Olivia has been her usual malleable, flexible, charming self. When we got on the plane and the woman occupying the seat in front of us saw that I was sporting a ten-month old, she loudly announced that she had the worst luck. "Everytime I get on a plane there is a baby that screams the entire time," she confided to her seatmate. Olivia failed to fulfill this woman's vision of the ride, and was also unable to learn from me how to kick the seat in front of her. "Oh," the woman shared with me later. "You have the best baby."

I have been hard on Jake. It was just he and I for a long time, and it is a heavy burden on a child, wondering if his father loves him, likes him. But I want to make this story end well. So, if you can tell me who to blame for his inability to accept responsibility, let me know. Okay, okay, I am only kidding. But how will I fix this? How will I get him to raise his hand and say, "It was me, I did it, and I am sorry."?

Oh Mr. Holland, he's your Great Nephew. What do we do?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Parental Influence?

You can tell a lot about parents' political views by playing "Twenty Questions" with their kid. My nephew and I were playing "Twenty Questions" and I had chosen Abraham Lincoln. Jake was catching onto the game and how it's played when we had this exchange:

"Is it a man?"
"Is he a politician?"
"Yes, he is."
"Is he stupid?"
"Well that rules out George W. Bush."

Is my nephew a political prodigy, parentally influenced, or a comic savant?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Comedy Skit

About six weeks ago I was still teaching elementary school before the summer began. At the end of every year our school has an evening of festivities and presentations called "Celebration of Children." I volunteered my fourth grade class to put on a skit. Below is the actual script that was reproduced for all my students to study and use, and these are the jokes in our comedy skit put on by my class in front of a few hundred people.

This is a long blog, so you might want to go get a cup of coffee or a diet soda pop or some herbal tea to sip while you read our script. Our comedy skit went over real well, so here it is for you to enjoy.

Mr. R. : OK class, may I have your attention, please. I am going to ask you some math questions, so get ready. Are you ready? (Sam is sleeping on his desk.) Sam! Wake up! Sam!! Do you think you can sleep in my class?
Sam: Well I could if you’d quit yelling!

Mr. R.: OK class, get ready. Here is the first math question: If you worked for ten hours at a wage of one dollar per hour, what would you get?
Tina: A new job!

Mr. R.: What do you get when you divide 12 by 4?
Bobbie: The wrong answer!!
Mr. R.: Any nine year old should be able to answer that last question!
Bobbie: Well no wonder I couldn’t do it. I’m ten!!

Mr. R.: If I gave you a one dollar for each week for a whole year, what would you have?
Jacob: A new bike!

Mr. R.: If you reached into your pocket and found 6 quarters, 7 dimes, 3 nickels, and 12 pennies, what you have?
Alan: Someone else’s pants on!!

Mr. R.: If I had 7 apples in this hand and 9 apples in this hand, what would I have?
Lauren: Great big hands!

Mr. R.: Melissa, I am going to ask you a VERY simple math question. If you had 5 dollars and I asked you to give me 2 dollars, how much would you have?
Melissa: Oh I’d still have 5 dollars! I’m not giving you any of my money!!

(Stephen strolls on stage)
Mr. R.: Stephen, why are late for class?
Stephen: I left home late.
Mr. R.: Why didn’t you leave home earlier?
Stephen: Because it was too late to leave earlier.
Mr. R.: Stephen, this is the fifth straight day you’ve been late to class. What do you have to say for yourself?
Stephen: Boy, am I glad it’s Friday!!

Alex: Mr. R., I’m going to miss school on Monday because I’ll be home sick.
Mr. R.: Are you feeling sick?
Alex: I’m not now, but I will be after my Dad sees this test score.
Mr. R.: Alex, You missed school yesterday. You’re missing too much school!
Alex: No I’m not! I stay home and play video games. I don’t miss school at all!

Mr. R.: Sam!! Are you awake! Sam! Are you awake?
Sam: Well now I am!!

Mr. R.: Alissa, I hope I didn’t see you looking at your neighbor’s test paper.
Alissa: I hope you didn’t either!

Mr. R.: OK, now let’s settle down and get ready for some social studies questions. Think social studies!! Now, class, what do George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have in common?
Tony: They’re both dead.

Mr. R.: John, you’re not ever raising your hand. Are you having trouble hearing?
John: No, I’m having trouble listening!

Mr. R.: Patty, Where was Queen Elizabeth crowned?
Patty: On her head!

Mr. R.: Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?
Joe: At the bottom of the page!

Mr. R.: A geography question: Where is the English Channel?
Greg: I don’t know. We don’t get cable!

Mr. R.: Can anyone name all the states in alphabetical order?
Mr. R.: When I was your age, I could name all the states in alphabetical order.
Jacob: Yeah, but there were a lot less states when you were our age.

Mr. R.: Where was George Washington buried?
Tina: In the ground?
Mr. R.: NO! NO! He was buried at Mt. Vernon. Can anyone tell me why he was buried at
Mt. Vernon?
Andrea: Because he was dead!

Melissa: Mr. R., I have a question.
Mr. R.: Does it have to do with social studies? I don’t want any stupid questions.
Melissa: No, this is a real question about history.
Mr. R.: OK. What’s the question?
Melissa: What did Paul Revere say when he finished his famous ride? (pause) WHOA! WHOA HORSIE! Whoa!!!

Mr. R.: OK, stop laughing! That isn’t that funny. That’s not funny! Let’s talk about some of yesterday’s tests and test scores. Audrey, did you think the test questions were hard?
Audrey: No, the questions were easy. It was the answers that were hard.

Mr. R.: Tina, I had trouble reading your test because your handwriting is terrible. I think you should learn to write neatly.
Tina: Mr. R., I already know how to write neater.
Mr. R.: Well then, why don’t you do it!!??!
Tina: If I wrote neater, you’d find out that I can’t spell!
Mr. R.: Well then you need to buy a dictionary.
Tina: I’m waiting for it to come out on video.
Mr. R.: Spelling isn’t that hard. Let’s do an easy word that you have been learning how to spell for four years. How do you spell school?
Tina: S – K – U – U – L?
Mr. R.: That isn’t how it’s spelled in the dictionary!
Tina: I thought you asked me how I spelled it!

Mr. R.: Class, stop laughing! That wasn’t that funny! (Maria raises her hand.) Yes, Maria?
Maria: Mr. R., I am also having a hard time learning how to spell.
Mr. R.: You too? Why is that?
Maria: Because all the words are different!

Mr. R.: Sam!! Wake up!! You act like you don’t want to be here. Do you like going to school?
Sam: I like coming and going to school. It’s the in-between part I don’t like!

John: Mr. R., I ain’t got no pencil.
Mr. R.: I haven’t got a pencil!!
John: That makes two of us!

Kenneth: Mr. R., I am sure thankful I wasn’t born in Germany.
Mr. R.: What are you talking about? Why in tarnation, are you glad you weren’t born in Germany?
Kenneth: Because I can’t speak German.

Mr. R.: Let’s get back to work! Here is an easy question. No one can miss this: What can birds do that humans can’t? (pause) What can birds do that humans can not??
Callie: Sit on telephone wires!!!!

Joe: Mr. R., I sure am glad everyone calls me Joe.
Mr. R.: Well Joe, why is that?
Joe: Because that’s my name!!

Mr. R.: I think this class is full of idiots. I want any of you who realize that you’re an idiot to please stand up. (long pause, then Elizabeth stands up)
Mr. R.: Elizabeth, are you an idiot?
Elizabeth: No. I just hated to see you standing there all by yourself!!!

Mr. R.: OK. That’s the recess bell. This morning I told the class that everyone had to stay in for recess, but I’ve changed my mind. I want all of you to go to recess. I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I’m gonna let all of you go to recess.
Thomas: Mr. R., I know why you’re gonna let us go to recess.
Mr. R.: Why is that, Thomas?
Thomas: Because it’s a nice thing to do, and old people always do nice things.

(Kids rush out the door laughing and yelling. Mr. R. bangs his head against the wall in frustration. End of show.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th of July

We hope this is a wonderful 4th of July for all our readers. If you have kids, tell them the story of the birth of our country so they'll know why there's a big celebration. If you don't have kids, find one to love and tell them the story of our country's birth.

Laura and Walter

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Reluctant Pianist

I have a piano student who is a stereotypical American boy. He likes baseball, climbing trees, and running through the house. This kid definitely shows musical talent but has decided that playing the piano is not his cup o' tea.

His mother started butting heads with him about practicing and she came to me with her concerns. Apparently their home had turned into a war zone with yelling, prodding, cajoling, unsuccesful bribery, tears, angst, and constant upheaval. "What do I do?" she asked. I told her I've seen this before. Kids decide to quit practicing. The parent becomes distraught and tries force, forward and reverse psychology, and every logical and illogical argument at their disposal. Nothing happens. Nothing changes.

I told her to let him not practice if that's what he chooses. Piano lessons are an extra-curricular activity for her family. I reminded her that Beethoven's father did not consider piano lessons or playing with mistakes a choice, and he battered and beat poor Ludwig into submission. He also beat a musical genius, but the emphasis is on "beat." I told her to let her son choose to quit if that's what he wants. The real essentials, like school, are not a choice, but this is an extra-curricular activity, correct? She agreed that learning the piano is not mandatory. She just wanted him to learn to play. Well, so do I, especially with his talent. But the chronic nagging and yelling have to end. It doesn't work unless you carry it to the extreme that Beethoven's father did. She quit yelling and nagging. Sure enough, he quit practicing.

His last piano lesson didn't go so well. He isn't making progress because he isn't practicing. If a student doesn't practice, I won't teach them. I may have talked my way out of a client, but I think there should be peace in the home and I don't want to be a part of some kid's torturous ordeal.

I have had piano students who never needed to be forced to practice, and they learned everything I could teach them and were passed on to better teachers. Two of them are now playing Chopin better than I ever could. That's a teacher's goal, for the student to surpass the teacher's skill level. Kids can become better than you at something, but they'll hate you if you force them to achieve. Beethoven taught piano lessons, and the record shows he didn't rap a single knuckle. And neither will I.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Buying Gifts for a Nephew

Buying gifts for a fifth grade boy is exciting to me. My niece's son is coming to visit, and I'm all jazzed about some of the stuff I get to buy.

In the last three days I have purchased more goodies than I have bought in years. Stuff like regular soda pop with real sugar in it. The ingredients for cookies, cakes and pies all in one thrilling grocery shopping spree that had the checkout lady asking me what was going on. Where was the low-fat this and the diet that and why aren't I buying any o' that fat-free cheese crap my wife and I always get? Then I bought something I have never bought for myself: a huge box of fireworks that almost wouldn't fit in my car. He's gonna have fun lightin' some o' those babies. There is one in the box that is bigger than a two pound coffee can, and I'm hopin' it melts the street in front of my house. After the fireworks and a couple of days of listening to adults chat for hours, the kid might get bored and we wouldn't want that to happen, so I bought a model rocket that goes 1500 feet up and it's going to get to that altitude really quick because I also bought the most humongous engine that will fit in it! It's like being a kid again, except now I have dinero, cash, moulah, bread, funds, assets, wherewithal, and plain old wampum. This is fun!

Except I am a schoolteacher and I couldn't help myself. I also bought him a lot of great books. The good thing is that every one is a little classic, and he'll find out later I can pick out great books.

This is fun!