Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Please do NOT throw Hula Hoops at the Roof

Due to ongoing parental troop needs in my son's kindergarten class, and failure to meet recruiting goals, I was called up for duty at the final event of the year. This was something that had to be dreamed up by someone who spent too much time in a bubble bath. It was called (ominously) "Splash Day." Kindergarteners splash by nature. If more than one molecule containing oxygen and two hydrogens band together, you can count on kindergarteners excitedly gathering around the resulting puddle shouting, "Let's jump!" They can create puddles out of anything: tipped over juice boxes, random sponges, diverted water fountains. It doesn't matter. So you can imagine the anticipation Splash Day caused in this shoelace-untied crowd. We parental conscripts were ordered to the grassy area beyond the school. First thing we were told by some parent (who, incidentally, did not look anything like a horticulturist), is that the area "may" be infested by some sort of mystery plant that we would be advised to stay away from. I forget what it was allegedly called: Japanese Stinging Nettles? Blushing Poison Ivy Relative? Subtle Deadly Snake Grass? No one knew what it looked like or what exactly its effects were. I made a mental note to call 911 if any of the children started swelling. Meanwhile we worked on the "stations" at which the children would soon be playing Olympic-style water games. Yes! Water games. And no one had a bathing suit. Although everyone had towels. I was assigned a group of seven kindergarteners, one of whom was my son. Here are some of the games and problems we encountered as we tried to play them: 1) Soggy Tee Ball: I violated the spirit of the whole day by suggesting we keep the cloth balls dry. 2) Bubbles Galore: Using massive wands and buckets of soapy water, we covered the school grounds and parking lot in a resplendent sticky film. Not all the wands were exactly the same size or shape, so naturally they fought over the "best" ones. 3) Water Basketball: The children tossed a giant plastic kickball through two hula hoops into a wading pool. One of my kindergartners shortly kicked the ball onto the roof of the school. He later attempted to retrieve it by throwing hula hoops after it, until I intervened. 4) Sponge Relay: Teams had to race each other to see who could be the first to empty their jar of water by wringing a sponge into the opposite jar. Much sloshing and cheating ensued. 5) Frog Hop: Originally slated for the sidewalk, this event was mercifully relocated to grass when we calculated the odds of children slipping on the wet "lily pads" (placemats). 6) Magnetic Fishing: Complete with magnet-laden fish and poles. Four poles, seven kids. Egads! Those who were impatiently awaiting their turn I entertained with fish stories. Meanwhile two of my kindergarteners got their lines hopelessly tangled. I hoped parents and teachers were not noticing our trail of carange as we left each game worse off than we found it. 7) Ring Toss: My son was the only one who kept score. The rest tried to make the biggest splash in the wading pool. 8) Sand Box: At last! No water was involved. Just hand-to-hand combat over the "best shovel." 9) Cookie Creations: Frost your own cookies and add colored sugar sprinkles! The fire ants were thrilled, to say the least. I am sure if my son remembers anything of his kindergarten career, he will have fond memories of Splash Day. I will NOT have games involving water at any upcoming birthday parties. We never did figure out if the Evil Plants were present, but if a rash appears I will know what to blame.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Unfasten your seatbelts...it's hurricane season

A lot of coastal residents are apparently standing on their front porches with a battery and a bagel shouting "Bring it on" to the upper atmosphere. The 2005 hurricane season flounced onto news radar screens recently with the following breezy headline: "Many Blow Off Hurricane Safety." More than half the residents of the coastal areas surveyed from Maine to Texas do not feel vulnerable to hurricanes. Aside from the jaw-dropping, palm-uprooting implications of the story, the Proper English portion of my brain was wondering if the general public is familiar with the phrase "blow off." It was not being used in the sense of "my hat blew off," or "I was blowing off some steam after work," or "my roof blew off and landed in the Gulf of Mexico." The headline writer used the slang connotation of the (ahem) verb to blow off, which means to ignore, skip or not care about. More or less. Do older folks (i.e. the majority of the newspaper-reading public) know this? Was the copy writer winking at us with an admittedly clever headline? Or has this term actually slipped into Webster's Pub for Definitions using a fake I.D.? I still wonder if the Grandparent Crowd is scratching its collective cranium on that one. According to the Associated Press article, 47 percent have no disaster plan in place to deal with an impending hurricane. Considering that last year's caravan of tropical monstrosities resulted in more than 100 deaths and billions in damage, U.S. coastal residents seem remarkably blase about preparing. A lot of them simply aren't. Why? The answer to that probably lies deeper in the coastal dweller's psyche that a researcher would want to plunge without rubber gloves. Here are my top Hurricane Indifference TheorieS (HITS): 1) "It didn't hit my house." One in five Florida homes were damaged or destroyed by last year's storms. That's a full eighty percent of people who got to watch the whole thing on TV with nary a breeze to worry about. Them's pretty good odds! 2) "We can always evacuate." According to the poll, 25 percent of residents felt they could flee flood-prone areas within 30 to 60 minutes of a projected hurricane landfall if it happens to swerve as Hurricane Charley did. Hahahahahahaha. That's a great plan if you don't mind "riding out" the storm idling in six lanes of traffic as the eye of the hurricane passes over your car. 3) "It can't possibly be as bad as last year." It's actually projected to be worse, if the National Hurricane Center is to be believed. They expect 12 to 15 named tropical storms this year, 7 to 9 of those likely to become hurricanes. Hurricane activity overall is forecast to be 70 percent above normal. So it probably won't be as bad as last year. It may be worse. 4) "FEMA will bail us out." I'd be loathe to put all my eggs in the FEMA basket, especially if FEMA is attending picnics in more than one affected state. There's no way to tell how many hurricane victims there will be, or how far down the "need help" list you may fall. 5) "If it happens, it happens." On the one hand this philosophy seems nuts. On the other, there are millions of people living on the giant shifting tectonic plate that passes for the state of California. According to earthquake specialists California's "big one" was due a few years ago. I guess it takes a special state of mind to not worry about that fact. So the hard-rocking quintet of Bonnie, Charley, Jeanne, Frances and Ivan caught the attention of the crowd when they were in town, but no one's calling for an encore. And hey, we may need those lighters once our batteries run low. That's one way to toast a bagel.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A Page for a Page

Newsweek is in big trouble this week, in fact, it's the News of the Week, I guess. Newsweek's editors have retracted a story alleging that U.S. soldiers at Guantanamo Bay have flushed a few copies of the Koran down the toilet, thus causing a massive Islamic obstruction that will require something much bigger than a Political Plunger to fix. After the story ran, anti-American riots broke out in the Islamic world, causing 16 deaths and more than one hundred injuries. Newsweek hastily retracted the unsubstantiated story. However, previous examples of the allegations in the story are popping up all over, including a May 2003 Washington Post report. Now what is the point of the flushing, you're probably wondering? Of the stuff you just shouldn't flush down a toilet, hard-covered reading material has to rank right up there. Well it is apparently all part of our strategy of gaining excellent information from detainees by being really mean to them. We figure once we soften them up with torture, atrocities and ill-advised flushing maneuvers, they will "give in" to us and tell us what we want to know! Which is that any information they had is at least two years old, and was probably changed the moment they were captured. So there! Meanwhile government investigations have declared both abuse and Koran-flushing allegations to be "non-credible" even as certain commanders have apologized for these actions that never occurred. Confusing, isn't it? Maybe that's the point. Perhaps detainees will become so confused they will accidentally give us all their best information, which is STILL two years old and hasn't brought us any closer to ending the war in Iraq. I have to ask, I know stuff like this is an interesting detail, but do we really need to be informed about the alleged Koran Flushing right now while all kinds of Americans are milling around in the Middle East? Couldn't this information wait until the Eventual Book is written by Newsweek columnists? I mean, was this really on our "need to know" list? Nonetheless, what's done is done, what's flushed is flushed, and what was written was retracted. However, what about the fact that the Bible is considered contraband in Saudi Arabia? What of reports that copies of those are run through the shredder after being confiscated? I guess if it's official government policy, it's okay. You have to give the Muslims a certain amount of credit. At least they CARE about their holy book. I can't imagine American Christians turning out for a riot if someone desecrated a copy of the Bible. We would just go to the local bookstore and buy a new one. That is, if we even owned one to begin with. Either way, I don't picture Bible Flushing to inspire the kind of emotions that have been stirred over the alleged Koran Flushing. Which gives me another idea. Couldn't we use these Korans as Literary Shields? You know, tie them to our tanks, or use them as protective body armor? Then these insurgents would be stymied in their attempts to blow things up without pulverizing their very own Korans. Perhaps the war itself could be transformed from the "eye for an eye" concept to a "page for a page" one. Instead of a war of weapons, we could have a War of Words! When we grew tired of calling each other names, we could all go home feeling satisfied and no one would have to be shot at or taken prisoner. Instead of spending billions of dollars on weapons of war, we could instead devote all that funding to improving literacy! After this first step, then maybe we could persuade each other to actually READ our respective holy books. Then, just maybe, we would decide war really didn't make any sense at all. It'll probably be a long time before our reading comprehension gets that good.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

If you can read this...you can read!

I was following a car this morning that looked like it had been attacked by the Bumper Sticker Fairy on a bad PMS day. It had seven stickers that I could see, not counting any that may have been affixed to the sides or splayed across the headlights. Morning traffic being slow, I had ample time to read them all and reflect on why they were there. The cacophony of commercialism included stickers for a bank, insurance agency, pizza place, auto repair joint, pool accessary retail outlet, and, oh, I can't even remember the other two. I got to wondering, what could possibly be the motive behind this display? I am not opposed to the bumper sticker concept per se. One of the main reasons we have none on our vehicles is that it would mean I'd have to bend over. So our lack of stickers is hardly a virtue. It's more like a Laziness Perk. There are some types of stickers that I understand, and serve as tools of communication. For example, political messages ("Vote Like Me!"), social statements ("Think Like Me!"), or obnoxious epithets ("Stay Away From Me!"). Also there are people who want to identify their honor student, sports team, alma mater or school their kid goes to. In fact, we have one of these sitting on our kitchen counter as I type...but it may not make it to the van unless the bumper threatens to separate from the car. Then I can use it as tape! So I was still wondering about the reason for the plethora of plugs on this guy's ancient white Chrysler LeBaron. He couldn't possibly work for all those places, could he? No, there had to be a more compelling motive. I know certain stores offer prizes if your car is spotted with their signage. Perhaps he was hoping to win an insulated mug with a bank logo, or a free oil change, or an extra large pizza with everything on it! You could hardly argue with such a consumerist impulse. I am in favor of free pizzas no matter how they are acquired (as long as no federal laws are violated, of course.) Don't imagine I'm making fun of commercialism. If it weren't for commercialism none of our sports venues would have names. We'd be referring to "the stadium" or "the field" or "the ballpark" and we could all end up in downtown Cleveland if we didn't know which one we were talking about. In fact I think we should rent out the name of our country in the interest of paying down the federal deficit. The honor should go to the nation's biggest company at this point, WAL-MART, so we could be the United States of America brought you you by Wal-Mart. The motto, instead of E Plurbus Unum, could be "Always Low Wages. Always." With General Motors and Ford stock recently downgraded to junk bond status that's the best we can do. Anyway, I personally can be seen on any given morning wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logos of defunct Buffalo area radio stations. (The stations still exist, of course, but instead of calling themselves Q-102.5 or WBUF they are now something much more relentlessly upbeat.) It may not be fashionable, but I guarantee you the shirt is clean! However if you catch me after lunch I may have the outline of peanut butter and jelly colored handprints. So just smile and keep your distance. I still remember the bumper sticker on my parents' car from the late seventies. It was a KB15 sticker with a patriotic motif in the shape of a number one. My brothers and I anxiously awaited the moment when "The Big KB" (WKBW-AM Radio 1520) would report our license number on the air so we could rush to a phone and call in to claim our prize. Remember, this was prior to the cell phone era. What if we were on the thruway? What if we were in Canada? We had only 15 minutes to make the call! Alas, we never won. I fully expect that one day soon my sons will develop an obsession with bumper stickers and we will have ones featuring Scooby-Doo, Ninja Turtles or the local Babe Ruth Baseball League. I am fine with that, as long as I don't have to personally bend over. I would still like someone to offer me a free prize. I could use a tote bag.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Runaway Bride Story Has Great Legs

To use a journalistic term, the Runaway Bride story has "legs" -- it's a story that keeps taking twists and turns with each new detail that comes to the surface. Sort of like Watergate, only totally meaningless. Jennifer Wilbanks is a name now etched in the public's consciousness as a synonym for changing one's mind or constant equivocation. "He asked me to the prom two months ago, then he WILBANKSED and took someone else." "I've got three scholarship offers, but I can always WILBANK until the deadline." "I don't know if he's ready to commit...he's been WILBANKING the entire time we've dated." Yes, we could all be focusing on real news such as the morbidly obese federal deficit, the burgeoning nuclear capabilities of the Axis of Evil, or the collapse of the country's Incredible Shrinking Industrial Base. But those stories aren't immediate, visual or personal. (Unless you get awarded a pink slip or spy a mushroom cloud over your city, of course.) But the Jennifer Wilbanks story is gossip on a national stage, and she has become someone everyone knows about but has never met. Not a celebrity, exactly (unless she can command a great restaurant table in New York) but more like everyone's Official Kooky Neighbor. It's Watercooler Drama in Real Life. Even if it's only manufactured drama, her desperation is as compelling as that of ABC's Housewives. For what is essentially a local story about a troubled woman, the public fascination is continually fed by ever new and salacious details. Like the shoplifting angle. It seems the former bride was busted not once, but thrice for shoplifting. She was required to spend several weekends in jail, pay a fine and restitution, and perform community service. (No, the community service did not involve a promise to entertain the community with a Daring Wedding Escape years later.) I am awaiting the itemized list of what the bride selected for her Five Finger Discount Registery. There were three separate incidents involving a mall, a Walmart and an unnamed store. What does one steal from a Walmart, anyway? Plastic earrings? Soap dispensers? Rolls of paper towels? Designer flip flops? Do you just rush the automatic doors with your blue cart, or try to slip out of there with all this crap under your suspicious-looking rain poncho? New details are also emerging on her sexual assault tale, which she later recanted. According to her story she was kidnapped, tied up, and placed on her right side facing the back of the infamous (and fictional) blue van. She was later taken to a darkened area where she was sexually assaulted by both an hispanic male with bad teeth, and a bilingual white female accomplice. Just what we needed -- a threesome! And a subliminal ad for dental work. She described this in graphic, fantastical detail. Perhaps this will show up in the inevitable TV movie as a dream sequence. Two previous fiances weighed in with their memories of being dumped by Ms. Wilbanks, who appears to be not only a Compulsive Shoplifter, but also a Serial Jilter. In both cases she unloaded her heartfelt news by PHONE. Think this woman has trouble dealing with issues face to face? I wouldn't be surprised if she conducted all her household spats via walkie talkie. She: "You forgot to take out the garbage. Over." He: "Okay, okay. Can it wait until a commercial? Over." She: "Well I'll be out running. Don't wait up. Over and OUT!" The latest word is that Jennifer has checked herself into a hospital for treatment of various physical and emotional problems. (Myself, I would've been tempted to check into a deserted island, or perhaps book a seat on the next Mars probe.) That's probably a good idea, not only for her eventual return to health, but just to take refuge from the news media which, let's face it, is intensely interested in her next move, not to mention her new haircut. It's sad that it has taken an event of this magnitude to force Ms. Wilbanks to deal with her problems, but at the same time it's encouraging to hear she is finally seeking help. Perhaps she and her family have been glossing over warning signs of Trouble Ahead. Marriage doesn't solve problems. If anything it tends to exacerbate them. Maybe she realized this a scant four days before her Jurassic-Sized wedding. What I hope comes of this is that families pay more attention to behavior that may in fact be a cry for help. Maybe if we don't expect perfection from each other, we will be more comfortable revealing our faults and seeking support. Then people like Jennifer won't feel their best option is to resort to a Scary Fairy Tale of the sort we all witnessed. She is lucky it did not become her reality.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Triple A Search & Rescue

It is never a good sign when you have to call the Triple A for emergency road service twice in 45 minutes. Especially when it's not to ask where the towtruck is, but for a whole additional incident report. If there is anything you want your morning to be, whether driving to work or dropping kids off at school, I think "uneventful" would be the best descriptive choice. ("Relaxing" is a bad choice becauase if the kids are quiet enough for me to be relaxed, then either they are disassembling an important piece of the car, or they are gleefully watching a police cruiser sneak up on us.) I had just dropped off the five year old off in front of his school in a morning ritual called "car line." Five or six cars would be unloading passengers at the same time, with the assistance of school personnel and some orange belted middle schoolers. Usually it is a smooth process. This morning, though, I had some early inklings of trouble. As we were on our way to school my van's electrical system seemed to be hungover. And maybe badly in need of throwing something up, like a gasket or a battery or tie rod. All these pinball-style lights kept flashing on my dashboard. ABS system secure! Brakes may be failing! AMPs are red! Overdrive Off! (There was even a light blinking on the end of the gearshift lever -- who even knew it had one?!) So while I did my very best impression of Tommy, the Who's Pinball Wizard who was able to rack up big points in pinball because he was deaf, dumb and blind to the distraction, I also noticed that I had NO speedometer reading, and nothing on the odometer either. (Had a brief mental fantasy of being able to sell our 9-year-old van as "practically new" but Hahahahaha. Anyway.) I really wondered what was going to happen next. The auxiliary DVD player lurching to life and blaring Barney tunes? Vents opening, closing and hissing steam in some kind of van-based Amityville Horror imitation? Maybe all the plastic accessories would start melting like in that dream I had last year? Well, regardless, I continued on my merry way because we had to drop off. Problem was, once the 5-year-old exited and I shifted back into gear, the van simply died. School personnel kept motioning for me to move along, while I was locating my AAA card and calling emergency road service. Finally a teacher opened my door and asked me, "Could you just move it forward a little?" Haha. If I could do THAT I could just move it five miles along the highways into my own personal driveway. Surely she didn't want me to drop it into neutral and try pushing it? The nice AAA people kept asking me, "Are you in FRONT of the school?" Yes, I said, but the school is BEHIND the church, and is facing the opposite direction from the church. So it's actually facing north, while the church is facing south. "But you're in FRONT of it?" she repeated. Well, yes. But you wouldn't be able to see me from any road. Ah well, let them hunt the church grounds. You never know when someone will stumble upon the Lord and a conversion will ensue! So we waited through the entire 12-20 minute dropoff period, everyone wondering why we were hogging space at the head of the line. Finally Tow Truck Man arrived. He looked slightly older than my 5-year-old. He assured me all I needed was "a jump." He got us started nicely. "The van died while it was running," I explained to him. "Are you sure it won't die again on my way to the repair place? Would you want to follow me there?" I must not look like great company in the morning. He didn't want to follow me there. Assured me again that the alternator would take care of everything. (note to self: Suggest to U.S. government that it gets a really big Alternator.) So off we go. I was trying not to brake. I figured if I was really gentle the van wouldn't know I was driving it, and thus would not realize it had the ability to "die" again. I approached a heavily trafficked turn slowly, lucked out and made it through on a rolling stop. Up ahead I saw a red light but I could tell it was on the verge of turning green. I paced myself accordingly. That's when I started hearing gurgling noises. Fish noises from your engine is never a good sign. I could feel the van start to slow down. The warning lights went out. The power steering was out. I turned mightlily to make it into a fairly long turning lane. Because this was THE main drag in this part of town. Two lanes of constant traffic on either side. I was going to make the local news in the Nuisance Section if someone didn't come to my rescue. Another call to the Triple A. "Didn't he get there yet?" the lady asked. I admitted he did, but that my van had died again five minutes later. She arrranged another service call. Meanwhile the 3-year-old was growing increasingly unhappy. "Drive!" he said. "Time to drive the van!" "I can't," I explained. "It's broken again." "No! It isn't broken! Let's go home NOW." He was shedding tears at a rate that was wetting the seats. I called Hubby, who promised to rescue us from the stricken vehicle. Meanwhile I had opened my door because it was growing hot. I was right next to the median, so hopeful that oncoming traffic would not take off my door. Next thing I knew one of our friends appeared out of nowhere. It was Tasha, whose son is also a kindergartener. She was on the median. "Are you okay?" she said. I assured her Triple A was on the way. Again. "Oh, okay," she said cheerfully. "I wasn't sure if you were broken down or just got tired of driving!" haha. In case you were wondering we choose our friends based on their great senses of humor. Hubby and Triple A man arrived around the same time. The 3-year-old and I abandoned the vehicle. Many thanks to our friends: Tasha, Jennifer, Katrena, who all offered assistance during our emergency. By the end of the day it was a less than $500 repair. (battery, alternator) Part of me was wondering if it was time to buy a new gas guzzler. I guess we'll have to wait!

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Finger Lickin' Thoughts

Do you think anyone drives through at Wendy's now and orders a bowl of Severed Fingers, Extra Spicy? Of course no one was surprised to discover the impotency drug viagra causes vision loss. Didn't everyone's parents tell them that fiddling with God's marriage-ordained equipment would make you go blind? Scientists are only now acknoweldging that fact. Kansas' Darwinists are again battling the Intelligent Design Crowd over what should be taught in schools. Apparently the Darwinists' plan is to make the pro-God crowd look like boobs on the order of the Missing Link. Problem is, there IS no missing link, leaving evolution to be a theory. As is Intelligent Design. Not quite sure why Darwinists are so intent on having evolution taught as dogma when there are enough Gaps in the theory to clothe every highschooler in America. Just heard Anne Rice, famous for authoring fictional books featuring vampires and other sundry undead, is now taking on the early life of Jesus Christ. In first person format! "Walked across the pond to fetch some eggs for breakfast. Not quite sure why I can defy gravity, but there's something in the scrolls about a Savior being born in Bethlehem. Wonder if I'm It?" The protests should be starting any minute now. But when you think about it, C.S. Lewis took on the devil's thoughts in the Screwtape Letters, so there's precedent for authors speculating what the Major Players behind good and evil are thinking. In other religious news a football club owner from Romania has asked a local artist to portray him in a painting reminiscent of DaVinci's Last Supper, surrounded by eleven of his players plus the team's coach. Considering what people spend most of their time doing on Sundays, this seems sadly appropriate. Greek authorities are upset because some cheapo household irons purchased from China are so shoddy that Greek citizens are experiencing massive shocks, and sometimes death, and all because they've taken the trouble to actually iron their clothes. (Yoo hoo! Permanent Press!) I sure as heck wouldn't want to be electrocuted while doing a mundane household task. Another of my growing list of reasons why the ironing can wait. Note to defense department: forget the nukes. Please look out for suspicious shipments of inexpensive Chinese irons. A clever Ukrainian drug smuggling effort was foiled recently. Seems some handy housewives were drying out marijauna leaves, packing them into small plastic bags, and then shipping them in giant glass containers filled with ordinary pickles. The scheme ended when plainclothes police dressed as pickle enthusiasts bought the contraband.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Rain Forest Calamity

I try to volunteer for things at my son's school every month. A certain number of service hours are required, so this keeps me on a pace to fulfill my obligation. Also, I consider it wise to sign up for a stint like in the National Guard, so that way I don't get drafted into a tour of duty in the Jungles of Vietnam. So it was ironic, I guess, that somehow I ended up in the jungle anyway. The rain forest, to be exact, because the kindergarteners are doing some kind of elaborate project involving research on every single animal contained in the rain forest, including many with ridiculous names. These would include the Bearded Pig (don't know if he's married to the Bearded Sow), the Common Tree Shrew (well someone has to be the cranky rain forest animal), the Flying Dragon (non-fire breathing), the howler monkey (have a lot in common with kindergarteners), birds including the quetzel and xenops (quick! Triple word Score!), bandicoot (senior citizen bank robbers?), the binturong (tropical fashion statement), and of course the Bonobo (U-2 lead singer wearing big shoes, plastic nose and squirting lapel flower.) The problem is that they expected me to lead a small group of 5-year-olds in an ARTS AND CRAFTS PROJECT. A subject I have been under-achieving in since my own kindergarten years. I basically flunked out of bluebirds (pre-Campfire girls) due to my Arts & Crafts Disability. I have a vivid memory of these large coffee cans that we were to turn into pretty decorative things using sticky contact paper. Everyone else had beautiful creations, whereas my can ended up with wrinkles. Instead of a nice smooth line, we had topography. I tried to cover up the wrinkles with additional strips of contact paper. The can was becoming stickier and less pleasing to the eye. It was starting to pick up bits of debris from our arts and crafts table. I cannot remember now if this was to be some kind of hideous Mother's Day gift, or if I was supposed to use it as a gaily decorated container for my pen and pencil collection. I went on to equally disastrous outings as my school career continued, tragedies involving yarn, glue, fuzzy balls, buttons, pipe cleaners, construction paper...basically all the building materials of the craft world were my enemies. I still start to itch when I see glitter. When I arrived (on time) the other mothers there were just nodding at the final instructions, which were, "We want the animals for the project to look as REALISTIC as possible!" haha. Realistic. I could possibly create a realistic depiction of a plane crash in the rainforest and someone's suitcase exploding on impact. Would that qualify, I wondered? Soon I was ushered into a darkened hallway lined with tables with large plastic bins sitting on them. The bins contained crafty materials for making our animals "realistic." How realistic could they be if we weren't using actual feathers, fur and reptile scales? Well, never mind that. I had to find a way. I was assigned three kindergarteners to create three realistic-looking toucan birds. Darn! Why hadn't I brought in a box of Froot Loops? Instead we had to page through these books looking for pictures and descriptions of our assigned animal. But my descriptive material did not say how big the toucan bird was. Hmmm. I decided, arbitrarily, it was probably as big as a chicken. The reason for this is that the smaller the bird, the more refined the cutting and pasting had to be. So I wanted to give myself margin for error. That way if someone accused me of making the bird's head too big or the feet with too many toes, I could just trim the head or lop off the toes. No problem! There were several other groups in the dimly lit halls with us, working on various other animals such as flying squirrels, anacondas, and hairy spiders. I was directing my kindergarteners in the cutting of the paper to make the toucan bodies. Toucans have black bodies. I soon ran into a very large difficulty. Namely, it is impossible to cut out an animal body without drawing it first. Now my drawing skills aren't that great to begin with, but try drawing anything on BLACK paper and you will see the magnitude of the problem. I tried colored markers, colored pencils, yellow highligher, nothing worked. Finally I had a brilliant idea. Classroom chalk! This worked so well that other groups with black-bodied animals asked to borrow our chalk when we were done. I minor creative triumph! So I could now draw the birds for the children to cut out. I wasn't able to get the birds to match. One bird looked like a down and out crow. Another looked like he had eaten too much over the holidays. The third sort of looked like a missile with feet. As the cutting began two of my kindergarteners became distracted. One began interacting with other kindergarteners. The other was looking for more exciting materials for the birds. My son kept dutifully cutting. Eventually I was able to get the girls interested again when it was time to paint the birds. I helped them cut out their birds while the one began assembling paints and brushes. For some reason half the paint cups had brushes that were too big, resulting in these cups tipping over and spilling paint on the floor. Girl #1 sat in the pink paint. I went for the paper towels. By the time I returned kindergarteners from other groups were leaving brightly colored footprints all over my area. I went back for more paper towels. With much difficulty I got the girls involved in coloring the beaks of their birds. Of course everyone fought over the paint colors. I said they would all get a turn with each color eventually. Pouting ensued. Meanwhile two other classes had to pass through the hallway. Although they stepped carefully around the birds, inevitably some of them left a trail of paint and construction paper bits. At last our birds were done. Or at least done enough for drying. They sort of looked like the Partridge Family partridges as brightly colored as the Partridge Family bus. One generous parent complimented us on how "realistic" our toucans looked. haha. Well they DID have wings and beaks. I did my best to cleanse the floor, walls and kindergarteners of paint residue. If they got a poor start in their academic careers it would be my fault. Someone will be sure to notice that REAL toucans are not as big as a small dog. But I was done with the project. No one could drag me in to re-do it or add realistic looking feathers. That would be the NEXT parent's job. I was free. As the Partridge Family would say, "C'mon, get happy!"