Open House Tip for Elementary School Parents (Part I): How to Reduce the Odds Your Child Will Be Bullied in High School (and Middle School)

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A Surprise Gambit Leads to Victory and Yet Another Surprise – This Time for the Victor

It was the summer between second and third grade when it happened. We were visiting my parents’ friends.

They were a nice couple. About the same age as my parents. They had a couple of boys around the age of my younger brother Kenny and me.

They had a nice house. It had a covered open porch in the back. Beyond this was an expansive backyard. I remember it being much larger than our backyard. But maybe not. Things always seem a lot bigger when you’re small.

As the adults had a pleasant visit sipping cocktails and chatting on the porch that warm summer night, their boys did what little boys usually do. Chased each other in the spacious backyard. Yelled about who knows what. In addition, and this shouldn’t surprise you, the Continue Reading “Open House Tip for Elementary School Parents (Part I): How to Reduce the Odds Your Child Will Be Bullied in High School (and Middle School)”

There’s Something Pleasantly Relaxing About a Steady Summer Rain

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What is it about a steady summer rain that so soothes the soul?

It’s a lazy summer Saturday. Tiny droplets gently pitter-patter on the skylight in the family room. Too soft to be called a “drumbeat,” it’s a beat nonetheless. A stable beat. A mesmerizing beat.

A beat the has you closing your eyes and relaxing. You snuggle a bit as you sink into the comfortably cozy couch cushions. It’s a reclining couch, triggered by a small button strategically placed within easy reach of your left arm. An electric whir compliments the soft thud of the continuing wet beat overhead as you lean back into your leisurely morning.

What is it about a steady summer rain that so soothes the soul?

You open your eyes again, but only for a moment. The dark grayness of the cloudy skies only encourages the pleasant idleness.

You snuggle once more into the cushions. Even though you softly lay within the dry indoor confines, your body feels the warmth of the summer humidity that blankets your surroundings.

You rest easy, knowing all is well…

In a far, far, distant past I recall the joys of watching the summer rain. Not a care in the world. My brother and father beside me. My mother… What was my mother doing? Probably reading. More likely worried my father would take his young boys on a muddy wet hike, leaving her to deal with the consequences.

Ha! The joke was on her. It would take another decade when, as teenagers, we’d frolic in the summer rain, splashing in backyard puddles, tempting the distant rumble of thunder.

At least then we were smart enough to wear our swim trunks. In our younger years, we were smart enough to stay out of the rain… and especially the mud.

That joy, however, never left. In our more mature versions, we continued to appreciate a good summer rain. Only now, we didn’t want too much lest the grass grow too high before we could cut it. And, worst of all possible worsts, we didn’t want it during those days-long campouts and their associated hikes through nowhere.

But, inside, within the walls of our own home, the tip-tapping of small globes of water against our windows still sends us back to those placid times. The times of carefree nothingness. When the only concern was to find that last baseball card to complete our set. Before there was school. Before there was work. Before there was the worry too familiar to adulthood.

Yet in the warm of that seasonal precipitation, all else evaporates.

What is it about a steady summer rain that so soothes the soul?

Is it the gentle pitter-patter that softly touches all around you?

It is the warm humidity that blankets your entire atmosphere?

Is it the knowledge that the rain prevents you from doing outside chores, forcing you into the cozy environs of your home?

Is it the dark grayness of the cloudy skies that encourages a pleasant idleness that has you relaxing in your favorite cushioned seat?

It matters not, for in this moment, all is tranquil. All is divine.

Party Like It’s 1959 – The Beautiful Dance of Strategy and Tactics

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The gray mid-day sky lit up with a brilliant blinding flash. Moments later came a sharp crackle. Its echo reverberated as if it came from inside a deep canyon.

Thus, were the thunderstorms of my youth. Short. Spectacular. And always worth pulling up a lawn chair and watching through the open garage door. It was only a one-car garage, but the space proved wide enough to fit me, my brother, and my father.

You know the kind of lawn chairs I’m talking about. They’re classic. The thin aluminum piping folded for easy and convenient storage. When unfolded you’d sit on its plastic webbing that cushioned your bottom for comfort. Kenny and I would often struggle to avoid being left with the one with the loosest webbing.

Best of all, these classic lawn chairs could get wet. This was often a risk while watching those wandering summer storms. Sometimes a gust of wind would blow the pouring rain beneath the slight eave of roof covering the garage. When that happened with sudden Continue Reading “Party Like It’s 1959 – The Beautiful Dance of Strategy and Tactics”

What’s in a (Middle) Name?

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Bart Starr passed away a few weeks ago. If you don’t know him, he was the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers during their glorious Vince Lombardi years when the Packers won the championship five out of seven years, including the first two Super Bowls. He was old time football. Perhaps not brilliant like Johnny Unitas, or as glamorous as Y.A. Tittle, or as athletic as Otto Graham, Bart Starr was workmanlike and effective. He was like the IBM of quarterbacks when IBM was the kind of company “no one would ever get fired for choosing.”

What you might not know about him is Bart Starr is the reason why I have the middle name I have.

Truth be told, Starr’s era had peaked by the time I Continue Reading “What’s in a (Middle) Name?”

You Can Create a Pleasant and Unforgettable Memory by Following These Three Rules

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It was a small planting bed, not more than 20 feet wide and three feet deep. Located beneath the cantilever on the north side of the family’s newly built raised ranch, the moist topsoil glistened in the summer shade. “You’ve got to mix it in with the old dirt,” said my father.

You could tell the difference. The dusty brown dirt stood apart from the rich loam we had just imported from the nursery. We spent that morning doing the rough work. We dug the hard clay and turned it over. Actually, Dad did that job. The dense dirt proved too tough for me and my brother, then mere pre-schoolers.

Our father, aware of our physical limitations, knew precisely the kind of activity that motivates young bucks like us. “OK, boys,” he said, “after I turn it over you come in behind me and Continue Reading “You Can Create a Pleasant and Unforgettable Memory by Following These Three Rules”

Ode to a Fallen Tree

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I remember buying it. It was, maybe, eight inches tall. Despite its size, it formed the perfect shape of a tiny Christmas tree. It didn’t look like a Bonsai Tree. Its needles were full size, out of scale and too big for a Bonsai Tree.

The little blue spruce wasn’t the only tree I bought that day. It was the fall of 1986 and my house was brand new. I had no furniture of my own. I had no family of my own. I had no lawn, no landscaping, no home, really.

I was in the process of making my house a home. The first thing I needed to address had Continue Reading “Ode to a Fallen Tree”

If You’re Not Guilty, Don’t Act Like It

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In elementary school we walked a half mile each day to the bus stop at the top of the street. There were about twenty kids at that bus stop (this was during the peak baby boomer years, so it wasn’t unusual for one street to produce twenty elementary school kids). There were two sets of boys. The older boys and us (me, my brother Kenny, my best friend Angelo and his brother Markie). There was also this quite younger boy, Johnny, who desperately wanted to be like us (not the older boys, for even he realized that was too much a leap). We shunned him, as older kids are wont to do with younger kids, but we didn’t bully him like the older boys did to us (to see how I ultimately defeated these bullies – without any need for physical violence – see “Terror at the School Bus Stop – A True Life Story,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, January 11, 1990). As a result, Continue Reading “If You’re Not Guilty, Don’t Act Like It”

Breadcrumbs of Unfinished Symphonies

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This is the fourth and final part of an older brother’s eulogy to a beloved younger brother.

LEGACY [leg-uh-see]

Merriam-Webster: 1: “a gift by will especially of money or other personal property” 2: “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.”

The gift seemed rather small for the usual Christmas gift. Still, my brother tended towards the creative in his gift giving, so I unwrapped the present in anticipation of experiencing one of those “big things come in small packages” moments. As I tore and crumpled the colored paper, I could only guess what was inside. Opening the tiny box revealed… a generic Christmas tree ornament.

I could see Kenny smiling broadly, as if this was the gift I had always wanted. My somewhat tentative “thank you” only made his grin grow larger. As I looked at him, something struck me about his beaming face. It seemed more of a “I know something you don’t” kind of smirk. Or rather, a “But, don’t you get it?” smile of self-satisfaction.

This was confirmed when he plaintively said, “But, don’t you get it?”

I didn’t. But now I suspected I should have gotten it. I looked again at the ornament and couldn’t figure it out. I failed to come up with anything in our shared life that the sled referenced.

Seeing my consternation, Kenny’s face returned to the “I know something you don’t” smirk. “Read it,” he said.

I looked once more at the sled. Though a standard-issue mass-produced Christmas decoration, I suddenly noticed a carefully handwritten addition printed on the faux wood Continue Reading “Breadcrumbs of Unfinished Symphonies”

Kenny Discovers the Birds & the Bees… and the Mice (Content for Family and Friends Only)

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This is the third of four parts of an older brother’s eulogy to a beloved younger brother.

Kenny used football to teach a lot of things, even how to deal with celebrities with respect. Whether it was about when to get excited (like the moment he and Pat saw Al Davis riding in the next car over on the Thruway while driving home after a Raiders game) or when to contain excitement (which was pretty much every time Sam saw Marv Levy at Ilio’s).

But don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t as if Kenny wasn’t into fun. He was very good at doing fun. And when he found a gag that worked, you could be sure he’d use it – over and over again. For instance, at every baptism, without fail, when the time came for the godfather to hold the baby, Uncle Kenny would lean into Cesidia and whisper, “This is when I dropped you on your head.” Of course, sometimes he forgot his audience. One year – a different year from our opening story – his Christmas tree nearly fell on young Catarina. He caught the tree before it hit her, but he could tell she was scared. So he tried to make light of the situation by saying, “Catarina, you knocked down the tree!” Well, that was too much and Catarina started crying. He did his best to comfort her, but, well, you know, girls.

He didn’t limit his repartee to one-liners, either. He could out-slapstick the Three Stooges, but only when it came to the birds and the bees… and the occasional mouse. Yes, it’s true he and Betsy would pay their young innocent daughter Teresa a dollar every time she Continue Reading “Kenny Discovers the Birds & the Bees… and the Mice (Content for Family and Friends Only)”

Twins Never Part

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This is the second of four parts of an older brother’s eulogy to a beloved younger brother.

I was barely a year old when I first met Kenny. My parents brought this bundle home from the hospital. I saw a small foot poking through the blanket. Elated, I tugged the tiny toes. Still grasping the diminutive digits, I smiled broadly and looked up at my parents. “Goggie!” I said.

Yes, I had thought my parents got me a new puppy. Instead, I got something better – a baby brother. Had I been more eloquent then and as versed in classic cinema as I am today, I might have more aptly said, “Kenny, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

You may know him as “Ken,” “Kenny,” or even, as he signed every greeting card he ever signed beginning at age – I don’t know, 7? – Kenneth P. Carosa. To me, he’ll always be Continue Reading “Twins Never Part”