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Family valued - 3.22.06

"You are a menace."

Here at the Family Valued pixel playhouse and pastel pressroom, we are interested in anything that furthers socializing. Toward that end, we are experimenting with exposing small groups to dinner and a movie. Ideally, the movie is something no one in attendance has seen in a long time. The food should lend itself to a lack of utensils.

Our first victim was the original Planet of the Apes because it was rated G and was sitting on the library shelf. Two of the adult males had fond memories of the film (though it inspired eye-rolling "oh yeahs" from the rest of the adults).

The movie starts more slowly than we remembered; network television probably edited out the seemingly endless walk through the desert which occupies the first third of the film. On the other hand, all you Planet of the Apes buffs can only imagine how grateful we were that the protagonists did not forget the TX-9.

I did notice fewer forays for food once the apes appeared. One adult began muttering, "This is so weird," which seemed remarkably apropos. We'd all forgotten that Rod Serling was involved in writing the film and were impressed by the heavy amounts of philosophy mixed in with the action. Much to our surprise, we ended up discussing the appropriate places of religion and science in society. Who knew that heavy rubber masks could spark such thoughts?

I can't imagine how it received a G rating; one character is shot and killed on screen, another is shot in the neck, prisoners are beaten, and the results of a lobotomy are shown. That being said, the film's violence had nothing on Harry Potter or most current pre-adolescent fodder. Lastly, the DVD cover reveals the film's final surprise, so hide it from anyone who doesn't know.

--- Craig Brownlie

Odyssey of the mouth

Odyssey of the Mind (OM) nearly kills parents for the same reason it's fantastic for kids. Rule number one of the school-sponsored, parent-coached competition is that parents keep their mouths shut. It's not easy. All students --- 4th grade through college --- choose among the same set of seven complex technical and cultural problems.

My 4th-grader's team chose Tech Transfer. The OM website says it "requires teams to create and present an original performance that includes the use of a technical device that extends into different areas to move items. The team will design, build and operate the device, and create the items. The team will integrate the moving of the items into its performance."

This alone was enough to get "helpful" parents talking. But we couldn't. On competition day, we knew the judges would question the students about who did what. All we could do was to read and explain the six pages of rules to the kids. In this case, the device had to deliver 20 objects to three different staging areas six and eight feet away.

No brainer, the kids thought at first.

"A light saber delivering ammunition."

"We'll make it nuclear powered."

"Hydraulic claw!"

Their mouths zipped, the parent coaches showed the kids how to use tools and took them to Home Depot. There the kids hefted wood and tested wheels and drawer slides. The resulting device, an extendable electromagnetic arm mounted on a sturdy rolling cart, is all theirs.

And no parent could have thought up this play. It's about an alien-run Italian restaurant where both dirty-sock pizza and humans are on the menu, inspired by a Twilight Zone episode. "Welcome to the Toilet Zone," the aliens chant, using the device to deliver pizza to the unsuspecting humans. In the finale they sing the show's theme song and punctuate it with loud "FLUSH" sounds.

--- Jennifer Loviglio