“Hey, Mr. Tall Guy,” said one of the fourth grade girls. I guess that’s my universal nick name, since I’ve had everyone from the youth at church to college aged people at UH call me that. “You’re so tall,” she said, staring up at me. “You’re like a skyscraper. Like the Empire State Building. Or the Statue of Liberty. Can I call you that?”
“Okay,” I said.
“Which one do you like better?” she asked. “Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty?”
“Uh, I don’t know. You choose.”
“I like Statue of Liberty. Is it okay if I call you Mr. Statue of Liberty?”
“Yay! But where’s your torch?”
“Right here,” I said, lifting up my walkie talkie as if it were a torch. “And here’s my book,” I said, holding my binder where we keep attendance and other papers.
Later, the second graders were coming up with their own nicknames for me. As they so often do, they surrounded me and bombarded me with questions and statements.
“You’re so tall. You’re like a building.”
“You’re like a jungle gym.”
“You look like a fun jungle gym.”
“Can I climb on you?”
“No,” I said. “My bosses will get mad.” We’re not supposed to let the kids play or climb on us.
“You’re so tall. Like a tree.”
“I want to climb on the tree!”
“I want to water the tree because trees need water.”
“I want to pick fruit from the tree because trees have fruit.”
“I’m gonna get my dog to pee on the tree because dogs pee on trees.”
One day one of the kids was trying to get my attention. “Hey, Robert,” he said.
“What did you just call me?” I asked.
“Oops! I mean Mr. Robert.”
A bunch of the other kids thought it was funny he called me by my first name, and started doing the same. “Robert! Robert!” they said.
I needed to restore order. “I’m your leader. Be respectful.”
Respect your elders. Yeah. I get it. I’m old. I’ve accepted and embraced it.
It’s okay when they make nicknames for me, but it has to be kept within certain boundaries. This is a school, after all. No calling me by my first name.
“The next person who calls me by my first name gets time-out for a week.”
The kids gasped and got suddenly quiet. Mary Ann, who had been quietly reading this whole time, looked up from her book and innocently asked me, “What’s your first name?” as if she really had no idea what my first name is.
“Robert,” I said.
“Oh…!” she said, sheepishly. “I knew that.”