Thursday, July 31, 2014

Push-Me, Pull-You

Yesterday, my daughter competed in a horse show. (This is a common occurrence around here, and has been for about half of her life). As usual, she had to be at the stable at ohmigod o'clock to groom her horse, pack the trailer and in this case help some junior riders do the same. The only difference was that she was planning to drive herself to the stable and I could, in theory, go back to bed. Or, in reality, take a fitness walk and get a few hours of work in before driving out to watch the event myself.

After checking to see if she was up (two alarms plus a "Puh-leeeeese, Mom, just five more minutes"), I cut a peach into slices and thought about the rest of her breakfast. With a long day of competition ahead of her, I thought something more substantive than a chocolate chip muffin was in order. I made a pizza bagel instead.

"I don't feel like it," she announced when she came downstairs in a crisp polo, shiny boots and show breeches.

This is where my first mom-fail of the day came in. Basically, any parenting manual worth its salt would have advised me to (a) insist or (b) acquiesce. I took a third completely futile route and cajoled then lectured her then ended with some snipey comment about how she doesn't take her sport seriously. She headed out with a Chocolate Chip Cookie Zone Bar (yes, said disgusting thing does exist) and I was left to wrap the pizza bagel and put it in the fridge.


As she was headed out the door, she asked in a mildly exasperated voice, "When can I stop texting you when I get there?" she asked.

"I don't know" I told her. "Not yet."

"Uggghhhhh," she groaned and headed off.

Since obtaining her highly anticipated and much cherished driver's license four months ago, we've had a deal. She puts her phone on "airplane mode" while she's driving (no calls in or out, no texts). She's very careful. She doesn't play her music too loud. No other teens in the car (that's Massachusetts's rule, not mine). And, she texts me when she gets wherever she's going.

That, for me, may be the most important part of the agreement.

With a text upon arrival (and a corresponding text when she's leaving for home later in the day), I only have two thirty minute blocks of sheer terror. Otherwise, I'd be looking at an entire day of it.

After our breakfast debate, I expected a terse "here" text from her. Instead, I received this:

"here i forgot my saddle pads after all that!" with a little freaked out face emoticon. We had washed them the night before and they were drying in the sun on our patio.

I quickly texted her back that I would bring them to the event location. It would simply mean getting there a bit earlier than I had planned.

"great thank you I'm sorry"

It was a gorgeous day, and I really didn't mind leaving work for a couple of hours. My daughter was genuinely happy to see me. Afterall ...

1. I had her clean white saddle pads
2. I could drive her jumping saddle and other equipment to the ring so she wouldn't have to make trips back and forth to the trailer between events
3. I could take pictures for her

As far as her actually wanting her loving mother to watch her compete? The bloom faded off that particular flower long ago. These days, I have jobs to do.

The show went well, and she left with two first place ribbons: dressage and stadium jumping. Along with the rest of her team, she headed back to the stable to celebrate. I headed back to my home office to work.

It occurred to me that my daughter is like the push-me—pull-you from Dr. Doolittle (you know, the weird, two headed llama thing in the old movie with Rex Harrison). She's moving away from me as fast as she can at times, and then returning just as quickly when circumstances change. Usually, that means when she needs something.

I always think that she'll appreciate all the above-and-beyond. That she'll understand how lucky she is that her mother is Mrs. Fix-It. But, I don't think she does. Maybe she will someday. Right now, it's all she knows.

In fairness, I do get a lot of "i'm sorrrrrrry" texts when there's a request. And, often "thank you soooooooo much" when said request is fulfilled. But, she's sixteen and her life is moving pretty fast. She can't stay repentant — or grateful — for too long. She might miss something.

So, back to her earlier question ...

"When can I stop texting you when I get there?"

How about "When you stop texting me with emergencies."

Or better yet. "When you're thirty-seven." 

Yep. That works for me.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sugar and Spice and Science and Math

When my now teenage daughter was in first, second and third grades, she was one of her class's top mathematicians. Each of those years, in fact, she competed for that honor against one particular classmate. A boy.

The stakes were fairly low. There were tests and projects and something called "mad minutes." Each day, the kids were handed sheets of problems. Single-digit addition first, followed by subtraction and eventually multiplication and division with more complex numbers. Once you could complete a sheet within the allotted sixty seconds, you could bump up to a more difficult set. 

My daughter was a whiz!

In the years since, her science and math skills have remained fairly high, but her interests have taken her in other directions. Still, I never really thought about the fact that she was following a fairly familiar pattern. Although younger girls hold their own in these subjects, by the time they get to middle school, high school and college, they fall behind.

But this doesn't have to be the case.

Earlier this year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development administered a test to 15-year-olds in 65 countries. The results are both encouraging and disheartening. According to The New York Times, which covered the story earlier this year, "girls generally outperform boys in science — but not in the United States." Or, it turns out, in England or Canada either. Meanwhile, in some countries that we might assume would be less progressive than ours, the girls really excelled. In Jordan, for example, girls outperformed boys by 8 percent!

So, clearly the aptitude is there. It has to be environmental factors: teaching, perceived opportunities and rewards, or — more likely — perceived disadvantages and consequences. Girls may not want to be stereotyped as "geeks" in a world that's so busy "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

A marketing associate of mine, Mélanie Attia, just posted a great piece about how to encourage more girls to explore STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers. With her permission, I'm sharing it here.

My thoughts on how to build interest in STEM careers for girls

Lifting the veil off science, technology, engineering and math

In early June 2014, I was invited on behalf of Silanis, to participate in ScribbleLive’s chat on the shortage of women in the essential “STEM” fields. With me during the hour was an inspiring group of women that included Cecily Carver, Co-Director of Dames Making Games, Tendu Yogurtcu, VP Engineering at Syncsort, Jen Lamere, a 17-year-old who won the TVnext Hackathon, and Laura Plant, Director at Ladies Learning Code. Topics during the hour included how to get more women to enter into the tech field, the obstacles they face, what it’s like to work in the field and what can be done to lower barriers to entry.

Early childhood exposure matters

I was very fortunate during my formative years. My father would have nothing to do with gender stereotypes. I was raised in an environment that allowed me to embrace science, biology and technology at a very young age. Although I was given the typical girl toys, I also got a microscope with bugs to dissect and examine and a telescope to look up at the cosmos. At the mere age of 6, I learned how to code on my own Commodore VIC-20.

Asking the perennial question: how is it made?

There are ongoing debates about how young children should be before they start playing video games and how much time should they spend doing it. Maybe the answer should be:first learn how the games are developed, and then play them.

Who should ask the question?

Realistically, not all parents are technically literate nor interested in coding in general. This is where elementary school and community initiatives like Kids Code Jeunesse come into play. This is the place where minds are opened to the possibilities outside of what is known.

The same way that history, geography, math, physics and biology can inspire and lift the veil off who we are and where we come from, coding is just another essential building block to all children's education. It's like learning a new language, a new way to solve problems.

The ecosystem that supports STEM matters too

In all honesty, I am not a programmer - at least, I don't consider myself as such. My love of the web and knack for just trying to figure out how to build a website is what propelled me into my current career. Once I built my first website, I had to figure out how to get people to it. Over time, I built my expertise in digital marketing.

My understanding of the guts of a web application gives me the ability to understand the challenges businesses face when having to adopt new emerging technologies to remain competitive. Being able to grasp how e-signatures work, what makes them compliant, risk-free and efficient within a workflow allows me to relate to the audience.

The work environment goes a long way

I am incredibly fortunate to work in a company that has so many women executives in director and VP positions. There is a whole ecosystem that supports IT. It spreads far and wide from sales to human resources, operations, customer relations and finance. No matter the department, it is beneficial to feel comfortable within the environment.

Don’t get me wrong, we also have a growing number of women developers on staff. I really believe the tides are changing. We need to keep the momentum going.

Want to help get more children interested in STEM?

Get involved in your local community efforts. Speak up when you're invited to meet your local school board. Finally, the next time your child is absorbed in their smart phone or gaming console, don't forget to ask the question: "How do you think this works?"

Thanks, Mélanie! Let's see if we can catch up, ladies.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Blurred Lines of Grammar

In my next life, I want to be Weird Al Yankovic. Really.

Well, not really.

But I want his job. For the past few decades, Weird Al has made a living writing parodies of pop songs. An accordion-playing nerd (and high school valedictorian), he produced his first homage, "My Bologna" (to the tune of "My Sharona") in 1979, and he hasn't let up.

In fifth grade, my now teenage daughter's teacher (a bit of a frustrated rock and roller), rewrote lyrics to pop songs to help the class remember science and math. The fact that the original songs were from the 70s and 80s (and the children were all from the late 90s) didn't seem to matter. The kids had a blast and soared through their tests.

I myself have been known to rewrite a lyric or two. In one of my earliest jobs as a copywriter, I penned spoof Broadway musicals for a cable company's annual marketing meetings. These included "Cable Cabaret," "Little Shop of Cable, and "Installer on the Roof."  ("Dr. Ruth, Dr. Ruth, find me a man ...")

Of course, while I may have dabbled, Al has made quite the successful career. He pretty much owns the genre. According to (also known as surf-and-make-yourself-feel-even-worse-about-your-savings-account-than-you-already-do-dot-com), Weird Al is worth $16 million. 


Thanks to some savvy Internet marketing, his new album is already the talk of the town. "Tacky," based on Pharrell's "Happy" is cute and was featured on all the morning news shows. "Foil," a conspiracy-theory send-up of Lourdes's "Royals," is hysterical. But, my favorite is "Word Crimes." For two very good reasons.

First of all, I couldn't be happier that Weird Al chose the song he did to poke fun at. Robin Thicke's catchy anthem builds on the idea that when a girl says "No," she really means "Yes."

"You're a good girl. I know you want it. I know you want it."

Well, suffice it to say that women's organizations have been up in arms about how the song celebrates rape culture. And, to their credit, several colleges have banned it from campus parties. (This doesn't stop my Zumba class — which is 99% women — and countless others, no doubt, from using it every week. But, that's another issue.)

The other reason I'm enjoying "Word Crimes" so much is because it showcases all the ways that people (especially our teens who live online, texting and tweeting and tumblring — and avoiding at all costs anything remotely resembling punctuation, grammar or spelling) murder language.

The English major in me can only say "How wonderful!"

Leave it to Weird Al to make being a grammar geek cool!

"Word Crimes"
(Sing this to the tune of "Blurred Lines" or — better yet — watch Weird Al's awesome animated video here.)

Everybody shut up, WOO!
Everyone listen up!
Hey, hey, hey, uh
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

If you can't write in the proper way
If you don't know how to conjugate
Maybe you flunked that class
And maybe now you find
That people mock you online

Okay, now here's the deal
I'll try to educate ya
Gonna familiarize
You with the nomenclature
You'll learn the definitions
Of nouns and prepositions
Literacy's your mission
And that's why I think it's a

Good time
To learn some grammar
Now, did I stammer
Work on that grammar
You should know when
It's "less" or it's "fewer"
Like people who were
Never raised in a sewer

I hate these word crimes
Like I could care less
That means you do care
At least a little
Don't be a moron
You'd better slow down
And use the right pronoun
Show the world you're no clown
Everybody wise up!

Say you got an "I","T"
Followed by apostrophe, "s"
Now what does that mean?
You would not use "it's" in this case
As a possessive
It's a contraction
What's a contraction?
Well, it's the shortening of a word, or a group of words
By the omission of a sound or letter

Okay, now here's some notes
Syntax you're always mangling
No "x" in "espresso"
Your participle's danglin'
But I don't want your drama
If you really wanna
Leave out that Oxford comma
Just keep in mind

That "be", "see", "are", "you"
Are words, not letters
Get it together
Use your spellchecker
You should never
Write words using numbers
Unless you're seven
Or your name is Prince

I hate these word crimes
You really need a
Full time proofreader
You dumb mouth-breather
Well, you should hire
Some cunning linguist
To help you distinguish
What is proper English

One thing I ask of you
Time to learn your homophones is past due
Learn to diagram a sentence too
Always say "to whom"
Don't ever say "to who"
And listen up when I tell you this
I hope you never use quotation marks for emphasis
You finished second grade
I hope you can tell
If you're doing good or doing well
About better figure out the difference
Irony is not coincidence
And I thought that you'd gotten it through your skull
What's figurative and what's literal
Oh but, just now, you said
You literally couldn't get out of bed
That really makes me want to literally
Smack a crowbar upside your stupid head

I read your e-mail
It's quite apparent
Your grammar's errant
You're incoherent
Saw your blog post
It's really fantastic
That was sarcastic (Oh, psych!)
'Cause you write like a spastic

I hate these Word Crimes
Your prose is dopey
Think you should only
Write in emoji
Oh, you're a lost cause
Go back to pre-school
Get out of the gene pool
Try your best to not drool

Never mind I give up
Really now I give up
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey
Go Away!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Report Cards

Remember report cards? Not our kids' report cards, ours.

My earliest memory of a report card was from first or second grade. It was a few pages long and included rankings (Excellent, Good, Fair, Needs Improvement) on all kinds of academic and developmental achievements. From elementary math and reading skills to listening, punctuality and playing well with others. 

My father was so proud of it, he brought it in to work.

From then on, I was determined to get great report cards. And by and large I did (we'll just skip right over "Advanced Math Theory and Analysis" in twelfth grade and "Technical Theatre" my second year in college).

The thing with report cards back then is that there was an element of surprise. The process (for better or worse; I can actually see it both ways) included some subjectivity on the part of the teachers. The envelope arrived in the mail and there was a definitive "ta-da" (or "uh-oh") moment. The few days between the end of school and the release of the report card was a time of anticipation. Or anxiety. Or both.

My teenage daughter's report card was released while we were on vacation. It didn't matter though. Thanks to our school district's investment in a "gradebook portal," we have access to her marks in real-time. Real-time, like, all the time.

Essentially, this system is used by the school's teachers throughout the school year. They post assignments, as well as test scores and grades on papers and projects, homework and class participation.

The tagline of the technology provider is "inspire student learning."

Unfortunately, the only thing I've seen it inspire is a compulsion to check grades and to look at schoolwork as a purely quantitative — rather than qualitative — experience.

For me, as a parent, it's supposed to be "a great tool to stay active in your child's education and extracurricular activities." With it, I can track my child's "academic progress and assignments, attendance, group membership, schedule, conduct incidents, emergency contacts, and health information."

Better living through science, right? I have to disagree.

Suddenly every class is a math problem. My daughter (like all her peers) can tell you at any given time her exact grade for any given subject. When I say "exact," I mean to the hundredth of a percentage point. It's no longer enough to think you have an A- average. Now, once you've logged in and provided your password, you can definitively say that you have a 91.42. It can be particularly frustrating when you're on the cusp. For example, a B becomes a B+ at 86.51. What if you have an 86.49? Two one-hundredths of a point, people! In the past (the olden days when yours truly was a student), a kindly teacher might have bumped you up for effort. Not anymore. The numbers don't lie and they don't mess around with any of that sentimental nonsense either.

In the never-ending quest for automation, even the teachers' comments have been made soulless. Next to the numerical grade for each class, a comments area includes a one-line summation, such as "A pleasure to have in class" or "Outstanding effort" or "Needs to focus on homework assignments." These, however, are chosen from a finite list of potential comments that correspond to a two-digit code that the teacher fills in. (Apparently, my daughter is "a pleasure to have in class" in pretty much every class. I guess that's better than the alternative, but I'd love a little more detail.)

The immediacy (and lack of relativity) about the system can also be disheartening if not downright disturbing. One failed quiz or mediocre paper can take on disproportionate importance for a period of time (a period of nail-biting, sleepless-night time). For example, my daughter's French teacher rarely collected homework, but happened to one day when the entire class was confused about the assignment. Until the next test, otherwise solid students (and their worried moms) had to see grades in the 30s and 40s on the portal.

The flipside, of course, is that there are still some teachers who are resisting the transition to digital grading. The woman in charge of one of my daughter's electives didn't ever put a grade into the system until the very end. "Don't worry, Mom," my daughter assured me, "I know I'm getting an A." This would have been perfectly acceptable in the past, but like every other mother in our school district, I've been conditioned to expect real-time updates.

I'm all for using technology. I'm all for things that make our overworked (and underpaid) teachers' lives easier. I'm certainly all for systems that keep parents informed. But, I think the portal is a little too impersonal. I think it adds to the stress we all feel already when it comes to grades and takes the focus off of learning. We've traded effective learning for efficiency.

And it isn't always that efficient either.

Our portal, in addition to posting grades, publishes each student's schedule for the next year. This saves paper and postage. In theory, since the whole thing is being done by a computer, there should be fewer schedule issues. Right? In fact, with such perfect technology, the school has mandated that we NOT (under any circumstance) request changes.

So, once we took a look at my daughter's online report card (she was, btw, " a pleasure to have in class"), we checked out her schedule. She got all the classes she wanted and more study halls than expected. Probably because her AP U.S. History and her CP1 Physics are in the same block three days and CP1 Physics and Honors French 4 are in the same block two.

Better living through technology?

Better make that "Better living through cloning."

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pass the (Microwave) Popcorn: Pretty Little Liars

When I got home from London nearly two weeks ago, I had to catch up. On work, weeding, laundry, grocery shopping, ten days away from the gym. Was it painful? Yes. 

Was it worth it? Of course.

When my teenage daughter got home from Spain a few days later, she had to catch up too. "On what?" you may ask. 

Summer assignments? Her disheveled room? A fitness routine? No, no, and no.

She had to catch up on Pretty Little Liars.

Pretty Little Liars is a weekly show on ABC Family (although how it constitutes "family" fare is beyond me). It's billed as a teen mystery-thriller, and it's based (loosely) on a series of YA novels by Sara Spencer. To my daughter's credit (I guess), she read all the books prior to sitting down and bingeing the series on Netflix.

Two asides: I'm actually very happy whenever my daughter picks up a book instead of her iPhone. And, I can't really criticize the bingeing thing. I myself watched the entire first season of House of Cards in a single weekend, and got through three full seasons of Call the Midwife in less than a week. The whole "on demand" thing is deadly for those of us with a predisposition to compulsive viewing.

Back to Pretty Little Liars.

ABC Family describes it this way: Rosewood is a perfect little town. So quiet and pristine, you'd never guess it holds so many secrets. Some of the ugliest ones belong to the prettiest girls in town: Aria, Spencer, Hanna and Emily, four friends whose darkest secrets have been unraveling since Alison, the Queen Bee of their group disappeared. As the mystery surrounding Ali's disappearance resurfaces, the girls begin getting messages from a mysterious “A,” who they quickly realize is out to get them. Now, after years of tormenting and numerous shocking revelations, the Liars are united and ready to kick some “A” and uncover the truth! No longer just wanting to sit by and wait for "A’s" latest cruel attack, Aria, Emily, Hanna and Spencer take matters into their own hands and try to finally put a stop to their tormentor. As relationships are put to the test, new and old secrets are revealed and the stakes are raised higher than ever before as the Liars come closer to the truth. Will all of their sacrifices be worth it in the end?

Cue ominous music: dum dum da dum.

Now in its fifth season (wow), it maintains a steady viewership of 2.5 million (and as high as 3.7 for season premieres and year-end finales), making it ABC Family's most successful program.

Critically, it's had a less positive reception. It received a D- from Entertainment Weekly, which mused "Imagine the pitch for Liars: It's I Know What You Did Last Summer meets Gossip Girl, but like not so subtle."

(Like I wish I wrote that.)

But since when do teenagers listen to authority?

Last night, my husband had to go to a black-tie business thingy (no plus-ones, bummer), so I suggested a special night for us girls. We would order in pizza and watch a movie. My daughter demurred ...

"I have to watch something in real-time at 8," she told me.

Having caught up on everything she'd missed, she wanted to watch ... you guessed it ... Pretty Little Liars. Or just PLL for those of us in the know. I asked if I could watch with her and she seemed genuinely pleased. I warned her that I wouldn't understand what was going on, but she delightedly reminded me that actually viewing something in real-time meant that there would be actual real-time commercial breaks, during which she would fill in any blanks.

And so she did. My questions went something like this ...

"Wait, which girl is that again?"
"Wait, I thought that one was dead?"
"Wait, is she a lesbian?"
"Wait, why was she in rehab?"
"Wait, is that guy she's kissing her teacher?"
"Wait, who is A?"

Mainly, I was wondering why the so-called grownups in the little town — y'know, parents, principals, police detectives — weren't more concerned about teenagers disappearing and dying. 

Frankly, I didn't understand much, but there was enough murder and mayhem to keep me interested. (Plus, I kept trying to figure out how old these supposed high school girls really were. 'Funny how Hollywood thinks nothing about shaving ten years off an actress's age to play a teen, but then ignores them completely once they reach 40. At any rate, these girls are matuuuuuure. Then again, you might be too if you'd seen everything they have. Remind me not to move to Rosewood.)

Did I love Pretty Little Liars? Ummm, no. I'm filing it away with that time I read all the Twilight books. Let's face it, I'm not the target audience. But, as long as my daughter is willing to share (and to explain, when necessary), I'm game. 

And, maybe PLL puts things in perspective. After all, I sometimes watch 24 when I'm feeling stressed. A day in the life of Jack Bauer makes my own life look pretty cushy. (No matter how tight my deadlines are, at least I get bathroom breaks.) 

The next time I reflect on all my daughter's teen drama, I'll remind myself that things could be a lot more ... dramatic. Dum dum da dum.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Full House

Sometimes my heart has a mind of its own.

After five wonderful days in London, I helped my teenage daughter pack her bags. We took the Tube to Victoria Station, and then the Gatwick Express to the airport. I went up to the British Air desk with her to check-in (as an unofficial "unaccompanied minor" — in other words, she didn't need an escort or a humiliating placard hanging round her neck — she couldn't use the kiosk). We found the departures line, which turned round a corner toward security. 

And that was it. 

In a moment, she was out of sight and I retraced our steps back into the city. Alone.

So, in my head on that long ride, I played out all that we had done and all that my daughter was about to experience. She was going to Barcelona to stay with the family of a delightful girl we hosted last summer. Her ten days would include riding at an elegant Spanish dressage center, touring one of the most beautiful cities in the world, trying new foods, learning about a new culture, making new friends. I knew (in my head) that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I also knew (in my head) that my daughter was so fortunate, so blessed to be able to do such incredible things.

But, in my heart ... ? Well, that's a different story.

Of course, I don't want to keep her from these adventures. My hopes and plans revolve around her becoming a confident, independent adult. It's not like I'm going to lock her up and shield her from the world. (It would make me rather like the mother in Carrie, wouldn't it? And we all know how that turned out.)

This wasn't our first parting either, just a slightly more exotic one. When she was only six weeks old, I went back to work, leaving her for ten whole hours each day with a nanny (who, thank goodness, was wonderful and quickly became part of our family). Throughout her early years, I frequently went away on business, assuaging my guilt by buying her unnecessary tchotchkes at airport gift shops all around the country.

The first year she went to sleepaway camp, I cried the entire way home from Connecticut (two-plus hours of tears; my husband was very understanding). Really, it was pure torture. Three weeks with no contact except letters and postcards. It was a horse riding camp and she adored it. I counted the days until her return. She went again the next summer, and to a different camp the next. I got braver.

Many of my friends are empty-nesters now. They tell me to enjoy it. To relax, go out, get to know my husband again. I try. Without my daughter, I revisited some of my favorite parts of London: Kensington Gardens, for instance, and Portobello Road. I did all the things I wanted to do. But, there was an emptiness in my chest. A sort of hunger behind my solar plexus. And, when we returned to the States without her, everything was a little lonelier than I remembered. For the next week, I threw myself back into work (not difficult after ten days off and 450 emails). I tidied up her room. The time passed slowly. But, it passed.

Last night, I stood in Terminal E, outside customs at Logan Airport. I knew her flight had arrived, but the process is notoriously long. So, I brought recent copies of The New Yorker and Vogue. Still, it was hard to concentrate. 

And, suddenly, she was back. 

She was back with a million stories to tell — and quite willing, happy even, to be hugged in public.

I know I'm going to have to start steeling myself. These partings will only increase in length and frequency. And, college is looming. It's still two years away, of course, but at this stage, I know that two years will fly by. It isn't nearly enough time. I know this in my head.

And in my heart.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at