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Someone called me "four eyes" for the first time in middle school.

It didn't bother me enough to stop wearing my glasses, which I'd proudly worn since third grade — but those first bullying words stuck with me.

Yep, that's me and my beloved "four eyes" days! Image from the author, used with permission.


Middle school is a time when words start to matter a little bit more.

As teens try to shape their identities, insults can sting for a little longer. Peers' opinions seem to matter more. Teens want to be cool and unique, but they also want to fit in and belong.

That's why Amy Beth Gardner, a loving mom from Cleveland, Tennessee, squeezed out a tube of toothpaste for her daughter.

Huh? Let me explain.

Last week, Amy shared a story on Facebook about an interaction she had with her 11-year-old daughter, Breonna. First, Amy gave Breonna a tube of toothpaste and squirted it all out onto a plate. Then she asked her to put it back into the tube.

Breonna was understandably confused and frustrated. But the toothpaste was her mother's brilliant and beautiful metaphor for explaining that words matter. Once your words are out of your mouth, you can't just put them back in your mouth ... just like the toothpaste.

"My toothpaste was a mess and I went to clean it and started thinking about how, just like words once you have said them, you can't put toothpaste back in a tube," Amy said.

Here's Amy's original post:

My daughter starts middle school tomorrow. We've decorated her locker, bought new uniforms, even surprised her with a...

Posted by Amy Beth Gardner on Sunday, August 14, 2016

Here's the full text:

"My daughter starts middle school tomorrow. We've decorated her locker, bought new uniforms, even surprised her with a new backpack. But tonight just before bed, we did another pre-middle school task that is far more important than the others. I gave her a tube of toothpaste and asked her to squirt it out onto a plate. When she finished, I calmly asked her to put all the toothpaste back in the tube. She began exclaiming things like 'But I can't!' and 'It won't be like it was before!' I quietly waited for her to finish and then said the following:

'You will remember this plate of toothpaste for the rest of your life. Your words have the power of life or death. As you go into middle school, you are about to see just how much weight your words carry. You are going to have the opportunity to use your words to hurt, demean, slander and wound others. You are also going to have the opportunity to use your words to heal, encourage, inspire and love others. You will occasionally make the wrong choice; I can think of three times this week I have used my own words carelessly and caused harm. Just like this toothpaste, once the words leave your mouth, you can't take them back. Use your words carefully, Breonna. When others are misusing their words, guard your words. Make the choice every morning that life-giving words will come out of your mouth. Decide tonight that you are going to be a life-giver in middle school. Be known for your gentleness and compassion. Use your life to give life to a world that so desperately needs it. You will never, ever regret choosing kindness.'"

We all have a choice about whether to say something hurtful or hold it in — and that's what's important.

As Amy acknowledges in the post, everyone — including herself — can make the wrong choice sometimes and say something hurtful. We can either choose to use our words for good and make people feel better about themselves, or the other way around.

What Amy did is not only admirable, but also necessary.

Bullying is a major problem in schools, and it's important to teach kids and teens that their words have power.

Can you imagine if more parents used this clever metaphor to teach their kids about the weight of their words? That's a lot of wasted toothpaste, but a whole lot of spared feelings and goodness in the world too.

via FIRST

FIRST students compete in a robotics challenge.

True

Societies all over the world face an ever-growing list of complex issues that require informed solutions. Whether it’s addressing infectious diseases, the effects of climate change, supply chain issues or resource scarcity, the world has an immediate need for problem-solvers with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills.

Here in the United States, we’re experiencing a shortage of much-needed STEM workers, and forward-thinking organizations are stepping up to tap into America’s youth to fill the void. As the leading youth-serving nonprofit advancing STEM education, FIRST is an important player in this arena, and its mission is to inspire young people aged 4 to 18 to become technology leaders and innovators capable of addressing the world’s pressing needs.

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However, for some couples, the marital bed can be a warzone. Throughout the night couples can endure snoring, sleep apnea, the ongoing battle for sheets or circadian rhythms that never seem to sync. If one person likes to fall asleep with the TV on while the other reads a book, it can be impossible to come to an agreement on a good-night routine.

Last week on TODAY, host Carson Daly reminded viewers that he and his wife Siri, a TODAY Food contributor, had a sleep divorce while she was pregnant with their fourth child.

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1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.