WHEN THE SCHOOL year began, we established a routine. We got up and dueled for bathroom supremacy (though not with plungers at dawn, as I'd suggested). Then we got dressed, ate toast and drove the kids to school.

Usually, we escaped the morning fracas with only minor injuries. The system worked well, primarily because LaVeta demanded that 7-year-old Eve and 4-year-old Little Solomon bathe at night and freshen up in the morning. Similarly, we made sure that 16-year-old Adrianne got up and out in time, despite the fact that, as a teenage girl, doing her hair for an hour was more important than life itself.

For the first two months, our commitment to morning precision proved foolproof. Unfortunately, as with any system, there were weaknesses, which started to show by November.

There were little things: Me forgetting to set the alarm; Adrianne using up the hot water; Little Solomon aiming poorly while trying to relieve himself; Eve throwing hissy fits.

More than anything, the breaches in our wall of morning organization could be traced to kids being kids. After coming to grips with that reality, LaVeta and I developed a system of checks and balances designed to thwart any lapses in morning discipline.

Our system worked so well that we decided to offer it to other families. Below, for parents who might need them, are a few of our favorite techniques.

The Breathalyzer

Teaching little kids to brush their own teeth is an exercise in patience that's well worth the investment. When kids brush properly, they grow up with a sense of personal responsibility and self-worth. Most importantly, they avoid having Crayola name a crayon after their nasty tooth color, and they don't develop the debilitating condition that is commonly known as yuck mouth.

To make sure our kids brush thoroughly, we have instituted the morning breathalyzer - a simple smell test in which we place our noses in front of the little ones' mouths and tell them to breathe. If their breath smells like hog maws, sweat socks or Doritos, they must re-brush. If, however, they are able to pass the smell test, they are free to proceed to step two - getting dressed.

The Kriss Kross Test

Little Solomon does well at dressing himself, but he's apparently determined to carry on the fashion legacy of Kriss Kross - a '90s hip-hop duo who sang "Jump!" while wearing their clothes backwards. Makes sense, I guess. The boys were fond of calling themselves Mack Daddy and Daddy Mack - the very nicknames I considered for my son when I saw him kiss the little girl next door and vow to marry her. Unfortunately, girls don't marry guys who put their pants on backwards, as Little Solomon did a couple weeks ago. He went through the whole school day before we realized what he'd done. Since we can't risk having him living at home at 21 wearing jeans with the Gap label in the front, we've instituted the Kriss Kross rule, which entails checking to make sure the boy's clothes are on the right way.

America's Next Top Hottie

Given the fact that nearly every high-school girl, including my 16-year-old, sees herself as a contestant on America's Next Top Hottie, I routinely veto outfits in the morning. But Adrianne has Ocean's Eleven-like caper ability. She can sneak an outfit past a parent with the best of them. That's why I use schoolhouse spies to watch for the old "change-into-the-skirt-in-the-locker" trick. I have assembled a neighborhood surveillance network rivaling that of "The Wire." I have driven to school unexpectedly for spot inspections.

Of course, our most important morning ritual has nothing to do with yuck mouth, Kriss Kross or hotties. In fact, it's the simplest thing we do. Each morning, after inspections have been conducted, we send our kids to school with these three little words: "I love you." *

Solomon Jones' column appears every Saturday. He can be reached at