Thursday, December 20, 2007

Avoiding The Talk

(The following story is about a year and a half old, but I’ve long since thought of putting it up online. Consider it some light holiday reading.)

It was only a matter of time.

I was in the basement doing laundry when from upstairs came a sudden scream and wailing. I ran upstairs and The Littlest Critic stood in front of the CD cabinet.

“Wheeeeerrreeee’s Sneeeeaaaat?” she howled, pointing at nothing.

At long last, she had noticed the missing fish bowl. A few weeks earlier, her goldfish, Sneat (“What’s your fish’s name, honey?” “It’s neat.” “Neat?” “No, Sneat.”) had gone belly up. We debated what to do, the wife and I. Her suggestion, just put the bowl away downstairs and flush the fish, seemed a dicey proposition, but my idea of simply buying a look-alike replacement was tabled. “She’ll never notice,” my wife assured me.

Well, she had.

TLC looked up at me with wide, tear-filled eyes and a red tear-streaked face. She could have refilled the fishbowl with enough tears to happily support a tropical fish. I floundered.

“She’s, uh, she’s on a fish-cation,” I tried, “like the vacation you’re going on later. She went on a fish vacation.”

“NOOOOOoooooo, I want her, I want her,” TLC cried.

“Well, she’ll be back soon,” I tried. “She went to see her mommy and her daddy on her fish-cation.”

“Noooooo, she’s my friend and I want her to come home,” TLC wailed.

“She’ll be home soon, she’ll be home soon, she will, she will,” I babbled, thinking fast.

By this time TLC’s whole face was bright red from howling, her nose a complete bubble of snot and tears and more snot. Thinking desperately, I said, “Would you like to talk to Sneat on the phone?”

The crying subsided a little, “Uh-uh-uh-uh, huh” TLC tearfully stammered.

“Okay, wait here and I’ll get her on the phone.” I walked into the den and quickly phoned my mother, who was in her car. “Listen,” I whispered fiercely, “I need a bizarre favor. TLC’s fish died. I told her the fish was on vacation. I need you to pretend to be a fish. Just say ‘bloop bloop bloop’ in a high-pitched voice when I put TLC on the phone, okay?”

“What?” my mom said. I repeated my request. “Ooookaaaay,” she answered, sounding puzzled.

“Let me hear you. Do a bloop.” I commanded. If she mucked this up, I was in deep trouble. It would have to be The Talk. I dreaded The Talk. Yes, children are more resilient than we adults give them credit for, and yes, they prefer the Truth to a parent’s lies, but this had caught me unprepared. Besides, TLC was only three. There’ll be time enough for the brutal facts of life when she’s five.

“Bloop,” she said.

“Good, good.” I went into the kitchen where TLC sat on the floor, wiping her nose and face on her arm. “I have Sneat on the phone. Would you like to talk to her?”

TLC looked up at me and smiled through her tears. “Yes!” she squealed. I held the phone out to her and she said, “Sneat, Sneat, come home, I have a treat for you.”

“Bloop bloop bloop bloop,” I heard my mother bleating. “Bloop bloop bloop.”

“Come home, friend,” she told my mother, the fish.

“Okay,” I said, holding out my hand and taking back the phone. “Thank you, Sneat,” I said to my mom’s blooping. “Talk to you later. We’ll see you when you get home.”

As TLC got dressed, she told me she loved Sneat, she missed her, she had a treat for her for when she got home that the two of them would share, that Sneat would be home tonight.

While I got myself dressed and ready to go, TLC drew several pictures of Sneat, writing Sneat’s name in her three-year old’s sprawling scribbles, and showing me, and writing letters that (I’m told) went like this, “Dear Sneat, come home, I love her, she’s my friend, come home. We’ll share treats.”

Dressed, we were off to pick up Sneat at the pet store where I told TLC Sneat was waiting for us. She had gone on fish-cation, and just like at an airport, someone had to show up to pick her up. She had been all over the ocean and now she was coming home, but someone had to pick her up.

We went first to Petsmart, where we’d bought the original Sneat and we scoured the tanks looking for a suitable look-alike, but all the fish were too chunky or too small or had spots in the wrong places or had eyes that were way too bulgy or were one thing or another. Not one of them looked even remotely like Sneat. I tried gamely, “Is that her? Is that her?” and every time TLC said, “No.”

“Is that her?”

“No, that’s her friend. That’s her other friend too. Where is she? I miss her.”

We moved from tank to tank then went back and did the whole round again, but it was no go. Nothing that could even remotely be passed off as Sneat. White goldfish with orange spots, orange goldfish with white spots, orange goldfish with black spots, white goldfish with black spots, but no fish with all three colors in the right proportions save for some seriously bulgy eyed fish that TLC just crinkled her nose up at when I said, Is that her?”

“Nooooo,” she said laughing, “that’s her FRIEND.” Soon, though, TLC started to look worried. “Where is she? Where is she?” The tremor in her voice promised that tears would be falling soon if we didn’t find the right fish.

“Well, maybe she’s at the other pet store, the one with the puppies and cats,” I said, hoping hoping hoping that there’d be a fish that looked enough like Sneat so that I wouldn’t have to leave with a bigger distraction, like a cat.

“Let’s go look,” TLC said.

In the parking lot, TLC said, “I think Sneat has tears in her eyes. She misses me. I miss her. I miss Sneat.”

“Do you have tears in your eyes”? I asked.

“Not right now,” she said and put her face tightly against my shoulder.

We got into the car and drove over to the other store. “Here they come!” TLC yelled from the back seat. “That’s what Sneat is saying, ‘Here they come!’”

Please let there be a fish that looks like Sneat, I thought. Please please please. An idea hit me — brilliant! “You know,” I said as we drove, “Sneat was on vacation and sometimes when you go on vacation you get a little bigger or a little smaller. Sometimes you get suntans. When I get suntans, I turn brown. You turn pink. Does Sneat get a suntan?”

“Yes,” she said, “she turns yellow.”

Great, I thought. I’d bought a little wiggle room.

We got to Petland. In the foyer, a small indoor pond bubbled in the corner. “Sneat’s friends,” TLC said pointing at the goldfish hovering just below the water’s surface. Inside the store, she saw the puppies, and we spent some time looking at them. “That’s Otis,” she said, pointing at a pug. “That’s Copper,” she said, tapping on the glass of a long-eared hound dog. “That’s Sadie,” she said about a black lab. “What’s that doggie’s name?” she asked, pointing to a mix.

“That’s a labradoodle,” I explained, “half poodle, half black lab.” We tried to think up a good name for it.

Then it was on to the mice, then finally to the back of the store, the fish.

Tank after tank after tank. No Sneat, no Sneat, that’s a Nemo, that’s a yellow fish, no Sneat, no Sneat.

“There she is!” I said, deciding to try and force the issue. I pointed at a tank that had a pretty close approximation.

“Where where?” TLC asked. I lifted her up to look into the tank.

“Right there,” I said, pointing to my candidate. “I think she got a little bigger on vacation. She grew, just like you always do.”

“She’ll get smaller when she gets home,” TLC assured me.

“Probably,” I said. “She probably just looks so big because she’s with a bunch of fish that are smaller than her. She’ll look the same when we get home, but I do think she grew just a little bit. Just a little.”

“Sneat! We found you!” TLC cheered. She ran over to the man who hoists out
the fish. “We found her! We found her!” He barely reacted.

“That one?” he asked me, tapping the glass. I nodded. Scoop, bag, tie, hand off.

At the checkout counter, TLC explained to the female cashier how Sneat had gone on a vacation to see her mother and her father, her mommy and her daddy, and how we had to pick her up and we need a bowl and some treats and how she missed her friend Sneat and she loves her and how we found her and we had to pick her up and she said goodbye to all her friends but she missed her and Sneat’s her friend and she loves her and we’re taking her home. The woman looked a little dazed at this torrent of words.

In the car, I pulled out the cellphone when TLC told me we need to get Sneat a bowl. “Hello? Bowl movers?” I faked into the phone. “Did you drop off Sneat’s bowl at our house yet? You did. Oh, okay. What? Oh really?” I scolded the plastic bag. “Sneat, you naughty little fish, you left your bowl dirty and now I have to clean it” Then back to my phone conversation, “Okay, thank you for dropping off the bowl. It’s in the basement? Great. I’ll clean it when I get home.”

TLC was happy to hear Sneat’s bowl was at our house. When we got home, I cleaned it all out. Sneat 2 sat in her bag, about to enter her new home. We were going to feed her because, as I’d been informed, she came home from her fish-cation hungry. As I scrubbed, TLC practiced saying, “Eat the fish food, Sneat. Don’t drink the dirty water. Eat the fish food.”

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Interesting Short Conversation

The Littlest Critic (apropos of nothing): Some people don't believe in brown.
Me: Oh, really? What kind of people?
TLC: The people who make rainbows.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Couple Movies

For obvious reasons, I've been leery of putting my daughter up on the Internet for public consumption. These two videos below, however, are just plain funny to me and time has passed enough that she's essentially unrecognizable from the baby shown here.

Thus, I present to you, The Littlest Critic in her first ever reading, showing her mother and father exactly how her favorite story is supposed to go. If memory serves the volume in question is Mommy Loves Her Baby/Daddy Loves His Baby, one of those flipbooks that are two stories in one.

Part One

Part Two

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's a Beautiful Day!

For the last two weeks, The Littlest Critic has been bereft of her stuffed giraffe, Dedan. A gift from Grandma, this toy accompanied the book Dedan Saves the Day. She took it to school to have at naptime and we put it neatly into her cubby.

Then someone stole it or did something else nefarious to it, and this little brute did it before naptime, so TLC was without Dedan for naptime. Needless to say, she did not nap. That night, she told me there was another little boy there who had a giraffe similar to Dedan and the last time she'd taken hers to school, he had thought hers was his. Not unlike the plot of the recent, excellent sequel Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity. (If you're unfamiliar with Mo Willems, stop being a chump and check him out!)

Try as I might, I couldn't get TLC to cough up a name of the little boy, then she later began denying the story and muddying the waters with conflicting accounts. This, this is why children are so rarely called to the witness stand.

We searched high and low, myself, The Wife, the teachers, the teachers' aides. Everyone. We looked in the stack of cots, we triple checked her cubby, we rooted through the tubs of blankets & pillows, we checked shelves. Everywhere.

Nada. Dead end. A notice was placed on the dry erase board: "Missing: One giraffe." And we waited. And waited.

Meanwhile, over the past two months, TLC has been trying desperately to learn how to snap her fingers. She's rubbed her finger on her thumb over and over. She's wept bitter tears at her failure. She's made me snap my fingers over and over to watch how it's done and we've done that until she's just been mad at me for being able to snap my fingers.

Yesterday, The Wife went to pick up TLC at school, and my daughter ran to her and said, "It's a beautiful day! I got Dedan back and look!" Whereupon she awesomely snapped her fingers again and again. "I can snap!"

And she snapped all day and she snapped all night. And when it was bedtime, she lay in bed, holding Dedan clutched under one arm, snapping her fingers in the dark.

It really was a beautiful day.