Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Yes, yes, parents tend to gush about their children's talents (real and imagined), but I'd like to show you why The Littlest Critic gets the highest rating in her kindergarten art class. They usually only have two stars as the highest, but her teacher created a special three-star designation just for TLC. Which, of course, thrills us to pieces.

Thus, behold below, the latest production, front and back. The front is the art, the back is the title, wisely written in crayon so as to not bleed through and ruin the composition. This piece, in case you're not able to read the ranging handwriting below, is titled "The Red Balloons Fly Over the Cat."


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Deep Thought

Sometimes, when I'm folding laundry, the only way I can tell the difference between my 30-something Wife's clothes and my 5-year-old daughter's is to look at the sleeves. If the arms are way too long to be The Littlest Critic's, it goes into The Wife's pile.

Socks are actually harder.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes We Can

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Politics Through the Eyes of a Five Year Old

Four years ago, while watching the GOP convention in New York City, The Littlest Critic had this unprompted response:

Four years later, during the Democratic Primary, when we were a Hillary household, all of us rooting for the first girl president, TLC rendered this campaign poster:

And tonight, while watching the half hour Barack Obama campaign commercial (well done by the way; very slick production values, excellent cinematography and editing; successful use of surrogates and real-life stories; I was pleasantly surprised as I have memories of Ross Perot and his graphs and such from way back when), TLC rendered this portrait (among several others) demonstrating which candidate currently has her support:

I love the jacket, shirt, and tie action going on here.

Yes, TLC was a huge, I mean HUGE, Hillary fan. When The Critical Wife took her to a rally in Lyndhurst, TLC beamed, "She's beautiful!" upon catching sight of the former First Lady. She made her own campaign sign, which we displayed in our front window, and she regularly chanted, "Hill-a-ry! Hill-a-ry! Hill-a-ry!"

Suffice to say, there were quite a few tears shed when it became obvious that Ms. Clinton wouldn't again be occupying the White House. I left the breaking of the bad news to my wife.

As consolation, we regularly read (and still do) Grace for President. Buy it for the girls in your life. And for lighter fare, Duck for President.

(Now, I'll admit right here that when I hear Obama speak, I'm giddy and swayed by his soaring poetic abilities, but I can't help still crying a little inside when he talks about "affordable healthcare" instead of going the full progressive route and promising universal healthcare instead. That still remains one of my political Holy Grails.)

Anyway, going for walks in our neighborhood is fun stuff, as we Obama supporters outnumber the McCain supporters, as measured by sign displays, somewhere on the area of about eight to one. The two houses right across the street from our polling location both have Obama signs in their front yard.

We're gonna win this one, folks. All the haters, all the crap out there. We're gonna rise above all that and we just might see real change.

We have hope here. The hope of a little girl with her crayons.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Vocab Lately

The other day, while The Littlest Critic, The Critical Wife, and I were going some place in the car, I was gently teasing TLC, as is my wont. Finally, after having heard enough of it, she said to me, "Stop taunting me."

She's five.

Later that same day, The Wife and I in the middle of a conversation, were interrupted by TLC pointing out that "that's descending," referring to something in our conversation that was, in fact, going down in a metaphoric sense.

For the record, again, she is five.

Although to be fair, she's closer now to six than five.

We have always tried to model conversation for her, using occasional big words when talking about things with her instead of going for babyish alternatives.

But every so often she throws out something like "taunting," and I'm just blown away.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Zoo Day

The Littlest Critic and I spent Sunday at the zoo and it was the perfect day.

If you really want to see the animals to their best advantage, what you want is to go to the zoo when it's overcast and a little breezy. The animals tend to be more active then – and were they ever on Sunday. The polar bear was diving and splashing repeatedly in the water, the tigers were pacing instead of sleeping as were the lions, the gorilla jumped around a lot and threw one of his toy barrels, the snow leopard looked at us with an open mouth then put her giant paws up on a tree trunk and scratched just like a big ol kitty-cat.

The cheetahs were pacing and I kept trying to get good pictures with my camera phone, but it's a bit hard as camera phones totally suck at photos.

But once, when the cheetah was nearing the fence down from us, I ran right over to the fence where it came to and snapped the picture below. The cheetah was a bit startled at my approach and hissed and growled at me, a deep throaty growl like thunder in her throat. It was awesome in that back of your neck hair standing on end way. And I was crouching only about eighteen inches away.

I fiddled with some of this, demonstrating my poor photoshopping skilz.

Meanwhile, TLC was much more interested in putting her Zoo Key into all the machines that would tell you interesting facts about the animals. She's almost always more interested in other things than the animals, like the press screen where you put your hand on a chimpanzee's handprint and it lights up a picture of a chimp. Or the playground near the Primate House. Or acorns. I had to insist that she could only take one crabapple from the tree near the parking lot. Insist, and insist, and insist once again.

You can show her enormous tigers on the prowl and she'll glance at them with minor interest – but then a squirrel crosses our path and she's all enthusiasm. It's kind of funny, and just a little irritating at times.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

If You Don't Know What This Is

You're not alone.

Apparently, it is a bird known as a Chukar (Alectoris chuka), a game bird native to Europe and Asia, introduced many and many a year ago in the western United States and southwestern Canada.

What exactly one was doing in our backyard in Ohio, we may never know, but when The Wife and The Littlest Critic were out in the backyard, this little bugger was hopping around our woodpile. They thought it was hurt as it didn't fly, which apparently isn't really the Chukar's strong suit, and instead the little thing (about duck size) hopped right down the driveway and out of our yard.

As you may imagine, this has caused quite a stir in the Critical household, and now we are naming things Chukar, we are talking about plans to catch the Chukar should it return, and we are learning more and more about the Chukar.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fiction, Monotony, Chrysalis

I'm not sure what it is exactly, but when I was a stay-at-home dad, our days were always different, but The Littlest Critic and I still had a routine. We were on the clock. We woke around eightish, had breakfast and some cartoons, then got dressed, brushed our teeth, and went out to play somewhere. This could be the zoo, the world's biggest playground, the library if it was rainy out, the mall or Target or some shopping venture if we needed stuff, or it could have just been errands.

But, we'd be home around 1ish for lunch, stories, and then nap. After she was asleep, I'd make dinner for The Wife, who'd get home around 3-3:30, we'd eat, then I'd go off to my night job.

That was four days a week. One weekday I had off, and everything was the same except that I'd not leave for work.

And I finished writing not one bit of fiction the whole time and could barely focus on anything narrative based at all. I couldn't write very much in the parental vein of "the life of a stay-at-home dad with kid" stuff nor could I make up completely fictional stories. Something about the predictability of our routine sort of stifled me in that direction.

I tried. Boy, did I try. I probably started thirty stories or so that went about four pages and then nothing. I wrote a few well-received emails detailing the lives of TLC and I as we struggled with fish-death and things like that.

But overall, kaput. So I took up writing book reviews as a way of keeping something simmering on the writing desk. I worked at honing sentences and didn't look too far past 2,000 words at the longest.

Almost a year has passed since that life ended and my new "Take the Morning Train" life began with TLC in school and so on and in that time, I've written (and completed) four stories that I'm really proud of – one of them around 25 pages long. Story ideas are coming at me left and right. I have dreams that are almost fully fledged narratives again that I can fiddle with on the page.

Something happened when I started spending more time by myself, when I started walking a slightly different path to the office from the train each morning. Something changed, but I can't put my finger on it exactly, but the change was somewhere inside. Maybe it was all the energy I spent on telling TLC stories throughout the day. Where did this funny shaped pine cone come from? Why do birds do that? Do you know what that squirrel is going to do when it gets home tonight? Maybe that soaked up all my direction for narrative. Maybe. But on the walk in this morning, I wondered about the new narrative turn my life has taken.

It's hard to tell yourself your own independent story when you're in the middle of reading one at that very second. Maybe that's it. I'm not sure.

All I know is that I'm writing again. I'm writing again and it feels fantastic. It feels better than it ever did before.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bed Time At Our House

And it goes a little something like this:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Superhero Time!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

good morning, my ass

or, the case of the grumpy daddy.

this morning:

"okay, let's pick out some clothes."

bottom drawer is opened, every single shirt is considered before settling on a pink long sleeve number with stars or fireworks or something.

"now let's get bottoms on you." a five year old finger points at the closet. "yes, all the bottoms are in there." a grunt. "go pick something."

"i need you to come with me."

"you need me to move three feet over into the closet?" nods. a sigh. "okay, but let's pick something good." we move. she sits on my lap. she looks up, scans skirts, reaches, snags one, pulls on it until the hanger lets it go. "do you want to wear leggings with that?"

"nooooooo! i hate leggings."

"you do? why do you hate leggings?"

"noooooooo! i don't want to wear them!"

"fine. you don't have to wear them, but why do you hate them? they're just like stretchy pants."

"noooooooo!!! i don't want to wear them."

"i understand that. you don't have to wear leggings, but it's kind of cold out, so maybe we should pick some pants." skirt is waved around like a flag.

"i don't want to wear pants."

"fine, but you need something on your legs for cold."

"i want to wear tights."

We scoot out of the closet and from her drawer i pull out ever single pair of tights and hose and explain why it doesn't match even remotely or wiggle my finger through holes in the tights.

"see? you don't have any tights or hose you can wear. are you sure you don't just want some leggings?"

"I hate leggings! they hurt me."

"fine. but you're going to be cold, but that's all right. you probably won't go out to play at school anyway. they'll keep you inside."



"i want to wear pants."

"okay, let's pick some pants."

skirt is retrieved from floor, put back on hanger. pants drawer is opened. tan capris with pink belt proffered.

"nooooooooo!" oh the horror.

"how about these?" pink plaid pants. "no, they don't really match."

"i don't wanna wear them!"

"well, relax, you're not going to."

"you have all these leggings. why did we even buy them?"

"Nooooooooooo! I don't want to wear leggings."

"and. you. are. not. going. to. wear. them. what about these jeans?"


"this pair?"

a nod of the head. success. i pull off her jammie bottoms and pull on her jeans.

"it's hurting me. it's too tight. they hurt my bottom. why did you do that?! why did you put these pants on me!?" she pulls jeans off and throws them on the floor.

"okay, let's pick another pair."

"noooo. i want that pair."


"will you help me put them on?"

"yes." i pull them up her leg again.

"noooooo!!! they're too tight."

"here, let me loosen them." inside strap is unbuttoned on one side, the elastic is withdrawn back into the pants and a looser button position is picked on strap. I reach to the other side to loosen that side. my hand is pushed away.

"that's loose enough."


"i said that's loose enough!"

"and i said, okay."

pants are buttoned and zipped.

"now let's get some socks on you." sock drawer opened.

"I want pink."

sock drawer is surveyed, no pink socks in evidence. a purplish pink pair that i know are too small is offered. a shake of the head. i pull out the only pink-pink pair in evidence, a pair of strawberry shortcake ankle socks.

"yes, yes, yes."

i put them on her feet.

"my socks huuuuurrrrt." socks are removed and then socks are put back on with lots of bagginess and room. "they hurrrrrrt."

"can we try a different pair of socks?"

"nooooo!" she throws head back and lies on floor sobbing. "i waaaaannnttt theeese socks." patiently, socks are removed a second time and put on again. "theeeyyyy hurrrrrrt." again, socks are removed, replaced on. "how's that?" sniffles. nods.

"all right. let's go downstairs."

"i want pablo." her blue stuffed penguin is retrieved from the bed.

"let's get moving, come on, downstairs."

we go downstairs. i put one shoe on her.

"it huuuurrrrttts." i take it off, adjust the sock, try to get the shoe on again. she jerks it off her foot, tries to adjust her sock. i try to get the shoe on again, but the back of it folds over as i try to get her foot into it without moving her sock a fraction of an inch. "you're doing it wrong!" she declares, throws back her head and howls out a sob. "yooooouuuuuu'rrrre dooooooiiiinnnggg it wrong!" i try again, get it right. move on the other shoe. after six similar attempts, it is sufficiently done.

after a bit of asking, asking again, asking a third time, after i run back upstairs for the right kind of toothpaste, she starts to brush her teeth. when she's done, she comes to me and shows me how they shine, then asks,

"can i have a popsicle for breakfast?"

"that's not really a good breakfast, honey."

"but i want one. mommy lets me have one." mommy did indeed let her have a popsicle for breakfast earlier in the week. why? the mind boggles. supercomputers that can calculate the trillionth position of pi in fifteen seconds are hard at work formulating an answer, but as of yet, no answers can be found.

"well, it's not really a good breakfast even if it is juice and milk." (mommy's words from earlier: "they are low in sugar" float through my brain. wouldn't it just be easier to give in than to fight?)

"but i want one."

i shake pink frosted mini-wheats into a ziploc. "this is your breakfast."

"not a lot, daddy, not a lot. just a little. i'll eat those and then i'll eat a popsicle."

"fine. eat all of these and then you can have a popsicle. i have to finish getting read, so you go sit at the table and eat these."

she takes bag from me. she walks into dining room. i leave kitchen by other doorway and go to bathroom to brush teeth.

when i come out, she's sitting on the living room floor, holding her cat, sparrow.

"are you done eating already?" i ask, then i see the bag of cereal on the floor, unopened. "honey, you have to eat your wheat or you're not going to get a popsicle."

"but she wanted me to pet her. she looked at me."

"that's fine, but you have to eat your wheat." she opens the bag with one hand tightly clenching the cat, the ziploc waving in the cats face. "not here. i don't want pink wheat crumbs on the floor. that's why i said eat at the table." crunching commences with wheat falling on cat, kid, and new rug. "not here," i repeat. "come on, we have to go. i don't think you're going to get a popsicle."

she throws herself on the floor, begins sobbing at top of lungs. "i waaaaannnnnnttt a popsicle. mooooooommmmmy lets me have one."

"but you're not eating your breakfast."

"i aaaaaammmmm," she sobs through mouthful of pink mashed strings of spun wheat.

i walk to kitchen. "let's go. come on."

she comes in, snot running down nose, eyes streaming tears. "poooopppppppsicle."

"honey, you haven't eaten your breakfast. i said eat your breakfast and you can have one."

she tries to climb on stool to open freezer. i remove her from stool, her legs flailing and kicking in every direction. i set her down, she flops on floor.

"that's it. let's go." i open freezer, grab popsicle, shove it into my pocket. then i unlock back door and step out on to deck. she follows me, then runs into yard, still clutching her pablo penguin and her bag of pink miniwheats. "come on, get in the car. we have to go."

"poooooooooooooooppppsicle! pooooooooooopppppsicle!"

i get in the car. i shut door. i honk horn. i roll down window to hear: "pooooooppppsicle!!!"

"i'm leaving without you!" i shout out my window and start the car. through the garage window i can see her in the backyard near her playground. i back out slowly. the car is totally out of the garage. she comes around the corner of the garage and watches from a distance as the garage door goes down. tears are running down her face. "let's go. get in the car," i say through my open window. she just stares at me. i back down the driveway almost to the street. she comes to the driveway's center and stares at me, sobbing. i stop the car, get out, go pick her up and put her in the car, strapping her into her carseat.


"that's it! i'm sick of these stupid freaking popsicles! i am sick and tired of all this morning drama! cut it out! it isn't funny! it isn't cute! it's obnoxious. you're being an obnoxious brat right this very second. i've got your damn popsicle in my pocket and right now i feel like throwing it out the freaking window! just eat your stupid pink wheat but you are never ever ever going to have a popsicle for breakfast again as long as you live with us. never. never ever. you grow up and move out, live by yourself, you can have all the freaking popsicles you want! you can eat dirt and meat and bugs for all i care. now eat you freaking pink wheat so you can have this stupid freaking popsicle. seriously."

oddly enough, she stops crying just like that. it all dries up. not in some "i'm so scared i'll stifle my emotions," way but in a "well, good to see you have some human feelings about the situation, daddy" way. she eats all the pink wheat as we drive to school, then she waves the empty ziploc bag in the air. "i'mmmm finished." it's there, a real taunting tone to her voice.

feeling defeated, i hand back her popsicle.

"better eat this fast. what you haven't finished by the time we get to school you don't get to eat."
she gobbles it up, then hands me the sticky stick and wrapper. i put them between the two front seats.

the moment she's finished, though:

"my socks are wet!" tears in a storm. her shoe is pulled off, her sock too. "why did you let this happen!? my soooooooooocckkkkksssss are wet! it's uncomfortable!"

"i didn't do it. you wandered off into the wet grass. what am i supposed to about that?"

"mmmmmyyyyyyyy sooooooocccckkkkkkssssss aaaaaaaaarrrrrreeee weeeeeeetttt!!!!"


silence from the backseat save for sniffles.

in the school parking lot, i take her sock and rub it between my palms briskly, rub it inside and out against the car seat trying to dry it as much as possible. when i put it on this time, there's no complaining about it being wet or it hurting. she sobs and sobs, "i just want to go home, let's go home, i just want to go home, let's go home."

we get out of the car. i carry her into the building as she clutches me tightly, wrapping her whole body around me, crying into my neck. we detour into the library, nice and dark and quiet. i set her down on a chair, use her pablo to wipe away her tears.

"okay, okay, settle down, that's right. deep breaths. settle down. you have to settle down if you want to go into your classroom and play." classes don't start for about an hour, so she has a good chunk of morning playtime. "you have to settle down if you want to go and play, okay." she nods. i wipe away all her tears. "are you ready?" she nods.

we leave the library. "it's a race," i say and start hustling toward the door of her classroom, "it's a race and i'm gonna win!"

she runs after me, gets ahead of me, makes it to the door first.

we enter the classroom, say good morning to the teacher, put away her penguin. hang up her jacket. she hugs me very very tightly. i kiss her cheeks and hug her back.

"go have fun, sweetie. i love you so much. sorry i was so grumpy this morning." she starts to tear up again. "look, there's your friends! hurry up, they're getting away."

she runs off.

i drive twenty minutes to the train station, wait on the platform another ten minutes, ride into the city for thirty minutes, get all the way to work before i realize i have a globbed popsicle stick stuck to my butt.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fashion Plate

I sent a photo like this out a few years ago, showing The Littlest Critic's unerring sense of fashion. In that photo, she had on an orange construction worker's hat, a ladybug costume, white ankle socks, one gray glove, a pink ribbon bow tie, and she carried some garden implements. Then she was just a bit more than one.

Nowadays, she has very definite opinions on what looks good and what she should wear to school. Opinions like yours and mine? They mean nothing! This child is stylin' and she knows it. Often the question, after she puts together one of these fine ensembles is, "Does this look beautiful?"

The answer is, of course, yes, though sometimes I opt for, "That's pretty amazing!"

I can only wonder what others think of these avant garde creations at her school or when I'm out in public. My suspicion is that women shake their heads and say to themselves, "Oh, that poor child. Look at how her daddy dressed her." As though I didn't have more sense.

Sometimes, when I drop her off at school, I'm tempted to mention to the teacher as I leave, "TLC picked out that outfit herself. She's very proud of it." Then I figure, what the heck, why bother?

Without further ado, I present, the stripiest kid in town:

...and, yes, I let her go to school like this.

Friday, April 11, 2008


This post by Hunter over at Kos is absolutely genius.

A couple snippets:

Of all the habits of two legged little monsters that my daughter has recently adopted, by far the most prevalent and annoying is the phrase "Do what I want, or I won't be your friend anymore." I have no idea which of the cloven hoofed little brats from Satan's personal jungle gym first introduced her to this omnipresent schoolyard concept, but my daughter has now made it fully her own, along with clever variations like "do what I want, or I won't love you anymore," or "do what I want, or I'm not going to listen to you anymore," or the minimalist, unsubtle version, "do what I want, or I hate you." My daughter considers this to be a master stroke of manipulation, the ultimate takedown when faced with any adversary who demands that she brush her teeth or stop tying things to the dog. Of course, all it actually does is enrage the recipient of the threat, convincing them that all promised decades of bitter, loveless relationship with their child will be just fine, thank you very much, if You Will Only Brush Your God Damned Teeth This Instant.


The second behavioral abomination that my child has decided to make her own is the I Know Better Than You phase. My daughter is absolutely convinced -- without question -- that she is the expert on any subject, any device, any process, and any phenomenon of the physical world that she declares herself to be the expert of. I do not even know when she learned the word "expert," but now she is one, and her subject of expertise changes according to the winds and whatever anyone else is doing at the time.

My daughter has declared herself an expert driver: she has never once driven, and cannot reach the pedals, but she is insistent that she knows more than I do on the subject. She can play the piano better than I can; can play video games better than I can; can chainsaw tree branches better than I can; can program computers better than I can; can choose quality merchandise at moderate prices better than I can, and so on. She has achieved expert status on how banks work ("they give people money"), how tall trees can get ("until they poke the sky"), how big the moon is ("bigger than the whole city!"), and the full and complete definitions of any word you can show her, read to her, or make up on the spot. She can fix the plumbing under the sink using nothing more than my biggest pipe wrench, used as a hammer (crap -- excuse me one moment...)

and how all of this relates to our current Administration and their enabling, dimwitted punditry class of courtiers.

It really is a piece of work and has any number of great things to recommend it, so as the kids all say, Read The Whole Thing.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Storytelling, or
Who's Telling this Tale?

For the last month or so, The Littlest Critic has been enthralled by the stories I've been telling at bath time.

Over the months shortly after the birth of our daughter, The Wife and I were gifted three purple hippos with yellow inner tubes for the bath. With temperature sensitive letters spelling out "HOT" on their bottoms, these toys informed new parents, idiots that we are, when we ran too hot a bath for our newborns.

The stories featuring these hippos are alternately about three hippo sisters, Cloris, Delores, and Doris or three hippo brothers Boris, Morris, and Norris. The sisters had real, classically constructed stories with an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. The brothers stories were just madcap nonsense about getting cookies off high shelves or playing catch.

In the beginning, there were only the three sisters and their friend, The Green Bear, a bath toy we found last summer trapped in the filter of the public pool that we could not (COULD NOT) leave behind. Other bath toys, such as the Jewel Duck, the Corn Duck, or The Boy and The Girl, could join in the adventures, but it was pretty much a hippo and bear only show.

After a while, I got a little case of writer's block (although what we'd call it in this instance, I don't know) and I began toying with the notion of using classical sources from antiquity when I was trapped. At first, it was hard digging through source material to find the right Greek myths that I could pilfer (like Shakespeare, he said, preeningly), then I stumbled upon the Thousand and One Nights scenario.

This has worked like gangbusters. The three hippo sisters don't want to go to bed. Their daddy, The Green Bear, makes them go through all the required cleaning rituals, then tucks them into bed. The wily sisters, wanting to stay awake, offer to tell their father stories. He, being a bear who enjoys a tale more than most, always acquiesces and lets the three sisters tell one story each.

The first sister usually tells a Three Hippo Brothers story that is some kind of nonsense (though I've lately slipped in some small math problems for the hippos to solve in order to get the cookies or the candy they want). The second sister tells a classic tale. (The night I told a variation on Pygmalion where a lonely hippo makes a statue of a duck to be a friend, a statue that comes to life, the story proved such a hit that I was required to tell it three times in various ways.) The third sister usually tells a very repetitive story about a bee that visits a playground and everything he flies over and around. This last story typically puts The Green Bear Daddy to sleep and the Three Hippo Sisters celebrate their victory by staying up and playing all night.

Ahem. That, my friends, has been the routine for a while now.

Until. Until TLC decided she wanted to take over the storytelling duties. Stepping back from this, having had time to mull it over, I am usually quite pleased that she's shown such an interest in being a storyteller like me.

But, but, but, at the time she does it, I'm really and actually pretty frustrated. Hey! I think, I'm the one telling the story here. I've actually taken time out to make a good parallel, hippo-centric version of the Judgment of Paris. This is real work that I'm putting into these bath time adventures. Now she's going to sidetrack the whole business for her nonsense?

I always let her tell her stories though. They're usually pretty funny. High on nonsense, goofy as all get out, they're like some dadaist prank of a children's book or a trip through the mind of a five year old Dali (incidentally, the last time we visited the Cleveland Museum of Art, this was TLC's favorite picture; while it's not particularly amusing, she thought it a stitch).

All of this, mind you, is just one big preface so I can present to you, unedited, as transcribed by me seconds after its completion, one of the bath time stories, as told by The Littlest Critic. Enjoy.

They all played in the park and they played ping poe pong pango peego. And they hit the baseball right into their mouths, and it was ice cream. It was an ice cream baseball.

And they hit it with a bat! Another one! Another one! Another one! Another ice cream baseball.

And it landed right in the mouth of a lion! And the people saw the teeter totter would be a good way to shoot him up to the sky. And the lion ROARED and he jumped.

The End.

Sophocles better watch out. There's some pretty stiff competition on the way. Oh yeah.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


"It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

The Wife has been reading non-picture books to The Littlest Critic for about a month now. About a year ago, I discovered she'd sit still for a chapter of Winnie-the Pooh and on some days for two, but I never tried a sustained narrative. Generally speaking, TLC's preference is for brightly colored pages of wacky adventures like Scaredy Squirrel or Pinkalicious, but she is getting bigger and she is listening very well.

At any rate, last night was the closing chapter of Charlotte's Web. The Wife finished the book, reading slowly and surely the last two sentences. She shut the book, turned to TLC and said, "You know who is a true friend and a good writer?"

TLC asked, "Who?"

The Wife: Daddy.
TLC: Who?
The Wife: Daddy.
TLC: Who?
The Wife: Daddy.
TLC: Who?

Note: this was not done as some kind of game or bit of silliness. The Wife is a teacher. That is something easy to get your head around when you're a kid, especially if you go to school. But a writer? How do you explain that in a way that makes any sense to a five year old and have them truly understand it?

Ah well. When I was her age, I wanted to be a fire fighter.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Five Years Old

Today, at 3am, roughly the time The Wife was up going to the bathroom, while I snored blissfully unawares, we passed the five year threshold.

Five years since The Littlest Critic came out into the world, her two dark-haired parents astonished to see this tiny little girl with a funky red Afro being carried over to the warming station. It had been a long, induced labor, despite the fact that we had taken eleven of our twelve weeks of Bradley Birthing Classes, preparing us for the wonders of natural childbirth.

She was complicated from the get-go and in five years that hasn't changed a bit. If there is an easy way of doing something or a fantastically complicated way, rest assured that fantastically complicated will win the day.

* * * * *

The Wife stayed home and nursed through the summer following her birth, then when school started again, I snagged a part-time second shift job to stay at home with her during the day. The Wife hooked herself up to the breastpump and left us with bottles. TLC cared not at all for the fancy, ergonomically designed, top-of-the-line bottle nipples. We tried every kind, but only the cheapest, greasiest Wal-Mart brand of latex nipple would do.

And, boy, could she chug. Better correct that trait now, I often thought. That's never going to be a good plan come high school.

* * * * *

Like many people claim that you forget the pain of birth, I have long since forgotten the pain of changing diapers. It's nothing that a visit to my sister and my nieces won't bring back in all its odorous, Technicolor glory. One late summer day, when TLC was about two, as we passed an RTA bus stop near the playground, she looked up at me and remarked, "That's for changing diapers." I looked from the bus stop to her face, then dimly recalled that almost one full year ago, one late summer day, I had stopped and changed her diaper in that very same place.

TLC may not have the greatest memory for why she's not allowed to jump up and down on the back of the couch or why she can't have another cookie today or what I said about trying to run in the parking lot or how to treat her cat, Sparrow, nicely. But every so often she reaches way down and pulls out something strange like this.

* * * * *

Those first four years when we spent every day together, playing, eating, sleeping in, watching cartoons on PBS, going for wagon and bike rides, visiting the library, potty training, learning numbers and letters and words for every single thing under the sun – those first four years are a golden age that will probably never be equaled in my life.

In those four years, TLC introduced me to her imaginary friends, Annasasso, Intenna, and Benniest; she made up stories about Stripes Can Be, Spots Can Do, and the Pineapple Mouse; she named all her stuffed animals with bizarre names like Hayso, Pop Pop Doc Doc, and Ackly Dackliest (who had his/her/? own theme song that went "Ackly Dackly doodlest/TOOOOO MEEEEE/Bum Bum"); and we invented a rather self-explanatory game called Tickle Tack which is played to this day.

In those four years, I almost entirely gave up writing fiction and spent the bulk of my creative time inhabiting a strange fictional world occupied by talking poodles, grumbly dogs, and an imaginary friend who only could be spoken to on the phone. Now that TLC is in pre-school, I don't live there any more. I only visit.

* * * * *

We are vegetarians, TLC and I. Her mother is about 90% vegetarian, though she slips where chicken is concerned and can be induced to take small nibbles of well-prepared steak. People sometimes presume to ask me if TLC made the choice herself to be a vegetarian, as though I were depriving her of some necessity of life. As though parents didn't make hundreds of choices for their children without their children's consent: you will be raised Catholic, you will not hit other people, you will take piano lessons or play soccer, you will wear pants when you go outside, you will stop picking your nose and eating it, you will take baths and brush your teeth, you will go to sleep now.

Yet, for some reason, the follow up question as to whether or not TLC "chose" vegetarianism is frequent, stupidly so.

For the record, TLC thinks the idea of eating poor little animals, who are her dear friends, each and every one of them, is horrible. I've not indoctrinated this idea in her or tried to scare her with PETA videos of slaughterhouse conditions. I've simply said, "Some people eat cows. Do you want to eat cows?" And she looks at me with an almost horrified expression or she'll stick out her tongue and say, "Yuck."

* * * * *

For TLC's first birthday, our scuffed, nasty looking hardwood floors were freshly covered with brand new beige carpet. Everyone marveled at what a difference a little carpet made. All her toddler buddies toddled about, falling over on to their bottoms, on to their hands and feet, on to their heads, and no one cried. Miraculously, no one got frosting on the new carpet either, not even her older cousin R., a rambunctious boy who ran around clonking all the adults on the head with a balloon that bore a striking resemblance to an enormous red phallus.

Just in time for tonight's dinner (the party will be held later, off-site), our carpet has been pulled up and our scuffed, nasty looking hardwood floors are freshly sanded, stained, and refinished. Many of the downstairs rooms have been freshly painted with lighter, brighter colors.

TLC has already given herself an enormous goose-egg bump on her noggin while executing various spins and pirouettes. Plus ça change, plus ça change is probably more accurate here. As it always is.

* * * * *
In the last five years, I have learned more about people (myself included) that I have learned in the previous thirty. In the last five years, I have found a love that outdoes all typical human passions. I love you, Littlest Critic, you little darling, you little smart ass.

Friday, March 07, 2008


When The Littlest Critic was a baby, then a toddler, The Wife and I talked of A Sibling. She wanted a second baby. I had made it clear that one child was all I was prepared for. Any one of a number of reasons can be given for my refusal: my own wishes to be an only child when I was young (sorry, sisters o' mine), the environmental impact more Americans make, the issue of how to afford more children in this ever-increasingly expensive world, the timeframe when I'd finally be able to go back to working a meaningful, day-shift job, and, lastly, to be perfectly frank, I hadn't wanted to have any children in the first place.

Now, I completely admit, I had been wrong about that. TLC has enriched my life in so many ways that I can't even comprehend anymore who I was before her. She herself is, in her own rights, well worth the price of everything. I love her dearly and wouldn't trade her for the wide world.

For a while, The Wife, too, went back and forth on the new baby idea. Sometimes she was gung-ho for it, to the point of having shouting fights with me to advocate the idea. Other days, she was glad TLC was an only child since the tyke didn't have to share us. Coming from multiple sibling families, the both of us, we understood the dynamics of having to fight for your share of attention, your fair shake, your turn to be, if not the favorite, at least the favored.

Eventually, I pretty much ran the clock out on this line of argument. The Wife's family tree is overrun with twins and once you reach a certain age, the chances of producing twins goes way, way up. The Wife is – ahem – in the range of that line in the sand, and it's been made quite clear from my end that I would consider twins a catastrophe of epic proportions.

Even TLC has waffled on the idea of A Sibling. "Just you and me and mama," she used to say, realizing that a new baby would want to play with her toys, would get all the attention, would cut in on her being the center of the world. A Sibling, moreover, would signify a move by TLC out of our bed and into her own.

(Yes, we are co-sleepers; yes, she is almost five; no, I don't care what you or anyone else thinks about this.)

From time to time, TLC would suddenly announce, "I want a baby sister." It was pretty much always a sister, never a brother. Then she'd go right back to not wanting a baby sister. "Just you and me and mama." We'd visit her cousins, at least one of my sisters being fecund enough to have a new baby arriving often enough to let TLC get a quick new-baby-smell fix. The Wife, too, would hold one of these nieces, the tiny, weightlessness in her arms, and she'd look at me with doe eyes and wistfully puckered lips.

No dice. "You know," I'd artfully mention later in the car, "that weight does get harder to drop off as you get older."

(Yes, I am a jerk; yes, I do know it; no, I don't care what you think about this 'cause I'm a jerk. Q.E.D.)

Eventually, TLC started Pre-K and I snagged a good job in the advertising field. Having such a good job, such an impressive sounding job ("What do I do? Well, I'm a copywriter for an advertising firm.") acted as its own baby repellent, as the notion that I'd have to give up this good job to take another cruddy night job in order to stay home with the new baby was too much even for The Wife to ask of me. You see, I'd spent the last four years in a job that The Wife described after visiting my office as "soul deadening." When she said that, she'd sometimes look at me with a mix of pity and admiration, as if I'd come damaged out of a great war.

For the last few months or so, the idea of A Sibling hasn't really come up much, but when it has, TLC has been consistently in favor of the idea. Last night, the newest cousin, my nephew by my youngest sister was at the house and TLC began talking up a "baby brother." The Wife assured me that this was not, in fact, the first time a brother had been part of her plan.

The Wife went further to explain TLC's thinking on this matter. It went like this:

Daddy and Mommy will get not married anymore and Daddy will get a new wife. Then he and the new mommy will have a baby brother for me, then Daddy and my baby brother will move back here and live with us and marry Mommy again.

What impressive kid logic! TLC's hooking me up with some brand new luvin, plus, somehow she's become convinced that the actual roadblock to A Sibling isn't me, but her mother. I know she's been Daddy's Girl lately, but seriously, she's too good to me by far.

Monday, February 18, 2008


First, let us begin with this video of The Littlest Critic, unprompted, in action almost four years ago. I think you'll gather the scene and situation on the television rather easily. A hint: New York City, 2004.

Flash forward four years later, The Wife, on a whim (actually, she learned about it at the last minute and decided to go, taking TLC) attends a Hillary Clinton rally at nearby Brush High School. Here's how she described TLC's reaction:

she waited outside in the cold after a ten minute walk and then sat quietly in an auditorium (the overflow room) for four hours for a ten minute glance at Hillary Clinton ... she was appropriately excited when Hillary walked into the room, her eyes going wide, her jaw dropping, her face lit up like she just saw a Christmas present, and her hands appropriately clapping and ... she said "I thought she was beautiful" about Hillary Clinton.

Tonight, when I got home, this is what, again, unprompted, my four-going-on-five year old daughter decided to make.

I think it safe to say that we are very proud parents of a member of the next generation of feminism.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Future Aspirations

So, The Littlest Critic and I are on our way to school, and she's watching a Backyardigans DVD in the backseat.

When we were home together all day, I used to let her watch cartoons in the morning when she first got up. It helped with her morning grumpiness to be allowed to slowly emerge into the land of the nice, and it gave me time to make her breakfast, tidy up the kitchen, and make our day's plans. She really didn't do well when she started school and her morning routine went from relaxed to frantic. I didn't do so well either and our first few weeks of getting ready for school in the morning were epic battles.

And I sympathize with this, I really do. When I was a kid, my mother would wake me in the morning for school, then come back to my room and find me sitting on the edge of the bed, one sock on and one sock in my hand as I stared blankly at the closet, still half asleep. I can't confirm this, but it wouldn't at all be surprising if a long, slender thread of drool dangled from my mouth. Getting up early in the morning for school is the worst.

Having learned my lesson from these early battles over such things as what to wear and brushing all the massive tangles out of her very fine hair, now I wake her with the portable DVD player blasting a favorite cartoon. Generally, I limit how much TV she can watch and try to insist on her playing with her toys or the two of us doing something fun together instead of vegging out. But this innovation has made our mornings run like clockwork. Two episodes of Clifford 's Puppy Days or one of The Backyardigans and I can dress her, brush her hair, get her to eat her breakfast and brush her teeth with minimal fuss. And it puts her in a better mood in the mornings which makes the transition to school that much easier.

And on some days, if the cartoons run long or if she's still a bit sleepy and surly, we pack of the DVD player and take it in the car with us. Today, she was watching "The Race to the Tower of Power." It's an episode of her new love, The Backyardigans, and in this episode two of the characters are super-villains and two are superheroes. The villains want to get to the aforementioned Tower so they can steal the Key to the World and , in classic bad guy fashion, rule the world. The superheroes want to stop them, naturally.

As we are driving along, I mention to TLC that A.J. one of her friends from pre-school also likes superheroes, especially Spiderman. She looked at me from the backseat and squinched her face up.

"You know," she told me, "I'm going to be a superhero when I grow up."
"You are?" I replied. It wasn't really a question; she's told me this on a number of occasions. Actually, I was just feeding her a straight line, which is a big part of my parenting style.
"Uh huh. I'm gonna be... UNDERCAT!!!"

Plain text doesn't quite do justification to how loudly and enthusiastically she delivered her superhero nomme de guerre. It was kind of sing-songy as if you could hear "Da da da da da daaaah!" music playing in the background. As if she were about to deliver the knockout blow to her own particular brand of super-villains.

Undercat, if you can't quite figure it out, is the feline equivalent of Underdog. With a cape from an earlier Snow White costume, a cat mask and tail, at home The Littlest Critic transforms herself into Undercat, writer of wrongs, fighter of toys, and purrer of purrs. At one point it was even going to be her Halloween costume (until she discovered a pink old-fashioned soda fountain waitress costume that The Wife bought for her because TLC described it as having "more function").

So for a current count, TLC plans on being a superhero, a secret agent, and an animal doctor when she grows up. The last one, I'm sure, is merely her disguise and alter-ego, mild mannered veterinarian at a zoo by day. She's even explained to me that some of her friends at school have told her that you can't actually be a superhero, but then she informed me quite certainly that "they don't know." I'm glad she's holding on to her dreams like that.

You go, Undercat, you go!

Image stolen from

Monday, February 04, 2008

Cutest Little Hell

Every so often, The Wife and I take The Littlest Critic to Half Price Books and let her pick out some things. Usually, we do this as an exercise in money spending, telling her she can either get one book under a certain price, or giving her a set amount to spend, or in the case of the other night, telling her we'd buy her one book and she could buy one of the very cheap books with her own money.

She had two quarters burning a hole in her pocket. She'd had two originally, then shown one of them to her little friend, D., who had thought she meant "You can have one." It wasn't until he had wandered off with the quarter and she started softly sobbing that we realized what had happened. A third quarter was found in The Wife's purse, passed off as the second quarter restored, and everyone was happy again.

Now she wanted to give those quarters to the used bookstore for a 48 ¢ in exchange for Kittens, a Bright Baby book put out by Priddy Books. (Why Amazon is selling this for six bucks, I can't fathom.) It was her choice, and she had made it. Solid.

The book we were to buy her was two dollars more, also kitten themed, but it was a whole 'nother kettle of fish. I tried, passive-aggressively and through various bits of subterfuge, to convince TLC that she really, really, really didn't want this book. After all, it was a little bent and might get broken.

TLC: We can fix it with tape.

I tried working that broken angle again and again, to the same response. What we ended up buying her was a ten page board book entitled Hush Little Baby that played the very first verse of the eponymous song in a overly loud cutesy voice that became annoying to this parent after the first listen. She played it again. And again. And again. And again.

She played it walking up to the counter. She played it at the counter. She played it walking out to the car. She played it in the car.

She played it again. And again. And again. And again.

Luckily, fortunately, she seemed to tire of it by the next day, but how long it seemed.

The Wife, of course, is much better at this kind of thing. Sometimes I get caught up in how TLC's current obsessions will annoy me or affect me. Not The Wife. She's like a rock of sympathy. She takes one look at that little face, at the joy some piece of annoying crap brings to our daughter, and the price is worth it. Usually she's right, and you can't put a price of your child's happiness. TLC did love the book, for as short as the love affair lasted.

Either that or The Wife's a major sucker.


This morning, The Littlest Critic took Hush Little Baby to school along with her Beanie Baby Pablo where it scored the definite hit of being read by the teacher to the class. I suspect this was done because she couldn't leave it alone and having the teacher take it put control of that maddening song into responsible adult hands.

I know of this, because The Wife called me via cellphone en route to home and relayed the story to me. In the background, "Hush little baby, don't say a word, mama's gonna buy you, a mocking bird." Over and over and over.

Friday, February 01, 2008


One sign of being a parent is how much you adore your child's mispronunciations and mis-phrasings. "Next by" as in "Daddy, sit next by me," has already entered my own vocabulary, often prompting curious looks.

Even though most of these are wrong, they're cute enough that we resisted correcting The Littlest Critic for as long as we could, just because we were so smitten.

Amial. This was a long-running favorite for "animal." It was so darn cute, that we said it all the time. The day the next door neighbor girl taught my daughter the correct way to pronounce it was a bitter, bitter day for us indeed. Thanks a lot, Nicole.

More Betterer. It's almost a trifecta of grammatical badness, but hilarious to me and The Wife.

Firteen. Fifteen. Seventeen. Homonyms or near homonyms are a great stumbling block and TLC is of the opinion that if a number sounds sorta like another number than simply repeating sound-alikes is a waste of time.

Thirty-ten. Another bit of number fun is what happens after you count past thirty-nine.

A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-P-123-456-789-39-11. For about a week, every time she sung the number song, this segued into number salad.

Pewter. What you're reading this on right now.

K-Mark. That giant red K, of course it's a mark, silly.

Wiwwy Boyw. As a rule, I don't care much for Veggie Tales cartoons, for reasons obvious to anyone who knows me. Plus, the voices of the characters is intensely grating, especially the French accented one. At any rate, as I don't make a big deal out of it or anything, TLC has seen a few of these. One repeating character-fantasy on this cartoon is when Larry the Cucumber becomes a superhero by name of Larry Boy. For months, whenever TLC said "Wiwwy Boyw" we tried in vain to figure out what the heck she was saying. Willy Boy? Really Boy? Whirly Boy? All r's, l's, and w's sounded exactly the same, which lead to much laughing – and some temper tantrums.

Songs are too numerous to mention in general, as she hits funny notes in almost all of her singing, mishearing and repeating back bad versions of lyrics. A couple favorites:

Police Naughty Dot. This Jose Feliciano Christmas carol was sung at her very first Holiday Program at TLC's school. I tried to suggest to her the correct form, but she insisted, loudly and forcefully that the real song was "Police Naughty Dot." The remaining lyrics defy transcription but remind me of Pentecostal church hysterias.

"I spy what I spy with my secret agent TIE." Another mishearing that simply can't be reasoned away. A bow-tie wearing cartoon penguin is singing about being a Secret Agent. Obviously he spies with his EYE, but that hard T at the end of the line has convinced my daughter that his bowtie is some kind of spy gadget. He never uses the tie for any spy purposes and when I tried to point out the game "I spy with my little eye," she wasn't having any of it. She insisted that there was a camera of some kind inside the bowtie. Well, since I couldn't prove that there wasn't, I had to admit defeat.

Finally, the title of the post. Amazing how adorable you can find your kid while they're desperately sick and miserable with a stomach flu, but there it is. I'm sure there are tons I've forgotten about and I meant to do this last night at home where I have a bunch written down, so it's likely there'll be an update.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This Is Indeed Adorable

Just adorable.

Ah, how well I remember The Littlest Critic's latching on to a certain book and having to read it and reread it and reread it over and over.

Via Mo.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Makin' a Baby

A year ago The Littlest Critic and I had this conversation. Realizing that there was an ever diminishing chance that Mommy and Daddy were going to give her a baby sister, she prompted this exchange:

TLC: Daddy, I want to make a baby.
Daddy: Yeah? How do you make a baby? What do you need?
TLC: Glue. Tape. Sparkles. Stromjo. Homjo. Momjo. Nomjo.
Etc. Etc.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


While at dinner:

The Littlest Critic: I'm not a big fan of clementines.
Me: You're not?
TLC: No, I'm not a big fan.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Market's Cold Hands

My Little Pony/Ponyville, Hasbro

A peculiar uniqueness to my own generation’s turn at parenting is how much of our childhood is being repackaged and sold to our children. It might even be more accurate to say, being resold to us to give to our children. Fond memories of certain toys are now slickly marketed in such a fashion that, subconsciously, we must imagine that in some way we are gifting to our children what was pleasant about our own childhoods.

As a father, there is a limited overlap between what I played with and what The Littlest Critic plays with now. To a degree something of an obsessive completist from childhood on, I had at least one of every single Star Wars Action Figurine you can remember — and many I’m sure you don’t. TLC is too young to really get into Star Wars much, and she’s still frightened by The Backyardigans episode “The Soccer Ball Mystery” where the beloved penguin Pablo growls and sings a song about being a soccer monster. Darth Vader might be more than she can take.

My exact memories of my sisters’ My Little Pony toys is hazy at best. Most likely it was my youngest sister who was into them, as she was more a child of the eighties than my older sisters who were on the cusp of their teen years by then. So, what I say about the particular marketing of the toys now might equally apply then, I can’t say for certain.

For a little background, though, we step back to the Reagan years. In 1984, the FCC under the Reagan Administration removed governmental restrictions on commercials, notably time limits (ultimately giving birth to infomercials, but that’s another story), among other deregulation moves. My own beloved Star Wars toys had demonstrated how profitable children’s toys associated with programming could be. Regulations regarding characters advertising products in childrens’ programming were lifted and a glut of new cartoons, launched in conjunction with the rollout of new toys, was in full swing. He-Man, Pound Puppies, Transformers, you name it. As Reagan era deregulation progressed, it became de rigeur for cartoons to be merchandised to toys, books, games, stickers, coloring books, whatever. The sky was the limit.

With My Little Pony, the trend was slightly reversed. First released as a toy in 1982, cartoons came later in 1984 (at least according to Wikipedia, and I’m really not in a position to argue). The cartoons, as described in the same source, were typically adventure related and the full-length features include aspects that might appeal to adults stuck watching such dreck.

Not so the Ponies in their current incarnation. Stuck watching more than one My Little Pony feature to appease my daughter, I can safely conclude as a first-hand witness that the latest cartoons feature no appeal to adults, have very, very minimal elements of action or plot or character. They are, it is to be noted, all about the kids.

They also are all about the selling.

Now, I’m not so naïve as to believe that nothing I wrote above applies almost equally to each and every toy sold to children nowadays that has any kind of subsidiary market. Yes, there are Backyardigans water bottles, clothes, toys, etc. Yes, Strawberry Shortcake, my daughter’s previous cartoon infatuation, has dolls, dollhouses, books, etc. (though one of the lamest, most irregular, and most inconsistent merchandising efforts I’ve noticed). All of that is true.

But there is a kind of purity in comparison. There are, for instance, only five characters in The Backyardigans (Pablo, Tyrone, Uniqua, Tasha, and Austin). Desert-centric Strawberry Shortcake features approximately the same number of major characters with occasional cameos by minor characters like Rainbow Sherbert.

The recent purchase of Fun Days in Ponyville, replete with 120 “reusable” stickers (just barely true, that “reusable”), demonstrates just how mercenary this Hasbro line of toys is. It shows just how fixated the company is on introducing as many ponies as possible with the goal of getting your child to hyperventilate until all are purchased. This twenty-three page “book” introducing the ponies presents us with twenty different characters.

Having sat through three different My Little Pony cartoons, I can tell you that there are more than are displayed in this volume. Having read a number of (checked out of the library) My Little Pony books, I can tell you there are more still. Were you to toddle over to the Hasbro My Little Pony website, you would notice on their products page that there are thirty pages of items clocking in at 262 My Little Pony/Ponyville products.

Worse still, as a writer being made to sit through these inane children’s productions, there is absolutely no drama, no real conflict, no character development, no point to the cartoons save to sell more MLP products.

Again, I am not naïve. I know the vast bulk of children’s programming exists anymore either to sell a certain product or with the goal of getting popular enough to market ancillary products. But the sheer volume and vastness of the MLP merchandise empire is staggering and disgusting simultaneously.

Anyway, having watched as much MLP as I can possibly stomach, I can outline the basic plot of every Pony narrative to come down the pike until this trend fades and the toy manufacturers move on to some other childhood memory to bugger. A big event is planned (to be held as the cartoon’s “climax”). The ponies all are excited and spend a lot of energy frantically getting ready. At least one pony (maybe more) is having trouble either fully getting ready or getting into the spirit. Then something happens. And everyone lives happily ever after.

That is all that these stories tell. Princess Promenade? Check. “Dancing in the Clouds”? It’s covered. The Friendship Ball will be a success. Rose Blossom’s First Christmas? That shit is under control.

The saving grace for me as a parent is that TLC just doesn’t care that much for the ponies in comparison to other toys and cartoons. True, when she first gets a pony movie or pony toy, it’s all she can do to put it down or not watch it obsessively. 2007’s Christmas was marked by her insisting upon nearly every one of my in-laws either read to her the book version of Dancing in the Clouds or watching the cartoon with her. One day, in her illness, I think she watched the 18-minute cartoon for well over two hours solid.

And since then? Not once. She has moved on. My Little Pony may cast a bewitching spell at first, but its diffusion into six thousand characters and toys dilutes any staying power it might like to have. In the interest of short-term gain with its plethora of characters, the Hasbro geniuses have foregone stayability and charm and individuality.

Again, maybe I’m naïve to not believe that such a crass, short-minded marketing strategy will pay off twenty to thirty some years from now with my daughter’s generation buying Ponies for their children as some magical attempt to recapture the past. Maybe I’m naïve enough to think that the single-mindedness of this current crop of toys, games, videos, etc. will end up leaving no lasting emotional impression, their sheer vapidity obvious even to a child.

Maybe I’m naïve.

But maybe it’s hope.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Saying Goodbye

The morning school drop-off is a torment for me. Every day for the last four years, we saw Mommy out the door to work, then me and The Littlest Critic went off to play. We colored, we wrestled, we played "tickle-tack," (a game involving one of us tackling the other, then, obviously, tickling), we were dogs, we did horseyback rides, we went to the zoo, we went to the kid's museum, we went to the "picture museum."

And so, every day was fun fun fun.

Now that TLC goes to school in the morning, since I have the later start time, I get to do the drop off. Some mornings it all goes off without a hitch, some mornings there are hiccups, and some mornings there are copious tears. On some of the bad mornings, TLC just doesn't want to be at school, and I try to make a joke out of it and tell her that I'll stay at school and she can go to work. Then I give her directions to the train station.

That kind of routine works. Sometimes.

On very bad days, what TLC usually wants is for me to stay with her. Often she says she has no friends at school (which is untrue, but sad and it makes me wonder why she says that) and that she wants me to stay to play with her.

And on good days, TLC skips away from me and runs off to play with these non-existent friends of hers.

Which brings me to my dilemma. I've noticed a correlation. On days where I kneel down and give her a hug and a kiss, TLC is more likely to have a sad day and try to convince me to stay. On one such day, I had to hold her for about fifteen minutes while she cried into my shoulder, and finally the teacher had to come and take her from me. I can usually count on the teacher for the assist on the bad days.

On days where I don't give her a kiss and tell her how much I love her, TLC usually makes a dash to play without even a backward glance. We won't make eye contact again until I get home from work, hours later. The first couple times she ran off to play without a goodbye kiss, I've gone over and given her a hug and a kiss, prompting tears and her pleas for me to stay.

And so. And so, I don't know what to do. I want her to have a good day at school and I want her to be happy there, so the fewer tears the better. But it kills me inside to leave without a kiss and without telling her how much I love her. I've tried kissing and hugging her before we even get in the car, but it's not the same. If I do it at the moment I leave, though, trouble.

I know she's not being scarred for life by my not hugging and kissing her goodbye, but it won't be too long before she'll be too cool for that kind of thing, and a kiss from dad in public will be like getting a kiss from a leper.

What to do? What to do? A dad needs his kisses, you know.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

How Do You Know?

Or, Adventures in Mixed Philosophy and Science.

The title phrase has become the latest refrain from the smallest member of our household. Other parents have to deal with the simpler, wistfully innocent "Why?" at every stage. I get the accusatory (replete with adorable little frown and sometimes crossed arms): "How do you know?"

For example, in the car on the way to school on Halloween day this dialogue ensues:

The Littlest Critic: Today is Halloween and tomorrow is Christmas!
The Critic: Oh, no, honey. Tomorrow's not Christmas. First we have to get through the whole month of November and then we have Thanksgiving where we go to your cousins' house and eat mashed potatoes and buns and cranberry sauce and play games. Then we have to get all the way through the next month. That's December. At the end of December, then it's Christmas.
TLC: How do you know?
TC: Uh, well, because I'm thirty-mumble-mumble, and I know how the calendar goes.
TLC: But how do you know the calendar is right?
TC: Well, it's been right all the last thirty some years.
TLC: But how do you know tomorrow isn't Christmas?
TC: Because Christmas isn't for another fifty some days.
TC: How do you know?

And so on.

So, last night, we're up in her bed, I'm reading A Bunny for All Seasons to her. She says to me, "Daddy, how do you know that when you shut the book the pictures don't move all around and run around when you shut the book?"

To this, I reply with another one of our favorite tropes when The Littlest Critic asks tough questions like the time she asked me in the car what a calorie was. "Do you want the long answer or the short answer?

"The long answer," is her reply.

"Okay, I know the pictures don't run around on the page when we close the book because I know how paper is made. I know what paper is made of. And I know how ink is made and I know what ink is made of. Both things are made up of little tiny, tiny pieces called atoms. These are so so sooooo tiny you can't even see them, not even with a telescope. But, atoms behave in certain ways that we can predict because they follow what are called scientific laws. These laws say that if you roll a ball, it'll always roll forever unless something stops it and things like that. And the way these laws work, once you put ink on a page and it dries, it almost never ever moves again. So when you see a cartoon, which is a drawing, it's actually a bunch of drawings and they flip them very very fast, like those flip books of Mickey Mouse you have, only they flip them a lot, lot faster. So fast you can't even see that it's a bunch of nonmoving pictures that just look like they're moving. So that's how I know the pictures in a book don't move when we close it."

"Okay, now the short answer," she says. She likes to get both answers all the time.

"Well, the short answer is, I don't know that the pictures don't move when I close the book. I can only guess that they don't because of everything I said in the long answer. You know your dresser in your room where your clothes are kept?" She nodded. "Well, without getting up and taking me over there, prove to me that it exists right now. Prove that it is real....See, you can't. You can only say that things you can't see probably are real and probably behave in certain ways."

She reached up to her face and I thought she was going to philosophically stroke her chin. Instead, she grabbed her bottom lip and brought her other hand up to grip her top lip. Then she pulled both lips out into a beak shape.

"Quack quack quack, quack quack quack," she told me.

Pre-K Nietzschean

Tonight, The Critical Wife called me upstairs where she and The Littlest Critic were in bed.

"We have some questions," I was informed.

"And they are?"

The Littlest Critic sat up in the semi-dark and asked, "When all the people die, will dinosaurs come back?"

I sat on the edge of the bed. "Hmm...that's a tough question. It's possible, but I don't think so."

"How do you know?" was the obvious and immediate challenge.

Before we could get into that debate, my wife relayed this story:

"We just finished our prayers and she asked, 'But isn't God dead?' I said, 'Well, um, God's sort of always there. Are you thinking of Jesus?' 'No,' she said, 'God. What happened to Jesus?' 'Well, he died, but then he got to go and live with God. So it's all right. I wish my Grandpa was here to explain all this to you. He's better at it than I am.' 'Is he dead? Is he living with God and Jesus?' 'Yes,' I told her. She thought about this, then she asked, 'When all the people die, will dinosaurs come back?' I need help when she's asking things like this."

"Oh, you're doing okay," I told my wife. "Now, both of you to bed. It's bed time."

The Littlest Critic sat up and said, "When all the people die, the dinosaurs will come back, and when all the dinosaurs die, the people will come back."

"Yes, I suppose," I said. "Good night."

Image lifted from Nietzsche Family Circus, which is just plain brilliant.