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.