Thursday, June 29, 2006

Home Improvement Hell

This post is not exactly on point for a parenting journal, but Madison and Ava live here too, so they can claim ownership of their own little piece of Home Improvement Hell. True, they are not sufficiently acquainted with the term "hemorrhaging cash" - Madison's big monetary ask this week was to be able to bring a third dollar to camp so she could buy some kind of ice cream she had her eye on in addition to the bottle of water we have drilled into her head as being absolutely necessary and essential to sustaining life - but they are enduring some of what we're going through, even if only by extension, so let's move forward.

As is clear from a previous post, we've begun the process of remodeling our kitchen. What was not at all clear to us when we began this work was how painful and expensive it would become. That "We Turned Our Kitchen Into This" post and photo, which shocked many people for its stark brutality, was just the beginning.

Our first jarring discovery in this tortuous process was the fact that our previous contractor, Sloth, was not only the slowest-moving creature on the planet, he also - we're now told - had not the slightest idea how to install a boiler. Unfortunately, he failed to mention this fact when we hired him, at considerable expense, to replace a boiler that was in our basement and working properly.

Some context here is helpful.

When we moved into this house it was nearly 60 years old and still heated by the original and massively inefficient gas boiler. As Sloth was framing out the basement, and preparing to connect thousands of dollars of radiant heating equipment to Big Bessie, the thought emerged that maybe it was time to take the old girl out of service. She'd given enough, lovingly heated this home for decades, it was time to ask Sloth to smash her to bits and carry her out, piece by piece, so he could then install a much smaller, more energy efficient counterpart for ours and future generations.

We had to admit it seemed to be a bad sign when this one-day job took the better part of a week, but this is Sloth we're talking about so we made our allowances and, ultimately, the task was completed.

As I've mentioned, we are using a different contractor on the kitchen job, one who is a little more expensive but has these interesting things called licenses and insurance. His subcontractors have licenses and insurance, too, and when his plumber hit our house - about two days into the kitchen remodel - the fun really began.

"I don't know who put in this boiler," he said, just a little too happy with himself and his findings for his audience, "but this guy didn't have a clue. Total amateur hour... guy didn't have a clue. This is a mess, an absolute mess."

[OK, in hindsight we probably should have questioned why this piece of critical and gravity-sensitive equipment was installed upside down. We didn't.]

The new guy then proceeded to tick off about ten code violations and safety hazards that any sane person - especially one entrusted with the health and well-being of children - would want immediately rectified. This was the first vein that opened.

Total cost of necessary repairs to make the boiler safe and up to code: $2,500.

[What does a properly installed boiler look like? Apparently not this.]

We're chasing after Sloth for this money but he has proved to be surprisingly nimble and fleet-of-foot when contacted and pressed for a reasonable and justified financial consideration.


[Postscript on this... here's what the thing was supposed to look like, following the repair work, which was just completed. Image instills a bit more confidence that the heart of your home's heating system might actually work for a while.

And Sloth actually did come through with $3,000 in cash to fund the boiler repairs and some other unfinished work associated with the basement remodel. He delivered the cash payments in three $1,000 installments, all presented to me in small bills on our front stoop early in the morning. So in addition to securing some modest reparations I got the added benefit of learning what it must feel like to be a drug dealer.]

The next little bit of fun we experienced occurred after the kitchen demo, when we realized that the girls' bathtub had been leaking into the old kitchen ceiling and soffit for, well, a while. The plumber fixed the collar under the bathtub drain pipe, we thought that would take care of the problem. Oh no, the meter is still running on this little set-back, and in the process of examining the situation we discovered ancient and frequently repatched leaks behind the shower wall that houses the spigots and controls.

Total cost of necessary repairs: approximately $600 so far and counting.

["The walls in the 53rd Precinct were bleeding..." Honey, I forget, did they mention the disintegrating and chronically-repaired interior bathroom wall in the real estate listing?]

And after all that, just when we thought maybe we'd catch some kind of a break, we discovered just yesterday that our bathroom is leaking as well, under the shower, in four places that will require some form of drastic repair procedure or - better yet - an immediate renovation.

Total cost of necessary repairs: absolutely no idea.

[Gee, is that water leaking through the shower in our bathroom and through the floorboards into the first-floor ceiling? In the immortal words of Dickie Dunn, yeah, that pretty much captures the spirit of the thing.]

Finding a new and obscenely expensive problem every time you turn around: priceless!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Madison Wants A Cat

For the last year or so, there has been a consistent and recurring theme in our house. Madison wants a cat. Ava wants one too, in fact she has a feline affinity that goes back much further, starting about three years ago, shortly after birth, when a certain little stuffed pink kitten by Gund called “My First Kitty” became more or less her constant companion, especially at nap time.

We got lucky with Madison because she took a binky, so we could help her get to sleep or calm down at a moment’s notice by breaking out one of those little Avent godsends. Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind has nothing on the moment this magical little throwaway silicone contraption – a friend to parents everywhere – was conceived.

Madison had fully binky access for about 18 months, then we dialed her back to binky use only when napping or going to bed. To finally get the thing away from her around the time she turned three we somehow got her on board with the idea of gathering up all of her current binkies and leaving them out for the Easter Bunny, so that when he dropped off her basket he could take them away with him for distribution to other children around the world who were younger and binky-deprived. Amazingly enough, this worked, and after a couple of rough nights following Easter we were able to say goodbye to the binky forever.

Ava never took a binky, she gravitated to this little stuffed animal by Gund instead – basically could not be comforted or go to sleep without it. We washed them regularly and there was a fair amount of natural wear and tear because Ava carried them around with her everywhere, so we kept an ample supply in reserve. We had a little crisis moment when she was about a year old and Gwen noticed the item disappearing off store shelves. A little Web research validated our worst fear – model discontinued! Panic-stricken by the prospect of returning to newborn-era sleep patterns, I contacted the CEO of Gund and essentially begged him to locate any of these things that were floating around out there and let us buy them.

Let me stop here to offer a little unsolicited advice – if ever you find yourself in a position to make an unusual or extraordinary request of a company, start with the CEO. I’m not talking about a run-of-the-mill service issue or technical difficulty, those are of course better handled by the good people entrusted to helping customers resolve these problems. But if you are after something not likely to have been included in the most recent training manual or CSR script, you really need to appeal to someone rare and special enough to be able to make a decision or, even more important, yell at someone. You need a CEO.

Here’s another tip, something my father taught me many years ago – when you want something, write a letter. In today’s world an e-mail is fine, but the key point here is write it down. You can have a dozen pleasant and seemingly productive conversations with all kinds of nice people, as soon as you say goodbye and hang up the phone the chances are excellent that all of this perceived progress will have disappeared into the ether. Letters are real, physical, they need to be dealt with, and this is never more the case than when they are received and delegated by a CEO or some other C-level executive who just happens to be a screamer. No terrified minion is going to ignore a reasonable request so strategically directed.

Now back to my dialogue with Gund. The CEO handed off our inquiry to a nice and seemingly capable marketing executive, who a few days later contacted me to say that they were very sorry, they had scoured their supply chain and the effort had turned up just two of these stuffed kitties. I was disappointed with the limited outcome, but very appreciative of her assistance and said we’d be happy to take the pair off their hands. About a day later, (I have no reliable way of confirming any internal yelling), she got back in touch to happily report she had just been able to locate one last box of 24 sitting in a warehouse somewhere. We considered ourselves truly blessed to be given the opportunity to buy the remaining worldwide inventory of “My First Kitty.”

So the girls want a cat. A real cat. Normally I would see this kind of curiosity and relentless determination as a good and positive sign in their development. Knowing what they want and going after it, not taking “no” for an answer and continuing to make the case. There’s only one problem with this particular request – I’m allergic. Really allergic. And, for some reason, my condition has gotten worse with age.

When I was growing up we had pets off and on. When I was in elementary school we had a German Shepard named Duke for about six months, which was about as long as it took for my parents to realize that what they thought was a strange case of recurring bronchitis was actually me not being able to breathe in the same house as this hairball. They found a family upstate to take the dog off our hands and my respiratory system resumed normal function.

The Duke Dilemma actually precipitated a chronic condition in our house when it came to pets, pets of all kinds, we always seemed to be getting them and then giving them away. I had a little green turtle at one point named Nopey that lived in a 10-gallon tank, but then my mother read a story in the newspaper about salmonella poisoning associated with little green turtles so off we went to the local pond to set Nopey free.

My sister and I got a pair of bunnies at one point, male and female. I named mine Bugs, and after they quickly mated we anxiously awaited the arrival of the baby rabbits. Bugs and the misses lived in a hutch we built and kept in the backyard. The babies came, we were beyond excited and about a day later we woke up to find that some savage animals – we assumed neighborhood cats – had clawed their way into the hutch with tragic results. Bugs was the only survivor.

The “bunnies in the backyard” thing wasn’t so much fun after that, and not long after the tragic incident Bugs was released into the wild along one of the highways we used to take to get to Jones Beach. We would always count the rabbits along this road on trips to the beach, and for years after the liberation of Bugs my mother used to swear that some of the ones we saw on this stretch had the coloration to support the notion that Bugs was alive and well and mating to his heart’s content in his new environs - as opposed to having been quickly ripped apart by his "wild" cousins. My Mom's story had nicer imagery.

There was just one pet who endured through my childhood and into college, a really terrific cat named Jethro. My parents got Jethro for my youngest sister, Dina, when she was about Madison’s age. For some reason I can’t remember allergy issues with Jethro early on, but they definitely kicked in later. Over the last few years of her life I really had a tough time, especially after I’d shaved. Petting Jethro and touching my face within a few hours of shaving would consistently result in a sustained itchiness and discomfort severe enough to validate the decision-making process that marked Ernest Hemingway’s final few moments on Earth.

My parents got a yellow Lab several years ago to go along with their empty bedrooms and, while he’s been a tremendous companion for both of them – particularly my Dad – visits to their house these days do carry with them a certain level of sensory distress that were not present before he arrived.

And now Madison wants a cat, wants any kind of pet, really. I think we could probably get away with a fish as a first step, maybe a Siamese Fighting Fish. I’ve already suggested this as something we would consider when she gets a little older. But a fish is a gateway pet, of course, and the fascination is short-lived.

I can already imagine returning from the pet store with Madison, our little Betta in its plastic bag, putting the neon green gravel in the little bowl, finding a spot in her room for it, a place to keep the food, and about five minutes later, as we stare at this helpless little creature darting around the tank, Madison says something like, “I wish I could pick it up and give it a hug,” or, even worse, “what else happens now, Daddy, it just swims around in there? Can we feed him again?”

Right around Easter Madison visited her cousin Jack, who had recently been given a rabbit by his father, who is separated from my sister and lives in his own apartment. Let’s just say Madison was significantly more captivated by the fact that Jack’s Daddy had given him a bunny than by the fact that Jack’s Daddy didn’t live with him anymore.

At this moment I have to say I don’t know how this one plays out. As a parent, you hate to deny your child something they want so badly, something that is in reach and is, all things considered, a fairly reasonable request. As time has gone on and Madison’s continued to talk about the cat – and continued to hear about my little condition – her messaging has become more sophisticated. Last week she had a great idea, delivered with the hopeful innocence of someone who’d just resolved a complex problem with the simplest of solutions: “I know, Daddy, how about this? We can get a cat and you don’t have to worry about being allergic because you can just stay in a different room.”

Someone must have mentioned allergy shots in front of her at some point because that one pops up as a “why not, Daddy?” possible course of action every once on a while. I don’t know, the idea of submitting to a steady regimen of shots and chemicals (you know my stance on chemicals) so the girls can chase a little fluffball around the house for a year or two before they turn their attentions to some new attraction seems a little severe.

But as noted above, it's hard to so definitively shut down an ask that is logistically in reach, and in the process compromise the underlying belief we're trying hard to instill in our kids that anything is possible. I was driving home from work the other night and had one of those, “what the hell, how bad could it be?” moments. Then I realized that this one simple decision could induce severe nasal congestion, skin irritation and assorted other ailments in my own home for the better part of 40 to 60. With any luck the thing dies just in time for me to transition to prostate cancer.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Recital Day...

…and Ava danced.

She went upstairs after breakfast and watching Dragon Tales and actually asked Gwen to put her in her itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini, amazing all three of us. This simple act returned our home to its normal axis, the one that rotates around the enduring law of nature we call ACDA, or, in its more formal presentation – Ava Can Do Anything.

(For those new to the group, to fully appreciate the significance of this little triumph you'll have to scroll down and read the entry marked “Ava.”)

In the days since the rehearsal we’d mentioned the upcoming recital a few times. Nothing heavy, the battering ram is still hanging in the garage, untouched. And she came around, decided she wanted to do it, as long as no one made a fuss and the music up on the stage wasn’t too loud.

So all the Sturm and Drang of two weeks ago was just our amazing little life force deciding to blow off the rehearsal, ditch practice, in the greatest tradition of Jimmy Page or Marcus Allen. "Practice? We don’t need no stinking practice!"

(I know this isn’t the whole story, there was some shyness and fear she had to deal with, and I'm sure she benefited from watching Madison emerge unscathed from the run-through, but this is my blog and this will carry forward as my rendition of these events today and for all time.)

Unfortunately I had to attend the previously mentioned family wedding, so I wasn’t able to see the girls perform. I asked Gwen to take a digital photo of Ava up on the stage so I could post it, but she was thwarted by the fascist dance recital police, who don’t allow private photos or video so parents will buy the overpriced and badly-shot “official” versions. Gwen's eyewitness report was that they both did fantastic, Ava was smiling ear-to-ear while she was up on stage and when she came running off, into her arms, for a hug.

I can’t really do justice on here to how proud I was of Ava this morning, of both of them. Of Gwen, for so carefully and lovingly enabling this achievement by finding the class in the first place, shuttling the girls back and forth week after week, making this happen. This is what you get when you have kids, change everything, surrender an earlier and more self-interested version of your life. You get more back than you believed could be possible, more than you have a right to expect. You get moments like this.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Madison was born in March of 2001, so my first real Father's Day was that year and that morning Gwen surprised us both with a great idea that has endured. Every Father's Day, we paint one of our hands (in the spirit of tidiness, Gwen has actually taken the brush and done the honors) and press it down on the same clear page.

Each edition takes its place with the others in a three-ring binder, with assorted photos taken that day. It's only been five years, and looking back at those early installments is already amazing and cool.

Maddie and I had our run of the canvas for two years, Ava joined the festivities in 2003. I have to say, the page is already getting a little crowded, especially when Ava takes it upon herself to inexplicably press her hand down twice.

(Yes, she picked purple this year)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Favorite Songs (a.k.a., Billie Joe Armstrong, meet Laurie Berkner)

I’m sitting in our home office working on the computer when Madison enters with a request.

“Dad, can you download a new Kelly Clarkson song for me and put it on my disc?”

This is how a five-year-old talks about music in 2006. Madison and Ava have never known a world that didn’t have iPods in it, a world in which the tip of a thumb wasn't able to instantly produce thousands of songs, or the click of a mouse access many more through iTunes – a store that has everything you could possibly want, is right there in your home, and never closes.

Our girls will never meet Sam Goody, he’s left the building. They will never go to the mall and haul stacks of overpriced cassette tapes to the front counter so some disgruntled goth teenager can Houdini them out of their anti-theft plastic coffins – tapes that will later be eaten by a temperamental deck. I guess there’s a chance they will still have the opportunity down the road to buy a compact disc, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Music is big in our house.

When Gwen was pregnant with Madison we had Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” “The Man Who,” by Travis, and Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” on auto repeat. We played these discs on drives out to my parents’ house and on long trips to Vermont, we listened to them in the delivery room during the overnight wait for the Pitocin to kick in. They say that babies can hear and become familiar with music in utero, and I think I believe it, because as a newborn the slightest inkling of "Paranoid Android" would calm Madison right down.

Madison took her first Music Together class at about 13 months, Ava at six months. I sometimes think the world would be a better place if its population was limited to people who can identify, unaided, the melody that accompanies the words, “Hello... everybody... so glad to see you...”

We listen to music at home, in the car, everywhere. I’ve written before about music on our daily drives to school, the sing-along playlists we use as a family. We started the girls off early on Baby Bach, Raffi, the Dora, Barney and Wiggles soundtracks. Through Noggin we luckily discovered Laurie Berkner a couple of years ago and have spent plenty of time with Victor Vito and in the Toy Museum. The Carpenters’ “Top of the World,” and John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” have been fixtures of our car sing-along playlist since its inception, sometimes with mixed results. On one trip to Vermont we played "Top of the World" so many times - at Madison's request - I thought Ava was going to chew through her Britax restraints and jump out the window.

Some of the funniest home video we own is of Madison and Ava, both about one when their respective footage was taken, dancing around the living room to Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldier." Having experienced Madison's reaction a couple years earlier, we couldn't wait to try this out on Ava and, sure enough, as soon as the song kicked in she started bouncing around the floor, perfectly on beat, like a founding member of the Whalers killing time on stage waiting for the pipe to come around again.

I’d like to say this was all about the girls’ enjoyment and enrichment, but as the father of two beautiful daughters, just a couple of years apart, I’ll confess to noticing the pioneering pimping efforts of Joe Simpson, and I’m not above that kind of behavior. It’s really just all about the kids, right Joe?

Lisa Loeb showed up on our playlist at some point, after we saw her on Noggin, singing a great and infectious children’s song called “Catch the Moon” with some other woman. This was right around the time I noticed her on VH-1, starring in a sort of reality TV “I’m just as pathetic and awkward as a ‘regular’ person” dating show. I didn’t mention it to the girls.

And, in honor of Thom Yorke and Billie Joe Armstrong, we have continued to play regular adult music as well, as long as it’s “clean” – to invoke an iTunes adjective – and appropriate. No cursing, no complicated anti-social lyrics, although I did once mistakenly clickwheel to N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” while Madison was in the car. I think the first bit of profanity in that song pops up at word five or six, so unfortunately the damage had been done by the time I was able to redirect the device.

I did some extensive previewing of Green Day’s “Bullet In A Bible,” and Madison and I have enjoyed listening to a few of the more appropriate selections: “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” and “Minority.” Billie Joe drops the F Bomb once in Minority, but I’ve gotten the timing down well enough to induce a momentary glitch in the stereo system that appropriately protects the young ears in the back seat.

And while it’s relatively easy to pick songs without curses, or – when it’s unavoidable – cause the audio system to burp through the profanity, these safeguards will not inoculate the adult in the car from having to explain the occasional mature lyric that captivates the imagination of a young mind. I noticed about a year ago that Madison started picking up on specific lines in songs and, I have to say, it’s had an impact on our playlists.

We got into a little Avril Lavigne phase a while back after I put “Sk8er Boy” on a workout mix for Gwen, and one of the first songs Madison asked about was “Anything But Ordinary,” off the same cd, in which Lavigne sings, “Is it enough to love? Is it enough to breathe? Somebody rip my heart out and leave me here to bleed.”

“What does this lady mean, Daddy, is she bleeding? Why does she want to rip her heart out?”

“Oh, Madison, she doesn’t really mean this, she’s just saying that someone hurt her feelings. She’s not really bleeding.”

Madison considered this for about a minute and rendered the following verdict:

“Daddy, I don’t think we should let Ava listen to this song, it’s not really appropriate.”

I agreed and we moved the selection off our family playlist, although Madison and I kept it in active rotation.

Madison called The All-American Rejects' single "Dirty Little Secret" the "Secret Song" and for a while it became her most frequent request. We'd hit the car and within about 10 seconds I'd get this: "Secret song, Daddy." For some reason that lyric never prompted any "what's this guy talking about?" dialogue and I wasn't exactly complaining.

We liked and spent a lot of time listening to Yellowcard's "Ocean Avenue" cd, Madison used to call the title track "Staying Up All Night," after one of its more prominent and recurring lyrics. Thankfully, she shared my negative view of the band's follow-up effort, "Lights and Sounds," which was so bad it never even made it into the car. Keane's amazing and melodic "Hopes and Fears" was prominent at one point, a great little sleep inducer that was right up there with Baby Bach in that regard.

Both girls loved Embrace’s breakout cd “Out Of Nothing.” “Gravity” was one of the first songs they actively requested in the car - first Madison and, later, Ava as well. We sang along to most of the songs on that disc, but the bloom was off the rose several months ago when Madison noticed this line in “Keeping” – “And, in the end, I wished it all would burn…”



“What does this man mean when he says he wished it all would burn? Is he trying to start a fire?”

“No, Madison, I think he’s just upset. Someone must have hurt his feelings.”

“Oh, OK.”

Paging Laurie Berkner.


Neighborhood party this afternoon... girls had a blast. Spent most of their time on this.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Saw Radiohead last night...

Nothing to do with the kids, really, just thought I'd mention it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Favorite Shows

I like television. When I was nine years old the salesmen from our local cable company came walking through our neighborhood passing out these little “HBO On Air” guides with the film “Towering Inferno” on the cover, promising crystal clear reception and movies with all the curses and no commercials.

My parents decided free TV was good enough and indicated they were not about to join the cable revolution. I went to my room and put together a set of message points designed to reverse that decision. (This is a true story) If this kind of thing happened today I would have been on a computer building PowerPoint slides. I made due with a ballpoint pen and index cards. Looking back, this was probably the first carefully constructed argument I took the time to prepare and deliver in my life – convincing my parents to subscribe to cable television. Not sure what that says about me, but there it is. My efforts were successful, my parents swayed, and I've had cable ever since.

I’m just old enough to remember a time when TV went to bed every night. The stations signed off and put up snow, or test patterns, after playing the Star Spangled Banner to footage of flags waving in the wind. HBO went all night, or nearly all night, which was something new and oddly comforting. People who have grown up with television as it is today can’t relate to the world going to black around midnight and staying that way until 5 or 6 a.m. the following morning. Today, we get ticked off at cable channels running infomercials in the overnight hours because it seems like they’re copping out, phoning it in. “Come on! They couldn’t find anything to put on at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday except Daisy Fuentes hawking Windsor Pilates, what the hell?”

Still, with a couple of hundred channels available just about everywhere through digital cable, there’s an ample array of original late-night programming interspersed around The Juiceman, Tony Robbins and that wild-eyed maniac screaming about common sense regular food cures to real illnesses “that they don’t want you to know about!” You can surf by Discovery Channel at 2 a.m., find yourself midway through a “Deadliest Catch” marathon and spend hours watching small bands of godforsaken fishermen crammed onto grungy boats, chopping ice off crab pots and getting knocked over by freezing waves every few seconds. Have you seen this thing? I have a good friend who works for a hedge fund and makes as much in an afternoon as these guys do in a season. He gets an Aeron chair, is allowed to order dinner from a real restaurant when he has to work late and still finds a way to complain. Next time he does I’m going to suggest he go out for a little spin on the Rollo or Maverick, so he can tap into some of the elusive "perspective" Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins found at Graceland.

So we’re a TV house. Nothing against parents who have carefully conceived television rules – one hour a day, one hour every other day in months that begin with the letter J (none at all in months that don’t), TV parsed out in 15-minute increments, with a channel change every 5 minutes, which, as far as I can tell, is a technique designed to induce schizophrenia.

Madison and Ava are allowed to watch television, within reason, and their TV diet consists exclusively of age-appropriate channels and shows we’ve selected and put in our rotation. Noggin is safe viewing any time of day, so is a PBS channel we get called Kids Thirteen. Disney Channel is OK during specific windows, same with Nickelodeon and Discovery Kids. I covered cooking shows in a previous post, we like WLIW-Create for that and sometimes the Food Network. “Iron Chef” is a little vivid, and the unveiling of the “secret ingredient,” which is often alive, is problematic.

In the morning, we go downstairs when the girls wake up and they start their day with a sippy cup of organic 1% milk and whatever show they are able to agree on. We used to let the first one downstairs pick the first show, but that approach resulted in a little competition between the girls that was not exactly parent-friendly, for obvious reasons, so we’ve moved to the “instead of waking Mommy and Daddy up at 5 a.m. to get your specific selection let’s compromise on something and all watch together” approach.

We recently bought a new car for Gwen and the girls and decided against the one option that would seem to be a given for us – an in-vehicle DVD system. We had just assumed that when we got the next family car we’d go down this road, but as we closed in on the purchase we opted against it. Seemed to me that we fed the girls more than enough television at home, we didn’t need to supplement their diet with little video snacks on drives around town. On longer trips we always have the option of balancing our portable player between the two front seats so the girls can watch in the back.

I was also a little concerned that having this capability resident in our vehicle could lead to countless arguments and angry demands for specific programming during the 20-minute drive home from Madison’s school, or ten-minute drive into town, or the five-second trip down the driveway. I had nightmare images of Gwen slamming all three of them into a telephone pole or an 18-wheeler while buried in the glove box searching for the LazyTown Christmas DVD.

We also really like to talk and sing in the car, we do this as a family, and it’s terrific. We have iTunes playlists of the girls’ favorite sing-along songs and we really have a good time together when we’re not yelling at them about the ziplock bag of Oatmeal Squares they’ve just carelessly dumped all over the floorboards, or the full and open bottle of Poland Spring water that has suddenly gone missing following an inscrutable thud.

The girls have gravitated to different programming at different times, but at three and five they finally have hit the point at which they can agree on a show and both understand and enjoy it. Madison called the theme of her first birthday party when one of the first words she learned was “Elmo.” Barney has spent a good deal of time in both Madison and Ava’s top spot, there are a few other classics that have captivated one or both of them from time to time, and occasionally for long periods of time. New shows continually emerge and stay in favor. Once retired, it’s rare for an old favorite to return to the rotation with any kind of staying power. (Oswald just accomplished this, to our amazement) Across all of the networks and all of the options, I’d have to say our top ten consists of the following, in no particular order:

Sesame Street (Elmo particularly)


Dragon Tales

Dora the Explorer (Ava thinks she is Dora and, except for the fact that we don’t speak Spanish, we don’t disagree.)

Maggie and the Ferocious Beast (Terrific show. Harmless. We bought the DVDs. This one had a long run in our house and still kicks back in once in a while.)

Zoom (Madison got into a big Zoom phase at one point, I always disliked that fat kid Buzz whose run on the show coincided with the period of her greatest interest. I was convinced he terrorized the rest of the cast with assorted off-camera taunts and tortures.)

JoJo’s Circus

Rainbow Fish (An excellent benefit of HBO on Demand, along with The Sopranos and Entourage.)



Shows that didn’t make the top 10 but have still logged significant time on our sets include: Miffy, Maisy, Arthur, Maya & Miguel, Little Einsteins, Wonder Pets, The Wiggles, Franklin, Oswald, Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends, The Backyardigans, Oobi, Little Bear and Berenstain Bears.

Shows that have not resonated enough to even make this secondary list include: Caillou (I was always happy about this, because every time we stumbled onto this show Caillou was whining about something or acting out, I could never understand why someone would take the time to animate this brat), Boohbah (I’m not sure what child education expert consulted here, but this show seems likely to result in mental regression or, at best, stagnation), Clifford (try as we might, the big red dog just never kicked in), Teletubbies (see above note on Boohbah), 64 Zoo Lane (loved the theme song, the girls never really got into the show), and Connie the Cow (great and vivid animation, stilted storytelling and narration delivered in a thick British accent were the apparent barriers.)

From our home to yours... happy viewing.


Ava is a force of nature. She may be the most unique, dynamic, self-assured, adorable, intense, headstrong and heartfelt person I’ve encountered yet on this planet, and she’s all of three. There’s a lot of Madison in this blog because she’s older, she’s extremely verbal, she’s curious, she’s literal and I drive her to school every morning so we get more one-on-one time together to produce blog-worthy moments.

Ava is all heart, which is probably another reason she fights for space on here sometimes, because it’s hard to put down in words the way she makes you feel, the amazing things she does and her indescribable spirit. I wrote several posts ago about The Shriek. Ava shrieks loudest, and longest. She says things like, “you’re awesome Dad, you’re super cool,” unprompted and out of nowhere. When she gets upset or frustrated with someone she’ll tell them, “I’m angry about you!”

You can turn Ava loose at any neighborhood party, any group event, big kids, small kids, it doesn’t matter – within 30 seconds she’s in the center of the crowd, commanding attention and holding her own. It’s astounding. I would never have believed, bumping up against 40, that a three-year-old could offer life lessons in confidence and how to take control of a group, but I’ve learned more from watching Ava than I care to admit.

They’re so very different, the two of them, and from our conversations with other parents I think the first child/second child dynamic we’ve experienced with Madison and Ava is fairly typical. Madison is careful, cautious, verbal, curious, a little cunning. She follows rules, looks for affirmation and when placed in a group situation hangs back a little bit until she can assess the players, find her entry point, and feel like she’s going to be “right” before she jumps in. She’s like me in that regard.

Ava just jumps. She is physical, as noted above she thrives in any group setting, with kids who are 3 or 13, it makes no difference, she doesn’t care. She knows what she wants, won’t compromise, is not willing to debate or be persuaded. There is no blackmail fodder with Ava, because she's not concerned with anything other than what she wants in the moment. I've experienced nothing in my life that made me feel more like Tony Montana attempting to sell Frank Lopez on the merits of the Sosa deal than trying to convince Ava to do something she didn't want to do.

But while very tough (she’s experienced more than her fair share of skinned knees without missing a beat) she’s not entirely bullet proof. If pushed too far, or disciplined sternly, she will cry, tell the offending party “You’re hurting my feelings!” and retreat.

We just had an interesting experience with the girls last weekend that underscored some of these differences. We had the rehearsal for their dance recital on Saturday morning. Ava was scheduled to go on at 9 a.m. and Madison an hour later. About 8 a.m. we were getting ready to leave the house and Ava refused to put on her costume and started to cry. Her group was dancing to Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and, early on a Saturday morning, Ava wanted nothing to do with her itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini. We tried a couple of times to get her into the costume but she was having none of it… tears, shaking her head, running around, finally we decided to bag it and figured we’d just get to this middle school auditorium and see if being at the actual scene would prompt her to think different.

We got there and, well, it didn’t. Even with her instructors hovering around offering encouragement, it wasn’t happening. Both at home and at the school I'd picked her up in my arms, gently encouraged her to give it a try, told her I wanted to see her dance, even offered pizza for dinner. She wasn't having it.

At one point Gwen got the top of the costume on but Ava was screaming and crying - Madison standing right there - and we faced one of those defining parenting decisions. Do you have a gruesome family moment, the kind that can live on for decades, by forcing and berating the kid into the costume, against her will, and hoping she calms down enough, and isn’t scarred enough, to actually take her place with the group when it’s time to hit the stage? We didn’t think so. We took the top off, put her back in her street clothes and accepted the fact that this was what she wanted. Nothing moved her – she regarded other members of her class showing up in costume with the curious indifference of a motorist flying down a highway noticing another driver pulled over on the shoulder getting a ticket.

Madison was in her glory. In her red velvet costume, red beret pinned to her head, tilted to the side, it was one of the happiest days of her life. She lives for this. Relishes the weekly class, the performances, putting on costumes, getting up on stage, can’t get enough of it. It’s one of the ways they are different. Put Ava in an undefined group setting away from an obvious spotlight and she takes control. Make her the center of attention and she can become uncomfortable and self conscious. Put Madison in an undefined group with no clear rules and she’s unsure how to proceed. Make her the center of attention in a structured setting and she shines.

Unfortunately, the date of the actual performance in about two weeks conflicts with a family wedding, so we’d invited my parents to the rehearsal so they could see the girls dance. They got up early, got in the car and drove 45 minutes so they could show up at the school just in time to catch Ava mid-breakdown. This gave my father the opportunity to offer up one of his trademark instant-and-absolute assessments. I can’t remember what he actually said, it was something along the lines of Ava really wanting to participate but for some reason not being able to participate. Then we moved to a general discussion of what’s right and appropriate and positive as a parent in such a situation, a critique that was really not necessary because I was fine with our approach and not very phased by the fact that Ava didn’t want to put on the bikini and dance.

We put her in ballet this winter for the first time, and Gwen said she loved it. Did great in the classes, enjoyed her fellow students and it was a positive experience we were happy to be able to provide. We paid about $60 for the recital costume, planned to spend a little more on the official photo and video and got ready for the big day. And she didn’t want to do it. And, to me, that was OK. Putting on a costume and dancing in front of a room full of a strangers wasn't an explicit part of the deal this three-year-old agreed to when she was enrolled, unbeknownst to her, in ballet.

During the approximately one hour wait between when Ava was supposed to go on and when Madison was going on, my Dad decided to soothe our frayed nerves by verbally attempting to locate the fine line between supporting your child in a decision and letting them make the rules, call the shots and basically walk all over the hapless parents trying to keep up.

My Dad loves our girls, never fails to tell us how amazing they are, how special, etc. This is real and heartfelt. Some of the most touching observations and characterizations directed at our kids have come from my father, as well as some of the most meaningful praise of our abilities as parents.

But the sudden and unexpected dismantling of Saturday's established and agreed upon events (we drive to the school... we sit in the auditorium... we see Ava and Madison dance... we go back to the house for coffee... we need to get some gas on the way home... there's a bush out back I want to trim this afternoon...) was too much. It required additional examination, an explanation, some form of ruling or verdict. Dad's verdict on this particular Saturday was that Gwen and I were too indulgent, that we let Ava and Madison basically do whatever they wanted, as long as their personal safety wasn't at risk, at which point we were prone to jumping in and asserting our parental privilege. I don't agree. And, now that I have my own family, I get to not agree.

That night I had a quiet moment alone with Ava. I went back and forth on even raising the rehearsal again but I had the opportunity so I took it.

“Ava, earlier today, at the rehearsal, why didn’t you want to put your costume on and dance?”

“I was scared.”

“Why? Why were you scared?”

“I didn’t want to. I was just scared. I wanted to watch Madison.”

That was about as much as I could get out of her, enough to validate the fact that my father wasn't entirely off base in his original snap assessment - (she wants to participate, just isn't able to participate) - not nearly enough to shine a light on a clear path over which we might have guided Ava through the trauma, into her costume and onto the stage.

I reminded myself that this is the girl who has been fighting to get out on the soccer field for the last year and a half while Madison runs around out there chasing the pack and fully content to never touch the ball. The girl the coaches have noticed… “How old is she? Can she play?” I am confident in my assessment that Ava, ballet rehearsal notwithstanding, will be just fine.

Monday, June 12, 2006

We turned our kitchen into this...

In six weeks, we're told, the space should be much improved.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

They Wrecked Gum

I'm not sure exactly when this happened, but it did. They wrecked gum. This is an issue in our lives because Madison loves gum. Ava's not quite as captivated by it yet but she has two years to catch up. Some of this may be genetic, because when I was growing up in the 1970s there were some prominent smokers in my family circle and packs of gum seemed to me like the kids' version of cigarettes. My Grandmother would bring back cartons of Marlboros from the military exchange and I'd keep close tabs on the stash of Bubble Yum in my room. Four or five packs on reserve and all was good in my world.

Madison seems to feel the same way, and gum is a treat we allow her on a semi-regular basis, within reason and depending on her most recent behavior. As a parent, it's a rare and emotional thing to see your child demonstrate a strong affinity for something, especially a material object like a favorite toy or some form of treat like ice cream or gum. Is it just the satisfaction of watching a young mind gravitate to something, express itself in such a dramatic, complete and convincing way? Yeah, that's nice. But the point I'm on at the moment can more accurately be described by the following two words: blackmail fodder.

There is nothing quite like the shock and awe of a parent threatening to take away an object or experience close to the heart of a child. This is not something we do often, I have to say, but on the rare occasions when I've had to resort to this nuclear tactic the results have been undeniable. Here's is some suggested messaging for the new parents in the group:

Said child does something objectionable.

"[Insert child's name]! I will find and throw away every single [Insert object of affinity] we have in this house if you don't [Insert reasonable request or suggested behavioral modification]! I mean it!"

Works every time. Affinity objects can also be used as a positive "if you do this, you'll get that" form of proactive persuasion. But we actually try not to do this too much because, honestly, we don't want to build up the idea that every moment of good behavior will be followed by a reward. I've occasionally told Madison that I would bring her a special treat home from work if she helped her mother out in some defined way during the course of the day, and she virtually always passes this test. Ava is basically immune to positive or negative blackmail-style influence because she's two years younger and, well, because she's Ava. More on Ava in my next post.

Back to gum. The only problem we're having with Madison's love of gum is that more and more of it is sweetened with Aspartame these days, and that's something I don't want her to have. I actually feel pretty strongly about this. The same concerns that prompt Stonyfield Farms to print "NO Aspartame, Ever!" on some of its yogurt containers are alive and well and kicking around in my mind.

Madison knows this, and she respects it. One of the first times she asked why she couldn't try a piece of some kind of sugar-free gum someone had offered her I told her it was because the gum had "chemicals" in it that I didn't think were good for children and didn't want her to have. She quickly dubbed sugar-free gum "chemical gum" and from that moment on whenever she would encounter a new variety of gum she would immediately ask whether or not it was "chemical gum."

"Look at that gum that lady has over there, Daddy, the little squares that push through the foil. That looks like very special gum. Is that chemical gum, Daddy?"

For those playing along at home, my experience has been that push-out foil packaging virtually always leads to a "chemical gum" diagnosis.

I know I am losing some people out there with this entry, and understand I'm pushing the bounds. You can find scary information on the Internet relating to almost any subject. You could Google "breathing hazards" and find someone, somewhere saying something like: "many researchers believe the process of breathing causes long-term and irreversible internal damage, eroding the lungs and trachea and eventually resulting in death."

But if you do a quick search for health risks associated with Aspartame, particularly Aspartame and kids, you come up with a whole host of entries that can charitably be called terrifying. Stuff about brain cancer and tumors, formaldehyde exposure and grand mal seizures. In my case it wasn't even something I read, I typically gravitate away from scientist-made when there's a more natural alternative available. To me, "chemical gum" is just not necessary, there's just no reason to make that choice. Same with "chemical soda" and, well, chemical anything.

When I was growing up the sugar free rack was more or less all Trident, all the time. You could go into any deli or candy shop and find enough types of sugared gum on the rack to have a different variety every day for at least a month, maybe two. That's not the case anymore, the tables have turned entirely. Earlier today I stood at a convenience store with Madison for a good five minutes picking up and reading packages before we found the ONE variety of "minty gum" (which is what she was looking for) that didn't have "chemicals" in it. I never thought I'd have occasion to say this in my life, but thank God for Chicklets.

I actually felt terrible during the process because every time Madison would find some new glittery package, some gum version of a candy name she recognized, her eyes would light up with anticipation while I scrutinized the label, found words like Aspartame and phenylalanine, grimly rendered the verdict - "chemicals" - and put it back. Skittles gum has Aspartame in it. At one point the girls were into this sort of tape gum, absolutely manufactured with kids in mind, colorful circular containers with a long strand of flat gum rolled up inside. We bought that a couple of times before I had a "what are the chances?" moment and picked up the container to read. Yup. There's that pesky Phenylalanine again.

But I have to say that the most insidious, the most unforgivable, the most downright outrageous use of Aspartame in gum has to have been perpetrated by the idiot at the William Wrigley Jr. company who first pitched the idea of adding Aspartame to the formula for the absolute gold standard of sugared gum - the one-two punch, the daily double - Wrigley's Juicy Fruit and Double Mint. Yes, the operative word here is "adding" - not replacing, which you could maybe see if they wanted to broaden the appeal of the products by producing sugar-free versions. No, not the good folks over at Wrigley. They found a way to keep the sugar and inject the potentially-harmful artificial sweetener at the same time! Genius! How could this happen? And with so little fanfare? New Coke has nothing on this. You can practically hear the internal brainstorm that resulted in this brain dead decision.

"People really love our gum, it sells very well."

"Yeah, that's true. The only problem is that, after a while, it runs out of flavor and our customers are basically left chewing tasteless rubber."

"Is there anything we can do about that?"

"Well, we could encourage them to just have another piece when this happens, or we could supplement the honest-to-goodness sugar with this insidious, possibly Cancer-causing, chemical. That will make the gum a little sweeter and extend the flavor a little longer."

"Yeah, that second thing, let's do that."

"I'll call production."

Sorry Maddie. I almost wish I'd saved you a few packs. It was good stuff before they wrecked it.


I'm not usually big on advocacy, but just for kicks here's the Web address for the "contact us" page on the Wrigley Web site. If you are reading this, and are so disposed, just cut and paste this address into your browser and use the form to tell them to get rid of the "chemicals" in their gum. Please accept my thanks in advance on behalf of Madison, Ava and children everywhere.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Proud of you...

Madison and Ava both finished school this week. Ava wrapped up nursery school on Monday and Madison’s last day of pre-kindergarten was Tuesday. She ended her year with a live concert featuring other students in the Early Childhood program in her school auditorium followed by a short party in her classroom. She has taken ballet for the last couple of years and her school is heavy on performing arts, even at her age, so we’ve had numerous opportunities to watch her sing and dance in front of an audience.

I always make sure to find a quiet moment with Madison at these events to focus in and tell her that I’m proud of her. Might seem a minor point in the context of everything else going on, but I don’t think there can be too much of this kind of thing, as long as the messaging isn’t delivered so often that it becomes sickening – even to the recipient – and meaningless. I’m big on “you look beautiful… what an amazing outfit” reactions to the girls in the morning, encouragement and praise during our time together (we don’t get enough of that at the moment) and hugs and kisses and a chance to talk about the things that happened during the day before tucking them into bed.

Being a parent in 2006 is daunting, and with the girls just 5 and 3 we haven’t even gotten into any of the really tough stuff yet. Our girls watch Noggin, PBS Kids, some Disney Channel and assorted cooking shows – not MTV, FOX or Janet Jackson. Madison occasionally references Internet sites (she calls them “dotcoms”), but the eMac computer we put in the den so she and Ava can play educational games is not online and they haven’t noticed. They’re not building MySpace pages and displaying personal information to be scrutinized by Internet predators. (Can Chris Hansen of Dateline NBC be a little less busy, please?) They haven’t demanded cell phones to pump possibly harmful microwave radiation into their developing brains, or to cripple their young thumbs by banging out an endless string of e-mails and text messages. No boys, no dates, no drugs, no cars, none of the really big issues yet. As noted in an earlier post, a question like “what’s chicken made of,” is about as tough as it gets at the moment.

But those days are coming, and I guess the fundamental strategy that Gwen and I are trying to apply to raising these girls is that there’s a lot out there we’re not going to be able to control, challenges we can’t even see yet, but the best and most positive thing we can do is focus on organically building self-worth and self-esteem in Ava and Madison. I don’t mean to get preachy or heavy here, but this is supposed to be a parenting journal so it seems like some of this material should slip in alongside the quips and nods to the wonders of Apple and Insta-Lawn.

It’s a delicate dance. Reward them without over-indulging them. Encourage self-expression and independent will without prompting out-of-control temper tantrums when the request for candy at breakfast or the 3rd toy on a visit to the mall is rejected. Stress the importance of rules while introducing the idea that it’s sometimes OK to break them. This is all on our plate at the moment, and the central theme, the overriding message, is that the girls are special, they are loved, they amaze us and we never stop telling them these things. And, based on the confident and satisfied smiles we find on the other side of these messages, I think they are getting through.


We bought our new house about a year ago from an elderly woman who had been here about 50 years. She was a big gardener and when we got the place the backyard was almost entirely overrun by mature trees and these big wooden planter boxes all over the place. I had a photo at one point of the jungle of a backyard we inherited but for some annoying reason I can't find it right now, although I think I just self-induced a moderate case of carpal tunnel mousing over every digital photo in our Picasa collection looking for it.

Last fall we took down trees and basically ripped everything out, winding up with open space, ground-down stumps and significant dirt. As the spring approached Madison mentioned the condition of the backyard to me a few times and it usually went something like this:

"Daddy, you know what I really miss about the old house?"

"No, what?"

"The grass. Being able to lay in the grass and look up at the sky. Can we have grass like that in the new house?"

At that point the mission was clear, and this week we had the payoff... which arrived in the form of a generous helping of sod. I have to say, this was my first go-round with sod and I've never experienced any form of landscaping that was quite so satisfying.

Our well-compensated and fairly pampered crew (Gwen may be the only homemaker in America who - literally - baked cookies for the landscapers) spent a day ripping up what was left of the back lawn area, laying topsoil and raking it down. And then they spent a second day finishing these preparations and rolling out the sod and when I pulled into the driveway after a long day of work the space that had been a disaster area only hours before had turned into the vision above.


Friday, June 02, 2006

6:23 a.m.

"Daddy... Daddy!"

The call comes every morning, typically within a few minutes of 7 a.m. Sometimes sing-song style..."DAAA-dddyyy... DAAAAA-dddyy," sometimes as a sharp staccato burst... "DAD... DAD!" This morning it came at 6:23 a.m. Ava, calling out from her room. The sing-song variety.

I rolled out of bed and stumbled into her room and said good morning, asked what she wanted. (Always the same answer to this question)

"I want to go downstairs."

"Ava," I said, "It's early... do you know what time it is?"


"What time?"

"It's thirties! It's wake-up time!"

Two minutes later Madison was up and came walking into Ava's room with the same request, "let's go downstairs."

So we did.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

New Basement

As is clear from the last couple of posts, I've been slacking off a little bit on the blog, throwing up photos and captions as opposed to really sitting down to write. Not that I don't love the photos, but that's not what this was supposed to be about. So tonight I'm forcing myself to sit down and knock out at least a few current thoughts for the non-expanding circle of friends and relatives lucky enough to have been blessed with this URL.

Biggest thing in our lives this week was the completion of the basement playroom for the girls that we began work on in October. Yes, that's not a typo, October. We hired a contractor who came highly recommended from some neighborhood friends and turned out to not only be the slowest-moving individual on the planet (check that, he had a "helper" who actually lagged behind) but also the sort to disappear for weeks at a time (sometimes months at a time) taking on other jobs while our basement remained in a general state of disrepair. To be fair to Sloth (not his real name), along the way we also had him remodel a half-bath on the first floor, install a new boiler and put in radiant heat, so we did expand the scope of work. But still... SEVEN MONTHS to get the job done and this guy out of our lives?

I stood in our bedroom one time, looking out the window and watching Sloth go through the painstaking and seemingly-endless process of carrying his tools back and forth from his truck to our basement. As the pressure mounted in my brain I availed myself of the only immediate course of action that promised any relief. I used my hands to rip all the teeth out of my mouth, consequently adding thousands of dollars of dental expenses to our remodeling bill.

To his credit, and I feel like I should be fair here, he is a nice guy and I felt comfortable with the idea of him showing up every day and working in the house with the girls. Well, actually I would have felt even more comfortable had he actually shown up every day, but I digress.

The job was done on Tuesday and Wednesday night Gwen and I rolled out the carpet we'd bought for a section of the tiled floor, vacuumed and just generally got the space ready for Madison and Ava. I was at work the next day when they went down there for the first time after school and apparently as soon as they got to the bottom of the stairs Madison gave Gwen a big hug and said, "Thank you, Mommy, thank you for making such a nice basement for us to play in." Gwen and I were both moved by the reaction and felt even better that the job was done and the space theirs. I mentioned in the first post that Madison had made reference to toys in boxes that we would be unpacking soon, so apparently the idea that we weren't quite "in" the new house was kicking around in her head and can now be resolved. We turned our living room into a playroom while waiting for the basement, but with space limitations not every toy made it back into rotation after the move, so now we'll get there and we're happy about that.

We're taking on the kitchen next with a different contractor, (sorry Sloth, the idea of gutting the center of our house and having to rely on your fleeting efforts to guide us through the darkness was a bit of a nonstarter), so hopefully by the end of the summer we will have a nice newly renovated cooking space and some expanded interior doorways for better downstairs flow so we can walk around unimpeded as we discuss our depleted finances.

What else? This is getting to resemble one of those "Around The League" notes columns in a newspaper sports section or, even worse, one of the Larry King "what's on my mind" monstrosities. I guess that's about all I have to offer tonight. No central theme like The Shriek or Jack the Pom Pom. We went out for pizza the other night and when we got home before bed Madison asked to sit at the computer and write on a "clear page." Again, see the first post for background on this, she sits at the computer and asks for the letters to spell the words she wants to write, then taps them out on the computer. On the night I'm talking about she wrote this:

"The pizza face was covered with pepperoni and the waiter slipped on a piece of it and he hurt his knee and then all the other waiters looked at him and then they looked at his knee. Period. End of story."

The story was vivid and random enough that I wondered whether or not this actually happened at some point in the restaurant, maybe when I took Ava to the potty. No, Gwen and Madison told me, no waiter slipped in the restaurant. I asked Madison later when I was tucking her in how she came up with that, how she thought of those words, and she said, "it was what I wanted to write, I wanted to tell that story."

I don't want to stray too far into potentially sickening parental pride here, but I just have to say the things that come flying off the wheels that are perpetually spinning in Madison's head never cease to amaze me. I know, I know, I'm partial and I'm sure all parents, with the possible exception of the ones who turn up on Jerry Springer or Maury Povich, feel the same way about their kids... but this is my blog so I get to be amazed and to write about it.

Springer and Povich, can we spend just a passing moment on two guys who have, literally, carved careers out of putting human wreckage on television? Every time I channel surf by Maury he's doing the same show, some version of "Shocking Paternity Test Results!" You really have to feel for the male guests, wonder what they'd been told in the days and weeks before they found themselves sitting in front of a studio audience, many more watching at home, while Maury - appropriate gravitas layered on top of restrained glee - serves up scientific evidence of this most personal and devastating act of betrayal. Say a little prayer for the ones with the sense, the dignity and the wherewithal to turn to their partner at some point during the prefab spectacle and deliver the line that represent's Povich's worst nightmare, the chilling query that keeps him up at night, wondering whether there will be a paycheck tomorrow, words of simple and understated brilliance - "Why'd you have to bring me here and tell me this on television?" There are times, of course, when the test results come back negative and Maury is able to unleash a real celebration, as his guests jump around the stage like lottery winners after receiving certain proof that the child they are raising is, in fact, theirs. Both of theirs. Isn't life beautiful?

Springer's model is filling a trash can with people who shouldn't be allowed to sleep with anyone and are, instead, sleeping with everyone. Brothers, sisters, uncles, "dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria..." Springer and Maury are like reality TV porn... We can turn to The Apprentice, Real World and a dozen other shows to see "real" people acting like idiots... but it takes these daytime options to push this already questionable needle past obscene. This is way off line for a parenting journal, I know, but just one more point on Jerry Springer. I think if anyone ever did a real analysis of the number of his guests who are legitimately mentally ill the guy would be found guilty of more than bad taste.

Well, this was a fairly lame and disjointed attempt to keep this thing going but at least it's a few more words so I can fee like I'm keeping up my end of the bargain. I'll try to make the next entry a bit more thematic, or at least cohesive.

Follow up to a previous post on Apple, which remains one of the most amazing, imaginative and just dead-on companies for me right now. I went out and bought one of those new MacBook notebook computers last week. It's insane. What an iPod is to music this thing is to your whole life... photos, documents, wireless Web access, unbelievably fast and beautifully designed, just amazing. Our next move is to a desktop iMac for the whole family, we have an eMac downstairs that the girls are actually getting the hang of. I'd agree to throw some Google AdSense contextual ads on here if they were all for Apple. OK, I'd throw in some Chipotle and Whole Foods ads too.