Saturday, April 28, 2007

Some Nice Spring Color... kick off the weekend.

And the first sign of the enemy...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Cat Is Back

My efforts to avoid, or at least significantly delay, the arrival of a living, breathing and dander-producing pet in our household are taking on water. Some helpful background on this is available here. Madison and Ava still want a cat, actually they’ve refined their ask – they each want one of their own. The girls are getting fairly territorial and particular about their stuff, and since an animal can’t be split down the middle like a can of Play-Doh or a pack of foamy paper and survive, we’d probably have to accede to a pair if we were to go down this road. We're not looking for trouble with PETA.

If we took a family vote on this issue today, I would lose 3-1. The only member of the majority likely to offer up any kind of sympathy or concern over my propensity to go into allergic shock as a result of our new arrival(s) would be Ava, and her counsel would basically amount to, “It’s OK, Daddy, you can just go into a different room!”

Gwen called me in the office one day last week to let me know that she and the girls had just returned from a play-date at a house in the neighborhood that recently welcomed two kittens. Two adorable kittens, apparently, as if there were any other kind. “I just want you to know,” she said, “Madison and Ava were all over these things and they may ask you about them.”

The barrage didn’t kick in that night, but it did over the weekend and now it’s here, hovering in the background, an unresolved discussion point just waiting to be activated, like OnStar. I didn’t think I was going to get through Sunday without a visit to a pet store or shelter, especially after the girls disappeared during breakfast and returned moments later carrying their respective change jars, which they were willing to happily surrender to help pay for one of those $4,000 hypo-allergenic cats that have recently been in the news. (A quick Web search revealed that the price of these specially-bred cats is going up to $7,000 as of May 1, a result of an "increase in the cost of liability insurance." Now that's an encouraging development, where do we sign up?) Luckily enough, Madison had a soccer game in the afternoon, so her attention shifted away from her current inability to chase a terrified creature around our house and to the much more pressing need to chase a little ball around a field.

The subject of a cat or pet comes up from time to time, as outlined in the original post referenced above, so I've had a recurring opportunity to refine my reactive messaging. During this latest episode I broke out all of my familiar artillery, which is unfortunately proving increasingly ineffective.

There was the prospect of maybe getting a fish. I’ve been stalling on this, fully aware that once we begin the cycle there is really no place for it to end that doesn't involve resident fur. I have to say, though, I didn’t think this starter-pet option would be deemed a failure until we were about a week into having one. I was wrong. Madison’s current response to the fish concept is, “Fish are boring, they don’t do anything, you just sit there and watch them. You can’t even play with them!”

The notion of yet another Webkinz (a sure sign of parental desperation) was also a nonstarter. Madison greeted this with the following, “Daddy, let me tell you how much better a real cat is than a Webkinz cat. A Webkinz cat can’t snuggle you or lick your hand, you just play on the computer and it’s not real, it’s a stuffed animal, it’s knitted! I just think real pets are more fun because you can really feed them. A Webkinz pet you can’t really feed, you just click on some buttons.”

As is her nature, Ava was a little more direct. “Daaaaad! Can we pleeeeuuuuaaassee get a pet? We’ll taaaaaaakkke good care of it!”

I successfully put down the rebellion and the wave seems to have subsided over the last couple of days, but the underlying dilemma persists. The girls want a pet, a real pet, and while I am predisposed to spoiling our children within reason, I also enjoy breathing in the place where I live. For the first time in my life I’m considering a visit to an allergist to investigate the battery of shots that might actually open up our house to the wonders of pet ownership without shutting down my nasal passages. Right now it’s only a notion, but I think the chances are excellent that at some point it becomes a concept, and later an idea. Place the inspiration for that line and win the big prize... follow up hint: "Max, are we driving through plutonium?"

There are tangential benefits associated with such a move that I have to say are attractive to me, especially now that I have this forum and am always on the search for new material. Heather Armstrong of has practically turned her dog chuck into an employee, and there’s something to be said for having the option, on a slow news day, of filling space by ascribing complex human thoughts and emotions to an animal by virtue of its willingness to be photographed wearing a pork pie hat, or tendency to tilt its head at curious angles in response to unrelenting lens-driven torment. A dog or cat at home could easily be good for 75 or 80 phone-it-in posts a year, which would totally be worth it if I could find a way to avoid tourettes-style sneezing episodes or itching my face off.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Two Wheels

Big milestone in our house this month has been Madison dropping the training wheels on her bicycle in favor of a lifetime of two-wheel transportation. She tried it a couple of weeks ago – her idea – and basically got the hang of it. We had the “Kramer vs. Kramer” moment where the parent holds the bike and runs with the child and ultimately lets go with words of affirmation and encouragement. Mine were, “Madison, you’re doing it! You’re doing it! You’re riding by yourself,” which were met with giddy laughter, faster pedaling and a clear sense of personal astonishment and pride.

I spent about an hour out in front of our house that Saturday afternoon running with her, releasing my grip on the back of the bike and then jogging along so I would be in position to break any fall. There were a few bumps and bruises, her legs got a little scraped, but she never really lost it or face-planted into the pavement, which we were thankful for.

Last weekend she barely needed me to stabilize the bike or give her a running start, and by the end of our relatively brief session she was properly placing her feet on the pedals, getting herself going and stopping without any parental intervention. Really a great example of an early childhood development that forever changes the way something is done, there’s no backsliding from this. Just a few days ago, Madison couldn’t ride a bike without training wheels, and now she can.

It’s also one of the few passages I can think of that actually, physically, involves a parent or caregiver letting go and allowing the child to strike out on their own, more or less at their own peril. We can run alongside for a while, but ultimately it’s their bike, their pedals, their feet, and the road.

I asked Madison this morning why she was excited about this new ability and, without hesitation, she said, “Because now I can ride with the big girls in the neighborhood!”

Umm, where did we put those training wheels again?


[There she goes... Madison rides off to greet her training-wheel-free world.]

[And Ava... shielded and protected from the hazards of asphalt (and the world) for hopefully another summer or two.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Just a quick and heartfelt note of thanks to everyone who supported "I think this world is perfect..." in the recent Best of Blogs competition. We took first place in the Best Parenting Blog category. I couldn't be more thankful for the votes and, even more importantly, for those who have taken the time to visit and read the blog.

We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of this little project next month, we're 80 posts in at this point and just getting started. So thanks again, from all of us at, which is really very much a group effort. The girls say (and do) it, and I write it. I like to think the arrangement works out nicely.

Thank you.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Thanks Walt...

I got home from work early enough on Friday to have "movie night," with the girls, which is what we call the four of us watching a show or age-appropriate film before going to bed. Madison and Ava love it, Gwen sometimes makes popcorn, we all snuggle in together and watch something.

This time around we dialed up "All Dogs Go To Heaven," on VOD. Early on, a little girl character was introduced, an orphan who was living with the dogs, and not very well I might add. What is it about every Disney film beginning with some parent-friendly and easily explainable element like the death of a Mommy or Daddy, emergence of an evil force or some other thorny concept?

As soon as it became clear the adorable little girl on the screen didn't have parents, Madison went wild-eyed and started firing questions at us, "What does that mean, Daddy? What's an orphan? Why doesn't she have a Mommy or Daddy? Where ARE they? What happened to them?"

Ava just sat back, watching the screen and munching on her popcorn, silent during the interrogation, until you could actually see a thought pop into her head and she exclaimed, "I know... Maybe her Mommy and Daddy went to Italy!"

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Things have been pretty quiet around here at, the result of the first real "adult" vacation Gwen and I have taken since, oh, about 2001. We joined four other couples on a trip to Lake Como, Italy that began on Thursday morning and ended with our safe return Tuesday night.

It was an incredible, unique and unforgettable experience, but for us - at least at this stage of our lives - it was also too much time away from the girls. Gwen dropped them off at my parents' house on Wednesday afternoon, my mother drove them home late Tuesday, so by the time we rolled in a few hours later it had been a solid six days since we'd been together. Too long.

Before this trip, we'd been away from Madison and Ava just a handful of times, and never more than a two or three nights in a row. That seems to be a good formula for us, and as great as it was to get away and enjoy a solid block of sleeping in, adult conversations, leisurely sightseeing and large helpings of pasta and wine about every three hours - in the future we are planning to revert to our more familiar approach. It's amazing how quickly the blissful anticipation of a few days of peace and quiet, absent the daily and sometimes overwhelming rigors of parenting, can transition into a sense that things are just incomplete without the kids. Half of our little gang was missing on this trip, and once that realization kicked in it never stopped feeling that way.

When we walked in the door Tuesday night the girls were literally jumping up and down, Ava may have momentarily broken into tears of joy as she hugged me and shrieked, I couldn't quite tell through the unrestrained jubilation.

Gwen tucked her into bed that night, and after talking to Madison for a while I stopped off to give Ava a goodnight kiss and hug. As I was bundling her up in her bedding she looked up at me and said, "Dad?"

"Yes Ava?"

"I like being back in my regular house."

"Me too," I said.

Here are some photos from our trip.

[Villa Versace, "Villa Le Fontanelle," one of the most famous villas on Lake Como, and apparently the favorite of the four homes the late designer Gianni Versace owned around the world. Not difficult to see why.]

["Villa Clooney" - George Clooney's villa on the lake. Five women on the trip, all in happy marriages or advanced stages of dating, and the consensus was that if Clooney had appeared while our rented boat floated by his house all bets were off and they were going over the side in a mad paddle to reach him first and make a positive impression, leaving the men with the outrageous pasta salad and case of Barolo we had on board as a consolation prize.]

[Headed "home" after a great day on the lake, which also included lunch in the beautiful little town of Bellagio.]

[Stopped off for a brief tour of an area vineyard. The scenery was better than the wine, although the olive oil they made there may have been the best I've ever tasted.]

[Villa d'Este. Simply amazing. We stopped off for drinks outside, on the water, and didn't want to leave.]

[Flying home over the Alps.]

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Greatest Show On Earth

The rolling month-long celebration that was Madison’s 6th birthday came to an end yesterday, with a big family trip into the city to see Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Circus. What a great show. I have vague recollections of going to the circus once as a kid, not at all a childhood highlight, but yesterday was just terrific. Almost two hours of non-stop action that kept the girls and their cousin Jack still and amazed – no small feat – and the adults (the group included my parents and sisters) entertained and impressed. By far the best family show we’ve seen, and well worth doing.

I’ve written on here before about Ava’s aversion to live performances – she has been terrorized and traumatized by the likes of Barney, Dora and the Wiggles – but after yesterday we can cross that sensitivity off the list. Not only did she love every minute of the circus, she reacted with violent disappointment when it became clear she wasn’t in the select group of audience members who had paid $154.50 for the “Circus Celebrity Star Pass,” which included a brief trip into the ring for a “one-of-a-kind Ringling Bros. experience.”

Early in the show, a clown wandered by our section handing out passes to these lucky few children – whose parents had stepped up in a way that made springing for a $20 snow cone and $22 flashing light seem borderline abusive by comparison. Gwen and Ava noticed this distribution and mistakenly believed it was random – maybe an attempt to identify and reward the most smiley and fresh-faced patrons in the crowd. I knew better, but opted to keep my mouth shut even when Ava bolted from her seat at the end of our row and actually accosted the clown as he passed back across the front of our section in pursuit of one of these magic passes. He gave her a big smile and a friendly high-five, but not the tag she wanted.

Later in the show, when the clowns came back to assemble this special group, Gwen and Ava started shooting me dirty looks from the other side of our row. By the time the real people were down riding around the floor in little carts, smiling and mechanically waving to the losers and cheapos they’d left behind in the stands, Ava had made her way over to appeal to me directly. “Daddy, I want to go down there,” she said, pointing at the scene of unrestrained and obviously priceless jubilation.

At that moment, I noticed some huge elephants coming out from behind the circus curtain and breathed a sigh of relief… surely a child who had to be carried out of a live Barney show just a couple of years ago with a look of terror on her face like she’d been Martin Sheen’s co-pilot all the way down the river and into Brando’s cave would reject the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with a real elephant. “Look, Ava,” I said, pointing. “There are elephants down there now. You don’t want to be in the circle with elephants, do you?”

YES,” she responded, giving me a look that said, “and now that I’ve passed your cruel and manipulative little test, I expect you to immediately produce this moment I’ve requested.” Unfortunately I could not, causing my adorable, precious (and typically gentle) 4-year-old to momentarily turn away from the floor action in order to reign down blows upon me, as I counted the seconds before the real people came off. Such is the wonder and magic of the circus!

In terms of Madison’s birthday, we decided against a formal party this year and instead wound up having about a half dozen. The first observance was her day at the American Girl store early in the month with Gwen and my Mom. We had a special little family breakfast the morning she actually turned 6, there was the attempted Saturday night sleepover party with her two closest friends that ended about 10:30 p.m. when both invited guests said they wanted to go home and we were forced to call their crestfallen parents to retrieve them, the birthday brunch the next morning when the friends and their parents came back over, and yesterday’s trip to the circus. I think Madison enjoyed being able to turn 6 so many times, and now that Ava is wise to the benefits of the extended birthday celebration, I expect we’re in for more of the same next January.