Saturday, March 31, 2007

Once More, With Feeling

Last day of the month and it looks like the lamb may finally be here to stay. We see this as a positive development.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ava In Manhattan

Every parent's dream child in an unpredictable and sometimes perilous urban environment.

[Ava is the little pink dot in the distance. Madison, her older, more measured and risk-averse sibling, is in the foreground, calling out to ask why she's running away from the group and imploring her to STOP. Happily, we all survived.]

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Not A Human Being"

Last Sunday, helping Madison get her American Girl doll "Michelle" out of one outfit and into another.

We get the clothes off (we're finding that American Girl makes merciful use of velcro, it's actually quite easy for these little figures to move from a fancy party dress, to a sports uniform, to pajamas), and suddenly Michelle is down to her underwear.

I look at the doll, unsure how to proceed. Madison notices my uncertainty, hands me a miniature soccer jersey and says, "It's OK, Daddy, I don't change her panties every day, because she's not a human being."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Getting A Little Ridiculous...

A very depressing update to this.

Which, in turn, was a slightly depressing update to this.

All of which has me yearning for this.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Rolling Shriek

It's been a relatively quiet week around here from the standpoint of blog-worthy moments or observations, I was away on business from Sunday morning - left for the airport at 9 a.m. - through Wednesday evening. Don't you just love those half weekends? I know I do.

I checked in by phone several times over the course of the trip. Always find it helpful in those moments to try to strategically assess - based on the typical cycles of daily activity and the probability of chaos in our house - whether or not it's really an ideal time to assert a telephonic presence from the quiet comfort and restful peace of a luxury hotel room. [I have found calls placed during the mad scramble to get the girls out of the house in the morning, or during the battle of wills that is "bath time" do not typically go very well.] This trip was fairly successful in that regard, I can't remember one instance of - "Here, can you please tell your daughter it's not OK to [insert verbal representation of egregious behavior, while handing offending child the phone for remote expression of disappointment and discipline]!"

I didn't bring my house keys with me, so when I arrived at our back door Wednesday night I had no choice but to ring the bell, and I'll never bring my keys with me again on a trip like this, because instead of being able to quietly enter the house and make my way upstairs for an exploding shriek, I instead experienced something much more enjoyable and profound - the rolling shriek. It started off in the distance, upstairs, slightly muffled but still very clear... "DADDY'S HOME... DAD... DAD... DADDY IS HERE!"

And the sound moved toward me like a wave, louder and clearer as the girls ran down the stairs, through the dining room, into the kitchen and finally to the back door, two little beings jumping up and down, huge smiles, excitement. Nothing like it, no way to possibly feel better about yourself and where you are and what you have than at that exact moment, in those eyes and smiles, trained on you like you were the sun or something, two tiny planets bounding around in frenetic orbit. Gwen was right behind, smiling and clearly jumping up and down on the inside, gratified by my safe return, the love in her heart and the ability to again parent in tandem. Not necessarily in that order.

About an hour later I was tucking the girls into bed. Trying to explain to Ava why I had to leave the family behind for a few days and be somewhere else. Meeting with people from work was not really cutting it as an explanation. "I know, Daddy," she said. "Were you just tired of watching The Saddle Club every day and you needed a little break?" No, I assured her, it had nothing to do with exaustion over their current favorite show.

Madison wanted a moment-by-moment breakdown of the trip - every day, every meeting, every person in every meeting, by name. Tuck-in took a while, and I could't have cared less.

To call myself lucky would be an understatement of epic proportions.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


We're all scrambling around the house this morning, trying to get it together and get on the road to go spend the day with my parents.

I'm the last one to get a shower - and we're currently working with one functional upstairs bathroom, the girls' bathroom, which we recently renovated.

I grab a towel and open the door and find Ava standing by the sink, painstakingly "painting her nails" with a fake nail polish set that includes water and a little brush.

"Ava," I say, "I have to get into the shower so we can go."

"It's OK, Dad," she responds. "I'm going to stay here and finish my work, but I promise I won't look at your body."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Guess Not...

A slightly depressing update to this.

Monday, March 05, 2007

American Girl

Madison had a very big day yesterday. In anticipation of her 6th birthday in a couple of weeks, she got to ride into the city with Gwen and my Mom to pick out her very own American Girl doll. They also had tickets to some kind of American Girl "Circle of Friends" show and reservations for a special birthday tea at this expensive and highly manipulative parent trap store located in midtown-Manhattan.

To say our little girl was excited about this trip does not begin to capture it. For the last week or so, she’s been carrying the American Girl catalog around the house with her. Everywhere. Not made to withstand this level of fervid dedication, the thing actually began disintegrating a couple of days ago, forcing Madison to cradle the unbound and dog-eared pages in her arms while she walked, like a bundle of loose socks.

She’d taken me through it, page by page, pointing out specific dolls like they were long-lost friends, sharing thoughts on certain outfits or accessories. She was absolutely set on a doll they called “Emily” – some of the American Girl dolls come complete with names and their own fairly evolved back stories, to wreak havok on parental wallets and purses further captivate young minds. Thankfully, Madison went into this experience with relatively modest expectations. Over breakfast I cautioned her against any major in-store outbursts in the event she didn’t get every single thing she wanted, to which she replied, “Daddy, Mommy said I am getting a doll and an outfit, and that Grandma might get me some other things, and I’m good with that.”

My parents live a few stops further down the commuter rail line than we do, so Mom was already on the train when Gwen and Madison boarded. Ava and I drove them to the station and watched them stand on the platform. Our youngest was doing fine with not participating in this fun little girl-time city adventure until the doors of the train closed behind half of her family, at which point she started crying and wailing about wanting to go along, wanting to be able to ride on a train like her big sister Madison. I tried to cheer her up and make her feel better by stressing how much I was looking forward to spending the day with her, how much I needed her help shopping for food at the supermarket and eating the fresh mozzarella that we planned to buy. And then, after a minute or two of crying, and a minute or two of quiet contemplation, Ava demonstrated once again this amazing ability to find her way through any form of adversity, to thrive in any situation.

“I know, Daddy!” she pronounced with genuine enthusiasm from the back seat. “We’ll make pretend this car is a train!”

I signaled that I thought this was a great idea by motioning as if I was pulling the chain on a whistle that hung in the general area of the rear-view mirror and giving a little “TOOT, TOOT” as we drove, by asking for her ticket and then pretending to punch the little crumpled piece of paper she handed me through the gap between the front seats. Having never ridden on a train before, Ava couldn't have had any idea what I was doing, but she appreciated the show nonetheless. She beamed, and giggled, her little imaginary solution serving as the formal end of the “how come I didn’t get to go into the city with Madison, Mommy and Grandma” portion of the afternoon.

After a successful shop, we shared a nice quiet day at home, the kind that never fails to reaffirm my general belief that if Ava’s diet and level of activity were left under my sole control the chances are excellent she would wind up a 400-pound unmarried TV critic living in Minneapolis. We put away the groceries, had lunch, and devoted the rest of our time together to a mix of the following activities: watching television, snacking, playing Play-Doh, watching television, snacking, reading books, playing with her "I Spy" game while sitting in her princess tent, snacking, watching television, and doing assorted craft activities.

We were knee deep in respective bowls of pasta when Gwen called about 6:30 p.m. to arrange for pick-up at the station about an hour later. I wish I had a picture of Madison walking off the train holding her little American Girl doll. Pure joy, with a small helping of parental pride thrown in as well over this little friend she’d selected. When they got into the car I said, “Is that her? Is that Emily?”

“No, Daddy, this isn’t Emily,” she said. “It’s Michelle!”

Turns out Madison didn’t choose the named model she’d had her eye on, resisted a last-minute temptation to buy the American Girl “2007 Girl Of The Year,” named Nicki, and instead went with a generic little girl with long black hair that she could name and describe on her own. She came up with Michelle because when she first saw the doll it was wearing a bathing suit and she wanted to come up with a name that reminded her of the beach.

I wrote a post over the summer about wanting to remember these kinds of simple and innocent moments, like the time we were driving in Vermont and the girls were totally captivated by a conversation that revolved entirely around what flavors of JELL-O they were going to buy and make. I want to remember yesterday, too. I want to remember the expression of happiness and slightly uncertain anticipation on Madison’s face while she waited on the platform in the morning, and the way she looked about 10 hours later as she ran to the car carrying her doll, after a truly special day that spanned three generations (four, I guess, if you count the newest occupant of our house, Michelle). I want to remember where we are right now, when it's mostly all about dolls and Play-Doh and whether or not there's time enough at the end of the day to have "movie night" between the bath and bed. I want to hang on with both hands to a time when the girls still reluctantly acknowledge that shows like Hannah Montana and High School Musical are "not appropriate" for a 4 and almost-6 year old, when Ava calls the TV remote control the "tre-mote" and still refers to adults as, "ba-dults."

And remembering all of the above will make it easier to forget the moment Gwen and I shared at the back of the car after we pulled into our driveway last night, out of earshot of the girls, as I hauled two enormous red American Girl bags out of the trunk and asked her, “so how much did all this cost me?”

In just six little words, I had my answer.

“You don’t even want to know.”

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Parents: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Toy of Webkinz

I met my first Webkinz stuffed animal toy a couple of months ago, one of Madison’s friends got one and we quickly followed suit. There are 11 in our house now, we’ve discovered that rabbits have nothing on Webkinz when it comes to out-of-control procreation.

An interesting concept, a stuffed animal that comes along with a special printed code used to unlock the “virtual” version of that same creature on the Webkinz Web site. Kids can go online and play with their pet, design a room (or rooms) for them to live in, feed them and dress them in wild and inappropriate outfits without ever risking a scratch or bite from a real live animal that didn't happen to feel like wearing sunglasses or a chef’s hat.

Once a “pet” is activated online, Webkinz offers a helpful and ongoing indication of its general condition and state-of-mind through three 100-point rating scales, ever-present on the screen: Happiness, Health and Hunger. On our first day in Webkinz world, we entered information for Madison’s pet pig and Ava’s grey kitten and found they were both topping out with 100-point scores across all categories. It was fun for about 15 minutes, until the increasingly insistent waves of, “my turn… my turn… Daddy! Can I have a turn? My turn now!” coming from whatever child was not sitting in front of the computer became too much to take.

[Webkinz tip, not provided by the manufacturer – if at all possible, plan on providing a separate computer with dedicated Internet connectivity to each child in your home who cares to play. Wireless routers are fine, as long as each terminal is experiencing guaranteed downstream speeds of at least 10 Mbps. A secondary strategy, workable but not nearly as user friendly, is to sit an egg timer near a single computer to parse available minutes among multiple users. A third option, also not listed in the approved written materials but maybe the best of the bunch, is to never buy one of these things in the first place.]

So right after Ava fed her kitten a pink frosted cupcake (which magically resulted in higher scores in both the “Hunger” and “Health” categories) I was forced to end our maiden voyage with Webkinz to prevent the girls from killing each other over who had the immediate ability to get a little animated figure to walk across a computer screen and hop up on a bed shaped like a football field.

About three weeks went by before we all found ourselves again in front of the computer and someone said something about checking in on the Webkinz. I logged the girls in and prepared for the worst… 21 days without food, water or a new wardrobe. I hoped that at least one of the creatures had survived, so we could all join forces and nurse the remaining Webkinz back to health.

We got to Madison’s page and found… near perfect scores in every category, 100 for Happiness, 98 for Health, 96 for Hunger. We had a few nice moments before the girls again started screaming at each other in a battle for screen time and I had to shut it down and suggest we read a book.

The moment stayed with me, though, as I wondered about the high scores our “pets” were posting after such an extended period without comfort or care, what this extremely popular toy was teaching our children, and the potentially devastating effects on future generations of innocent animals. Surely, the Webkinz experience is vivid enough for young and impressionable minds to believe it is transferable to real live pets. How many polar bears, sheep or dogs out there will someday face days, weeks or months alone in garishly decorated rooms, with only chocolate bars, nacho chips and birthday cake left behind for sustenance?

You can almost see the fine men and women of Animal Planet’s “Animal Precinct” busting through locked doors to find starving, ignored and extensively accessorized animals on the other side.

“What do you think, Bobby, Webkinz?”

They share a knowing glance.

“Webkinz. Absolutely.”

They shake their heads.

“Poor thing, didn't stand a chance."

"Look at the hoofs… God knows how they wedged them into those tap shoes.”