Thursday, December 27, 2012

Visit to Philly 2: The Scratch of History

The little Goofs faced the trip to Philly with me with no small amount of trepidation. They know that when faced with historic sites I go into a bit of a frenzy and that my legendary sleep requirements disappear as I seek to vacuum up every possible instant of the past.

In facing the Independence National Historical Park, I told the little Goofs that we would see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall and then we would see.  The little Goofs, dreaming of the hotel pool, acquiesced.

It was cold and blustery, but lines were short and much of the historic district is within a few blocks.  So complaints were minimal.  The liked seeing the Liberty Bell, one of the great icons of our nation and maybe they sort of kind of got the import of what happened at Independence Hall.  I also dragged them into the old Second Bank of the United States (now a National Portrait Gallery) which made me immensely happy and sated some of my obsession with the Age of Jackson.  When the Ranger asked the little Goofs some historical questions, they were remarkably knowledgeable about Vice Presidents, less so about the Presidents.  In discussing John Adams, after GoofGirl determined he didn't make beer, she remarked, "Wasn't he a Vice President?"

The Junior Ranger program is pretty neat for kids GoofGirl's age.  By asking about specific details, it helps kids pay attention to what they are seeing and hearing.  Another plus to the Independence National Historic Park is that it is a bunch of bite-size pieces.  Each building (and there are dozens) is not over-whelming on its own.  So a strategic parent picks and chooses a few, and avoids overwhelming their children.

Naturally, with all of the historic wonders in Philadelphia, the little Goofs were immensely taken with the extendable back scratchers that look like eagle claws.  Normally I reject these demands.  But the little Goofs then started scratching my back with them and well...
I may go months without having my back scratched, but once the process is initiated, it needs to be seen through with the entire layer of skin sloughed off.  So I had to give in.

"No, one for each of us!" This was so they could carry the back-scratchers around and duel with them.

I agreed after extracting an agreement to visit an additional site besides the previously agreed upon Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

I'm glad I did.

Here Comes Franklin
Also, because Franklin Court (the visit they conceded) was very cool.  The home of the future site of the Benjamin Franklin Museum, it includes the archaeological dig at a home built and rented out by Franklin and Franklin's print shop.

The dig at the home owned by Franklin revealed a wealth of artifacts that gave insight into life in the late 1700s, including toiletries - that caught GoofGirl's attention.

In the print shop we learned how a teen-aged Ben Franklin was an apprentice printer, so he worked long hours in the print shop.  Eighteenth century printing presses involved people physically pressing the paper onto the type - it was a job requiring strength and skill.

"Was he paid?" GoofGirl wanted to know.

"No," the Ranger explained, "He was given room and board and the opportunity to learn a skill."

"It would have been better if he had been paid!" GoofGirl declared.

I wonder if the 18th century maybe had a few things to recommend it.

We are still discussing what to do tomorrow.  There is plenty more to see at the Independence National Historic Site and we could always go back to the Franklin Institute.  But Philly has a plethora of buildings that have that "abandoned asylum" look, one we passed was re-purposes as a childcare center.  It would be neat to check one out and the opportunity exists: Eastern State Penitentiary (America's Most Historic Prison) is open for tours.  Looks interesting, plus on returning to school after break the little Goofs could report that over winter break, "Daddy took us to prison!"

Visit to Philly and the Franklin Institute

The Goofs are having a less than ideal winter break.  MamaGoof has been called to LA on family business leaving the little Goofs in the hands of yours truly.  They miss their mom and kind of want to do something over their winter break (not that they hate watching TV and breaking in their new electronics.)

So I arranged to take them to Philadelphia.  I promised not to overwhelm them with boring history stuff (although it is Philly, so some is unavoidable.). I promised MamaGoof that I wouldn't take them to Paddy's Pub.  Plus it was a chance for the little Goofs to spend some time with their beloved cousins and aunt and uncle.

GoofGirl was thrilled by this little excursion, since it would involve staying at a hotel where we would acquire yet more toiletries.  Her odd little hobby is becoming a bit of an obsession.

GoofBoy wasn't as certain, but a road trip meant we would get closer to finishing Watership Down.

It is a short trip, just an overnight.  So we agreed day one would by the Franklin Institute and day two (tomorrow) would be the history stuff.

So a few things to know about the Franklin Institute.  First it is pretty awesome, second children are required to walk through the giant heart and stand at the top (it's a ventricle or an oracle or a treacle or something) and wave while their parent/grandparent/guardian/probation officer takes their picture.  Seriously, you will not be allowed to leave if you don't do this.  You might not be allowed to leave anyway - we had a lot of trouble getting around and out of the building.  I had this experience once before, at the CircusCircus Casino in Vegas in which the rooms are all designed in non-standard geometric shapes.  In fairness, I was drunk at CircusCircus - although at the Franklin Institute I may have been drunk on science.  The parking lot is also confusing, it was apparently built long before cars.

But don't let any of my snide comments keep you from going - we loved it and even bought an annual membership.  For us the highlights were the Titanic exhibit which contains artifacts recovered from the shipwreck - including, and this simply blew GoofGirl's mind - turn of the century toiletries.  Her little mind boggled at the possibilities.

We also liked a show in the Planetarium about black holes.  It was huge frightening and a tough reminder of just how tiny we are in the unimaginably vast cosmos.  It was also narrated by Lliam Neeson, who "took us to the dark side" of modern physics.

As always, we finished at the gift shop, which often bests the museum.  The little Goofs always want rocks.  Surprisingly they didn't want the Ben Franklin action figure.  Philly is a strange town, but it's growing on me.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Have Yourselves a Very Goofy Christmas

As confirmed Jews, Goof family Christmas traditions are a bit thin.  We do have the fond memory of several Christmases seeing the segments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and then meeting for sushi.  Traditionally Jews eat Chinese on Christmas, but we aren't Orthodox so our tradition allows some flexibility.  As we sat down, my father - as is his custom (not a Jewish thing, just him) - took a handkerchief and honked his brains out - alerting the his family, the wait-staff, and much of the East Coast that he was now prepared to eat.

"It's the Horn of Gondor!" I yelled.

Holiday memories...

Goofs of Christmas Past
But we do have a few other memories, most notably my efforts to educate the little Goofs about this holiday that 90% of the people in the country celebrate.  It has been an uphill struggle since so much of what easily accessible pop culture produces about Christmas is so profoundly dreadful - including an animated musical based on the song, "Grandma Got Run Over a by Reindeer" (which includes the worst Christmas song, and possibly the worst song ever.

Our Christmas memories are most about movies from the Alvin and the Chipmunks to the Chronicles of Narnia.

And once in a while, I get a slight sense of something deeply spiritual in the air.

Ghosts of Christmas Presents
But really, during Christmas I think of China.

Cheap toys have changed childhood.  For the most part I am jealous of kids today, but I am not sure these cheap toys are not a Manchurian plot to further the American spiral into decadence by lowering our already weak ability to defer gratification and making us dumber.

However, if our leadership were clever, they would turn this Chinese plot on it head by adopting my Nobel-nominated Show and Tell stimulus plan to turn the American economy around.

Ghosts of Christmas Future
I have DVR'd It's a Wonderful Life and plan to watch it with the little Goofs tomorrow.  There will be many questions, but it is a cultural touchstone and they should be familiar with it.  I watched a few minutes tonight - I had forgotten how sweet it is, how easily it tugs at our emotions.

That being said, I expect the little Goofs to just wonder how people survived before the invention of color, "Is that what things looked like when Bubbe and Pop were little?"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Toiletry Obsession II: The Game

GoofGirl's hobby of collecting toiletries has become a bit of a cause in our circle.  When friends travel, it is now de rigueur that they return with toiletries from their jaunts.  When a bit of work took me to Minneapolis, during phone calls GoofGirl sighed through my excited descriptions of Twin Cities architecture, and demanded, "But did you get toiletries?"

When MamaGoof had to make an emergency trip to LA, GoofGirl was extremely disappointed that she was staying with family, not a hotel.  On the other hand, winter break offers enormous opportunities.  Having informed all of her classmates of her requirements, she looks forward to new additions from locations around the country including Hawaii.

People readily seem to follow her commands.

The Hobby Evolves
But what exactly was she doing with her stash?  Was she some sort of odd cross between Smaug and Mr. Clean?

This weekend, I found out.  First she is carefully cataloging her collection.  But that isn't all.

Saturday morning I woke up to her staring down at me.

"Good, you are awake.  Do you want to play the toiletries game?"

"Um, I am going to need coffee..."

But there was no escaping the toiletries game, so after coffee and breakfast we played a round.

First, I put a blindfold on.  Then GoofGirl pours her collection out in front of me and mixes it up.  I then have to re-sort the toiletries based on where they were acquired.  I can touch them and I can smell them.

I did not do very well.  I managed to get some of the like shaped and sized bottles together.  But many, and of course the soaps and shower caps, were simply beyond me.  Much to GoofGirl's disappointment I did not bother to smell them, she mocked my incompetence.  When it was over she rolled her eyes, "Daddy how could you think those lotions came from the same place?  You should have smelled them, then you would have known!"

Then it was her turn.  Same process, I watched as, blindfolded, she systematically held and compared various bottles of lotion and shampoo - occasionally sniffing them.  She did extremely well.

GoofBoy wandered by as she was playing and remarked, "Did she get you to play too?"

"Yup, I was terrible, she is totally destroying me at this."

"Yeah, me too.  She owns this."

There is strange and there is strange.  GoofBoy is an astoundingly regular little boy and I was Captain Nerd in my day.  But nerd stuff is now pretty mainstream.  GoofGirl and her toiletries are a different kind of weird.

And yet, watching her careful, systematic process as she matched like with like using her hands, her nose, and her memory I couldn't help but be impressed.

She is teaching herself something - and I have a feeling it's gonna be awesome.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Return of CarpoolGal!

So my regular carpool was on a bit of hiatus, thus robbing me of material.  I cannot begin to explain the whole story, but somehow other parents have been willing, again, to trust me with the transportation of their children.

Although, given this news from New Zealand I may not be running carpool much longer.

But carpool is back, and that means quality time with CarpoolGal.  In between GoofBoy's counterpart CarpoolBuddy and GoofGirl's counterpart 3C sits CarpoolGal.  This hasn't always been easy for her.  In the absence of their counterparts CarpoolGal gets along great with GoofGirl, treating her like the little sister she always wanted (as opposed to 3C, the little sister she actually has.)  She even gets along well with GoofBoy, who is ambivalent about girls in general.  Once, when carpool was just CarpoolGal and GoofBoy the two insisted on a play date together.  They drew pictures, GoofBoy drawing scenes from Star Wars and CarpoolGal drawing flowers for families at a homeless shelter.

But most days that counterparts are present and CarpoolGal is left out.  She bears this well, keeping a book with her or just being patient while GoofGirl and 3C plot and scheme and GoofBoy and CarpoolBuddy discuss bodily excretions and football.  It also means we can chat.  CarpoolGal and I have a bit of a history.  When the boys were toddlers we would get them together to play (mostly running around and falling down together.)

And since I often volunteer to watch the kids, I would play with CarpoolGal.  I tell her she helped me practice playing with little girls so that I was ready when GoofGirl was born.

I remember once, when CarpoolMom had a flat tire and couldn't pick up CarpoolGal from an appointment so she called me (rarely am I doing anything that can't be interrupted).  When I arrived, the people who had charge of her did the correct thing to ensure I wasn't some stranger wandering in and taking children.  So they went into the room where CarpoolGal was waiting and explained I was coming to pick her up and did she know who I was.

I heard an audible "Yea!"

That was the first of many lovely chats on the drive home.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Miracle of Sibling Affection

One thing about parenthood that startles me is that my children seem to really like one another.  This morning, they played together.  They had just spent two days together with the GrandGoofs, so I figured they would be sick of each other.  But they reported that Bubbe and Pop kept them so busy they didn't really have any time together.  Every once in a while, they actually insist on a playdate with each other.

GoofGirl and I have had a number of adventures recently, and last week when I proposed another she asked urgnetly, "Can my brother come?"

I won't say they always get along perfectly, of course they squabble.  But even their squabbles are remarkable.  Driving the other day they were snapping at each other and I yelled at them to stop it.  GoofGirl yelled back at me, "Dad - let us work it out!"

Fair enough, it just isn't how I remember things.  My brother and I fought every day we were in one another's presence until he turned 15 and was suddenly very strong.  I was an almost completely terrible big brother.  I did not like this other person in my house.

At my brother's bris (the ritual circumcision performed eight days after a male child is born) I had to be sent to my room because I was telling everyone in attendance, "You know, he is ruining my life!"

I was not quite four years old.

It went downhill from there.

At one point BubbeGoof, exhausted with our fighting, yelled, "You two fight like Cain and Abel!"

"Huh?" we said, looking up as from trying to smash each others face into the linoleum tiled kitchen floor.

So BubbeGoof read us the story of Cain and Abel.  But with one glitch.  She meant to read, "And Cain set upon his brother."

But it came out differently, she read, "And Cain sat upon his brother."

And so I followed the example of Cain, repeatedly.

My wife remembers the first time she met my brother the family dinner devolved into my brother and I throwing Sweet & Lo packets at each other and then head-butting each other up and down the stairs. I was well into my twenties...

I thought that was how brothers were, that this was human nature.  Years later, when I read Thomas Hobbes (the "life is nasty, brutish and short" guy) it made perfect sense.  But the little Goofs show that human nature is not only brutal.

In retrospect, maybe it was just me.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Adventures with GoofGirl

The Zoo
A few weeks ago GoofGirl seemed kind of down and I promised her an adventure.  We decided on the zoo.  We headed straight for the big cats and were pleased to see the lions out and tussling - not just sitting around looking majestic.  I roared at them, and when people turned to look at me I said, "I know a little lion - but my accent is terrible."

We saw monkeys of every size and shape.  GoofGirl pointed out certain species as being good candidates as helpers for her brother (who has gotten it into his head that he needs a monkey).

We went through the invertebrate house and the reptile house.  We headed down to check out the seals.  I let GoofGirl lead the way, but she still seemed a bit down.  There were some rocks by the seal pool and GoofGirl started climbing on them.  She likes climbing on rocks.  Then she saw the sign "Do Not Climb on Rocks."  A full-scale pout began to emerge.

I told her she should climb on the rocks, and she did.  A little boy with his dad came by and pointed at us, "Hey they are climbing on the rocks!"

He pointed at the sign, "You aren't supposed to climb on those rocks."

"I think you are right," I told him.  "She'll get down in a minute, thanks for letting us know."

The dad looked embarrassed, he had undoubtedly just told his son that he couldn't climb on the rocks and here we were - blatant scofflaws.  Sometimes it's good to be the bad guy.

We headed over to the Amazonia exhibit and checked out these cousins of the piranha that only eat fruit - they can strip a mango down to its pit in minutes.  GoofGirl still seemed a bit unhappy, so we left the Amazonia exhibit and talked for a minute.

She told me what was bothering her.  I didn't really have any answers, but I guess talking about it lightened up her mood because in a few minutes we were buzzing around the zoo.  We saw the giant pandas, then we saw the red pandas, which GoofGirl insists are even cuter!

We split a Coke.

She even allowed me to visit the elephants, even though she doesn't care much for them herself.  When we saw them I trumpeted as loud as I could.  People turned to look at me and I said, "I know a little elephant - but my accent is terrible."

"Daddy, you made that joke before!" GoofGirl scolded.

"But they didn't hear it before," I explained.

GoofGirl nodded, knowingly.

We found a cool fishing cat, saw the zebras, and said hi to the cheetahs - who will always have a special place in my heart.  Then at the gift shop she found something cool - besides a stuffed animal - and I got it for her.

The Cathedral
The next weekend I took GoofGirl to a play-date in town.  It was a schlep for me and the driving back and forth wrecked my day, but it was a friend GoofGirl really wanted to see.

On the way home, GoofGirl yelled, "What's that?"

"The National Cathedral," I told her.

"It looks neat..."

"You want to take a look?"

So we parked, and in the fading light took a quick walk around the grounds.  The place bears a striking resemblance to Hogwarts.  Then we went inside.  There was a service in the main sanctuary, so instead of exploring it we headed to the gift shop which was in the Crypt.

The Crypt contains three chapels and a gazillion rooms, corridors and winding staircases.  It was pretty cool.  No services were in progress downstairs, so while we certainly weren't loud or disrespectful - we enjoyed being in this fascinating place, and hearing the choir boys - just released from duty - horse around.  GoofGirl was full of questions about religion which I am sadly ill-equipped to answer.  But this was secondary to the exploring.

We didn't have much time.  We both had homework to do and it was getting late.  We barely scratched the surface of the wonders of the building - and a concert was starting just as we had to go.  Both of us paid a price for falling behind on our work.

But when you have a chance to see something marvelous - take it.