Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Here... diagonally"

If you were a kid in the 1970s you probably remember the commercial for "Connect Four:"
sister: I win!
brother: where, I don't see it
sister: see, here...diagonally
brother: pretty sneaky, sis!
Then the brother - frustrated - would let all the checkers fall to the table in a red and black crescendo worthy of Stendahl.

Now my son is in a "Connect Four" phase. But at five, the concept of diagonal is on a par with astrophysics. Again and again I get to relive that commercial. Except my son, rather than being impressed by my cleverness, is simply bewildered. He does enjoy watching the checkers crash.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Finding Problems with Nemo

Finding Nemo is a charming animated movie about a daddy clownfish on a quest to find his little lost clownfish child. It will occupy your children endlessly, and you can even watch it a few times without getting sap poisoning.

However, there are complications. First, my son went through a phase in which he was anxious about going down the drain. Bathtime was a terrifying experience because of his concerns. I marshaled extensive evidence to prove that he would not go down the drain. There were demonstrations - frequently using objects he could eat: but that could not go down the drain. There were discussions, lectures, diagrams. I employed a multi-pronged full-scale informational campaign to prove that he could not slip down the drain. I used every tool of the Western philosophical tradition - from empirical evidence, to Aristotelian logic, to Socratic dialogues. Finally, he was persuaded.

Then he saw the movie, which includes a scene where Nemo, in fact, goes down the drain. (For Nemo this was a good thing since it allowed him to get out of a fish tank and back to the Great Barrier Reef - but my son saw right through this and will never trust me again.)

Issue Two: Clownfish are really cute, colorful fish. They are also saltwater fish - which means if you put them in a tank at home they will probably die soon. If you really know what you are doing then:
  1. you probably aren't reading this blog, since keeping your fish alive is absorbing your every waking moment and

  2. the fish will die a bit less soon.
Keep this in mind when your children see the clownfish at the pet store and beg to have a real Nemo at home.* You don't want to be the Daddy who killed Nemo. At the "flusheral" your children will wail like walruses in heat (a more tragic and sad sound may you never hear.)

With that in mind, you might be tempted to appease the little tyrants by applying whiteout to a regular goldfish. This is very hard on both you and the goldfish. Touching up more than one goldfish in this manner will almost certainly exceed your emotional, physiological, and chronological capabilities (to say nothing of the goldfish). Worse if you have other goldfish they will tease the painted one mercilessly.

Not to say Finding Nemo isn't a good kids movie. But, like all good things, it comes at a cost.

* I am aware of the irony that Finding Nemo was about a little clownfish escaping to freedom from captivity, and yet your children will want to place a clownfish in captivity. Children, however, are immune to irony (and also to sarcasm). It is a survival mechanism.

You may wish to try to reason with your kids. When they demand a clownfish try to explain this inconsistency. Have fun with that. I understand some people also like jabbing forks in their ears.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Doggie Stories Redux

They were onto me. The kids asked me, over and over again, to read the story of Balto the dog hero. Then they would giggle at me as my voice caught and I choked back my tears. I think my wife instigated this.

So, in revenge, I threw the most poignant dog story ever written at them. (Not Old Yeller, which in comparison seems insipid.) I made them listen as I read (and it took a long time because I kept choking up):
Thus they spoke to one another. And a hound that lay there raised his head and pricked up his ears, Argos, the hound of Odysseus, of the steadfast heart, whom of old he had himself bred, but had no joy of him, for ere that he went to sacred Ilios. In days past the young men were wont to take the hound to hunt the wild goats, and deer, and hares; but now he lay neglected, his master gone, in the deep dung of mules and cattle, which lay in heaps before the doors, till the slaves of Odysseus should take it away to dung his wide lands. There lay the hound Argos, full of vermin; yet even now, when he marked Odysseus standing near, he wagged his tail and dropped both his ears, but nearer to his master he had no longer strength to move. Then Odysseus looked aside and wiped away a tear, easily hiding from Eumaeus what he did; and straightway he questioned him, and said: “Eumaeus, verily it is strange that this hound lies here in the dung. He is fine of form, but I do not clearly know whether he has speed of foot to match this beauty or whether he is merely as table-dogs are, which their masters keep for show.” To him then, swineherd Eumaeus, didst thou make answer and say: “Aye, verily this is the hound of a man that has died in a far land. If he were but in form and in action such as he was when Odysseus left him and went to Troy, thou wouldest soon be amazed at seeing his speed and his strength. No creature that he started in the depths of the thick wood could escape him, and in tracking too he was keen of scent. But now he is in evil plight, and his master has perished far from his native land, and the heedless women give him no care. Slaves, when their masters lose their power, are no longer minded thereafter to do honest service: for Zeus, whose voice is borne afar, takes away half his worth from a man, when the day of slavery comes upon him.” So saying, he entered the stately house and went straight to the hall to join the company of the lordly wooers. But as for Argos, the fate of black death seized him straightway when he had seen Odysseus in the twentieth year.

My social worker mother might consider it child abuse, but a little Homer won't hurt you. If you have lost your Lattimore, forgotten your Fagles, or ton Pope es perdu you can find the complete text of the Illiad and the Odyssey and much else at the Perseus Digital Library.

You can torment your children with it now. But you can dream that in a few decades this stuff will come in handy and get them out of a jam. Then, you'll have an excuse to do your Sean Connery impression (from either Name of the Rose or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and pronounce, "Your classical education serves you well."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hidden Properties of Cheerios

To your bare skin a milk soaked Cheerio feels astonishingly like a booger. Don't walk around barefoot after breakfast. Don't mention this to your kids - otherwise Cheerios become a dual use technology.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Rock, Paper, Ewww!

My son has outgrown Tic-Tac-Toe (although I shouldn't speak to soon.) He has however discovered Rock, Paper, Scissors which is far more action-packed. But, being a boy, he developed his own version: Tongue, Toilet, Booger. Don't ask.*

My son, for some reason, prefers scissors and almost never uses paper at all. This is his secret vulnerability (his Kryptonite if you will). So if you find yourself in a rock, paper, scissors marathon with him play for money and take him for everything he is worth. Just cut me in for a slice.

* OK, you asked - tongue is grossed out by toilet, which in turn is clogged by booger, which is licked by tongue. I told you not to ask.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Playtime II: Fun is what your sibling finds

My father-in-law is a wonderful man, of course. Besides having a beautiful daughter, he came to this country with nothing and worked hard to guarantee decent lives for his children. He is truly a hero and I admire him. I envy him a bit too - his drive and his skill. Among his many talents is that he can build anything. (Also, even in his late seventies he has a great head of hair - which my son will inherit.)

One consequence of his life of working with his hands is that his yard is littered with aged rusty implements and parts - or, as my children like to call them, toys.

Watching my kids fight over a rusty bolt, when a few minutes of searching would probably reveal another one or something even cooler, says something profound about human nature.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Summer Baldbusters

Thanks to the power of marketing all the talk at the Goof household is Pirates and Superman. My little girl saw "Rainbow Beard the Pirate" on Barney and got scared. Now she doesn't like pirates and is constantly announcing, "Pirates! Not nice!" Of course my son, excited by "Pirates of the Caribbean II" (not that he'll be seeing it any time soon) is constantly talking about pirates. And everytime he mentions them, my daughter emphatically states, "Pirates! Not nice! Scary!"

Meanwhile, I have a bone to pick with the "Superman" movie - and it isn't about the glasses. They really can fool you. Lex Luther's baldness just continues to play into the stereotype that bald men are bad men. Besides Lex Luther we have Ming the Merciless, Darth Vader, Egghead, Skeletor, Mr. Clean, and George Costanza. As I enter the ranks of this oppressed minority - I share in their outrage.