Thursday, December 24, 2009

Manchurian Monopoly?

Around this time of year, my thoughts turn to China. Both because the flood of inexpensive toys has changed childhood and because of my Nobel nominated plan to save the economy through the purchase of said toys.

Again this year, my thoughts turn to the Panda and its efforts to drive Santa's Workshop out of business. Elves don't work cheap and there is real price competition from Keebler. The Chinese Santa on labor costs every time.

My mom noticed my son really liked playing Monopoly with his grandfather - probably because he kept winning. Just as my son regularly bests me at Risk even though I study international affairs, he beats his real estate attorney grandfather at Monopoly. So that game jumped to the top of the gift list.

Little Goof got the new-fangled version in which players buy cities instead of Atlantic City real estate and an electronic device registers transactions and keeps track of the money. One of the great advantages of board games over video games is the limited level of beeping - the new version of Monopoly however is as noisy as a Gameboy.

I couldn't help but notice that everything in the box was made in the USA - except the electronic banker. I'd love to say that this does not bode well for America's future - that we make the cardboard and the Chinese make the complex electronic component. But I'm not sure that's the case, since the intellectual property - the game itself is - was invented here in the US and that's where the action is.

Still, I worry a bit about America's future. I remember a short story by the great science fiction writer Alfie Bester. Earth was in a cold war with another planet and the story was about the government unit that examined toys imported from this planet, to make sure that the toys did not hide something dangerous. In the story the unit was focusing on a robot that built things on its own, certain it could turn violent. They quickly looked over a futuristic Monopoly game (thorium mines on Mars, colonies on Venus etc.) and decided it was harmless, still focusing on the robot. One of the team members brought the game home for his kids - who took to it right away. But their parents didn't notice the object of the game was lose money as quickly as possible.

My son's new Monopoly could also be part of an insidious plot against America - it eliminates the need for any skill at arithmetic. Is this a similar devious plot (and do the Chinese read Alfie Bester?) In fairness, this may be a self-inflicted wound, the game-maker merely asking the Chinese to build a device to make the game easier on slothful Americans. In the game itself, the cities that can be purchased are not grouped by any logic I can detect - thus simultaneously undermining American's already shaky hold on geography. Fortunately, we have still have Risk to balance this out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Accidental Veterans Day

I regret to say that the Goof clan did not do anything special for Veterans Day. There is no excuse. America’s veterans made great sacrifices to ensure the freedom that we enjoy every day. We didn’t even go to a Veterans Day sale – and truly our Veterans made their great sacrifices thinking that their children, and their children’s children could enjoy the opportunity to purchase discount mattresses and kitchenware.

But I did take the little Goofs to the bookfair at their school. Each of them was permitted to purchase two items. I didn’t look at their purchases carefully (it was the school bookfair, so I wasn’t really worried about the appropriateness of the material.)

But at bedtime, my daughter dropped her current book and had me read the new one, introducing me to Piper Reed: Navy Brat (by Kimberly Willis Holt). Piper’s dad is a Navy NCO who fixes jets and is called Chief. His family has to move a lot because that is the life of a navy family. And sometimes he has to go away for long stretches on ships.

Goofgirl found this fascinating and asked if I could join the Navy and then we could live in different places, have adventures, and get a dog (because Piper has one.)

First and foremost, there is no military service that could make use of me – I am allergic to responsibility and require a lot of naps. But, putting that aside, I explained to Goofgirl, “If I were in the Navy I would have to go away on ships for a long time and you’d miss me.”

“No, we could all go with you.”

“No sweetheart. In the Navy, the daddies or the mommies go away on the ships for months. The kids don’t come because it can be dangerous. They are protecting us and sometimes to do that they have to go away for a long time.”

Her eyes got a little wide as it all sunk in. She didn’t know it was Veterans Day, but she did get an inkling of their sacrifices.

Meanwhile, Piper has taken her rightful place in the pantheon of my daughter’s literary heroes, next to Ramona, Junie B. Jones, Cam Jansen, and Judy Moody.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wisdom of Eight

I was asking my son about an after-school activity. He hadn't been able to decide if he wanted to participate or not.

Finally, after a couple of days he told me he didn't want to do it.

"You like the activity, don't you?" I asked.


"So why don't you want to do it?"

"Because," GoofBoy explained, "It's on Thursday. That's the day of my easiest homework and I just like to finish it up and relax."

What a great answer. This is one wise kid.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Carpool Intrigue

As I put her to bed tonight my daughter cried miserably about tomorrow.

"What's wrong sweetie?"

"I don't like school."

"But you do like school. You always tell me that. You are friends with everyone in your class and your teachers are really nice and love you."

"I know. But I don't like carpool!"

"But you get to hangout with your friend 3C*."

"I know, but I don't like it how you do whatever CarpoolGirl tells you to do!"

"What does she tell me to do?

"She is always telling you to put on the air conditioning and you just do it for her! It isn't fair"

"Can I tell you a secret sweetheart. I tell CarpoolGirl I am doing it just to get her to be quiet. I don't really do it!"

"Oh Daddy! I love you! I am going to tell 3C about this."

"No - if you tell your friend she will tell her sister, that will ruin things. Let's just keep this our secret. Can you do that?"

"What if I whisper it?" she whispers.

"No, that isn't a secret - put this one in the vault!"

Even though I haven't let her watch Seinfeld, she mimed putting something in her head and turning a key. So she doesn't get the concept of secret, but she gets "the vault?"

I need to find out what she's learning in kindergarten.

*Names are changed to protect the innocent. Our two kids are in a carpool with another family. GoofBoy and CarpoolBuddy have been friends since birth as have GoofGirl and 3C - CarpoolGal falls between her two siblings and thus has no one to talk to in carpool but me. Much of our conversation takes the form of orders.

Friday, November 06, 2009

A Quantum of Solace in the World Series

As a home of devoted Yankee-haters we are unhappy with the World Series outcome. But there is one small point of satisfaction. GoofBoy was becoming convinced that he was the cause of the losses. I let him stay up late and watch games 3 & 4. Through tears he told me, “Whenever I watch a game the team I root for loses, always, always!”

He blamed himself (he gets that habit from me.) I calmly told him that this was unreasonable. He began citing examples. He marshaled qualitative and quantitative data supporting his position. He noted the many instances of times when he rooted for the favored team and it lost, whereas when he made predictions about possible winners but did not watch the game he was very accurate. He had many specific examples going back for most of his life. The raw numbers were impressive and the findings were statistically significant.

The dad in me wanted to offer comfort, but the grad student in me was getting excited. What if my son were a living demonstration of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle who affected events just by observing them? Think of the groundbreaking research.

I tried to convince my son that this was a super-power.

“But dad…” he looked miserable.

“I know it’s a sacrifice, but that’s how it is with special powers. You think Spiderman has it easy, or Harry Potter, or Shazam?”

He had to go to bed early Monday night and the Phillies won. GoofBoy was pleased because it meant the Yankees lost, but it did nothing to relieve his concerns for his curse. He envisioned a long future of rooting for losers. I tried to console him with the lessons to be learned in loss. I told him how Toots Shor used to make his son watch the Mets because, “I want him to know life. It’s a history lesson. He’ll understand the depression.”

The cultural references were lost on him. Meanwhile visions of fellowships were dancing in my head.

Then the Phillies lost the series Wednesday night. He didn’t watch. The next morning when I told him, GoofBoy was pretty upset.

“Hey Buddy,” I explained, “Think on the bright side. You weren’t watching. They lost without you. It wasn’t because of you.”

GoofBoy looked at me gravely (well, as gravely as a little boy in spaceship pajamas can) and said, “I’m sorry dad.”

“For what?”

“Well, if I had the power to make teams lose by rooting for them, I would have learned to love the Yankees. I know you would have disowned me as your son for being a Yankees fan, but you would be so happy because then the Yankees would always lose.”

“Buddy, no…” I began.

“It’s ok dad, I thought about what you said, about Spiderman. With great power comes great responsibility. If I could make the Yankees lose, then I have to do it.”

“But we’ve proven it buddy, you don’t have the power so don’t worry about it. A little boy shouldn’t have that much responsibility. Harry Potter only had to fight Voldemort – not the Bronx Bombers.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Flu Fun

FatherGoof has the flu. I like it more than I should because MamaGoof takes such good care of me – making me soup, bringing me tea, fluffing my pillow. I may never get better. I know I’m lucky, but I’m also not used to this. My mom didn’t do sick. She would always say, “I’m no Florence Nightingale.”

True enough, more like Florence Meaningale.

Schools wouldn’t let us attend with fevers. So, forced to keep up home, my mother would leave us home, with nothing but broadcast television and flat gingerale. (The healing powers of old episodes of Bewitched and My Three Sons have not been adequately explored in medical research – after a couple hours of that I couldn’t wait to get back to school and fail a couple of quizzes.)

I believe this kind of treatment would now, in these gentler and more civilized times, result in the children being placed in the productive custody of social services. The irony being that my mother was a social worker with social services. But, as a good Trotskyite, she no doubt felt nursing ill family members was a bourgeois affectation. Her children, with the many advantages of their class had no need for extra treatment, whereas her impoverished charges at work required her ministrations. Besides, it was a chance to do some fieldwork for the cause. (I’m sure exposure to the Marxist dialectic helped a lot of kids get better, I’d guess 10 minutes of Marx equals an episode of The Little Rascals in healing properties).

Besides, mom would tell me, all illness (clearly the product of poor proletariat working conditions) would be eliminated after the revolution came.

So being sick as a grown-up is better than it should be. But because it is the flu I am trying to stay away from my kids. I really miss them and my daughter is upset that she can’t hug me. That really makes me want to get better.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Tragedy Averted: A Tale of Arms

The other day my daughter hurt herself on the monkey bars (with
evolution you win some and you lose some – she cannot swing like our
hairier forebears.) This entailed professional consultation with
doctors (we decided to skip the lawyers and not sue.)

But I had class, so my wife had to take my son with her to the medical
center – thankfully he has gone through the reading transformation.
As long as he has an interesting book – he isn’t bored. I rushed
over from school and found my son waiting outside the X-Ray room,
grinning. I went in to see his unhappy sister and my also unhappy
wife. GoofGirl wouldn’t move her arm in the desired positions for the
X-Ray. This is very bad. First, I don’t want my daughter suffering.
Second, if she has actually broken her arm our life becomes much less
good until it heals. Baths, meals, everything will become
twenty-times the hassle it already is – and we are talking about a
five year-old girl here, so everything is already a hassle!

I walk out grimly, and tell my son about my concerns. He looks at me
with a smile and says, “Dad, there’s one good thing.”

“What’s that,” I ask distracted.

“Remember when you first met mommy and you told me she worked in a
building with labs and that some of the labs had radioactive
material,” he hasn’t paused for a breath yet, this is how little boys
talk, “and you kept asking mommy if she could get you into the lab to
lick something radioactive and get super-powers and mommy wouldn’t let
you even though you showed her Incredible Hulk comics to prove


“Well here we are,” he said and pointed at the radiation sign on the
door of the X-Ray room, “Now you can get your super-powers.

And he laughed, and laughed, and laughed. I couldn’t help but join in.

Mom sent us upstairs to get flu shots – as long as we were there.
This took the edge off of his humor. While sitting in the waiting
area I told him my cel-phone could freeze time. He said it couldn’t. So I would press a button and tell him I had just stopped time, but he couldn’t tell because he had been stopped with it.

We spent a while arguing about whether or not he needed a flu shot.

“Remember the time we both got sick and we played temperature buddies?” I asked.

“Yeah, that was great.”

“Not for me it wasn’t, you are getting a flu shot.”

I went first. While the prepped me he chatted about football with the technician. When I was ready he kept looking at the rather long needle. “Don’t look at the needle, look at my face. You will see that I barely react because it doesn’t really hurt.”

He was skeptical – any needle that long and nasty has to hurt. He watched the needle anyway but when it was his turn he went through it without a whimper. Then we went back to the waiting area. We could have gone home, but he wanted to wait and see if his sister was ok. Also, the The Jetsons were on the TV.

His sister bounced out, having been examined and getting her flu shot. She said her arm hurt – but not because of the monkey bar incident – because of the flu shot. Apparently while manipulating her arm to get the right X-Ray angle, something popped back into place.

At home it was late and the kids had to go right to bed. They said they were too tired to get into their pajamas, so I had to do it manually. While doing this, they laughed and said it was just like on The Jetsons. A new inside family joke is born.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Holiday Meals with Love

The Goof clan has survived Rosh Hashonah yet again. Welcome 5770.

A high point of our holiday was Mama Goof's quiche. It is always such a hit, that as a public service I have written up (and embellished) the instructions and put them online.

Nonetheless, do not necessarily expect similar results. Mama Goof (now joined by GoofGirl) insist the secret ingredient is love. Ironic that a love-based dish is so bad for the heart.

Quiche non-Lorraine

(Terms that are underlined and in italics refer to the royal we)

Required Supplies

• Pastry shell

• 1 1/4 cups (about 6 oz.) diced or thinly sliced swiss cheese (remember when measuring to take the holes into account)

• 4 (four) eggs – chicken preferably – do not use ostrich eggs (the baking process could cause them to mutate and hatch creating a horrible lactosaurus)

• 1 1/4 cups whipping cream (make sure to pronounce the h in whipping, whipped will also work, but who wants sullen cream?)

• 1/2 cup milk

• 1-2 cups of frozen chopped spinach or sliced mushrooms (if you wish – we find it quite tasty)

Some people include nutmeg, some people believe the universe rests on the back of a giant turtle – neither applies to us nor should it apply to you


i. Evenly distribute cheese (and mushrooms or spinach if you choose to include them) over the bottom of the baked pastry shell

ii. Beat eggs (mercilessly – but don’t enjoy it, that’s creepy) until blended then mix well with cream and milk

iii. Pour over cheese (ingest lactase enzyme tablets)

iv. Bake at 325 degrees for about 40 minutes or until custard appears firm when pan is gently shaken (amongst the chichi quichey circles this is known as “Custard’s Last Stand”)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Too Much Shofar

We are preparing for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year – which initiates a period of contemplation but also of joy.

My wife is barefoot in the kitchen (but not pregnant – leaving the trifecta incomplete – but I have no complaints she’s making brisquit.) My daughter has a friend over and my son is giving them lessons on how to blow the shofar – it sounds like an oboe but with less pitch.

My son got a new shofar from a class trip to the shofar factory. The new shofar has the twin virtues of being much easier to blow and of stinking like a ram’s horn processed with lye (because that’s what a shofar is and how it is made). My daughter’s friend, a little girl in pink, has a surprising knack for getting a bleat out of the shofar. It is a trick, you don’t really blow – you sort of purse your lips and spit. No doubt my training my son in flatulence noise impressions has helped to prepare him to become a shofar prodigy.

My daughter’s friend’s surprise talent has two consequences. First, my son, under the guise of “teaching” issues multiple, lengthy blasts of sound and urges his pupil to follow his examples. It is kind of like dueling banjos but without the snappy tune.

The second consequence is that GoofGirl hides under the dining room table sobbing loudly that she can’t do anything right – a vocal accompaniment that is appropriate to the cacophony. Also, the living room is starting to stink as each blast from GoofBoy’s shofar showers the room in the smell of dried marrow and lye.

Defusing the Shofar
OK. First, I disarm GoofGirl’s friend – the accelerator in a volatile situation. It isn’t her house, so she is inclined to be obedient. Then I need to stop my son, the trigger if you will. I tell him we cannot talk sports if he keeps blowing his shofar. I will pay for this later.

Now for the detonation mass: my daughter is under the table sobbing. I get down to her level and begin telling her a story:
When the Jewish people were freed from Egypt the saw Hashem at Mt. Sinai. They could only look for a few minutes because Hashem is so great, powerful, and awesome.

How can you see Hashem daddy?

You can see Hashem in everything, but this time, thousands of years ago the Jewish people saw Hashem directly – not through something else. The sound they heard was like a powerful shofar, so that is a very special sound for us.

But, the rabbis say…

Are you a rabbi daddy?

No, you know that. But listen anyway, even if it’s just me telling you. The rabbis say that the most important thing about the shofar isn’t to be able to blow it – it is to hear it. Because the shofar is a call for us to try to be better people, grow up a little bit more in the coming year (even if you are already a grown-up.) Anyone can learn to blow the shofar with a little practice. But being a better person is really hard. I know you are upset, but you are also being a little jealous. You should be happy for your friend that she has a talent.
My daughter had a retort – but my wife, cut my “Father Knows Best” schtick short with a flanking maneuver.

“Who wants cookies?”

Everyone sits down and my son begins, “Dad, do you want to know how I think the Orioles should change their line-up?”

Not really, but I am trying to be a better person…

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Talk

My wife was telling me about what her colleagues at work say about discussing the "birds and the bees" with their children. This is something I would be happy to put off as long as possible. I've already decided to keep GoofGirl in a burqa. GoofBoy, by comparison, should be easy to handle. I know how to keep girls away from him. I'll give him time-tested advice. I will tell him every technique, trick, and move I've got (mostly stolen from Seinfeld episodes). If that doesn't keep the girls away - far away - I don't know what will.

At least that's how they worked for me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Incentives for Play

My son wants to play sports, any sport, all the time. His sister would be a perfect opponent, except for a crippling lack of interest in any sport at any time (except for boxing – an interest I strongly encourage because one day she will be fifteen.)

After breakfast, my son invented pajama dodge. That is they throw their pajamas at each other. This is the kind of sport GoofGirl can go for, at least for a while. She enjoyed the novelty of throwing her clothes around. But my son really wanted orderly tournament level play.

GoofBoy is also a wonderful big brother (most of the time) and he has been known to give his sister massages (yes he will undoubtedly make some girl happy in a decade or so – assuming I let him live that long.)

So he gave his sister an incentive to really play, offering her massages when she wins. It worked. GoofGirl focused and bore down. Grunting as she hurled balled up pajama bottoms and tops at her brother. Her brother, though older, stronger, faster, and more experienced was cornered. He tried to counter with psychological warfare (trash-talking.) But his sister was nonplussed, yelling, “I’m just doing it for my massage.”

After a bit more battering GoofBoy conceded and paid up. As he worked on her back and feet (kindergarten is pretty stressful) she smiled and sighed. My son smiled too, he wanted a worthy opponent and he created one.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The President Speaks to My Son

In a few hours my kids will be exposed to the President, I rather look forward to it – or at least the aftermath.

I don’t think the speech will turn my kids into Communists, an outcome I kind of expect anyway (my Trotskyite father’s revenge – he wanted a red diaper baby, I gave him every color but…)

Based on the prepared remarks it looks like the same kind of pap that principals, teachers, and other good citizens (including occasionally parents) try to tell kids daily – rife with earnestness and a few lame attempts at humor. Will the kids buy it because it comes from THE PRESIDENT? Does the President believe that they will buy it because he says it? He has daughters. He can’t possibly believe this. I’m sure when he pontificates at the dinner table Sasha and Malia roll their eyes at their dad, just like every other daughter in history. (Please don’t tell me this is just me.)

I am looking forward to a different aspect of this Presidential address. My son seems to believe that it will be a two-way communication. I have not discouraged this notion. My son likes to talk about sports. He attempts to discuss them with me incessantly even though my sports knowledge effectively ends with Wee Willie Keeler. My son is hoping to talk sports with the President. My son would also like to talk sports with his sister, his grandparents (who reject athletics as an element of bourgeois cultural hegemony) dogs, light fixtures… and you.

I told my son that the President would love to talk sports with him, but his stick in the mud teachers will probably try to keep him quiet.

I look forward to this afternoon’s phone call.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Dreams of the Future@Work

So Father Goof is back at the office. Not just his beloved (albeit untidy) home office - his actual office where he shows up on occasion lest his boss forget he works there. The best thing about my office is my chair. I inherited it from my grandmother who died eighteen years ago. It is ugly (and a little funky - not in a jazz club sort of way either.) When my wife first came over she looked around and did a mental calculation, "He can stay, but that chair has got to go."

But I held on, through several apartments and for more than five years in our house. Finally, as we re-did the den she out-maneuvered me and I could not protect it any longer. Fortunately, I had just moved to a new office and found it a new home there - where no one can come between us. Because it may be hideous, and I'm not sure blanket helps - like putting a muumuu on a camel - but it is really comfortable chair.

In fact, when people come to my office to meet with me, they make a beeline for the chair.

One thing about my work is that it comes in odd bursts that break the leisurely cycle and call for long days and occasional all-nighters. Father Goof isn't complaining (after all I get to keep my chair at my office), just saying. So after a recent bout of long days, I had to come into the office for some meetings. I dropped off the kids, drove in, and, exhausted, got to work, planted myself in my chair and realized...

I'm George Jetson (except for the giant talking dog, robot servant, and hover car...) a pretty cool life outcome, better then I would have guessed thirty years ago.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thanks TSA

Generally, the TSA rules about liquids on flights have been a huge inconvenience to parents. Of the 119 items required for any movement with children, a huge percentage are liquids (yoghurt, lotion, nips of vodka - for me) that are now banned on flights. So be it. But during a trip to LA, these rules were just a tiny bit helpful.

As usual, the kids spent more time at the museum gift shop then we did at the La Brea Tar Pits.

This may have partially been my fault. The educational film about animals getting caught forever made a big impression and my own jokes tossing them in made the little Goofs a little nervous. Also, at the site, the major tar pits are fenced off, but there are little tar pits bubbling up all over the park so the chance that they would stumble into one and be trapped seemed all too real. (Truthfully, the only real danger is that Mama Goof would yell at them for getting tar all over their shoes - but that wouldn't have been a sufficient deterrent on its own).

At the gift shop, Goofboy selected this little flimsy plastic bag filled with colored liquid - an item almost certain to (like a bomb) burrow its way into our luggage and explode. But, thanks to the TSA, I could tell him we couldn't take the thing home. Rulings emanating from me may be arbitrary - but he respects the airport men in uniform and put the thing away and instead bought a bag of multi-colored rocks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Trouble with Travel - Sleep Wars

So one thing about our regular trips to visit the in-laws that I do not look forward to is the sleep deprivation. The four Goofs share a hotel room, one parent and one child to each bed. In a previous life I had a cat that always slept in the exact center of the bed - perfect to disrupt the sleep of any human being foolish enough to intrude on his space.

My children, as sentient reasoning creatures, do the cat one better and apply advanced calculus to determine how best to use their small bodies to occupy as much bed space as possible.

My son is particularly ingenious, twisting himself into ever more complex angles. Already crammed into a small portion of bed, I spend nights with him being kicked and prodded as he seeks to become a human tesseract.

Fortunately I have developed a solution. If Goofboy wants to play territory all night - bring it on. My counter-strategy can be summarized in two words: pillow fort.

I sleep in peace, protected by high soft walls. It does, however, provide ready ammunition for the morning assault.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Asymmetric Information & Parenthood

I've discussed the economics of babysitting in the past. Basically, we parents are so desperate for baby-sitters that the teenagers have us over a barrel - hence the steady rise in price for baby-sitting services.

The one advantage that adults have is that the teenage babysitters don't recognize their own market power. But a wise commenter pointed out:
Better watch whose hands this information might get into. As the father of a babysitter, I'm just saying...

Also, you might want to warn people that sitters with older siblings have a very good idea of the market. So watch out.
The only advantage we old people have is based on asymmetric information - that is they don't know what we will pay and act as price-takers. If they truly formed a cartel, then they could be price-makers and we would be at their mercy. There are limited substitutes (duct-taping kids to the wall while we go out is cheaper but could result in fines or imprisonment - which carry high opportunity costs). My commenter points out that this process has already exists between sisters. This is an old story - King Lear, to be specific, in which a pair of sisters depose their aged father... I'm just saying...

Broader Implications
But this discussion got me to thinking that asymmetric information is really central to parenthood itself. This is what we've got on them. They can't read so we can tell them what is and isn't on a restaurant menu (for example.) They don't know that I won't really let them run away or that there are no dental police that will haul them off if they don't brush their teeth. (Those old Crest commercials have come in handy!)

They don't know that they toy store isn't really closed or that I can in fact afford whatever thing they want - I just don't want them to have it.

It isn't that they aren't smart - within their limited range of experience children quickly develop models of how the world works. Once, when I told my then three year old son that I didn't have enough money for something he wanted he said, "Yes you do, you have money."

"Not for that."

"No, I saw, the money from the pizza man."

He didn't understand change (he doesn't always handle the other sort well either) and just assumed grown-ups transferred cash to each other under some arcane rules.

But there are huge realms of information that they are simply unaware of and I can always draw on these vast unknown realms to re-direct their demands.

As they get older and understand more, my abilities to rule through information dominance will decline. They will know that I can get money from the ATM anytime and that computers do not actually bite if they don't get enough sleep. They will learn to operate telephones on their own (although other, more useful, appliances like dishwashers and vacuum cleaners will undoubtedly remain mysterious.)

But then they will make their way into the great wide world, where they are pummeled by information asymmetry. Hopefully, my parenting strategy of lies and deception will have properly equipped them for this cold harsh reality.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Downtown, Things Will Great...

In an effort to repair my failings as a parent (in not adequately exposing my children to the wonders of our nation’s capital) and to give the long suffering Mother Goof a break I took the little Goofs downtown for an adventure.

My daughter had somehow fixated on visiting the National Aquarium. She has visited the much larger National Aquarium in Baltimore many times. But she seemed to think there was a hammerhead shark at the DC aquarium, so that became our quest.

My son did a great job on the way downtown, by reading his sister the funny pages. (On a previous junket with my son to see the Lincoln Memorial I read the funny pages to him and attracted a crowd of listeners who laughed uproariously at my interpretations of Brewster Rockit: Space Guy. They might have been high… but my son thought I was very cool. I should hold onto this while it lasts.)

Road to the White House

Downtown, we added some elements to our journey. We decided to go see where the President lives. My daughter asked, “Does Barak Obama ever stand in the window and look at people?”

“No, he’s pretty busy.”

Along the way I told her about how the President lives and works at the White House and that inside there is a swimming pool, a bowling alley, and a movie theater. When we got there, we looked around for a bit and then my daughter got upset. When I asked her what was wrong, she replied, “Why can’t we go swimming here?”

“This is where the President lives, and he didn’t invite us.”

My son tried to distract her by singing the llama song – he can be surprisingly useful – while I tried to re-orient her towards our original goal. This is a key lesson of travel with children – what you tell them and what they hear can be vastly different.

We headed towards the Commerce Department – the National Aquarium lives in its basement. We passed the Treasury Department and I told the kids about what the Treasury Department does (isn’t it great having a dad studying Public Policy?)

My son and I discussed the major departments. I tried to convince him that State, Defense, and Justice are more important that Treasury. He wasn’t buying it, observing that without money you can’t have an army, you can’t fly to other countries to talk to them, and you can’t pay for police. These were good points and I have high hopes for him.

My daughter pointed out interesting features on the facades of the buildings as we walked around. On the one hand, they are just office buildings. However, they do have some striking features and it is refreshing to be reminded of these small decorative touches throughout the city.

When we got to Commerce, we followed a line of people and found ourselves in the new White House Visitors Center. It was neat, but not on the agenda – so the little Goofs got antsy. We did find a picture of Taft’s bathtub, with four regular-sized men sitting inside it (clothed.) Anything referencing Taft is always a crowd pleaser. Then, we turned a corner and went to the Aquarium.

The Nation's Oldest Aquarium

The National Aquarium is the oldest public aquarium in the country and it may be one of the smallest. This is not a bad thing. While its scale and holdings are modest, little children have low thresholds and can wear down quickly. The shark tank was modest – one can imagine a James Bond villain (or even a sitcom star) having something bigger in their living room. The exhibit emphasizes that sharks are an important part of the ecosystem that, in the face of human activity has become more prey then predator. The exhibit sharks were small - horned sharks and leopard sharks. But they still had that cruel shark mouth and even though they probably weigh less one of my legs – I wouldn’t want to encounter one while swimming.

There was also a modest alligator exhibit which affords nice close-up views – and if you are there at the right time, you can watch them eat..

Most of the exhibits are smaller tanks that feature the marine life of one of the various American marine sanctuaries – ranging form Guam and Hawaii, to the Caribbean, but also off the coast of New England, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi River, and Appalachian Creeks. It provided a lot of nice digestible things to look at. Some tanks featured colorful fish and frogs. Others featured some wonderfully creepy sea creatures. In other tanks the challenge was finding something too see at all as these marine denizens were skilled at hiding. There were several activities, including one where kids could trawl around in a sandbox for shark teeth – a nice win (although my daughter kept putting them around her mouth and trying to bite me.

Again, after a lengthy visit to the gift shop it was lunchtime. I could have just brought the kids home, but I didn’t want our adventures to end just yet. On the way to a food court, the kids encountered a fountain and ran around it, putting their arms in it, and trying to grab the coins people had thrown in. They would have stayed for hours.

I dragged them into the food court where they got very excited about Sbarros (I got indigestion) and the immediate consensus was pizza.

The Odyssey Home

From there, I took them to the Botanic Garden on Capitol Hill. We have been listening to the various adventures of Judy Moody and her little brother Stink. In one, Stink decides to be a professional sniffer and discusses the worst smelling thing in the world – the corpse flower. We heard there was one at the Botanic Gardens so we went to check it out.

It was overreach. The corpse flower, which thankfully only blooms about once a decade, was not on display. The kids wandered listlessly through the gorgeous displays of exotic plants – although they were fascinated by change thrown into the fountains in the greenhouses. Walking back to the Metro, my daughter sat down and refused to walk farther, sobbing. She perked up when I propped her on my shoulders and carried her for a block while she enjoyed spectacular views of the city.

On the way home I told the kids how, while I am lazy in day-to-day life when I am being a tourist I get pretty intense. I told them how, when I took their mom to Belgium, she started complaining, “Not another castle, not another church… it’s Belgium, can’t we eat some chocolate and take a nap?”

When we got home they hugged mom, who asked them about what they saw and what their favorite thing was. They answered in chorus, “We had pizza for lunch!”

Lesson: The things kids will take away from adventures and what you want them to remember are two very different things.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer Adventures: Afternoon at the Museum

At the beginning of summer, before camp started, I took the little Goofs downtown to go to the Museum of Natural History.  The subway stop nearest the museum spills you out into the massive courtyard of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.  There was a summer concert series, so we bought some lunch and sat there for a while.  My children looked around in wonder, my son announced, "I never knew Washington DC was so interesting."

That they were wowed by the (admittedly impressive) courtyard of a federal office building means that I have been negligent in introducing my children to the wonders of our nation's capital.

The rest of that day went well.  My daughter wanted to see skeletons of animals and so we did.  The manatee skeleton was particularly important to us. 
One of the not-so-secrets of travelling with children is that they can get tired of interesting stuff extremely quickly – whereas, in the presence of such interesting stuff, seemingly boring things fascinate them.  So after some skeletons and trying to find the queen bee in the insect room, they were ready to get out.  Since we passed by, I dragged us in to see the Hope Diamond.

I told the kids that it was the largest diamond in the world.  My daughter was unimpressed (let that be a warning to any lad who seeks to court her).  I told her to compare it to mommy's diamond ring and quickly added, "But don't say anything about this to mommy."

We topped off our 80 minutes at the museum with about the same amount of time in the gift shop, kids find gift shops at least as interesting as museums – if not more so (see note above).  Then we headed home.  I told my daughter that I used to take the subway downtown everyday for work.  She looked at me incredulously, "You worked?"

"I work now, you were at my office yesterday," I said wearily, "Remember we watched a movie in the conference room?  But I used to come downtown everyday on the subway.  Wouldn't it be neat to do that?"

"People take this train everyday to go to work?  That's ridiculous," my daughter said, incredulous.  Commuters sitting close to us chuckled sadly.

We arrived home at about the same time as Momma Goof came home from work.  My daughter immediately took her hand and examined it.  My wife happened to wear her engagement ring that day.  Goof Girl looked at if for a moment and yelled, "You're right daddy!  It is teeny-weeny!"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Veggie Extracts

The Goofs belong to a co-op, which means that over the summer we get fresh vegetables in bountiful quantities.  Although the co-op folks get very excited about how delicious and invigorating these fresh veggies are - the kids don't buy it.  It ain't cookies.

Fortunately, there are other aspects to vegetables for kids to love.

My son discovered that he rather liked roasted beets.  But he liked them even more later that evening, as he ran around the house yelling, "Pink pee!  Pink pee!"

Yes, beets have a certain impact on the digestive system.  My son now wants to eat beets at every meal so he can show his friends.

Now we just make up effects, "Cabbage, orange pee - but you have to eat a lot of it!"

When the vegetable fails to have the expected effect, we can always fall back on, "I guess you didn't eat enough."

Keep some food coloring hidden around the bathroom so you can provide encouraging examples...

"Daddy ate all of his rhubarb and and it made a rainbow." The downside of course is that for this to be credible, I actually have to eat rhubarb - the mutant celery.

My daughter found she liked fennel.  I mean, really liked fennel.  When I say she ate a fennel salad, it was literally that - just a big pile of fennel.

She was pooping good'n plenty for the next three days.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter Debates

On a recent drive, my daughter called out, “Look a dragon on a castle!”

We were passing a mini-golf course, but both my son and I insisted that we hadn’t seen it and thus, she must have magical powers.

This adds fuel to the Goof clan’s lively discussion about whether or not Harry Potter is real. My daughter is certain (she views her life with us like Harry’s with the Dursleys). My son is hopeful, and I am carefully non-committal, giving the kids reason to believe it might be so. My wife just rolls her eyes at us.

My daughter watches the movie with a keen eye, because she believes firmly that she will be going to Hogwarts and studying magic. She’ll ask:

“What are the bathrooms like?”
“Do they ever celebrate Jewish holidays at Hogwarts?”
“I don’t think quidditch is a nice game for children, do I have to play if I go to Hogwarts?”

I’ve also caught her, waving magic markers, spoons, or stuffed animals at her brother and muttering under her breath.

She also keeps asking me to play this YouTube video of Avada Kedevra (the Killing Curse). She is studying it a little too carefully. This is not good, but in character for her.*

Recently, the three of us took a a Facebook quiz, “A More Accurate Harry Potter Sorting Quiz.” This determines which house of Hogwarts the taker should go to – Harry Potter and his mates are all in Gryffindor. My son and I were placed in Hufflepuff – which we were ok with. I believe (philosophically at least) that it is important to be nice and my son likes Cedric Diggory. My daughter got Ravenclaw and was very upset. She wants to be in Gryffindor with Hermione. Of course, if she keeps doing the killing curse, I warned her, she’s going to end up in Slytherin – and she doesn’t like snakes. But she does love her forbidden spells.

*My wife is extremely upset that our daughter wanders around the house practicing the killing curse (mostly using a pink magic marker). This makes no sense to me, since my Mama Goof doesn't believe any of it is real, so what harm is there in a five year old in cupcake pajamas leaping around the house yelling, "Avada Kedevra!"

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Bedtime Disinterest

It may be borderline child-abuse, but my kids have been particularly resistant to bedtime lately. So, to get them to sleep I've taken to reading excerpts from the foreign policy journal The National Interest to them. I'm not sure if my motivations are (to put it in the terms of statecraft) deterrence, distraction, or punitive. Whatever my intent, even a few sentences along these lines and my kids begin to protest (I'm fascinated):
The question is: are these arguments of sufficient weight to justify resistance to closer U.S.-Russian coordination on issues of strong mutual interest?

An even-more complex question is whether there is innate resistance within the American foreign-policy community to an improved relationship with Russia. Are we holding the Russians to a higher standard of performance than we do other nations with whom we deal? And, if so, why? The continued existence of the Jackson-Vanik amendment—which withheld trade benefits in an effort to force the Soviet Union to allow freer emigration—almost two decades after Communism’s collapse seems to be proof positive.
By the time it got good, the kids were screaming.

What do they have against Jackson-Vanik anyway?

So when I pulled out the latest issue they begin to howl.

"No," I said pointing to the cover, "This is Harry Potter 8, Voldemort's revenge. Look at the cover, you know they cast some cool spells."

"No it isn't, it's your magazine, the National Boring"

When I began to read, my son grabbed it away and it flew open.

"See," I said quickly pointing to the picture on the open page, "It's Dumbledore!"

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

My Illuminated Daughter

One of the joys of parenthood is that you can play with Legos without any embarrassment whatsoever. (Not always doable, in college I was banned from the Lego bins at several downtown Boston toy stores - my sharing skills needed work.) When our synagogue youth group had a "10,000 Lego Event" I joined the children. Although I was underwhelmed since my mom told me I had "three million Legos." This figure was based on estimates derived from how many she had to pick out of her foot each morning when she walked to the kitchen.

While picking up megablocks (really big Legos), my daughter asked if I could build her a big "triangle." My pleasure, I spent the next 40 minutes on the task (note, building is pretty quick - but developing a good color pattern is a challenge). My daughter, who can build a perfectly good Lego pyramid just sat on the couch and watched me. After a while, she announced, "I'm like Pharoah and you are building me a pyramid."

Not exactly the lessons I'd like her to take from Jewish history.

Then, she insisted on the putting an "eye" block on the top of the pyramid.

Has she joined a Bavarian dueling society, or is it the unblinking eye of Sauron? I may need to talk to her teachers.

I guess, as a modern caring parent I need to encourage her in whatever she wants to do. So if she is intent on world domination, I'll just enjoy the ride. Empresses take care of their daddies - right? Or will I just end up on pyramid duty?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Swimming with Manatees at the Condo

We went to visit the GrandGoofs over the long weekend and the little Goofs romped in the condo pool with the senior Goofs. I always enjoy these visits. Their condo is like a college dormitory for elderly Jews. The kids have learned to randomly walk up to old people and ask for cookies. To get their specific grandmother’s attention they yell, "Bubbe! Bubbe!"

And every head turns.

The little Goofs like carrying out splash attacks, but this was a bit wearing on the GrandGoofs. My parents were trying to get me into the pool to take on the battle. But, as I sat poolside with my latte, I replied, "Sorry, but I'm eating something - I'll have to wait at least twenty minutes!"

My mom grimaced as all the other Bubbes nodded their assent. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.

Still, as my son attempted to be a one-boy tsunami battering my father I helped my dad out by reminding my children that manatees are a protected species.

This resonated. My children respect these majestic aqua-cows. While reading Barry Louis Polisar’s Peculiar Zoo, my daughter exclaimed, "Poor manatee. I am sure he would be so delighted if he didn't have those terrible scratches on his back."

Besides being relieved by the decline in water damage my father was not insulted because he also loves the manatee. (A fondness for large mammals runs in our family.)

I told the little Goofs that pop was a were-manatee, or manathrope who became a manatee when the moon was full. (Manatees have been sighted in the Chesepeake Bay - and if you've every seen my father do his lazy side stroke* - well, it would explain a great deal.) So as my father circumnavigated the pool we serenaded him:
Manatee, manatee, lovely lady of the sea.
Around us aged women asked each other: “Who’s grandkids are those?”

*Lazy sidestroke is redundant. I believe the world record in the 100-meter sidestroke is about 20 minutes. Breaking this record would even challenge Michael Phelps. It is a stroke that enforces leisure.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer Break I: The Best Medicine

On one of those awkward early summer days, after school ends but before camp begins (and mommy is off at her real job), I put the question to the little Goofs: “What do you want to do today?”

I had hoped that this would distract them from their preferred activity, jumping on me as I lay in bed. It did not. After a few more minutes of pummeling and grappling I made a proposal, “Let’s go to the medical center and watch sick people.”

“Yea! Sick people,” my children cried. This was not the reaction I was expecting.

“Daddy,” Goofboy began, “Let’s make a doctors appointment. Then we can go in and get all the stuff. Like we did before!”

“I never did that, where was I?” my daughter asked.

“One night, when your brother was little, he and mommy both were sick. We went to the doctors. Mommy went to a grown-up doctor and I went with your brother to the pediatrician. It was late at night and a lot of people were sick so we had a long wait in the examination room. Your brother wasn’t feeling well so I tried to make him laugh. The drawers in the room weren’t locked so we could get tongue depressors, Q-tips, doctor’s gloves…”

“Were they purple?” my daughter queried.

“No, sorry…plain,” I answered.

“Too bad.”

“Anyway,” I continued, “We played with the stuff. We put doctors gloves on our ears or we blew them up like balloons and then let them zoom around the room. We poked each other with tongue depressors. I pretended the blood pressure cuff was “electric” and that I got zapped and went crazy every time I got near it. Then someone banged on the door. It was mommy. She was so worried; the whole building could hear us. She thought he was shrieking in pain. Really he was laughing hard. Later we took a bunch of the gloves and we put them on doorknobs all over the building.”

“Why wasn’t I there. Did you leave me alone at home?” my daughter asked.


“No, you weren’t born yet,” my son explained before I could think of something to derail her interrogatory.

“It’s not fair! Everything happened before I was born. You only had fun before I was born and now everything is boring. I want to play with doctors gloves and I want to play the ‘lectricity game!”

“Actually,” I began “Mommy said I can’t play the electricity game because it might make you think electricity is funny when really it’s dangerous.”

“No,” my son interjected in his continual quest to be helpful, “Mommy said she didn’t want us to be afraid of blood pressure cuffs.”

“OK,” I said thinking fast, “You both know that electricity can be dangerous and you shouldn’t play with it?”

“Yes,” answered the Goof chorus.

I got out of bed, put on my dumb face and voice (every dad should have one) and grabbed one of my belts and started studying it. “I wonder what this is, I’m sure it won’t…aaauggghh…electric eel!”

I twitched and jerked, then sighed and said, “Whew. Well it’s probably out of electricity now…aaaugghh!”

“Again Daddy, again!” the Goofs demanded. Always remember, children thrive on repetition. I went to some other household objects – the TV antenna (sort of like an audio-visual appendix with cable), my electric razor (which tried to eat my face off), and one of my wife’s bathrobes (which tried to devour me like an anaconda.)

Soon the kids were bringing me items to continue the show – it was like torture improv. Stuffed squirrels aimed for my jugular, I was run over by matchbox cars, and I poked myself in the eye with Tinker Toys.

I killed – both the crowd and practically myself. After an hour of this my throat was sore from the screaming, my brain was fried from coming up with each new back-story for how I could hurt myself, and I hurt something in my back will all of the falling down and contorting.

I would have considered going to the doctor, but I lacked the energy and was completely out of material.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Advice to a New Dad

My dearest brother,

Congratulations on becoming a father. As your elder brother, I have preceded you in this endeavor and, while you will no doubt surpass me (as you have in almost everything else) I can at least give you some advice. I know you don’t take my advice on most things seriously (nor does anyone else) but as this has never stopped me before, it won’t stop me now.

Years ago, when I drove cross-country a friend and I went on a hike in Colorado. My friend’s cousin advised us that this was an easy hike that ended in a spectacular view. My friend’s cousin had moved to Colorado to hike and his definition of easy did not apply to us. (I know you are already zoning out as I indulge in my habit of telling a long-winded story that is only tangential to the topic.)

The hike was basically a mile and a half of steep switchbacks going right up a mountain. Within a few minutes our chests were heaving. People coming down the path assured us it was really a short hike to the top. It wasn’t, but people coming down kept telling us it was just out of sight. We did finally reach the top, where the views were absolutely spectacular. And, as we made out way down, we echoed those who went before us, lying to panting hikers that it was only a short way to the top.

Parenthood is like that.

However, unlike pretty much every instant of our past, I will not lie to you here. I am giving you the straight dope about parenthood. This is my Father’s Day gift to you as a new dad. (And, like a stopped clock, I am bound to be right eventually.)

Babies are sleep sprinters and crying marathoners. There is in fact nothing you can do about this, although you will try any number of things in an effort to feel as though you have control over the situation. This is an illusion. The “interpretation” of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” you sang that seemed to pacify the baby last night is not an incantation that will lull the child into drowsiness. (Assuming your musical talent is on a par with mine – it is only desperation that would lead you to believe that your “vocal stylings” could possibly improve any situation.)

You will wonder about invoking the Geneva Convention since it defines sleep deprivation as torture. (Yes, much of what I did to you when we were children could also be defined as torture – forgive and forget?)

As this stage continues, a cloud will descend over your thought processes, which will become sluggish and erratic. This cloud does not lift – it is the baby sucking your brains out. (You will be tempted to reciprocate.)

There will be nice moments of holding the baby quietly. These moments are are intended to lull you into a false sense of security. The baby is using this time to generate bodily fluids that it will expel in enormous quantities at awkward times. You will not be able to predict the orifice of exit.

People will tell you it is just a few weeks of this and then the baby settles into a pattern and sleeps through the night. They are lying. This period is endless. While it may chronologically last around three months, newborns create eddies in the space-time continuum that cause time to expand so that those several months take about a decade.

Some parents insist that their children sleep through the night from birth. There are several explanations for this. One is that parents become very competitive about their children and their parenting skills and that this claim is method of establishing that they are better parents and have better children then you. It is common behavior, like dogs sniffing each other and establishing dominance.

Our father on the other hand insists we slept through the night from the birth. Mom points out that our father slept through the night from our birth. Envy our father’s generation - they had it good.

When facing parents who insist their wonderful infants sleep through the night, you can regain alpha parent status by observing that babies that wake up regularly are getting more sensory stimulation, which contributes to cerebral cortex growth. Babies that sleep for hours solid are probably undergoing cognitive decay. Such children will be lucky to get through a state school’s accounting program and will never make it to medical school.

This is a lie, but it will make you feel better. Lying is central to parenthood: lies to your self, lies to your children, and lies to other people about your children.

There is a peak with a wonderful view. After months and months children will, more-or-less, sleep through the night. Life gets better. In fact, at this stage the children are pretty great. You are rested, the kids are little and cuddly. They are fairly quiet, soaking in everything around them. They are portable, easy to carry, but not mobile. This is a golden age. Dip into your savings, mortgage the house – whatever – and take a big trip somewhere wonderful like Italy. Because this is your last chance to be grown-up for a long-time. (I missed my moment for this – don’t miss yours!)

This wonderful stage lasts for about six months. Then babies become mobile. A mobile baby is a deadly baby – mostly to itself, but also to others. Then they become verbal. A verbal child is capable of emotional warfare. These stages show no signs of ending. Although others tell me that when they do, the view is spectacular.

I expect that they are probably lying.

Happy Father’s Day,
Your elder brother

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Morning Systems Failure: Analysis and Policy Implications

We had a bad morning the other day. I woke up to the doorbell ringing. When I forced my unwilling eyes open the alarm clock announced that it was 7:48. The kids are usually picked up around 7:55.

I put on pants. Most social interactions go better when wearing pants. I was pretty sure that the few exceptions to that rule were not going to be options in the near future. (Our caller was probably not inviting me to go swimming and my wife had already left.)

The little Goofs were running around yelling, “Someone is at the door! Someone is at the door!”

Surprisingly, this did not help – anything.

Downstairs, to my limited relief, it was not the carpool. It was our neighbor ringing the doorbell and hammering on the door. It meant I had a little time.

The neighbor informed me that my wife had called him to make sure we got up. Fair enough, she had left for work early and had called the house several times. I croaked a thank you.

I made my son toast. The carpool pulled up. My wife called. I sent my son off and took in 3C so she and my daughter could fight for a while.

I paid obeisance to the dark lord, Mr. Coffee while the little girls snickered at each other. I poured some Cheerios in a plastic cup and took my daughter and 3C to school.

Post-Mortem Analysis and Policy Changes

Being a graduate student in public policy, we analyzed the morning’s events to determine how our systems had broken down and how to prevent this from occurring in the future. (Don’t most families apply systems analysis to their morning routine?)

The irony of this bad morning is that the kids were wide-awake and reading before 7AM, and my son knows how to tell time. So the solution is right at hand! If the parents aren’t moving, and it is a school day, the kids have permission to jump on mommy and daddy and get them up.

Not that they’ve ever needed permission for this or been reticent about commando jumping sleeping adults before. One needs to be careful in legitimating this behavior.

We also attempted to constrain their new Rooster authority with a weekend clause – that is, DO NOT JUMP ON SLEEPING ADULTS ON WEEKENDS. Not that they were permitted to this before and again, not that this has stopped them before.

For adults, these rules would be pretty clear. But while my son can read the numbers he is still a bit vague about days of the week – and my daughter at five has no concept whatsoever. She is still at an age when each morning she is surprised that she is going to school – and she complains about it. So it is possible that these two conflicting rules will lead to malfunctions – kind of like what happened to Hal 9000 in 2001 Space Odyssey. (Or maybe they’ll just stand next to the bed and sing, “Daisy, daisy…”)

And we haven’t even tried to incorporate holidays and daylight savings time.

It is another lesson in public policy – every solution has unintended consequences. Still, after doing a cost/benefit analysis we determined that I need to get them to school more then I need to sleep. On weekend days when they are confused (which is often) we can always park them in front of the tube on Sunday morning. Of course, this creates its own set of incentives…

Monday, June 15, 2009

Funny Little Girls

This blog is about me and my kids - period - almost.

Every once in a while, I am forced to recognize that another parent is writing about their kids and that they are as amusing (or just laugh out loud funny) as yours truly.

Not-Ever-Still Life with Girls is a model of what a blog on parenthood can and should be.

It would be a crime to read something this funny and not share.


I have recently become an uncle. I have wanted to be a uncle since I was little. For starters, it means I can describe myself as avuncular. I can put it on my resume, in hobbies in front of zymurgy – I’ve got A to Z covered.

Many works of literature have been described as a spiritual quest for father (undoubtedly feminist schools of literary criticism bridle at this). But uncles get the cool roles. Ne’er do well uncles are cute, ne’er do well dads are losers. Uncles know secrets and back alleys. Uncles teach you about cigars, mixed drinks, and racing forms.

I am waiting for my “kit” of cool avuncular wisdom and tools – perhaps the stork drops it off later.

Actually, I became an uncle the moment I got married. My wife had nieces. But this was her family. My brother-in-law and his wife were not people with whom I had a history.

Also, it was nieces and most of the uncle stuff I described goes for boys. As for girls – of any age – my one and only strategy is jewelry, and I’ve already got a wife and daughter to support.

My brother, of course, is a different story. My brother and son share a bond of sports, birth (they share a birthday) and just general toughness. The Almighty has a great sense of humor about these things. Now, I have an ally in my brother’s camp. (I believe firmly in the desert wisdom - me against my brother, my brother and I against our cousins: my brother, my cousins, and I against the world!. (That may actually be from the Klingons, I’m not sure.)

Just as my brother infects my son (subliminally and by remote) with an obsession with sports – I can attempt to turn my brother’s offspring into fans of ancient history, classical epic poems, and Civil War battles. So maybe I’m not on track to be a terribly cool uncle.

Anyway, my brother outfoxed me again. It’s a girl. My daughter could help, but alliances with her get very expensive. Plus, she really loves my wife’s sisters and I fear entangling alliances. I think this is how World War I got started.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Gas Ambush

My son’s interests have taken a certain scatological turn. This is typical for pre-adolescent boys and it is a phase that will last, according to my mom, until death. He comes by it honestly. When I was eleven I was editor of a publication entitled Constipated Illustrated - it was a journal of the movement.

Before sending him to pre-school I tutored in my son in the armpit flatulence thing that all boys must do. My highly skilled son is a natural leader, at least in this regard. Surprisingly it has not moved his school to track him into a gifted course.

This morning, Mother Goof had left for work early and I was tasked with rousing the children. They are still recovering from our recent travels so I understood that they weren’t moving that quickly. I crawled into my son’s bed and began shaking him gently. He still didn’t move, his eyes were shut, his breathing was soft and regular.
Then, suddenly from under the sheets came blaaat!

The sheets blew off and he sat up laughing at me. I really can’t believe the school hasn’t seen his talents.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Smells Deceiving

The folks at philosophy make some wonderful products. We’ve been washing the kids with various shampoos that smell like chocolate, oatmeal raisin, and snickerdoodle. Having a daughter that smells like cookies is a huge challenge for a dad already inclined to chewing on his progeny.

Washing her hair tonight, I was less attentive than I should have been and some dribbled into her eyes. Naturally she cried. I felt pretty bad, but I couldn’t believe that something that smelled so good could hurt anyone.

My wife helpfully pointed out the flaw in my logic by observing that jabbing an oatmeal raisin cookie into your eye would also hurt.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Newest Weakness: Achilles Scalp

Yesterday, I couldn’t think – all day. I had the strangest headache. Neither drugs nor naps helped.

Then I noticed that my arms were sunburned. It must have happened while watching my son’s football practice. The unprotected tip of my head must have gotten some sunburn too. When I showed it to my son, he was impressed, saying it looked like Darth Vader’s head underneath his helmet.

Cool. A small consolation for an unpleasant headache.

Thankfully, I also found the cure. To soothe my crisped scalp I rubbed on a bit of olive oil – thanks George Costanza.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Mythic Journey: Endor, Hogwarts, and Philadelphia

My son and my brother share a bond. They were born on the same day and have innumerable similarities (such as an interest in watching and playing sports) not shared with me. This proves yet again that the Almighty has a great sense of humor. I was a terrible big brother, beyond the tormenting typical of big brothers I was fundamentally opposed to his existence – I had lobbied for a dog. My father was allergic to dogs. I countered (throughout my childhood) that I was allergic to my brother. In my son I am getting the chance to right my ancient wrongs. He is the little brother I always wanted.

My son had seen two of the three original Star Wars movies. My brother and I had discussed meeting at his place near Philly to watch one of the movies on his big-screen TV – but plans kept falling through (my brother is handicapped with having a regular job). The whole thing was looking less and less likely as my brother will soon have a child of his own. But then I checked my calendar and saw my son’s school was closed last Monday.*

Daddy, Where are we going?
I called my brother and everything worked. I decided to surprise my son.

So, Sunday afternoon I surreptitiously loaded the car, and told my son to come join me for a couple of errands. We put on a CD of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix on and began driving. After about an hour, he asked me where we were going? I told him, “Some errands.”

We stopped at a rest stop, where I bought him the forbidden elixir – Coca-Cola. I said, “Here it is! Isn’t this cool, all these restaurants and shops, right on the highway?”

“Yeah, it is neat,” he answered, “Is this really where we are going?”

“Get back in the car.” Events at Hogwarts continued to unfold.

Half an hour later he asked if we were heading home yet. No, we hadn’t done any errands. A little after that he asked again, “Daddy, where are we going?”

I told him to look at the highway signs. Harry Potter’s battle against Voldemort continued.

We passed under a highway sign directing us to Philadelphia and everything clicked. My the little Goof put it together instantly yelling, “We are going to my uncle’s house to watch Return of the Jedi!”

The Main Event – WARNING: Plot Spoilers Ahead
We had pizza and age appropriate drinks and watched favorite scenes from the first two movies. Then we sat down and watched. My son loved it, no boring parts – every scene, he said, had a battle. I asked, “What about when Yoda died?”

My brother chimed in, “He was fighting for his life.”

Although they were criticized by some of my more cynical friends as “teddy bears with guns,” my son loved the Ewoks – probably because they were in fact teddy bears with guns. It occurred to me that a great deal of planning must have gone into the Ewok attack on the Storm Troopers, giant log traps and catapults don’t just build themselves.

Archetypal Voyage Home
The next day it was too rainy to enjoy most of the proximate historical sites, and we had to get home in time to pick up my daughter from daycare. We did stumble upon a local sports museum – teaching my son a cardinal rule of road trips – it isn’t about the destination, it is about what you find on the way.

We spent the morning and afternoon driving home listening to more Harry Potter. I would occasionally stop the story and make a few points.

“When they use the pain curse on Harry Potter, isn’t that just like when the Emperor used the Force lightning on Luke?”

“Isn’t what Dumbledore is telling Harry just like what Obi-Wan told Luke?”

Daaad, enough about archetypes – can’t we just listen to the story?”

*My son’s school is but another illustration of the maxim, the more expensive the school the more often they close. I understand closing for Jewish holidays – it is a Jewish day school. But they also have a lot of professional days – aka three-day weekends.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thank you for Bea

While my wife doesn't like it, she got used to my "interest" in certain celebrities. But what really weirded her out was how often I mentioned Bea Arthur. I argued it was comedy, she was always a good punchline. But just like my wife knew that calling Maura Tierney “talented” meant so much more, she wondered and worried why I was always bringing up Bea Arthur and what was wrong with me.

Why would any GUY make regular references to The Golden Girls - what kind of bizarre, Harold & Maude type fixation did I have? And worse, why did I sometimes sing the theme song in the shower? (OK – first, it’s catchy and second, in fairness, I'm Jewish but sing Christmas carols in the shower year round.)

With Ms. Arthur's passing, half of our cable channels have been running Golden Girls' marathons and my wife mocked me until I sat down with her and watched an episode. Here's the thing - it was really funny. The writing was strong, and the lines were delivered impeccably. Here was a show with four talented actresses at the top of their game having a great time. As a reference point, we happened to catch an old episode of St. Elsewhere (the ER of the 1980s), featuring a very young Denzel Washington. The show had not aged well at all – it was barely watchable.

There is no way around it, Bea Arthur was GOOD. It is no small thing for a middle-aged woman to burst onto TV and become the hot thing. Bea Arthur did it after a striking appearance on All in the Family (true she was a highly regarded stage actress at that point). She got her own show, Maude and then another, The Golden Girls.

Arthur developed her persona, at least in part, because people found her height off-putting. As the father of a daughter who is (based on current projections) going to be about 9 feet tall, I am glad Bea Arthur helped make room for big women with big talent and personalities. We see so far only because we stand on the shoulders of giants - and my daughter should see and go very far!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Cinderella: Alternate Interpretations

This afternoon, I picked up my daughter and 3C from pre-school. As they settled into their car seats they each picked up a book and began flipping through. Goof girl said, “Do you want to look at Cinderella? Well you can’t, I’m looking at it.”

Naturally I rebuked my daughter and told her that was no way to talk to a friend and that she should share the book.

“I can’t help it,” my daughter explained, “I’m like the wicked step-sisters.”

“The step-sisters are awful – you don’t want to be like them.”

“They are beautiful.”

“No,” I retorted, “they aren’t. And more importantly, they aren’t nice. Being nice is really important.”

“They are more beautiful at the beginning. They get the nice clothes and jewelry…”

She’s always liked the bad guys – from Robby Rotten to the White Witch in Narnia. But identifying with the wicked stepsisters in Cinderella? Is there a feminist take on this? I mean, at least her identity isn’t wrapped up in seeking a handsome prince?

Or is my daughter, as I’ve always suspected, possessed?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Morning Serenades

My son has been having some trouble getting up in the morning. So, I did what any father would do. I jumped on his bed, started tickling him and singing at the top of my lungs a song bound to annoy like, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald or The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

But his favorite wake-up call is 500 Miles by The Proclaimers:
But I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door
When I'm working
Yes I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man
Who's working hard for you
And when the money
Comes in for the work I'll do
I'll pass every penny
Right along to you
But I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door
Da da da da
Da da da da
Da da da dum di dee dum
Di dee dum di dee dum
Da da
Da da da da
Da da da da
Da da da dum di dee dum
Di dee dum di dee dum
Da da
Fortunately, my singing is so off-key he doesn’t realize I’m promising him every penny – not that he doesn’t get most of it already. Despite my inability to carry the tune he insists on every single “Da da da da!”

He may be up, but by then I’m usually exhausted.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Willful Dodger: Curse of an Athletic Son

Tomorrow afternoon my son goes to his afterschool program – dodgeball.

Two things about this astound me. First, dodge as an afterschool program is an oxymoron. Dodge is what kids did because they were free and not subjected to afterschool programs. The key word in afterschool, is school meaning that it is still a learning, adult mandated activity (even if there was, like in Soviet elections, a semblance of choice). Afterschool programs were things like piano and ballet – the activity equivalent of vegetables. Not to mock piano and ballet, which are terrific character building endeavors that probably improve IQ. Dodge on the other hand involves blows to the head, which almost certainly lowers IQ. Most boys, however, are inclined to prefer dodge to music on that basis – happily taking the risk of blows to their head in exchange for the opportunity to deliver such blows to others.

This brings me to my second point – my son likes dodge. I despised my piano lessons, but the choice between dodge and piano was a terrible one. Neither involved Legos and both involved other children – who, in general, I did not like (the feeling was mutual). In dodge, for the many to have a good time, the few had to be pummeled. Blessed with an absurdly large head (thus giving my brain plenty of room to spin around after repeated impacts by rubber balls), poor reflexes, and limited peripheral vision I was a great candidate for the few.

My son, on the other hand, loves dodge – begged for this activity. There is some terrible irony that my son wants to play sports, any sport, all the time. My complaint about school, besides the presence of other people, was (from kindergarten through high school) too much gym. My son complains that there isn’t enough gym. He looks for pickup games to join, whereas I used to hide so that I wouldn’t risk wandering close enough to be enjoined to even out the sides. But I fear genetics will win out. There are real limits to how quick or strong he is going to be. Of course we do send him to a Jewish day school, so the bar for athletic achievement is pretty low.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Birthday Blues in the Fourth Dimension

My little girl’s birthday is coming up. We are having some disputes about it. First, we cannot agree on how old she is. According to most authorities she will be five. However, a vocal minority opinion insists that she will be turning six and possibly seven. This is because last year (when she turned four years old) she had a birthday at home and a birthday at school. Obviously one was for turning four and the second one was for celebrating her turning five. Obviously.

There is a lot at stake here. Her best friend 3C’s birthday is a bit earlier in the year. My daughter can’t quite get her head around this. I understand that at an abstract level time is pretty confusing stuff, but children have a lot of trouble with the basics, like the orderly progression of days, months, and years. (They are also completely flummoxed by shirts partially turned inside out – my son will just randomly turn the shirt over and stare as though the sleeves were operating in some sort of extra-dimensional space.)

My daughter keeps hoping these extra birthdays will put her ahead of 3C. We try to explain that this is not the case, but that it does not really matter. We are wrong. It matters a great deal. Apparently in pre-school, like the U.S. Senate, seniority defines your place in the pecking order and my little girl will not be a backbencher.

Party Planning
Meanwhile, we have to determine what kind of party we are going to throw. Goof Girl wants to have all of her friends over to paint their fingernails. They will wear tiaras and pummel a piƱata. I expect the video of a gaggle of little girls, running around high on nail polish fumes and birthday cake to go viral.

However, at my daughter’s school etiquette calls for inviting everyone. Most of the boys would not find this particular event appealing. Fortunately, Goof Boy has stepped into the vacuum and offered to organize a parallel activity for the boys. They will chase me around the backyard and wrestle me. My son is pretty devoted to this plan. He’s been drawing out different attacks on a sketchpad. (I believe he has some video plans as well.) I fear he will be disappointed, as will my daughter when she learns that she is only five.

Still, it’s her party, she can cry if she wants to.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Counter-Insurgency at Bedtime

Mother Goof is away, ostensibly at a conference – but I have reason to believe she is primarily spending her time imbibing margaritas so big they use depth charges to mix them.

That leaves yours truly on solo patrol. The running joke about being outnumbered by your kids is that you have to switch from man-to-man to playing zone defense. But I’ve been reading about counter-insurgency and how the way to win is by developing and empowering local forces.

My son can read. He wants to be grown up. My daughter is four – she hates me (except when she loves me and/or needs something from me.) So, while mommy is away he gets to read (or tell) her a story and put her to bed. The other night he told her a story in which she and her friends were detectives. (We’ve been listening to a lot of Cam Jansen. I love her. She’s a hard-boiled 9 year-old with a photographic memory and a no-nonsense attitude. It is sort of Raymond Chandler for pre-teens, stripped of sex and violence.)

My son gets to stay up late and feel important. My daughter gets to defy me and assert her independence. Since all I really want is the two of them in bed with minimal hassle, I am the ultimate winner with barely the slightest expenditure of energy.
Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemies will without fighting.
Sun-Tzu, eat your heart out.

Bedtime Truths
After putting my daughter to bed, I keep my son company, lying (physically and verbally) on the floor as he drifts off. Both kids sleep with T-shirts my wife wore and didn’t wash before she left. My son put his on one of his bears and was cuddling it.

“Daddy, remember when I was little and I had to have my blankey and every night when you put me to bed I sent you downstairs to get it?”

His blankey was a cloth diaper.

“Buddy, can I tell you a secret?” I didn’t wait for an answer, recklessly I continued, “I didn’t really go down stairs. I walked out of your room, opened and closed the child gate and walked in place, waited a minute and repeated the process. I just grabbed the first blankey off the pile in the hallway. One time mommy saw me do this and started laughing seeing the whole show I put on.”

There was silence for a moment and then a scream, and hard thud as a seven year old landed on my chest.

“Why didn’t you get me my blankey?!? I needed my blankey!?!”

Clearly, my information operations need work. What does Sun-Tzu say about deception?