Friday, January 29, 2010

Caffeine: Frenemy Mine

Mama Goof remembers well the day she introduced me to high-octane coffee. She had grown up drinking coffee and gone to graduate school in Seattle. Starbucks was only just becoming a national phenomenon so she took me.

My previous forays into coffee drinking had been desultory, I was unimpressed by the bitter beverage and my school’s cafeteria had fountain soda so I indulged my childhood fantasies and drank Coke with breakfast. Also, I can admit this now; I was intimidated by the Starbucks menu.

My future wife carefully and patiently explained the choices to me. She got a little frustrated when I kept refusing a latte because, “I didn’t’ want a lot of coffee.” My inability to grasp the differences between a macchiato and a cappuccino were tiresome (particularly since she knew how fulsome I could be in discussing the differences between porter and stout or IPA and bitter.)

Finally, using the same intuition that has served her so well as a mother, she figured out the real problem. I was afraid of coffee, based on my previous experience with cheap canned gruel that tasted like motor oil. She made me promise to try whatever she ordered, and then introduced me to the caramel latte.

From a taxonomic perspective the caramel latte is not properly classified as a species of coffee, but rather in the “ice cream shake” family. I sucked it down, very fast.

Then, something remarkable happened. My eyes grew large and I ran! We were close to Copley Plaza, an upscale mall in downtown Boston. I ran from store to store, picking up objects and relaying observations about them at the speed of an auctioneer on full throttle:
Shiny! Shiny!



I ran into a Crate & Barrel and couldn’t find my way out. The not yet Mama Goof made no effort to direct me out since it was easier to contain me if I stayed in one store. So I sat on every piece of furniture (including dressers, desks, tables, cabinets, and coat racks.) All the while delivering a monologue about the impact of industrialization on the aesthetic experience of the American bourgeoisie.

I thought I was incredibly amusing. But when Mama Goof heard the store clerks mention calling security, she directed me back out. I raced in and out of other stores. Oddly, the bookstore (usually my favorite) was uninspiring – I could stand still long enough to read titles. I pulled Mama Goof to the movie theater, where I had worked in college. It was a weekday afternoon, and an old friend was working door and let me in. Movies were awesome, but I couldn’t sit still. When the projectionist refused to speed up the film, I raced from theater to theater, watching a dozen movies at once. The staff didn’t mind my peripatetic movie viewing, but they kept asking me what I was “on,” and where they could get some.

Fast Forward to the Future
Fifteen years later, sliding into middle age – nothing has changed.

Serious doses of caffeine still make me crazy. I’ve actually had my children yell at me to calm down when I am in a coffee-fugue.

But I’ve also gotten in the habit. Kids and life make proper sleep hours difficult, so coffee is the fuel of the over-tired. Without it, I am sleepy. With it, I am crazy - a challenge on a par with Scylla and Charybdis.

I’ve tried to switch to decaf, but it has no oomph. I’ve tried tea, but the effects are about the same. I’ve tried decaf-caf mixes. There is no Golden Mean for caffeine.

Every morning I wrestle with this challenge, trying to calculate - 50% caf morning or tea or full-strength. The coffee maker sits on the counter, confident, its percolating almost sounding like Darth Vader saying, “You don't know the power of the dark side!"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

End of Cute

I haven’t been blogging much about my kids recently. There are many possible explanations (work, exams, and laziness all come to mind.) But a few weekends ago I was hanging out with the mommy-blogger extraordinaire Not-Ever-Still, and her husband and adorable children. Little L was pulling her dad down by his tie and laughing. After a few minutes of this, he took his tie off and gave it to her. She took it and began stuffing part of it in her shirt – so she could wear it like dad.

So cute!

The fact is my kids are not doing anything all that cute or interesting anymore. At eight and five they have grown out of cute. All my son does is talk about football and my daughter only makes sticker art projects and skips around the room like a ballerina-giraffe (she’s crazy tall for a little girl.) As they’ve gotten more sophisticated they have lost that wide-eyed innocence that underpins all the cute kid sayings upon which parental anecdotes are built. The situation is so dire, that I’m trying to get blog entries out of Not-Ever-Still’s leavings.

The truth is, of course, my kids are still funny and cute. But I’ve gotten used to them and maybe I’m not noticing their cuteness as much as I used to. Plus, they are, in a normal and healthy way (and despite my best efforts) developing their own lives and interests. If I don't ask, they won't tell. I need, as I am so often telling them, to pay attention!

(Or maybe I just need better tools for recording their actions – iPhones are on sale…)

But at the same time, it is comforting to blame my creative doldrums on the kids knowing that they will, in time, blame just about everything on me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Christmas of Miracles and Chipmunks

On Christmas, we were in LA. Since I was left in charge of the kids for the day, I decided to only do a partial traditional Jewish Christmas (movies – no Chinese food). Instead I took the kids on a hike up Mt. Hollywood. I promised them terrific views of the Hollywood sign, and I delivered. Of course after the third sighting, after traversing a series of steep switchbacks, the thrill had worn off. My daughter threw a temper tantrum when she learned we were not actually going to the Hollywood sign.

Children are sprinters, not marathoners. Wearing them out through long endurance-testing activities won’t work. They go about eight steps before the whining starts and passive resistance will follow shortly thereafter. But for short bursts children are unbeatable. If my son and I play a round of basketball, we will both need breaks. The asymmetry is in recovery time. His is about five minutes. I need about a day (or maybe a week).

Past hikes have involved targets, from stream, to rock, to picnic area (and they still start complaining every 8 steps.)

So how did I get them to actually go on a modestly challenging several mile hike?

Incentives – I promised to take them to a movie, any movie their choice: but, only if they didn’t whine. I had to remind them of this condition every 8 steps for the entire hike.

But it worked. They powered up the mountain. They didn’t whine, although they substituted for this by arguing about who should walk in front (thus setting the pace.) My daughter seemed to be faster, which offended my son’s dignity. So he would speed up and then my daughter would screech that she needed to be in front. I tried to bring a “no fighting or no movie” sanction into play, but they rejected my efforts to amend our initial “no whining on the hike or no movie” agreement. (I can’t believe my father is an attorney and none of this rubbed off on me – it must skip a generation.)

But we did make it to the top. I tried to get them to do a “Rocky” with their arms up over their heads, but gravity was too strong. They just stood their, looking beat. The process of whining, warning and arguing began anew as we headed down.

Christmas Miracle
The hike begins at the Griffith Park Observatory, so when it came into view on the way down I pointed it out to encourage my little hikers that we were almost done.

“But daddy, it doesn’t look close at all. It looks far away!” my daughter almost whined.

“No, it only looks far away because we are high up,” I responded.

“You’re right daddy. I think you’re right.”

I’m right! My daughter said I’m right! I should savor this now, since I may never hear her say those words again. It’s a Christmas Miracle!

The Squeaquel
The children kept their end of the bargain, so I kept mine. We got a quick bite and went to the movie theater. The kids picked Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.

The kids loved it and for a movie about talking chipmunks, featuring Wendy Malik, it wasn’t bad. It had some clever moments. But here’s the thing…

Behind us was a trio of adults, discussing the movie. And they weren’t making ironic comments. They were actually talking about, asking each other questions like:
What’s going to happen>

Do you think they are going to get together?

Why did he do that?
It is a movie about talking chipmunks!

There are not a lot of nuances or plot twists. If following this movie requires a discussion seminar, maybe you should acquire some starter media, like Thomas Tank Engine or Bewitched to develop your cognitive abilities. Also, try not to reproduce – because if The Chipmunks are too rich a narrative structure you probably won’t be much use helping your kids understand Goodnight Moon or Peter Rabbit.