Monthly Archives: February 2006


Since my children were born nearly five years apart, I often find myself forgetting the different horrors associated with each particular age; I was shocked anew at the creepy, unnatural children they have on Barney (how do they conduct auditions for Barney anyway–do they wait outside the back door of Zoom and scoop up their rejects, or what?) and horrified all over again the first time my child came out of some relative’s all white living room sans diaper; but by far the item that tops all others in the “I can’t believe I forgot how horrible this was” department has been “Candyland”.

I know, it hardly seems possible: how could anyone who has spent the hours I have wandering hopelessly through the gumdrop forest forget what it’s like to be trapped in that interminable game, a game so tortuously unending that, were Quentin Tarantino to ever “guest direct” his own version, would come complete with a loaded gun for the “just kill me now” strategy. However, like I said, there is a five year gap between my children, and five years will do strange things to a person’s memory. It must: why else would I have given in to Clyde’s pleading and bought him his very own edition of “Candyland”?

It’s true, of course, that most children’s games are annoying in their own special ways: there is the Ducky game, a game that “quacks” nonstop at a volume only slightly lower than that of your average Metallica concert; the “Don’t Break the Ice” game, which takes ten minutes to set up and thirty seconds to play; and, of course, “Twister,” a game that, aside from it’s adult counterpart involving alcohol and nakedness, is just an excuse to beat up on your siblings. None of these games, however, can even come close to the sheer monotony of “Candyland”.

“Candyland” is a game that neither requires nor rewards the use of strategy and skill: no matter how smoothly you shepherd your little game piece down the colorful candy road or how expertly you flip over the next card on the deck, all it takes is one card and you are right back at the beginning with all the other “Candyland” dilettantes and poseurs. Not only that, but with “Candyland” you can’t even smile and pretend it’s all part of some grand strategy: “Candyland” is a game so dull it even eliminates bluffing. (Think about it: when was the last time you saw a big Vegas “Candyland” tournament on ESPN 43?) There are other kids’ games where this is true, of course, but at least with games like “Sorry” and “Life” you can arrange it so that if you aren’t going to be the one who wins, then certain other people will still definitely lose. With “Candyland” you don’t even have that to look forward to: it’s just a matter of drawing one card after another until someone finally makes it through to the end.

And yet, despite its complete randomness, it still manages to be one of those infuriating games where the only person who cares about winning at all (the child) is also the only person who never does. (And believe me: it doesn’t help to point out that statistically, over time, every player has the same chance of coming in first; few people are less interested in statistical probabilities than a distraught four-year-old who has just lost his third game in a row.)

Which brings me the biggest problem with candyland: it’s almost impossible to cheat at. No matter how carefully you “arrange” the cards ahead of time, those sticky toddler fingers make it almost a certainty that you will be the one sailing through Lollipop Lake while they’re still languishing in the Molasses Swamp.

It’s just lucky for me I guess that the suppression of the “Candyland” memory also coincided with the suppression of another game memory: that no game, ever, can be completely returned to its box. This means that as each card and token drifts away from “the herd” and is scooped up and maneuvered into the trash, I move one step closer to “Candyland” freedom.

Now if I could just do the same things with those creepy kids on Barney.

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The Count

Out of all the characters on Sesame Street I would have to say that my least favorite one is The Count: he has all the makings of an obsessive/compulsive. (I strongly suspect that the whole counting thing is just the tip of the iceberg; just because they don’t show his excessive hand-washing, or the fact that he can never leave the house because he has to keep going back and checking to make sure that the oven is off doesn’t mean it’s not there.) But even if The Count didn’t have any other OCD stuff going on, the counting thing alone is plenty annoying. Think about it: how obnoxious would it be to hang out with someone that counted all the time? As it so happens, I can tell you how obnoxious it would be: very; the reason I can tell you this with complete certainty is because lately, wherever I go, I seem to be surrounded by parents that count.

You know the ones I’m talking about, the parents that preface every punishment with a countdown. In principal, of course, this is a very sound idea: you give the little monsters a bit of warning before you pull out the big guns; and, in principal, I’m sure that this method works very well. (I must admit that personally, however, I prefer the Old Testament method of discipline: swooping down like the hand of God to deliver both benedictions and punishments in a random, chaotic spree. Not only does it keep everybody on their toes, but it also ensures them of always having good stories to tell in group therapy). Alas, the same thing cannot be said for counting, because while the counting method may work very well in principal, when it is put into practice it kind of sucks.

There seems to be three schools of thought for the counting method. The first school is obviously some sort of a Waldorf school, because in this school the parents have either forgotten or are forbidden to mention the number that comes after two. In an effort, perhaps, to disguise this lack on their parts, they count to two so slowly that Supreme Court vacancies can arise and be filled without these parents ever even coming close to approaching the number three. Their countdowns go something like this: “O-o-o-o-n-n-n-n-e-e-e-e–(crickets chirping)–t-t-t-t-w-w-w-w-o-o-o-o-(more crickets, cobwebs form)”.

The second school of thought appears to be one with a more classical approach, seeing as how these parents have made a vow (clearly inspired by Zeno’s Paradox) never to reach their destination. Their countdowns, appropriately enough, go like this:(“One…two…two and a half…two and three-quarters…”.

The final school is made up of the parents who, perhaps like The Count himself, become so caught up in the counting that they seem to forget that the whole point was to eventually reach an end. (I don’t know how their countdowns go: I usually make my escape as soon as they get started; I strongly suspect though that these parents are probably the same people who, as children, insisted on singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” during every family vacation.)

The one thing that all of these counting schools have in common is that they all produce children who hear the order to “stop that right now” as “stop that whenever you feel like it.” I sometimes wonder how this will translate into their adult lives: will they feel betrayed that the cop didn’t count to three before he wrote them a speeding ticket? Or will it all end up on a positive note: will they be blessed with infinite patience and forgiveness for the transgressions of others? That would certainly be interesting. I can hear them now: “Ok dear, when I get to three I want you to stop doing that with the mailman, ok? One…two–come on now, you really need to start thinking about stopping–two and a half…

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Gloves For All

When my daughter Clementine came home from school the other day with red, raw hands I couldn’t help but ask her why she hadn’t worn any gloves to school that morning. Glaring at me briefly, she shot back, in a tone rife with accusation and reproach, “Because I don’t have any, that’s why”. Ah yes, how could I forget? In an effort to save enough money this year to make a down payment on the gas bill I had cut back my glove purchasing to the point where, parsimoniously, I had only bought ten pair.

This isn’t as extravagant as it sounds: I always buy the cheapest kind of gloves I can find, usually those stretchy ones that are marketed as “magic gloves”. (In the beginning, I thought that this moniker meant that the gloves would fit anybody; now I know that what it really means is that they will disappear like “magic”–an especially crappy kind of magic, if you ask me). By only getting the cheap ones, I am able to afford something like a dozen pair for each of my children (or, as was the case this year, ten); this makes it all the more frustrating that they haven’t had a pair between them since October.

This is especially hard for me to understand, because, I’m the type of person who once owned the same pair of gloves for over ten years; even then I didn’t lose them, but rather retired them when they eventually fell apart. I am also still in possession of the backpack I got my freshman year of college, as well as various other assorted pieces of “vintage” clothing. My kids hate hearing these stories of lovingly preserved t-shirts and hats, but I can’t help but tell them–especially when it comes time to leave for school and once again the only things they can find to put on their hands are a pair of rainbow-colored “toe socks” and an old hand puppet.

“You see this jacket?” I’ll say, pulling on my favorite piece of denim. “High school graduation present.” At this Clementine will roll her eyes and mutter under her breath about my complete lack of fashion sense and “nasty, old, worn out clothes”. She will rebuff my argument that the “distressed” look is back in, adding that what my jacket is exhibiting is not “distress”, but, in fact,“panic”. “No matter,” I’ll say, “At least I still have a jacket. And gloves.”

Sometimes I try to tell myself that there is a logical reason for their glove vendetta: maybe they have found some new translation of Nostradamus that revealed to them that, in the very near future, gloves would no longer be necessary. (Maybe a vague warning about global warming along the lines of :When mighty oaks/are replaced with shrubs/ it’s good-bye beach house/and so long, gloves).

Or maybe it’s simply a ploy to get rid of gloves that aren’t “cool” enough; I’m not that old that I don’t remember “losing” the Fonzie sweatshirt my mom got me in the fourth grade. The problem with this theory, however, is that the gloves I buy aren’t uncool, at least not when they’re worn in their proper pairs (I will admit there is a little something funny about wearing a “Hulk” glove on one hand and a “Princess” glove on the other).

Maybe it’s just my paranoia, but I think that the REAL reason behind the disappearing gloves is a highly organized world-wide plot to get me to embrace the idea of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. I’ve always said that I could never see the reasoning behind selling groceries and clothing in the same store (barring, of course, those rare but unfortunate instances when you really need to buy some toilet paper, Milk of Magnesia, and a new pair of pants right now), but, with our incredibly shrinking glove supply I am starting to see the advantages of making out a shopping list that reads: milk, eggs, bread, and gloves.

Sound too far-fetched? Maybe, but then again, I can remember when I thought the idea of comparing buying cheese puffs to a Nazi book burning was far-fetched, too.

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Media Watch

Lately it seems that the most common theme in parenting “how-to” guides is the “how to limit your children’s media time” theme. (By “media” I am assuming they are referring to TV, computers and video games, although for all I know they could be referring to time spent reading People magazine or camping out six weeks early in order to be the first in line at the next Star Wars installment; both of these are habits that even without the prompting of a parenting expert I would discourage in my children–a child who can rattle off Clay Aiken’s astrological sign and/or quote George Lucas’ dialogue verbatim can only be headed down the dreaded path of theater major).

But assuming, for the time being, that these experts are referring not to the sort of habits that lead to knowing all the words to Broadway musicals and/or dressing in nothing but black, but rather to the more innocuous sort of habits that lead to mirthful glee at the prospect of an opponent’s decapitation, every parenting guide seems to be stuck in the rut of only offering new ideas for how parents can keep track of the time: some call for egg timers and hour glasses, and some suggest having your children “buy” their media time with an equal amount of reading time, but none of them, to my great surprise, offer up what surely must be the easiest solution of all: owning crappy stuff. This method (which, yes, I invented myself), is not only inexpensive and highly effective, but also offers something that no other child-rearing book seems to find necessary: it can be carried out by parents in it’s entirety without them ever once having to get up off of the couch.

Here’s how it works: if you are worried that your kids are watching too much television, simply cling desperately to an outdated 10-year-old TV set that renders all of their favorite actors’ skin tones into colors somewhere between Oompa-Loompa orange and violently seasick green. Better yet, refuse to pay for cable, so that the only channels that come in clearly are the ones showing nothing but claymation Bible stories and Spanish telenovelas.

The same method works for computer time as well. If you are worried that your kids are spending too much time online, then try owning a computer so slow that the time bar for how much longer a program needs to load includes geologic time periods. For extra protection, make sure the mouse is really old and cranky, and that the computer routinely crashes during the “good part” of anything.

Video games are trickier, since it seems that some children will happily play the dullest, most meaningless game for hours on end; it’s hard to imagine that the same child who can gaze intently at a hand-held soccer game could ever be bored into picking up a good book, but trust me: it’s possible. Remember “Pong”, the video game version of table tennis where two blips of light bat another blip back and forth across the screen with all the finesse and speed of a tugboat pushing a barge into place on the Mississippi? Even the most devoted gamer would find it hard to fight against the soporific effects of a level one game of “Pong”.

As a matter of fact, I can still remember receiving “Pong” myself one Christmas when I was nine and had been begging for my very own Atari; after a few squinty-eyed attempts at watching the blips shimmy across the screen (we had no vertical hold), I was ready to pack it in by the time New Year’s had rolled around. It was terrible–even worse than trying to play a “computer” game on my stepfather’s TRS-80, a computer so old it took 45 minutes to load programs by cassette. Really, when you think about it, it was a whole lot easier back then to read a book than it was to…hey. Ok, so maybe I didn’t invent this method for reducing media time–but, trust me–it definitely works.

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