“What about this: a tribe of asparagus children, but they’re self-conscious about the way their pee smells.” Whenever I happen to catch the movie Elf around Christmastime, I relish this line from a scene depicting a roomful of publishing wonks desperate to get to the top of the children’s bestseller list. Read More..
Inevitably, I hear the same four words when I talk to parents of grown children: “It goes so fast.” Parents with kids just a few years older than my own, when asked for tips on common problems, rarely muster more than “I can’t remember.” I draw a blank myself when I think back on how my wife and I handled stuff that happened just last year. “It’s a blur,” say newbie and veteran parents alike, and there’s no better word I can think of to describe this mysterious sensation of amnesia and accelerated time.
This fall Amazon will release an original series adaptation of The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick’s classic depiction of a postwar world ruled by the Nazis and Japanese. Hearing this, I headed for the basement to track down my old copy, a paperback on the inside cover of which I had scrawled my name and “1995,” the year I read it. Read More..
Several weeks ago when I took my two young kids to Clinton Lake to hit one of their favorite playgrounds, we inadvertently stumbled onto a riotous scene. Read More..
On the tail end of a warm, windy afternoon last month at Lyons Park, my 4-year old son, who had been running the bases on the ball fields there for 45 minutes, reached a familiar point of no return, triggered by his frustration that I was unable, at the moment, to continue trying to tag him out with an invisible baseball. Reason being, my 2-year old daughter, whose idea of fun doesn’t have much to do with imaginary plays at the plate and “real baseball dirt” swirling into her eyes, had reached her own point of no return just moments earlier. I was close to a meltdown myself as I shuffled over the mound through the screams, trying to conjure a little inspiration from a vision of big league pitchers struggling on up here without their best stuff.
Usually at times like this I look for humor in the situation, but that wasn’t working today, even though at the same time my son was pretending to be Eric Hosmer, he was also wearing his little sister’s Minnie Mouse sweatpants—pink with white polka dots and a long black mouse tail attached in back—quite tight in the seat and three inches too short for him at the ankles. It would be a few more hours until I could cure myself of the weariness and frustration of the afternoon. Kids put to bed, my wife and I watched a DVD from the library that shifted my perspective and transformed my dusty funk into a sense of wonder, as if I had been able to zoom out and glimpse a big picture view of family life akin to one of those images of Earth from space. Read More..
Curious George and I got off on the wrong foot. One of my earliest memories is an epic tantrum I threw at age four when my parents returned home from a trip bearing the gift of a stuffed monkey, when what I really wanted was a G.I. Joe (and yes, I’m so old I mean the kind that was a foot tall). These days, Curious is curious as ever, in large part due to 2008’s Will Ferrell-voiced feature film, and the PBS television reboot, which airs every morning in these parts around the time my own 2- and 4-year olds are doing their utmost not to get dressed, brush their teeth, eat breakfast, or any other of the morning requirements that distinguish humans from the lesser primates.
Like Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, Transformers, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Curious George is riding a wave of resurgent popularity, as Gen X and Y parents introduce old favorites to their own kids. But I suspect I’m not alone in my frequent disappointment with new versions of old shows, and in sometimes finding even the originals not quite as cool as they were when I was five. Read More..
Long-lost but familiar books, games, and toys can be a revelation when re-experienced through the eyes of children, and one of the most amusing reunions I’ve had in recent years is with the people and puppets of Sesame Street. The library is a great place to find anything Sesame Street, from classic picture books like The Monster at the End of This Book, to songs like “C is For Cookie” and “I Love Trash”. Among my favorites are DVD compilations of the animated shorts dedicated to specific letters and numbers my sister and I always used to call “commercials.” They hold kids as spellbound today as they did when first broadcast, and it turns out my sister and I weren’t far off the mark, since Sesame Street’s creators, who hoped for the first time to harness the educational potential of catchy 1950’s and ‘60’s advertising jingles, called them commercials, too. Read More..
The stereotypical 20th century office secretary—taker of dictation, orderer of flowers for the boss’s wife, getter of coffee—was a silent participant in whatever glory or tragedy befell her employers. Such secretaries rarely found themselves subjects of historical interest, except perhaps in studies of the marginalization of women in the workplace, and characters like Mad Men’s Peggy Olson have portrayed the heartbreaking limitations of the job with an empowered twist hopefully more reflective of today’s female labor force. But in two of the best movies I’ve seen recently, real life secretaries quietly performing their duties became involved in the most momentous historic events of the last century. Read More..
Nearly 20 years ago, Roberta Brown Rauch retrieved from her attic what editor Amy Gary describes as “the treasure of a lifetime”: a trunk crammed with manuscripts typewritten on onionskin paper and bound together with countless, rusty paperclips. Rauch had become their owner when her sister, Margaret Wise Brown, died in 1952. Twelve were published for the first time earlier this year in a beautiful new bedtime book, Goodnight Songs. A dozen of today’s top children’s book artists, including Jonathan Bean, Eric Puybaret, and Dan Yaccarino, illustrate the rhymes, and a CD of musical adaptations accompanies them. Read More..
One of the great joys of parenting toddlers for me has been the newly acquired skill to perform basic human functions while half asleep. Specifically, I’ve found much pleasure in recent years reading aloud to my kids, and silently to myself, in a state approaching unconsciousness. Having never come close to mastering the art of lucid dreaming, which always sounded so fun, this may be as close as I will get to operating in the plane of the surreal (unless you count an ill-conceived game my 3-year old and I play sometimes called “Food Coloring and Shaving Cream”). I find the benefits—strange connections between the text and various subconscious flights of my own weary, wandering mind—usually outweigh the drawbacks, which have included the replacement of P. D. Eastman’s deathless prose with my own inappropriate word salad. My biggest complaint about reading half asleep is the simple inevitability of falling totally asleep within a few paragraphs or pages, and frequently forgetting most of what I’ve read. But I figured there must be writing that lends itself to this mode of consumption, and after a brief quest for the perfect book to read in a half asleep state, I believe I’ve found it. Read More..