Monday, December 21, 2009

H_mb_g - All that's missing is "u!"

I'm pretty happy with this one. Primo's class was focusing on one letter of the alphabet each day, so I decided to combine that with the vacation countdown and this is what I came up with. You've got Uncle Scrooge strumming a ukulele, made from meat and cheese, sitting under an umbrella made from oro blanco (like a pomelo and/or a white grapefruit.) And, he's on vacation at a Floridian beach. The white sand is homemade cheese bread, the starfish is apple, the hibiscus are pear and the water is a blue fruit roll-up. The roll-up feels like a bit of a cheat, but it ended up being all he talked about. "You know what I really liked, daddy? The water. It was really good. Maybe you could put some more in my lunch tomorrow. You said it's fruit, right? So it's really good for me. We should eat a lot of things that are good for us." And so on. He was active and passive in his requests, plaintive and demanding. We were close enough to leaving town that I just rode it out.

We went to an indoor water playground here in town yesterday to meet up with some cousins who were in town. The kids had a blast, which was no surprise. What was surprising was how much fun I had how, well, infernal the place was. The roar of water echoing off cinderblock was, literally, deafening. I read somewhere that if you have to shout to be heard, you're damaging your hearing. I pretty much always have to shout for my kids to hear me, but when we left I felt like I should be wearing an AC/DC t-shirt and reeking of at least two kinds of smoke. Okay, maybe not AC/DC - I didn't have to read lips for the rest of the night. Let's call it Poison with special guests Ratt. (Or you can call it the Ratt Poison tour. They did, after all. I called it the first time I ever won concert tickets from the radio, but that was just the first thing that made me feel like a winner about that concert.)

Also, it was hot. Not just warm enough to play in water, but hot enough to need to hydrate. If I had been blindfolded, you could have told me I had been chosen to repair a ruptured boiler in the dark.
The chlorine would have given it away, though.

Have you seen the vinyl decals on cars and trucks that show silhouettes of waterfowl among the text "if it flies, it dies"? I could see, in my mind's eye, emblazoned on the glass sliding doors of the waterpark, the phrase "If chlorine can kill it, it's dead." My mind-eye didn't discern any silhouettes, but I'm sure that, at the very least, dogs that fit in purses would have been among them. I should mention that I was doing all this visualization because my regular eyes had been stung by thousands of angry hornets upon entering the pool area. So, between heat, a deafening roar and eye-pain, I'm recommitting to "infernal" as an appropriate adjective. My task, even more overtly Sisyphean than most: watch my 2-year-old on the "kiddie" waterslides.

Hyperbole aside, these things were dangerous to him. He's not overly cautious. Every surface leading to the slides was slippery, and the slides were disproportionately fast for their length and pitch. He needed monitoring, and I'm used to it. Specifically slide duty.

I did it for Primo before him, and I still don't know the best way. Both of them want to go on the highest slide possible. Twisty is good, especially twisty enough to spin you around backwards or turn sliding into head-over-heels tumbling. But sometimes straight and fast - fast enough to make it hard to land on your feet at the end - is the way to go. Regardless, there's a big, tall climb to the top. So, do I climb with them to make sure they're safe on the way up, or watch from the mouth of the slide to make sure they're safe on the way down? Is it more nerve-wracking to see them climbing flight after flight of stairs alone, or watching, fingers crossed, as they slip away, sometimes not to be seen again until they emerge at the bottom?

I guess I could climb up and go down the slides with them. It would be good practice for when I take the training wheels off their 2-seater bikes, and for their 25th birthdays, when I finally disengage the passenger-side steering wheels in their cars.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

M-I-C, K-E-Y oh why do we do this to ourselves?

I banged this out when the local paper came by a few weeks ago. It was during our vacation countdown and I wanted something that was easily recognizable, so I went with Mickey. He came out alright, all things considered. I hadn't really done one for an audience, but it didn't end up being much different. Normally it's the kids shouting questions from the other room. This time they were asked at a more conversational volume and actually pertained to what I was doing.
Mickey's pants are carved apple, the rest of him is meats and cheeses. The blackberries probably could be serving a more interesting purpose, but they're in this one mainly because they were on sale.
I'm still kind of recuperating from the trip, but I wanted to get something up. I've also done a quick video of some of our time in Walt Disney World. You probably won't find a lot of Disney vacation films that need to be set up by making sure you've seen "I'm On a Boat" (edited) by The Lonely Planet, but ... you'll want to have seen "I'm On a Boat" (explicit) by The Lonely Planet.

Friday, November 13, 2009

It skips a generation

This is a pinata tostada. It feels like I ought to have thought of a lot of rhyming words to cobble together into a sentence, but sometimes you've got to resist.
There's a base of seasoned rice and refried butter beans beneath all the embellishment and the same beans cementing everything to a flour tortilla I cut into the shape of the pinata and fried until crispy. The pinata has stripes of diced avocado, shredded cheese, chili powder, sour cream and white ("Swiss") American cheese as well as reins and a saddle of some of the last of the cherry tomatoes from our garden. The background decor is of similar composition, with the additions of radishes cut to look like peppermints and some sliced carrots. I sent along tortilla chips for him to scoop up the stuff underneath the pinata.

I hadn't worked in dip since a seven-layer version of van Gogh's "Sunflowers" I did for a friend's party a few years ago. You might think I was throwing that line in for a laugh, but no, really. The theme was something like "the art of food," and it was potluck. Mostly there were a lot of very pretty hors d'oeuvre and trays embellished with flowers, but somebody did an installation of metal saucers suspended by wires and filled with dips. Anyway, nobody touched the "painting," but there was a bowl of the dip next to it that got cleaned out, so I can only assume that people either didn't realize that it was the same dip or didn't want to mess it up. As I've said before, that's really the paradox about these things. They're made from food specifically so you can eat them, but people often don't eat them.
Primo's reason for not eating this one wasn't not wanting to mess it up, though. Instead, it was because he "[doesn't] like cheese."

My grandfather was dying of cancer when Primo was born. I wasn't with my grandfather all the time, but if he was in a lot of pain, he didn't show it when I was with him. He mostly just seemed to be getting more and more tired. The one comforting thing for me was that things we hoped were taken for granted didn't have to go unsaid. All of the grandchildren wrote him, well, goodbye letters. His sons who live elsewhere visited often. People made time.

Nothing I saw affected him quite the way Primo did, though. Maybe it was an affirmation of the sort of ebb-and-flow nature of human life. Maybe there was no history between them, no hard feelings or regrets to moderate the joy of their interactions. Maybe my grandfather just liked babies more than I had cause to appreciate before. Whatever the reason, he positively glowed when he held the boy. He found strength in the arms that now mostly rested on his chest to lift Primo up over his head and let his new great-grandson look down at his great-grandfather. The traces of resignation and acceptance of his mortality that colored his brave smiles evaporated when those smiles were turned toward my newborn son. I can't describe it any other way than "spiritual."

So I'm not surprised that I played medium to my grandfather when Primo told me he didn't like cheese. The man had lived through - come of age during, really - the depression. I had no reason to doubt him when he told me he used to play with sticks and rocks as a youth. He never, ever wasted food. As a kid I'd "finish" a chicken leg and he would take it from my plate and clean it. You know the cartoons where the bear gets hold of a ham, puts it in his mouth and pulls out a perfectly white bone? That's what he would do. Maybe I'd gotten most of the meat, but when he was done there was no meat, no skin, no fat, no gristle, no sinew. His plate looked like Death Valley at the end of a meal. I swear the bones were even sunbleached a little somehow. I don't remember them ever having a dog, but it might have just had the sense not to bother hanging around the kitchen table.

Once, when my brother and I were visiting them in a retirement community in Arkansas, before they moved back to Omaha, he took us fishing at the marina where residents docked their boats. You could look over the side of the dock and spot the little bluegill and sunfish lazing near the boats, so they were no great trick to catch. And catch we did. I'm not sure why we weren't releasing them all, but, probably at my behest, we kept several in a bucket and took them home to fry. I ate most of what was put on my plate, but despite catching them and helping to clean them, it wasn't as rewarding as I thought it might be. My brother, who probably wasn't more than six or seven at the time, refused to even taste his fish. It had never really been a sticking point in our house. Neither of my parents voiced much concern over whether our plates were "cleaned." That probably accentuated the attention my grandparents paid. My grandfather asked him why he wasn't eating, and my brother told him "I don't like fish." "You don't?" my grandfather asked. "Well," he continued in a voice that suggested even to my nine-or-ten-year-old ears that he was about to trap my brother in a hypocrisy, "what do you eat when you go to Long John Silver's?" My brother cast his eyes to the side and answered: "chicken." And it was true. And the part of me that hadn't ever gone without a meal laughed a little when, tables turned, my grandfather didn't have anything else to say.

Not for almost 30 years, anyway, until I asked my own son "You don't like cheese, huh? Well, you like pizza, don't you?" As soon as I'd said it I was back at that dinner table, but now I was the one baiting my picky little adversary and waiting for that one, vindicating answer I believed was the only he could possibly give. Maybe he could have given me his own version of "chicken." Wriggled out of the trap I'd set for him and left me scowling because I'd been outmaneuvered. Maybe he'd have no answer. What was to be gained either way? So, instead I just said "don't say you don't like something. Especially something you eat all the time. Say you didn't like it this time." And we left it there. I threw out what he hadn't eaten and thought about his great-grandfather. "My grandpa who died," as Primo calls him.

It's given Primo easy entree into a darkish part of his own head to have a relative who's seen holding him in pictures in his baby book, but isn't around anymore. He's probably no more haunted than most 5-year-olds, but we've had to address the subject. Repeatedly. When we do, we try to be frank and genuine, but more even than that we try to change, just by degrees, how Primo's framing things. He'll ask about his "grandpa who died," and we'll remind him that his "grandpa who died" was also his "grandpa who loved him very much and was happy to have met him." And remind Primo that he was lucky to have met his great-grandpa. Nevermind that his great-grandpa would have told him to eat that cheese.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Clone Ranger

I had an interview with the local newspaper today. It was different working on one of these with other people in the room. I didn't quite finish in time to take the lunch I was working on to school, so I'm trying to decide whether to post it. Maybe if he eats it as a snack this afternoon. Okay, here's the other shoe: I sent a "plain" lunch with him in case what ended up happening happened.

While the jury's out, here's his lunch from Halloween. I'd sent pepperoni pizza for two days in a row, so I went with a turkey sandwich masquerading as pepperoni pizza. Kinda pomo, huh? (Note to Wikipedian responsible for Postmodernism wiki: though it "may be abbreviated to pomo in adjective form," it really shouldn't.) It was well-received.
Our whole family was able to make it to school to watch the costume parade, with Primo as the lone (and blue, and Power) Ranger. The expected red Power Ranger had been replaced by a young Jedi named Ben'dic Ar-Nald. Primo is recovering comfortably from the lightsaber wound to the back. It's nice the way those self-cauterize.
I was surprised how few Power Rangers there were, though. This year's panicky parent poison would have been the Clone Trooper. "Has anyone seen my son? He was dressed as Captain Rex! No, he's got blue accents on his armor - that's an ARC Lieutenant! Cody? Co-deeeee!"
I can't decide whether that would have been harder for me to accept than a Power Ranger. Power Rangers I have no vested interest in, but Clone Troopers are another subject entirely.
We've let Primo watch "Star Wars." ("Episode IV: A New Hope," if I must.) I'd be lying if I said I hadn't hoped to bond over it, but that, it seems, was not to be. He didn't seem to dislike it, but he hasn't asked to watch it again. That's made the household discussion of when he's old enough to see "Empire" fairly moot.
We have some friends who started their own youngster on "Episode I." Reasonable people can disagree, I suppose. After all, people like to get bad news out of the way, eat their vegetables first, and put horrible burns into cool, soothing water. Besides, Primo will finish the series first, because they're going to hit the PG-13 roadblock in the story arc that is "Episode III," which we're saving for last. Anyway, "Episode I" apparently sucked their kids right in. Enough that they've got a "Jedi party" coming up. (Thanks again, Ben'dic. If we would have gotten the Jedi memo I could have gotten a twofer out of the Obi-Wan costume I ended up buying for the party. At least it was on clearance.)
Back when it was Morning in America, my friend's dad was in his living room watching "Goldfinger" on the Sunday matinee. When I asked him what it was he regarded me for a moment, incredulous, and said "James Bond." I had seen "For Your Eyes Only" in the theater recently and told him that the man he was watching was not in the James Bond movie I had seen. He told me that I had been watching Roger Moore and that I should take a minute and watch James Bond. Rather than just one, I took a few minutes to consider Sean Connery and then remarked, with authority, "Roger Moore is better."
I never really got to apologize to my friend's dad. Not in any way that was meaningful after his stroke. They say he probably could have made a full recovery if he had received immediate treatment, but I figured he was just slumping back into his chair to finish watching that dusty old Sean Connery guy. So I left him to it. 
I've forgiven myself in the intervening years, and I've grown more circumspect. After all, I was young. Now I can't believe I could ever think Roger Moore was the best James Bond. But, to be fair, who could have seen Timothy Dalton coming? And it's hard for adults to accept that everything newer is better.
Which may have saved me from an attack of the clone. If I would have realized that "Episode I" is the Red Bull to my "Star Wars" Postum, maybe Primo would be "really into 'Star Wars'" now. Then, besides watching him embrace the patently inferior portion of the mythos, I would have had to watch him express himself by dressing as a Clone Trooper. Unironically, which would keep it from being performance art. Like a sandwich wearing a pizza mask. Yeah, I guess the Clone Trooper would have been worse. So, that's decided. Yessir, I can cross that right off my list.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blue Nightmare

Primo's school is having activities and theme days leading up to Halloween. Yesterday was "Crazy Day," and kids were supposed to dress crazily to raise awareness about the crazy decision to try drugs. The implementation at our house involved putting everything on backwards. I thought a tinfoil hat and his old Little Tikes shopping cart might seem ... insensitive. Too bad, because it's already full of stuffed animals.
I don't know about everyone else, but Primo kept his clothes on backwards for the rest of the day. I got to feel like we were constantly getting ready for a formal, with him turning his back to me and asking to be zipped up. At bedtime, he put his pajamas on backward and inside-out, telling us "it's still 'Crazy Day.'"
So, to recap, doing drugs is crazy. Crazy like wearing your clothes backwards. Wearing your clothes backwards is fun. Fun enough to do all day long. And, if wearing your clothes backwards is crazy and fun, taking it to the next level and turning them inside out, too, is super fun! Do those Canadian online pharmacies sell methadone?
Had I known I might be sewing seeds for future hallucinations, I probably wouldn't have sent the pepperoni pizza pictured above. It's meant to be a scarecrow, but could have used a hand or a pole or something to finish it off. The hat is carved Jonathan apple, the small apples at top maraschino cherries. The crows are made from black grapes and carrots, and the corn next to the scarecrow's head is romaine lettuce pasted to Club crackers with Laughing Cow cheese spread. I used a packaged "Mexican" mix from Sargento instead of mozzarella to get a nice orange hue to the pizza.
Pizza is always a winner, so I finished up the crust this morning and made pizzas for Primo and my wife, who was going to join him for lunch. We all ended up going up to have lunch with him and lots of the kids were wearing "drug-free" ribbons. I choose to believe that everybody got them, even though some kids weren't wearing them. Either that, or they need drug education way more than I would have expected. Which is possible, too, because the kid sitting next to us at the lunch table pointed at his ribbon and said "free drugs!" Then he told my wife they weren't allowed to "eat any drugs this week, but next week [they] can."
Anybody who feels like they're about to say "It's never too early to talk to your kids about x" should talk to a kindergartener about x first. And they should talk to that particular kindergartener about X first. And put it on YouTube.
And speaking of things it's too early to talk to your - and by that I mean my - kids about, we had rehearsal for whatever after-school special we're inevitably going to live out.

DAD sits in the driver's seat. PRIMO and Secundo in their carseats behind.

So, who do you want to dress up as on Friday (the school's Halloween party)?

The blue Power Ranger!

Dad looks in the rearview mirror at Primo. We see Primo in the mirror, looking out his window.

You don't want to be Martian Manhunter or the Red Tornado?


You're sure?


Even though you've never seen the Power Rangers?


Dad looks back at the road.

Even though other kids will probably be dressed as the blue Power Ranger?

Primo looks at the back of Dad's head and gestures to indicate emphasis.

 That's okay! There are going to be two Mighty Cyruses and three Hannah Matanas! And Jack is going to be the red Power Ranger! So if I'm the blue one, we can be together!

You're killing me, do you know that?
You don't even know what you want! This is just a phase! You're going to grow out of this and then you're going to regret this for the rest of your life!

The Power Rangers are stupid. Is that what you want to be? Stupid?

Okay. You can be the blue Power Ranger.

And, scene. Look, I know we're going to get to the Power Rangers someday. I saw "Inframan" in a double-feature with "Tron" at the drive-in when I was seven and I've thought countless problems I've had since then could have been easily and effectively solved with Thunderball Fists. I just don't want to be there yet. I want the kid who begged for Super Grover shoes in his size three weeks ago (after he saw his little brother's pair) to stick around a while longer.
I had told him he could be a Power Ranger on one condition. He'd heard from a friend that "Jungle Fury" Power Rangers could turn into anything that was the same color that they were. I've used that to my own great amusement in pretend play sessions when he insists on being a Power Ranger. ("You can turn into anything blue?" "Anything." "I bet you can't turn into a blueberry." "Pshoo! I'm a blueberry." "Cool. I'm a bear, and I ate you all up." "Daaaaad!" "What's that I hear in my tummy?" And so on.)

So, the condition was that he could be a Power Ranger, but that he had to have turned into an especially fluffy blue bunny. He seemed resistant, but I explained that he could wear a Power Ranger costume with big, furry hands, feet and ears, and he agreed.
I thought about following through on it, but what it really said to me was that it would make him genuinely happy to dress up as the blue Power Ranger. Even bunnified. So, after that last conversation to make sure it was what he wanted, I bought him the blue Power Ranger costume - not "Jungle Fury," the show's current incarnation is "Power Rangers: SVU RPM" - and let myself enjoy both the sudden freedom from having to assemble an obscure-superhero costume from scratch and the ease with which I was able to let my son do something I thought was kinda stupid but made him happy. And enjoy that it ended up not just being pretty easy, but making me feel pretty good, too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Edible (in the strictest sense) Incredible

Mr. Incredible here illustrates a kind of core conflict in these lunches. Namely, what am I okay putting in Primo's stomach to get the desired effect in the lunchbox? Don't get me wrong, there's nothing instantly harmful in this one. There are two different cheese foods, though. And Carl Buddig meat. It's okay to be skeptical about Carl Buddig, right? It's like $.80 a package. Somewhere along the production line there's a "slurry." Check out the "Healthy Living" section of their website. I don't know that I'd call it disingenuous, I just don't know that they'll be able to get it accomplished. I'm going to go ahead and give them quixotic.
And that's not pejorative. I'm an INFP and I'm going to keep my fingers crossed for them. Especially when you're waiting on content like this.
If you didn't follow the link, or followed it and didn't scroll, here's the pertinent excerpt:

What is sodium erythorbate? (I.e., is it made from earthworms?)
Sodium erythorbate does not come from earthworms ...

I know things change pretty quickly on the internet, but the F in FAQ used to stand for "frequently." As in, the folks at Carl Buddig are frequently asked whether their ingredient list includes earthworms.
I suppose frequency is relative, though. Thus, I picture, by way of explanation, one person sitting alone at a desk like the Maytag repairman. He has a request on his desk to list the most frequently asked questions he's answered from callers for the new website. The only person who has ever called found an open packet of Buddig turkey in the back of the fridge that his roommate left when he moved out two weeks ago. It still has a "sell by" date on it, which has expired, but he wasn't sure whether to go by when it was supposed to be sold or when it was opened, because, you know, he thinks his roommate probably bought it before the "sell by" date. It's October and he's thinking about having it for Thanksgiving, so depending on the answer, he might try to freeze it. He really hopes he can still salvage it, because being on Weight Watchers since July has really made him fixate on Thanksgiving dinner and the turkey is real important on account of not being able to eat stuffing or gravy or rolls because of gluten intolerance. But he doesn't want to go too overboard, so what are the points like on the turkey? Also, are there ground-up worms in it? And is that the points for the whole package?
And, since every other question has been asked zero times, voila! an FAQ page is born.
There's also the possibility that this page was on the floor of that room with an infinite number of monkeys trying to type the collected works of Shakespeare that you may have heard about.
Carl Buddig meats and Kraft singles are basically perfect for stuff like this from a materials standpoint. The color, consistency and thickness are so uniform, if unnatural. It's like working with construction paper. Delicious construction paper. And it's probably worse for him, too. The cheese isn't the worst. The Buddig corned beef has sodium nitrite in it. It inhibits the bacteria that causes botulism. But it forms carcinogenic compounds when exposed to heat. So they put sodium erythorbate in it to keep that from happening. But that's made from worms. It's like the old lady who swallowed a fly or something.
But I can kick that can down the road a bit, because the additives that they're figuring things about don't look like they do much for at least 30 or 40 years.
Also, he didn't eat the corned beef.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Eat the worm

You might call my eldest son an adventurous eater. He will gnaw the bones in a goat curry. He doesn't turn down jellyfish salad. He likes his fried tilapia whole ("with the face," as he has remarked. He has yet to opine on the merits of fava beans or a nice chianti.)
So I felt confident sending this elephant to accompany a thermos of stewed lentils. I wasn't sure whether he'd eat the radishes that the ears, headdress and tulips are made from, or the cucumber leaves, but I didn't figure the carrots or cashews would bother him. Certainly not the rice.
This one went basically uneaten, though. "I think it was somebody from "A Bug's Life," was all he had to say about the entire affair.

We have friends who emigrated from Hong Kong when they were very young, and one of their mother's great joys is a kind of culinary one-sided truth-or-dare she plays with us. She tries to order things that we won't eat. Moreover, I think she wants us to find them disgusting. It hasn't worked so far, but crashing dim sum with her and the extended family while we were all visiting her kids in Chicago years ago put things in a new perspective for me. Among the baskets and platters of buns, rolls and dumplings, which, let's face it, could have contained absolutely anything, there was a little plate with a dozen or so chicken feet. Knowing I seldom had the opportunity, much less the inclination to order them, I figured now was as good a time as any to give them a whirl. It wasn't a spectacle. Only our friends and their parents took any interest. It was like the Life commercial, but with a twenty-something Mikey in an all-Asian household and chicken offal instead of cereal. And I didn't tuck into the whole plateful afterward. "He doesn't violently dislike it! Hey Mikey!" The truth is, and why wouldn't it be, that chicken feet- little branching systems of sinew and bone wrapped in leathery, almost reptilian skin- taste like chicken skin. Not being a huge chicken skin fan, I'm not a huge chicken feet fan. Not that cleaning your plate of original recipe at KFC means you'll dig chicken feet, but if you like chicken skin, you're a step closer than I am.
Anyway, the friend who was residing in Chicago went on to say that if I thought chicken feet were bad, I should go to southeast Asia. "They eat some f***ked up s**t," he said, "Stuff Chinese wouldn't touch. Like balut- fertilized duck egg. A hard-boiled egg with a beak and s**t. Chinese don't eat stuff like that." At that point, his father nudged him and started saying something in Chinese. Our friend's face grew incredulous as he alternated between Chinese and English, saying things like "what?" and "no" and "naaaaasty!" "What?" I asked. "My dad's eaten balut. And he says that it's popular in China." Then his father told us that it tasted okay, but he didn't like that it was crunchy. At that point I had to ask him whether there were things he was exposed to that he wouldn't eat. He didn't take long to begin to consult with his son, so it must have been readily present in his memory. There was a little back-and-forth, then he put his index finger flat against the table and began flexing it. Our friend was silent for a moment. Then a heartfelt "Nasty." His father then told us about how he had watched his grandfather eat a live green worm. The inching gesture makes me think it was some kind of caterpillar, but, regardless, I'm in our friend's camp. Nasty.
And so was his dad, apparently. As a kid who would grow up to try balut, he still drew a line at this green worm. I don't know whether he was ever encouraged to try it, whether his parents played "here comes the airplane" with one. But if they did, it didn't work. And sometimes it just won't. Even from one day to another. I'm still scratching my head over the untouched rice.
Some of our friends ask us how we get our kids to eat the things they eat. We've got our tactics, to be sure, one of which is simply to expose our kids to a lot of different things. So, as far as an absolute number of different foods goes, maybe they have more variation than a lot of kids. Taken as a percentage, what they like compared to what they've tried might not really be much different from those same kids.

I mean, maybe Primo is on the "adventurous" side of the spectrum, but, to help keep things in perspective regarding my little gastronaut, potatoes (discounting french fries, of course) are not part of the adventure. Which is a shame, because they were totally ready for it.
There's a song from Yo Gabba Gabba about the party in one character's tummy. Potatoes are not invited to the party in Primo's tummy. Why not, you ask? Potatoes know what they did.*

*Adapted from a Scotty Kangaroojus joke about pad thai on The Showbiz Show. They won't be needing it anytime soon. Also, I know what potatoes did, too, but I ain't no snitch!**

**Adapted from refutation by Clifford Joseph "T.I." Harris Jr., who also won't be needing it anytime soon.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Velveteen Stripmine

I made this in honor of a class trip to see "The Velveteen Rabbit" at our local children's theater. It's the titular bunny (lower left) nuzzling the old rocking horse (upper right) who teaches him about love. As a concept, not as an act.
My wife was thrown by the rocking horse, who is a turkey, pastrami and cheese on whole wheat. His handles are made from Fairbury brand hot dogs and they are that red right out of the package. The velveteen rabbit is carved from an apple.
The upshot of the story is that love makes you real. It's specifically true for toys, but I think you're supposed to generalize. I seem to remember liking the book as a kid, but it doesn't bring back good feelings when I think about it. The snapshot in my head is of all the toys awaiting the pyre. The rabbit gets saved by a fairy, I guess, but that part didn't stick with me. Now that I'm older, the story has a real "Occurrence at Owl Creek" vibe for me.
Here's this raggedy stuffed rabbit who's been ridiculed by other toys, rejected by real rabbits and, now, consigned to eternity by the little boy who loves him. He's about to be thrown in a bonfire. Who wouldn't indulge in a little delusion?
I don't feel like I've got a new, bleak outlook on every story from my childhood, either. This one has never sat quite right with me. Here's how it wraps up:

"I am the nursery magic Fairy," she said. "I take care of all the playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children don't need them any more, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real." "Wasn't I Real before?" asked the little Rabbit.
"You were Real to the Boy," the Fairy said, "because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to every one." ...

He was a Real Rabbit at last, at home with the other rabbits. 
Autumn passed and Winter, and in the Spring, when the days grew warm and sunny, the Boy went out to play in the wood behind the house. And while he was playing, two rabbits crept out from the bracken and peeped at him. One of them was brown all over, but the other had strange markings under his fur, as though long ago he had been spotted, and the spots still showed through. And about his little soft nose and his round black eyes there was something familiar, so that the Boy thought to himself: "Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!"
But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real."

So, the "fix" for a toy rabbit who can't be the boy's constant companion anymore is ... to be turned into a "Real" rabbit who can hang around with other rabbits who rejected him for what he was and can welcome him now that he conforms? What if they figure out he's just been turned real? Will they go back to shunning him? Now that he's alive, will he have to die? When? Oh, and he "gets" to see the boy who used to love him but now can't recognize him and has a replacement rabbit. Is he going to be able to watch the kid grow old and die? Also, the fairy bolts, so ... you weren't going to need her for anything, right?
It isn't like the time has come for the boy to leave childish things behind and the rabbit ends up in a trunk in the attic for his old dear friend to rediscover, even for just a moment later in life, or give to his own child. The kid gets a new rabbit, so it isn't even like he isn't needed anymore. The kid just gets sick and the doctors think the rabbit is too germ-ridden to give back to him.
I'm no toy rabbit, but given the framework, I'd have to go with un-Real and loved over Real and in some kind of plush-toy purgatory.
I don't know what the resolution should have been if it were going to satisfy me, but what it is ain't what would. I guess I prefer the "Toy Story" model, where "real" is what you are and "loved" is what you aspire to be. That's why I don't feel like a jerk ripping into a childhood classic a little, because that stinking "When She Loved Me" vignette in "Toy Story 2" chokes me up every time I see it.
Anyway, Primo liked the play and the lunch. I'm not sure whether he thinks the Velveteen Rabbit gets a raw deal, but I do. For Real.

Monday, October 5, 2009

We're gonna party like it's your birthday

Here's a little break I took recently. It's a cake for my younger son, Secundo, and it was nice to not have to worry even to my usual extent about nutrition. Just sugar and various binders and syrups stuck to butter, sugar, eggs and flour using butter, sugar and cream with a generous amount of artificial coloring and flavoring mixed in. The frosting was made from scratch, but that's it. Everything else was from boxes and bags. I didn't want anyone to regret cutting into the cake because it tasted bad.
In an age where Americans wonder why other people hate us, I truly hope the phrase "pudding in the mix" isn't among the reasons. It may be, but I hope it isn't.

Several months ago we were having a bit of a lay-in with the lads one Sunday morning when the doorbell rang.
Secundo's breath caught in his throat and his eyes widened with anticipation as he looked out the bedroom door. He pretends to be a puppy a lot, but this most doglike behavior was completely genuine.
"Who's at the door?" my wife asked.
His eyes shifted away for a moment as he accessed the part of the brain where toddlers keep the crazy. "Bunny rabbit," came the reply.
"A bunny rabbit is at the door?"
"What's he doing?"
"Has birthday cake!"

I'm not sure how the association started, but it stuck. It was deep enough that when I would ask him what sounds animals make, he would meow for kitty, woof for puppy and tell me that bunny said "birthday cake." He began singing "Happy Birthday" to himself in the car, inserting his own name. He pointed to cornbread muffins at dinner and asked for "birthday cake." He stacked a long, thin cylindrical block on top of alarger, squatter one a few nights ago and said "birthday cake."
So, eventually, months after he had already turned two, I got the hint and made him this bunny cake.

The bedroom where the birthday-cake-bearing bunny first spilled out of Secundo's head has a door that leads to the attic. A few years back, a starling made its way into said attic. It made its presence known late one night with the sort of indistinct scratching and shuffling sounds that can only be made by whatever you most hope is not searching out a way to get into the room you're in. Sewer rat, rabid raccoon, zombified squirrel, anything could have been making the noises that were so clearly descending the stairs and then obviously emanating from just behind the door. So, it was with a strange sense of relief that I got out of bed and turned on the light to see a yellow beak stabbing repeatedly under the door. Freaky as it could have been to other people, or in other circumstances, there and then I could deal with a bird. I still don't know how it got in, but it left wrapped in a blanket and, to the best of my knowledge, hasn't been back.
I didn't even realize Primo had been aware of the whole thing until one morning, months later, in the same bedroom when he asked, looking at the attic door, "Where is the mommy bird?"
"The bird that was upstairs?"
"I think she flew away, honey. Where do you think she is?"
"I think she's at work."
"Work, huh? Where does that mommy bird work?"
"With daddy."
"What does she do?"

Working-mother starlings and cake-toting rabbits. While I dearly love the moment when these things are said, the lasting entertainment comes from picturing the analysis going on in their tiny little minds. At a certain point, you're able to start "using your imagination," which is a freeing from the boundaries of possibility placed on us by experience. Until you've got the boundaries, though, you're just running every conceivable thing through this hopelessly underdeveloped and overwhelmed logic filter. And it's really the filter that really makes it, because you don't end up with completely random nonsense. They're eliminating possibilities by some incomprehensible heuristic. Their decision tree, our Plinko.
Who knows what questions each of those pegs represent, but somehow the little puck ends up landing between someone who has actually been to our door - grandma, for instance - and, oh, let's say an unescorted birthday cake, right on the "rabbit" space. Then we drop the "what's the rabbit doing" chip and ... plink, plink, plink ... it comes to rest between the mundane "here to play with me" and the unsettling but utterly plausible "here to get/eat me," on "has a birthday cake."

You know, kids really do say the darnedest things.

And it's all inadmissible until they turn seven.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Recreated here in Nutella (sending you straight to the store locator will only seem presumptuous until you have some,) bananas, apples, raisins, Life cereal, a maraschino cherry and some peanut butter "log," (peanut butter, honey and powdered milk combined to make a sort of clay) on toast is a familiar face from an animated favorite of mine. He's half of one of the most popular and beloved duos in film history. He formed an unlikely bond with a spaceman. His voice is unmistakable.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Bing Crosby.
The reference I was using for Woody had kinda sleepy eyes. Why I didn't just replace them with wide-open ones, I don't really know. It was late - just ask him. He's got a pipe ready, just out of frame and he'll probably put it between his teeth for a moment only to remove it and say something like: "Oh, hello! I was just getting ready to have a sit-down by the fireside here. It's getting late and there's a nip in the air. Bum-bum-buh-baah-boo, boo-boo-boo-boo. Why don't you come on over where it's warm and have a little ... nibble?"

Our son Primo was a late talker. As time wore on past his second birthday, there was less and less "oh, don't worry about it, everybody's different," and more "have you taken him to see someone?" On the one hand, he was signing. So he could communicate some of the basics. On the other, when we went through the 2-year well-baby checklist, we ended up saying "no" a lot.

"Is he putting together simple sentences, like 'car go?"
"Would you say he says 100 words?"
"Maybe 50, then?"
"Is he calling objects by name? Puppy, chair, car ..."
"Um. No."
"But he's saying the big ones ... 'mommy,' 'daddy'..."

I was slowly becoming a "maybe we should see someone."

But then he pointed to the counter and said "yummy." And off we went. It wasn't like wildfire at first, so when he started mimicking a pull-string Woody doll we got him, it made an impact. The little "Ha, boy!" from the backseat every time Woody shouted "Yee-haw, cowboy!" (one of four phrases) made Woody the one "Really talks!" toy that I haven't ever thought of "misplacing." Even now that Secundo is at string-pulling age, 25% of what Woody says still makes me genuinely happy, which actually might have Secundo beat, at the moment. (Being a 2-year-old, he sounds a lot like we did at the wellness checkup these days.)

So, now that I've cleared up that this is actually supposed to be Woody from "Toy Story,"  this is something I sent along during "Western Week" at Primo's school. Primo correctly identified him, though he wasn't sure exactly what he was made of at first. Apparently he asked his class' paraprofessional, but she wasn't sure, either. At some point he, or someone, went ahead and took a bite, because very little of Woody made it home. When asked what he thought of it, he said: "I guess it was a good time to do it, because on the next day we wear our cowboy clothes."

Then he started talking about how much more like a cowboy he would be if he had a gun.

For my part, I think opting for the brown dungarees I dug out the next morning instead of the pair of jean shorts he insisted on wearing would have done at least as much in that department.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This means something?

After the Thing, I decided to get back to lunches that I could ship FedEx. Here's what I came up with.
George is roast beef and turkey with brown mustard on whole wheat, sitting atop banana chips, broccoli and Cheez-Its. The banana is American and Swiss cheese on pepperoni stuck to a Ritz cracker with cream cheese. The little black dots are fish eggs; I don't think you can call something that sells for $4 a bottle "caviar." They taste like salt. The yellow hat has the same ingredients sans fish eggs. Someday I'm (or a cardiologist is) going to do a find on "cheese" in these posts. Had I been making this for myself, I would have done this scene, but I didn't want to give Primo ideas. It's already hard enough to keep him out of my ether. I tell him that it's like the dishes in the glass cabinet - for company - but you know 5-year-olds!
It ended up being another good one all the way around, though. Primo was able to identify it, ate most of it and told me he "liked that Curious George was thinking about things. Like the hat and the banana." The third Ritz was just intended as a flower design, but he interpreted it as a thought balloon, which, as I look at it, makes perfect sense.

After dinner a few nights back I dressed up some leftovers for my wife to have between work and an appointment. The owl is carved from a Bosc pear. His irises are carrot and his pupils are cheese. The branch is also pear and the pine cone and moon are radish. The leaves behind him are cucumber, there are mushrooms at the bottom and everything is on top of some rice noodles.
She was appreciative of the owl. Moreover, she's seemed to like the blog so far, which really means a lot because she's been writing for a living since college.
After the post about the mallard snack, she mentioned that she thought I would have come back to the "Sopranos" ducks in that post.
I created a physical representation of a departure metaphor in sausage and olive. Come back? I haven't even left yet.
Maybe it's a Mars/Venus thing and Teri Garr would side with my wife. "I don't know, I just thought he was going to come back to the Devil's Tower thing."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

If you meet the Buddha in your lunchbox, kill him!

You may remember that I learned some lessons from the Joker episode. Well, I figured that the Thing fruit salad over here would be safe to travel when I cemented it in tapioca pudding. The Thing is cantaloupe scored to look like rocks. The "crash" and his mouth are carved apple. He's got ever-lovin' blueberry eyes and the debris is blueberries, grapes and maraschino cherries with strawberry-leather bricks. I even shook this one around a little bit to see how it held up. I didn't go nuts, but I figured it would survive a short walk. It might have, but it didn't make it through being dropped upside-down onto the car floor and stepped on on the way out of the car seat. I went ahead and surveyed the damage right there on the hood. It was, in insurance parlance, totaled.
I'm about to wax philosophical, so unless you are the sort of person who has tiny "Thinker" bookends somewhere in your house, have stopped to watch a street-mime dig a hole, are high and without access to your copy of "2001," are manually verifying a computer word-count (you know, just to be sure,) or think this might be the time I mention you by name, you might want to skip the coming lavender text. Feel free to bail in the middle, too. It will certainly be moving slowly enough.
I was reading a bento blog recently - not this one, which I think is really great and need to acknowledge - and I saw a post about not understanding how people could spend so much time on something that a kid is going to mess up in seconds. The trite response is: "you must not have kids, because that describes everything included in and including your life once you do." That doesn't really answer a valid question, though.
When I was in college, Tibetan monks visited our campus on a mandala-making tour. Over the course of several days, they painstakingly constructed this intricate work of art from sand and then, presumably, destroyed it (I wasn't there for that part, but, with sand mandalas, it's what one does.) My gut reaction was that it was a crazy way to spend time, but as I really thought about it, the zen started to seep in. If this thing was going to be gone forever in a few days, I was lucky to have seen it. Lucky to have been present at this tiny sliver of time when the fruits of these days of labor preceded by years of experience were borne. But that would make people who missed it unlucky, or me unlucky for missing something else to see the mandala. So, not so much fortunate to be at that particular place at that particular time as fortunate to appreciate it - to really be present in a moment. And sometimes it takes something dramatic to remind you that every experience is one that will soon be gone forever, to be replaced by another that will soon be gone forever. And it's worth pondering which moments to remember or anticipate at the expense of the present.
So there are these chunks of time, usually after he's asleep, where I shut other things out and my mind narrows and narrows its focus. From a scene, to a character to a detail, the extraneous falls away and what is left expands to fill my world. It's meditation. At least sometimes. And when I'm done, there's this hyper-transitory artifact that, by its very nature, can't be appreciated fully by more than one person. Anyone who isn't eating it stops short. But it can, in theory, be more fully appreciated than so many other things because it's food. It can be smelled, touched, seen, heard and tasted. It's an opportunity for what was once my complete focus to become his complete focus. But it turns out he doesn't like tapioca pudding, so this particular fruit salad cannot be his daijo.
Okay, why spend so much time on something a kid will mess up? Because I enjoy doing it, I enjoy the thought that he might enjoy it, it's for him and nobody else and he might, in fact, enjoy it. Even if what he enjoys is messing it up. Which it isn't, because as I repacked his lunchbox and told him that I was sorry that his lunch didn't look like the Thing anymore. He waited a second and said: "Daddy, maybe you should carry my lunchbox on surprise lunch days."
I will, if he wants me to. But if you're going to do your creating in sand, you can't get your saffron robes in a bunch when the tide comes in.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Go, Speed Racer, go! Yeah, just keep on going ... further ... further ... no, it's okay, I'll tell you when you've gone far enough. Sure you'll be able to hear me!

Primo is a big Wachowski fan, but since he thought my "V for Vendetta" chopped salad was Professor X talking to a clown, we went with Speed here. I'm kidding, of course. We didn't let our 5-year-old see "V for Vendetta." We learned our lesson with "Bound." The Mach 5 is turkey, pepperoni and provolone with mayo on the heel of a sourdough loaf and the wheels are dolmas. Speed Racer is a boiled egg, cheddar, turkey, nori and a thin slice of honey gelatin for the goggles. Between the crusty bread, the pepperoni, and, let’s face it, the steering wheel that looks like a nearly-slanderous mustache, the checkered flag (apple) seems more like a tablecloth in an italian restaurant. “Speed rounds the bottle of house red and - Oh no! Captain Terror has deployed a rosemary-infused oil slick! Look out, Speed!” Still, I was really pleased that a bath in lemon juice kept the apples red and white instead of red and brown.
The top slice of the sandwich was a little hard for Primo to get his mouth around, so he ate it open-faced. He seemed to really enjoy this one for both the subject material and the ingredients. When I asked him about it, he said: “At first I thought it was Mario, but I knew it was Speed Racer when I saw the 'M' on his car and hat." (We're going to refrain from untangling that little mind-bender until the spelling foundation is a bit more solid.) "The apples sort of looked like a racing flag. Maybe next time, you could cover the red parts up with black pepperoni."
To my ears, that's a kindergartener begging for an introduction to black pudding.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The mallard of jealousy

I made this for my wife. The ladybugs are pepperoni and cream cheese on Ritz crackers, the small mushrooms are radishes and the large one is a mini Babybel cheese wheel. The foreground is California roll sushi with dabs of wasabi, and the plant the ladybugs are hanging out on is cucumber and edamame in the shell. There are spicy pickled cauliflower and carrot accents.
She had mentioned getting herself a bento box if I would make lunches for her. Also a lawnmower if I would cut the grass, a rock if I would make stone soup and a sow's ear if I would sew it into a silk purse.
She's actually really appreciative, both of the effort and the outcome. And she doesn't necessarily need her subject to have a television show. Or promotional DVD(s). I'm going to put a little rant in white type after this next period, but there's a picture of something else if you scroll down. If you skipped that last link, good call - it will be easier to finish reading this while not bleeding from your eyes. Double-plus good call if you have any scientific knowledge tucked even into the dimmest recesses of your brain, because this show goes medieval on science. In the "Pulp Fiction" sense, and in the "heresy of heliocentrism" sense. It doesn't even make as much sense as a Mad Lib. It's like they're scatting using scientific terms. All of which would make me no difference if Fisher-Price didn't contend that "Kids will be having such a blast with the Planet Heroes™ action figures, they might not even realize they’re learning at the same time!" And, really, why would they? You probably didn't realize there was mercury in your tuna sandwich, but you're still just a teeny-tiny bit more poisoned than you used to be. And by the time you're aware of the Planet Heroes™, they's pretty much already done given you all the learnin' they's a-gonna. Namely that there are planets. Not that any of this will stop me from progressing through all the Planet Heroes™as the charaben-ery continues.

Mmmm ... cathartic.

Anyway, this is a little duck snack I made for my wife a few days back. His head is an olive stuffed with blue cheese and he's sitting among seasoned broccoli and mushrooms. There's Swiss cheese behind him and a little piece of garlic toast backing it all. His body is made of sausage. It's pork rather than duck. And it's that tiny flair for droll attention to detail that glares as the solitary difference between myself and Martha Stewart.

Also, we got a positive visual on Primo's friend from school at the park a few days back. We were walking back to our car when someone began screaming our son's name- something they must teach them all to do, if pick-up time is any indication. We looked and saw a small boy trying, it seemed, to climb out of the window of an SUV. When his door was opened he ran full speed to within inches our little guy, locked eyes and shouted "Hello, Primo!" "Hey!" was my son's response and then there was a brief moment of silence until the other boy's mother caught up. Then all of us, including our son, learned that "Robin's" name is Jack.

Friday, September 18, 2009

In the Name of the Father

Nemo here is an open-faced roast-beef and cheddar (yellow and white) sandwich with radish garnish. He's cemented to his whole-wheat base by garlic and chive cream cheese and he's floating in a sea of snow peas, edamame and dill pickle slices. The seaweed is ... well, seaweed. Without the flash from the camera, he looked more matte and cartoonish and, strange to say when speaking of a fish, better.
Nemo was probably two-thirds eaten when he came home, but it was clumsily done. If you're only going to eat part of this little guy, you take alternating bites from top and bottom, leaving just a bit of sandwich between them so that you're left with a head and tail connected by fish bones. Teed up, right? You need to crush that one out of the park, son.
Anyway, I have to believe that Finding Nemo has supplanted the Lion King as Disney champ of the "Daddy's Got Something In His Eye" section on Netflix. Okay, so dad's not looking down on his son whenever the stars shine. Instead, dad watched his son's mom die violently while trying to protect her children, only one of whom survived. And his son has a disability. And he's sending his son off to school for the first time. And they have a big fight and his son, who is also all that's left of the woman he loved, rejects him and is then abducted. Thank God fish don't have the draft. And how is Daniel Day-Lewis not associated with this movie?
So, I'm going to presume, and ask the reader to allow, that better-founded pathos is being tapped into when I go one better further and get misty over Finding Nemo ... the Musical. And not just any musical, but the 30-minute almost-criminally-abridged musical currently on stage at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. A stage tread just prior by rollerblading monkeys. (To be fair, that was another show which, in its own way, illustrated why boys need fathers. Yes, that's a headset mic.) And not even the musical, but the soundtrack to the musical which I've included on the 8-hour mp3 cd that lives in our family car's stereo on an expired visa.
I'm not embarrassed that I enjoy the music. Even if it didn't have a modicum of credibility, I have always been unapologetic about my musical tastes. I have no regrets about 1986, Stryper! I was 12, but I had an old soul. Please note that I never said that nobody should apologize for the music I've brought into my life. It's just not going to be me. Maybe Greatest Hits: Live in Puerto Rico was their apology. It was a long time coming and they should have done it before ... April 2006? WTF? Does that mean they're still together? I wouldn't know, because I am soooo off them.
Anyway, thanks to our younger son, Secundo, "Mee-mo" has been on repeat more that its fair share. I'm sure I'll grow more and more desensitized to lyrics like "You mean so much to me, I don't know what I would do/ In this big, blue world, if something should happen to you," but, as of scant weeks ago at dusk in a supermarket parking lot, waiting for mom to run in and buy something that escapes me but was certainly not so poignant as diapers or "Sunday night sundae" ingredients or a Father's Day card, it hasn't happened yet. And, when it does, it will be time to start getting nostalgic about when our boys were young enough to love a Disney stage show unironically.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Demand a panda

There was still plenty of rice left over from the Penguin, so I decided that, two weeks in, I had waited long enough to send my boy off with the first lunch that might actually embarrass him.

The boys in the lunchroom can easily identify it as a panda. Any girls who come over for an eyeful the cuddly little guy ("OOOH!") will see that it is constructed from fish stuffed into rice and rolled in seaweed, surrounding a ball of shrimp meatloaf. ("EEEW!") That's what they call "leading with the left," son. Better to learn it here than in the ring.

And now for some mitigation.

None of the fish is raw, it is canned salmon made into a salad. Just one step afield from a tuna fish sandwich. Also, just look at the photo for a minute and appreciate ALL the foregone opportunities for heart shapes. Carrot flowers, the tomato slice on the egg, the egg itself, the panda's toes, foot pads ... eyes. Think of me what you will, I kept this all above-the-belt. Except, I guess, that putting it in his lunchbox, not telling him about it and letting him open it in front of everybody was kind of like running up and rabbit-punching him while he was climbing through the ropes. But, hey, for some it's the sport of it, for others it's the theater of it, right?

As far as I can tell, it didn't embarrass him at all. In fact, it was still semi-recognizable when it came home after school, so he hadn't scrambled it around on purpose or thrown it away. The pickled green beans, the egg and two of the sushi-limbs were gone, indicating that he hadn't simply seen the lunch and then quickly stuffed it back in his bag. I had also sent a container full of blueberries and orange slices, so he spent most of his lunchtime eating that, probably with his lunch on full display the whole time. Since the Joker, I usually ask what his lunch was to determine whether they're remaining intact until he can eat them. I asked while we were in the car. "Panda," he said, smiling as he turned to look out the window.

When my wife and I went to Europe in 2002, I made sure our international flight originated in Atlanta, because they had giant pandas on exhibit. It's surreal to think about something this way, but I wanted to go and see this living, breathing thing with my own eyes because I thought it's entire species might finally disappear during my lifetime. That I might, someday, end up explaining that to my kids. That I would have to tease apart pandas from dragons and dinosaurs when we were separating things that never lived from things that lived a long time ago from things that daddy saw once and they'd never get to see.

"Did you like it?"  I asked. "Yeah," he answered, still looking out the window, "especially the blueberries." Then, beneath eyes locked in the "thousand-yard stare," he began picking his nose. And I imagined us engaging in an eerie repetition of our conversation somewhere in ... the future:

"What was lunch today, son?"
"Did you like it?"
"Bleep, dad, it was a nightmare! An ongoing, everyday nightmare! Panda is like welfare meat! I might as well just go down and get in line myself!"
"Now, son, panda -"
"'Is the most nutrient-dense and, if I say so myself, delicious of the traditionally-grown meat products available to members of our caste.' Got it, dad. The panda farm keeps a roof over our heads, the panda farm paid for my new jet-boots, blah, blah, blah. Do you know what M'thuselah Pitt-Joile-Willis brought for lunch today? Pegacorn. A unicorn with wings. Bioengineered, nanofactured, and braised."
"Is it so important -"
"To be like other people? No, dad, it's not. But it is important to not have you constantly drawing attention to me so that they don't all see that I'm not! And work on your Mandarin! You sound like you're from New Fujian for bleep's sake!  Bleep bleeped embarrassment."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wheel of Symbolism: Penguin Edition

Boy howdy do I hate mob movies! Vampire movies, too. If When they make the first movie about the vampire mafia ... well, I'm probably just going to exaggeratedly roll my eyes and blaspheme, but I'm really really not going to be happy. I'm not going to see "Don of the Dead." I'm not going to see "The Forsaken-by-God-Father." I might see "The Undeadables," if they get Sean Connery and some appropriate vampire-defaming slurs. "Just like a sparkly, bringing a knife to a stake-fight." "They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs back to the morgue. Without their head, which you send to a separate morgue across a river. That's the Chicago way!" 
It's not just mob movies I hate, but mob stories, really. Unless Until mobsters "rub me out," I just really don't think I could care less about their exploits. Except for "The Sopranos." No, wait, even "The Sopranos." But I totally get the ducks. I used to get them on an intellectual level, but now I feel like I really get the ducks. Unless the metaphor extends to having members of your family filled with buckshot or end up hanging in a butcher shop or something else specific to mobsters. Then, if we're being completist, I don't totally get the ducks. But to the extent I can get them, having watched the pilot episode and probably bits totaling another 34 minutes of the series, I get the ducks. And one of mine is starting to lose some down.

 He's taken his first step into society, really. He's starting to deal with people on his own. I didn't even get to introduce him to his class. He's walking up to other little human beings and making first contact all by himself. I know he's going to need me less and less as time goes by. I'm sure if I really thought about it I could figure out other things he doesn't need me for anymore. Probably I'll do that tonight when I go to bed. What the heck - how about every night? This feels like the first real separation, though. From now on, more and more often, he's going to just be Primo. Not "my son Primo." Except when I'm talking to people and he's not there.

Now, before we get too far off on another subject, let's bring this back around to me. There was a review of "Public Enemies" that described John Dillinger as "handsome" before the "more" link. Leading as it did to the rest of a review of a gangster movie, the link went unclicked, but it did make me wonder why, of the adjectives that could describe a thief and murderer, "handsome" beat the jump. The biographical entry I ended up reading because of it said that "[H]is father, a hardworking grocer, raised him in an atmosphere of disciplinary extremes, harsh and repressive on some occasions, but generous and permissive on others." Except for the grocer part, that could be me! And even that part is really just a matter of time! I've taken away his whole collection of "Bob the Builder" vehicles for not listening to me before! And we've provided him with a whole collection of "Bob the Builder" vehicles!
But my son is a well-adjusted, right? Why, he's just today been telling us about one of his new friends at school. He's forming connections with people. He's played with this kid every day at recess this first week of school. He sits near him at lunch.
"You have a friend at school? What's his name, honey?"
"I don't know, but he likes to be Robin!"

A week in, my son doesn't know a single name. They sit four-to-a-table four seven hours a day, he doesn't know a single name

If you don't let them in, they can't hurt you, son.

Here's another cold little sociopath you can spend lunchtime with.

This is the first onigiri for Primo. It's stuffed with smoked mussels and garnished with nori, a cucumber slice and a cracker. If it looks exotic, please bear in mind that it is ultimately a wad of white rice. My son loves some white rice. His hat is a roll, also with mussels,  that wasn't quite sealed to give a highlight. The shirt and tie are a BabyBel mini cheese wheel and the penguins are shrimp balls with nori and carrots.

And Dillinger is no Alvin Karpowicz.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Joke's on me

Making these things is a coping mechanism. I used to try to do something fun with my older son, who we call Primo, every day those other miserable bastards were in school, and something special whenever we could. The park, the zoo, the pool, the library, the children's museum - all staples. Some, like the fire station and the strawberry patch and - one more nail in the coffin of the idea of an all-loving God - the John Deere tractor and combine exhibit at the western Iowa fair, I still get props for to this day. Others are best left to manifest themselves as compulsions and phobias later in life. Lucky for me he's still eating salami 'til then, because he got two "surprise lunches," as he calls them during his first week of school, and his second was Batman's antipasto antithesis: The Joker.

Talk about your lessons learned. Let me say that these are all foods that my son eats. Let me also say that yes, those cherry tomatoes and cucumbers are fresh from our garden. Yes, his hair is chopped fresh basil, plucked from a still-living stalk in said garden. He is accented with koshering salt and fresh cracked pepper. What’s that? He has indeed been drizzled with olive oil.  Yes, good eye, as a matter of fact, his suit is cut from a homegrown, heirloom Black Krim purple tomato not really done justice by this photo. Also, a kindergartener swings and shakes his lunchbox a lot. Almost to comical excess, one might say.

This I didn't fully appreciate until I asked him how his lunch was and he replied, with uncharacteristic economy of language, "good." I asked him whether he knew who lunch was supposed to be. He told me that he didn't, but that the tomatoes were good and that they were the kind they picked one time with his aunt and that's the time when they went swimming in grandma's pool and the dog... So, as my son returned to form, I wondered whether he had been looking at the Joker upside down. After all, he couldn't read the cheddar "HAs" either way. Once we got home, though, it was obvious what had happened. At least everything had gotten a nice, even coating of dressing.
So, everything since has been packed in tight or has used natural stickiness to its advantage. As in life, really.
When my son did eventually see this lunch as it was intended, because my wife posted it on Facebook, he was impressed. His lips pursed and his eyes lit up. "Whoa! The Joker!" passed breathlessly from his mouth and left a smile there as he looked at me and at his mom and then back to the screen. And it was nice to be there for "the reveal," since I'm not there in the lunchroom. And it might have been even nicer that he just stayed there in that happy place where the picture took him, rather than moving on to disappointment that it didn't make it to school that way.

Bring me Batman's head on a platter

I’ve been a stay at home dad for just about three years. I like to think I’ve taken to it pretty well, considering. Both of my boys still have all the fingers and toes they started with, are free from scurvy and, to the best of my knowledge, don’t yet know about the wondrous pixies who live, waiting only to play with children, inside matchbooks. I’ve grown so fond of them during our time together that I will now put my name at the top of the waiting list when I give them up for adoption.

Now my oldest son is starting school, which is not the same as it was “in my day.” Kindergarten in Omaha, Nebraska, when I was young, was a half-day exercise in socialization through napping and regimentation by graham cracker. Now it is a career. My son’s school day starts 45 minutes later than my wife’s workday and ends just over an hour sooner. I’m turning my progeny over to complete strangers for well on 40 hours a week. And, if they don’t like him, there isn’t even biological imperative to fall back on. They don’t care whether his genes get passed on. They don’t teach middle school.

And he gets twenty minutes for lunch.

Which is where I can sneak back into his day.

Like this:

The first one I sent with him was a Batman bust made from a turkey and cream cheese on pumpernickel sandwich with white American cheese for the jaw and eyes, grapes and licorice bites for the night sky and hard-boiled egg with sushi nori for the Bat-Signal.

I confess I was a bit let down when I asked him how his lunch was, as his first response was that he hadn’t eaten it all. “I ate the grapes, and the candy, and the egg,” he continued, opening his lunchbox in the car and removing the sandwich box that houses his lunches. I thought to myself that maybe he didn’t like the pumpernickel, or worse, he didn’t want to eat Batman, which would really pretty much defeat the purpose of making these things. But then he took his sandwich out and said “and then we had to get up because the bell rang,” and took a big bite out of Bruce Wayne’s lantern jaw. I was relieved, happy, and not really at all surprised when he asked whether all of his lunches were going to be Batman.

No, son, they aren't all going to be Batman. But they are all probably going to violate copyright to some extent. And, when you're lucky, infringe on trademark.