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.