27 June 2010

The Zoo Story

It's a momentous occasion in any kid's life. The first trip to the zoo. And recently, on my second Father's Day, we got to mark this major milestone in the Doozer's existence. (Side note: Father's Day takes some getting used to. When I was wished a "Happy Father's Day" by my sister, I was confused and unsure why she was saying this to me and not our dad. She then pointed across the yard at my son. Oh, right . . . )

Anyway, it was finally time for all the static, two-dimensional images of wildlife from the kid's various picture books to come to fully-realized, three-dimensional, and awe-inspiring life. A real spectacle to behold.

(My wife and I were pretty excited, at any rate.)

So, we asked the Doozer if he wanted to see wild animals. He did.

Upon arriving at the zoo, we are given a map and we're ready to explore. The first stop is the Penguinarium. Did they invent this word? It sounds pretty silly. Would penguins in the wild refer to their habitat this way? I wonder. Anyway, we enter the Penguinarium and there they are: big ones, little ones, waddling this way and that, diving, swimming, or just plain lounging around. I'm reminded of a childhood favorite, Mr. Popper's Penguins. We need to pick that one up for the Doozer. I'm thinking he'd enjoy it.

But then again, maybe not. Our son's reaction to this spectacle is . . . mild. To say the least. We're beginning to wonder if the zoo will really be to his liking or not. We scan the map and begin to tell him of all the other animals he'll get to see, that this is but the first stop on our journey. Why, there's lions, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, bears! Oh my!

After no more than thirty seconds of penguin viewing, the Doozer waves at the penguins from his stroller and says aloud, "Bye-bye, pen-gins! See . . . gold . . . fish!" This was not one of the selections we just read off the map. In fact, another quick scan of the zoo guide would seem to indicate that there are no goldfish, or fish of any kind, to be seen at the zoo. There is no aquarium, per se, but there are aquatic exhibits, so maybe we'll get lucky.

We begin to head for the exit of the Penguinarium. But it is a circle, with one entrance and one exit. You have to move through three or four rooms to reach the exit. And around each corner is another side of the tank, where the penguins frolic. So, every time we rounded a corner, my wife and I would say, "Look at those penguins. Look at that one, he's [insert random penguin activity here]." And still, our son's reaction remain unchanged.

Quick wave followed by, "Bye-bye, pen-gins! See . . . gold . . . fish!"

"Great," my wife says ruefully. "We could've just gone to Meijer."

And saved ourselves the thirty bucks we just dropped here, I think.

We move on to the birdhouse, full of colorful, exotic birds the likes of which we would never see in our backyard. And yet, again, the Doozer only wants to see the goldfish. What gives?

Following the bird house, we hit the reptile exhibit and finally, there's a goldfish! A giant one, swimming in a pond with some large turtles. Finally, the Doozer will be happy.

He doesn't care. I don't think he even notices the goldfish. But then again, he's out of his stroller now and there's a metal grate in the floor that makes a great noise when you stand on it and repeatedly stomp your feet to some imaginary drumbeat that only you are hearing.

Our kid is a serious weirdo.

After lunch, we head to the exhibit of polar bears to find . . . a seal. And not much else. The polar bears appear to be hiding. They must've known that our son expressed an interest in seeing bears and did not want to indulge him. Jerks.

Along the way, we pass a farm-type exhibit, with goats, donkeys, a horse. And a barn. "Get in . . . red barn," our son tells the horse. He'll go in there at night, to sleep, we tell our son. Right now, other people want to see him, he can stay out. "Get in . . . red barn," he repeats.

Moving on . . .

Finally, he gets excited about seeing an animal. It's a grizzly bear. And it's trying to eat a giant, metal trash bin. "Bear . . . eat . . . trash can?" Yes, Doozer, yes he does. The adjacent pen with the black bear, we don't have quite so much luck. The black bear is dozing in the recesses of a cave. "Wake up!" the Doozer says. The black bear ignores him. "Bear . . . take nap . . . in . . . bear cave!" While we're proud of this impressive string of words, we are saddened by the disappointment that they represent. We want to throw something at the bear.

But that would be unwise.

On the drive home, we asked our son his favorite part of the zoo. And he quickly told us, "See . . . wild . . . animals!"

Yeah, I liked that part too, kiddo.

18 June 2010

The Eiffel Tower

We all have our favorites. Pretty much my whole life, I've gone through phases where I become fixated on a particular piece of entertainment. A sudden interest in watching Fight Club, or High Fidelity. Putting an album like Cardinology or Is This It? on Repeat on my iPod. My wife does the same with individual songs. As a kid, it was always Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies for me, all the time.

Now, it's our son's turn. The Doozer gets fixated on a particular book and is often not satisfied until it has been read to him consecutively two, three, even four or five times. Treating us like his own personal iPod, hitting the Repeat function over and over again.

I suppose we should be thankful that the Doozer has turned out to be (at least initially) a connoisseur of literature. Of course, there have been occasions where my wife and I have wished to commit hara-kari, rather than slog through one of these tomes again. This proved particularly true of the condensed version of Rumplestiltskin we received from some no doubt well-intentioned individual who thought, "Oh, that's a classic." And perhaps it is in some circles, based upon different versions. But in some bizarre attempt to perhaps simplify the tale and make it more accessible to young, developing minds, it has become so truncated in this version as to be infuriatingly incomprehensible. And even by the standards of most folklore, replete as these stories are with all manner of fantastical elements, aspects of this story are so incredibly, utterly ludicrous as to be maddening when subjected to continuing scrutiny.

For instance, the princess just happens to be wandering through the woods at night and overhears him singing a song about himself and uttering his name aloud? Really? Not to mention the inexplicable climax of this tale ends up raising far more questions than it bothers to answer. He just disappears? I don't get it.

My wife and I routinely find ourselves questioning certain storytelling aspects of the other entertainments our son fixates upon, like episodes of Dora the Explorer, as well. It seems the standards of traditional storytelling logic are often severely reinterpreted (or just plain out-of-whack) when it comes to material aimed at children.

Certainly there are those obsessions of the Doozer I have learned to love in my own way. He has recently taken to clambering up onto my wife's desk chair, pointing at the computer, and demanding, "Watch . . . video . . . Elmo!" (The proper ordering of words in a sentence being a concept that is still, on occasion, out of his grasp.) Currently, he is fanatical about "A Song About Elmo," which I admit, I find hilarious and seriously clever, and that I've discovered myself singing even when alone, in the shower or driving the car, not remotely irritated by the fact that it appears to be stuck on a semi-permanent loop in my brain.

"I kissed Adam Sandler!"

"Okay . . . "

Unfortunately, the Doozer's current literary obsession falls to the far opposite end of the spectrum and, I'm afraid, may soon go the way of Rumplestiltskin, which my wife and I had to hide some months ago, lest we be forced to commit ritual suicide in order to avoid reading it one more time. Also, I must say I use the term "literary" very loosely here. This book is titled, simply, The Eiffel Tower and offers the historical highlights of said structure's design and creation. My wife got it when she was 10 and perhaps it is suitable for a child that age, although that remains debatable.

The Doozer's bookshelf is stocked with volumes such as these, from both of our existing collections, stretching back to our own childhoods. I have so far refrained from putting any Hunter S. Thompson works in front of him, but it's only a matter of time. He did, in fact, one day pull down a copy of The Rum Diary from our bookshelf and ask for it to be read aloud, which my wife dutifully did for a few minutes, taking care to avoid the words we wouldn't want him to repeat and he sat there silently entranced, hanging on every one of Thompson's words.


So, we don't exactly read him the Eiffel Tower book, per se, even though he does ask politely, "Read . . . Ife . . . Ter . . . book, please!" For one thing, it would take too long and for another, it is too advanced at this point. Not to mention the fact that we are staunch imperialists, xenophobic Americans who . . .

I'm kidding. But I do question the appropriateness of the book. My favorite part is the section about a man named Reichelt, an inventor taken in by some shady circus producers, who in December 1911 was convinced to jump off the tower, testing a special suit with wings that he had designed. He strapped on this "batman" costume, jumped, and promptly plummeted to his death. The section is made complete with a dynamic, colorful illustration of this grisly, tragic event. Throughout, the book's simple prose and colorful pictures would indicate that this is indeed a work for children, but this bit seems a little out of place.

If nothing else, we have been able to use this book to introduce a new word into the Doozer's vocabulary: cowboy. Apparently, Buffalo Bill Cody was a famous early visitor to the Eiffel Tower. Who knew?

What with all the words and the questionable content, we end up just showing him the pictures and asking him to tell us what he sees there. And so it seems the story of the Eiffel Tower can be summed up pretty succinctly, and thusly: "Statue of Liberty, pyramid, palm tree, horse, bumpy bridge, ladder, bucket, wheelbarrow, flag, umbrella, man have beard, elephant, bike, fireworks, hot coffee, cowboy." The End.

If only more history books were like that. Take note, David McCullough. Nobody needs your lengthy prose, meticulous research, and copious footnotes. This is a history so compelling, in fact, that the Doozer instantly requests that it be recounted to him again.

And repeat . . .

04 June 2010

The Buddha Eats Spaghetti

This title might seem a bit odd at first glance, if not an outright error. It is a statement so bizarre and outlandish (and yet, strangely ordinary) as to produce untold amounts of head-scratching, if not immense confusion. Which stands to reason as it was conceived and ushered into the world by the growing mind and boundless imagination of a not-quite-two-year-old. To whom, I'm sure, it made perfect sense.

(Side note: If I ever write a parenting book, this has to be the title.)

Perhaps some background is in order. After learning the word spaghetti (or as he says, "sa-ba-gee"), our little Doozer has grown a bit obsessive about it, working it into conversation whenever the opportunity presents itself. And sometimes not. It has even supplanted his previous quasi-word for pasta, "noo," or noodles. He must like the sound of this new word, because his use of it has grown so exponentially in such short order that it almost seems to be a compulsion.

When asked at the end of a day what he did that day, the swift reply will often be, "Eat . . . sa-ba-gee," whether this is actually what he did that day or not. (Usually, it's not.) And he also assumes that spaghetti is universally adored (on this, he is probably correct), that he is far from alone in his devotion. This extends to all manner of wild animals. When asked what a (insert animal here: moose, snake, squirrel, deer, etc.) eats, the answer will invariably be sa-ba-gee.

Great, now he's got me doing it. I meant, spaghetti.

Having also just learned the term "Buddha," because two small decorative ones reside in our foyer, he performed the perfect mash-up when, one night, apropros of absolutely nothing, he pointed to one of the Buddhas and told me, "Buddha . . . eat . . . sa-ba-gee." These ellipses, by the way, are not literary embellishment, but rather an accurate depication of his speaking style. It's as if he's slowly, intentionally building suspense for his proclamations. Not unlike Barney Stinson saying, "It's going to be legen . . . wait for it . . . dary."

Recently, when told about the birth of a semi-contemporary and potential future playmate (a friend's newborn baby girl--read all about her here: http://westernmassmama.blogspot.com/), the Doozer quickly learned her name and then told us (yes, told us, this was definitely not a question), "Ruby . . . eat . . . sa-ba-gee!" Wiping away the tears, we had to inform him, with regret, that as of now she probably only drinks milk, that newborns do not yet have the mastication skills necessary to consume pasta noodles in any form.

And though he could not properly articulate such a complex thought, I'm pretty sure the look on his face at that moment indicated exactly what was on his mind:

"Man, is she missing out . . ."