Tag Archives: toys

Remote Controlled Lunatic (Or, children make you insane, vol. 271)

Being a parent means so many little changes in your life.  Big ones, too, naturally, but little ones that don’t even really trip the radar.  There’s the level of ambient noise you perceive as “normal” in your house or the world (increases the longer you have kids).  There’s a general level of cleanliness you’re willing to accept (and which deteriorates over time).  There’s the idea of being awakened in the middle of the night for things short of the house literally being in flames or an actual intruder coming to murder your face (goes from “hardly ever acceptable” to “pretty much planned and expected every night”).  And you’re aware of these things in a detached way but not so much that you actively think about them.

Then there are the things that sneak up on you and which you accept so completely and unquestioningly that it shocks you in retrospect.  For example, I am willing to believe just about anything my wife tells me that I know about or knew about.  She could lie to me and tell me that she explained the meaning of life to me in all its nuanced poetic simplicity over pancakes yesterday, and I would believe it in a heartbeat despite not actually being in possession of said knowledge, and also knowing full well that we did not have pancakes yesterday.  My mind has become a leaky sieve, and I am no longer a good judge of whether or not I have heard something before and whether I told a thing to somebody or whether I remembered to put on pants before the family came over for dinner (spoiler alert: I didn’t, and continued to prep dinner for thirty minutes in my pajamas before my wife pulled me aside to correct the situation).

All that is to say that I no longer trust myself to know what’s actually going on right in front of me, and I will latch like a facehugger onto any explanation which presents itself, whether that explanation is reasonable or not.

Case in point.

I’m driving to work the other morning.  It’s not even a discombobulated, late, running-out-the-door-with-shaving-cream-still-on-my-ear kind of morning.  I woke up, ran, showered, shaved, had breakfast, said goodbye to the wife and kids, and got into the car and drove off.  I even remembered my pants.  I turn on the radio and I’m listening to the prattle of the Bert Show as one of the DJs (is she a DJ if she doesn’t wrangle music?… whatever) professes that she can divine facts about a person’s life just by looking at their wedding registry.  You know, high-brow entertainment.  So I’m driving and not-really-listening when I hear this voice.

It’s a strange voice.  It’s too high and too stilted and the cadence is weird and I can’t make out a word of what it’s saying.  It’s not speaking a foreign language, it’s just speaking at the lower register of what’s audible.  I turn down the radio and it stops.  “Okay,” my brain thinks, “it’s just ambient noise from the studio, maybe somebody forgot to squelch a mic or wandered through the studio gossiping about their weekend.  No worry.”  And on I drive.

Then I hear it again, same weird pitch, same weird cadence, same inaudible volume.  But I hear it more distinctly now.  A voice outside the car?  I’m driving through a neighborhood so it’s possible it could have been a kid shouting.  I buy it until I look in the mirror and see no evidence of any kids waiting on buses anywhere in the vicinity.  I turn the radio off and it stops again.  Fishy.  On I drive.

It’s when I hear the alien voice for a third time that my brain just throws up its hands and says, “Okay, I give up, you’re obviously going insane and hearing voices is just a part of your life now.”  I still can’t make out the words, but the voice is insistent and deliberate under the drone of the radio.  I’ve switched stations so I know it’s not an artifact of the studio.  I’m no longer in a residential area so it can’t be somebody speaking outside the car.    Yet there it is, sounding almost like it’s coming from inside my own head.  Do I have to be concerned about hearing voices?  Does it matter if there’s a sinister voice telling me to kill people if I can’t understand what it’s saying?  Maybe it’s my subconscious whispering to me in German because I somehow subliminally understand German from a past life I had living in feudal Germany?  I turn off the radio to be alone with my thoughts and drive for a solid five minutes under the assumption that this oddball voice is just something I’m going to have to learn to live with.

Then I come up on a red light and stop, and I hear the voice again.  Without the hum of the radio and the whimper of the car’s engine, the voice is suddenly crystal clear, if still muffled and distant sounding in my head.

“Nine!  This is the number, NINE.”  *Boing, boing, boing*

And immediately my mind flashes back in time two months to the time my son brought this horribly annoying Grover “remote control” that talks to you when you push its buttons and how much I hated that toy and how happy I didn’t realize I was when he somehow didn’t have it when we got out of the car; so happy I didn’t bother to think what had happened to it.  Obviously it slipped from his hand and slithered across the cheeto- and cheerio-crusted floor and found its way up under the driver’s seat and wedged itself in amongst the discarded coke cans and the seat’s guide rails and waited, WAITED for me to forget all about it so that it could one day — THIS DAY — begin using the momentum of the car to fling itself against a screw, which would depress the number “9” button, so that it could prattle its inane message that “THIS IS THE NUMBER NINE” into my subconscious under the guise of being radio interference.

Look, the toy is not sentient, okay?  I know that.  I HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT.  This story is not about the toy, it’s about the mind of an adult turning to mush after two years of looking after a tiny human.  It’s about the fact that it seemed — and I am not exaggerating in the least here, though I am wont to do so — more reasonable to me that I had actually gone GIBBERING INSANE on my ride into work than that a perfectly innocuous toy might have been triggered in the backseat and started singing about the number nine.  In other words, simple problem-solving strategies and common sense filters completely failed me in that moment.

Why have they failed me?  Because there is no simple problem solving strategy, and there is no such thing as common sense when you have a toddler.  I found a stuffed animal crammed into one of our living room lamps the other night.  I don’t even know how the kid was able to reach high enough to get the thing in there, or how my wife and I failed to notice it lurking, bright orange and horribly silhouetted, against the lampshade for the weeks it was up there (judging from the healthy layer of dust).  I had to tell my kid not to drink bathwater out of his little pitcher thingy not thirty seconds after he had nearly drowned himself in the tub DRINKING BATHWATER OUT OF THE LITTLE PITCHER THINGY.  The phrase, “You can’t have any smarty-candies because you didn’t make a poop” actually came out of my mouth.  I’ve cleaned MUSTARD off of the TELEVISION.  And that was all just in the last two days.

I don’t want to say that the kid(s) made me crazy.  They didn’t.  They’re only tiny little humans.  What they’ve done is eroded my mind and made me into something like a child again myself.  Higher-level thinking goes out the window when you’re a parent.  You start believing in fantastical, ridiculous sharknado because you forget to care about whether it makes sense or not.

Did I give the impression that all this was a bad thing?  I’m not sure that it is.


I am obsessed with toys.

Not the toys that my toddler leaves strewn about the house.  Those haberdasheryspawned contraptions of plastic and plush and cacophony without cease are the stuff of my nightmares, and I’m convinced that, when I have shrugged off this mortal coil, if hell is waiting for me, then at least one level of it will be a simple living room floor covered with toys that, much like the severed heads of the hydra, only spawn more toys when I try to clean them up.  An ever-growing, inescapable bramble patch of sharp-edged Legos waiting for my tender underfoot, a never-flagging symphony of bells and xylophones and singing woodland creatures.

Ahem.  Not those toys.

I’m talking about adult toys.  NO NOT THOSE ADULT TOYS.  Toys for grown folks.

The problem is, they don’t really make toys for grown folks.  There’s a toy section at Target (Yeah, Target, because FARGO WAL-MART), but it’s for kids.  Toys for grown folks underwent some serious branding a long time back and are now known as “accessories” or “programs” or “electronics” or whatever other title the little odds and ends are for whatever fascinating little squirrel-hole of a hobby you find yourself falling down.  My holes are reserved for things like running and writing and watching movies and maybe I should rethink the phrasing of this sentence.

I should make something clear at the outset here.  I’m a packrat.  It’s awful.  I love stuff.  I really do.  The American credo of getting as much as you can (that’s a thing, right?) has found a happy little home in my brain and I feed it at every opportunity I get.  I find a hobby, or a thing that I love, and I buy all kinds of little useless crap that has anything to do with it.  I’ve got a storage tub full of decks of cards from when I went through a card tricks phase a few years back.  I’ve got boxes in the garage filled with little action figures (THEY’RE NOT DOLLS, SHUT UP) from cartoons (okay, anime) I watched in college.  I’ve got dusty plaques and trophies from when I was less than ten years old.  No less than four sets of serious-ANTZ darts (because, yeah, darts were a thing for me for a while) — the ones that come with their own little carrying case and you have to screw the whole shebang together, feathers and all.  A personalized goldfingered bowling ball from when I was in a bowling league at the age of fifteen.  It’s not memorabilia.  There’s no sentimental value.  It’s my STUFF, man, and I’m a-keepin it.

So I hoard stuff.  And my wife hoards stuff, too.  Like opposite ends of two magnets, we attracted one another, except that like magnets would repel each other, and we’re the same, so the metaphor kind of falls apart at this stage, but sharknado, I’m on a roll here.  Our garage is not a place we like to show off to people.  It’s a repository of our shames.

Because, make no mistake, there is bountiful shame.  I know that, on many levels, it’s ridiculous to have all this stuff.  Who the haberdashery needs thirty decks of playing cards?  And yet, I can’t get rid of it.  Even as I profess to strive for minimalism and simplification in my more recent years, the demons of my past keep working behind my back.  Organizers to decrease desk clutter?  Yes, I’ll take two, and try them for a week, and then put them on the pile of clothes that I keep meaning to donate out in the garage.  A fancy new bag to keep my job stuff organized as I go back and forth from home to work and back?  I’ll take one in blue AND black.  One will live in the back of my car; I will call him Tim, and feed him empty tin cans and drive-thru receipts.  BECAUSE I KEEP THOSE TOO.

New hobbies?  New toys.  With running, it was new shoes, the soles lined with the down of angels to comfort my delicate feet, new socks made of synthetic fibers to absorb shock and sweat (socks that actually care which foot you put them on – seriously, I had never seen socks emblazoned with tiny L’s and R’s before I took up running), a fancy watch which can triangulate my position and tell the government (I mean me) how fast I ran that mile, what neighborhood I ran it in, and how long I was meeting with the terrorist operatives in the woods (wait, what?), new shirts woven of mystical threads to provide legendary comfort and style, hats, gloves, shoes, headphones, all of which are covered with little reflecty bits to ensure that I am not struck by oncoming traffic whilst I’m out pounding pavement when the rest of the world slumbers.  They say running is cheap — all you need is your shoes and you can head out the door.  The romanticism of that idea drew me in.  I shudder to think how much money I’ve “saved” by taking up running rather than or instance shelling out for a gym (which I would not have gone to, that’s off topic, STAY ON TOPIC).

Now, writing!  I am new to Serious Writing (about as new as this blog is, which is to say, not quite a month in), so my list of purchases is still rather short.  BUT NOT NONEXISTENT.  I am typing these very words on a spiffy new bluetooth keyboard with my tablet (the bluetooth keyboard actually makes the tablet totally decent to write on). I bought some e-books, which DON’T COUNT because they don’t take up space, but yeah they still count because they are still representative of my inner slobbering consumerist packrat self.  A new bag, to facilitate carrying the tablet and keyboard as well as my other stuff going back and forth between work and home (yes, I got a new bag a couple paragraphs ago, just… okay?)

And apps!  Holy schlamoly, there are so many apps out there for writers, it’s a wonder that writers haven’t buried the world in the pages produced by all the productivity they’ve gotten out of all these apps. (Because a thing that writers definitely do NOT do is buy all these toys, read all these things, download all these apps, and proceed NOT to write anything of value, right?  Right??)  Dictionary apps and thesaurus apps and blogging apps and word count apps and timer apps to make sure you work undisturbed until time is up and apps that shut down the Internet while you’re working and apps that do all of these and also pour you a nice cup of coffee, just kidding, unless you’re reading this from the year 2020 because surely by then there will be an app for that, right?

My favorite at the moment is a little word processor called WriteMonkey, a stripped-down plain text editor which aims to eliminate distractions and allow you to focus on your writing without the urge to check e-mails, surf the web, watch an hour’s worth of Mental Floss videos… to be fair, the urges are still there, but the program blacks out everything else on your screen, theoretically making it more difficult for you to indulge your urges.  Out of sight, out of mind, and all that. It operates pretty well as advertised.  But the big dumb draw of it for a distractable donut like me is that you can toggle on these little keyboard clicks to make it sound (and, if you’re really into it, look) like you’re typing on an old-school typewriter, complete with a cheerful ding when you hit return.  I know, it’s dumb.  But it sucks me in, man, like a brand-new Dyson.

I punched out a solid 1400 words today to the soft ratatat of classic typewriter keys today, and left myself well-poised to jump right into Tomorrow’s writing (getting started is the toughest part).  Who knows how long these new toys will hold my focus, but I’m gonna keep working them as long as they’re working.

So.  Many.  Things.

Want Crayons (Toddler Art?)

The kid has started coloring on the walls.

We’ll start with the metaphorical.

He’s caught another stomach bug – his third, or his second and a half, depending on how you quantify the two weeks of pain we endured at Casa de Pav back in January.  How he keeps catching this evil is beyond me, but he doesn’t catch it halfway – it starts out of nowhere with a big, dramatic vomiting spell (I could tell about the time I was in Wal-Mart with the sprout at 7 AM and he erupted in a fountain of cottage cheese and peach slices shutting down an aisle and requiring me to make a pit stop through the toddlers’ clothing section which I was not planning on making and then carrying him home wrapped in my hoodie and his clothing in a garbage bag, but I won’t, I MEAN OOPS).  Then he moves on to blowing out his diapers and literally pooping the rainbow for a few nights.  We’re on night two.

I feel for the poor kid.  He’s had a rough weekend as far as toddlers go, for whom every day which does not see your every whimsical desire fulfilled to the fullest possible extent.  In short, every day is a rough day.  But the weekend has been a bad one, by dint of a couple of things.

First, the barfing.  That’s never fun; it scares the haberdashery out of him every time, and it would be better if you could comfort him but the only thing that really comforts him is being held and, well, eww.  He hasn’t developed the decency to bend at the waist while he’s blowing chunks (a skill which, like so many others we take for granted as adults, is apparently NOT second nature after all) so he likes to walk around while he’s spewing, really maximizing the ratio of affected area versus possible area.  Of course his clothes get caught in the crossfire (just made myself laugh out loud and gag a little simultaneously, a pretty unique feeling), so holding and hugging him is low on the list following one of these sessions.  Also, his last vomit fountain was bright pink; fluorescent, almost.  The only saving grace is that it happened out of the house (in grandma and grandpa’s house.  Sorry about that.)

Second, the poops.  I won’t go into too much detail here for the benefit of those of you reading this who do not have (and have not had) young kids whose poops you have to clean up.  I will just say that his entire, uh, undercarriage is raw and painful to even look at, so I can only imagine the discomfort the sprout is in.  Honestly, picturing it mentally to try to write about it is giving me the haberdasheryfied heebie-jeebies.  We’ll just stop here.  ORANGE POOPS GREEN POOPS OATMEAL-COLORED POOPS OH MY stopping now.

Third, I tried to do a nice thing for him on this weekend of horrible weather and horrible sickness.  To be fair, I didn’t really know how sick he was at the time, so it’s sadder for me now.  I tried to take him to the mall for happy running-free unfettered playground magical wonderland time (see my previous post on toddler heaven) and the goldfinger playground was closed for some random publicity stunt in the food court.  Foolishness.  Knowing the tantrums and blowups that can result from a small thing like, oh, I don’t know, not being allowed to dig through the trash and pull out the salmonella-infested chicken-trimmings which would of course cause him to DIE IMMEDIATELY (this thought process on the behalf of parents is REAL), I’m sure I don’t have to hyperbolize to accurately represent to you the overwhelming ways in which happiness completely and utterly failed to ensue when I had spent the entire morning talking up “Playground?  Bear (we call him Bear) wants to go to the playground?” and then had to tell him, within sight of the Holy Land itself, that it was closed and he couldn’t play.  In fact I won’t try to describe it.  I’ll just let your imagination fill your ears with his heartbroken cries.

SO, a difficult weekend to be a two-year old in the Casa de Pav.  But now, we can return to the literal.

I finally remembered that I’ve been meaning to start tracking his growth here in the house in a concrete and measurable way that my wife and I can look back on in a few years and say, “aww, he was, in fact, that tiny once,” so I rounded up the sprout and a crayon and I drew a line on the wall over his head.  You know the drill.

What I forgot to remember is that every moment in a toddler’s life is a moment in which the toddler is learning things about the way the world works.  Whether the thing he is learning is the thing you’re trying to teach is, of course, a thing you can laugh about later.  What I wanted him to learn was that we can make a permanent mark on the world around us, that we can leave landmarks to the future from the long-forgotten past, that even when he gets bigger, we will still have proof that he was once tiny, helpless, adorable.  In retrospect, I see that perhaps those concepts were and are a bit abstract for a brain that has trouble understanding that the trash can is a thing that should be stayed away from, even though it’s a lesson we’ve tried to teach, oh, I don’t know, maybe thirty times last night alone.  (Can you tell that the kid playing in the trash is a fargoing ISSUE in our house?)

What he learned, on the other hand, is that crayons can make pretty, colored markings on walls JUST LIKE THEY DO ON PAPER.

So in short order, this happened:


What can I say. It’s hard to take it away from him when he’s feeling so pitiful.  We’re pretty much resolved to the fact that if we ever want to move we’re just going to have to burn the house to the ground.  What harm are a few more marks on the wall?

Why All Parents of Small Children Should Learn to Love the Mall

Taking a day off from work as a teacher is an odd proposition.

Sure, you get the day off, and you don’t have to go in to the office, as it were, but it’s impossible (perhaps I shouldn’t speak for the legion – for ME it’s impossible) not to think, throughout the day, “Oh, my 4th period class is starting right now.  I hope they’re getting their work done.  I bet STUDENTNAMEREDACTED is being a jerk to the sub.  I’ll make them all write a five-page essay when I get back.  Nah, no I won’t, that’s more for me to grade.”  Okay, I didn’t have to go in today, but I had extra work to make plans for today and I’ll have extra work to get caught up when I get back tomorrow and for the rest of the week.

This is why I don’t take days off.

That said, it’s nice not being at work.  Got to spend the day with my dear wife and the sprout and my sister-from-out-of-town, and it’s all pretty swell.  Took the sprout to the mall to let him run around before his nap because it’s a bit too cold to be running around outside today (shut up, it’s cold in the South today; I know, it’s colder up North, SHUT UP).  It’s been a while since I’ve done this with him, which is a shame.  There are only a few places that the boy is allowed to run around off-leash (meaning I can just sit and watch him play); one is the living room, which hardly counts, and the other is the mall before it opens.

Say what you will about how this proves I’m a hopeless zombie in a consumerist culture, but the mall is freaking AWESOME.  As long as you get there before it opens.  Before it opens, the mall is that rarest of things: a paradise for parent and kiddo alike.  Don’t believe me?  PICTURE IT:

You’re two feet tall.  You are learning to walk / run / speak, but your stick-in-the-mud parental units will hardly let you take five steps without scooping you up to save you from falling down the stairs or knocking over the dining room table or throwing pancake syrup all over the dog.  The yard is no better; you can run free but the units are always stalking you to make sure you don’t run into the road (where, let’s face it, all the real fun is) or fall in the sinkhole or fall on the driveway and crack your skull and let your brains leak out onto the concrete.  (Why do kids have a death wish?)  Then, you arrive at the Mall.  Huge, wide open hallways, most of them carpeted.  Enormous, wall-covering murals and windows presenting a delightful banquet of color for your tiny eyes to feast upon.  The walls echo as you shriek in delight, and your own voice fills the cavernous space with an aria of joy and wonderment as you stretch your tiny legs and careen off into the wide-open spaces feeling an exhilaration you’ve felt only in your tiny, lunatic toddler dreams.

Smell what I’m cooking?  Now, the adult side of the picture:

You’re indoors: there is no traffic to save the kid from.  There are very few people around: no potential kidnappers to guard against.  There’s a carpeted and cushioned playground: you can turn the kid loose without fear of him smashing a tooth out or breaking another goldfinger glass / plate / priceless Hummel figurine.  It’s large and spacious and full of ambient noise: nobody cares how much noise the kid makes, you might as well be in a baseball stadium.  And there are no toys.  I’ll repeat that.  THERE ARE NO FARGOING TOYS.  Toys which the kid strews in his wake like a deranged Santa’s Workshop Hansel and Gretel.  Toys with inexplicably sharp bits upturned for your hapless, tender underfoot.  Toys that overwhelm your home and your soul with their inexhaustible supply, a zerg rush of plastic and plush (whoa, I liked that).  NO TOYS.  *Beams of sunlight pierce through the overcast sky as a choir of angels begins to sing*

So I reiterate: the mall, for both parents and kiddos, is the haberdasheryfied sharknado.  BEFORE IT OPENS.  After the mall has opened, if you plan on taking your toddler there, just cut out the middle man and kill yourself.

Anyway, the sprout had a blast and holy god, he is getting fast.  Like, I can no longer keep up with him at a brisk walk fast.  Sailing through the air as he takes one leaping bound after another fast.  Faceplanting into a full scorpion-stinger fall when he loses his balance because he ran too fast fast.  It’s awesome to see, and it means that very soon, I’m going to be testing all the running I’ve been doing these past two years (I started, ostensibly, so that I’d be able to keep up with the sprout when he got bigger — well, he’s bigger now, by crackey).

So, all that excitement, and I still got a solid 1000 words in on The Project today.  Oh, and another thousand HERE.

Here are some of the best of them:

  • Part of him knew he should take action, defend himself or something, but all he could do was think about pandas and try to figure out how to stop his brain from vibrating.  The pain was exquisite, but more exquisite was the ringing sound in his ears and in fact his whole head, which as far as he could tell was a perfect b-flat.  Unlike a perfect b-flat, which sounds sort of warm and makes you feel mellow, this one was inexplicably painting his vision yellow.  Hands grabbed him roughly and conducted him to a chair where he fish-flopped a few times, casting his head back and forth, trying to remember whether he had one ceiling fan or, as his eyes seemed to be telling him, fifteen.

I just now realized that I rhymed “mellow” and “yellow” in there, and I am not at all sure if I approve of it.  Future me will have to decide if he wants to be a poet or just let it slide.  Okay, that one was deliberate and awful, and I apologize to the committee for the error of my ways.  FARGO.

Tomorrow is runday funday, so I will get to test out the heel again.  The word count has slowed to a trickle the past few days; hopefully I can finish the week strong.


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