Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Picture Day!

Is there anything sweeter than dressing up two little girls in pretty dresses for their first portrait together? Soon we'd have a framed picture for everyone of a beaming Clara holding the cherubic Kate on her lap, or pulling Kate in a little wagon, or both of them lying on their tummies. We'd save a picture for each girl to put on their desks when they go away to college. That was the plan, anyway. Unfortunately, I had to get Clara (and Kate - but she's easy) through taking a bath, brushing her teeth and hair, dressing her, feeding her some food, getting her in the car, driving to the studio, and sneaking past the toys in the waiting room - all while avoiding any reason to throw a temper tantrum. Somewhere along the line I failed.

I've come to realize that parents of toddlers walk a tight line keeping the child happy without caving in and giving her everything she wants. Clara will pass something she wants and ask for it over and over. I try to distract her but then the asking gets louder and more insistent. Finally I just have to say no. There are three possible results:

1. Clara realized she can't have the thing and moves on to play with something she can have. While this has yet to occur in the Bittle household I've heard it's possible.

2. Clara makes groaning noises and covers her face with her hands before falling onto the ground yelling whatever it is she wants over and over.

3. Clara looks at me as if to say, "you'll be sorry," and her toddler sense of retribution begins to plan a tantrum at the most opportune time. This is what happened on picture day.

I'm not sure what set Clara off but here is a visual approximation of picture day:

She refused to sit still. She refused to hold Kate. She refused to do anything we asked to do. I actually found myself wondering if reverse psychology might work: "Clara DO NOT sit here and smile into the camera!" So what did we do when nothing worked? We took a whole bunch of pictures of Kate. Like this one:

Finally Megan asked the photographer what she usually does with unruly toddlers. She suggested we bribe Clara with ice cream. Seriously. So the question became did we want to throw our parenting philosophy out the window to get a good picture of Clara? I'm ashamed to say the answer was, "absolutely." With the prospect of getting ice cream, Clara jumped up, smiled for the camera a couple times, then held her arms out asking, "Where's ice cream?"

A word to the wise: if you are going to bribe your toddler with ice cream, make sure you actually have some ice cream. We did not. Here is a visual approximation of what happened next:

Good times.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Birthday Memories

Clara came into the world two years ago today. We celebrated her birthday this weekend with friends and family and as talk turned to the day of her birth I realized how much my feelings on the day have changed over time, and how much the day gets better and better over time. Two years ago, I would have used words like “surreal,” “scary,” and “freaky” to describe the experience. From Megan’s water breaking at the B.B. King concert to going home after the birth knowing everything had changed I couldn’t shake my nervousness. The fear that I felt that day – not only for Clara’s health but for Megan’s – morphed into an insecurity that I wasn’t up to the task of fatherhood or that I wouldn’t love my child. Everything was new to me and I had no idea how to feel about any of it. Emotion wise, it’s not exactly what I would call the greatest day of my life.

Now when I look back on Clara’s birth I can’t help but think of the girl she is now, and the memory of her birth grows better and better because it’s colored by who she would and will become. In essence, in my memory I project her current self onto that big-eyed fragile creature who sucked her two middle fingers almost immediately (which she still does when tired.) I want to hold her and protect her and tell her all the things she’s going to do and people she’s going to meet. I had no idea who she was when I first saw her. Now I know everything about her – what she likes, what makes her sad, where her tickle spots are. Memories tend to get better when the person you are remembering is laying in your lap, singing twinkle twinkle little star. And she’s only two years old -- I can only imagine what other parents have felt when their children grow up.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Did Elmo take bribes?

Thanks to Cindy Williams for forwarding this article. For those who are unfamiliar with Joel Stein, he's a humor columnist for the LA Times who mixes a little bit of wit and social satire into his mostly sophomoric pieces. He also appears on VH1's "I Love the (fill in the decade)," or as he puts it, "I Love the Decade You Tell me to Love." While his tongue is firmly planted in his cheek he has drawn fire from people who think he's trying to make a real point. His suggestion here to split Sesame Street into two shows, one highbrow and one lowbrow, will undoubtedly ruffle the easily ruffled. But to put Oscar the Grouch in the highbrow camp? For marketing "the acceptability of negative emotion?" If I remember correctly, Jim Henson put Oscar in Sesame Street because of a snotty waiter that Henson found amusing. And there's nothing more highbrow than Cookie Monster obsessing over cookies. Now I agree that there's far too much Elmo on Sesame Street, and like Cindy I'm irked by his constant of the third person, but I'm not the target audience. So I asked Clara what she thought about it.

Me: Clara, what's your favorite Sesame Street character?
Clara: Kate is sleeping.
Me: Yes, Kate's sleeping. Do you like Elmo?
Clara: Scout poddies outside.
Scout is our dog.
Me: Yes, she does. Who is better? Cookie Monster or Oscar the Grouch?
Clara: Where Daddy's boobies?
Me: What!?! Daddy doesn't... uh... I... Did mommy teach you that word?

But look closely into what Stein says. Let me sum up: Sesame Street was better when it was mostly humans with some monsters in the background. Stein is a speciesist! The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Monsters is going to have something to say about this!

Joel Stein: Elmo is an Evildoer

The self-obsessed Sesame Street Muppet is destroying all that is holy on children's TV.

August 15, 2006

ELMO REFUSED to be interviewed for this column. I consider this to be a supreme act of cowardice. And it doesn't surprise me one bit. Elmo is an annoying tool.

Yes, I know that children love Elmo. But children are idiots. That's why we don't let them have jobs. Could you imagine an office full of children? They'd spend all day telling dumb jokes and talking about their poop. It would be like it was before women entered the workplace.
"Sesame Street" — which still has sharp, funny writing — is being destroyed by idiot cuteness. Not only is the patronizing, baby-talking Elmo usurping most of the hour, but "Sesame Street" — which debuted its 37th season Monday — added its first new female Muppet in 13 years: the sparkly haired, tutu-wearing, button-nosed, pink-skinned fairy goddaughter Abby Cadabby. Her shaky magic skills get her in situations she needs to get bailed out of, like the anti-"Bewitched."

Plus, she's got that creepy, throaty, little-girl Lindsay Lohan kind of voice, and a Paris Hilton-esque catchphrase: "That's so magic." When I watched "Sesame Street" in the '70s, the human cast and the Muppets were quirky adults who didn't talk down to me with baby voices. Now the human cast gets almost no airtime, and the show is dominated by Elmo, Baby Bear and, now, Abby Cadabby — preschoolers enamored by their own adorable stupidity.

The lesson they teach — in opposition to Oscar, Big Bird, Grover or Bert — is that bland neediness gets you stuff much more easily than character. We are breeding a nation of Anna Nicole Smiths.

I am not the only one who hates Elmo. Vernon Chatman and John Lee, the creators of MTV2's dark "Sesame Street" parody, "Wonder Showzen," think the evil red one is destroying the show.

"Elmo doesn't grow. People show him something and he laughs. He doesn't learn a lesson," says Lee. "It's the exact opposite of what old 'Sesame Street' used to do. Elmo has been learning the same lesson his whole life, which is that Elmo likes Elmo."

Chatman, who refers to Elmo as the Jar Jar Binks of "Sesame Street," worries that Elmo teaches kids to care only about themselves.

"Elmo is just a baby-voiced, self-obsessed character who is only concerned with Elmo," says Lee. "He just passively observes things: 'Elmo is looking at a sandwich. Elmo is eating a sandwich. Elmo is crapping out the sandwich and writing his name on the wall with it.' " The last celebrity to so obsessively refer to himself in the third person was Richard Nixon.

Whereas Count Von Count markets math and Oscar markets the acceptability of negative emotions, Elmo, brilliantly, just markets Elmo, leading him to be the show's cash cow, or whatever misshapen animal he's supposed to be.

I question not only Abby Cadabby but all of Elmo's associates. You may recall that Elmo testified before Congress about music education. But you may not remember who requested Elmo's appearance: Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now in jail for taking at least $2.4 million in bribes. I'm not implying that Elmo has taken dirty money, but these are the kind of people Elmo surrounds himself with.

I understand that "Sesame Street" has to compete in a Nickelodeon-Disney Channel-Wiggles-Pixar universe. In fact, the new episodes start with " 'Sesame Street' is brought to you by the following … " and then, instead of gently mocking consumerism by listing letters and numbers, they actually show real spots for McDonald's, Beaches resorts, Pampers and EverydayKidz.com — the last of which apparently helps children spell only if they want to be rappers.

I desperately don't want the show to go away, so I know they can't afford to run the "Elmo accidentally drank bleach and died" episode. Instead, they need to simply take Elmo and his buddies and give them their own hourlong show for the idiot spawn. Then put Luis, Gordon and the cool Muppets on their own half-hour "Classic Sesame" for the kids who will one day actually contribute to our society.

Whichever of the two shows you watched would serve as a convenient litmus test for the rest of your life. "Which 'Sesame Street' did you watch?" will be code on college applications, Internet dating and job applications. Blue and red states will be divided not by presidential choices, but by Grover and Elmo.

If we can't save all the kids, let's at least save the ones who can master speaking in first-person. The rest we'll use for reality TV stars.

(oh yeah, that's highbrow)

Monday, August 07, 2006

EA Announces the Stay-at-home-Dad expansion pack for The Sims!

The makers of the hugely popular video game The Sims are proud to announce their newest expansion pack: The Stay-at-Home SimDad.

The promo: You discovered the joy of sim life in The Sims. You met new simulated people in The Sims Online. You avoided real life classes in The Sims: University Expansion Pack. You partied hard from the safety of your living room in The Sims: Nightlife Expansion Pack. Somewhere along the way your character hooked up with a SimGirl (which might actually be girl) and you decided to settle down, get married, and have a SimChild. Are you tired with the choices of professions previous Sims games have offered? Have you longed to experience the glamorous life of the stay-at-home dad? Now is your Chance! Run out and buy The Sims: Stay-at-Home Dad Expansion Pack.

Some features:

* The social interaction bar has been removed. It won't take long to figure out why.

* While other sim games speed up while your sim is at work, your game speed actually slows down during the day.

* In order to more closely resemble the actual stay-at-home dad experience, there will be no pause command in your game.

* Your SimDad's "I have to pee" bar will be directly tied to your baby's "I need attention" bar.

* Baby and toddler play equipment will be available for purchase, but your child will still prefer the combination of your SimDad's toothbrush and the toilet.

* The music in your sim stereo has been replaced with Raffi, Kidz Bop, or the soundtrack to The Little Mermaid. And the music cannot be turned off.

* While your sim television is equipped with ESPN, your sim babies have been programmed to scream whenever anything but Dora the Explorer, Blues Clues, or Sesame Street is on TV.

* Experience exciting new minigames like "Eat your meal before it gets cold," or "Dodge the pee," or "Find the remote," or "Where did I leave my sanity?"

* To add to the challenge (and to add authenticity) chances of the phone or doorbell ringing, an emergency vehicle roaring by outside, or a sonic boom in the air above increase tenfold while trying to put the baby to sleep.

* Houses can be built with showers, but at this point they're really just decorations or places to put the baby when your SimDad needs to use the bathroom.

* If for some reason you choose to have a second child the game will ask "Are you sure?" a total of thirty seven times. Our lawyers will not let your SimDad have more than two children.

* Look out for the following characters soon to be available for download: Sim Disapproving Mother-in-Law, Sim Insulting Macho Neighbor Guy, Sim Child and Family Services Officer, and Sim Divorce Lawyer.