Monday, September 26, 2005

Ice Cream Lessons

Bet none of you ever thought anybody would need lessons to learn how to eat an ice cream cone.

Well, guess what? My kid, the tyke, nearly out of elementary school, needed LESSONS. And everybody [except me] in the family has dessert on Sunday night. Always, always involving ice cream. But this one only knows how to eat it out of a bowl or off a plate. Or by sucking it out of a glass. Or by glaring at it and subconsciously absorbing it through the freezer door. Or by stealing it in the middle of the night when we are oblivious.

So, as parents, we are seriously remiss. How could we allow a child to get beyond age three without knowing how to eat an ice cream cone? Well, we've been busy, and working, and driving them to a million activities, and moving, and lots of other dumb grownup stuff.

It was the end of summer and a surprise [read: corporate mandatory] vacation for our family, so Dad said to tyke, "We only have three days of this vacation and we'll never get them again, so I think part of your duty, Tyke, is to learn how to eat an ice cream cone PROPERLY. I don't mean just slurp it. I don't mean just look around and let it melt and don't notice the grandeur of it. I mean EAT THE ICE CREAM CONE PROPERLY."

Tyke went into the project fairly motivated. In fact, he was ebullient with the prospect. Every day, without checking his agenda (which he regularly writes in his head and keeps there, because he memorizes things instantly, unlike the rest of us), he remembered that an ice cream lesson was requisite and forthcoming.

And he wasn't silly about the timing. He'd remind everyone when they didn't need to be reminded. He knew when he needed the Ice Cream Lesson.

So, first day, Dad took him out to a nearby frozen custard shop where Dad's sister had worked as a teenager. Dad said he knew he was not looking for soft ice cream, but hard ice cream. After all, you gotta learn on the right material. [Duh, Dad!! Did you notice it is a "frozen custard" place?]

So here's what happened with the frozen custard: Tyke got one. Dad got one. It was soft, owing to humid weather and all, and the hot outdoor testing conditions. The cheap cone was inferior. Both texture and flavor were underwhelming. Tyke got carefully articulated instructions about licking. One lick--and two scoops were on the ground.

Awwwww! Very disappointing. Would have to try it out again! Oh. Boo. So sad. Do you mean I must be tormented, Dad, with more Ice Cream Learning? What kind of abuser are you?

Just as before. The progress bar did not advance. Mandate carved in stone. More lessons necessary.

Next day, additional cone-experienced family members were brought in to reinforce the success of the frozen confection instruction. The whole family charted out possible venues, and strolled exclusive streets for prospects. A small, subtle purveyor, better known for meals than for dessert, drew attention, and the family made a bee-line. The location was almost perfect: nearly deserted (desserted?), with a small but ready staff willing to run down a staircase and back up--several times--with the requested fare.

Fifteen minutes went by before anyone (out of four of us) could decide on a flavor. Maybe partly because the flavor list was just as underground as the gelato in the basement. What the heck flavors do you have? They weren't posted anywhere, and you couldn't see them through a glass case. And the whole time we were there no one else NOTICED this place sold gelato, and no one else ordered it. Hmm.

We put in our orders. And I was all excited because they had a pistachio I thought might be the original pistachio that Gelato used to have (the long-gone shop actually named Gelato) where Honey and I had gone on a desperately deadly hot summer afternoon while walking and getting outside in melting conditions a few weeks before our nuptials.

But even more exciting was watching the tyke, bravely and exuberantly marching into a completely different environment and stating his preference without hesitation.

And this place had a caramel that sounded out of this world, only I didn't order it on account of I wanted the pistachio, and that definitely had to win out no matter what. But I took the "Mom tax" and tasted it and will perhaps forego pistachio in the future.

And I hate ice cream. Unless there are a couple of flavors, and pistachio is one, and burgundy cherry vanilla is probably the other one, I don't see the point in it. Except for a couple of times a year when it is so good it's worth the lactose intolerance and allergic throat.

So the tyke tasted victory on the second lesson! A few weeks later, we took him out to a place near the beach that has gourmet homemade ice cream. The servers slap the ice cream around on a cold marble slab and toss in flavorful additions.

Well, this time tyke got a bit ahead of himself. He ordered a huge chocolate-dipped cone, at least six inches across(!), with a double scoop of "cheesecake" flavored ice cream. This flavor would, of course, not have been my choice, but to each his own. He got about halfway through, with troubled humphing and consternation and, eventually, a greenish tint on his face. Finally, he had to bail out of the operation.

Thus, evaluations are not entirely in for this term of ice cream training.

Looks like he needs a few more classes.

Weird Watches?

I should go to an old-timey jeweler to get the truth about this story. I think I should already know the answer to my question. But I don't. So I think maybe it's a family trick my dead relatives are playing on me.

A month and some ago I had the fortune of meeting my best friend in Tulsa, OK after a nine-year separation from her. She knew I was preparing to interview for jobs, and noted the ugly (but I love it!) Timex sport watch I got for $7.99 at Target about the minute I came back to the States from the UK.

Whatta bah-gin!, I thought when I saw the watch at Target. That was way back in the other millenium, in 1997.

Dearest Friend had already advised me to get my hair cut and colored. I readily acquiesced to that and was excited at the prospect; alas, local traditional scheduling problems did not allow hair transformation to transpire. But when DF asked, on top of the hair, "Do you perhaps own a grown-up watch that you can wear to your interviews?" I was shocked. I'm so oblivious to my appearance that the watch subject never even occurred to me.

God! Do I actually have to pay attention to my watch??!! That blissfully cheap watch has been part of me--despite some summer sweat allergic reactions--throughout the entire lifetime of one of my children. Victoriously long lived for a cheap cheap cheap watch. You mean I have to give up my thumb-my-nose-to-everybody how cheap it is and still works watch?

Soon as I returned home from Tulsa, I went on a watch watch. Now before I say what I'm going to say, you must understand that I had a lot of only-child or old-old lady relatives who left non-valuable things to me. Much of the stuff is awful (actually, offal); the best composes a group of watches. I kept only the ones that meant most and seemed the most promising for repair.

Miss only-one-watch thought she might have rediscovered a goldmine. Kinda like a pile of mice to a cat.

I scoured the interesting remainders, thinking perhaps something would be there that could easily be fixed and put to use for upcoming interviews. Suitable candidates included two watches from two different grandmothers, one formal, one casual. Neither of them was in functional order.

Holding both of them in one hand, I noticed that both of them had stopped at the same time: 12:15. Intrigue. I hadn't touched them since I got them. Why would they both have stopped at 12:15? Was I just imagining things? Or was I just stressed, about the job interviews, and other impending family disasters?

Then I looked at three other non-running watches, originally my own. One I'd taken to England with me in 1996, a serious cheapie. The others were Wal-Mart watches. Yeah, more cheapies. (Aww, leave me alone.) They, too, all read 12:15! And another thing that really bothered me about these was that I had just taken two of them in to have the batteries replaced, yet they had already stopped!

And I have the watch-shop receipt from August, telling me that they owe me a replacement for any watch battery that fails within one year. A one year guarantee, I'm tellin' ya. However, the batteries only lasted one month. And after battery replacement--after I saw the guy test the watches in front of me and I saw them work and even used each of them for a few days in case--the battery ones stopped at the same time as the ancient mechanical ones that had been stored for years, and which for the last three years had been kept in the same drawer: 12:15.

So this freaked me out and I immediately searched the web for information about the time a clock stops. I know perfectly well that there's a tradition of stopping a clock, such as a grandfather clock, at the time a family member dies. (It's part of the famous children's syncopated song, "My Grandfather's Clock.") So I get that. But the different people from whom those watches came did not all die at 12:15.

Is there something well-known and traditional about 12:15? Do all of you out there know about this, while I am I a hopeless cultural idiot who, despite the fact that her great-grandfather was a jeweler and watchmaker, has never heard of a specific consistent watch burnout time?

C'mon, people, is 12:15 the time clocks, whether mechanical or quartz, are ALWAYS set to stop? Or is there something Twilight-Zony about my aura or personal magnetic field?

Doo-dee-doo-doo (Twilight Zone music) . . .

Friday, September 23, 2005

Even More Mouths of Babes

Today's linguistic fodder is all recent. This summer has been a goldmine of garbled stupidity, and I've been writing down offenses as fast as I can. By now we've assembled a critical mass suitable for public release.

In July (I think) the tyke was in a full-scale, wacky western musical melodrama called "Westward, Whoa!" He played a cavalryman and a townsperson. He got to dance in his cowboy boots--dance fluidly, with a broom. And I must say he was pretty good. As is typical of this kid, by the second week he had learned not only his own part but had also memorized all of the other parts and the blockbuster songs, even though he wasn't in them.

So he came home one day and said, "Mom, there's this song where the saloon floozies sing together about how adventuresome it is to live in the wild, wild west. And in this one line a girl sings, 'Live in fat, as a lion in a fold.' What the heck does that mean? Who would ever live in fat?"
Well, I'd never heard that figure. I had to think about it some. A day later I realized it was intended as "Livin' [living] fat as a lion in a fold." Still a pretty obscure concept, but mystery solved.

A few weeks later we were in a shop selecting flowers for G's girlfriend's birthday. G said, "Should we get a boutique that's already here, or should we just put a bunch of different ones together?"

"A what?" I said.

"You know, a boutique of flowers. Like those over there."

The little one and I laughed. "G, it's a bouquet! Not a boutique!"

G brightened up, too. "Oh, yeah! What's a boutique again? Like when you go to the mall to get a game for the Gameboy Advance. At the . . . Electronics Bouquet!!!"

Next day, the time came for the ride to the birthday party, which was to take place an hour away at G's girlfriend's beach house in Clinton, CT. We had been riding along for about half an hour when the tyke asked, "Mom, how long until we get to Lincoln?"


"It's Clinton that we're going to, not Lincoln. Lincoln is in Nebraska. That'd be days away from here. We have about half an hour to go."

He said, "Oh, well, at least they're both presidents, so it makes sense."

A week or so later, I had put a houseplant out on the kitchen counter, planning to water it in the sink. Just for the record, the plant was a rex begonia. Tyke went over to it and said, "Mom, is this a pizzeria plant?" Well, that stopped me dead in my tracks. What was he thinking?

"Maybe I mean a pizza plant. No, it's not that. It's . . . a pepperoni plant!"

Oooohhh-Kayyyyy. Then I remembered that when I had peperomia plants, the boys could not remember that name, so they called it pepperoni.

"No, actually it's a rex begonia."

Or wrecks bologna, whichever you prefer.

More Mouths of Babes

I'm still collecting kids' comments. But sometimes I forget them and then remember them a couple of years later. They’re weird, and often prophetic, or at least brilliant. Okay, maybe not prophetic or brilliant—but they do make you look at surprising relationships between parts of syntax, sounds, and how the mind works linguistically.

Some years ago we had a discipline system in our house called 1-2-3 Timeout. No, actually, that’s a misnomer. The method is called "1-2-3 Magic." This is the name of a book by Thomas Phelan. It turned out not to be magic for more than about five minutes in our house, but that’s beside the point. The point is that, memorably, Dr. Phelan suggested that older children who understood the concept of money and earnings and allowances also be taught the flip side of the coin: debits.

So we learned that for certain infractions of behavioral agreements, we should try “docking,” which means taking away a percentage or fixed-cents amount of the allowance. Parents can dock by whatever “reasonable” amount they want. Problem One: In our house, we’d never been able to motivate any kid to do any chores or work of any kind by offering an allowance (this is still the case, and one will be in college in a few years, if he survives. So see what I think, Dr. Phelan). We started out using this method sparingly, only when we were deeply incensed. Ultimately we wound up with a twenty-five-cent threat.

But when misbehavor skyrocketed, we tried the docks more frequently. They kept coming up with quarters. We had no idea they had so many quarters. We knew we hadn’t given them that many for their piggy banks; and they didn’t yet have bank accounts that they could access alone; perhaps Grandma had given them a roll, or they’d gotten into ours? Oooh, all the more reason to dock them! Docking back our own quarters! But, sadly, the whole message of docking never did seem to sink in.

One day I was listening to them argue indoors. They were threatening each other. And the little one finally said, “If you don’t do what I say, I’ll court you a doctor!”

Silence. There were no more words, no more fighting. The big one just looked at the little one quizzically.

“Uh, I mean, if you don’t do what I say, I’ll uh, I mean, dock you a quarter!”

So they had been listening, after all! But it still didn’t result in the intended outcome; the sibling didn’t follow the instruction, and didn’t care about being clocked--I mean clicked--I mean docked. And still doesn't. He just hands over the money and goes back and invents a new infraction.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

To protect the guilty, the name of the perpetrator in this story will be omitted. Okay, I cracked--her name is Alessandra and she works at People's Bank on Farmington Avenue.

Honey and I went to the bank on the way back from dropping off Honey's car for repair (a whole 'nother story). He wanted to ask questions about options for a new account. So we sat down together across from the customer service desk with representative Miss Alessandra. And Honey went into his schpiel (sp?) about how his mother wanted him to open a joint account with her to be used for emergencies and blah, blah, blah.

Alessandra, the brightest coin in the realm, pipes up [I kid you not, Scouts' honor, I swear on a stack of bibles, etc.]:

. . . this is not your mother, right?

We were, as they say in the United Kingdom, "gobsmacked." I felt like someone in a comic strip or cartoon who's just been slammed in the forehead by a rubber dart. I had to grip the chair arms to keep from falling on the floor screaming and choking. And to keep from reaching across the desk and grabbing Alessandra by the neck and squeezing hard for a long, long time.

Well, what our sharpest tool in the shed meant was that Honey's mother had to be there in person to open up a new account. And since she lives seven hours away, obviously that meant that the account wasn't going to get created that day.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The New, Acronymic Gas Pricing System

Tyke Solos with Symphony!

Well, it just goes to show that you never know where your kids' talents might lie. We got an unexpected hint this evening, for instance.

On Labor Day, our town has a free public concert on the "front patio," actually the lawn that separates the Town Hall from the Police building. We hadn't heard about it in previous years, but this time G's girlfriend's family sent us an e-mail about it. So we spent a couple of days planning and preparing a nice picnic, and headed out to meet them in the late afternoon.

The Hartford Pops were already underway with selections from "Fiddler on the Roof" when we arrived. Some time before intermission, Mr. Partridge, the conductor (and G's girlfriend's band director at her nearby private school) announced that he needed some special help from the audience. In the second half of the program, they were going to perform a medley of selections from "The Phantom of the Opera." During intermission, he said, he needed a bunch of kids to come behind the bandstand and audition for . . . SCREAM soloist.

Since G's girlfriend, S, knew the conductor, she decided she'd head over there and see what was going on. And the Tyke decided he'd go. This was hilarious. All through intermission you heard one blood-curdling scream after another. A few miutes after leaving, S came back, but without the tyke. She came back with some friends, one of whom was the conductor's daughter. S's dad said, "What'd you do, trade him for the girls?" And she said, "No, he's staying there. Because he was the one who was picked to scream."

We were, like, "No way!"

Sure enough, he was standing on the stairs at the side of the bandstand. Then we saw him start moving as he was directed by photographers from the newspapers! His first public gig at age eight, and he gets free publicity, too!

When it was time for the "Phantom" pieces, Mr. Partridge introduced him as "our special guest soloist, **** name******." He was all serious. And they gave him his own chair in the band. He watched the conductor intently, like a professional musician, and immediately knew what to do when he got the signal to rise and come forward. Finally, the moment came, and the conductor gestured to him. He performed a perfectly pitched, harrowing scream, then sat back down. The crowd went wild with praise and applause.

It was an Andy Warhol moment.

Of all the times to FORGET the video camera. I've had it with me all summer, but today I didn't see the need. Dimbulb. Fortunately, S's parents had their digital camera and snapped a bunch--including the bow which the conductor commanded he take. When he came back to the picnic blankets, he autographed programs.

Pretty good for a kid who wasn't terribly enthused that we were going to a concert. But this is a kid who always seems to be in the right place at the right time for things.

I can see them all at school tomorrow. He'll from now on be known as **** "The Screamer" ******.

I can imagine him applying for prep school. "Does your child have any extraordinary skills we should be aware of, Mrs. ******?" "Why, yes, he was selected as Screaming Soloist with the Hartford Pops."

I knew we'd see him on stage someday, but I sort of thought it would be...playing trumpet?