Monday, December 31, 2012

Et tu, Legos?

I love Legos.  Correction:  I love old-school, random piece, let-your-imagination-go Legos. The new-style of heavily-engineered, piece specific, commercialized Lego packs, I could live without.

Don’t get me wrong.  I truly enjoyed building the Lego Friends Café© with my 6 year old daughter this Christmas.  It was a quality hour-plus of child parent bonding and building, including a stretch of time I spent alone cursing the microscopic plastic cutlery while she ate lunch.  When we finished, the family adored our creation, and my daughter played with it pretending to be the waitress.  And when her younger sister joined in, she moved up to the café owner, and the younger one became the waitress. 

Lego Friends Cafe - note the missing front railing and the
paultry amount of flowers in the window box.  
The whole Friends Café fun – construction to grand opening -- was a lesson in engineering, hard-work, cooperation and, apparently, growing a small business.  All with minimal creativity required (other than the imaginary play part). 

Then, of course, our 2 year-old decided to do his Godzilla impersonation. Lego people screaming.  Café parts everywhere. Total construction/play/destruction time: two and a half hours.   Eventually, we cleaned up and put all the Café pieces back in the general population Lego bin, a collection we’ve been growing for a few years. 

The next day my daughter wanted to build it again.  And we tried.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find some of the pieces.  I know they’re in there, somewhere.  Still, it was only a few days since we got the Lego Friends Café package set from Santa.  And parts have already escaped.  A year from now, I’m sure the Café will have gone the way of the Lego Cottage we got a few years ago, never to be built again due to specific missing pieces and lost directions.

And these cafes and cottages are the easy ones.  The Lego aisle at the local toy store has a whole host of ridiculously engineered, pre-fab Lego fun – many of these sets mysteriously packaged in pinks or blues.  There’s the Lego Star Wars, the Lego Ninjago, the Lego Harry Potter, the Lego City series, more Lego Friends … it goes on and on.  And all have intricate specific pieces designed to serve only a single Lego purpose.  But what happens to the Hogwarts castle after it’s built.  Do you display it somewhere?  Hopefully, some place out of reach of the children.

When did Legos become like this?  And what happened to the old Legos?  Remember them?  Back then, we used random blocks to build random structures.  We didn’t care that the house we built didn’t have a flower box, or shutters, or shingles even.  It was a house we imagined and we created.  And we certainly didn’t care that the Lego people we built didn’t have utensils.

Now, most Legos are just disassembled toy models.  Really disassembled.  And once painstakingly put together, you can’t play with them, because if you do they will break and you will lose a critical piece.   

Well, this year, I saw all this coming.  I had an inclination Santa was going to get our kids a well-engineered Lego set with great specificity and limited future creative worth.  So I also found and bought the kids a pack of 650 regular old Lego pieces, called the Lego Creative Building Kit. It has lots of colors and shapes, with a few wheels and a handful funky pieces, but all are versatile and none have any specific, pre-ordained Lego fate.

Ahh. That's more like it. Lego animals created, then caged. 
And guess what, the kids love them.   My eldest daughter has spent countless hours playing with the plain Legos – far more than the pre-designed ones.  She has built cars, houses, people.  She even built really cool animals.  Then, of course, she built a zoo to house them (sorry, PETA). 

All the kids have played with the plain old Legos far more than the Friends Café set.   And it cost about a third as much.

I’m sure the people at Legos will keep engineering, awesomely complex new designs.  And we will keep buying them.  But at least, after each is built and destroyed never to be constructed again, we will have some regular, old-school Legos to fill the void.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Santa Debate: To Wrap or Not to Wrap?

Ah, traditions. You know, Christmas is a time for many things. And all families celebrate the holidays a little bit differently. Some of these differences are small, and some are, as the kids say, ginormous. This is a fact you become acutely aware of once you get married. 

At first, the differences in our household were minor, like whether to use white mini-lights or big multi-colored lights; when to go to church (Christmas Eve or Christmas Day); and whether to eat turkey or ham for Christmas dinner.

But the real humdinger of a difference came along once the kids were born and Santa started stopping by our house each Christmas Eve. It was then I realized the Christmas-celebrating world is divided into two distinct camps: Those for whom Santa wraps the gifts he leaves behind, and those for whom he doesn’t. (Bear with me, my kids read this blog). 

To wrap or not to wrap, that is the great Christmas debate. And I am a proud to say that I was raised as a member of the no wrap club. Over time, I learned this puts me in the minority. In fact, I am sure there are some people reading this blog right now who never heard of anyone who got unwrapped gifts from Santa. Well, now you have. And we are just like you.

See.  See everyone.  Unwrapped toys. 
I rest my case. ... Mic Drop.
On Christmas morning growing up, my brothers and sisters and I would wake early and run for the tree to find toys, roller skates, and big wheels scattered around the living room in little, neat child-distinct piles.  Hopefully, not too little. Under the tree were all the wrapped gifts, from our grandparents, our aunts and uncles, and a few from our parents, which had all been accumulating there throughout the month and would be opened later in the day. But Santa’s gifts were just out there, unencumbered by wrapping paper and ready to be enjoyed. And we loved it, looking around that room at our gifts from Santa and taking in everything our siblings got, as well. Pure joy.

Now granted, I was one of eight kids, and it has been argued to me by some members of the “wrapped Santa gift” majority that maybe Santa was just too tired to wrap all the gifts for our brood. Or maybe he was just lazy in general. (Careful now!  I know what you're really saying.)

As shocking as it may be to some, there exists a whole population of families for whom Santa does not wrap his gifts. Don’t believe me. Start asking around.  You could also just look at pictures of the back of Santa’s sleigh or his bag if you need hard evidence. Notice how half the gifts are unwrapped?

Well, as it happens, my wife came from a wrapped family. And, thus, as Santa's first visit to our house neared, after our eldest child was born, our household's first real Christmas tradition clash ensued. Now, I am a reasonable person -- I like to think so, anyway. And there are many things on which there is room for compromise. The wrapped vs. unwrapped debate is not one of them. Luckily, I convinced my wife it was the better, and easier, way to go. 

So, when Santa comes by our house this Christmas Eve, he will be leaving the wrapped gifts in the sleigh. And when the kids wake up, they will find around the tree toys, dolls and cars, unwrapped and unencumbered, in a few little child-distinct piles. But hopefully, not too little.

(Let me know if you too are from the unwrapped minority.  We must stick together.)



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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Roger Daltrey's Chest vs. Kanye West's Skirt

Every once in a while, something happens to remind you, beyond any reasonable doubt, that you're getting old.  It happened for me rather acutely while watching the 12/12/12 concert for Sandy relief.

Don't get me wrong. It was a phenomenal concert for a great cause, that made me proud to be a New Yorker and thankful for all I have.  But something in particular about it made me feel old.  Like, really old.

It wasn’t when all the cool, brash rockers of my formative years took the stage one-by-one looking wrinkled and worn and hobbled by time.  It wasn’t when I took a moment with each to look them up on Wikipedia, as they worked their way on stage without assistance, to see their actual ages … 67, 68, 69, 70.  And it wasn’t even when my 9-year-old daughter said, as Roger Daltrey’s shirt came unbuttoned, that he looked pretty fit for a grandpa.

Roger Daltrey strips down to Oldies but Goodies.
All those things could have made anyone of my vintage feel a bit old (and out of shape).  But it didn’t.  Seeing all of them hop, and jam, and do windmills on their guitars made me think maybe 70 is the new 40.  Which would make me like a teenager.

No.  Reality crashed the party when Kanye West took the stage and started “playing” music.  And all I heard was noise.  It hit me:  this must be the same noise my grandparents heard when the generation before mine started listening to those crazy English chaps.

I turned to my daughter, sounding like a Jackie Gleason character, and asked, “What is this junk?”  She stared at the television, purposely ignoring me so I didn’t tell her again that she was up past her bedtime.  But I didn’t care about bedtimes anymore.  I was obsessed with the infernal noise.

“Do you listen to this stuff?” I continued.  And she continued to stare.  As each noise-filled song ended, another one would begin.  I kept waiting for a song I enjoyed.  I mean,  he's had four number 1 albums and he's sold 30 million digital downloads, which I think is a lot.  He must play something I'll enjoy. 

Then I thought, maybe it was not him that was the problem.  Maybe it was me.  And that's when I decided to do something about it.

I hit mute.

At that very moment I realized exactly how old I am, or at least how old I am becoming.  Not on the outside, mind you, but on the inside.  On the outside I’m not all that old, relatively speaking.  But on the inside, I am ancient to the core.  And I’m not terribly hip, either -- although that was well established before.

So, what can I do about it?  Well, I have decided to embrace it.  It just seems like the old-person-type thing to do. 

Yes, I admit it: I like The Who better than Kanye West -- and always will.  And yes, I’m going to yell upstairs to my kids to turn that racket down when they play it, and I might even hit the ceiling with a broom.  And yes, when I have the chance, when I see an opening, when the opportunity presents itself, I’m going to hit mute.

If that makes me old, so be it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It Ain't Christmas Till the Fluffy Guy Sings

What’s the single most celebrated Christmas decoration at our house?  
 
The tree, you might surmise.  Or maybe the stockings?  A valiant guess.   Could it be one of the two hand-carved wooden nativity sets we humbly display?  Or perhaps it’s one of the many decorative nutcrackers that have been a staple gift from Santa to the kids over the years?  (The big guy tries to mix in a few wooden, traditional toys).
 
Surely, one of those holiday standouts that we parents hold in such high regard has become the favorite of our offspring, forming a foundation for fond memories of Christmases past.  Certainly, it’s one of these titans of the holiday décor realm that causes the children to clap, parade and dance each year as it is revealed and ceremoniously displayed.  
 
But, no.
 
Based on our childrens’ collective reaction to the mix of various traditional garb and accumulated holiday tchotchke that we scatter through the house for little more than a month each year, the Christmas decoration they get most excited about is a bit less traditional, a little less wholesome, and not exactly an heirloom (yet).   It’s an oddball, really.
 
But without a doubt, their favorite is the piano-playing Singing Snowman.   Hit it.   
 
 
 
That’s right.  Each year I haul down no less than four ginormous boxes, each filled to the brim with garland, ornaments and heirloom-worthy trinkets.  These items, some meticulously wrapped, are unveiled one-by-one, with trembling anticipation and utmost care by us parents, each to be placed on the tree, or the mantle, or the coffee table or another easily visible flat surfaces.  And each year, as we partake in this annual tradition, with boxes half empty and newspaper wrappings scattered about our entire first floor, the question begins.
 
"Dad, where’s the Signing Snowman?"
 
A nervous silence falls over the room.  Then comes the sound of newspapers rustling as the children overturn the paper wrappings, dive into the boxes and scour the partly-decorated landscape.  Their voices eventually crest, in a high pitched whimper, “Where is he?”

This year, the Singing Snowman was actually missing.   He was nowhere to be found, not in any of the giant boxes, nor the accompanying bags.
 
He must've gotten lost on packing-away-Christmas-junk day last year.  But how?  Did he hide out and find his way to the basement toy repository?  Did he end up with the Easter box?  Or, did I subconsciously discard our fluffy little Liberace?  Did I bag him up “accidentally” with the yearly Christmas garbage, a collection of boxes, wrapping paper and tiny plastic harnesses used to keep dolls in their packaging, and take him to the curb?   Could I do such a thing – even subconsciously.  (Yes.  Yes I could.)
 
But, alas.  I didn’t.
 
Finally, in the attic, behind one of the box of retired décor – the one I consolidated on a particularly ambitious January day a few years ago and have refused to move since – the Signing Snowman was found.
 
Thank goodness.  Christmas can happen again.  And the children can sing, dance and parade around to a bad rendition of "Let It Snow."


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Central Casting Called, They Want Their Bad Guys Back

Much ink has been spilled in recent weeks as political pundits wax on about what the GOP needs to do to appeal to more people.  Apparently, the party just now realized that cornering the market on the old-rich-white-dude vote is not a recipe for national success.

So they are engaged in a public conversation about what they can do to appeal to women, Hispanics, the middle class, and, generally, non-old, non-rich, non-white, non-dudes.

Here’s one quick idea.  Maybe Republicans should stop anointing leaders who seem like they were pulled from the “bad guy” central casting file.   It’s just a thought.  

And, no, I’m not talking about Mitt Romney, necessarily, who we now have renewed fondness for since he became harmless again.  Though he certainly fits the bill, too.  Sure, on paper it seemed like the right year to run a CEO from an equity firm that displaced workers through outsourcing.  But it just wasn’t to be.

I’m referring to the current crop of congressional leaders who have emerged in the post Romney-era to carry the torch for the Grand Old (White Dude) Party:   Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.




You might remember them from their stellar bad guy performances in earlier films, "Pre-Existing Condition" and "Nightmare on Main Street."

So, my Republican friends, are you saying you couldn’t find anyone who came across as even slightly sympathetic?  What about Paul Ryan.  True, he was rumored to be a vampire and is politically to the right of Attila the Hun, but at least we got the impression he's a nice guy.

Boehner (sadly pronounced BAY-ner) and McConnell make us miss the cuddly Newt Gingrich, or that lovable Trent Lott. Sure, Newt and Trent were described as the epitome of evil back in their day.  But in hindsight, we know better.