Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Ittybity Gift Guide

If you spent Black Friday as I did — hunkered down over my computer screen, wishing the fairies of consumerism would just kill me already and put me out of my misery - you still have some shopping to do.

I mean, what are you to do when the last of the must-have toys was sold from the assembly line six minutes after the company manufacturing it leaked to news sources "Junior will likely revolt if it's not under the tree?"

Why, you improvise, of course.

So in the spirit of holiday giving, what follows is a list of gift alternatives that will probably break the bank, but who cares? The bank is already broken and you need to cover you posterior. And anyway, the kids and grandkids need to see something when they rub the sand from their eyes come Christmas morning.

Knitted Lab Rat, $62
The Crafty Hedgehog —

Your little scientist will be dazzled with this knitted curiosity. The white rat is hand knit from an acrylic mohair blend, and his little innards are needle-felted by hand out of 100 percent wool. He comes pinned into a framed corkboard. As he is not glued down he can be easily removed for cuddling. Poor thing. If you throw in an additional $18 your knitted biology project will arrive in an actual lab tray.
Also available in Frog. Makes the perfect gift for the pacifist biology student on your list.

The Tickled Pink

Deluxe Nursery Set, $300
FAO Swartz

You know what this means right? Now when you leave the house with your new little mother, not only will you have to schlep your kid's coat, hat, books, backpack, snacks, extra shirts, pants and various and sundry things … you're going to be toting double for your new plastic grandchild, too.

Because, this is the ULTIMATE doll set, and includes a custom made "Newborn Nursery Baby," stroller, diaper, backpack, four-piece dish set, piece hat and bootie set, snowflake snowsuit, comb and brush set, bed/changing table, bedding set, fleece gown and cap, fleece blanket, clip-on bunny pacifier and bunny rattle. And you thought real babies don't even need that much gear.

Wooden Cinderella Coach, $1,100

This limited production rocking chair will be hours of pretend fun (as opposed to real fun) for your little Cinderella. And it will only set you back a couple of weeks' pay. Don't be cheap. It is an heirloom piece that will live on forever in the heart of a child.

It includes rockers, gourd seating and clocks. You can speed through any fairytale story and still get nowhere, but at least you'll know when it's bedtime.

Penny Pony Ride-On, $350

FAO Swartz

Just drop the jumbo penny into the slot and hold on. The mechanical horse you know and love from visiting K-Mart will make clip-clopping and neighing sounds while swinging its head and tail.

It's a good investment, really. You'll never again have to empty your pockets of quarters and wait in the wind and rain to get to your Blue-Light Special.

Reborn Baby of the Month Club, $1,200
ShamrockLady —

Are your snarky teenagers driving you nuts? Do you miss the days when they were cute and cuddly and didn't speak? I think at least one major news outlet has done a feature story on these eerily creepy dolls and the collectors who love

Made to look like real newborn infants, these dolls have weighted bodies, micro-rooted wigs. You get a baby a month for six months: a newborn, a preemie, a micropreemie, at least one boy, one girl, one with open eyes and one with closed eyes. Just don’t let the kids tote these dolls around by their hair. You don’t want a visit from Social Services.

Makes the perfect gift for the kid who has dreams of running an illegal daycare.

Broken Bones X-rays, $27

For kids who just can't wait for spring - when they'll fall out of a tree, necessitating a trip to the emergency room and will wind up with a set of their very own. Or for the more girly-girls on your list who otherwise may NEVER have to have any part of their bodies set in a cast.

X-rays are also available in animal anatomy for all those kids who plan on becoming veterinarians.

Deliverance Van, $260
Stephen Fabrications —

The "sculpture" of a truck is just a rusty metal box with a deer antler on rollerskate wheels. I don't think I can improve upon this blurb, however: "I intended this to be a toy and halfway through building it, I realized it was dangerous and went with the danger thing. Delivery vans (vans in general) are creepy. So is this one."

Come to think of it, it's perfect toy for your least favorite nephew.

Lunch Lady Action Figure, $11
Archie MacPhee

Can't you just smell the fish sticks and Tater Tots? Nutrition may soon be coming to a school near you, but the lunch lady who serves it will always have a hairnet and see-through plastic gloves. Anything else would be un-American. The only thing that would make this toy better would be if the food choice stickers you can apply yourself had Scratch-n-Sniff technology.

Mmmmm. ... Lime Jell-O with mystery bits. Mmmmm.

Zorbit Double Wall Inflatable Ball with Harness, $2,000
The Kids Fun Company

It's a human hamster ball, folks! Even the ad copy says words like "maximize the thrill while eliminated unnecessary risks," just not in that particular order (or with the same spelling). It's perfect for any child with an overprotective parent, or anyone who just wants their kids to go play in traffic ... safely.

What if your kids prefer water play? You don't want to risk drowning do you? For the bargain price of $800, you can get Aqua Ball. (The company originally named the device Water Walker … but you know … sales were probably sluggish and Aqua Ball just sounds so much more entertaining.) After all, the Aqua Ball is guaranteed fun. (I'm not sure it's the money-back kind, though.)

I seriously doubt you'll be needing to look elsewhere for that perfect gift this year, but I'd still like to invite you to join me on Christmas Eve as I do my last-minute holiday shopping at the liquor store. I'm just going to ask for something in the back - something, say, among the recycling? The kids will be happy. They'd rather play with the box, anyway.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Twitter may really be for the birds

I was probably knee-deep in laundry or inspecting the insides of my eyelids last weekend when the social-networking site known as Twitter exploded into a frenzy of “tweets” decrying a new ad by Johnson & Johnson for its pain reliever, Motrin.

The hubbub was over the script in which a “hip” mom was complaining (in a chatty, conversational way) about the aches and pains associated with babywearing.

The transcript is as follows:

“Wearing your baby seems to be in fashion. I mean, in theory it’s a great idea. There’s the front baby carrier, sling, schwing, wrap, pouch. And who knows what else they’ve come up with. Wear your baby on your side, your front, go hands free. Supposedly [insert air quotes here] it’s a real bonding experience. They say that babies carried close to the body tend to cry less than others. But what about me? Do moms that wear their babies cry more than those who don’t? I sure do! These things put a ton of strain on your back, your neck, your shoulders. Did I mention your back? I mean, I’ll put up with the pain because it’s a good kind of pain; it’s for my kid. Plus, it totally makes me look like an official mom. And so if I look tired and crazy, people will understand why.”

The self-dubbed #Motrinmoms were reacting mostly to the tone of the piece, which was sort of valley-girl meets Dr. Sears devotee. (If you have access to the internets you might want to peruse Youtube for “Controversial Motrin Moms Commericial” to get the full experience.)

What they were ranting against was the perception that the makers of Motrin were calling attachment parenting admirers fad-chasing, whiners more interested in appearances than in mothering.

As a babywearing mother myself, I have to admit I was a little intrigued by the responses. Here are some of them. …

BethBader: Wearing the kid was as much as fashion statement as dark circles eyes, c-section scar and spit up. I was a GODDESS, I tell you.

JenKaneCo: if Motrin was smart they'd release a new spot where mommies are popping Motrin to deal with the strain of their corp. pandering

samrolken: #motrinmoms are missing the point. The big deal is: it makes #babywearing seem "too hard," it discourages future moms with misinformation.

Even after the company apologized and pulled the ad, the viral Twittering persisted; hundreds of posts continued to log criticism of both the company’s response and the media-crushing outcry of parents.

I suppose it was just too difficult to slow that train down once it had left the station.

The posts then turned to bask in the power of the Tweet -- a 140-character line of text you can upload from the internet or your wireless phone.

I’m not even sure why this has fascinated me so, to tell you the truth. I know there are more important things to rant about than what some company, whose goal is to sell me its $8 product that I can buy generically $4, says about parenting (as if anyone really has the corner on that market anyway).

I know there are more poorly executed ads. Remember the Snickers commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, which showed two men accidentally kissing while eating from opposite ends of a Snickers bar?

I could drone on for days about how much is marketed to children; how the cartoon packaging is always placed at kids’ eye level at the grocery store, making that much harder to get through the store without being THAT person who can’t control their kids’ outbursts. And how the “Iwant-Iwant-Iwants” that come as a direct result of this type of marketing, eventually wears away the resolve of even the most disciplined of parents.

But I won’t. I know when I say black someone else says white.

I’ll just say: Twitter might really be the best research tool for marketers yet. Or it may just be for the birds.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Living in another city of brotherly love

Ittybit loves her brother.

Sometimes she loves him a little too much.

Sometimes I have to exile her to her room for a little while so she can do a little reflecting on pushing him with her feet (until he falls).

"I was just trying to tickle him."

Sometimes I have to break up their hugs (before she squeezes the last breath from his little body) ...

"I was just trying to kiss him."

Often I have to ask her to lower her voice when she sings his praises.

“I was just trying to tell him I love him.”

All this loving comes with lots of admonitions:

“Please don't hold him back. Please don't take ALL his toys. Please don't try and pick him up. Please don't crawl on top of him. Please stop yelling at him. Please don't pull on his clothes. Please stop grabbing at him. ...”

"I was just wanting to play with him."

I've tried explaining to her that he won't be little for long. One day he may even be taller and bigger than she is. She doesn't believe me. She puts growing older and growing bigger in the same category.

"How old are you going to be on your next birthday? ... I bet when that birthday comes you won't even be able to fit in your car!"

She can’t comprehend that he could ever be bigger than she is since he will never be older.

She can't imagine (the way I can) that her brother may some day wrestle her to the ground and hold a droplet of spittle an inch from her nose until she screams for mercy and he sucks it back into his mouth like a strand of spaghetti.

All she knows is that when he pulls her hair or scratches her arm, in addition to reminding her that he's just a baby – a toddling baby but still a baby – that he’s getting a little admonition, too.

“Champ, Please don’t pull the dog’s tail. We use gentle hands. Uh oh; no climbing on the table … no throwing food … we don’t throw toys into the toilet.”

She beams with delight whenever he is told to be easy on his sister or to hand back the toy he ferreted from her grasp. She wants to know all the particulars about when he’s removed to another room for a little time away from the most recent trouble.

“I told him not to jump on the couch. He’s getting a time out, isn’t he?”

“Never you mind about that, Eddie Haskel.”

“Who’s Eddie Haskel?”

I suppose I was ready for the rivalry.

I was ready for the hair pulling and the complaints about pilfered toys and overstepped borders. I was aware that entire battles would be waged over the perception of one more teaspoon of ice cream in the other’s bowls.

But I wasn’t ready for the shock of that other thing that happens, too: sibling camaraderie.

I was stunned into silence when he first clawed his way past me to wrap his arms around her in a bear hug. I was almost moved to tears when she smiled and hugged him back; gently this time.

I still kind of stand in the background with my head cocked a little like Nipper, the RCA dog, when she’s barreling down the hallway on her Plasmacar yelling, “Let’s head ’em off at the pass,” and he follows along behind, pushing his own car with his tiny legs, happily yelling something just like it in unison.

It’s a joyful noise.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Of politics and preschool

Ittybit didn't like our selection at the polls. She didn't want to vote for "Rock the Bama" on Election Day.

And just knowing that drove me crazy.

Sure, she really doesn't have an understanding of politics as it applies to the presidency and she couldn't legally vote even if she did. But it's not as if she doesn't comprehend politics in general.

Like all children, she fully understands that positioning herself a certain way can affect a desired change. For instance, she knows that if she asks politely she can have Halloween candy after breakfast. She also knows that if she asks the right people (Amah and Papa) she can have cookies BEFORE dinner.

Yet when we talked about voting for Barack Obama and she became a four-foot wall of protest, I was at a loss.

She didn't want to vote for "Rock the Bama," she told me, because she didn't like his name.

I'm not sure what came over me, but I immediately went on the stump as if I were Move On Dot Org and she were the choir.

"Well, of course we're voting for Barack Obama. Disliking his name IS NOT an acceptable reason to disqualify him," I responded, reeling with the vision of my own daughter one day lambasting her parents to Rush Limbaugh for once - way back before the primaries -- putting an Obama pin on her pint-sized t-shirt.

I felt a twinge of guilt. Had the weight of that metal button tipped the balance toward rebellion already?

I launched into lectures of all the reasons her father and I wanted this man in office. I spoke to my four-year-old audience in much the same way I've spoken to friends: I spoke about decency and fairness and ideology and change. I talked about beliefs and goals and ideals. I even spoke about passion: "He gives me hope, and I think hope is what we need."

She was not swayed.

"I just want Yaya," she said, invoking the name of her beloved babysitter.

"You told me we could write-in a name," she argued after she left the booth with her father, having just pulled a lever on the top row. "I didn't see any pens."

I laughed, still feeling unsettled knowing that I, in my zealous liberal way, am probably destined to raise ultra conservative children who will likely cancel my vote starting in 2024.

"When you're 18 you can vote for whomever you like," I tell her, adding that maybe it would be a good idea for her to have her own voting booth made of cardboard and decorated with stickers so she can practice. "You can campaign for Yaya, or Mickey Mouse or Pluto if you like."

"Well, I've changed my mind. I think it's time for change, too. I'm voting for Minnie Mouse. She's the one for me. After that I'll vote for Rock the Bama."

Maybe she understands more than I thought.

Maybe she understands, in her own way, that we are probably more alike than we realize. No matter who we voted for, in the end, we are all Americans. Maybe from now until Inauguration Day parents around the country should start reading the book, "Everyone Poops," at bedtime as a simple reminder of that fact.

Perhaps we all should.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Ittybit's visiting pen pal parcel post

Ittybit was pleased with herself. More accurately, she was pleased with the paper doll her teacher at the Marilla Cuthebert Academy for Unspeakably Charming Children had given her to decorate, which she promptly named after herself and painted pink.

"Look, mama! It's me. Only I don't have a sheep. And I don't have blue eyes. And my hair's not that long. ... But it's ME!"

Having an artwork doppleganger is not easy, though. These characters are incredibly hard to work with; you can't hang them on the wall with the other artwork (that would be uncomfortable) and transportation - since they must travel wherever we go - is an issue because they are incredibly fragile and prone to tears and creases.

But trek with her we must as the Flat Ittybit - like her literary cousin, Flat Stanley - enjoys looking out of the car window while we run errands.

"What?!? We can't leave her in the CAR when we go shopping! You never leave kids in the CAR!"

Thus Flat Ittybit has gone grocery shopping with us; she's gone to the park and to play dates. Sometimes she's had to stay in the car but we've been diligent in checking in on her and never straying too far.

When the mother of her pen-pal (a nice little girl named Jaylene in Taiwan) saw a recent photograph of Flat Ittybit and suggested we mail her overseas for a visit, I knew it was going to be a tough sell.

"I don't want to send her away. I want to keep her here."

"I know. ... But don't you think it would be fun to send a Flat Ittybit for a vacation? She could pretend to be you and then your pen-pal friend will take her to all the places she loves and send you pictures.

"No! It would NOT be fun. I do NOT want to send her away."

With that she began to cry.

"Ok, ok. Don't worry. We won't send Flat Ittybit away. ... In a few years, when you understand, maybe we'll send her sightseeing."

She stopped crying.

"What don't I understand?"

"It's a project," I say, emphasizing the magic word. "It would be like YOU were traveling and seeing the sights. Your friend could even send you a Flat Jaylene, and we could take her to all the places YOU like to go."

"Like Hoffman's Playland?"

"Well, Hoffman's is closed for the season."

"How about the zoo?"

"Well, we won't be near a zoo for a while."

"This doesn't sound very good, mom."

"How about the state museum? We could take Flat Jaylene to ride the carousel."

"That would be fun."

"We could bring her to your dance class."

"That WOULD be fun. Let's do it. Let's send her to Wantai."


"Oh, right." >

And with that we agreed to send Flat Ittybit to Taiwan. The problem now will be making sure she has comfortable accommodations for the trip.

"Let's make a hole in the envelope, mama. Then she can have a window seat."

Stay tuned. ...