Produced by Gary Drevitch
Hey, kids! Fledgling comic-book publisher AK Comics has unveiled a new line of "Middle East Heroes," role models who defend Origin City from evildoers, infidels, and, we presume, Zionists. Among the heroes is "the Last Pharaoh," who captures criminals red-handed, then puts them to work building his pyramids.
In this profile, series editor Marwan Nashar asks the rhetorical question, "Why can't the Middle East have its own heroes?" But, Marwan, the Middle East has always had its share of superheroes. Like this one. And, this one. Can't imagine how you'd forget to mention them. In fact, maybe there ought to be a special team-up issue between the Seraph and the Last Pharaoh.
UH-OH. SMALL FELLOW HAS BEEN A CARD MEMBER SINCE 2001.
We have always thought of ourselves as having a vivid imagination, but we never imagined this: Parents swiping their children's identities for credit-card fraud. And to think, we were feeling guilty about snarfing down Small Fellow's forgotten Valentine's Day cookies . . .
Leave it to the Brits to deliver a children's book about a sperm cell, and to call it "Where Willy Went." As the story goes:
Rosy-cheeked Willy is determined to be the first to reach the "lovely and soft" interior of an egg, located in the murkily mapped recesses of Mrs. Browne's abdomen.
Worldly older siblings and adults are likely to be Allan's most responsive audience, but many under-five readers may still enjoy the sojourn to a world of endearing, exotic tadpole creatures.
Excuse me? Yes, question from the back row. Hi. Just wondering: If you believe that children under five would enjoy a sojourn to a world of exotic tadpole creatures, why not create a picture book for them like "Timmy Tadpole Under the Sea," instead of offering them a story that takes place in Mrs. Browne's murkily mapped recesses?
MONKEY FELLOW AND TINY MONKEY WERE AMONG THE SUBJECTS IN A SIMILAR STUDY CONDUCTED AT FD.COM HEADQUARTERS
The Wall Street Journal article on this study is worth reading, if only because of highlights like this:
monkeys would gaze as long as they could at female hindquarters. . . .
The research has “taken the issue of your wanting to be—or be with—an important monkey, and shown it seems to obey the same rules about monkeys working for juice or humans working for money.”
The gist of the study is that monkeys were found to be willing to give up (or pay) a portion of their treats (such as juice) in exchange for glimpses of attractive opposite-sex simians or dominant alpha apes. Researchers believed that the willingness of monkeys to pay for the privilege of imagining themselves in the company of powerful or sexy peers was akin to humans shelling out $2 or $3 for celebrity gossip or fashion magazines.
All primates living in complex societies have evolved this drive to study what’s around them, Dr. Glimcher explained. “People are willing to pay money to look at pictures of high-ranking human primates. When you fork out $3” for a celebrity gossip magazine, “you’re doing exactly what the monkeys are doing. “The difference between Michael’s study and People magazine,” he said, “is that the monkeys actually know the individuals in the picture.”
Well, that may be true. But we find it fascinating that this is exactly the same dynamic we sometimes see at breakfast time. When Small Fellow has a hard time waking up for school, we sometimes allow him to sit for a spell in front of "Sesame Street." The problem is that it's difficult to then get him to turn his eyes away from Ernie, Elmo, or the Count and eat his breakfast. And when Fellow and Tiny Girl happen to eat in a room where the TV is on, they simply can't make themselves turn away from the characters on screen to bring their spoons to their mouths. We plan to run some follow-up tests involving Small Fellow, a bowl of oatmeal, and some images of female orangutan hindquarters. Watch this space for the results.
Perchlorate, in your breast milk.
What the - ?
And why do we feel like this is the kind of story we're going to see again (and again) very soon?
AND SINCE NOTHING IS WORSE FOR A CHILD'S SELF-ESTEEM THAN A POP QUIZ, THEY OUGHT TO BAN THOSE, TOO
Tag and duck, duck, goose are under fire at schools across the country, as gym teachers switch their mission from building character to fighting obesity. The problem with so many of the old games is that they eliminate kids, the experts now say, unfairly leaving only those kids who actually give a damn about the result on the field, while forcing less interested kids to sit on the sidelines thinking creative thoughts.
Dodge ball is, of course, also on the way out, since, as the National Association for Sport and Physical Education told the Wall Street Journal, "being hit by a hard-thrown ball does not help kids to develop confidence." Maybe not, but it can be educational. We remember learning in seventh grade how a hard-thrown red rubber ball could enter one side of our face, pass through, and exit the other side, with only mild concussive effects.
YOU SEE, HERE'S WHY THIS IS SUCH A GREAT COUNTRY
We have a First Lady willing to travel the nation offering a "Passport to Manhood" to as many young men as are willing to step up and receive it. (Hey, the White House came up with that name, not us.) This young boy looks hesitant, but we're sure Mrs. Bush took him by the hand, looked into his eyes, and assured him, "Now, don't you fret, sweet boy. Momma's gonna take care of every little thing."
Tiny Girl, fortunately, is not too tiny, but if she were, would she get any help? Maybe not.
GIMME A U, GIMME A T, GIMME AN A-H! UTAH! UTAH! RAH RAH RAH!
For the first time since - OK, for the first time - we find ourselves cheering Utah's right-wing politicians, now that they have mounted a major challenge to the President's misguided, onerous No Child Left Behind Act. We wish them well, and we're encouraged that a number of other states are mounting legal challenges to the act, since we can think of many better things for Small Fellow to do between the ages of 8 and 12 than spend half of each school year prepping for a standardized test.
THIS IS EVEN SCARIER THAN 7,500 ORANGE GATES ALL OVER CENTRAL PARK
New York City readers probably saw this column from Judith Warner in the Times on Valentine's Day. (It's a major Daily Double for Warner this week, as her new book is on the cover of Newsweek.) But if you didn't see it, it's worth a read. Warner's message is sobering:
Is our national romance with our children sucking the emotional life out of our marriages? . . . .
Marital romance has dried up. Real intimacy has gone the way of bottle-feeding and playpens. In fact, the whole ideal of marriage as a union of soul mates, friends and lovers that's as essential to a happy family life as, say, unconditional love for the children, has taken a direct hit. And in its place has come the reality of a utilitarian relationship dedicated to staying afloat financially and child-rearing of a sort we tend to associate with frontier marriages, arranged marriages, marriages of convenience - marriages far removed, in time and place, from our lives, our parents' lives and even our grandparents' lives.
Warner's concerns touch a nerve here, although we don't necessarily come to the same dramatic and terrifying conclusions she does. At FD.com headquarters, we have always rejected the family bed and other elements of what Warner calls "attachment parenting," but small children are in fact extraordinarily snuggly and no parent should pass up that snuggling for political reasons. We know the pangs we will feel in the coming post-snuggling adolescent and teenage years, but for now, Small and Tiny are more inspiration than "impediment" to romance, to borrow Warner's term. (Now, kitchen renovation? THAT's an impediment to romance. But that's an issue for another day. . .)
THE FAMILY THAT STEALS TOGETHER DOES NOT IN FACT STAY TOGETHER
A New York appeals court has ruled that involving your 12-year-old child in a bank robbery is a form of abuse, overturning a Family Court decision and setting the stage for a mother/stick-up artist to lose her parental rights.
So this weekend, we guess we'll just take Small Fellow to the playground.
We put on an old road race T-shirt to wear to bed the other night. Precocious reader Small Fellow saw the shirt, and asked, "Daddy, did you win that race?"
Physical therapy for pulling a quad while running: $900
A son who believes you actually could have won the race: Priceless
LET'S PUT IT THIS WAY: SMALL FELLOW'S MOM IS GOING TO BE AROUND FOR A LONG, LONG TIME
Married women who avoid conflict with their spouses have an increased risk of dying from any cause, according to a news release from the Second International Conference on Women, Heart Disease and Stroke.
AND TINY GIRL'S DADDY ISN'T GOING ANYWHERE, EITHER
From the same study:
But married men were less likely to die than their single counterparts over a 10-year period, despite other health risks.
IN A RELATED STORY, MIGHTY MOUSE IS BEING REINTRODUCED, NOW FIRING LASERS OUT OF HIS BEHIND
The WB network, proud home of some shows you've never seen, is bringing back Bugs Bunny and his friends. But instead of the beloved opera-spoofing, animal-anticking, food-chain-thwarting characters of our youth, the new "Loonatics" - and if you haven't seen these images yet, you have got to hit the link - will be poorly-drawn superhero action figures with no pupils in their eyes. Each will have a superpower, and they'll, yes, fight crime in the year 2772. (Did these guys ever hear of "Duck Dodgers in the 24-1/2 Century" ?)
The network’s animators have re-imagined Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Wile E. Coyote as sleek new figures for a modern age. “We all flipped for it,” David Janollari, president of the Kids’ WB, said this week. “We just said, ‘Wow, what a great way to take the classic Looney Tunes franchise that has been huge with audiences for decades and bring it into the new millennium.”’
The earth then opened up as Janollari's father, the Prince of Darkness, recalled him to the nether regions, his work on Earth complete. But Janollari said, "Wait, father! I yet have one more message to deliver to the wretched masses of this fetid plane!" Lucifer acquiesced, and Janollari completed his interview:
“I think the legacy is intact,” he said. “If anything, it’s an homage to the legacy instead of a destruction of the legacy.”
And then, in a puff of brimstone, he was gone.
WHERE DO WE SIGN UP?
A massive new study is being launched to discover what makes kids sick - why some kids get asthma, get fat, or become autistic, and what effect chemicals, the environment, or genetic factors have on their future health. US News has the story:
In all, 100,000 children and their parents will be enrolled in the largest ever study of youngsters. Called the National Children's Study, it will be a 21-year odyssey of discovery, following children from the uterus to the threshold of adulthood. By carefully watching and waiting, researchers hope to gain a better understanding of major diseases that strike children, some of which are spreading alarmingly fast. The study will involve scientists from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Technical difficulties kept this site dark for the past week or so, but the good people at BlogCo (motto: You get what you pay for) assure us that we're back in business. And so let's get to the news.
NUTRITIONAL SCIENCE HAS FINALLY CAUGHT UP TO FREELANCE DAD. PHYSICS IS STILL KEEPING A HEALTHY DISTANCE
This just in (unless you've been a regular reader of FD.com) : Juice will make your preschooler fat.
While fruit juice does have vitamins, nutritionists say it’s inferior to fresh fruit. The new U.S. dietary guidelines, for example, urge consumers away from juice, suggesting they eat whole fruit instead. The bottom line, though, is that “children need very few calories in their day,” Welsh said. “Sweet drinks are a source of added sugar in the diet.”
And don't even get us started on Sunny Delight and its frothy faux-fruit friends. Parents, if you need some aversion therapy, just imagine the Kool Aid guy as a creepy neighborhood fat guy driving around the neighborhood in a white van tailing your kids.
Dr. Rebecca Unger, who evaluates overweight children in private practice and at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said the study backs up what she sees in the real world. “We do see kids do well when we cut out juice,” she said. “Sometimes that’s all they need to do.”
Beyond keeping them more or less out of traffic, there's very little we consciously do to benefit Small and Tiny's health. But when they were young, they rejected fruit juice (along with real fruit) and they've maintained a steely resistance to Tropicana's charms ever since.
IF YOU'RE JUST FINDING THIS OUT NOW, MOMS, IT'S REALLY TLTL*
Your teens and tweens are instant messaging using acronyms you could never possibly understand, but, according to this article (and its linked acronym glossary), they all mean, "Sure, I like having sex with grown-ups." (SILHSWG)
* [too little, too late]
I'LL TAKE, "THINGS YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR WHEN YOU WALK IN THE DOOR AT NIGHT FOR $600, ALEX"
As we walked into our home last night, there was Small Fellow, his hand stuffed in the front of his shorts, asking, "Daddy! Guess what I have in here!"
Fortunately, it was only his small stuffed sleeping friend, Puppy, and not some scary monster, but still and all, we plan to keep a healthy distance from Puppy from here on out.
NO, WE DON'T SEE ANY SIMILARITY AT ALL BETWEEN THE ARTICLES IN THIS MAGAZINE AND THOSE IN MONTHLY PARENTING PUBLICATIONS. WHY DO YOU ASK?
New York Dog, the magazine we've declared our archenemy, got a mention in the Washington Post the other day, thanks to recent articles such as "Dogs on Atkins!" and "You've got pee-mail!" Other coverlines mentioned include: "Are mutts the new black?" and "Does your dog need Prozac?" To save you the trouble of paying the newsstand price, we'll answer those questions gratis here:
1. No, they're just mutts. And they're off-brown, like all the rest of them. 2. No, you do.
Earlier, we related the controversy engulfing the Vermont Teddy Bear Company over its "Crazy for You" Valentine's Day novelty bear. Mental health advocates tore into the staid teddy makers for producing a lovestruck teddy bear in a straitjacket.
ON NEWSSTANDS NOW
Freelance Dad (a.k.a. Gary Drevitch) has two items in the March-April issue of Time Out New York/Kids, "The Party Issue," on sale now. (Articles available online only to subscribers.) The larger item is "Bar Code," something of a "goy's guide" to bar and bat mitzvah etiquette, and it goes something like this:
Bar Code The goy's guide to bar and bat mitzvahs
OY, VEY! Your teen's been invited to a bar mitzvah, and you're clueless. What's she supposed to wear? More to the point, what's she supposed to get as a gift? (Somebody said something about money.) Here are a few lessons for the Judaically challenged:
SPELL CHECK It’s traditional to give bar- and bat-mitzvah gifts in multiples of $18. Why? The Hebrew word for life is chai. In Hebrew numerology, the two letters that make the word chai correspond to the numbers eight and ten. Adding them together gives you 18. So, to give 18 is to give life, and most everybody likes life. Want to learn more? Get Madonna’s class notes.
BOND TRADERS A check is appropriate but absolutely not required. Bonds, particularly Israel Bonds (israelbonds.com), are perennial bar-mitzvah gifts, as they encourage kids to save rather than to blow their windfall on White Stripes tickets.
CONSUMER REPORT Money’s not the only way to go. NYC’s bar-mitzvah-circuit teens—wearily traversing the city each Saturday, from crudités table to crudités table, dance floor to dance floor—report a spike in store gift cards, iPods and iTunes certificates, tech accessories and a new, improved batch of Judaica items. Warning: If you’re not Jewish, then forget trying to improvise in the Judaica category. Your friend already has a gold chain with a chai on it. He got it from his aunt Naomi when he was eight and keeps it stashed under his forgotten collection of Pokémon cards in his top drawer. But kids can still show that they’re hip to the bar or bat mitzvah’s role in Jewish culture with some, well, hip Jewish culture: CDs from the Klezmatics (Rhythm & Jews); David Krakauer (The Twelve Tribes); Jill Sobule (Underdog Victorious); or the outstanding Knitting on the Roof, in which an all-star collection of downtown Hebrew hipsters reimagine the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack.
CHARITY CASES The biggest trend in gifts may be not giving any-at least, not to the party kid. Many families now ask guests to donate to a specific charity along with, or in lieu of, other gifts. Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, for one, has become a mainstay recipient at city events (www.mazon.org).
JEWCY COUTURE Even if the party that follows the mitzvah ceremony has a "disco luau with the Yankees" theme, respect the gravity of the day (a Jewish child becomes an adult when he or she is first called to read from the Torah). Pull out a jacket and tie, or a modest dress or skirt. And lads, leave that tam at home: Boys will be expected to don a yarmulke on their way into the synagogue.
KNEE JERKS Remember—no kneeling. -- Gary Drevitch
If you're keeping score at home, imaginary friends are now in the good column, according to a spate of new research that praises children for displaying the active imagination required to maintain these fictive relationships. (Of course, by the time they get into high school, they'll be maintaining fictive relationships with half the football team/cheerleader squad, but that's an issue for another time.)
Ann Hulbert, writing for Slate, acknowledges the advantages of imaginary playmates but also raises a reasonable quibble with a much-cited study that claims two-thirds of seven-year-olds have had an imaginary playmate, by pointing out that the study covered stuffed animals and established fictional characters, as well as those truly original creations like the now-infamous Mr. Ravioli, imaginary friend to the daughter of estimable New Yorker scribe Adam Gopnik. Gopnik's overpraised essay about Ravioli two years ago put a fresh spotlight on imaginary playmates; his daughter, having internalized (generously) either the phone conversations she overheard her parents having or (less so) her own relationship with her parents, created a character who was friendly, but always too busy to actually play with her or make firm plans. (Article apparently not available online.)
One of FD's favorite child researchers also offers a splash of cold water. The author of a separate volume on the imagination claims that imaginary playmates are ways for children to try on a variety of real-world adult social relationships. However:
. . . these researchers are exploring a phenomenon that encompasses, for example, fondness for a 2-inch-tall, green-furred, good-humored dog named Alicia. If children's pretend activities are all about adapting to social reality, the cognitive psychologist Alison Gopnik has astutely asked, why do they spend so much time dreaming up such far-fetched creatures?
Hulbert wraps up with a question worth considering. While two-thirds of seven-year-olds met the researchers' definition of having an imaginary playmate,
If anything, perhaps we should worry at the finding that only slightly more than a quarter of preschoolers fit Taylor and Carlson's sweeping criteria for having imaginary friends. After all, pretending is the main active, as opposed to passive, pastime that preliterate kids (even the most prosaic) are equipped to enjoy in their spare time.
Small Fellow has had a rich relationship with a changing roster of plush sleeping companions, many of whom express marked preferences for which side of the bed they prefer and which Bingo cards they'll sit behind. Tiny often offers food and drink to her animal friends. And this is behavior which, as far as we can tell, is fairly widespread and pretty firmly echoes the children's relationships with their own parents. In our case, the animals play the roles of our children and our kids serve in loco parentis. Which means that all parents would be well advised to watch for serious changes in their kids' relationships with their play playmates.
LAST NIGHT'S EPISODE OF "WITHOUT A TRACE" FEATURED A HARROWING SUBLPLOT IN WHICH A MAN FOUND OUT THAT THE AUTISTIC BOY HE'D BEEN RAISING AS HIS OWN FOR 10 YEARS WAS NOT HIS BIOLOGICAL SON. BUT WHEN WE HEAR SMALL FELLOW SAY THINGS LIKE THIS, WE KNOW HE'S ALL OURS
After another well fought but traumatic checkers defeat to his mom, Fellow, who is four years old, approached us and asked, "Is anyone in my class 3?"
- You mean 3 years old?
- Well, I guess a few of them still are, yeah.
- OK. I want you to find one of them who is 3 and a boy. The first one you find who is 3 and a boy.
- Why, do you mean you want to play checkers with them?
- Yeah, that's what I want.
- But they might not know how to play.
- Then you can teach them and then I can play with them.
- Because you'll probably beat them?
IF TINY GIRL IS TO BREAK INTO STAND-UP COMEDY, SHE'LL NEED SOME . . . FRESHER MATERIAL
Here's her favorite joke, which she has told to every passerby and fellow elevator rider she's encountered in the last month:
Do you know what we saw at the zoo?
No, what did you see at the zoo?
A SMELLY SKUNK!!
WE'RE GOING TO NEED TO FILL THAT FD.COM MARKETING DIRECTOR OPENING SOON
Sunday's Times offered a tour of the world of parenting blogs, sans FD.
YOUR SALES WOULD PLUMMET, YES. SO WHAT'S YOUR POINT?
The chief executive of Mister Softee blasts proposed revisions in New York City's noise code that would "silence the 347 Mister Softee trucks that operate in the city" and cause the company's sales to plummet. According to James Conway:
"To get a sense of what this would do to us, remember when you were a kid," he said. "You heard the jingle, you grabbed your money and you ran to the truck. The way you knew Mister Softee was in the neighborhood was the song."
Oh, yeah, we remember being a child and thrilling to the jingle of the ice-cream man's truck (even though there was perfectly good ice cream in our freezer). It was one of the great joys of childhood - and it probably caused our parents no end of stress.
Now parents ourselves, we comprehend the full scope of Mister Softee's evil. The ice-cream truck is as intrusive as a telemarketing call, except it's targeted at our children, who are so ill-equipped to resist it. What gives Mr. Conway's fleet the right to advertise its product via amplifier up and down quiet residential streets? What gives him the authority to decide it's time for our kids to eat ice cream? And above all, why should we have to debate the merits of an 11 a.m. ice-cream sandwich with a stubborn preschooler just because we're on Mr. Conway's route? We say, shut him down.
(But if that fails, we'll have a Rocket.)
LAURA, WE APPRECIATE THE THOUGHT. JUST DON'T PUT MICHAEL JACKSON ON YOUR BLUE-RIBBON COMMISSION
A couple of weeks after the fact, we're allowing ourselves to read a little bit about the second inauguration of, you know. A major profile of Laura Bush contained this bit of news you may have missed:
Mrs. Bush said she intends ... to get involved in programs to support adolescent boys because schools and parents have placed special emphasis on the developmental needs of girls in the last three decades. "We have this idea, this stereotype, that boys don't need the same nurturing that girls do, that boys can take care of themselves," she said. "And, of course, we all know that's not true, that boys need a lot of attention. Boys get in trouble more .... Boys father children and aren't fathers-don't know how to be fathers."
We have received all your calls and letters, and in repsonse to unprecedented reader demand, we have posted 16 new photos of Small Fellow and Tiny Girl on our companion site. Click here for the adorables.
OK, we regret the punchline, as this is a truly horrible story. It's a tragedy for the family, and the mohel. We're unaware of this Orthodox practice of the mohel using his mouth to extract blood from the circumcision wound, but as much as we support circumcision, even in the face of modern opposition, this one particular element of the procedure may have to go. It simply seems to not be worth the risk.
BUSTER GETS BUSTED
We've been monitoring the flap over PBS Kids' "Postcards from Buster" episode in which the inquisitive bunny travels to Vermont and meets, among the maple farmers and ice cream magnates, a girl whose mother lives with her lesbian partner. Incoming Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings blasted the program for its treatment of homosexuality as somehow normal, and implicitly threatened to cut off its funding, if not Buster's floppy right ear. We at FD.com support Buster's right to visit anyone the producers see fit. However, we also happen to think that PBS executives made the right decision when they independently decided to pull the episode in question before the Secretary of Education ever heard of it. In other words, the system works, and Spellings' grandstanding only serves to obscure that fact while playing to her Bushy base.