Produced by Gary Drevitch
OUR HELIX, OURSELVES
Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA with James Watson, died Wednesday at 88. The double helix if a difficult concept to grasp, but the American Museum of Natural History has put together a dazzling little presentation on the subject in a small room adjacent to its Hall of Human Biology and Evolution. The exhibit screens a series of short videos on the discovery and structure of DNA, and Small Fellow is entranced by the show whenever he stops in. Of course, a bunch of colorful letters flying all about before coming together in the form of a zipper is pretty entertaining regardless of the science behind it.
DEATH CLAIMS POP ROCKS CREATOR BEFORE HE CAN BE BROUGHT TO JUSTICE
(AP) -- William A. Mitchell, the food scientist who invented Pop Rocks candy and discovered a substitute for tapioca, died Monday of congestive heart failure, his daughter said. He was 92. Mitchell, who worked as a chemist for General Foods Corp. in White Plains, N.Y., for 35 years until his retirement in 1976, held over 70 patents, including inventions related to Cool Whip, quick-set Jell-O Gelatin and the drink mix Tang . . . . Mitchell's most famous invention was Pop Rocks - the exploding candy that became a cultural phenomenon after it hit the market in 1975. He made the discovery accidentally, while trying to design an instant soft drink, when he put some sugar flavoring mixed with carbon dioxide in his mouth. For years, Mitchell, who patented Pop Rocks in 1956, fought to dispel the myth that the carbonated candy was deadly if eaten while drinking carbonated drinks.The report does not go on to say:
Prosecutors at the World Court had attempted for years to force Mitchell's extradition to the Hague to face trial for crimes against humanity over the thousands of deaths allegedly caused by the lethal combination of his product, "Pop Rocks," and carbonated beverages. Mitchell's most notable alleged victim was little "Mikey" Johnson, who touched the hearts of parents worldwide when he courageously dug into a bowl of LIFE cereal in the late 1970s.
THIS WEEK'S THEME: WE'RE JUST LIKE OTHER BLOGS
Like so many bloggers, the Establishment considers FD to be a "tastemaker." And so we found ourselves last night at the tony Tribeca Grand Hotel for a New Yorker magazine and Bombay Sapphire-sponsored screening of "Garden State," the new film from Zach Braff, harmless star of the NBC sitcom "Scrubs." The invitation promised complimentary Bombay Sapphire cocktails, and "an exclusive discussion" with Braff and fetching costar Natalie Portman. However, while Braff fielded our questions after the film (apparently, the film is "75% autobiographical," basically all of it except the parts where the lead character suffers), Princess Amidala was nowhere to be seen. Our hosts offered no explanation, or apology, for her absence, and we in the audience, aware that a Ronstadt-at-the-Aladdin-style uprising would put our free cocktails at risk, kept our mouths shut as well. Natalie was the 85-pound gorilla in the room no one would talk about.
The film itself, opening tomorrow at a theater near your hip twenty-something cousin, is actually quite good - at times very funny and inventive, at times mildly moving. (Spoiler alert: Guy gets girl.)
Still, you may be wondering, "FD, what does all this have to do with your blog? What's the parenting connection?"
Approaching 10:00, Old Friend and FD were in the Tribeca Grand's sublime men's room when our cell phone rang. It was Loving Mother, reporting that Small Fellow had as yet refused to go to bed. She put him on the phone, and after some small talk ("Which subway did you take to go the movie?" "What's the movie called?" "What's it about?" "What part of New Jersey?" "Just the airport?"), we got down to cases: If you don't go to sleep now, you won't be able to wake up tomorrow morning, and like we told you the other day, if you can't wake up by yourself to go to camp, we won't wake you up and you won't be able to go to camp. So go to bed now.
And just like we were the star of an inspiring AT&T Wireless commercial, it worked. Small Fellow went right to bed with no further complaint. Of course, the exact same lecture, delivered in person after bedtime the night before, led to a lengthy tantrum. Which brings us to this unavoidable conclusion: FD should spend more nights away from home.
PULL MY LEVER
Had some time to kill with Small Fellow before an appointment this afternoon, so we stopped in at the Whitney Museum. The galleries were closed, but the museum store was open. (For a fuller discourse on art vs. commerce in American museums . . . well, you've really come to the wrong place, haven't you?) We headed straight to the Art*o*Mat vending machine and picked out a new piece of art for Fellow. The Art*o*Mat, for the uninitiated, is a seven-year-old project that converts antique cigarette machines into dispensers of honest-to-goodness, original art. Put up $6.95 for a token, drop it in, pull the lever, and just like that, you're a patron of the arts. All of the pieces are the size of a pack of smokes, or smaller, and some of it may be a little political/avanty for kids, but you can get a pretty good idea of what you're going to get by looking at the thumbnail images under each lever. Small Fellow chose something from Carrie Price today, and it was an outstanding choice for the second piece in his collection. The Art*o*Mat Web site tells you where you can find a machine near you.
FORTIFIED WITH CALCIUM, MINERALS, AND RADIATION
A well-reviewed new book we have not read yet but will soon, "The State Boys Rebellion" by Michael D'Antonio, tells the story of the boys of the Walter E. Fernald School for the Feebleminded in Waltham, Mass., and the stunning abuses they endured in the 1940s and 1950s. Several years ago, FD wrote a small piece about the most sensational of the indignities heaped on the "state boys": For years, members of the school's ironically-named "Science Club" were fed cereal laced with radioactive calcium. It was just one of a network of secret cold-war-era radiation experiments across the nation, and, in truth, far from the worst. But that 1993 revelation opened a window onto what institutions like Fernald had done to its charges - orphans, foster children, and others who had been placed in the homes because their poor scores on public school-administered IQ tests led the state to declare them "morons." As many of us prepare to test the IQs of our preschoolers in advance of competitive kindergarten placements, it's worth reading about the boys of Fernald to get a sobering view of how we've misused those tests in the past.
SPEAKING OF THE FEEBLE-MINDED . . .
New moms with a powerful urge to spend $100 a day to have their meals delivered to them are strongly urged to contact this organization. "We can help ease your stress during the first exhilarating but hectic weeks," the Web site reads, "by removing the factor of what to eat, where to get it, and when to make it." Moms will still have to excrete on their own, however. Dads are welcome to "make themselves a damn sandwich and leave us alone."
HERE'S THE MAIL, IT NEVER FAILS
We got a note from the makers of Enfamil yesterday warning us that the black-and-white "Baby Eye Treat Flash Cards" they sent us as a free gift 18 months ago should be discarded immediately, as the company has received several reports of the cards or the ring that holds them breaking.
We provide this news as a public service to our readers, and as an opportunity to unearth one of our favorite punchlines, one for which we've had no use the past six weeks or so:
Enfamil yesterday announced it was recalling its Baby Eye Treat Flash Cards. In a related story, Ronald Reagan recalled his high-school locker combination.
That's it for me. Tip your waitresses and drive safely. We're here all week!
AS SENATOR EDWARDS SAYS, THERE ARE TWO AMERICAS
There's Regular America, and Parents' America. Before we had children, for example, we had no idea there were five playgrounds within a few blocks of our home. We suppose they were there all the time, but they were virtually invisible, like that linen shop Loving Mother keeps telling me is on the ground floor of our building. Similarly, we had no idea which neighborhood merchants would let us use their bathrooms, or, for that matter, where the crosswalks were. But we do now.
Because we're parents, and we see the world through entirely different lenses. Case in point: A few months back, New York City unveiled a monument to all of America's Nobel Prize winners near our home, in the small park behind the American Museum of Natural History. Now, if we had no children, we'd think to ourselves, "Well, this monument may resemble an inflated, off-color fire hydrant, and it sure seems to be an utterly pointless addition to our neighborhood, but on the bright side, it only took 15 months to construct." But since we're parents, we see things differently. And so every time we pass by the monument, we can't help but think, "Well, we can't let Tiny Girl run down this path anymore, because someone seems to have dropped an old Land of the Lost prop on it, and she'll crash right into it and get transported into a different dimension." Or we think, "Wow, this used to be an ideal spot to come with Small Fellow to play ball or blow bubbles at the end of the work day. Too bad someone dropped a gigantic granite sex toy right in the middle of the plaza and inscribed it with the names of every American winner of the Nobel Prize. Maybe they could have just handed us a pamphlet of some kind . . . "
"MY NAME IS TINY GIRL, AND I'M A BENADRYL ADDICT"
Tiny took ill this week, not seriously, but with an infection that affected her breathing enough to disrupt her sleep and to require the temporary use of an inhaler. As a bonus, we were authorized to give her a dose of Benadryl before bedtime to ease her sleeping (and symptoms), and, man, did that stuff hit the spot. Tiny slept like a log both nights we doped her up. The third day, we were able to discontinue the inhaler, so there was no further need for the Benadryl. No further medical need, that is. But the bottle was still on the counter. And I'd swear that medicine dropper was calling out to me. 'Come on, FD, let me hook you up." Of course, we resisted the temptation. But you have to wonder if there are parents out there dosing their toddlers with nighttime cold medicines just to get themselves a good night sleep . . . anyone care to fess up?
IF THE SHARK DOESN'T KILL YOU, THE SPECIAL SAUCE WILL
Much outrage today over the news that National Geographic Kids mailed an issue wrapped in an advertisement for Arby's, and the shocking revelation that the magazine carries a number of ads for fatty foods in general. The publishers claim that the ads bring in necessary revenue to help with the society's educational mission. Well, OK, but NG Kids' mission sometimes includes multi-page features on eye-opening topics like "Finding Nemo." Overall, it's a fine magazine, but the pop-culture tie-ins on its editorial pages are a bit too frequent for our taste, at least while we have preschoolers. And the problem with the ads isn't so much that they'll inspire obesity, but that they're simply too distracting. Small Fellow has never seen either "Shrek" or "Spongebob Squarepants," but he recognizes both characters when he sees them on licensed products, and who needs Spongebob popping up in an ad in the middle of an educational article about, say, whether a jaguar could take a puma in a fight.
(Hey, bonus Million-dollar Idea: A special issue of National Geographic dedicated to settling the question of who would whip who in the animal kingdom, styled like the NCAA tournament bracket, so in the first round, the top-seeded tiger gets to rip apart the 16th-seeded ostrich before eventually staring down a rhino in the Final Four. . .)
And we're back. FD.com's recommendation for preschool parents, especially in the NYC area, is to become members of the American Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo, and/or the Metropolitan Museum. Among other benefits, membership at each institution will get you a free subscription to its magazine (links to AMNH and Bronx Zoo's monthly magazines above; no link available for the Met's quarterly Bulletin). The magazines, while not written for children, feature stunning pictures in every issue, which you can sit down and discuss with your child, while they can feel pride of ownership of "their" subscriptions. The AMNH and zoo magazines carry ads, but they're not targeted at kids and so they're easily ignored. The Met Bulletin has no ads.
PLEASE HAND THIS REPORT CARD TO YOUR HOMEROOM BULLY FOR PROCESSING
Arkansas schools are taking a bold step in the fight against childhood obesity by sending parents report cards on their kids’ weight. State health officials see it as just another basic screening test, like vision or hearing, except with bonus stigma. And while "researchers cringe at the term [report cards] because it implies a passing or failing grade," FD.com cringes at the idea that the state of Arkansas thinks its parents don't already know if their own kids are fat or not.
The Journal of the American Dietetic Association's recent article on obesity report cards featured several hints of how wrongheaded such a program can be:
- One organizer of a Massachusetts pilot program said she worried that parents of overweight kids would rush to put their kids on diets after getting the bad news. "This is not what we wanted," she said. The reports in her program even read, "Please do not put your child on a weight loss/gain diet. Work with your doctor or the school nurse to find the right strategies for your family." These strategies may, or may not, include taking away Johnny's cheese curls.
- The reports also read, "Love and accept your child for who they are." Hey, you're telling us that Sally's fat AND that we should love and accept her?! Make up your mind!
- Reports were mailed home to parents to preserve students' privacy, which certainly beat the alternative: "Hey, Joanie, I just saw Sue Ellen's obesity report, and, you'll never believe it - She's FAT!" "No way! I had no idea! OK, that's it, she's off the gymnastics squad!"
- The overseer of Arkansas' new program says, "We don't want to make it sound like you're a bad parent because your child has a weight problem." On the other hand, if you don't want your kid to be tested simply because you find it to be asinine, you'll have to get the permission of the state legislature. (No, really. That's what you have to do.)
Here's what we're getting at: When FD was a fat kid, everyone knew it, from his parents to his classmates. Would a note from the school confirming that fact have made a difference? It's possible it could have been a kick in the pants to spur a healthier lifestyle, but many obese kids already get plenty of kicks in the rear from other kids in the locker room, thanks all the same. It's hard to see this report card as much more than the addition of insult to injury. It's like Rodney Dangerfield's joke, "My doctor told me I was too fat. I said, I want a second opinion. He said, OK, you're ugly, too."
ON NEWSSTANDS NOW
We have a small item in the August issue of Parents in which we evaluate new portable DVD players for families hitting the road this summer. We think headphone-equipped portable players can be excellent distractions for small children, especially those traveling on airplanes, where both their whining, and parental attempts to stop it, could disturb other passengers. On the other hand, the growing acceptance of built-in (and dual-screen!) DVD systems as standard features on SUVs and other family assault vehicles says absolutely nothing good about us as a society. Look out the window, for the love of the Pete! Get a road sign or license plate spotting game! Sing along! Talk!
MILLION-DOLLAR IDEAS, PART TWO
While we're on the subject, shouldn't Nickelodeon or ABC Family team up with Dick Wolf to produce the first family-friendly forensics series, "Law and Order: SUV"? Every Tuesday night, the show opens with the discovery of an abandoned utility vehicle on the side of the road, with no sign of the passengers. Our hard-bitten detectives immediately start searching for clues:
- Detective, we've got some Cheerios and raisins on the carpet here.
- Get those to the lab now and do a full tox screen!
- The EZ Pass is still in the glove compartment, ma'am.
- Bag it, and bring it in. Let's find out where this family has been. Maybe that'll help us figure out where they've gone.
- No signs of forced entry, but we've got a ducky blanket on this car seat.
- And there's a Raffi CD still in the sound system - still warm.
- Where were you going in such a hurry, Smith family?
- Sergeant, something strange about this car seat on the right - it's too hard.
- And this one on the left - it's too soft.
- Check. But this one in the back - it's just right.
- I hate this job.
- Keep it to yourself, Goldie. You signed on for this duty.
- I know, and I'd never walk out on you. But I go to bed every night, and I smell porridge in my dreams.
BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME
It's the top of the week, and much recent news to review . . .
AS A PUBLIC SERVICE
New York parents should know that the West Nile virus has been detected in the city, earlier than in recent years. If you take the children out at dusk, remember: long pants, long sleeves, and socks.
In other mosquito news, the debate over DEET rages on, as does the clash over swatting vs. flicking. Researchers, don't you hate it when you go to all the trouble of constructing a scientific study to make your case, and then some smart-aleck from the CDC goes and ruins it with his accursed homespun wisdom:
Roger Nasci, a mosquito expert at a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention facility in Fort Collins, Colo., said there is no scientific basis for switching to flicking. He also pointed out that flicking the bugs off is not a permanent solution.
``Unfortunately, then the mosquito often goes on to bite another person, or bites you again,'' Nasci said.
QUALITY VS. QUANTITY
This groundbreaking study advocating that children watch less TV is the first to reach that conclusion in days. But it's making headlines with its conclusion that just two hours of TV a day will turn kids into obese adults.
We at FD.com, however, think there ought to be a sliding scale. If a child is to be allowed two hours of TV a day (we don't want him falling away to nothing, after all), one would have to take content into consideration. So, let's say he's allowed to watch two hours a day of BET Jazz - that'll be our baseline. Alternately, he could watch three hours of PBS Kids, or one hour of The Weather Channel. On the other hand, just 20 minutes of "Touching Evil" would require shutting the system down for the rest of the day.
AND HIS QUESTIONS WILL GO ON AND ON
One of the highlights of our two weeks in Connecticut was our visit to the Mystic Aquarium and its Institute for Exploration, a pavilion dedicated to the voyages of Robert Ballard, including his search for the Titanic. The exhibit features an impressive large-scale replica of the mammoth ship, and a film in which Ballard compellingly describes its final hours. In a shocking lapse of judgment, I sat through this film with Small Fellow.
Daddy, why did the boat hit an iceberg? Why couldn’t it miss the iceberg? Why did all the water go into that hole? Why did the water make the ship sink? Why did the ship break? Again: Why did it hit that iceberg? And, finally, the inevitable: Daddy, how did all the people get home?
Well, all the people went onto the lifeboats we saw on the model in the other room. Remember all those little boats I showed you?
OK. ALL the people got on the lifeboats?
. . . Sure.
SF was skeptical, to say the least, that those few boats could have taken everyone off the ship. (Bright side: He’s not stupid. Where was he when they launched the ship?)
And the boy’s Titanic fixation, sad to say, did not pass quickly. Our visit the next day to Middlebury’s Quassy Amusement Park didn't help. For along with its splendid kiddie coaster, train ride, water slide, and lakeside beach, the park also regrettably offers "The Giant Titanic Slide," a three-story-tall inflatable mockup of the great ship, titled at a 45-degree angle to send good little boys and girls plummeting to the briny depths. Is that the boat that hit the iceberg?
A few days later, a friend offered us a motorboat ride across a warm, placid lake. Daddy, will there be icebergs?
No, there are only icebergs way up north, nowhere near we live.
Why did that boat hit an iceberg?
. . . Listen, do you want to ride in the boat or not?
IT GETS WORSE: HE JUST ASKED TO MAKE HIM SOME "MACIZZLE AND CHIZZLE" FOR LUNCH
Small Fellow is officially three-and-a-half-going-on-getting-evicted. Like some tween girl IM addict, he's started speaking almost entirely in shorthand. He wants to go the park so he can run around in "the sprink" at "the play." But first, for breakfast, he wants a "bage." Etc., etc.
This is one of those parenting Catch-22s. The experts say, and they're right, that if we fixate on correcting him, or toss him in a shed whenever he does this, he'll just do it more. On the other hand, if we ignore it, well, we'll have to start with the heroin.