The Demolition Man…

Hollywood endings, as we all know, are limited to the movies and by our willingness to suspend our disbelief – almost never in real life. For this reason, actors, or I should say the best actors, are able to immerse themselves convincingly into various roles and personas so that we are tricked into thinking they really are who they are pretending to be. Keeping this in mind let me say that there is nothing more exciting as a parent than watching your child explore and interact with the world around them. This includes their face lighting up at a new discovery. Beaming with pride when they learn to stack the Legos so high they can’t reach the top of the stack. Learning new words and shouting them to anyone and everyone they meet on the street. Basically, accomplishing anything and everything that draws the “ooos” and “awws” from the parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents. This feat-enhancing form of parental flattering is augmented by the presence of the aforementioned audience and creates even greater performances – until the camera (or Skype video chat) stops rolling.

That is when my son’s alter ego – the Demolition Man – comes out to play and takes over from the Bob The Builder version of my son who just exited stage-left.

This newest cast member is a mix of Curious George and The Incredible Hulk with a good dose of MacGyver ingenuity sprinkled in.

The Demolition Man’s appearances all start with an eerie silence followed by a rapid succession and crescendo of audible cues such as crackling, thumping, bumping, crashing, splintering, banging etc. Long pause. Gleeful and delighted cackle. Grand finale noise combination (in no particular order) of “Whoop!” “Thump!” “Bash!” “Crack!”. Silence. More gleeful cackling. Jazz hands (OK so that is a visual cue, but I swear I can hear it!).

My wife and I exchange a sidelong glance and do a best-of-three rock-paper-scissor session before one of heads of to investigate. It doesn’t take long to get to the scene of the crime (remember we live in one of those closet apartments that are rampant throughout New York) and as it swings into view your blood starts to boil.

You try the whole “breath and count to 10…” routine, but as you take in the devastation – millions of tiny pieces of (fill-in-the-blank) are scattered, splattered, splintered, smeared across the floor, walls and ceiling – your frayed parenting nerves take a major hit. There is Demolition Man smack dab in the middle of the eye of the storm holding the last surviving piece of the Lego Firefighter House that he just pulverized, babbling away all content and satisfied with his handy work. He looks up at you with that grin, you know the one that could start a war it’s so smug, and just as you are about to have a full fledged conniption, Demolition Man is gone – vanished into thin air.

There in his place is Super Cute and Cuddly Boy and with a twinkle in his eye and that honey drip voice he looks you straight in the eyes and utters the most disarming phrase in parenthood: “Daddy?” The delivery is perfect. Timing, posture, nuance, syllabication – forget the Oscars this is the big leagues. And just like that, I find myself in that classic Hollywood ending as I scoop him up into a hug and toss him high into the air as the sun dips behind the horizon just behind him and he giggles with glee and… Hey, wait a minute!

The Joys of Entertaining Your Kid While Traveling Light…

As I said in an earlier post, I can’t say that I enjoy traveling with my son and not because I don’t love him more than anything in the world and want to be with him all the time (with a few exceptions, like the times he throws all his toys off of the play table and starts screaming and flapping his arms on the floor as if he wanted to make a snow angel on the parquet all because his Tonka truck doesn’t fit into the Thomas and Friends tunnel, or when he runs off with the keys right as I am leaving for work and hides them in one of his “special” places, you know, the ones that parents find out about when the apple slice he hid there a few days ago starts to putrefy, or when he braces his legs against the high chair when you want to pull him out and get him into the bath for a hose down after he dumped his yogurt and honey snack over his head (just for kicks) so you actually have to disassemble the whole thing to extricate him while he screams into whichever ear is closest to his mouth… yeah – then, right at that moment, I don’t like him that much – don’t get me wrong , though, I still love him, just, well, you know what I mean, right?). I have already described the stress levels of traveling with a toddler (and my hat is tipped to those with more than one kid!) so I wanted to go into more detail about one aspect of the traveling experience and this applies to a one hour drive as much as to a ten hour flight (although I’ll grant you the latter is certainly tougher). Specifically the number of items you have to shove into your “diaper bag” (people who don’t have kids think that this is just another cute bag to carry around like an accessory with maybe a diaper – hence the name – and a baby bottle somewhere inside… funny). These are all essential survival (and for parent’s mentally sanity) tools for anyone heading with a – potential hissy-fit throwing, snack wanting (NOW!) and wearing (ALL OVER!), pooping, drooling, nose dripping, attention span of a gnat – child. Sure, none of the above might happen, but why make your parenting life harder? So in go the wipes, diapers, creams, snacks, blankies, change of clothing, pacifiers and books/toys/instruments/etc. (lots and lots of them!) and your shoulders curse at you as you hoist the one hundred pound diaper bag onto them (usually the stroller’s handle bars are reserved for my wife’s hand bag which is basically another diaper bag – just one that, as she puts it, reminds her that she is still a woman – and weighs just below the threshold weight that would turn the stroller into a catapult).

Now keep in mind that a good eighty percent of that weight comes from the books/toys/instruments/etc. that are the required distraction for surviving a supermarket run just as much as that ten hour flight. I would love to find a product that lightens that weight and keeps my kid entertained on many different levels. I know my son loves to play with my iPhone or any other expensive electronic gadget that I might have lying around, but I would rather get something that is more at his level for now (I am sure he will be jailbreaking and reprogramming my iPhone by the time he is in Kindergarten) and that will not dent the piggybank if he breaks it (amazing how ingenious toddlers are at reverse engineering objects!).

I think I found something that might just come to my aid. I was invited by VTech to hang out at their loft during ToyFair here in NYC and get some hands on time with their newest line of products for 2010. There were a lot of more or less interesting toys on display, but one in particular piqued my interest – the FLiP.

The FLiP is a tablet shaped interactive reader (with hinged protective cover) that is basically a very simple version of an e-book reader for kids. It is rugged and fairly light weight, has a color touch screen (and physical “flat” qwerty keyboard) and interchangeable cartridges for reading different books. The books are interactive and animated stories that allow your kid (who can enter their name and pick an Avatar) to interact with the story, have it read to them, highlight specific words (there is a dictionary) and then play games that are related to the story. They can earn reading certificates as they progress through the story titles and shortly after the FLiP hits stores and in August (SRP $59.99) users will have access through a VTech VPN to a downloadable online library with more than hundred additional titles (some free) including some well-known licensed characters.

The FLiP will be available in blue and pink (I am surprised that VTech did not say that they will sell customizable skins with Curious George, Spiderman, Thomas&Friends etc. themes since kids, like adults, love to be able to distinguish between what is MINE! MINE! And what is yours, but I WANT IT!).

What I found particularly attractive about the FLiP from a parent’s point of view is the integration of several entertainment elements into a very portable object. I love my kid’s books and toys and love that he plays with them more than he watches TV or DVDs, but as I said before, I wish I did not have to lug them around. I think FliP offers that solution for parents with toddlers and small children. VTech sees this product in the 3-7yrs category, I think my toddler son would enjoy it as well. The FLiP is interactive without “hypnotizing”. There are enough separate things you can do with it to ensure that your kid feels that they are interacting with several “objects” within one platform (see the “attention span of a gnat” comment above) which is a life saver when you are trying to keep them busy and they keep wanting “something else” every two seconds.

The true test will be getting one in my son’s hands and seeing how he interacts with the unit. As far as I am concerned it could be a real winner in the “how-do-I-keep-my-kid-busy-while-on-the-go” category.