It’s my birthday today. Lisa and the kids wrapped my presents in brown paper bags, which they decorated themselves. On one of them Lisa wrote a quiz about me and recorded the answers the kids gave when she asked them.
Red and black are the correct answers.
Q: What does Dad like to eat?
Q: What does Dad like to watch on TV?
Girl: I don’t know. I just can’t right now.
Q: What does Dad like to drink?
Girl: I don’t know I said!
Q: What did you get Dad for his birthday?
Girl: I know–a card!
It occurred to me soon after I became a parent that one day I’d be faced with a dilemma. One day, Boy would come home from school and tell me something he had learnt that day, probably in history, and I would know that what his teacher had taught him is incorrect. Probably it’d be something the teacher believed to be true. If I correct him, then that leads to the strong possibility that he goes back to school and attempts also to correct his teacher, leading anywhere from him being simply dismissed to actually getting in trouble for disrupting the class. (In fact, I’m going to have raise “strong possibility” to “virtual certainty”, given the know-it-all personality he inherited from, well, either one of his parents.) But if I don’t correct him, then he continues labouring under a factual inaccuracy, and he helps perpetuate a widespread myth.
Today, first-grade Columbus Day, we hit that mark for the first time. Because of course today, he was taught that in fifteenth-century Spain, the wise men of the age believed that the Earth is flat, and that Columbus proved them wrong by discovering America. (I’ve never quite understood how the discovery that there’s a land mass west of Europe demonstrates the rotundity of the Earth, as opposed to leading to the more logical hypothesis that the edge of the Earth simply lies west of the Americas.)
And today, I responded to him with, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” There’ll come an age when the best response is to correct that sort of thing, but six ain’t it. Unfortunately.
Then he asked, “What does this mean?”
And I told him, “It’s like saying a swear word.”
He thought about this. “You mean like when you say, ‘I swear I don’t know the answer’?”
So I explained that, no, a swear word is a very bad word that you shouldn’t ever say. Does he know any swear words? He shakes his head. Does he know the F word? Or the S word? Shake of the head; shake of the head.
Then his face brightened. “Oh, I know the S word! I’m not going to say it, though, because you shouldn’t say it ever.” I smiled and nodded in agreement and approval, and then he adds, “Unless you’re talking about a Dalek.” I kept smiling and nodding for a moment until what he said penetrated, but then before I could ask what he meant, he ploughed on. “One kid thought I said the S word, but I didn’t, I said soccer.”
“Ah,” I said. “Okay.”
“I would never use the S word, unless I was using itfor real, you know? Like, for what it’s really used for. Like if you’re talking about a Dalek.”
You guys. He thought the S word is sucker.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Ian, with your birthday falling on a Saturday this year, and with it being only two weeks until the end of the Premier League season, it must have been great to get to spend all morning and early afternoon watching the football.
Well, no. Saturday was my birthday, and there was indeed lots of Premier League football on, but I didn’t watch any of it. You see, my sister and her husband will be moving into the area this summer, which means they need to go househunting. And since it’s tough to househunt in Northern Virginia from their current location in
America’s wangFlorida, she decided to send me househunting on Saturday morning instead. I figured that’s a small price to pay for unlimited free babysitting anytime I want.
Finding Claire a house around here has also kickstarted our own discussions about buying a house ourselves. Lisa has been saying for years that she wanted to buy a house, but I’d pretty much come to the conclusion that what she really wanted was to complain about how she wants to buy a house. But she insists that’s not true–so we’re about to start looking in earnest. I told her that if we do move, though, we need to replace our standard-def television with an HD model. Not for an improved Media Experience, but because I was looking at the twenty-pound HD TV in our bedroom, and thinking how much easier it would be to move that than it will be the eighty-pound standard-def in the living room. I don’t ever want to have to move that thing again.
So anyway. We spent the morning househunting, then went home so I could receive my birthday presents. Girl got me a pair of Cookie Monster boxer shorts with COOKIE LOVER printed across my arse. Boy got me a Star Wars-themed edition of the board game Trouble that makes R2-D2 sound effects when you pop that bubble-thing that rolls the dice for you. And Lisa got me an HD TV.
Yup. A high-definition television.
And the best part was that it was free because she won it in a raffle. Last weekend, we’d had our conversation about how I want to replace the eighty-pound standard-def TV with an HD model. On Wednesday, Lisa spent all day playing in a golf tournament for work. At the tournament, she got raffle ticked 204, but lost it somewhere. Then one of her colleagues found ticket 200 on the ground, and gave it to her since she’d lost her proper ticket. And ticket 200 won the grand prize, the HD TV. All Lisa’s friends told her she shouldn’t tell me that she didn’t pay for it, as that would make it less special or something, I guess? Whatever–they clearly don’t know either of us at all. It being free makes it way more special than it could have been otherwise.
So then, since I’m a dad and since someone in the household–whether me or anyone else–had received a major piece of electronics as a gift, I spent the next hour hooking it up, before it was time to miss the last Premier League match of the day so that we could go to Boy’s soccer match. Granted, four-a-side U-6 soccer isn’t quite Premier League football, but I suppose you can’t beat a match that has twelve goals in 32 minutes of play. (Literally can’t beat it, as it finished a 6-6 draw.)
Then we headed to Best Buy, to pick up some HDMI cables and a Blu-Ray player. The HD TV has only one composite hookup, meaning, as I reasonably explained to Lisa, that we can’t hook both the Wii and the DVD player up to it at the same time, so we’ve replaced the DVD player with a Blu-Ray player, which we can hook up to the new TV by one of its three HDMI ports.
I got back out to the car with all that stuff and found Lisa asleep in the driver’s seat and Boy asleep behind her, so rather than wake them, I got Girl out of the car and walked with her up the road to the used bookshop. There I discovered that they’ve eliminated their Biography section in favour of an expansion of Romance, and I picked Lisa up a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey (happy birthday to her). Then we headed back to the car.
Where we discovered that Lisa had kept the air conditioning and the radio on the whole time she’d been asleep, so when she tried to start the car, the battery had died completely. Lisa therefore popped the hood and stood next to the car, and, since she’s a woman, within two minutes someone had pulled up next to her asking if we needed a jump. Actually, a startlingly good looking 25-year-old man in a gleaming silver BMW had pulled up next to her and asked if she needed a jump.
So we got the car going again, but we needed to drive around for a while rather than going home. We therefore elected to drive down to Fredericksburg, 35 miles away; that way, we could go to either Sonic or Steak and Shake for dinner. Actually, it was my birthday, so we stopped at both Sonic and Steak and Shake. I also popped into the comic book shop next door to Sonic, as I always do, and looked at their selection of Doctor Who toys and t-shirts. They had some nice stuff, as they always do, and it was exorbitantly priced, as it always is. Particularly hard to resist was the Lego Cyberman playset, which Boy would have loved, but it was $80 for what was maybe a $30 Lego set (and that’s even accounting for the fact that Lego sets generally cost about half again what they’re worth to begin with).
And then we were home, and I was sticking HDMI cables into our new TV to connect it with the cable box and the Blu Ray player. All in all, not the best birthday I’ve ever had, but a lively and eventful one. And one that brought with a new HD television! Followed by the discovery that the new HD television was free! So in the end, I can’t complain.
Every once in a while we have what we call Taco Night for dinner. Usually it comes when Boy starts asking for it, because he really loves it. I’m not entirely sure why he loves it so much, since the only thing he ever wants to put in his fajitas is cheese, but whatever.
In fact, come to think of it, I don’t know why it’s called Taco Night, since it doesn’t involve tacos. The kids roll their cheese in fajita tortillas, while Lisa and I make ourselves burritos.
What Taco Night basically boils down to is that we cook up a collection of ingredients–we cook them together, as a family–then people get to fill their own tortillas: Mexican cheese, black beans, Spanish rice, beef browned in taco powder, queso, Tostitos and sour cream. This is all rather pedestrian, of course, and not at all out for the ordinary, but it’s turned into a family ritual, both because we make it together, and because of what comes next.
That’s the next night, when we take the leftovers and cook what we call cheesy taco pasta. We boil the pasta with some of the queso, then toss that with the beef, black beans and a sauce that’s one part queso and three parts cheddar sauce. Then we crumble up Tostitos as a topping.
And my God.
I mean, there aren’t many dishes I make. I’m a pretty straightforward cook. But the cheesy taco pasta is a frigging masterpiece.
The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 4015
Words total: 36,078
Time spent writing: 10a.m.-11a.m.; 1p.m.-4p.m.; 9p.m.-10p.m.
Reason for stopping: Football match; family time; felt like I’d put in a full day of work
Darling: From the train platform they could see the city center, across the tracks: a blasted ruin, a forest of rubble coated in a thin sheen of frost.
Tyop: I did find it pretty funny when I typed families as failies
Words that boggled Word: matter-of-factly, tsar, tsaritsa
New words used today: stationmaster, blanched, valise
When Girl and I pick Boy up from the school bus every afternoon, we typically go to the park for half an hour. The other day we got there and found a couple of mothers with three kids between them, a year or two younger than Boy. Boy immediately picked out the girl in the group, as is his wont, and the two of them started playing together, gathering up all the acorns that have been falling from the tree overhanging the park and stuffing their pockets full of them.
After the other kids had left and we were alone at the playground, Boy idly asked me as he played, “Dad, do you think schools can climb up high on the playground like I do?”
“Do I think what can climb up high?”
“Girls,” he repeated. “Like the girl that had all the nuts. Do you think girls can climb up high on the playground like I do?”
“How do they get down again?”
“… The same way you get down, I’d expect.”
“Down the slide?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sure.”
“But Dad! Girls can’t use the slide!”
“Because girls aren’t people!“
I was horrified. “They most certainly are.”
He looked at me like I’m a complete tool. “No they’re not, Dad!” Such an idea would just be silly.
Yeah. He wasn’t saying girls. He was saying skirls. As in, his tongue was having an impossible time wrapping itself around squirrels.
You know, like a squirrel that gathers nuts.
So, something I’ve noticed about Boy developmentally in the past few weeks. When it comes to spectra, he doesn’t see them as polar. He doesn’t see every move away from one end of the spectrum as a move toward the other. He sees each gradation as its own discrete point.
For instance, likes and dislikes. He doesn’t think of “love” as simply a more intense version of “like”. He refused to try cantaloupe because “I don’t like that.” Well, he was asked, how can you know if you like it without trying it? This was irrefutably logical, so he tried it (after waiting till all adults had left him alone, so they wouldn’t see him try it). A few minutes later, he was discovered busily gobbling down cantaloupe. “I love it!” See? was the response, I told you you might like it if you tried it. “Oh no,” he said, in that entirely unironic, pompous manner he has of correcting others, which he can only have developed from being the oldest child (or, um, from having a pair of oldest children for parents), “I didn’t say, ‘I like it.’ I said I love it.”
Or heat. Heat is my favourite. As far as he’s concerned, there are four different grades of temperature: cold, cool, warm and hot. And when something is getter “cooler”, that doesn’t necessarily mean the temperature is lowering; nor is it necessarily rising when something gets “warmer”–instead, the temperature is simply moving closer to “cool” or “warm” respectively. So on a blisteringly hot day, when the rain clouds roll in and the temperature mercifully drops from the high nineties to the low eighties, “Oh, Dad, don’t you love it when it gets warmer?” Or when his ice lolly starts to melt–“Oh no! My popsicle’s getting cooler!”
It’s been a hectic couple of weeks for me. Earthquake one day. The next day, I left on an unexpected trip to England, which then got unexpectedly protracted by two days. I finally did get back, at ten p.m. Tuesday night. Then, at nine a.m. Thursday, we headed out again. First, we spent the morning at Boy’s orientation for kindergarten, meeting his teacher and seeing his classroom.
Then we set out directly for Atlanta, driving eleven hours that afternoon and evening and two hours the following morning, and by ten o’clock Friday we were at Dragon*Con.
This was our second year at the con, and I deliberately set out to make sure that we had a chance to have some experiences this year that we hadn’t had last year. The first of those was getting Boy down there to take a look around. (Last year, he spent the weekend touring Atlanta with his grandparents. We’d planned for him to come down one afternoon, but he never made it. I’m genuinely unsure whether his decidedly non-geek grandparents simply never found the time, or whether they were somehow trying to shield him from the geekery.)
So Friday afternoon I headed back to our hotel in Dunwoody, picked Boy up and headed into the city with him on the subway. He was excited about going, but I was worried that once he got there in amongst the crowds and the cosplayers that he’d freak out.
I needn’t have been concerned–he loved every second of it. To the point of walking right up to Darth Vaders and Godzillas, tapping them to get their attention and asking to have his picture taken with them. (We’d run into an Eleventh Doctor and River Song on the train, so I think that primed him on what to expect.) Star Wars characters, Doctor Who characters, Disney characters–he got excited any time we saw any of them.
Saturday morning, I took him to the DragonCon parade. The crowd in front of us let him through to the front so he could sit on the kerb, and again, he had a great time–especially when a pair of Ghostbusters in the parade mistook him for a poltergeist and attempted to set their trap for him.
Then Lisa took him with her to a Phineas and Ferb panel where, after initially being somewhat shy, he apparently not only started raising his hand to offer his own comments, but eventually refused to put it down, raising his hand for his next question or comment as soon as he had finished his last one. After that, we took him to the lightsabre training for kids programme, where he had a blast learning how to whack other kids with sticks.
(In retrospect, maybe that wasn’t the best panel to take to him to three days before the first day of kindergarten.)
On a trip to Kings Dominion a couple of weeks ago, we got Boy a double-ended lightsabre. I told him I wanted to take a picture of him wielding it, and he so perfectly dropped into character for the photo that I was convinced then that he’d enjoy cosplaying at DragonCon.
We therefore got him a gas mask, and though he wore it around the house all week (really creeping Lisa out by asking, “Are you my mummy?“), he proved entirely unwilling to don it once we got to the con. I think perhaps next year we’ll try him with a costume that doesn’t require covering his face–I don’t know whether he felt like he was missing too much with the gas mask goggles on, or he was simply too aware of the fact that he was in fancy dress, but I do think the facemask was the root of his problem. Friends have suggested he should dress as Harry Potter, but I’m inclined to wait on that until he at least knows who Harry Potter is. Perhaps we’ll see about making him a miniature Doctor costume.
The other thing I wanted to do this DragonCon was sample a more varied array of programming. This largely came about because of the con’s new smartphone app. There’s so much different programming going on all the time at DragonCon that last year, using the huge, unwieldy paper grid, I basically just ended up going to most of the BritTrack panels, with a few big celebrity panels thrown in.
But with the app, I was able to see every panel for a given time in one place (critically, I was also able to see every panel’s description), and I could tag all the different ones that caught my eye. So I ended up at the Star Trek track, the American Sci Fi Media track, the SF/Fantasy Literature track, the Alternate History track and a couple of others.
And it highlighted to me how Dragon is really about a half-dozen cons all coexisting side by side. (Which is, obviously, the secret of its success–it attracts so much enthusiasm because of its huge population.)
Like on Sunday night, when I went to Michael Stackpole’s panel on Robert E. Howard’s original Conan the Barbarian stories (a panel that convinced me I finally need to crack open that copy of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian I’ve had for several years). I’d never been to any programming down in the Lit track’s little cave. It turned out to be on the fourth floor down in the Hyatt.
The first floor one enters in the Hyatt has the hotel bar, the street entrance, reception, and the bridges to the Marriott and the food court/subway station, so it’s packed with con-goers and hotel guests and cosplayers. Only the Marriott is busier or louder or more crowded or slower moving. Then you go down a floor, and you’re in a big lobby giving access to another street entrance, to one of the con’s big ballrooms, and to the screening room for the con film festival. So it’s almost as busy as upstairs.
The third floor down has some gaming tables and the comic book Artists’ Alley, so it has some much smaller, dedicated crowds for those two things, plus a bit of overflow from the two floors above.
And then you get down to the bottom floor, where the lit track is, and it’s honestly like stepping into another world. Emptier. Quieter. Much older, with almost no one under forty. And with many fewer cosplayers. From one perspective, it’s a quiet retreat where people are celebrating the roots of where almost everything else at DragonCon comes from. From another, it’s a bunch of people who are actually missing what most of us think of when we think of DragonCon.
Two last good bits I want to make sure to mention. The first was Sylvester McCoy’s panel on Friday morning, where I got to hear Sylvester both play the spoons and do a dramatic reading of Matt Smith’s speech from “The Pandorica Opens”. And the other was at the small Red Dwarf panel on Sunday morning, where the closest thing to a celebrity was the guy who voiced the toaster on the programme (actually, he was only on for three episodes, so it would be more accurate to describe him as the guy who originated the voice of the toaster)–who actually turned out to be one of the funniest, most engaging panelists I’ve ever encountered at a convention.
And in closing, an Ariel cosplayer. These pictures were taken, respectively, Friday night and Saturday night, and I didn’t realise they had been of the same girl until yesterday. Well-played, Ariel. Well-played.
Saturday night, Man United and Barcelona played a rematch of the European Cup Final at the Washington Redskins’ stadium, in Maryland. Since Boy had been having so much fun on his soccer team, we’d bought tickets for the three of us as a birthday present to him.
We went with Jenny and Justin, parents of one of Boy’s friends from preschool, who apparently managed to sneak our camera into their possession at some point during the evening:
Boy had a great time:
But the game did last till an hour after his bedtime, so it was unsurprising his good humour couldn’t last the whole night:
Chicharito concussed himself during training on Tuesday and is out for a week, which is a shame, as he’s the player I was most looking forward to seeing. For Barcelona, Lionel Messi was also out–again, a shame.
But I did get to see the new goalkeeper, David De Gea, and I’m well satisfied with how he played.
The match itself bore a lot of similarities to when United and Barca met in the Final back in May. Barcelona had most of the ball, and played most of the match in United’s half. United’s chances were few and far between, but they took them when they created them. In May, that translated to a 3-1 Barca victory; on Saturday, it gave United a 2-1 win.
The inability to hang onto possession is troubling. If United could just hang onto the ball, and keep play in midfield, they’d have completely shut Barcelona–the best team in the world–down. But more troubling to me, and related, is the lack of creativity. At halftime, with United leading 1-0, Man U had had two shots on goal, and Barcelona had had five. At halftime of the European Cup final, with the score at 1-1, Barca had had five shots on goal, and United had had one.
Both of United’s goals on Saturday were excellently-timed breakaway runs from strikers who had long balls played into their paths. That’s great, but you know what it means United proved completely unable to do? String a series of passes together and construct a steady buildup, culminating in a goal.
It’s a pattern now, really, against Barcelona–they’ve dominated the match each of the last four times they’ve played United (Saturday, the final in May, the final in 2009 and the semi-finals in 2008). Two of those have been losses, two wins (though I don’t think Saturday, as a friendly, really counts). And it’s true that you don’t play the best team in the world every week–but United shouldn’t just be aspiring to beat the best team in the world; they should be aspiring to be the best team in the world.
Whenever Boy asks me to share my jelly beans with him, he specifically asks for a red one.
Whenever he gets his own bag of jelly beans–wherein he picks out, for himself, every flavour it contains–he always eats all the red ones first, then refuses to eat the remainder because, “There’s no more red ones.”
So for Easter, we got him a bag of Starburst jelly beans. We got him a bag of red fruits Starburst jelly beans–all watermelon, strawberry and cherry.
This morning, when I refused to share my jelly beans with him, he got sulky. I went and got his open bag of Starburst jelly beans. “Here. Eat these. These are yours.”
“Oh, I don’t want them, Dad,” he said. “Those are just red ones.”