Thursday, January 22, 2015

We Gonn Goo to Hyyy-veee

First it was the library and now a grocery store. Though, if I’m being completely accurate, the grocery store came first.

Between the two of them, they are now prime destinations for the boy — regularly requested and subsequently frequented.

In the three years that I’ve been operating in this space I’ve avoided schilling for, or giving the appearance of shilling for, any product, service or store.

Pronounced: Awe-some.
For this post, I’ll be forced to lift this sanction as the business of which I am about to speak is spectacular and all writing that follows is unequivocally an endorsement.

I speak of a grocery store. It’s name? Hy-Vee.

It's a weird compound of syllables (it's actually the first couple letters from each of the founders' surnames — Hyde & Vredenburg) and, for those of us who are familiar with it, it's spectacular. 

This love affair started because Hy-Vee has a hot counter where one can find Chinese food, amongst all manner of comfort food (including the best macaroni and cheese I've ever had) and a nice sit-down area in which to enjoy your meal. This is no small convenience when you're hauling a toddler around.

Which brings me to my next point. The boy loves the place to an absurd degree. 
As is his custom in visits to the store, the boy
uses the P.A. to express his gratitude to all.

To wit, I recently picked him up from day care and was strapping him into his seat. While doing so, I asked him how he was. He replied:

"We gonnn git in the caahhrr and we gonnn listen to 'Uptown Girls' and we gonn goo to Hyyy-veee."

The desire to listen to Billy Joel is waning but the desire to to "goo to Hyyy-veee" is not. A couple days ago, again while picking him up from daycare, he reiterated his desires.

Upon crawling out from under a plastic kitchen play set, he cast eyes on me and said: "Wonn goo to Hy-veee?"

Mrs. Blackwell is getting the same treatment. What's truly sad is that, without fail, our answer is almost always, "Yes! My God, son! Yes we do 'wonnn gooo to Hy-vee!'"

This proclamation speaks to a few facts. 

First, Mrs. Blackwell and I are officially each 70 years old. How else to explain that a trip to the grocery store now sets our pulses pumping? 

Second, Hy-Vee really is spectacular. We've talked with other parents who agree wholeheartedly. Aside from the aforementioned food options, there is a separate restaurant and bar attached. One could — conceivably — watch a game while one's spouse was out shopping. 

Or, if you're so inclined you could enjoy a Moscow Mule (from a copper mug no less) while shopping for that week's groceries. 

For his part, the boy loves the fact that kids get a free banana while shopping. Or maybe it’s the free cookie from the bakery, or the free Blow Pops from the cashiers.

Ahhh, and there it is dear reader, isn't it? Those freebies for the kids. As you know, as we all know, they're not free at all. 

And just off aisle 1, the bar. 
These Hy-Vee folks have it figured out. Grease the palm of the babies and toddlers and the parents will follow. 

But the folks at Hy-Vee are smarter than even that and have accounted for everyone, not just kids or parents. 

Those without kids are drawn to the place too as it is littered with an absurd amount of free samples of food and drink (including on occasion, beers and wines). This is in addition to the aforementioned bar and grill.

Top it off with a staff that is invariably polite — you can't ask what aisle a product is in without being directly led to it — and they've made it so damn easy to go there that venturing anywhere else is a consideration we just don't bother with anymore. 

We've surrendered. Drank the Kool Aid. Whatever you want to call it. 

You might have something similar to this store in your neighborhood and, if you do, you know what a blessing it can be. Like it or not, buying groceries is part of life and, unpaid shill or not, I am happy to have found a place we can get a beer (and a Blow Pop) while taking care of one of life's chores.

Monday, January 19, 2015

An Oasis in the Midst of a Wisconsin Winter

While it’s unseasonably warm, we are nonetheless in the midst of an ugly Wisconsin winter. 

It’s just cold enough to require outerwear and mud is as prevalent as snow right now.

Screen time at home is to be strictly monitored. But, when it
happens inside the confines of a library? No pro-blemo. 
That said, the probability of acquiring cabin fever is likely greater under these conditions than if it was constantly 5 degrees with two feet of snow on the ground.

At least then we could go out sledding. Right now our entertainment options outside the home are limited.

In the midst of this limbo, we’ve been keeping the winter blues at bay in some unlikely places.

The most unlikely place for me is — without question — the local library.

I was surprised to hear that public libraries still exist but they do and, it turns out, they can be fantastic. The one closest to our home is perhaps the nicest library I’ve ever been in.

There are little play sets located throughout. There are computers sprinkled around the place featuring nothing but kid-friendly games and programming. 

It’s a spacious, comfortable building — and a tangible expression of our annual donation to the city in the form of absurdly high property taxes.

That said, we like going there. But, it's taken some getting used to as my earliest memories of the library are less than favorable. 

Libraries seemed to be places where kids were stifled, veritable wastelands of childhood fun. 

I remember librarians forcing us to sit still, to be quiet and to listen intently as they explained to us all how the card catalogue worked. 
These amazing revelations and more await!!! (Actually, I'm
just trying to sound cool. This was particularly neat.)

Now all these years later, I know I speak for millions who went to school in the 80's and 90's in saying a hearty "Thanks for nothing," to each and every librarian who wasted our time learning what they had to have known was a system poised to be replaced by computers.

But learn it we did. 

I'd also like to extend a huuuuge thank you to the librarian who said "No," to me when, in the midst of a lecture on the "Book It Program" I asked to go to the bathroom. 

I was seven years old and let's just say, at that age, it really didn't matter if she said "yes" or "no" it was going to happen. It did and it wasn't pretty. (Too much information? Sorry about that.)

Finally, a huge, huge thanks to the librarian who wasted 30 minutes of my life explaining to my classmates and I why books that win the "Caldecott" medal are somehow better than those that don't. Do you know what a Caldecott award is? 

Are your shelves lined only with books that have won one? 

Suffice it to say that, if left to my own devices, the library is not the first place the Blackwell clan would be looking for its entertainment. 

Fortunately for us, Mrs. Blackwell's childhood didn't include scars inflicted by librarians. 

Thanks to my wife being on the lookout for activities for the boy, I’ve been to a couple of local public libraries now and, it turns out, most of these places are built to accommodate kids — and their suffering parents.
And if it's cold enough, we go ice skating instead of the

And, whether they’ve got computers and play sets doesn’t matter. Aisles in the kids' book section serve as runways. Shelves exist solely to serve as peekaboo stations and there are loads of other kids around for my kid to engage with.

Ultimately, it's just a huge benefit to have a space where he can stretch his running legs, see other people and remember what it’s like in the outside world.

And as he does this, I follow him around ensuring that he doesn’t try to muscle in on another kid who is enjoying a computer or otherwise find trouble. 

For her part, Mrs. Blackwell finds the books that’ll keep him entertained when we get home.

Given my painfully average record as a student, it seems a bit like penance that I now find myself voluntarily spending time in a place that I avoided so much when I was younger.

On the flipside, maybe the boy will start to feel at home there for the next 16 years or so. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tastes and Temper Tantrums

If one was to ask me what the boy’s personality was like when he was six months old, I wouldn’t really know where to start.

He smiled sometimes, but the parenting books told me that was most likely gas.

He got angry sometimes, but experts told me that was just hunger or discomfort.

He cried and he was quite lazy, but doctors said that was because, at that age he was incapable of shoveling snow and had a very real, physical need for an abundance of sleep.

Thankfully we’re past the point where we need to look outside for answers. The boy’s growing vocabulary has helped clear up many of the miscommunications we used to have. (I say “we” but Mrs. Blackwell has always been a bit better at deciphering baby babble and its melding with the boy’s emerging English.)
The boy at about 6-8 months old. As you
can see, zero personality. 

It wasn’t that long ago that the boy was chattering about what sounded like nothing in particular.  Now he’s walking around requesting songs from bands that I didn’t know existed.

Ever heard of “Janky” by Buku by Trap? (I’m pretty sure that I’ve got that written as it appeared on iTunes.) What about “Taking it Down” by Brenmar, Let Me Know (Tasting)?

(Old man tangent: what the hell is wrong with artists who can’t just pick a name for their group, a name for their album and a name for the song? I’m sure that information is in there somewhere but, damned if it’s clear.)

Suffice it to say, at 2.5 years old, the boy’s preferences are starting to emerge, as is his personality, which he frequently uses to realize those preferences.

To wit, the boy enjoys getting Chinese food from the counter at our local grocery store. Yes, this grocery store has Chinese food — along with just about every other kind of take-out one can imagine — and our entire family agrees that it’s fantastic.

Where the boy parts ways with his parents is on the need for the family to eat there every night. Upon being picked up from day care, it’s now customary for the boy to request to be taken to grocery store so that he may satisfy the same portion of his pallet.

It’s neat that he’s got tastes and he’ll voice them but, this veers from cute to excruciating when the boy doesn’t get his way and the car turns into a four-wheeled tear factory.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the refusal of culinary requests that will trigger his crying. No, it’s fair to say that he views most of the direction he receives from his parents as an opportunity to assert and or prove the existence of free will.

This is what going for "Chinese food" can turn into.
The boy knows this and exploits it.
If you catch him at the wrong moment, it doesn’t matter what the request is.

“Hey buddy, it’s time to put down daddy’s phone. We’re pretty sure that 90 straight minutes of screen time means you automatically have attention deficit disorder.”

Cue the waterworks.

“Sorry pal, we can’t have a cookie for breakfast, especially after daddy just poured you a glass of chocolate milk. It’s not even 8 a.m. yet; Oreos, just don’t seem right.”

And with this, he loses the ability to stand and/or support the weight of any of his limbs.

None of this is new to many parents, I’m sure. We weren’t blessed with a kid who politely accepts his fate and the decisions rendered on his behalf — or one capable of reasoning and rational discourse before his third birthday.

For the most part we’ve got a kid who has opinions, has preferences and he’s going to let you know about them and, given my inability to interpret toddler babble (or nuance), this is a blessing of the highest order.