Monday, March 26, 2012

Reviews: Games for Ages 3+

I decided to do some reviews on games designed for children 3+ because I'm an expert. That is, I'm an expert if you're exactly like me, and your child is exactly like my 3-year-old daughter. So, if that's the case, you're in for a treat.

Memory

Grade: B

Premise: You should really know what this game is, but if you don't for some reason, here's how it works. You place a bunch of cards face down. The cards have symbols on them, and there are two of every one. You flip two over at a time and try to make a match. There may be more to it than that, but you get the gist.


Pros: I guess finding matching symbols probably does something positive to your brain. It's simple enough, so a 3 year old can get it. You can vary degrees of challenge, like keeping the cards face up when they're first starting.


Cons: It gets a little long. If your kid gets bored with a game, Memory will turn into Twister mixed with throwing stars. The cards are the stars.

Candy Land

Grade: C


Premise: There's a path to some candy castle or something (I don't really know, because I've never actually landed on the end, nor have I paid attention to it), and each stone of the path is a different color. Game pieces move by picking a card and moving to the color indicated on said card. Or, there are also cards with different candy treats on them, which allow you to jump to different spaces. And there's some area that's sticky, and you get stuck until something else happens. I don't know.


Pros: If your child gets the ice cream bar card, or whatever candy treat is closest to the candy castle, and then gets double blues and double oranges the next two turns, this game is pretty kickass. It will last about 5 minutes, and I'd give it an A. Also, with the grade A scenario, your child's goal must be to reach the candy castle. That doesn't always happen.

Cons: It's too much of a crap shoot. Sure, it could go well. Or, your child wants the gumdrop card, and you draw it, and they kick your gingerbread game piece across the room and throw themselves on the floor in tears. Or they get stuck in the sticky stuff, or they're almost at the end and then draw the popsicle card (or whatever) and have to go all the way back, or the game takes too long, or the damn cat steals a gingerbread piece, or whatever. There's no telling, hence the grade of C. Could go either way.

Chutes and Ladders

Grade: C


Premise: It's a lot like Candy Land, but instead of the candy castle, there's some other kind of goal destination that I can't remember. I think there are dice, and the game pieces move accordingly, sometimes landing on a plain square, sometimes you have the opportunity to ascend a ladder, sometimes you're screwed and have to go down a chute. Oh, and there are little morality plays within the game. Bring an apple to your teacher? Ladder. Animal sacrifice? Chute.


Pros: Same deal. You get the big ladder, big rolls, you're gold.


Cons: Same. You get close to the end, you hit the big chute, the game board ends up in the toilet. Or, your child thinks the big chute is the greatest part of the game. Crap shoot.

Don't Break the Ice

Grade: F


Premise: Each kid gets a hammer, and taps out blocks of ice until a bear falls through to its doom. That kid loses.


Pros: Kids like hammers and smashing.


Cons: It takes five hundred years to set the damn thing up. You have to cram each little block of ice in the frame, and the kid can't help, even though they're begging you to, because they don't have the strength or coordination to squeeze the blocks into the edges. You barely do. And instead of you sitting back with a cocktail while you let them figure it out, you shove their little hands out of the way, because you're invested now; it's taken an hour for you to find all the damn pieces and fit them in. Then you flip the thing over, ever-so-gently slide the stupid plastic bear into its slot, it inevitable falls through and you have to flip it over again and replace cubes, and then put the bear in, and then in one second flat, the kid destroys the ice, sending the bear to the depths of icy cold, and laughs hysterically, because they don't care what the goal is, as long as they can have the yellow hammer. Then the hammer is used on the cat. Then they want to play again.

Bingo

Grade: A-


Premise: It's bingo. But instead of tiny balls in a cage, there's a spinner. You have to get three in a row, and then scream bingo.


Pros: The cards are small, so the games are short for short attention spans. Spinning the spinner is fun. Screaming bingo is fun.


Cons: The only con is the markers are small and look like cat treats.

Lucky Ducks


Grade: B+

Premise: Little ducks swim around a pond. There are symbols on their butts. Pick ducks, try to find three matching symbols, and you win.

Pros: It's simple, quick, and kids like ducks.

Cons: It's so frickin' loud. So loud. When I hear that game turn on, tears fill my eyes and I need to resist the urge to smash the game with the Don't Break the Ice hammers. Stop quacking, you little fuckers.

Stay tuned for Strategies for Playing Games with Toddlers.







Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Damn Smurfs

I loved the Smurf as a child. You'd think I'd love the fact that Norah loves the Smurfs. But I don't. I hate it.

It started because of my mother. Yes, I'm blaming my mother for all of this nonsense. She purchased a Smurf cake for Norah's birthday party. It came with Smurf figurines. And blue poop. Blue frosting is now a no-no.

At the party, Norah's little pal, Will, wanted to keep Papa Smurf. Norah loves Papa Smurf more that any other of the little blue bastards, so I sadly said no. Oh, to replay that moment. To give the small child Papa Smurf would have been the greatest decision of my life.

Norah's birthday party was at the beginning of January. It is now March 20. Nearly three months. Every single day, every single hour of wakefulness, has been spent with Papa Smurf and Smurfette. Here's how every flippin' day has started for nearly three months.

Norah gets out of bed.

"Can you do the Smurfs?"

It's my job to give voices to the Smurfs and have them converse with Norah. Every game we play, the Smurfs play. Every book we read, the Smurfs read, too. Every meal we eat, the Smurfs are invited. And they're required to participate in witty small talk.

Ryan is not allowed to play Smurfs. I can't even get a reprieve.

We get home from preschool.

"Can you do the Smurfs?"

We forget about the Smurfs for two minutes.

"Can you do the Smurfs?"

We get ready for bath.

"Can you do the Smurfs?"

We get ready for bed.

"Can you do the Smurfs?"

It's insanity. The only good thing, is that if Papa Smurf asks Norah about her day at school, he at least gets an answer. If I ask, I get, "I don't 'member."

Even Mongo hates the Smurfs. He generally leaves Norah's toys be, but he loves chewing on the Smurfs. This ends in:

"NO, MONGO! NOOOOOO!"

And crying.

I hear a lot of crying. Crying occurs when I say, "Not right now, honey" or "It's a little early for Smurfs, sweetheart."

So I play Smurfs. And my throat is sore from doing different voices constantly. And my brain twitches violently every time I hear the request. And I fantasize about melting the Smurfs into a puddle of blue plastic carnage, or throwing them as far as I can down the street.

But I can't. She loves them. I love her. I try to think about asking her to play Smurfs with me when she's 14 years old, and laugh. How I'll miss those blue bastards.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Snitches Get Stiches

We always tell Norah not to keep secrets from Mom and Dad, no matter what. You know, because of psychos and pervs. But at some point, she needs to learn a little discretion. Some things you tell, some things you keep to yourself. This is how people successfully navigate through life.

For example, we were driving home from preschool, the three of us. I asked Norah how her day was.

"Good. Henry was naughty." (Henry is her little buddy at school.)

"Oh. What did he do?"

"I don't 'member. I told the teacher."

"You told on Henry?"

"Yeah. 'Cause he was naughty."

Ryan and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows. "Snitches get stitches," I whispered.

"Heather! Jesus."

I turned back to Norah. "Honey, we only tell on people if they're doing something dangerous. Okay?"

"Okay. What else is dangerous?"

"Oh, here we go."

Other times, she's smiled mischievously and said, "I have a secret." I don't like this secret business, but it's not as if it's hard to pry it out of her. She's three.

"What is it?"

"I ate two cookies at Grammy's."

And yet other times, I want her to keep her yapper shut. Like last night when we were waiting at the car. Ryan got in, turned on the car, and just sat there. Not unlocking it for us. This is classic Ryan. We stood there for a while.

"What an asshole," I muttered, rapping on the window.

"MOMMY! Don't say that!"

"Sorry, baby," I said, as we finally entered the car.

"What did Mommy say?" asked Ryan.

"Norah. Loose lips sink ships," I warned.

"What?"

I made a shhh gestured with my finger and lips.

"Mommy said 'ass,'" she said loudly, as I buckled her in.

"Oh really? Who did she call an ass?" Ryan turned fully around from the driver's seat.

"You," she replied. "And a hole."

"Thanks, Norah."

I guess the mature thing would be to filter my mouth spewings, instead of expecting Norah when to use discretion.... I'll consider that.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Nuk Fairy II

(Disclaimer-- I stole this tactic from another mom.) 

A few weeks ago, I found the one toy that could be Norah's weakness. The one toy that might outweigh the need for a nuk. It was walkie talkies.

I figured this out because Norah thought our baby monitor was sort of like walkie talkies. She'd go in her room and try to talk to me on the monitor. Or she'd have me stay in her room and pretend to be her, and she'd be me, and I'd pretend to wake her up through the monitor, and she'd come to her room and yell at me for waking her up. (I don't know where she gets this-- seriously. I am awesome at putting on a happy face in the morning.)

Anyway. I explained to her what walkie talkies were all about.

"Ooooooo," she replied, eyes widening.

 So I'd plant little seeds every once in a while.

"Wouldn't it be cool to play with walkie talkies?"

"YES! Let's get some right now."

Then I started telling her about the agents that work for the Nuk Fairy as well as Toys R Us. I told her if you're ready to give up the nuk, you can trade it for walkie talkies at Toys R Us. She looked incredulous, to say the least. And she shook her head. She wasn't ready.

That was okay. I kept reminding her. Soon, she started to believe it.

She'd start telling me to get ready to go to the toy store. I'd remind her that it's forever. No bedtime nuk after you trade it in. Then she'd back down.

Was I sabotaging her? Or making sure she was truly prepared? Not sure. Maybe a little of both.

Then on Sunday, she said, "Let's go to the toy store!" She grabbed her nuk payment. The three of us were on our way.

She picked out black walkie talkies (of course), and we also got some foam swords and shields. Hell, I probably would have bought her anything she wanted. I was so scared. Nervous. Sad. Guilty. But she was happily dancing around the store, looking at giant crayon banks and clearance toys near the registers.

I went up to the cashier first. A dude in his twenties with a goatee.

"Hi. Can you do me a huge favor?"

He looked at me blankly.

"My daughter is trying to give up her nuk, and we made a deal with her."

Blank stare.

"Do you know what the Nuk Fairy is?"

Blank stare. Ok. Time was a-ticking. Norah and Ryan were making there way to the register. No time for a back story.

"Here's how this is going to go down," I said. "My daughter is going to give you her nuk. You are going to give her the walkie talkies she wants to buy. Then she and I are going to play on that coin-operated horse, and my husband will give you actual money and you can give the nuk back. Is that ok?"

"Sure."

The transaction took place. She did it with a big smile. I didn't make a big deal out of it, although I wanted her to say goodbye or something. Look at it solemnly for a moment before releasing it to this stranger. Nope. Not Norah's way. She practically threw it at the dude. Okay.

Then we took her to McDonalds. I still felt guilty about making her ditch the nuk and was trying to buy back her love, even though she made no signs of being pissed in the first place.

We went home and played walkie talkie (which was a lot of "Hold it in the whole time you talk! Then let go!" She'll get it.) She laughed hysterically. She made us all go to different parts of the house. She tried to make Mongo meow in it. Her Smurf figures took turns. Then we played swords. Mongo exited pretty swiftly when the swords came out.

Then it was bedtime. Ryan settled her down, and I went to my room to read more Sookie Stackhouse, and I listened in. No trouble. One "I miss my nukkie." That was it. She went to bed.

The next day there was no utterance of the nuk.

Success.

*Sniff.*





Friday, March 2, 2012

It's Story Time: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

"As a woman, basically, you'll be cooking, cleaning, mending, laundry, making sure we get up in time, light yard work and landscaping, and doing the books for our mining business. And keeping' yourself purdy. And you can live here and we'll bring home the proverbial bacon. Also, our names all tell you something about our personalities, so that's easy enough for you, right? Or you can take your chances with the queen or the woodsman." 

"So basically I'd be like married to seven Rick Santorums." 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Expect This Excerpt: Anger

Here's another excerpt from my memoir, Expect This. It's all about pregnancy rage. (You can check out the "Buy My Book" tab on top to learn more, if ya want to.



Ryan and I had been out to dinner with a bunch of friends after work. Childless friends. Of course, I loved them and still was one of them, really. And I was determined not to yap on and on about the pregnancy and our future baby; I was one of those people put to sleep by such inane babbling. I wanted to still be one of the gang. 
I was so tired at night, I hadn’t been going out. And going to the bar, which was our usual destination, was completely unappealing. It was a long day, as another fairly common pregnancy symptom was fatigue. We met at a bar and grill, and I sipped my large glass of ice water as I watched my friends chug down their beers and cocktails. I felt the need to explain to the waitress that I was pregnant as I ordered my water. I was mostly okay with abstaining from booze, although I did still crave a nice cold beer when the weather was hot. It was mostly fun. Good food, good friends, good conversation for the most part. I had missed them. They politely asked about the fetus, and I kept my answers positive and short. The conversation meandered on to include future plans of camping trips, what shows were coming to the Twin Cities, and other adventures. I tried to keep a smile on my face. Who knew if I’d be up to it? Or after the baby came, who knew if I would be up for anything?
The evening started to drag on, and my eyelids were already becoming droopy. Ryan had drank a few Jack 7s and I was the designated driver. (And got to hear all the continuous jokes about him having a designated driver for nine months.) I didn’t want to be the one to end the evening, though. Typical pregnant wife; spoiling everyone’s good time. But 10:00 p.m. started to approach and I had to get up for work the next day. As did everyone. And normal Heather would have stayed out much later. Normal Heather wouldn’t have even noticed the clock. But I had been going to bed around 9:30 p.m. I gently nudged Ryan under the table with my foot and gave him a subtle look.
“What’s up?” he asked loudly.
I refrained from showing my exasperated look. Everyone was still engaged in their own conversations. I raised my eyebrows and shifted my eyes over to the Budweiser clock on the wall. 
“You wanna go?” 
A couple people turned toward us. 
“Awww,” Annie howled, refilling her mug with the amber colored pitcher. “Don’t go yet!”
“Yeah! When was the last time we all hung out?” Michelle chimed in.
“I’m sorry guys,” I said. “I’m really tired. I’ve gotta get to bed.”
“One more hour! Then I’ll go, too. We can walk out together.”
I looked at Ryan. Say you’re tired, too, I tried to telepathically message him. He didn’t receive it. “Sorry, guys.”
A few more groans emitted from the group, and eventually we escaped. The night had grown chilly and I was only wearing a light fleece jacket. I shivered as I sat in the driver’s seat and waited for Ryan to finish his cigarette before getting in the car. I flipped through radio stations while watching his tiny poofs of smoke float by. Every station seemed to be running an annoying commercial simultaneously, so I left it on an NPR reporter commenting on the DFL presidential hopefuls: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards. I tapped my fingers on the wheel and finally Ryan got in.
We drove silently listening to the radio. Ryan rolled down his window. He was always overly warm, and I was always chilly. He would always tell me to bundle up, and I would always tell him to take off his jacket. This conversation had gone on a million times before, usually ending in us laughing at the realization that the conversation had gone on a million times before. I stewed for a while and even made a shivery “brrrr” noise, trying to send a hint. His Jack 7s must have dulled his perception skills.
“Honey. Could you roll up your window?”
“I’m hotter than hell.”
“I’m freezing.”
“It’s not that much further.”
And then I burst into hysterical, uncontrollable sobbing.
“Jesus Christ!” he yelped. “What’s wrong? What is it?!”
I just sobbed like a toddler. My chest heaved up and down, and I gasped in between wails. 
“Oh, my God! Pull over!” He rolled up his window, and cranked the heat up to the maximum and put the vents on high. 
“I’m—(gasp)—fine!” I practically screamed. I continued to bawl.
“You can’t drive like this! Baby—what is it?” He was fully turned to me and rubbing my arm vigorously with one hand and my leg with the other. 
“You don’t care about me!” I howled.
“What are you talking about? I love you!”
“No—you only care about yourself!”
“What the hell is going on?”
“I’m tired and cold!” I wailed, even though the heater had started blasting hot air on me. Much hotter than a mild autumn night called for. But I didn’t dare turn it down.
“We’re almost home, sweetie, and you can go right to bed.”
“You didn’t want to go! You would have stayed all night!”
“Why didn’t you just tell me you wanted to leave?”
“I did!” I shrieked.
“I’m sorry, baby, I’m sorry,” he said and kept rubbing me, as if attending to someone having an epileptic seizure. “Are you sure you can drive?”
“YES!”
After we (safely, thank God) pulled into the driveway, I stood outside and cried. The tears had subsided into a normal human’s crying. Ryan rushed over and held me tight, muttering over and over that it was okay and that he was sorry. Then I realized I was now crying from embarrassment and shame. 
“I’m sorry,” I blubbered into his jacket. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Don’t be sorry. I’m a jerk,” he kissed my head.
“No you’re not. I’m a jerk.”
“All right, this is getting silly,” he said, like he was talking to a small child. “Let’s get you in bed.”
We walked to the door, me slumped into him like an invalid, and eventually I was cocooned up in bed and fast asleep on my tear-stained pillow. My first meltdown. Before I knew it, the alarm clock was going off.
“Morning!” I chirped happily as I leaned over and kissed Ryan’s shoulder. His eyes cracked open a millimeter.
“Are you okay?” he croaked. 
“Yeah. Why?”
Silence. “No reason.”
I made my way to the bathroom to heave.