Archive for September, 2015

101 Dalmations

Bedtime. We’re watching 101 Dalmations on the creaky VHS machine perched way up high on the bookshelf. The twins are in their loft beds. I’m down on the floor with Finn in my lap, leaning against his modified crib, trying to get him to sleep.

The loft beds provide Max and Violet with pretty good viewing angles, and even though they’ve seen the movie a thousand times, they’re engaged. In contrast, I have to crane my neck to follow The Puppies (as Finn calls them) and I’m considerably less interested. Actually I’m approaching nod-off stage.

But now comes the scene in which the puppies are watching “Thunderbolt,” their favorite TV show, and one of the boy puppies declares that Thunderbolt, the canine hero, is “even better than Dad.” One of his many siblings replies that “no dog is better than Dad.” The dalmation dad smiles big and wide.

Violet immediately wonders something aloud, but she’s too high up and I can’t quite hear her. It’s something like “Do kids… feel sorry… really mean…”

Maybe I need a hearing aid, but even so, my ears go on alert as if they belong to one of the cartoon dogs. “What’s that, Violet? I didn’t understand you.”

She turns on her side, resting her chin on her wrist. “What do kids mean when they say things like that to their parents? Like, ‘You’re the best dad in the world.’ Do they say it because they feel sorry for them and they don’t want them to feel bad? Or do they really mean it?”


Briefly Violet gets me in her sights, but with some effort, I think. I’m sitting too far back behind her bed. It’s easier for her to search the rug patterns below for answers. If she weren’t such a good solid kid, if her questions weren’t infused with such courtesy and scientific curiosity, she could be a hawk patrolling for small mammals.

“Well,” I say, “what do you think kids mean? What did that puppy mean?”

“I don’t know. Kind of a mix, I guess.”

Believe me, I’m eager to pursue this topic, but… all I can think is, they’ve seen the movie five million times before and never asked any questions about it. “I can tell you this,” I venture. “When I say things like, ‘I’ve got the three greatest kids in the world,’ I really mean it.”

A brief pause. I’m hoping that relief is part of the silence. I’d like them to feel relief that this particular human dad doesn’t dole out hollow praise. Max stays silent. Violet, keen on uncovering all the myriad dimensions of the subject, lets thoughts continue to waft down from the rail of her bed.

“With me, it’s kind of a mix. I sort of don’t want you to feel bad about yourself, so I tell you you’re the best dad. But I also really do mean it most of the time.”

He who consumes half-rack of beer in dorm room wake up with headache. I don’t know why that suddenly goes through my head.

I should feel relief. To be reminded of my limits, of any limits.

The half-rack thing, it’s a stupid joke I hashed over with somebody twenty years ago. It had to do with a fake Egyptian sarcophagus I had in the back of my pickup truck, and what kinds of things would be written inside the tomb? We were tossing out various lines, convinced we were comic geniuses…

Parameters are good. I’m relieved to see mine in a new light. They keep me rooted in realist estate.

“I like to hear you say that no matter what, honey. But, also, you don’t have to say it if you don’t feel like it.”

“Okay. That’s cool.”

“You’re a cool girl.”


The raggedy tape spools forward, my older son still silent, my youngest shifting and yawning meaninglessly, until the part comes when the thief Jasper complains to Cruella, “It’s here in the blinkin’ papers!”

For some reason Max thinks that is hilarious. The blinkin’ papers. He belly laughs on and on, enamored with the Cockney kookiness of the phrase, even though it never seemed funny before.

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