Okay, said William J. Bennett – what do you mean by this? I looked up, and was surprised by how large he was; granted, I was sitting down, but man, he was huge. He had a copy of one of my columns in my hand, and his expression seemed to suggest the sort of detached bemusement that usually precedes a stern beating around the soles of the feet. I said BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

And woke in a panic; what where why who – I turned off the alarm, which Gnat had apparently set to 3:15 in an idle moment, and went back to bed. I actually looked forward to explaining myself to Bennett, but dreams don’t work that way. They’re perfume bottles, easily opened, but once you wake you toss them off the cliff. At best when you fall back asleep you hear them hit the rocks below. And then the GIANT MACHINERY WITH GREEN TENTACLES COMES DOWN and you’re off on a new adventure.

Between now and then - well. This has been a long one, again, and it ends with a column to be written. I have to do that soon, so this will be small and short. Right now Gnat is watching “A Bug’s Life” on the big TV, with a nice roaring fire behind her and a dish of popcorn in her lap, the dog observing her with great care. Just checked some mail - thanks to everyone who listened to the Diner, and insisted that Peter Lorre’s new wife said “You cunning old fox.” Or meant to, anyway. I stand by what I heard. And no, that bit with Gnat wasn’t scripted. Well, yes, it was in one sense – I simply told her to say something when I pointed a finger at her. I didn’t tell her what to say.

But that’s not scripting, that’s direction.

Today. Oy. Today we cleaned out the toy closet, a difficult task. The toys that stay go here; the toys to be repurposed go here. “What’s reporupused?” It means they will go downstairs, where you will forget about them; I will sift through the bag in a few months, extract the items that speak to a particular era, like the toy you had in the home movie made on 9/11, and give the rest to the thrift store. The key is to absent the child from the process, because they don’t want to part with anything. Toys that have been ignored for months are suddenly items of intense interest – wax lips, dry pens, fragments of Happy Meal promotions. Faced with the parting eternal, everything becomes precious. It’s a metaphor for life itself. For that matter, everything in life is a metaphor for life. Except life. Life is probably a metaphor for metaphor. If you know what I mean, he said, half a glass of wine away from going face down on the keyboard.

Anyway. I parsed the Polly Pocket parts, set aside the Kelly items – about twice as large as PP pieces – and bagged the Barbie accessories, consigning each to larger plastic bags, storing these in larger plastic bins. This took two hours, but in the end I had regained control of the closet. Every six months you have to do this, or you’re swamped by the detritus of Shanghai and Mattel. But you end up holding old toys bound for the junk pile, remembering when this simple silly thing made a toddler grin for a moment. Was that so long ago?

It was. At least it seems so. The horrible collapsing of time has not yet hit me; Gnat v. 4.5 is such an advance over the previous models that the toddler days seem far away and over the hill. Tonight, for example, she drew the Sphinx, then drew a birthday cake for him, then turned on her computer, called up a drawing program and typed wwwpiperrobotcom, expecting to be taken to a website for the movie she saw. A far cry from the kid who dragged herself across the floor like a sideshow gimp holding out fingerpuppets. On the other hand, she wanted to make silly soup today, so I gave her some ingredients from the pantry. Checked the label on the bottle of tartar sauce: it expired a week before the Iraq campaign began. There it had sat, quietly curdling, while the world turned around and upside down and Gnat learned to stand and talk and add and surf. Time gets away from you – and unfortunately you realize that just when the amount ahead is exceeded by the amount behind. Best to think yourself as a playing card on a kid’s bike frame; don’t think about the speed at which the wheel is turning, just be grateful each time a spoke picks you up –

“Daddy, can I please have the turder sauce?”

Oh right. Here. Sorry; woolgathering. Back to work.

I promised her Chuck E. Cheese’s after we’d cleaned every room, so she helped put stuff away, and off we went. I like CEC now. Really. Her favorite part is Skee Ball, and so is mine. As long as I eat before we go we’re fine.

“Chuck E Cheese’s rolls,” she said as we walked in.


“It rolls,”

“I think you mean it rocks.”

“Oh right. It rocks.” I held the door open. “But,” she said, “it rolls, too.”

That it does.

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