Calliou is a PBS kids program about a whiny bald French kid and his sexually indistinct parents. I can’t stand it. The kid is just a wuss. To pad the show out for American audience they added some live-action puppets – supposedly Calliou’s stuffed animals, who have lives and dramas apart from the 2-D wimpery of Master C’s life. Gnat knows that the TV goes off after Calliou. Frequently she gets up and turns it off herself.

That’s my girl.

We had the whole day to ourselves today, which meant coloring, reading, plundering the toy bin for items that amused her last year, computer games, puzzles. The usual. Today she got lazy: grabbed a fistful of crayons and drew big smears.

Look, she said. Isn’t it beautiful?

I think I was being tested here. Usually she’s very careful about her coloring projects. Everything is inside the lines, as it should be. She’s proud when a painting is neat and bright. This scribbling is uncharacteristic. She’s done this before: she’ll do a half-arsed job, and ask if it’s beautiful. I usually ask: did you try your hardest?

“Well, it looks like you took crayons and made circles.”

“But isn’t it beautiful?”

Okay, kid, you forced my hand. “No, it looks like a big scribble. I think you can do better.”

She said, and I quote: “Boo hoo.” And she went into a closet and shut the door and made small theatrical sobs.

A minute later, a voice from inside the closet: “let’s do hide and seek.”


“You find me.”


“First you say Oh Where’s Natalie.”

“Oh where’s Natalie?”

“Now you count. To eighty hundred.”


“And then you ask Jasper where I am.”

“Okay.” And yet I could not find her! Amazing! She is the best hide-and-go-seeker ever! Then learning time, where we do work sheets and rudimentary math, then computer time. She wanted to play Curious George, which meant reinstalling the program. A few weeks ago I installed the Finding Nemo game on her iBook, and it hosed the machine so badly it won’t start in System 9. Black screen, tortured disc access sounds, the whole drill. So now we boot in X. I’ve been reinstalling the old games as she requests them. Today I installed the Curious George disc, and, well, how curious: it showed up as two separate disks on the desktop. The game disk and an Audio Disk. I checked the five AIFF files: children’s songs in a foreign language. Now, I now this game. I’ve heard it in the background for a year. Never heard these songs.

"I want Strawberry Shortcake," she said. A different game with the floppy-hatted 70s merchandising tool. Bad game. Bad music: it’s all heavy-metal power pop. She usually tires of the game in a few minutes, because it’s poorly designed and highly annoying. I went back to work for a while, and got engrossed in a project. So imagine my surprise when she was still playing a half an hour later. I wandered over: Strawberry Shortcake was trying to collect oranges to make juice. The oranges fell from the tree. You had to guide them along the branches by using marshmallows to bounce them up, leaves to cushion the blow, candy canes to block their path, and woodpeckers to cut through the limbs. She’d figured it all out on her own. She was up to level six.

Afternoon errands. Grocery store, Target. Now she insists on walking alongside the cart instead of sitting in the cart itself, which of course makes daddy feel Time’s Winged Chariot behind him; another milestone, another change. No longer do I get to face her. Now I have to chase her. We went home, and she returned to her game while I did the Hugh Hewitt show. Monday drill: first, put away the groceries, fire up the coffee maker, start the meal, then go upstairs with the phone to commit punditry. Then come back down to do the meatballs and start the sauce. Monday is a machine.

She was staring at her computer, singing. Singing what? Singing the strange German song from the Curious George disk. She’d loaded the disk, clicked on the Audio Disk icon, double-clicked on the music file – which loaded iTunes. Since I hadn’t run iTunes after upgrading to OSX, this meant she’d clicked ACCCEPT on the end-user license agreement. And now she was staring at the trippy light show, which meant she’d clicked on the visualizer button.

“What are you doing, hon?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But it’s purple.”

And thus the day’s bad news all melts away.

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c. 1995-2004 j. lileks