Tag Archives: RU

The Empire Strikes RU

Big news: the family sat down and watched The Empire Strikes Back the other day.

Yes, long-time readers of this blog will know that this is, indeed, big news. I am someone who has geeky (or is it nerdy?) interests and one of the joys of parenthood has been getting to share them with my children.

I was born in 1977, the year of A New Hope (is there a symbolic connection there?), and like many nerds (or geeks) my age Star Wars had an gargantuan influence on my imagination throughout childhood. I don’t remember my first viewing of The Empire Strikes Back (which came out the same year my little brother was born —which was absolutely an omen, I assure you) but I was alive when it came out and rocked everyone’s world. I can recall anticipating the release of Return of the Jedi quite vividly, although actually seeing the movie in the theater is a little hazy.

The experience of Star Wars that I want to share with my children isn’t just the movies themselves, but also that sense of waiting for and wondering about the next chapter. As I’ve written about in more detail before, my yardstick for how and when to expose them to the various films all boils down to their experience of a single scene. I’ll consider this venture a success if the moment in The Empire Strikes Back when [SPOILER] Darth Vader is revealed to be Luke Skywalker’s father comes as a real shock and surprise to my kids.

I first showed RU and MeToo Star Wars* about a year ago. That experience made me rethink my initial plans for spacing the movies a year apart. They were clearly too young to really get what was going on. I was probably being too hasty. No need to expose them to any of the sequels or prequels until they were older. The girls were a little more into it when we rewatched Episode IV about six months later, but it only confirmed for me that we should stick to just that film for at least a couple of years.

Then, on Saturday afternoon, the Wife said, “Hey, let’s watch Empire Strikes Back.

To which I replied, “Um, I don’t know if… Okay!”

I couldn’t help it. The Force has awoken and excitement about the Star Wars franchise surrounds us and penetrates us — it binds the galaxy together…

Er, sorry. Where was I? Oh, yes! We went ahead and watched Episode V. The best of the bunch.

Before starting the film, we had a quick review.

Do you remember who Darth Vader is? Yes, he dresses in black and captured Princess Leia. His friends are the stormtroopers. They wear white and are very bad.

And who’s Luke Skywalker? I don’t know. Oh, he wears white clothes and helped rescue Princess Leia.

Who’s Han Solo and Chewbacca? They help Luke rescue the Princess with their spaceship. (MeToo: “I not afraid of Chewbacca! I like Chewbacca!”)

So RU had retained a lot more than I’d thought. Great!

The opening crawl was mercifully easy to follow from their perspective. They knew who Vader and Luke were, they could tell the good guys from the bad guys, and there wasn’t anything in the setup that was beyond their grasp. RU immediately understood that the Rebellion was hiding and the Empire was trying to find them. She even surmised that whenever they were found, the good guys would go hide somewhere else before the bad guys could get to them.

The very beginning is actually quite slow compared to pretty much any action-oriented movie I’ve seen in the past decade or two. Any moments of violence that might take up an entire action sequence in a modern movie, like the bits with the Wampa (the abominable snow-monster) or the probe droid, are incredibly brief. Most of what comes before the Battle of Hoth builds tension (oddly enough, by having the main characters ask questions that we know the answers to — “Where’s Luke?” “What’s this strange signal we’re picking up? Is it transmitting an Imperial code?”). The girls stayed with it, though; they were fresh out of nap time and fully committed.

Which was nice, because it meant that RU at least could follow what’s actually going on in the Battle of Hoth sequence beyond just watching all the action unfold. She was definitely into it, asking questions and saying “Uh-oh!” with each telegraphed danger. (The rebel officer looks through his space-binoculars and sees something out there, but only part of it. He scans upwards and — “Uh-oh!” RU says — reveals a titanic dinosaur-like machine with guns in its face! “What’s that?” “An AT-AT Walker.”) Watching the battle through her eyes, especially after pointing out how the good guys were just fighting to delay the bad guys long enough for most of them to get away, the desperation and dread of the Rebels really came through for me in a way it hadn’t in a very long time. The sequence masterfully punctuates the overall downbeat of a fighting retreat with momentary triumphs.

“YES!!!!” (RU, after the first Imperial Walker is finally taken down and blown up.)

“Whew! They made it.” (RU, as the Millennium Falcon finally gets off the ground and flies away just as Darth Vader enters the hangar.)

Dagobah was scary — there are a lot of scenes in Empire that have a sense of menace, even during calm parts of the story — and Yoda initially creeped the kids out. That surprised me. I had expected the girls to already know who he is just through osmosis. Z has Yoda pajamas, after all. Still, I remember that when I was young it took me a long time to really warm up to the diminutive Jedi master, too.

About this time, MeToo turned to me with a wait a second, let me get this straight look and said, “We have two Star Wars?”

We stopped for dinner about halfway through, taking a much needed break. Even though our girls can sit through eight episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood without blinking, an intermission was vital for helping them through a two-hour long plot intended for people with longer attention spans.

By the time we started back up again (with the Millennium Falcon arriving at Cloud City), however, MeToo was getting restless. She was still watching the show but was wriggly and talkative. (“Chewbacca can’t talk. He just says, ‘ARR! ARR!’”) A lot of what she said, though, was, “Why are they being mean to each other?” She said it when Han decks Lando, when Chewie attacks some stormtroopers, when Han yells at Chewie to calm down, when Chewie tries to strangle Lando, and any time the stormtroopers shove anyone around. I didn’t want to ignore her questions, but without seriously interrupting the movie I didn’t have an answer better than, “They don’t like each other” (or “Chewbacca’s angry”). Besides, answers based on the plot would have little meaning for a two-and-a-half year-old. Maybe that explains why she wasn’t particularly focused on the movie at that point.

Then, something happened. Luke had arrived at Cloud City to save his friends (just as Vader planned). His friends, however, escaped on their own and took off (after having failed to rescue Han — even on my umpteenth viewing, my reaction to seeing Boba Fett just fly away is “Whaaat? Did that just happen?”). Luke is now wandering Cloud City on his own. The place should be full of Imperial troops but it now seems deserted. He walks into the chamber where Han got frozen in carbonite and… Everyone gets completely silent. Even MeToo. Even Baby Z. Something about that moment before Darth Vader steps into frame and the lead-in to it clearly signals stuff’s about to go down.

Luke and Vader square off, they fight, they separate, they fight, and then there’s the scene. I’ve been anticipating my kids’ reaction to this moment for years. In a way, I’ve been thinking about it even before I had children. Getting this right — making sure they are old enough, invested in the story enough, and paying attention enough to understand both this scene and the larger context for it — is the reason I’ve spent so much mental energy pondering the experience of the Star Wars series  and not, say, health insurance plans or anniversary gifts.

When Darth Vader finally corners a maimed, defeated Luke and says, [SPOILER] “Luke, I am your father,” I’m watching RU. Her eyes are riveted to the screen but her face is drawn downwards in that look that usually means she’s about to cry. She doesn’t get any tears, but it looks like she’s watching someone take a family member off life support. This is not what I had expected. You can find videos online people took of their children watching this scene for the first time. They’re always full of gasps or expressions of disbelief. I’ve never seen one where the kid nearly starts bawling out of sympathy for Luke’s pain in that moment.

I should’ve considered it, though. It’s easy to say that The Empire Strikes Back ends without closure on an emotional down-beat and is the darkest of the original trilogy. However, it’s easy to forget what that experience was really like the first time around. If you don’t know it’s coming, it’s a big blow that comes at the end of a wrenching sequence. Because aside from the big reveal (which RU absolutely got), the whole light saber duel is like a nightmare. Darth Vader is scary. He’s powerful, implacable, and has that whole unhurried/unstoppable vibe that can carry an entire horror movie franchise. Luke can’t beat him, or even hold his own. The duel is just like the Battle of Hoth, but more intense. The whole sequence is a long defeat for Luke, who barely manages to save himself from moment to moment.

It’s not just that Vader is more powerful; the particulars of the fight are like something from a bad dream. Luke, weaponless, hanging from cables just inches above Vader’s swinging light saber. Vader using the force to pull the room apart and throw it at Luke. Luke getting blown out of a window — for a heartbeat, you just know he’s got to be dead. As RU pointed out, Luke can’t even escape: “Why is it that whenever Luke goes somewhere, Darth Vader is already there?” By the time of Vader’s revelation, our hero has been stalked, trapped, and beaten in one scene after another. I had forgotten how hard that is to watch when you’re a young kid who has been sucked into the narrative and doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. (Plus, my girls are rather tender-hearted and aren’t used to seeing people get dismembered, despite the fact that one of their favorite shows is about a tiger.)

I squeezed RU closer and made sure she was okay. When it was over, I made sure to tell her that there is another Star Wars movie after this one where the good guys save the day. After the movie, she and MeToo both said that they enjoyed it, although it had a lot of scary parts. “Now let’s watch the other Star Wars,” MeToo urged.

MeToo meant “the other Star Wars movie we’ve seen before,” which was A New Hope, but I’m wondering if we shouldn’t show them Return of the Jedi soon, despite my edict that we would try to wait a year between showing them each film. Until now, I had been thinking about all this from the perspective of an adult who loves the original trilogy but saw it at such a young age that I can’t really remember what it was like. I’ve been wanting to craft this experience for RU, MeToo, and Z so that they can not only enjoy these films but have a clear memory of falling in love with them. I’ve kicked myself for being so impatient and starting them off too early. That’s absolutely the case with MeToo — she may enjoy the movies but she’s too young to really understand much about them. RU, however, may be too young to get everything that’s going on but she was clearly catching a lot. The last act of Empire shook her a bit, and the best cure for that is to finish the story rather than leave her hanging in the middle.

When she’s thirty, RU may not remember the first time she saw Empire Strikes Back. But that memory is fresh today and won’t fade (if it does) for several years. After this, she’s going to need the closure and happy ending that Return of the Jedi can give. Heck, maybe the key to making her a life-long fan like yours truly is to get her into the franchise when she’s young, when it’s enhanced by the rosy glow of bonding with her mom and dad. You know, before she’s a jaded 8-year-old who’s had everything spoiled for her and ruined by derivative sci-fi/fantasy series trying to capture what Star Wars had.

And once the girls get these movies watched, I can put them away for a while and try my original plan with Z in a few years.

*To people of my generation “Star Wars” is sometimes also referred to as “the first movie” or “you know, the original one.” Less often, it may be called “Episode IV” or “A New Hope.”

Thanks a Lot, Granma Cake

RU (sobbing in the now empty bathtub): “Daddy, I’m cold! I need you to help me out of the tub!”

The Dad: “Well, first, you are perfectly capable of stepping out and getting your towel yourself. Second, because I know you prefer for me to help you, I told you that I would if you got out right away. You waited until I was leaving to help MeToo get her pajamas on and then you suddenly wanted to get out. And, thirdly, when I started to help you out of the tub, what did you do?”

RU: “I flicked water in your face.”

The Dad: “That’s right, and you haven’t even apologized for —“

RU: “I’m sorry, Daddy! I don’t know why Granma Cake showed me how to do that because it isn’t very nice. But sometimes I forget that it’s not nice and I do it.”

The Dad: “Yeah, I don’t know why Granma Cake thought it was a good idea to teach you and MeToo to flick water in people’s faces, either, but I wish she hadn’t.”

RU: “Me too!”

The Dad: “But since you have also learned that it isn’t nice you now know how to do it and that you shouldn’t do it, right? I forgive you, RU. Here, let me help you out of the tub.”

(But I’m still waiting for Granma Cake to say she’s sorry.)

That’s Why Father Time Also Carries a Scythe

RU: “How much longer do we have until we get there?”

The Dad: “About four Daniel Tiger* episodes.”

(Time passes)

RU: “How long will it be before we get there?”

The Dad: “Um. We’ve got about two Daniel Tigers.”

(Later)

RU: “Ugh! How much longer?”

The Dad: “A little more than one Daniel Tiger. We’ll say one and a quarter Daniel Tigers.”

RU: “How much is that?”

The Dad: “A quarter is the same as one-fourth. If you cut Daniel Tiger in half, and then cut one of those half Daniel Tigers in half again, that’s one fourth. It’s half of a half.”

RU: “…”

The Dad: “Maybe it’d be easier to imagine cutting an apple into four pieces. Except it’s with time.”

RU: “So how long will it be?”

The Dad: “Just one Daniel Tiger.”

*We have taken to measuring time in Daniel Tiger Units (DTUs), which is the length of one episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood**. It’s a span of time that the girls can relate to, as opposed to using “minutes” which can be awfully abstract and changeable for a kid. During rest time, for example, our girls just have to lay down quietly for twenty minutes. But if they get up or play around or get loud, we restart their time. We tell them this, of course, but the result is still that their “twenty minutes” of rest time actually lasts an hour or more. Plus, sometimes they fall asleep for a while and their “twenty minutes” is over whenever they wake up. Kids are often told that something will take “one minute” or “five minutes,” but what’s really meant is “some small amount of time — no I don’t know exactly how long.” For kids who are still learning to tell time, then, “minutes” can seem like a very amorphous concept. Daniel Tiger Units, on the other hand, offer a unit of time that their experience of is relatively fixed. Our girls have a good sense of about how long an episode is. Plus, the length of DTUs makes them a robust unit for measuring many things that kids ask about, as opposed to using minutes and hours, which are two units of time. How long until lunch? One Daniel Tiger. How long is it to Nana’s house? About eight Daniel Tigers. How long are all the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings movies? Altogether, almost 33 Daniel Tigers.

**There is some controversy over exactly how long a DTU is considered to be. Daniel Tiger episodes are allotted a 30-minute time slot in a television programming schedule. That actually clocks in at 28 minutes. To make matters even more confusing, each “full episode” of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is comprised of two distinct 11-minute episodes (no, I don’t know where the other six minutes comes from). So, is one DTU 30 minutes, 28 minutes, or 11 minutes? I have settled on using DTUs to refer to “about twenty minutes,” or one Rest Time. I don’t know which measurement the Wife uses.

Get ‘Em Hooked Young

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a great big, geeky nerd with a nerd’s hobbies. Getting to share those hobbies and interests with my children has been something I’ve looked forward to for… well, for a lot longer than I’ve had kids. Now that I do have a few offspring it can sometimes be hard to wait for them to be old enough to engage in (or be engaged with) my geeky pursuits.

One of those pursuits is role-playing games, the kind where you have to use a pencil and paper and roll lots of oddly-shaped dice. Actually, my favorite RPG just uses regular six-siders, but I do have the minimum amount of polyhedrals needed to play good, ol’ fashioned D&D. A few days ago, I dug those dice out when RU kept wanting to do more school after I’d exhausted the couple of lessons I’d prepared.

We started with the pyramidal four-sided dice, letting her count the sides and roll them a few times. One by one, she examined them in ascending order: the familiar cube-shaped d6’s, the d8’s, the ten-sided dice that are confusingly numbered 0 through 9, the d12’s, and all the way up to the big round twenty-siders. RU was very interested in them, seemed excited to turn them over in her hands and count the sides.

Following that, we each grabbed a die of the same size and spent some time seeing who could roll higher. We went through all the dice that way, though RU insisted on pairing up the d4’s and d6’s, rolling both and adding their values together.

 

(Clatter, clatter) “Woo hoo!”

Finally, we got down to adding a narrative element. I brought in her LEGO elf and a LEGO soldier from the Castles line.

“Let’s do some pretending,” I said. “Which one do you want to be?”

RU picked the elf. No surprise there.

“What’s her name?”

“Ummm. Can I give her a name that’s somebody’s real name?”

“You can name her whatever you like.”

“Okay. Her name is Lizzy.”

One of the hardest parts of character creation was now out of the way! Time to figure out some stats for her. I wasn’t using any particular system, just making up some very basic stuff as I went along. ”Okay. So, what’s Lizzy like? What does she do?”
“She likes to play soccer,” RU suggested.
“How about this: is Lizzie strong, or quick, or smart?”
RU answered right away, “Lizzie is smart. She’s smarter than me.”

 

Meet Lizzie. She’s an Elf. She is smart, likes soccer, and drinks coffee.

 

“Well! She must be a very smart elf indeed, then! Does she have any magic? Or any powers?” RU and her little sister MeToo have gone from pretending to be Elsa and Ana with magic and ice powers to just pretending to have magic and ice powers in other identities and have recently branched out to pretending to have other kinds of powers as well. Between that and the way I already stereotype elves thanks to Tolkien and D&D, I had no doubt that Lizzie would be sorcerously-inclined.

But RU did the unexpected: “No. She doesn’t have magic. There are no bad guys where she lives so she doesn’t need magic.”

“So what would Lizzie do if one day a bad guy,” I picked up the LEGO spearman, “did come to the forest where she lives?”

“She would trick him,” RU replied. She didn’t even have to think about it; it was actually a little unnerving.

“Oh ho! She would trick him! Because that would be the smart thing to do, right? I like it. So, what would she do to trick him? How would she do that?”

“She would dress up like a bad guy.”

“I think that would do it. Very clever of her. I like how you came up with a solution that also avoided conflict.” That remark was over RU’s head, I’m sure, but I was quite impressed with her.

Okay, now I wanted to put that action in something like a typical fantasy RPG adventure scenario. One of those pencil finger grip things was lying nearby. I held it up.

“Let’s pretend this is some kind of magical treasure.” I sat it down on the table and placed the spearman next to it. My idea was that Lizzie would need to trick her way past him to reach the treasure. “This soldier is a bad guy who has come into the forest to find it.”

 

Behold: the MacGuffin Stone!

 

The role of “Bad Guy” will be played by this LEGO minifig

“But,” RU interrupted, “Lizzie knows where the treasure is. She put it in a box with a lock and she’s the only one who has the key.”

Ah. So it’s to be sort of a reverse dungeon crawl.

“Did she hide it somewhere?”

“Yes. She’s the only one who can find it. She has magic that can help her find it. She, ah, she has a magic shovel that she uses to find it.”

“So Lizzie doesn’t have magic powers herself, but she has magical things. Okay. Where did she hide the box with the treasure? In a cave or in the forest?”

RU established that the thing was in a cave in the forest, protected by magic so no one could find it. The soldier, I point out, has come into the forest in search of the treasure and he seems to have some way to locate it. He hasn’t found it yet, but he will if Lizzie doesn’t intervene. How, I ask RU, is he able to know where the treasure is?

“He, he has a magic spear that tells him where it is. Not right where it is, but if he’s going the right way.”

Now, at this point, I thought to myself that I probably should have tried to bring her into role-playing games through this kind of back-and-forth story telling. Introduce dice later on. However, I’ve built this up as a thing we will use the dice for. She’s enjoyed playing with the dice, and the tactile pleasure of rolling them is part of the fun of this hobby. Plus, maybe it’s best for her to learn early that the dice don’t always go your way.

So I said, “Pick out two dice of the same size. I’ll take one and you take one.”

RU chose the twenty-sided ones.

“Now, how does Lizzie find the bad guy?”

“She sneaks up on him and watches him.”

“Okay, let’s see if she can sneak up on him. Roll your die for Lizzie and I’ll roll mine for the bad guy.”

The dice clattered on the table. She rolled higher, so Lizzie approached him unseen.

“If you want to, you can now roll to see if Lizzie can convince him she’s a bad guy, too, when she approaches him. And, um, because Lizzie is Smart I think I’ll give you a bonus to your roll.” Not that I had any idea what would be appropriate; mostly, I wanted to make sure she’d succeed at her shrewd plan.

“What’s a bonus?”

“It’s a number you’ll get to add to your roll. Because Lizzie is Smart, whenever she does something clever you can get a bonus added to your die roll.” That seemed like sound game mechanics. But d20’s are so swingy! I still hadn’t decided what a good value for the bonus would be.

RU came up with her own solution. She picked up a d10 and said, “I want to roll this as my bonus.”

“That sounds like a great idea! Whenever Lizzy is doing something Smart, you can roll that one, too, and add your numbers together.”

She rolled her d20 and the bonus d10, beating the result of my lone d20.

“Good job! The Bad Guy thinks Lizzy is on his side. Now that she’s done that, how can she keep him from finding the treasure?”

“She’ll cast a spell! She’s got magic now.”

“Okay, that’s fine. What does her spell do?”

“It takes the Bad Guy home. It makes him think that he’s following his spear to the treasure, but he goes all the way back home instead. And he won’t know it until he’s back at his house.”

I chuckle. “Let’s roll to see if she can make that happen. Just your twenty-sided die against mine when she uses her magic.”

RU rolled a 20. “Yay!”

“You got a twenty! Critical success! That means you rolled as high as you can roll on that die. The spell works perfectly and the Bad Guy wanders out of the forest. He walks all the way back home without realizing it. He just finds himself in his bedroom and says, ‘What? How in the world did I get here?’ Nice work.”

RU laughed. Then she wanted to play some more.

And so did I.

 

Take a bow, everybody

 (In case anyone cares about her further adventures, RU enlisted the LEGO spearman figure as a good guy named Roland. Roland and Lizzie got married (after having to overcome some obstacles on the way to the ceremony, which had to be performed that one day of the year — RU’s idea, I swear) and took in a pet spider. Something went wrong with the treasure and it began “leaking magic” which made scary illusions in the forest.

By the time MeToo woke up from her nap and came downstairs, the “leaking magic” had gotten the attention of a wizard who brought his bodyguard along into the woods. We wanted MeToo to join us and she picked out a princess (I’d broken out a few cardboard miniatures).

“Is she Strong, or Quick, or Smart,” I asked MeToo.

“She Strong like Sooperman.”

“What’s her name?”

“Ummm. I dunno.”

“Yeah, sometimes that’s the hardest part for me, too.”

This was the first actual combat we’d had. Lizzie and the Wizard faced off but he proved to be better at magic — getting to roll a bonus die when casting spells. Then it was MeToo’s turn.

“What does she do?” I pointed to MeToo’s princess figure.

MeToo picked up her princess and knocked the wizard’s bodyguard off the table with it. “She’s gonna smash the dragon!”

Yeah. I think my kids are born gamers. This is gonna be so much fun!)

LEGOs!!!

I don’t want to speak too soon, but RU may be on her way to Master Builder status.

We’d gone to a LEGO event last month and picked up two free sets — little ones that just come in a plastic bag and are about a step up from what you’d get in a Happy Meal. We let the girls open them up the other day and play with them (at the table, away from the toy area so any lost parts are unlikely to get swallowed by Z). I must say that I was surprised at the results.

Now, we’ve had Duplo blocks for the girls for quite a while. They’ve got maybe two or three medium-sized sets and another two or three small ones, all integrated together now in a big tub. When the play area isn’t too cluttered with other toys, we get the tub of Duplo blocks down and MeToo will dump it all out into a big pile. They will build things, more or less at random, and two of the sets had a plethora of animal figures that get played with a little. Although the girls have fun with the Duplo blocks, they’ve never been a favorite. Which is too bad, because there are some good-looking Duplo sets out there these days. I’ve seen a few DC superhero ones and a couple of Jake and the Neverland Pirates sets that I’d be happy to get them. Even so, something about LEGO’s baby brother just fails to inspire the girls’ inner architects. I must confess that even when I sit down to play with them and try to demonstrate some building skillz, I have a difficult time generating a creative spark.

But they’ve never had actual LEGOs before.

The set we picked up (we got two copies of the same thing) seems to be from an “Elves” line which I hadn’t previously been aware of. The figurine that came with it isn’t built on the same model as all the LEGO men of my youth. They seem to be similar to the figures from the LEGO “Friends” line. RU calls them “LEGO Barbie,” which is accurate enough.

(As an aside, the Wife is a little appalled by the “Friends” line of LEGO sets, and probably the “Elves,” too, by extension. They’re clearly meant for girls and the sets are full of pastel-colored bricks used to build, well,  Barbie-esque playsets that promise zero adventure. “Elves” seems more fantastic, naturally, but even the more dynamic sets (like a medium-sized boat) steer clear of any martial action (you’d have to bring in orcs from the Lord of the Rings LEGOs for that). The Wife also sneers at the large number of fancy pieces that seem customized for one particular set. Like giving you a single spiral staircase LEGO piece instead of requiring you to build one out of more standard parts. I did point out the plethora of such pieces in the Star Wars sets but I still think she detects a gender bias. Personally, if “girly” LEGO sets get more young ladies into LEGOs who otherwise would not be, I’m for it. No one’s keeping them away from the Pirates or Ninjago stuff. And in my day, if you wanted to build a dream castle out of pink bricks you were SOL no matter what your gender was.

But I do concede that if the “Friends” and “Elves” LEGOs are clearly meant for girls, that creates the suggestion — whether intended or not — that the other stuff isn’t. Which is crap.)

Anyway… After RU ripped open the bag and shook the pieces out with a hazardous lack of caution (clearly she’s used to hard-to-lose Duple blocks, not the vacuum fodder of the real thing), she said she wanted to follow the directions.

That may not seem like a big deal to you, but I almost never built anything by using the instructions. If there weren’t any cool pieces used in the first three steps, I tossed ‘em aside and did my own thing. But when I did want to build the spaceship shown on the front of the box, I would always screw up somewhere and either have to start over or give up. Seriously, when I was in Junior High and decided to finally put together my Blacktron Message Intercept Base I placed one of the main support struts wrong on, like, step two but didn’t realize it until things weren’t fitting together right at the very end. So when my four-year-old stepped up to the metaphorical plate, it seemed like a Big Deal to me.

Okaaay... Wanna build a spaceship with Daddy instead?
Okaaay… Wanna build a spaceship with Daddy instead?
RU only needed a little help in figuring out how to read the directions at one point and finding a few pieces (one seemed to be missing from the outset but we swiped a replacement from MeToo’s pile). Otherwise, she did it entirely on her own — and she constructed it exactly right on the first try! If I seem proud, it’s because I am.

The finished product, “Azari’s Magic Fire,” is an odd thing. Without any context for who these elves are or what they’re up to, it seems to suggest a kind of forge in the sylvan, one-with-nature mode. There’s a bench over what’s either a pit of flame or pool of lava. The bench itself is brown and seems to have a plant growing out of it — perhaps the whole thing is a living tree of some kind. Attached to this workspace is a long rod with… a red apple stuck on the end of it? I assumed this was some kind of mystical foundry, but instead of smithing weapons or armor or magical accessories, the elf is apparently toasting a red delicious like a Cub Scout with a marshmallow. I dunno, maybe it’s like the Golden Apple of Discord and she’s going to start a big war with it. That’d be kinda cool.

As she was admiring her work, RU picked up the elf figure and asked, “Dad, what’s her name?”

“Um… I think her name is Azari.”

“Azari?”

“Yeah, I think so. What do you think Azari does?”

“I don’t know,” RU admitted. “Maybe she drinks coffee all day.”

"Elf needs caffeine -- badly!"
“Elf needs caffeine — badly!”

Too, Too Much

RU (from the back of the van): “There are four eyes in this drawing. Two eyes and two eyes, that makes four. And I’m four.”

Me (driving): “Mm-hm.”

RU: “And! And! There are two eyes and two eyes, and MeToo is two, too.”

Me: “MeToo is two, two? Doesn’t two and two make four? MeToo’s not four.”

RU: “No… When you have two of something and a person is two, you can say, ‘That person is two, too.’ It’s not two, two. When you have something that is two of that thing next to someone who is two it doesn’t make them four.”

Me: “…”

RU: “When someone is two, to be with a thing that you have two of them, you can say that you have two and they are two. You can say that the person is two, too. But it’s not two, two. It’s not four.”

Is it just me, or does this “new math” they teach kids these days not make any sense?