So you want to build a Mega Bloks helicopter with your kids: FAQ

Q. What are Mega Bloks Call of Duty sets?

A. Mega Bloks, if you are not steeped in the world of expensive plastic squares, are a competitor to LEGO. Call of Duty is the paramilitary wing of Mega Bloks.

Q. What’s the difference between Mega Bloks and LEGOs?

A. Mega Bloks are cheaper than LEGOs in proportion to how much harder their instructions are to follow.

Q. Is there anything else people should know about Mega Bloks?

A. Yes. Although the pieces are segregated into about a dozen different plastic bags, in order to complete Step 1 of construction, you will need exactly one piece from each of the dozen bags, necessitating that you dump all 324,943 pieces out into one omnibus pile.

Q. What is the best time to build a Mega Bloks Call of Duty helicopter?

A. When Daddy is home alone with a six-year-old, a two-year-old, and an eight-month old. Preferably late afternoon of a frigid day when you have been cooped up in the house for hours together already.

Q. Where is the best place to build your set?

A. The dining room table. No other surface will hold the 324,943 pieces.

Q. Isn’t it too close to dinner to spread that all out over the dining room table?

A. Work fast or eat on the floor.

chopper from hell

As with all of our greatest family accomplishments, this one was built on the placemat of US Presidents.

Q. Why can’t Big Brother (6) build this set by himself?

A. He could have, if Daddy had been smart enough to shell out the extra cash for LEGOs, with their at least partially-discernable instructions.

Q. What did Big Brother do to help?

A. Big Brother snapped together pieces at random so that whenever Daddy looked for a specific piece it was sure to be cleverly disguised within some abstract sculpture.

Q. What did Buster (2) do to help?

A. Buster loaded some crucial pieces into the back of his toy truck and quietly drove them to a different room.

Q. What did New Baby (<1) do to help?

A. New Baby crawled around the perimeter of the table, patrolling for any fallen pieces that might look good to eat. He also sneaked away at one point to the kitchen where he pulled a used bag of microwave popcorn from the garbage, spilling unpopped kernels all over the floor. These also looked good to eat, which provided Daddy with a nice break from his work as he sprinted from the dining room to the kitchen. You shouldn’t sit in one place for too long.

Q. Did the children do anything else helpful?

A. Lots. Big Brother and Buster got into a fight every 10 minutes over the helicopter pilots and their tiny guns and equipment so that Daddy could have something to break up the monotony of searching for missing pieces.

Q. Is Daddy supposed to yell so much when playing with the kids?

A. Everyone has a different method of family fun.

Q. Will this become a regular activity?

A. Only after Daddy has died and gone to Hell.

Einstein didn’t have to poop on the potty!

Buster is adept at many skills for a two-year-old. He holds a pencil like a pro and draws abstract art as if preparing for his gallery opening. He makes up his own songs to serenade his Mommy at bedtime. He knows his way around an iPad better than I do and makes that little guy leap over the stampeding bulls in his favorite game with dexterity to make my head spin.

Helping with the baby

Teaching Daddy how to manage those tricky snaps on the baby’s Onesie.

Yet there are some toddler skills that Buster is not ahead of the curve on. It would be one thing if he didn’t have the capacity to do certain things, but he does. It’s more of a defiance issue, although even that doesn’t truly capture the spirit of it. It’s defiance mixed with indifference.

Buster thinks he’s pretty smart. I don’t know if he styles himself a genius, but his affinity for playing jokes can only lead to the conclusion that he believes he’s pretty clever. And a clever boy shouldn’t be asked to learn things he sees little use for in the rest of his life.

Just as an older child might ask about the long-term utility of Algebra, I hear, in Buster’s spirited remonstrations, the philosophical query: “When will I ever use big boy underpants in real life?” Such garments hold no candle to the convenience of the diaper.

“Einstein didn’t have to poop on the potty!” He doesn’t know anything about Einstein, and he doesn’t say this literally, but I can see in his eyes the formation of an idealized, toddler image of genius. His aggravated eyes tell me that the child genius would never waste his time on something so trivial.

Theory of potty relativity

“Everything is relative, my dear. Poop wherever you like!”

“Galileo didn’t pronounce K, F, or S sounds!” I bet he did, though this is not really about Galileo. It’s about a toddler whose opinion of his own world view dismisses the need to do inconvenient things.

Pope Urban's bad boy

Galileo Galilei: also too clever for his own good. The inquisition was not amused by his jokes.

It’s easy to replace the unnecessary consonants in words with the ever useful D and T. Mommy and Daddy understand the words formed by these substitutions, and since they are the only people he will ever need ask for a bowl of Lipton Noodle Doup, there’s no point in wasting effort on the unnecessary.

Buster can make the S sound. I know, because I’ve hounded him into doing it. He just doesn’t see the need. It is, after all, marginally more difficult for his tongue than making the D sound, so why bother?

Because Daddy is a trouble maker. One day, daddy wouldn’t make him any doup until he made the S sound.

“If you want soup, say ssssssss,” Daddy demanded.

Buster held out as long as he could, but he really wanted that soup.

Finally, he relented. “Sssssss,” he said.

“Now, say sssssoup,” the heartless Daddy persisted.

Buster sighed. “Ssssss . . . doup.”

That was close enough. Buster got his soup. And the last laugh.

Clever boy.

Christmas advice for boys

An open letter to the boys who inhabit my house as Christmas draws near.

Christmas Day brings with it a lot of excitement. This excitement can make boys forget themselves and step outside of the bounds of acceptable decorum. When this happens, it creates a situation known as Too Much Christmas or TMC. TMC can result in a boy having to spend valuable Christmas minutes alone in his room, composing himself so he can resume his place in a civilized family before the Holiday gets away from him.

In order to minimize the risks of TMC, allow me to reiterate some general guidelines of behavior for boys of various ages.

Six-year-old boys

It is expected that you will wait until the entire family has opened all of their presents before you start tearing into the boxes containing your new toys and dumping the contents onto the floor. It would be wise for you to attempt to assemble only one new play set at a time, but if you insist on indiscriminately mixing sets, you should refrain from pouting when a crucial piece gets lost in the chaos.

In fact, you should refrain from pouting for any reason. This is your favorite day of the year. Don’t ruin it with a self-induced case of TMC.

Two-year-old boys

Santa brought you some very nice toys. Play with them. We understand that you want to help Big Brother build his kit, or tear it apart, as the case may be, but he doesn’t need your help. Yes, it’s sweet that you love playing with him, but today he has enough trouble keeping his parts organized, without your little hands moving things around.

Let him lose the first few pieces on his own so we don’t have to hear about how you ruined all his toys.

Eight-month-old boys

Don’t put that in your mouth! There are all kinds of little treasures scattered on the carpet today. Most of them are not food. If we don’t give it to you, it probably wasn’t meant to be swallowed. We don’t look forward to spending Christmas digging stuff out of your mouth, but we will if we have to. That’s not going to be fun for any of us, remember that.

Also, that’s probably Big Brother’s missing, crucial piece, so now I’ll have to hear about how you ruined his toys.

Forty-seven-year-old boys

Take a deep breath. You are the only one who would happily go up to your room and sit by yourself, but you are the only one not allowed to do it. It will be a madhouse, but you’ll get through it. You already had Too Much Christmas at about 7 a.m., but you’ve gotten your second wind. Yes, there will be whining and complaining – they will forget how happy they are at various points, but they will remember these moments fondly.  That’s the important thing.

Or maybe the important thing is when they’ve gone to bed and you can sit down with a tumbler of scotch. See? There’s always something to look forward to on Christmas.

Christmas cooperation

Nothing beats Christmas when all the little boys play together nicely (and then go to bed early).

Oh, Christmas Tree! Oh, Christmas Tree! We’ll try not to break you too much

Our six-year-old has been bugging us to put up the Christmas tree since Thanksgiving. There’s nothing wrong with this and I’m not complaining. I’m just stating a fact: he’s been bugging us about it. He’s six. That’s his job.

We’ve never put up our tree before December, though we have sometimes put it up early in December. But those were not years when we owned both a toddler and a baby. This year, the parents delayed as long as possible.

Buster won’t be too bad with the tree. He’ll break a few glass bulbs and yank some garland just to get into the spirit of the season. Then he’ll focus his destructive energy on other household objects as the tree becomes commonplace. Any real damage will be accidental, as he runs sideways into the tree while juking to avoid the football tackle of his big brother.

New Baby is a different story. He will eat the tree, one ornament at a time. It will become his seasonal commitment to consume any part of this giant Christmas cookie that can be reached from the crawling position. If he cannot reach a particularly juicy-looking berry, he will tug at branches with his Kung-Fu-Grip baby hands. He is a big, hungry baby, and his hunger feeds his ambition.

These are Mommy’s reason for delay. Daddy shares them, and adds a reason of his own. Daddy’s reason is that he will be left to assemble the tree with only the quality of help that a six-year-old and a two-year-old, working in unholy alliance, can provide.

Burgermeister Meisterburger

“Anyone who puts up a Christmas tree will be severely scolded in a cartoonish German accent!”

Mommy is the superhero of holiday cheer. She tracks down the most obscure gifts; she braves freezing cold for Christmas parades; she travels far to show her boys Santa, or even one of his less-renowned, black-nosed reindeer. But there is one thing Mommy doesn’t do. Mommy doesn’t put up Christmas trees.

Apparently, in the village where Mommy was a child, the Burgermeister Meisterburger decreed the decorating of Christmas trees a crime worthy of horrible punishments, because, to this day, Mommy flees to her quiet place at the prospect of tree trimming.

This leaves Daddy with his short stack of helpers. The moment they begin attempting to untangle strands of lights and free individual wire hooks from the grand hive of wire hooks, Daddy remembers who tangled the lights and packed the hooks into a wire nest at the end of last Christmas. This may remind him that, when it comes to tangling and untangling, little hands know only one direction.

This great revelation is useless. It will neither help him now, nor comfort him later, when a child asks, “Why won’t any of the lights in the middle of the tree light up?”

“Because that’s the tradition in this house, son. Are you almost done tying knots into the garland?”

We finally got the tree up and the lights on it, but then we had to take a break from all of the helping that was going on. It’s hard for anyone to get into the Christmas spirit once Daddy starts yelling.

We’ll take a breather, then give it another go. We should have it all up just in time to start taking it down.

who needs decorations?

Our progress to date. Maybe we’ll have more time to work on it after Christmas.