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  • Dear Pippo,

    I hope this letter finds you well and free of rips in your seams. I am fine.

    This last weekend I went with The Wife and The Boy to help with the care and feeding of three of the grandchildren, noted in "Dear Pippo: Angels With An Angle" as The Diva (age 9), The Hopper (age 6), and The Happy Bombardier (age 2).

    We decided that we would entertain the little darlings by taking them to a nearby mall which included a children's attraction known as Lego Land. If you are unfamiliar with Legos, I can only explain them as multicolored plastic building blocks in various rectangular sizes with little buttons on the top of them and matching holes on the bottom of them. These blocks can be attached top to bottom to create various shapes. You can even buy Lego kits that have just enough pieces in them to make specific items such as the Starship Enterprise, airplanes, tanks, Barbie cars, and of course, buildings. Once you have created this special item, you can set it on a shelf for display, or disassemble the pieces and toss them in a box with your other ten thousand Lego pieces. These maverick pieces can then be reassembled to be anything known to man. It is even rumored that a prisoner once constructed a helicopter out of Lego blocks and flew it out of the exercise yard of the prison.

    But I digress..

    We entered the very large mall and decided to go to the Food Court before Lego Land, promptly breaking Rule Number One For Taking Grandchildren Anywhere: "Do not promise the grandchild an amusement and then deviate in order to take on nourishment." It's a waste of money.

    That having been said, I am fascinated with food courts, especially since moving to Beautiful Downtown Cherokee, home of only one restaurant. Where else but a food court can you get your choice of ptomaine poisoning from seven different ethnic food sources?

    As I strolled through the Food Court looking for that "just right" entrée, I was tackled by the guy in front of the Chinese food booth with the meat samples on toothpicks--you know, the guy who won't take no for an answer as if his children's lives depended on you tasting his offered morsel (or as if he had to report each night to his wife and live-in mother in law how many toothpicks full of Mongolian Chicken he had given away).

    Since he wouldn't take no for an answer, I bellied up to the Chinese food booth and immediately broke Rule Number Six For Ordering Chinese Food From A Person Who Doesn't Speak English: "Remember to Point At What You Want." I said, "I would like the white rice." The waiter promptly filled my plate with fried rice. Then, I couldn't recognize the name of the dish so I said, "I would like that beef stew." He instead dished up "beets, too." Realizing I was getting nowhere, I began to make up words--"I'll have the Khaki Chicken." I was served teriyaki was pretty good, too.

    So now The Wife, who had been telling The Hopper and The Diva that WE were going to Lego Land, decided to bail with The Happy Bombardier and one of the daughters to go shopping. It was, after all, a mall. The Boy and I exchanged knowing glances. This was going to be no picnic. We were on our own. The option of taking the 9 and 6 year old on an hour or two of outing by ourselves sounded much safer than taking The Little Pants Pooper for any stretch of time. Taking a toddler anywhere is like carrying a grenade in your pocket with the pin removed. Too much risk, The Boy and I agreed.

    We arrived at the entrance of the amusement and began weaving our way through the inevitable dividers that make you feel like a rat in a maze. These are placed in front of the entrance in order to wear down the resistance of the adults in charge of their little angels as they hold them by the shirt collars while they yell, "Let's Go! I want to go NOW!"

    While waiting so patiently in line, I read a placard which had the prices for adults and children posted. In small print under it, the sign directed its readers to a website for discount tickets. I quickly typed the address in my phone and found the discount ticket which plainly read, "Print this ticket and present it at the payment window." Just my luck. I had forgotten to pack a computer printer and paper in the diaper bag when we left home.

    As I neared the cash register I noticed a few unsettling items. First of all, next the the pay window was a sign which clearly read, "Your wait will be one hour from here." Based on what I was paying for me, The Boy, and the two amusement starved cherubs, I realized the hour long wait would be filled with conversations by parents to their bank to increase their credit card limit while begging them not to repossess their car.

    Just before entering The Promised Land (i.e. Lego Land), I had The Diva and The Hopper raise their right hands. The conversation went like this:

    Papaw: Raise your right hands. No, your other right hands. Repeat after me. "I, (say your name)...

    Diva and Hopper: I, (say your name)...

    Papaw: (sighing): ...promise to obey the rules of Lego Land and Papaw with no fighting, crying, or whining.

    Diva and Hopper: ...promise to rules Lego, uh, Papaw, uh, crying...

    Papaw: Close enough. You may put down your hands.

    A young father with a couple of preschoolers in line behind me looked at me hopefully and said, "Does that really work?" I wanted to tell him it did. I really wanted to. I just stifled a snort and muttered, "Oh, yeah."

    As we entered Paradise, we were directed (by another maze) to a young woman who offered to take our picture while we stood in front of a green wall. The TV monitor behind her showed happy families and how the background in their picture could be changed by projecting various images behind them on the green wall. It didn't take a genius to figure out that they wanted to take your picture before you went in, that is, before the spankings began. No one wants a souvenir picture of a flush faced mother, red eyed children with significant nasal discharge, and a pouty father. It's not good for repeat business.

    I have to say that Lego Land was ok. Everyone should take a kid there once. However, if the venue were run by the parents, it would have a camouflage store front that kids couldn't recognize or wouldn't normally go, such as a dentist's office, so that the parents could go to the mall once in a while and actually shop for items needed.

    The worst part of this outing was the waiting. For example, we waited eternally for the Precious Dumplings to ride small electric Lego police cars around a small track. The full line was not visible from the doorway into the ride, so it looked like a short wait was in store. While waiting in this line overhead TV monitors kept repeating the benefits of a birthday party at Lego Land. It began to dawn on me as I waited that we might well have a birthday in our group before getting to the head of the line. A woman far ahead of us in line entered pregnant, had the baby, and taught it to drive before we got to the part where they actually let you sit in the Lego police cars.

    Before actually allowing the preschoolers drive these dangerous quarter-mile-per-hour vehicles, the staffers (dressed in mock police uniforms) instructed the young would-be drivers on the operation of their vehicles and the safety rules. Mind you, these instructions are given to a bunch of kids who can barely zip their pants. The instructor said, "When you sit in your car and are ready to go, hold up two thumbs like this!" He followed this instruction with a visual reinactment of holding two thumbs up. Standing behind him were several parents reinforcing the visual reinactment of the worker by holding up both of their thumbs and chanting, "You can do it, Baby!" They couldn't. Thumbs were in pockets, in noses, and in other places where we won't mention.

    The second rule of operation by the instructor was, "If you get in trouble with your vehicle (a word which none of the children understood), hold both of your hands in the air like this!" The irony of this statement was not lost on me--the fact that many of the parents in line with me looked as though they had been stopped in an area with lots of police cars and were required to raise both hands.

    Finally the children were able to actually sit in the cars, though some uncomfortably because their Pull-Ups were now overflowing from the wait. Immediately many of the children were overwhelmed by the complexity of the operation of a steering wheel with a quarter turn capability and a Go-Stop pedal on the floor. Even though it was virtually impossible to stall these mini-cars some achieved the impossible...several times.

    The last ride in this veritable Utopia looked amusing--some sort of train ride. As we approached the venue we saw a sign that forcefully emphasized that each child must be accompanied by an adult. Since the ride only had seating for two, and I surely wasn't going to wait 30 minutes for each grandkid to ride, I sent The Boy over to a play station full of Lego blocks for a disguise. He came back with a Lego mustache. I guess the workers had seen that before. They didn't let us ride.

    On our way out of the Garden of Eden of Legos, we were given a momento of our adventure. The Hopper and The Diva were given a single Lego each, The Boy was given a Tylenol, and me a Prozac. If the kids get one Lego per visit, and we return enough times for the them to have enough Lego's to build a replica of the Trump Tower, we will have spent enough to actually buy the real Trump Tower.

    And yet, there will always be a next time...I hope.


    Dredin DeWait and his boy, Don Maykimee Gowagin
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