The Rockwood Files: Dogs gotta bark, fish gotta swim

Santa brought my kids a new puppy and two fish. It’s crazy – a puppy and fish in a three-kid household that’s already a tad chaotic? Has Santa lost his ever-lovin’ mind?

No, Santa is no idiot. He wisely chose an electronic dancing dog and battery-operated fish. When the Christmas toys were unwrapped and assembled – a process that took roughly four hours, thanks to today’s titanium reinforced packaging – both the fish and the dancing dog ended up in the kitchen. The kitchen seemed like the best spot because meals, snacks, homework and “Can I have a treat?” solicitations keep us in the kitchen most of the time.

The fish were a big hit with 2-year-old Kate whose favorite movie is “Finding Nemo.” The tiny swimmers look just like the orange clown fish and the blue tang fish that star in the movie – only these two don’t talk and their fishbowl is so small I can hold it in the palm of my hand. The bowl sits on a fake rock base with batteries, and, when we flip the switch under the rock, the little fish swim around in circles and bump noses (do fish have noses?) against the sides of the fish bowl.

The white puppy is called an iDog and he listens to our iPod or any other sounds in the room. He feeds on music, taps his paw to the beat, wiggles his plastic ears, and his flat-panel face has lights that move to the music. Now and then, he gets so excited that he rises up on his hind feet and does a little dance to show his approval of the song. (This dog loves KC and the Sunshine Band. Go figure.)

I made the mistake of reading the instructions that came with the iDog, and I learned about his “moods.” When I don’t give him a scratch or rub his nose or feed him enough music, he gets “bored” then “sad” and then “sick.” I know he’s bored, sad or sick because the light pattern on his face tells me. Oh, and when he’s not getting enough attention, he barks at me from across the kitchen.

The problem with our new electronic pets is that the kids aren’t taking care of them the way I planned. It’s been a few weeks since Christmas and I guess the shine and novelty has worn off a little. The fish don’t swim unless I remember to flip the switch and refill their fishbowl when the water level gets low. Nothing sadder than two plastic fish lying dead at the bottom of a fake fishbowl.

And that needy little dog just won’t quit begging for more music. If I turn off the music or forget to pet or scratch him, he barks and whines and stomps his foot. It’s ridiculous. I should just turn him off, pop out his batteries and forget about it. But I can’t. I find myself mothering a plastic puppy, making an extra stop in the kitchen to cue up another song or rub his nose so he won’t get sad or sick. When I pet him and play him some Motown favorites, he really seems to love it and I feel like I’ve taken care of him. It’s nuts, I know. I should have bought the kids a Christmas cactus and been done with it.

At least the electronic puppy is a halfway decent guard dog. Yesterday I heard him whining so I came downstairs to quiet him down. When I rounded the corner into the kitchen, I found 2-year-old Kate sitting silently in the middle of the floor, surrounded by the scattered contents of a full bag of shredded cheese. She had apparently pushed a dining room chair up to the refrigerator, fetched the bag out of the deli drawer, unzipped the pouch and attempted to pour a mountain of cheese into her favorite Dora the Explorer bowl. But she missed the bowl and the cheese went everywhere. It looked like a taco stand had exploded. The dog heard the whole thing.

But there’s a bright side. Sure, I have a few more chores to do taking care of the electric fish and puppy, but at least I have an extra pair of ears listening for refrigerator intruders scavenging for cheese. And I now know all the lyrics to “Boogie Shoes.” Things could be worse.

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