This Side Up

When you‘re home, there’s no reason for nightmares


I lucked out, although Ted and Erica didn’t see it that way.

“You’re sure? I mean, we can always get a sitter,” Ted said.

I assured him I was perfectly capable of sitting for the twins for the evening and it made no difference how late they stayed out.

There was a pause at his end of the line as he relayed the message to Erica. It would need her approval and I could hear them talking. He was back again.

“We’ve got a movie the girls haven’t seen. You can watch it with them.”

I imagined the three of us staring at some animated film with a lame plot and unrealistic characters. But then I’m not one to complain. I don’t see many movies, so there was a good chance I hadn’t seen it and, besides that, the fun would be watching the girls’ reactions.

“You’ve seen it, Dad. Remember ‘ET?’”

There was no way of forgetting the extraterrestrial that found his way into the hearts of so many when the movie was released in 1982. I found myself wondering if ET would be as endearing to a pair of 6-year-olds in 2012.

With fascination, I’ve watched as Alex and Sydney become totally enamored with Uglydolls. Yes, for those not up to speed on the “must have” toys of today, at least for my granddaughters, there’s Uglydolls.

I checked them out online. I found out they started off as a long distance letter between their creators and their view that ugly really means unique and different, and celebrates that “who you are inside and out is the new beautiful.” With a message like that, they can't be bad. But they are ugly.

The dolls come in a variety of sizes. They resemble amoebas – or blobs – with multiple limbs and smiley faces and sometimes with three eyes. They are stuffed, but not like the lovable elephants the twins couldn’t be separated from for years. The Uglydolls are flat and could substitute for a stove mitt if you were desperate.

As I’ve learned, Uglydolls have names and, given the roles the girls find for them, distinct personalities. Using the mini cam Ted affixes to his helmet while windsurfing, he and the girls have produced a few Uglydoll videos. Watch out Steven Spielberg.

With Uglydolls so important to them, I thought for certain “ET” would be a hit.

My first surprise was the greeting received on my arrival.

Usually Erica is urging them “Give Peppy a hug” or exclaiming, like I suddenly appeared from some transporter, “Look who’s here.”

This time they were beside my car before I had a chance to get out. They knew what was in store and they couldn’t wait for their parents to leave. They gave me the rundown on when and what we would be having for dinner and in the living room, they showed me the remote and what to push to start the show.

Erica appeared, looking spectacular for their night out, but she had a list. It would be OK for the girls to stay up beyond 8:30. Dinner was in the microwave and all I had to do was push a button. I assured her I had her cell phone number and would call with any problems.

I was beginning to feel like a real babysitter, not a grandfather. But there was no pointing out that my kids were once 6-year-olds. Ted appeared. He had qualms with “ET.” He remembered having nightmares after seeing the movie as a boy. Was this a bad idea?

Ted’s apprehension galvanized the twins’ resolve to see the movie.

“We won’t be scared,” they chimed.

No sooner had Ted and Erica left, the girls were ready for dinner. They wanted to start the evening so we could get to the movie as soon as possible. They took command and instructed me on what to do. Grandfathers do what they are told so that things run smoothly.

Then we got to “ET.”

The opening night scene, with flickering lights and suspenseful music, was the first test.

The three of us were enveloped in the soft couch cushions with the girls on either side of me. They were wide eyed and clutching their Uglydolls.

As for me, I was struck by how dated everything looked, from the cars to the clunky computers and a spaceship out of the cartoon pages. The girls didn’t seem to notice. I thought for certain they would comment on how the kids were keeping ET a secret from their mother and authorities but they remained quiet.

Then came the near-death scene, where ET is found in the streambed, his body a bleached white. I looked at the girls. They peeked at the screen from behind pillows.

“Are you scared?”

“Is ET going to be alright?” Sydney wanted to know. Alex announced she wasn’t scared.

They remained silent, even during the final minutes when ET comes back to life and the kids on their bikes evade speeding police cars to reunite ET with his ride home.

We talked a bit about the movie when it was over, what part they liked best and that sort of thing. To my surprise, they both said they were ready for bed. They headed for the bathroom to brush their teeth. I didn’t need Erica’s list. They scrambled into their beds with their collection of Uglydolls.

Sydney took a quick inventory. She was missing one. It had to be on the couch downstairs. I left to check and soon returned.

“Phone home,” I said holding it up.

The twins laughed. This wouldn’t be a night for nightmares.


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