They are like miniature paparazzi, hiding in doorways and lurking in shadows, then springing out at me when I least expect it. Especially when I watch TV.
"What're you watching, Dad?" they ask, landing on the couch with their pointy little knees.
I have not watched TV alone in 15 years. Every time I turn it on, one of these miniature paparazzi pops out of nowhere.
"Yeah, Dad, what're you watching?" another one asks.
"The Oscars," I say. "Nothing you'd like."
"Cool," they say, settling back on the couch with their pointy little elbows.
On the screen, some guy in a tux is previewing the Oscars and showing highlights from last year. According to him, the show is less than a week away, and the excitement is building.
One by one, the year's biggest stars appear. Their faces flash on the TV, with their perpetual tans and pouty Drew Barrymore mouths. Often, little curls fall in their faces. Men. Women. Doesn't matter. Little curls are always falling in their faces.
"I love the Oscars," says the boy.
"Me too," says his big sister.
"Can we go, Dad?" the little red-haired girl asks.
"Of course," I say.
Every year, the kids watch the Oscars. Every year, they watch the actors file into the ceremonies, the beautiful young women accompanied by much older men--probably their grandpas but maybe their dads--parading past thousands of fans as the cameras flash.
The little red-haired girl thinks it's great that a young actress would take her grandpa to the Academy Awards. If she goes, she'll take her grandpa, too.
"Those aren't their grandpas," my lovely and patient older daughter explains.
"Those are their husbands," she says, emphasizing the word "husbands," as if it were something naughty.
This is exactly what the kids like about the Oscars. The funny couples. The strange traditions. To them, the Oscars are almost like Christmas, a special time of year full of unusual customs, a time when people overdress and over-smile, pretending to like everybody they see.
"Look at that dress," my older daughter says, pointing to a young actress at last year's ceremony.
For five minutes, they talk about "that dress." Like a lot of Oscar dresses, part of it appears to be missing, particularly in the front, where a dress is often most crucial.
"Nice dress," says the boy.
"That's not a dress," his older sister says. "That's a doily."
Sure enough, the dress appears to be made of doilies, a few lacy pieces stitched together with kite string, a Valentine's decoration gone horribly wrong.
"Better cover your eyes," I tell the boy.
"Sure, Dad," he says with a smile.
This is our little joke, this cover-your-eyes stuff. The boy and I got in trouble recently over "Titanic," after I gallantly threw my arm across his face to protect him from gratuitous nudity.
"I want you to paint me, Jack," said the woman on the screen, "like one of your French girls."
At which point, I flung my arm across his face, sending popcorn and Sno Caps flying everywhere and successfully blocking out the gratuitous nudity.
"What are you doing?" the boy asked.
"Protecting you from nudity," I said.
"Gee, thanks," he said.
The boy sat there for about a minute with my arm across his eyes and nose, calmly munching Milk Duds. Only once did he attempt to duck my arm and catch a fleeting glimpse of nudity. I think he saw a thigh. Nothing more.
"Oh, that's healthy," my wife scolded me later.
"She was naked," I said, emphasizing the word "naked," as if it were something naughty.
We used to rely on the honor system. When I took him to movies like this, I would tell him to close his eyes. But I soon discovered that the honor system required far too much honor.
"Are you peeking?" I'd ask.
"No," he'd say, his little eyelids flickering.
So I'd wave a hand in his eyes and he'd flinch, which led to my current tactic of throwing my arm across his face. So far, the technique has been foolproof. Except for the fools involved.
"He's 12," my wife says. "He's got to grow up sometime."
"The sooner the better," she says.
"I'll mark it on my calendar," I say. "Next week, the boy grows up."
"Good," my wife says. "And you?"
I think about this a moment. Growing up is quite a commitment. Often, there is no turning back.
"Let's see how he does first," I say.