I was lying on my couch watching

The Darjeeling Limited

, a movie whose virtues include only the extensive use of the color yellow, when London padded in in a padded Hulk costume. His face was as long as his hair, which brushed the top of his green shoulder pads. I paused the film.

"What's wrong, Hulk? Thor got you down?" I asked, referring to a particularly confusing and homoerotic film he had watched called

Return of the Hulk

. It starred Bill Bixby as Dr. Banner, Lou Ferrigno as the gamma-ray-infested monster and some beer swilling, leather-pants-wearing Fabio look-alike as Thor.

"Dad, it's not funny."

"What is it, then?"

"Well, I want to play with Poppy and be a pet but she says that her doll doesn't have any pets and I told her that I could be a talking pet but she said that there were no pets in her game at all; even if I wasn't her pet, I couldn't be a pet. Get it?"

"Um, sure."

His eyes drooped and tears crawled down his little unpainted face. Sigh. "It's so hard when you want to be a pet."

London's pain was in a legitimate category for a heartbroken younger brother but I couldn't help but think that his line would have made a great opening for a ballad. Sort of a cross between Iggy Pop's gyrational "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and the hip-hop-infused, Academy Award-winning "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from the film

Hustle and Flow

. Wouldn't it be great if, like the long ago cancelled TV show

Cop Rock

, London and I could burst into song, wiping away any trace of sadness in that heart buried under foam and green fabric and allowing me to escape the mundane negotiations I was about to begin with his older sister?

Sadly, we don't live on the big screen or on the small screen so I took London by the hand and walked to Poppy's room, which surprisingly looked like a television studio for creatures the size of a bottle of Pepsi. Mini-chairs and couches faced each other with tiny afghans and ottomans in the spaces between.

"Poppy," I said calmly, "London really wants to play with you."

Her words came out like bullets from a Gatling gun:

"I know he does Dad and I told him he could but in this game there are no pets. I'm sorry. He always wants his people to be Pokemon or superheroes or talking pets and sometimes we play games that have talking pets but today I started the game and those are the rules if he wants to join." She shrugged and went back to braiding miniscule strands of hair.

"I don't have a boy doll that I like," London said, "and I really want to be a pet, Dad. Is that so wrong?"

"Is that so wrong?" I repeated to Poppy, trying not to hum a little tune behind such a catchy question.

"I know you just want me to give in, but is that a good example? Do you want him to grow up and think that the world will just do what he wants all the time? I'm sorry but I just don't think that's a good idea."

Even though she sounded a bit too much like Janet Reno, Poppy had a point. We often do ask her to give in because London is only 6 years old and we hate to see superheroes weep. On the other hand, there's something sweet about a boy with padded biceps dying to play with his older sister. If this was a musical, I thought, I could step away from the dispute (now frozen) and into the spotlight and belt out "What's a Dad to Do?" a heartbreaking anthem about the conundrums faced by fathers in this most thoroughly modern age.

Now, wouldn't that be loverly?

Robert Wilder's newest book is

Tales from the Teachers' Lounge.

© Copyright 2008 Rob Wilder