02 September 2015

GenCon with Geeklets, Part 3 (Big Kids)

This is part 3 in a series of posts about navigating GenCon with geek kids. Part 1 (General Advice) is here. Part 2 (infants and toddlers) is here.

Big Kid Badges:

Two years ago Girl Scouts of Central Indiana were still hosting events at GenCon, and registration came with a 4-day badge, so Cups was upgraded for cheap. Last year and this year there were no Girl Scout events, so we had to decide whether to spring for a badge for her or not. Kids over 8 must have a badge per GenCon policy. Cups (age 8) did enough this year that we got a badge's worth of entertainment out of her. Your child's mileage may vary.

Without a full badge, kids aren't supposed to be able to participate in non-KID tagged events, so if your Big Kid is planning to play Big Games you'll want to consider it. However, there is no discount so you're looking at $80 for a 4-day badge or $45 for a single day on preregistration. If you want to just try it out, then I'd recommend a Family Fun Day package, which is $35 total for up to 4 single-day Sunday badges. This is also a good option for groups who aren't wanting to commit to the full GenCon experience. That said, not everyone is a stickler on official badges for kids -- but the registration system is, so somebody needs a badge to preregister for events and I'd recommend playing it by the rules.


Games for kids are easier to find than games for littles; I find that gamer kids tend to function a category higher than what's printed on the box. Demos are really important here, in order to get a handle on whether the rules complexity is right for your kid or not, and in the 6-8 range your kid is generally old enough to sit for demos themselves. Encourage your Big Kid to interact with dealers, ask questions, and assess the games they're playing. Set some ground rules before you go into the dealer's hall or demo rooms -- some games may be in the demo/beta stage (and you can't fund everything that looks cool on Kickstarter) while others may fall into the "we can't buy every game in the con" rule. Our kids work on a budget system (it's educational and entertaining to watch them try to math) but whatever works for your family, just set expectations in advance

Cups pitches a new Skylander

Depending on your Big Kid's interests (we have a comic book nerd), you may find some things to their liking in Artists' Alley as well. If your Big Kid has a particular comic or collection they enjoy, it's worth checking to see if someone related to that is going to be exhibiting. There's one important thing to know about Artists' Alley: unlike the rest of the vendor hall, it works on a centralized cash register system. If you are making a purchase from one of the artists exhibiting, you'll get a billing slip from them that you take to the central kiosk. You wait in line there to pay your total, then take the stamped slip back to the artist and get your goods. Sometimes the lines are long, so keep this in mind and if you're moving fast or very tired you may want to plan to come back later.

Keep in mind that Artists' Alley hosts all kinds of art, so you may find yourself needing to explain some of the finer points of anatomy to your Big Kid (in our case, it was why someone had put sticker pasties on the display). Come prepared. In fact, you should probably come prepared to deal with questions and commentary in general if you are bringing your Big Kid to a con; cosplayers are a diverse lot. Also bear in mind that anything you say may very well be repeated to a complete stranger at full volume ("My mom says I'm not old enough to wear just underpants in public"), so practice your good manners.

Pathfinder Kids Track

Pathfinder hosts a Kids Track event with both beginner (no experience needed) and advanced (some previous Pathfinder experience) tracks, and kids who participate will get a set of dice and some other freebies, as well as taking part in a Real Pathfinder adventure. Kids who complete four games will get some Pathfinder swag, and a boon that carries over in case of joining the Pathfinder Society in the future. It's a good time, and the GM's are excellent. You'll want to plan on being in the room but not over your Big Kid's shoulders; well-meaning gaming parents can ruin everyone's fun. Games are scheduled with a muster about 5 minutes before the scheduled time; ticketed kids get priority but we had no trouble getting in on generics alone. They're supposed to run about 90 minutes-2 hours but as with any gaming session the dice may make this time longer or shorter.

Pokemon XY Pre-Release Event

Pokemon and My Little Pony TCG's run demos and tournaments which can range from free to very pricey but may come with cool swag like promo cards or pre-release decks, if your Big Kid is a collector. Magic: the Gathering takes up half a hall and runs events throughout the con. You'll want to brush up on the different types of tournaments if you aren't a player in order to gauge what your Big Kid is ready for and how much time you should expect to spend. Be aware that some games will simply wait for enough players to show up, resulting in a lot of wasted time (we waited an hour for a tournament to start -- after 30 minutes we were given the option to "come back later" and hope that enough folks were there) and bored kids, while others will give a "bye" in order to start playing sooner. You'll have to ask what a particular group's policy is on a case basis.

GenCon has started doing a button collection event that your Big Kid may find interesting: scattered throughout the convention center are nine stations where GenCon volunteers distribute souvenir buttons to kids. The Family Fun Guide has a description of all the buttons and a map showing where to find them. Buttons are restricted to children for part of the day and they have a lot, but we've seen them run out on Sundays as families flood the convention (cheap tickets are the way to go), so if your Big Kid enjoys buttons grab a map and start hunting.


Cardhalla may be another location to entertain your Big Kid. It's usually located near the Georgia Street exit; just look for the towers of cards. Essentially, instead of tossing extra common cards out, gamers will bring them and donate to a massive community card-house-building effort. Anyone is welcome to help with the building, so your Big Kid can test out their skills on a little tower or polish them on a big one.

Amazing Feats!

This year we picked up tickets to Acrobatica Infiniti, whom I can only hope will return in future years. This one-hour cirque is a family-friendly (but still geek targeted) event with amazing performers doing Feats of Incredible Skill. Be prepared for some risque comments and references your Big Kid may not get (at least ours has not yet read Game of Thrones), but the show itself was well worth attending.

It's worth a shoutout here to the SPA activities -- SPA stands for Spouse Activities, which stands for an eclectic collection of tours, crafting, and creativity -- and also to the Writer's Symposium, which does host some kid-targeted writing workshops which were really fun. We're fairly new to the Big Kid - GenCon territory, but Cups was really thrilled to be able to schedule her own events, especially when it involved getting to play Pathfinder and acquiring new Pokemon cards that her friends wouldn't have. Sitting down with the event catalog and letting your Big Kid explore their interests is a great chance to spend some quality time getting to know things you might not have otherwise discovered.

That's what we've got. Hopefully it's helpful. If you've got suggestions, comments, or things the Geek This kids need to check out, please let us know!








GenCon with Geeklets, Part 2 (Infants and Toddlers)

This is part 2 in a series of posts about navigating GenCon with geek kids. Part 1 (General Advice) is here.

Infants and Toddlers:

Big stroller. Tiny baby. Stark casual.

Practically speaking, small babies are pretty easy to manage in a con environment. You should plan to bring child-wearing gear, or the smallest stroller that you can manage. If you intend to take a stroller into the dealer's hall then please be aware of the footprint -- our jogging stroller is pretty substantial and we definitely found parking it on the edges of booths for browsing purposes problematic at times. Bigger booths with internal space were much less trouble. People are overall very aware of their space and we didn't really run into trouble with tripping or collisions. People are also very polite and did not give us mean looks or snide comments to our faces, and in return we tried to be as polite and careful as we could be.

Toddlers are a full-time job, and you should probably plan to have someone who can devote their attention full-time to child monitoring at all times. You would not believe how quickly a toddler can get lost in a crowded dealer's hall, when you just stopped for a moment to look at that game demo. For your toddler, you will still want to bring a stroller (again, small footprint please) or your child-wearing gear of choice, because you will be doing a lot of carrying. The convention hall is big. Really big. You are going to wish you had a grownup to carry you sometimes.

Really really busy.

The convention is busy. It is loud. It is full of sudden colors and intense stimuli. Your primary responsibility is going to have to be to your littles -- be aware of their responses to their environment, especially in the dealer's hall, and be prepared to get out if need be. Pax had no trouble with the noise and chaos of the dealer hall, but Cap'n's first trip was a little more stressful. He got overwhelmed at times and was just at the starting-to-walk phase so he wanted to be down and exploring frequently. We spent quite a bit of time that year at the Family Fun pavilion, which is located at the back of the 100 section of the dealer hall, and the surrounding booths and demos.

The kids waited in line just for this stuff.


I'm on my third child and by this point I frankly don't give a hoot about whether people's sensibilities are offended by breastfeeeding in public, but not everyone (or their babies) is at that place. This year Family Fun introduced a crawlers space and a private nursing area, which had two chairs with arms and was a real blessing; additionally one of the convention hall women's bathrooms apparently had their powder room space set up for private nursing space (I never found it but I was told it was quite nice). It's a pretty substantial walk to the back of the dealer's hall (pro tip: they usually have an open entrance along the Capitol Ave hallway that's less crowded and a LOT closer to the Family Fun pavilion) and I'm lazy, so I also took an inflatable My Brest Friend nursing pillow (I saw a lot of travel Boppy pillows too) and a cover and just grabbed whatever space was available in hotel lobbies or the chairs along the concourse to feed Pax. Nobody gave me any trouble, and I had some great conversations as well.

Also Donuts.

For older infants: Bring baby food or a grinder if you are going to need them -- there is a pretty limited store selection in the near vicinity, and the food trucks do not cater to the bland and mushy palate. If you need a fridge in your hotel room, ask the hotel in advance. Frequently these are provided, but we have had years where there were no fridges or a waiting list 1-2 days long for fridges. If it's extremely important (breast milk supplies, special dietary needs) then you may consider bringing your own cooler for emergencies.

This is covered in more detail in the General Advice post, but if the food trucks are not an option for your toddler, there are some bistro-style cafes in the convention center and Circle Center does have a food court. Most of the restaurants near the convention center also provide a kids' menu, so your picky eater will have eating options. However, lines are long in the surrounding few blocks so you will need to plan your restaurant ahead. Pack snacks.

Baby-Specific Needs:

We have yet to find a bathroom -- men's or women's -- in the Indianapolis Convention Center that has a changing table. Be aware. The surrounding hotels do have some changing tables, including in the men's rooms, but not all hotels and not all bathrooms are so equipped. Bring a changing pad and be ready to do diapers in a down and dirty fashion.

For emergency supply needs you may be able to get some things from your hotel's front desk, but if not then the closest pharmacy is the CVS on Ohio Street, approximately 3/4 of a mile walk away. They carry a sufficient selection of baby and nursing supplies and the staff are very nice. It's not a 24 hour store so check the hours before you go late at night. Circle Center Mall has children's clothing but is pretty upscale so does not carry basic necessities that I'm aware of.

Family Fun Noodle Fight


If you do cosplay, we cannot recommend Baby Yoda highly enough. We've done several variants on this costume (this year Etsy provided a crocheted Yoda hat) and it's quick, easy, extremely recognizable, and eminently washable. Also for older babies Luke Skywalker's Dagobah outfit is basically a beat-up white tank top and some cargo pants, and you can carry Baby Yoda in a backpack to complete the set.

Cosplay Baby!

If you're a little craftier, I took some pre-con time with my embroidery machine (you could economize and buy patches too) and did some baby costumes based off of a Simplicity baby dress pattern. They were a huge hit and Pax got a lot of compliments. Everyone loves a geek baby.

As far as doing activities, we had good luck with the CCG hall and game demos; parking the stroller next to the game space was no problem for larger booths or playspaces like Iello's demo room. Over-18 and over-21 activities generally will not permit even infants in, which I find to be a point of respect for the other attendees and we did not try to take Pax to see the Glitter Guild. Concerts are often pretty tightly seated but you can put a stroller in the back of the room and sit with it there or lap-sit your baby; we have taken the littles to see Marc Gunn play in previous years (I recommend the Cat Lovers show) and that's gone well when they're not overtired.

As far as playing in scheduled games, most convention games are on a time-restricted schedule and often players are booked back to back. If your baby is going to require attention and take your focus away from the game (hint: most babies will not reliably schedule a two-hour nap during your game slot) then you should have someone who can care for them during the game. If you don't have someone, then ask your GM in advance (if possible) how they feel about having the distraction. Then ask the other players. Be prepared to bow out if your child is going to negatively impact others' con gaming experience. As a GM, I've seen distracted players sometimes pull down the whole run, while other groups are able to work around them much more flexibly. Playing with strangers is an adventure in itself.

Strollers are not welcome in True Dungeon, nor would I recommend trying to bring a carried infant into the space. It's dark, it's loud, things move around and there are lots of surprises. Signing a waiver is probably your cue that this is not a baby-friendly activity, if you make it that far. Get a baby-watcher and have yourself some adult fun, if True Dungeon is your thing.

...next up: Part Three: Big Kid Activities...











09 August 2015

GenCon with Geeklets, Part 1 (General Advice)

We have a history of taking our infant children on trips that may appear ill-advised at first blush, starting with Cups and the expedition to Chichen Itza and Cancun at six weeks of age. In keeping with that grand tradition, Pax made her first convention appearance at GenCon 2015 when she was just a week old.

I don't recommend doing this, but with a laid-back baby and a quick delivery recovery it went better than we had planned for. We'd booked no events for me at all, anticipating Pax and I would have to spend our time in the hotel room or hunting for safe feeding spaces; with family and friends assistance I managed a True Dungeon run, a concert, and some game demos in addition to haunting the vendor hall and wrangling kids.

We started taking kids to GenCon when Cups was three years old, and she'll be turning nine before the next con. The Cap'n came for the first time at about nine months old. This was also the first year that we've dared to bring all of the kids for all four days (we checked in Wednesday night and checked out Sunday) due to an abundance of caution and consequent school schedules. We learned a lot, and we confirmed some suspicions that we've had before. Cups is now old enough to independently participate in GenCon, and required her own badge this year; next year she'll be officially over the threshold for the kid registration but this year was her emotional and social transition.

So this is an extremely long and multi-part post about doing GenCon with young kids -- 8 and under -- based on the last six years worth of experience. Our kids run the gamut from gregarious extrovert to highly functional introvert to extremely chill baby, so your mileage may vary with regard to fatigue levels and meal options. Also, we're interested in everything (we call it professionally curious) and so our experience is often a high-velocity, high-intensity mix of gaming, geeking out, and cosplay. Not everyone enjoys everything.

General Advice:

GenCon allows you to pre-register your children and I highly recommend it. For free, you'll get a sturdy plastic armband that has your kid's name, your name, and your phone number on it. It's the venue kind that snaps on and can only be removed with scissors. Your kid will also have a badge number, which means they (or you for them) can register for KID tagged events, participate in some demos that track badge information, and when they get found someone can call you.

Book a hotel closely connected to the convention center (JW Marriott, Marriott, Westin, Hyatt, Crowne Plaza) if your budget allows it. It's going to be expensive. You are going to get your money's worth the first time you take your overstimulated overtired kiddo back to the room for quiet time and naps, without waiting for a shuttle. And you will need to take your overstimulated overtired kiddo back to the room, or you may find yourself shouting. In public. Tears will ensue. You may need to take your overstimulated overtired self back to the room for naps as well. Conventions with kids are exhausting.

Work in pairs or groups. If you can connect with another family with kids and share duties, all the better, but at this age someone will need to be with the kids all the time, so don't plan to do adult activities unless you have someone willing to sit out and kid-watch. Same thing with playing RPG's (tabletop games are sometimes more forgiving) -- if you can take turns and not schedule yourselves for the same time slots, then you'll get more out of the con and there will be fewer opportunities for tears. If you are in a mixed marriage with a non-gaming spouse then bully for you. Your spouse may find one of the more than 250 spouse activities appealing, so again schedule accordingly. We are blessed to be part of a multi-family gaming group, and even our childfree friends are child-friendly, so sharing duties makes it possible for everyone to have fun. If you are alone at the con with kids, make friends. Use the sitting services. Carve out time for yourself.

Once our kids hit about 2 years old, they start to be more interested in the convention itself, particularly in the social aspects. There's a lot to do and a lot to see, and it can definitely be overwhelming for the toddler and preschool demographic. Our 3-6 year olds have previously come just on weekends and evenings, and we've found that about two days of full-blown Con Time are about the most they can handle. After that, the whining increases and the fun quotient decreases.

We have several sets of grandparents whom we have frequently taken advantage of, and they will take the kids to offsite activities such as the Indianapolis Zoo, Whitewater State Park, or the Indiana State Museum -- all of which are in downtown Indy (the Zoo is a bit of a hike) -- the Children's Museum (3-4 miles north), or even to the mall (connected via skyway) for some decompression time. If you can build this into your schedule you may be able to extend the con time, but there is so much going on that it's hard for the littles to process four whole days. Your littles may vary.

World's hungriest baby.


Feeding littles: This is sometimes challenging. Despite our best efforts, the Cap'n considers anything other than box-to-plate macaroni and cheese, quesadillas, and chicken nuggets to be "not food" of the type that mysteriously populates his plate at home and which he will only eat under duress. Cups is only slightly more adventurous. The food trucks do not typically serve anything that could be found in a box.

If your kid is okay with their macaroni coming with real melted cheese, or their quesadillas with chicken, or with eating real food then I would recommend the food trucks as a great place to find food adventures. If your little is picky, then there is a food court in Circle Center Mall, hot dogs and pizza at the cafe under the escalators, nachos and hot dogs at the food stands in the game and dealer halls, or chicken tenders and burgers at the mini-food courts by Georgia Street and Hall B. Be aware that the convention hall food courts close early and often, as well as charging convention hall prices for convention hall food quality (the brats are not bad at $4 a pop).

Serious cupcakes

Cupcakes from the food trucks should be obtained on a 2 kids per cupcake basis because they are huge. Seriously huge. Also, ice cream served in a donut is surprisingly tasty. Do not forget dessert. If you are a beer drinker, Sun King will sell you beer that you can then carry around the food truck area, but you can't take it outside the fenced-off section of the trucks. Do not feed this to your littles, obviously, and they can't go into the beer garden proper, but one person can buy multiple beers, so here is another place where friends can help.

DO NOT forget to eat at regular intervals. Hungry gamers are grumpy gamers, and low blood sugar makes everything worse. More importantly, hungry littles are terrible tiny animals that will quickly evolve into kaiju and destroy your entire experience. Breakfast is extremely important when you are going into the con, and your hotel will serve a very nice and potentially extremely pricey version of this to you and your children. If you do not have free breakfast provided, the costs will add up quickly (our family of four has historically rung up at about $60 for breakfast at the hotel). We've found that it's more frugal and quite satisfying to have breakfast in the room. Pop-tarts, granola bars, single-serve cereal boxes with milk (you can buy UHT treated individual milk containers that do not require refrigeration), and juice boxes can be obtained for less than $60, and will last the whole con.

Snacks are similarly something that you will want to have on hand -- nothing in the convention center is quick or cheap, and our littles frequently conflate boredom and hunger. Nobody has given us any trouble for munching on granola bars, trail mix, or goldfish, but if your little throws food there may be consequences. Again, if you have perishables or special needs on your list, you may or may not have a fridge in your hotel room. Some years there is a waiting list for refrigerators. You should check with your hotel first if you are going to need one.


You're going to spend a lot of time at the Family Fun Pavilion in this age group -- our kids' favorite activities in the 3-6 year range are the Family Fun Pavilion, the babysitting services, and asking cosplayers about their costumes. Do not despair: there are activities for your child that do not involve you sitting on a chair making awkward conversation with other parents. We'll get to those in a moment.

Family Fun

If you need a babysitting service, that's been provided historically by Sitters to the Rescue, which is an Indianapolis based group who take over a room and provide childcare to the con. They charge about $12 an hour per child and have previously had a 3 hour minimum, but our experience with them, both at GenCon and at other conventions where they have provided childcare, has been stellar. There are appropriate staffing levels (licensed and bonded, background checks, etc), craft and art supplies provided, toys for the littles, and they make an effort to know the children they're caring for. It's not cheap but it's quality. As far as I know they will take any age child.

Family Fun, however, is not a babysitting service. Someone responsible (over 16) will need to be with the kids there (They will check. They will call you to come get your kid, if you leave them. This is their legal responsibility). It is, however, a combination craft space, game space, and place to blow off steam. There's a big table full of games the kids can play (most of them have all their pieces) and tables to play them on. There are crayons and coloring projects and art supplies. There is usually a table doing plaster masks or crafts (they have aprons even!) and then there's an active space. This year there was a castle made of boxes with hidden passages, some cardboard knights' armor, and the off and on appearance of pool noodle swords. On the weekends, there's face painting ($5-$20).

Our kids think this is some kind of child paradise. This year Cups has finally started to grow out of it but prior to that the only appeal they found in the dealer's hall was the Family Fun space and its environs. Fortunately, there are some kids activities scheduled in the general vicinity.

Captain Pete and his crew do a daily kids event at 11 AM - it's one generic ticket or $2 to pre-register, and we've never been turned away. Basically there's a themed adventure game involving getting dressed up in costume and doing some kind of turn-based kid activity. Frequently this involves playing with plastic figures, then setting up a diorama and throwing balls at said plastic figures. It's sort of organized chaos and it's been going on for years, so they're good at what they do. Prizes are often given out.

There are several other events by the same crew, as well as some other kids' games in the area. Take a look at the catalog. Lots of them take just a few generics. Hero Kids had several games scheduled, and the Monte Cook crew were running demos of No Thank You, Evil! at their booth, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

KID category events do not require an official badge for participation, so you can browse the catalog by category. This section also includes preregistration for the babysitting services -- theoretically there is a quantity limit so preregistering may be a good idea if you know you're going to require a sitter.

There are usually some creative activities that kids can participate in -- in the past there's been a group making boffer swords (I didn't see them this year); there were some make-your-own pony tails or wizard wand workshops offered this year. As mentioned above, plaster crafts are usually going on a rotating basis within the pavilion itself and provide a good intermittent activity (you have to wait for them to dry before painting).

Walking the dealer's hall with young kids can be daunting. You may not get to demo All The Games that you want to look at; I'd recommend keeping a to-do list and adding booth numbers/names so you can come back on your own at a later point in the con to demo or ask questions at your leisure. Consider getting the Cheese Weasel ConQuest cards and asking your littles to help you find particular booths -- the Cheese Weasel booth is usually located outside the dealer's hall and they'll be happy to give you a set of cards with sponsor booths on them. Find all the booths and return the cards to be entered in a drawing for some great stuff, or don't worry about returning the cards and just use them to keep the littles motivated. (Note: New this year is an app for Android that mirrors the cards, if you are a smartphone kind of geek).

A surprising number of vendors have kid-friendly games and will demo to your littles' level. Many of these vendors cluster near the Family Fun Pavilion, but so do some of the Edutainment games (pro tip: kids can always tell when you're trying to teach them something) and the more mainstream game vendors. Don't hesitate to ask about demos at any booth, but especially the ones that have bright colored boxes. Don't be afraid to try things out. You are the only person who can accurately judge your kid's game-readiness.

Life Sized!

Calliope Games, Iello, and Mayfair have historically offered games that were able to be played with our kids. Sometimes your littles will want to play a game that is above their level (Cap'n really likes to do this). It's possible with many board games to give your little their own pieces and then just ignore them for scoring purposes, while letting them flagrantly reinterpret the rules. We've had a great experience with other con-goers being willing to cut the littles slack in the demos as well. Iello's demo room (outside the dealer hall) was especially good about helping us find age-appropriate games.

Mayfair usually has some Really Big games outside the dealer's hall, and Iello had a "life-sized" King of Tokyo game. Try and get in on one of these if you are able; the sheer scale of the pieces makes it a lot of fun but it is a ticketed event. I'd recommend getting a ticket for you and letting the little play your team rather than to try to ticket them individually; this will cut down on frustration for other players if your little gets bored/wants to cheat/the novelty wears off.

Cosplay and Costuming:

From a cosplay standpoint, kids love to dress up and our kids find cosplay to be an important part of con-going (we have to specifically tell them if we are going to a game-focused con so they have their cosplay expectations set lower). Simple costumes of the Hallowe'en clearance variety may give your little everything they want and more; the thrill of dressing up is often sufficient as its own reward. If your Big Kid wants to do more or you can't find the costumes you want then remember to keep it simple. The costumes I make for the kids are machine washable, have reinforced seams, and can go on and off in five minutes or less. There should be no wigs for littles -- if you want colored hair, buy spray-on temporary color. Our Big Kid wore a wig for Leia this year and there was a lot of "Mom this itches" going on, so plan accordingly.

Princess Leia and Dazzler

Props and accessories MUST have a place to hang or fasten on to the costume -- learn from our experience carrying Captain America's shield through multiple cons. Face paint is a lot of fun but will wear off onto everything in this age group so I tend to avoid it or use tattoo glitter (the kind that goes on with glue and requires alcohol to remove) to decorate faces. I'm all about durability.

Our reception within the cosplay community has been fantastic. Don't be afraid to not know who someone is cosplaying as, and encourage your children to ask if they are curious. Some of the scarier costumed folks are super nice under the masks, and as a general rule of thumb cosplayers are passionate about the characters they're playing and will be happy to fill you and your kids in. Short simple answers will usually satisfy the curious little (my favorite was "I'm Bane. I'm a bad guy who fights Batman"), so don't worry about getting into inappropriate backstory. Cosplayers are pretty smart people; they're not in the habit of giving gory details to tiny onlookers.

Lining up for the Cosplay Parade.

Take pictures. Ask first; not only is it polite but you'll get a better shot. Your little is generally welcome in the picture and it's a real thrill for them sometimes. Please don't stand in the middle of the walkway and shoot -- it leads to congestion, bad pictures, and worse karma. Similarly please don't shoot in the middle of the vendor hall. Step to the side (most experienced cosplayers will do this automatically) so you don't clog the hallways. Also try not to stop folks if they're clearly heading somewhere in a hurry as cosplayers also game and go to events, and it's hard to choose between beinrude and being late.

Your littles and Big Kids will probably enjoy the costume parade (either participating or watching), although the under-5 crowd may do better watching than walking. It's on Saturday afternoon about 3, and parades through the entire first floor of the convention center. Kids can usually get priority seating at the front of the throng or on shoulders for watching. It's very exciting to see your heroes on parade and many of the cosplayers doing Disney or superhero costumes are happy to be recognized. We're specifically instructed NOT to stop for pictures during the parade, so be forewarned, but waving and high-5's are acceptable.

Next up: infants and toddler-specific pointers...




16 May 2015

Take a Letter

This morning, I was reading this article from Forbes. In it, Bartyzel, the author, talks about how Disney spent $15 billion in order to acquire Star Wars and Marvel, but then focused all their marketing on the young, male demographic. Basically, they took all the girls out of their merchandise, going so far as to make a toy based on a scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and replacing Black Widow with Captain America. We've run into this before looking for superhero fabrics and outfits for Cups our 8-year-old comic book geek girl, only to find the Avengers apparently only comprised of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. (To their credit, DC has been better about including Wonder Woman, which is likely why Cups has so much Wonder Woman stuff, even though I'm a huge Marvel nerd.)

I brought this article up with my spouse, and we commiserated at Disney/Marvel's lack of desire for a wider audience. (At least, in their toys. Marvel's stories, especially in the comics, has become incredibly diverse as of late, while their movies are moving in that direction.) Cups overheard us, and she became angry as well. My spouse suggested she write a letter to Disney about it, so off she goes to get paper and a pen to write her letter.

We have a 4-year-old as well. Cap'n was also around, and not to be out done by his big sister, he wanted to write a letter, too. He said he likes girl superheroes and wants more toys with them as well. I had to help him with the writing of the letter, but he told me what he wanted to say and signed it himself.

Their letters finished, Cups went off to search for envelopes and stamps, since she was fully intent on mailing the letter. (And we'll get to that, as soon as I find the right snail mail address for it to go to.)

Cap'n went off to play with the Rapunzel play dough set.

25 January 2015

Pregnant Cosplay

So we made a tactical error and it appears I'm going to be due on the first day of GenCon 2015. I blame GenCon for being almost 2 weeks earlier than usual, but it's not that far from home to the convention and the kids are going to be out of school and able to attend all four days, so we don't want to write the con off, so we're currently counting on the fact that my babies have to be forcibly evicted from my body rather than coming on schedule.

In other words, we booked a hotel room for GenCon today, muaha.

The problem is cosplay: I have a lot of neat ideas for cosplay costumes including having the kids team up with cosplay buddies for Magic Knights Rayearth, putting my spouse in blue spandex for a gender-swapped Mystique and Magneto (this one had great potential for nursing adaptations), the Incredibles (with modifications for the whole Spandex thing); and dressing the baby up as a small mongrel dog and going as Dorothy. But none of those are particularly amenable to a 40-week pregnant belly.

Enter the Internet. Exclude immediately any scene from Alien.

I've been doing some research, and since I'm not about to pick up an anime series just to find out about a pregnant character, we've narrowed the field to several choices: Amy and Rory from the Doctor Who episode "Amy's Choice" (very casual and requires only regular clothing); the Death Star (I have seen this done quite well and I'm sure the spouse could be some kind of pilot); or the current front runner: Padme and Anakin Skywalker, from Revenge of the Sith.

Did you know it's sort of tricky to find pregnant women in prominent roles in sci-fi and fantasy movies? They are mostly shown being stuffed into refrigerators dying in childbirth.

Padme, on the other hand, gets to negotiate an entire movie of being pregnant before she goes the refrigerator route, and her wardrobe ranges from the action-hero Mustafar "sleeveless" dress (leather cross-bracing around the breasts makes it probably a no-go for me, as Boobzilla does not need any highlighting) to the giant black velvet cape (not in August, not at GenCon) to the fantastic embroidered green velvet "at home" number (pretty, very pretty, and probably too complex to fit to my changing body). It also includes several simple drapey nightgowns, which I am eyeing right now and attempting to decide whether I want to modify the Veranda nightdress to include straps (this will involve some new stitching or embroidery techniques and about 10 yards of silk satin) or mock up the embroidery patterns along the edges of the aqua georgette.

I'm really eying the georgette because I think it's super pretty and I like the sleeves better. The spouse likes the idea of dressing in full Jedi leathers and acting moody, and if we're going to do a prequel cosplay then I suppose Revenge of the Sith is not the worst one to do.

The entertaining part of this was when Cups came in on the discussion. "Are we going to do Star Wars? Can I be Princess Leia?" Followed by Cap'n an hour later: "Can I be Luke Skywalker?"

Yes, kids. Yes, you can. As creepy as it is, that's totally appropriate for you to be.

I'm going to have to start working on this soon. I'd better make up my mind.


14 January 2015


"You're 12 weeks", reads the chipper little text next to the star designed to grab my attention. "Take a bumpie!"

I am twelve weeks pregnant and this is the eighth time I have gotten the same chirpy little suggestion. "Document your pregnancy!" "Show off your changing body!"

Here's the thing: I don't want to take a picture of my belly, which at a little over a hundred kilograms does not lend itself well to documenting the evolution of something roughly the size of a kumquat (have you ever seen a kumquat? Because all I know is that it's about the size of Tiny Gotham right now). It's not any different than it was twelve weeks ago, because all the changing and growing is taking place inside my pelvic girdle.

And I hate the way I look in pictures.

This isn't my first baby: I know from experience that empire waists make my specialty-shop bustline look even more awkward, that at 30 weeks I am going to be still fielding "but you're barely showing" while I hold my breath to put on my shoes, that the nausea and fatigue and terrible heartburn I am feeling now will fade, only to be replaced by nausea and even worse heartburn if I stray from a carefully constructed diet because I know, on my third round, that I will have gestational diabetes and I will crave ice cream and I will hate being pregnant as much as I enjoy the fact that I am able to make a human being inside me, like some sort of living 3D printer.

But I'm still overweight, and now I am over 35, so I'm going to be an obese elderly multigravida with a history of gestational diabetes and a ten pound delivery in my past, and I don't know if I want to celebrate all of that. I don't know if I want to celebrate having my innards rearranged and my sleep disrupted; the daunting task of finding a nursing bra and a sleeping bra that fit; the impending dance of foot and fist and head and bladder and bowel that inevitably results in me being the losing party.

I'm a selfish pregnant woman: I don't like being uncomfortable and inconvenienced. I don't like having to prepare for the possibility that I can be explaining to someone why their baby is having trouble breathing while trying to stay on my feet as black sparks start to swim through my vision. I don't like falling asleep at 9 PM because I am spending all my energy gestating. And I don't like the strange alien feeling that I am a duality of people. But I like my kids. And I like babies, especially when they're mine.

We planned this baby; we debated the concerns with going off my medications and arranging for leave and managing my diet. We thought about it for quite a while before we decided it was something we wanted. And I want it. I'm happy that everything is going smoothly and I quietly panic every time something in my belly goes zing, even when I know it can't be related. I keep toying with the handheld doppler in the office and thinking about trying to listen to see if the baby is really in there. But I don't care for being pregnant.

When I was pregnant with my first child, everyone told me that I would feel something I had never felt before when I first looked at her face. I was told I could never prepare for the rush of emotion, for the sudden outpouring of pure joy and love, for the bond that would connect me with my baby forever. I got the miracle line and the wonderful line. I got the best thing ever line.

My mother was more prosaic. "I think," she said, "The first thing I said when I saw you was 'ugh'."

I didn't say 'ugh' but I did have to check with my fellow resident. "She's cute, right? She's not an ugly baby?" Because I thought the baby was pretty cute -- and I'd seen a few by that point -- but I was waiting for the bang kapow of mother love to hit me, and I didn't feel it.

She's eight years old now and I still never felt it. I spent a long time trying to figure out what was wrong with me, that I liked my baby, even loved my baby, without being overwhelmed or awestruck or taken by surprise. That I didn't have the sudden urge to do anything but catch the first good breath I'd had in months. So I asked my dad, who knows about things.

"Nah," he said. "That's just the way we are."

I'm an obese elderly multigravida. I don't want to take a picture of my belly at twelve weeks. It looks like my belly did before I got pregnant, and I didn't like it then. Maybe I'll take one next week. Maybe not.

That's just the way I am.

10 May 2014

Nerd Rage: Captain America's little flaw

Got a childfree night tonight so we went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This is not a movie review, nor will it contain spoilers, I think. If you are extremely sensitive to this sort of thing, please stop reading now, go see the movie (because it is amazing and awesome and I freaking love what Marvel is doing with their properties) and then come back so I can complain in peace.


As noted above, I really enjoyed the movie. I enjoyed the lack of gratuitous T&A, the large quantities of gratuitous stunts, and the infinite supply of explosions. I also enjoyed the plot. I say this as someone who does not read a lot of comic books and comes into the Captain America franchise completely blind to prior history, so bear with me if you don't like something they changed from the long history of comics. I don't know what you're talking about. All I know is that Steve Rogers and his red-white-and-blue suit represent the ongoing struggle between truth, justice, the American way, and the moral high ground, and I like it. I also really like Scarlet Johannson kicking people in the face, which is another bonus for Marvel. There are some things Marvel is still working on in terms of translation from print to screen, but this is a story worth telling.


I just have one serious quibble with the movie, but it's kind of a big one. And in this case I'm going to spread the love around, because I have the same quibble with DC in Superman Returns. It involves hospitals and operating rooms and more specifically code scenes. (No spoilers!) And both movies have the same flaw. It's game-breaking for me and it disrupts my suspension of disbelief, and I said that while talking about a 95 year old genetically reengineered man with a flying shield made of vibranium while using my serious face.


It is this: CPR.


In Captain America somebody dies (hint: It's not Dumbledore). In Superman Returns, the Man of Steel sort of semi dies (if I just spoiled that movie for you I am sorry but the statute of limitations is one franchise reboot). Both of them wind up in a hospital being attended to by a team of Serious People in Scrubs, which is what we all look like when bad things happen in the hospital and is so far believable. Both of them are hooked up to cardiorespiratory monitoring, which is also part of the Bad Things Happening algorithm. I will even give Superman a pass on the whole "they showed a flatline before putting EKG leads on him" thing because Dramatic Timing (also, what are they starting an IV with in that scene? A spinal needle?). But here's the part that is driving me berserk:


Two movies. Like ten minutes of scenes with People Trying To Die and telemetry showing Bad Heart Things. Not one single chest compression. Superman is being wheeled in, bag-valve-mask ventilated, and nobody is on the cart doing compressions. It's the number one rule of resuscitation, people: it is so important that we don't even tell lay people to do rescue breaths any more. If you have an unresponsive victim who is not breathing or only agonally breathing, you do chest compressions. Over the sternum. Two inch compression depth, one hundred times a minute. Count out "Staying Alive" in your head to keep the beat.


Chest compressions, people.


When Unnamed Dying Character is lying on a surgical table after taking multiple gunshot wounds to the center mass, intubated and ventilated, and they are far enough along in the surgery to be getting out the suture, I expect to see blood everywhere. Buckets of it. I saw a chest wound. I expect that if they're sewing this character up there has been a thoracotomy or at the very least a chest tube. Someone has opened this person's chest. And abdomen. And there should be blood flowing. Trust me on this one, trauma surgery is messy and involves emergency release blood units.

When you have a patient on the operating room table and they attempt to die on you, you don't stand around. Someone does chest compressions. A lot of them. A hundred times a minute. Someone else gets the defibrillator and someone else (probably anesthesia) pulls drugs. You don't stand around, comment "we've got V fib" (I checked, it looked accurate on the telemetry strip) and then wait for the paddles to show up. You do chest compressions. You shock the patient. You do chest compressions. You re-analyze AFTER you do chest compressions. You check for a pulse AFTER you do chest compressions. All the time you are pushing on the chest, hard and fast.


And most importantly, when the line goes flat on the monitor, you push epinephrine and then you do chest compressions (am I repeating myself? Good). You don't stand around hoping that the drugs make it magically from the vein in the arm all the way to the heart. If the heart is not beating -- if you do not feel a pulse -- then sheer external effort is the only thing that is going to get blood to circulate through the body. It's the only thing that's going to move medications. It's the only thing that is going to give any resuscitative effort a fleeting chance of success.


Unnamed Character lays on the table in the operating room -- in a trauma OR, I can only assume, because where else are you going to take someone with multiple gunshot wounds, and this is SHIELD, people are getting shot all the time as far as I can tell, they have to be prepared for this kind of thing -- and gets a couple of desultory shocks (good job turning up the joules to 200, that was appropriate) and a push of epinephrine (also good job, right drug) and then they just stand around for about a minute and wait to see whether magical epinephrine fairies are going to transport the drugs to the heart.


Surprise: no compressions, nothing happens. So after a minute or so they give up, call Unnamed Character dead, and get on with the business of things. Never mind that no medical professional worth the surgical facemask is going to spend less than two minutes pretending to run a code. Never mind that if Unnamed Character has been so lucky as to have undergone a thoracotomy the surgeon in charge is going to rip open the wires and attempt manual heart massage (don't look shocked: I've seen it done on the cardiac recovery floor -- with temporary success, to boot). Never mind all that. The magical epinephrine fairies failed to perform, show's over, so sorry folks.


If you're going to fake a hospital scene, at least put a little effort into it. Next time call me. I'll be happy to screen your movie so people can die convincingly. I've been there. We don't give up that easily. Not on Unnamed Character, not on anybody.


Okay, nerdrage over. Go see The Winter Soldier. The bad part's only a few minutes long, and the rest is seriously awesome. But don't forget to do your chest compressions.