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Friday, Sept. 8, 2006 | So we’re driving up to La Quinta to celebrate Labor Day at a friend’s timeshare condo and we’ve just stopped in Temecula for breakfast.

All the way up we’ve been listening to a cassette of the Little People, a group of manufactured characters that are part of a Fisher-Price series of toys. For those of you not in the know, this multi-cultural brood consists of Michael the black boy who loves magic; Eddie the Caucasian kid who likes to build things; Freddie the Frog; Maggie, the intellectual (she has glasses); Sarah Lynn, the manic-depressive artiste; and Sonya Lee, the Asian who talks to animals.

These kids (or, rather, adult voice over actors mimicking what kids are supposed to sound like but never will) have the most cheerful voices outside of an “Up With People” convention that has been dosed with Serotonin.

My wife and I drive into the parking lot of Penfolds just as the sound of these excessively chipper voices is about to drive us nuts.

Find a word that rhymes with book! Like cook? Or look? Find a word that rhymes with book! Ook ook ook ook.”

Our daughter Alex is driving us nuts too. She’s screaming and whining, “I don’t want to eat here. I want to eat in La Quinta. I want to be on bacation.”

Yeah, well, this is part of it. And we’re hungry.

So we park, and I go in to put our name on the list and I see the place obviously gets a lot of parent-kid traffic because one whole section is taken up of Beanie Babies. Obviously, someone is hoping the market for those toys goes back up eventually.

I go back out to help my wife carry our four-month-old son, Owen, and Alex is still crying. So I can’t help but tease her.

“You’re right. I don’t think you’d like this place. There are lots of toys here. You don’t like toys, do you?”

“I like toys.”

“You do? Well, do you want to go inside and at least look?”

“No!” she says, calling my bluff.

“Well, we’re going inside. Daddy and Mommy have to eat now. La Quinta is a long way a way.”

“But I want to go on bacation.”

“We are on ba…I mean, VAY-cation. It started when we left the house. Now let’s go inside.”

“I want to take Panda Bear.” That’s her current favorite stuffed toy. But she’s like Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan in that regard. Next week, it could be the bunny or Hoppy the dog (who she also calls Bouncy).

“No,” I don’t like to take toys inside of restaurants because they can get lost.

“Yes,” she says, arguing her point like a trained debater.

“Just let her bring it,” says my wife and I let it slide.

So we go inside and wait for our turn to sit down. I do this by looking at the vintage toys and showing them to Owen. Alex does this by grabbing one of each Beanie Baby off the shelf while my wife puts them back.

It’s a fun game. For one of them.

So it’s time to sit down and we spend a few minutes trying to get Alex to sit in the booster seat she insisted on using rather than the high chair she didn’t want because she’s “a big girl.”

We do get her to sit but she didn’t want her usual – pancakes. At least at first. After she fussed for a while, we just ordered for her. Meanwhile, Alex and I drew on a placemat and I asked her to name the drawings.

“What is that?”

“It’s a pink giraffe.”

“And its name?”

“Kinji.”

“And what’s that?”

“A yellow dragon.”

“What’s its name?”

“Kunk Kunk.”

“Great.”

Our food arrives and it’s what I expected: breakfast food. It’s good but I’m sure this restaurant’s location, right off the 15, has more to do with its popularity than its cuisine.

So I eat, Alex eats and my wife savors her blueberry pancakes. Owen sits there and smiles at his mommy’s boob, knowing he’s going to be eating soon.

Finally, we eat. We pay. My wife feeds Owen in the bathroom and we’re off. Once again, we’re listening to the Little People squeak out “The wheels on the bus go round and round.”

Then it happens. The worst calamity of my daughter’s life (that she can remember).

“Where’s PANDA BEAR?????”

Uh oh. Maybe we left him at the restaurant. Ah, shoot. We’re on the 215 now.

“Where’s PANDA BEAR?????”

“Is he on the floor, Alex?”

“I can’t see him.”

Oh shoot. Well, we better turn around.

“We need to go get him,” yells Alex. “I miss him.”

“We’re going to get him, Alex. We just need to get off the freeway and get going the other direction.”

That takes a while but we finally manage to do it but now we have to drive back south.

“What’s the exit again, honey?”

“I think it was the Old Town exit. It’s hard to tell when you’re going south instead of north.”

Alex’s cries get louder and louder and louder as we get closer to the off ramp. Then we have to wait to turn on to the frontage road.

Finally, we’re in the parking lot and I run in and say, “Did you find a little stuffed panda bear?”

The hostess quietly takes the little critter out from under the hostess desk and hands him back. I run to the car and give it to Alex.

“Panda BEAR!”

And we drove back on the freeway. Alex was so happy that she let us listen to adult music instead of the Little People.

But you know what? She had no interest in Panda Bear the rest of the weekend.

Go figger.

David Moye is a La Mesa-based writer who usually drinks lots of coffee – except before he goes on a long road trip with small children. You can reach him at moyemail@cox.net. Or, send a letter to the editor.

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