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Family valued 12.22.04

Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol

Well, all the old Christmas chestnuts are airing constantly these days. The good news is that you can rent or borrowing them and avoid commercials. Among my parent posse, the two that get the most props are Chuck Jones's rollicking 1966 adaptation of Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the almost elegiac A Charlie Brown Christmas. I'm down with those.

But for my money, the greatest Christmas special ever came out in 1962, and it seems most people haven't seen it: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Abe Levitow, Barbara Chain, and Jule Styne aren't names that pop out at you, but they directed, wrote, and composed songs, respectively, for an absolute classic. Magoo the actor stumbles through the street into a theatre, where he bumbles his way through costume and makeup to get on stage for his performance as Scrooge. Once the curtain rises, we live in the world of Dickens, condensed to the essentials.

The marriage of Magoo and Scrooge is absolutely inspired, and Jim Backus gives his greatest performance. But it's the songs that separate the work. "We're Despicable" had my kids singing it the first time they heard it. And I'm always torn up by the young Magoo's lament, "A hand for each hand was planned for the world / Why don't my fingers reach? / Millions of grains of sand in the world / Why such a lonely beach?"

If you know it, revisit it with your kids. If not, you have a treat in store.

--- Adam A. Wilcox

This week for families:

Holiday Youth Hockey Camp Mon, Dec 27-Fri, Dec 31. Ages 6-11, Genesee Valley Ice Arena, 131 Elmwood Ave, 8 a.m.-12 p.m. $60 for city residents. 428-7888

Manga Madness Mon, Dec 27. Drawing program for grades 6-12, Penfield Public Library, 1985 Baird Rd, 1-4:45 p.m. Register. 340-8720

RMSC Strasenburgh Planetarium 657 East Ave. Giant-screen film: Bears, Wed-Fri 4 p.m.; Sat 2, 4, 8 p.m.; Sun 1, 2, 4 p.m. | Star shows: Hubble's Universe: Sat 1 p.m.; I See the Sky: Sat 9:30 a.m. | Laser shows: Moody Blues Laser, Sat 9 p.m.; Holiday Songs and Skies with Mr. Jack Frost, Sat 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Sun 3 p.m.| $4-$7. 271-1880, www.rmsc.org

Rochester Museum and Science Center 657 East Ave. Mon-Thurs, Dec 27-30, holiday science and technology days, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. | Mon-Thurs, Dec 27-30, Take-It-Apart, 2-4:30 p.m. | Tues, Dec 28, Kwanzaa Celebration, 5:30 p.m. Free. | Surprise! It's Science, through May 2005 | Rochester's Frederick Douglass, through January 2006 | Live Science! demos and theater, Sat 2, 3, 4 p.m.; Sun 1:30, 2:30, 3:30 p.m. Sat 3 p.m. show sign-interpreted | Ongoing exhibits include: AdventureZone, Carlson Inquiry Room, At the Western Door | Hours: Mon-Sat 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun 12-5 p.m., closed Sat, Dec 25. Tix: $5-$7. 271-1880, www.rmsc.org.

Strong Museum 1 Manhattan Square. Sun, Dec 26-Sun, Jan 2, School break with Arthur. | Arthur's World, through Jan 23. | Long-term exhibits include National Toy Hall of Fame, Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street? and Super Kids Market. Hours: Mon-Thurs 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fri 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun 12-5 p.m. Tix: $7; $6 seniors, students; $5 children. 263-2700

Eating together

The Cleaver family never actually existed. For those old enough to remember Leave it to Beaver, the cast of that early situation comedy seemed a real family, not unrelated TV actors. Ward, June, Wally, and Theodore, the Beaver, played a perfect family. They ate family meals during which key plot issues were raised. Of course, what really happened during Leave it to Beaver was hundreds of thousands of American families sat at their folding TV tables, consumed snack food, and didn't talk while they watched a TV pseudo-family share a meal and have a scripted "meaningful conversation." It was the beginning of the end.

It is increasingly rare for families to share meals. Schedules, homework, sports, meetings, errands, phone calls, and, of course, TV, all compete with communal meals and meaningful conversations. What's more, since none of us ever achieved Cleaver family perfection, we've nearly given up on the family dinner. The well-publicized epidemic of disordered eating among young people in the US has deep roots in the loss of family mealtimes.

We don't have to eat the same food. It doesn't have to be at the same time each day. We don't have to be in a good mood. We don't have to have a family meeting. We don't need to resolve key issues in a scripted situation comedy. We really don't have to talk too much. We do need to have a sanctified time during which we share sustenance, pause in the push of every day imperatives, prepare food together, and become a family that nourishes each other for a few moments.

---Laurence I. Sugarman, MD