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I have had bad vacations and mediocre vacations and a few that were so very good I canít remember them. But in 40-plus years of holidays and getaways, I canít recall having one that was an abject failure. That is, until the Backyardigans affair.

For starters, letís acknowledge that I took last week off with aspirations of doing absolutely nothing. My original goal was to lie about, read a book or two, get caught up on the half-dozen Discovery Channel shows I have recorded, and maybe, if time permitted, perfect the recipe for a jerk chicken and fusilli in a roasted red pepper and cream sauce Iíve been working on for the past decade or so. Predictably, that did not happen.

†The combination of homeownership and a wife who takes the whole ďidle hands are the devilís toolĒ thing way too seriously, assured that my time off would include its fair share of grouting, plumbing and caulking. Iím sure it didnít amount to much when compared to the real work by the men and women who do actual manual work on a daily basis, but Iím a journalist, so actual work is new to me.

In addition to the home repair work orders, my wife also provided me with daily lists of errands she needed ran. Those included regular trips to the grocery, library, etc., along with some early Christmas shopping she wanted to knock out. That is where the Backyardigans affair comes in.

For those of you out of the loop on all things kid, the Backyardigans are characters from a Nickelodeon television show.

Thankfully or tragically ó depending on my mood at the time ó my own daughters are past the age where they are requesting Christmas gifts based on childrenís TV shows. However, earlier in the season we had retrieved a couple of Angel Cards from a Salvation Army Christmas tree. The cards feature a boy or girl whose parents could use a little help with Christmas. The children put down their ages and sizes along with any special requests they might have.

We took two cards, one for a girl and one for a boy, both 4 years old. The boy was easy, he wanted monster trucks and Hulk paraphernalia, pretty much the same stuff I asked for this year. But the little girl made just one request; she wanted a Backyardigan, preferably in pink.

We take these cards hoping we will teach our children a lesson about helping others. In this case, Iím the one who learned the lesson ó that itís pretty much impossible to find a Backyardigan in December in Lima, Ohio.

I will admit to being a little cocky about the search when it started. I held onto the card for a few days assuming I could just drop in and pick up a Backyardigan when I felt like it. My research committee (aka Mills Child One and Two) informed me that the specific creature I would be looking for was a pink-speckled character called Uniqua and that it would most likely be found in the Nick characters aisle at Toys R Us.

As you might have predicted, it was not that easy.

First, I made the mistake of going to Toys R Us on a day that the store had advertised some sort of extreme sale, so I was stuck battling soccer moms and angry grandpas as I searched fruitlessly for something called a Nick aisle. After close to an hour and two separate pleas to clerks, I concluded that, while there was indeed a Nick aisle, it was notably absent Uniqua or any of Backyardigan buds.

Even my failure to find the creature at what I considered the most obvious place did not make me nervous. I went home expecting to talk my wife into swinging in to one of the sundry other big box joints the next day, giving me plenty of time to get things over to the Salvation Army by the Thursday deadline. But as she rightfully pointed out, I was off work while she had real wage earning to do, so I was off again.

I should mention at this point that both my wife and children told me that I should just grab the child another toy and be done with it, but I could not get past the image of that little 4-year-old child, already dealing with Mom and Dadís hard times, wanting more than anything a tiny pink plush toy to call her own. Itís a motivating image, particularly for a man trying to avoid grouting the kitchen floor.

During the next two days, I hit every toy store in a 30-mile radius of Lima in search of that damnable toy. I saw a dozens of Dora the Explorer dolls, endless Elmos and more Bratz than I could have imagined existed. I went to Walmart and Kmart and Big Lots and Kohls and a half-dozen other stops I prayed might house the doll. At every stop, the clerks would offer hope telling me they were certain they had seen one in aisle (fill in the blank). And in each case, they were wrong.

By Thursday morning, I had exhausted my options and broken my spirit. I contacted my youngest who assured me a child who liked Backyardigans would also like something called a Ni Hao, Kai-lan toy. I wound up compromising with a little rhino named Lulu. Sheís pink.

We turned in the boxes, loaded down with toys and clothes and whatnots we thought the children might like. And I am certain they will be happy with what they get. But I canít fight back the image of a little girl disappointed in not getting that Uniqua doll, and my own sense that, despite all the plumbing and grouting I completed in my week off, none of it mattered as much as finding that silly toy.

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