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Battery quest is a lesson in futility

It’s printed in bold letters in the Parenting 101 manual — always have a supply of fresh batteries in the house.

I must have skipped that page.

"Dad, the remote for the Wii doesn’t work," Steven said. "Do we have any new batteries?"

Batteries, yes. I wasn’t so sure about the "new" part.

"I don’t know," I answered. "Let’s check in the kitchen."

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We keep an odd assortment of batteries in a cabinet that holds things like paper towels, light bulbs and Windex.

We dumped the batteries on the kitchen table, and I knew there would be no more Wii-ing tonight.

The three most expensive words in this electronic age are "batteries not included". It seems that we’re replenishing our battery supply on a weekly basis, but some of those that rolled across the table didn’t exactly look new.

And that’s part of the problem. For reasons that fall somewhere between "recycling" and "frugality", too many of our old batteries seem to end up back in the stockpile as emergency back-ups.

The idea is that even a weak battery is better than no battery if the TV remote ever dies. Heaven forbid that we actually have to get off the couch and change the channel by hand.

But even the best battery can only keep going and going for so long before it stops going.

I found two AA batteries in our supply and touched the probes of a battery tester to the ends of a battery with a copper-colored top. The needle moved sluggishly halfway into the red "replace" zone.

The second battery … the one with a black cat jumping through a number 9 … was completely dead.

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I knew it would be even before I saw the lettering on the side that said "Use By 2005".

"We don’t have any double-A’s that work" I told Steven. "You’re going to have to find something else to do."

He stomped into his bedroom, and after a few minutes of rummaging through his toys he re-asked the question: "Dad, do we have ANY batteries that work?"

"What for?"

"My Nerf gun."

"What kind does it take?"

"The big round ones."

I took that to mean D-cells.

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"I think we’ve got a couple of them. How many do you need?"

"Eight."

With eight D-cells you should be able to hit Mason City from our back yard.

I found three D-cells in the kitchen cabinet and hooked up the battery tester. Replace, replace, replace.

By that time, finding batteries that worked had become a mission.

We went into the basement and started to raid some of Steven’s old toys for their batteries — a Professor Quiggly "Letter Factory" game, a remote control dune buggy and an electronic dart board.

Replace, replace, replace.

I knew better than to look in any of our flashlights. They had already given up their batteries to help run the digital camera, a transistor radio and a Tonka bulldozer. If the lights ever went out, we’d have a working bulldozer, but we’d have to use it in the dark.

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"We don’t have any batteries that work," I explained. "I’ll stop and get some tomorrow."

I was wondering if it said anything in Parenting 101 about tapping into your child’s college fund to buy batteries.

And that’s when the smoke alarm chirped.

We went back into the basement and I found a walkie-talkie that had one of those "little square batteries" with just enough charge to quiet the smoke alarm for the rest of the night.

I sat at the table and made a list of the batteries I would need to buy the next day – eight D-cells, two nine-volts, four C-cells, six AAAs and … at a minimum … 24 AAs.

Somewhere out there, a pink bunny was laughing at me.

But I have finally figured out why parents start giving their kids socks and underwear for Christmas when they get to be about 12 years old.

Socks and underwear don’t need batteries.

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