I kicked Elmo's ass today. An epic battle involving the Elmo Knows Your Name toy cell phone, the Fisher Price website, and a scavenge hunt for a mini-USB cable with which to program it. My daughter's first birthday. No longer is she months old. A great threshold has been crossed. That moment where life is measured not in months but in years signals a moving forward into the unknown. Now it's one year. Soon, there'll be two, three...they'll keep arriving and eventually the circles of our lives will venture apart, like a Venn diagram with a weak union. She'll move away from me the way leaves flutter easily off a tree limb when the time is right.
McDonald's for dinner, then off to the park for cupcakes and balloons. No large party. We're beat. Besides we don't have any friends. My wife bases her decision to order on what I'm going to get. It's no surprise. The menu may be wide enough to stretch across the entire restaurant, but my selection is always number 4 or perhaps a McRib combo.
"What are you getting?" she asks. We stand at the back of the restaurant, while she looks at the menu as if it might offer something new and unexpected.
"Number 4," I say. "Maybe some nuggets too. I'm feeling like I should stuff myself with carbs and meat this day."
"Can I have some of your nuggets?"
I hesitate. The tone of the evening changes then, is quick to swell into that slight moment, that selfish hesitation.
"That's not really the spirit of generosity." she tells me.
Here's what I think: let me try to take a doughnut from you some morning, or a fry when you're in a mood, and we'll see about this large spirit of generosity thing. I say nothing though. I can feel it's started already. Something happened earlier in the day probably, a rock in the pond of her mood, a tsunami of accusation in mine. God, I don't care. It's been a long day. These are the iron hours of marriage, those moments that must be endured so in the middle of the night when an emptiness siezes you there's a warm body and forgiving spirit to grab onto and slow the sudden listing.
Dinner is dinner. People look at us when my son talks too loud. They listen, perhaps roll their eyes when my daughter cries for an apple slice. The ones that roll their eyes have no children with them, no ring on their fingers. They are a lot of stupid fuckers that have no clue at all. I feed my daughter bits of food, play with the toy car with my son. My wife and I avoid each other's eyes.
The day's light has paled quicker than anticipated, so cupcakes at home. Green frosting. Sprinkles. My daughter smears it across her face, everywhere. Jumps up and down in her awkward way. We video. Take snapshots. The Elmo phone is pulled from a bag. She pushes the buttons, holds it out for me to take a look, runs away giggling when I reach out to take it. She lurches around, holds it to her ear, says hi over and over, puts it to mine. We fake talk into the plastic toy. It says her name, programmed into it from the website. My grand accomplishment for the day. I point it out to her multiple times. For some reason I desperately need her acknowledgment. I don't get it. She's only twelve months old...no, a year. A year old now.
We've entertained ideas about simplicity: wood toys, nothing with plastic or batteries. More outside time. Imaginative play. But here we are giving her a toy plastic phone whose ass I have to kick to get it to say her name. I watch her walk around like a real little person now and think that we can't abandon technology. I like the NFL too much. We are slaves to our entertainment as much as we are witched by our work. The activities that dictate our lives become our masters. What is true freedom then? An absolution of all this? Vast wealth that frees? Or is it instead an understanding that the black chains of quotidian existence are necessary instruction for the unimaginative? If it wasn't the horrible tolling of the 8 to 5 bell, it'd be the gnawing hunger of our bellies that propel us off our asses into days of wind and blood to hunt whatever beast falls prey to our continual want. And that is the real master, want. Want seeps within us and stains. Want is needy and green. If we did not have it within us, our bodies and minds would open like a vast plain, our sentences would become strident arias, our touches like flowers yielding to fine rain. I would like to see my daughter live like that, absent of want, great in life, easy in her motion. But she already lurches toward peanut butter crackers with a frantic devotion. She cries when the TV remote is pulled from her hand. She learned all this from us, I think. Our no, no, not thats, our uh-uh, that's not for yous, our hasty leaps across the room to take this or take that before it's swallowed or scrawled across the wall. She must see us as tall thieves and monstrous hoarders. When my wife retreats into her sullen mood because I'm not of a generous spirit, I can't help but agree. I am not. I battle plastic phones. I am trapped. It's such a deep rut, that it's become a tunnel. It's a battle with the things of the world. I kicked Elmo's ass. We didn't reach an agreement, even an impasse. I subjugated that device, bent it to my will. Or did I? Perhaps Elmo is passive-aggressive and my supposed victory was a sly defeat by the sneaky reach of technology. How can I tell? I'm trying to figure this out by typing into a laptop, looking into these representations of letters, these black staves on the white page.
Bah! This is spiraling off into shit. Let's concentrate on her laugh at Elmo saying her name, the icing smeared on her face. A bright moment. Joyful. I brought that to her. Do the methods matter? This day she moves forward into the great waters of her yearly life. I slip another day closer to the farthest shore of mine. We prop up our wanting lives with toys and distraction. What will happen when the batteries run out?