When I was young, I got some great toys on Christmas and for my birthdays. For instance, one year, I asked for a Johnny Lightning race car set. This was a cool toy where you used a manual accelerator to shove race cars around an oval track. And I did get that particular toy for Christmas. However, even though I always wanted the cool gifts I asked for, I still fantasized about other gifts that I might get. And truthfully, these fantasies were usually way out of proportion.
Before that Christmas when I got the Johnny Lightning race car set, I had secretly hoped that my parents would buy me a motorcycle. I’m not sure how my elementary-school mind came up with the idea that a motorcycle was even a possibility but I imagined it to the point that I was sure it could happen. And then, the Johnny Lightning gift became a disappointment because I didn’t get the outrageous motorcycle I had created in my young delusional mind.
But there were a few other “rational” gifts that I requested but never got. I referred to one of these in my last blog. It was Silly String. In case you’re not familiar with this product, it has firmly established its place in the annals of canned innovations somewhere between Fix-A-Flat and Cheez Whiz. Silly String is not really that functional but it is a blast to spray, so to speak.
This plastic string in a can was a party favor at several birthday parties I attended as a kid. Without fail, at some point during the party, several of us would hold a can next to our noses and shoot the string out like one long continuous stream of nasal projectiles. We would cover one of the other party goers and say, “Isn’t this fun?”
They always responded, “It snot.”
And essentially, that was what Silly String was good for—to annoy other kids.
I suspect that my mother saw this as a monumental waste of money and as an adult, I can see her point. But for a young kid who was not inclined to get into much trouble, I saw Silly String as a doorway to a bit of misbehaving fun. But alas, I never got it.
Until last week.
You see, I told a shorter version of this story in my last blog and declared my grand disappointment about not getting my Silly String. As a blogger, I never know how many people really read these things except for the handful of people who make comments or correct my typos. But clearly, a couple of people were paying attention. I came home one day last week and found two boxes on my porch containing a total of fifteen cans of Silly String. Yes, you read that right. Fifteen!
One box came from my good friend Bill Stainton who has a great sense of humor and wanted to end the years of trauma I suffered by not getting my canned string. The other sender was anonymous. That both delighted me and creeped me out just a bit. My fantastical mind kicked in again and I wondered what this person might have sent me if I had written a blog about trying to overcome my fear of snakes. That thought kept me awake for several nights and now, I no longer reach my hand into our mailbox at night.
Sometimes in my writing and particularly in my humor, I will exaggerate just a bit in order to entertain the reader or to make a point. Oh yes, I wanted Silly String as a child and I never got it. But the overall impact on my life was probably less than I implied. I mean, I got hit by a car when I was eleven and had two motorcycle accidents as an adult. Those incidents had a tad more impact on me, both figuratively and literally. However, in the process of sharing these holiday gift experiences, I began to see the chink in my childhood armor.
For several of my childhood birthdays, I asked for a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game. This was an ingenious plastic device on which two robots boxed each other. The robots were controlled by hand mechanisms through which you could move each robot around a boxing ring and then push a right or left button to punch one of the robots’ arms forward. If you made a direct hit on the chin of your opponent’s robot, his head would come off—the plastic robot’s head that is, not your opponent’s.
Well, once again, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots was not the most practical toy and some might say it was a bit violent. But it was advertised constantly on TV and I wanted it. Alas again, I did not get it.
In 2001 when I was 41 years old, I received a large box in the mail. It contained the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot game I always wanted.
Attached to the game was this note from my mother:
There was a little boy who wanted a little toy.
In fact that was all he could speak of.
But his mother wasn’t sure that the toy would long endure.
So she chose another, wrapping it with love.
The little boy was sad, thought his mother’s choice was bad.
And he often brought it up in conversations.
Now again the shelves are full of the toy that was so cool.
So his mother without any reservations bought the big boy his toy.
To share with his own little boy; and create some special memories galore.
Now, hopefully, with Joy! They can both enjoy the toy.
And it’s true better late than nevermore.
[Cue emotional turn-of-events music]
This generous gift touched my heart. Not because it was such a great toy nor because it was a toy I always wanted. The gift was special because my mom seemed to finally understand my perspective and now I understood hers.
Sometimes we fly through our lives making one assumption after another. We jump to conclusions and hold grudges. We want things that are not good for us. Yet, if we take a minute to understand the process, we often see a new perspective.
As children, we often misunderstand the actions of our parents. As parents, we assume we know what’s best for our children. And as spouses or parters, we routinely think we can read our loved ones’ minds.
Perhaps, we should break this silly string of assumptions and take time to better understand one another. If we do, it might just be the best gift we ever receive.