friendship

How to Say the Thing You Can’t Say

“How was recess today?” I asked Smoke this week, and he immediately started to cry.

Weeks ago, Smoke had complained to me that a friend was bossing him around, demanding that he play with him at every recess, and then dictating the terms of that play. If Smoke put up a protest, if he wanted to play tag with other friends, or if he wanted to be Spider-Man instead of Batman, this friend—let’s call him Boss—would storm off in a huff and declare that their friendship was over.

From what I’ve written about Boss here, I’m afraid that you’re imagining him as a spoiled, insufferable child à la Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but this is not the case. Boss is small and goofy and full of smiles. Boss, I suspect, senses that that his spot in the first-grade pecking order is tenuous, and so he does everything in his power to ensure that he has a steady companion. Boss doesn’t want to face the recess yard alone, and I don’t blame him for that.

“You’re just going to have to let him be mad at you,” I told Smoke after his initial complaint. I went on to explain what I thought would happen if Smoke took action on his own behalf. Boss would be mad for a while but then he would cool down. After a few confrontations, Boss would learn to give Smoke more leeway.

And then, like any great parent, after delivering my lecture, I forgot about the problem. Smoke didn’t come home crying or complaining, nor did he resist school, and so the issue fell off my radar until I remembered to ask him about it at bedtime this week. This is when Smoke burst into tears. “All he ever wants to do now is push me on the spinners, and then I get sick.”

“Tell him you don’t want to do that,” I said.

“I tell him every time!” Smoke said. “But he won’t let me play something else!”

In that moment I realized what should have been clear to me earlier. It didn’t matter what advice I gave Smoke. It didn’t matter because I was telling him to do something he wasn’t ready to do. He had it in him to tell Boss that he didn’t want to spin. But he didn’t have it in him to hold his ground or walk away, to risk losing a friendship that was probably providing him too with an indispensable measure of security.

“What can I do to help you fix this?” I asked him. He continued to cry quietly and look down at the bedspread. “Do you want me to email your teacher?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied without hesitation.

I’ve been thinking lately about being assertive and the ideals we set around saying hard truths. So often we hold off on saying what we need to say because we get so wrapped up in the delivery, we think we must be brave and say it face-to-face. Writing it down would be cowardly. Delivering the message through another source would be cowardly. We suffer for the sake of this principle.

Many years ago, I interviewed for a job and got a voice mail from the employer a week later. He left his number and asked me to call him after 10 pm, because that was when he’d be home. I got the message at 6 pm, and so I had four hours to wait before calling him. I knew that I hadn’t nailed the interview, and so I wasn’t especially hopeful, and yet it was hard to settle into my evening knowing I had this phone call to make. I made my dinner, I showered, and I waited until quarter after ten to call him. Our phone call lasted less than a minute—just long enough for us to trade pleasantries and for him to tell me that they had hired someone else.

I hung up annoyed. I felt certain that he had wanted to deliver hard news to me directly on some kind of principal. But there was nothing helpful to me about hearing the news from a live voice rather than a recorded one. I would have far preferred the voice mail rejection to the personal one. He hadn’t spared me anything, but had instead injected some dread into my evening.

I remember this incident often. I remember it every time I need to communicate something difficult and am tempted to lay it out in an email rather than deliver it live. I tell myself that it’s okay to write it instead of saying it, that it’s okay to need a little space and control. I tell myself that the person on the other end might actually appreciate that space as well.

I emailed Smoke’s teacher that morning, and as Smoke left for school, he was hopping up and down, giddy with relief. He would not have to spin until he was sick at recess.

But Smoke’s teacher didn’t see my message right away. At their first recess, Boss did spin Smoke. Once they had settled back in the classroom, Smoke, impatient for the relief he now felt he deserved, told his teacher by himself.

The teacher took Boss aside. All it took was a single sentence: “You need to let Smoke play with his other friends too.” She didn’t shame him or punish him, but he listened. Smoke hadn’t been able to muster the authority he needed, and so he simply borrowed hers. Not only did it work, it spared him the drama of an angry friend.

For the rest of the day, Smoke played with the friends he’d been pining for in the weeks I’d spent ignoring the problem. He came home happy. It had taken two grown-ups and one child to resolve one common childhood conflict. Three weeks ago, I thought I’d teach Smoke how to be direct and assertive, how to take charge of his own relationships. Instead he reminded me how complicated our problems are and how senseless it is to try and solve them on our own.

My Six-Year-Old is my Guru

SweetSometimes my kids blow my mind without even trying.

Yesterday I had three six-year-old boys in my living room playing Legos. The play date was coming to an end and Sam, one of my son’s oldest friends, wanted to bring home the storm-trooper-on-a-motorcycle that he had fashioned out of Smoke’s Legos.

“No, you can’t take it with you,” Smoke told him, “because last time when you borrowed my Bionicle it broke and you never brought it back.”

I was sitting on the couch grading papers, and I looked up to appreciate the line he’d just drawn. I was struck by the absolute clarity of Smoke’s answer, and also his even delivery. His voice was calm. It wasn’t loaded with resentment or grief. He was simply calling it like he saw it.

But, Sam was not impressed. “I never asked to borrow it. You just left it at my house.”

Cody, a new friend who wasn’t privy to this history, joined in Sam’s defense. “He didn’t ask to borrow it, so it’s not the same.”

The helicopter parent in me poised to jump in, to restate Smoke’s position and make sure it was honored, but that turned out to be unnecessary. “Well I never got it back,” Smoke told both of them. He took a breath. “Sam, here’s what what we can do. I won’t take apart your motorcycle.” Sam was nodding already, relieved at the idea of compromise. “And if you fix my Bionicle and bring it back, then you can borrow it after all.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a boundary set so cleanly. My son didn’t learn that skill from me. I’ve only recently learned that my relationships don’t have to follow a script, that when someone makes a request of me I’m not required to give them the answer they’re hoping for. Lately, I try to catch myself in the act of delivering a line, of giving a Yes or a Maybe when what I really mean is No. I try to remind myself that I can give the answer I actually mean, but that answer never comes out easily. I stall, I stammer, or my voice trembles, or it’s tainted with defensiveness.

But Smoke’s gentle assertiveness makes me wonder: What do we know before we un-know it? What communication skills are we born with that time corrodes? And what can I do to preserve in my kids their own clarity, their intuition, their emotional intelligence?

Two nights ago both of my kids were still awake at ten pm. It’s June in the Pacific Northwest and so it’s still light at nine, and of course there are barbecues and spontaneous visits and deer sightings that get in the way of our bedtime routine. But no matter  the reason, I start to lose my mind at ten pm when my kids are still awake, and on this day Stump, my 2-year-old, had just insisted on a snack.

Sneer“Goldfish,” Stump said after his bath and then he repeated the word “Goldfish” at least two dozen times. I knew he wouldn’t quit and I was too tired to fight, so I sat him at the kitchen table with a small pile of Goldfish crackers. But it turned out that he wanted the Goldfish crackers, not to eat, but to construct an interpretive scene. I sat in a neighboring chair and leaned my head against my hand. I was done.

“No cry Mommy,” Stump whispered, and he brushed his fingers across my cheek. “No cry Mommy.”

No one in the history of my lifetime has ever been able to pull me out of a funk so easily. I hadn’t been on the verge of tears, but Stump’s empathy perked me up, and I laughed. Stump laughed too and continued to touch my face. “No cry, Mommy. It’s okay, Mommy.” He was teasing me and comforting me at once.

I wished that Kellie had been there to witness Stump’s feat of emotional intelligence. Earlier that evening I had complained to her about some problem and she responded by saying “Why do you let that bother you?”

“That doesn’t help!” I told her, but when she asked me what she could say, I could only answer: “I don’t know!”

But now here was Stump, hours past bedtime, rescuing me from myself, as if he arrived in this world knowing all my secret codes and how to crack them.

Conversation of the Week: Remembering Jeremy

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Smoke’s best friend in his kindergarten class moved away suddenly. The week after he left, I talked to Smoke about it indirectly, by asking him each evening who he played with at recess. He seemed to be coping by reconnecting with old friends, and making a few new ones, though none of his recess friends were in his classroom.

By the end of week two, I figured we were over the hump. I figured that, but I didn’t want to push too hard. And then Saturday evening, as Smoke was getting out of the bath and drying off, he was giggling over some remembered joke that Jeremy had made. Like most kindergarten jokes relayed secondhand, I couldn’t follow it.  Smoke seemed surprised by his own memory of Jeremy, and a pained look crossed his face.

“Every time I think of Jeremy I almost cry,” he told me. He was almost crying.

“I can see that,” I told him. I wanted to fix it. “Do you want me to see if I can find his phone number? Or would you rather I focus on making play dates with new friends?” I asked. Getting Jeremy’s phone number felt like a long shot. For all I know they’ve moved to Tennessee. Besides that, I had called Jeremy’s mom once before to invite him to Smoke’s birthday party. She wasn’t especially friendly, and just as we were hanging up I heard a male voice in the background shout “Who was that?”  I was hoping Smoke would opt for the latter.

“How about you focus on both?” Smoke asked. For a moment I thought he was brightening. I hung up his towel as he pulled on his skivvies. But as we walked towards his bedroom, the tears returned. “I feel like all that I have left of Jeremy is a memory.”

Seriously? I have no idea where he learned to talk like that. I scoured my brain trying to come up with Lifetime movies I might have inadvertently exposed him to.

That was last week, and every so often I think that I’ll try to get a hold of Jeremy’s parents.  But I’m pretty sure that I’m only avoiding what Smoke already knows is true.

Tall Smoke

 

Greeting my Son’s Alter-Ego

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Ever since Smoke started kindergarten, I’ve had to face that he has a life apart from me, one that I know very little about. When Smoke was in preschool, I lingered during drop-offs and pick-ups. I chatted with his teachers; I watched him play with friends; I got all the necessary updates about what he ate and if he napped.

But now that Smoke’s in public school, he inhabits a larger world, and I have to rely on the little he tells me. I’ve learned about the girl that chases him, the boys who drool over his cookies at lunch, and the girls who have a No Boys Allowed club on the playground, and I’ve known about Jeremy (not his real name, of course), one of three classmates that Smoke invited to his birthday party several weeks ago.

Jeremy arrived with his grandmother and clung to her at first, but by the end of the party he was trailing Smoke. Jeremy has round brown eyes and a tiny, high voice, a voice that he used to ask Smoke, over and over, “Are you sure you have my present?” He was worried, I guess, that someone had stolen it, or that it had fallen beneath the table. He sounded perpetually on the verge of tears.

Late last week Smoke reported to me that he plays with Jeremy every day at recess, that in fact Jeremy is the only one he plays with. “He makes me promise in the morning,” Smoke reported.

Jeremy is a sweet boy, but I felt protective of Smoke. I didn’t want anyone squelching his social potential. And if I’m being honest with myself, I have a secret hope that Smoke will be more liked than I was in grade school. “You get to choose who you play with,” I told him. Smoke had no response to my unsolicited advice.

With so little to go on, I’ve had to live with the fact that in some respects Smoke is a stranger to me. Though I’ve heard bits and pieces of what happens on the playground, I’ve had no idea who he is in the classroom. Is he loud? Is he funny? Is he shy? Does he follow directions? Does he hold up the class when he’s slow? And so I’ve been looking forward to our first parent-teacher conference.

TreeOn Friday, at 2:30 pm, Smoke and I walked the three blocks to his school. As we waited our turn to meet with Mrs. N, Smoke showed me the tree he’d printed during Center Time, and boldly peered in the window. But the moment Mrs. N opened the door to let us in, Smoke held my hand delicately and led me to the conference table. We sat across from Mrs. N in the tiny chairs.

Mrs. N was systematic. She had lots of ground to cover in thirty minutes. She wanted Smoke to demonstrate his reading skills, and so she took out one of her packets and Smoke followed along with her finger, making a sound for each letter she pointed to, keeping with her time. He spoke with a voice I didn’t recognize, a voice that was soft and unsure, though he moved at a pace that was confident. This wasn’t the boy I know at home, the one who shouts in his brother’s ear, who runs laps around the house naked, who consistently ignores my instructions no matter how politely or how sternly I offer them. When he and Mrs. N had completed the page, he looked up and she offered a quick nod of approval. Then it was on to math.

I watched and waited patiently. I had expected it to go this way. I’d spend the first twenty-five minutes getting the particulars of Smoke’s learning. The overall assessment, the Who-Smoke-is-in-Kindergarten would happen at the very end.

I couldn’t quite look Mrs. N in the eye once she got to that part. She has this way of breaking character and getting misty-eyed when she talks about her students, and I knew that if I looked at her directly, I would melt into a puddle of goo. She observed that Smoke had “blossomed” over the past few weeks, that he had gone from acting shy to being comfortable. “He has a very gentle soul,” Mrs. N confided, and I tried to casually flick away a tear before it dribbled too far down my face. “He’s kind to all of his classmates, and he has such a good time with Jeremy—“ Mrs. N stopped herself and I looked up at her once more. She leaned in and lowered her voice. “But Jeremy’s moving to another town. I just learned that. Monday will be his last day. You might want to give Smoke a heads-up.”

“Oh well,” I said blithely, remembering what Smoke had said earlier in the week about his daily recess requests. “Smoke is a pretty go-with-the flow kind of guy.” I was assuming that Jeremy’s departure might open the door for Smoke to make several new friends.

As Smoke and I approached the first crosswalk on our way home, I asked if he had heard what Mrs. N had told me about Jeremy. He hadn’t. A feeling came over me then, and I suddenly understood that this might actually be a big deal.

We stopped walking and I crouched down to be as short as Smoke. “Jeremy’s moving.” Smoke’s face fell. “He won’t be in your class anymore.

His lip quivered. “But he’s my best friend.” His head sank and he cried.

I scooped him up and carried him home, his butt propped on my arm, all of his limbs dangling as he cried and drooled into my neck, and I sniffled along. We were a sobbing, dangling mess of sad walking home in the drizzle.

envelope

This says “Goodbye.”

Here is what I learned from this, Dear Reader: of the three of us who sat at the table—Mrs. N, Smoke, and myself—I was the least qualified to talk about Smoke’s social skills, to declare him laid-back, to decide how many or what kind of friends he needed. Smoke is the expert, Mrs. N is the observer, and I am the outsider.

For the rest of the afternoon, Smoke taught me about the kind of friend he is. We bought Jeremy a card and a small gift for their last day together on Monday, and Smoke painstakingly decorated the card with pictures and words.

And beginning on Tuesday, kindergarten will be a new place for him, the same place it was, but minus a best friend, a safety net. I hope that I will find a way to make space for the bigness of that, because the truth is there’s not much else I can do. Every morning, five days a week, he steps into a world that I have little influence over, a world that I will never fully know.

punkin

Smoke’s gift to Jeremy

 

The Magic of Bikes

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“This is amazin’!” my son calls out as he coasts away from me. He’s been riding for two weeks now, and still he says it every time he hits an easy stretch, when the sun is shining, the road is straight and carless, and the slope is ever-so-slightly in his favor.

I know the feeling. My first bike was my trusty companion for years. Sometimes it was my only companion. I was an awkward child, one who couldn’t whistle or cartwheel or kick a ball. Other kids and their ways were a mystery to me. Often, at the end of my block, the neighborhood boys played street hockey; my best friend’s older brothers led the game and sometimes they’d call out to me, “How’s it going Berney?” If I was on foot, I hung my head and kept walking, unsure if they were friendly or teasing.

But when I rode my bike, I moved through the world with ease. I rode an old-school Huffy with a yellow banana seat and handlebars that dipped low. When the road was quiet, I’d zigzag up the street, then turn onto the sidewalk so as not to disturb the street hockey game. “How’s it going, Berney?” one of the brothers would call out, and I’d nod and keep riding. My only destination was the quietest road.

There were times I wasn’t alone, times when kids I recognized from school cruised out of driveways and rode alongside me for a while. On our bikes we were equals, and together we owned the neighborhood. No one would tease or torment. We just rode in figure eights, up and down hills, easily passing the time. We lost ourselves this way.

On the way back to my house there was a gentle hill and I’d lean back and rest my ankles on the handlebars, letting my wheels and gravity carry me. I trusted my bike.

My son is not an awkward child like I was, but he has his moments. There are times when he’s too shy to say his name, and times when he is so lost in his thoughts that he walks into a wall. So I was surprised to notice the ease with which he took to his bike.

Last week he rode the long straight road to our neighborhood middle school. I walked behind him, calling out reminders for him to stop at every corner, my voice nearly lost in the distance between us. Miraculously, he heard and complied.

When we arrived, a boy his age rode up and down a long stretch of pavement on a pink bike. My son joined him and they were instant friends, friends of the moment, racing and circling each other. The boy’s father called out “It was his sister’s bike!” I nodded and smiled, hoping that my gestures conveyed that I was not the sort of parent to judge a little boy for riding a pink bike.

My son isn’t one to judge either, and I held my breath as they challenged each other with near misses, the boy on the pink bike swooping in front of my son, my son steering away just in time to avoid a collision. As I watched, I tried to summon that same trust that I had when I was a child gliding down the hill with my feet on the handlebars.

They rode that same strip of pavement for nearly an hour, sharing the grace of easy friendship. It was long past our usual dinnertime and the sky was growing dark, but I let my son ride until he was sweaty and weary. I was comforted to learn that even in this age of helmets and curfews, of iPads and Netflix, bikes can still amaze.

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This post was featured on Half and Half

The Underachiever’s To-Do List

My summer break officially starts in 21 days. I’m trying not to think about all of the work that needs to get done between now and then, the papers that need grading, the early morning meetings. Instead, I’m just trying to trust that these days will pass, that the work will get done somehow, and by the end of June I will breathe again.

But I’m worried about my to-do lists, which are scattered on my computer, my iPhone, on scraps of paper. They’re full of crazy goals, of random ideas, of books I need to read, of essays I need to write, and 1001 ways to become a better person. I’ve learned from summers past that two months is more of a blip than a lifetime, and yet still I overplan.

So I’ve decided I need a new kind of to-do list, one that helps me actively work on underachieving, or to put it more kindly (and more accurately) one that helps me attend to my day-to-day needs rather than always scrambling towards some distant future.

1. Sleep as much as possible. My goal here is to stop counting hours, to stop treating sleep as a bargaining arrangement, e.g. If I sleep five hours tonight and six hours tomorrow, I can make it up by sleeping eight hours on Friday. No. I won’t do this anymore. I will go to bed when I’m tired and wake when the morning wakes me. And I will have long conversations with Stump about this plan, because he will need to get on board.

bed

2. Sit on the couch with Smoke and watch a movie from beginning to end. I’m not sure I’ve ever done this. I’ve tried, but always I find myself getting up and folding laundry, or grabbing my laptop and answering emails. But I’m capable of this, I know it. Maybe if I make a giant bowl of popcorn, I’ll be able to sit still for ninety minutes.

3. Binge-watch TV on Netflix. I am so overdue for this. I think I’ve watched a total of three hours of TV over the last nine months.

4. Have car-free, plan-free, errand-free days. Plan-free days scare me, but they always turn out to be the best days, the days where we actually find time to draw and make cookies, or ride bikes to the park and then stay there for two hours.

puddle

5. Cultivate friendships. Sometimes I forget to appreciate all of the people I love outside of my immediate family. Partly it’s because they are scattered across the state and the country. Partly it’s because, as a rule these days, everyone is always busy. I try to make time to maintain the friendships I have, but this means giving them just enough. It means an hour in passing here and there, but never long enough to follow a hundred tangents and then land on a comfortable silence. This summer I want to be the kind of friend who actually answers the phone, who says “yes” to the spontaneous invitation, who goes on an adventure, who has an afternoon to spare.

The Problem with Mother’s Day

Before we actually had kids, I assumed I could talk Kellie into conceding Mother’s Day to me. I’d give her Father’s Day, and I assumed she’d be fine with that. After all, I was the one who would be growing these babies inside my body, birthing them, and breastfeeding them at all hours of the day and night. It seemed only reasonable that I’d want that day to myself.

When Stump's daycare class made Father's Day gifts last year, this is what they did for us.

When Stump’s daycare class made Father’s Day gifts last year, this is what they did for us.

The problem that I didn’t anticipate, and maybe I should have seen this coming, is that Kellie is not a father. She’s pretty clear about that. She hates it when people call her “sir” by accident. And, though she pretends not to mind so much, I know it bothers her when strangers look at our family, try to quickly assess her role, and conclude that she must be the aunt or the grandma. Just last week she brought both Smoke and Stump to Costco and upon her return she reported that someone had commented in her direction, “Oh, the babysitter’s taking the kids on some errands.” As someone who is rarely acknowledged as a mom when out in public, she’d like to claim the title when she can.

So, my problem with Mother’s Day is that I have to share it. But I’ve come to see that this is the problem for all of us. In the years that I had wanted to become a mother, I had thought of Mother’s Day as a kind of extra birthday, a day where I would get to be the center of my own universe, to eat breakfast in bed, to open cards, to receive flowers. But, competition with Kellie aside, there are plenty of other mothers in my life—more than I can adequately celebrate in a single day.

There’s my own mom who, when she comes to visit spends at least eighty percent of her time cross-legged on the living room floor reading books and making block towers with the boys. There’s Grandma Jerry who bakes cookies just for Smoke every time he comes to her house. And then there are the aunts in our lives—sisters and sisters-in-law who nurture my kids while raising kids of their own. I haven’t even started on the other mothers in my life, the friends who keep me sane by hosting Smoke for play dates or listening to me complain. Instead of the center of the universe, I am just one of many planets.

This is Smoke's Aunt Cindi teaching him to ski.

This is Smoke’s Aunt Cindi teaching him to ski.

This is why today it dawned on me: I should take Father’s Day. It won’t be hard to do. The week before, I’ll tell Kellie that I don’t expect a card, but flowers would be nice, and she and the boys are free to bake me a German chocolate cake while I lie outside in the hammock and read.   I’ll mention to friends or maybe even post it on Facebook that I count as a father on Father’s Day. I’m guessing that people will go for it. Sure there are people who go fishing with their dad or take him out for sushi, but Father’s day strikes me as a roomier holiday, one where some of my friends might be scratching their chins thinking, “I already called my dad, now what do I do?…Oh yeah, bring Jenn a beer.”

Kellie turned down a pretty good offer. It’s taken me six years to figure that out.

Teddy Ruxpin, my would-be savior

Does anyone remember this?

I do. I might have seen this commercial at least a hundred times when I was a child. I would have been just beginning second grade when it came out, toting my brand new Trapper-Keeper folders and wondering who would be my friend that year. The product spoke to me. I dreamed of owning a Teddy Ruxpin; I thought that if I had one it was possible I would never have to be lonely again.

To begin with, the commercial itself closely resembles fantasies I entertained as a child. At night if I couldn’t sleep I’d fantasize about things like learning to do a perfect back handspring and then one day at recess, out of the blue, casually, I’d do a series of back handsprings across the field. I’d be unstoppable. One person would catch sight of me and point. Slowly, all the other students out at recess would gaze on my awesome-ness. Within minutes, I’d be transformed from class nerd to school hero.

But in reality I could barely cartwheel, and no one longed for my friendship. Every year I somehow managed to earn one best friend. Normally she’d last until the school year ended and then she’d move away, or we’d be assigned to separate classrooms the following year. To the rest of the grade, I was something of a pariah. I had eczema, which meant that I was constantly itching. I didn’t know the rules to even simple games like kickball, and if I joined a game I found that my legs froze when anyone was watching me. If I ever managed to kick the ball, it simply rolled a few inches and then petered out. Also: I had crooked teeth and wore sweater vests. Sometimes I cut my own bangs.

But in my dreams I had blond ringlets and excellent hand-eye coordination. In my dreams, I looked a little like Gidget, whose movies I had seen rebroadcast on TV.

ImageThough it closely resembled my fantasies—to the point my eight-year-old self could have written it—the commercial itself didn’t figure heavily into my thoughts about Teddy Ruxpin. I didn’t think that I would win any friends by bringing him to school. I wanted him because he could talk. More importantly, he would talk to me. I imagined him occupying a spot next to the pillow on my bed, reciting his pre-recorded stories. Somehow I thought his voice–which would be at my beckon call whenever I needed it–would act as a salve for all of the things that ached me: the loneliness of grade school, the realities of growing toward puberty and away from cuteness.

Strangely, I don’t think I ever asked my parents for a Teddy Ruxpin. Though my parents were resistant to buy any mass marketed toy, it’s conceivable that during the Christmas season I could have worn them down with some persistence. It seems likely that I never asked because a part of me recognized my fantasy as a pipe dream, and a weak one at that. Teddy Ruxpin could not save me from loneliness. I knew, just as my parents would have known, that we would install the four double-A batteries, I’d listen to each side of the cassette three times, maybe five, and then he’d sit in some forgotten corner of my room, his eyes perpetually wide with eagerness.

Image credit, Gidget: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gidget