You always know when my three year old grandniece is visiting because our tiny two-room rental house begins to bear an uncanny resemblance to a toy store. As my wife works from home, having a pile of toys around usually serves as sufficient distraction to allow my wife to take care of her job responsibilities. Granted, Little One would rather be watching a Disney movie, kidvid on Netflix or (her preference) YouTube videos on my wife’s iPhone. Hence, the toys. Even at her young age, I think the kid is addicted to electronic devices. The upcoming Generation Alpha (those now under five years of age) are more connected to the world than any previous group, including their millennial parents.
We’re not sure how we feel about that. We’d rather that Little One take time to be a kid and not grow up so fast. It’s not that we want to hold her back or anything, but watching her glazed eyes mesmerized by the screen is a bit unsettling. Accordingly, we try to balance the electronic with a healthy dose of low-tech fun. This includes playing outside with the landlord’s kids, having fun with the cats and dogs, making trips to local play venues and spending imaginative time with the huge number of toys to which she has access.
We have taken on some of the child care duties to allow my niece to go to work without worry. She lives about 45 minutes from here, so the procedure involves a complicated relay of pick-ups and drop-offs that my wife and her sister have worked out with Little One’s mom. I have stopped trying to keep track. What I do know is that Little One stays over with us one or two nights each week. Although the suitcase that she brings with her clothes usually contains a few toys, it helps to have the toy shop ready to go.
Never for a minute did I stop to ask the toys how they feel about this arrangement. So I suppose it should come as no surprise that one of her toys decided to take matters into its own hands and speak its mind. Pixar’s animation studios are about two hours down the road in Emeryville, but they have nothing on us here in Sacramento.
It started in the middle of night. If a toy wanted to pick a time of day most calculated to capture our attention, this would be it. While we may be fast asleep, you can be sure that we’re going to sit up and take notice when anything noisy develops anywhere in our tiny house. Here at home, anyplace you are at the moment is no more than a few feet from any other place. So it’s not as if a toy’s cri de coeur would stand a chance of being overlooked.
My best guess is that the toys took a vote. Word is that they eschew any Electoral College type system of representation in favor of a New England town meeting style of direct democracy. In this election cycle, the nominee was my grandniece’s Minnie Mouse telephone. In better times, pressing the numeric buttons would result in the playing of recorded messages about visiting Minnie’s clothing emporium. Turn them into good American consumers while they’re young, right?
Now, it’s not as if we’ve engaged in blatant abuse of the toys, at least not on a level that would warrant retaliation. Benign neglect, maybe. Perhaps the Minnie Mouse phone was attempting to serve as the voice of the other toys that were tired of being cast aside in favor of mere images on electronic devices.
At any rate, this is how the deal went down. My wife and I were fast asleep when my dreams were invaded by a weird mantra that was chanted over and over again. As I struggled to consciousness, I wondered if there was some type of emergency in the neighborhood that necessitated loud speaker warnings to evacuate immediately. It sounded just about that ominous and urgent. “What was that?” I asked my wife, who murmured “I dunno” and immediately returned to dreamland.
What on earth was I hearing?
“Stricky-ah! Stricky-ah! Stricky-ah! Restricky-ah! Stricky-ah!”
Generally, I sleep so soundly that I wouldn’t wake up if a bomb went off. But it seemed as if I had finally met my match. This time, the sheer weirdness of this interruption to my somnolence was enough to keep me awake. It sounded as if I had walked into an area that was off-limits and had tripped an alarm that was attempting to shout “Restricted! Restricted!”
I climbed out of bed and headed to the bathroom, quickly realizing that the noise emanated not from outside, but from the toy pile. The disembodied voice sounded like something out of a bad sci-fi movie. I touched the Minnie Mouse phone and noticed that it was wet. Immediately, the phone returned to its normal self as I heard the cheerful, chirpy voice to which I had become accustomed. “Hello! This is Minny Mouse!”
Now the toys were just playing mind games with me. Was I still dreaming? Was this all a product of my imagination? And why was the phone wet? Oh no, I thought, I hope the batteries aren’t leaking acid all over everything.
Padding back from the bathroom, I climbed back into bed and went back to sleep. Less than five minutes later, it started up again.
“Stricky-ah! Stricky-ah! Restricky-ah! Stricky stricky stricky stricky stricky stricky-ah! Restricky-ah!”
As I am a lazy so-and-so, I really did not want to mess with it. So I tossed and turned, went back to sleep and woke up again multiple times, only to find that the revenge of the toys had not let up.
“Restricky-ah! Restricky-ah! Stri-stri-stri-stri-stricky stricky stricky stricky restricky-ahhh!”
In the morning, my wife filled me in. Apparently, Little One had taken the Minnie Mouse phone outside to play and had gotten dirt inside it. Then she took it in the bathtub with her to wash it. That explained why I felt water when I touched it. My wife said we would just have to throw it away. And that was more than fine with me.
We had a lovely Saturday, complete with going out to lunch and attending a birthday barbecue for another three year old member of our extended family. Little One was present and I had the opportunity to engage in one of my favorite pastimes, taking lots of iPhone pictures. We capped off the day by watching the Olympics.
Saturday night, I was dead asleep when I bolted awake. What was that noise? “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!” It sounded as if one of our electronic devices was attempting to send a fax or maybe connect to an old-fashioned dial-up modem. Oh, good, it stopped.
A few minutes later: “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!” Not again! It seemed that the nefarious Minnie Mouse phone was not about to give up without a fight.
In the morning, my wife removed Minnie’s batteries. Later, she took it out to the trash.
Thus endeth the tale of the great 2016 revolt of the toy pile. And tonight, I get some sleep.