We have one child and infinite toys, but not specifically because she’s inquisitive enough to play with everything, although that’s true too. Rather, I mean that our supply of toys is incomprehensibly large, and essentially limitless. We never meant to spoil our daughter; it just happened.
As an example of what I mean, for our daughter’s first birthday, my wife arranged an extravagant and elaborate party. Sure, being one year old at the time of her first birthday, our daughter didn’t know enough to appreciate it and isn’t going to remember it, but it happened and it was grand. Relatives literally came from a thousand miles away. Groups of people who dislike each other more than the Capulets and Montagues came together without any sword fights. Total strangers came. They all brought toys.
I don’t want to sound unappreciative, because we appreciated every single one. Our daughter did too; her style of appreciation, however, was of the sort which hurricanes express for small coastal villages: she appreciated her toys until they were a field strewn with nearly unidentifiable rubble. For a while my wife and I tried to keep up with her, to clean up the debris left by her passing, but she wore us down.
There’s a classic bit of old wisdom about wearing clean undergarments, lest one get into an accident and have dirty undergarments seen by emergency personnel. There’s a parenting analogue: “Always clean up your child’s toys, because you never know when you might have policemen in your living room.”
My wife and I stopped cleaning up after our toddler, thus, when we had to call the police in the middle of the night, they stepped into a scene worthy of a very different sort of emergency call. We wanted to tell them that we had heard someone outside; it probably looked like we wanted to report an attack by monkey hoodlums. Or possibly a localized earthquake.
The two responding officers handled it with remarkable aplomb, and they nicely resolved our concerns over the surprising and frightening midnight noises. They just did it with conspicuous glances at the mess in our house. Maybe they thought that someone had already broken inside, ransacked the entire place, and then menaced us into hiding his or her presence. Their pointed glances might have been a subtle attempt to offer help.
Or, and this is probably more likely, they were quietly judging us for being the most disgracefully disorganized parents on the planet. It could have seemed like a fair critique, but our daughter outnumbered us one to two. We needed about eight more parents to make things even. (Apparently our daughter operates at a different order of magnitude.) Then, after remembering how to sleep and to eat food that wasn’t already partially chewed, we would have cleaned.
Nevertheless, the police addressed our concerns, did more than we could have reasonably asked, and bid us good evening. My wife and I thought we could safely return to bed. I didn’t feel like I should hide from curtains anymore.
Then the octopus struck.
I suppose that sounds like a scene from 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, or possibly one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. If I didn’t live pretty far from water, I might even try to run with that. As it is, I don’t want to imagine the octopus that could reach me here. It would either need to fly or be roughly the size of Australia. Or both. (At which point I surrender.)
Instead, the octopus that struck was a toy, one of the ones from my daughter’s first birthday party. Specifically, it was a whimsical bubble-blowing music player designed for bath time merriment. Nothing about it looked threatening. Its every honk and whistle delighted my daughter, so we left it suction-cupped to the bathtub wall where she could reach it.
Then, in the middle of an already stressful night, those suction cups released. Down dropped the octopus and with a loud series of bangs it bounced around in the tub. Had we been asleep, we probably would have woken up alarmed. Since we were awake and already alarmed, we went a little crazy.
My wife screamed and jumped, two activities for which her loud heritage and martial arts training have thoroughly prepared her. I started swinging the stick around indiscriminately, an activity for which my lifetime of profligate clumsiness has thoroughly prepared me. In retrospect I should be thankful that I didn’t give either my wife or myself a concussion, or accidentally hurl the stick through a window and clock one of the departing policemen.
Not surprisingly, we didn’t get back to sleep for a while. We actually spent a good portion of the next hour debating whether or not the octopus might have caused the original noise that started the entire night opera. I suggested that maybe the octopus started to fall, and made loud noises in so doing. My wife, who I must point out didn’t wake up for this part, says that’s ridiculous. I think she doesn’t want to admit that we might have used the emergency hotline to report our daughter’s bath time buddy. She thinks I don’t want to admit that evil ninjas are trying to break into our house at night to steal our baby.
That baby, for the record, slept through all of this. In her entire life thus far, this was her best night’s sleep.