The Day It Came Loose

We’ve all had those days when we’ve gotten too close to that proverbial edge of going absolutely certifiably bonkers. They come more frequently, I think, when you’re parenting young children. Universally, every single toddler and preschooler has some innate ability to make grown, previously well-adjusted adults lose their grip on reality, forsake all learned coping mechanisms, and act completely bring-on-the-straight-jacket nuts.

Guess what. When you put four of them together, all the same age, day after day after day, you can get to that breaking point even faster than you usually would.

My kids were totally into the Sesame Street scene. Each child had his or her favorite character, each person’s preference often reflecting the color assignment I’d given them when they came home from the hospital to keep track of their bottles first, and then after that their blankets, clothes, toothbrushes, backpacks, and everything else they individually owned. Even now, good friends know who has which color, and not so good friends wonder why their belongings seem to always fall into one color palate. (When they start the inevitable therapy that all children need to work out the damage done to them by their parents, I’m sure they’ll need to have some intensive work on their obsessions with certain colors.) We often went to the “Bert and Ernie Store” to see how we could add to their collections and found “gently used” stuffed animals or other toys for them to enjoy. (They called all thrift stores the “Bert and Ernie Store” for a long time after that.) One Christmas I made almost life-size versions of their favorite characters using ping pong balls for Cookie Monster’s eyes and real toddler shoes for Bert and Ernie. Cookie had a giant fur chocolate chip cookie that could be Velcroed into his hand, Big Bird had his teddy bear, Ernie his rubber duckie, and Bert, a little canister of oatmeal. Sesame Street was pretty sacred in our family.

Until that day. That day I went too close to the brink.

From the Bert and Ernie Store we’d acquired a very cute Big Bird toy, a 7-inch wind up tricycle that Big Bird peddled. His legs went ’round and ’round, turning the wheels, moving the trike across the floor. One day, his wind up key got stuck. As a sort of handy woman back then, I took the broken toy into the laundry room to fix while the kids napped. I sat in the middle of basement concrete floor and started to work on it. Unfortunately, I was having a really hard day, coping with four three-year-olds, the limitations of life when stuck at home ALWAYS AND FOREVER, and just all that STUFF that every parent knows becomes more than one can cope with on certain days. And Big Bird’s tricycle breaking down was just one too many losses that day. I was working on the spring of the wind up mechanism and I just couldn’t get it to go back in right. It kept slipping. It kept unwinding, just like I was. And pretty soon, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Sadly, I’d brought along the toolbox that included the hammer in it. One doesn’t really need a hammer to work on a spring-driven mechanism. But my hand reached over to grab the handle and my mind just went with it. With the first whack, bits of the bike flew to the far walls of the laundry room. And the spring didn’t work a bit better than before. With a few more whacks, even Big Bird was flying. By then I couldn’t even stop myself. I beat that toy to smithereens. There was nothing I could do. It just came out of me.

When Big Bird was no more, along with his obliterated cute little tricycle, I just sat there in the middle of the laundry room wondering what had just happened. Some catharsis. Good thing the kids were safely, blissfully sleeping upstairs in their beds. I got the broom and dust pan and started sweeping, plus picked up by hand all the pieces of Big Bird that had flown into the nooks and crannies of the room. When it was all swept up and tied into a small garbage bag, I put it in the trash bin, smoothed my hair, and waited at the kitchen table with a cup of tea for the kids to wake up from their naps. Then I’d have to sit down with them and break the news that we didn’t have a Big Bird on a tricycle toy anymore. If they asked why, I’d have to tell them the truth. Mom went a little too close to the brink and the hammer fell onto Big Bird. They’d understand.

R.I.P. cute little Big Bird on a fun tricycle toy. Those were the days.