Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Think before you wrap

6th birthdays are a challenge. No, I’m not talking about the themed party (Kinder gym? Ten-pin bowling? Fairies and pirates? Maccas?) but the actual presents that the birthday child receives.

My daughter turned six recently and was swamped with gifts. Most were educational, lots were creative and sadly, ALL required some parental involvement.

First up was a knitting set. It had instructions but they looked about as easy to follow as the manual that came with our flat-packed computer desk that took three hours and lots of F-words to put up. I recognised the wool and the knitting needles in the box but the diagrams were all dancing in front of my stressed eyes, refiguring themselves into a computer desk pattern.

My Mum taught me how to knit in 1978. Even then, as I struggled to knit a scarf, I knew that it was never going to be a skill that I would be able to pass on to my daughter. I had dropped so many stitches that my grandma, trying to be encouraging said: ‘Lovely crocheting, dear.’ And now, my daughter was in front of me pleading for me to teach her how to knit. Before I could open my mouth, I could already sense the ‘Don’t you DARE get her to ask Daddy to show you’ glare emanating from my husband. Instead, I weakly said, ‘I don’t think we’ll have time for that before lunch. Why not start with your shopapopolis set? I reckon that’ll be pretty easy for you.’

Yeah right. Designed by some deranged Salvador Dali fan, it came with visual diagrams that even the computer desk designers would have been envious of. Little plastic balls were meant to fasten the walls of the shopapopolis together, as they so obviously do in real bloody life. The dolls in the set were so bizarrely constructed that we both agreed to use sticky tape. Four weeks later, the hellish little shopping town is still on our coffee table because neither of us has the energy to take it apart.

And who knew that plaster of Paris was still in vogue with the tween set? The damn stuff gets everywhere, finely dusting our living room with snow and then sets immediately. How we were supposed to affix the magnets on to the back of the plastic teddy bears eluded me. Each time I pressed one in, the plaster cracked until teddy looked as though he’d been shot at close range. My daughter suggested the sticky tape which she took from the ello set and got to work on the teddies.

My stress levels were reduced initially when we slowly worked our way through her other gifts. Bubble blowers – fine, fun to do, nice to look at, something pleasant to do outside under the eaves when it’s raining outside. Little did we know that the dog would nearly die from exhaustion in her efforts to ‘catch’ each brightly crystal-coloured bubble that floated by. An hour later her nose was covered in a rainbow slick of detergent and she was foaming rather unflatteringly at the mouth.

What about her Tamagotchi? A tiny little virtual pet, worn around the neck on a chain in the form of a computer game. Well, in the first few days, we had to have a few rather unsettling discussions about death and avoiding responsibility, didn’t we? You see, six year olds go to school and don’t have time to check on their computer-pets every ten minutes to see if they’ve done a poo, feel hungry, hurt or unhappy. By home time, their beloved pet is dead, covered in a dot-matrix halo. My daughter’s eyes fill with tears as she wails, “But I’m BUSY Mum, I don’t have time to look after it during the day!” Subsequently, I found myself agreeing to take care of Bucky by carrying him in my handbag. It bleeped constantly and most often during meetings, a the bus ride and at the cinema. I purposely let it poop itself off the screen because the last thing I wanted was another responsibility, albeit a techno one. Maybe there’s a positive in all this and I’ll be able to use it as an example in later years when I’ll have to discuss the awkward subject of sex, contraception and avoiding teen pregnancy. Hopefully not before the age of 48, my husband hopes.

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