The Toddler, The Transformer, And The Old Man: A Story

(Related post: a survival kit for a loose toddler roaming your home and neighborhood.)

I have not been one of those grown-ass men who collects toys for himself. It’s not that I look down on those that do — it just, I dunno, hasn’t been a thing I cared much about. I have other oddities hanging around (a pheasant killed by a grandfather I never met, an evil clapping monkey, old typewriters and cameras, a phrenology head), but toys? Not so much.

Of course, I have a toddler (really, a burgeoning pre-schooler at this point, as he’ll soon cross the three-and-a-half threshold), and the toddler? Well, the toddler likes toys.

More to the point, the toddler likes Transformers.

We tried to hook him on Transformers Rescue Bots a year or so ago hoping that it would be something new and different from the ceaseless parade of trucks and cars the child has accumulated (seriously, he has approximately 47 monster trucks, 82 tow trucks, 178 pickups, and 742,313 tractor trailers). And it didn’t quite click until he saw the show on Netflix (seriously, Rescue Bots is actually fun toddlerian Transformer-based TV), and then it was like, boom, we had our gateway drug toy. Sure, sure, they’re trucks, but they’re also ROBOTS, and in a way, they’re also puzzles, so — yay.

He’s gotten deeper into the whole Transformers thing, and has watched many of the shows, and can name probably more of the damn things than I can at this point (and hell, I grew up loving them). He has a few of the Transformers Prime toys and I fumble with them like a bandage-fingered invalid, but he’s all like — *ninja-flip, clicky-twisty, press, push, pivot* — yeah, done, shit got transformed, Dad. He pretends to be various Transformers: Bumblebee, Cliffjumper, Ratchet, Heatwave. Inhabiting these character helps him conquer sometimes scary situations like learning to swim or meeting new kids. (Sidenote: the Prime toys are actually really great. Solid, fun, stylistic. And the show is good, if a little grim. YOU KNOW, IF YOU CARE.)

So, he’s kind of a Transformers fanatic right now. Which is not odd, because toddlers are either a fanatic for something or it’s dead to them. On the knob marked INTEREST LEVEL, the numbers goes from 1 to 10, and 2 through 9 are scratched out with a rough penny.

All in all?

It’s nice.

Plus, they’re toys I liked as a kid, so it’s this weird psychic bridge from my youth to his.

(Which is exactly what the toy companies want, of course. “BACK TO THE NOSTALGIA MINES, JIMMY. WE GOT MORE STRAWBERRY PONYCAKES AND G.I. NINJA GO-BOTS TO DIG OUT OF THE RICH LOAMY EARTH OF YOUR YOUTH, MWA HA HA HA HA.”)

Back to the original point:

I don’t really collect toys.

Except, okay, I’m getting this new writing shed put in — a place for me to go write during the day, where I can pretend I’m har-de-har going to work like a real person, where I will temporarily put on pants like a bonafide human (at least in order to cross the lawn in inclement weather). And I figure, okay, it’s a good-sized space so maybe, just maybe, I’ll put in a small shelf for toys.

And, there’s a recent Transformers comic featuring a fan-created female character named Windblade. When I was a kid, I played with toys (GI Joe, Star Wars, Transformers) that offered up storyworlds featuring approximately 1 to 3 female characters and a whole universe of dudes, so it’s nice to see cool female Transformers — the comic is great, written by a woman (Mairghread Scott), drawn by a woman (Sarah Stone), and all around awesome.

I saw that they were going to be making a toy of Windblade.

I was like, fuck yeah.

I’m going to buy this Windblade.

And no, I’m not going to be one of those weirdo collectors who keeps them in the packaging and squirrels them away in a box. Nor am I going to delicately place her behind a glass door, only taking her out once a year to pfft pfft hose her down with a jet of canned air. (“WORRY NOT, MY PRECIOUS PLASTIC ICON, I WILL SAVE YOU FROM THE CORPSES OF DUST MITES.”) I’ll totally play with her. (Er, that sounds creepy. By “play with her,” I mean, “occasionally pose her doing robo-karate, kicking my grandfather’s pheasant in its petulant peak.”)

Windblade is of course a sought-after toy, which means on eBay and Amazon she goes for Way Too Much Money, sold by jerks who buy all the good toys and then jack up the prices like straight-up toy baron villains, but whatever. Luckily, I was able to find her on Hasbro for the normal price — fifteen bucks. Yay. Bought.

And? Received. Via UPS. Just the other day.

The box arrived.

I brought it upstairs.

B-Dub was in on his potty, so I assumed I was safe, but the kid? He can smell toys. He’s like a human toy detector. Something about the plastic — he comes wandering in like a bloodhound on the scent of a triple homicide. “Father, I smell points of articulation,” he didn’t actually say. (Though he does use the word “articulation” when referring to his toys — a word he picked up watching YouTube videos where grown-ass adults obsessively review toys in videos that are not child pornography so much as they are pornography for children. He’ll seriously demo his toys for you like he’s trying to get you to buy them. “Look, this one has excellent articulation. Custom paint, no stickers.”)

So, here comes my son, naked from the waist down, staring at me with a new Transformer in my hand. And his eyes narrow — he knows something is up. He asks, “Is that for me?”

And so begins the grown-ass man trying to explain to his half-naked toddler that, no, this toy is Daddy’s toy, and it’s not Daddy’s toy in that it’s like, a goddamn compound bow or a bottle of whiskey or something, it’s a Transformer — like, for children, except Daddy is claming it’s his.

B-Dub goes into freak out mode.

“You can’t have toys,” he says, his eyes starting to tear up.

“Why?” I ask.

“Only I can have toys.”

“So other children can’t have toys?”

“They can have toys, too.”

“So why can’t Daddy have a toy?”

“Because you’re old.”

Oh, shit.

Emotionally shivved by a three-year-old.

“Grown-ups can’t have toys. You’re too old to play with toys,” he went on to explain, sticking his sharpened Elmo toothbrush once again into the meat of my beating heart. (Perhaps he’s just trying to finish the job he began when, a week ago he declared, “I do not like books.”)

We had a long talk after about how he likes it when I play with him and we race cars and have Transformers run around (and hug, because damnit, giant robots don’t always have to blast the shit out of each other), and how wouldn’t it be fine if Daddy could bring his own toys? And just as B-Dub shares his toys, I can share mine with him. And then he was okay with that, and a vital lesson was learned about sharing.

And about oldness and grown-ass men like me playing with toys.

What I’m really trying to say is:

Never underestimate the ability of your child to speak truths that cut deep.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play with Windblade in defiance of my mortality.