Monday, March 14, 2011

The One Where a Vintage Wonder Woman Toy Operates as a Metaphor for My Modern Life

I left work early, today. My throat was hating me for forcing it's employment and so I decided to reward it with a Shamrock Shake. Food coloring, ice cream and the constant question, "is this minty or something else?" My gastrointestinal regions seem to be completely unaffected by the sickness, so Shamrock Shakes are go for launch.
I ordered and pulled ahead in line and I sat there and watched all the kids in the back of a late 90's minivan in front of me throw their hands up in excitement at the thought of getting chicken nuggets and toys in the same bag and it made me feel happy for them. And then it was 1988 in my brain.

When I was little, I was not a demanding child. I took what was given to me and I was usually very grateful. I was a sensitive soul and undemanding. Destined to major in literature. It's important to remember that little kids, like this, are not just happy and content children. Their sensitivity to other's feelings ahead of their own is based largely on guilt. Admirable qualities, to an extent, but also at little bit on the sad side. I remember one evening on the tail end of some family road trip, our parents took us to a Burger King drive-through. There were four kids in our family and so usually when we'd go to fast food places (which was once in never considering it costs a small fortune to feed that many people), my mom just ordered a lot of hamburgers and passed them around to the group. She called this "bag-o-burgers" and that's what we grew to expect. We were not used to getting plastic playthings with our meals but for some reason this time was different. My older brother knew that they were giving away these cool action-figure cup-holders. You could snap them on to the cup that they give to you and, voila! Instant handle. They had Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Somehow, my brother used his negotiation skills to convince my parents to buy kids meals for each one of us. They totally caved. I don't know how they did it. Once it was determined that we were getting these once-in-a-lifetime treats, I silently prayed that I'd pleaseohpleaseohplease get the Wonder Woman cup holder. I told myself that if Sarah or Adam got it and I got something else, then I would offer to trade but that I would be happy if I didn't get one. This is no exaggeration. I pep-talked myself in 1988. But I wanted it. I wanted it deep in my tiny, five-year-old soul.

Mom handed us our bags and my brother shouted in excitement when he pulled the toy from his box, "BATMAN!!" My little sister (who was only two but thought that Adam hung the moon) did the same. I pulled mine out and saw that it was... Batman. My mom said, "What did you get, Libby?"
And I didn't even answer her. I just held back and held up my Batman figurine to show her but I couldn't help it and I got all quivery in my disappointment and I cried a little and finally said, "I'm a girl." I was truly crushed. I thought I would be prepared for this. I thought that I could be thankful, even if I didn't get Wonder Woman. I mean, I still got a tiny Dr. Pepper AND my own little bag of French fries. What was there to be disappointed about? Some times even now, over two decades later, I still feel this way.

Despite the fact that it was grossly out of his character, my dad actually turned the minivan around and drove back through. I saw the display in the window. One of each. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. I wanted her. There were only two panes of glass between she and I. We were so close. I was ashamed that the family had re-routed just because of my tears and I was embarrassed for my dad that he was negotiating for a toy. But it did make me feel special, at the same time. He was negotiating on my behalf. I knew that she was just a hunk of plastic and I didn't even know why I needed her. I just did. The kid at the window explained that last week they gave away all of the Wonder Woman cup holders and they were out. This week was Batman week. My dad said, "How about that one in the window?"

I don't remember the rest, I just know that I gave up my Batman and took my Wonder Woman and sipped my Dr. Pepper from her chalice and rearranged the guilt and shame and made room for an equal measure of love and gratitude.

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