Kids today just don’t realize how easy they’ve got it. When my generation was young, we even had to make our own noise!
This revelation struck me midway through Christmas Eve, as the little Woman of the Year presided from within the eye of a hurricane of childish babble, squawks and beeping. She didn’t say a word, and won’t for a good long time. No need — every gift that bore her name announced its presence with a verbal torrent, a blast of notes or a blatant honk fit to rouse the soundest sleeper.
While the child in question shredded brightly colored paper and tried to taste the ribbons, the adults in the room were treated to an unending avalanche of tinkly music, unearthly automated giggles and treacly prerecorded voices cooing “peekaboo.”
Did I mention the flashing lights? How about the self-propelled creatures that, once freed, rolled back and forth across the floor … or jigged to the theme from “Peanuts” … or set out to kiss our bemused young beloved, with furry ears a-flapping and lips puckered, exclaiming “mwaaah”?
Since the object of all this noisy, enchanting largesse is but 7 months old, she alone paid scant attention. After she’d spared a glance or two at each sensory deluge, she’d soon return to crinkling giftwrap.
Meanwhile, though, her growing hoard of vividly colored, cunningly cute playthings gave this giver time to think about the one essential element we’d overlooked.
Batteries. Lots and lots of batteries.
Still new to this 21st century baby regime, Russ and I are coming to realize it’s a brave new world out there for doting grandparents. When we were in our grandchild’s shoes (not literally — our tiny fashionista favors Baby Uggs), it was up to us kids ourselves to generate all the annoying noise and overexcited commotion around the Christmas tree.
Toys of that distant age just sat there until a child took charge; “self-propelled” was limited to fancy lawnmowers. Baby dolls could only squeak or spit out “mama” when you mouthed their lines. Music — or something loosely defined as such — emerged by tapping 12-inch pianos or blowing plastic horns or banging on that perennial parental nightmare, the child-sized drum.
Apparently it’s a brand-new day. While my generation was distracted by a gigabyte of deeper thoughts, technology was draining child’s-play part out of playing with toys. Instead of pushing and pulling, tugging and tossing, squeezing and cuddling, even the toys that infants most adore have been altered to teach the single skill they’ll need in the tech-beset days ahead: pushing buttons.
No modern Christmas wish list can be truly complete without a 24-pack of AA batteries. Pity the poor old-fashioned auntie or uncle who invests in that ultimate furry whatzit that promises to woof or wag its tail or blink its eyes — but forgets to load the double-A’s before wrapping.
When our little woman had been carted off to bed, after beginning to softly snore on the still-rampart of packages she had no energy left to deal with, we reminisced about Christmases past — what evenings like this would have sounded like some 60 years ago.
No buzz and whir, for sure! Instead, stuffed kitties could meow only through the mouths of their toddler mommies. Toy tractors chugged and tiny cars varoomed when Junior generated his own maximum vocal decibels. Those six-shooters signed by Hopalong Cassidy and Dale Evans exploded with nothing more than young humans’ “bang-bangs,” while Dad kept coaching the would-be desperadoes, “Don’t be pointing that thing at anybody!”
Not until seventh grade did I get my first gift that demanded batteries. It fulfilled every wish of the preteen girl — the transistor radio from my Aunt Irene.
Of course, it came out of the box minus the three big C batteries required to power it. But Irene had thought of everything — there they were in that little box I’d figured was fancy bath soap. Once I’d slid them into that wondrous new Emerson, my life was changed forever. No dancing Fisher-Price Groove-and-Glow BeatBo or Star Wars Rogue One Rapid Fire Imperial AT-ACT remote-controlled vehicle could possibly match the magic that paperback-size marvel generated: With one slide of its power switch, it brought all of teenage America into my bedroom in Streeter, North Dakota.
No longer were my musical horizons bounded by my folks’ iron control over the AM tuner knob in the station wagon. Now, instead of sighing over their impossible square tastes — largely dominated by Jimmie Rodgers, Rosemary Clooney and Tennessee Ernie Ford — I was free to soar among the clear-channel stations my wireless radio could tease down from the sky.
On cold, clear winter nights like these, when atmospheric “skip” was strong, my imagination reached beyond KFYR in Bismarck and Jamestown’s KSJB to the big-time behemoths of the mid-American airwaves. With careful tuning and clever positioning on the bedroom windowsill, I could binge on KOMA and WLS and even KXOK in St. Louis. Not only that — thanks to the little earphone tucked into the package, I could listen to whatever music whenever I pleased at the bone-shaking volume I preferred. No more parental units calling, “Turn down that ungodly caterwauling!”
With control of my own soundtrack, I happily joined the AM cults of stations closer to my own neck of the woods — Orly Knutson, Wee Windy Winslow, Ron Ripley … even K-Fire’s since-disgraced Father John with his popular “Padre’s Platters.” Not only that. I could dial up apocalyptic shivers on Sunday night with Leo Landsberger’s weekly John Birch Society rants; catch up with who was in the hospital on the morning broadcasts of Rev. and Mrs. N.E. McCoy; or listen closely to Bobby Gaye’s corny Saturday song dedications, propelled largely by the kind of pranks propagated by sly teenage miscreants of my day.
Its sound was scratchy. It was too big to carry in my purse or pocket. It drained batteries faster than you could empty a sinkful of dishwater. But that radio gave new meaning to the words “battery-powered” — tangible, dependable proof that a braver, louder, faster, more audacious world was waiting whenever you turned it on … piped directly down from the distant stars.