The time is summer, 2002. It's a hot and muggy day. I'm in Hershey, Pennsylvania. In fact, my then-pregnant wife and I are at Hershey Park, enjoying what would be our last child-free vacation. She has the idea that it would make for a cute story if I were to win a stuffed doll from one of the midway games, which we could eventually give to our baby (whom we now know as Gracie). This would be my first "fatherly duty," as it were. Win a toy for my daughter.
What my wife doesn't take into account is the fact that her husband is a huge nerd. We're not known for our athletic prowess. Would you like to have you taxes done? Call up a nerd. Did you get a new computer or digital camera for Christmas? I'm your man. Perhaps you want a day-by-day, hour-by-hour rundown of what's airing on the History Channel? You get the idea.
Now you say you want me to throw a ball and knock down a stack of milk jugs? We've got a problem.
Three balls later, the milk jugs stood untouched, and I was remembering the year I played little league baseball: ONE hit all season. ONE.
Next, I tried to use a pellet gun to shoot a red star out of a piece of paper. Let's just say I'm not an FBI agent for a reason. Other humiliations included: Bounce a ping-pong ball into a bowl, pop a balloon with a dart (sounds easy, doesn't it?) and throw a ring onto a post. Time after time I failed the waiting bundle of cells and neurons inside my wife. "Wow, what a nerd," I thought I heard it say.
Now for the best part. My wife is an avid scrapbooker, and as I pressed through my exercise in failure, she snapped photo after photo. Today there's a highly amusing montage in one of her scrapbooks that features pictures from that afternoon. The final shot depicts me, standing at a cashier's counter and pulling some cash from my wallet as I pay for the stuffed cow I finally had to buy.
When Grace was born, "Cow" went into her crib. She didn't really pay him much attention until she was 12 months old and we were phasing out the binky. When the bink went away, we hyped Cow (she had renamed him "Night-Night Cow" by then) pretty heavily. "Ooh, look at this beautiful cow," we said. "He's so soft and cuddly. What a beautiful cow..." On and on. She fell for it, and swapped her bink for Night-Night Cow (NNC).
Today, NNC is A-1 in her heart. He comes with us on all car rides, has the place of honor in her bed (top of the pillow, front and center), attends tea parties, gets HAND-washed and so on. He is the undisputed King of Toys.
Sometimes when she's walking through the house, trailing him absentmindedly behind her, I think of Sarah Mclachlan’s song, recorded for Toy Story 2, "When She Loved Me" (or as I like to call it, "The Saddest Song Ever Written"). Eventually, NNC will end up at the bottom of a box headed for the Swap Shop.
For now, though, a symbol of her father's ineptitude is the light of her little life. That's not so bad, right?