Monster Truck Jam – Everything Is Better When The Wheels Come Off
I have some things on my mind and will probably get around to ranting about them in the next day or two but yesterday, Maggie and I went to a very special event that helps keep things in perspective.
It was our grandson, Ben’s, third birthday party.
His mom asked him if he would like a party and he said yes. She then asked if he would like to have a party with his friends or with his grandparents and his aunts and uncles but Ben’s no fool. He opted for the second. Big people bring bigger gifts.
And gifts he received.
Ben is Monster Truck crazy, so mom and dad gave him a Monster Truck slide complete with all the most popular Monster Trucks from the circuit. He was also given electronic reader kind of thing that reads stories out loud and which highlights each word on a digital screen to help him learn to read and spell.
He received a Hot Wheels race set for the bath, NHL clothes of his favourite team and a remote control Monster truck.
Maggie and I thought we were quite clever. We had picked up a small, hand-made train in Paris with a locomotive pulling individual cars, each of which carried one of the letters that spells out his full name.
Maggie’s family is originally from The Netherlands and we have some Dutch stuff around the house, including Ben-size wooden shoes which have fascinated him since he learned to walk, so we picked him up a pair of slippers shaped like wooden shoes and, of course, the inevitable race car set. We tried to cover all the bases.
So what were the hits of the day?
The first gift Ben opened turned out to be some of the books for the reader and not really knowing what they were, they didn’t grab his attention. He dutifully opened the card first, then the gift. It was a slow process for three-year old hands made that much longer by the taking of the inevitable photographs. Grandparents taking pictures of their grandchildren are worse than the paparazzi at a celebrity wedding.
I don’t know what the next gift was because we didn’t make it past the card.
His young aunt, home from university for the big birthday party, had bought a card with a monster truck on it that featured a ‘press me’ button. When you pressed the button, the card yelled out “Monster Truck Jam” and then some famous phrase from one of the trucks.
That just about destabilized the entire process of opening gifts. Ben ran around pressing the button and yelling Monster Truck Jam, so excitedly that he could barely contain his enthusiasm. His mother would dutifully try to focus him back on opening more gifts and to give him credit, he’d give her the card and try but half way through tearing the paper off the next gift he’d say, Monster Truck Jam and run over to get the card and press the button.
We tried hiding the card while he was opening another gift but he stopped in the middle of tearing off the paper and asked where the card was and then wandered off to look for it.
Eventually all the gifts were open which meant it was time to play with them. Nothing would do but that the race track be set up in the family room. It took four people, five batteries and two screw drivers.
Because assembly was required and we only had the one day, I was relegated to observer status.
It didn’t take the crew very long and the electronics worked the first time which made me think that these were people I should be calling the next time I have to assemble a barbeque or install a dimmer switch.
Ben loved the whole idea of cars speeding on the track, especially once he realized he could make them fly off the track and crash into the couch. Eventually, he figured out that he could take some of his miniature Monster Trucks, put them on the track and manually push them around which apparently was a whole lot more fun than actually using the remote controller to drive the race cars.
Every so often, it was time for a break to go and get a drink and then find the Monster Truck card and press the button, then it was back to the race track. Eventually, Ben realized he could take the wheels off the cars and then use his tow truck to pretend to tow the broken car to the couch and that was even more fun than using the remote controller. Good thing too because without the wheels, the race cars weren’t responding very well to the commands from the controllers.
After most of the vehicles had been de-wheeled and towed, Aunt Amy arrived. She brought a gift and a card which Ben dutifully opened first. It was a card that unfolded into a giraffe. Well….that was it for the gift in the pretty paper. We had to run around and show everyone how big the card became when it opened up into a giraffe. Then the giraffe card had to be introduced to the Monster Truck card so they could talk to each other.
And only then did we get around to opening the gift which was a very large, remote controlled Monster Truck. Unlike Ben’s grandfather who didn’t read the instructions on the race car set box, Aunt Amy did and she brought batteries. In nothing flat, the truck was ready to go and Ben figured out two things immediately.
First, he figured out how to work the remote control so that the truck tore across the living room into the kitchen. Second, he figured out that he couldn’t get the wheels off the truck so it was back to the race car set and the mini-Monster Trucks for some more tire surgery.
While this was all going on, the women in the family were passing Ben’s three-month old baby sister around like a tray of sandwiches at a church social. As each took their turn holding Adele, the others would eye her like a vultures sitting in a tree watching the death-throws of a dying animal. Any sign of weakness, any sign that an arm was growing tired of propping up the baby was met by a rustling and shifting as the women jockeyed for position to be next.
Dinner was my son-in-law’s excellent spaghetti with Caesar salad and garlic bread by request from the birthday boy. After dinner, it was time to get ready for the cake which meant there was enough time to find the Monster Truck card and press the button a couple of more times.
My daughter had made the cake which was huge and wasn’t confident about it although she did keep telling Ben that it would blow his socks off and it did. While he was blowing out the candles, Maggie reached down and very subtly pulled off his socks off then showed him that the cake really had blown them off.
Wow! That was almost as good as the Monster Truck and giraffe cards.
It was a special afternoon and later I reflected on two things that struck me about it all. The first was that it was encouraging that a little boy would find as much delight in a simple card as he did in any or all of the gifts he received. He was thrilled by the novelty rather than the expense of it.
The second was that regardless of what the toy does, children when left to their own devices will invent their own way of playing with it. Ben had more fun pushing his mini-trucks around the race track than he did making the cars race using the remote control. Removing the wheels from the new cars and trucks and then getting out his old tow truck to haul them around was even more fun.
The trick for the rest of us is never to be disappointed by how children play with what you have given them. Be happy that they have incorporated it into how they think and play. By the time we were ready to leave, Ben had somehow incorporated the Monster Truck slide his parents had given him into the race track set and was busy using his tow truck to haul cars to and from both with momentary breaks to press the button on the Monster Truck card.
It was all very complex but it made perfect sense to him. It was self-evident that he was enjoying himself and in the end, isn’t that why we bought our children gifts in the first place?
Happy birthday Ben, we can’t wait to see what you do with your Christmas presents but one thing is certain, you’ll be getting a lot of talking cards on Christmas morning. Your grandparents learn quickly.
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