On my past business trips, I avoided getting the boys any presents. Mostly because I wanted to extend the time I have to hear the dreaded words “What did you bring me” for as many years as possible.
But when I was in South Africa, I my pal Chris Reed described how he had this cool little shelf in his kids’ rooms that over the years he’s filled with nice little tokens from his travels around the globe.
Well, there was no way I was going to allow Chris Reed to win “Dad Of The Year: Traveling Team.” I had to destroy him. By buying useless crap.
Luckily, South Africa has a very centrally located center for useless crap. It’s a town square overloaded with vendors’ tables. Each one featuring a slightly different version of the same six African items.
I walked around the place with a deep sense of dread. I just hated being the big, dumb, rich, fat American trying to negotiate with people whose livelihood depended on my big, dumb, rich, fat American-ness.
After much walking a lot of awkward mumbling of, “No thank you, I’m good,” I was satisfied with my purchases. A couple carved African animals. Some bracelets made from (I assume humanely acquired) elephant hair. And my favorite: massive formerly alive African beetles encased in plastic.
That night, I called the boys to tell them they would be receiving gifts when I got back. Both were very excited. Particularly Luca.
“Did you get me a toy?”
“Well, no. These are more like things to look at and hold and think are cool.”
“Like a fire truck?”
“Well, no. They didn’t have any fire trucks.”
“There are no fire trucks in Africa? How do they put out fires?”
“Please put your mother on the phone.”
I continued to build up the fact that I was bringing them home gifts in the days leading up to my return. I worried a bit that I was overplaying things. The little carved and plastic and hairy things in my luggage may not be as impressive as they originally were on the tarp covered card tables.
When I arrived home the first thing the boys said was, of course, “What did you bring me?” But that was my doing.
Surprisingly, they loved all my gifts. Especially the bugs. They were sufficiently gross. Luca became attached to a carved zebra and proceeded to carry it with him all day.
Maybe I succeeded in taking down Chris Reed after all. But on a walk around the block, Luca chucked the zebra across a yard and its leg snapped right off. He left it behind. A sad little broken creature far from home.
Don’t worry folks, I gathered up the little guy and nursed him back to health with the help of super glue. So now it can join the herd of other completely ignored toys on Luca’s shelf.