Savta, what did you bring me?

Well-intentioned gifts for the kids can sometimes backfire.

By HADASSAH BAT-HAIM
January 26, 2006 09:17
4 minute read.
grandma and baby 88

grandma and baby 88. (photo credit: )

 
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What do you buy for grandchildren who have everything? Not just everything, but everything in excess - bigger, more technical, more easily available? One can only ask. "Safta, can you bring me a cougar?" Apparently this animal is the only one missing from the proliferating menagerie that overflows her bed, her cupboards, her floor and adjacent spaces much resented by her siblings. "Do you know that a cougar is the fastest runner among all the animals?" I store this information with the vast collection of useless facts in that part of my brain designed to receive it. Not having experienced this lack up to now, I find there is a serious shortage of cougars in Nahariya. There are dogs and cats of all shapes and sizes, ranging from a life-sized wolf hound with mournful eyes and floppy ears to a white aristocratic Persian with a snooty air. There are bears, wolves, giraffes, even elephants, and any number of camels, some big enough to sit on, complete with an embroidered rug and robed drivers - but no cougars. I suggest to the various shops where I make my vain search that this gap in required articles, such as cougars, should be closed. They promise, but add that as the demand is very small, it might take some time before a supply is guaranteed. Time growing short, I compromise on a tiger. One of a kind, the salesman tells me. Not only is it as large as a real tiger cub, but it also possesses a growling device that gives it real authenticity. He demonstrates the growl which is, I must suppose, typical of this beast. I have to take this on trust, as I have never been near enough to hear the real thing. I doubt whether the salesman has, but refrain from inquiry. First an old flannel cot sheet, then a lot of brown paper and string, and finally a large cardboard box big enough for an average Labrador, conspicuously labeled "TOY TIGER." From time to time, faint rumblings come from the interior. Maybe I should have removed the battery. I add another label: "FRAGILE. DO NOT DROP." The customs men were only faintly curious. One said jokingly, "The transport of live animals is forbidden. You need a special permit." As he smiled and slapped with some vigor a "passes" label on the top, there was a distinct and ominous groan from within the box. The two officers jumped back. "Open it," said one. "No" said the other "Get the bomb squad." As no one had told me to leave, I quickly ripped off the wrapping. "Get back!" There was a policemen standing by the table trying to keep back a crowd of onlookers. For the moment that he was preoccupied, I yanked the tiger from its bed of kapok and denuded it of its wooly cot blanket. "Look," I said, "it's a toy." No one came any nearer. "Get away from there," said the policeman. Mutters of "terrorist" and "suicide bomber" were coming from the crowd behind him. "Look," I said desperately, giving the innocent animal a hearty thump. "It's got a voice box inside." The tiger remained utterly silent. As quickly as a conjurer, I slipped my hand across the zipper and tore the battery from its wiring. There was a heightened mutter. The crowd parted. The customs men and policeman looked relieved. The bomb squad had arrived in helmets and protective shields, and they approached the table. One of them poked the tiger with his baton. The tiger, disemboweled, looked diminished. The others gave me a hard look. Then they exchanged glances and left. The excited crowd surged forward as I picked up the limp carcass, tucked it under my arm and followed the signs to the exit, dripping white pellets of stuffing all the way. Behind me the still connected voice box and battery gave a despairing squawk. I ignored it. The injured tiger was kindly received, inspiring the recipient to start a hospital for animals. "Room for grandmas?" I inquired. Much of her collection, picked up at garage sales, have some parts missing. A tail, paws, ears, even heads, so a voiceless eviscerated tiger will be in good company. Dealing with four-year-old Ben was much easier. He received the suggestion of a T-shirt dedicated to Big Ben with great satisfaction, and changing planes in Heathrow airport there was a bewildering variety. The one I chose not only had pictures of that majestic edifice with all four faces displayed, as well as towers and turrets so that there should be no mistake, but its common name "Big Ben" in large, conspicuous letters on the hem. As yet, I knew, little Ben could not read, but kindergarten loomed and surely this would be an easy example. He opened his parcel with seething excitement, ready to discard all other garments and display this one on his waiting chest. He took it out, turned it round, examined the back, turned himself upside down holding it above his head. Then he laid it respectfully on the ground and looked puzzled. "Is this Big Ben ?" I pointed to the identification and called over his brother to confirm the reading. "Safta, is this a clock?" Only then did the logical truth dawn on my limited comprehension of the mind of a four-year-old who had never been to London or been familiar with English usage of the words. It had not occurred to anyone who knew the truth that Big Ben was indeed a clock. What could he have imagined it to be? A bigger, beefier version of himself? A six-year-old Ben riding a two-wheeler? A 15-year-old Ben in leathers and helmet astride a Harley Davidson? "A clock?" he said uncertainly. He put on his previous T-shirt, on which was pictured a fearsome monster with red eyes and long claws His London gift lay abandoned on the floor. "Watch me ride my scooter," he shouted, zooming off. Grandmas, beware! There are hidden pitfalls in generous gestures.

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