Apples, Kids, & Attitude
The Birthday Bear and Other Stories
It happens every Spring. My little girl becomes another year older. She’s reached an age where the nursery stories she learned are still remembered, but she’s more interested in learning about and exploring the physical world around her.
She may not believe in mythical characters, such as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but Jessica enjoys pretending they exist if for no other reason than to have a little fun and use her imagination. My daughter is beautiful and bright. She has a deep, heartfelt desire to protect and nurture her younger brother. My wife and I are divorced and share custody of our children, so Matthew and Jessica are each other’s only constant in their ever-changing world.
Jessica loves her brother. Sometimes, she acts more like his mother than his sister. Perhaps it’s because there is no other woman in my life and Jessica thinks it’s a role that has to be played. It’s also a role she will randomly relinquish so that she can just be “Daddy’s little girl.”
A few days before her birthday, we were on the phone and my soon-to-be six-year-old asked me about birthday presents. Jessica’s birthday is the one day when she wants to feel “special.” I told her that I had a surprise but that it might not arrive in time for her birthday. The words I used were, “I’m waiting for a box to arrive.” I didn’t want her to feel disappointed if things didn’t work out on the appointed day.
For birthday gifts, I had selected a few children’s software titles and a fluffy animal puppet she had seen at the Los Angeles Zoo. I went to the electronics store to purchase her presents and my new copy of Claris E-mailer 2.0 Unfortunately, the electronics store didn’t have the titles I wanted. I rushed home, called the company and purchased the items directly. I asked for priority shipping but they couldn’t guarantee delivery by her birthday. It was Tuesday. Jessica’s birthday was Friday. I was hopeful. Thankfully, the zoo had plenty of fluffy animal puppets in stock. I had also planned a trip to Disneyland, a place filled with fictional characters (mechanical Mr. Lincoln not withstanding). The trip was to be a birthday surprise.
The day before her birthday I picked up Matthew from preschool about an hour before we collected his sister. We had enough time to get my mail, buy him a beverage and spend some time together at the park. “The box” had arrived. I let Matthew carry it triumphantly to the car, but asked him not to say anything to his sister. I had a plan.
When we arrived at Jessica’s school, her first question was, “Did my box arrive?” For once her brother kept quiet. Matthew is a lovable, caring little boy. He wants his sister to be happy (most of the time). He didn’t know what was in the box, but he knew it was something “special.”
Jessica is inquisitive, especially at birthday time. I told her I didn’t know what was going on but that the “Birthday Bear” was sure to make her day special. This was the first she’d heard of the “Birthday Bear,” so I put some effort into this chicanery. I wanted to enliven her birthday and have some fun. At home, Jessica peeked from around the corner of the house as I retrieved a bag from the trunk. She said she thought she saw a box. I told her I often keep boxes in my trunk.
I went into my office, locked the door, plugged the jack from my separate modem line into a handset and called my home. Jessica yelled, “I’ll get it!” She picked up the phone and said, “Hello!” I disguised my voice and pretended I was the Birthday Bear. I asked her what she wanted for her birthday and she mentioned a specific doll. I told her she would have a nice birthday. We hung up. I walked into the living room and asked her who had called. She had her doubts. I told her the Birthday Bear comes during the day.
That night, after the kids were asleep, I retrieved the box from my trunk. I wrapped three of the software items for Jessica and one for her brother. The fluffy animal puppet was placed on top. In the morning, I put Matthew and Jessica in the car and then ran back upstairs to put the gifts under their beds (where the “Birthday Bear” puts things). We left for Disneyland.
We had a wonderful time. It was a beautiful day. We arrived early and left after dark. I had two tired kids, but one little girl still wanted her presents. When we arrived home, Jessica and Matthew ran immediately upstairs to check under their beds.
They carried their nicely-wrapped gifts into the kitchen where I was preparing a cake. Jessica opened her gifts. She was disappointed. She didn’t get the doll she wanted. She tried to hide her feelings, but as I put her to bed, her eyes began to water. She had hoped that the doll was in the box she thought she saw in the trunk. She began to cry. It was less about the doll and more about being heard. She told me what she wanted. A slip-up by the Birthday Bear was a poor excuse. I told her the truth. I had given her what I wanted her to have, not the gift she wanted.
All in all, Jessica doesn’t ask for a lot. She’s dealing with the divorce of her parents as best she can. But being heard is important to her. It’s much more important than a doll. But in this case, the doll represented being heard above the everyday clamor. That gift would have meant that her birthday wishes had been given special consideration. She had every reason to cry. She said what she wanted. I simply didn’t listen. It wasn’t a question of money or time, it was a matter of listening.
After putting her to bed, I went to my room and cried. I know that sense of disappointment. I know what it’s like not to be heard. I face it every day. I empathized with Jessica.
Years ago, I stood at the altar of God and pledged to live in married union with a woman. I don’t recall if I absorbed the full magnitude of that moment, but I meant what I said and said what I meant. I do believe a supernatural bond was created between my wife and me. The divorce hit me very hard. I can’t claim to have been a perfect husband, but I believe I was sincere.
Every day for the past few years, I have prayed for reconciliation. Life goes on. It’s not that I have a physical desire to be with my wife, but I maintain a profound love for the woman that I married. It’s difficult to explain to people why I feel the way that I do and why, after so much time, I would want reconciliation. But I do. It’s the desire of my heart. It’s also frustrating not to be heard.
I’ve tried to communicate this to God and to other people. I hardly ever feel heard. Everyone, it seems, has advice. No one really knows how I feel. I’m tired of trying to explain. I’m tired of seeing pain in my children’s eyes. I’m tired of two young children being compelled to live in two different worlds. I’m tired of asking. I’m tired of “no reply.” I’m tired of people spewing trite cliches from Hollywood musicals in my face. I’m simply tired of not being heard. The least I could do, I thought, was buy my daughter the doll she wanted for her birthday.
It’s not that Jessica really believed my story about the Birthday Bear, but I think she appreciated the effort. Matthew thought the concept was pretty cool. One moral of my “Birthday Bear” experience is to avoid over-burdening myself by creating larger-than-life myths. After all, I’m only human. I think this same moral, in many ways, applies to Apple. For years, the company has been part myth, part reality. Apple Computer can never live up to many people’s larger-than-life expectations. The products are good, but people often expect more than can realistically be delivered.
Unfortunately, there are people who claim to be, in effect, Apple’s “Birthday Bear.” They want to “save” Apple by giving us what they want, not the products and services for which we ask. The Macintosh community is Apple’s greatest asset. We should neither be ignored, nor have our intelligence insulted. We purchased our Macs because they are elegant, easy-to-use and do a lot of cool things. I didn’t spend my money just for the multi-colored logo or because the brand had a familiar name. I bought it because it’s truly what I wanted. Please don’t try and sell me something different. I learned from my “Birthday Bear” experience. Mr. Ellison and others, are you hearing what the Mac community is saying?
Dr. Amelio may not be perfect, but I believe he’s been honest. I also believe he listens to what people are saying and what the Mac community wants. I think Apple’s current line of hardware is the best in the world and I’m eagerly awaiting OS 8.
The following Monday I picked up my daughter up from school. Matthew and I had done some shopping. In a bag in the back seat was the doll my daughter wanted. She was happy. She had been heard and that meant more to her than the doll. Although, she certainly didn’t mind having the doll, too.
I’ll close this column on a personal note, “God, I’ve done my best. Are you listening?” Life goes on...
Next month: Apple’s Turnover and the Resurgence of the Mac OS
Also in This Series
- Good Morning America, How Are You? · October 2003
- Martians in the Manholes · February 2001
- The Golden Touch · May 2000
- Three Kids and an iMac · February 2000
- How? · November 1999
- Apples, Kids, & Attitude · August 1999
- Play Ball! · May 1999
- A Time For Change · February 1999
- New Year, New Times · January 1999
- Complete Archive