I wrote this when I was expecting my first child, Emerson, who is now 8, and I thought I’d share it…
I put together a swing last week. More specifically, I assembled the Bright Starts ™ Cradle and Sway Swing from the InGenuity collection, model I-56, offering comfort Recline adjustable positions, Whisper Quiet Operation (for peaceful rocking), True Speed sustained swinging speed, and touting Bella Vista snail/ball/bumble bee accessories and the efficient hybridrive™, meaning, of course, that excessive battery use is no longer a problem. Apparently, this contraption will someday swing my child. I haven’t met this child, but I am told that when they do come to exist, they will need some swinging. That was where I came in to the equation.
The swing came tumbling out of the shipping box in an overwhelming mass of plastic parts and jingling hardware one evening several weeks ago. Luckily the instructions were written in six languages. As I sought one familiar to me, I told myself this would be a valuable experience for me. It did seem vaguely fulfilling, like the civic satisfaction of voting in an election, despite having no knowledge or interest in the candidates that will one day take an office I know nothing about. Well, at least my wife will be happy with me anyways, I told myself, leafing through the monstrous manual.
I had done this type of work for her before. I had assembled an impressive portfolio of particleboard achievements: bookcases, polyester coated lounge chairs, you name it. I had Philip’s head screw-drived and mini alan-wrenched my way into the annals of home furniture construction. I enjoyed the challenge, I told myself, somewhat convincingly. And yet, this was different. For one, it was gray plastic, formed into strange curvy angles I was unfamiliar with. And more importantly, it came with many unanswered questions. What would the final product be? What purpose would this serve in my life? Why should I spend several hours callusing my hands, cursing distant and perhaps non-human manufacturers, and puzzling together part L with hardware number 20043? For what tangible reward? I needed more information. I looked to the picture of the swing on the box for answers, and into the eyes of the model baby in the swing on the cover, sporting a look of mixed satisfaction and confusion. The child in the picture seemed as befuddled as I. “Why am I in this strange swaying chair,” he/she/it seemed to say, “When will I be getting out? What do they want from me? I guess I’m happy here, but I really have no context to judge this experience by.” Comforted that someone, albeit a stranger in a picture likely under the age of one, had similar feelings about this swing, I looked at the swing itself on the cover as a guide for my labors.
The assembly itself was mostly painless at first. I blew through the first seven steps. The wily European manufacturers only required that I snap a few pieces of plastic to each other. They clearly had experience with the chronically inept, I thought to myself smugly. But then came step eight… Simply screw a long screw into place, the directions instructed, matter-of-factly. What they failed to impart was that you needed to hold three different heavy plastic parts in precise alignment while you screwed in this screw. How many able parents did they think our imaginary, soon-to-be-real, child had? For the next hour I cursed as I failed with the screw several times, tried it backwards, failed again, looked at the child on the box again for answers, failed again with the screw, looked at the child on the box under better lighting, shared another moment with he/she/it, and then finally succeeded. With the infamous step eight complete, the only remaining challenges were with how to set up the accoutrements for my soon-to-be child. There was the seat cover, the velvety bumblebees to circle above the child’s head (didn’t sound comforting in theory, but I guess these were a different brand of the feared stinging insects, they were smiling after all, and decked in a very unthreatening shade of green…), and a snail and box of the same material to attach to the provided tray. After I attached each of these pieces, I called to my wife to look at the swing and get her reaction. Of course, every time her reaction was the gooey smile and cooing that all women, particularly in child-bearing years, seem to get, even at the mention of a baby. But somehow I needed this reaction to keep on going. Finally, when the whole of it was put together, I put in the batteries and turned it on. It played songs or, alternatively, babbling water to ease this soon-to-be-not-hypothetical child. So I pushed the swing and played the song to congratulate myself on a job well done, and for more gooey smiles and cooing.
Every so often, I give the swing a little push in triumph, leaving it to rock gently in the corner and play its accompanying music. Though its ugly tinkle is enough to murder stray cats, I leave it on for hours, with an occasional glance from a perpendicular couch in the off chance that my child has magically materialized in the chair, and is being comforted to sleep by the precision of my handiwork. This fatherhood thing will be no trouble, I think cavalierly, no trouble at all— not for this handy young fellow. In the breeze of the Bright Starts swing, saturated by the sound of its delicate discord, I can almost settle my head onto believing it.