I stare at my laptop screen watching a wide eyed, blonde haired girl cup a spotted egg in her hands. She tilts the large egg and it sneezes, burps, and hiccups. Waving it through the air, it squeals and releases a dizzying noise. Yellow lights flash inside the shell. She taps on it and the creature inside taps back causing her smile to stretch further. The lights flash red and blue and finally rainbow to signal the creature is ready to hatch. I lean closer to my laptop.
She rubs and rubs and rubs the egg bottom until a beak pecks through the shell in a circle, allowing her to remove the top half. Large, round eyes appear attached to a furry bird-like creature with flippers for wings. With a stroke of its head, the turquoise and pink bird announces “I love you.” My skeptical, adult heart fills with giddiness, which translates into overwhelming desire. I want a Hatchimal. For my son, of course.
I search online for nearby toy stores and the next day strap my son in the carseat and drive twenty minutes across Nashville to a Toys “R” Us. Traveling on the highway, I second guess my decision. Since the birth of my son, two and half years ago, my wife and I have made a conscious effort to avoid showering him with excessive toys; instead, using our money towards visiting children’s museums, zoos, and parks. But now I find my commitment to avoiding the holiday toy onslaught being tested. I don’t want to contribute to the hyper-consumerism of the season, but I also want my son to experience the same excitement I did opening presents as a child. I want the magic of the season to register in his eyes.
Inside the fluorescent light filled toy warehouse, I push the shopping cart, my son’s legs dangling through the seat holes. We stroll up and down the aisles stuffed with colored plastic. Parents and grandparents pass by me debating colors and sizes. Around every corner an automated toy roars or gives orders or sings. My toddler, wiggling in the wobbly shopping cart, reaches for everything and transforms into a shelf emptying monster. It feels like I have entered the center of the holiday frenzy.
“Hello, can I help you,” says a middle aged woman with fluffy grey hair, standing in a blue apron handing out store credit card flyers. “Do you have a Hatchimal,” I ask, hoping for directions to expedite our visit. “I wish,” she says, “I wish we had thousands.” Standing in the middle of the aisle, I stare at the woman with a dumb look. She continues, “The last time we had them was on Sunday and people camped out in the rain, a hundred or so, and bought all sixty when we opened.” “Really?” “Sorry, we might get more but we don’t know when. Best thing to do is call ahead.” I thank her and push the cart down the bicycle aisle. It occurs to me in that moment I might be the only parent on the face of the earth unaware of the Hatchimal shortage.
After a half hour of stressful wandering and children screaming, I pry an excavator from my son’s fingers and promise to bring him back just so we could leave. In the parking lot, as I strap him into the car seat, I ask, “Did you like the toy store?” “YES,” he says, pumping his arms with the same enthusiasm he displays when eating french fries.
Driving away I picture people camping on the gigantic toy store’s sidewalks, waiting in line for a Hatchimal. On our way to the next stop, the robot bird lingers in my mind, I turn on the radio but I cannot keep myself from thinking about the Hatchimal and me…I mean my toddler playing with it on Christmas morning.
I pull open the double doors of a small toy store tucked into a strip mall next to a Barnes and Noble. Wooden floors. Hand painted columns. Shoulder high shelves holding well-made toys along with smiling employees pleasantly chatting with one another. Holding my son’s hand, I approach a table near the cash register where two women wearing red aprons gift wrap toys in bright red wrapping paper.
“Are you wrapping a Hatchimal?” I ask. “I wish,” one of them says, echoing the employee at the large store. She glances up for a second before resuming her wrapping duties. “Did you have any at all?” “Yes, we got a small order but they sold out the first day. You can’t predict these things. It will be January before we get anymore.” I feel awkward asking for a Hatchimal in this store; it is like ordering a hamburger in a four star restaurant. “I’m sorry,” she continues, “as soon as I placed our order they were being sold on Amazon well over retail price.” I nod and thank her and my son yanks my arm towards the train table.
I reminisce over classic toys on the shelves, while my son handles trains, eyes lighting with excitement and tiny lips making sound effects as he connects one wooden car after another. All of his attention focuses on the colorful trains in his small hands. Watching him play, his imagination and sesnse of wonder send a warm sensation rushing through my chest. His care-free play is pure and beautiful. Not wanting to rush him and appreciating the calm environment, I let him connect trains for half an hour before leading him towards the door, waving goodbye to the smiling women in red aprons.
On the way home, moving slowly with the flow of congested Nashville traffic, I recall Christmas mornings from my childhood. My middle class parents went out of their way to create a spectacle for myself and sister. We awoke on Christmas morning to toys spread across the furniture and overflowing stockings. Rushing into the living room sent excitement through my scrawny body and the heap of toys felt like a dream come true. I spent the day constructing race tracks and model rockets and playing video games. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles visited to admire the loot we collected and I was happy to offer a tour of the goods. I was undeniably spoiled. I look up and glance in the rearview mirror at my son, spinning the wheels of a Matchbox car with his tiny fingers, and my heart sinks at the thought of him not opening a Hatchimal on Christmas day.
At home, I search online for the popular toy. I discover a Hatchimal online costs anywhere between two to three hundred dollars, nearly five times their retail price. On the company’s website a note is posted to temper expectations, making clear the overwhelming demand has created a shortage that cannot be overcome this month. The note offers a dose of reality that crushes any delusional hope inside me. In light of this newfound information, my chances of purchasing a Hatchimal seem non-existent, yet the rest of the day the fuzzy creature refuses to slip out of my mind. I feel embarrassed for falling this far down the Hatchimal frenzy hole.
Later in the evening, on the couch, I ask my wife, “Do you know what a Hatchimal is?” “A what,” she says. “A Hatchimal, it’s the popular toy right now.” “I don’t think I care.” “You will if you see the video.” I interrupt her television show to make her watch. “That thing is silly,” she says after watching. “What?” “Yeah, I can tell you are obsessed with it too.” “Picture our son opening it on Christmas morning, he would love it.” She grins. “This is not about him, it’s about you.” I shake my head. She continues, “I know you, I can see your gift giving obsession coming out.” I scrunch my face denying the claim. She warns me not to hide a box of Hatchimals in the house.
Later, lying in bed, staring at the dim ceiling, my wife’s words stick in my brain. This is not about him, it’s about you. As an adult, I’ve often swung from one end of the holiday gift giving spectrum to the other, either indulging in the consumerism or becoming overly critical of it. Wallowing in it or scoffing at the gross materialism. Part of me loves to give gifts because I get a kick out of it and there is also a part of me disturbed by the mindless consumption of stuff we will toss out or dump at the thrift store by the end of next year. This unbalanced way of life and its impact on the rest of the world leaves me feeling guilty.
But the part that bothers me most is the reality that I’ve spent my life relying on things, material possessions, to feel good about myself. To name a few: toys, collectibles, cars, books. The list could go on but I dont’ feel like naming them all. And I don’t pretend my dysfunction is unique, it is probably the norm in our “throw away culture” that encourages consumption of goods at every turn. In this regard, I am not a special snowflake but I am reckoning this holdiay season with my own materialism. I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. I can’t push it into a dark corner. I’ve spent my three decades on this earth shoving things into the void in my soul thinking it would make me feel better but it only left me empty, searching for something substantial.
After a restless night, my Hatchimal obsession fades but on the days leading to Christmas, out of curiosity, I keep my eye on Hatchimal prices and watch as sellers lose their nerve. The prices drop signficanltly. Three days before Christmas, you can purchase a Hatchimal for about a hundred dollars on Ebay. My fingers are eager to click the Buy It Now button and somehow justify the order to my wife. I try to rationalize paying a hundred dollars for the spotted egg, but something inside me does not budge, probably my commitment to paying our mortgage. I shut the laptop screen.
Looking back, my childhood toys are long gone, most of them discarded, probably piled in a landfill somewhere unknown. I do not long for them now; rather, I cherish memories of eating sausage balls with cousins, studying the Advent calendar with my sister, and putting together puzzles with parents freed from work responsibilities. At age thirty-six, these are the moments that stick with me.
I’m making peace with the reality I will not get my hands on a Hatchimal this Christmas. I’m okay with it. I don’t need to pay a small fortune for a programmed creature in an egg to create a sense of wonder in my son. He’s already got it.