On our refrigerator, we have a magnetic dry-erase board where we keep a list. The list is called Family Members Ranked. It’s where we rank the family members weekly — well, it’s really more of a passive-aggressive way for the wife and I to communicate. I started the list with me as number one, but I’ve been erased and crossed-out and ranked down multiple times. Likewise, the dog, who got into the trash can recently, has been ranked down to one million on the list.
Currently, in the wife’s handwriting, she and the baby are simultaneously tied for number one in the family. Number two is me; I didn’t do anything to irritate her this week worth ranking me down. Number three is Captain Calamari, barely. We wrote it so long ago that it’s almost completely faded. Number one million is the dog. She can stay there forever as far I’m concerned.
Who is Captain Calamari? He was a plushy squid with various rattles and mirrors attached to his colorful tentacles. He was my baby’s favorite toy. Maybe he was just our favorite toy for the baby. He was a member of our family.
I remember when the Captain first arrived on our porch in a brown box, ahead of the baby shower, the very first “official” baby gift we happened to receive. The wife had registered for Captain Calamari because it was just fun to say. It’s all like “do you wanna register for Captain Calamari?” “HELL YEAH I wanna register for Captain Calamari.” And by pure serendipity, as I was playing with my new video camera that day, I captured the Captain’s arrival and opening on camera. We knew he was special.
The kid seemed to take to him right away. He stared blankly at everything else we deliriously rattled and shook at him, but the Captain always caught his eye. Within a year, the blank stare of a baby becomes an interest, which becomes a gleaming, which becomes a smile, a giggle, a grabbing, becomes a child walking upright and carrying it around.
He intrigued him, he soothed him, he made him giggle. We used to sing “You’re Still the One” about the Captain and the Baby, because it was that one toy he seemed to always go back to.
And then one day, it’s over. He’s no longer interested the patterns and mirrors and rattles. He’s moved on. He wants objects with wheels and things with buttons to push. He wants the dog, her tail. He wants us, always us. So much us. He wants to pull down the magazines, every last one. He wants to walk off with the TV remote control. He wants to play with the outlets, wires, climb up the stairs, and paw at the oven. If it’s dangerous, it attracts him. Soft cuddly objects need not apply.
So now Captain Calamari sits in the back bedroom, along with newborn onesies and dangly object mats and the bumbo seat. They feel like relics to me, a walk through a museum of an older life I used to have. This must be what it feels like when my grandparents go in their basement or attic storage. Except it’s just one year of life, though it might as well be one hundred. Sleep deprivation is to time as blackholes are to matter.
My mom used to tell me. Then other parents used to tell me. Hell, complete strangers tell me. I’ll tell you. “It goes so fast.”
It’s all they ever say, too. It goes so fast. And then you find out it does, and you feel compelled to pass this message onto others, as if they’ll heed this warning and discover something to hang onto, some way to slow life down. But they won’t really listen, they won’t really believe you.
When I was a young adult, I used to wonder what else there was to do in life. Like really, what else is there? Going out and doing stuff, hanging out, hobbies, stuff. It’s all stuff. What else is there to do in life, ever?
Some days, I think I have the answer to that. Like, here is something else. I could write an obituary for a stuffed toy.
CALAMARI, Captain. Beloved first toy of Brian. Devoted plush squid. Dear relative of Huey the Hedgehog, Freddie the Firefly, and Rusty the Robot, in the same series of toys. He served his post well in all capacities. Full of developmental features that capture baby’s imagination and stimulate the senses. Features a crinkly hat, clacking rings, 8 knottie activity legs, rattle, and a surprise mirror. He retired to the back bedroom after eleven months of service. Everyone except for the stupid dog is welcome to attend his viewing whenever they want.