1985 was the year of Teddy Ruxpin, and I, like almost every other child in America, became mesmerized by this small-scale animatronic world of wonder.
Teddy Ruxpin was the ultimate baby-sitter in a box. To a parent, he was a battery-operated storyteller -- complete with 40 taped adventures that illustrated the value of friendship and the benefits of sharing.
To a child, he was an instant friend -- one who shared his fanciful stories, blinked his plastic eyes and moved his mouth as if he was real.
This, at least, is what I think having Teddy Ruxpin as my friend would have been like. I really can't say since my parents never bought me one.
No, that doesn't sound too bitter.
While I wasn't the quintessential spoiled, only child, I'd have to say that Santa was usually very generous at Christmas. Living with two sets of "parents" (my grandparents and my parents) usually meant a boatload of gifts that guaranteed an obscenely gleeful Christmas morning.
However, there were some toys that I was destined never to own. The rock tumbler (you already have one). The Easy-Bake Oven (too dangerous). The Ouija Board (toy of the devil). The ventriloquist's dummy (also the toy of the devil).
To my parents, Teddy Ruxpin fell into the devil's spawn category -- and, to a certain extent I would have to agree that he was a bit creepy.
He was evil in a Snuggle sort of way. You know, cute and innocent to mask his sinister plans.
Well, that's at least how my family viewed Snuggle.
In spite of his seemingly evil ulterior motives, Teddy Ruxpin was really quite a neat toy and he remained in the top spot on my Christmas list.
In my third-grade class, Teddy Ruxpin was the toy to get.
There was another talking bear toy on the market that year -- AG Bear. Created by Axlon, Inc., a company founded by Atari creator Nolan Bushnell, AG bear mimic a speaker's voice and repeated back the speech patterns with an added "bear inflection."
To us kids, AG Bear was no Teddy Ruxpin:
Jeff (a jerky classmate): I'm getting a Teddy Ruxpin for Christmas!
Mena: Well, so am I.
Jeff: I bet you won't -- Teddy Ruxpin doesn't want to talk to you.
Mena: Yes he will.
Jeff: Teddy wouldn't waste his time.
Mena: Well, then, you're getting an AG Bear.
Jeff: No I'm not!
Mena: Yes, you are! And you're going have to listen to those mumbles while Teddy Ruxpin tells me stories. Wait until Christmas morning when AG is under your tree.
Jeff: Shut up!
Mena: Mu mu mu mu mu ma mu ma mu (AG speak)
I remember this conversation as if it was yesterday. We eventually stopped personally attacking each other and simply began a general chat about how AG paled in comparison to Teddy Ruxpin. And although we didn't like each other, we found a common thread in mocking AG Bear.
A couple days later and about a week from Christmas, I began the usual ritual of shaking and examining all the gifts under our Christmas tree -- an act that my mom likes to call "Mena ability to ruin any sort of surprise."
It was then when -- after shaking a particularly interesting box -- I heard a familiar sound.
"Mu mu mu mu mu ma mu ma mu."
It was then when my face dropped, and any trace of a smile vanished into the fir tree-scented air as I came to this realization:
"Oh my God, I got an AG Bear."
I wasn't angry.
I wasn't disappointed.
I was sad -- sad that I had made fun of the little guy that was now under my tree.
I was sad because I pictured my mother buying AG and thinking how much I would love it.
I was sad because I was such a horrible person.
And then, this sadness turned into fear: On Christmas morning, how was I going to fake enthusiasm for a present that (1) wouldn't be a surprise (2) I had mocked with such cruelty.
For the next couple days, I had the look of absolute turmoil on my face -- an expression I like to call "the Kevin." You know Steve Martin's kid in Parenthood -- the one who loses his retainer and always looks worried?
I've never been one able to disguise anguish and in a matter of days, I broke down in tears and told my mother the whole story. I told her how sorry I was for making fun of AG and that I loved him (even though he was still wrapped up in a box).
Through even more tears, I told her that I would always love AG Bear and that he was really so much better than Teddy Ruxpin. AG was the underdog, I explained, and I appreciated his subtle sweetness over Teddy Ruxpin's saccharine charm (Though not in those exact words).
And you know what the funniest thing is? After 16 years and ten different houses, I still have AG Bear -- at this moment, he's a matter of inches away from my computer screen.
Now, that's devotion.
What was your best gift?