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Of Laptops and Cub Scout Slides

12/26/07

Permalink 01:20:06 am, by Lytspeed Email , 1013 words   English (US)
Categories: General, Geek

Of Laptops and Cub Scout Slides

Christmas 2007 just slipped into the past a few minutes ago, and I'm reflecting on what I've given today. Specifically, I'm thinking about one of the things I gave to my stepson: a laptop computer.

It's not a great laptop; it's about eight years old (300 MHz, 128 Mb RAM, 12 GB HDD, no wireless, bad hinges), but it's still a laptop. It will run the basics, like a word processor and a web browser when we get a wireless card for him. I got it (and another nearly identical laptop, which I might be was able to repair for my wife) from a co-worker last Friday, so it was a very last minute thing, but with a little tinkering and some research, I was able to make it run. Logan had asked for a laptop for Christmas, and my initial thought was that there was no way we would be able to buy him one. We're still struggling financially, despite my new job, so a laptop seemed completely out of the question.

Now, though, I wonder if he's disappointed. When we gave it to him, I explained that it had bad hinges and he needed to be careful with them, and I explained that it was old and slow, and wouldn't run World of Warcraft like he probably wanted it to, but he would be able to do his homework on it and play basic Pogo.com games and so forth on it. Maybe I was just reading something into his reaction, but he seemed disappointed.

Or maybe I was just seeing through his eyes, and imagining what he was thinking. I remember when I was eight -- a few years younger than Logan -- and I joined Cub Scouts. My family lived in a trailer, like I do now, and we got my Cub Scout uniform at the thrift store. One thing we couldn't find at the thrift store was an official brass Cub Scout slide for my neckerchief, though. I desperately wanted the official slide, because I wanted to fit in with all the other kids. I begged and pleaded, and my parents said it cost too much money to get a new one, and that I would have to make do by tying a knot or something. I was devastated.

Little did I know, my Dad had an idea. He loved tinkering in the little metal shed next to our trailer, much like I enjoy tinkering with computers in the spare room at my house now. He found a block of wood about two inches long, drilled a hole lengthwise through the center, "painted" it royal blue with a thick magic marker, and wrapped a leather thong around it several times, gluing the ends in place. When he was finished, he called me out to the shed and presented it to me, a proud smile on his face. He had fashioned a one-of-a kind neckerchief slide for me, from scratch.

I hated it. It wasn't anything like the shiny brass slides the other kids had, and I hated that I was from a family that was too poor to buy me a new slide, or even a new uniform.

I can only imagine how my Dad must have felt. I don't remember if I reacted politely, or if I told him outright that I hated it, but I'm sure he knew the truth, and I'm sure it hurt him that I didn't appreciate the work he put into it, or appreciate the fact that it was made from scratch.

Looking back on it now, I was an idiot. I should have reveled in the uniqueness of my Cub Scout slide. I should have showed it off and told everyone how my Dad had made it for me with his own hands out of wood, leather, and glue. That was part of the spirit of Cub Scouts, after all; we made things, we were taught to be resourceful, and we were taught to honor our parents. My homemade slide was far better than the shiny brass ones (which I later found out were just cheap plated metal anyway.)

I know, a laptop and a Cub Scout slide are two drastically different things. But times now are drastically different from what they were thirty-five years ago, too. Despite the disparity, there are some similarities between what transpired then and now. When I gave Logan the laptop, though, he wasn't rude; he didn't say he hated it. And, after watching a movie with me, he booted up the laptop and wrote part of a short story on it, balancing it on a TV tray with one of my shoes propping up the loose screen. Despite the fact that it was still broken enough that it wouldn't hold its own screen weight, he didn't appear to hate it.

I still feel like it's an inadequate present, though. I want to make it a useful tool for him. I have plans to fix the hinges so he won't have to prop it up with shoes, and I will get a wireless card for it so he can check his e-mail and do research on the Internet. (Update 1/4/07: I received the new hinges for both this laptop and my wife's laptop yesterday and installed them last night. Now both laptops have nice, stiff screens that support their own weight.) Maybe I should find a way to wrap a leather thong around it and "paint" it with a royal blue Sharpie ... no, then he really would hate it.

Maybe someday Logan will look back at this night and remember how he felt about his first laptop. And maybe, just maybe, after he's gotten older and has a different perspective on things, he will realize that there was more heart that went into fixing that broken laptop than there appeared to be, and maybe that memory will be as special to him as my memory of my Cub Scout slide became when I got older.

Or maybe not. Either way, I hope he'll let me know in thirty-five years or so.

The author at 8 sporting his custom Cub Scout slide

3 comments

Comment from: Lannette (\"The Wife\") [Visitor] Email
Sweetheart,

In hopes of assuaging your fears about Logan's reaction to the laptop, I wanted to let you know that he has been using it all mornign today - writing stories and trying to think of new titles and such. In short, he *loves* it, and is not the kind of child who is ungrateful. You made a wish come true for him - I'm sure that he is well aware that we could not have afforded a brand-new laptop. He and I discussed this today, and he is really excited about having his own computer. I love you. L.
12/26/07 @ 13:06
Comment from: Timothy [Visitor] Email
great story!

I just gave my 3 year old daughter a laptop as well. It's an old ibm thinkpad, screen takes a bit of time to warm up, and i think it's got something like 64 MB or ram, but it plays the reader rabbit preschool games she likes and keeps her off of my wife's computer for the time being - won't play DVDs or get on the internet, but a spare network card might be found somewhere at a bargain to fix the internet part.
01/04/08 @ 13:49
Comment from: Lytspeed [Member] Email
@Timothy:
Yeah, same type of thing. Logan's laptop will run a word processor, as well as his old Hot Wheels games and Roller Coaster Tycoon. I have my eye out for a used PCMCIA card that I can use to hook him up to the 'Net.

Thanks for the comment! I'll check out your blog, too.
01/04/08 @ 14:17
This is the Creativity Journal of Stace Johnson, writer, musician, poet, and geek. Feel free to hang around and post some comments or add me to your blog aggregator (see RSS links below.) Enjoy!

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