Kelley Baldwin: New book not a sufficient surprise for 4-year-old

Kelley Baldwin

Judging by the horrified look on his face, you’d think I’d just handed him a dead raccoon rather than a book titled, “What Will I Do If I Can’t Tie My Shoe?”

“But you said it was a SURPRISE!” my 4-year-old son hollered from the couch, curled in the fetal position he’d once assumed during 24 hours of labor.

“It IS a surprise!” I answered.

I waved the offending item in his face before tossing it next to him on the couch. “It’s a new book!”

He shoved the book to the floor and screamed, “I don’t want it! I want a REAL surprise. Like a race car. Or a puppy. Not a stupid ... old ... BOOK!”

This had turned ugly. Fast.

I glanced around for angry villagers carrying pitchforks and blazing torches but only saw our golden retriever slinking off with said book clamped in her fuzzy muzzle. I reached down and snagged it just before it became her lunch.

Then I sighed. Where did this all go so horribly wrong? He’s a good kid. He rarely throws tantrums. Says “please” and “thank you.” Picks up his toys (sometimes). Remembers to lift up the toilet seat (usually). And only occasionally picks his nose.

So at what point did my life take this terrible turn? What had served as the catalyst to this horrendous display? How did Chucky from “Child’s Play” pull off this body snatcher switcheroo with my beautiful, tow-headed angel?!

The answer quickly flashed through my mind, and I growled in response.


Apparently it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

I thought I was exercising a practical parenting moment. He wants to learn to read. He wants to learn to tie his shoes. So when I stumbled across a book that showed how to tie your shoes, I figured A + B = C. Voila! Let the magic begin.

I. Am. A. Genius.

But apparently I’m no Albert Einstein. There was something a bit faulty with my math. I failed to take into account a preschooler’s concept of what constitutes a “surprise.”

Note to self: Race car = surprise. Puppy = surprise. Double-scoop, triple-hot fudge sundae = surprise.

Book = I’d rather have a root canal.

OK. Lesson learned. Call off the angry villagers. And put out the torches before you set the Christmas tree on fire.

Speaking of Christmas, this is the first year our son has begun asking questions about the big, fat guy in the red suit.

Except the little guy is already well-versed in Political Correctness (where the heck did that come from?).

“You shouldn’t call Santa Claus ‘fat,’” he told me in a wise voice. “It’s not nice.”

I looked down at the crayon drawing I’d just completed, which included a rather large pictorial of Santa’s big belly that jiggled like a bowl full of jelly.

Hmm. “How ‘bout we call him plump?” I asked.

He shook his head sadly and answered, “That’s just a fancy name for fat.”

Geesh! For a kid who doesn’t like to read he’s certainly building a rather vast vocabulary.

“Uh, that’s right, kiddo,” I quickly agreed. “It’s mean to call someone fat. So let’s call him ... uh ... gravitationally special.” Take that, Albert Einstein.

That seemed to make my son happy, so he then proceeded to ask no fewer than 347 questions about the Big Guy. Including:

Where is the North Pole? Would I have to take a plane to get there? What is Mrs. Claus like?

What does a reindeer smell like? Can I have a motorcycle? How tall is an elf? How many toys do they make each year? How heavy is his sleigh? What happens if a kid lives in a house with no chimney?

And then I respond: At the top of the world. Yes, you’d have to fly. Mrs. Claus is ... gravitationally special, too. Reindeer smell like popcorn. A motorcycle? OVER MY DEAD BODY. YOU THINK I’M

STUPID?! Tall enough to reach the workbench. 3,567,321 toys, not including iPods. 2,657 pounds, without presents. Santa unlocks the front door with a magic key.

As he ran off to ponder this new knowledge, I made a mental note to add a postscript to Santa’s letter this year: No books, please. He’d rather have a root canal.

Kelley is a former editor of the Maryville Daily Forum in Maryville, Mo. You can catch more Baldwin family stories at