I did it. She’s free.
After several anxious minutes, invoking the aid of saints, muttering under my breath, and at great risk to my personal safety, I accomplished a Christmas miracle:
I freed Barbie from her packaging.
I know that I shouldn’t be so proud of this. There are a great many people who do amazing things with their hands every day. They build houses, fix faucets, and operate on the sick. I don’t care. I know the particular pride that can only come when one steps back, covered in sweat and surrounded by countless twist ties and shards of dangerous plastic, holding a doll aloft in my victorious clutch. Generally this is followed by turning to hand it to a little girl, who invariably lost interest several minutes ago and is now playing with an empty box.
It’s not just Barbie, either. It’s anything that is isolated within a vault of impenetrable plastic. The fact that the plastic is clear makes the object of my efforts appear tantalizingly close. But I know better – even if my kids don’t. I know, when Santa brings items surrounded by a clear, hardened shell, that I have nothing to rely on but a pair of sharp scissors and my own cunning.
I have tried everything to make this process easier. I’ve set the package before me, and coolly eyed it from all sides – trying to spot some flaw, some minor weakness in the design. I’ve adopted a casual attitude, reminding myself, after all, that this is simply a toy, and I went to college. After making sure I have easy access to emergency first aid supplies in the event of serious injury, I start to carefully make cuts, expose edges, and create gaping holes in the plastic. I usually expect that this will weaken the overall structure, but am invariably stunned to realize that the packaging will not be defeated so easily, and in fact has multiple lines of defense – much like a hostile army or a deadly strain of bacteria.
At a moment like this one might pause to wonder what is, precisely, the intent of the manufacturer. One might reasonably presume that if you’re in the toy business, you would want to protect your product, present it in a visible, attractive way, make the packaging light and strong, and finally (here’s the important part) enable your customer to gain access to the toy.
I know I’m not alone on this. I’ve thought that perhaps if I asked more handy people how they approach these things, they’d say something like “I just push that little button they put at the bottom and the toy pops out without any trouble”, at which point I’d just pretend like I already knew that. But they seem flummoxed much in the same manner as me. Sure – some people have attained Jedi status in breaking through the outer exterior through the artful use of utility knives and jackhammers. But even they have to make the difficult transition from the aggression and power necessary to break through the outer barrier, to the deep breathing and fine motor skills necessary to find, snip, and unthread various bands and ties which bind the toy to it’s backing. This Christmas season, I ran across a particularly insidious design where the backs of the twist ties were covered by a second piece of cardboard, thus denying access to the naïve consumer who goes for the easy solution.
It’s not all bad news. I tell myself that this gives me an opportunity to demonstrate for my children the virtues of perseverance in a very visible way – despite the fact that they usually are not paying any attention to me. I consider the Chinese proverb that “the gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials”. I think that there must be some deeper meaning behind it all.
I know that my family is basically supportive. I know that when I’m trying to outwit the evil designs of the engineer who designed this packaging, that I must look like a monkey trying to open a coconut. But they seem to love me just the same.
After it’s all done, I collapse in a chair and feel the same feeling of pride that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay must have felt when they were the first to summit Everest. I survey my accomplishment, and watch a child play with an emancipated doll for two minutes before losing interest.
If you have experienced what I’ve experienced, then I congratulate you, and welcome you into a select fraternity of people who have maintained their sanity while making a child smile. Perhaps we should create some sort of patch, or agree on a secret handshake to reinforce our common bond. As for me, I have to go now. I need to work on setting the proper time on the VCR….
Published January 1, 2006.