We are close friends with several couples who have young children. We love to visit and play with the kids, enjoying all the baby/toddler games like "Peek-A-Boo", "Hide and Seek", and "Who Made A Stinky?" (I often win at that last one.) We relate our friends' experiences as parents and their children's development back to when our son was little, and from there dig deep into the memory banks in an effort to recall what our own experiences were as little ones. "If only we could go back in time..." we lament.
I suddenly recalled that such a trip was in fact possible! I'd forgotten all about the time machine I'd purchased several years ago. It had been sitting in the original shipping container, unopened, since delivery. I remember finding it on eBay and how excited I was at that moment, but by the time it arrived we’d moved on to our Groupon phase so it seemed we were going out for 2-for-1 dinners, or skydiving, or getting mani-pedis every week for months and I never gave the time machine another thought.
I dug the packaging out from the back of the closet, behind the Christmas decorations and my golf bag (another rarely-utilized item), and pulled out the instructions. Typical of the stuff that's manufactured overseas, they were written in that peculiar dialect I call "Not-Quite English". Examples: "When remove the Time Machine from it's original packaging, be sure to keep the Machine upright upon all times to insure safety and stableness." "Not recommend for use by Children under the age seven." "WARNING: Manufacturer makes no warranties, either express or implied, whether in tort, contract, by statute or otherwise. And particularly makes no warranty of merchantability or fitness for any particular purpose whatsoever, in regard to anyu products sold by Hatsuhana Time Machine Company (Hong Kong), LLC." (By the way, other than the name of the company, that last one is copied verbatim from an actual warranty.)
Two Coke Zeros, a lot of swearing and a beer later, I had the thing put together. The instructions clearly stated that two people were required for operation, but I was anxious to try it out and didn't want to wait for Carol to return from her hair appointment (Christ, she's gone all day when she gets her hair done - what is UP with that?), so I decided I could handle it by myself and set the controls back to when I was age three. I flipped the switch, then hustled inside the chamber and bolted the hatch closed. Based on all the sci-fi movies I'd seen where time travel was an element, I was expecting a rugged ride, with flashing lights and loud pops and at the end I'd be thrown out from some height down to the ground, disoriented and possibly with a nose bleed. However, the "trip" was nothing like that -- I sat quietly inside the dark chamber for what seemed at most a minute or so. Then a buzzer went off and I was able to unlock the hatch from the inside. I stepped out into the backyard of the row house in Baltimore where my family lived when I was three years old -- there was the jungle gym where my mom had to sit on one swing so the frame wouldn't rise out of the ground while I played on the other swing. In fact, there was my mother -- sitting in that very spot -- and there was little me, swinging and calling to her: "Lookit! Look, Mommy! I'm high up in space!" She was reading a magazine and looked up just long enough to say, "That's nice,” then went back to her reading.
I was then aware of feeling “merged” with my younger version – I began to feel what little Johnny was experiencing, right down to the rush of wind on my face and floppy feeling in my stomach as I swung to and fro, while still maintaining some semblance of my 56-year-old cognition in terms of understanding what was happening. Physically, I was limited to my three-year-old self and therefore only able to crib these quick notes in chalk and crayon regarding my trip back in time:
· Swing is FUN! Going to leap off NOW… NOW… NOW… maybe not yet. I need some meclizine first.
· “Mommy, can I have a snack? I’d like some cheesy crackers and a glass of Prosecco.”
· Furniture is IMMENSE. I could fall into cracks between couch cushions and disappear from sight. Oh, look -- raisins! Yum-um-um…
· “I don’t wanna take a nap! Will you read me a story if I do? OK – read me Thomas Friedman’s column from today’s Times.”
· Bedroom larger than I remember. Mattress could be better – memory foam with pocketed coils would be much more comfortazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
· “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home! Daddy, did you bring me a present? Oh, a balsa wood rubber band airplane… I really would have preferred an iPhone 5S.”
· Can’t find MSNBC on the television, only 3 broadcast channels and something fuzzy called “UHF”.
· “Mommy, are you and Daddy gonna give me a baby sister? If you do, would you please transfer your assets into a living trust so I can assume ownership of this house without having to do battle with her in probate court?”
· Mother’s home cooking brought back so many memories. Pot roast, salt potatoes, peas and carrots, blueberry cobbler – so delicious! My tummy is full... Oops, I made a stinky.
After my father gave me a bath and put me to bed I started to wonder how I would ever return to the present day. As soon as my thoughts went back to the life I’d left behind, I found myself within the time travel chamber. After another few moments of darkness, the hatch opened and I was back in the apartment, tools strewn on the floor, with seemingly no time elapsed since I’d first stepped into the machine. At that very moment Carol walked through the door, her hair freshly styled from the salon, not at all aware of what I had been through. I started to explain but realized it was too fantastic for anyone else to comprehend – plus she had brought home two immense lobster rolls and a pint of chowder for dinner. I was suddenly famished – time travel takes more out of you than you might think. As we enjoyed our meal, I thought back on my experience and realized “you can’t go home again” – we can’t relive the past but can call upon it to enrich our perspectives about the present. Rather than feeling wistful for my childhood, I should focus on the joy of being with our friends and their children and build new memories from those adventures. As I came to that realization, I was quickly overwhelmed with a sensation that seemed to emanate from my very soul and course through my entire being...
Oops, I made a stinky. That lobster was rich.