Samuel J. Tanner 5 minute read

Making Robots

Solomon turned five last Monday. Yes, these five years have gone by quickly since I became a father. They've also taken their toll. There's gray in my beard.

We agonized over what to buy Solomon for his birthday. It's easy to shop for Samson. He's obsessed with the Disney Cars movies. Samson has hundreds of toy cars. He lines them up. He races them around the house. He pretends to be Lightning McQueen. Or Chick Hicks. Or Mac. Samson squeels with delight when he gets a new car. Solomon, on the other hand, is not so easily amused. Yes, he loves to play video games, but I'm already anxious about his screen time. Still, I want the kid to be happy. He's five now. He'll remember this one.

I took Solomon to a toy store the week before his birthday. Downtown State College. Too expensive.

"See anything you like?" I asked him.

Solomon was his typical shy self. He meandered around the story, meekly examining the different games and books on the shelves. I sat back and watched him. I felt like I was conducting an experiment. What am I, an educational researcher? Well yes, actually. Eventually, he came to rest in front of a box with a picture of a robot on it.

"Do you like that?" I asked him.

He pointed at the box and grunted. My introverted son, though he sounds like a police siren at home, is far more reserved in public.

"This robot? You want a robot?"

Solomon's eyes lit up and he shook his head up and down.

I shrugged. I bought the robot.

"You can't open it until your birthday," I told him. Solomon nodded again.

I examined the box when we got home. It contained an environmentally friendly robot. All of the pieces in the box were designed to be used in building it. Even the box. Green. Like Ralph Nadar. I asked Solomon if he wanted to help me build it?

"You do it," he told me.

Solomon can be as lazy as he can be shy.

I took the robot out of its box a few days before Solomon's birthday. I spent the evening following instructions and creating a robot. I felt like Luke Skywalker. Only more attractive.

We placed the robot in a bag on Solomon's birthday. He was very excited to open it. Solomon carried the robot around all day.

"It's watching us, Daddy," he told me as he helped Katie bake his cake.

"What did you name it?" I asked him.


Creative, right?

So I built my son a robot for his fifth birthday. Its name is Orange.

We don't have extended family in State College, PA. Solomon has a few friends, but not enough to warrant a party. We celebrated creatively. Solomon was awake at five in the morning because he was so excited about his birthday. Katie and tried to sleep through his early morning outburts of enthusiasm. No luck. We opened presents after breakfast. Solomon helped Katie make his cake. He played with his other toys - a map puzzle of the United States, a book of mazes, and some Super Mario magnets. One of Katie's friends came over and made cookies with the boys in the afternoon.

Later, I was going to bring Solomon with me to an improv show. The Happy Valley Improv community jam was double-billed as a Holiday party. I figured Solomon would enjoy spending time with me at the event. By six o'clock, Solomon was exhausted. His birthday had taken a toll. His eyes were as gray as my beard.

"Do you still want to come to the show?" I asked him.

"I don't know, Daddy. I'm tired."

Solomon stayed home. He was asleep by 7:30. Birthdays are exciting, even without some extravagent party.

It's a strange little family we're building out here. Our relatives are far away and so the four of us rely on each other. I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that the Nuclear American family - a father, a mother, and two children - is a terribly vulnerable and unstable survival unit. He pointed to other cultures with large extended families that care for each other as a preferable option. Vonnegut was likely right. There's strength in numbers, in community. And it would have been nice to share the Happy Valley Improv community with Solomon. But there's intimacy in this family we have here. Katie, Solomon, Samson and I have a strong bond. And it might be annoying at times to spend so much time in such close relation to each other. But it's a powerful family too.

So that's all. Solomon is five, I have gray hair, and there's a robot named Orange in my house now. Strange days, baby.