I have had a pretty good life. I grew up in a loving home, without more than its share of dysfunction, and I've never lacked for anything I needed or wanted. I had great educational opportunities, exposure to diverse cultures, music studies. Now I have a good job and a sweet, loving person to share my life with. I even have a real cute cat. So I have no right to major complaints.
Despite all of that, though, I am not a winner. You know the people I mean - the ones who enter a raffle on a whim and come away with a new iPod or free airline ticket. The ones who get the Coke bottle that wins them 10,000 bucks - picked up off the buffet at the lunch meeting just second after you chose your ordinary, "you are not a winner" bottle. The ones who are always the lucky 10th caller.
I'm not one of those charmed people.
So it was a total shock to me last Sunday when we went to a party and I won two prizes - not one, but two.
It was a baby shower for one of David's colleagues. The attendees were nearly all physicists, about a 50-50 mix of men and women. One of David's colleagues, Irina, a post-doc from Russia, is notorious for coming up with clever party games every time the group gathers to celebrate a labmate's milestone. At the baby shower, she did not disappoint.
For the fist game, she produced four bottles of baby food, from which the labels had been removed. Our challenge was to taste them all and write down on a piece of paper our best guess at their contents.
I examined the first bottle of baby food. It was a burnt orange puree, with a faintly sweet smell. When I tasted it, I was certain it was sweet potatoes, and that's what I wrote down on my card. The second and third bottles were just as easy - the watery, dark-green mush was string beans, and the slightly drier, lighter green paste was obviously peas.
Then I tasted the last bottle, and I was confused. It tasted more like sweet potatoes than the first bottle had. This was clearly sweet potatoes - there was no question. So what was the first bottle?
I racked my brains as everyone else finished their tastings and wrote out their answers. What could it be? I earned some giggles from the crowd by asking for a second taste. "Carla's developing a taste for this stuff," someone said.
But it finally dawned on me, like an epiphany. I scratched out "sweet potatoes" and wrote in "carrots" in the first slot on my card, just as the games-master, Irina, began to read the correct answers.
I won. I won! I was the only person in the room to get all four flavors of baby food correct. I am aware that this is a rather dubious distinction, but I was somewhat proud of myself. For my prize, I was offered several small wrapped gifts to choose from, and I chose the middle one, which turned out to be an odd little walrus magnetic picture stand.
The next game was very sweet - we were given more cards, and instructed to write advice for the expectant mother upon them. They would all be read out; the mother-to-be would choose the one she liked the best; and the author of the selected advice would win a prize.
I thought about this one for a long time - not because I wanted to win - I really didn't think I would - but because I wanted to give good advice. I don't have children - nor do I plan to - but I love them; I love the sweetness of babies, the wonder and curiosity in their eyes. I wanted to give advice that would reflect the tenderness I feel when there is a little baby around. So I thought hard, separated myself from the group for a moment, and finally wrote on my card:
Everything will be new to your little boy. Try to see the world through his eyes as he is learning, and to appreciate the wonder and newness of everything.
I was totally, completely shocked when the mother-to-be chose my card out of all the others, and I found myself selecting my second prize of the day.
My prize was the totally awesome robot that you see at the top of this post. It is not merely a plastic robot. It is also a pencil sharpener. When you sharpen your pencil you also wind up the robot which then ambles across your desk. The shavings go into his head, which is clear. When his head is too full of shavings, you can open it up and dump out the contents.
This is truly a wonderful thing. What a magnificent world this is, when a bit of sweet advice tenderly offered can transform into a nifty plastic wind-up robot pencil sharpener. For one afternoon, I felt truly charmed.