Toy Incentive

I grew up in a middle class Long Island, New York neighborhood. We weren’t poor and we weren’t rich. My parents were hard working people who watched their P’s and Q’s.  My two sisters and I got what we needed and for the most part were content. That is until the 4th grade.

It wasn’t uncommon to find me playing army or riding my bike. It was 1985 and I was discovering the “cool” toys.  It was at this time that I fell in love with the Tranformers. I was obsessed with the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime.  I wanted him so badly I could taste it.  He was awesome. He transformed from a massive mack truck into a powerfully posturing robot commander. Perfect in every way, except  the price tag – a whopping thirty bucks. By today’s standards thirty bucks is cheap but in 1985 it was an outrageous expense for a ten year old.

For weeks I tried to convince my mother that I  just didn’t want the toy for its own merit, but rather it was important to my social standing at the Lakeside elementary school. This didn’t seem to budge her one bit. Thirty bucks was just to steep for the family budget.

After weeks of relentless annoyance my parents called me into the living room for a “talk”. I was sure my father was on the rampage due to my constant nagging to my mother. In the past the “talk” meant I was in real deep trouble. Prior “talks” resulted in groundings,  suspended television rights and  the occasional nightmare chore, such as raking leaves or pulling weeds. I was certain I was in for it. My parents asked me to take a seat and I was nervous. I  tried to act cool.

“Whats up?” I asked with my laid back fourth grader posture. Without my father uttering a word my mother leaned in and put a deal on the table.

“Pass your science exam with a ninety percent or higher and you can get that transformer you want,” she said.

My father just sat there looking like a mafia reinforcer. I looked at her and said, “DEAL.” I was so excited that it didn’t dawn on me that I would need to study. I really wanted Optimus, but I didn’t  know how to study. I always slide by on what i retained in the class room, and my sub par grades reflected it.

Not letting pride get in the way of my new toys I confessed to my mother that I wasn’t really studying when I claimed I’d been in the past and wasn’t sure how to really go about it. She didn’t seem surprised. My mother, being the thoughtful person, agreed to help me. We wasted no time. She showed me how to set up flash cards and sent me to work.

I first tried to get by with a quick read through, convincing myself that that would suffice. When my mother heard the television turn on she quickly asked me if I was done. I replied, “yup,” and began looking for the “Thundercats”. In a soft and friendly voice she asked if she could quiz me. I smoothly made it known that I had it wrapped up and that I appreciated the assistance but didn’t need it. That offer didn’t stand with her and I found myself sitting at the kitchen table across from her going over the flash cards. After three questions and three wrong answers I was sentenced back to the living room to study some more.

Throughout the course of the evening she must have tested me a dozen times before I actually got them all right.  After a  perfect score she sent me to bed.

The next day I woke early she tested me again. I didn’t do so well so I hit the cards again and we repeated the process. When I arrived at school I was too nervous to speak. I kept to myself and flipped through the cards over and over. When the exam began I found it to be incredibly simple. After I finished I laid back and envisioned myself battling the Decepticons with my new Optimus Prime.

The following day the results where in and to my astonishment I received a “100%” on my test.   I was shocked. My average grade had always been in the high 60’s to low 70’s. I was excited that after school I ran straight home rather than play tag on the playground. I ran into the house and without delay showed my mother my 100%.  I begged my mother to run out to the store right away. That didn’t happen. It took about a week before I got Optimus. Until this day that Optimus Prime is the greatest toy I ever owned. I was so proud that I’d earned him.

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