Michael was a ten-year-old who knew two things: he secretly liked to dress up in his mammy’s clothes, and his “life would be complete” (he would say dramatically) if he could be on The Late Late Toy Show.
Of course, you could apply, but Ireland of the 80’s worked more like an underground Rube Goldberg machine: a system of whispers and nods and winks and taps on the nose until your request reached the right person. Michael’s dad knew a lad in the football club, who knew a lad in the rugby club, who knew a lad in RTE, and that’s how Michael got his interview.
And, of course, they wanted him: Michael shone with personality and wit and intelligence. He was exuberance personified. “We’d love you to be on the show,” said the three wise men interviewing him.
Michael did a little jig and hugged his mammy. Everyone was all smiles, and a lovely lady came and directed them into another room with a large display of toys. But in the melee of brash colours and blinking lights, Michael’s eyes were only on one thing. “So, Michael,” said the lady, “you’re a very lucky little boy. You’re going to get the new Tonka Truck.”
That was not the thing.
Michael gathered all his courage – for it often takes a lot of courage to be a little boy like Michael – and he said what was in his heart: “Actually, I wanted the My Little Ponies, please?”
Michael’s family were the sort who struggled. Being a bright little boy, he understood that, and was always gracious when he got school supplies for his birthday: “Thank you, this is one of the really good brass protractors,” he’d say. But he knew he’d get to keep whatever he got on the show, and, for once, he wanted to have something that he loved.
By the time his daddy got home from work that evening he had heard about what happened, because the Irish Rube Goldberg machine works in reverse too.
It had been, “…those are for little girls, it’s the Tonka Truck or nothing.” The lady suddenly seemed not as lovely anymore. “It’s up to you, Michael” said his mammy, who had often spotted her dresses not in the places where she left them, and knew well. Michael weighed his longing to be on the show against his longing to be himself. It was the sort of decision that little boys of ten shouldn’t have to make.
“I’ve never been so embarrassed in all my life to get that phonecall,” said his dad. Michael believed him. He’d never seen his dad so red in the face. “Do you know what it took to set that up?” His dad was no eejit either, though. After he had finished with his gesticulations, he took a breath and said, “Look, if you’re going to get on in this life, you’re going to have to learn to compromise.”
The Toy Show was usually a joyful night in their house, but that year the three of them watched it in tense silence, everyone looking fixedly at the screen. Then the section came on with the “girls’ toys” and there was a lovely girl in her Sunday best showing off her My Little Ponies. Michael was learning that little boys like him would often have to muffle the sound of their hearts breaking, but he wasn’t yet an expert. Just as his dad glanced at him, a tear plopped off his cheek, and he sniffed. Michael’s mammy put her arm around him. His dad stood up. “Right, I’m off to bed,” he said. No-one answered him, and off he went.
On Christmas morning, in the sitting room, Michael got all the usual stuff: the socks, the jocks, some colouring books and pens, a Beano annual and a couple of satumas (although they were the really good ones that were easy to peel.) “Thanks Mam and Dad!” said Michael. “Thank Santa,” said his mam. Michael rolled his eyes.
Then his dad said, “Actually, I think there’s one more thing, but this is from Daddy Christmas.” (He had taken every extra hour of overtime going in the factory to pay for this and he was damned if he was letting Santa take the credit.) When he walked out of the sitting room, Michael looked at his mam with a question in his face, and his mam looked back as if she didn’t have an answer, but she knew well.
Then, his dad came back in on his hands and knees…wheeling a big yellow Tonka Truck. But Michael smiled broadly, because riding on the back of that Tonka truck was the largest collection of My Little Ponies he had ever seen.
Michael and his dad looked at each other with tear-filled eyes,
“You see, Mammy Christmas was telling me that sometimes daddies have to learn to compromise too…”