You start out in life with no real goals, except for some warm milk and a dry diaper. But pretty soon, you notice these elephants spinning around above your crib and reach out and try to grab hold of one, but your arms aren’t long enough. You cry out in frustration and eventually some large person comes and checks to see if you’re wet or hungry, then sticks you back in the crib, unable to reach the elephants. Your whole life becomes focused on this one goal: the elephants. You spend all day pumping iron, or at least pumping your legs and arms, trying to build up your muscles. Eventually, you manage to roll over and for a while you forget about your original goal and start to have other goals. Maybe when they lay you down on the floor, you can move forward far enough to grab hold of something else. You push and push, and fail many times, before finally managing to grab the big blue rattle. Soon you’re able to see things in the far distance, even on the other side of the playpen, and crawl over to stick them in your mouth. Your new goal becomes to grab hold of as many things as possible and see if they taste as good as a breast.
But every night when they lay you down in the crib, there are those elephants again, taunting you, reminding you that you still haven’t met your original goal. You’re a failure at nine months. Your whole life has gone by, seasons have changed, you’ve grown out of several sizes of clothes, and yet you still can’t grab those elephants.
You cry yourself to sleep, until a new day dawns and something else amazing happens: You pull yourself up on the couch! Yes, you can stand upright and walk along the edge of the couch. So you come up with a new goal — to walk across the room just like the dog does.
But when you try, you fall down on your butt, hard enough that it makes you cry, not just from the pain of it, but from the indignity. Why can the dog walk and you can’t? The world isn’t fair. You’ll never be able to do this; you’re destined to spend your entire life crawling around on the floor like a bug. After a while, you stop crying and drag yourself back up on the couch and try again, getting a lot of encouragement from parents and siblings and anyone else who happens to be around. They seem to think this is the biggest deal in the world, but all you really want to do is walk over to where the elephants are and grab hold of them. Oh, well, what the heck? Baby steps.
Then all at once it happens — you find yourself standing up and walking around. The big people laugh and applaud and snap your photo. You’ve become a star! But that night when you stand up in your crib and reach as high as you can, you still can’t reach the elephants. Curse this world! You’ve done the greatest thing that man can do, you’ve done something even the dog can’t do — walk on two feet — and yet you still can’t reach your one true desire. Life hardly seems worth living.
Still, you can’t give up; you know there must be a way, and then one day you think of it. You need to be able to explain to one of the big people what you want. You need to have them help you achieve your goal. You need a team, you need cooperation, and so you try to talk to them.
Unfortunately, all you can say is, “a baba da ba ga ah, ta babb, babba.” They come by and say, “Oh, isn’t that cute. What do you want? You want a bottle?” And you repeat, “I want the elephants!”
“A wawa ha a wawa ha.”
And they bring you a bottle and you start to cry and they stuff it in your mouth to shut you up, and you want to throw the bottle at their faces, but it’s milk and honey that tastes pretty good and before you know it, you’re asleep, dreaming of elephants. You’ve been tricked again; you’ve been drugged. You’re some kind of a hostage, and no one knows where you are or what you want. Who will ever save you? You realize you’re going to have to save yourself. You have to figure out how to talk even better or you’ll never get what you want.
So you keep practicing. First you work on the easy ones. “Mama. Dada.” They keep coming all the time anyway. But it is fun to watch them jump through hoops every time you say their names. Then you work on harder things. “Doggie. Kitty.” People grab hold of the animals and drag them over to you so you can pummel them and pull their fur. Hey, you’re frustrated and you have to take it out in some way. It’s not good to let your anger fester. You’ve got to relieve the tension somehow until you can get what you really want.
Then you finally realize how you can achieve your goal. It was there all along and you never realized it. Your finger! All you need to do is point and say “I want!” and someone will get it for you.
So when they lay you down that night, you point at the elephants and loudly exclaim, “I want!” and your Dad says, “What?”
So you do it again, “I want!” even more emphatically. And he picks you up and finally, after months of struggle, you grab hold of an elephant, and find out, oh crap, it’s just a little plastic toy! It’s not a real elephant. You start crying and your dad is spinning the elephants around and saying, “Oh, do you like the elephants?” and you couldn’t care less about the stupid elephants, you hope you never see another elephant again in your whole life, you wish all the elephants could be banished from the face of the earth. You’ve reached your goal and realized that it’s idiotic, nothing like you imagined it would be. You cry and cry and finally fall asleep in your dad’s arms and the next thing you know, it’s morning and you wake up and the sun is shining, and then you spot it, outside the window. A robin is on the windowsill. It stares at you for a minute and then flies away.
Now you know what you really want. If you can only figure out some way to get it.