When I was a child, all my toys and stuffed animals had names and distinct personalities. What's more, they were all creatures of real being to me; they each had feelings. I used to worry about hurting them if I treated them badly or even if I favored one over the others. My brother and sister tell me they had the same sort of perception and that, like me, they were slow to lose it. Even today we occasionally have to remind ourselves that the last head of lettuce left in the produce bin at the grocery store is only a head of lettuce, that is doesn't really feel abandoned or unwanted. Even so, it is sometimes difficult not to take it home out of pity.
We lay this bit of dysfunction at the feet of our mother, partly because as everyone knows, that's where one lays the credit for one's dysfunctions, and partly because she's the one who used to wheedle us to eat all our vegetables by moaning sadly, "Oh, look at the poor little green bean! All his friends are gone down in your tummy! He wants to be with his friends! Don't you feel sorry for him? He's wondering what's wrong with him that you won't eat him. Pooooor green bean!" Part of the time we thought she was a little loopy, but most of the time it worked. Well, it worked for awhile. Eventually my brother discovered that if he held out long enough, she'd offer him money to eat the poor little green bean. As for me, my initial eagerness to cooperate quickly turned into obstinate opposition when I figured out that there would always be another green bean, another bite of spinach, another bit of something to feel guilty over. My sister, eleven years younger than I, traversed the distance between sentimentallity and logic without my observance, and although she has obviously done so with success, I do not know by what path she traveled.
Last month our new washer and dryer were finally delivered. As I stood in the utility room looking at them, I realized they were looking back at me hopefully, eager to please, wanting to be liked. I patted the washer awkwardly on its top and ran my hand over the dryer's door gently. Nothing is quite so charming as an appliance that can't wait to be helpful. The Younger Daughter walked into the room and gave me a cheerful hug. "What are you going to name them, Mama?" she asked.
"I don't know," I replied, somewhat surprised. I've tried not to play the Poor Green Bean card with my children, and the fact that they persist in naming inantimate objects and treating them like people casts serious doubts upon the theory that personification of the inantimate is entirely my mother's fault. "What would you name them?"
She thought about it a minute. "Claudio and Hero?" she offered doubtfully, her brow knitted in thought.
We discussed a few more options, and after a short synopsis of the tale of Odysseus, we settled on Syclla and Charybdis.
Scylla and Charybdis have been working for me in the back room for a month now, and I have to say that they seem to work better for having been named. Certainly I've heard no complaints, and when I answer the urgent beepings that signal the ends of their cycles, their red LCD screens beam proudly up at me. Maybe there is something to the theory that inantimate objects can have some form of sentience.
But I'm still not eating cooked spinach.