Birthday Presents

“Mom,” My son called from the other room. “Can I get a DNA test for my birthday?”

When my kids were little, having triplets made birthdays big. We celebrated with giant surprises, and gifts so grand it was more like winning a game show then just a birthday.

I would shop all year long making sure I had just the right present for just the right kid. Back then, a big bird stuffed animal might be the highlight of the birthday. My kids would tear open their gifts with relish, as the wrapping paper revealed Spiderman tooth brushes, Dora the Explorer towels, or a Barney See and Say.

Even as the kids grew older their hobbies and interests remained in scale with my budget. As Barney gave way to Transformers and coloring books gave way to origami kits Birthdays remained big on the kid’s calendar. No matter the time of year, if any of the kids wanted something, they would say “Mom can I get it for my birthday?”

That’s how things were, until my kids discovered Apple. Gone were the days of the Acme MP3 player, the kids are discovered Apple and nothing less would do.

“What about a Nintendo game?” I asked as the holiday was approaching.

“Nobody plays with that game anymore mom,” said my 11-year-old with a ring of disgust.

I looked away ashamed “What about the Sony PSP? Didn’t you say you wanted one of those last month?

“Mom everyone has an iTouch.”

In that moment I felt the earth shifting beneath my feet. For the first time in my adult life I had entered the generation gap, that space between what’s in and what’s out, what’s hip and what’s not, what’s today and what’s so yesterday. I prided myself on having my fingers on the pulse of pop culture. No matter what I offered up, it was only iTouch that could meet the electronic needs of the teenagers in my house.

I felt crushed. All of my plans, the pile of gifts I had amassed throughout the year, meant nothing compared to that glistening handheld electronic device.

After my son asked, so followed my daughter. They did not have so much a want but a need to have an iTouch. Need so great that not even the promise of getting one in the future could quell the unbridled lust to have one now.

I considered their request. I considered my budget. As their request became more like a demand, I felt less and less inclined to cave in to the pressure. Furthermore, although their brother had not asked for one, I didn’t want to give two of them this very expensive gift while leaving out their brother. Lastly, at over $200 apiece, the gift became prohibitive.

As the birthday approached, it became evident that no gift I could give would be adequate. The participants in this year’s birthday bash would surely be disappointed to receive anything that did not don the Apple logo.

Being the savvy preteens that they were, my son and daughter doubled down and made sure their request was heard not just by me but my ex as well.

About a week before their birthday, my kids came bounding into the house with their shiny new iTouches. No, they had not forgotten their brother; in a plastic bag hung by the door was a used Sony PSP just for him.

My ex, who didn’t have enough money to put gas in her car, managed to procure two new iTouches under questionable circumstances.

As the holidays came and went, my son that got the Sony PSP became increasingly disturbed. Admittedly he had not asked for anything specific for his birthday, but his new Guinness Book of World Records and a gift card for Dunkin’ Donuts did not abate the feelings that he had somehow been cheated.

His mood was deteriorating rapidly and the only thing that seemed to heal his broken spirit would have to come directly from the Apple Store.

I made a decision to right the wrongs of my ex and dipped into my savings and bought my son an Apple iTouch. He was near tears as he saw the icon glistening under the wrapping paper and hugged and kissed me numerous times while he proceeded to download free apps.

As it was Christmas eve, his happiness over his iTouch added to a feeling of merriment and goodwill. The following morning everyone was in a good mood and periodically throughout the day my son came to me and would tell me about the latest free app that he had downloaded. I half listened as we prepared for family dinner and at a one point even said to him “enough with the free apps, leave me alone.”

After dinner my other son approached me and tried to tell me that his brother was downloading apps that weren’t free.

“What do I know about apps? Leave me alone and stay out of your brother’s business.” I said to him as we ate dessert.

Later as we relaxed around the fireplace my daughter approached me and said my son was purchasing hundreds of dollars’ worth of apps. “He said they’re free,” I snapped at her.

“Well they’re not,” she said.

Upon further investigation I discovered that indeed he had purchased numerous apps, so many apps in fact that my stepdaughter had to write them all down. In total, he had purchased just under $450 worth of apps, among these were ringtones for a phone he does not possess, numerous videos of DVDs we already owned, an application to turn your iTouch into a piano and the entire collection of every Simpsons episode ever made.

The death knell of the holidays had rung. I took to my bed as everybody cleaned up the dinner dishes and threw away the remnants of wrapping paper left over from the day’s events.

Every so often there would be a knock at my bedroom door. I would answer for them to come in as if they were offering condolences, they would gently opened the door and stand in the doorway and asked if I was okay, then they would offer some empty words of encouragement.

And finally as if the tides had finally changed, someone came in and said my stepdaughter had contacted Apple and if I sent them a list of the charges made on my account they would credit me for everything I had been charged.

The next day I went downstairs to my computer and ran off a list of the apps that were purchased. I put them in an envelope enclosed with a small note stating that my 11-year-old son had purchased these apps without my knowledge and I was told that I could get credit. There was something sheepish to the tone of my letter. Perhaps it was my own guilt and allowing my son to use my iTunes account and Apple ID. Nonetheless it was $450 that I didn’t have to spare.

My son’s attitude was less sheepish. First he claimed not to know what he had done. Later he said he had lost control and it wasn’t his fault. Finally he outright blamed me and made no excuse for himself. He then called my ex and had himself picked up. For his part it was a good plan because there was no living with me until that $450 was put back in my bank account.

Ultimately it was the good folks at J.P. Morgan Chase that refunded my money. The people at Apple had less compassion for my plight and offered me a credit for the Simpsons videos and a couple of songs.

My son lost use of his iTouch for several months and within a week upon getting it back he brought it with him somewhere and it was stolen. It was March by then and my Hanukkah suffering had no end in sight, so I bought him a used iTouch and told him it was his lucky day, not to ask for anything else and put the whole ugly mess behind us. But within a week the iTouch stop working. I returned it and purchased another used one which lasted about eight months at which time he discovered how to hack into the little gadget and promptly broke it. He was never quite right after that. He lost his faith in himself and that broken things can always be fixed.

This year when he asked for the DNA test my immediate reaction was to say no. The cost was prohibitive. I was certain that he didn’t understand that the DNA test would not provide him with an extensive family tree much less connect him to his ancestors that lived millions of years ago. I went to the website and much to my surprise indeed the website claim to connect individuals with their ancestors who lived millions of years ago.

“What do you expect to find with this DNA test?” I asked him.

With certainty he looked at me and said “I want the names of my ancestors who lived millions of years ago.”

“Fine,” I told him.

I knew there was no changing his mind once he got an idea in his head that was it. I was determined to give him the gift he wanted if not the gift he asked for.

About a month before Hanukkah I was at the gynecologist sitting in the exam room waiting for the doctor when I noticed a container with sterile swabs and it. After the exam I asked the gynecologist if I could have some sterile swabs. When she asked me why I explained my son’s request and my plan to give him the ancestors he longed to connect with. I was assembling my very own ancestry kit complete with sterile swab to collect DNA. She was so enthusiastic about my endeavor that she threw in a couple of extras and latex glove for good measure.

That afternoon I cut and pasted the logo onto a blank page from my Microsoft publisher program and thus began the process of defrauding my own son.

Dear Mr. Segal-Gould, I began, thank you for your interest in our DNA testing. Enclosed you will find everything you need for your DNA test. I closed by reminding him that test results can take as long as six to eight weeks and thanked him for his business.

I then purchased the bubble mailer and enclosed in it my letter, sterile swabs from the gynecologist and the latex glove. I also included this plastic stick thing that the gynecologist had given me; I could safely assume that this is typically used for Pap smear but looked medically necessary for gathering DNA.

Of all his gifts that Hanukkah night it was the DNA test that he liked the most. I remember the earnest look on his face as he hugged and kissed me and profusely thanked me for the one thing he really wanted. For a moment, I did feel sort of guilty. It almost seemed mean to continue this charade but at $149 a test I felt that I had enjoyed an enormous discount and I got a lot of love in return.

Two nights later we scrape the inside of my son’s cheek took the giant Q-tip and rub the inside of his cheek for DNA. We then place the sterile swab in the preaddressed envelope and put it in the mailbox. He must’ve read the letter enclosed a dozen times because he kept asking me how long is 6 to 8 weeks anyway. The more he asked the guiltier I felt.

After a month had passed, my son started asking me when the results would arrive. At first I simply dismissed his inquiries and told him we had at least another month to wait but as the time drew near I felt a mounting pressure to procure some DNA results for him.

I went online, certain that I could find some DNA results to cut and paste. First I went to will quickly discovered if you can get a DNA test then results are free and they would charge a hundred and $49. I looked up keywords like “haplogroup” on Wikipedia but the more I read the more confused I became. I did a Google search for DNA results but the grids and graphs and charts only confused me more. In desperation I called my stepdaughter—a science major at Mount Holyoke College—and asked if she could help. I told her I need it to sound technical and to throw in as much science terminology as she could. She called back the next day saying she felt uncomfortable with the dishonest nature of the task and upon going to the website discovered some key flaws in my plan. The biggest one being that if you get your DNA results from they essentially give you the keys to the kingdom of your results and you should be able to go online at their website and look up anything you want. I dismissed her comments as being self-righteous and unhelpful so I decided I would have to go it alone.

My DNA results—unlike those from—included three pages of information that of which could be cross-referenced anywhere on the World Wide Web. They included a series of grids and graphs which made no sense whatsoever to me. My hope was that my son will quickly lose interest upon realizing the complexity of DNA results. My second page included a narrative about the origins of our last name. I included a short list that shared the name Gould and the dates that they arrived in the New World. My son squealed with delight as he read about Nathan Gould the pail maker, Caleb Gould who arrived in Virginia in 1632, and Josias Gould who arrived on a spice ship in 1683.

The third and final page included the story of Mordecai Gould who worked as a servant under Alexander the Great. It described the death of his first born in childbirth and how he and his wife came to have six other children. Ivan, son of Mordecai, worked in the Navy under Peter the Great despite nearly a century between them.

I wove the story of our fake ancestry written to the turn of the 20th century. I included great great uncles Saul and Jacov and their wives Rivka and Malka. I ended the third page with the disclaimer that could not be held liable for any of the information provided. That was the only true statement in the entire document.

My son hugged and kissed me and thanked me profusely for the gift of his family. He thanked me for letting him discover who he really was, a distant relative of Nathan the pail maker.

He showed the document to each of his siblings who were far less interested and nodded approvingly. My only concern was that one of them would note the implausibility of what my son was reading. He asked if he could bring it to school to show his social studies teacher. I told him yes and only hoped that his teacher was as disinterested as his siblings.

I believe my son was looking for a sense of connectedness to the world around him and with his iTouch and his newly found DNA results I believe he’s ready for the new world.

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