Saturday, February 18, 2012

So Roben's teacher wants parents to write a letter to their kid for a family history paper. Well . . . I couldn't lie . . .

Dear Roben,

Because it’s all made up anyway, I might as well just tell you: You were never born.

We made you. Compelled by some irretrievable impulse for having something we made together, we settled on a robot child. A little insight here: I had said, “Can’t we just do a puzzle or something? I mean, with all the misery and suffering in the world, wouldn’t we just be contributing to a shortage of resources?” Your mother, as she always does, had the perfect answer: ”You mean, like your tears are a waste of water? Stop crying and get your keys. We’re going to the robot store.” You come from a long line of strong women: Your aunt was a death row prison guard. Your great great grandmother was an arm wrestling champion and, if the record is accurate, you are related to the only grizzly bear on the Mayflower.

So we gathered parts. Talked of infusing you with family history, whether it would matter and ultimately decided it would happen organically. We are who we are: It would all come down to instinct and the negotiation over who would work on what. Armed with modest salaries and a good old American impulse to own something, we filled our cart full of dreams and discounted hardware. If the receipt can serve as genealogical record, your skeletal structure consists primarily of 300 year old English beechwood and your innards, crafted from fiberglass insulation, were derived from Italian stained glass. And, as you know, bag pipes without the drones and stocks serve as your lungs, providing the basis for your ability to so intuitively imitate a Scottish accent.

The annual rebuilding, where we discarded small and worn parts, taught us the most about you. When I saw a worn knee, I couldn’t help but smile thinking of all the basketball we played over the past year and how paying for a replacement part was totally worth it. And you would learn about me too when I would say, “Well, I’ll just have to replace the leg next year, so I might as well replace the knee and leg this year while I have the thing apart.” When you got over the frustration of having one leg longer than than the other, mostly by discovering the pivot advantage, you could see what a practical man I am. You come from a long line of practical men: Your grandfather saved enough money to actually retire comfortably. Your great great uncle was the first to diagram buffalo meat and convinced Lewis and Clark to eat it. And, if the veterinary log is correct, you are related to the only man aboard the Mayflower who argued against the impracticality of bringing along a grizzly bear.

Being a practical man, or as your mom would say “boring”, I took the time one day to make this calculation about your day to day life:
9 hours of sleep/shutdown/battery charge
7 hours of school
3 hours of homework (your teacher is reading this, right?)
5 hours with Mom and Dad

This data suggests no matter how hard we try, our coding as your “parents” is smaller than the whole program of your life. And each year, as you made friends, got involved in sports and even somehow managed to find girlfriends accepting of your robocity, our coding contribution shrank. This can be hard on your creators, and believe me, your mom put in a lot of labor. I say this not as a lament or guilt trip, but to drive the point you know so well: you made you, too, and have done so exceptionally.

So, if you ever decide, God help you, to make your own child, I will tell you this one thing I have learned: There is no such thing as too much love or too much affection, but there is such a thing as too little, even for a robot.