Friday, November 07, 2008

Old Toys, New Toys, and Memories

Over the last week, Gilahi has run a series of four posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) highlighting toys some of us are old enough to remember from our misspent youths. I was amazed to see some of these things again: "Classic Green Army Men," the "Tin Harmonic Top," the original "Slinky" (made of steel wire, not plastic); and for budding engineers, "Lincoln Logs" and "Tinkertoys." I think the only one he missed was the wonderful Kenner "Girder and Panel Building Set." Of course, he did find two things I didn't remember, but could certainly use: "Tired Old Ass Soak" and "Aging Hippy Bath Oil Fizz."

Those brought back memories. Not the Tired Old Ass Soak, the toys.

Last weekend Agnes and I were out doing initial Christmas gift reconnaissance, and I was amazed at some of the toys that are on sale for children. Most of them are made of colorful plastic and feature flashing lights and the sound effects we used to have to make ourselves (children love my UFO sounds). Girls have big-busted Barbie dolls instead of Mrs Beasley, and it's difficult to find a toy for girls that doesn't have Hannah Montana somehow tied to it; boys have "GI Joe action figures" instead of the solid plastic "classic green army men" I used to play with until I learned that war actually hurts.

My daughter sent the grandparents an e-mail the other day, imploring us to avoid kitschy, overly gender-specific girly gifts for Leya in favor of things that are educational. The list was comprehensive and well thought-out, and reflected her desire to provide appropriate and useful gifts for her daughter. I'm just glad I won't have to return the "Baby's First Atomic Pile" I ordered (no "atomic pile" jokes related to diapers, please, Mike).

Toys have changed quite a bit since I was young, as I'm sure our parents lamented when they bought toys for us. There's a great story on the CNN website today that announces the latest addition to The National Toy Hall of Fame: the plain old stick, "a universal plaything powered by a child's imagination."

Imagination is the key word, here. We've all seen how the child often has more fun playing with the box than with the expensive toy that came packaged in it. Imagination is the fuel that powers the engine of play, and it's the steadily decreasing level of imagination that makes adulthood so dreary for many of us. Most of us would rather watch a movie that puts spectacular visuals right in front of us than read the book that requires us to use our imagination to flesh out the story. Yesterday I wrote about science fiction stories like Jurassic Park and Danger: Dinosaurs!. The eye-popping visuals of the film version of Jurassic Park were truly amazing...but somehow I think the mental images I got from reading the original story were just as good, if not better.

If you give a child a stick for Christmas, people will think you're a cheap grinch or worse. But that stick can become a king's sceptre, a knight's sword, a fishing pole, or a wizard's wand. The illuminated, sound-effect-enhanced, glow-in-the-dark plastic light saber will always be an illuminated, sound-effect-enhanced, glow-in-the-dark plastic light saber. The humble stick will always be so much more, its simplicity given power by the fuel of a child's imagination.

That's something worth thinking about this year as we visit Costco or Wal-Mart or Toys'r'Us to seek out the latest computer-enhanced fancy toys. They'll be fun for a while. But when the batteries run down or the plastic shell breaks or the new, upgraded version comes out, that plain old stick will still be there. And there are lots more where it came from. And they're free.

Sticks. Don't take a walk without them.

New topic: tomorrow, right after I post this week's Cartoon Saturday, Agnes and I will be leaving for our well-deserved and long-delayed vacation. Does this look like a happy fellow?

We'll be gone for about 2 1/2 weeks, and although we'll have Agnes's laptop along, I probably won't be able to post every day, if at all. I'll be too busy writing Fiona's letter and catching up on my reading and relaxing. Don't give up - I'll be back.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

Enjoy your vacation! You deserve it

John A Hill said...

When Aaron was five, I noticed him playing with a stick. As we played, I talked about how important sticks were to little boys. It wasn't long before I had him convinced that a bundle of sticks would be a great Christmas presents.

At the same time, Hannah was three. She was always noticing different colored rocks and bring them home. It was our little girls pockets that were always full of rocks.

That Christmas I had my kids convinced that a bundle of sticks and a bag of rocks were good Christmas gifts...if only my wife would have let me get away with it!

Mike said...

You must not have gotten the notice.
I sure am glad I caught you before you left.

fiona said...

My favorite game as a kid was hopscotch.
Paldies in Scottish.
Required: I stick of chalk to mark the numbers and a rock to throw.
A shoe polish tin filled with dirt (instead for the rock) was on my christmas list every year. It had better balance for throwing and didn't stub yer toe when kicking.
Some years there was one in my stocking some years not. Guess it all depended on how often Santa polished his boots!
Have a wonderful vacation dear.
Looking forward to my letter!

lacegem said...

You certainly look happy. I don't blame you, however when you get back, I want you to look just as happy, ok?
About the new toys, they are certainly very different from what we grew up with. Like you said, they are mostly digital & require batteries. When Josh was little we indulged him with both fun & learning toys. His favorites were GI Joe, transformer robots,dinosaurs & yes LEGOS. He also loved books, chess & computer games. Josh was an only child & before he went to a childcare facility, he actually had a pretend friend whom he generally played & conversed with. He also loved rocks & coins. To this day he still collects. Josh is a voracious reader as well & enjoys reading Sci-Fi, historical & religious books. I guess I didn't do too bad raising him. Just one more comment, my cats are like children whenever i buy them store bought toys, they like it for awhile & then they get bored. However, if you give them a box or make them a home made toy, they love it & don't get tired of it. So it goes to show cats are just like children. Have Fun!

Anonymous said...

I always take my kids to the Dollar Store (if they've done their chores) and let them pick out ONE item. Usually they go for the Yo' Yo's or the bag of soldiers or marbles or toy cars.

Of course then they get tired of them and they end up in the box of toys I keep for when my little nephew's come over. They get to pick ONE item to take home if they've been good.

then my boys go back to their Xbox or Playstation. Until the next trip to the Dollar Store, of course!

Anonymous said...

OH I forgot to mention... that picture of you on the slide made me smile. :) Who says grown ups don't know how to have fun! tee hee.

Bilbo said...

Andrea - I couldn't have said it better myself!

John - I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, with numerous relatives in the coal-mining communities in the middle of the state. "A lump of coal in your stocking" was not just an idle threat...Dad really did have access to plenty of coal!

Mike - nice try. Good thing I don't pay much attention to anything this administration has to say.

Fiona - a shoe polish tin filled with dirt? Well, whatever floats your boat, I suppose...

Lacegem - Legos and books...that sounds like a great Christmas for both Agnes and I (it can take me a good while to drag her out of the Lego Store at Tyson's Corner!). My mother used to make 'box boxes' as gifts for sick children...she took a large box and filled it with things like little boxes, empty wooden thread spools (yes, they used to be made of wood), clothespins, and other little things that a child could turn into all sorts of magical creations. I don't think anyone does that any more. Too bad.

Twinkie - my father is the ultimate Dollar Store fanatic...he's always in there buying odd toys and things to stash away for when he needs a little gift for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One of the best was a futuristic, pistol-shaped fly swatter of blue and red plastic - it has two swatters that slam together when you pull the trigger. I've never gotten a single fly, but kids love the thing!