Toys of My Youth


Store-bought Barbie doll houses were often on my wish-list, but never a reality for me. My need for the products I’d seen on TV was the mother of my inventions.

I tucked fabric around VHS clam shell cases and stuffed a “pillow” lump on one end to make a bed. I clipped photos of flower arrangements from a floral catalog and taped them to the wall beside the bed. Years later, I wrote a “will” and bequeathed the precious dolls to my younger sister as a Christmas gift. Their hold on my had faded. I don’t even know what happened to the Barbies.

My son is inheriting toys. New ones from his grandparents with big wooden rings that stack. Cars on wheels from his parents because we know what he’s most obsessed with. A second-hand electric keyboard and activity box from our next door neighbors whose grandson has gone off to preschool.

My siblings and I once owned a massive collection of Beanie Babies. We’d build villages of Duplos for them and attacked the land with floods of blue scarves. We’d laugh and dream and imagine adventures for our little animals. It was a team sport. My brother and I will still toss out snatches of phrases from our times of Beanie Adventures.

And then we all must grow up.

My Barbies are a distant memory of resourceful strategizing as I did my best to recreate the commercial items I coveted. My son will also outgrow his toys and they will become a gift for another young child to discover. The small pile of Beanie Babies that remain to me are mostly designated as gifts for future baby showers. My siblings and I have moved on to playing mystery video games in which we solve puzzles collectively and crack jokes about the strange personalities we meet in the game.

We’re all constantly leaving toys and memories and old habits behind. It strikes me that adults have left themselves too few toys to play with, urged to discard childish things in the rush to be sophisticated. When I pull out The Trickster’s Hat and do a strange creative art project, I get excited and playful again. It’s a taste of my childhood. Some of my best inventions come from that place.

Growing up and moving on is unstoppable. But I’ll always be that girl who designed her own Barbie room decor and managed the plot lines of the Beanie Adventures. My son will bring his love for music and rhythm beyond the confines of his toy drum and keyboard and his Raffi Soundtracks.

Peter Pan had a bit of it right. For those of us who are determined to make it so, we never have to grow up completely.

A story lingers in my mind as I come to the end of this post: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s an enchanting, fantastical story, told by an adult looking back at the world through the beautiful eyes of a young person. Read it if you haven’t. I’ve read it twice and each time it filled me with child-like hope.

All of us can stay young.


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