Baby Pattaburp from dollreference.com
If your mother was like mine, you didn’t constantly hear her say, “You’re such a great kid, you’ll rule the world someday,” or “You’re such a beautiful princess,” or “You’re so special…I want you to feel good about yourself.”
Don’t get me wrong. I could tell when I was behaving myself and when I was acting like a bad person. I developed a useful conscience and had only temporary delusions about ruling the world. The only person who ever called me “Princess” was one of my Grandpas. As for being special and feeling good about myself, that came in time. It may be controversial to say so, but my parents made me earn self-esteem and I think they were right to do so.
But back to your mother. Maybe she was like mine and said some of the most loving words a mother can say:
“Go out and play!”
It seems that most children today, if they play at all, do it indoors. That would explain the “Play 60” campaign on television, showing famous athletes modeling outdoor play with kids. We see a rise in childhood obesity and an entire generation of young people who will probably need thumb joint replacements by the time they’re fifty because they play with so many video games and cell phones. (Yes, I have a cell phone and I am jealous that I can’t thumb-type to text).
When my kids were young, I was one of a generation of mothers who became fearful of what could happen to our children if they weren’t constantly supervised. After watching the news, we had nightmares of abductions and worse. I hope I didn’t keep my kids on too short a tether…you’d have to ask them.
“Go out and play!” If you were as fortunate as I was, your mother said this to you often. Sure, she had ironing to do and wanted to get you out of her hair for a while so she could watch General Hospital and As the World Turns. But that doesn’t negate the gift she gave you. She was telling you to occupy yourself and develop an imaginative life. The best toys do both of those things, occupy and develop imagination, whether a child is indoors or outdoors. This post is the first I’ll write on toys–a grand topic beyond one sitting that deserves attention and remembrance.
I’ll start with toys of the 1960s and 1970s. This was my heyday and it was a great time to be a kid. Companies like Mattel, Marx, Ideal and Wham-O induced us to nag our parents so they’d buy us those toys from the very loud Saturday cartoon commercials. That was back in the day when Saturday morning was the only time we could watch children’s television. There weren’t any special channels for kids. Most of my inspiration for the toys I wanted came from those cartoon commercials and the Sears Catalog.
My most memorable toys were always dolls; Barbie, who gave me glamorous but unrealistic ideas about what my body should look like…Penny Brite, who fit in my pocket…Baby Pat-a-Burp who taught me how to deal with colicky babies…Chatty Cathy who made me realize I’m an introvert and, of course, Cheerful Tearful, who introduced me to bipolar personality disorder. I had an entire collection of Liddle Kiddles and assorted micro-dolls. Doll-related items were also important; clothing, bottles, a miniature metal kitchen and a metal doll house that somebody sat on, denting the roof, furnished with small wooden furniture. I had so many dolls my parents finally cut me off, cold, when I turned ten. It was probably a good decision.
photo by LoveButlerVintage on ETsy
Miscellaneous: Tiny red crystal radio. Jacks. Etch-a-Sketch. Finger paints. Bubbles. Jump rope. Chinese jump rope. My Girl Scout utility knife (still have it). The black Motorola transistor radio my grandma Laura gave me (still have that, too.) Chemistry set. Creepy Crawlers and Fun Flower Factory. A gray-haired troll. I made houses out of shoeboxes, complete with furniture and cloth curtains. The best ever house was made from a refrigerator box. I had a toy iron and ironing board, which failed to inspire me to love ironing. A kite or two, which I couldn’t seem to fly. Superballs–black, red and sparkly ones out of vending machines–by the boxful which all ended up in the rain gutter or under shrubs. My pedal car and, of course, my bike.
When I was a girl, there was a lot of gender sorting, as far as what girls or boys played with, but most of us crossed the lines to borrow and try out lots of things. “Boy” stuff I loved: Boys’ Life magazine, the Boy Scout Manual (honestly, they had all the good information and merit badges), wood burning set, marbles, GI Joe, Hot Wheels and the bright orange racing track that looped the loop, plastic army men, toy guns, an old army canteen and a compass.
Channel Craft marbles
Toys I wanted to swipe from other kids: A complete collection of Dr. Seuss books (there was the first hint of my rampant literary nature) and the boy next door’s new birthday bike. I also wanted to steal any stuffed bear or animal I saw (because of allergies and asthma, I couldn’t have them). As Goodhusband put it, toys gave us our first lessons in “thou shalt not covet.” From the toys I couldn’t have, I learned not to steal, to have self control and to appreciate what I had. I learned that some kids’ parents spoiled them rotten. Only years later did I realize this was a disservice and not an advantage. I also learned that I couldn’t have everything I wanted. These were very useful life lessons. Toys were also the means to learn about sharing. Not a fun lesson, either, but some of us learned it. Some clearly didn’t and you know who you are…
When we see our old toys in the attic, at a flea market or on a website, adrenaline jolts us back into feeling young. It wouldn’t surprise me if endorphins flow, too. For generations, kids have cherished, worn out, misused and used up their favorite toys. Some have been passed from sibling to sibling or bought and sold at garage sales. Some adults become serious toy collectors, perhaps to recapture memories from toys they had, or to soothe the pain of the things they didn’t.
Toys shape reality. As children, we use them to practice for the grownups we become; as adults, we look at them with longing, seeking to reconnect with the children we still are, inside. When we give toys to children, we make important choices for them. Not only are we concerned with toxic paints or safety, but we might consider that some toys lead our children to be more or less creative, healthy, compassionate and intelligent.
Here are more links to vintage toys. Channel Craft is a great company building retro toys for today’s kids. TimeWarp Vintage Toys is one of Goodhusband’s favorites, as is RetroPlanet.com. I have no association with these sites and I’m not endorsing them as vendors or authorities. I provide links because their sites might knock loose some memories.
As you look, remember that it’s not over for you, with toys. Why, just two years ago Goodhusband and I bought that amazing six-foot kite in the picture and I actually flew it!
Today I’ve been self-indulgent, listing my favorite toys, hoping to jump start your memory. What were your favorite toys? The ones you lost? The ones you couldn’t have? What toys do you buy now? In posts to follow, I’ll look at other aspects, uses for and eras of toys. Make suggestions in your comments, please…then, go out and play!