Dec. 23rd, 2011

dreaminghope: (Baby DreamHope)
Christmas always makes me think about toys. I was thrilled when I saw a news story the other day that said that some of the most requested presents for this year, after fancy electronic gizmos, are classics like Legos and Barbies.

When my sister and I were little, we didn't get random toys; new toys came at Christmas and birthdays, though we were spoiled on both of those occasions.

I was a kid in the 1980s, with many of the accompanying toys:

I had a Pound Puppy. The one I had came in a two pack in a cardboard doghouse; my sister and I each got one of the plush dogs for Christmas.

I had a Care Bear. I watched the Care Bear movie three times in the 48-hours we had it rented for my birthday sleep-over, but still only had one of the toys.

I had a couple of Barbies and some accessories, though my sister and I didn't really play with them a lot. I really only played Barbie when I had school friends over.

I had a couple of Popples, though they mostly came from garage sales, bought with my tiny allowance. I was late to a lot of the minor trends because I wasn't allowed to watch cartoons, so I missed the advertising and only tended to learn about the new toy fashions once my friends already something to show off.

I had a Cabbage Patch Kid at the peak of the craze. Long before there was Tickle Me Elmo causing riots in the toy stores, there were sold-out Cabbage Patch Kids. My sister had a little boy doll, bought still in box from the trunk of a car in the swimming pool parking lot from a mother whose daughter did not want a boy Cabbage Patch Doll, even if it was the only one left in town. My sister's friends were mostly boys, so she had no problem receiving Solomon. I had a little black Cabbage Patch Kid doll, which was perhaps unsurprisingly still on the store shelf in a small northern town where even the local "ethnic" restaurant – a Chinese restaurant with as much batter as chicken in their sweet-and-sour chicken balls – was probably run by white people. My doll came with the name Charlotte, but I just couldn't remember it ("It's something like carrot...") so my Mom and I applied to have it changed to Amanda. I bet my mother still has the revised "birth certificate" somewhere that the Cabbage Patch people sent us.

But there were a few things my parents didn't buy for me.

Mom didn't like Snugglebumms. I think she recognized that they were a short-lived fad with limited entertainment value. Or maybe she just didn't like that the name included "bum". Or maybe there weren't any available in the two aisles of toys in our small town department store. Anyway, for some reason, she didn't like them and so I didn't have one, except the one I made out of a scrap of terry cloth and some embroidery thread. Mom had to thread the needle for me.

I also never received a Teddy Ruxpin, despite my utter fascination with them when I saw them in a toy store in the "big city" (Sudbury). I spent many hours trying to re-create the Ruxpin experience: I recorded my own audio tapes, then sat my Ogi, my favourite teddy bear, in front of a ghettoblaster covered with a pumpkin-orange, rust-red, and harvest-yellow crocheted granny-square blanket. I would play the audio tape back while my sister and I would pretend that Ogi was talking. Sometimes I would do different voices on the tapes and sit multiple toys in front of the ghettoblaster so they could have a conversation with each other. This kept me happily entertained for hours at a time for weeks, using only things we already had laying around the house. My mother's wisdom shows again: I'm sure many a talking bear ended up stuffed in the back of a closet after only a couple of hours of use.

My sister and I did spend a lot of time playing with Precious Places, Charmkins, Playmobil, and Lego, all jumbled together and laid out in elaborate cities on a double-bed sized, wheeled platform that Dad made for us. The platform was brilliant because it could be rolled under the guest bed in the basement, so our games could remain intact when my mother vacuumed or when guests stayed over. We had to remove the Precious Places houses first, but all the roads and shorter buildings could stay.

However many hours we spent playing with those toys, however, we spent even more playing with no props at all. We had to: we would go camping in our motor home for weeks at a time in the summer, and there wasn't a lot of room for anything beyond a couple of packs of cards, a pile of library books, some paper and markers for drawing, and a couple of stuffed animals each. Together, we invented new worlds and spent entire days in them.

I've been spending more time in toy stores since my nephew was born. There are so many great toys out there – some new innovations and some classics – and I've had no problems choosing gifts for him so far. I look forward to buying him gifts for many, many years, but I keep returning to the idea that sometimes the best toys are the ones you didn't have.

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dreaminghope

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