<%@ Language=VBScript %> Keepgoing.org - Winter 2001 - The Best Toys
The Farm

The Best Toys

By Monica Schrager

In the trees For Christmas my sister wrote me a poem and decorated the frame with sequins. She gave one to each of us. Mine was about our memories, of playing and fighting and the fact that we have these memories, and that she’s thankful for them.

My problem is my memory is going, and has been for a while. I’ve come to depend on my sister to remember my childhood and my friends to remember college. This is of obvious concern to me, but I do have some recollections. The rest need to be triggered by constant “you remember when we did…”, and most of the time, after a few minutes of the game, the specific memory in question finds its way to the front and is somewhat clear, but not always.

But I remember some of those childhood moments, when my sister was my best playmate and we hated to bathe and were all-around tomboys. Most of those memories involved us inventing experiences. Sure, we had plenty of toys. I raced my Tonka truck around the house, our Barbies lived in their townhouse, riding their horses, Dallas and Moonlight, and somehow ended up doing rather adult things in the dark. But the best toys and games were the ones that invented themselves somehow, or rather, the ones we invented.

Once, we built a fort in the living room and led our baby sister through a maze of blankets and pillows held up by chairs and tables to a ground-level clear window with the hope that she’d bump her head. Instead, her head went straight through (she was fine, but we were in shock).

We lived in a compound and there were tons of trees outside, where we spent most of our time, creating a city in the trees where we jumped from one to the other, with that fearlessness that comes with childhood. Of course, we also got scraped and cut and bumped our heads occasionally, but that was all par for the course.

Recently my dog died, and my family chose not to tell me for quite a length of time, “because it would upset me.” This was the dog I grew up with. We got him when I was 7 years old and I remember his first day with us, how he seemed to lean against the door as he entered our house, unsure of what lay beyond. I could reminisce about this dog, whom I considered the one lasting tangible link to my childhood and how I still feel guilty to this day about how I feel I neglected him in high school and college, for hours (as you can tell I carry severe regret over this), but I won’t. Instead I’ll reminisce a bit about what a great dog he was, how he let us dress him up in my younger sister’s clothes and hold him like a baby. Oddly enough he let us do this, so did one of our cats. I think we were lucky, 'cause I can’t say I know any dogs, let alone cats, mine or others, that would so freely let someone dress them in a little girl’s underwear and dress. And somehow we had little boys' underwear that had the slit that we put their tails through. Worked perfectly.

Back in the day (think way, way back, before any of us were here pretty much) there weren’t many toys, and people made do with what they had. Remember hearing about babies pounding on pots and pans with big wooden spoons. You don’t really see that anymore. We’ve got high-tech little drum sets now to meet that need. As well we’ve got 6- and 8-year-olds surfing the Internet and using email. But what we’ve lost a bit today was the inventiveness that our youth caught the tail end of. People throw store-bought toys at kids with such vigor, and I wonder if something’s missing by doing that.

I’ve been on a quest as of late to find “educational” toys for all the kids I need to buy for. Something without many little pieces that you know will end up under a couch or in a vacuum somewhere. Something that’ll stimulate their imagination and allow them to create the mazes and tree cities or worlds of dressed-up dogs and cats. I’ve even found a web site that takes the same attitude I’ve started to adopt, Smarter Kids, which gives me hope.

Don’t get me wrong, the Easy Bake ovens (I never had one but always wondered about them), GI Joes, and Barbies were great. But the toys and games we created in our front and back yards or on our blocks, in our sheet tents with flashlights, and on cassette tape as “shows”, were even better. And hopefully they still exist for the youth of today and tomorrow. There’s at least one so-called adult (that would be me) that still believes and is on a crusade to perpetuate these ideas for all the kids I encounter. This is mostly because I, and I doubt I’m alone here, still feel like a kid a lot of the time and a smile is brought to my face as I feel a wave of nostalgia remembering those days. I know I wish I were back there, but if I can’t be, I can do my best to make sure that the idea of creating great toys and experiences doesn’t die. 'Cause if it did all those kids of today would really be missing out, and I’d really worry about the adults they would become.

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Copyright©2001 by Monica Schrager.

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