I ran to Target last week with a shopping list of birthday party supplies and a reminder from Brett to pick out a “cool present” for Dash–a task that is not difficult because Dash thinks a lot of things are cool. I started in produce and strategically mapped out my aisle course, saving the toy aisles for the end–even if the milk warmed–because toy aisles are the best aisles, and I save the best for last. As I rounded my cart into the first aisle of the toy section and pushed it slowly past shelves of Hot Wheels and packages of bright orange tracks that promise roller coaster thrills, I felt a hint of the nostalgic ache I know I will soon feel when the delight of Hot Wheels has faded and is replaced with–what, new computer speakers? How lovely. This “future nostalgic ache” isn’t so much a sinking feeling as it is a subtle awareness. I know the dangers of mourning the loss of something while it’s still wonderfully present, yet I cannot help but be very aware–especially after experiencing the speed in which one child has already graduated through all the toy thrill stages and is now holding steady at Clothes-are-Everything–that we are past Intermission in the great production of Our Life in the Toy Aisles that has played in our family for years.
There’s a Hotline for Future Nostalgic Ache, and it’s called Heidi’s phone. So I call her, from two toy aisles over where I park my cart between pets that “come to life” at any sign of motion. When she answers, I practically yell to be heard over the uproar of animatronic dog barking. Let’s just state for the record that there are some toys that do not delight.
“I’m in the toy aisles at Target picking out a present for Dash and it just hit me–I don’t get much longer of this, do I?”
“I know. It’s horrible,” she says, attempting to console and failing miserably. In fact, when it comes to mourning our kids getting older, I don’t even know why we call each other. We provide nothing but an invitation to a deeper level of festering sentimentality. We are pigs in our own wistful filth.
“I’m going to miss toys so much,” I say. “I’m going to miss seeing my kids bolt from the cart, breathless with anticipation to get to these aisles.”
“Isn’t it awful?” Heidi says. “One day they’re brushing their doll’s hair. The next day they’re slamming doors in your face. It sucks.” Ladies and Gentlemen, Heidi and I are taking our “POSITIVITY IN PARENTING: How to Healthily Embrace Your Children Growing Up” Show on the road, book tickets now!
And yes–I know every stage is wonderful, Brenda. I feel that. Sharing love with Lainey for checkered Vans and finding the perfect pink lip gloss at Sephora is a new joy in parenting that is wonderful in its own way. Having conversations together about big life things and watching her discover passions and interests beyond the world of childhood? It’s all so good. But it’s still paired with the recognition that these new interests are replacing the loss of something else–something magical that has lived in our home for a long time, and I just want to take a moment to declare my love for it while it’s still here–an ode to toys, if you will.
The happiness these toys bring to our bedrooms with their colors lined up on our shelves–bright green garbage trucks, red fire engines, a Tonka truck as yellow as the sun. Bins of Barbies, Legos, blocks, little animals with names and faces known by all three. The constant invitation to step out of character, use a different voice, try new sounds–a police car siren “woo-oo,” a high-pitched Barbie conversation–“Hey Kiki, do you want to go to Target?”, a growl from a fierce dinosaur who runs into the block tower and knocks it down with a crash…the uninhibited laughter that follows.
The baskets of little toys, collections, tiny treasures that fit in tins. A few always escape and end up in far corners of the house where I find them in a frantic cleaning blitz, frustrated for a moment with their existence but not really. I’ve loved the Shopkins and puzzle erasers and popsicle plastic necklace charms. I hope to be finding them at the bottom of backpacks for years to come.
There’s freedom and innocence and a world of imagination without limits and rules or embarrassment behind these toys, This is what I want to last forever. There’s joy in that freedom of expression.
And then there are the favorites–the most cherished toys that have won the prize of longest lasting thrill and truest companions. They’re personified to us–as real as Christopher Robin’s friends or Andy and Jessie in Toy Story 2 where surely the intent was announced among the Pixar script writers: “Moms–let’s get in ’em in the jugular.” This scene had me in a full-on stomach jerk cry in the middle of the theater, and I have never looked at Lainey’s beloved Gagoo the same since.
These favorites are members of our family. They’ve earned their place, sitting at the dinner table with us, being tucked in sleepover bags and brought on road trips and plane trips and travels to our most favorite places. They show up in pictures of our life’s most memorable moments. Their names are known by friends and family members. Love has breathed life into them, and yet I know…it won’t last forever.
As childhood fades, so will they. And I just want to say that I will miss them when they are tucked in boxes or tossed in baskets, their lively presence slowly fading, perhaps without us even noticing until it’s been too long.
While they’re still here with life breathed in them, I want them to know…I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for your service and companionship.
Clothes and nail polish and computer speakers might gradually take over where you were once displayed, but just know, we loved you first and best, Toys.