The importance of toys

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 23, 2012 1:21 AM

I am a grown woman and I love toys. I have them all over my house and I’m proud of that. In my office, directly in front of me when I sit at my desk working is a Samantha Stevens/Bewitched doll complete with hat and broom. On top of the shelf is an antique croquet game. In the corner is an enormous stuffed bear from FAO Schwartz in New York. I have blocks, a Winnie the Pooh, a Piglet, an Eeyore and a Tigger. In the bookshelf are some stuffed animals; atop my bookshelf is a Scarlett O’Hara Barbie doll and a Scully and Mulder Barbie and Ken doll set from the X-Files. They carefully guard a Tasmanian devil and an old metal lunchbox like what I carried when I was in school. On the floor is an antique doll crib with two antique dolls, one a Madame Alexander, another a Heinrich Handwerk, both bisque. Which is not to be confused with Bisquik, another blog post entirely.

Walk down the stairs and at the bottom is a black, limited edition Road Hog tricycle that I bought for Kevin for Christmas several years ago. It has motorcycle aspirations, complete with a tiny saddlebag under the saddle. On top rides a stuffed dog in a leather Harley-Davidson jacket with matching sunglasses. He looks bad-ass. Miniature motorcycles, mostly metal, are on the stairs; miniature bicycles on the fireplace mantle. On the entertainment center is a Marshall Field Tonka truck from 1955 as well as a Smith-Miller Bank of America armored truck, complete with lock.

The real toy collection begins in the bedroom, though. Like typical kids, it’s where we keep most of our stuff so that it doesn’t get underfoot, nobody slips on it, and it doesn’t clutter the living room. A shelf across the sliding glass door houses some of our best toys. Actually, Kevin’s toys. There are countless trucks mostly from the late 1950s/early 1960s including a full set of orange Tonka road crew vehicles. The set even includes road signs. I bought that for him for his birthday some years ago. On the shelf up high is a menagerie of stuff: more trucks, a Sno-Cone maker, an army tank that actually shoots something, an original erector set, a set of Lincoln logs, a metal Snow-Flake sled and a fully-functional (as long as the battery terminals aren’t corroded) King Ding robot complete with his brain, a smaller robot that rides up and down inside King Ding on an elevator.

Pebbles, a replacement of my favorite doll from when I was a child, sits next to the flat screen TV. Kevin found her somewhere on the east coast and gave her to me when we got married. I always loved that doll; she may well have been the only one I ever did love. I suspect because she first belonged to my older cousin Kim and I idolized Kim. When Kim gave her to me, it was like she had given me a million dollars. I’m sure she didn’t think that; she simply no longer had any use for the raggedy piece of plastic with a stuffed body and bad hair.

I’m not sure when or why we got so into toys, and truth be told, we’re getting a little tired of some of them. Thank dog for ebay. Still, we have some pieces that are true collectors items and worth a good deal of money. We’ll keep many of the best trucks, including Marshall Field, Bank of America and all of the trucks above the sliding glass door. They’re all in mint condition. I’ll keep Pebbles for sure. The trike stays, too.

I think toys somehow makes us feel invincible again, they remind us of a simpler time when we had no responsibilities and the biggest question of the day was “when do I have to be home for dinner?” They allow us to use our imaginations, construct worlds that don’t exist except for that day, as we play and move around our trucks and our dolls and our stuffed animals. It’s a way to create, and even to problem solve. There’s also something kind of cool about having exceptionally old, working and pristine toys in your house as an adult when there are no children around. They make people smile.

Toys and games have been discovered at the sites of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations. These discoveries include dolls and animals, whistles shaped like birds and even carts with wheels. Egyptian children had dolls that sported wigs and even had movable limbs. Most of the world’s earliest toys were made from rocks, sticks and clay. Most were made by parents for their children or by the children themselves. There was care given; each toy was more personal than the mass-produced toys of today.

But the reason for being is the same: to develop the mind and the imagination. That’s something adults could use more of, especially during especially trying times. Toys allow us to escape and to play even if it’s just in our minds, even if it’s just for pretend.

Also in the bedroom, in the corner, is Maguire’s bed. I don’t think he slept in it once during his 15 plus years. Instead, it became his toy “box,” holding all of his toys and they were plentiful. Each day, he would trot out anywhere from two to six, and after he was done playing and chewing, he’d leave them wherever he grew bored. He never learned the fine art of cleaning up after himself. Those toys are still in his bed. They allow us to imagine that he’s still with us, to pretend just for a minute that we can still hear the squeak of Pig or Moo or Hedge as he bites down for a chew.

Tonight I’m celebrating toys, celebrating the pretend. Living it out loud.

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