Wifesy and I were talking last night and somehow the conversation turned towards what kind of toys we had as children.
Now, Wifesy is an only child. I have one cousin who is an only child and for the most part, only children are spoiled. Sorry, sorry, don’t get mad at me – legions of only children – but, unless you grew up in the slums of India like that poor thing from Slumdog Millionaire, if you were/ are an only child, you had ALL of the toys the rest of us only coveted.
Wifesy had the Easy Bake Oven. I longed for the Easy Bake Oven and never received it. When I asked my mother for one, she said, “Make something in the feckin’ kitchen, we’re not paying for your baby oven.”
Such is the subtle ways of the immigrant mother.
Wifesy had one of those motorized cars that you can actually get in and drive. She also had a feckin’ teepee. A FECKIN’ TEEPEE!!! I have to tell you, when you have a sibling, and have to – gasp – share things and the money is – how shall we say – STRETCHED, you start to form a jealously that can only be soothed by attending a string of happy hours in your early 20’s. I’m not proud of it, but to this day, when I see a child in one of those cool, motorized, plastic cars…I want to knock him right out of it. I want to tell him that the real world is not that easy.
It’s not that I was really deprived. It’s that my parents always got us things that were slightly off, probably because they were cheaper. When I was a teenager, I wanted a ten speed bike. My parents got me a three speed instead. You know, one of those, completely uncool three speeds with the super-wide seat in case you were some kind of huge, fat ass.
It sat in the shed out in the backyard and I never used it. Why? Because I would’ve been stoned to death as the only teenager riding around the neighborhood on a three speed while everyone else rode their Schwinn 12 speeds with glee. And never mind what an a-hole I would’ve looked like trying to get up any type of hill whatsoever. Eventually, my parents got a free 12 speed bike with their washing machine purchase. It wasn’t the sturdiest of bikes, considering it was a freebie, but it looked cool and that’s all I cared about. I rode it everywhere.
Now, that was all WAY back in the mid to late 1920’s when Wifesy and I grew up. When I think about kids today, when I think about my future gayby, I wonder what kind of toys he or she will play with. Will it all be computer games? Will I have to learn how to disable the beeping noises on every single item that I give my child? Will he or she grow up with any kind of imagination? Or will these computer games turn his or her brain right into chocolate sauce before my very eyes?
I think imagination is important for everyone, but for kids, especially so. And I think supported imagination is the most important of all. Tell young kids a story and they take it SO literally. I love this window of time you have where they’ll believe just about anything you say. I nannied a kid once and the only time he was calm was when I had him hand drawing these maps. I had him make exact replicas of the maps that were in an encyclopedia. He was so focused, so entirely present in his project, that it was fun to watch. It also kept him quiet and I liked him quiet because he was a hyper kid. I wanted him to keep the map project going and not lose interest, so I made up this elaborate story about how we were going to make a book of maps and sell it.
I said, “Bobby, keep going with those maps. They’re really good. I think we should make a book and sell it.”
8 year old Bobby, “We’re going to sell it?!! To who?”
I said, “At Barnes and Noble. We’re going to sell it at Barnes and Noble.”
8 year old: “What??!! No one’s going to buy a book from me, an 8 year old, at Barnes and Noble and from you…you’re like in your 30’s.”
Me: “Sure, they will. I have an arrangement with one of the girls at the register. She’s going to sell a few on consignment. Do you know what consignment is?”
8 year old: “No…”
And I could tell from his very wide eyes that I had him now.
Me: “Consignment means no harm or foul to the retailer. They put a quantity of our books up near the impulse buys and if one sells, we make some money, but if none sell, we get the books back.”
8 year old: “And we can sell these like that?”
I could see the hope brewing in his eyes and I needed that hope. That hope would keep him entertained for hours.
Me: “Yes, we can.”
The thing I always feel bad about is not following through on that. I left the job in the middle of the “map project” and I feel like if you make up this elaborate story for kids, you’ve got to follow through. And I would have if I had stayed longer. I would’ve talked to one of the girls at the NYC B & N and I would’ve thrown her some money to put on a little show of taking our ‘books’. She would’ve done it, at least that was my plan. But, I got a better job and left before I could make that happen.
I hope it didn’t scar Bobby too much, but it may have because it scarred me once. I remember my mother did a similar thing. When I was about 8, it was around the time of my father’s 40th birthday. My mother – being a very smart woman – appealed to my 8 year old vanity. She told me that a camera crew and a writer were coming to the house from the magazine, Better Homes and Gardens. She told me that they were doing a shoot on our family and the house, but that I had to help her get the house ship-shape and in order.
I cleaned so hard for an 8 year old. You have no idea. I got on the chair and dusted the water glasses in the cabinet. I cleaned everywhere. I have vivid memories of doing so. When the day came, I dressed up. I made sure everything was in its place and I waited. Waited for the camera crew. They never came. But, some people started to arrive and the house became lively. They were friends and family invited for a surprise 40th birthday party for my dad.
Slowly, I put together that there was no Better Homes and Gardens and I was pissed. The whole thing had been a ruse to get me to clean. I mean, for feck sake, If mom had understood at all what it had meant to me, she should’ve told a friend to come over with a camera and LIED to me. She should have told 8-year-old-me that Frank from next-door WAS a representative of Better Homes and Gardens. I would’ve believed her. I would’ve had hope.
That’s why I’m including this video. It shows you how a kid can build a world with NOTHING. (Sort of like us writers do…) I saw the video on Mike’s blog originally and it made me cry. Watch it, I promise, it will brighten your day. My only hope is that I can nurture, feed, and follow through on my own kid’s imagination to this extent because I think it’s so important. I think it creates a better world and better people. Disappointment comes to us all soon enough. But, hope, HOPE, now that’s an incredibly beautiful gift. It’s a gift you’ll have forever.
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