I was on the phone with D the other day when he asked me to go to our local Big Box Toy Store to pick up a specific Star Wars toy that would be part of a thank you gift for his fraternity “dad” (it was meant to be funny). I was happy to do it: the combination of getting out of the house and away from my LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER to-do list and doing a small favor for him–when he typically doesn’t ask for much at all–made this kind of errand a pleasure rather than a chore.
Yesterday I headed out to the store and as I drove into the nearly-empty parking lot (3:00 on a Thursday in the beginning of May must not really be “peak toy shopping time”), I tried to remember the last time I visited that particular store. I couldn’t.
What I could remember was that, though in the old days I wouldn’t have necessarily been considered a “regular” customer, I was there often. Between my own two boys and the countless birthday parties they attended, I knew that store and its contents like the back of my hand.
I walked into the store and noticed the displays of summer water toys and licensed “The Avengers” movie toys, placed on prime real estate just inside the door. I passed through the LEGO section, trying to do some quick math on how much money we’ve spent on LEGOS (they’re still in the storage area of the basement: we could probably retire on them), and I smiled at all the hours my boys used to spend with those little building blocks.
I smiled as I walked through the game aisles, noting to myself that when the boys were little, they didn’t like board games nearly as much as they have in the past few years, the current obsession being “Killer Bunnies”, an extremely involved, expandable, and ruthless card game that D plays until the wee hours with his friends at college and eventually taught us at home. When they were little they enjoyed “Candy Land” the most, but many other games just collected dust in the front closet.
I loved seeing the bright, primary colors of the toddler toys en masse: toddler toys are like fun little pieces of art to me, with their oversized features, smiling faces, and silly sound effects. We had tons of them, but the favorites by far were the telephones. When I had their pictures taken I would often bring their favorite toys at the time for inclusion in the photo shoot, just to remember. We have more pictures of D with phones than any other prop.
The Little Tykes kitchens and grills and other playsets made me think of that little black pick-up truck we used to have that gave the boys so much joy. I remember the night they opened it, they “drove” it around the kitchen while grinning from ear to ear. That night, they took turns driving peacefully. The next day, the arguing ensued. That was a lifetime ago.
I found the Hot Wheels aisle and remembered the phases the boys went through with those: for a while they only wanted goofy cars that were shaped like non-cars: there was an era heavy with “dragon cars”. Later one of them only wanted sports cars while the other wanted garbage trucks and buses. There was even a “if the car doesn’t have parts–other than the wheels–that move, I don’t want it” phase. Almost all of those cars, including the ones I nearly threw against the wall in an attack of in-home road rage from stepping on them while barefoot, are still in the basement with the LEGOS. I consider those two categories to be “legacy toys”.
Once I finally made it to the Star Wars aisle, I grabbed the only toy that was on my list and headed for the register. The cashier asked me if I was a member of their reward program and I wistfully shook my head. “It’s been years since I’ve been here. My boys are interested in cars and cameras and guitars and computers now.”
Suddenly, all of the joy I had experienced in the past quarter hour turned to something a little more bittersweet. My boys are grown.
It’s something I knew, obviously, but that fifteen-minute trip down memory lane hit it home for me once again how fleeting childhood is. I felt sad, but only for a minute. As I paid for my purchase and walked back out into the bright sunshine, I smiled once again upon realizing that all it took for me to revisit my sons’ childhoods–even briefly–was to surround myself with old friends for a while.