common threads #6: playthings – toys

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Most of us don’t remember our first toy, couldn’t tell you what it was. Most of us have completely forgotten almost all of the toys we had as kids, save the few which stick in our head for whatever reason. But place a long-forgotten, much-beloved toy in our hands and the rush of memories will knock us flat. Which is really quite remarkable. As we fondle and examine this relic we drift back to a less complicated time when our biggest worries were the innocent ones of a child. Isn’t it astounding something as seemingly trivial as a toy can invoke that? But maybe it isn’t trivial at all. Maybe it’s much more than that. Rosebud, anyone?

Concentrate and try to recapture the intense thrill you felt when you received a new toy. Can you summon the pure joy which jolted your entire life? Do you recall how your skin tingled as you laid eyes upon this amazing thing now in your possession? It was irrelevant if it cost ten cents or ten dollars. The value of a toy has nothing to do with price. What was relevant was this once hazy dream was now a reality, a reality to embrace for as long as you wished. At the time you couldn’t conceive how many hours, weeks and months this toy would consume. All you knew is you couldn’t wait to rip open the packaging and start playing with it immediately. In an instant something that was non-existent in your world suddenly became the center of your universe.

The best toys were the ones which revved our imagination, freeing us in new and inspiring ways. Toys gave us our first glimpse into the World of Possibility. And that, my friends, was (and remains) their real power. Toys animated our dreams and opened our minds to exciting, unfathomable adventures. It was the same for boys and girls. Whether you engaged in elaborate epic battles with armies of miniature blue and gray soldiers or staged glamorous red carpet parties with Barbie and her friends, creativity was ignited. Perhaps the dolls jumped into fierce combat and the plastic soldiers relaxed in a local French village. Or maybe the dolls were giants from the Alpha Galaxy bent on destroying Earth while the soldiers bravely defended our planet against these otherworldly mutants. It could have been this or a million other things. What it was didn’t matter nearly as much as that it was. They were our toys and they spurred our dreams.

As we go about the often somber business of our adult lives it’s important to occasionally pause and reach back to awaken those memories, those sensations, of what our toys once meant to us. Even if we do not have the opportunity to physically hold them. It’s important we do this because our children and grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, the neighborhood children, and countless other children living in countless other cities, towns and villages are now each experiencing that initial thrill of discovery. They are living today what we were privileged to live yesterday.

Sometimes when we see children playing in an unorthodox, but essentially harmless way, our first inclination is to step in and influence. “Why not try it this way?” They could be pushing a Matchbox car up the side of a cabinet or implementing new outrageous rules to “Go Fish.” Let them be. They are deep into exploration and experimentation. Revelation will come, but for now it sits blissfully on the horizon where it belongs. One of our many obligations to children is to encourage them to free their imagination and let their unique thoughts and ideas blossom. One way to do this is by giving a child a toy. Then step back and appreciate the miracle you’re about to witness – the realization of possibility. Let it wash over them as it once washed over you.
Learn more about The Common Threads Project.

  1. BrainRants says:

    Dude, I still own my set of Lincoln Logs. And thank goodness I handed down my Legos to my son, or I’d never get anything done.


    • John says:

      Oh man, I loved Lincoln Logs. I wonder how many other toys are named after presidents. Other than the Washington Chattering Teeth, of course.


  2. I wish more people would actually do this. We sometimes forget that kids can entertain themselves with the simplest objects.


  3. mysterycoach says:

    Today at the hairdresser’s I saw a metal teasing comb much like the one my mother had when I was a kid. Talk about being transported… not the same “exactly” as you’re saying… same mind warp though.


  4. sparklebumps says:

    I agree whole-heartedly, but I really don’t like playing Life and having the rules changes so that the 9 year old always wins…


  5. whiteladyinthehood says:

    John, I loved this post! I seem to remember a lot of my favorite toys for some reason. And I agree with you about let kids play with their toys the way they want to – let them be. Great!


  6. This is why I enjoy being paid to play, as a child therapist. And they STILL go farther and have fewer disorders (read: need less medication) when they play – or make believe – with imaginative toys rather than their Nintendos.


  7. Great post. It’s funny that when I think back, what I remember are the little Golden Books. My dad would bring them home for me in the evening and it was the biggest treat. To this day, the sight of a Golden Book makes me swoon.


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