Pondering the past…

I was lying in bed one night, just on the verge of sleep, and found myself pondering toys or more specifically the toys Jeremy played with when he was a child. I tried to come up with a toy Jeremy had loved, one of those wow gifts… and failed. This wasn’t very conducive to sleep but I couldn’t stop thinking.

I remembered the car wash I’d bought him because he loved dinky cars and loved water (as long as it wasn’t on his face). I couldn’t remember him playing with it. Neither could I remember him playing with all the car tracks I’d bought him. He enjoyed playing with Lego but, again, it wasn’t an “OMG Lego” moment. The closest I could come up with were his stuffed animals and Build a Bear. Buying Pink Bear was definitely a hit. It confused the heck out of the poor teenager who helped Jeremy build it but the bear was a success.

Had he been wanting more *girls toys* and just didn’t know how to ask? I had no idea. And it was now edging close to midnight and I had to be up in five more hours. I tried to get to sleep.

It was hard buying toys for Jeremy. I remember reading a Christmas post on Raising my Rainbow with a touch of jealousy. To compare, this was Jeremy’s Christmas list when he was six years old:

Dinky cars
Ice cream
Flying reindeer
A unicorn (note, he wanted a real one and not a stuffed animal)
The moon (also the real one)

So… dinky cars and Lego. Dinky cars were always a hit, the shinier and more colourful the better. I’ve got a video of Jeremy playing with his cars. He treated them like they were miniature people with wheels, placing them onto a bigger truck to drive them around while warning them to “be careful” and wait “just a second” until the truck stopped and they could get off. And he loved building with Lego too. The flip side was he already had tonnes of both.

It’s funny watching the video now. The whole room is a boy’s room. Navy blue comforter with cars and planes, Spiderman stuffie, big Bob the Builder stuffie, homemade Spiderman curtains, town and road play mat (perfect for driving cars and one Jeremy never used), table covered with car tracks (which again Jeremy never used). And, in the corner of the shot, you can see Pink Bear’s feet and legs, a musical wind up doll, and his favourite glittery picture frame with a picture of himself inside. Somewhere in one of Jeremy’s huge rubbermaid bins of stuffed animals, he has a stuffed unicorn. I never did get him the moon.

We went for a walk the next evening and I asked Jeremy what his favourite toys were when he was growing up. He stared at me blankly then admitted he didn’t remember. He couldn’t remember any of his toys. My heart sank.

With some prompting, he could come up with a few toys but it was obvious that none of them were his favourites. The one we both remembered wasn’t a toy, it was an online video game called Club Penguin. Jeremy could and did spend hours on this website; he absolutely adored it. He’d earn money by doing stunts on an old mine cart then he’d upgrade his house and his wardrobe. Every time Club Penguin updated their catalogues, he’d drag me to the computer to see everything he planned to buy. Unlike real life, he had extensive lists there. Light up dance floors, fancy ball gowns, toys for his pet puffles. Jeremy’s penguin was usually pink and dressed to the nines. It was a safe place for Jeremy. He could dress and act like a girl and no one would say anything. We lived in a large and rather rough complex so reality was quite different.

I spent that night wondering what I could have done different, what toys I could have bought that would have made an impact. What affordable place we could have moved where Jeremy could feel a bit safer. Then I reminded myself, again, that I can’t change the past and slowly went to sleep.

We went out grocery shopping the next evening and, on the way home I finally asked Jeremy what else I could have done. Would he have been happier if I’d bought him more toys aimed at girls?

“Mom, I liked having Emma’s old toys because they were hers. That made them more special. Besides, I was playing with them with her. I wouldn’t have wanted new toys, it wouldn’t have been the same.”

That made me feel a lot better.

Of course now his 17th birthday is in a month and a half and once again I have no idea what to buy him. Jeremy still stinks at suggesting affordable, easy to attain gifts. He wants a brand new, top of the line computer with a web cam and video editing software… like that’s in my price range. He might as well still be asking for the moon.

At least the cake he wants this year is easy, he’s asking for an ice cream jaffa cake he saw at the British shop. Which definitely beats the TARDIS he originally wanted me to make. And, sigh, scratch that thought. I just went to the shop’s site to find a picture of said ice cream cake and couldn’t find it. Neither could I find it on the actual Jaffa Cake website. Apparently Jeremy’s more organized for his birthday than I am. Wish me luck!

The great toy divide

Lego Ad

This picture and article showed up on my Facebook newsfeed yesterday. When you click, it will open in a separate window. I recommend reading the article first as it has more pictures comparing then and now of specific toys.

I’ve commented before that I read a blog called Raising my Rainbow and how Colin was a lot less girly than C.J. at that age. And in many regards that’s true. Colin loved The Magic School bus and Thomas the Tank Engine when he was little. And dinky cars (the brighter and more metallic the better). He could, and did, drive them around for hours. But, at the same time, toys were a lot more gender neutral. Lego came in bright primary colours and bicycles pretty much did too. The only real difference between a boy’s bike and a girl’s bike were the bars connecting the seat to the handle bars. Colin got Kait’s hand-me-down bikes for years without any comments.

We had dress up clothes in the living room and both my kids loved wearing them but they were odds and ends I’d collected. A sheer sequin covered shawl, a tiara, and some foam masks I picked up at the dollar store. A lavender slip and a lacy nightgown that looked a lot like a wedding dress, both bought from a second hand store. And a pair of ballerina flats because I thought the dollar store high heels were too small and slippery. Both kids had lady bug wings from Halloween costumes and there was a wand kicking around but that was it. Actual costumes were for Halloween and got packed away with the decorations.

I just went through our photo albums. The fanciest their Lego got was a set of Winnie the Pooh Duplo; that came with a handful of plastic flower/leaf shapes and a spiral slide. Otherwise they had riding sticks with plush animal heads, basic Lego, Tinker Toys, Sesame Street figures, Teletubby figures, dinky cars, a Thomas the Tank Engine set, and an Oneida tea set complete with Oreo cookies. The kids played interchangeably with all of them.

Years later, the kids and I were walking through Walmart and I was floored to see Disney princess dress up clothes mixed in with the regular clothes. The boys, of course, had super heroes. This was nowhere near Halloween, these were for every day use. I was floored.

Then my sister got pregnant with her second child. The ultrasound said she was having a girl but there’s always a possibility it’s wrong. I went to Old Navy to pick up a neutral newborn outfit only to find those didn’t exist. I could not buy a pale green or yellow sleeper. They were either pink and labelled princess or blue and red with sports themes. There was no in-between.

I like bright colours and picked bright clothes for my kids. Plus I tend to buy in second hand shops and just pick the ones that appeal to me. Not to say they never wore boys clothes or girls clothes but most of the time they just wore jeans and bright t-shirts. Last time I went clothes shopping with Colin, it was an exercise in frustration for both of us. Literally half the mens department was Duck Dynasty and the rest was camo and dreary. Colin picked out one shirt that he loved but it was hand wash and lay flat to dry, which translates to “this will never be washed”. That won’t work for him. And the younger sections are even worse.

Note, I’m not saying that the past was wonderful. I know it wasn’t. I went to high school in the 1980’s and remember overhearing classmates bragging about driving to downtown Toronto to “throw rocks at the f*gs”. No one came out in high school at all. I had a friend who everyone was pretty sure was gay, and he was, but he certainly didn’t come out then. It wasn’t safe. Meanwhile Kait went to the same high school I did, just twenty years later. She attended a school with pride flag stickers plastered everywhere, announcing this was a safe environment. Several of her friends came out in grade nine.

I can’t help thinking though that we’re making it safer for teens and adults to come out while segregating and compartmentalizing our children. Colin loved pink when he was little, it was his absolute favourite colour. He had several pink stuffed animals and a pink baby stroller for his baby. But that was pretty much it, the rest of their toys came in primary colours. Most of their clothes were in those colours too. I can’t help but wonder what his choices would have been if everything was split between blue/red and super heroes or pink/purple and glitter with nothing in between. No choice to simply be a kid.

Colin was invited to a birthday party when he was four years old. The birthday girl’s mother bought Barbie napkins for the girls and plain blue napkins for the boys. Colin insisted on having a Barbie napkin because pink was his favourite colour. I have a feeling, in this gender oriented marketing environment, he’d probably be almost as pink as C.J.