Socks and Potatoes: Imaginary Toys Have Come a Long Way
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November 2003 | Vol. II - No. 11

November 2003 | Vol. II - No. 11 TDmonthly SEARCH

Mom's Perspective

Socks and Potatoes: Imaginary Toys Have Come a Long Way

"When I was a kid, we didn't have fancy toys," my father declares as my son Ryan plays with his Lego set. "In fact, I could play for hours with just a stick and a piece of twine."

Ryan raises one eyebrow, then squints at his grandpa as if he's sprouted wings and turned into Tinkerbell.

"Okay, Grandpa. Whatever you say," he mumbles.

"C'mon, Dad," I say. "A stick and a piece of twine?"

"That's right," says Dad. "And I was grateful to have them."

We all derive a certain pleasure from romanticizing the past. I entertain fond memories of playing with my socks. (Yes, my socks, and no, my parents never got me the help I needed.) Named "Chatta" and "Matta", I'd spend 20 pre-bedtime minutes every night with my hands shoved inside those stinky things just like all the other pioneer children. (My kids think I'm that old.) Yet, had I a choice between polyester knee-highs and a real Lambchop puppet, the latter would have won--hands down!

Hulk Costume

Let's face it: Imaginary play is more fun with the right props. As a kid (when I wasn't playing with hosiery), I spent a fair amount of time serving java from a toy coffee pot that thrilled me to no end. When I tipped it, the liquid inside disappeared, though nothing came out the spout. When I turned it right side up again, the beverage magically reappeared. Amazing! I never tired of it, dispensing more fantasy cups of joe than any overworked Starbucks employee.

Easy Bake Blender

Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Maker

Talking Chef Magic Kitchen

When I compare my generations' prehistoric playthings to kids' toys today, I start to feel a little sorry for us. At age 6, when my brother wanted to be Batman, he had to gallop around with a bath towel safety-pinned to the back of his t-shirt. Sadly, he just looked as if he had serious static cling issues.

Nowadays, authentic Superman, Spiderman and Incredible Hulk costumes transform normal kids into a race of superhero clones so realistic they'll make your grandmother's spider sense tingle. And unlike the musty, droopy bridesmaids dresses my mother bequeathed to me, little girls today can adorn themselves in couture so chic Courtney Love looks dowdy by comparison. Even my state-of-the-art play kitchen set (circa 1962) -- constructed of durable, long-lasting pink and gray cardboard -- couldn't compete with the Easy Bake Blender, Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Maker and Talking Chef Magic Kitchen owned by my 7-year-old niece. Come to think of it, she has better appliances in her bedroom than I have in my kitchen!

Maybe we were a little more resourceful 40 years ago, but what choice did we have? We were the pre-plastics generation who had to make due with cramming noses and googly eyes into real raw potatoes to create our Mr. Potato Head. I can't think of a single Baby Boomer who wouldn't have chucked that spud in an instant in exchange for the real, molded plastic version that kids have today.

Or maybe I can. I think I just figured out what to give my dad for his birthday.

Writer's Bio: Kris Decker endures eternal Minnesota winters by writing freelance articles, essays and features. Her two kids (a rich source of poignant, humorous, and most happily, free material) are the inspiration for much of her work focusing on the topics of kids, parenting, families, individuality and creativity.


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