Were you all bombarded with Toys R Us memes on your social media channels last week? It seriously felt like everyone I knew was posting “childhood ruined” or “childhood over” statuses in honor of Toys R Us finally closing its doors.
I feel of two minds about it, because I’m genuinely sad to see brick and mortar stores close down because of the on-line shopping boom – especially because I’m not exactly thrilled about Amazon’s business practices – but at the same time, I’m a parent on a budget, and, well, I recently realized why my parents never took us there.
Ok, so I shouldn’t say never. I’d been to Toys R Us as a kid, but it was a rarity. I was blown away by the bouts of nostalgia some of my friends had about Toys R Us, where trips there were staples of their childhood – every week after church, every time Grandpa visited, every year for their birthday, etc. That was definitely not my experience.
And again, I get it. We were little goblins as kids – tiny hedonists in Osh-Kosh-Begosh, with no concept of money and no concerns except our own wants and needs – you take one of those creatures into a toy store and tell them you’re “just browsing,” I dare you. If you’re a family tight on cash, like mine was growing up, all you’re really doing is basically inviting your goblin kid to have a meltdown. My parents were smarter than that.
But being that is was “the end of an era,” and they were having some pretty decent sales, Andy and I decided to take Bear there a couple of weeks ago to see if we could score some good deals for him.
We weren’t in the store for five minutes when my husband siddled up next to me, pointing conspiratorially at a toy display on the back wall.
“Hey,” he raised his eyebrows. “Guess how much those things are.”
The back wall display was a collection of animatronic tigers (I had to look them up for this post; they were Hasbro’s FurReal Roarin’ Tyler, the Playful Tiger). I’ve played this game with Andy before; he never asks that question because something is an astonishing deal. I tried to think of a number that would be bordering on ridiculous. My first guess was $80. He jabbed his thumb toward the ceiling.
I raised my eyebrows. $100?
After I guessed $120 and that still wasn’t on the mark, I literally asked if he was freakin’ kidding me (I may have used slightly stronger language) and had to go over to the display to look myself. $130. That’s… well, that’s over a week’s worth of groceries for us, for starters. Imagine making that choice: Okay, kids, we can either buy this tiger toy, or we can eat this week, which is it??
Look, I’m all for treating your kids. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my fair share of trendy gadgets and gizmos growing up, further lying if I said I didn’t have a great time with some of those toys, and hell – lying still if I tried to deny that I don’t still go down the toy aisle of every store I’m in, poking and prodding at anything and everything that moves, beeps, or buzzes.
And my parents did it – not often, but more than once – they went out an bought the exorbitantly priced piece of plastic because we begged for it, and they wanted to make us happy. Here’s how that went down:
- We are thrilled. This is the only toy we ever want to play with ever for the history of time.
- Piece of plastic does it’s spiel for a few days. It’s fun, experimenting with it and seeing what it can do.
- We start getting more rambunctious with it – if it’s a vehicle, we engage it in riskier and riskier driving scenarios, likely off of higher and higher pieces of furniture, or over different terrain – like, say, submerged in water. If it’s an animal/doll, it’s probably joy riding or performing parkour because we’ve decided it’s secretly a spy/superhero/super villain/secret agent.
- As a secret agent, it needs a new identity. If it has any hair or fur whatsoever, it gets cut/shaved (if it’s a vehicle, it gets a new paint job. Wet ‘n Wild nail polish was a popular favorite).
- Eventually some important component (most likely an appendage of some sort – an arm/a tire, etc.) breaks off, or –
- The internal speaker breaks, or –
- It runs out of batteries, and our parents thank Christ that that’s over, and never, ever replace them, and-
- We are left with a hunk of plastic that now no longer does anything special.
And you know what? The kids will still play with it, because kids want to create stories and interact with memorable characters, and they have the capacity to imagine and create such characters and story lines out of literally anything – just watch a couple of pre-schoolers with a cardboard box. And that’s awesome.
But now you’re out the $130 for a toy that no longer does any of the things that supposedly made it “worth” $130 dollars.
Look, we’ll all do it. If you think I won’t spend a stupid amount of money on a toy Bear “has” to have someday, you’re probably wrong. This isn’t a call out post, or a judgement post. It’s just a “think about it” post. How many of those toys does a kid need? How often do you have to break the bank to get your kid a toy that will almost definitely have all it’s “special features” destroyed in short order? How long will the beeps and buzzes keep them entertained?
You know what my son’s most played with toys are? Any kind of figurine. The one’s that retail for $15 a pop get as much play as the ones that came free in his Happy Meals or from The Dollar Tree. He really doesn’t care.
Imagination will find a way.