Sense Memories

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Let’s be real:  with a pre-schooler, some of the only guaranteed “me” moments I get, I get in the bathroom.  If I sometimes take a little longer than necessary to indulge and get some damn reading time in, sue me.

Generally, it’s on my phone; it’s 2018, and I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Insta, and I’ve got this blog, obvs, plus e-mail, Buzzfeed, and about a dozen other time-wasting sites in my phone’s bookmarks.  But every once in a while, I go old school.

My folks, who are in their mid-60s, are old-school when it comes to bathroom reading. They still have magazine subscriptions, and still keep back issues in the bathroom.  I was flipping through one a couple of days ago – an old (like, 2016) issue of Reader’s Digest, which has been a staple in my folks’ house since I was a child.  One of the features in this issue was a Reader’s Question: what sound best encapsulates your childhood?

There were a variety of answers – the sound of playing cards in the spokes of a bike, the sound of chocolate milk being slurped with a straw, the sound of shuffling cards and rolling dice.

I started thinking; I don’t think I have a particular sound that fully encapsulates my childhood, but there are so many other lingering, powerful sense memories that harken back to the weirdest, most obscure moments or times in my life, but a lot of the recollections are likewise sensory snapshots, not narratives:

Mandarin Orange Body Spray, Unknown Brand
Late summers, early college; eighteen or nineteen years old.  My cousin Nikki practically lived with us; there were few weekends where she couldn’t be found camping out at our house.  During one stay, she forgot a bottle of mandarin orange body spray that I loved because it was warm and floral and spicy, all at once.  My sister and I sprayed it on our pillows before Nikki finally reclaimed it, and sometimes I can still smell it – 1 am, watching shounen-ai anime on VHS, camped out in the living room.  Matresses and sleeping bags lined up on the floor.  We had notebooks with hand-written RPG-style stories that we passed around, and hidden word documents with thousands of words of yaoi and slash fic that we wrote.  Listening to the Queer As Folk and Velvet Goldmine soundtracks, and watching Dragonball Z at midnight.  I sometimes wonder if there’s any chance Nikki’d remember what brand it was, or if it’s still made, but we’re talking almost twenty years ago, so I’m not especially hopeful.

Land O’ Lakes Flavored Hot Chocolate
Christmas.  Always, always Christmas, and Christmas break.  Christmas Eve, standing in the doorway to the bathroom in my bathrobe and tights while my mom curled her hair.  The Animaniacs “Little Drummer Boy” segment. Playing Five Minute Mysteries while we waited for my parents to be ready to go out.  The faerie-light illuminated drive to my Aunt’s house, the holiday themed riddles and brainteasers that we always played.  Novelty Christmas songs.  Snowflakes that melted on the windshield before the wipers could wipe them away.  Late nights, watching the snow fall.  Waking up on Christmas morning at 3am, the house quiet.  Sneaking into the living room to explore untold treasures.  An old, creaky pull-out couch (with a bar that absolutely killed your back if you didn’t lay on it just the right way), watching old episodes of Beavis and Butthead, and the music video for Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”   For some reason – and I haven’t actually had any of it in years and years – I occasionally crave the Chocolate Raspberry one, even though I feel like at the time, it was not one of my favorites.

“Stars,” from Les Miserables
Summer, age fifteen.  Calisto and Caslon Antique fonts.  Writing late at night and feeling completely creatively unfettered for one of the first and last times ever.  Self-insert fanfics where I am completely inappropriately cast as the romantic interest.  My sister and I drawing fanart for our own stories, multiple illustrations over multiple chapters.  Kate M’s “Uncharted Stars,” and La Javert’s Flying Homepage.  Sitting outside after midnight and sharing headphones.  Drinking tea and watching soft-core pulp films on Showtime.  Trolling the AOL Playbill theatre forums and making fast friends with anyone under eighteen.  Handwritten letters and elaborately decorated envelopes.  Cassette tapes mailed halfway across the country where we talked and sang and played If-Cubed.  The echo function on Nikki’s karaoke machine, and the theme song to VeggieTales.  Videos filmed on an on-loan camcorder that weighed nearly as much as we did.  Nikki as Little Cosette, eyeshadow smudged like dirt on her cheeks.

What are some things – a taste, a sound, a flavor – that bring back memories, whether they are full narratives with a distinct plot arc, or likewise hazy snippets of visceral sensory recollections.  What conjures up something you thought you’d long since forgot?

Feel Good Friday/Friday Faves: July 14th, 2018

onnie & CaroleYes, yes, I know – it’s Saturday again.  I keep doing this.  This week, my excuse is that my whole schedule has gotten flipped upside down.  I spent a week out of work, and then had to adjust to a weird schedule of working only Tuesday and Thursday; we spent our Wednesday as a family out and about (which made it feel more like a Saturday), and to top it all off, my husband was covering a co-worker’s vacation and was working 2pm to 11pm instead of his usual 8am to 5pm.  So my whole week – and concept of time – has been thrown out of whack.

Here is what’s kept me grounded:

First, Wednesday was spent at Kimball Farm, which was a blast.  I hadn’t been there in several years (we did a community outing there during one of the other ESY programs I worked), and it really has something for everyone.  Bear got his first taste of mini-golf, he got to see some animals (and pet an alligator!), and spent some time earning tickets in the arcade.  He ended the day with a huge scoop of Orange-Pineapple ice cream.  I have a couple of small pics on Insta here.

Second, my sister spent hours online last night messaging me eBay links to long forgotten tech toys we had as kidsThe Teach-Me Reader and The Videosmarts Learning System to name a couple – and ended the evening by announcing that her 1984 Whiz Kid Toy Computer would be arriving on Thursday.  Seriously?  I still can’t believe she actually bought it, but I’d be lying if I pretended I wasn’t going to play with it.  I had one prior to first grade, and I loved it.  We can learn to spell together!

Third, Andy ordered me laminating sheets and I’m going crazy thinking of things I need to laminate.  All my checklists from my previous post have already gotten the treatment, and I’m busy designing both additional checklists and organizers for me, but also piecing together a preschool curriculum for Bear that we can get started, hopefully on Monday.  He’s looking forward to it, and so am I.  I plan on spending a big chunk of time after he turns in tonight getting some of those tasks completed.

Finally, the GISH registration has been extended and my team is starting to take shape (yeah, kind of late this year).  If you don’t know what GISH is, click the link or Google search its previous incarnation, GISHWHES.  It’s a massive multimedia international scavenger hunt interested in subversive art and acts of kindness.  This year it runs July 28th through August 4th.  I’m thrilled to see it brought back – we thought last year was the end!  – and am participating for the seventh year in a row.

That’s it for this week!  What’s kept you going through the week?

Not a Toys R Us Kid

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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.

“Higher.”

I raised my eyebrows. $100?

Higher.

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:

  1. We are thrilled. This is the only toy we ever want to play with ever for the history of time.
  2. Piece of plastic does it’s spiel for a few days. It’s fun, experimenting with it and seeing what it can do.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. Eventually some important component (most likely an appendage of some sort – an arm/a tire, etc.) breaks off, or –
  6. The internal speaker breaks, or –
  7. It runs out of batteries, and our parents thank Christ that that’s over, and never, ever replace them, and-
  8. 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.