Toys That Teach
One of the most interesting moments of awareness I’ve had in a long time happened mere minutes ago. It didn’t involve another person, though, or a dog or animal of any kind, nor even a picture or video tape of another human. It took place between me and me alone. I’m not quite sure that falls within the Project 360 boundaries (moments of connection); but it affected me in such an interesting way, sort of a slap across the face, that I dropped the three other topics I was considering to let myself explore it a bit.
Put it that way, it sounds crazy exciting. It’s not, sorry. But it is interesting in a sort of evolution-of-me way. And considering I’m basically just a boring old mom with two teenagers, I figured it probably will ring true to a few folks out there in cyberspace as well.
Enough ado about nothing . . .
I must kill an hour while my younger daughter is in her jazz class. When I’m feeling inspired, I’ll occasionally run to the gym down the street from her studio. Sadly, I’m not too inspired lately. But I AM inspired to write, so a warm and cozy Starbucks up the road seemed a perfect spot in which to write. Dreaming about my warm hot tea with honey, I pulled into the quaint strip mall, letting bundled shoppers cross in front of me out of the night, through my headlights, and into the busy Kroger’s for some last-minute groceries. Making a sharp right, I headed up to the parking area that loops in front of the Starbucks, a Hallmark store, a bagel place. As I rounded to the left, I saw a store, straight ahead, lights warming the sidewalk. Toys That Teach. Its sign hangs above on the low shingled roof, inviting and cozy in its child-like lettering.
Only able to get a glimpse into the closed shop, primary colors and endless shelves of games caught my eye quickly. I either said out loud or loud enough in my head to surprise me: I forgot about Toys That Teach!
And immediately, I was sad. I had totally forgotten about the existence of an imperative part of my daughters’ childhood.
I can envision the aisles now, although I sit approximately 500 feet away under a speaker playing Ingrid Michaelson. Creative, mind-stimulating toys designed with minimal buzzing, blinking, sirening, these were the toys that were fun in the pre-technology sense of the word. Fake food for miniature kitchens. Three-dimensional puzzles, that traffic game (in which you have to rescue a white car from crowded vehicles of various sizes) that my younger daughter used to rock, while I sat beside her sweating out of anxiety, unable to find a way out. Pony sticks with stuffed heads. Toy animals of every size, shape, and color. Little scooters that perfectly fit tiny little pampered tushes. Fun carpet, sweet ladies behind the counter, tell-tale wrapping paper recognizable at any birthday party we attended from 1999 to 2012 or so.
Picturing all the stores vibrancy now, I easily, reflexively, see two little girls walking through the aisles, jumping from toy to toy with a frenetic energy barely matchable by their eager words. Pony tails and dimpled hands. Smiles with baby chicklet teeth or gaping holes. Mary Janes with cuffed socks. Happy, happy eyes. I picture my baby girls in one of their happiest places, a place we would head if they were “good” during errands, or after they split a bagel with cream cheese, or--most excitedly--when it was time to buy a birthday gift for a friend.
The flood of it hurt for a second. Hurts even now, as I allow myself to remember a little deeper.
I’m recognizing a pattern in my thinking lately, and I suppose it’s natural with one daughter in 10th grade and one heading to high school next year. It’s a pervasive feeling that things are changing too fast, without my say. Being a mom to my little kids was one lifetime ago, and here I am in another, raising teenagers who don’t necessarily think I’m the greatest person on earth any more. And who are slowly, necessarily discovering themselves without Mama as part of the picture.
Strangers in Target always warn you of this phenomenon, attempting to prepare people they don’t know for the inevitable: “It goes by so fast.” When someone tells you this as your three year old is lying on the linoleum floor screaming and your two year old is jumping out of the cart with green snot coming out of her nose, well, it’s hard to truly listen. You hear, but you don’t listen. Without warning, I’ve become that stranger. You’d think I would’ve seen this coming, but I don’t believe I did. Suddenly everything feels like “the third-to-last time we’ll vacation as a family over Winter Break,” or “the second-to-last time you have a first-day-of-high-school.” It’s a countdown I want no part of, both because it’s depressing and because it’d make my kids think I’m even more of an emotional weirdo than I am. But try as I may to stop the countdown, that damn clock keeps on ticking.
Forgetting about an icon of my babies’ childhood, even briefly, was a huge surprise to me, but you’ll be proud to know I’m handling it okay. I’m thinking, taking note, realizing that I better freaking enjoy the highs and lows and frustrations and wet towels lying on the carpet next to the bathroom door. I’m enjoying getting to know the people my girls are becoming. I like them. A lot. I guess driving by Toys That Teach just reminded me of the little ones I used to know, and I guess it’s okay to miss those little ones every now and then.
Memory lane can exist in the form of a parking lot, after all. It feels more important now than ever to stay alert. Keep my eyes open. I never know what will jump out in front of me.