I hadn’t been in a Toys R Us for at least 2 decades but I had to go the other day. My, my, how far we have fallen.
When Daniel was a tot, Toys R Us was all the rage. In the 80s, it was brand new to Ann Arbor and as we first began to acquire Duplos, well, that was the place to go. It only took a couple of visits to learn that we had to go right at 10 am, after breakfast, before lunch, before naptime and definitely before dinner and the wear and tear of the day took it’s toll. Even at that early age (or maybe especially at that age) too much stimulation was, ah, too much. Not unlike his mother, the poor child was rendered senseless by those vast, high, over lit ceilings, by sounds bouncing around the cavernous walls, by the sheer enormity of decision making. "You can choose one thing" was the beginning of the end, the end being a helpless, hopeless, screaming toddler squatting in an aisle, wailing, "I doan decibe! I doan decibe!"
By the time he was 6 we were frequenting the place because it was guaranteed that they would have the latest Lego Knights or Outer Space set. He enjoyed lingering in the Lego aisle but still, his hands would open and close anxiously at his sides while he searched out just the right small box to add to his collection (that we still have, stored away with an eye to the future).
When he was 7,8 and 9 we had to make clandestine trips, with just one parent taking him, while the other stayed at home with baby Snarl. This was because I had decided early on that she would never come to know the existence of Toys R Us. I had already had enough. We swore Daniel to secrecy: he couldn’t say anything about Santa, the Easter Bunny or Toys R Us. The Snarl was really pissed off when she found out, via preschool friends, that such a place existed. You would have thought we had been withholding milk.
So, you know, the store never has been a destination on my list. I wouldn’t have gone the other day if I hadn’t needed lots of little inexpensive toy animals for the shelter children.
I have a small collection of nice toy tigers and such that I use to talk about the big cats with children, purchased at the zoo gift shop, but I needed the kind of plastic ones, about the size of toy soldiers, where I could give out a dozen handfuls and they could keep them in their camouflage boxes they made. So Toys R Us it was.
I went at 10 am and first off, there wasn’t an employee in sight. I started getting that old familiar twitchy feeling as I wandered front to back, side to side looking for someone wearing a blue shirt embroidered "I don’t want to be a Toys R Us kid" or whatever it is. No clerks. Nada. Nary a soul who worked there. That was so annoying I might have been tempted to walk out the door with plastic animals, except, you guessed it- I couldn’t find any.
I spent half an hour wandering around that store looking for toy animals. Not Barbie Fairytopia and DVD Rainbow Adventure Elina, not Ben 10 Alien Voice Changer and not Tamagotchi Connection V4. Toy animals. I did not want Digi Make-Over ("You look great on TV!") or Air Hogs Storm Launcher or Bratz Forever Diamondz. I wanted toy animals.
But, no. The toys this store carries must be the toys that are shaping our children’s minds as their play. You know, play. Make believe. That thing children do as they practice for life. As they develop a self-image. Like play house, play school, play swimming pool (thank you, Raehan! Your home is a breath of fresh air!).
What Imus said? Firing was too good for him. But what do these toys say? Here’s the really maddening part: It’s not just that children in middle class American end up wanting these toys. The audience for these toys is not just a class of children who also have sports and music lessons and summer camp and intact families so that the message gets moderated by more balanced experiences. The children at the homeless shelter want these toys. They’ll say to me, "You know what I want? I want Bratz!" This is what they aspire to: a life of diamond studded tight pants. A life where you can get endless makeovers to change yourself. And although we might rage against Imus or gangsta rap, to me these toys are screaming "enough bling and life will be fine" long before they listen to Imus or rap. They convey clearly the message that a female’s worth is in her physical appearance to an audience of children who will have less opportunity to find their worth in academic achievement, in sports, in the arts and sciences.
When I finally found a clerk and asked where the toy animals were, she said, "you mean, like Butterscotch Fur Real Pony?" I explained what I was looking for, fur real, and after considering for a long moment, as though puzzling over quantum mechanics, she said "no, we don’t have those." I thought surely this is not possible,
you ignorant airhead, and went off again to look on my own, with all the early symptoms of a seizure. I did finally find one (1) small tube of plastic jungle animals and one
(1) small tube of forest animals. That was it. I bought, for 10.56
cents, the entire stock of make believe animals at Toys R Us. I wonder how long it will be before that item gets restocked?
On a more playful note, for those of you without toys- well, here’s a delightful video. Nothing but hands and it won’t give you warts.