Is it just me, or are the “classic” toys of yesteryear kind of crappy? My kids love to play Hungry, Hungry, Hippo. My son cheats by using his fingers to hand-feed his hippo and my daughter cheats by dumping all her balls into the middle first so that she is also the first to scoop them back up. I cheat my giving my hippo lockjaw. Fun is had by all (though my tolerance for the game is much, much shorter than theirs.) But I have to admit that the first time I took it out of the box, I was appalled at how poorly made it was. Every time you put it away, you have to detach the cheap plastic hippos from the base. I live in fear that I am going accidentally rip a hippos butt off and have to explain to my children what euthanasia means.
Lincoln Logs have proved similarly disappointing. My son just received a set for his birthday and I was really looking forward to helping him build a veritable dream cabin to rival his uncle’s. My son has a good imagination and likes to manipulate his toys (as opposed to my daughter who has no imagination and expects her toys to come to life and entertain her, a la Toy Story) so anything he can build, take apart, etc. makes him happy. Imagine my surprise when I dumped out the gigantic box and realized that there were barely enough pieces inside to build a shack. Sure, you could build the exact model pictured on the front, but where is the imagination in that? (Fun fact, the original sets came with instructions on how to build Uncle Tom’s Cabin! Imagine explaining that one to your kids.) When I was a child, I remember my cousin having a veritable forest of logs at his disposal. Maybe he had multiple sets, maybe everything seems different through the haze of time, but he surely had enough for three cousins to play simultaneously. My son and I built his “Old West Jailhouse” yesterday and thought the set comes with wee little lawmen to make the structure seem that much more imposing, it didn’t fool him and he just keeps begging me to make it bigger.
I’m sure it is just my memory playing tricks on me. The tea sets of the past were probably coated in lead paint, the train sets probably ran on oil, and the toy kitchens didn’t even come with microwaves. After all, I was raised in a home where my first Barbie was actually a knock-off called Darcy who was two sizes too big for all the clothes. In fact, when I finally was given a real Barbie, her “fun” accessory was a briefcase and she was wearing a boring gray suit. Who wants Working Girl Barbie unless her profession is the oldest one in the world? The few memories I do have of playing with actual brand-name toys are all away from home. One cousin had an actual Donkey Kong machine in her basement. Full size! In the 80s! The other was actually allowed to use Play-Doh indoors! He had buckets of Lego’s (which were banned in my home for being too easy to step on), the aforementioned Lincoln Logs, and these odd, round plastic building toys that I can’t for the life of me remember the name of, but we would use to build fanciful towers Rapunzel would have been proud to call home. Surely, they weren’t sold in sets of ten, right?
I guess in my head, the toys were classic because they were unbreakable, abundant, and offered unending hours of delight. In reality, they were probably just as shoddily made, probably came in even smaller sets, and probably played with in the same ten minute increments that my children use now. Ah well. Who knows what my children will remember playing with when they grow up? With my luck, it won’t be the huge playhouse, the cabinet filled with crafts, or the backyard filled with a bone yard of plastic toys. It will be the one gadget, gizmo, or geegaw that I didn’t buy them.