SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Some years ago I went to a toy store to buy a top for one of my grandsons, one of those toys that you manually push down on its handle to get it to spin. Of course I had to explain to the sales assistant what I wanted since if devices don’t have batteries or aren’t played on a video screen nowadays they’re virtually unknown. It boggles the mind to see kids spending hour after hour playing those mindless and violent games, shooting at or fighting with enemies that never seem to die. I don’t understand why parents buy such things but what do I know, I’m just some old guy who’s out of touch with modern-day reality.
While not as vicious but almost as bad are the educational video games aimed at kids as young as two or three, designed to teach toddlers the alphabet or how to count. Why can’t moms and dads just let their kids be kids? With the average life expectancy approaching 100 years, what’s the rush to deprive toddlers of their innocence?
Though toy guns and soldiers have always existed, there once was a time when children’s games were just fun, not intended to teach anything other than how to use hands, feet, and most of all, imagination. Like most youngsters I had my share of balls, trucks, crayons, chalk, water colors, puzzles, model planes, roller skates, sleds, yo-yos, tops, cards, checkers, dominoes, and marbles, but the two most wonderful toys of all were never mine… Lionel Electric Trains and a Gilbert Erector Set.
Every year around Christmastime I’d get a brochure showing the many different sets of electric trains, and my heart would ache for want of those marvelous creations. Sometimes I’d go to a department store with my mother and drool over the train setups, begging and pleading with my mother to buy one for me, but all in vain. At other times of the year I’d ask my parents for an erector set but again without success. I don’t know why and in fact many years later my mother even expressed regret that she never fulfilled my wishes, especially the trains. It’s one of those disappointments in childhood that I never got over.
Thinking back, it’s as though she had some kind of fixation on steering me toward a particular career, sort of like the parents I mentioned earlier who want their kids to be able to read and write when three years old, for though I was denied those treasures made by Lionel and Gilbert I did get several chemistry sets while growing up. It’s apparent she had the covert strategy of me becoming a pharmacist when mature, and having me play with chemicals was her way of guiding me into that profession. Unfortunately she didn’t take my temperament into consideration since standing behind a drug store counter, being cooped up indoors while dispensing pills and waiting on customers five or six days a week just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Perhaps if I had received a set of electric trains or an erector set I might have become a railroad or civil engineer, two careers that would have kept me actively on the go and more to my nature. Then again I could have become a gandy dancer or rivet bucker, exotic and highly specialized fields of endeavor that would have kept me out of doors in the fresh air. Maybe in my next incarnation.