Toys. What are toys really? An extension of our imagination? A catalyst for escape to a playful world where boundaries do not exist? The embodiment of child-like wonder? I suspect they represent many of these ideas and more. But as a parent with young kids, toys can be a bridge from one generation to the next. Such is my experience lately when going to toy stores with my children.
My kids love to be wheeled around the store in a shopping cart. Not that they couldn't walk or run around themselves but I guess it adds to the adventure. As captains of the fun boat, the kids enthusiastically order to "stop!" upon discovering a new item of interest. The toy undergoes a battery of tests and within an instant is rejected ("Put it back!") or approved by palpable squeals of approval ("I want this! I NEED THIS! Can we buy it?"). Being the trusted adviser, I too take a closer inspection ( i.e the price tag), while scouring through my mental archives ( "Don't we have 12 of these already?"), or defer to the tried but true fall back ("Let's ask your Mom.").
Yet more often than not, what appeals most to parents (especially fathers) about toy stores is the opportunity to introduce toys that filled us with joy during our own childhood. It's not sheer luck for dads that we end up exploring Star Wars toys, action figures, board games and retro toys ( i.e. Rock'em Sock'em Robots). Seeing the eyes of my children light up makes each trip worthwhile. Admittedly, there can be disappointments as well, specifically when your child does not respond approvingly to your personal favorites (DNA test anyone?).
Seeing the kids bounce around from riding vehicle to riding vehicle always puts a on smile on my face. "Let's go in the jeep!" "No, the race car!" "I'm in a police car, cool!!" Children could spend the entire afternoon there. My little adventurers need to be convincingly persuaded to leave requiring my best parenting mojo. On a side note, I recommend visiting a toy store near lunch time. It makes the whole food bribe that much more effective.
As kids grow, their interests change including their choices of toys which becomes painstakingly clear to parents. Witness the bittersweet look in parents' eyes as their little ones migrate from baby toys to the toddler section, a seemingly inconsequential milestone that cuts deeply as parents face the new reality.
In a way, toy stores are like living breathing time machines in which each of us passes through at various points in our lives. Some day, if they choose to start a family, your children will also take a ride through time. But for this dad living in the here and now, it's, "Go down that aisle Daddy!"
What do toy stores mean to you and your children? How have they made an impact in your life?