Thursday, January 21, 2010 25

When the opportunity presents itself- I like to regularly remind my readers of my unrelenting genius. You might be saying, "You'll have to be more specific Ann, I'm always reminded of your genius." To which I would say- Exhibit A, Nancy Gibbs' commentary in Time on the state of toys and value of Playdoh:,9171,1946960,00.html

Aside from this being evidence that my edgy and thought-provoking blog is on par with TIME's journalistic standards, Gibbs' Playdoh revelation sounds a little familiar doesn't it Bulla fans? If I'm not mistaken (I'm not), I believe I extolled the virtues of Playdoh in my very own blog not so long ago. I'd like to thank Gibbs for expanding on the subject and she'll be hearing from my lawyer regarding copyright infringement soon. Nonetheless, Gibbs' article presented me with the opportunity to revisit the toys I held dear to my heart and investigate today's current selection.

Until recently, I thought I had lost my knack for whimsical imagination and play because I found the current selection of children's toys to be lame. On my regular visits to Target, I perused the toy section to take a look at the newest Barbies, follow the trends in new Cabbage Patch Kid naming, and generally reminisce about a childhood gone too fast. But I always wondered, where's the creativity? the challenge? the uniqueness? I was a walking cliche that began sentences with, "When I was a kid..." and "What's a Zsu Zsu Pet?" But now I realize that I haven't lost my imaginative prowess- these new toys really are lame. So I've compiled a short list of the only toys really worth having.

Ok, I know I've discussed Playdoh to death but this one really does top the list. It's cheap, it's colorful, and it's non-toxic. It provides hours upon hours of imaginative play. Of course, I always end up molding food everytime, but I'm sure young minds would quickly see other ideas spring to life.

While Chicago children will get, at best, 4 months of use for sidewalk chalk, it's still a summertime staple. As with playdoh, it's cheap and colorful, and it's also as easy as turning on the hose to clean-up. My mom made sure our house was never without a box of chalk. My sisters I would spend hours on our driveway drawing hopscotch squares, writing our names on every inch of sidewalk, and outlining the shape of our splayed bodies to make our house look like a grisly crime scene. However, our proudest chalk creation was Chalk City. Living in a tiny cul de sac, we rode our bikes around the entire perimeter of our neighborhood and drew chalk establishments along the pavement. The library, DMV, Jewel, and even a chalk Chi's Chi's Restaurant. We spent summer evenings endlessly riding our bikes around Chalk City as if we were adults driving our cars to various errands. To this day there a few things that so vividly remind me of my childhood summers, but a new box of sidewalk chalk is one of them.

These little plastic blocks have a special place in my heart not only because Sara stuck one up her nose but also because I associate them with my Papa (my father's father). My memories of him always place him at his kitchen table or the old bar in his basement, tinkering on something. The only thing that was ever on the TV in the background was a Cubs game as he sat sketching a tree with his thin-tipped markers, enveloped in a cloud of smoke. Dotted around the house were tiny sailboats he constructed out of balsa wood and even the Wrigley field replica he built. And he would sometimes sing old songs to himself that I never recognized. He loved to create. And it was he who taught me the proper way to construct a wall of Legos. I would stack Legos one on top of the other, forming tall columns that were weak. He taught me how to stagger the bricks, like those on a house. Of course, I have infinite memories of spending hours with Sara and Gracie playing with our well-crafted Lego house, but it's the connection to my Papa that I love the most.

Duh. I would wager that 75% of my childhood playtime was dedicated to Barbie. I would also wager that, given the opportunity, my mom would dedicate 75% of her time today to Barbie. But really, what's not to love? The glamour, the outfits,'s every little girls' dream. Sara and I would spends hours at our neighbor Diana's house because she had a Barbie Dream Mansion (working elevator and all!) despite the fact that Diana and her whole family mostly just scared me. But I risked it for that otherwise elusive Dream Mansion. The point is, for most girls, Barbie defined what being a girl meant.

Like Playdoh, I still own and use several coloring books. Personally, I love the restricted creativity that coloring books allow. I'm lousy at drawing freehand, but sometimes I just get a creative itch that only a coloring book can scratch. It's just the right allotment of creativity necessary to color a picture but not have to actually draw it. And I've been occupied with coloring books for as long as I can remember. Like chalk, our house was always fully stocked with Barbie coloring books. And upon receiving a fresh Barbie coloring book, I would immediately color Barbie's lips and eyeshadow in EVERY picture because everyone knows that's the best part. I'm sure my mom bought the books to just shut us up sometimes, and I continue to buy them to shut myself up sometimes too. Great for plane rides, rainy days, or anxious 25 year olds.

My sisters and I collected Cabbage Patch Dolls like it was our job. Each of us had distinctive Cabbage Patch families- I had brown hair dolls, Sara had red, and Gracie had blonde. Each of our collections were comprised of, at least, nine dolls apiece. Any respectable girl will tell you that the BEST part of a Cabbage Patch Doll wasn't their dimpled cheeks or "Xavier Roberts" signed on their butt checks, but the moment you tear open a Cabbage Patch Doll and go directly for their birth certificate. Each doll was given a first and middle name, and it was a cardinal rule of Cabbage Patch ownership to never rename your dolls. Even now I can remember Felice Carmen (Crimp n' Curl circa 1992). I know the Cabbage Patch Doll had its heyday in the 1980's but even in 2010 you can't go wrong with a Cabbage Patch Doll.

Obviously I know Grandmas aren't a toy but they're an invaluable childhood experience nonetheless. The memories I have from my grandmas are plentiful and hilarious, and I'm lucky I had two such distinctive women in my life. My Grandma Tena died when I was about ten but I still remember the sound of her voice and that every time she and my Papa babysat us, they ALWAYS brought a dozen Dunkin Donuts. Recently, at a family gathering, I was wearing one of my many giant plastic rings and my cousin commented that I take after my Grandma Tena. I had never really thought about it before but when I got home, I checked out a photo album, and sure enough, my grandma was decked out in gaudy plastic jewelry. I'd always been fond of my ring collection but had never made the connection before. I was happy to have unknowingly shared my taste for accessorizing with my Grandma Tena. And, of course, my Grandma Anna is the whole reason behind this blog. I'm afraid there's just not enough space for me to adequately describe Grandma Anna and do her justice. In short, she's just a funny little Polish lady who is always good for a laugh. I remember cooking lessons in her kitchen, sleepovers at her house, the lamb pound cake every Easter, trips to 7/11 for her cigarettes, rainstorms on her porch, and feeding the birds stale bread. And even now, each time I visit her, I leave with a funny new grandma story to tell.

Please note that no where on this list is something that requires batteries or an electrical outlet. Of course, I had video games and computer games growing up, but when I think of my childhood, I don't think of being glued to a screen. Instead, I remember riding my bike in summertime evenings until my mom screamed my named through the neighborhood or playing catch in front of the house with my dad. It sounds like a 1950's sitcom but it's true. This list compiles the elements of being a kid that are engaging and creative. To this day, when I find something cute and miniature I still refer to it being 'Cabbage Patch size,' referencing the miniature houses we used to build for our dolls and my sisters know exactly what I mean. And just yesterday, I spent my evening coloring a masterpiece from my Disney Princess coloring book. Some of my friends and coworkers look at me like I'm nuts when they find out I still color or play with Playdoh, but who's to say that spending three hours watching Jersey Shore or Top Chef every night is any more productive or engaging? Maybe if I pull out the Barbies, then they'll have something to worry about....