This Christmas, for the first time in 19 years, I didn’t buy a toy.
Oh, it’s been years since I’ve bought a Barbie or a Build-a-Bear, but for the past couple of years my 13-year-old was into making YouTube videos with Littlest Pet Shop figures, so her Christmas list still contained a few wishes for new bobble-headed cats and dogs.
But things change when you’re in eighth grade.
Not because she succumbed to peer pressure, but because she succumbed to puberty.
She grew up. And she grew over it.
I remember when my girls were little and I’d hit Target a few weeks before Christmas and load up my cart with the toys they’d asked for—and a few they didn’t even know they wanted. I would stop and consciously stare at my cart full of pink and yellow plastic things and literally get a chill of excitement. “This is what Christmas is all about!” I’d think, and then spend the next few hours begging for forgiveness for my shallow and non-secular thoughts, and confess some other random sins just to make sure I was still in good standing.
One year I remember thinking how sad it would be when the girls grew up and didn’t ask for toys anymore. I couldn’t even bear to imagine it. If not toys and Barbies and Webkinz, then what? Clothes?? Shudder.
But somewhere along the line I blinked, and it happened.
I can remember the toy-filled Christmases like they were yesterday, though.
• The brightly colored Fisher Price toddler toys that required about 18 D-batteries to make annoying sounds that entertained your toddler for about eight minutes, but gave you a migraine that lasted about eight hours.
• The Playmobil sets that took over 36 hours to set up and contained hundreds of miniscule pieces that your kid didn’t even care about, but that threatened to choke your cats.
• Barbie dolls that came secured in boxes with 500 threadlike plastic shackles around every single appendage on their bodies—not to mention the sewed in hair that, once freed, had a perpetual crease that made her look like she’s been ridden hard and put away wet.
• Barbie houses that came with a veritable encyclopedia of buiding instructions and took over four hours of sweat, wine, and second-thoughts to build.
• Building Power Wheels cars like you were restoring a ’67 Chevy, but still ending up with a few stray plastic bolts on the floor when you were done at 3 a.m.
• Decorative stickers labled with all 26 letters of the alphabet—and then 26 more with double-letters—that you needed to affix to every single Barbie structure. But if you stuck one of the impossible-to-position-the-first-time-you-tried stickers on crooked, then you could suck-it, because those stickers were backed with Goddamned cement. HEY, COOL-LOOKIN’ KEN! YOU MIGHT WANT TO TILT YOUR HEAD WHEN YOU WATCH THAT MOTHER EFFIN’ TV.
We didn’t have boys so we didn’t have the luxury of LEGO sets, where the whole fun was in the construction. Nope, we had girls, where almost every present was met with squeals of glee … then followed with them holding it out to us to free from its boxed prison or, even worse, to put together.
And then two hours later we could resume opening gifts.
A “toy-less Christmas” suddenly isn’t sounding quite so bad.
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