I’m not trying to suggest we should all go out and buy a toy, but that is one of about four “life lessons” my husband liked to share with our kids when they were growing up. I believe the full version was “everything’s a toy – except a car.” This may or may not be true, or a good lesson, but in combination with some of things I said to them such as, “be careful!” or “urine is a sterile bodily fluid,” I can see now that we barely scratched the surface on what they really needed to know as they headed out the door and into the world.
As our kids grew up, there were definitely times they toyed with our words and any hope of imparting a lesson was lost, but thankfully, we gave them some other things to play with, like siblings and actual toys. There were toys that came in boxes, made noise, spread glitter around the house, and had tiny parts that were easily lost which caused massive meltdowns (of the sibling, not the toy). Sometimes the toy itself didn’t impress our kids, but the box it came in did. And the packaging! They loved those big sheets of paper and bubble wrap even more than the box, and could spend an hour (or two or an entire afternoon) crumpling paper and jumping on or squeezing the plastic bubbles to create grating, I mean joyful, constant popping sounds accentuated by shrieks of “no-it’s-my-turn-give-it-to-me-I-didn’t-get-a-piece!” One time, probably to distract them from the bubble wrap, I converted an old Cool Whip container into a toy (maybe my husband was right?) by cutting a slot in the lid so they could drop some old red and blue poker chips through it. I think I had read somewhere it was supposed to help them develop hand/eye coordination, but now I wonder if it was just part of my husband’s elaborate everything’s-a-toy-scheme to help them hold the chips so they would eventually learn how to play blackjack or poker.
Last month, we spent some time around Christmas with our grown-up kids and even though they all know how to play Texas hold em, all their toys are gone – either donated, sold at garage sales, or stored in boxes in our house until they have enough closet space of their own. But being together and watching them open gifts made me think about my husband’s “lesson” and all the toys our kids used to play with. I forgot to ask them if they had a favorite, and I conveniently forgot to ask them if any of our advice has ever come in handy, but I remember one toy as the best one we ever gave them: the ball pit.
It’s hard for me to forget the ball pit because its time with our family spanned two decades. In fact, it spanned two millennia because we bought that thing in the middle of the last decade of the 1900’s and it didn’t wear out until late in the first decade of the 2000’s. The ball pit was nothing more than a big, six-sided, cylinder made of yellow, red, and blue nylon and some sort of black mesh-netting. The top and bottom were the yellow nylon part, and the only way you could tell one end from the other was that the top had a large, circular opening in the middle. The sides were the black mesh part and two of the sides had large, zippered doors. It always reminded me of a lunar landing module without the legs but with all the escape hatches.
The ball pit originally came with 100 or 200 or 300 (I don’t know, I lost count) red, blue, green, and yellow plastic balls and when they were all inside the pit, it transformed into something like an indoor pool. Our preschool aged-kids spent hours “swimming” in it or standing in it while they threw all the balls out of the top. They sorted the balls by color and unzipped and zipped the doors. When they got bored inside the ball pit, they emptied it out, stood outside it, and threw all the balls back in – or threw in anything they could find like their clothes, kitchen utensils, and snacks. It’s really hard to find Goldfish crackers once they are scattered on a piece of yellow nylon. And I know at least one time I found a used diaper as I searched for all those flaky, golden, fish-shaped crackers. Even though the ball pit was a toy, it was reasonably well-ventilated, so they occasionally napped in there, too.
Until the first part of the first decade of the 2000’s we only had two kids who played with the ball pit, but then we had another baby. As soon as our new baby girl could sit up, her older brother and sister put her in the ball pit to see what she could do. They were disappointed to find out that the extent of their baby sister’s ability to “play” was to topple over into a sea of primary colored plastic. Still, they tried to include her in their games. They worked hard to get her sitting up and gumming a ball inside the ball pit so they could stand outside of it and throw balls through the hole in the top trying to (gently) hit her on top of the head. My husband forgot to tell them that everything’s a toy except a car…. and your baby sister.
By the end of the first decade of the 2000’s, the ball pit was gone. The nylon ripped, the mesh sides got holes in them way bigger than toddler-sized fingers, and the zippers broke. The only thing that remained were all those brightly colored balls, and every once in a while, our son and his friends used them to pelt each other while playing tag in the basement. But that game ended, too, and I eventually rounded up all of those plastic balls and donated them.
We moved last year, and when I cleaned out under the basement steps, I found one last blue, ball-pit ball. I didn’t keep it, but with our recent time together as a family, I thought about how many memories one toy can hold and how much entertainment some nylon, plastic, cardboard, a snack, or even a sibling, can provide. My husband might be right after all: everything’s a toy.
P.S. Do you share my husband’s “everything’s a toy” philosophy? Or do you, or your kids, if you have them, have a favorite toy? Let me know! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment.