A recent episode of "Seinfeld" featured a storyline (or I suppose "non-storyline") about a 30-year-old toy collection. What mattered to me was not the outcome of the episode but the flood of memories I experienced upon seeing toys from my childhood.
Mostly, I wondered, how did I or my siblings or friends even survive childhood in the '60s and '70s? For looking back, it seems that many of the things we happily played with were designed more to kill us than amuse us.First there was the Easy-Bake Oven. I loved it. Even as a 5- and 6-year-old I would turn out all kinds of little cakes and cookies with this real little oven heated by a regular light bulb. It had a timer and metal baking pans.
But, hello, we are talking here about giving a fully electric appliance hot enough to bake real muffins, accessorized with metal pans that could become scalding in minutes, to a kindergartener. Did my mother secretly wish she had four kids instead of five?
But I suppose that's nothing compared to my twin brothers' favorite "toy." When they were 10 or so, they would buy chunks of a lead mixture from the hobby shop. They would then melt it over Bunsen burners until it was molten, at which point they would pour it into molds of little soldiers. I suppose this operation was at least efficient. It provided opportunities for both poisoning and life-threatening burns at the same time.
Of course, there also were chemistry sets, toy trains and planes powered with real gas, BB guns and slingshots, all kinds of fun and entertaining things.
And if a kid successfully navigated that gauntlet, there were all those great activities. My family well remembers "screeleeching." This would occur right after the streets in my suburban Chicago neighborhood were first covered with snow. My father would hook up the toboggan to the back of the car, and my siblings and I and about 75 neighborhood kids would then pile on it as my father revved up his engine. He would start out slow, then speed up toward the first turn at which point he would whipsaw around and try to lose as many kids as possible. We would then run squealing with delight after the moving car and try to pile onto the toboggan without getting pushed off by a bigger kid.
If my dad pulled that now, he'd be doing 2 to 5 for reckless endangerment of minors.
Of course, the whole concept of cars was different then. There were safety restraints for kids, sure. Mom's arm reaching out like a gate every time we stopped. I remember long road trips in the station wagon where my brothers and sisters and I wouldn't sit down - we'd just crawl around and over the back seat and cargo area as we flew down the highway at 80 miles an hour.
Yet these things may be nothing compared to how we kids back then would endanger ourselves. Helmets for bicycle riding? Are you kidding? When I was growing up, handlebars were wimpy. Oh you had them of course, but you wouldn't be caught dead holding onto them. And when we "double-rode," one person sitting on the seat, the other pumping the pedals, the rider never ever held onto the driver. What could have been more embarrassing?
These days I marvel when I look at all the child restraints and warning labels, and all the toys reviewed by enough government bureau-crats to make sure they are often no fun at all.
My children's world is shaped by these things, and they are generally safer for it, it's true.
But, let's face it: they are just not going to have as much fun as my family and friends and I did when we were kids.