There is simply nothing that Play-Doh couldn’t do. It was sculpting material, it was colors you could mash together in a rainbow swirl of creativity, it was a light afternoon snack. It was everything. I remember spending hours making snowmen, houses, and, occasionally, boobs (hee hee), and feeling like god damned Michelangelo. Of course, there was the inevitable descent into hard, crusty Play-Doh retirement where the colors would mix into brown, the entire can would get stale, and the consistency would be about half lint/dust bunnies, but damn it was good while it lasted. Few things so succinctly occupy us as having a ball of squishy dough to turn into all our hopes and dreams. If I could just play around with a ball of the stuff while on a boring phone call or waiting in line at the post office, life would be so much more beautiful. Not to mention, it smells like nostalgia. Frankly, I would wear the smell of Play-Doh as perfume, if it were only socially acceptable.
2. Mad Libs
I don’t know if you consider word games to be toys, but some of us were smart and cultured and listened to Bach and loved sautéed spinach as children and thus liked to play with games that exercised our minds. It’s no big deal. I remember getting a fresh notepad full of these and flipping through them frantically with a friend to find the best one to first desecrate. Oh, the comic geniuses that we consistently proved to be: “Mr. Jackson walked boobily to the store to buy his family a penis for dinner. They were all very sexy, so he knew he needed to get home quick. When he arrived, he saw that they were all out of vaginas! What was he to do? Luckily, he remembered an extra case of nipples his wife had in the cupboard, so the evening was saved.” My writing career peaked at 10, and I need to re-hone this skill.
3. Easy-Bake Oven
I’m not gonna lie, it’s probably for the best that I don’t own an Easy-Bake, considering I already consume enough sugar-coated carbs as it is on a daily basis. However, if I did have one (and I desperately want one), I would happily spend my day making all manner of recipes, from tiny strudels to miniature sacher tortes, being the official taste-tester for each one. My 9-year-old self was not capable of waiting for the lightbulb to roast my pancake over the course of three hours, so usually I ended up eating half-formed dough with a packet of sprinkles dumped over it, but I am older and wiser now. I would allow my confections their proper cooking time, tenderly decorate them with the finest of icings, and enjoy them as they were intended to be enjoyed, sitting at a table with several stuffed animals in fancy hats, pretend-sipping out of empty teacups. Like a lady.
4. Sky Dancers
How could you improve upon a Barbie doll? She’s got the fancy hair to brush, the pretty dress, the awesome makeup and hair — she has everything, right? Wrong. You put that girl on a plastic rock launchpad and you make her fly. Yes, I said fly. For the poor, unfortunate boys uninitiated with the ecstasy that was pulling a string and watching your beautiful butterfly-princess soar across your room with the greatest ease (only occasionally smacking into walls, objects, and your face), it was the greatest thing ever. They were like your private angels that were there to dance for you, for only you. And, in between their delicate flights, you could brush their hair and admire their beauty — two of the most important doll-related activities. Sky Dancers were the ultimate ladies. Also, if you got bored, you could point them at each other and make them ram together and fight in the air. Only the strong survived.
5. Power Wheels
If you had a Power Wheels as a kid you were so lucky and I am incredibly jealous of you. I remember my rich asshole next door neighbor used to drive over in his stupid miniature Jeep like it was no big deal, while the rest of us were gaping at him like he was covered in diamonds. We wanted what he had, and he knew he was easily the coolest kid on the street, but he kept trying to play it off. Oh, except when one of us would be like “Can I drive it?” Then it was “Oh, no, my dad doesn’t want me to get it messed up.” Right, he just didn’t want to share in the glory. We got it. To this day, my dream is to get a Barbie Power Wheels convertible and roll up to whatever crappy apartment he lives in now and be like “Beep, beep, motherf-cker. Oh, sorry, can’t share, my mom doesn’t want me to scratch it.”
6. Gameboy Color
I’m pretty sure I spent at least an entire year of my life, if not two, crouched over a screen with a little light attached, hidden under my covers 3 hours past bedtime, whispering prayers that I got this gym badge before my battery died. Pokemon, for so many reasons, became the sun around which my entire life orbited during that period, but it was far from being the only game I loved. Oracle of Seasons, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros Deluxe, I even had a game starring N*SYNC (oh, you sweet little princes, was there any merchandise you wouldn’t promote?), each one was its own perfect slice of time wasting. I miss my Gameboy so much, and often think about getting it from my parents’ house, along with all of its soul-draining games, but I know that I can’t. Deep down, I know that I would stop functioning until I had beaten all my games once more, and frankly, I have rent to pay. I look forward to my Gameboy-filled retirement.
7. Slip ‘N Slide
I have a knee scar from a particularly gruesome Slip ‘N Slide wipeout, and I feel we owe each other one more go-around now that I have the cunning and agility of adulthood. I can’t go the rest of my life knowing that a piece of plastic with some water on it in Lauren’s back yard incapacitated me for a two days, only to be followed by a permanent mark on my kneecap and a somewhat-crippling fear of ever sliding down one again. I have now been in two situations in which margaritas, a pool, and a makeshift Slip ‘N Slide were the evening’s attractions, and both times I have cowered in terror at the thought of once again veering off into the unforgiving grass/gravel (depending on how ill-placed the slide was). One day, I will reclaim this territory, and it will be beautiful.
Just kidding, Furbies are horrifying and no one should have ever owned one. Why, though? Why did we like Furbies? What did we see in them? What was the inherent quality about those never-sleeping, macabre plastic robots with the thin layer of fake fur that made us think, hell yeah, I want like 8 of these on my shelf to harass me in the middle of the night? We owe ourselves an explanation as a society.
9. Lite Brite
If I were to really put my mind to it, and given several years and research grants with which to brainstorm, I doubt I could come up with anything even remotely as cool as a Lite Brite. Think about it, it’s a board of light that you stick rainbow plastic art swords into to make glowing pictures. I can’t even imagine the masterpieces I could create now, given that my hand-eye coordination is a little more steady and my knowledge of art history slightly more robust than when I was 7. I could create the new Mona Lisa, Starry Night, or Last Supper (which, according to Google, some guy actually did not too long ago). I just want to take this moment to commend whoever thought of Lite Brite, because they have been consistently snubbed for a Nobel and I think we can all agree that it’s more than overdue. Don’t you want your award to mean something, Nobel committee? Come on.
How fitting that Legos in so many ways represented the very agony and ecstasy of childhood. On the one hand, there was nothing you couldn’t build, nothing you couldn’t create — the world was yours to imagine, and there was always a new way to see and build things. On the other, should you step on one in the middle of a cold, dark night, you would know pain as you have never known before. You will be punished for the sins of humanity and the impetuous folly of your own youth. Those hard, unforgiving plastic squares were the building blocks of everything from a custom-made castle to an exact replica of the Starship Enterprise were there to occasionally humble you, either in surging foot pain or their uncanny ability to get lost right when you need a little flat one. And now that I am older, wiser, and know to wear shoes in the house — I am ready to take them on again.