Saturday, July 07, 2007

Playtime With The Baby Boomers

The Baby Boom generation has provided researchers with a vast and fertile playground. Those of us born during that period of 1946-1964 have been studied for our buying habits, bedroom habits, and pretty much everything else. Now that summer is here, it seems that our recreation is the next to be put under the microscope.

In an article the Plain Dealer cribbed from the Baltimore Sun, "10 timeless toys" from the Baby Boomer generation were touted as "putting the play back in the child." I perused this article expectantly, looking for the beloved toys of my own Baby Boomer Childhood. Feh. This article was full of Loser Toys. See what you think.

1. Slinky. Are they kidding? This hardly qualifies as a toy. A coiled piece of metal that you held, one end in each hand, and bobbled up and down. Rarely could you get it to "go downstairs" for more than a step at a time, and when you did, so effing what? Then, the urge to see how far it would stretch would overcome you...disaster! The slinky got kinky. End of toy. Once that sucker got a bend or kink in it, it was done with. What the hell was this thing?

2. Magic 8 Ball. Never had one. My friends, Lisa and Laura across the street, had one. We asked it questions a few times. Big deal. Then, Lisa, who had a proclivity for taking things apart, couldn't help herself. She bashed it with her dad's sledghammer behind the garage. End of "toy." Notice again how neither of the 2 things already mentioned is really a "toy."

3. Silly Putty. Oh Boy. We all got this stuff. My family has a story for this involving the putty melting down the side of the brand new couch. A certain sibling got into HUGE trouble. Me? I could never resist the urge to bite Silly Putty. After a while of transferring comics and stretching the images of "Terry and the Pirates", the putty got ugly grey and icky-looking. The egg it came in--hey! why an egg container? I don't get that--seemed to always get cracked and then the putty, which could be rolled into a ball and bounced very high and irregularly, would get lost behind furniture. That stuff cannot be effectively scraped off of avocado sculptured carpeting, either, let me tell you. I had to try once. Yikes.

4. Mr. Potato Head. Okay, this one was pretty okay, but after a while, it just got gross. Then, when a plastic potato was provided, it was just dumb.

5. Wiffle Ball. Now, this was brilliant. It was marketed as an alternative to window-smashing baseballs, but let me tell you: our wiffle ball games produced at least one broken window, leading my mother to make us move the contests to the street out front or the driveway, which was gravel. Our wiffle ball game rules were vast and complex, especially my brother Bobby's driveway games with his he-men weightlifters. Good god. The gallons of Bactine and mercurochrome, let alone the boxes of Band-Aids they went through in a summer were a testament to their manliness.

6. Play-Doh. I am one of the few people I know who has never eaten Play-Doh. But I played with this stuff like nobody's business. My sister was born 5 years after I was, and I am grateful that her birth extended my Play-Doh time. You name it, I made it out of Play-Doh, and that was before all the cool playsets came out. My own boys had the Play-Doh Diner. Long after they lost interest in a Play-Doh session, I would still be at it, making burgers with little pickle chips and fries with realistic looking blobs of ketchup draped over them. Sigh. Love it.

7. Frisbee. What a scam. This dumb thing. I could never throw it and was always afraid to catch it. This is still the case. Especially when my nails are long. This is basically--well, let me show you:

'Nuff said. Oh shut up, those of you who never got over your college days! IT'S A DOG TOY.

8. Hula-Hoop. I can only imagine how immensely ridiculous I looked doing this. I was a short, fat girl with no waist trying desperately to shimmy like some sort of Hawaiian pole dancer on crack. Oh. My. God. It makes me now want to go buy one and practice, take The New Size 2 Me out into the middle of my old street and Hula Hoop Like There's No Tomorrow. Sigh. How do we ever survive our childhoods?

9. Etch A Sketch. This toy rocks. I was pretty good with an Etch A Sketch. A genius, if you asked my father. My specialty was houses with nice, symmetrical windows with flowerboxes under each one and a chimney on the roof with a flowing plume of welcoming smoke. But every day, I fought the demons who teased me about how it worked. If I was really smart, I would have bought Lisa across the street one for her birthday.

10. Trolls. I take issue with this nomenclature. Back during my childhood, they weren't called "trolls." They were called "Wishniks." These sharpei-like Yoda-esque creatures came in all sizes and were mystifyingly attractive to girls of about 8. They had them on their dressers, they tied them to their bike handlebars, they carried them to school. I just didn't get it. They were supposed to be good luck. I never had one and didn't want one. Again, though, not a toy.
Top ten? Huh. What about The Thingmaker? I had the one that made Fun Flowers. That toy would never fly in this hyper-kid safe, litigious world. That one was basically an open oven and toxic waste facility. But I loved making my own little fake rubber flowers with the oily junk called, appropriately enough, Plastigoop. I also had a Footsee, a sort of ankle hula hoop. It consisted of a plastic ring you put around one ankle. Attached to the ring was a cord about 30 inches long with a bell-shaped weight attached to it. As you twirled the ring with one foot, you hopped the string with the other. I was pretty good at it, when I wasn't going so fast that I stepped on the cord and tripped, falling on my face.
Aside from those, I had the usual stuff that wasn't exclusive Boomer territory: metal clamp-on roller skates, a second-hand two-wheeler, jump rope, jacks, and a set each of badminton and croquet. (Although the croquet set was a mystery to me. I think we set it up once, fought during a game, and quit.) Beyond that, we were into playing statues, freeze tag, Mother May I, and Red Light-Green Light.
Sigh. I feel old. But strangely smiley. I can't wait to read your toy memories in Comments.
Last Year at The Dept. of Nance: Men (2)


  1. Don't forget the toy that was also a deadly weapon, usually against yourself. CLACKERS. Those hard glass (or rubber) balls on a cord with a handle. You'd swing your arm up and down just to hear 'em clack against each other. I ended up with more than one massive bruise, a knot over my right eye, and an elbow injury that STILL hurts 35 years later. How did parents allow us to play with those things?! I finally whipped them into the air, only to have them wrap around a power wire over the driveway. They're probably still there.

  2. Anonymous7:15 PM

    Well, I'm certainly not a baby boomer but my favorite toys were the Etch-a-Sketch and The Speak n' Spell. Oh! But I did have a friend who had those metal strap-on roller skates!

  3. I don't quite fit into the Boomer category either, but I was very bad at my Etch-a-sketch, and desperately wanted a slinky.

    I also had one of those footsee things too- it had a strawberry at the end. Good times!

  4. Anonymous8:00 PM

    Remember that one time that I used to have Transformer toys and you swore to god that i didn't have them? I remember that and it makes me think of one word...SHAMEFUL.


  5. Although I'm not a baby boomer...I loved my slinky. I had the original metal one, a plasic one that was dark blue on one side and light blue on the other and another plastic one that was bright orange and white. I even managed to make them work for more than a few stairs.
    I also LOVED my magic 8 ball. It got me through the tuff times :)
    I had a footsee butt I called it a skip-it. Mine was actually a hard plastic lemon on the end of the ankle rope insted of a bell. I would jump that thing for hours!!!

  6. I loved all of those, but I never quite got into the trolls. I had friends who were into them though. I also loved lite-brite, and marbles, and jacks.

  7. Anonymous8:45 AM

    I loved badmitten and later when my kids & I went camping we always took our bedmitten set (sans net) and played every night after our campfire dinner.

  8. Anonymous8:59 AM

    Badminton. Badminton. Please don't give me a bad grade. ;)

  9. Anonymous10:05 AM

    Clackers! Footsees! Jacks! Good times.

    Let's not forget the Duncan yo-yo. I had an Imperial and a Butterfly and I could walk the dog and do around the world with them.

    And the rumors about me are true: I'm a damn fine Frisbee thrower. Even now I can impress my almost 12-year-old son with my skill.

    And as long as I'm here, I'll let you know that you are officially a Rockin Girl Blogger. Check out my blog for details.

  10. Anonymous2:31 PM

    Oooh! Thanks for the trip down memory lane! I had every one of those toys… or non-toys. My faves were:

    1. Play-Doh. Before I even started making things, I would spend ages creating my own line of colors by mixing the the basic colors into a row of every shade in the rainbow and then some. Including some rather awful purplish-gray wads of dough.

    2. Number puzzles (you know, those ones that had the numbers 1-15 and you played with them to get different patterns of numbers, etc. (I bought myself a very nice one as a stocking stuffer last Christmas.)

    3. Etch-a-Sketch. All time favorite toy, hands down. I still have a little mini one. I will never forget the first one I got one year for Christmas. Within 5 minutes I could write my name in cursive handwriting. I spent hours with that thing!

    Toys I was a disaster with: skates, hula hoop, Frisbee…. I always thought it odd, too, that I could be so coordinated with the Etch-a-Sketch and so UN-coordinated with skates and a hula hoop. I could, however, go for quite a spell on a pogo stick…

    On "Men" from the archives: Tee hee. You gotta love a man who will buy your FHP for you. My Dad was always good about that; one of the many reasons I had so much admiration for him.

  11. Seriously? If you had told me that those were toys from my generation, I would have believed you. I suppose that's because I'm a baby of the baby boomers. I have bought Play-Doh on a number of occasions in the past few years (it's amazing stress relief!). My brother is all about Ultimate Frisbee, which I never got into. And I loved my Trolls! They had the jewels in their belly so you could make wishes. My mother's Trolls always scared me...I thought they were CREEPY.

  12. cactus flower--oh gosh! i had forgotten about clackers. those really were dangerous. not on par with the dreaded JARTS, but really awful. again, why were those a toy?

    girl and dog--sigh. i forgive you for your youth. i babysat for kids who had speak 'n' spells.

    princess--my son informed me that the footsee had a brief reincarnation as a skip-it, hence the fruit thingy. i have a dim memory of this. your etch-a-sketch disability is unfortunate, but alas! not all of us are ambidextrously gifted.

    jared--as i have tried to tell you numerous times, you never had any transformers, only teenaged mutant ninja turtles. please seek therapy now, while my insurance still covers you. sigh.

    nina--i remember when the slinky went plastic. also, see my skip-it comment above. i now have the Taco Bell Happy Meal version of the Magic 8 Ball, whereby you ask the Taco Bell Dog a question and lift it up, look at its butt, and read the answer. I use it at school all the time. My students really appreciate it, as I'm sure you can imagine. "Mrs. D., do we have to have the quiz today?" "The Magic Dog Butt says, 'I'm hungry.' Yep, seems like we do."

    anali--my sister (born 1964) had lite-brite. every single time we used it, we spilled every last one of those damned pegs.

    plain jane--rarely is typing related to spelling. please don't allow such woes to keep you from commenting here at the Dept.! I don't think twice about it. And I had a mean killshot in badminton, baby.

    V--I would be horrifically embarrassed to tell you how many times I cracked myself on the head with my purple Duncan while trying to master round-the-world. As for the RGBA, I've visited and expressed my gratitude at V-gitM. ;-)

    Ortizzle--the pogo stick??? my admiration for you knows no bounds. i have tried that so many times and failed miserably.

    re: men(2)--I do like that post, too. i can't recall if my dad ever made that concession, but i can guarantee that since that episode, sam's record is intact.

  13. Nance...I have never, EVER eaten Play-Doh either! I actually thought it smelled rather disguting and it is not allowed in my house present day---I don't care how much the boys beg for it!

    I was the hula hoop CHAMPION!!! Every field day, that was the only game I won! I guess my big ass came in handy!

    How about the sit-n-spin? Loved it! My Strawberry Shortcake roller skates. My Gem playset with the actual playing guitar stage. And lastly, my Get In Shape Girl dress up workout set!!! Oh yeah, we don't want to forget about Old Maid, Uno, and I D-Clare WAR! :)

  14. can I forget about my Lite Brite...must I confess that we have one in the house now?!

  15. I've never eaten Play-Doh, but I did drink Paint once when I was little. I thought it tasted a bit like soda.

    I was, however, the master of the pogo stick. I remember bouncing on it one day for over 3,000 bounces straight without falling off. It took about an hour or so, and by the end I was just so exhausted that I had to stop.

    I checked the world record and found out it was nearly 200,000 bounces. Oh well.

  16. My brother had something like The Thingmaker. I think it was called a Creepy Crawler set. He would make spiders and put them in my bed. At the time we had bunk beds and I always wondered why he would snicker from the bottom bunk as i climbed to bed. Sigh. I should have known better.


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