It is such fun to watch your grandchildren grow up. They remind you in many ways of your own childhood, though in many ways those two childhoods are very different.
Each year at Thanksgiving, my brother and sister and I would beg our Grandfather to tell us stories of when he was a kid. Our favorite was the time my Grandfather and his friends played a game called Hot Box. They soaked a tight bundle of rags with gasoline. They would light it with a match and then toss the burning ball between themselves.
In search of some gas for their game, the boys took some fuel from my Great-Grandfather’s brand new Model “A” Ford. There was a valve under the fuel tank that allowed the gas to be drained. It was a perfect source for the gas they needed.
They soaked the ball with gasoline under the car and then moved a few feet away where they struck a match to the ball. The boys did not notice the dripping gas until it was too late. The match lit the ball and the fire followed the fuel trail right back to the car and the dripping drain. In seconds the car was in flames and was soon a total loss.
I have no stories like that to tell my grandchildren. Our favorite toys were most likely our bikes. They were not just toys, however. They were used as our vehicles to go to the grocery store, school and anywhere else our other chores might take us.
Afternoons caught us playing pickup football and baseball games with the neighborhood kids. We kicked hundreds of extra points over the clothes line. We played in the sandbox building elaborate structures. We treasured the new toy or two that we might get each year before moving on to playing with cardboard boxes and stick guns.
I was an adult when I made my first visit to a Toys R Us store. We were shopping for our firstborn child who did not have a clue as to what toy she wanted. She just wanted them all. It was a stressful day for me as I was overwhelmed and had no idea what the latest, greatest toy was.
As I recall, the only thing in the store that outnumbered the toys was the people. It was Christmas and everyone within 50 miles decided to shop at Toys R Us that day. Before it was over, I was trying to figure out how to never go back again.
Changing times have insured that, indeed, I will never have to go back into a Toys R Us store. They are all closed, thanks to the changes in how we shop. Amazon is just too easy. With over 500 million choices now on Amazon, it makes one wonder if we will ever be satisfied that there are enough options from which to choose.
A recent report on the dwindling fortunes of toy manufacturers really indicates just how much the fundamental way our children’s play has changed. It turns out that toys themselves are going out of fashion.
The culprit is the internet and electronic games. Who has time to set up a board game of Scrabble when you can play with 20 different people on Words with Friends? Who wants building blocks when you can design entire cities on your iPad? Who wants to hear a book read when they can watch the movie on their parents’ phone?
Kids have now surpassed the two hour mark in the amount of time they spend each day on an electronic device. When does that leave time to play with a toy, much less have any physical activity?
Children learn by watching adults and boy are we setting some bad examples here. Adults are on electronic devices even more than the kids. If a dozen adults sit down in a public space, at least eight of them will quickly be on their phone, ignoring the human beings sitting right beside them.
I am glad that my Grandchildren don’t play Hot Box. I am happy that they occasionally find something they enjoy together that reminds me of my childhood. In the meantime, I just hope I can remember my passwords to all this stuff. If I can’t, I will just ask my youngest grandson, Will. After all, he is five.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]