Friday, September 18, 2009

"When I Was a Kid, We Didn't Have [Insert Noun of Choice] Like That..."

Since the day after last Halloween, my children have been expressing their costume preferences for this year which seem to change on a weekly basis.  My stock response has been straight from my mother's own annals: "If you still want to be a [insert noun of the week] when Halloween comes, we'll see if we can find a [insert noun of the week again] costume for you.  Halloween is a long way away yet and you may change your mind."  A few weeks ago, when the Halloween specialty stores started popping up and you could no longer walk into a drug or grocery store without bumping into entire aisles colored orange and black, my kids were no longer buying it.  The five-year-old in particular gave me a look that said, "Just because you're in denial about the speed with which the second half of your life is rushing by and scared of confronting your own mortality doesn't mean Halloween isn't here, dammit."  Ok, maybe I'm projecting just a little.  (But only just a little; if you'd seen the look, you'd know.)

So soon we'll be looking for a lion costume and an as yet undecided second costume (the three-year-old is still waffling).  Last year we had a Dark Knight Batman and a Darth Vader.  Here's Darth:

What amazes me about kids' costumes these days is how much nicer they are than when I was growing up.  Look at the detail on that helmet.  It's a sturdy, hard plastic, a far cry from the mystery material that seemed to be part cardboard/part nylon they made Halloween masks out of in my youth.  And though you can't see it in the photo above, you can see from the catalogue photo that the costume is a soft, comfortable jump suit that at least makes an attempt at verisimilitude with a graphic of colored buttons to resemble Darth's blinking-lighted bodice, a belt and a cape.  Light saber not included, but available separately. 

When I was a kid, unless your mother could sew (mine couldn't) or you were old enough to create your own costume out of your various family members' closets and your mother's make-up case, costumes came in cheesy, flimsy cardboard boxes with clear cellophane windows on the front.  They consisted of the aforementioned mask and some odd smock thing made out of what I remember as scratchy nylon burlap.  They were also just plain bizarre.  More often than not, they had a picture of the thing you were supposed to be on the front of the costume.  So if you were a witch, you'd have a picture of a witch on your chest.  Take a look at this retro costumes site to see what I mean.  I remember as a child questioning this odd, post-modern-without-knowing-it design choice.  Even a seven year old knows Mickey Mouse doesn't wear a picture of himself.  Costumes have definitely come a long way. 

Once I started thinking about the differences in costumes, I naturally (for me anyway) meandered to thinking about other things that kids now take for granted that I would have loved to have growing up.  Videos and DVDs!  Imagine getting to see The Wizard of Oz any time you want, not just when it rolls around once a year on network television!  Computers!  The other day, the five-year-old saw me surfing away and asked whether I liked to play with computers when I was his age.  Now I know how my mother felt when she had to explain they didn't have television when she was growing up.  (Way to help me avoid confronting that mortality issue, thanks.)  He also saw me taking an LP out of a sleeve and asked "What kind of CD is that?" which was doubly amusing to me as a friend had told me long ago her son referred to record albums as "big CDs."

I do think that my life would have been much different if computers had been around during my childhood.  As an only child, I spent a lot of time lonely and bored.  There were only so many hours a day you could read books, watch reruns, swim, or hit tennis balls against the side of the house during summers when school was out and when your best friends were all on the road with their families.  Something as interactive and absorbing as, oh say, a graphic adventure or computer RPG would have made a lot of difference.  I suspect some of my tendency to become absorbed in computer games even now is just back-filling against those years.

There are also things they just don't make any more for which I am nostalgic and would love to share with my kids.  Whenever we visited my grandparents in Brooklyn, my dad would take me down to the corner store and buy me a Pensy Pinky or two.  We'd take them over to the park down the street and play handball.  Actually, he'd play handball and I'd try to keep up.  Another example:  Astonishingly, my mother bought a Sixfinger when I was about four.  I would find pieces of it in odd places for years afterwards.  She was pretty much opposed to toy guns (though in later years I had a cowboy set, a popgun and various water pistols), but I am sure she got the Sixfinger because she thought it was funny.  Her sense of humor ranged from extremely sophisticated to utterly silly.

Some of the things we 60s and 70s kids played with are still around, though the packaging has changed.  For a bit of fun, take a look at the Barbie case and the Playdoh. I had a similar Barbie case; I still have it in the garage somewhere.  It seems so innocent and simple compared to the ones available today when having 15 dolls to store is apparently common enough to warrant such a device, and when Barbie has her own web site.  A modelling clay purist, I only just tolerated Playdoh as a child and still find the smell revolting.

I have a feeling there is more to be said on this topic another time, but for now I'll leave you with the observation that the one thing that hasn't seemed to change that much is toy advertising.  The toys always look so much more fun than they turn out to be.  I also chuckled at the boxtop reference in that video -- I made one to a twenty-something WoW guildmate and was met with the online equivalent of a blank stare...



mamawhelming said...

Those costumes bring back memories! I like the smell of Playdoh!

**Morgana** said...

You know another thing I can't stand the smell of is the ink in the old timey comic books. I think it comes from inhaling it while in the backseat of a car. It always turns my stomach!