Today at work I had to write a couple of blog posts for a toy website. The initial challenge was over coming my distaste for the overtly gendered approach to the way the toys were categorised: boys had animal, aircraft, and outdoor toys, while girls had beauty, jewellery, and cooking toys. I know this is mostly laziness – the website is aimed at adults who feel they need to buy a present for little so-and-so, but don’t know much about the child concerned. They need to narrow down the selection and know little about the recipient – apart from a name, gender, and a rough guess at an age. With this logic, I can kind of understand the false demarcations imposed – and besides, gendered toys aren’t really what this post is about.
As I researched the products, I began thinking that this website didn’t reflect my childhood at all. I struggled to remember even going to a toy store. All I could remember was sewing, drawing, clay, lots of stuffed animals, and playing outside. After a while though, logic began to break through the nostalgia. We must have been to a toy store or the toy department of a larger store, because my sister, Emma, and I had Sylvanian families. Emma also had Barbie dolls (I had a Cindy. Em ripped her leg off, ending my playing with plastic dolls thankfully early). We had a Spirograph. Cabbage Patch Dolls. Big Ted…..and that’s all the branded toys I can remember. Perhaps we didn’t have that many.
What I do remember is crafting! Mum had a roll of blank newspaper print that seemed endless and was used for a myriad of purposes: homemade wrapping paper, sewing patterns, or just general doodling. There were endless scraps of material and yarn for making bags and dolls’ clothing, as well as access to a sewing machine. There were books from the 70s with zany ideas that we tried to carried out.
At Dad’s, the crafts were different, but the attitude was the same. We often tease Dad that his first boat took him nine years – but with his willingness to turn his tools to pencil boxes, doll houses, and all manner of other items, we’re at least partly to blame! We learnt important lessons like the proper way of removing paint from hair (dependent on water or oil base), always use the best tools you can afford, and gib board should be nailed up writing-to-stud.
This, I think, is why my childhood seems so different from the toy store I was writing about: bought items were just one type of toy. We combined them with items we’d created ourselves and a healthy dose of imagination. I know we all hold a few things against our parents (I will never forgive my Mum for that Princess Diana haircut), but I’m forever grateful that mine gave me a good basis in so many crafty skills – and ungendered ones at that!
What about you? Were your childhood toys bought or made?