This story sums up my love of the store when I was its target audience, a young mass consumer with no visible means of income outside an allowance – and how I came to despise the store when raising my own little mass consumer.
But back to 1971, my birthday and an emotionally vulnerable parent.
On the cusp of 13 and entering my “What a tool” years, I told my mom and dad I wanted money for my birthday. My mom considered that request greedy and impersonal, because she was a very hands-on mom who knew what was best for her youngest son.
After blowing out the candles on a homemade cake instead of the Sara Lee banana cake I’d requested, I opened what to this day still stands as the most disastrous string of presents in family history, including a Ouija board and a game in which you rolled a metal ball through a maze.
The next day, my (in hindsight) far-too-apologetic mom was walking the aisles of a brand-new Toys ‘R’ Us. It was a pastel wonderland of toys and games and models.
An entire aisle devoted to sets of interlocking bricks! And shelves so high you couldn’t reach them without climbing (or asking for help, which clerks preferred).
I wandered aimlessly as my mom sat, I don’t know, somewhere, giving me all the time and space her guilt allowed. And it was a lot.
When I was done, I had an armload of stuff so meaningless I can’t remember what it was.
What I do remember is my mom trying to stifle her sobs as she paid. Even as a complete 13-year-old tool, I knew my greedy, impersonal nature was the cause.
Still, Toys ‘R’ Us was the place to shop for all manner of toys and video games. It became such a routine that I didn’t think twice about shopping at Toys R Us as my own son grew.
I noticed that glint in his eye each time we visited, whether it was for himself (an easy way to blow birthday and Christmas money) or for friends.
Until it hit me, as it does with all parents, that he has way too much stuff.
The supplier of choice had always been Toys ‘R’ Us with its gaudy rows filled with things designed to be outgrown and tossed or donated.
The store fell off the radar when I decided to invest in travel and activities rather than toys. You can’t return memories, after all.
Now when I buy toys, I click straight to Amazon.
I like the way categories are broken down into age brackets, the (mostly) honest customer reviews, the fact I don’t have to aimlessly wander aisles looking for the perfect gift.
A part of me will miss Toys ‘R’ Us, like a part of me misses that 1972 green Ford Pinto station wagon in which I learned to drive.
But it doesn’t mean I want either one of them to come back.