I’ve decided to participate in WordPress’s Bloganuary challenge. I don’t know if I’ll participate every day but I’ll try my best to answer the prompts.
Today’s prompt: What was your favorite toy as a child?
This is a toss-up between two toys for me. As a child I was obsessed with two things: stuffed animals and trees.
Growing up my family lived in a middle-class suburb on a half-acre. This was a wonderful place to grow up as a child because it had a huge backyard. Back in those days, and keep in mind I’m 40 now so I’m a typical Millennial from a certain time, place and culture, screens were still limited. I often played in the backyard as a child, in the mud, with the boys, and my absolute favorite activity was climbing the tall pine trees that lined our property, much to the chagrin of my protective mother. She sheltered me from so much but she couldn’t prevent me scaling the tallest trees in our very own yard.
In addition to trees, I was always surrounded by stuffed animals growing up. This reflected my lifelong love of animals. As a young child I was fond of going to the zoo and watching the elephants endlessly. We would buy elephant ears – large, floppy pieces of fried dough coated with butter, cinnamon and sugar. I would watch the monkeys and enjoy the majestic lions and giraffes.
As a teenager I volunteered at the zoo; they had programs for junior high school and high school age students. In junior high school I volunteered at the insect zoo, handling tarantulas and giant African millipedes for people to touch. I also volunteered in the pygmy goat enclosure. Later on in life I would find myself volunteering at animal shelters, socializing rescue cats and cleaning out dog kennels.
This probably was rooted somewhat in my inability to have a pet as a child. I always wanted a pet dog, but my brother was allergic to pet dander. So we had hamsters and parakeets growing up, but never dogs and cats. So I would play with the dogs and cats of the neighbors. One neighbor had a rambunctious golden lab that I would play with over the fence. Normally this is a no-no for protective dogs who will bark to defend their territory. But that dog and I got along rather well. He would always climb up the fence, eager for pets. The other neighbor had a calico cat who considered both yards hers, as cats do.
I also played with My Little Ponies; always had a collection of them, as my brothers collected Legos. This probably stemmed from my desire to ride horses as a child. I was one of those horse-crazy girls. I devoured books and movies like The Black Stallion, my absolute favorite as a child despite its classic roots. Horse riding was an expensive hobby and I only got to go on trail rides on vacations with compliant, gentle ponies. So instead I made do with books, movies and toy horses, inventing my own worlds for them in my head.
And stuffed animals. I was always surrounded by a flock of stuffed animals. For years I could only sleep while hugging a stuffed animal. I kept hardly any of them as an adult through successive moves, but I still have the stuffed elephant my mother sewed for me when I was six. Its fur is worn off and it’s a miracle its ears are still attached, but it reminds me of my other favorite childhood novel, The Velveteen Rabbit.
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
That elephant, named Cuddly, still sits on top of my dresser, watching over me as I sleep. Due to the vagaries of adulting and my partner’s allergies, I still do not have a pet cat or dog of my own, and horse riding lessons are still out of my budget, so I content myself with chasing after the feral cats of the neighborhood and a pet lovebird who is now 15 years old.
Some things never change.