Apparently, one of my mom’s favorite toys as a child were her jacks.
She once showed me how she was the jacks champion of her class, bouncing the little rubber ball and scooping up the metal stars in one fell swoop. What I mostly learned from her about playing jacks is how much trouble I would get in if I ever left the jacks lying on the floor and my dad stepped on one.
Apparently, one of my dad’s favorite toys as a child were his marbles.
He once showed me how he was the marbles champion of his class, putting the “shooter marble” in his hand and using his thumb to fire them at the smaller marbles, knocking them out of the little circle. What I mostly learned from him about playing marbles is how much trouble I would get in if I ever left the marbles lying on the floor and my mom stepped on one.
What I learned from both of them was the toys they had as kids were pretty much awful. I grew up in an age of action figures and video games and couldn’t possibly see how they could have derived any enjoyment from such seemingly primitive forms of entertainment. My parents may have played their jacks and marbles in a little circle, but they themselves were decidedly square, daddy-o.
As I am continually finding out the deeper I go into adulthood, however, I am far more like both of my parents than I would have previously cared to admit.
Our son Max celebrated his 11th birthday this week. It’s nearly impossible to buy presents of any sort for Max, in large part because his autism makes it difficult for him to make decisions. The kid isn’t particularly fond of toys and, if we let him, would be perfectly content watching YouTube videos 12 hours per day. (Ironically, some of his favorite things to watch on YouTube are videos of other kids opening packages that contain toys).
In any event, we’ve largely given up on trying to get any sort of input from him regarding the purchase of his gifts. We just go ahead and take a shot in the dark. Max is always gracious about receiving gifts. He opens them, inspects them for a few minutes and then usually — regardless of the magnitude of the gift — goes back to one of his other favorite pastimes, twirling ropes in his hands (autism is a strange disorder indeed, my friends).
In any event, this year, my wife and I figure we had picked out the perfect gift for our son, a Nintendo Classic. When we were young (and although our children don’t believe us, we really were young once), both my wife and I loved playing the old Nintendo video game system. They’ve since re-released the Nintendo, complete with 30 pre-programmed classic games and none of the clunky cartridges (the kind you sometimes had to blow into to get to work) of the old system.
Both Max and our daughter Sophie enjoy playing video games on their phones. We figured they would fall in love with all of the same games we loved as children — Mario Brothers, Tecmo Bowl Football, Pac-Man, Punch Out and all the rest. I would sometimes go days without seeing the rest of my family as I was locked in my room playing Nintendo, trying to beat the hardest levels on the latest game. I envisioned my kids doing the same.
We were positively beaming when we handed Max the Nintendo. He took one look at it and said, “What is this?”
It’s OK, we figured. He may not recognize it in the box, but we were sure as soon as we hooked it up to the television, we wouldn’t be able to tear either kid away from the little gray box. And as we hooked it up and the 8-bit graphics came to life on our screen, we saw our children’s faces light up. They were positively giddy as they sat down to play their first-ever game of Donkey Kong. It was a magical moment.
For about 10 minutes.
That’s about how long it took for my kids to come to the same conclusion as I once did about jacks and marbles. Sure, it’s cool for a few minutes, but ultimately can’t compare to the latest and greatest in technology. The games they play on their phones are far more powerful, colorful and challenging than the games on the Nintendo. I’m not disappointed in my children at all; I understand completely. Times have changed and so have kids’ tastes in toys. I can live with that.
Besides, all this means is I don’t have to share it with them.
Reach David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong