“Mere saare khilone kahan hain (Where are all my toys)?” exclaimed my son. “I can’t see any of mine either,” said my daughter, who had followed him into the room. I had been spring cleaning in autumn, giving away stuff, story books, building blocks, board games and stuffed toys. The things that, it now seemed, I had wrongly assumed they had outgrown.
My kids were home on an overdue visit, and we had decided to play Ludo, the real kind, with the colourful board, the six-faced dice and the flat round pawns. That’s when the outburst happened. My son had gone to retrieve the board game from his room. Luckily, I had not dispensed with it, knowing that it was a family favourite. They were still disappointed with the way it was relinquished to a corner of the cupboard, alone, with all its companions gone.
To console them, I pointed out the stuff I had retained. I had kept my daughter’s first designer kit which had templates to draw outfits with prints, my son’s mechanical toy set that enabled him to screw together a truck and helicopter. Despite the space it occupied, I had kept my daughter’s life-size stuffed lion and my son’s oversized dog. I had preserved some of their notebooks and all their certificates. But to them, the room was half empty not half full.
This is a familiar scene in households around the globe, albeit there might be a minuscule difference here. My daughter is a much-married designer and my son a software engineer at Mountain View!
Long after they had left, I kept wondering what makes us cling to certain childhood paraphernalia. Psychologists opine that the fundamental difference lies in the perspective. For adults, all toys are store bought objects that engage and harness creativity, but children associate the entire experience of fun with some of them. They imbue these toys with joyful memories, making them more meaningful. So, the reason is partly nostalgia and partly “essentialism”, or the idea that objects are more than just their physical properties.
Further research showed that they are aptly called transitional objects. Paediatric psychoanalyst Dr Donald Winnicott placed them in the “intermediate space” that opens up between mother and baby, once the baby is able to differentiate itself as an independent entity, separate from its mother. Whenever we feel vulnerable, insecure or anxious these cherished objects have the ability to reassure and provide a sense of security, which is why kids never outgrow them.
Which brings me to the next question: Do we parents truly outgrow them? Frankly, we, with all our cynicism and disdain for childish sulks, are no better than our kids. Have you ever wondered why we choose toys for our kids with so much care? Why we linger in toy stores, touching and feeling the merchandise? Why we need to ‘try out’ the crazy ball or frisbee before handing it to our child?
We are using toys to live our unfulfilled dreams. All of us carry a piece of childhood within; an innocence that refuses to be tainted by the business of living. Toys are our connection with that inner child. Do we need toys? Well, of course, toys are us! email@example.com
The writer is a Gharaunda-based gynaecologist