Like most children growing up, every time my family would drive by Toys ‘R’ Us, my brothers and I would start the usual shouting routine: Can we go? Can we go? CAN WE GO?! Almost every time, my father had the same answer:
“Actually, we can’t. Some crazy dad blew up Toys ‘R’ us last night!”
(For the record, the store was always intact and my father IS NOT a danger to society. Insert bad dad jokes eye roll here.)
I can remember a handful of times actually getting our wish, and running through the aisles of the store, weighing our options, picking up toy after toy after toy until we would each find The One that we would ask my parents to buy. The feeling of a new toy can never be forgotten.
Now, years later, I’ve gotten to experience that feeling in a new role, as a mother.
Toys ‘R’ Us announced this week that it will shutter its US stores, signaling the death of the specialty toy retailer, and, subsequently, the death of that moment you find The One. For a child, stepping into a Toys ‘R’ Us is nirvana. For a parent, it’s a simultaneous feeling of joy and dread — the “Oh-no-what-did-I-just-do-to-myself-but-look-he’s-so-happy” feeling that has happened to me so often throughout my son’s young life.
But now that Toys ‘R’ Us is closing its doors, I can’t stop thinking about those moments with my wacky dad, or this moment with my son, when I took him to pick out a toy for what turns out to have been the last time.
My brand new 4-year-old had some birthday money in his pocket and a dream for a T. rex. But not just any T. rex — it had to be a big T. rex. A big, green T. rex. The biggest and greenest T. rex of all! We settled on taking a trip to Toys “R” Us the next weekend. And for a week straight, all we heard every second of every minute of every hour was this question:
“Are we going to Toys ‘R’ Us today?”
(Note: He’s our first child, so we’re still learning on the job. I know you experienced ones out there are rolling your eyes and thinking “rookie mistake” to tell a 4-year-old that you’re going to a toy store if you’re not in the parking lot, about to walk in.)
That magical day arrived and we were on our way to Toys ‘R’ Us for the T. rex. And of course, the biggest, greenest T. rex of all was the only topic of conversation. He was happy the day was FINALLY here. I was happy, too — it was late enough that we could be in and out in at most 20 minutes and home in time for wine — um, I mean dinner.
Within our first steps inside Toys ‘R’ Us I knew all bets were off. His big, hazel eyes widened and his jaw dropped. Holding my hand he looked up at me and said in complete shock: “Mom. Are you … serious?” And with that we were off running. Every aisle, there was a new surprise, a new familiar character or “favorite” that he couldn’t believe was there:
“Oh my gosh mom, it’s Peppa. IT’S PEPPA, LOOK!”
“Mickey and the Roadster Racers! I want them!”
“Oh, wow, do you see this BOAT! Mom, I really, really need this boat for the pool.”
“A snake! It’s a scary snake! I love snakes!”
That quick 20 minute trip went out the window. I dove headfirst into this experience with him, entertaining every exclamation by exclaiming my own shock and disbelief. We played in the aisles. We pushed every “try here” button. We laughed. We had earnest conversations about each toy as we weighed our options. I held every potential finalist and watched him take it all in.
My arms were full, but so was my heart in that moment.
About 40 minutes in, we found the dinosaur aisle. And we actually did find the biggest, greenest (remote control) T. rex. We went home with him — and just a few other things. (Like I said, he’s my first. I’m a sucker sometimes.)
Admittedly, I’ve mostly evolved like the rest of the world to appreciate the wonders of shopping from the convenience of my couch. I guess it never really occurred to me that I wouldn’t always get to have that old-fashioned toy store experience with my own children. Or get the chance to turn that “crazy dad who blew up Toys ‘R’ Us” into that “crazy mom.”