"Rubies Rider" Artist Christine Alfery
"Mike The Mallard, Flash Gordon, and Jenny Dolls. What has happened to the concept of "play?'"
I was in an antique shop recently, just meandering through the antiques that allowing them to stir up memories from my youth, from my family, from my foundations. There was a 7” doll that caught my attention wearing a little green gingham dress. I became convinced that that dolly used to be mine. I had a doll just like it and a she had a dress just like that one. I gave all my dolls away during my last move as no one in the family wanted to keep them so it was a wonderful to come across this treasure that I sure used to be mine. I purchased the doll and she now is on my memory shelf. This shelf is currently with inspirations. Mike the Mallard a ladder climbing fireman resides there. Flash Gordan in his rocket power flying machine that has wheels that work when you wind up a key, along with an old box of crayons, Dick and Jane readers, an old doll cradle and a glass piggy bank. My parents gave the bank to me so I would learn to save money, they encourage me to putting my tooth fairy dimes into it and told me I couldn’t get them out until the bank was full. I found a way.
I came across another old memory, in that antique shop paper dolls. I remember one Christmas, the only present for me under the tree was a paper doll which my father got free from the place where he worked. It was a 3-D life size doll that my dad helped to assemble as he didn’t want me to cut off important tabs that helped hold the doll together. I tended to do that with the clothing tabs on other paper doll books I had and he didn’t want me to ruin the doll. Personally, when it came to paper dolls I could see no sense in spending all that time cutting out all those extra tabs on the paper clothing when you needed only the top ones to hold the clothes on to the paper doll and besides I changed them frequently. Part of my restless child’s personality that appears to still be with me and which I cherish. There were no pills to tame my personality in those days. I am sincerely grateful for that.
These memories made me think back to other toys I played with. My best 3rd grade friend and I used to play jacks on her front porch all the time. We found the little red ball that came with the jacks set was totally inadequate after a couple of months as it lost its bounce and we could never get the ball high enough to pick up all the jacks. In searching for a new bouncy ball, we discovered golf balls worked great. Trouble was our dads wouldn’t let us use their good balls only their damaged one. We found that these damaged balls bounced crookedly and made it hard to play jacks. We discovered if we took the white plastic shell off the ball that the inner core made a perfect jacks balls and had a great bounce. I rarely won in jacks with my friend Linda. That was ok, she was my friend, a friend with a wonderful blonde ponytail. It was the playing, the working out chaotic problems that happened with the toss of the jacks. It was the struggle that I learned from, and that has been very valuable lesson for me even today. To not become frustrated with the struggle.
Linda taught me many important lessons. She wouldn’t trade paper doll clothing with me if I had cut off all the tabs except the top ones. I had a choice, trade or cut the way I wanted to cut out the dolls clothing. I chose to continue to cut the way I wanted to.
I have never been a good one to follow rules when it comes to choices I make that are my choices and effect only me. I live with that fact and I want to live with the fact I made the choice, someone did not make it for me. So contrary to most thinking, when I said Linda taught me many lessons, my guess is that most of you reading this would have chosen to cut out the doll dresses the “correct” way like Linda wanted. The lesson Linda taught me is that I had to live with my choices – and that I did have a choice. And I knew no reason why I needed to be “normal” in this case.
There are other choices I had to live with. In fourth grade we were to memorize the multiplication tables. I could see no sense in memorizing them when I had this net little ruler with the tables on it and I told my teacher, Mrs. Brown, that if I knew my 2s and 5s I could figure everything out by adding or subtracting – forget memorizing a table. Mrs. Brown was desperate towards the end of the year because I had not memorized the tables. I remember sitting in the bathtub the last day of school before I was to head out really worrying about my choice, because Mrs. Brown told me that she would not pass me to 5th grade if I did not memorize my tables. I remember sitting at my desk afraid to open my report card to see if I could move on. There was no social promotion back then. To my delight Mrs. Brown must have decided that the way I chose to do the multiplication tables worked and I could move on. Turns out my thinking about multiplication tables way back then is one of the ways to teach multiplication. I was just ahead of my time. And I had to live with my choice one way other another.
These memories make me think about the concept of “play.” How children play today and what toys they play or do not play with. How different it is today. No wonder children try to grow up too fast, have their noses into a computer, and can’t imagine “breaking the rules” and cutting off all the tabs of the paper doll clothing and discovering that perhaps that is ok.
Playing today – really playing appears to be mindless. How do I understand mindless? One chooses not to think conceptually from abstractions, that is too hard many of the choices children used to be allowed to me have been taken away from them, like my dad helping me with putting the 3-D paper doll together for fear I would ruin it, or my friend Linda refusing to trade paper doll clothing with me if I continued to cut off all paper tabs that held the clothing on the paper doll except the top ones. For me my childhood was filled with conceptual thinking from abstractions, my childhood and the toys I played with allowed me to make and live with personal choices I made. I wasn’t asked to grow up too soon and solve problems beyond my ability. Adult Barbie dolls come to mind here. I solved problems at my own level, I cried when I made a choice that was in my personal interest, and I learned I was responsible for that choice and had to live with the consequences.
I have no trouble understanding why we as a culture are where we are, living with warring forces within our own culture, our own families. We continue to take personal responsibility away from the individual and try to place it within a collective and hope that we all get along and agree to disagree. There is no room for those of us who want to cut all the tabs of the paper dolls clothing except the top ones. There is no room for living with our own choices. It seems everyone is encouraged to cut their paper dolls clothing the same way. There seems to be less and less room for concepts coming from abstractions that can create new paths to roam.