Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Toy Memories

All it takes is a toy, to make the years slip away and take you back in time.

There is a certain plastic fire engine with loads of buttons, that we gave away to Tina, who cleans for us, for her little boy. He is now 2 ½ but was born premature with water on the brain, so has had a hard start to life with much time spent in hospital and he was not expected to live for long. Her love and devotion has kept him going however and he is now getting stronger, though his development is at least a year behind his age. She usually leaves him with a carer while she’s at work but at the moment can’t find anyone, so has been bringing him with her this week.

So the red fire engine has re-entered our lives. The electronic siren, singing voice and exhortations to Grab a Star (I think) that used to drive me crazy when my children were small, are back, playing interminably in the other room, as I sit at my computer.

I am transported back to when my toddler son was given this fire engine for Christmas. We were living in a flat in South London: one of those terraced houses with two doors; a flat upstairs and one downstairs, backing on to an embankment with the station and the main railway line for the Gatwick Express. The landlord lived in the upstairs flat, a very sweet older gay man, and it was him who presented our son with the fire engine, thus inflicting its dulcet tones on us for the next five years!

It was a strange period in our lives. We were in the flat for only nine months, until we bought our own house further out, but it was the first time I’d been home alone with our son, while my husband went in to work every day. Before that we’d lived at the studio: work, home and baby nursery all combined in the one office space, with lots of people coming and going. I had to adjust to a routine with just one small toddler to base my day around, and soon a new pregnancy that made shopping a sick joke, with the local Sainsbury’s within walking distance, but having an unfortunate mix-up of smells at the entrance, so that instead of smelling the bakery as you entered, it seemed that it was the fish counter that welcomed you (though it could have been my oversensitive hormones).

This was the time when we would go for a slow walk down the street to watch the diggers digging up the street or walk to the local parks to pass the afternoon. I tried to avoid driving too often which would mean losing our parking place and having to park miles away. We had our first ever Christmas tree, bought in the street market and small enough to sit on a table, for which we made our own star decorations out of card and silver foil.

Every morning our son would howl desolately as his father left for work, making him feel awful. He’d spend hours helping me with the washing up, getting us both soaked in the process. This was also when I discovered the Waldorf system, with a toddler group at the kindergarten close by. His discovery of television, which we’d avoided till then but which became a survival tool for those too early mornings with Sesame Street, showing every morning at six, saving our sanity when our early waking son had been awake for an hour already. The desperate anxiety of a croup attack in the night. Terrible tantrums for a several week period when he decided that baths were no longer an option, hair washing even less so and teeth were not to be brushed ever.

So long ago but all brought back as if it were yesterday at the touch of a button and an irritating tune.


  1. It's amazing how memories are triggered, and how children grow and change, because now he's a maths genius and I bet he likes bathing.

  2. I loved this post. And I agree, it's amazing the power certain toys have to make us relive our children's pasts.

  3. I love the way you write. You have me thinking of my boy when he was little and would spend hours playing with my hair. Now that he's a teenager I only have the memories.


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