But this is not one of those nausea-inducing entitlement stories where awful, whiny children complain of their boredom while surrounded by all the trinkets they begged for and threw tantrums over only a few weeks prior. They actually didn't ask for anything for Christmas. We spent hours around the kitchen table, flipping through catalogs and brainstorming the items their friends used to entertain themselves.
"Do you want a remote controlled car?" I asked.
"No," said my son.
"How about an Xbox?"
"I guess I could use more Legos," he replied. His list eventually filled with duplicates of items he already had, like a fancier set of walkie-talkies, and things he saw his parents and grandparents ask for, like a digital weather station.
Finally, I figured it out.
My kids are fine. They switch between half-heartedly regulated screen time and their imaginations, between time with friends and time crafting and creating and time outside. They participate in a relatively healthy mix of distractions. Just not toys.
This all means 80's commercials were incredibly effective, way beyond what I've ever given them credit for. Look at those TV kids. They were so happy. And they all lived in the foothills of the Rocky mountains, where boulders abounded and paths on which they could drive their Cobra vehicles snaked through their childhoods. And when the toy required a more abandoned, industrial setting, they had those too. Everyone back then lived just around the corner from an old warehouse, where underground laser tag and crossfire tournaments regularly attracted throngs of fist-pumping fans.
The evil wizards in the marketing departments at Hasbro and Kenner wielded a power that I don't think they understood. They worked me into a toy frenzy all those years ago, when Christmas morning meant joy and satisfaction beyond much that I can recreate as an adult. Possessing that new MASK vehicle, acquiring all the pieces necessary to construct a complete Voltron, those were profound and cherished memories. But their dark magic has earned them sales thirty years later, as I stand in the toy aisles weeks before every Christmas and try to put together a selection of toys that will give my kids that same dopamine wash, that same plastic-induced rapture.
My son owning such a cool thing makes me almost as happy, too.