Reassembling The Objects Of My Youth, One Item At A Time

I was born in the ’70s and grew up in the ’80s; the era and its aesthetics have influenced so much about me and my tastes.

I adored the trappings of the ’80s: My Little Pony, Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High, and, my favorite of them all, The Baby-Sitters Club series.

Growing up, I read voraciously, frequently checking out the maximum number of books from the library. I’d participate in every possible summer reading program. I had a wonderful teacher friend (she was my parents’ friend, but was magically kind to me) who knew I loved reading and knew I loved stickers, and she made me one of the best offers of my life: I could meet her (as often as I wished) before school in her classroom and bring all the new books I’d read. As I told her about each book, she’d allow me to choose a sticker from her unbelievably stocked sticker box. I took her up on that offer and spent many mornings before school telling her all about the books I’d read.

As I got a little older (but was still in grade school), I started to amass a few children’s books I loved, but none were more prized than my copy of The Mysterious Tadpole by Steven Kellogg. Around fourth grade, he came to our school and there was a book drive where we could buy his books and have him sign them for us.

I was beside myself.

The Mysterious Tadpole, is about a creature named Alphonse who turns out to be far more than a frog. Inside the cover, Mr. Kellogg drew me the tadpole version of Alphonse, and I loved that book dearly.

Many years later, my parents lost my entire collection of children’s books. It devastated me. No more Frog and Toad, no more Frances books, and no more Mysterious Tadpole.

Some time back I wrote about what that book meant to me, and a lovely pair of people tracked down a vintage copy with a similar drawing in it and sent it to me. It’s one of my prized possessions and I couldn’t love or appreciate it any more than I do. (And if you’re reading this, you know who you are and thank you, truly. I look at it more often than you know.)

A handful of years ago I realized I wanted to finally realize a childhood dream: to have every Baby-Sitters Club book released. I wasn’t concerned about the Little Sister series, but I wanted every BSC book. I wanted the main series, the super specials, the mystery series, and anything else I’d missed. I wrote about it some time back in more detail.

It took months of scouring the internet (and more money than I would have expected), but I finally put together a complete collection of the series, and in the best shape possible. Honestly, I found some amazing people out there willing to sell me some nearly pristine volumes. Those paperbacks are decades old and some of them looked brand new! I was very fortunate, indeed.

I struggle with anxiety and depression, and one of the most reliable things I can do to relieve weird issues from both, is to sit down and read one of the BSC books. Those girls are industrious, kind, smart, thoughtful, and creative. If they come up against a problem, I know (with very few exceptions), it’s going to be resolved by the end of the book. I love everything about those books. Growing up, I had maybe a dozen or so entries in the series, but nowhere close to a complete set. When I got them, I read through the entire series chronologically, and it was glorious. I still read through the series periodically. I love it so much.

After doing that, I decided to reread the Sweet Valley books and, oof, they do not hold up. I could go into it further, but I wrote a whole thing about it three years ago that explains the experience more thoroughly.

My nostalgic fondness doesn’t only apply to books; I occasionally find a recreation of an item from my youth and it does something to me. I feel this weird need to have it to “replace” the items I will never have again otherwise.

I was perusing Amazon last year and came across one of their many “helpful” suggestions for items I might like. In this case, it was a recreation of the classic Care Bear, Cheer Bear.

I have always loved Care Bears, and Cheer Bear was the first (and most beloved) Care Bear I ever had. When I saw the reissue of the classic version, I couldn’t spend that $18 fast enough. When it arrived, I carefully removed her from the box, hugged her, and put her next to where I sleep.

Fast forward to last Friday when I was cruising around Target thinking about buying that Spider-Man PS4 Pro. I was trying to weigh my options when I found myself in the toy section. I was half paying attention to an end cap of toys when I saw a box for a bunch of 35th anniversary My Little Pony figures.

Well I lost my crap.

I saw Firefly (as seen in the image at the top) and before I could register what I was doing, I’d picked her up, put her in my cart and thought only: MINE.

That’s not typical for me.

But the moment I saw her, I could 100% remember having that exact doll back in the ’80s and right then and there I wanted to go home and play ponies.

So I kept looking at the shelf and found Moondancer! Another one I’d had as a child!

I bought those two ponies so fast, it was ridiculous.

I’m ready to play ponies.

I mean, to be fair, Firefly is a pegasus and Moondancer is a unicorn, but still, ponies. Fancy ponies, yes, but ponies all the same.

I brought them home and just looked at them. I felt like a kid for just a minute, a kid getting a special toy they wanted but didn’t think they’d ever get.

Oh gosh, if they ever rerelease Jem dolls, I’m going to be in serious trouble.

Last night, Amazon showed me that apparently the classic versions of some of the Strawberry Shortcake dolls were reissued and I inwardly groaned…so much temptation.

Aaand, last month, Scholastic did a reissue of the first six Baby-Sitters Club books in a retro tin and, even though I already have those books, I got it anyway. I felt like I had to.

I feel like older me is somehow cheering my inner child up by finding all these things from my youth and enjoying them here and now. I mean, I still have (and use) my original NES (Christmas of 1989 blew my mind). When the NES Classic was released, I still wanted to get one, to play all those amazing games in their preserved glory.

I don’t want to live in the past, but I do love cobbling together some of these lovely reminders of my youth. I will never tire of rereading Baby-Sitters Club books, nor will I tire of going back to play Bubble Bobble, Dr. Mario, or Super Mario Bros. 2. I think I’m finding a balance between nostalgia and current delight, and I’m grateful for that. I don’t ever want to be a gluttonous collector of things just to have them; I want to experience them all over again. Yes, I really do want to play ponies. Yes, I really do want to keep reading BSC books. Yes, I really do love playing my classic Nintendo games.

I don’t want to buy these things and keep them in the plastic forever; I want to take them out and put them with my Pipo statues and create a narrative where that makes sense. I don’t ever want to be afraid to be silly and have fun. And these tokens of my youth are excellent reminders to do just that.

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