A couple of weeks ago, I received a text message from my granddaughter, Aubrey. It read:
My heart ached a little. Although my grandchildren are at the ages where Toys R Us is no longer their primary destination when we shop, that huge toy store holds many precious memories that represent hours of fun.
At that time, the company was still struggling to survive. The Joplin store was not on the close list. I shared that fact with Aubrey. But I knew and she knew that the future was uncertain for the toy store.
When the news broke that final attempts to save the company had failed, I felt like I needed to let this bright girl know. Her response was immediate:
When Aubrey needed a pick up from school today, I knew how we would spend our time together. My granddaughter wanted to say good bye to Toys R Us.
As we arrived in the parking lot, Aubrey commented, “This store is my childhood!” Right she is. She has been visiting Toys R Us since babyhood. As a toddler, I couldn’t drive anywhere near the store without her begging to go in and “just look”.
She knew she didn’t get a toy every time we visited. That didn’t diminish her joy. Aubrey truly did enjoy walking up and down the aisles, examining toys that drew her attention, holding them and studying them. It was in Toys R Us that I first noticed this sensitive child using a technique that author Marie Kondo describes in her bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Marie suggests holding an item and asking, “Does this bring me joy?” If it does, the item is kept.
I would watch as Aubrey held a toy. “This doesn’t ring my bell” she would declare as she set the toy back on the shelf. If the item did ring her bell, I took a photo of it, for future possible purchase for a special event such as her birthday.
Today we did as we have always done. I let her take the lead and I followed her, watching as she wandered slowly through this familiar place, listening to her chatter. Aubrey was a bit sad, which made me sad for her. She’s reached an age, as have all my grandchildren, where impermanence is realized. Things can change. What once was fades away or closes its doors.
She talked about memories and her mood lightened as we laughed about past experiences. Aubrey loved to get a head-start on her birthday, picking out toys months before the big day. She shopped here for her brothers and her cousins, and picked out Star Wars collectibles for Christmases past, for her dad.
We ended up at the back of the store. Although she is almost too tall to fit now, Aubrey likes to sit in the battery operated cars located on the back wall. She was thoughtful as she walked along the row of pint sized cars, remembering. She selected a firetruck to climb into and sat for a short time, lost in thought.
I allowed her to pick out a toy, for old times sake. With most of the items marked down 30%, there were plenty of bargains. In her typical fashion she went through a selection process. She no longer comments on each toy by saying whether or not it rings her bell. Nevertheless she is still looking for the joy it gives her…or doesn’t give her. Aubrey made her choice based on how the toy made her feel.
Suddenly, she was ready to go. I had not put any time limits on our visit. I left that up to her. We took our purchase to the front registers. Aubrey engaged our check out person in conversation, telling the young man that this was her childhood store and she was sad to see it close. He sympathized and remarked that he was sad too. He shared with us that there is the tiniest of chances that the chain will be bought. I don’t think Aubrey put much hope in his statements but she was polite as she listened to him.
As we left the store, we carried out one final Toys R Us tradition. I dug quarters out of my purse so Aubrey could buy a trinket from one of the vending machines. It’s something I’ve always done with the grandkids. We had to stop on our way out today too.
Over a quick dinner before I took her home, Aubrey and I talked…about the store closing and anything else that came to her mind. She’s a wise child, an old soul, knowledgeable beyond her years with strong intuitive and empathetic abilities. She may get to visit Toys R Us again before the doors close for the last time. But if she doesn’t, she is satisfied with today’s memory walk. She is sad, and yet she knows life goes on and that change is part of the journey.
This girl has been a Toys R Us kid. The store has been a constant in her life, and an important part of her childhood. There is sadness in her, mixed with nostalgia. And yet, at age nine, she doesn’t really consider herself a child anymore. In her mind, she’s almost ten, and that’s almost a teenager. Her reasoning makes me smile, and brings a tear to my eye.