When I heard this prompt, I was stumped. I couldn’t imagine what I would write about. My first thought was ballet. But I have no stories about ballet. The next thing that came to mind was one of the first songs I can remember singing as a child – Tiptoe Through the Tulips, a happy, perky little song that I don’t think I ever really knew all the words to but just the first line was enough to hum and sing throughout my childhood. Even recalling it now, years after I last thought of it, it still put a smile on my face. It led me to Google to try and hear it again and learn a little more about it. My thinking was perhaps here I would find some direction. Imagine my horror when I got to Google, having no background knowledge of this song at all other than the first line or two, pulling it up and finding out that what I must have heard as a child was the re-release of this song the year after I was born by a freaky-looking guy with long, curly hair, in a cheap suit, calling himself Tiny Tim, playing a ukulele, with a voice halfway between a soprano and a horse neighing! How disappointing and quite frankly disturbing! This is the problem with getting older and looking back on things….things are never quite the way you remember them.
It starts with the magic of Santa, of course. After that, it’s all downhill….you lose not only Santa, but the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc. This is the beginning of the end……except, it never really stops.
What happens next is that this gradual disillusionment carries over into other aspects of your world. In my case, it went straight to TV. I remember some of the commercials for toys I saw as a child. One of them really impressed me. It was Squirmles the Magical Pet – a fuzzy little worm thing that ‘magically’ moved over your hands, through your fingers, peeked out of trees, slid across a table, etc. Oh, it looked so cool I just had to have it! Finally, somehow, I convinced Mom to get it for me. Upon opening the package, there was Squirmles which actually just looked like (and was) a very fuzzy piece of material about an inch wide and 6 inches long with plastic eyeballs glued on one end, but also a piece of clear string. The instructions went something like, “Tie the invisible leash around Squirmles’ neck. Sit Squirmles in your hand. Pull the string through your fingers and Squirmles will follow.” Needless to say, it wasn’t nearly as great in person as it looked on TV. Some would probably say this is great advertising since it got me to want it and got the product bought, but in my head it was just deception.
Another great TV commercial that really pulled me in was the ad for Juicy Fruit gum. It had a perky little song that stuck in your head and rows upon rows of trees growing in the fields. As the camera zoomed in, we could see that the trees had bright yellow packs of Juicy Fruit gum growing on them by the hundreds. What an awesome sight that was to behold! It was years later and a sad day when I learned that there were actually no trees that grew packs of gum on them. I got online this week and tried to find a picture of one of these trees to share, but what I found instead were A LOT of angry people about my age venting about the fact that they had spent hours looking for these trees as kids never to find them. One person had planted Juicy Fruit gum packs in her yard hoping to grow one of these trees and another person had actually gone to the Wrigley estate as a semi-adult and was frustrated not to find them there either! Well, at least I wasn’t the only gullible kid in the world.
There was another ad I remember for wine coolers made by the Bartles & Jaymes Company. Every commercial featured Bartles and Jaymes as two country gentlemen sitting on their front porch somewhere in the late afternoon sun with their wine coolers and ended with one of them saying, “Thank you for your support.” The reasons they gave for trying their wine coolers were nothing short of ridiculous most times (i.e. it makes ice look better, etc.) and they acted as if they were kind of dumbfounded about this whole making-a-commercial thing. They were memorable ads to me because I felt we were really getting a behind-the-scenes look at the owners of this company and the way they actually were. Well, it happened again… disenchantment arrived as years later, I found out they were only actors and not the real Bartles & Jaymes at all.
Then there were the shows on TV when I was growing up like the Brady Bunch. I thought this was THE ULTIMATE family. I kept telling my mom I wanted our family to BE the Brady Bunch. It was quite disheartening years later to learn that Mr. Brady, the patriarch of this All-American, happy-go-lucky, nuclear family, felt that this role was beneath him and found it embarrassing that he was part of this enterprise. He was not the easy-going, happy guy he portrayed in the show at all. Greg, the oldest brother on the show, had a real-life crush on his TV mother which put them both in an awkward situation. Marcia, the oldest sister had real-life drug issues and had an ongoing feud with Jan, the middle sister. Bobby, the youngest son was arrested for drunk driving….on and on the list goes. I think finding all this out was actually helpful because it taught me to be careful what you wish for but still….it was another let down.
As we get older, the disillusionments in life gradually increase. There is a point where you finally realize that your parents are only human and not the omnipotent beings you’ve perceived them to be your whole life. This might come when they lose it when they’re trying to deal with all your teenage angst, when they have a health issue, or when you become a parent yourself and realize through your own kids that there are no set parameters and perfect answers to the questions of life. And so it continues on up and through into your adult years…..People become disillusioned with politics, with marriage, with life, with their dreams, with other people, with laws, and so forth and so on.
But you know, looking at the kids coming up today and seeing what kind of things they’re pelted with in their world as they grow, I’m actually kind of grateful for the disillusionments I had growing up. Somehow, I can’t help but feel relieved that my days were spent watching everyone’s idea of a perfect family instead of the “reality” shows of today where a family’s dirty linen is played out on TV for the “entertainment” of all the world giving kids whose TV time isn’t censored by parents quite the education into the seedier aspects of life. Teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, and not knowing the paternity of a child are no longer something to be ashamed of and hidden, but instead are ratings boosters!
One thing I really like about the shows I watched growing up is that we always knew who the good guys were. Alas, icons like The Fonz, the policemen from CHiPs, and Charlie’s Angels seem tame compared to the pop icons kids have today where a tattoo, time spent in rehab, and an arrest record seem to be not only expected, but badges of honour.
The worst thing I ever had to worry about in school when I screwed up or did something stupid was whether people would talk about me behind my back. Kids today don’t get that luxury….if they make a mistake it’s going to end up on the Internet for all to see forever. Further, I’m actually quite glad that I had dreams of trees that grow gum instead of worrying about being bullied to the point of suicide or getting shot in school.
Even my disappointing toys like Squirmles had an innocent and creative element that isn’t there for kids today with videogames named Destroy All Humans, Resident Evil, Bloody Roar, and Hellfire. Certainly, no version of Atari ever had to have a rating on it and parents didn’t really have to worry about the games their kids were playing were desensitizing the kid to the point that shooting people seemed normal.
And then there are the movies. When we went to see a movie as kids, it was E.T. and the Bad News Bears. As we grew into teens, we graduated to Saturday Night Fever, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Ghostbusters. Now, teens are assailed with movies called The Virgin Suicides, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Kick-Ass.
In comparing the two worlds – then and now, I think I’m actually quite content to have been disillusioned. As a matter of fact, I’m wondering if we, as parents, grandparents, and mentors, shouldn’t make it our goal to ensure our kids are given that chance to become disillusioned by the magic every childhood should have. Where has the time for letting children be children gone? When is their time to dream all the impossible things? I was given the chance to tiptoe into adulthood and I hope that’s a gift I’ve passed down.