Birthdays bring stories of toys both old and new

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Tuesday, October 23, 2001 9:00pm
  • Local News

I didn’t want a thing. Well, some Chinese food. A few days on a Mexican beach. But seriously, not a thing.

Tuesday was my birthday.

I’m trying to recall when it was I became one of those exasperating adults. Lately, I sound like my mother. Asked what she wants every birthday, she’ll say, "Honey, I don’t need anything. You kids always do too much."

Obviously, she doesn’t need anything. What’s spooky is I’m finally old enough (geesh, 48) to understand that she really doesn’t want anything, either.

All she wants are fewer material things in her house. We spend the first half of life acquiring stuff and the second half shedding all those things we’ve accumulated.

My household demographics make a curious mix of the two.

Mine was not the only birthday this week. Today my little boy turns 3. No more terrible two’s, and our diaper days are numbered — hey, there are some real gifts.

As long as we’re addressing my sanity, I’ll let you younger parents in on something it took me two other kids to learn: Don’t buy a bunch of toys.

Yes, you saw me at the mall Sunday buying Buzz Lightyear and (because I’m a softy) a smaller version of his "Toy Story" pal Woody. That was it, though.

In a picture of my 18-year-old’s first birthday, she’s wearing a pink party dress and ruffle-rear tights, and trying to climb into a red wagon filled with gift-wrapped toys.

We were young, her dad and I, young and dumb. We didn’t know that once parents go to sleep, toys manifest an unnatural ability to reproduce.

Remember in "Jurassic Park" when the dino-park founders say the creatures can’t reproduce because they’re all females? And Jeff Goldblum argues that nature will find a way?

Somehow, toys find a way. You think you’ve hidden them or tossed them. You pick them up before bed. The next morning, they’re back, tenfold it seems, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and Duplo blocks and Sesame Street guys whose batteries wore down years ago.

You don’t remember buying them, these playthings pulled from under couches and scattered all over the floor. They simply appear, gifts from aunts, plunder from siblings’ rooms, presents ignored last Christmas but now rediscovered gold.

That’s our toy story, and why I’m pushing minimalism this year.

Having said all this, I’ll share something that runs counter to the rest of this column.

My dear mom, who never needs a thing, was quite ill earlier this month. She was hospitalized and had all kinds of medical tests. She’s home and doing much better, thanks.

For several days she wasn’t well at all. One night, my father seemed truly fearful. The next day, after my mom’s condition had much improved, my dad mentioned that he had to go drop off his Ford Taurus.

I asked what was wrong with it. Nothing was wrong with it. He had sold it, that’s all. He had bought a new Lexus.

"It has heated seats," he said, sounding like a kid with a jazzy new Buzz Lightyear.

As long as I’ve known him, my father has been the king of self-sacrifice and basic transportation. A vehicle, he’d say, tapping a forefinger on the kitchen table, is something to take you "from point A to point B."

Last week, my 78-year-old father drove his wife of 54 years from point A (the hospital) to point B (their house) in a shiny new white Lexus with toasty seats.

That was my best birthday present, hearing the glee in my sensible father’s voice.

Money can’t buy happiness. And we do have too many material things.

But sometimes, a new toy is just what the doctor ordered.

Contact Julie Muhlstein via e-mail at, write to her at The Herald, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206, or call 425-339-3460.

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