Adulting is hard. Why didn’t anyone tell me? I long for the days when I was a plaid-skirted band geek whose only worry in the world was whether or not I’d practiced my cheerleading routine enough for the next pep rally. When I could curl up and watch Disney’s One Saturday morning in my PJs for 5 hours. When I could climb a tree and read my Babysitter’s Little Sister books after school. When birthday parties involved Discovery Zone and ice cream cake. When “working out” was parachute day in gym or a wrist-breaking round of Red Rover. There are a lot of things I miss about being a kid and a lot of those things and places are still dear to my heart today—these five especially:
This had to be my number 1. There was simply no other option. For those of you who don’t know: First, how dare you. Second, Boy Meets World was the sitcom darling of a generation who grew up learning everything about life from one Mr. George Feeny. It was the best part of ABC’s TGIF line-up in the late ‘90s and the show I most looked forward to. It was chock-full of important lessons without patronizing kids. It was wholesome without being corny or unrealistic. And most of all, it was flat-out hilarious. I still remember clapping and cheering as the invitation to Cory and Topanga’s wedding scrolled by at the end of season 7’s episode 6 “They’re Killing Us,” which aired Oct. 29, 1999—I was 11. When the show went off the air in 2000, it developed a cult following of fans who could recite nearly every line of dialogue and laughed in all the right spots as though it were still the first time they were hearing the lines—myself included. I own the series. I can watch any episode and not be bored or the slightest bit less amused even if it’s the 1000th time I’ve watched it, which would be quite possible. I wrote a term paper on the show for my college Television Criticism class. No matter what kind of mood I’m in, it makes my day better. And always, without fail, the final scene of the series finale guts me like no other TV show ever has. The uncontrollable tears start as soon as Mr. Feeny tells them to “Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good.”
When you grow up on the shore, any shore, the beach is your playground. While some kids have sandboxes, you have miles of the real deal. Some kids have pools, you have the Atlantic. I never lived further than 20 minutes from the ocean for the first 14 years of my life, until my parents decided to leave New Jersey for Nazareth. When you spend your youth staring out at a horizon that never seems to get any closer no matter how many hours you spend on a boat and your hair is knotted from the wind and your skin is crusted in salt, you develop a deep and undying love. And aquariums are the perfect classroom for you to learn more about that thing you love so much. Jenkinson’s was my classroom. I spent innumerable happy days at the Point Pleasant Boardwalk as a kid. It remains one of my favorite places to this day. It’s timeless. It still has the same smells, the same rides, the same charm as it did the first time I stepped foot onto the uneven planks. I smile just thinking about it. The only pink building on the strip, Jenkinson’s was, and still is, a treasure trove for kids. Surrounding the central pirate ship are tanks full of colorful coral, glimmering fish, turtles, rays, sharks, and the same three seals that were there 15+ years ago: Coral, Seaquin, and Luseal. Upstairs is the Touch Tank and the birthday party room. Over the past few years, I’ve grown pretty strongly opposed to keeping marine wildlife (or really, any wildlife) in captivity—even still, when I’m in the area, I can’t quite help myself. I gladly fork over $10, get a wristband, and take a quick tour through my childhood playground.
I spent countless hours using this word processing program for kids. From the time I was 10 and decided I wanted to start writing a book, I was glued to the keyboard and this was my tool. Just looking at the home display brings back a flood of memories of artistic borders and clipart.
“Where a kid can be a kid!” Every half day from school was spent crawling through the plastic tubes, scarfing down pizza, and playing SkeeBall and air hockey (in that order) with my childhood best friend until our mothers dragged us home. I even had my 7th birthday party there. You don’t see these much anymore, but the one on Route 35 in Middletown, NJ is still goin’ strong and it’s one heck of a memory factory for me.
5. My playhouse
My dad built it for me when I was in first grade. (Pictured above in a photo that just screams childhood: Disney’s Pocahontas T-shirt, Polly Pocket, and Babysitter’s Little Sister book in hand.) It became my sanctuary before it was even finished. I chose the colors for the outside and helped paint it, it was carpeted, had wood paneled walls, windows that opened, and it locked from the inside. I decked it out with a plastic Fisher Price kitchen set and a big pink and white striped beanbag chair with my name embroidered on it. What more could a seven-year-old want? My best friend and I would cut through my neighbor’s lawn on the way back from the bus stop and hole up in there until her mother came and banged down the door to take her home. More often than not, I would bring a stack of books on a Saturday afternoon and not move until it was time for dinner. I wanted to live out there. When we left NJ, we gave it to my aunt and uncle to use as a shed. I peek in from time to time when I visit. I’ve told my cousin they’re not allowed to get rid of it—I may want it back someday!
Honorable Mentions: Spyro the Dragon. Classic animation Disney movies. Oregon Trail. Polly Pocket (you know, back when she actually fit in your pocket). Fruit Stripe gum. Passing notes—“Back in my day, we didn’t have texting!” MASH. Candy Land. Swings. Just kidding, I still use swings.
The list that Danielle and I wrote about our favorite books got me feeling wistful and nostalgic, which is the inspiration for this week’s Thursday Top Ten. All of these things have inspired some of my favorite childhood memories and inform my tastes to this day.
1. Marvel Comic Books
I can’t be happier with the recent popularity of all things comic related—from The Avengers movie to television series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s great seeing these characters that I spent so much of my childhood with enter the pop culture zeitgeist. I have fond memories of my dad taking me out to some fast food joint for lunch when I was in elementary school and then to the Golden Unicorn comic book shop on Alter Street in Hazleton, Pa. to pick out a few books. These days I just have an iPad app, Comixology, to stay current on all of my favorite titles.
2. ABC’s TGIF
I remember rushing home from playing with my friends on Friday evenings so I wouldn’t miss a minute of ABC’s TGIF sitcom line-up. Sure, some of the shows might be painfully corny now (here’s looking at you, Full House), but they all hold a special place in my heart. I’m especially partial to the 1990 through 1991 line-up—Full House, Dinosaurs, Family Matters, and Perfect Strangers—although Boy Meets World, added in ’93, is another favorite. Well, it looks like the TGIF theme song is going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
This is fairly self-explanatory. Some of my favorite memories are crabbing with my family on the shores of North Carolina’s Outer Banks before sitting around a campfire and listening to the roar of the Atlantic Ocean. I spent many happy hours learning to fish at the Indian Head Campground in Columbia County and watching wild horses at Chincoteague National Park in Maryland.
The scene—a five-year-old me, probably in some sort of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajama set, tearing down the stairs on Christmas morning to open the best present ever—a brand new Nintendo Entertainment System, complete with Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt. I vividly remember freaking out, jumping up and down holding the box while screaming with joy. Obviously, nothing could ever top this unbelievable gift from Santa. I can’t tell you how many hours I wasted time sitting in front of the television playing Mario and trying to “shoot” that mocking dog in Duck Hunt.
5. Dangerous Toys
I don’t want to posit that my parents were, in any way, negligent. If anything, they were overprotective, but I don’t think kids these days have the same type of “toys” my friends and I had growing up. I had a Go-Kart that I’d tear around the woods in, the three horsepower engine roaring as I tried to rip “donuts.” I eventually succeeded at ripping one of the front wheels off, sending me careening out of control. We also played “lawn darts.” Who the hell came up with those things? They’re practically real-life ninja weapons for children. Regardless, we all survived, mostly, intact and have lots of great stories (and scars) to show for it.