My husband, Brandon, is a toy collector. Our three-car garage can't accommodate a single vehicle. Instead, it's crammed with boxes of toys. These boxes aren't stacked in piles. They climb the walls in intricate designs according to some historical plot line from Brandon's mind. In the middle lay elaborate toy displays: a 1984 G.I. Joe Raven, a $595 Batman cowl and a 6-foot-tall Styrofoam Spiderman, along with countless other character relics.
I am also mom to three boys: 6-year-old twins and a 4-year-old. All three have inherited Brandon's affinity for toys. In our home, we don't have a dining room, we have a "Lego room," equipped with folding chairs and card tables for our boys to build and display their creations. It's no surprise that Legos find their way outside the room—and frequently under a foot (usually mine!).
So, when Toys R Us announced it was closing its doors for good last week, the news hit my family hard—me just as much as my hubby and his minions. You see, Toys R Us is more than a toy store, it's an escape. When all four "boys" leave the house to explore the store, I get two or three hours of freedom to write, read and yes, pee without someone stopping me mid-stream to find a Lego brick.
Toys R Us is a place where my boys carefully decide on their Christmas gifts. In March. Then change their minds with each visit (at least 50 times before the holidays hit). It's where we go after school when the kids have been good listeners. A way to reward them for good behavior without breaking the bank or spoiling them with sweets. And it's a place that lights them up from the inside out.
"I'm going to get the Kai Lego submarine for Christmas," announces my 4-year-old Jack.
"I want the giant NexoKnight castle," says Max.
"For me, it's the NexoKnight Robot. He's the best," Brian chimes in.
In the bicycle section, the boys ride circles around me, grinning like mini-Jokers challenging Batman to a duel. And, equally important, Brandon is famous at our local store. Every worker knows him by name, showers him with promotional items and asks him about his collection. He spent weekends browsing the aisles long before our boys—or even I—came along.
So, over breakfast last weekend, I asked Brandon to recall some of his fondest Toys R Us memories and most touching moments.
"I remember taking my brother Corey to Toys R Us in 1997 when he was 9 years old to spend his $10 birthday money. He selected Batman and Robin action figures. I still have them in one of my displays," he said. The figures were $14.99 but Brandon conspired with the sales clerk to let Corey purchase them with a $10 bill while Brandon slipped her the difference.
When I was a kid, I recall my mom camping outside a closed Toys R Us to purchase each of her three girls a highly anticipated Cabbage Patch Doll or Atari game before they flew off the shelves. In both instances, Toys R Us became a place that breeds happiness (barring Black Friday, when disgruntled parents make the news for fighting over toys in the aisles).
Yet, we, like all American parents, played a supporting role in the store's demise. When my mom wanted to take her grandsons to pick out their birthday presents, we chose Target because I needed a few things, too. Brandon goes to Walmart with the kids in tow and hits the toy section to appease them (and himself) while running errands. And during the Christmas rush, both of us were guilty of buying toys on Amazon because, well, free shipping! And the brown boxes double as a great disguise for Christmas gifts.
I don't know what our after-school hours will look now that Toys R Us' merchandise has been liquidated. I don't know if I'll ever see those boys so mesmerized by aisles and aisles of toys. Even Disney can't compete, particularly when you do the math. I could buy my three sons bikes, helmets and knee pads and still be under the cost of admission to the Happiest Place on Earth.
Because Toys R Us is the Happiest Place on Earth for my family—and it has been the keeper of our memories. Dating back to before our babies were born, we arrived at Babies R Us clueless about what we needed to purchase. We wandered the store arm-in-arm, giggling about how ill-equipped we were to manage the months ahead. At that moment, a sales rep approached us.
"Can I help you?" he said.
"We're beyond help," Brandon replied.
And that's the way I feel now, as Toys R Us shuts down forever.
We will never be able to walk those aisles again as a family. My respites will never be as long or carefree. But no one can take those memories away. I'm grateful our boys were able to experience the magic of Toys R Us. I'm just not sure how to tell my husband that when they want to peruse toys in the future, they'll be heading to his garage.