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Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Toys

Dear Finger Cuffs:

Now that I am grown up, I have dropped the term “Chinese” from your name simply because I have no idea how it got there and the Google machine is not providing me with the answer.  I am simply calling you Finger Cuffs, even though that term has taken on a slightly different meaning over time.

Every so often, when I start doubting myself or my place in life, I have the tendency to tug and tug and tug.  I intuitively know that this isn’t the way to accomplish anything: I am well aware that my own instinct is to shut out people who are tugging on me too hard.  And yet I do it myself: badgering, checking, obsessing, tugging (and not “tugging” in the other meaning of finger cuff sense.  A completely non-pleasureable tugging which is just me trying to drag life or a relationship around by brute force).

The lesson I learned from you is that if I relax, if I can let things go, people and opportunities usually come to me.  Perhaps they were coming to me all along, but I didn’t notice because I was so busy forcing things.

So, thank you, finger cuffs.  I know that I shredded you at the time and called you “stupid,” but you taught me much more than my Rubix Cube.



Dear Chinese Jax:

You also seem to be Chinese in origin, and according to the packaging, your name is spelled with an “x” instead of the “ck” spelling I used in my Ramona Quimby diary.  I am too scared to Google you and find out that the youth of America have also turned you into a dirty sex term.  I’m not even sure what debase act could be named “Chinese Jax,” but I have full faith that those crazy kids have thought up something filthy to tarnish your name.

I used to love to play with you at recess.  I had dozens of jax made out of the tiny circles of plastic, but my favourite was an opaque black and white one that my sister made for me.  Most jax were translucent, but she had gotten a set that were opaque, which made my jax stand out when I pulled out my set at recess.

That made me feel special.

I have a few circles from it in a box in the basement.

But that isn’t the point, Chinese Jax.  The life lesson I learned from you is that everyone wants to be included.  I would bring you to school, fidget with you inside the plastic bag in my pocket.  I brought you because I wanted to be occupied during recess, which was too amorphous and unstructured a time for a girl like me.  I liked to be confined within clear boundaries.  I liked being told what to do in math class and art class and spelling.  I was very good with tasks and not quite so good at navigating unstructured time.

It is easier to do this as a child; to carry a tangible object that will help you define your time, that will give the half hour meaning.  Generally speaking, if you sit down on the ground with your jax, you will either spend the half hour doing an enjoyable activity alone, or you will spend the half hour joined by others who want to engage in this enjoyable activity with you, but at the very least, it is time better spent than lounging against the wall of the school, your stomach in knots as you try to think of a way to not look like a loser while everyone else plays.

It is much harder as an adult to figure out a way to connect with the other free-floating adults around you.  But the life lesson I learned from you, Chinese Jax, is that it is entirely possible and so I try to jump into that unstructured socializing time feet first, imaginary jax in my pocket.

I also marvel that the plural of jax is jax, which is not quite a life lesson but is a great language quirk.



Dear Hungry, Hungry Hippos:

I pretty much learned from you that people are greedy and that it is a bitch to clean up marbles once they roll under someone’s bed.



Name your favourite childhood toy and what you learned from them.


1 LJ { 09.15.11 at 7:43 am }

I would venture to say it could be from the movie “Chasing Amy”. Jay tells Ben Affleck’s character that Amy was doing something that made her just like “Chinese Fingercuffs”.

2 Audrey { 09.15.11 at 10:59 am }

Dear She-Ra action figures – thanks for teaching me that burying things you love in the ground to hide them from other kids and keep them “safe” isn’t actually very smart. Especially when you have a memory like a sieve.

3 Kristi { 09.15.11 at 11:11 am }

Dear Cabbage Patch Dolls, I loved you so much I wanted to hold you, take you horse back riding, tuck you into bed. You were each special and picked just for me. You taught me that I wanted to be a mommy at a very young age. But now I know real babies don’t grow in a garden.

4 Denver Laura { 09.15.11 at 12:30 pm }

Dear Hula Hoop, I hated you when my mom got you becuase she remembered how she had one growing up. I got really good though and have added big and bigger to my collection. I know you don’t get much use now because my hips fit better in big and bigger but just wait. My daughter is just learning how to walk now, but she’ll be playing with you soon enough.

5 Heather { 09.15.11 at 1:35 pm }

My favorite toy was literally a model of the human body that I put together piece by piece. Then you could take the bones and muscles out and it was like a puzzle….just like life.

6 Liana { 09.15.11 at 2:56 pm }

Dear Clue, you taught me that if you just pay attention closely enough, you can usually figure out what’s going on. And that cheaters ruin things for everyone.
Dear Trivial Pursuit, you taught me that friendly rivaliries are good for the soul and that knowing stuff is infinitely cooler that not knowing stuff.
Dear Saturday Night Dealer’s Choice Poker in My Parents’ Dining Room, you taught me that while winning is nice, spending quality time with people you love is nicer. And math. You also taught me math.

7 Mina { 09.15.11 at 3:02 pm }

Dear Rubic’s cube,

Thank you for teaching me how to discover my limits, which battles to chose and when to give up. And also thank you for the “creativity” lesson. You know what I am alluding to, that time when I finally solved you by peeling all your coloured stickers and finally puting them back and bringing you to your original state. In case you wondered, no, I still harbour no regrets whatsoever about that.



Dear number puzzle made of plastic with sliding numbered squares,

Thank you for having kept me entertained so many times. You taught me patience and how to try again. Arranging your numbers in so many variants, up, down, zig-zag, circle, gave me the satisfaction of doing all these by myself. Also, it restored my faith, brutally shaken by the vicious Rubic’s cube.

Lots of love,


8 jjiraffe { 09.15.11 at 3:20 pm }

Dear Cabbage Patch Kid (Rachelle),

Thanks for giving me the experience of wanting you so badly, waiting for you so long and our joyous first meeting.

You kinda prepared me for infertility.

XoxoYou have asked for a kick in the ass, and I am going to provide a kick in the ass.  I’ve been mentally tossing around starting this for a bit, but Lacie’s comment was the tipping point.

I am starting a multi-dimensional online writing project.  It’s going to be a listserv as well as random posts.  And it’s called Prompt-ly.

Wait, you say.  I am already part of an online writing group.  Well, this is not actually an online writing group.  If you want to do that, I think you should join the one at Too Many Fish to Fry called the Pomegranate Society (leave a comment in that post to be added to that online writing workshop).  That’s a place to exchange actual pieces of writing and support each other in publishing efforts.

This is not that.

What Prompt-ly is:

A listserv with blog prompts and other writing project ideas presented by me as well as other members.  In other words, all members can float out a random question that people can use as a diving board for a post (such as: “what is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?”).  There may be one prompt a day or there may be many.  You pick and choose if you want to use them or delete them.
A receptacle to pass along hot news stories that you think others might like to write about too [this is the listserv].
An email list where you can debate hot ideas and see if they’re actually post-worthy [this is the listserv].
A space to send a blog post url and ask for feedback about a post that didn’t get a lot of comments [this is the listserv].
A space to say: “crappers, I’m about to post this but want a second opinion before it goes live because I’m worried I may offend people.” [this is the listserv].
And every once in a while, Prompt-ly will be a blog post that will pass along ideas on publishing news or how-to advice, all coming from authors, publishers, editors, and agents.  I’ll collect up questions and answer them.  Or it will simply be a writing exercise or idea to light a brand new fire under your ass [these are the blog posts].
See, listserv and blog posts.


You don’t need to join the listserv to participate, BUT I have a feeling that the majority of the information will be passed along in that space vs. here on Stirrup Queens.  This is the group’s homepage:


Just click there if you want to join.  All members will be approved in order to keep spam off the list.  The membership request asks you to provide your blog url if you have one.  You don’t need to have a blog to join since some people will be using the list to work on other writing projects such as books or magazine articles.

The list is open, meaning; the majority of members will probably come from the ALI community simply because I am in the ALI community, and I can keep the list ALI-friendly as the moderator.  But anyone is welcome to join: men, women, young, old, gay, straight, talented, and total bores.  By which I mean that I’ll obviously float IF-related news stories to the list, but I also may float something interesting I read on Jezebel that someone might want to use as a springboard to a blog post.

Here are things that are okay to post on the list:

Blog post prompts.
Links to news stories or opinion posts that may spark a blog post idea for another person.
Whole posts you want an opinion on before you hit publish (not everyone will answer you, but hopefully one or two will give you their opinion).
A link to your own blog post that you’d like some feedback on.
Questions about writing or publishing.
Questions about blogging — from the technical side of things such as which software to use to thoughts about social media sites to worries about commenting etiquette.
Questions about a hot idea that you want to write about but want some feedback on first.
Personal writing, publishing, or book news.
Here are things that are not okay to do on the list:

Berate or belittle someone.
Offer non-constructive criticism.
Steal another person’s idea and claim it as your own.
Only use the list to promote your own work without giving back anything to the community by way of throwing out ideas or giving someone else feedback.  In other words, if you’re sending news about your book to the list, you must also participate in other ways such as answering people’s questions.  It’s a community — help has to flow in all directions.
This is also not a writing workshop (see the link above to Too Many Fish to Fry if you’re interested in that).

The posts will be infrequent (maybe once a month or every other week).  But if you do have specific writing questions that weren’t answered my DIY MFA series, especially ones about the how-tos of blogging, traffic building, of commenting, send them my way in an email with Prompt-ly in the subject line and I’ll answer it in the next post.

So that’s it.  Prompt-ly.  A fire lit under your ass to get you to write more.  Because the only way to become a good writer is to actually do it.

You in?



9 jjiraffe { 09.15.11 at 3:22 pm }

Um, something really weird happened with that last post!! Feel free to delete it 😉

10 iamvulnerable { 09.15.11 at 3:28 pm }

Dear soft, fuzzy pig,
Thank you for being with me during that year when I went to bed every night anxious about the threat of nuclear war. (The early 80s’ was a bad time to be an overly serious kid.) I appreciate all the comfort you gave me as I squeezed you and tried to squeeze my eyes closed against the visions of mushroom clouds.

Dear books,
Thanks for hanging out with me during my childhood. Thanks for giving me the space to me be myself. It has taken me this long to learn how to play with any kind of abandon. I still love you, but now I also love singing “Day-O” at the top of my lungs into the spare watering wand that we use for a microphone around the house. So thanks, watering wand, also.

Love, Me.

11 AlexMMR { 09.15.11 at 3:30 pm }

Dear tetherball,

You taught me that when I focus, I can become the best at something. You also taught me that having a reputation for being the bestest ever at one activity does not equal people liking me. People will like me or dislike me regardless of whatever activity I happen to have a talent for or am the bestest at. I will bring you flowers the day it finally sinks in that it’s ok for someone to be better than me at something I’m good at.

12 Chuck Baudelaire { 09.15.11 at 4:41 pm }

Dear Malibu Francie: You taught me that while Barbie may be prettier and more popular, she has a lot of rigid expectations to live up to and not much freedom to be bohemian or kooky or just weird. But when you’re in the mood you can totally wear her clothes.

13 frankiesoup { 09.15.11 at 4:55 pm }

Dear Mario Kart,

You taught me that life is bitterly unfair. Apparently you can lose, seconds from the finish line, and win, even if you start last and have to cope with people throwing turtles at you.

You also taught me more swear words than I thought the English language contained.

Thank you.

14 Josh { 09.15.11 at 5:36 pm }

Dear Model Millennium Falcon —
You taught me that in life, it is important to have a cool ride, a hairy best friend and to unceasingly ridicule the princess until she has no choice but to fall in-love with you.

15 Mary { 09.15.11 at 8:14 pm }

Love Josh’s!! 🙂

Dear Tetris,

You taught me to ignore/avoid those who seek to drive me insane. Also, that hitting one’s brother for hitting the restart button every time I pass level 10 is a bad idea because he’s fast and can duck, resulting in a dislocated finger and having to then explain to everyone that I tried to hit him and missed.


16 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 09.15.11 at 8:25 pm }

Dear Fisher Price Little People,
You taught me that all adult women have their hair in a bun, all adult men are bald, everyone has the same body no matter their age or sex, and that there is only one Black guy and he is a construction worker. Thank you for being my friends.

Dear Spirograph,
You taught me that art is based in mathematics. Unlike those asshole board games, you didn’t discriminate against only children.

17 Keiko { 09.15.11 at 9:54 pm }

Dear Legos,

You taught me the world is whatever I make of it.

And that as much as I love being barefoot, those bricks an break skin if you step on them hard enough.

18 Rebekah { 09.16.11 at 8:51 am }

Dear childhood bike:
I did not learn to ride you at an early age since the house I was born in was situated off a highway; there were too many dangers my parents said. It wasn’t til I was 7, very aware of my fears and a little too much peer pressure to boot. I wanted to ride you so much but it was a struggle for me and it took a lot of courage, patience and perseverance on my part to keep at it with skinned knees and a bruised ego. Thanks for teaching me the valuable lesson of getting right back on the bike and try again. If you try you may get there, but if you don’t try, you’ll never get there.

19 Melinda { 09.16.11 at 9:30 am }

Dear Teddy Ruxpin,

I longed for you for a long, long time, but when you finally arrived, you were worth the wait. I loved how you were so realistic, reading me stories and blinking your eyes. You weren’t like my other, lifeless teddy bears- you didn’t squish when I sat on you, you were tough and seemed to have a real body under your fur! Dearest Teddy, you’re attached to some of my earliest childhood memories… including the concept of seeing something on a television commercial and wanting it for my own. I loved that, if I didn’t like what you were reading to me, it was as easy as changing the tape in your back. Thank you for teaching me a few valuable life lessons… that the things most desired in life are worth the wait… that in time, I would learn not to squish under life’s pressure… and that, if I don’t like where I find myself in life, or what I’m hearing, it’s okay (and healthy) to “change the tape”.


20 Lacie { 09.16.11 at 11:40 am }

I love this, Mel! I might use this as a prompt for my own post!

21 a { 09.16.11 at 12:25 pm }

Dear every doll I ever owned,

I don’t know why it happened this way, but I’d like to apologize for losing all your clothes and leaving you naked.

Dear Fuzzie Bear,

I still love you, but maybe I’ll turn you over to my daughter after all.

Dear Panda Bear,

I always knew you were my bear. Why did it take until I was 17 to find the picture that proved my sister stole you from me?

22 Esperanza { 09.16.11 at 2:00 pm }

I know I’m late to this party but I just had to add something.

Dear Blankie,

Thank you for being my best friend my whole life, for comforting me when I was sad, scared or homesick. Thank you for teaching me that something looks and feels so ugly and rough to everyone else can looks so beautiful and feel so soft to the one who loves it. And thank you for putting my dad in his place when you braved college with me and my two roommates not only accepted us but had blankets too! Finally, thank you for forgiving me for sleeping with another man these past six years. I’m glad you were so open to a threesome.

Love you Blankie, Me

23 Bea { 09.17.11 at 10:26 am }

I just sent this to Mr Bea. Hungry Hippos. Practical tips you can use.


24 Bea { 09.17.11 at 10:29 am }

Oh, okay, hang on.

Dear boy-next-door’s toy truck,
Thankyou for teaching me that to every unwanted doll, there is an “accident” that “had nothing to do with me” waiting to solve matters. Some people have to wait until they are old enough to join the murky recesses of the underworld before they learn such things, but you made sure I was onto it at five.


25 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.17.11 at 10:32 pm }

Dear Kick Ball,

I learned from you to duck. But not fast enough.

Me and my nose

26 Manapan { 09.18.11 at 2:03 am }

Dear (ooh, Mel’s gonna hate me for this!) Cricket,

I have no idea why I named you Cricket, but you were the best doll I ever had. Your soft cloth body let you fit into all the doll clothes I had and made you so great to hug when I was an only child learning not to be lonely while playing alone. Your permanently braided hair kept me from messing it up and taught me that I needed to play nice with the other dollies’ hair. And I’m sorry about that time I played doctor with you and made you take all those eye drops. I didn’t know your eyelashes would fall out! But even that taught me the value of a simple act of kindness. I went to daycare with you the next day and cried so hard about making you “lose all your pretty” that my daycare teacher took time off work to go to Walmart and buy replacement lashes for you with her own money. They didn’t last long, but just the fact that she tried made me feel so much better.

27 Roccie { 09.18.11 at 9:39 pm }

Dear Sit and Spin,

I love you so much I brought you home for Toddlerina.

Before we made it to the check out, I searched “sit and spin, unsafe” and many varieties before I actually signed the visa bill.

You were $15. How dangerous can $15 be?

28 Lacie { 09.23.11 at 3:50 pm }
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