Reading The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman, I laugh to myself, remembering the kind of youth I was. My mom swears blind I swapped her broken gold watch. Incorrigible and a magpie as a youngster, I swapped anything I could for something sparkly.
Much to my fashionable mother’s dismay, I was drawn as a child to the most horrific bridesmaid dresses at the store and gravitated towards full skirts and puffy sleeves and ruffles upon ruffles. She would respectably dress me in the morning for pre-primary school and I would stash whatever abomination I had in my closet to change into the second I arrived. Changing back before she collected me. And many times over she’d have to inevitably reclaim items I’d swapped for the prize of a shiny unicorn sticker for my sticker book.
But thinking back there was one arsenal in my toy box I wouldn’t have swapped for the all the world and its glistening treasures. It was a My Little Pony I purchased after months of saving my pocket money in a black velvet pouch my mom had given me. I can still so clearly see it today. She was orange, with a red apple on her sides and freckles. And oh how I treasured her.
Before her, my most favourite toy of all had been a pale seafoam green Care Bear with a moon and star on her belly. I was most sulky on school photograph days when I was separated from my stuffed bear for the purpose of taking a posed picture, and so I must seem a very sullen child to outsiders looking on at the school photographs that adorn my grandmother’s mantle.
And before the bear my most prized item was a Smurfette figurine. My mother very cleverly tricked me into eating anything I turned my nose up at first by emphatically declaring that they were indeed Smurf mushrooms or Smurf peas. I was inconsolable when my Smurfette figurine fell into an empty hollow in my bedpost missing a top. She fell into its deep, cavernous mouth, beyond retrieval, and I was utterly crestfallen.
Aren’t we strange creatures as children? With so little regard for what things cost in relation to how much we love them… And how much of a source of joy a single shiny sticker can be… Or a small plastic figurine… Brand new sneakers holding no monetary value, nor a gold watch. The entire playground a free for all for swappers one and all. Except those rare and few and far between toys that were never up for swapping, no matter the odds. I even collected marbles not for play but for the way they caught the sunlight. And when we went to the beach I collected the shiniest of shells.
I would play for hours with my seashells and a bucket of salty water to keep them glistening, declaring one a prince, another a king or queen, the prettiest and shiniest of all the princess. Merrily playing away with these, free treasures from the ocean tide. I cared not that they cost nothing, only that they shone and glittered in a myriad of greens and purples and pale pinks and mellowed sunset orange.
And I wonder today, what became of my toys, beloved as they were… I hope that they have been rescued by a fairy just as in The Velveteen Rabbit and that my bear is happy in some forest in the great beyond, and my little pony in some grassy field, and my Smurfette back with her kind in a magical land far, far away. And I hope that wherever they are, they are loved. For they served me well. And it gladdens my heart to know that children the world over are swapping much to the frustration of their parents, completely oblivious to what things really cost, but knowing only what their little hearts desire.
Perhaps we can take this with us into adulthood, celebrating what we love for all it may cost us very little, celebrating in our own little idiosyncrasies those things that move us or enchant us. Whether a vase of freshly picked flowers. Or a glass jar of seashells. Or a collection of old glimmering blue bottles from yesteryear. To find those things that innately bring joy, so unfettered and so childlike in its innocence. Forever unashamedly childlike at heart. To swap or not, now that is the question.