Past Midway Ramblings on Business & Life

Losing Our Childhood

When I was little, I had an assortment of plastic toy animals – farm animals, a few dinosaurs, a giraffe, an elephant, and some others odd characters… the usual gang of creatures a young child might enjoy. And I did.

This motley crew became the bedrock of an imaginary world that could occupy my mind and engross me in solitary play for extended periods.

I don’t recall the various adventures my animal friends and I enjoyed together, but I do remember my affection for them. They were my playmates, always willing to venture through fictional scenarios when I was ready. Not needy. Not over-eager. A solid group. Hanging with this crew was like being alone, without feeling alone.1

When these guys weren’t actively playing with me, they were hanging out (quite literally) in a small, brown, faux-leather satchel (which is what we will call the carrying case that looked conspicuously like mom’s old purse, now I think about it). My plastic animal friends liked it in there, I suppose. At least, they didn’t say otherwise. Nor did I imagine they would.

Sometime around age six, I spotted the brown handbag hanging in my closet. The shoulder strap with an adjustable brass buckle looped over a small nail, which was in turn, halfway embedded into the sheetrock on the left side of my closet, the nail angled up 45 degrees for strength.

I haven’t played with you guys in a while, I thought, almost apologetically.

It had been an unusually long gap since I last invited them down to play. But that’s okay. These guys always patiently awaited my return after a season of being stowed in the closet.

For sentimental reasons, I gently lifted the bag’s strap off the nail, knelt to the floor, and carefully emptied my plastic animals onto the thick red carpet, near the hard spot where I spilled Elmer’s glue the previous year (allegedly).2

I sifted through my animal friends a bit and acknowledged a few favorites. But mostly, I just looked at them, absorbed, and tried to process new thoughts and feelings. I had notably less desire to play with them, nor much inclination to play with them again in the foreseeable future. This revelation birthed my earliest notion of a life milestone.

Is this what it means to grow up?… to feel differently about things with the passage of time?… to rearrange the hierarchy of importance we place on certain objects and perhaps people?

“Guys, I now see I probably won’t be playing with you much longer,” I thought, certain they could hear the inner workings of my young mind, just as they had previously in our shared imaginary worlds.

In that moment, I bid a nostalgic farewell to my earliest childhood toys, who had fueled my imagination and had graciously acted out scripts I had improvised for them.

My little animal friends accepted me and themselves for whoever I had envisioned we were or might be. They had dutifully entertained me for hours. More precisely, they had allowed me to entertain myself as I imbued my imagination upon them, with their ready assistance.

Bestowing personalities upon our childhood toys forges a magical connection with them that makes them deeply personal to us.

In this way, some toys become an extension of ourselves and help us make sense of the world. This is the beginning of how we learn to navigate, interact with, and shape the non-us components of people, places, and things we encounter as we expand the radius of our surroundings and venture into the unknown.

That was the last day I played with my little animal toys. I suppose they remained in their carrying case quite some time thereafter, their participation in my imagination paused indefinitely.3

I wonder if my animal friends would recognize me now. Would they have foreseen and approved of the person I have become? Of course, they would. That’s the kind of friends they were. Likewise, in real-life…

Our best friends encourage us to be better – to reach our potential. Best friends celebrate our successes, lift us up when we are down, laugh with us when life is grand, stand beside us when we are lonely, help us in times of difficulty, and comfort us in our grief.

Over the years, I would repeat this friendship-departure experience with subsequent waves of growing up, sometimes with just small ripples, sometimes larger waves. Fortunately, for me, never on tidal scale.

A similar but more significant growing up wave occurred a dozen years later as I said farewell to those who were even more impactful on my life – my high school friends – and again four years after that with the graduation and departure of my college friends, as we set off in different directions around the country and the world, each to our own adventures, once again expanding the radii from that which we had previously explored and had become comfortable.

Some farewells are more emotional than others. The high school departure was difficult, but the new, exciting university life-phase approached.

Something exciting on the horizon makes transitions easier.

Graduating from college didn’t promise the next fun-filled adventure in the same way. Friends tend to scatter geographically, and you generally sense you will slowly lose touch. You hope you won’t, but you also know the statistics. The truth is,

Physical proximity is still the greatest predictor of friendship.

After several more of these life-transitional phases, I have learned,

It’s more difficult to say goodbye than it is to be gone.

…especially if you are the one leaving. Probably not, if someone is leaving you.

Much like the plastic animals of my youth, my closest companions over the years embraced me for who I am, allowed me to accept and even like that person, yet envisioned the potential of who I might become, and encouraged me to try to actualize a better version of me.

These are the best kind of friends, and I have been lucky to have them.

Inflection Points

As I write this, I feel the nudge of several similar waves of change; the migration of our friends and neighbors who we have come to know as family over the last two decades, as their kids (the friends and cohorts of my kids) age out of the house; the complete loss of the generation two in front of me (“the greatest generation”); and the partial loss of my gen plus one (my parents’ generation, aunt, uncles, friends’ parents, etc.). These previous two generations have led the life-parade that constitutes my entire memory, for which I am grateful.

It is one thing to lose grandparents because, well, grandparents have always been old (relative to us), as far as we can remember. We are but a blurry reflection of our grandparents. But when my generational cohort begins to lose their parents, it hits much closer to home. The loss is more profound, and our shadow darkens with the unavoidable realization of being just a single derivative from them.

The loss of a peer, former classmate, or cousin has intellectual implications, as we stare at the mirror and see a strange physical resemblance of someone approaching grandparent age ourselves. With this, there is a certain weight-of-realization that more people now trail us in the parade of life than lead.

Several torches are passing.

One can only hope that we too carry it well and pass it, still lit, for those to follow.

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  1. Incidentally, writing is much the same. I often imagine you (my reader) here with me as I write, a pretend conversation of sorts. I wonder if you are feeling what I feel, laughing with me at the abundance of life’s absurdities, and remembering your own growing-up experiences that relate to mine, as we continue to grow up and learn together.

    If you think this footnote is strangely reminiscent of Mr. Rogers, I will take that as a compliment.

  2. A carefully planted legal caveat in case 46+ years does not exceed the statute of limitations on this sort of infraction.
  3. Perhaps they are still hanging around somewhere. Or maybe, more practically, they are somewhere in a landfill, forever abandoned. And that’s OK too, because, well, they are pieces of plastic. Don’t get overly attached to these guys.


  • Ahhhh, so many thoughts, Andy, as I reflect on all that you have written and how it speaks to me in this “generation 2” phase of our life. I savor every moment. Just last night we got to hang out, play games and laugh with our preteen and teenage grandchildren! What a joy!
    So good to read and hear from you! Keep it up!

  • I don’t think your intention was to make me cry this morning. But then, maybe that’s just what I needed. Beautifully written as always. Thanks for sharing your gift with the world.

  • “The loss of a peer, former classmate, or cousin”…I was acutely aware of the loss of your cousin just less than 2 wks ago because, for me, it was the loss of a beloved niece & totally out of order of the way we think things should be. And, thus, perhaps the tears mentioned by cousin Christy in another comment. Paul said it so well. You have, once again, produced a writing that is poignant, thought provoking, nostalgic, &, yes, a wee bit sad. I loved it as always.

  • I always enjoy your writings. Thank you for sharing. This makes me a bit nostalgic. It makes me reflect – If I could go back 50-60 years, I would have made more effort to stay in contact with some of my friends (1 from high school and two from college) that was long ago lost. I wish I had realized that once that contact was lost it might never be reunited.

By Andy Jones
Past Midway Ramblings on Business & Life

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