Toy Retreat

(Guest Post from the the NBP–the Non-Binary Progeny)

I didn’t realize it as a child, but now I see that I was pretty angry about a lot of things in my young life. I didn’t look like my parents (other kids looked like their parents!), and besides that, I was trapped in a body that I really didn’t like—a body I came to hate, but more on that later. When confusion and anger overwhelmed me, I would go into a zombie-like meditative state and lose myself in my toys.

Several toys consumed me. Whether it was G.I. Joes or Transformers, I became transfixed. I also had an assortment of Lincoln Logs, Matchbox cars, plastic dinosaurs, and other animals for whom I created worlds for us to get lost in. Sometimes those worlds only consisted of marching the dinosaurs around and having them meet the cars and the tigers, but it was enough for me to forget about myself for a time. I loved my “boy” toys.

I hated dolls. I once had a doll my mom named Chamomile (I wouldn’t even deign to name her), given to me by a family friend. Chamomile was a Japanese doll with a porcelain face, straight jet-black hair, and a red kimono. Didn’t this couple—Japanese scholars both—know that Koreans and Japanese aren’t the same thing? Well, I didn’t at the time, so I thought I was supposed to look like this doll; I couldn’t have been more insulted! Okay, well, they couldn’t have known that this Asian (I barely knew I was Korean, only some brand of Asian) toddler despised dolls of any ethnic background. No dolls. Period. This doll was not allowed in my room. I wanted to put her six feet under because I wholly rejected any resemblance to her and flat out thought she was creepy with her piercing eyes and her perfectly puckered lips. [Shivers!] My mother consigned her to a closet, where I wouldn’t be able to see her, nor she me. Obviously, dolls were forever banned from my toy repertoire.

One Christmas—I was about five—my grandpa made me a dollhouse. Built it himself—an old man building a dollhouse. Awww, sweet. I destroyed it. Like a little ungrateful brute, I kicked it in because it screamed to me, “YOU ARE A GIRL.” I feel guilty about demolishing it, and I know my parents were upset that I had done so since it was such a nice thing my grandpa did (and, apparently, he wasn’t always the cuddliest fellow in the world), but I couldn’t stand it. In hindsight, I could’ve at least tried to use the dollhouse as a G.I. Joe headquarters.

The only other “girly” toys I remember owning were My Little Ponies. They were stupid and pink and purple and “girl” colored but ultimately accepted into the mix because they were useful as beasts of burden. All my action figures were allowed to use them as mules and horses for carry and cargo. Mwahaha.

I was a huge fan of Legos and spent hours building Lego cities, both modern and medieval. These were extravagant constructions with multiple dwellings, roads, vehicles, people. Sometimes these architectural masterpieces remained assembled for quite some time…months at least. After a while I would notice that the yellow, blue, and red blocks started looking more and more like the gray ones. Excitedly, I would go majorly OCD. Paintbrushes of all sizes would be assembled and used to dust every nook and cranny. Fan brushes were especially effective, in case you were wondering! Dusting became another therapeutic zombie activity. It required few brainwaves and at the end, when I snapped out of my dusty reverie, I would feel a sense of accomplishment. All my knights, castles, pilots, drivers, and civilians now lived in an allergen-free world! It took hours—blissful, non-thinking hours.

Talking about paintbrushes, art was another outlet for me. Not only was it easy to get lost in, but it was an activity relatively free of gender overtones. My zombie self was an abstract artist veering towards Modernism with lines, colors, patterns, and shapes plunked all over a page; we (my Zombie and I) used crayons, markers, watercolors, pastels, colored pencils, acrylics. These artistic adventures could last for hours in which I would achieve my “zombie-zone”—anger synapses asleep. Pages upon pages would pile up on my art table. Once I had a formidable stack, I would gather together as many pages as the stapler allowed, and add a cover with a clever title (e.g., “Lines and Shapes”) and my name. It amazed and impressed my parents when the zombie state came on because I’d be intent for such long periods of time that they thought it indicated a profound ability to focus on a task. They didn’t know—and neither did I—that it was really a way to unfocus and go to another, less complicated place.

Later on these drawings became distinctly warlike. Knights, axes, swords, battleships, and airplanes shooting fire, bullets, missiles, bombs, ahem all manner of projectiles, figured prominently. The knights or the soldiers were always either armed or had rippling arms themselves. These drawings required total concentration, and the time spent drawing them—images of death-inducing weapons though they might be—had a calming effect on me. Whatever the zombie and I did, it was done subconsciously to calm an inner rage, and it sort of worked.

Warrior wannabe (or disturbed child, ha. Ha. Ha?) though I may have been, I loved stuffed animals. They were cute and soft and uncomplicated (boys had them, too!). Stuffed animals were also good friends because if you felt the need to hit things or throw things against a wall, they could take it. They didn’t get upset or scream or cry. They just pleasantly smiled (hopefully without crying on the inside).

I always had one favorite, and he was never in harm’s way. The first favorite was a super soft leopard with wonderful spots named Larry. Larry had plastic whiskers great for chewing on. Then came Steven who was a tan mini-Gund bear. He loved to have his tummy rubbed and rubbed and rubbed.

Needless to say, all my animals were male, except for one pink Gund bear named Susan. Me, the blossoming little sexist, made her the bitch. Talking about sexism: Loving stuffed animals—being suckered in by cute things—seemed like a disturbingly girly thing to do. Dusting Legos also made me feel girly because neatness and cleanliness were attributes associated with girls. I tried not to think about this too much, because even if they were girly, they were necessities.

Then came William, William T. Bear (his middle name was “The” not “Teddy”). When I received William, a chocolate brown grizzly bear and held him for the first time, he felt so new and soft and was the ultimate in cuteness and comfort—100 percent ergonomic…for hugging. Oh, he even smelled good. I knew we’d have a special bond. He was a present from my father, which made him already special—even magical. I gave him a voice, and in turn, he gave me one. I manipulated and animated him like a puppet (but he’s not a puppet, damn it, he’s real!). I brought him to life by moving him: body, limbs, even ears. I gave him emotions and ascribed body movements to each feeling. I was never without William at home, and I dreaded leaving him behind when I went to school. He was a shield and a security blanket, and a rather excellent companion. William was also a useful communication conduit to my parents. My parents, not bears of small brain themselves, caught on quickly. They would ask me if William were tired, or if William were sad, and William, less guarded than I, would answer truthfully and unassumingly. I, who rarely spoke more than a word or two even at home, became quite vocal and lively when William was around. He was a bubbly bear and made even me laugh. William was who I wanted to be. He was funny and simple and innocent and silly and male. He was not evil, though naturally being a bear, he grrrred a lot. He made my anger disappear. He was the light side to my dark. (Shhh. Don’t tell, but he’s watching Top Chef next to me as I write this.)

Dinner with Mom and Dad (Guest Post from the NBP concluded)

When dinner was over it was usually close to my bedtime and bedtime was the best time of the day! It was the ultimate kid time—catered completely to and for me—with the goal of accomplishing my favorite activity in the universe: sleep! Each of my parents would come in and say goodnight to me in their own special way, but they did it one at a time. I had each one all to myself. Snuggling down into my comfy jammies, I got to listen to stories and songs. For a while there I even got to suck my thumb.[1]

I made my parents wear out copies of many children’s books: Good Night Moon; The Very Hungry Caterpillar; Horton Hears a Who!; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (every day for me); The Mitten; Millions of Cats; Amos and Boris (one of my mom’s favorite’s); Where the Wild Things Are; Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse; Frederick; The Six Little Possums and the Babysitter (another of my mom’s faves); Ox-Cart Man; Caps for Sale; The Velveteen Rabbit (William T. Bear hated that one); Beatrix Potter, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein. There was also Roald Dahl and the series featuring George and Martha hippopotami. I was also friendly with Lyle Crocodile, Babar, Corduroy, Frog and Toad, and the Berenstain Bears.[2]

My mom invented her own story series, which she did off the cuff. The main character was Little Green Frog, which, of course, was me, and her best friend was Myrtle the Turtle. They had lots of adventures and ate lily pads for cookies. Little Green Frog’s mom and dad were Mommy Purple Frog and Daddy Purple Frog. I loved those stories and regrettably don’t remember any of them. Mom would let me contribute to the plots, so one night I made my mom kill off Mommy Purple Frog and learned that Little Green Frog would be taken care of by Daddy Purple Frog. The next night Daddy PF instead of Mommy PF made the hit list, and Mommy PF took over. The next night I had her kill off both of them, and there was still a back-up! Aunt Orange Frog took over. So, I killed her off, too, and then I was sent to Grandma Green Frog and so on and so forth until we had run through several branches of the family tree, which seemed to blossom exuberantly, somewhat assuaging my fears of being alone and unadopted. Confusingly, I was never handed off to a reptilian babysitter….…

Little Green Frog stories were usually way cheerier than those death spirals. Also, my mom had magic mom powers, and sometimes, if I were unusually tense, she would rub my back and my head and tell me to calm my breathing. Then she might sing me a song or two or three. Sometimes my dad would take the mic and sing to me (in his own soothing, tone-deaf way). His songs were always super comforting to me, too, and I never wanted them to end.

Bedtime was kid time. Pure and simple. No thinking or action required on my part. It was when my parents came down to my level. These were the times my imagination was let out to pasture (counting sheep that could leap and leap). It was a special time completely designed for me. I remember it with great fondness.


[1] Quitting thumb-sucking is like quitting smoking; One needs to be in the right mind-frame. I became resolved to quit after a visit to the dentist where he told me and my mom that if I didn’t quit, I’d push my two front teeth out so much that I’d need braces or forever look like a beaver. That was the incentive I needed. I quit cold turkey. The worst flashbacks and slip-ups occurred watching Disney’s animated Robin Hood, because the wimpy lion of a Prince John sucks his thumb, and he makes it look soooooooo comforting. I improved on his technique though improvising on my own: when I sucked my thumb I would also curve my index finger around the tip of my nose and pet it. And zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………

[2] All these books meant so much to me that when I was in college, I went out and rebought the entire collection. Ahem, yes, a certain parent was socially responsible and into educating other children so donated the majority of my childhood stuff as it was deemed too young for me.


On September 1, 2021, the NBP posted “Non-Binary Tennis.” Search Results for “Non-Binary Tennis” – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog). On October 8, AJ posted “Toy Retreat.” Search Results for “Toy Retreat” – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog.)  They are worth reading.