Teddy Ruxpin, my would-be savior

Does anyone remember this?

I do. I might have seen this commercial at least a hundred times when I was a child. I would have been just beginning second grade when it came out, toting my brand new Trapper-Keeper folders and wondering who would be my friend that year. The product spoke to me. I dreamed of owning a Teddy Ruxpin; I thought that if I had one it was possible I would never have to be lonely again.

To begin with, the commercial itself closely resembles fantasies I entertained as a child. At night if I couldn’t sleep I’d fantasize about things like learning to do a perfect back handspring and then one day at recess, out of the blue, casually, I’d do a series of back handsprings across the field. I’d be unstoppable. One person would catch sight of me and point. Slowly, all the other students out at recess would gaze on my awesome-ness. Within minutes, I’d be transformed from class nerd to school hero.

But in reality I could barely cartwheel, and no one longed for my friendship. Every year I somehow managed to earn one best friend. Normally she’d last until the school year ended and then she’d move away, or we’d be assigned to separate classrooms the following year. To the rest of the grade, I was something of a pariah. I had eczema, which meant that I was constantly itching. I didn’t know the rules to even simple games like kickball, and if I joined a game I found that my legs froze when anyone was watching me. If I ever managed to kick the ball, it simply rolled a few inches and then petered out. Also: I had crooked teeth and wore sweater vests. Sometimes I cut my own bangs.

But in my dreams I had blond ringlets and excellent hand-eye coordination. In my dreams, I looked a little like Gidget, whose movies I had seen rebroadcast on TV.

ImageThough it closely resembled my fantasies—to the point my eight-year-old self could have written it—the commercial itself didn’t figure heavily into my thoughts about Teddy Ruxpin. I didn’t think that I would win any friends by bringing him to school. I wanted him because he could talk. More importantly, he would talk to me. I imagined him occupying a spot next to the pillow on my bed, reciting his pre-recorded stories. Somehow I thought his voice–which would be at my beckon call whenever I needed it–would act as a salve for all of the things that ached me: the loneliness of grade school, the realities of growing toward puberty and away from cuteness.

Strangely, I don’t think I ever asked my parents for a Teddy Ruxpin. Though my parents were resistant to buy any mass marketed toy, it’s conceivable that during the Christmas season I could have worn them down with some persistence. It seems likely that I never asked because a part of me recognized my fantasy as a pipe dream, and a weak one at that. Teddy Ruxpin could not save me from loneliness. I knew, just as my parents would have known, that we would install the four double-A batteries, I’d listen to each side of the cassette three times, maybe five, and then he’d sit in some forgotten corner of my room, his eyes perpetually wide with eagerness.

Image credit, Gidget: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gidget

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13 comments

  1. Wow. This is excellent and
    painfully evocative. The memories it stirs up are both personal and common.Anyone who says childhood is easy should read this post. Great, memorable writing.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. As you know I rail against that “childhood is the happiest time in your life” assumption. I think that kids have so much to worry about and keep track of. Yesterday, when Harlan told me about his day at preschool making cupcakes, drawing pictures, playing on the playground, I thought “Wow, that sounds pretty good.” But I also know that every day he’s got all kinds of social interactions to navigate and these interactions involve things like physical fighting, biting, and learning about things like crushes. I’m not sure I’d trade, though I would like a cupcake.

  2. Painfully yet beautifully evocative. So many of us can relate. When I look back on my childhood I see a mix of highs and lows. Sometimes I wish I could go back to my child self and tell her how to avoid the lows. But then I suspect some depth would be missed.

  3. I cannot express how badly I wanted one of those things. I see now that he just has tapes in him, but at the time, I was under the impression that he would talk to me and be my friend like some super advanced robot bear. I think I was quite a lonely child at times. It’s probably for the best that I never got one. 🙂

  4. This was so painful to read. I was that kid when I was younger. But I DID have a Teddy Ruxpin when I was very little. It didn’t ease anything about childhood for me.

  5. I’m with Natalie. This was painful to read. Yes, I was that kid – always picked last, teased and alone. My parents didn’t buy mass market toys or books either. Everyone had a Barbie. I had Tammy. Everyone had Nancy Drew. I had Trixie Belden. Other girls wore fashionable clothing. I was in a smock dress or a knitted pant suit. How did I have a chance of fitting in? I was bullied from the 7th to the 9th grades. My father was sympathetic and would have gone to the school fighting for me. My mother would not acknowledge my feelings – she would say things like: Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Another great one: Ignore them and they’ll leave you alone. By the way, neither of those things are true. She taught me that it was pointless to express my feelings.

    I didn’t have Teddy Ruxpin. I had a little gray elephant with pink ears that my grandfather gave me. He couldn’t talk, but he kept me company for many hours and years during my childhood. I talked to him. One day I came home from school and went into my room to find him missing. My mother threw him away.

    This is a great essay. How we see ourselves on the inside versus how other people only pay attention to the outside. Even Teddy Ruxpin couldn’t change that.

    1. Oh, that broke my heart to read that about your elephant. Ouch. Your comment reminded me that when all the kids were getting Cabbage Patch Dolls, my mom bought a knock-off head + sewing pattern and made me one. Other kids were quick to point out that it didn’t have the all-important “Xavier Roberts” signature on the butt.

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