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Can you imagine a time when there were no stores like Toys-R-Us? When there were no aisles of children’s playthings in every shop? There were no screaming children in the stores crying, “Mummy I want that,” and no frustrated mothers being persuaded to buy what junior desired.
Those were the days when we gave our children a spoon and a saucepan lid to make their kind of music or a large cardboard box to jump in and out of. A tin can to compete with a friend by throwing a stone into it from a longer and longer distance. We made a tent from the dining room table so the children could pretend they were in the wild hoping that no strange animal would enter. They played hopscotch, skip the rope or any number of cheap games. Remember hide and seek and pin the tail on the donkey? Do children still build model airplanes or automobiles from a very inexpensive kit? Do they use their fingers and hands for creative handicrafts? Do they curl up in a comfy chair and read a book to stimulate the mind? With encouragement they do.
But after a while even a resourceful parent needed some new ideas to stimulate the children’s capabilities, so the city made available toy libraries where one could check out a toy or a game with a library card for an allotted time then return it and replace it with another toy. What a wonderful assist this was for a family with young children and limited resources who were always looking for interesting entertainment. The toy libraries were mostly manned by volunteer parents.
I was raising two boys alone whilst my husband was with the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines so I needed the diversion of the toy library for my boys and besides by offering to volunteer at the facility I had an opportunity to associate with other mothers in similar circumstances. The library was situated in a small local park, in those days there was no fear of leaving children to play with other youngsters in a safe place. Evil predators did not hover around the parks.
My youngest son Leonard had just started to walk on his own. I placed him in the sandbox which I could easily see from a window in the library and said to his older brother Leif, “Please keep an eye on Leonard,” whilst I assisted to check out the toys. I constantly watched the children happily playing with their buckets and sand shovels, but of course it was necessary to shift my glance from time to time. Then I saw Leif come running to me as he called out, “I can’t see Leonard.” I rushed outside but Leonard was not in the sandbox. I searched all around the park calling, “Lenny, Lenny!” but there was never an answer or any sight of him trying to find his mamma. I knew that if I searched away from the park he could have gone in any direction and I could choose the wrong one so I dashed to the telephone and called the police. “My baby has disappeared,” I cried hysterically. Two policemen arrived immediately and I could see reproachful looks that they gave me as they considered me to be a neglectful mother. I could only tearfully apologize whilst they assured me that they would find him. “Go home with the other boy,” they said, “and wait until you hear from us.” Of course I obeyed but imagine my agony. I tried to stay indoors to hear the phone ring to tell me they had found my son, but how could I be patient enough to do that? I ran in and out of the house hoping that I might see him walking home alone along the street although I knew his little legs could not carry him so far. All the time I was thinking that his father was overseas fighting the war and trusting me to care for his children and I have lost his child. How would I ever be able to tell him and will he ever forgive me and will I ever forgive myself?
It seemed that hours passed but in reality it was a short time until I saw a patrol car driving down the street and stop at my house and there was my little son sitting between two uniformed policemen. When I grabbed him out of the policeman’s arms he was soaked through from wet diapers.
When the officer released him he said, “Mother, be more watchful next time. He’ll sleep well now because he went for a long walk on those little legs.”
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