Goodbye, Childhood: Closing Big Fun & Wondering About Fun for the Next Generation

Image of Collectibles at Big Fun
Image Credit: N Engineer

Big Fun is closing soon. The Cleveland Heights, Ohio, store that has bought and sold vintage toys since 1991, promising to let you return to your childhood as you discover treasures long lost but not forgotten, has been selling off its merchandise (there’s still some good stuff in there, all for 50% off) as it prepares to close its doors forever.

But while I’m saddened by the end of an era, it’s gotten me thinking about how my childhood relates to the childhood of my children and how much has changed for them.

We teach our children to recycle, to respect the earth. As a parent, I’m critical of obsessive screen usage, any need for instant gratification, or disrespect for tradition. And yet, this post-9/11 generation of children, whose reality includes active shooter drills alongside fire and tornado drills as part of their school experience, is expected to accept the potential for mass shooters alongside natural disasters as part of their childhood…

…while we are, as John Mayer “sagely” crooned, “waiting for the world to change,” but it doesn’t seem as if it’s coming soon.

Today’s kids are done waiting. They need change. They might want to look back on reliving their childhood with their favorite toys, as I do, because the world we’ve gifted them right now includes elements for them so different than the ones that make me long for the items at Big Fun.

We’re failing them.

There’s an opioid epidemic sweeping the country, an astounding income disparity, and more guns than people in this country. We must give them active reasons to have fun, so they do not resort to vaping or overplaying video games, and so they do not have to spend countless hours on social media to escape the harsh reality that they have more reason than we did to dread going to school. Namely, that someone will kill them or their classmates without warning.

Regardless of the cause of the current spate of school shootings—more guns per capita, advancements in gun technology, insufficient gun control legislation, too many violent video games, whatever—what we must accept is that this current reality and the specter of school shootings are affecting our children’s worldview.

I’m not here to argue the merits of gun control; I simply want to focus on the mental well-being of a generation of children growing up amidst either an increased prevalence of violence or merely an increased perception of violence.

Meaning, whether or not kids are in more danger now or not, whether it is statistically more likely for a child to die in school now or if the “fake news” is simply sensationalizing the number of deaths that happen to occur inside school premises, we have to accept that when the majority of schools hold monthly active shooter drills, the stress levels of today’s youth are bound to be higher than ours were when we were kids.

Collectibles on sale at Big Fun
Image Credit: N Engineer

I’m not going to argue that the world was better or worse in our childhood. All I know is that even as we learned History and Current Events—even in my large public school where there were cliques, bullies, teen pregnancies, truancy, and most likely drug use (I never personally witnessed it, but I wasn’t exactly socially active or particularly astute in such matters either)—I felt safe from the outside world coming in with a weapon and either ending my life or changing my life.

So, while I may be saddened by the impending closing of a store that has served us by preserving our childhood, perhaps its closing ought to remind us that while we can buy up idols to remind us of our idyllic childhood (or to by symbols to us for when we discovered the best, truest, geekiest side of ourselves), our kids deserve a childhood of their own. Will they feel nostalgic for the toys of their youth, or will they remember clutching them close during an active shooter drill, or, worse, during an active shooter situation?

So while it’s sad to say goodbye to a local landmark, I hope in its wake there opens up something special for the next generation beyond the tragedies we seem to be in now.