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I Took My Son To A Toy Shop And Found They Stock Mid-Life Crises

*Batteries sold separately. Age 40 and up.
Sean Justice via Getty Images

My son got a toy shop voucher last Christmas -- a great gift for him, a diplomatic mission for me. He was always going to want something bigger and better than the voucher could afford. There's something condemning about our culture when a child can leave a toy shop unhappy.

As it turned out, though, he was fine. It was me who wandered into a weird experience; the toys sparking another in a series of middle-age crises.

My son and I separated shortly after we first walked into the toy shop. I wanted to show him the model planes and boats I used to build when I was a kid. He had no interest in those and ran off to find the latest Ninjago and Nexo Knights box sets -- Lego subcultures I didn't fully understand.

What came first, anyway, the toy or the TV show? Or were they released together, a marketing blitzkrieg on eight to 10-year-old boys.

I stayed behind to look at toys that don't get their own commercials. Model rocket kits that you build and paint yourself, and fly with combustible powder engine cartridges that look like little sticks of dynamite.

I don't know what we bought for my son in the toy shop that day. It doesn't really matter. Not yet.

I loved those rockets. Every launch was a neighborhood event, complete with countdown. Sometimes they fizzled on the launch pad. Sometimes they blasted off to what seemed like the edge of earth's atmosphere, at least to my nine-year-old imagination. I lost more than one of those rockets to suburban rooftops when their parachutes failed to open. Preparing for the descent was not on my radar.

This toy shop was well stocked. I picked up boxes of model airplanes; a 'Spitfire', a 'Messerschmitt', complete with decals, rotating propellers and even tiny pilots in accurate uniform. I loved all the detail and remembered how my cheap, glossy paints never gave my own model planes the professional finish I was after. I guess I'd left a few toy stores disappointed, too.

I heard a song through the toy shop's weak, tinny speakers and worked hard to ignore the tune. It was Kajagoogoo's 'Too Shy', a song that reminded me of an improbably, intimidatingly beautiful girl who once broke my heart. I didn't want that grown up memory polluting my pure enjoyment of these toys.

I wanted to stay with the boxes of model railway cars and the scenery: the hollowed out plastic mountain tunnel sprayed with synthetic moss, the boxes of little cloud sheep, the half-dozen miniature sunbathers waiting to be released from their hermetically sealed plastic dome.

It was in that toy shop that I finally understood the phenomenon of middle-aged dedication to model railways. It was all built on nostalgia; a yearning to manifest a platonic ideal of the world in miniature that had never -- could never -- exist in a world populated by real people who don't emerge from a plastic case, designed, knees bent, with no other purpose than to sit on a park bench, or endlessly punch tickets on a railway platform.

Models are about making time stand still.

I don't know what we bought for my son in the toy shop that day. It doesn't really matter. Not yet.

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