Kids remind you what’s old is what’s new

At a Christmas party a few days ago chatting with a fellow holiday reveler it came up that I had taught seventh-graders for 30 years. “I’ll bet that kept you young,” she said.

I agreed that in many ways it had and added, “One thing it did was keep me in the pop culture loop.” I explained that when I was teaching, the students kept me up-to-date with the doings of the latest singers, actors and other celebrities who had recently arrived on the pop radar screen. “I was too old to be hip,” I said, “but at least I was informed.”

My knowledge of the latest trends in popular culture has been woefully lacking since those days when I spent hours of my life with a gaggle of young teens. These days when I glance at a page from some entertainment medium, I am constantly reminding my wife just how clueless I am. “Who is she?” “What is it they have done?” “I’ve never heard of him,” are common admissions of my ignorance that Becky frequently hears as I puzzle over the latest photos of smiling, perfectly proportioned actors and sneering musicians with attitudes.

Fortunately, I have grandchildren. Nowadays, although the quicksilver interests of middle-schoolers are no longer available to me, I am privy to the most fascinating, important and up-to-the-minute things that occupy the thoughts of preschoolers and early elementary kids. Their Christmas wish lists, for example, hold all sorts of information about what is going on in their young worlds.

Now, on the off chance that my 2-year-old granddaughter learns how to read and comes upon this column before Christmas, I need be careful just how many details I reveal. Let’s just say her gift from Grandma and me involves a pink helicopter and a round-headed, white feline whose name is a common English greeting. She can have hours of fun putting this kitty and her friends in the copter and then taking them out. I am reminded of the ubiquitous G.I. Joe action figures my brothers would place in jeeps and drive around the living room. G.I. Joe had his own TV show, as does the kitty my granddaughter watches.

One grandson is getting a prehistoric creature that apparently has an attitude (like those sneering musicians, I guess) and will let you know by his eyes what mood he is in. According to moms who check on these things, it’s all the rage this year, and we were lucky to find one. Maybe I am too cynical, but I am always suspicious when there is a shortage of some trendy, must-have item. Remember the Beanie Babies craze back in the ’80s when people literally were fighting in the aisles?

Another grandson has a robot on his list. Like the dinosaur, this one does all sorts of things using today’s technology. And like the dinosaur, this is a particularly hot item these days. Robots were popular toys when I was a kid in the late 1950‘s. They looked just like the robots in the cheesy outer space movies I loved. The toy robots would walk, sort of, when you wound them up. Some even ran on batteries. High tech at the time.

The other granddaughter wants a specific doll and the books that go with it. This doll, too, is very popular right now. Dolls have been around since prehistoric times, and books are a long-established Christmas gift, so, really, this doll is just a new take on an old toy.

Come to think of it, most new toys are just up-dated versions of old toys. Just like this week’s crop of new celebrities are merely the latest manifestations of “stars” of the past. It’s the nature of popular culture to change. Andy Warhol said in the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. I think the future is now, so I am glad I have the gift of grandchildren who will be helping me keep up-to-date.