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