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Matchbox, Hot Wheels, and the Joy of Playing Cars With My Kids

Thank god my parents didn't Marie Kondo their basement.

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When I was a kid, my collection of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars was vast. Muscle cars and 1980s-era econoboxes. A 7-series BMW, a gift my older sister sent back from a trip to France. A cool hot-rod with flames down the side, a one-time stocking stuffer. Those cars, stored in my parents’ basement for years, survived several toy purges. When my parents directed my Star Wars ships to a galaxy far, far away, I asked them to hang on to the fleet of cars — “just in case” I had a kid one day.

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My younger sister beat me to the punch on parenthood, so my nephews got the first crack at the car collection. Happily, the sturdy little cars survived my two rambunctious nephews; they were still in good shape when my first son arrived. When he was finally old enough to play with him, I was surprised to discover how familiar — and fun — the cars were. The white Mustang reminded me of a car my grandmother drove. I remembered signing up for the Matchbox Collectors Club, and waiting out the agonizingly long four-to-six weeks for the first newsletter and membership card to arrive by mail. I remembered my dad taking a shoebox and helping me turn it into a Hot Wheels service station. With the cars, I returned to my own, simpler childhood, when a kid’s screen time was limited by whose turn it was with the Atari (if you were lucky enough to have one).

In the book Connection Parenting, Pam Leo says kids need 10 minutes of engaged attention from an adult to feel safe, secure, and loved. I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t always how I want to — or have the energy to — spend my time after a long day. I can get there faster, though, by pulling out the old Matchboxes. I’m happy seeing my son play with the cars the same way I once did.

Fatherly IQ
  1. Are you and your family playing more board games in recent months?
    Not really We've always been a board game family.
    No, we don't really play board games.
    Yes, we play at least once a week.
    Yes, we play as often as we can.
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Some of the older cars have lasted through three generations, which is remarkable. (This is a good time to point out that toys manufactured in the 1960s and early ’70s might contain lead paint, so keep them away from the little ones who put everything in their mouths.) As my son gets older, I’ll keep combing eBay for the toys I grew up. This past Christmas, my sister found my beloved Adventure People kayaker and kayak — they’ve already explored the rapids of our bathtub.

My kids are growing up, and I know there’s little I can do to persuade them of the joys of non-digital toys. I believe, though, that “analog” playtime helps my sons develop a stronger sense of imagination and play — and creates a stronger bond between us.