One day, while I was teaching a middle school music class, a student began playing with a small plastic toy on his desk, a Dominos Pizza Noid1. One was not allowed to do such in my class. This interaction between the student and me began:
“You need to put him away, or I’m going to have to take him. And frankly, I think he’s cute. So, if I take it, I won’t want to ever give him back to you.” I said in a sort of we-shouldn’t-have-to-be-having-this-conversation tone of voice, but with sympathetic eyes.
The student, a boy, replied very sincerely, “Oh, if you like him, you can have him, Dr. Tyson.” as he offered to hand him to me.
Well, obviously this was not the desired response.
“No. Just put him away.”
“No, really. You can have him, Dr. Tyson. Really.” he said insistently, still offering his toy Noid.
“But he will miss you if I take him; so, I really don’t want him. I just want you to put him away.”
An all but unnoticeable fleeting flicker flashed across the student’s face. In that instant, even if subconsciously, he had made a big decision: to put childhood behind. “Dr. Tyson, I really want you to have him.” he said, handing me his Noid.
Well, fiddlesticks! This was turning into a protracted interruption of learning, the exact opposite of what I was trying to accomplish. Just so I could get back to teaching, I took the silly little toy and placed it on the front edge of the overhead projector looking out at the class. When the students left the classroom, I told the boy who had insisted I keep his Noid, “I’m going to leave him here on the projector. Now, if he misses you too much, you’re going to have to take him home.” The Noid, pictured above, was to live happily on my overhead projector from that day on.
Astonishingly, the ever vigil Noid on the overhead projector became a delight to all of the students who entered the classroom for the remainder of the day. They immediately noticed him upon walking into the room. “Oh, I like your Noid, Dr. Tyson.”, and “Where did you get the Noid? I like him.”, and “Oh, I didn’t know you like Noids. I have one too.” I dutifully told everyone the story and who had given me the Noid. I had no idea how much the students would enjoy my having a simple little toy on the classroom overhead projector.
The next morning, a student came into the room with another Noid from the series Dominos had produced. He placed his Noid on the overhead projector next to Noid No. 1 and simply said, “He was lonely.” as he went on to his seat and sat down. For the remainder of the day the students all commented on how the first Noid had found a friend. This seemed to make them very happy. Almost every day students began bringing in their little plastic friends to add to what was to become a rapidly growing collection.
One day a girl all but forced a boy to enter my classroom. (Girls are typically bigger than boys in middle grades.) She said angrily to him, “Tell him. Tell him what you did.” The boy sheepishly explained that he had “accidentally” taken one of the small plastic toys. “Now give it back!” she barked. He dutifully obeyed. It was a plastic, skeleton toy about 4 inches tall—taller than any of the other toys. Having so many, I hadn’t even noticed it was gone, though I remembered who had given it to the collection.2
Often, donating to the collection was all but a ceremonious affair. A few children would even have tears in their eyes as they haltingly handed me their special friends. I would always ask, “Are you sure?” Unable to speak without bursting into tears, I would receive the slow nod of their heads. I would always promise to take good care of their special friend and invited them back to visit as often as they wanted. And, if their toy didn’t get along with the other toys or missed them too terribly, they knew they could always take it back home. I did have one go home for a weekend visit.
The “accidental” toy pilferer assured me he would never take one again; so, I thanked him for making a wrong right again, said he had learned an important life lesson, and sent them on their way. I was unaware that the growing collection of plastic toys had its own police force, and they apparently were not to be “toyed” with.
By the end of the teaching portion of my career as an educator, literally every flat surface in my entire classroom was covered with plastic friends. They were everywhere: the chalkboard trays, the perimeter of my desk, all of the window sills, the cabinets lining the back of my room, the top of the filing cabinets, a table in the back—absolutely every flat surface.
I came to understand that these sweet little middle school children were now becoming ready to shed their childhood plastic friends, but they wanted to be able to come visit them from time to time as needed. Giving them to Dr. Tyson was apparently seen as a safe and comfortable way to do this. And, having an 8th grader stop by unannounced to make sure the plastic critter s/he had given me in 6th or 7th grade (or even earlier their 8th grade year) was still getting along fine without them was not an uncomment event. But then, students just liked to come visit the music room and peruse the enormous collection.
When I left classroom teaching and started boxing up all of my things, I started counting my unexpected trove of plastic friends. I was about half way when I reached 600, and, overwhelmed, I just stopped counting. I suspect I had been bequeathed well over 1,000 childhood toys—each packed with the precious memories of a childhood outgrown.
To this day, that very Noid (pictured, top and below) and all of the Raisin People that were given to me, keep me company and remind me of my former students, now all grown up.