remind me how to play

When my wife texted me a photo of the box I’d received from Hasbro, I was hardly able to make it through my work day. I knew it had G.I. Joe toys in it, so I knew I’d be reliving my childhood that night alongside my son.

These G.I. Joe toys were sent to me by Hasbro because of the new G.I. Joe Retaliation movie that I’m honestly not at all interested in. But toys and nostalgia do it for me. After ripping open the cardboard box, I found a press release and all I read was “blah blah blah G.I. Joe blah blah blah.” And of course, as I skimmed the press materials, I sing-songed “G.I. JOEEEEEEEEEEEEE” a quarter million times, which annoyed my wife and thrilled my son.

What I love about playing with my son the most is that although I often act like a kid myself, I now lack the simple sensibilities that my son has. I get bent out of shape about adult things, like using toys “correctly” or risking breaking something. My son constantly reminds me how to play, and these G.I. Joe toys have helped me get back to my toy-playing roots.

“Oh my god, I hope Snake Eyes is in here,” I said as I tore the box open. My wife, puzzled at my excitement, asked, “What’s a Snake Eyes?”

Cobra Commander shank

Cobra Commander is about to learn why you don’t bring a neck to a knife fight.

“Only the most awesome ninja ever, who can use hand-to-hand combat, kitanas and guns, making him completely unpredictable in battle. And he’s a blonde haired, blue eyed dude that was able to become a ninja, so he gives my people hope,” I replied. I also, for the record, yelled “G.I. JOEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

And I was given some alone-time to finish opening boxes. When I emerged from my office, I had a Snake Eyes action figure in one hand and Cobra Commander’s H.I.S.S. tank in the other. My son was overjoyed.

“Can we play with the Snake Guys and his car now, daddy?” my son asked as his little clammy hands crept up around my arms to pull the toys down.

“Dude, it’s Snake Eyes, and that’s not his car,” I answered. “That’s Cobra Commander’s HI Speed Sentry.” I tore free and told him we’d play with them after dinner.

But parenting got in the way. We had a bit of a run-in, and as punishment, I had to delay us playing with them until the next day. I’ll admit, after we put my son to bed, I played with them. I posed Snake Eyes a million times – with his handgun and his knife, with his two knives (which led to me losing one in my recliner), with one his handgun and one katana, with both katanas, with his machine gun and katana.

The next day after breakfast, I brought the toys back out and let my son have at them. He immediately went for Snake Eyes, even though the Cobra Commander figure is a little burlier and has a tank. That’s my son, a lover of ballistics ninjas.

Within minutes, he’d created a whole world around Snake Eyes. My son flipped him from our counter to table, to the china cabinet, to the living room run. We heard screams, multiple voices, and a tussle. We saw some other action figures (from the Star Wars universe) bounce across the carpet and come to an abrupt stop.

HISS tank mowdown

Cobra Commander is about to mow down Snake Eyes along with some rebel scum in his H.I.S.S. tank.

“Daddy,” my son called into the kitchen as I finished my coffee, “now he needs his guns.”

I got down on the carpet next to my son and put Snake Eyes’ guns in his hands, taking his katanas and knives back, tossing them back into the plastic packaging. We played with Cobra Commander and his H.I.S.S. tank. I was far more annoyed with the fact that the top portion detached from the tank treads within moments of any human interaction. My son took the land-to-air conversion in stride. In fact, I found that I was far more of a stuffy old guy than the last time I played with G.I. Joe toys; my son had no qualms with the fact that “Ninja Duel Snake Eyes” was hard to stand up due to his infinite points of articulation. He wasn’t bothered that you couldn’t swivel the turret on the H.I.S.S. without detaching the top of the tank from the treads. And if you pushed too hard, the treads would detach from the center as well.

Kids aren’t spoiled by the “it just works” culture of stuff nowadays.

Snake Eyes Zipline

Snake Eyes ziplining as my son and Cobra Commander take a shot at him from a nearby cliff.

The truth is that my son is constantly teaching me to have fun with things, even when they don’t meet my adult expectations. All I do is think “this isn’t like the G.I. Joes I used to have.” But all my son thinks is “NINJAS! TANKS! OMG!”

And really, let’s be honest, we killed at least an hour clipping Snake Eyes’ zipline on things around the room and sending Snake Eyes (and Cobra Commander, and Obi Wan Kenobi, and Chewbacca, and R2D2) down the zipline. It’s still clipped on our living room blinds, just waiting for someone else to take a ride.

Also, it’s opened up an opportunity to show my son the original G.I. Joe cartoons, which still run on The Hub. And this has given me a great reason to get reacquainted with the Fensler Film G.I. Joe PSAs:

In the meantime, as I teach my son about G.I. Joe, my son has reminded me how to play like a kid and not sweat the small stuff. Because, dude – ninjas! Tanks! OMG!