Little bikers with retro tricycle. Eco farm workers. Two little children on countryside farm. sweet childhood. Eco living. Childhood concept. Nature and children lifestyle. Summer leisure

Childhood Nostalgia


Words by Jillian Lombardo


My bliss echoed in the laughter of after-school play dates with my uncle and the summer camp shenanigans with friends I still hold dear today. It echoed in the cross-state karaoke road trips with my mom, driving far too fast, and the backyard camping adventure with my grandmother. While I was never one for sports, I found activeness in the running of my mind, whether thoughts or creativity. Like many, I found joy in the toys passed down by my family, from the old McDonald’s gadgets to the extensive collection of Legos and the endless supply of exploration equipment from my grandparents. 

I wish I remembered the first time I played with Barbie dolls. It is safe to say it was in the first two years of my life (it is also safe to say I do not remember that time). However, I recall the world they allowed me to create at a young age. The lives I cultivated for my Barbies were elaborate and aspirational. When Mattel first released the Barbie Dream House in 1962, it did not have a kitchen. Barbie’s creator, Ruth Handler, knew that only 0.1% of women were homeowners at this time and wanted to offer an alternate vision. It showed women a space of their own, something unattainable then. Mattel consistently battled stereotypes in the workforce, ie. Barbie went to space in 1965, 18 years before we would send women to space. It gave me the empowerment needed to dream about opportunities in male-dominated fields. My Barbie world was sacred—a personalized creation outside the craziness worldwide. My favorite moment was when I would take Hannah Montana’s advice and constantly change my Barbie’s hair and clothes. I processed the statement so literally that I damaged my mother’s straightener momentarily. Who knew the doll’s hair was plastic?

I have photo evidence of one of the first times I played with Hot Wheels. They were my uncle’s. I had a mohawk, and we played in the spare bedroom. We had an eight-year age gap, and cars became our initial bonding topic. Created as a variation of Hot Rods in 1967, Hot Wheels became Mattel’s next must-have item. The company opted for the radical, altered vehicles, comparative to the ones Handler used to see on California’s Highway. They designed a race track for the cars that included orange road sections and supercharged sections that, when assembled, resembled a NASCAR track. Combining the newest car craze with speed from using hard plastic tires over regular metal or plastic tires made the cars more successful than expected. Other than that, I would find myself in an office building once a month due to health issues. My mom’s coworker had Hot Wheel versions of Tonka trucks in a whole collection. So once a month, when I wasn’t in school, and he was in the office, we would pretend to build parking lots. (Before finishing the article, I realized Tonka trucks are not large industrial trucks but a whole company of small industrial toy trucks. I am just a girl.) 

At one grandparent’s house laid an expansive patio filled with possibilities. On the table was a garden of tomatoes in constant supply, and the corner rested a little red wagon, patiently waiting until the grandkids were together to accompany it. When the grandkids were together, that was the leading toy of choice. I gave each of my cousins their first childhood scar on that wagon. Around the patio, I always ran too fast before the bump, and, like clockwork, a victim found their way to the hospital with stitches and a beautiful chin scar. 

My other set of grandparents also had a red wagon. It was more extensive than the other but suitable for my grandmother to wheel me and the other grandkids around the neighborhood. She loved to take us to the pond around the block to feed the ducks, and we befriended many of them over the years. The Little Red Wagon started 1917 as America’s promise to at-risk youth. The wagon is said to hold the children’s dreams and burdens. It is said to be something pulled by us until the children can pull it for themselves and that we sould assist anytime the wagon gets too heavy. The idea was to pay it to the youth now in the hope they will pay it back one day. It gave youth the opportunity to dream and the tools needed to achieve. 

I try to look back on my childhood fondly. It is easy to acknowledge the unsettling moments that leave a mark, but it is more rewarding to remember the bliss. My bliss was at my grandfather’s entomologist lab, looking at sand ants under the microscope and the tadpoles from the backyard. It was in the legacy of love and laughter passed down through memories and in trinkets. I have learned that my bliss is whenever I am with my people, whether exploring the world or their minds. Don’t forget to check in with your inner child to celebrate National Barbie Day on March 9, National Little Red Wagon Day on March 25 and National Hot Wheels Day on May 18!

About Jillian Lombardo

Jillian Lombardo is a senior at the University of North Florida majoring in multimedia journalism and minoring in psychology. She hopes her career will lead her to investigative reporting or war correspondence. Jillian’s ambition is to help people lead her to a career she sees as a fourth branch of government, a voice for the people and the inside scoop on current events they have a right to understand.