When I was a kid, I technically had everything I needed. Okay fine, I didn’t. But for the sake of keeping this fun(ish), let’s assume I always had (most of) the basic necessities of life. But I was a poor kid and while my childhood was far from ideal, back then I wasn’t focused on the things I would later work through in therapy. I was focused on the tangible items other kids had that I wanted. Longing for a stress-free home seemed futile so instead, I set my sights on more plausible goals: material possessions.
I have never been able to share in all of those articles or memes about having the cool shit from the ’90s. Because our family just couldn’t afford it. But that didn’t stop me from longing for the finer things in life, like:
1. Jello-O Pudding Pops
I have strong memories of craving Jell-O Pudding Pops. My neighbor always had a freezer full, and every once in a while I would get one. My buddy would come out of his house holding a chocolate-vanilla swirl treat on a stick; I had no qualms asking for one while salivating. The answer was usually no, because my friend’s parents knew enough to not feed the poor kids next door, lest they get caught up in always feeding us. I had to settle for one of the double stick popsicles that break down the middle—one always lost a tip—to share with my brother.
2. Kid Cuisine
On my way to the shitty popsicles, I had to push aside the remaining Salisbury steak frozen TV dinners that were part of the 10 for $10 deal at Giant Eagle. It seemed like every other kid in town was enjoying the magical brownies (not THAT kind of magical) in a Kid Cuisine and I was choking on lightly sauced meat.
No-name frosted toaster pastries just don’t compare to the original. Nobody gets the frosting all over the pastry quite like Pop-Tarts.
4. A VCR
We barely had color TV, and it definitely didn’t have a remote. We didn’t have a VCR for a long time, but on Fridays we would rent one from the local video store and bring the thing home in what looked like the soft shells used to keep delivery pizza warm.
5. Boxed Cereal
When you have to use a chip clip to seal your cereal because it comes in a bag found on the bottom self in the cereal aisle, you envy your friends who can offer you cereal from a box. And it wasn’t just any cereal in a box—it was Lucky Charms or Cocoa Puffs (not “magic stars” or “chocolate puff balls”).
6. Pepsi or Coke
The fanciest soda we got was Faygo. But, again, we usually went to the bottom self of the pop aisle and hand selected a 24 can mixed case of grape, orange, or lemon lime soda. Cindy Crawford made me want a Pepsi real bad.
We had basic cable, but not the premium channels that offered MTV. I was so envious of my friends who had seen the video that went with our favorite songs. Cable was funny back then, though, and on most days when I turned the channel to MTV, I could hear the program through a little static. The picture was grainy and nearly impossible to make out through wavy lines, but I sat in front of the TV with my toaster pastries in my lap and hoped for a miracle.
Again, the generic, no-name versions are just plain gross. The aftertaste left too much vanilla or lemon in my mouth and not enough Oreo crème filling.
Turns out I wasn’t very good at video games, but it’s not like I had the chance to practice. We eventually got a Nintendo for Christmas one year, but by the time I finally saved Princess Peach, my friends had moved on to Game Boy. Sigh.
10. Swatch Watch
The coolest (and richest) kids in school had a Swatch Watch. The coolest of the cool had the guards that went over the watch’s face. And the coolest kid in my class not only had a Swatch Watch with a guard, but he rocked a braided rattail. I had a mullet and a watch from Ames.
11. A Starter Jacket
Your favorite team dressed in warm, silky sweetness? Yeah, I didn’t have that. I longed for one, though. I was ready to waste a Starter Jacket’s coolness on a Cleveland Browns version quicker than you can say Hot Pocket, er…Microwavable Filled Sandwich.
12. Benetton, Esprit, and Gap Clothing
Yeah, my ass wasn’t even entering those stores. Our budget lassoed me in to Fashion Bug, Sears, and K-Mart. I was far from the epitome of cool. But I pegged my teenage/mom jeans with the best of them.
13. Air Jordan, Reebok Pump, K Swiss, La Gear Shoes
Payless didn’t carry these brands. But I got a great deal on BYOG sneakers with slippery plastic soles.
14. Proper Snow Gear
I don’t think I heard the term “waterproof” in relation to outdoor wear until I was in college. When we went sledding, it was done wearing several pairs of sweat pants, bread bags over our feet to keep them dry, and cotton knit gloves—which were great at collecting snowballs in the same way a dog’s paws do in the snow. We came in when we were soaked to the bone and warmed up with generic hot chocolate. It wasn’t Swiss Miss, but it was hot.
15. Skidz, Jams, Umbro
If those labels were on your ass, your family was likely sitting on disposable income. My mother attempted to sew some Jams for me, which was sweet, but a painful admission that I would always be the Duplex cookie to the Oreo. I would always be the poor kid.
I spent my time reading, drawing, and playing sports. I found solace in creativity and matching uniforms instead of the mall. I still wanted all the things, but there wasn’t much point in spending time trying to turn a composition notebook into a Trapper Keeper. I was constantly reminded that you can’t get blood from a stone. And dear god, don’t get bloodied by a stone because it’s either a trip to the ER or enjoying utilities for the month. Thanks to my childhood, I will never take electricity, health care, or Oreos for granted.