What Toys R Us Taught Me About Growing Up

When I was in high school, I got a job working at Toys R Us. It was one of the best jobs I ever had, and to this day I still think about all of the lessons I learned about service to others, responsibility, and integrity. My secret ambition was to be able to wear the Geoffrey the Giraffe costume, but I never got the chance. With the news that came out this week about Toys R Us closing all their stores, I can’t help but feel a tremendous loss. Maybe it’s just a feeling of losing my childhood. But for me, ironically, it’s also about growing up and learning how to be the right kind of adult.

One day, I was working as a cashier (I worked in almost every position in the store) when a woman brought a cart full of diapers and formula. I recognized the woman since she had been in the store several times while I was working, but she never had any kids with her. I asked her about it, and she laughed… I didn’t realize it, but she explained that Toys R Us had the best price on both diapers and formula. Better than Sam’s Club or Costco, even. (This was before Amazon.) But at Toys R Us those items at the back of the store, hoping that parents would pick up some other things while they were coming in or going out. Her solution was to leave the kids at home so they wouldn’t have any impulse buys. Was this just a sales tactic? Or was the store really helping parents get by? For her, it didn’t matter, she was just happy to be able to stretch her paycheck a little further and it was good to get a moment of time away to herself.

There were some frustrating times working there when parents would leave their kids alone in the store to play the video games or ride the electric cars while they went shopping at the mall next door. There were days I was more of a babysitter. Or there was the Christmas rush when we never had enough of what people really wanted. I really tried to help parents make their kids happy, and that was amazing despite how stressful it was.

I often would have to close the store, which meant staying late and reorganizing the chaos left behind in all the aisles after the kids had grabbed and then discarded items in other random places. But the worst part wasn’t the kids, it was the collectors, and the worst place of all to clean up was the Barbie aisle. I thought of it as a pink black hole that sucked all the life out of the store. All the other staff would avoid it, hoping someone else would get around to doing it first. Barbies usually come in boxes roughly the same shape as the figures, and they fall over very easily. Also, everything is pink. Collectors came in regularly and would rifle through all of them looking for the rare ones they could resell for hundreds later on. By the end of each day, it looked like a hurricane had hit that aisle. Every day.

I remember one shift where our store manager stopped all of us from leaving. He waited until all of us were ready to clock out, and then marched all of us back to the Barbie aisle and pointed out how poorly the job had been done. We all stayed and collectively reorganized it until it looked perfect. The store usually closed at 9 or 10, but we didn’t go home that night until midnight (and I still had to go to school the next day).

From then on, I decided to start with the Barbie aisle first, letting everyone else clean up the rest of the store. I liked doing a job well that no one else wanted to do. I stacked all the hateful pink boxes up neatly. And I would actually organize the boxes so there weren’t hidden characters buried back behind other ones. (This was a common collector technique, they would hide figures so that they could come back and buy them later on when they had the money.) And I think the other employees appreciated someone taking ownership so that we could all leave on time.

This is essentially my worldview when it comes to security. We get excited about all the cool things like penetration testing, or the new shiny new technology. But what we really need to be doing is doing the basics like patching exceedingly well so that we can be proud of the job we’ve done.

I don’t wanna grow up, I’ll always be a Toys R Us kid.


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