I was talking to a fellow nostalgic soul on Instagram recently. We weren’t born in the same decade, but we both have something in common: we have a strong sense of nostalgia for years that we didn’t even experience.
Here’s what I mean. I was born in 1994. A great year, I guess…I only saw half of it! Ever since I was a small child, I have had a desire to go back in time. Thanks to the classic family television my parents introduced me to, I wanted to go back to the 50s, 60s, and 70s. As my love for all kinds of music grew, I wanted to go back to the sound and style of the 1980s. These days, I just wish I had been around for the entirety of the 90s!
I don’t have a time machine, but I have a pop culture timeline in my head that is a huge part of me. It feels so real to look inside my mind and travel from sitcom to sitcom, song to song, movie to movie. I love expanding my knowledge of any part of that timeline–always have, always will.
I can’t explain to you exactly how that timeline works or what it looks like, but I’m constantly feeding it. Reading, watching informative videos, Googling, scrolling nostalgia accounts on Instagram, watching the shows that defined certain eras. Those are ways I bring the past to the present. But how does nostalgia shape a future?
Use your imagination and go back to fifth grade with me. We’re ten years old. Double digits. We’re smart and innovative, but not yet filled with teenage attitude or high school problems. We line up in our classroom and file out the door to recess. Once we get to the playground, talk drifts from homework to safety patrols to television. Only ten years old, and we miss an early childhood that we still clearly remember. We start singing a Barney song, or we reminisce about PB & J Otter, Out of the Box, The Big Comfy Couch, Blue’s Clues, Gullah Gullah Island, Arthur (hey, I was still a big Arthur fan in fifth grade, but I totally knew when they recast the voice actor). We’re quite young, yet we already feel nostalgia for a time gone by. We’ve long since moved on to “big kid shows,” but that doesn’t make the “little kid shows” any less special.
I’m going to rewind from this playground scene to return to the decade of my birth.
1994 and 1995 go by. I don’t have an infant superpower brain that presses “save” on my thoughts, so we’ll move on. 1996: very faint memories of my family’s house, our much smaller TV set, the carpet we had, the stuffed animals I played with. 1997. Now we’re talking. What were you watching? I don’t know. What was I watching? All those shows I talked about on the playground earlier, plus Sesame Street, Franklin, Little Bear, Muppet Babies, Disney Singalong videos, anything with Mary-Kate and Ashley’s face on it (including Full House reruns), and yes, lots and lots and lots of Barney.
Over the past few months, I have come to a powerful realization. I have nostalgia for a time before my existence because of the hand-me-down videotapes I watched over and over again as a toddler. A family friend’s children had grown out of a bunch of VHS tapes, so the friend graciously passed them on to my mom and me. That’s how I got the Disney Singalongs, a lot of the Olsen twins mystery/party videos, the INCREDIBLY old version of Barney (more on that another time), and a tape from a little-known franchise of the 80s and 90s called Wee Sing.
Combining the videos that came out while I was alive with those that were released years earlier was a magical formula. Here’s where that leaves me today. Periodically, I watch my 90s preschool memories play out right in front of me on YouTube. Before you tell me that it’s illegal, remember that you’ve probably done it, too. The fact is, streaming services aren’t reaching all the way back to my preschool years to target my nostalgia. They’re aiming for the stuff I watched after school and on the weekends starting around second grade (I’m talking to you, Disney+). There are a few exceptions, but it’s really hard to find some of the toddler classics on streaming platforms. I haven’t done an intense investigation on this, but I’ve shopped around.
When I watch the Disneyland Fun video that was released in 1990 and was passed on to me years later, I have visceral memories of seeing that exact video through a child’s eyes. I remember what I thought about certain scenes, how I favored specific songs, what scared me, and what made me smile or laugh.
Do you know what I mean? Is there something you’ve rediscovered that transports you to your younger self? I’d love to hear. Chances are, there’s a show that you want to see live on. There’s something that was so meaningful and inspirational to you that you want it to come back and go on for a long, long time.
If you liked this at all, you might enjoy an article I wrote over the summer about shows for preschoolers in the 90s. Check it out here. 🙂