The Ballpit of Doom



My fourth birthday was at an indoor playground. After eating our burgers and fries, I opened up my birthday presents. The heavens parted and the sun shone down on my paper-crowned head as I opened a package, and inside… was a Popple. For those of you who are unaware of Popples, they are stuffed animals that roll into their own pouch. Here’s a commercial from 1986 that shows them in their full glory.

These Popples are a little gargantuan. I remember mine being much smaller.

I loved that Popple like a tiny child. It was off to play, and I took mine with me to jump into the ball pit. At this time in my life (and until I hit 13), I was really short for my age. Always the smallest kid in class. Lola is 4’10”, so I’ll just attribute all of this to her genes, but I caught up and I’m a very average 5’4″ now. Anyway, I hugged my Popple tight and cannonballed into the ball pit. And I kept sinking. And I kept sinking. By the time my feet touched the bottom, I was completely buried beneath plastic balls and – if all of those email fwds are true – used syringes.

I’m not one of those people that has all of these early memories (I don’t remember anything before the age of 4, to be honest), but I remember this moment so clearly. I started panicking. My face was covered, and I was having a hard time breathing. I jumped, but I couldn’t get my head above the surface. My Popple in my right hand, my left hand flailing wildly, hoping to get the attention of a grown-up.

Goodbye, sweet world. We had a good run. Bury me with my Popple and make sure I’m wearing jelly shoes.

I don’t remember who pulled me out, but someone pulled me out, and my friend’s mom said, “She shouldn’t be in there. She’s shorter than the ball pit.”


I had that Popple until I was in my late teens, when our house caught on fire (a story for another time), and thinking about that pink and purple ball of fluff always makes me a little nostalgic for the scent of plastic and ketchup.

I found it on eBay. Used, they run around $20. Brand new in box? Like, $300. I started an eBay collection of toy nostalgia.

Toy NostalgiaSorry if the above graphic is assailing your eyes. I may have gone a little overboard with the Lisa Frank inspiration. Lite Brite! TMNT Pizza Shooter! I’ve previously written about Cricket (top center), every suburban elementary school kid’s dream, who I loved and cherished until my demon-cat mauled it (RIP Cricket). And 8 bit Nintendo? I’d work you at Dr. Mario all day. Allllll dayyyyyyyy. Boop beep beep boop.

Disclosure: This post is part of a campaign with eBay as one of their influencers. All opinions and bad graphics (but not Popples… sad) are my own.

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  • Reply Amelinda January 15, 2014 at 10:34 am

    I love your storytelling! These are my favorite posts :-)

    • Reply Roo January 15, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Thanks, Amelinda! :)

  • Reply Mandi January 15, 2014 at 10:57 am

    I’m a *little* bit young for these toys, but it still brings back memories of playing with my older cousins who had all of these toys. The Nintendo was handed down to me when the Super Nintendo came out. And then again when N64 came out. haha. I’m sorry you almost drowned in the ball pit. And I’m also kinda sad that those don’t really exist anymore.

  • Reply Sarah F. January 15, 2014 at 10:58 am

    I had that exact same pink and purple popple. Loved that thing! And remember those baby turtles that you could turn the shell inside out and they had accessories?! OMG, 80’s/90’s toys were the bomb.

  • Reply Brad January 15, 2014 at 11:05 am

    I want that Nintendo. I wonder if the one in my parents attic still works… I mean the door flap thing is broken and we had to take the games out every five seconds or so to blow the other end for some reason. Whatever, it’s a small price to pay to Duck Hunt from the comfort of my couch. Thanks for the trip down memory lane this morning.

  • Reply Jodi T. January 15, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Oh man. The ball pits. I remember when Chuck E. Cheese was Showbiz Pizza (Do y’all have those in the North?) It was WAY WAY BETTER back in they day. The slides and crawl through tunnels were huge! and they had a ginormous ball pit. It was the bomb.

    Oh and hey…. Don’t forget about Cabbage Patch Kids, although, there’s not one thing grander than Nintendo. I wish I still had mine. :*/

    • Reply Roo January 15, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      I wish I still had mine, too!

  • Reply Melody January 15, 2014 at 11:16 am

    I had the popple in the middle! Pretty sure I held on to that baby until the beginning of high school. If only I knew where its transforming whereabouts were now.

  • Reply Jen January 15, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Why does Cricket look so unbelivably creepy? I remember her being much prettier. Yikes. I don’t think I ever had a Popple, but I definitely had a Pufflalump. And remember Puppy Surprise? That was my absolute fav.

    • Reply Natasha January 15, 2014 at 3:20 pm

      Yes!!!! My sister got lucky and had one that had three puppies!

  • Reply Courtney January 15, 2014 at 11:19 am

    I love the Nintendo. In fact, we love it so much at my house that we have a Wii on which we’ve downloaded all of the old school Nintendo games. My just turned 5 year old kicks butt at Super Mario Bros.

  • Reply Amanda January 15, 2014 at 11:20 am

    My mom and dad still have an absurd amount of my childhood toys including, but not limited to, the Nintendo, Teddy Ruxpin and Grubby, the Lite Brite, the Game Boy and THAT EXACT POPPLE!!!

  • Reply Jen January 15, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Gaaaah! Cricket! Popples! Mall Madness! My childhood just came back to life and now I just want a Babysitters Club book, a Bop It and some Gak while I watch episodes of Saved By the Bell and all will be right with the world.

    • Reply Roo January 15, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      SBTB forever!

  • Reply Nikki January 15, 2014 at 11:30 am

    1. I had forgotten all about popples until now! I always wanted one…

    2. I totally just saw a decent amount if Lisa frank paraphernalia in the target dollar spot this past weekend. 300 count Stickers and coloring books!

  • Reply Courtney @ Don't Blink. Just Run. January 15, 2014 at 11:31 am

    OMG YES to all…well maybe not Urkel…or those two girly things in the middle (the game and doll). I hated that Urkel and I was definitely not girly at all. I seriously stole my brother’s pizza shooter just to assail him with it all the time!!

    • Reply Roo January 15, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      My brother and I loved the pizza shooter. Fave forever.

  • Reply Kristi January 15, 2014 at 11:34 am

    I definitely had that EXACT Popple in the photo when I was a kid. Ebay is awesome for this kind of stuff. Although I recently searched for the original Polly Pocket (you know, the ones that were tiny choking hazards and not gigantic like the ones in stores today) and some of them were like $50! I’ll just reminisce in my head, thanks. Also, for anyone who’s interested, the first season of the Babysitters Club TV show is on Netflix…. *sings* “Say hello to your friends (Babysitter’s Club), say hello the people who care….”

    • Reply Roo January 15, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      I want to get all of the books again. Thanks for the reminder! Haha! :)

    • Reply Natasha January 15, 2014 at 3:14 pm

      My mother still has my entire collection of ‘old school’ Polly pockets in her basement. And keeps threatening to send them home with me.

  • Reply Jill January 15, 2014 at 11:35 am

    I have the same ball-pit memory!! Except I was at Sesame Place and I didn’t have my Popple to calm me from the panic (and mine was yellow and named Popcorn)…my older cousin basically had to drag me through the sea of balls over to the side as I had somehow decided that iif I just kept moving I would be ok…
    Consequently I hate ball-pits and my MIL made one in her basement out of an inflatable pool. Obviously it’s not as tall as the panic-inducing one from my nightmares, but I still find myself loathing it. There’s a scene in Four Christmases where Reese Whitherspoon confronts her fear of bounce houses that reminded me of it too!

    • Reply Roo January 15, 2014 at 12:55 pm

      Hahahaha I totally remember that scene. At this point I’m just grossed out by whatever is in the ball pit.

  • Reply Patricia January 15, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Popples! I had a big orange one and a small white one. I had a Popples tricycle too. Like this big plastic thing. Where a horn would be was a Popples head that went up and down when you rode. I loooooooved Popples. The small white one I had is probably the same size that you remember. It fit in the palm of your hand. I’ll see if I can find them and take some pictures!!

  • Reply Melanie S January 15, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    I was at Target this past weekend (data breech be damned!) and they had Lisa Frank items in the Dollat Spot. Unfortunately, my eight year old triplet boys did not find them as cool as I did.

  • Reply Leah Butler January 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Teddy Ruxtpin – how I remember you well. You had such a soothing voice until your batteries starting running low and then you became a nightmare inducing toy of terror.


    Lite Brite – your glorious colors that gave second degree burns on fingertips if you didn’t ninja push the bits into the spots fast enough.

    Where’s Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, etc…oh wait, I’m like a decade older than you…that’s why. LOL

  • Reply hannah January 15, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    okay i’m delurking… to share you this video. mind blown. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuXVH8IKZlc the lisa frank headquarters?? :)

    • Reply Jess January 15, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      That. Is. Amazing. I would have lost my mind over the thought of that place as a kid.

  • Reply Nicole January 15, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    LOL I loved my Popple!!! And our parents bought “us” the Nintendo but my mom would stay up until the wee hours in our unfinished basement trying to get Mario to the Princess. I recently went on Ebay to find a Fisher Price Sesame Street phone that lets you call the characters and they say little phrases – “This is Oscar, have a rotten day!”. I got one for my 2nd birthday and wanted to give my daughter one for her 2nd, too. :) Gotta love Ebay.

  • Reply Jess January 15, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    I loved my Popple! They were awesome. I also love getting all nostalgic over old toys. I have a huge board on Pinterest devoted to it.

  • Reply Lauren B January 15, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Maybe I’m one of those stalker readers you talk about b/c I read this often and don’t usually comment. But this was so funny. When I was in pre-school, we had this Christmas tree and we had to write on a paper ornament what we wished for the world for Christmas… I wrote “Popples” hahah!! And I totally never read your Cricket post, but I’m going to – she was one of my most cherished possessions! Ah, thanks for the walk down memory lane! :)

  • Reply Gilly January 15, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Oh man, when I saw Teddy Ruxpin in that pic I had like a deep burning sadness in my chest. Loved that thing.

  • Reply Natasha January 15, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    WHERE IS RAINBOW BRITE?!?!! because she was my fav. My mom held onto creepy scary possessed Teddy, too small Polly pockets, and multiple Lite Brites. But she gave away my Rainbow Brite, her green friend, and the soft sided rainbow house. To some random kid. I shall never forgive her.
    My Popple is currently hanging out in Evelyn’s crib :)

  • Reply Natasha January 15, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    OMG just saw Mall Madness. I wanted that game sooooo bad.

  • Reply Kristen January 15, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    I had that exact Popple in your ebay list! Maybe is mine?! Oh nostalgia…

  • Reply shannon January 15, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    had mall madness. probably still in mint condition in my parent’s attic because I NEVER WANTED TO RUIN IT BY ACTUALLY PLAYING. derp.
    also, who else played popple using their dad’s big tshirts??? anyone? anyone….?

  • Reply Allison January 15, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Omigooooooooooooood Mall Madnesssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!

    I am freaking out. I want it. I loved that game. I would totally make my boyfriend play it with me now.

    “Get to the store before the clearance runs out!!!!!!!!!”

    • Reply Katie January 16, 2014 at 1:32 am

      “Cha-Ching!” Loved that game!! And Dream Phone…. Oh the glory years.

  • Reply Rebecca January 15, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    AHH! I have the exact same Popple and it still lives at my parents house up in the attic with an embarrassing amount of childhood toys I can’t let go of. My brother had one of the larger ones and we spent lots of time bowling with our Popples in the upstairs hall of our house :)

  • Reply Elli January 15, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Popples, jelly shoes (yes!!!!!) and how about the Monchichi??? Loved them all… Also, those awesome charm, primary-colored, plastic charm necklaces with enormous plastic charms! My favorite was the charm that was a little notebook you could write in…because I have always been a nerd.

  • Reply Craig McClellan January 15, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    I definitely had that pull string Urkel doll. I totally forgot about it until I saw this. That thing was amazing (and probably drove my parents crazy).

  • Reply Ceci Bean January 15, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Popples! I was just recently trying to convince my husband that he must remember these. Turns out little boys in the 80s didn’t play with them so much.

    Also, similar to Mall Madness– did you play Girl Talk??

    Is it weird that I still have the original Nintendo? Does that mean I’m a hoarder?

  • Reply Christine January 15, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    So funny, greatest ball pit story EVER! I loved my Popple….RIP Popple wherever you are.

  • Reply Kristi C January 15, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    I was at a comedy show where the guy was trying to guess answers based on connotation eluded to by other actors… I forget what he was supposed to guess, but he guessed Popples, and I was like POPPLES! and my friend (who is in her early 20s) was like … what are Popples … and I totally felt old.
    The end.

  • Reply Erma January 15, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    I still have a Popple!! Gave it to my kid and it blew his mind. Thanks for taking me back to my childhood for a little bit.

  • Reply Anna January 15, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Roo, it is utterly ridiculous how much I love your writing style. RIDICULOUS. In other news, I am also terrified of ball pits; they always make me think dirty socks and band-aids. It’s hilarious that you wrote this post today as my co-workers and I were just talking about all our childhood toys at lunch yesterday. Polly pockets? Pogs? And those dolls that smelled amazing and folded into the shape of a cupcake..which I can’t for the life of me think of the name of.

  • Reply Jennifer January 15, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    I was just telling the exact same story to nt husband the other night! Except it was my own story of being six and feeling like I was drowning in a deep ball pit at a birthday party. I didn’t want to yell for help for fear of disrupting the chatting adults but I couldn’t even reach the bottom of the pit or pull myself out by the netting. I think staff rescued me too and told me I was too short also! Glad we both lived to tell of our perilous ball pit adventures!

  • Reply Sara January 15, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    I still have a popple! It turns into a soccer ball.

  • Reply Nikki Kelly January 15, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    I had a Popple when I was little too, but the only thing I remember about it was never being able to make it into a ball. I always had to have my dad do that part for me. As for awesome toys, I was really stoked to get my Susie Scribbles doll. She had a tape deck in her back and she would draw stuff while she was telling a story. I also had a Teddy Ruxpin but his nose fell out and he stopped working. I know this is a sponsored post and all, but I love your nostalgia posts so much. Also, have you ever thought of asking readers for embarrassing photos with all the glorious 80’s toys?

  • Reply AJ January 16, 2014 at 8:44 am

    I have had that *exact Popple* in my possession TO THIS VERY DAY.

  • Reply Tara January 16, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    I LOVED my teddy ruxpin!! My mom still has it actually…I once popped his eyes it bc I wanted to see how they worked. Teddy is scary without eyes.

    I love you, Roo, but I’d run all over you in Dr. Mario. Next time you’re in Wisconsin we can have a tournament. Winner gets 3 bags of Cheetos :)

  • Reply Taffi Wheeldon January 17, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    My husband has been just BEGGING me to let him buy a ‘Whamo Fun Fountain,” apparently it’s a clown head that has a hat that gets sprayed 20ft in the air and you try to catch it on your head…sounds dangerous kinda like yard darts. Only problem is that they run about $200 on Ebay and we could never justify spending that much for a glorified sprinkler. Well, he found one for $75 and made me wrap it up for his “special” Christmas present. Here’s a video of our Christmas fun, it’s hard to see but you can here us laughing https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152505488004128

  • Reply Laura January 17, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Still have my Popple (yellow and pink)!! As well as my Fievel!

  • Reply Oona January 20, 2014 at 11:15 am

    I had every one of these toys. Great post!

  • Reply Emily January 20, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    I LOVED my Cricket! I’m having trouble remembering, but I think I had cooking accessories and a random game with plastic crickets that flipped across the room. Anyone?

  • Reply jules February 14, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    WHAT is that Pizza Shooter thing?! I’ve never seen something like that before but I am sure it was one of the best toys ever!

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