Inside the Junk Drawer: Googly

Kaylee Chan explores memory and nostalgia by riffling through the ‘junk’ drawer with items that defined her childhood.

As a kid, I never knew what Googly was. It was a baby toy, that much was certain, but nothing else about it was. It inexplicably blurred the line between baby doll and stuffed animal. It was the perfect size for a child to hug, but its only soft aspect was its plush green caterpillar-like lower half. The upper half was taken up by a kind plastic face carrying large, imploring blue eyes. Those eyes were what struck me as a child — those big, googly eyes. 

Thus, Googly was christened.

What makes a child love a toy? I can scarcely remember. 

The experience of being a child feels far away now, far beyond the moment I first took Googly into my arms. I know it was one of my oldest toys, preceding Veterinarian Barbie and my bumblebee Pillow Pet. According to my parents, it was likely a baby shower gift, but they couldn’t be sure. Its mysterious origin, coupled with the ambiguity of its form, made it take on an almost mythic character in my younger mind. It had no species. It had no gender. It was nothing but Googly, and I loved it.

Much of my memories of Googly are lost to time, as most preschool-era memories are. The majority of what I do recall is from touch — the sensation of unsuccessfully trying to peel Googly’s hoodie off to perhaps reveal a bald head underneath (there was none), or the satisfaction of ripping the velcro on the back and reaching inside its battery box, where I could maneuver it like a puppet.

What lingers in my mind most strongly all these years later, however, was its music. If you pressed the square patch on its stomach, Googly’s face would glow and it would sing snippets of songs like “Hush Little Baby” and “Brahms’ Lullaby” in a tinny, music box-like cadence. Out of the songs, my absolute favorite was “Canon in D,” though it existed to me first as “Googly’s Song,” streaming from its heart like the echo of a sensation I didn’t yet have the words to describe.

I learned what “Canon in D” was through fourth grade piano. I learned what Googly was far later, when a random burst of remembrance and curiosity had me searching “singing caterpillar toy plush” on a random afternoon as a college freshman. It had been a while since I last recalled seeing Googly and I was left with mere traces of a memory.

Nothing familiar appeared with my search. “Lullaby singing caterpillar toy?” Also nothing. “Lullaby singing butterfly toy,” perhaps? At that point, I couldn’t even remember whether Googly had wings. Again, I came up short.

Maybe I needed to include the fact it glowed when it played music. It was a characteristic I had always taken for granted, but seemed important nonetheless. “Glowing lullaby caterpillar toy” it was, then. After scrolling past some light-up cat plushies and plastic caterpillar xylophones, I found the first resemblance of my beloved toy in an eBay listing titled “Playskool Lullaby Gloworm Toy.” There were key differences: it was pink, for one thing, and had unfamiliar, empty looking eyes, but the half-baby, half-caterpillar shape was undeniably like Googly.

I plugged “Playskool Lullaby Gloworm Toy” in the search bar. On the eighth result of the sponsored links, there it was. The 2005 Playskool Lullaby Glo Worm, dated the exact year I was born: Googly.

It is an untethering sensation to realize that your enigma of a childhood toy is not only non-unique, but just one of many Playskool Glo Worm evolutions over the years. Even weirder still is to find out there is some kind of significant online community dedicated to archiving the histories of retro toys, such that you can find out a lot about your not-so-enigmatic childhood toy very quickly.

Like that it had been a staple toy since 1982, before it was made to play music. Or that it was so popular that it inspired a series called “The Glo Friends”, which had some crossover cameos on the My Little Pony show. Or that it had been made into a Funko Pop, which was a level of meta-consumerism you didn’t even dare to touch.

Now I know the toy that had previously lived in the dying vestiges of my childhood memory was somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. Perhaps, around the world, there were other children hugging their Glo Worms, trying to peel the hoodie off, or playing with the velcro on the back until the stickiness wore out.

I’ve grown distant from that sense of childish curiosity and playfulness as years have passed, yet when I think back on my favorite toy now, the experience of being a kid feels close enough to touch.

It doesn’t matter how pervasive the Glo Worm might have been. I know that Googly will always be mine.