One of my freakish little parenting issues is that I basically don’t buy toys for my kids unless it’s Christmas or a birthday. In today’s completely consumer-saturated world, I’d like to give them a childhood in which buying a toy is still a somewhat special event, rather than a God-given right that you expect every time you pass a store. Call me naive, but that’s what I aim for.
So all summer the kids have been saving money in their banks of piggy, money earned during long hot hours slaving at the lemonade stand (the two days they did it) or loose change handed over by Aunt Gertie, who likes to clean out her purse and load up the children with the resultant booty. Last night Christopher finally thought to count his money (I’d been waiting for one of them to suggest it) and discovered he had nearly $25 dollars, which was apparently enough to buy some monstrous Lego creation upon which he had set his heart. I promised a trip to TRU this afternoon.
When we counted Emma’s money, she had $35, because the last time we did this, back around the time school ended, they each had $10 and Emma didn’t spend hers. This gave me the opportunity to deliver a timely lecture on the value of saving money rather than spending it, which of course they completely ignored. But hey, I got my teachable moment.
The money, once acquired and saved, is theirs to spend pretty much as they please, although I do try to nudge them towards what I consider wise decisions. Christopher, once in the store, eschewed the Lego thingie he’d planned on getting in favour of a B-Daman toy. Knowing that he plays with Lego about a hundred times more than he plays with B-Daman, I urged him to reconsider, but he was sold on the B-Daman so that’s where his money went. Emma went for yet another little Quik-Clik Polly Pocket domicile complete with magnetic Polly clothes. Which was just fine with me, until I had to get home and help her set it up.
First, the Ceremony of Opening. I don’t know who’s taken over the packaging of children’s toys — maybe it’s the people who used to run those Soviet labour camps, who probably don’t have much to do these days. Sometime between my childhood and the birth of my children, a deathly fear of escaping toys seems to have overtaken the retail industry. Perhaps they were all watching Toy Story. Toys now come packaged in the most bizarre, over-the-top way — every item packed in a double layer of molded plastic, screwed into the cardboard backing with heavy plastic twist ties, and secured with packing tape. Getting Polly and her friends free from their package is like trying to free a bunch of tiny political prisoners from a miniature Gulag.
Once they’re out, we have to get the toy working. Now this is not some fancy electronic toy; it’s all moving mechanical parts. The basic principle is: Polly Pocket is a doll you dress up in clothes. That’s a classic childhood toy, right? Admittedly, just allowing Polly in the house puts a bit of a dent in my anti-consumerist philosophy, since Polly’s only purpose in life appears to be to get dressed. She doesn’t have Barbie’s body image issues, but she also doesn’t have Barbie’s active career portfolio as a dentist, veterinarian, figure skater, etc. Polly goes to the mall and tries on new outfits. End of story. Still, what could be more natural and sweet than a little girl dressing up her doll in cute clothes?
Except that’s not enough for the makers of the Polly emporium. Polly used to have little rubber clothes (yeah, I know, kinky) that you maneuvered onto her body. Now Polly has magnetic clothes that clip on, front and back. But you can’t just put the clothes on the Polly, oh no. Polly has to go into her change room, where her clothes have been pre-hung on magnetized hangers. Then you have to insert her feet into the magic shoes, click her into the change room, and presto, she comes out wearing her new clothes!
In this latest version, even that’s not the end of it. Polly has a special scooter. You put Polly’s scooter in her change room, then you put her clothes in, then you put her in and press the button. Polly changes into her clothes, drops onto her scooter, and shoots down a ramp and out onto the floor — dressed and ready for action!! Setting up the whole process takes about nine times as long as it would take just to put the clothes on and stick Polly on the bike — I guess the fun is in seeing it happen magically. Or maybe the fun is in watching Mommy try to get the scooter, the clothes, and Polly inserted in the right order so that it can happen magically. Maybe the fun is in trying to read the instructions, which look extensive, but that’s only because they are in sixteen languages, with the only English words on the entire page limited to: “Make sure doll is facing right.”
Maybe the fun is in watching Mommy bite her tongue so she can’t say all those words she doesn’t want to say when Polly’s empty scooter shoots out of the change room … followed by Polly’s clothes … followed by Polly in her underwear. Maybe the fun is in hearing that special edge to Mommy’s voice when she says, “Let’s wait till Daddy comes home, OK honey??”
Or maybe the fun comes when Mommy goes back to the computer (where she belongs, obviously, as it’s within her tiny skillset) and Emma busies herself about the Pollyrama Thingamatron, only to announce five minutes later, “Oh look Mommy, I’ve got it working!! There was just a tiny piece of tape still stuck to it, see, that’s why it didn’t work! See? Look at Polly!”
Meanwhile, Christopher was downstairs happily assembling his B-Daman, a task I wouldn’t even attempt as it’s way beyond me. It seems to me that children’s toys have become needlessly complex, but it’s possible that I’m just living in a world that is becoming more and more adult-proof.