Every year, I get my one chance to buy a toy. And it’s one of my favorite things to do during the Christmas season. (In this case, we have to say Christmas rather than Holiday.)
I previously mentioned that I’m on the Board of a business organization, and every year at our Christmas/Holiday party/luncheon, we each bring a toy for Toys For Tots.
For my non-U.S. readers, this is a program started in 1947 by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. They collect toys for needy children. Our organization has been participating ever since I joined 11 years ago, and probably before that too.
I used to think, children need food and shelter and love most, so I felt a little guilty buying a toy. There is another local organization called the Christmas Connection, which highlights the individual stories of local people needing help. Maybe I will suggest to the new President of our organization that we do that next year. But I’m not sure. Because as time has passed, the better I like Toys For Tots. Children need food, shelter, and love, but they also need fun. A child who gets no presents on Christmas Day feels like an outcast. Children must be made to feel like they belong, that they are special, and that fun is a good thing.
So this one day a year, I get to go to Toys ‘R Us. (Sorry, I don’t know how to make that R be backwards like it is in their logo.) It’s a fantasy land.
I always try to get something educational, but not dully so. I don’t have kids, but I can still remember being one. I have rules. Don’t buy things that make noise. Don’t buy things with teensy parts that children will swallow. Don’t buy things that require batteries. Do buy things that make you use your imagination and make you work for the payout.
I did once violate my “no noise” rule. I bought a little pad that you could turn a knob on, and it would bring up a picture of an item, like an apple. Then you could push a button and it would say “Apple”. But it didn’t beep or roar or vibrate or applaud. It just said “Apple”. But it did require batteries. Priced batteries lately? These toys are for needy families.
This year’s trip to Toys ‘R Us was a big disappointment. I think the toy industry is either going downhill (from my perspective) or uphill (from their perspective), since it looks like the planned obsolescence idea now applies to toys. That might not be a bad idea. But I have never seen so much multi-colored plastic junk in my life. Stuff I think is going to break on December 26th. It made searching for a “good” toy very challenging.
They had a whole Justin Bieber aisle. The signs on that aisle were colored pink, meaning, these are the girl aisles. The aisles where you had toy cars and trains and military action figures were blue. What is wrong with this picture?
Here are the toys I liked best: my very favorite was a globe of the world which came with a pointer (batteries). But you could point the pointer at any country or area or province in the world, say Nunavut, and it would tell you about the people, the geography, the industry, etc. It was $90 (on sale from $120!) That was my favorite, but would probably not be a kid favorite.
Next was a very large stuffed lion. He was very soft and plush. Then I thought, stuffed animal? That would have a shelf life of maybe a week. The idea that kids carry around a stuffed Teddy Bear until they go to college is a myth.
So here’s what I bought: a “Build Your Own Volcano” kit, from a toy company called Do & Discover. It comes with materials to build the cone, and glow in the dark paint. (How cool is it that it glows in the dark?) So first you have to build the cone, and paint it. Inside the cone there is a tube for the “lava” to flow to the top of the cone. The lava requires vinegar and baking soda, and food coloring if you want the lava to be , say, red and scary looking. But vinegar and baking soda and food coloring are cheaper than batteries. My inner child wanted one too.
Do & Discover had another one which was a sort of Start Your Own Insect Collection. It had about a dozen real insects enclosed in plastic. One of them was a pretty scary looking beetle that was green and almost phosphorescent. It came with a little booklet identifying all your insects.
I decided against that one. Some parent out there is going to hate me enough when the lava gets all over the carpet. But what kid (either a pink or a blue kid) doesn’t like gross, scary stuff, and stuff that blows up and makes a terrible mess you will get in trouble for when you get caught?
In the end, this was my ideal toy. You have to DO something to make it work. It teaches you patience and it teaches you about nature. And also, it sort of blows up.