I’ve come to a very interesting realization just this weekend as I began putting together my holiday shopping list. My children, who are almost 4 and 7, really aren’t that into toys. Nevermind that they have an entire room in our home dedicated to storing and playing with toys. We have two rather large pieces of furniture that function primarily as toy storage or toy play surfaces. And they also have overflow toys in their rooms, in our dining room, in our basement, and sometimes strewn about on every surface in between. But when I step back and observe them, they really don’t PLAY with very many of their toys.
There are a few exceptions. My son is now obsessed with cars and car washes. He enjoys building tracks for cars to drive on and makeshift car washes out of boxes, sponges, pom poms–whatever tools he can find. (Sadly, one day about 2 months ago, he announced that he no longer loves fans. He primarily loves Chevrolets–so that is what he dressed as for Halloween this year.) He has rediscovered the train track set he received for Christmas two years ago and really never took much interest in until now, and enjoys putting together roads for his cars. But to be honest, he would be just as happy driving his cars on any random surface, and can pretty much get his jollies for an hour or two looking at car logos in the Automobile section of the yellow pages in our phone book. When I think back over my son’s 4 years of living, I realize that we’ve probably spent less than $200 on toys for him. Most of his toys he has received as gifts or hand-me-downs. But he still had loads to choose from, and most often reaches for the random assortment of Matchbox cars that seem to breed in a basket and appear out of nowhere. I can’t think of a single toy that he wants or needs for Christmas this year. We will probably get him a bike, just because it seems like the thing to do. But otherwise, he really just likes real life car wash tools like rags and sponges, and perhaps a few more cars.
The realization that my kids aren’t toy crazy came as more of a surprise when I realized that it’s true for my daughter. She was our first born, and a girl, so she has always been surrounded by toys–stuffed animals, dolls, doll houses, Polly Pockets, Barbies, Groovey Girls, etc. But when asked what she most likes to play with, she just says books and “imagination” stuff. I had a tape recorder out yesterday and did a little radio interview with both kids, asking them about themselves, who their friends are and what they like to do. When I asked my daughter what she wanted for Christmas this year, she looked stumped, and asked if she could go and find the big Toys R’ Us catalog and pick something out. But I know how this would go–she would find some big piece of plastic crap with 1,000,000,000 tiny pieces and say she wanted it, then when she did receive it, it would hold her interest for all of 30 minutes and then half the pieces would become victim to my vacuum cleaner the next time I clean her room. We’ve suffered through the short-lived love for Amazing Amanda, she has her brief Polly Pocket phases when playdates are over, and she does enjoy her arts and crafts tools and books. But she’s also just as happy to play “orphan”, pretending to wash, scrub, sweep and dust our home with old burp cloths and my ironing spray bottle.
Last year, I felt like Scrooge because we weren’t shopping. This year, as I try to plan ahead, I feel like Scrooge because I can’t think of anything my kids really need that will really be fun and long lasting for them. Do we just have too much? Or are most toys just crap these days (or do I just make crappy choices)? Perhaps the 80/20 rule starts this young! Have I created two little servants who feel they should spend their days washing my car and cleaning my home rather than playing with their Chinese-made, lead-tainted toys? What’s on your kids’ wish list this year? Perhaps I should steal a page from the Dangerous Book for Boys/Daring Book for Girls and get back to basics…sending them out into the world with nothing more than their imaginations and just hope for the best!