I wrote this way back when my kids were knee-high crawlers and each birthday/Christmas, we watched them open dozens of brightly-coloured toys. And then we groaned. Inwardly, of course. Well, I did. My wife is far too virtuous to do such a thing!
We’ve got it all wrong when it comes to making toys for infants. Why are we designing them in bright colors and giving them actual practical and educational value? Why do we buy them plastic trucks and cooking utensils and dolls and blocks? Particularly if your child is under one, they are not looking at the latest miniature food mixer with the realistic raised speed dial – complete with microscopic numbers – and nodding in approval. Firstly, they don’t care how realistic it is; it’s going in the mouth anyway. For them, that’s the test of quality: does it feel good in my mouth because the expensive doll with the human hair may fail dismally on that score. Secondly, most toys last about five seconds before their many constituent parts disappear magically to all four corners of the house.
And there are so many parts. What is the child really playing with anyway? She’s grabbed the arm of Mr. Potato Head and is banging it against a puzzle piece, a blue block and a dried-banana-covered piece of plastic, whose original purpose is impossible to discern. I don’t know why they don’t just market toys for infants in bits. “100 plastic bits for your child: wrapped in packs of ten. When the first ten have disappeared under chairs, down sinks and behind beds, pull out the next pack. It’s endless fun for mother and baby!”
In any case, I think we should be multi-tasking their use, making them work for us as adults. We should manufacture bits of plastic in different shapes that have clips on them. Inside there would be various household items that we invariably need but can’t find. They would be color-coded. The red ones would contain tissue paper, the yellow ones would contain keys and some would be long and thin and contain pens. Those would be my personal favorites. Since I lose my pen within seconds of entering the house without my even needing to touch the pen itself, these green plastic boxes scattered all over the house would be my salvation. Instead of rummaging through the piles of old bills, birthday cards and broken pencils around the phone, I would simply kneel down to retrieve one of the hundreds of green plastic boxes strewn all over the house. My kids would spend hours attempting to get the clips open, and failing. There’s hours of entertainment there, I think.
(For the alcoholic, the boxes might contain miniatures secreted inside that have been smuggled out of the mini-bar from the most recent business trip. Any suspicious spouse would have to spend half a day looking in each one to find out if surreptitious drinking was taking place.)
In summary, then, instead of becoming irritated by the fact that we’ve lost all the bits to the latest dolls house, we would be happy knowing that each bit that is scattered around the house, is in fact a valuable contributor to domestic harmony. Each one that is wedged under the dog or that finds its way behind the book shelf, is actually cutting down the tension created by the loss of pens, provides immediate availability of tissues when our noses are dripping, and allows us to open any door on the property. No longer will we see our homes as wells of detritus, but each scattered pile of brightly colored plastic bits will instead be a beacon of hope, a message of usefulness.
Perhaps this fundamental change in approach to infants’ toys would reach even further. In particular, we would begin to recognize the fact that our children aren’t in the slightest bit interested in the toys we give them, be they plastic bits or dolls that sing, dance and play the national anthem. They’re much more interested in the real thing. Just after opening a huge box full of the newest, most cleverly interactive toys money can buy, our 11-month-olds crawl with purpose to the cupboard to pull out the metal bowls. They sit for hours tapping a wooden spoon against a bowl and tinkering with the rice maker, pushing buttons and sucking the electric cord. We’ve paid for mental stimulation that would have made a young Einstein’s head spin but no, it’s the mixing spoon and the ceramic casserole dish that the child really loves. I think there’s a message here. I think we should go with this. Why resist? And why just stop with the bowls and dishes? Why not let Johnny get his hands on the whole damned lot …….?
“Oh, Jenny, I just love your furry knives!”
“ Not just furry, Sally … put that down, Kevin … take a look at this. Flick that switch and-”
“ Oh my goodness, a razor sharp knife pops out! That is just fantastic! So Kevin can play with knives after all and you just pop a switch and within seconds, you’re dicing carrots! Can Kevin flick the switch too?”
“Not at his age, it’s been tested for resistance among one-year-olds. 80% couldn’t make it budge! They just recommend you don’t give them to the stronger ones. They’re such a delight, I love them! And the fur color-coordinates with the curtains.”
“What are those red spots there?”
“Oh, that’s one of those really clever features that I just love about Slice n’ Dice. They figure there might be a few accidents but with the red blotches already on the fur, any blood spurting out of Kevin’s finger will fit right in!”
“Ooooh, I love that. Such foresight.”
“No wonder they’re selling like hot cakes down at Toys R’ Us’. You should get down there, they’re getting as rare as Tickle Me Elmos at Christmas-”
“Er, Jenny … is Katie okay? It looks like she’s eating the dishwasher powder. Are you sure that’s safe?”
“Sherbet, Sally. The plastic pouch on the side of the box is refillable and you can fill it with any food of your choice! Yesterday, she was munching on the Cheerios I’d swept up from the dining room. I like to keep an eye on her while she’s eating week old food. So much healthier and safer.”
“Oh yes, I totally agree. Keep ‘em close. I spray eatable glue on my shins and then cover them with snacks. Ben loves picking them off and I know exactly where he is by the slight stinging sensation as they come off in his fingers.”
“I love that idea. I’ll give it a try. By the way, have you tried one of the new Singetime grills? I love them; they’re so practical. It’s an open grill with a metal barrier to protect it from those tender young hands. The feature I love, though, is the barrier that warms up when baby touches it. Katie spends hours touching it, then when the heat’s too much, she yelps delightedly and crawls away with just a slight first-degree burn on her palms. It’s not long before she’s back. She can’t seem to keep away!”
“And the burns aren’t too bad?”
“When she needs bandages, I just take her down to the hospital, put the grill away and then within a couple of months, we’re ready to pull it out again. You know kids: take away a toy for a while and they forget they had it in the first place!”
“ Just before I go, Jenny, could I borrow your food mixer, the one with the retractable blades so baby can put his hand in while the motor’s on.”
“Er, bit of a sore point, that one. John’s taken Billy down to the ER … left the blades out and … the mess was horrible. We’ll probably need to repaint the cupboards …”
“Jenny, are you sure everything will be okay?”
“I am a little worried, I must say. The blades are bent and I’m not sure if it’s still under warranty …”