Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dirty Fruit and Naked Babies: The Dark Side of Toys

I once heard that the pretend play area in most daycare centers was a collection of "dirty plastic fruit and naked baby dolls".  This description brought to mind the toy basket in my living room when my children were young.  We had a large plastic laundry basket filled with toys.  That basket always caused me discontent.  My children spread them around the house daily but rarely played with this collection of toys that ranged from cartoon-like stuffed critters to disassembled Fisher-Price-Primary-Colored-Plastic-Everything. I liked those toys less and less over time as they seemed to cause a lot of trouble but provided little joy and were ugly to boot.

I don't remember having plastic toy fruit but I remember the naked babies.  Some were scribbled on with magic marker pens and at least one had hacked off synthetic yellow hair. They miraculously procreated at night I think because the collection continually grew and I don't remember buying any of them.  They all had clothes that were easy to remove but it was nearly impossible to dress those stiff little plastic bodies.  My children often fought over who had beheaded a doll or scribbled on one.   When they were little the laundry basket where the dolls lived with assorted other toys was more popular than the toys. My kids loved to climb in the laundry basket and getting a grown-up to push them around was as much fun as a carnival ride apparently.

I thought of the naked babies and many other toys as The Useless Toys.   If I tried to get rid of any of The Useless Toys, my children protested vigorously but I could sneak one or two into the Goodwill bag when they were not looking and these toys were never missed, but still the collection grew.  The Useless Toys were a seemingly insurmountable problem.

One day, in preparation for moving to the other side of the world, we sold most of my children's toys in a massive garage sale and they got to keep the money.   We kept and hand carried a collection of Lego blocks in a suitcase when we moved.   We shipped books and art supplies.  If I remember right, that was all.  I played often with my children on the other side of the world where I did not know anyone else and it was a lovely time in our lives.  We often played outdoors but I also loved building with them on the floor of our new, furnitureless house and we became a Lego obsessed family for years after that.

If my children and I had loved dolls, as some people do, we would have kept the babies and I would have dressed them.  A pretend kitchen with plastic food, even fruit,  would have been a good toy if they were younger at the time and if I had liked pretending in a small kitchen. We made choices based upon what we enjoyed as a family and the satisfying success of the new, drastically reduced toy collection was due to both a new orderliness and to my involvment.  After the toy purge, I bought new art supplies often to entice them to do art because I thought I should but I did not draw with them and so art supplies were the least used part of their toy collection. They played on their own with things that I taught them to play by example.  Books were central to our family play life because I loved books.  I read to my children often and we went to the public library every week.  I used the skills that I had learned in my one High School drama class (minimal skills, in other words) as I read books aloud and they appreciated my theatrics enough to make me feel like a movie star.  Over time, we just enjoyed the companionship of reading together in the same room. I came to believe that less really is more when it comes to toys.  It is probably true for grown-ups too.

New useless toys crept into our house over the years, but I treated them like the weeds that grew in my vegetable garden and removed them quickly.  I should have been more ruthless at times than I was but generous grandparents and moments of parental weakness created new toy problems from time to time.  Generally, though, I was successful to the extent that I kept the purpose of toys clearly in mind:  Toys are meant to promote play and should only live in a home if they honestly contribute to family happiness.

Cross Posted on FunDaMental Play


koo' said...

I love this post and I have been telling everyone about it :-)

سيارات said...

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سيارات said...

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فيديو said...

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