I'm not really done with shopping. These days, with family spread across the entire nation, we don't make a huge deal out of presents--mostly we buy for whoever is local, which for me is my brother and sister-in-law and three little nieces. And of course, in practice, this generally means I give the grown-ups stuff like coffee and chocolates and books, and the kids get the bulk of the presents. The oldest is now almost four and pretty aware of this whole Christmas thing (and is a social butterfly who will talk your ear off given half the chance), and the middle gal (my little god-daughter) is two and a half and smart as a whip. She has a wonderful curiosity about the world around her--likes to take stuff apart and build and tinker, and when Dad was here, she stood and listened the entire time whenever we played music.
On Tuesday after work, I went to Tarzhay in search of age-appropriate toys and such. I had a few ideas in mind--playdough, maybe, and for my god-daughter, I was hoping to find a Fisher Price xylophone, or one of those toy pianos that are essentially a xylophone inside a piano shell, or a very cheap miniature keyboard. Didn't everyone have some variation on these when they were little? Or maybe some little dolls, I thought, or those over-sized pop-together beads, or blocks. Of course I didn't expect to find the exact toys I had growing up, but I figured there would be *some* similar toys.
What I found:
- There were blocks, but they all seemed to be part of kits, with a single pre-conceived end you were supposed to work toward--even for the little-kid sets.
- There were music making devices with keyboards or buttons, but in *every single* case, the buttons played full songs, not individual notes
- I found sets of "Little People," which were actually kind of cool--the Little People I remember were essentially pegs with heads--armless, legless torsos with just a few vague painted-on details. These were fully molded. However(!!) every single one of them was holding something or attached to a setting. They seemed made to be posed in a scene, not played with.
- Lastly, with few exceptions, everything was affiliated with some TV show or movie. To me, there's something unspeakably sad about having your kid watch hours of television a day, and then when they *aren't* watching TV, bombarding them with toys, games and books all based on those TV shows. Even in the coloring book section, I found only two that weren't trademark characters of some kind.
All in all, everything seemed specifically designed to stifle creativity and prevent individual thought. OK, so that's a curmudgeonly exaggeration, but even so.... I did find a really cool Mr. Potato Head for the oldest niece (it has a little suitcase to hold all his stuff and keep it tidy, which is nice) and playdough and a few other little things, but...gee. What happened to play being for letting your imagination run wild, not following a script? Thinking about it, most of my favorite toys didn't do *anything* on their own. Toys that did were fun for a brief period, but then the function ultimately became boring and that toy was abandoned. On the other hand, we played for *hours* with the trolls we made out of salt dough and painted, and stuffed animals without voice boxes or videos, and dolls made out of sticks/stones/balloons/socks. *We* provided personalities and histories for them, *we* named them and gave them voices.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think that's the way it should be.