Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Bowl & A Wooden Spoon

Back when Sugar was a toddler I joined this message board - a Yahoo group, actually, that really saved my sanity for a few years. A woman I'd met on the February 1999 birth club board at BabyCenter and really connected with and am still friends with today, Earth Mama, introduced me to this Yahoo group.

It was (and still is) a group for attachment parents who work outside of the home. Now people who seem to be drawn towards the practices of attachment parenting (whether or not they call it that) come in all kinds of personalities, ethnicities, and religions. But it seems that, in general, people who choose attachment parenting have a certain openness to look at different approaches to life. I seem to find lots of attachment parents who also look towards a more "natural" life - eating whole foods (maybe organic, sometimes vegetarian or vegan practices), cloth diapering, etc; or who look into alternate forms of educations - montessori, waldorf, home schooling, etc.

From the time I discovered attachment parenting, and online communities of attachment parents, I appreciated these other alternative life choices and what I could learn from the people who practiced them, even if I couldn't completely incorporate them into my own life. For instance, I tried cloth diapering and found, in my life, it's completely impractical and horribly expensive - but I think it's fantastic that others make it work for them.

But, people who are extreme about their practices and ideas always throw me for a loop at first. And in my early days in this AP Yahoo group, there was one such woman.

There was a discussion on the group about toys. People had various ideas about what kind of toys were right for children of various ages to play with. Some people took a kind of Waldorf philosophy that only simple wooden toys and silk scarves were needed for kids. Others, really enjoyed toys with all the bells and whistles and wanted educational toys, like Leap Frog stuff.

I, personally, being a big kid at heart who was thrilled to have a child so that I would have an excuse to buy all the toys I wanted to play with - believed that everything was good! Wooden, plastic, silent, noisy, lots of buttons, totally simple. I loved it all and bought it all Sugar.

And then there was this woman who insisted that children didn't need toys at all. That all she gave her child to play with was a wooden spoon and a bowl and that her child was completely and utterly happy with just this.

A wooden spoon and a bowl????

Was she kidding? How could any child be happy with just that? I thought this woman was at the farthest imaginable end of extreme. Her poor kid...

But then, over the years, Sugar more and more often completely ignored the toys I bought her. Oh, she'd play with them for a hot minute. But generally within moments the toy would be forgotten. The exceptions to this were jigsaw puzzles and board games - both of which she would play with over and over again - as long as the Bull or I would play with her. Finally, by the time she was about 5yo, I asked her why she never played with the large collection of toys she owned - by this time many of them bough because she requested them as much because I had a toy addiction of my own - and her answer was, "I'd rather play with people than toys."

And so began my move away from buying so many toys. But I still loved them. And I kept many of them around - especially once Spice was born. Maybe Sugar didn't love toys so much - she is the very definition of a social extrovert, but perhaps her sister would enjoy quiet time alone with toys.

Well, Spice isn't quiet about anything, but she does seem to like toys much more than her sister. She carries dolls around with her, and stacks up toy food in her little toy oven. She putters around in the doll house a bit too. And Sugar, is rediscovering some of her old toys because she has Spice to show them to.

So I should be happy, right? I've been vindicated. Spice plays with the mounds of toys I bought for Sugar - even Sugar plays with them now that she has someone to play with. But no, I'm still questioning.

Last week Mattel Announced a recall on many of it's Fisher Price toys. Now, Spice has so many toys of Sugar's to play with that I rarely buy any new toys for her. However, Spice LOVES Dora and Diego. So I have, on occasion, mostly for her birthday, bought a few Dora and Diego toys. And everyone, else, knowing how much she loves those Dora (only Sugar and I seem to know that Spice may love Diego even more than Dora) bought her tons of Dora toys and things.

Well, of, course, the majority of the toys being recalled are Dora and Diego toys (as well as some Sesame Street and Backyardigans stuff - which, if I'd still been in my early toy buying mode, we would also own)!! So I scanned through the pictures of affected toys and sure enough, there are some little Dora figurines that we own. So immediate scooped them up and put them aside to send back to Mattel.

But, then I started thinking - what about the other stuff that's not on the list? How can I really be sure it's safe? How do I know that while the Diego Talking Field Journal is being recalled, our Diego Talking Rescue Pack, which isn't on the list is safe? How can I be sure that Mattel knows that the Queen Mami doll has lead paint but the Princess Dora and carriage - that are part of the same line of toys - does not? I can't be sure. Suddenly, every Dora and Diego and Sesame Street toy in the house looks dangerous to me. And I know that ultimately, I'm not going to be able to rest until they're all out of here.

And I struggle with that too. I try my best to pass toys on to send them to Goodwill or give them to friends - which is not always easy because most people don't want used toys. I can't do that with these toys. And Mattel only wants the ones on it's list back. So I see no choice but to send these bags and bags of colorful plastic off with the garbage. So much waste.

And how can I trust what I buy going forward? What toys will be safe. Which are the next ones, coming from China that will be found to have lead paint or some other dangerous substance? How can I trust these major toy manufacturers, who I know have one thing in mind - the bottom line? What can my children play with that I can feel good and safe about?

Suddenly that woman and her wooden spoon and bowl are making a lot of sense to me.

OK, maybe I'm not ready to be that extreme. But I am ready to make some changes to how I look at toys. No more cheap, plastic stuff that my kid plays with for 10 seconds and that I can never get rid of because no one else will take it - why should they when they can buy a brand new one so cheaply? It's time to look for better made stuff. Toys that are made with as much of an eye towards care as towards the bottom line.

I was talking with someone the other day who said, "Well of course they make that stuff in China and they don't care - it's cheaper." And my response was that I don't want it cheaper - I want it safe and good and I don't care if I have to pay a little more for it. I guess it's time for me to step up to that statement and start being more discriminating about toys.


professor said...

I know it sounds prejudiced, and I really am not prejudiced-just an equal opportunity hater- but I really try hard not to buy things made in china...I find that they cut corners and don't think of safety...
however, how wrong can they be when there are billions of chinese who run all the top industries...
ummm...their kids dont seem to be affected...I say its a ploy to get you to throw out all the toys in your house and buy a bunch of new stuff...lets keep in mind that the toy market is suffering bigtime...I say wash the toys in bleach and call it a day...I know for sure that sugar and spice don't have any of the earmarks of lead posioning...
I finally posted today...

The Bear Maiden said...

One of my favorite baby memories of my Sun was the time I ordered something for him that came in a huge box. The toy was "oohed" and "aahed" over for about 10 minutes, and then for about an hour he climbed into and out of and under the box.

I think toys are for grown ups. The Sun has a room full of them and once I beat him and threaten him to get him off that friggin' ds, the thing he'll play with the most is Legos.

I think the Professor's right. It's a ploy