So after recently posting an article about kids’ toys (oops, sorry…an article about kids’ toys), I thought more about it, looked around the apartment more, played for too long with the trucks we bought Adam, and decided that the whole theory needs refinement.
To be sure, kids do not, as a rule, play with the toys you get for them. Blocks? Pull toys? Teddy bears? Cutesy books? Fuggedaboudit. I just spent the entire day yesterday watching Adam and Charlotte tramp out boxes, pieces of printer paper, my books, my guitar case, the printer itself, chairs, pasta (always pasta), blankets, shoes, baskets, clothing, recycling and trash. Let’s just say that their current favorite toy is the empty McCormick Montreal steak seasoning bottle. You get the idea.
But there are a couple of rules about kids’ toys that need further explanation, perhaps. Kids do like toys, and almost any toy can be desirable. So let’s get this show on the road and sidestep the usual rambling, shambling banter, shall we?
- A toy’s desirability to a child is in inverse proportion to its proximity to the child’s home.
Put simply, a toy that filled the child with wonder and delight at daycare will not be cool if you buy it for him or her. Any time I drop them off at daycare, Adam immediately makes a beeline for the toys. Charlotte just wants to cuddle. When we go to Grandpa and Nana’s house, they dash straight for the toy bin.
When they get home, they go straight for…the Montreal steak seasoning bottle.
- A toy’s desirability to one child increases in direct proportion to its desirability to someone else.
The toy that sat ignored for a royal fortnight suddenly becomes the very key to one child’s happiness just as soon as the other child picks it up. And herein lies one of the really fun things about having twins. Since they’re more or less at the same place developmentally and socially, you can rest assured that they’re more or less into the same stuff. I could be wrong (hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll admit it’s theoretically possible), but it seems to me that if you have two children far enough apart in age, this whole “who should get the toy” thing becomes somewhat easier. The younger kid gets it, and the older one can go fly a kite. Oh, and I mean that literally. Kites are fun and great exercise. Why would an older kid want a teddy bear when he could go outside and discover electricity? Go make yourself useful to mankind! You’re 4 now! Here, take this key.
Anyway, I never seem to see who actually had the toy first, and they’re both caterwauling like, well, cats….wailing. They both passionately believe that a cruel injustice has been committed and Kofi Annan should be summoned forthwith. And logic just doesn’t work. I’ve tried to explain to them both, with charts and graphs and PowerPoints, how that particular toy sat unused for days and days until one of them happened to pick it up because there was a stale goldfish cracker under it, and the other saw and coveted the toy, thus sparking a civil war of unmitigated violence. I try to mediate; show cost-benefit ratios of continuing the war versus drawing down; call in neutral, third-party observers (i.e., Mom); even levy dinner sanctions against those who hold out. No go. They just won’t listen to good, sound reason. What is it about one-year-olds not getting basic rhetoric and logic? This previously undesired toy is now the best thing in the world. And of course, once the child who wins (i.e., the one who lands the better blow or bite) finally gets the toy away, it immediately reverts to its previous state of banality and is discarded like a dirty shirt (which, incidentally, is actually more interesting to a child than most kids’ toys).
Okay, but why would a previously undesired toy become desirable in the first place? Is there a particular type of toy more likely to become desired? Ah, I’m glad you asked, third-person internet version of myself masquerading as a faceless interrogator.
- A toy’s desirability increases in direct proportion to its ability to annoy.
If there’s one benefit to a child’s sudden abandonment of toys in favor of garbage and cleaning chemicals (and believe me, I totally recognize the many advantages to this spectacular turn of events), it’s this. For a short period of time, all the awful songs that accompany kids’ electronic toys begin to fade. Yes, for a very short period of time, the haunting strains of “Comfortably Numb” or the delicious brashness of “London Calling” or the sheer beauty of “With or Without You” can once again begin to wend its way into your day and shine little beams of light into your brain.
For a very short period of time.
Then one of ‘em discovers that old VTech Explore-and-Learn Helicopter, and once again your entire subconscious is suffused with “Bingo” created entirely from dog barks, or marinated in some sadistic version of “Yankee Doodle” rewritten by an evil German psychologist inside VTech’s underground bunker in Sachsenhausen.
My first laptop is SO FUN!
It’s made just for me-e-e-e!
Learning all about my home!
Come along and see!
Actually that last one comes from the VTech My First Laptop, which is a pretty good toy. Still, I know I will never, ever forget any of these songs. When I’m old and my children have committed me to a home, I will still be able to sing these songs. I will have forgotten Pink Floyd and The Clash and U2. But VTech will always be a part of my soul, stitched to my everloving memory like an adorable, brightly colored war crime.
Okay, I’m being at least half ironic. These toys are actually not that bad at all. (They are.) Truth be told, the music itself isn’t so bad, and oftentimes it features some pretty sassy little basslines or drum stuff (all programmed, of course, but still not too bad). All of which makes you wonder how on Earth someone gets a job as “children’s toy song writer/programmer.” What, was Koji Kondo busy?
It’s actually more the voices than anything. I’m not sure what parts of Mordor, New York the people who sing for these toy companies hail from, but it’s about the most awful accent you can imagine. And not just awful like normal New Jersey awful. It’s almost deliberate, hateful—as if executives at VTech truly wanted to perpetuate some sort of mass psychological genocide. It’s painful. Take the VTech Pull-N-Play Phone. Please. And then throw it in a river. No, seriously. Throw it in a river. No, seriously. Okay, enough of that. Anyway, it has this feature where you can call specific animals and then it makes their noise. Pretty cute! And then you can check your “voice mail” from each of these animals. Great, right? Yeah, it would be, except that the lady who voices the thing can’t pronounce the word call. “It’s elephant!” she chirps. “CUWOUWALL me!” Ach! Shivers up spine!
And then these toys have the nerve to keep yelling at the kid if he’s not playing with it! “Beep beep!” “Wanna play?!” “Do re mi! Sing with me!” (And listen, rhyming mi with me? That’s cheating, you jackanape!) Jeez Louise, these toys have all the patience of a coked-up Jack Russel Terrier. And since they’re also as sensitive as landmines, God forbid you accidentally brush one with a pantleg. Then it goes off, and of course, keeps going off until it goes off one last time by announcing that it will no longer be going off.
So why else would a toy be interesting to a kid?
- A toy’s desirability increases in direct proportion to how many batteries it takes and which kind.
Type of batteries required: N/A
Cost of batteries: $0
Fun (1-10): 1
Number of batteries required: 1 or 2, most likely
Cost of batteries: ~$15-$20 for a 20-pack
Fun (1-10): 4
Type of batteries required: C or D
Number of batteries required: 2 or 4, most likely, though sometimes you get the really unlucky 3, which leaves you one short someday.
Cost of batteries: $6-$13 for a 4-pack.
Fun (1-10): 7
Type of batteries required: Lithium ion
Number of batteries required: Usually 2
Cost of batteries: $3-5 EACH!
Fun (1-10): 10 (but only with batteries)
We recently girded up our loins, put on our armor, took a deep breath, and stepped cautiously inside a WalMart. We decided it was time to get Adam some toy trucks (and Charlotte, too, but Adam is the one who really seems to enjoy them), and since we had a gift card specifically to WalMart, we opted to forego logic and stop at one.
We got some Tonka trucks (a garbage truck and a cherry picker), one called a Road Ripper that looks like a crazy shark, and a die-cast Chevy Tahoe police truck. The first three make engine sounds, play loud music, and generally cause all sorts of fun mayhem and take batteries that apparently come from Valhalla based upon price point. The die-cast truck is a die-cast truck.
Wanna guess which ones they love?
Which leads me to my last point…
- Kids’ toys are really fun for adults.
I’ve already stated that bath letters and fridge letters are made for adults. That’s obvious. But a funny thing happens when adults try fruitlessly to get their kids into a toy by demonstrating that it’s really fun: it becomes really fun. Who do you think likes that police Tahoe? That would be me. That would be I. It’s friggin’ cool.
I’ve also discovered some fun games to play with kids’ toys. For instance, our Fisher-Price Laugh-n-Learn singing book is actually a recipe for techno music. “Animals are big and small!” it coos when you open the first page. “Can you count them all?” So I just open and close it really quickly like a DJ scratching away in some druggy French club. “Animals! Animals! An-an-an-an-an-an-animals!”
They have a keyboard that they have literally never used. So I use it to make maj7 chords.
My old friend is their giraffe, the one that comes with the train pictured above. He’s morose and sort of dopey. Why? Because that’s how I voice him as I follow my kids around going, “Hey, kids. Heeeyyyyy… Why won’t you play with me? Hey… Come on, guys. Please? I’m cool…”
My favorite was actually their walker, which they no longer use, really. You could hit one key and make it play an entire song, but what was brilliant is that you could also make drum sounds OVER the song, so I’d just hit the drum button in double-time on the 2 and the 4 and turn every song into a punk song.
I could go on, but that Tahoe ain’t gonna skid itself across the coffee table.
Today’s inspirational verse: 1 Corinthians 13:11:
“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”