Can a crusade against crap toys ever succeed?
Is it just me, or is anyone else sick of fairies? Because personally I am sick to hell of wee folk and their tiresome fantasy ilk — unicorns with rainbow horns, mermaids with cotton-candy hair, and tarty princesses. Oh, I’m especially sick of the princesses. Is there some unwritten law that princesses have to dress like down-market 1980s bridesmaids? Can’t today’s little girls take their cue from Camilla Bowles in her classic tweeds?
Illustration: Keri Rosebraugh
I know I sound grumpy, but the current fantasy-toy craze is making my job as an eco-mom more challenging. Try finding a poofy ball gown made out of hemp for a 6-year-old girl. Better yet, try this: “Honey, why don’t we make a princess costume out of these recycled grocery bags? We can make magic wands out of sticks. It’ll be fun, and we’ll save the planet, too!”
Nope. Not gonna fly. It’s about as much fun as dressing up like Camilla Bowles. And so this is how you end up with a piece of crap.
After the latest poisonous Chinese-toy scare, I went through my daughter’s playthings and muttered words familiar to parents everywhere: “Where did all this crap come from?”
Check out our list of eco-toy companies, and add your own suggestions.
I could hoist my post-childbirth, sanctimonious eco-ass onto a soapbox and rant about how free trade and its evil proponents let lead-laced bugbears into our homes. But the truth is that we, as consumers, opened the door and carted the crap in ourselves.
Some of our crap was given to my child as gifts, some came unbidden in birthday party gift bags, and some of it I bought. My personal nadir came late one night, just before a holiday, when I bought stuff from the Disney Store. Imagine the red-faced shame of a Whole Foods mom: My bulbs are spiral, my car is a hybrid, and the baby’s diapers are chlorine-free. Yet I buy midget-sized plastic pastel pumps (say that three times fast) that will undoubtedly sit in a landfill until the sun goes supernova.
I could blame my generation. If you’re a Gen-Xer like me, you probably don’t have heirloom toys to pass down to your kids. Your toy memories likely include an assortment of oddball disposable synthetic stuff: Shrinky Dinks, Spirographs, Big Wheels, Slip ‘N Slides, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, and the downright freaky Stretch Monster and Baby Alive dolls. (NB: Play was enhanced by a wholesome breakfast of Cap’N Crunch and Tang.) Crap is all we know, so maybe that’s why we’re so willing to buy fresh batches of it for our kids.
The good news is that every culture has a counterculture, even the Era of Crap Toys. I’m starting to see a resurgence of wooden and higher-quality toys purchased by my parent peers. In Waldorf-y catalogs such as Magic Cabin, you can buy sturdy wooden playthings, and not just retro stuff, either. For instance, you can buy a wooden barbecue grill. Of course, it doesn’t actually work — at least not more than once.
I know all this crap-talk is vulgar, but when it comes to the safety of children it’s time to stop mincing words. Not only are most of the 3 billion toys sold in America each year (yes, you read that right) cheaply made and environmentally insensitive, they also, as recent recalls of Chinese toys demonstrate, can pose a real threat to our little ones.
In addition to demanding higher safety standards for toys, maybe we parents should also grapple with the larger existential issues surrounding children and play. What kind of play is best for kids? Structured? Imaginative? Are kids playing enough outside? Do we really need name-brand toys at all? As a recent editorial in The New York Times pointed out, perhaps our daughters don’t need “a talking dump truck or Barbie with the Malibu beach house. Let her flail on a saucepan with a wooden spoon. Give her paper and crayons.”
I’m on board with the idea of fewer toys. I’ve vowed to add a fourth R to the wobbly little trinity of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. It’s Reject. That’s right. Reject crap.
This is going to require some tough love, but I’d rather have a temporarily teary kid than a lead-poisoned kid. Santa and I are going to have to have a serious heart-to-heart chat. Ditto some well-meaning friends and relatives, but I know I’m not alone in this campaign. Recently, I called up another mother and thanked her for sending home a birthday party gift bag that didn’t contain a single piece of crap. I detest birthday gift bags, but this one was OK: flower seeds, some cool tumbled rocks, and pencils. My daughter was delighted, and I didn’t have to patrol the booty for verboten items.
My new philosophy of rejection also means I’ll be buying fewer, higher-quality things. Not luxury things, just better stuff. As the old saying goes, Buy quality and you’ll only cry once.
And if I’m really lucky, my kids won’t cry at all.