‘Tis the season to shop for blocks
Leave your senses at home and grab your credit cards.
‘Tis the season for normal, responsible adults to morph into crazed sociopaths who trample Wal-Mart employees in their desperate search for a Tickle Me Elmo doll.
‘Tis a time for intelligent parents to skip payments to their son’s education fund so they can buy a Sony Playstation.
‘Tis a time when hideous clothes and cheap plastic gadgets are bought by the truckload for loved ones everywhere.
‘Tis a scary season.
Perhaps if everyone was robbed of their Christmas tree booty, like the Whos of Whoville, they would snap out of their stupor.
I’m not talking about not respecting the ‘true meaning of Christmas,’ that tired old chorus.
We — all 33 million Canadians — spend $700 each every year on Christmas presents.
I am well aware that Christmas is all about the presents.
As a child, as far as I was concerned, a good Christmas could only be measured by counting the total number of presents I received and the number of presents that were on my list to Santa.
And it’s the same today.
Back at school after the Christmas holiday, when everyone’s donning their new duds and fiddling with their Game Boys, nothing is more important than the stuff.
There is almost nothing that parents can do about it.
The retailers own Christmas, not Christianity, not families and certainly not parents.
I searched the internet for “top toys for kids, Christmas 2006” and found that industry even has a monopoly on cyber-toy lists.
Every toy retailer has its dirty dozen, and they are all pretty much the same.
These lists tend to reflect what’s popular already, so it’s truly a consumer-based list.
But none of them, of course, look past the herd mentality of mass consumerism to consider the toys’ educational value, durability or parent-irritation quotient.
One of the top toys this year is the Dr. Who Cyberman Mask, a plastic silver mask that looks like R2D2, which alters the voice of any kid who wears it.
I think it’s pretty cool, actually, although it looks kind of cheap and needs batteries, which is always a concern for low-income parents and environmentalists too.
A few board games made the lists — Monopoly Here & Now, Trivial Pursuit 90’s and Deal or No Deal Electronic Board Game.
Something new from Hot Wheels, a new Elmo doll and a doll called Baby Alive were also among the harmless toys.
Then there was Barbie, miss popularity, in all of her sparkling glory.
This time, as Princess Genevieve, Barbie is busty and blonde like her prototype and, consistent with her prototype, looks eerily like JonBenet Ramsey in the face.
I understand why little girls want Barbie, with all of her perfectly fetishized body parts, I just don’t get why parents worldwide spend $2 billion a year on her.
That brings me to Bratz.
This Christmas, Bratz Forever Diamondz is topping the charts.
This particular brat is dressed in a black tracksuit and is slathered in bling including, apparently, a real diamond.
The Bratz collection is aimed at girls of all ages.
The youngest of the gang are babies, but that doesn’t stop them from sporting midriff-revealing lingerie, wearing makeup and having hairdos like J-Lo and Brittany Spears.
I can’t believe parents are buying these.
The Bratz slogan might as well be: “Baby slut,” and they might as well add, “A very popular toy among parents and young girls.”
Sadly, most toys for girls at the top of retailer lists were extremely stereotypical.
They all had something to do with princesses, weddings, babies, horses (with makeup and hairdos) or sex (Barbie and Bratz).
The boys’ toys were stereotypical too, but innocuous.
The main themes were cars, pirates, aliens and outer space.
MSNBC made its own list of top educational toys “as judged by children.”
The list of three included a teddy bear named Theodore James Bearytales that sings and tells stories, the Power Chutes factory building kit with remote control front loader, and the WonderWorks Talking Picture Book, which is a portable doodle pad and game book made by Cranium.
Of course, none of these lists or websites included books, or anything as un-modern as a wooden train set or finger puppet.
You must think out of the box if you want toys made of natural materials.
Fortunately, there are lots of good websites that sell wooden and educational toys.
Some people feel that wooden toys, as opposed to plastic and electronic toys, are more stimulating to the touch and nicer to look at, but also less scripted and more open-ended, and therefore more educational.
Kids learn from wooden toys because they have to use their imaginations.
Wooden toys also last longer and are made from renewable material. They can become heirlooms that are passed on to grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Plastic toys often break and can’t be recycled. In this throw-away world, we throw away most of our kids plastic toys and they are never recycled to other children the way, say, that a wooden rocking horse is.
According to child experts, it is blocks that are the single most important toy a young child can have, and block play is the single most productive activity.
Blocks help kids learn about special relationships and balance, and they encourage co-operation with other kids.
But what kind of ogre would I be if, in this age of video games and singing bears, I bought my kids blocks?
How boring! How terrible! How sad!
How quiet … How inexpensive … How simple …
‘Tis time we played again with blocks.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.