Tag Archives: Toys

The cuddlies

In our home, there are two soft cuddly toys into which our boys literally squeeze all of their emotions. These fluffy toys have weathered the full spectrum of said emotions and they are very well loved. They are needless to say, essential equipment for bedtime.

They will often find themselves doubling as pillows, eye masks, tissues, wet wipes, face cloths or indeed when required, even weapons. Over the years, they have had clothes made for them, medication administered to them and food infused into them and as such have also had regular baths since ‘birth’. They now have their own beds in a special drawer next to the double bunk beds and this where they spend most of their downtime.

The big guy has a small cuddly about the size of a hand (of the genus Beanie Baby and species Huntley Bear) whose given name is ‘Bear’. The little guy has a fluffy dog with oversized ears that’s about the size of a scatter cushion and whose given name is of course ‘Doggey’. He has no pedigree being ostensibly of the genus ‘Pavement Special’.

These two creatures have been the subject of many a search and rescue effort over the years. Every once in a while they get carried somewhere under an arm and then left behind or stuffed into a space ship or truck, or even a lunch box and then the game is on, to find the cuddly before bedtime. I must say though, I’m quite strict about where these creatures are allowed to go since I do not relish the thought of explaining to a tired child that their cuddley is now a part of the great wide open having been left at a picnic or a restaurant or mall for that matter. Most of the time though, they go awol for no more than half a day having simply been misplaced in the house and then they turn up somewhere and we cancel the call into the police for a ‘missing person’.

Bear is just a few months younger than my eldest boy, he’s been a part of the big guys life since the beginning. I remember downloading an app (the iPhone was in its infancy then) that showed one a picture of an animal and then it made the corresponding animal sound. Swipe, repeat about a million times. It had a built in collection of around 50 animals in it and was a firm favourite with the big guy. The app had the added feature where one was able to upload your own images and attach sounds to them. So of course we added a mom and a dad, I believe Cleo (our grumpy old cat) also had an entry and then of course Bear was given his own ‘page’ too. We were, I’ll admit, very much like those people who create Facebook profiles for their pets or indeed their porcelain doll collections. Anyway, one could swipe through the collection until you found your favourite animal and then listen to its sound until the battery ran out on the device, or until the parents got tired of listening to the cicadas screeching and confiscated the phone. My boy loved that app but would literally squeal with delight when Bear appeared on the screen and my voice belted out an abrupt sounding ‘Bear’.

Tellingly, we’ve had to send Bear in for some maintenance from time to time to plump him up given that he tends to, inexplicably, loose weight over time. He is now constituted out of equal parts original beans and supplemental rice courtesy of the boys grandmother.

Doggey is a no name brand soft toy with big floppy ears that are not unlike the ears of our real life dog, a spirited Basset Hound. Indeed, even the markings on Doggey are somewhat aligned to those of our real life pet. As I write this I wonder if our choice in pet was somehow subconsciously informed by Doggey. If you can cast your mind back to the cartoon strip days of Charlie Brown and remember one character in particular, Linus, who had an unfaltering love for his blankie, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the little guys attachment to Doggey. He is a major role player in sleep time and I must confess, I love watching the little guy cradle Doggey in the crook of his arm and drift off to sleep at night. It relaxes me, knowing that my boy is well looked after while he sleeps and that he’s probably managed to pull Doggey into his dreams too. Every now and again the little guy will sleep in our bed. If he’s woken up from a bad dream or if he’s unwell, he’ll just crawl onto our bed like a ninja and plop down between us. On those nights, Doggey makes his way into our beds too and really it’s anyone’s guess who’ll be hugging him when morning breaks because he’s quite simply the softest thing since fresh bread and if he’s recently had a bath, he’s quite fragrant too.

Since the arrival of the actual dog in our home nine months ago, Bear and Doggey have both been the unfortunate victims of smash and grabs by the Bassett Hound and both on more than one occasion at that. It was becoming a problem so we had to donate two less important soft toys, in the hierarchy of soft toys in our home, to the dog to take the focus off of Bear and Doggey. This was a strategic and essential move and I must say, it helped enormously as there have been far fewer incidents since then. I was a little dubious at first I’ll admit, I thought the dog would chew through them in a day but they’ve lasted several months now and aside from being a little grubby and of course covered in Basset slobber, they are in remarkably good nick. In point of fact, there has been considerably less chewing of things in the home in general since the dog was given her special friends.

The dog bed being the only notable exception.

The bed has been losing stuffing consistently for several weeks now and really, its like its hemorrhaging foam. There are bits of the stuff scattered everywhere. The dog seems to be ingesting some of the foam too as there are always little crumbs stuck accusingly to the side of her mouth, which is somewhat worrying since I’m not sure how much she can injest before it becomes a problem. I expect at some point I’ll be googling ‘dog swallowed foam’ to see what I’m in for. Each day I reprimand the Basset about this behavior and for the duration of the scolding, I get her full attention, staring up at me with floppy ears and droopy, drunkard eyes as if to say, “Yes, I chew the bed. I’m not even the slightest bit sorry.”

Of course that means we now need to keep track of four cuddlies in the house instead of just the original two lest we find our shoes, tables, chairs, ottomans, blinds, skirting boards and blankets chewed by a Basset throwing a tantrum because her cuddley is missing.

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The one app to rule them all

Every significant disagreement between siblings happens out of sight of the parents. Every single one.

Parents will usually only get involved or directly co-opted when tears start to roll or after a loud crash is heard, followed by a heartbeat of silence, followed immediately by tears and bedlam. As it happens, if a disagreement gets to this point, it’s often too late for a parent to resolve equitably. The best they can do is randomly assign a winner and then they risk the ire of at least one child.

This got me thinking about the potential for a new app, one that both parents download and use with a shared account.

It goes like this; the names of the siblings are captured up front as part of the config. When a dispute arises in the house, the app is consulted in much the same way one would consult an Oracle. Parents could amplify the spectacle here by making a big fuss about the Oracle being called upon to decide who wins. 

Ooooh, I think we need to check what theOracle says…

The more ceremony involved here, the more buy-in you’ll have. The dispute is then catagorised, the number and nature of opposing opinions is entered and ultimately a winner decided based purely on picking the next sibling eligible for a win.

This, I think, is much fairer than a random choice. The idea is also quite straight-forward and thus easy enough to explain to the halflings if you choose to let them in on the trick. It would take the burden of remembering who ‘won’ the last time off the parent and that, I can assure you, is a superfine thing.

The more analytical among us would be able to go back and look at stats like how many disputes there were in the last month, the days of week when disputes were at their peak, who the parent actually believed was in the wrong in each instance (which might reveal which child you love more) and so on.

Yes, literally a wealth of information available for datamining your offspring. The more information you capture about the dispute, the deeper you can dig into your mine.

Fairness is overrated. Most of the time, parents will never know who was actually in the wrong on a given day in a given situation and so there is a possibility that disputes can be awarded to a party incorrectly every so often. But the app will average that anomaly out over time and in the end I think that’s much fairer than parent guesswork after the fact.
I’ll admit it does sound a little more like a turn-based role playing game than a modern parenting technique for resolving disputes but to that I say; you are dealing with children and really the only things they understand clearly are ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’. So this way, they alternate victory across disputes in the fairest possible way. Mathematically. That is until the database storing the history is lost. Then it’s back to The King Solomon version of things. 

Or, you know, you could just flip a coin.

  


The big race

My eldest boy and I recently spent an afternoon playing with his scale electric set. There were a few stumbling blocks to overcome first though, most notably the fact that the thing didn’t work.

That is not at all surprising though given that the set has been, for a considerable length of time, subject to the heavy handed attentions of my youngest boy who is car besotted and not exactly gentle on flimsy toys made in ‘the east’ intended for children twice his age. I had on occasion witnessed him driving the delicate little cars over obstacles like shoes, fireman helmets and the cat. All of which subtracted from the longevity of the toy.

The first stumbling block was the fact that the plugs that connect the controls and the power supply to the track had all been snapped off in situ. A notty problem to say the least. To resolve it, there was a tweezer operation followed by the splicing of wires, the installation of copper pins harvested from other toys and my trusty magic toolbox and the use of electrical tape and chewing gum mashed together to get power restored to the track and controls. I felt a little like MacGyver at the end if I’m honest.

The cars themselves had also seen better days but we managed to breathe new life into them too, though the red car I think is very nearly beyond its sell by date.

The track itself had several dead pieces which were, I can only assume, as a direct result of toddler drool. You know the kind I mean, where your child is so transfixed on something they’re playing with that they simply can’t keep their mouths closed and prevent drool from collecting in and tumbling from said mouth. The stuff looks a little like a mountaineers safety line anchored at the lip and touching the ground in a long strand, fastening itself at various points on its journey downwards against the toddlers shirt. Yes, some of that stuff was definitely a part of the problem and the rusty pieces of track were quarantined.

Finally though, we are ready to race and immediately there was a problem.

As slight as my boy is, he has a particularly heavy thumb. The car on the track in his lane was now operating at two polar opposite speeds; light speed and dead still immediately following a crash. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for traveling fast, but not at the expense of actually going somewhere. In a perfect world we would have had unlimited track (ala James May) and then we could definitely have used his age appropriate racing style. But on the carpet in his room with a small track cobbled together with perseverance, we needed a little restraint around the corners (all four of them).

Our race became a seemingly endless cycle of fixing the brushes under the car, placing the car on the track, watching it lurch forward and then immediately exit dramatically through the plastic barriers I had attached to each of the track corners to finally end up roof down on the carpet amid squeals of joy.

Repeat.

My boy was beaming. He was so happy he lit up the room and was falling over and doing joyful belly rolls when the crashes were particularly energetic. His enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself completely caught up in it. Eventually though, practicality won out and I put both cars on the same track and handed him the master control. The maximum speed of a single car on the track was now halved across the two slipstreaming cars and together they raced, gratefully, around the track attached front bumper to back with no accidents over a fifty thousand lap marathon. My boy was very well impressed with the newfound handling capabilities of the tandem cars and didn’t seem to miss the speed and calamity of our earlier races at all.

Then, as with anything else, his interest in the toy waned over time to nothing. I was eventually left staring at a track where one car was towing the other to nowhere and my boy was flicking through the children’s programs on the television.

As I left the room I heard the toy let out an audible sigh of relief.

 


The multi purpose toy

In this age of reuse, repurpose and recycle we’ve become accustomed to separating our waste into categories.

Our organic waste is divided into cooked and raw which our worm farms can break down and make compost out of. Our non-recyclables are separated from the glass, paper, textiles, metals and plastic which are carted off to recycling stations for filtering, further sorting and ultimately recycling. These days, the recycling bin is always filled to the top and the garbage bin is virtually empty.

It got me thinking, are there any other ways we could be reusing every day items before they enter the recycling process? The answer is of course there are.

Let’s say you have a number of plastic toys which are broken and lying about the house and, let’s face it, every house with children in it has at least a few of these. The toys are ultimately headed for the recycling centre but before they start their journey, they can be used one more time as a discipline tool. All that is required is a little marketing to create a demand for the toy and you’re all set.

Our little guy is two and a half now and is testing boundaries in every sense of the word. His favourite trick is to hit his older brother with whatever toy he happens to be holding in his hands when the dispute arises. This behavior is obviously strongly frowned upon and results in a timeout in the ‘naughty corner’. Often though, he won’t stay in corner and then of course the punishment doesn’t carry any weight. So my wife hit upon the idea of tossing a broken plastic toy car into the recycling and threatening to do the same to a more precious toy if he didn’t stay put.

It worked like a charm. He did his time in the corner and when he was paroled, he was sufficiently contrite and apologized for his transgression. We lightened our load (if only to the value of a small, broken plastic toy car) and the toy which became and unwitting accomplice in our duplicity was set on the path of reincarnation.

A truly win-win situation. The only fault with the plan is that the little guy is probably going to require more penance than we have toys to spare. That means we’ll either have to start getting rid of perfectly good toys (donations to children’s homes is an option here) or start buying broken toys to recycle which seems a little extreme. Time will decide the issue I think.

This can probably be classified as a ‘first world problem’.


The plastic toys

I don’t mean to cast any aspersions on the Chinese as a people in saying what follows but the quality of their plastic toys is, shall we say by way of example, not quite up to the standard of the build quality of a Swiss Army Knife. The problem I think is not in the materials used but rather in the assembly process where it would appear that wheels are attached to cars with butterfly kisses and propellers to planes with cooked grains of rice.

Actually it makes perfect sense when you think about it. They’re a demure people as a group and live in a highly regimented society. The one-child policy also lends itself to creating peaceful little tripod families of a mom, a dad and an only child. Imagine play time in the average working class home; parents doting on the child in gentle tones, a few toys lying about that are played with quietly and respectfully, some soothing traditional music wafting in the background. I imagine Chinese made plastic toys brought into these environments would last quite a long while – their build quality notwithstanding.

The same scene in virtually any other household on the planet would involve at least two children bashing Chinese made plastic toys into other Chinese made plastic toys. The lifespan of a plastic toy in this situation is more often than not, one or two days beyond the day the packaging it arrived in was thrown away. In point of fact, the toy and it’s packaging will probably end up in the same garbage bag.

So the toys don’t last, but that does not mean they aren’t made from a collection of non divisible plastic parts that are virtually indestructible in their own right. The acid test for this is to stand on a toy in the middle of the night while barefoot. You’ll find that the toy immediately collapses into its smaller individual parts and these then embed themselves as deeply into the sole of your foot as birthday candles pushed into a chocolate cake. Except there’s much less call for the use of choice four letter English words when you plant the candles.

The broken toys, that are not thrown away almost immediately, will begin to coalesce into a great mound of incomplete plastic memories of toys with very little use at all, much like the tupperware drawer in the kitchen which is full of nothing but mismatched containers and lids.

Their fate is then sealed.

When we recycle the toys without wheels or limbs or doors, I like to imagine that there is a chance, however slight, that the toys will be binned together at the recycling centre with others that have suffered the same fate. Might they not then possibly find the lost parts of themselves and complete the hoolahoop of life among friends?

I think another circle that could be completed in this space is the Chinese toy making industry getting into plastics recycling.


The walkey talkey standoff

Sometime back we were given a set of two way radios for our boys. Our eldest was always using surrogate radios to communicate with the ‘Fire Station’ and the youngest would use almost anything as a phone to talk to nobody in particular about very important nothings. We figured it would be a win win gift.

But as it turned out, the radios weren’t that big of a hit with either of the boys. I’m not sure why though, perhaps the toy removed some of the mystery for them and in so doing made the toy less desirable, more pointless. Perhaps they were just that little bit too young and didn’t get it. Perhaps their imagination needed less detail, not more, to function properly. Whatever the case, the radios are in a drawer, un-played, silent.

We follow a reward chart system to help motivate the boys to repeat good/positive behavior. So five or ten stars for doing the same thing like cleaning a room by tidying up toys, getting ready for school unassisted, sharing toys without being asked to would result in a reward of some kind. We used this system to potty train our eldest and it worked like a charm.

He filled his chart again a few days ago and we gave him a fireman jacket and hat complete with accessories like an axe, fire extinguisher, fire hose and a radio which only has one button that only does one thing and that is to play the same dreadful and monotonous Chinese elevator music tune, with absolutely no bass, at three or more volume levels above what would have been considered comfortable or bearable. And I’m being kind.

As it turned out, that toy immediately became the most popular toy in the history of all toys and as such, both boys wanted to play with the awful thing all day every day. It was actually guaranteed to cause tears, hair pulling and rugby tackles every moment that it was in the general population. So we did what any frazzled parent might do in the same situation, we gave our youngest a star on his chart for being cute and then bought him the exact same outfit. We are not above a little fudging of the facts or competition rigging in the pursuit of peace. Immediately they both started playing with their ‘radios’ together and household harmony was more or less restored. A side effect of this harmony was a cacophony of sound produced by the two radio’s that would have disturbed the dead. But at least there was no more fighting.

There is something to be said for the old fashioned makeshift radio we made as kids which used two tin cups joined together by a piece of string. It had so many plusses; easily made and repaired, needed two kids to play with it so sharing was implied, the longer the string was the further away the radio operators had to be from each other which was perfect if you were prone to fighting with your sibling and finally it got the kids out of the house and into the garden which had one major plus for parents…

It was much, much quieter inside.


The cleanup or sell

Allowing children to engage in unstructured play or not is a question right up there with going green or not and iOS versus Android. It’s really quite a tough call.

Basically this is when you leave your children up to their own devices and let them play in whichever way they want to. There are a few things about this type of play you should be aware of if you ever decide to let it happen in your home. This type of play usually involves furniture being moved around and actually could involve the moving of the contents of an entire cupboard or two as well, it takes time to execute and you have to let it run its course naturally or there will probably be tears when you end it (ok so there will probably be tears anyway) and finally when the children are done playing you’ll have to make a call about whether to clean up the mess or simply sell the house as is and move somewhere tidy.

On the plus side though, you probably wouldn’t let it happen more than once if there wasn’t a huge plus side, your children will literally be out of sight for an extended period of time. You could use that time to have a nap, to watch a television program that doesn’t include any themed protagonists like Dinosaurs with wheels instead of legs or colorful characters with televisions where abdomens should be, to entertain a guest or even to make a dent in the contents of the liquor cabinet if you so desired. Basically all the stuff people without children do, just for a limited period of time.

Still, there have been many nights when we’ve put our eldest to bed only by first using the snow-plough method to move toys, clothes, blankets and furniture aside to make a path from the door to his bed. Also, somehow there is always a biscuit or half-eaten piece of fruit hiding under or inside a toy (the favorite for this sort of thing at the moment is the green garbage truck). Every now and again we’ve found the energy to make a stab at cleanup before we put him to bed but by the time he goes down for sleep we’re too tired to read him a story which inevitably results in a discussion about why a story was not forthcoming. I suspect it would probably be easier to convince honey bees to start producing low G.I honey than to convince our son that tonight, just tonight, we don’t need to have a story.

So basically it’s swings and roundabouts as far as unstructured play goes. You win a little time (and the child gets to run amok for a bit) and you lose a little sanity when you have to clean up. You may also find yourself wishing you could glue everything in the house to the floor so that it cannot be moved around, including the children – if you go down this road though I suggest you use something a little less permanent than superglue unless you want to wake up one morning with your child’s hand glued to the cat.