Create Your Own Adventure or Follow the Printed Instructions?

Today I ventured into a megastore to buy a gift requested in the Season of Sharing letter I was sent, which I talked more about the other day. To be honest, I was a little worried about venturing into the visual assault that is the megastore toy section. I was struck by all the instructions and brands that seemed to alienate and deviate natural curiosity into a more prescripted playtime.

Determined to make this little girl’s holiday a bit brighter, I spent 30 minutes looking for the #1 item on the list, “gilitor lava.” I asked a salesman, a woman with a young girl, and the young girl herself. Each time we sounded it out together and scratched our heads. The salesman and I agreed it sounded like a superhero. After poring over the entire toy section, I realized she meant “glitter lava.” Success at last!

Suddenly I understood the complete sense of panic and fingers crossed that parents must have when trying to buy gifts for their children. The dolls pictured above were a special circle of hell as when I walked down the aisle, they all started making creepy noises in unison. After finding the glitter lava, I then set out to find the other two things on the list. And then there I sat in the aisle debating which was the better present on the list as I could only choose one: glitter lava, Easy-Bake oven, or Polly Pocket Ultimate Party Boat.

This fieldtrip caused so much second-guessing that if I ever have children I’m going to have start buying their presents 6 months in advance complete with a researched list of pros and cons. I ended up with the Polly Pocket Ultimate Party Boat because not only did it have about a million extra pieces, it also came with a jetski for Polly to ride the high seas on. And who knew that being able to “chillax” was a sales point?! I had no idea it was so ingrained in our culture that it’s Polly Pocket approved, even while “ice cream” remained in quotes.

I’m crossing my fingers that my little Santa writer will not be sad when she opens up the gift and doesn’t discover glitter lava….which just seemed boring and too Mr. Wizard compared to getting a boat, a jetski, boating accessories and child-size sunglasses so the little girl can keep the sun out of her eyes while she’s rocking out with Polly on the boat. The obvious front-runner at first, the Easy-Bake oven, failed because I just couldn’t send an 8 year old I don’t know something you plug in the wall even if it meant there would be no little tiny tasty cakes.

I left the megastore feeling overwhelmed by all the shiny brand new things that mooed and baaed and said “Mama” as I walked past. It seemed completely impersonal with way too many warning labels and notes about choking hazards. Coming back home to my handmade crafty things was a welcome respite as my house was soft and comfy and warm instead of robotic and plastic and kinda creepy.

And I wonder what the future will bring, and if one day I’ll find myself sitting down in an aisle comparing and contrasting toys that my child desparately wants. Will they only want the mass manufactured? Will they choose Made in China over Made by Mom? Something tells me I already know the answer, I just hope it will be possible to instill a respect for the handmade so their hand-crafted items will give them as much joy and wonder as the ones made miles away by strangers.

And if I’m really really lucky, maybe they’ll understand the freedom and the power and the love that goes into their handmade gifts and create their own adventures instead of being told where their little busy minds should wander by chillaxin’ marketers who give them numbered lists.

Tuesday morning, December 16, I’ll be on Martha Stewart Living Radio! I’ll be interviewed for the show Whole Living, which is on air 10-11 AM EST. Not a Sirius subscriber? You can sign up for a 3-day free trial here!

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6 Responses to Create Your Own Adventure or Follow the Printed Instructions?

  1. vegbee December 16, 2008 at 10:20 am #

    With my own children I’m finding that going to the toy store is unnecessary. I know what my children love, and I know I’ll never find it in an over packed bit of plastic that shrieks unintellable sloans. And now that my oldest is four years old, her appreciation of the handmade is growing because she is able to make gifts her own self and knows how much we think loving thoughts about the person we are making a gift for while we craft.

    That is our experience anyway :)

  2. Sarah December 16, 2008 at 2:59 pm #

    Agh, big plasticky toy stores really are a special hell. Our girl is almost 4 and we have managed to mostly avoid them, and the few times we have needed to stop in I swear, it gives me a headache.

    I have found that what she loves is really, any gift. And what she continues to love are the simple, lovely, well-crafted things that she can do so much with. I am sad that a lot of it will be gone soon (thanks to the so-badly-thoughtout new CSPC rules), but hopeful that at least some will survive. And of course, I’ll always be able to make things for her!

  3. Sarah December 16, 2008 at 3:00 pm #

    And, oh, I hit the button by accident — I love what you did, I think it was awesome to really try and meet this little girl’s wants even though it put you in that store!

  4. shara December 18, 2008 at 1:11 am #

    I quite enjoyed your post. I have daughters who yearn for things I can’t bear to buy them, but I give in now and then, though I try to keep it as in line with my personal convictions as possible. it’s difficult, balancing what they see as their needs in an immediate sense with what I see as their needs in a lifetime sense. this often makes me the wicked stepmother but oh well, mothers do the best they can. I’m sure at some point they’ll know I intend good more often than not.

  5. Heather (errantdreams) December 24, 2008 at 6:38 am #

    I wish you much good luck in teaching your children to appreciate hand-made things! Don’t worry too much if they rebound to store-bought items at first; from my own experience as a daughter I can say that one often goes through such a phase before “recovering” later in life. ;)

    This year I made my mother a gorgeous pair of earrings, if I do say so myself, as well as a bookmark. It felt so good to be able to give her something I put so much of myself into planning and creating!

  6. Kimberly Chapman December 28, 2008 at 1:10 am #

    Yeah, the toy aisles in stores are damned scary. Confusing too, because the harder it is to find what you want, the more crap you have to walk past and they hope you’ll just grab it all.

    Whenever we worry that our daughter has too many toys, we remind ourselves that both by number and volume, most of her toys were hand made by me. And the ones that weren’t are about 80% classic/vintage toys that have stood the ages, like real Lego and vintage Fisher Price Little People stuff.

    I can’t hand-make proper Lego, and that’s totally okay. Some things are okay to be plastic and factory-made, if they’re a good, stable, long-term toy (and buying resale cuts the cost and the waste). I could knit a castle, I guess, but that vintage FPLP one is awesometastic and really, it’s more fun to play when the walls aren’t saggy.

    We avoid electronic toys, especially anything that does all the work for the kids, like mooing and bleating animals. What’s the fun in having the cow moo for you? Our daughter would giggle once and then be bored.

    The lure of the toy aisles will always be strong and kids with mostly handmade stuff will have their rebellions at one age or another where they want all of the junk, but in the end most of them will come to realize that the handmade stuff has value and lasts beyond most of the crap on the store shelves. And those few intergenerational gems like Lego and FPLP make up for a lot too. :)

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