I guess you could say that I’ve liked toys since I was a child, but since I became a parent my love for them has diminished rapidly. Instead of being things that give me great pleasure their role in my life has transformed. They are now “things that I put into a box a hundred times a week”, “things I stand on in the dark”, “things I hope will entertain the kids long enough for me to make a phone call”, “things I find under the cushion when I sit down”, “things that cause my children to fight” and things that we have too many of.
That said, more toys come into this house every year and I’ll support that, Santa is welcomed with open arms. Santa around here “gets” that toys are for kids. They’re the ones that are supposed to get the enjoyment out of them and that’s what he brings them.
Therefore, I laugh, almost hysterically, when I hear toys being described as “beautifully crafted”, or “hand-painted”. I consider the way that my children play with toys and I pray for the poor toy that ends up being subjected to such rough love.
I see beautiful shops selling “artisan toys”, handmade scooters, wooden kitchens, stunning rag dolls. Gorgeous. For grown-ups.
Here’s the deal. Kids, in my experience, don’t much care for the love and attention that went into making a toy. They are not crazy for the monochrome trend. They like plastic. They like noisy. They like bright colours. They like the characters that their parents dislike most.
If your daughter asks for a doll she probably wants the same one that everyone in her class has, not a one-off bespoke one.
I’m not saying that pastel pink hand-painted wooden kitchen isn’t beautiful, it is. And it would look stunning in the corner of your kitchen. But toys aren’t about you. They’re about your kid. Adults need to think of the kids when buying toys.
After all, an adult is unlikely to hide a half-eaten apple or almost-finished yogurt pot in the toy fridge. Your child on the other hand will probably do that within an hour of owning it. When you’ll discover it is another matter, and antibacterial spray isn’t kind to handpainted wooden finishes.
I’m not saying that children shouldn’t be encouraged to like or appreciate beautiful things. I’m saying that kids should be allowed to like hideous lumps of plastic and we should embrace them into our lives for the short years that we have young children.
So, if your child is fixated on an awful plastic ugly toy, and really, really wants it from Santa, and if you can afford it and have room for it, then you know what to do. If the kid wants the plastic one, get the kid the plastic one.
And if Santa brings the amazingly beautiful family heirloom mock-tudor doll’s house instead of the poor quality Barbie mansion that your eight-year-old daughter asked for, prepared yourself for the fact that while she might be blown away by it initially, inside she might in fact be a little disappointed.
She’ll realise in time how beautiful a gift it is, and you’ll realise how much she wanted the plastic crap. She’s not ungrateful, honest. And when she’s nine, she’ll ask for it again, and Santa will bring it. And someday when she’s got kids of her own she’ll make sense of it all, and perhaps even move the family heirloom into her own house.
Sorry, Mam and Dad, thirty two years on.