If one word could describe my mood over the past few days, it would probably be melancholy. I’m sure some of it has to do with getting off the gluten-free wagon while on vacation (or is it on the wagon? I can never keep it straight…either way, too much pizza and fried beach foods are why I’m paying the price now). The current lunar phase seems to have me off-kilter as does the rise and fall of these pesky hormones. I know a lot of it also has to do with not having much alone time (read: solitude) in the past two weeks. I’ve said it many times before, but this is something that is increasingly crucial to my mental well-being and ability to be the mother and wife I want to be. Yet M is no longer in camp, so she’s my 24/7 sidekick. We’re just coasting until school starts, day in, day out, stringing moments together with no real plans in place. And, well, of course, much of it has to do simply with the impending life shift that is about to take place for M and me both. Add to all of this the fact that I am not exactly currently primed to be fully present and chipper in these last few moments of school-less life, leaves me suffocating under a thick layer of guilt as well. I think somehow M senses this and so finds a way to entertain herself quite a bit, and yet tells me often how much she loves me, with “no matter what” left unsaid. She quite literally might be a ray of sunshine. When I stumbled upon this scene just moments ago after we got back from the market, I was struck by the years represented. The strawberry skirt that is a few summers old (yet still fits!). The broken police car toy that we fished out of the neighbors recycling bin one chilly spring Friday when she was about 3 years old. The bamboo cars that we bought her when she was probably 2 or so, wanting to be so careful about what we wanted her to play with (and which was so much easier to control back then) and making sure that there were an adequate number of “boy” toys in her playroom. The big turquoise spongy car that we got her when she was crawling. The Polly Pocket dolls that were given to her last summer who are now crammed into the cars in a way that I always think is funny. Apparently they’re going to the market and trying to “get a good spot” in case it rains. Exactly we just did about an hour ago ourselves, seemingly when all of those other toys just entered our home for the first time too. Soundtrack: someone texting me on my phone (I’m ignoring it), the sound of rubber wheels gliding across the floor, several high pitched voiceovers for the Polly Pocket gals and bare feet on the wood floor.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
Stuck inside on a cold day like today (9 degrees! YIKES!)? I thought I’d share some of the things that M has taken a recent shine to that have been great ways to pass the snow-less, frigid days (that is, other than her incessantly playing dolls).
If your child likes patterns, following examples to copy, card games, games with easy numbers/counting concepts, and is around 5 years old, these have been hugely popular in our house this winter:
Go Fish. We have this one made by eeBoo, which I actually had picked up at Barnes & Noble in the fall. The colors are bright, slightly unusual (there are probably very few 5 year olds who know what color “chartreuse” is!). After about a month, M mastered holding her cards in a fan, so good for picking up some manual fine motor skills (which, if your kid tends to grip her pencils too lightly, will help). Still haven’t been able to pass along how to shuffle though. Flying fish everywhere!
Shut the Box. It’s actually an old game (or so it appears), and it can be played alone or with others. There are many versions of this game out there, some using number tiles from 1-9 and others using 1-12. There are also various ways to play the game, but the basic idea is using a pair of dice to shut the various numbered tiles, either through addition or using what appears on the individual dice. We have a bamboo one that seems to be cheapest on Amazon.com. I know Melissa & Doug makes a wood one too and have seen that in local toy stores.
UNO. Everyone’s got this around the house. Had no idea a 5 year old would dig it, but she does! Does get a little dicey when she’s got 20+ cards in her hand because she can’t hold them all, but we just set up a “blind” with a book or something so that she can lay her cards out on the table in front of her and we won’t see.
Felt Mosaic Game (a/k/a Tangrams). Another one from eeBoo (whose toys/games I have come to really love over these past few years). M loves copying, either through drawing or with assembling craft materials, and really is into patterns (making them, spotting them) which we all know is a math concept. These are felt triangles and suggested patterns/pictures to copy on a felted square board. When I saw these I thought they would be another tactile way for her to approach copying/patterns. She really does like these and will sometimes sit for more than an hour going through a few of the 60+ pattern cards to copy. I admit to playing with them too when I’m in dinner making avoidance mode.
Kaleidograph. These are something different, very portable (read: dinner out!) and also for the kid who likes to assemble visual puzzles/patterns, though this is done through layering of colorful die-cut card stock, rather than one-dimensional copying (like the felt triangles above). I first learned about Kaleidograph while browsing around the For Small Hands website (a site geared toward Montessori toys and other items). I believe that is where I ended up purchasing our set, which was a Christmas gift to M.
Clock solitaire. I can’t take credit for this one. I don’t even know how to play clock solitaire, but M’s dad does and showed her the other night. She picked it up after just one round of assisted play and now can play on her own. It’s amazing how fast kids can pick stuff up, isn’t it!?
Tic Tac Toe. She finally got the concept of this one just a few weeks ago and can think ahead a move or two it seems. I think trying Connect Four or checkers might be the next logical step now, both of which I love to play.
What kind of games are you playing at your house? Stay warm, everyone!
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
I remember when M was just about a year old, maybe even a bit after that, she started to become attached to one or two of her “loveys”. Initially, it was “Blue Kitty” and “Pink Bunny”. Blue Kitty is a stuffed knit striped, light blue cat, and Pink Bunny is one of those fleecy head on a handkerchief kinds of thing that is geared toward babies. The connection between M and her loveys was certainly gradual and later than some of her peers. OK, maybe even a bit forced on my part as I tried to get her to have something to cling to as I left her behind at daycare crying.
But eventually, she consistently sought them out, took them to daycare and slept with them at night, particularly more so after M started the night off in her own bed rather than ours. By some stroke of luck, we only managed to leave the loveys at school overnight one time. When you leave a lovey behind and cannot get to it until the next day, you quickly learn not to do it again!
Then, for the past year or so, up until around when M turned five, she “adopted” a few more animals from within her menagerie. They had always been around since she was crawling, but were not really ones she took a shine to. Then, almost as if for no apparent reason, she decided that “Jello” (which is the name she gave a Nut Brown Hare bunny she owned since she was an infant) was in, and Blue Kitty was out. Pink Bunny always seemed to hold top
dog bunny status, and was the first thing she asked for when the tears began.
I never worried about whether she’d end up like Kenny in Mr. Mom with his Woobie. I figured that she’d end the attachment when the time was right, or never at all (I remember some college friends bringing their “woobies” to the dorm life!). It just always made me happy that she could at least feel somewhat secure with those stuffed blobs of love when we were apart or my hugs were not enough.
But it dawned on me the other day that they’re no longer the ones she turns to. Not in bed with her. Not what she brings to preschool. Not even what she asks for when something’s got her distressed.
When did that happen? And, more importantly, why? This I wonder about. Yes, at the age of five, emotions tend to be a little more manageable (for both of us!), if not even-keeled, so the actual need for loveys has probably diminished somewhat. I haven’t really paid attention to the lovey status of her peers, so is it something that is age-appropriate? Is she afraid of feeling like a “baby”? Part of me secretly wishes, no.
What I don’t wonder about, however, is what has taken the place of these fleecy remnants of her babyhood. That answer is easy: Lily.
Lily is a gift from M’s gramma after a 5th birthday outing to the American Girl Doll store for lunch. That means she’s only been in our lives for about 3 months now, but there are times where I feel like she’s been here forever. This is because M treats her, talks to her and talks about her like an idealistic sibling. She’s not soft and cuddly by any stretch, but there is something about Lily that has M smitten.
Incidentally, when you only have one child and that’s all you’re going to have, you tend to second guess yourself about whether the behavior your child is exhibiting is directly related to her one-ness. Is she obsessed with Lily because she’s lonely? Are we terrible for not “giving” her a sibling? Would she be this attached to a human-like plaything if she had a brother or sister around? It’s a hard habit to break, but I’m starting to let go of this unproductive thought process more and more.
But Lily really is almost like having a second child around the house. We have to remember to get her dressed in the mornings. And at night. Oh, the wrath I heard one morning when M discovered that I had forgotten to put Lily in PJ’s before bed! I think it was my lapse that motivated M to finally learn how to get Lily dressed completely all by herself. We take Lily everywhere. Much to my surprise, M’s teacher doesn’t even mind Lily coming to school, though she must stay on the shelf except during rest time (apparently there is a whole trend now with other girls bringing their version of “Lily” too…and all of them look as
bedraggled well-loved as Lily). Lily is sometimes dealt a hand in a game of Go Fish or gets a pawn in Candyland. M and Lily can spend up to two hours just playing on their own. Lily even has complicated thoughts and opinions, as told to us by M. She has given M confidence in some social situations that I think she otherwise might have turned inward and gone quiet.
It’s this particular point of M not needing the soft cuddly things or me as much either that has me feeling both happy that she’s becoming independent, yet slightly bittersweet that the apron strings have loosened a bit more. Sure she still seeks me out for affection and household companionship, but she really does look to Lily for more of these things it seems. Wisps of yarn and fleece are no longer the answer. Isn’t this what I always wanted? More time to myself? Not having to address M’s needs on an endless basis? Before Lily came along, I surely thought so. Now, it seems, I am having mixed emotions about it because of what this transition to another kind of inanimate object represents about her growing up. All normal feelings, I’m sure.
So, as I wonder about where to put Blue Kitty, Jello and Pink Bunny for safekeeping, my thoughts wander about who or what will eventually replace Lily, and when. School friends, I’m sure. That’s less than a year away. I think that will be a harder pill to swallow, when another sweet child becomes her companion and confidant, rather than Lily or me.
Copyright (c) 2012 Kristen M. Ploetz
It’s that time of year again.
The flurry of holiday catalogs crammed into our mailbox started in November, and shows no signs of slowing down. I can’t seem to get off of these mailing lists, no matter how hard I try. Not only are these hawkers killing thousands of trees, but most of them are still selling stereotypes that, quite frankly, I am sick of seeing peddled to my young and impressionable daughter and her peers (boys and girls alike).
Yes, there are certainly some toy catalog companies that do a great job of being even handed, and some that at least give the impression of trying to be more balanced, but in the grand scheme of the catalog cacophony, they are so far and few between. And yes, I’ve read books like Pink Brain, Blue Brain, by Lise Eliot, and understand that some traits and preferences truly are innate, so marketers and toy makers tend to gravitate that way. Still, I am often perplexed by some of my daughter’s “girly-ness” in playing (apparently the apple sometimes does fall far from the tree) when I see her in real life situations.
But nonetheless there is something about these catalogs that strikes a nerve with me in a way that is only matched by the Halloween costume catalog industry. I could just throw them right into the recycle bin, but I actually like to see how my daughter thumbs through them. It’s interesting to me, and usually a bit sad too as I see how she falls into their marketing and stereotyping traps by skipping over a lot of toys that, if they were sitting in a box on our floor without any suggestion of who “should” be playing with them, I know she would play with them for hours.
It got me to thinking…why not give these catalogs a report card? Yes, I could just as easily vote with my dollar. But if they ever want to sell to the people with purchase power in this household–it certainly isn’t our daughter…yet–then they’re eventually going to have to listen.
Let’s start with you, CP Toys, since you arrived first and often. Your “Just Like Home Kitchen” is pink and white. Um, how many actual homes have you been in where there is a pink and white kitchen? And despite the fact that your ad copy states that “little chefs can cook in their very own kitchen”, the implied gender for this toy is undoubtedly girls. Yet your two other kitchens, “Wooden Deluxe Kitchen” and “Uptown Kitchen” are arguably way more realistic and “just like home”. No gender limiting colors there and (thankfully) you even feature a boy using one of the kitchens. Admittedly, I have a personal distaste for the whole pink-ification of everything (a pink blender? pink pans? pink toaster? c’mon…) and this is why: you do not color-specify in a similar way for boys. Am I being picky? Perhaps.
Granted, and very thankfully, you do a good job of keeping the rest of the actual toys gender neutral (I’m not talking about the context in which they’re photographed, just the toy itself) and completely realistic and true to life in color and design to the extent you can. And many of your toys are photographed without kids at all, leaving the reader open to whether it is something that he or she would want to play with. Most of the block and gross motor skill toys are even-handed in their featuring boys and girls, so that’s a plus too.
But when I start to thumb through the rest of the catalog, I still see subtle hints of gender stereotyping that I am not comfortable with. A few examples: two different construction sets (both featuring boys); baby care center (girl); two different carpenter workbenches (both boys); firehouse playstation (boy — though, you do feature a girl wearing a firefighter costume a few pages later, so that’s good); airport playset, rocket ship adventure, everglade patrol and dinosaur park (all boys); little helper cleaning set (girl); bar-b-que grill (boy); two simulated drivers (boys). Not one single boy playing with a doll, dollhouse or stuffed animal is seen anywhere in the catalog, except for one photo of a boy playing with some puppets. I will give you credit for featuring girls with the veterinarian set and medical cart, but points off for not making the hair play more attractive to boys. Have you seen any of the shows on Bravo these days?
Final score: C/Needs improvement. Next time, let’s see a few girls using some tools and maybe the boys can clean the house, “just like (at our) home”.
Next up, Toys to Grow On. Unlike CP Toys, you DO feature a girl using the “real woodworking projects”. Nice move, and it certainly stood out to me. Turn the page and there’s a female FBI agent. OK, still looking good so far.
S-c-r-e-e-c-h. Slam on the brakes. I spoke too soon. Right after that, we run into a set of hot pink walkie-talkie phones, on the same page as the the makeup doll (girl playing with it) and make-up set that promises to make girls “look dazzling–from head to toe!”. Can I just say something about this one? Do these toy designers even have kids? My daughter probably has no less than 4 different plastic, brightly colored (though not pink) toy phones in her toy box. Know which one she wants to play with?? My old real cell phone that I sadly had to toss because it stopped working. For a while she was content with it just turning on, but once she figured that out it didn’t really make calls anymore, she stopped playing with that one too. Any toy designer worth their salt should know that kids don’t want phones that don’t even resemble real phones. If there was ever a waste of toy plastic, it is pretend phones. Moving on….
OK, well I will continue to reserve my grade until the bitter end, but I have stumbled upon another baby nursery and cleaning trolley in this catalog as well. No surprises there — both featuring girls. I feel like I’ve been here before…Build-your-own-city (boy); long hauler rig set (boy); veterinarian (girl); doctor lab coat (girl); scientist lab coat (boy) [OK so those two are a wash]; fashion studio (genderless hand is drawing, but notably the book cover is pink and fuschia so to me it screams “girl”–wonder if Michael Kors and Alexander McQueen started off with something like this…hopefully their mothers were as open minded as I bet they were and would buy it anyway!). I also note that the “my first purse” is almost entirely awash in hot pink and purple accessories–including the car keys–yet the “my first shaving kit” for boys stays true to life with metal and black colored appliances and accessories. Why? Why? WHY!
And, oddly, here are two toys that I am not quite sure how I feel: the super-safe target game with an infrared gun and the first archery set. Both feature girls. I am not against the archery set in any way (it was my favorite part of phys ed when it came up!), I mainly note that one because together with the gun, I suppose if you’re raising a mini Sarah Palin these would attract you. But it’s the gun that bothers me. From a gender perspective I suppose I’m . . . uh, flattered (?) that they think girls can pack heat like their male counterparts, but on the other hand I am not totally on board with guns as toys to begin with. At least it is featured as part of a shooting arcade set. I’ll have to ponder this one some more.
Final score: B-/Needs improvement. This catalog is not much better than the first, but because of the gun toting, carpenter and FBI girls, I gave it a slight nudge. Still, it would be nice to see a boy using that cleaning set to help the girls clear up their wood shavings and shell casings.
OK, MindWare, let’s see if you’re any better than the first two. After all, you’re featuring “brainy” toys, so maybe your editors are more with it.
First I see lots of girls using telescopes and microscopes and a boy making some “kid-friendly kitchen concoctions” so that’s a great start. Seventeen pages in and I’m liking it.
Whoa. I spoke too soon. If you want to “open your own sweet shop”, you better like hot pink. And if you want to have “sew much fun” with a mini sewing machine, you better not mind sporting a bag and skirt, boys. (Ahem…editors, do you not watch television or read fashion magazines? Do you not hear some of the names uttered on the red carpet? Do some of the winners and finalists of Project Runway not come to mind? They were MEN designers! And yes, granted they happen to also make women’s clothing, but what boy “ages 8 and up” is going to go out of his way to make a skirt or bag that he is going to have to give to someone else? Ditto this sentiment with the “design custom t-shirts” a few pages later.)
OK so there is some traction to be gained when we get to the “young architects” set which features a girl undoubtedly sketching out her dream home (hopefully without a pink kitchen). But then I get a little disenchanted when I get to the book entitled “Handy Dad: 25 Awesome Projects for Dads and Kids”. Apparently the author, HGTV Host, Todd Davis, does not think that moms can also become “heroes” and wield some tools to create zip lines and water balloon launchers. Since we have a few unwanted cats visiting our yard lately, I may just have to buy that book to spite him and make my OWN water balloon launcher. And while I am sure that the girl featured in the “recycled robot kits” can unwind with the “all-natural spa day” kit after a long day of building robots, I am not sure how the boys are supposed to unwind. Maybe they can head over to the girls making those candies at the sweet shop, provided the boys sew them a bag and skirt of course.
This catalog is actually not that bad, especially when you start to look through enough of these. There are a lot of puzzles, games, building toys, science kits and spatial skills type of toys that are very interesting, and happily feature boys and girls playing with them.
Final score: B/B+. Let’s just stop it with the pink already. Boys like to eat chocolate too. Let’s not let them think that only girls can make it for them. (I realize this is more the toy makers than the toy sellers, but to me they are all one in the same to the extent that they are trying to sell this stuff to kids).
The next catalog in my cross-hairs (I really should pick up that archery set!) is One Step Ahead. (In full disclosure, I have ordered things from this seller in the past, but it has been limited to things like the window safety bars and some kind of roll up placemat that never worked quite right, but not toys. I imagine this is why I get their catalog.)
Kitchens must be big this year because there’s one on the cover, and unlike the CP Toys cover page kitchen, this one is more realistic with brown cabinets and faux stainless steel appliances. OK. At least I’m not all fired up before even opening it.
But it doesn’t take long to get annoyed. Page 7 in fact. “Everything her first doll should be” (emphasis mine) reads the copy for one soft bodied doll, in the color … wait for it … PINK. So, boys apparently don’t ever get to play with dolls, not even a “first” doll, unless their parents are hip enough (like I think I’d be with a son) to buy a pink one. Lovely.
Seriously, who makes these toys? “A gym bag like mom and dad’s”? Really? Know how many times I’ve been to the gym since she’s been born? Yeah, me neither because there’s not quite a number between 0 and 1. But if I did get to the gym, it certainly wouldn’t have the football, soccer ball, baseball and basketball that the bag comes with. Time to retool that one ladies and gentlemen.
But back to my gender stereotyping radar. (As an aside, veterinary schools are clearly going to have quite the female dominated class in about 2024 or so because we have more girls helping animals in this one. I’m not complaining though.) It’s nice to see a girl and boy playing with the “big city” carry-along city and garage, and then another boy/girl duo working together at a child-sized construction site. Good stuff there!
But then we get to the dollhouse “mall”. This one makes my inner anti-consumerist and budding feminist shudder on a whole new level. Because only girls go shopping. Or because it’s acceptable and expected as a pastime for girls, and only girls. Or something like that. I think I may reserve this topic for another post.
Moving on…we have more hair stylists that are seemingly limited to having only XX chromosomes. The availability of pink and blue doctors’ scrubs a few pages later makes it sort of a wash, but also sort of annoying because why not just that fugly aqua that they ALL seem to wear?? Many more girls in the kitchen, but at least I spotted a boy doing the shopping on one page. And for a change the appliances and accessories are not pink. Oh wait. Spoke too soon. The dishes are hot pink, purple and lime. Just like our real set and every other home I’ve been into (not).
Here’s a gem. The ironing board. It’s a girl who’s using it. Not that I am surprised by that, but I am surprised by the copy: “It’s Ironing Day! While you iron your family’s clothes, she’ll love “ironing” her doll family’s clothes, too!” Um, you know what? In our house my husband and I both do the ironing, fair and square. And before you think that I am reading too much into it by assuming that only women must read this catalog and argue it could be a father reading it, I’d say you’re proooooobably wrong because of more copy that exists like this on the same page for the “first purse” where they advise the reader “you’ll wish we made it Mommy-sized too!” (Still not convinced that they think only women are reading this? See the copy for the jewelry box.) See what I mean? They are not only treating the intended audience (the kids) with stereotypes, but they are doing it to us parents, too. Makes me gag. And I still have 19 more pages to go in this gem.
And just a little more fuel for my fire before I am done: Mechanic’s car (boy); tool workbench (boy); shop vac (boy–funny, because I just used ours the other month). But at least we have a girl at the grill.
Final score: C-/D+ REALLY needs improvement. I am not sure if the same person who wrote the copy in the 1950s is still working there, but they need to fire him or her. Or at least let them play with the “smartphone” that “makes kids smarter”. Maybe that will help.
Lastly, unless I get more catalogs before the end of the holiday season, I also received the Nova Natural Toys + Crafts catalog. Although it could use a few minor tweaks, I have to say that it is one of my favorites. I know that this style of toy (wooden, largely unpainted) is not for everyone. I have ordered only a couple of toys from this one–a rattle and a doll stroller. And in even more fuller disclosure, my daughter rarely plays with that stroller. Nope. She likes the one that Gramma got her better. I don’t even have to tell you what color it is. Parenting fail. So, mostly I just like to look at this one when it comes each year for “window shopping” purposes and dream of spending vast amounts of time playing with the elves and fairies in a wooded glen (though they are not cheap, the quality of these toys is unmatched).
Here’s why I love this catalog. It makes me happy to see boys not only playing with dolls, but wearing them in slings. Maybe other catalogs are doing this, but I’ve yet to see them. But in this day and age where fathers are taking an increasingly larger share of child rearing and (child wearing!), then the accessibility to this kind of role play makes sense. They also have a wide range of dolls that come as boy or girl. Girls playing with castles. Boys and girls both working in the kitchen. Boys making candles. A girl wearing a chain link (hand crocheted) knight’s hood. If I had to really get nitpicky and find just one thing wrong, it’d probably be that I don’t see any girls playing with any of the vehicles. But I can live with that considering the “bold” move they’ve made with boys and dolls.
Final score: A-. Keep up the good work.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
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