Turf & Rec

Toys aren’t like they used to be

January 5, 2010  By Ian Robinson

As December 25 approaches, we will be preoccupied, individually and as
a culture, by the true meaning of this most special and spiritual event.

That’s right.

We'll be wondering how much stuff we’re going to get Christmas morning.

This year, more than ever, the uncertainty is huge. Given that the economy is only now staggering out of recession, many people are considering husbanding their resources.
They plan to spend responsibly and wisely.


They have no intention of going into debt to finance a bang-up Christmas morning.
Nothing could be more dangerous to my personal desire to get stuff.

To stamp out this kind of deranged thinking, my strategy has been to mention to my loved ones that the only chance we have to drive a stake through the heart of the evil recession is to spend a lot on me for Christmas.


Buying me stuff, I argue, is practically patriotic.

I mean, if you can’t join the military to fight the Taliban, getting me a motorcycle is the next best thing.

But from the look on my wife’s face, I suspect this is going to be a motorcycle-free Christmas.

From the look on my wife’s face, I suspect this Christmas is also going to be:
a) Big-screen TV-free;
b) Fireworks-free;
c) Case of bourbon-free;
d) Hooters gift certificate-free. (This one has nothing to do with the recession. It’s just that for reasons that escape me, my wife doesn't believe that I go there for the chicken wings.)

I’ll be lucky to end the day with new paint-ball gun and some Lego.

I don’t even like to think about the year my wife got me a scarf and some socks. On that Boxing Day I took my beloved aside and suggested that a scarf and some socks were gifts more appropriate for a middle-aged man.

She looked at me in the way wives often look at their husbands.

No. Not with lustful adoration. I haven’t seen that one since the 1990s.

She looked at me as though I were insane. And about 20 I.Q. points shy of being a high-functioning circus chimp.

If you’re a married guy, you’re familiar with that look.

“Honey,” she said gently, “you ARE a middle-aged man.”

I may be past the toy stage—at least according to my wife—but as a play-oriented human being, I’m just glad I was born when I was.

Children today have it a lot rougher than I did.

Parents have more money these days…but they’re spending it on that abomination known as the educational toy.

Not only are toys today educational…they’re safe…and some of them, God help us, are environmentally friendly.

When I was a kid, we knew that there was a difference between education and amusement.

Education occurred under the direction of evil trolls in dank, stuffy dungeons that smelled like the two-dozen pairs of wet mittens arrayed across the radiator.

These dungeons were called “classrooms” and the evil trolls who commanded them were called “teachers.”

Amusement happened beyond the dungeon walls and those amusements were unsafe and politically incorrect.

Not anymore.

According to a spokesman for the Canadian Toy Testing Council this year: “Obviously parents want to have toys that will educate their kids and engage them, teach them good social values for example.”

There’s a word for kids who get toys like that: “Bored.”

My son’s generation was victimized by this insistence that toys be “socially responsible.”
Jake was the only kid in his entire class who ever owned a toy gun. Actually, guns plural. Cap pistols. Plastic Uzis and M-16s. Ray guns. Water pistols and NERF guns. Plus cutlasses, nunchuks, ninja throwing stars, and a wide array of army helmets, pirate hats and capes.
Which meant that my basement and backyard has been full of cheeerfully violent little boys for years.

The only educational moment that play experience provided any of them was that you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. And that everybody looks cooler in an army helmet matched with a Dracula cape.

This year the toy testers also said many parents asked for toys that were environmentally friendly.

I guess that rules out the Tiny Tots Leaking Oil Tanker. Or anything with flashing lights or batteries.

In an Xbox world, you try pawning off that environmentally friendly spinning wooden top made from a tree that died of natural causes on your kid.

Go ahead.

I got mine an Xbox complete with a wide array of violent games, so at least he won’t be putting me in a substandard nursing home when I get old.

We didn’t have Xbox when I was a kid, but we got BB guns when we were 10 and .22 rifles at 12.

You know how every suburban neighbourhood in this country is overrun with squirrels?
Not in my day.

The closest thing my generation had to an educational toy was the chemistry set, and the only thing that allowed chemistry sets to be successfully marketed was our parents’ total disregard for our safety.

And the only genuine educational moment a chemistry set provided for most of us was this: “Holy #@%! Didja know that if you mixed those two things together you got an explosion? Aw don’t worry about it. Eyebrows grow back. I think.”

It occurs to me there’s a good reason my generation’s parents didn’t get us educational, safe, socially responsible, environmentally friendly toys.

They were afraid to because they were afraid of us.

After all, most of us already had guns and chemistry set bomb recipes.

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