Friday, August 24, 2007

Adventures in toy land

by Jeneiene Schaffer

TUCSON -- She just turned five, and already we’ve been having the Barbie talk. You can keep your child sheltered for only so long. All it takes is for one girl’s mom to cave and the whole anti Barbie plan comes under fire. Yes, her toy box and bedroom is filled with the usual progressive parent choices of safe/educational/non-consumerist fun: Melissa and Doug, Toymobile, books, and the like. Since we don’t home school, she is exposed to other parents’ choices, and once in a while a Disney product (gasp) makes its way into our fold.

I would blame presents from relatives, but that wouldn’t be totally true.

Last week while making breakfast, my little girl confronts me again. “Pleeeeease, mom! Why can’t I have a Barbie?” I turn off the stove, kneel down to her level, look her calmly in the eye, and ask, “OK, sweetie, do you want me to tell you how Barbie can look like she does?” She bites. “Sure, mom, tell me.” I give her a sidelong glance to add emphasis to the gravity of what I am about to tell her. “Are you really sure?” An eager nodding of her head tells me that I’m not to blame for future therapy sessions.

“OK. In order for her to look the way she does, Barbie needs to have surgery. The doctor needs to break these two ribs, pull them out her body, a big needle gets stuck here, here, and here to suck out her fat, her nose is broken and made smaller, her breasts are cut open and water balloons are sewed inside her, and in order to wear her shoes she has to have that doctor cut off her pinky toes. Any questions?”


Second runner up is already in the wings. “Well, are Polly Pockets alright?”

I’d seen these before in the preschool cubbies of her friends. They stand about four inches tall, are anatomically correct, and decidedly not buxom. For the progressive mom who is horrified by both Bratz and Miss “Call me Barbie if you’re nasty”, PPs are the more moderate version of little girl wanna be big girl fare. We take a little trip to the neighborhood big box, select the least outrageous Polly, get her a friend, and we and the Pockets go home to play.

Fast forward to a few days ago. There is an alert on the newest recall on toys from China. I freeze with dread when I see that Polly is a danger and I have failed as a mother. I do a google news search and see dozens of parents wringing their hands in the comments section. “Where are we supposed to buy safe toys when 80% of toys in America are made in China?” they wail. Even I have been duped when I thought I was doing the right thing. For Christmas last year I bought her a porcelain tea set from the trendy Tucson toy boutique Mrs. Tiddlywinks. Apparently Santa did not see that it was manufactured in China and the paint is lead based.

Aside from doing our homework when buying toys, I suggest something else. We need to take this opportunity to further question the legitimacy and safety of the damaging trade policies of the WTO that allow these toys to be so prolific in the first place.

Why don’t we utilize the increasingly popular Tucson Craigslist to advertise homemade toys made by the many artisans in our community? Let’s support the growing sustainable movement for local produce and products. Fair trade, homegrown toys made by our friends and neighbors. And, less cheap plastic crap in our landfills.

Again, I have experienced the error of my ways. It’s not easy being a fair and balanced parent. Everyone learns one day at a time. I’ll be checking around for your fantastic toys, Tucsonans. I’ll pay you fairly. And, I’ll thank you.

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