Sunday, November 11, 2007


Toys are on my mind. We are facing the dilemma of moving the toy closet out of Sean's room, since it will become the baby's nursery. Only Aidan's closet will now also be Sean's closet, so there really won't be room for toys there. If only the basement were finished and all the toys could go down there, but that's not happening anytime soon. And perhaps for the best...because less really is more when it comes to toys.

I hadn’t been paying much attention to the "Year of the Recall", as coined on CoolMomPicks, (see their links to lots of lead-free fun stuff for kids). I was feeling cocky that most of it wouldn't apply to us. We have our share of plastic toys (as evidenced by our Buzz Lightyear, who might just be the first hard plastic toy to reach Velveteen Rabbit status). I'll even admit to driving through a fast food restaurant and ordering a meal ala Jack Nickolson in Six Easy Pieces: hold the hamburger and fries and just give us the cheap plastic toy please.

Overall though, we make an effort to avoid trends and find quality toys that allow a child to play. (Usually it is the toy that does cool things, and the kids are just supposed to wind it up or push its button or watch.) We still got hit with a recall. Earlier this year we had to send in a red train from the Thomas line. The majority of our train toys are Brio, so we only had the one train to mail, and they followed up nicely with a replacement and a bonus train. Still a favorite toy in our house.

And then this week I saw a second hit: Aidan's beloved George. 2_firemen 

They aren't replacing him, only refunding him. His face contains lead. He was once Aidan's constant companion, and is still often his bedtime snuggle choice. And he's not just another stuffed animal; he reminds us of the beloved friend who gave him, and of our exciting trip to LA to celebrate the premiere of "Curious George" with her.

So I found myself rationalizing, how much lead is too much lead? How often is Aidan or Sean or Baby #3 going to kiss or lick that monkey's face?

This is what I learned at Science Buzz:

Lead is invisible and has no smell. And most children with elevated blood lead levels have no symptoms. The only way to tell if a child has been exposed is to have his or her blood tested. Small amounts of lead can cause brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth, or hearing problems. Larger amounts can cause kidney damage, coma, or even death.

Most toy recalls are about a screw coming lose or some part coming off, and in looking up the recalls of this year, I see no company is immune. Sometimes the recalls seem more about lawsuit mania than real danger, but with lead, any amount is too much for a child's toy, in my opinion. The rise of learning disabilities, autism, and behavioral issues all have complex causes that aren't fully understood, but I can't help thinking unsafe toys might be a small part of that puzzle.

So George will have to go. Along with hoping for Aidan's eventual forgiveness, I hope that this news cycle will have larger ramifications. Hopefully everyone will be looking more closely at the gift choices they make this season. Not just asking, might it contain lead, but also, who made this toy? Were they paid adequately in safe conditions? How might a child play with this? How long might the fascination last? Can it be used in more than one way? Is it worth not only the price on its tag, but the space it will occupy in a home?

I don't know the answers for balancing globalization and safety and responsible consumerism. So instead I will share what I do know: less is more. The fewer toys we have out, the more my sons actually play with them. The less the toy is made to do, the more our kids can imagine it doing. 

I love this week's quote: it's "fun to have things, but more fun to make them." Aidan has taught me that more than anyone. His most common sleeping-companion of late: a paper "Stuart" he drew and cut out after reading Stuart Little. He's had to recreate it several times as Stuart doesn't take to water very well, and there's probably a few hanging out with the dust bunnies under his bed, but the act of creating it is where the joy really lies.

On a more positive note, throughout the month I'll be posting some of our very favorite toys for those who need ideas for their own kids this holiday season. Every kid is different, and it is often hit and miss as to what will capture their imagination and last beyond the two-day “novelty” phase. I’ll be back with toys that have had staying power for us.

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