The Great Chain of Toys

I’ve come to a realization about toys in babyhood. When she was a baby, especially, as K started to gain control over her hands, I grew concerned about what we were supposed to be giving her to encourage her growth. I remember reading that she was supposed to have a rattle as soon as she could follow her hand movement with her eyes, and I remember the panic I felt that we were several weeks behind.

My thinking now is that less than less is more. Our toy buying has become more and more conservative since her first year birthday. It’s not that there aren’t things that I want very much to buy K, but I have come to the realization that they are more for me than her. The big moment of realization for me was when I started obsessing about her wooden train set. There are so many things to buy or make for it–a crane, a roundhouse, different kinds of engines. But K really is quite happy and cruising along with the minimum. While she played with the train constantly for months, it was entirely to reenact her trip to Japan. She would name the stations she had been to, and line up peg dolls to represent her family. Even the station, she was happy with the basic model that came with her set or a few blocks set up to represent a platform.

Actually, we’ve become very suspicious of stimulation in general. Thinking back it seems mad that we believe that babies need extra stimulation. Especially since that usually takes the form of toys with bells and lights and tinny music. When I think back on it, what I remember about those toys is a general frustration. The would seem so cool and so to promise so much, but I remember becoming quickly bored with their limitations and frustrated that they broke so often.

I’ve come to like calling the problem the “great chain of toys” because it so clearly builds on itself. A child used to lots of bells and lights comes to need bells and lights. And we are trying very hard to stay off of it. The problem is it isn’t at all easy to keep things away. Not only does K. get presents (often), but she likes them. And I simply can’t be the kind of parent who sets up strict rules about toys, food, etc. and then rigidly enforces them. I don’t give K. lollipops, but when the grocer offers one I let her take it. I am thankful, however, that it’s been over a year since she actually bothered to eat one of them.

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