Feed on

Dilemma in the Aisles

I am somewhat amazed at how difficult seemingly simple decisions can be, specifically, shopping decisions. I’ve already politicized grocery shopping to the point where I sometimes feel I need online access in the aisles to remember what is healthy and/or ethical to purchase.

Toy shopping is proving no easier. The difference is that while I have more or less made my peace with what’s sitting in my cupboards, I have much less confidence in what’s sitting in Simon’s toy chests.

At the most basic level, I strongly prefer toys the encourage use of imagination, that foster peace and cooperation, and that do not reinforce rigid gender roles. One day in the future, Simon will ask for or bring home a toy gun or tank, and on that inevitable day all my strongly held convictions will be put to the test. Until then, though, we’re keeping to the wholesome set.

I’m also not fond of the toy that is glorified branding. Why, when I’m shopping for a one and a half year old, am I besieged by commercial characters? Why is everything Dora this or Elmo that? Simon doesn’t watch (much) tv; he doesn’t know who these characters are. No offence to Sesame Street, but I’d just as soon have my blocks and crackers Elmo-free right now.

Another source of consternation is all the lights and bells and whistles on today’s toys. Study after study shows that the best toys for kids are the plain ones. Blocks, dolls, and balls are hard to beat. Toys that flash and buzz not only require less imagination and grow tiresome quickly, but they also spoil kids for the good toys. Despite pediatricians’ near unanimity on the subject, the aisles of stores like Toys ‘R Us are stocked with heavily branded multi-sensory attacks. Nearly everything I want is special order.

And then there is the issue of where materials and labor are sourced. If you buy plastic toys, you are purchasing something that’s a petroleum by-product and that is destined for a landfill. If you purchase wood toys, you have to be careful lest you contribute to deforestation. If you purchase toys made overseas, you have to worry about labor conditions and the environmental impact of shipping. If you purchase domestic toys, you better be rich.

All of these issues came to a head the day I first went looking to buy a train set. That must have been two months ago or longer, and yet we are still train-free. Why? Because I am paralyzed by indecision, that’s why.

Trains pass the ethical test just fine. What could be more wholesome? I think trains are cool, and while they are most often found in boys’ playrooms, I also know several girls who play with them. And hey, he’s got a toy kitchen, so I’m giving myself a bye.

The issue is which set to get. The optimal train is made of wood from well managed resources, comes from a carefully supervised factory, doesn’t include any lead paint (needless to say), and-ideally-costs less than a full pay check.

Well good luck with that! I found a Scandinavian set that is now made in China, an English/American set that recently had lead paint issues, one European set that would cost me several pay checks and another that uses sturdy cardboard (yuck!) for the tracks.

Looks like we won’t be getting a train until I decide whether I’m compromising my principles or my wallet. Or both.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.