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    Entries in toys (7)


    On Goldie Blox and The Benefit of the Doubt

    The new commercial for Kickstarter darling Goldie Blox is making the rounds on social media, thanks in no small part to its parent-friendly reworking of the Beastie Boys' song Girls. And... I'm not as impressed as everyone else seems to be.

    As the parent of two fairly gender stereotypical children -- a baseball loving, monster truck obsessed boy and a baby-toting, tutu wearing girl -- I'm always on the lookout for ways to mess with their natural dispositions. I'm an agitator like that, and as a result, my son will still often choose pastel or sparkly over the alternative, and my daughter plays unquestioningly with k'nex, Lego and other age-appropriate building toys. They have no real bias, yet, and all they require of their building materials is that they be sturdy and workable. My daughter is not confused by the lack of a plot, nor is she drawn to any particular color of blocks. But, okay, we are not your average STEM-disadvantaged family. 

    the faces of revolutionLet's talk for a minute about those families. Maybe mom works outside of the home. Maybe she doesn't. But whether she does or not, we'll assume that a family in need of a STEM-centered boost for its girls is not headed up by a STEM-employed mother. What's the likelihood that she's a stay at home mom? Doll play -- something singled out by the Goldie Blox commercial as an alternative to "us[ing] our brains" -- closely resembles the activities of a caregiver, doesn't it? And oh, Goldie Blox, I know you aren't disparaging those infamous non-intellectual pursuits we brainless moms busy ourselves with... like raising everyone. Okay, okay. Just a misunderstanding. Empowerment doesn't have to come at others' expense, and when I saw pink-swathed "girly girls" on the receiving end of three death stares in that commercial, it wasn't personal. It was a death stare pointed at the institution the pink-lovers represent, right? I'm sure the kids will pick up on that nuance, and not perpetuate the age-old "tomboy vs. princess girl" dynamic. Whew. 

    Moving on to the ways Goldie Blox is smashing stereotypes: the subject matter of the accompanying book for the first engineering set. A beauty pageant! Do I need to elaborate? At least the character loses? But don't worry; her friends use their engineering skills to build her a float so she can ride in the parade just like the actual reigning princess. The quality of the story is abysmal -- somewhere between a glorified instruction booklet and uninspired rhyming exercise -- as though the makers of Goldie Blox aren't even fully invested in the (arguably flawed) idea that girls require verbal engagement. 

    Do I buy the idea that, given our culture and the dearth of resources for engaging girls in the "hard" sciences, we need some kind of hail mary, and that the likelihood is high of that hail mary coming in a pink package? YES. Do I think we all need to celebrate the first product that capitalizes on that fact as a victory for tiny mainstream feminists and their princess averse parents? No. We can be discerning on behalf of our daughters. On behalf of all our children! We can ask that companies not play into the trope of smart girls versus pretty girls and insult the less mechanically inclined among us in their commercials, while their actual products glorify the worst of the beauty industrial complex. We can stop giving for-profit companies the benefit of the doubt, or credit for a deeply flawed "small step" or a "good try." We can and should demand high quality, not just a shiny feel-good gimmick wrapped up in a catchy piece of our own childhood.

    I can hear the same old gaslit refrain starting up: some people will complain about anything. Doesn't it get old, being the cynic? And, yeah, you know: sometimes it does. But what gets older is seeing money made by companies that perpetuate the same old hurtful stereotypes with a side serving of education. They are savvy, hip -- they know their demographic, they pay the appropriate lipservice, and they earn widespread backing by people who rightly put their faith in the girls the product purports to uplift. But what our girls need is engagement. Real engagement, not the kind that comes in a poorly written storybook. No gimmicks. Role models. Support. Trust. The freedom to explore, and fail. The freedom to like pink or not, to love babies or not, to be a physicist or a housekeeper, instilled with the knowledge that nary a person alive does a job without using her brain, and empowerment is, and always has been, free for the giving or taking. 


    thrifty sunday: hot fudge

    Winter means extra expenses around here. Wood for the fire. Early sunset, early lamplight. Space heaters. Old houses have some great aspects (character, nice floors, weird nooks and crannies, history) and some truly terrible ones (drafty windows, knob and tube wiring, secret fuse boxes we have yet to find). We pile on the blankets and put on socks (though I am loathe to do so -- socks are the worst punishment for living in the cold North, by my estimation) but it still costs money to keep warm and illuminated through the 14+ hour long nights, these months. That means no or very little fun money, and whatever, really, because the holidays have just passed and we are generally unfit for public consumption, anyway. The visibly ill make others so uncomfortable despite all the well rehearsed wing-coughing-into, even when conventional wisdom and WedMD say we aren't contagious. 

    Two things from the other day, when I got ambitious. 

    Clothing brands, especially kids' clothes, from the 70s and 80s are so funny sometimes. Hot Fudge? Okay, sure. Mister Persnickety liked the aprés ski vibe and I did too, so we bought it for $2.99

    There he is posing with the bottle of Elderberry syrup that has done us no good, because this cold is apparently karmic retribution for everything we've ever done wrong in our lives and homeopathic medicine is not the traditional cure for that, I guess.

    Ikea doll bed, $4.99. Zelda, baby enthusiast that she is, immediately put her babies, Donna, Gob and Huzzah, to bed and then tried to get in with them. There is very little in this world funnier or cuter than a one year-old trying to cram herself between the head and footboards of a doll bed so that she may lie with her babies. For Valentine's Day I made her a blanket, but I also kind of like the glamping aspect of the bare wood/play silk situation. 

    Value Village is having their yearly Presidents' Day sale tomorrow, so maybe there are some bargains in store (literally)! Have you scored recently?



    an early birthday

    I am no good at giving presents. Well, I'd like to think that I'm good at some aspects of gift-giving. I put thought into it, and often a lot of time. But when it comes to waiting or surprising I'm pretty much the worst. It usually works out, since as a procrastinator I don't frequently have long to wait between finalization of gift and handing it over, but every once in awhile I plan ahead and find myself with weeks of lag time. This simply will not do, and do it did not in the case of Zelda and the armless baby.

    Zelda's beloved Gob, a naked thriftstore baby George picked out a long time ago and had since abandoned -- her akimbo limbs and creepy, uneven, dead-eyed blink citable as potential turn-offs -- recently lost an arm. It's no shame for her; she's dragged around by her arms more than anyone can be expected to survive, limbs intact. This hasn't affected Zelda's love much, but it was a good opportunity for me to make her a new doll. With her birthday coming up, I had the occasion in addition to the reasoning. 

    Waldorf doll making has always intimidated me. The particular supplies, the expense and the precise techniques were hurdles I hadn't overcome though I've long admired the style. Meg McElwee's book Growing Up Sew Liberated: Making Handmade Clothes and Projects for Your Creative Child includes a pattern for a Waldorf doll, and it's been in the back of my mind since George was smaller. Alas, he's never really taken to dolls. Zelda is a different story, though, my children being so unbelievably gender stereotypical as to make me think someone is playing a joke.

     I love Meg's book (and blog) and the directions seemed clear enough to allow for some finagling according to my budget and crafting style which is a little more by-the-seat-of-my-pants than Waldorf dolls generally call for.

    I regret that the face isn't shaped, and if I ever make another I'll put more time into the facial features. The body is out of some soft bamboo velour I thought was perfect for a one year-old to snuggle, and the clothes are made from fabric scraps (Heather Ross' beautiful and now out of print mermaids) and leftover yarn. Choosing the hair yarn was tough, and I wish that I'd found something more colorful to make a real rainbow mop but that, too, is something for the next attempt.

    This doll is most definitely a quick and dirty version of a Waldorf doll, but the Sew Liberated pattern and instructions gave me a great starting point and I gained some knowledge about how to attach arms and heads in ways that don't result in droopy shoulders and floppy necks. Because it's tough to have a tea party with someone who can't stay awake.

    She's real cute, and, true to form, I couldn't wait until Zelda's birthday to see the reaction, even though every gift I've ever handmade for my kids has been met with the same vague interest. When will I learn? Never! It doesn't really matter -- most of the fun is in the making, anyway. 

    At their introduction, Zelda dubbed her "Dunna!" which we took to mean Donna, a perfectly suitable sister for an armless baby named Gob. 

    They were fast friends, though Donna's gonna have to do something to prove her unconditional devotion á la allowing herself to be drawn and quartered. 

    The entire project took me three evenings of off and on work, the most time-consuming being the altogether pleasant handwork of the face, hair, and foot shaping.


    I think Zelda's actual birthday may see the opening of a matching outfit or two, because I am that person I would never have expected myself to turn into, who loves matching outfits on pretty much anyone and anything. When I was little, my mom made me a life size Raggedy Ann with a dress and pinafore for each of us, and if photos are to be believed it was a monumental hit.

    I think a more androgynous doll may be next on the agenda. Overalls, shorter hair, and some actual facial features.

    Happy early birthday to you, Goldie. Here's to a (doll's)life-long friendship.



    for set-up parents of knock-down kids

    Some might argue that all toddlers are "knock-down" kids, but I know for a fact that this isn't true. Some of George's friends are, as I was, setter-uppers: delight-takers in all things organizational, gods of tiny, curated kingdoms where giraffes and camels and crocodiles are placed just so, inside the fence borrowed from the Breyer stable, where Playmobil families stand calmly by with their arms at their sides. The unsuspecting kid sets everything up, then looks benevolently at their creation with satisfaction. Until, that is, George comes along (delight-taker in all things crash-boom-smash), and obliterates the unlikely plastic animal peace brokered by his now-pissed little friend. 

    It's hard to watch, and hard to participate in this kind of play when you're a setter-upper by nature. No amount of oohing and aahing over another child's train table masterpiece matters to a knock-down child such as mine. He won't take a hint. He simply loves to see things fall, hear them hit the ground, and detail to you what just happened with plenty of sound effects. 

    It's taken me awhile -- and I'm still working at it -- but after some reframing, I'm beginning to enjoy this aspect of my son's personality. Though it's easy to see it as such, this way to play is not entirely destructive; he's actually really interested in the mechanics of falling, of crashing and coming apart. That's something I appreciate and an interest I want to enable in constructive, educational and fun ways. To that end, I've been trying to come up with some activities that we can do together, that are cool to him but aren't grating for me, as it is still pathetically painful to watch him tear up the perfect track I'd just laid to optimally make use of the entire surface area of his train table, when he asks me to "play trains."

    The following are just a few ideas, and most are probably obvious to less uptight parents or caregivers, but I don't figure I'm the only one out there at a loss for how to have more boisterous fun. 

    1. Dominoes. We set them up in different configurations -- letters, shapes, snakes, spirals -- and then George knocks them down. He's learning several lessons during set up (spatial stuff like how far apart the dominoes can go before they break the chain reaction; letter/shape identification; delayed gratification, etc.) with the added bonus of a big payoff at the end. Often he can't wait and "accidentally" knocks over the unfinished set-up, but he's beginning to gain some patience around that.

    2. Jenga (or, around here, "Jenga" since we don't actually own the game). The same idea can easily be accomplished with some regular blocks of different shapes. I quickly build a tower of layered blocks and we remove one by one from the middle. Again, he generally knocks the whole thing down "accidentally" but not before having a few turns of genuinely trying to choose wisely.

    3. Natural disaster. Admittedly either poorly or excellently timed, this game is exceedingly popular, since it's basically what George was doing already. For whatever reason, I find the destruction more palatable when I think he's learning something, so when he asks me to accompany him in some duplo play, we build up a city (his favorite thing to build) using every last one of the blocks. Then, Oh no! hurricane/earthquake/tsunami George strikes, devastating the place. Who will help these people rebuild their homes? As we rebuild, we talk about what makes the natural disaster of choice happen, and ways we can actually help people in these crises. He usually humors me and seems to be retaining some of the information.

    4. Watching Mythbusters. I know, I know. But! Several seasons of Mythbusters are available on Netflix streaming and Amazon Prime, and while we are very choosy with the episodes we watch (no guns, no violence, nothing too bloody or gross), I will totally and shamelessly confess that George has gotten a lot of inspiration from Adam and "Janie." The show covers simple physics in ways that speak to kids, and incorporates plenty of harmless crashy/splashy fun by way of non-"accident" car myths, waterslides, and George's personal favorite: an episode wherein a batting machine knocks the hide off a baseball. He is forever making his own contraptions that will drop pretend toast to see if it lands butter-side-up, or measure how high his "humid" baseball bounces, as he's seen on the show. It's refreshing to see some of his more destructive urges routed into scientific play. 

    5. Splashy bath. When all else fails, I throw George in the tub and let him splash away. He has a stash of different sized cups in addition to his bath toys, and the inclination to crash around seems to be satisfied in short order when there's water involved and he's allowed (almost) completely free play. My only rules are no purposely pouring water out of the tub and no standing. I don't participate much, but do watch him and give an occasional thumbs up or validation when he asks if I saw the huge splash. 

    Of course, free play outside is always preferable, but with a bad weather-averse kid, we don't get out as much in the rainy months as we do when it's clearer. These five things have been working for us lately, and I hope to stumble on some more to add to our repetoire. Do you have any knock-down games that both you and your child enjoy?


    how to keep a toddler entertained

    Later this month, I'm scheduled to do a little workshop with some ladies who have recently graduated from transitional housing through Lydia Place, a local women and children's shelter. The topic of my workshop: DIY kids' crafts! I'm so excited to meet these women and share a few easy, cheap ideas. We don't have a ton of money to spend on all the cool new toys, or a rainbow of natural play dough so this subject is one I've researched and explored kind of a lot. The funny thing I've learned is that there will be a few "real toy" hits -- for example, George still loves his wooden shape sorter and he daily plays with puzzles -- but by and large, you can get away with giving your kid spoons, whisks, bowls, garbage, and he'll be just as entertained as if you'd spent a zillion dollars on an array of beautiful, handcrafted wooden toys. 

    At the workshop, I'll be sharing recipes for play dough and fingerpaint and all of that stuff, but I've recently sort of accidentally stumbled upon two major wins: rainbow rice and an odd use for an old oatmeal carton. 

    George is just now getting to the stage where I can trust that he won't put things in his mouth, so until now, sensory boxes have been a no-go. Knowing how good it feels, I'd love to offer him a container of dry beans to sink his little hands into, but there are plenty of Italian markets in his future, so I'll keep the choking hazards to a minimum right now. Somewhere, I saw a picture of kids playing in a bin of rainbow-colored rice, and I decided to replicate it using a little rubbing alcohol, food coloring and a bag of white rice left over from the last time I made a microwavable heating pad. I put a cup and a half of rice into each of six ziplock baggies (though any container with a lid would probably do), added about two teaspoons of rubbing alcohol and about 10 drops of food coloring. I shook and smooshed the bags around until the color was evenly distributed, then I opened the bags and let the rice dry. The rice doesn't absorb the alcohol, unlike it would water, so the drying time was pretty short. 

    I didn't take a picture of the rice arranged in a nice, even rainbow, but here's George, in the midst of his nearly hour-long first session of play:

    We had fun hiding his little plastic pig in the rice, spooning it into a seahorse stolen from the sandbox, naming the colors and had admittedly less fun trying to convince him to keep the rice in the box. 

    The other DIY is so easy and so weird -- to me, anyway -- that I won't blame you if you disbelieve in its amazingness. I've heard of making old Quaker oats containers into drums and knitting boxes, but the book Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready offered the idea that led to turning an oats carton into a... straw sorter. 

     I covered the outside of the carton with wrapping paper, leaving the top as it was (though paint is always an option, or if you're feeling especially fancy, mod podge-ing another piece of pretty paper to the lid). Using a regular hole punch, I made holes around the top of the lid, about an inch apart, as far in as my totally standard hole punch would allow. As two-thirds of our family enjoys drinking most everything from a straw, we have tons of straws. I cut the bendy parts off of ten straws, then put them in the container and handed it to George. He'll spend at least 15 minutes at a time meticulously inserting the straws into the holes (or, hole, as he has one favorite), opening the lid and extracting the straws to start over again. It's helped along his counting skills, as he likes to count the straws as they go in, and his dexterity is improving, too. He often wakes up and, upon walking into the living room in the morning, requests "game" which I play with him for a few minutes, then leave him to do alone while I make breakfast. Totally free, and miraculously engaging. 

    Do you have any tried-and-true recipes or projects that I could share with my workshop?