Since both my sons were born in June, the birthday season arrives in full force when that month rolls around each year. Veteran parents clearly recognize what is going to be incoming with the arrival of birthday celebration time. They have parental perspective because they are aware of what is referred to as OPP. That's better known as Other People's Presents.
The birthday and holiday gift-giving seasons provide for the infiltration of toys and miscellaneous items, from family and friends, which normally wouldn't make it through your front door. Now, I'm not a present Scrooge because it's certainly a great joy watching the excitement of my children opening their gifts. However, my toy phobia has increased with the coming of one too many multipart plastic playthings with cryptic directions, which seem to require a blowtorch and a hydraulic wrench to assemble.
With apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein, the following, sung to the tune of "My Favorite Things" from the Sound of Music, reflects my neurosis of toy tension:
My Least Favorite Things
Complex directions and virtual pets that won't sleep
Cracked plastic segments and toys with blaring sound,
When the parts fit
My mantra for the end of the year holiday gift-giving season is May Pieces Not be with You. This developed early on when my house became fully decorated in the multicolored psychedelic theme of early childhood miscellaneous toy parts. My independent research has concluded that modern toys must contain a minimum of 647 pieces, half of which are a functioning part of the toy and the other half provided simply to drive parents crazy.
My unattainable holiday wish list is simply that my children receive no toy with more than one part. From a parent's perspective, the silent joy of a pet rock cannot be overemphasized. I've experienced those nefarious action figures with their miniature plastic armor wear and multipiece habitats. They also come with their seemingly innumerable modes of transportation, which have made a garage out of my family room.
Dolls and extraterrestrials, with their infinite accessories, have overrun my living room. There's nothing quite like accidentally sitting down upon the long sharp appendage of a toy alien. The floor of my home often resembles a camouflaged minefield. Just when you think it's safe to traverse the ten yards to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you'll suddenly find that your little five-year-old housemate has chosen to leave his new galactic interplanetary space- exploring flight equipment strewn across the hallway. It's then that you experience the adrenaline rush of feeling the imprint of a hard, pointy plastic object embedded within the sole of your foot at 2:00 a.m. Let's just say it's not overly conducive to feeling the holiday spirit.
Adding to my toy troubles is the direction manuals that accompany these multiplepieced playthings, which are as confusing to me as reading Egyptian hieroglyphics. This was evident one post-party-put-together-of-parts, as my four-year-old stood glued to my shoulder while I tried to decode the directions to his new whatchamacallit. I realized how desperate I'd become when, despite my unilingual state, I began to read the Spanish directions with the hope they'd shed some light on the situation. In any language, it was still no-comprendo.
I usually have difficulty with directions more sophisticated than, "You've been provided two pieces, labeled Piece 1 and Piece 2. Piece 1 resembles a stick and fits into the one and only hole existing on Piece 2. Merge the two parts. Assembly is now complete." I know that probably wouldn't be that exciting of a toy, but it would be stress free to the parent in charge of production.
It often seems that the pieces I've been supplied lack any remote resemblance to those on the box. I always know I'm off to an inauspicious start when step one appears to be for a completely different toy. I think toys should come with a new bit of information in addition to the recommended ages for usage. There should be an indication of the mandatory prerequisites before a parent should even imagine he or she could put the toy together. The following type of warning would be in order:
"Required parental assembly skills include two years of graduate-level biomechanical engineering courses, with the experience of having successfully built a Megatron-Conversion Kryptonite Rocket-Launching Fun Center within twenty-four minutes of opening the box, and the confirmed capability to hot-wire a car with a fuel injection system."
That should provide some welcome guidance for the unsuspecting parent.
Another element of toy turmoil is noise. You always know the gift givers who have no children. They're the ones supplying the two-year-olds with miniature boom boxes that play the same three-note song in a repetitious rhapsody that achieves the same annoying effect on tormented parents as fingernails scratching across a blackboard.
Now I know that toys are for the enjoyment of my children and my kids have yet to meet a toy they didn't like, at least during that first three minutes after opening the package. However, there is certainly something to be said for the preconstructed, simple, minimal pieces, durable parts, amusing, and soundless present.
Hey, I think they call that a book.