Thursday, December 14, 2006


Visiting a toy department these days is a nightmare. In fact, Christmas shopping is an activity dreamed up by greedy people with devious minds trying to ensure that people linger on the brink of nervous prostration throughout November and December, while spending more money than they can afford to part with. But, no matter how you postpone it, if you have a family or friends, shopping is a necessity. If members of your family or the offspring of your friends are under the age of consent, you will end up, as I did, in a toy department.

It was like entering the gates of Hell. There was row upon row of gidgets and gadgets, some small, some large, all painted and polished and encased in bubble wrap, dangling from hooks and stacked on shelves, printed names announcing themselves, each with an age group...3 and up, 4 and up, 5 and up, etc, all with warnings of tiny parts capable of choking a child if swallowed or stuck up a tiny nose, as one of my boys was prone to do.

Somehow I have become frozen in time. I am not a part of this brave, new world. I am a throwback to times long gone, a figment of a forgotten past. I am still lingering in the age of wagons and baby dolls and sleds. I do not even recognize the tangle of wires and batteries and plastic gewgaws that compose a toy department in today's world. I am totally lost, and totally shocked. And the prices! Inflation has definitely hit the world of both the toddler and the teen!

Not long ago, buying a toy gun for your children was considered wrong. I never bought guns for my boys, lest they grow up to be horrible criminals and myself end up whispered about and called the Ma Barker of the suburbs. One shouldn't, it was said, encourage your child to be violent. Not so today! We are giving our children violence wrapped with a ribbon. We are giving him warfare and even criminality with our explicit approval. One of the most violent was of a religious nature.....Killing for Jesus! It is hard to believe that some idiots have created this for children. I'll bet the profits aren't for Jesus. I'll bet the profits are stuck in the wallets of the people who dreamed up this atrocity!

When I was a girl, I had no toys at all until my brother, Herman, bought dolls for Helma and me. Mine was a baby doll, but its glory was a bit faded when I saw that Helma's doll had this gorgeous, yellow hair, cascading in curls down its back. With all of my heart, I wanted that doll. I wanted that yellow, curly hair, those painted blue eyes. As I rocked my bald baby doll to sleep, I dreamed of those golden curls.

Herman later bought Helma a piano, a big upright that she never learned to play. I spent many years plunking out tunes on that piano, never talented, but certainly enthusiastic. Pop would sit in his broken down chair, with its tattered upholstery, and listen to me, convinced I was on my way to fame and fortune with my musical ability.

I can remember playing in the yard of the farmhouse, gathering broken pieces of glass and pretending they were fine china. I was always happy to find a red or blue piece of glass and I kept my dishes in order, setting them out on an imaginary table, entertaining royalty and movie stars.

I can't even imagine a child of today playing with broken shards of glass and holding imaginary banquets. Today's child has so much plastic, it could fill a factory. Today's child has dishes that look like miniature copies of the real thing, as well as miniature tables, chairs, miniature ovens, miniature cake mixes and silverware. Nothing is left to the imagination, and that is the trouble.

You can buy expensive toys for a young child and he will play with them for a while, but eventually you will notice that he has a great deal more fun playing with an old doorknob or a rusted hinge. In fact, kids can get more joy from hardware than they can the efforts of the most energetic toy company. And they can entertain themselves for hours with a few sticks and stones.

In that toy department, there was an entire aisle filled with Barbie dolls, outfitted for every adventure possible, be it a ski trip or a safari. Barbie always had long, beautiful hair, enough to bring a twinge of nostalgia to my heart. She had more clothes than a fashion model, the correct outfit for each occasion. She was feminine perfection, with her tiny waist, her perfect little bosom, blossoming hips, and long, slender legs. Somehow I resent a doll that looks better than I ever did, but then, it's only a doll.

Then, too, another aisle was filled with evil-looking creatures called Bratz dolls. One of them looked just like my darling Sara when she gets tired and defiant, the same scowl, the same rebellious expression. I wondered if those dolls could lay on the floor, kick their feet, and scream!

Sara's emotions are on the surface. Tonight, she asked if she could visit me this weekend for an overnight stay. I told her she could come, but then she informed me that she found staying at my house to be "boring." I told her I found it quite boring myself, so at least we could agree on one thing.

"My other grandma is more fun. She takes me to McDonald's!" she told me.

"Well, that makes me happy because it means I'm lucky. If I weren't so boring, I'd have to take you to McDonald's and spend money on you!"

This silenced her, and she stopped trying to convince me to entertain her with fine dining and huge expenditures. She'll be over tomorrow with her suitcase full of clothes, another suitcase full of stuffed toys, her pillow, her supply of snacks, books, what have you. Sara's overnight visits could be extended for a month with no lack of supplies.

I found a few items for Sara in that store and gave up on the older ones. I will give them money. There is no greater gift than money to a pre-teen or a teenager. In fact, I wouldn't mind getting a little money myself, instead of those puffy slippers I never wear and those granny gowns that hang in the closet like silent shadows.

I also included a gift for Dayton. Dayton is a step-great-grandchild. I seldom see him, but one year he favored me with a visit when he was three years old. He stood in the kitchen, eyed me with huge brown eyes and demanded, "Where's my gift?" Since then, I have made sure I have a gift for Dayton when he arrives for his infrequent visits.

Lord, where have I gone wrong? All I did was marry and have babies. I did not know I was starting a dynasty, that the babies would grow and multiply and keep coming like mosquitos on a warm summer night. But, here they are, and I am eternally stuck in the role of loving matriarch, when I would far rather be sitting in a villa in Italy, enjoying the ocean view, sipping champagne and conversing with the vacationing professor I might meet while basking on the beach.

It's been quite a ride, bumpy, as Bette warned, but interesting, nonetheless. And here I am, at this advanced age, trying to understand why children want to stare at screens all day long and into the night, little joysticks gripped in their grubby hands, watching miniature people shoot each other, and why dolls either look like little Nicole Richies with anorexic bodies and glorious hair extensions, or look like little demons ready to go into a snit of temper.

So, as usual, I will be happy when the Christmas season is over and the cold winds of January blow all of the merriment away. I wonder what they gave as gifts during Biblical times? A goatskin? A flask of wine? A handmaiden? Speaking of handmaidens, that would have been a great gift for Papa back then. It seems that, if a wife could not give birth to a child, Pappy was given the handmaiden in her stead. No in vitro fertilization there!

That's where all of those Begots came from, I suppose.

After the revelry is over, after the memory of that toy department has faded, I will sit back and survey the tattered remains of the giftwrap, cherish the memory of my family gathered in celebration, and thank God that Christmas only comes but once a year.