“Dad, can you help me put this together?”
The 4 1/2 year old I live with poured a small arm load of plastic pieces at my feet. At once, I recognized the color and familiar shapes of the once proud leader of the Autobot’s clan, Optimus Prime. The toy, a wonderful gift from his uncle from last Christmas, now lay like a horrid crime scene from a TV drama. A far cry from the robot he coveted last year that, at the touch of a button, would state in dramatic tone, “I, am Optimus Prime.”
I had watched my boy squeal in delight as he ripped it from it’s many layers of packaging, and immediately wanted to it “transform” into the iconic red semi truck he had seen on TV. My brother Andrew had equal delight watching me try desperately to follow the two page, 25 separate picture instructions, for about an hour to no avail. The only thing worse than not being able to assemble a gift you bought for your child, is being set up to fail from a slightly evil sibling.
Blessed are the parents who ward off needless toy collecting and the other many lures of material possession from their children. However, I will point out gently, these parents often walk the Earth acting like they know they are blessed. If you are one of those parents I am sorry, but don’t tell me about it. Like most parents I know, I sometimes give in to the pressures of the wants of my children. I prefer opting for books and art materials for the most part knowing the other adults around my son will fill the void with copious amounts of loud, plastic, battery operated things. These will inevitably drive many parents to have their holiday drink slightly earlier each Christmas day.
After dealing with an ever more anxious child and the gleeful gaze of an older brother, I passed the instructions over to him. He relented and stated confidently to my son that he would be able to do it. And lo and behold, two hours later, the robot had become a large semi truck, and my brother presented it to my son.
Then watched in horror as my son started to pull it apart.
The most difficult part of toys for any new parent is letting go of the ownership. Sure, you just spent countless time putting together, or keeping the parts organized for their benefit. But the ugly truth reveals itself to you after the first couple holiday seasons, birthdays and the like, that only some matchbox cars, and stuffed animals will survive the long haul. This is a far cry from idealistic image that your child will have treasured memories of these toys, care for them, and one day pass them along to their children.
Having put some thought into it, I have created a basic formula for toy destruction which is crudely illustrated below. Please pay attention if you are planning on buying my children something this holiday season. (I am sorry if you cannot open the file. Deal with it)
The major discrepancy that you might notice, is that the more impossible the assembly becomes, the more they will nag you for it, and hence you will note that the time they want to play with it increases dramatically.
Sadly, that Christmas day was the only time Optimus was a truck. Soon after I began to notice small pieces of him around the house, beginning the slow decent from a character in dramatic play, to props to be used in other story lines.
I have since started to sort toys for the children less by the themes like; cars, robots, or pretend, but more like how one would sift through the wreckage of a disaster, by the size of the piece. In one box, small pieces like wheels and hands, in another; larger arms or torsos. And constantly, I try to reduce this mass by secretly getting rid of some of it every so often when they are not around.
But somehow the boy went through these boxes and collected as many of the little and medium pieces of Optimus as he could identify. Sighing, I began a half-hearted attempt at reconnecting the plastic bits together, “I, am Optimus Prime,” he stated. “You certainly were,” I reassured him. After some time though, I approached my son like a doctor coming to the waiting room and told him, there was not much I could do for him.
“That’s Ok.” He said positively. “I’ll just ask Uncle Andy when he comes back.”
“Good idea,” I said, “I’m sure he can do it.”