As I said in my 8 weird things meme, I’m a compartmentalizer (which Firefox doesn’t recognize as a word. Fie on you, fickle Firefox!). This quirk extends to seasons and holidays. Meaning, quite simply, that I feel a bit of rage when I see Christmas decorations before we’ve gone trick-or-treating. I would be just fine if nothing went up before December 1, and so would retail, despite what majormegaconglomocorp’s marketing department would have us believe. Yes, I’ve started knitting gifts already, but that is simply good planning, and I one day hope to have, in the spirit of the Yarn Harlot, a “long-range planning” box, a box of knitted gifts that can be dug into & called upon as a resource at the holidays, to alleviate stress and stave off carpal tunnel for another year.
But in addition to the usual flurry of fake white Christmas trees already on display at Target and the dread that “Jingle Bells” will be piped through the intercom at the grocery store long before Thanksgiving has come & gone, I have another Christmas worry: lead. Boogermonkey doesn’t have any battery-operated toys, nor does he have a lot of plastic toys, and his favorite things to play with are the Tupperware from my kitchen and his unpainted wooden blocks, but his birthday is coming and so is Christmas. I’ve told family “no gifts” for his birthday, and
we’ve I’ve imposed a “no China” rule for Christmas, but does that really solve anything? If toys are made in Indonesia or Mauritania or Djibouti, are they any safer than the toys made in China? And as WhyMommy over at Toddler Planet pointed out (I didn’t know this, but it doesn’t surprise me), the CPSC only has ONE full-time toy tester. ONE GUY. The neurological safety of millions of children lies in the hands of ONE GUY. That unnerves me a bit.
So what, as the parent bloggers network asks today, am I doing about this? Well, other than the “no China” rule, I’m going to talk to my family about etsy.com. TONS of cool hand-crafted toys, made in fair conditions by parents (and non-parents) making money doing what they love. Hand-knit robots, hand-sewn dolls, carved wooden trains free of lead-based paint, and all without the guilt that a child hardly older than my own son was potentially exploited in the process.
Store-bought toys can be tested with the same lead-testing kits people use in their homes. It’s up to us, as parents and friends of parents, to be vigilant. The Consumers Union, known best for Consumer Reports, has started the “Get the Lead out” campaign, which this post is part of. They want parents to spread the word on being safe shoppers, and I’m doing my part.
Non-mainstream toys, things like play silks, soft dolls, plain wooden blocks, and hand-knit items like finger puppets and tea sets are wonderful alternatives to the branded, marketed, overhyped crap that the kids are inundated with and soon forget about or break. While I don’t agree with the Waldorf philosophy of education, Waldorf-based toys are a great starting place for hand-made, safe gifts. Make your own art sets (because some of those have been recalled lately, too) with high-quality supplies, fill an old wine crate with favorite books from your childhood (thrift stores and second-hand book stores are great for this!), make a dress-up box from an old suitcase & stuff found at thrift stores, make a toy kitchen from an old entertainment unit, or supplement an existing toy kitchen with small pots, pans, wooden spoons, etc. found at a thrift shop or dollar store.
And what about gifts that aren’t things at all? Why not go in with your sisters to get your dinosaur-loving nephew a lifetime membership to the science museum? Why not give your art-loving granddaughter a set of pottery lessons at the community center? Take your kids to a basketball game, treat your niece to a spa day, bring your airplane-loving children to the aerospace museum. Memberships to the zoo, the children’s museum, the art museum, OMSI, etc. would be appreciated far longer than a talking character-of-the-moment doll that will do nothing but annoy the parents and bore the child after a week (or less). Music lessons, art classes, swim lessons, gymnastics lessons, soccer camp, etc. are all things that many parents would love their children to have, but can’t afford. It’s all a matter of ignoring the glossy brochures and toy catalogs, shutting off the commercials that run during daytime TV & kids’ programs, and being creative with it. Yes, it will take more time than popping in to Target on December 21 & grabbing whatever’s on sale, but it will be appreciated more, and there’s no chance of the science museum being recalled for breakable parts.