Sunday, January 16, 2011
As I arranged the new assortments of Valentine's at hopscotch, one in particular caught my eye. Cootie Catchers. That's what some children's marketer decided to call those pieces of paper that first graders fold into four squared fortune telling devices. In my day, one layer had boys names (who you would marry), one layer had the kind of car you would drive, one layer had the kind of house you would live in. It got me to thinking about all the other toys from Magic 8 balls to Ouji boards to mood rings and fortune telling fish that are based around divining the future. The thing that struck me when I took stock of my inventory was that the reading of the tea leaves starts at such an early age. I am a moderately superstitious person, I read my horoscope, I take my fortune cookies to heart. I HATE the ones that tell you you are a loyal friend. How is that a fortune? I look for omens. Whatever. I know it's silly, and it's more for entertainment than really thinking I have a clue what is going on in my life. But I do give them consideration which always makes me laugh a little at myself. When did this start, and how? It seems to me that I learned to twist the stem off an apple while saying the letters of the alphabet (again to find out who I would marry) at a very early age, and from another child. It also seems that these practices are carried out much more among girls than boys. I know it has been necessary to the survival and strategic positioning of the weaker sex that we gather information constantly, I suppose it makes sense that this information gathering would extend to the future inasmuch as we feel it is possible.
Well, that's it tonight. Just a musing. I'll leave the answers to the sociologists.
Friday, October 29, 2010
As a toy store owner, I feel kind of lame about how little of the estimated $5.8 Billion Halloween dollars I capture. I mean, it's primarily a kid's holiday right? Maybe it's my bad attitude. Because, I not so secretly feel the best Halloween costumes are the home made kind.
There are trick or treater's that do as little as they have to (sometimes nothing) to run amok and score candy, and then there are the people that I go out to see. These people make their own costumes and their children's costumes, and for them, Halloween is an opportunity to entertain us all, a quiet competition with all the other ghouls and greats that roam the streets All Hallows Eve.
These costumes are not to be confused with "dress up" which is what we call our costumes at hopscotch. Halloween costumes are like (and sometimes include) a corset. Uncomfortable, impractical, and can lead to stumbling and shortness of breath. A child can not conduct imaginary play in most Halloween costumes. Take my son the ding dong for instance. There may be two hula hoops in there, but I can assure you, there will be no frivolous play taking place.
Just as much as I hate cheap big box store bought Halloween costumes, I love selling Dress Up. Especially boys dress up because it is often overlooked, and our little boys LOVE to dress up. They want to be astronauts, knights, superhero's, and in my nephew Paul's case, Captain Underpants. He had his mother shave his head and spent an entire summer in underwear and a red cape. Clever boy. Girls want to dress up like princesses, fairies, and fairy princesses. There is no one place in hopscotch as gender specific as dress up. Good quality dress up is as comfortable as every day attire, it has stretch and comfortable seams. It can be put on and taken off with ease by a four year old. Good quality dress up is the best accessory for that crowning jewel of childhood, the vivid imagination. It should be even more durable than regular clothing because there are some who will put it on every single day, and many who will try to convince their mother's that it should be worn to bed as well. It will be worn on the most grand adventures. Adventures that will often include mud, and the rough bark of trees, dog slobber, and bicycle chains. Yes, durability is a must. But then, that goes for most good dealings with an active childhood.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Last week I brought my son home from college for the first time since he's been away. When we got out of the car in downtown McMinnville, he inhaled deeply and said "I love how Mac smells. You can always tell what time of year it is." It's so true. In the winter when you walk around town you smell the smoke from wood stoves, rain, and the earthy decay of leaves. In spring, the grass, lilac, and still the rain, but lighter, cleaner. In summer the heat of the day brings the scent of hay being cut and ripe fruit, and when it rains, the mix of all that with dust and welcome cleansing. Now, with fall comes crush and fermenting fruit, the sweet scent of dry leaves falling, and the chill dank of mildew seeping in around the edges. Here at hopscotch the signs are clear also. Leaves blow in through the open door, soccer cleats muddy the floor, and board games, and craft kits reign supreme. I love seeing the supplies for family times indoors going home with my customers. Of course we have the hot items that seem to disappear before I can finish receiving them. Bananagrams, the hemp bracelets book, legos and potholders craft sets come to mind. The ones I really love to sell though, are the sleepers. Pattern blocks, marble runs, and chess just sit around the store unless I almost force my families to "please, trust me!" These were in the category that I called "child traps" in my household. I would just leave them out and an entire morning would be gone building, creating, listening to books on tape and just being together. So, though it makes me sad to see the days growing shorter, I do enjoy the slower pace and indoor activities that the chill weather brings about, and I especially love the anticipation I see in my families as they pick up supplies for their own cozy hibernation's.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I love the toy store in summer. The kids come in with a few dollars to spend and no adult to help them stretch it or suggest they save it for something better. Grownups just don't get it. It's the little stuff that's magic, and having it right now, with your own money that makes the summer sweeter. I have many suggestions for the kids with a few coins burning a hole through their cut offs. Take a few parachute guys on a trip to the second floor balcony of Hotel Oregon. You can let them float down onto pedestrians and drop into the pints of beer on the sidewalk tables. A handful of mini pigs to hide around your grandmothers house? Under her coffee cup, in the medicine chest. Marbles, by the each. Dime a piece. Need I say more? Old fashioned candy sticks, bazooka bubble gum, medium size jawbreakers, Taffy's, all for a quarter each. Balsa wood flyers, yo-yo's, and hacky sacks are also pretty special, but at $3 to $6 the kids really have to know what they want to blow their whole wad on one item. In the new fad category there are the Japanese Eraser's and those shaped rubber bands. Schleich animals. The kids pay with their own money to collect these great toys.
My favorite has always been bubbles. Magic, wand and all. I could spend (and have) entire afternoons blowing bubbles. The kids and I used to make bubble wands out of any piece of baling wire, slotted spoon or finger crocheted yarn loop. We experimented with home made recipes to support our by the bucket consumption. We took a road trip to Austin, my friend Sarah, our seven young children, and me. Sarah took us to a great toy store (Toy Joy) and introduced me to Pustefix. I was immediately convinced they lasted longer, and were more iridescent than other bubbles I had tried. These were the Best Bubbles Ever! With the zeal of the newly converted I went into the world to preach my truth. I'm still convinced that I see more shimmery rainbows in every Pustefix sphere, but you won't catch me in the store waxing poetic about it. It creeps the customers out.
Though I love the wand, rainbows, and watching them float out of sight, my favorite thing about bubbles is how they bring people together. At an outdoor concert, a picnic, or festival, break out the bubbles and people begin to smile. My children's great grandmother didn't have much energy by the time they came around, but she could sit in a chair and blow bubbles. Soon a dozen of her offspring would be dancing at her feet. That is magic.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Difficult as it is to get an Easter Bunny sighting, it is even harder to predict what that wily character will be putting in the Easter baskets. I never would have known it based on my own upbringing, but that guy (does the EB have a gender? I mean there are trousers in any pictures that show clothing, but really the rabbit drops EGGS right?) Okay, so our androgynous EB...now I am really off on a mental tangent. Bear with me here because the first androgynous character that came to my mind was the old SNL "Pat". Pat the bunny. That's funny right? Maybe you're not as sleep deprived and rummy as I am. Back to my point... EB brings actual presents to LOTS of kids. Not just eggs and little stuffed chicks and bunnies. Gifts. Not even Easter related gifts. Stomp rockets and dolls. Craft kits and huge stuffed animals. Why the huge discrimination against some children (my siblings and me for example)? Why does EB DELIVER to some homes, and leave eggs at others? Are eggs the equivalent of a lump of coal? The first year I owned hopscotch Easter time buying took me by surprise. Since then I have become more and more prepared. Theoretically. You see EB has years, and EB has YEARS. Whereas Santa has favorites that you know you need to have on hand for him every year (tricycles, doll houses, electric trains, chemistry sets, etc.) It's anybody's guess what EB is going to be looking for. I think, androgyny aside, EB is pretty cutting edge. One hip bunny. What's hot sells like crazy, so it's important for me to figure out what that is going to be starting in January so I can put off ordering it until the end of February then fret over every order that is not getting here fast enough. This year, I predict that EB will put a lot of Japanese erasers in the baskets and buckyballs should be big. Webkinz, yes still, and the East coast EB will definitely be putting those animal shaped rubber bands in the basket. Our west coast EB is a little less of a trend setter here and they haven't quite caught on. The plush kings have outdone themselves with some of the cutest spring lambs, chicks and ducklings coming from Gund, Douglas, Ganz and Manhattan to name a few. We are already moving some of those out the door. As far as things that don't fit in the basket, those silly Perfect Petzzz, and Wild Creation Frogs are going to top the list. The EZ Roller, Bruder trucks, and Kettler Trikes should weigh in pretty good too. Hope there is peace and health this Easter if not equity in distribution of goods. If you should catch a glimpse of the old EB this spring, could you please drop me a line and let me know what your take is... Patrick or Patricia?
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Let me start by saying that we don't have television. We do watch movies with our kids, but we have not had a television subscription the whole time we have been raising children. Nearly 19 years now. There was that one time we signed up so my husband could watch the world cup in the comfort of his own home, but we couldn't wait for that 18 month subscription to be over. Just too much noise! Too much monitoring. Too much fear mongering. Give me my rose colored glasses and get the glowing box out of my house!
At Toy Fair I met a really nice woman who worked at Brainy Baby. She was very excited because a new study was just published that shows that Brainy Baby DVD's help toddlers learn and remember. This was huge for them because the whole industry had been given a black eye by an earlier study that stated the opposite about the Baby Einstein series. I smiled and nodded as she told me how great the findings were, how the products of the company revolutionized early learning. I truly sympathized with the difficult position their company must be in since that Baby Einsteins study seemed to be everywhere. But, nice as she is, I just don't buy it. I mean, I believe that the DVD's do teach children. I've not met a child yet who isn't learning constantly. I just don't believe that putting your child in front of a screen is optimal. I believe in snuggling them on your lap with a book that contains the information you want them to learn, looking at pictures, pointing to them, saying the names. I believe that crawling on the floor playing with good open ended toys will teach them so much more, build a bonded relationship between parent and child, and mellow everyone out. The flashing lights, sounds, and images on a television screen may hold a child's attention, but so will a war scene. Doesn't mean that level of stimulation is appropriate. I'm still thinking this one through, because I know all about the multiple demands on a parents time, and being able to farm some of the basics off on a machine is tantalizing. At first take though, I feel like it's just lazy parenting. We don't have kids to plop them in front of a screen. We have them to share with, to play with, to build relationships with. I think I'd rather have a not so brainy baby who felt good in their own skin and bonded to the people they love.