Alright, it’s a few days after the joint Christmas / Hannukah rush and the frenzy of opening up presents to find cool new toys and games, and while I haven’t yet thrown all the wrapping paper away (last year we had a recycling option. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!) I have had a chance to see our kids acceptance of new toys that failed or broke within hours – or even minutes – of opening.
My son G- got a pretty impressive remote controlled backhoe (1:6 scale!) that was the apple of his eye until he realized that the remote didn’t really properly control the shovel, so while he could drive around with it, he couldn’t actually pick things up and put them somewhere else. Too bad, it’d be fun to try and plow the snow off our driveway with the backhoe, except, well, it won’t work that way.
And my daughter A- received a “collectible” carousel designed by Thomas Kinkade that plugs in and plays music while lit up and the horses, of course, going around and around. Except we plugged it in, turned it on, and enjoyed how pretty it was, turned it off, and the next time we turned it on the lights no longer work and the music doesn’t play. Elapsed time from opening the box to having it broken: seven minutes.
Personally, I’m appalled and disgusted at manufacturers who produce such shoddy merchandise, whether they’re based in China, Taiwan, Bangalore or Miami, but what astonishes me the most is that while Linda and I were both upset, the kids took it in stride and really weren’t very upset or even surprised by the toys breaking.
And that makes me wonder what kind of society we’re building, when children just assume that things aren’t going to work properly and that stuff breaks, sometimes even within minutes of opening them. When I was a kid, I expected things to work perfectly forever, and had a hard time when my toys or gadgets would break, even if I’d been playing with them for years.
In one sense, it’s probably an inevitable byproduct of our disposable consumer culture where we’ve been taught in the last decade that products only have a short lifespan after which you should toss them (landfill? recycle? does anyone really care?) and dutifully buy something new. It’s the revenge of fashion, where we’re embarrassed by two year old cellphones and one year old iPods, let alone laptops and cars.
And meanwhile, the toys are still broken and while my urge is to send everything back for a refund, that’s not really fair either.
So what’s a Dad to do?