Wednesday, October 29, 2003

A Modern Parable

Well, not really a "parable", but a reflection. Or a meditation. Or a thought. Or....[head explodes]

Anyway, yesterday the wife and I had the wonderful occasion to foist the kid off on the grandparents for a few hours, during which we went shopping without the four-year-old in tow -- a one-time normal thing that has been elevated to luxury status since the coming of the kid. We went to a couple of consignment shops, to Barnes&Noble, and a few other places. We were early in getting to the restaurant where we were meeting the grandparents for dinner, so we passed a few moments by going into Clayton's, which is the Buffalo area's nicest toy store. This is where you go in Buffalo if you're looking for real toys: dollhouse furniture, the biggest selection of Playmobile stuff I've ever seen, kid's crafts, fine dolls (both porcelain and Russian matryoshkas), fine model railroad supplies, et cetera. In other words, everything you won't find on the shelves at Toys-R-Us or Wal-Mart.

What was amazing was that we've been looking, to no avail, for a couple of things in other toy places. I've been looking for wind-up bath toys for the daughter, like boats or whatnot. The wife has been looking for "sewing cards", apparently cardboard or felt cutouts in different shapes that come with yarn and have holes punched in them to let the kid lace the yarn through the holes, an item which I guess shows kids the concept of sewing. (I'd never seen these before, so if my description is weird, sorry.) We could not find either of these simple items in any big store -- not Wal-Mart, not Target, and not even Toys-R-Us. But we found both within five minutes of walking into Clayton's.

It amazes me that simple things like these have been eclipsed into the realm of "specialty toys". I walk through toy sections in the big-box stores and my attitude is, "God, let's find what we want and get the hell out of here". But I walk through a place like Clayton's, and I start to actually think back to my own childhood, and I spot the things I used to play with, and a strange mixture of happiness and sadness sets in. I'm happy that I can still find these things and get them for my kid, but I'm sad because I wonder how many parents never even consider going to a place like Clayton's, and thus have kids who will never play with a single toy that Wal-Mart has decided not to stock?

Folks, if you have kids, don't do all your Christmas toy shopping at the big places. Find those small toy stores and get them something they'll never see at those big places. And spread the word.

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