Time makes a toy cool

My son has spent more than half of his lifetime as Batman. He also likes to de-construct, and re-construct things. He wants LEGO Batman The Batcave. Why shouldn’t he? The price, if you haven’t checked, is well over $600.

This is the point where Christmas, joy and good tidings begin to unravel for me. My son has scrawled out the letters “Batman Legos” on his letter to Santa. This is what he expects.

As a die-hard Batman Fan from the ‘60s, I too covet this Batman Lego set. The set includes a two-level Batcave, with spiral staircase and the costume change chamber. It’s cool.

Don’t even start with the thing about the age requirements on the box. Toy companies know this is what would appear on many 6-year-old boy’s Christmas letters, and with the help of their older siblings and parents, they set can easily be constructed. Lego has carefully pre-calculated exactly what will excite little boys, growing up in a culture of Batman lunch boxes, costumes, and movies they are too young to watch and yet are counting the days until they are 18 so that they can. Toy companies also know the awesome power of Batman, his appeal, and how much little boys like to break things apart.

How can a box of dismountable die-cut plastic teeny-tiny blocks cost $600? The toy is simply a jumble of “unassembled” parts, and it doesn’t even light up, or sing, if you plug it into an outlet.

Or does Lego know his mother even better than the boy? With a heavy heart, I turn from the computer without hitting the “buy it now” button. Yet, the unfinished transaction hovers as if I’m only wearing one sock. This is unresolved.

I know this $600 set would give my son hours of pleasure. I have also watched him head into complete nirvana peeling off the wrappers of a new box of crayons with his teeth. I have also seen him squeal in delight to squeeze a brand new tube of toothpaste at bedtime. I also know that if he the Batman Lego Set would miraculously appear on Christmas Morning, he would covet the box just as much as the plastic pieces.

Still, I can’t wrap my head around $600. For a 6-year-old. This is the pull and tug of toy shopping. The pull of toy companies preying on the emotions of children as they try to make numbers for the bottom line, and the tug of parents trying to be rationale about the interest that $600 will earn in a bank account over 12 years.

To a child, a toy is, whether it cost $600 or $10, still a toy. The value of a toy is not based on money; but more on how “new” it is from what he has seen over the last hour.

So in one sense, it is the stretch of time that makes a toy cool; but we learn in the Velveteen Rabbit, that time also gives a toy love, and makes them real. It is time that makes toys valuable; not the price tag.

Opening that $600 toy box on Christmas morning would be like opening Pandora’s box. There would be the immediate gratification, the joy and the excitement. But there would be other gifts hidden among the plastic ties that hold all the pieces in their place. One gift would be pressure. A toy reaching this level of expense is no longer a toy – it’s a trophy. Trophies demand special shelves.

A $600 toy would make me worry every time I turn on the vacuum and I hear a clink in the hose. With every clink I would carry the vacuum outside, open the bag and begin to finger through the dust to find the coveted pieces of plastic. Would I have time to empty the bag and search every day? Because that’s what would happen — every day there would be a clink in the hose. Or would I have the stomach to let the pieces fall where they may, even if that includes the trash can as I empty the sweeper bag?

How angry will I feel when I see the toy come to the eventual fate that all toys must come to — neglected and forgotten?

How will the introduction of this $600 toy change how I perceive my child? Will I feel resentful if he says he’s bored? Shouldn’t a $600 toy guarantee my not having to hear that statement ever again? Will I get angry at the toy because the toy is not doing its job of entertaining my son day after day, minute after minute? Will I begin to long for the $600 and its interest?

The demands that this toy would put on my son would create far too much pressure for him — I know I would expect my 6-year-old to treat this toy with the respect $600 deserves. Does he even know what kind of respect to give a toy, based on monetary value? Do I?

Each year, I buy at least one book for each of the boys for Christmas. This is the one present they open with the most angst — almost as if touching the book, in the midst of flashing and bright lights of new toys, burns their fingers. Yet, every Christmas evening, I find them curled up in a chair, mesmerized with their new books. The toys lie scattered on the floor, forgotten for a few golden minutes.

3 comments to “Time makes a toy cool”
  1. $600? That’s insane.

    Lego’s drove me nuts when my son was small… he could get the sets together 1-2-3 and then they weren’t really very interesting anymore and would all get thrown into a big bin where it would be impossible to ever reconstruct them, even if I saved the directions. Many a Lego piece got sucked up by my vacuum, or stepped on with an adult sized bare foot – in which case much cursing followed.
    To this day there is still a huge spaceship that was constructed ad-hoc that sits on a shelf collecting dust. Lucky for me, when my son was small, Lego was a client and I could get stuff from the company store at prices that were at least a little bit easier to stomach.

  2. Hi Susie,
    Have you seen the Fisher Price Imaginext Batcave?
    Santa brought it last year to our then 6 year old and he still loves it at 7.
    We bought it at Target for 45.00.
    It’s so hard to not give them their hearts desires…


  3. This is such a difficult issue isn’t it? My flaming sword burns hard in my hand when I think of ‘heart’s desires’ spoken of in terms of toys. One of the hard things we have to teach our children is that they may not always get their ‘heart’s desires’ in life…and that life still goes on. Everything you say is so true about the additional pressure of caring for a toy of that value. I also wonder at the boys nowadays who can not think of ‘what to build’ with Lego if there isn’t a picture and some instructions. Creativity is being stifled. I am sure yours don’t fall into that category although I know my stepson does. 🙁
    I don’t envy you this decision. Let us know what you eventually decide.

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