When I was a child, we couldn't afford many toys. My mother told me to suck it up and play with whatever toys she could get me from her friends. Not only did we have hand-me-down clothes, we also had hand-me-down toys.
We didn't really mind, my two younger brothers and I. But we did sometimes wish we could have a Six Million Dollar Man action figure with Bionic Eye and Working Bionic Grip (or even his balding boss, Oscar Goldman) or a few more Star Wars figures (I had about five).
When I grew up and made my own money, I went to town with the toy buying. It was like I was making up for my lost youth. Then when my own kids came along, I had to slow down because I was competing with my kids for toy space in the house.
Even moving my entire Star Wars collection to the office didn't help. I had to stop the toy buying completely.
At first, I would tell my son Isaac that he couldn't play with my figures in the display case. Then later, I realized how silly it was. Toys were meant to be played with, not displayed in a glass case.
So what if he lost a Stormtrooper's rifle once in a while. Or Darth Vader's light saber? Or Commander Cody's helmet?
Please wait here a while, I need to go to a corner of the room to weep…
OK, I am back.
Another thing I discovered about my three children was that I really didn't need to buy so many toys for them.
Faith, at age 12, has autism and her favorite object is a plastic bag because the crinkly texture appeals to her senses. I have also made it a point to save the empty packets of Kleenex Hand & Face Moist Wipes (with Aloe Vera & Vitamin E, yes I am very anal about the kind I like to use). She is very fond of the texture of the empty packets. It beats having her rummage through my bag and pulling out 10 precious wet wipes from a new pack just to have the empty packet.
My two younger ones, Isaac (age 9) and Joy (age 7), LOVE cardboard boxes. I started noticing it when I brought back things like new bicycles in the original box. They would go, "Ooooh, new bicycle!" and then, "Papa, can we have the box, please? PLEASE?"
You'd think they were begging for bars of gold.
I usually said yes, but only after I check that the box is free from large staples and other sharp bits.
The next day, the box would miraculously become a car, or a house, or a robot animal.
I am tickled by their handiwork and their skill with paint and markers. And they'd play in it for days, weeks even. That's longer than any action figure or Barbie doll I have bought them.
I now ration the toys I buy them. I prefer to see them create stuff, role play, and use their imaginations. A Power Ranger may be fun for a day or two. But a Big Box is a lifetime of fun.