Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bug-eyed birds make me crazy.

My kids recently received a handful of those oh-so-popular toy animals: tiny things, about 3 inches high, with huge heads and enormous eyes. They look like deformed aliens. And they have accessories, like hair ribbons, hats, glasses and there is even a little sun visor that J's lizard wears.

Much to my chagrin, the kids LOVE these things. These crazy, stupid little animals have moved into our dollhouse, and they go for endless rides on J's fire trucks. They take baths with the kids, go on imaginary trips to the grocery store together.

I'm glad the kids are having fun. Thrilled that they are using them for endless creative adventures.

But, come on now, what is it with toys? Why can't animals look like animals?

Why are animals-just as they are-seemingly "not enough" for kids? Look around any toy store, you'll see few if any realistic looking animals. Look for animals native to Minnesota or the northern hemisphere, and you'll either pull your hair out in frustration, or you'll find yourself in a so-called "natural toy store" shelling out big bucks for charming, hand-carved,heirloom-quality wooden creatures.

Here's what you will find:
- The toy animals that are available are, more often than not, tied to media in one way or another, whether it's popular cartoons, or books, movies, etc.
- The animals also generally have a whole arsenal of additional "stuff" such as clothing, townhomes, amusement park rides, or vehicles. These are things which, I am sure, animals in real life do not have.
- The animals generally do not even look like animals. They are often found in very strange colors, they might have psychedelic hair, huge heads, or other distorted features that, if encountered in real-life would set off a scientific sh**storm.
- I've also noticed that their facial expressions are generally designed to make the animals look either 1) sinister: red eyes, long teeth, and the like; 2)stupid: buck teeth, crossed eyes, big butt; or 3) sexy: long eyelashes, a hint of cleavage, and racy accessories like short shorts or midriff tops.

I want my kids to have access to authentic images of animals. Is that too much to ask?

I want my children to play with animals that look like like real animals, the kind that they might see around the great state in which we live. I want them to have toys which demonstrate a respect for animals, toys that don't depict animals as stupid or evil or any of the things I mentioned above. I want them to be inspired to create adventures that aren't some confusing amalgam of human/animal experiences. I want them to hold these animal toys, look at them, and then think about actual, real animals.

I believe this will give them more connection for the natural world than will, say, a big-headed turtle who roller skates. And isn't that one of the reasons children play with toys? To make sense of the world around them?

Am I overthinking this? You tell me.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Win a few, lose a few

So, what do you do when you wake up on an absolutely splendid morning-sunshine, white snow, and temperatures so high you don't even need mittens? Well, you bundle up your kids, and head outside of course!

After wrapping and tucking my kids into layers of down and capilene and wind-proof fabric and fleece, I stuffed 'em into their car seats, then plied them with cheetos and juice to keep them happy on the road. Finally we arrived at our destination and I extracted a rather grumpy two year old from the car seat and plopped him in front of his beaming big sister, who was eagerly waiting for him in the big blue sled, in which I was happily planning to pull them around in the morning sunshine. I had gone maybe four inches when he started complaining that he was cold. (What? Cold? But it's almost 35 degrees!)

I picked him up. Screams increased, made more intense by the wide open space. I tried to put his mittens on his hands. His fingers were wadded up into balls, and he thrashed and screamed and yanked his hands away.

"I want more Cheeto's! I want to go inside! I want to go home!" He screeched. "I'm cold!"

L was still in the sled, pulling in armloads of snow, happily burying herself while she watched the drama unfold.

J cried. He screamed. I tried to put him back in the sled. He flopped out, then exploded with rage when he got snow on his bare hands. He screamed some more. I picked him up. He screamed.

"I'm cold! I want to go home! I want to go inside, can we go inside!" I urged him to try walking. He flailed around a bit, then begged me to pick him back up.

Feeling torn and guilty, I looked at L who was happy and would have stayed outside all day if I'd let her. I tried again to convince J that this was fun.

Who was I kidding? He wasn't having fun. He was cold. He wanted to go inside. I quietly resigned myself to this: It's just not worth it,this is not fun for him right now, no matter what I do/tell him/try.

What do you do when, despite your best efforts to make everyone warm, well fed and comfortable, someone just is not up for an outdoor adventure?

You go inside.

Thank goodness I have an understanding 4-year old.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Come Out and Play

Can you find my daughter in this picture?

If you're like most of us here in the Hinterlands, chances are, Cabin Fever has you in its grip. The temperature soared today! It was a whopping 25 degrees and did it feel good! The forecasts (for what they're worth) seem to agree it's going to be a lovely weekend.

Saturday at 10:30 AM, I'm hosting another playgroup, this time at a park along the Mississippi River. North Mississippi Regional Park is a wonderful place in North Minneapolis. This is a great opportunity to play and just "mess around" with your kids outside. We aren't doing a "nature hike" per se, and there will be no "guided walk"...although all these things are great in their own right.

But the intention of Saturday's gathering, as it is with all these Nature Playgroups, is to simply provide our children (and ourselves!) with a place where they can make their own choices: play where they want to play, do what they want to do, spend as much time making snow angels as their little hearts desire. Just be free to explore and play outside.

Most parents can agree: we all need some "unstructured downtime" as one friend put it. This is it, complete with laughing children, sparkling snow, and sunshine. I do hope you'll join us!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

Sorry for the long absence...I've been "away" --that is, away from the computer and my home office and everything else, it seems, except family and friends and merriment. In the past two weeks we've attended or hosted more holiday-related gatherings than you can shake a stick at. It's been heavenly and I feel so restored and happy.

I hope you and yours enjoyed a peaceful, joy-filled holiday, whichever holiday you choose to celebrate. We did.

I'm excited to start the New Year by sharing a link to a fantastic website, The Motherhood Muse. I submitted an essay to the editor and it's in the very first issue of the online literary magazine she's publishing! Some of you may remember the essay from a post on this blog last summer. Do check out Motherhood Muse--it's a great website with a blog,writing contests, and a literary magazine for mothers--a place to explore your relationship with nature. Such a cool community. Special thanks to my friend and writing coach, Kate, for turning me on to the magazine!