Archive for the ‘toys’ Category

Not another sweater…

November 26, 2008

Anyu always held close to the belief that appropriate Christmas presents for men in the family were either a sweater, an LP of music beloved by the recipient or a book of some esoteric character that was to edify the recipient.. She really looked askance when I gifted Renaissance man on his 18th Christmas with a stuffed ‘Bill the Cat’. Rumpole has long disabused me of the gifted sweater. So for these two men in my life, Christmas gifting has proved to be an adventure, of sorts.

A couple of years ago I gave Renaissance Man a fold out huge cultural history of the world. It opened up the length of his living room, and he seemed to enjoy reading esoteric bits of information from among the ages. The gift that both he and Rumpole took particular delight in was when they received guitar lessons for 4 months. This was 18 years ago, and I must say, it has been a gift that has kept giving. They joined a band, and have played together for 12 years now, and entertain us at home with musicales regularly.

This Christmas seemed particularly problematic. What does one gift a grown man who has alost everything his heart could desire? I stewed and fretted about this for months now. I want him to enjoy life, to keep learning while he can and to model that learning and enjoyment for his young daughter.

Last weekend, he and Glasgow Girl brought Mousey over for a visit. Here was the perfect occasion to put the query to him. I had cleverly and casually placed the new second-hand recorder I had bought at the thrift store, as an inducement to pique Mousey’s curiosity. True to form, as soon as she spied it, she picked it up and asked, “What is this?”

“Blow in the end,” suggested Rumpole, “It’s a recorder.”

She picked it up and tooted away with it in great delight. “Here, Mouse, ” said RM, “I’ll show you how to put your fingers.” He played the scale for her, but she couldn’t when she tried; her hands were much too small.

She marched about the kitchen and tooted away, experimenting with blowing through breaths.

“Mom, you’re such a trouble maker,” said RM. “Every time you introduce her to new things, she keeps bugging us to keep playing with them.”

Heh, heeh, that’s the plan – I thought to myself. it’s never too early.

“You know, R.M., you have a really good singing voice,” said Rumpole.

“Yeah,” I agreed, ” you have perfect pitch. Every time you sing with the band I have to pinch myself. You nail the songs so perfectly. But you lack confidence.”

“How would you like to receive singing lessons as a Christmas present, this year?” asked Rumpole.

Renaissance Man looked at each of us in turn. “You know,” he said, “it might be kind of fun. Only I don’t want to go to someone’s house for lessons.”

“Okay,” I said, ” I have the perfect place to order up lessons for you, the local music school. See if you like what they have on offer.”

So, that was that. Renaissance Man is intrigued by the possibility of voice lessons. My job was to do the research on this possibility.

So this week’s job for me was to find the singing teacher, which I did, and to order up lessons, which Rumpole and I did, this evening after having dinner with Lookingforbeauty. We drove to the music school in the dark of evening, and made arrangements with the pleasant director of the school. In January, Renaissance Man is to start his weekly lessons on Tuesday nights. I think he will be well pleased.

While at the music studio, I asked about replacement strings for my cheapo violin. They had them, and Rumpole bought a set for me. We drove home in the dark, well delighted with the possibility of making more music, en famille. I can hardly wait for Christmas – a book of songs for Renaissance Man to go with his singing lessons, and perhaps my newly strung violin along for Christmas dinner to play some reels. Of course, I shall have to practice during the coming weeks. I know for sure that Jessica, our Scottish Terrier will accompany me on the violin. She hates my music, or my singing, and joins in a chorale accompanyment appropriate to my level of playing.

It promises to be a musical New Year for us all. I can hardly wait to hear Renaissance Man let loose with his wonderful voice.


October 4, 2007

This coming Thanksgiving weekend, Renaissance Man and his friend, Pete, are going surfing on the west coast of Vancouver Island, leaving behind wives, children and family, home and work obligations, to play in the water and sand. They don’t care whether the forecast is for sun or rain.  They just hope for good waves.

I have seen pictures of numbers of these young men of varied ages dragging and piling beach refuse into huge piles behind which to take refuge from the westerly winds punishing this shore. Their multicoloured surf-boards are erected like menhirs in Brittany, aligned, waiting for the perfect waves, the magic condition for their deployment. These worshippers of the surf are all garbed in severe black neoprene skin-suits, huddled, waiting behind their windbreak.

When he first announced his intention to go surfing in this inclement weather, my gut reaction was instant fear for his safety.  I greeted his announcement in frozen silence. Holding back from uttering a motherly caution, I wondered if this fear for my child, who is no longer a child, but a man with a family and good common sense, would ever cease in my lifetime. I marvelled at how even as a young child he was fascinated by contrasting elements; water acting on sand and gravel, piles of different things disarranged by an applied force acting on them.

At first, when he was about 16 months old, Renaissance Man was partial to outings to the sand-pit in the park across the street from our basement apartment. He didn’t particularly like the feel of sand after he had a faceful flung at him by another young child. Yet, he liked to slog through the sand on his sturdy little legs. He studied the marks behind him made by his feet as he laboured along making parallel v-shaped grooves behind him.

A year later, we were living up north where great snowfalls reigned in the wintertime. Bundled up like a spaceman in his winter gear, he waddled around in the snow, whenever he was not ensconced in his little sled with me pulling him like a plow horse. Whenever I had to dig out the car from drifts, he stayed near, patting the piles created by digging into a semblance of order with  his mittened hands.

Indoors, during the spring before he turned three, he played with his Christmas present, a yellow Tonka dump-truck. I bought a good supply of cube sugar which was his to play with, to load, dump and reload. He made piles of sugar cubes, built strange lines of several rows  meandering on the green indoor-outdoor carpet of the living room. He shrieked with frustration when he attempted to create discrete piles out of these white granular squares. They did not make tidy mounds. As they gradually lost sharp corners and edges, became rounded, they rolled down the incline of the pile in unpredictable ways.

One day we went to the central depot for our bulk provisions of flour, granular sugar, oat flakes, nuts, beans and wheat germ. He watched in earnest as I ladelled my allotted quantities of consumables into separate old cotton pillowcases. Once home with this bounty, he carefully observed transfer of these goods into large jars, cans and cartons. He ran his hands through each type of substance, feeling textures. I wondered what was going through his young mind as he did this.

A couple of days later, the results of his thought processes manifested itself, in a quite surprising way. In the middle of the night, truck-sound splutterings and roars filtered into my unconscious.  I lay in bed, disoriented, until the nature of the sounds registered on my sleepy brain.  It was Renaissance Man, playing and making noises in the kitchen. I stumbled out of the bedroom to find lights on in the kitchen. RM was crawling along, operating his yellow dump truck and spilling dark brown mounds onto the carpeted floor. He was one with his machine, providing the sound-effects of growling diesel engines. There were shallow ribbons of road-ways connecting these mounds. These had a hard glistening surface like fresh ashphalt. He had created the miniature world of a construction materials depot.

“Mom, look!” he gleefully waved muck-encrusted little hands at me.

I looked. There were separate mounds of coffee grounds, wheat germ, beans and oatmeal joined by roads composed of jam, peanut butter and brown sugar. These roads snaked around the whole kitchen floor. RM looked extremely proud of what he had made.

I grabbed him up and took him into the bathroom to clean him of sticky and gritty substances. Although he had used up food supplies so carefully laid in with what little money we had, I didn’t have the heart to chide him.

“You know, that is all stuff we eat that you used to make your construction yard,” I muttered, wiping crud from his hands. ” but we will have to clean all the roads up from the floor before they harden.”

“Can we sleep first?” he asked as he yawned.

“Yes, we’ll clean up in the morning,” I replied, carting him, now clean, to his bedroom.

Back in my own bed, I resolved to make him his own sand-box in the back-yard as soon as the spring melt ended.

Came Spring –  sunny, windy days, aspens broke into their tender green. The muddy ground dried and we cleared an area in the background of grass, and dug down to provide a pit to contain sand. We went off in the car to one of the local lakes which was our sandy swimmming hole in summertime. There we shovelled sand into garbage can, and buckets and took them home to deposit into our sand pit. We made several trips to get enough sand to make a decent play area. RM enjoyed having a part in creating his play space. He collected rocks and pebbles, and built up a supply of various sized gravel mountains that he carefully separated by size of unit components. He spent time in this outdoor play zone and built himself a complex world where he moved stuff about, constructing, dismantling and reconstructing as his imagination prompted. He collected twigs and sticks to augment his little world.

One dinner-time as we were feasting on broccoli, his little face lit up with a realization of discovery. Of a new idea.

“Mom, we are really eating trees right now,” he announced, brandishing a broccoli spear in his hand. “Can I have some fresh ones to plant in my city?”

“You are right, these do look like trees. But this is food, hard to come by. Maybe we can go and look for stuff in the yard that might make good trees,” I told him.

The following summer, we travelled to Vancouver to visit family and friends, go to the beach, hike in the woods and visit parks. A university friend had an installation showing at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Also being exhibited was an American Minimalist’s work, labelled “PILES”. Renaissance Man was my gallery companion to this exposition. I figured it was never too early to introduce him to gallery experiences, and model some appropriate gallery behaviours. His questions about new experiences he encountered were pointed, and his reactions fresh and surprising.

So, on a sunny afternoon, before hitting the sands of Second Beach to play and frolic in the sea and sand, we took a brief side-trip to see this exhibition. The main gallery held “PILES”. Grabbing Renaissance Man firmly by the hand, I hefted the heavy gallery door open. He swiftly squeezed through ahead of me, disengaged his hand from mine and simply stood there in silence taking in the various piles of gravel, gravel drawings in the floor.

“Oh, Wow!  Piles!” he chirped, took off at a run before I could grab him, made a bee-line for the nearest gravel mound and flung himself on top of it. He lay there, working his little hands in the gravel. He was grinning with pleasure. I grabbed him up, just as the irate gallery guard materialized from his station somewhere in the gallery.

“Madam, you have to have better control of your child.” he ordered in a stentorian voice. “Look, he has wrecked an exhibit!”

What did Renaissance Man care about the fact that the various piles were examples of the concept of “The angle of repose”? Or of possible methodology of placing precised edged drawings  composed of gravel lines on the gallery’s floor? He simply reacted, directly and honestly from his particular experience and appreciation of the materials thus displayed. To him, these piles of different quality of gravels represented a potential to manipulate and create with of an imagined end that he had in his own mind. These piles called to him with an irresistible and unheard siren call of “handle me, use me, make a world with me!!!”

With red face, I clung firmly to his hand and we walked around the exhibit, talking about where the piles of stuff came from, how they were brought into this place, and how possibly they had been created.

He expressed surprise that a grown man had made this display of stuff he himself was so familiar moving about.

“Dads really do this? They still play with gravel and sand?” he asked, mystified.

So, I wonder, will he, perhaps, remember his early play with earthen materials, as he plants his surf-board in the sand, shifts logs and beach debris to make a shelter from the winds, dig his toes into the sand and watch the water shift the shoreline as he waits for the perfect waves to form?

The First Birthday…

July 29, 2007

It was our grand-daughter Mousey’s first birthday earlier this week.  This afternoon was her party with the older members and friends of the family. As people arrived, she greeted them at the door dressed in her party frock and barefoot.  She hates wearing shoes herself, however she was inordinately fascinated with the pile of shoes left at the door.  I wonder if this means she has not inherited her mother and father’s fondness for shoes? Glasgow Girl must be related to Imelda Marcos: she is some distant shirt-tail Scottish relative of that Philipina politician. Renaissance Man loves shoes of the Fluevog kind – custom made and strangely fashionable looking. So far, their offspring, Mousey shows every indication of preferring to walk about unshod, while at the same time being squeamish about the sensation of different textures on the soles of her bare feet. The young parents express their dismay with this characteristic of their little daughter!

I was pleased to see the innocence with which Mousey considered her pile of gifts. She was most attentive to the varied patterned paper covering them. She paid close attention to the flouncy ribbons hanging from them and occupied herself pulling, stretching, crunching and tasting the multicoloured tendrils while the adults sipped wine and juice and sat chatting. Every so often she came over to me with her arms raised to be picked up, but after a few seconds of lap time she made her little body limp and slid back down to resume fiddling with the ribbons. I had wrapped her gift books in a highly coloured cat wrapping paper. Mousey studied the multi-coloured cat heads on the package, pointing to each and repeatedly uttering “kitty, kitty…”. She took this around with her to Rumpole and pointed out the kitties to him.  The old softie was completely charmed by this!

Came time to open cards and presents.  She wasn’t sure what to do, but once the cards were uncovered she took them one by one to her mother and dropped them in her lap. She opened the present of a soft, funny sheep with mirrors on the bottom of its feet and plopped herself down on it and rolled around in a completely undignified fashion.  Then she dragged it over to Rumpole and unceremoniously dumped it at his feet. Her aunt and cousin gave her horsey rain gear covered in galloping yellow ponies – a pink slicker with hood, pink rubber Wellies and umbrella. (This was a smart gift as it rains a great deal in our part of the world!) Mousey stood under the open umbrella, pointed to the ponies and repeatedly called out “Kitty, Kitty…”. Her aunt put the Wellies on her feet; she was having no part of footwear and kicked them off. (Come the winter rains, surely she will deign to wear them?)

She ignored the set of giant legos, but Rumpole and I busied ourselves constructing a tower that looked like a Jenga tower with blocks pulled out from it. “Cool!” said our niece, Mousey’s cousin. We decided that Jenga was going to be a good gift for Mousey later on, one we could all play together.

Mousey lost interest in the gifts and wandered off to the buffet, from where she snagged a piece of broccoli. She meandered around chewing on this, but didn’t make great headway in eating it with her five teeth. She followed her cousin about, fascinated by this other shorter person in the group.  They see each other so seldom, so she was completely taken with her.

As far as birthday parties go, this was a short one. After something to drink and a quick cruise around the buffet inhaling crudites, brie, crackers and fruit,  the adults decided, en mass, to leave.  We drove to our house to recuperate from the festivities with strong cups of coffee.  We sat, wilted, around the kitchen table and shared the fact that most of us may have only had one birthday party as children – and that these days children’s birthday parties are both ubiquitous and de rigeur. And excessive!


June 20, 2007

Mousey is nearly eleven months old now. She has never stepped on grass, nor has seen birds fly, nor insects crawl, hop, hide or fly. She has not sat outside for any length of time, to watch the shift and play of light, the effect of the breeze or wind on the lawn, the leaves on a tree or the moving clouds overhead.  Whenever she goes outside she rides backward in her carseat and sees a fast moving world as she is driven about from home to run shopping errands with her mother.

She has piles of stuffed animals, toys appropriate for her age, but they are all plush and plastic.  What she is most curious about is Snowy, the family cat, and she is forever on the lookout for opportunity to be near this ghostly white creature, to touch it and watch it. She has learned that the cat has a will of its own and will not tolerate her awkward ministrations.

She now has a toy cell phone. It has a musical ring tone and flashes lights much like a real cell phone when it is activated by a call.  Does a nearly eleven month old baby need a toy cell phone? I think she needs to go outside frequently and feel the grass under her feet and hands, experience the moving air flowing over her skin and through her hair, listen to the complex soundscape surrounding her, and see the interplay between the natural and built environment in which she will grow.

I know I am getting old and am expressing my wonder and, yes, my dismay with the fact that she has been born into a much more complex world, in which opportunity abounds, and yet in which so have limitations increased.  Many of the toys available to her, while providing an illusion of richness of experience, in fact prevent full engagement and don’t provide the occasions for developing discernment.

How she travelled from home to work….Transitions…

January 31, 2007

Friends are revealing all sorts of fascinating preoccupations, joys, sorrows, questions everywhere in suburbia.

This morning a really wonderful gift arrived form a “friend” in Karachi. It makes me want to go out and find cans of automotive paint and paint my sedate old truck with all sorts of colours, and stick on its body some decorations.  Yes, it reminds me to realize that “Real Men” do make embroidery, in all kinds of ways, though!

Drop in and visit –

Simple toys

January 2, 2007

A friend, cruising last summer garage sales, found two treasures needing new homes.  One was a velveteen rabbit like no other plush toy I have ever seen. It is squishy, pillow-like, with long, floppy purple ears and obviously home-made.  The other was a Raggedy Ann doll, beautifully hand-made of natural fibres, with a quirky face and bright red yarn hair, wearing a pretty pinafore over an underdress carefully stitched.

She brought these, hidden in a plastic grocery sack, and produced them to me with a flourish, one by one. Now, both of us being women in our sixties, we still have enough child in us to be delighted in handling these soft toys, in looking in their rudimentary faces, in checking that they had the requisite and correct anatomy and in taking off and putting back on their clothes.  These are meant to be played with by my new grandchild while she is visiting our home – special items to be found in Grandma’s house, meant not to languish forgotten in the toybox at the grandchild’s home.

Over tea, my friend and I discussed how important it is for grandchildren to feel they have a foothold in their grandparents’ homes.  This can involve special rituals with the grandparents, a special place for the child to have naps, books that can be found and shared only while there and simple toys and games belonging to the child which stay at Grandpa and Grandma’s. So, these two characters have joined the bean-bag stuffed mandrill I found at a garage sale and the three softies sit in my vitrine waiting for my grand-daughter to visit with them. Soon, they will be joined by a sock-monkey which an artist friend is crafting.

I presented Raggedy Ann to my granddaughter while babysitting her one afternoon.  She was 4 months old at the time.  She was sitting in her baby sling and I placed the doll on her lap.  She immediately gazed at the doll’s face and her slow smile bloomed. She touched the red yarn hair and her attention was firmly focussed for several minutes.

The velveteen rabbit is on reserve for later, when she is older, for a rest and nap buddy.  It will make a cushy pillow as it can be molded and bent to be a comfortable, huggable armful.

I am sure that soon there will be naming of these creatures as my grandchild takes ownership of them.

Meanwhile I am collecting simple wooden toys – blocks, dominoes, pick-up sticks. My husband and I play with these, sometimes, in anticipation of future games with our granchild.  We get to be kids again for a short time.  A friend with a keen sense of fun is on reserve to engage in a game of Cat’s Cradle.  As time passes, ideas occur to me for what simple toys to acquire in anticipation of amusing and learning with my grandchild, but I am open to any suggestions.