I’m on the phone on a work conference call, and in the middle of it, I see an email pop up from my mother, subject line: Christmas caca. For those of you who might be linguistically challenged, that translates to “Christmas doodoo.” (My mother lives in France.) Of course I have to take a look right away, while keeping my ears focused on the call in which I’m participant and opinion-giver and note-taker and assigner of tasks. And then I have to mute the call so I can chortle freely.
My mothers’ note continues:
“No, I’m serious. Herewith verbatim from our local weekly rag reporting the 8 most popular toys/games, already out of stock! (Estimated family spending on each kid: 240 euros, or roughly $320.)
(Note—I’ve translated the rest from the original French.)
“To help you make the right choice, here is a selection of the most popular toys:
- “Toutou Rista: this toy is a smash hit with the younger set. Toutou Rista, a plastic dog, swallows Play-Doh, then expels it through its bottom. The object of the game is to pick up the greatest number of turds in a given time. Price: 20 euros ($30). (Note: Turns out this originated in Germany, under the much better name Kackel Dackel, and apparently the following video of it went viral. Amazing how much I miss out on by not having spare time on my hands.)
- Monster High: these new horror dolls, along the lines of Barbie, are inspired from classic monster movies, such as Dracula. Several models, such as Abbey Bominable. (Note: I looked these up on Amazon and found the following other names: Dead Tired Ghoulia Yelps Doll and Spectra Vondergeist Doll with Pet Ferret. Apparently these are hot here in the US as well. I must be living under a rock.)
- (For boys) Beyblade Tops: little boys are tearing these warrior tops away from each other. The basic idea: plastic tops shaped like miniature tanks battle in an arena, and the first to stop is eliminated. Euros 70 for two tops and an arena. (Sez my mother: I suppose that could cover two kids. Figure the profit margin on this no doubt China manufactured diversion…)
Following this, my mother asks: Is it only France that’s obsessed with a) body functions, b) “tendance” (i.e. knowing what’s been deemed popular will guide you to making the right choice, like a robot, without thinking), and c) strict separation by gender?
The answer is a) well, the French do take it to an extreme, that’s for sure; b) nope, that’s flourishing on this side of the ocean, too, and c)… huh. Yes, there are of course the gender stereotypes, and the lists of toys/games for boys and toys/games for girls. And most kids think certain things are for boys and others for girls. But I was pleasantly surprised when I checked out the top list by gender on Amazon, the go-to site for shopping. (I mean, do you even bother going to stores in December? I have a handful of independent, quirky stores I still frequent, but for the bulk of the purchases I make in December, most of which are for the various children incorporated into our lives, Amazon is it. And apparently this year Cyber Monday—the first Monday after Thanksgiving, for the first time outstripped Black Friday for the most dollars spent.) Seven of the top ten in each list are identical. The differences: girls get a portable karaoke machine, “Baby Alive Crib Life Twins” and Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows DVD, while boys get Spynet Stealth Video Glasses, LEGO Mindstorms and Matchbox Smokey the Fire Truck. On Amazon’s French sister site, the ratio is reversed, and there are only three items in common between the two lists.
So what is the point I’m trying to make? I guess I expected to share my mother’s outrage about the shopping options being presented to those who are in the market for gifts for children, but ultimately, it doesn’t seem that bad to me, from where I sit in New England. Sure, there are horrendous things out there whose very existence as a product one could spend money on and actually present to a child is abhorrent, such as Justin Bieber nailpolish or American Girl Cootie Catcher Kits, but all in all, I don’t feel bombarded with insistent messages about the poop-scooping, gender-specific popular toys I need to be buying for my children. At first I thought: maybe that’s because I rarely watch television and when I do, it’s pre-recorded, so I never actually see commercials. But my parents don’t have a TV (gasp!) so that can’t be it, if I’m to compare with her experience. And then I saw this: “No Hit Toy to Brighten Retailers’ Christmas” on today’s New York Times. It seems that this year is singularly lacking in must-have items, as retailers have cut down on toys overall, fearful of ending up with too much unsold inventory. As a result, “classics” are in, and shorter supply is leading to higher prices. Not a bad retail move.
Anyhow, enough musing. Here’s some of what I did end up purchasing for the various children in my life (and there seem to be many, although only two biologically related to me), all between the ages of 14 months and 10 years this holiday season. Perhaps this will be of help to some of you late shoppers out there.
Harriet the Spy, one of my all time favorite books from my childhood, by Louise Fitzhugh;
Milles Bornes, the French classic road race card game;
Sleds, because, after all, we are in New England;
Water bottles from Crocodile Creek (indestructible and highly functional and cute);
Dresses from the Tea Collection, delightfully on serious sale for one day only;
Tech Deck mini-skateboards and ramps;
Silly slippers from Garnet Hill, half off on the day of my purchase;
Guidebooks for an upcoming trip to Mexico;
Snorkel set, also for Mexico;
Art supplies, for a future art teacher;
Tintin, the original series in French;
Tintin in English translation;
Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings, a fun fold-out book with textures, for babies/toddlers;
Earlyears Farm Animals Bowling set, a set of plush animal bowling pins and soft ball.