Dear Dave

Friday 18 January 2008

What I really wanted them to get for Christmas

Dear Dave,

Well, we've been back a couple of weeks now and I've had time to evaluate the kids' Christmas presents. All in all, they haven't done too badly this year. The unexpected drumkit from Chris and Catriona has been successfully smuggled to a charity shop without the children noticing but, apart from that, the gifts have generally been appropriate and reasonably appreciated. Now we just need to work out where to store all the loot amongst all their other stuff.

The boys got a huge construction set consisting of scores of wooden wheels and poles and joints. It's quite nice but comes in a tin drum the size of Wales. On seeing it for the first time, I gave a little sigh, unsure where on Earth we were going to keep it and fairly certain that none of the kids would show the slightest bit of interest. We've had Duplo and K'Nex for ages - stacks and stacks of it that they've hardly touched. It's filling up shelves that could be better used to house their boardgames and the army of cuddly toys. This new set is very like K'Nex. I expected them to ignore it.

To my surprise, however, they've had great fun building rockets and robots and towers almost every day. Maybe it's the novelty of it being wood rather than plastic... or maybe it's just that the drum got left out in the middle of the lounge because we couldn't think where else to put it. Who knows? Whatever the reason, they've got quite into it. Perhaps there's hope they'll like Lego yet. To my mind, having a legitimate excuse to play with Lego again is one of the reasons for having children.

I had a Lego moon base when I was a kid that I played with all the time. I designed all kinds of lunar vehicles and buildings myself with the help of cannibalised parts from other sets. If I saw one in a charity shop, I'd buy it instantly, even if it had teeth marks all over it like my one did. (My dog was frequently hungry and permanently stupid). The Mars Mission sets call to me whenever I wander through a toy department. I drag children along with me, hoping they'll attempt to pester me into buying some, like they do with every other shiny bit of plastic in the store. Doesn't happen, though. The girl wants to play with the pink, sparkly trikes and the boys want to know when we're going to the computer game section.


I guess it's for the best, though. It probably wouldn't be as much fun as I imagine, just as finally getting my hands on a copy of Hungry Hippos turned out to be far noisier and less exciting than I was expecting. The children would get me to do all the work putting together the Lego and then they'd merely muck about with the moving parts for a bit before leaving it all to lie around the floor waiting to be stood on. Unless they were prepared for a bit of construction and make-believe themselves, there wouldn't be much point to it.

Disappointingly, the children haven't taken a second look at Playmobil stuff either. I had the mobile hospital set of that when I was Lewis' age. It was superb. As for Action Man, I had a tank but I was desperate for the submarine and the death-slide. I tried to make my own death-slide tower out of cardboard but over-specced the project and never completed it. With hindsight, I could have just tied one end of a length of string to the latch of an upstairs window and the other end to the back gate, cuffed Action Man with a bag-tie and sent him screaming across the garden to splat into the woodwork. (He could take it. His normal experience on exiting an upstairs window was having his parachute fail to open and then plummeting head-first onto the patio.)

One of the boys got an Action Man a while back that I would quite happily have bought all kinds of gadgets for but it's long since been left lying in a twisted heap at the bottom of drawer, abandoned to spend a hundred thousand years biodegrading in his injection moulded underwear.

It's all quite distressing. As I said, maybe the kids will get into Lego now. I can't see it ever happening in a big way, though. Marie might conceivably want Playmobil stuff soon, if I suggest it often enough, but the submarine isn't going to happen unless there's a lilac version which comes with fairies. (The Barbie covert infiltration and assassination range!) I feel I'm missing out on one of the perks of parenthood i.e. the chance to buy all the toys I wanted when I was a kid but didn't get.

In reality, it's all a little silly. Do I really want to play with Lego? These days, if I want to create, I can make something more lasting and more useful. Shelves, anyone? If I want to imagine, I can write. If I want to play, there are plenty of computer games.

What I really want is to be seven and play with Lego. I'd like the freedom to just run around with a Lego space ship without people staring at me. I'd like to be able to create and imagine without feeling the responsibility to produce something useful; to be able to relax without feeling pressure to recharge before the end of my scheduled downtime.

That's not going to happen, unfortunately. Not even if I buy the totally enormous space station thing. I should probably stop hankering after it and start directing the kids towards stuff that I would actually find fun in the here and now.

The boys already play computer games, so that's a beginning. Our taste and ability occasionally overlap. One day we'll be able to play co-operative Halo. In the meantime, I need to start getting them interested in games involving little plastic figures and dice with an improbable number of sides.

Is there a Pokemon version of Risk?

Yes, a readily available supply of strategy game opponents - that really would be good and might be achievable. I should go poke around in the loft and see what games I've got lying about that I can get my little minions playing.

Being an adult is actually pretty good sometimes.

Still, there's one thing I can fairly easily do for the part of me that will forever long to be seven again. I'm off to find that Action Man, a bag tie and a very long bit of string...

Yours in a woman's world,


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