Ah, parents, take care for what ye wish.
Toys nowadays get so expensive and complicated. You fork out thirty bucks for an "Ooze Box" media player, then pay ten bucks for the case so it doesn't get ruined, then hand over twenty bucks a pop for the cartoon cartridges. Before you know it, you've spent two hundred bucks so that your kid can watch cartoons they've already seen a billion times on a tiny screen in their bedroom. Where they probably already have their own television anyway. No, wait, the Ooze Box has special features a television lacks! It can get easily lost in a toy box or pile of dirty laundry! Then stepped on and broken!
"Argh, aye, arr," the parents sigh, turning suddenly into toothless old fogeys with wooden pegs in lieu of appendages. "I remember back in MY day. We used to play with rocks! And we were lucky!"
Sadly, I was one of those kids. I actually did have a collection of rocks. A whole village of them. I would spend hours with crayons and paper drawing houses, shopping centers, and civic buildings, complete with detainment facilities and interrogation rooms. Then the little mineral-based citizens could go about their day to day business, commit crimes, be apprehended, have confessions forced from them and then be executed. It was just like CSI, except it was for kids. And I could watch it in my room. And the components could be easily lost in my toy box or the dirty laundry lying around.
Okay, so it was the equivalent of a primitive Ooze Box. However, it cost my parents roughly a dollar in raw materials.
Now that I am a parent, I find this to be an excellent selling point. "Argh, aye, arr," I sighed to my husband, John, the other day, instantly developing rheumatism and a fondness for Jackie Gleason, "what Lillian needs is a toy like my old rocks. One that relies solely on imagination!"
"Yeah," John agreed. "At least until the next paycheck."
Oh, ill-fated words. Because not two days later, "Beese" the Balloon entered Lillian's life.
On a whim, I drew a face on the pink helium balloon once we got home. Knowing that the dog was already waiting for Lill to turn her back, I gave it big silly lips curved in a saccharine simper, and Tammy-Faye eyes peering sideways in an annoyingly ingratiating leer. "Helloo-oo, Lillian!" I made the balloon coo in a horrible, smarmy voice. "This is great," I thought to myself. "She's really going to cheer for the dog to pop this one."
Lillian was silent for a moment, staring at my loathsome creation. Then she wordlessly reached out and pulled the balloon into an embrace. "Beese," she dubbed it, bestowing a loving kiss upon its cheek.
"Oh, no." I thought.
Oh, yes. For the past two weeks, "Beese" the Balloon has come everywhere with us. She has slept on Lillian's pillow every night. She has eaten meals with us at the dinner table. Beese helps Lillian in her toddler play-kitchen and watches cartoons with her. In turn, Lillian has aggressively guarded Beese from the dogs, and even from me. (I made the mistake of "ka-bong"ing Beese across the room one night. Lillian gasped and uttered, "Bad mommy!" obviously horrified that I could do such a thing.) Worse still, Lillian has pleaded for Beese to read the bedtime stories. In that horrid voice. Every night. Then wants to have long reading-group discussions with the balloon after every story.
I got what I asked for. My only satisfaction was introducing my husband to Beese. The door to the master bathroom was only partially slid shut, leaving just enough of an opening for me to hold the balloon to peer in at John at eye level. When he turned to see a strange face smiling at him, his startled jump gave me something to laugh about and him something to clean up.
Beese is ancient in balloon-years now. She's deflated to roughly the size of a grapefruit, simpering flabbily as Lillian gives her a tender good night kiss and chides the balloon tenderly about how dirty and smudged she's become.
"Hasn't that thing popped yet?" John sighed in disgust as we turned out Lill's light.
"No. Do you need anything from Longs? Because I think it's time to pick up another helium balloon."
"No," John gripped my forearms. "Please just get Lill an Ooze Box instead."
Comments and toy ideas to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the January 30, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.