“I know what you’re thinking”, says my best friend. “It’s terrible. But it does work.”
He’s talking about a plastic play centre in the shape of a tortoise on wheels that he and his wife have bought for V’s first birthday.
They should know, with two boys aged 3 years and 14 months. At first, I thought my bemused reaction to this toy was that it was plastic and gaudy. But that’s not the case: we have a set of gaudy, plastic stacking cups that V loves and we love them too, being unbreakable, light to carry around and dishwashable.
Neither do I have a preference for ‘good, old-fashioned’ toys. I don’t think that a generation of children brought up on wooden rocking horses and hoop and stick sets produced a generation of well-rounded, socially responsible adults or superhuman geniuses. Toys in our house don’t have to be made of wood and come in a Farrow and Ball colour scheme.
So it’s not that our tortoise play centre is plastic, or brightly coloured, or even cheap. It’s that it attempts too many jobs at the same time. It has flashing lights. It has the voice of an American that sings or encourages you to push the button with the right shape or number or colour on it. It clicks when you turn a knob. It fires out plastic bricks. It is intended to be an educational toy. But, as my wife and I have found with trying to balance working from home with raising a baby, you can’t effectively do two things at the same time. And in the end the tortoise experience becomes a melange of stimuli.
The tortoise isn’t education, it’s distraction. We’re using it to delay using the television as a proto-babysitter.
Three weeks later, me and F. have a slight air of “We’ll, it’s in the house, now… And she does like it…” You can’t control what people will give as gifts for your child. Neither can you predict if your daughter will take to the gift.
V. likes the tortoise. But she doesn’t love it. Not like her stacking cups. Those cups were bought by Grandma for not special reason except that V. didn’t have any. They are the simplest things in the world but to our daughter seem endlessly fascinating.