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In our house these days we start our Christmas shopping around the middle of September. This is something that has long since been instigated by my well organised wife, but in the last couple of years I have come to see the sense behind it to the point that this year I am actively encouraging it.
Of course the chief motivation here is money. Buy presents, a-hem, I mean order from Santa early, and you save money, especially when it comes to toys.
Trust me, the supermarkets are vying for our pounds in this department with at least two of them running half-price toy sales at the moment. But one ends next weekend and I daresay the other will be scarce on stock by then too. Now is the time to act.
And it is one said sale that is causing a bit of a dilemma. It started when we realised our five year old daughter was getting much enjoyment out of her Little Tikes My First Camera. Now this is a brilliant product and one of very few toys I encounter around the house that doesn’t make me hurl it into the toy box, shouting ‘and that was a flippin’ waste of money too’. We bought it for her two Christmases ago and since then she has revisited it many times. It is a perfect gift for your three year old. But now Carys is five its features are a bit limited and restrictive – so we were thinking, let’s get her a new camera.
Then Carys wrote herself a Christmas list. On it was the usual selection of rubbish – some dough nonsense that looks even more heinous than its sand counterpart and a heavily-advertised munter of a doll that looks set to be as useless and annoying as last year’s toy puppy that DIDN’T swim to anyone let alone me – but also she mentioned an MP3 player. Quite what a five year old is doing using such lingo – I didn’t know what an MP3 was until I was 29.
Anyway there was that but there was also a new dolls house. Now she’s already got a dolls house that we picked up via Freecycle, also two Christmases ago. We lovingly painted it and even put new carpet down (offcuts from our own house). But it’s a bit tatty and most of the window frames are in the process of coming off. It’s fixable (I’ve even made a little doll-sized Tommy Walsh) but sadly Carys is at that age where she wants something shiny and new. We’ve actually got this old one stored away because it was taking up space and she wasn’t really using it. Maybe we should get it out again to see if she plays with it before asking Santa for a new one. Trouble is, time is limited and the supermarket half price toy sale ends on Sunday.
So to our other thought, well my wife’s other thought: a Nintendo DS. A what, I thought. They’re little pocket book sized computer consoles that the adverts sell on the proviso that they are ‘brain trainers’. They’re not, obviously, but you can also get other games similar to (and I daresay better, certainly more expensive than) the ones on websites like CBeebies that cause the kids to take over our office computer of a morning and afternoon. A DS, in theory, would stop them doing that. It is also a camera and an MP3 player. Carys has mentioned the brand through hearing it in the playground and would probably love one of her own. Is there in fact a reason to not ask Santa to get her one for Christmas?
Well, yes actually. She’s five. Five! What on earth is any parent in their right mind doing buying a computer console for their five year old? Even six seems too young. Seven or eight is more like it. Eight is better. At five she is just going to get sucked into the modern world too soon. She’s already adept at using a computer – she doesn’t need to carry one around in her pocket, especially at the expense of doing other things more suited to being a five-year-old girl like… well, like playing with a brand new dolls house. The dolls house wins, surely, as an ideal Christmas present. It oozes charm and innocence whilst also getting her imagination whirring. The dolls house it is.
And yet as much as I want to go with it, I do fear that by getting the dolls house and not a DS, we will be, in some almost perverse way, holding her back. Should we accept that there is no hiding from this modern world and better for Carys to experience some of these gadgets first hand than to be left behind by her peers a year or so down the line?
Is the idea of our little girl playing happily with her dolls house for hours just something from a bygone era that would bring more pleasure to us as parents than her as a 21st century kid? Is she too old to be messing about with dolls houses at almost six? The other week when I was trying to get her to choose a Snow White DVD in the supermarket as opposed to some hideous ultra-modern Disney sequel, the argument was raised that Snow White is too old-fashioned and teaches little girls the wrong sort of values (such as hanging around with woodland animals until a prince comes to her rescue) whereas the Tinkerbell of Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure (or whatever it was) thinks for herself and nothing will stop her doing what she wants, not Captain Hook, not an old witch, not anyone. In other words, Snow White would spend her days messing about with dolls houses whilst Tinkerbell would be texting her mates how much she’d just scored on Donkey Kong as the latest Bruno Mars tune played in the background. Dilemma solved: Forget the dolls house and go for the DS.
Except this is the 21st century and like most 21st century parents I expect we will hedge our bets and get her both. Spoil her in other words, although I can now do so under the guise of a social experiment. I, for one, will be interested to see which one she plays with the most.