This is a part of a series of thoughts for my next book, Slow Schooling…And Other Thoughts on Rescuing Childhood. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
It was a lovely evening, winding down from supper and laughter and good discussion with a family new to us. In one of the pauses, the misses craned her neck around and said, “I just noticed something…all of your toys are made of wood…I think I like that…”
It was mostly true.
A variety of baskets were placed around the living room. One overflowed with small wooden trains and enough track to make the floor a small country. Another bin held colored wooden blocks in a variety of shapes, waiting to be built into towers and houses. A third held toddler toys such as shape boxes, puzzles, rings, rattles and play dishes. Lastly, a wicker laundry basket was heaped with wooden cars, trucks, trailers and boats. Even the wheels were made out of wood.
“How did you get so many wooden toys?” she asked, commenting on how lovely it looked as a part of our decor.
“Well…I just asked…” I carefully said.
I remember when I asked. My eldest was an infant and I recall cringing when I imagined what my house would look like full of plastic and noisy play things all over the floors. I could almost smell it, with the potpourri of baby powder, paper diapers, dirty dishes and dryer sheets all competing. I wanted my house to smell like fresh air, with wafts of woodsy pine coming from, well, the woodsy pines outside. And the idea of tripping over brightly plastic dogs on wheels and lit-up balls and mechanized voices wobbling out what were supposed to be phonograms did not sound appealing.
I wanted a pleasant home filled with real noises from real people playing with and using natural materials–even humble things such as pine cones, rocks, sticks and shells–that were nice for everyone to smell, look at and enjoy. So, I wrote the letter.
I asked the grandparents that, when they could, they might consider buying clothing made of natural fibers and materials, such as cotton and wool, and toys created out of natural materials, such as wood or rubber. I asked that they might refrain from plastics (including polyester), and from things operating from batteries. I asked for cloth diapers, packs of washcloths, and please no pacifiers.
It didn’t go over well. In fact, the offense was so great, I obviously failed miserably in explaining WHY those things were suggested. Most felt straight-jacketed into impossible shopping excursions, some outright belittled me for how ridiculous I was, and others ignored my suggestions and continued to bring my children loud and obnoxious playthings anyway. Plus, this infant was the first grandchild all around! People had been waiting to *spoil* one!
Over the years, however, relatives and friends have–mostly–mellowed regarding my requests. I, too, have bent in many areas, either allowing for things that are not (in my mind) best, or just quietly shipping things off to the thrift stores. After all, it’s difficult to find a Christmas dress without fake fibers and plastic Legos are far more creative than simple wooden blocks.
But before you think I’m too nuts, I’d like to share about why, for example, choosing natural fibers or woods for a young child might be important. That will be upcoming.